In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the eighth limb of yoga is known as samadhi, or absorption in yoga. Yoga means to yoke, or unite. For a practitioner of physical yoga, or asana, the goal may be to unite the body and mind by absorbing one’s focus on the breath. In Bhakti yoga, known as the yoga of devotion, the goal is to perform one’s activities as a sacrifice to the Supreme Person – eventually absorbing the consciousness in divine love. Work and activity performed with this loving, selfless consciousness liberates the soul from being bound to the material world. In other words, activities done with Bhakti – pure devotion – are transcendental activities.
Bhakti frees the soul from the repeated cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death. The soul is eternal and indestructible, always full of absolute knowledge and bliss. In contrast, the physical body and accompanying mind are constantly changing, impermanent, and subject to conditions which may cause suffering. The teachings of Bhakti explain that the body ought to be viewed as a temporary vessel for the soul; it must be maintained and cared for, but one must come to realize that we are not the body. Bhakti also teaches that the mind and senses are limited, fallible, and thus ought to be trained by use of our higher intelligence and practice of daily sadhana (spiritual practice).
Yoga asana is a method which can help us to differentiate our mind from our intelligence, and to even identify more and more with our true self – the soul – which is observing the mind and intelligence. Yoga asana can also drive us deeper into our attachment to the body. How one is guided in their practice, and how one chooses to guide their own consciousness, determines where our practice will take us.
While at my first yoga teacher training in 2008, I was introduced to Bhakti by a senior teacher assisting in our training. Joel Pier, also know as Chaitanya Jivan das, shared a taste of mantra meditation with our group. He also gave me a book written by his spiritual teacher, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. From Joel’s friendship and guidance, and from reading several books written by Swami Prabhupada, I was inspired to explore a Bhakti practice. To purify the mind and heart for cultivation of Bhakti yoga, daily mantra meditation as well as study of sacred texts such as Bhagavad-Gita are recommended.
Although this is the particular path which attracted me, it is important to note that there are many spiritual paths which lead us to the ultimate destination – reuniting with our source. Chanting any of the names by which God is known, accepting any of the forms in which one knows the divine, and offering loving service and prayer, is sure to bring liberation to the soul.
Vrindavan, the Land of Krishna
Approximately 5000 years ago, Lord Krishna appeared as a baby in the village of Vrindavan. Enacting charming and naughty childhood pastimes, Krishna put His devotees into transcendental ecstasy. By His own example assuming the role of a cowherd boy, He demonstrated the value of a simple lifestyle connected to the earth and creatures such as cows. To increase the feelings of love and attachment of His associates, Krishna disappeared from Vrindavan, leaving his associates to feel intense separation and longing for Him. Krishna (a name for God meaning “All-Attractive”) resides in the heart of every living being, and He is inviting all souls to turn away from material existence and suffering, by calling out to Him with sincerity and love. It is stated in shastra (ancient Vedic texts) that any living entity (human or non-human) who takes birth or leaves their body in the sacred land of Vrindavan has achieved a high level of Bhakti and a deep love for Krishna. Actually all souls are eternal associates of God, part and parcel of Him, and are only separated by the illusory, material energy. Vrindavan is now home to over 500 temples and is bustling with pilgrims from all over India and all over the world. A sincere seeker can become deeply absorbed in the potent spiritual atmosphere of this sacred dham. For information about my guided pilgrimage to India, including Vrindavan, click here…
Hearing about Vrindavan and that even the dust is sacred, I made my first journey there in 2014. I fell in love with the cows and dogs who spend their lives laying in this sacred dust. Since then, I return for several months each year, to absorb myself in the spiritual atmosphere. Vrindavan gives so much, that one naturally feels the desire to give back. Seva, known as devotional service, can be an offering of any activities or duties which we feel naturally inclined towards. As an animal lover and advocate for animal rights, I naturally became involved in caring for abandoned/homeless cows, bulls, and dogs on the streets of Vrindavan. The cows are considered sacred in their own right, and those souls residing in dog bodies are said to be bhakti yogis who achieved a deep love for Krishna, and perhaps due to some indiscretion or offense, have taken birth in Vrindavan with some final purification to undergo before gloriously reuniting with Krishna eternally. I feel blessed to render a little service to these souls, and to receive the loving reciprocation I experience in doing so. Check back for info on a non-profit society I am currently working on…website to come! In the meantime, if you would like to contribute to this seva, please contact me.