The Yoga of Love

Yoga and Relaxation – Tony Crisp

The Yoga of Love – Bhakti Yoga – Chapter 7

Devotional exercises are like the warmth that makes the unwieldy block of ice fit the jug. The water and the jug are the same as before, but the one has melted into the other. So the soul of a man melts into the awaiting presence of the eternal. While with the melting there comes the bliss of yielding to the unseen. Bhakti Yoga is the warmth and the yielding that melts the hardened soul of man into the divine love.

This is the way of the heart, where we seek a loving relationship with Life. Therefore Bhakti is the way of relationship. It is the way for those whose deepest feelings cry out in loneliness for the loving embrace of the Divine, ending in union – the spiritual marriage. But the Bhakti does not seek through thinking of the eternal, or trying to understand his fate. Neither does he try to discipline himself in the same way as in Karma or pranayama. For the Bhakti seeks firstly with his feelings of his beloved’s absence. Then he is carried forward to that which he loves by the realisation of his own imperfection standing between their union. The tears and weeping of his repentance soften his heart, and his surrender to the beloved brings the wonderful bliss of (re-)union.

Just as the appetites or disordered condition of the fat man stop him from touching his toes, even though his toes are constantly with him-so the constant living within the thinking mind of man stops him from feeling the ever present love of God. But a dog intent on finding his master and oblivious of his direction, may run into a car. In his heart his pain may be associated with the love for his master, causing him now to suspect and deny his love. In the same way men and women suspect God and deny him, though deeply they love him.

So often does the experience of our pain stand between us and God, that it takes the greater pain of our parting to -strengthen us, making us willing to bear with the hurt of our fear. Only then, willing to experience suffering, or anything, to be with our beloved, do we run back to the arms that have always been extended. Only then is the pain, its cause, and fear of it, removed by the master’s love. For while clever words may convince us of the reasonableness -of God’s love, in our heart we may yet suspect, and lack understanding. But the Bhakti, through his experiences in life, now sees that only God can open the heart again and bring understanding.

Is your mind or awareness so tiny that you have never realised the forces and processes of your own body are beyond anything you understand? Can’t you see that your very existence is brought about by things so far beyond your knowledge that it is only a statement of your impoverishment to suggest an awareness of God is an expression of some sort of smallness and failure. Have you never understood that?

Have you not seen that religion is not only an acknowledgement of what we fail to understand and yet depend upon, but it is also an opening to it, a willingness to relate to it? It can also be something far more even than that. It can be an active loving relationship with what gives you life. And such love is an exchange, a sharing, and a way of merging one with another. It is an exchange – a sharing of bodily fluids – the very substance of life.

Imagine that; a glorious love affair with the very spirit of life! A love affair with the invisible and forever indefinable. Is that something you are afraid of?”

The task before one who writes of Bhakti Yoga is difficult. In so many the heart is padlocked by the opinions, and the fears that lie behind the opinions. Yet, were it not for such fears, many would be fulfilled by worshipping with all their feelings and thoughts, who now only experience a part of themselves. How many are there who refrain from devotion due to their fears of being wrong, or being thought a fool, or of being asked more than they can give of them-selves? while right or wrong their sentiments cry out for expression. How can one explain to such as these that in devotion one is not worshipping, or re-relating to some -theoretical, improbable and organisation-bound being? -Devotion is an earnest and feelingful recognition of the creative forces that are the warp and woof of ones own self. -Not only is it a recognition, but also an admission of reliance. For just as fire does not exist without oxygen and fuel, neither does our personality and consciousness exist -without body and life.

People ask, “Do you believe in God?” or, “What is God?” But these questions are quite fruitless because they arise from misconceptions and mistakes. They cannot even be answered while such misconceptions from which they arise still seem real to the questioner. What matters is that without any conscious effort at continuing the experience, we exist. What matters is that something, or somethings – beyond our present awareness or understanding cause and uphold our existence. Our existence then is a dependence upon factor(s) – unknown, and very often unacknowledged.

To the practical mind any person is a fool who does not acknowledge a dependence. For instance, a young child who does not acknowledge, even emotionally, its dependence upon parents, will soon find itself lonely, lost, hurt, misused or killed. while an adult who does not acknowledge that his physical body depends upon food, may soon starve.

It does not matter whether we think or feel that we exist because of forces in the material universe, or because of an unseen creative being. Whatever we think, that upon which we depend remains what it is. It is what it is. Our thoughts and opinions do not change it. Neither are our thoughts the thing itself. For there is a saying in Zen that a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. Nor are our thoughts about that upon which our existence depends, the thing itself. So the wise one, under these circumstances, not only acknowledges dependence, but also his ignorance of that upon which he depends. Often in the East it is simply called THAT.

However, while our thoughts and feelings upon That neither alter it or represent an experience of it, they can either place us at variance or in harmony with it. Therefore, the hardened disposition of one who does not admit the dependence of this existence, is softened and changed by the practice of prayer to That which he does not understand. In the last analysis, because we are built from and by the very forces to which we pray, we are really praying to those parts of our whole being that at present lie outside of our consciousness. But through Yoga these parts of our being gradually come to be known. For it is said that whatever the Bhakti gives his devotion to, that he becomes.

It has already been said that the stages of Yoga are four, namely, Preparation-Becoming like a Jar-Knowledge-Consummation. This also applies to the Bhakti Yogi. But in western practices of a devotion, the stages are listed as three, being Purgation-Illumination-Union. These stages are synonymous because the preparation is what causes one to become as ajar and receive illumination. If this were not so, the man in the street would receive illumination, or insight into his own being, without preparation. It is the vehicle of devotional or Yoga practices that carries one to the point of readiness for purgation, or inner cleansing.

In the ideal practice of Bhakti one starts off with the practice of the moral observances of Yama and Niyama. -The practice of moral values imposed upon oneself by the use of will, is the first stage proper, though it must not be thought that the state of union or Yoga is attained by ultra-morality, for all such rules drop away as the Bhakti proceeds. They are necessary, however, for the first stages. The caterpillar, while changing into a butterfly, closes the delicate fluids of its within, inside a hard crust, but the hard crust drops away as the butterfly emerges. So, in a sense, one’s outer discipline, even if imperfect, protects, and gives a receptacle within which our formless nature shapes itself. Within us the imperishable diamond body is taking form. This is the eternal of our nature realising itself in common life, in time. For as Blake says, “The Eternal is in love with the creations of Time.” Our diamond body is our personal awareness, now conscious of the eternal. Thus our individual self is deathless for it has found union with the eternal.

The moral practices then, are there as a womb about the infant body of the divine child within us. Without them we could not face and bring to consciousness, our own fears, ambitions, sins, passions, without being carried away by them. Without them we would never have the strength even to release our unconscious sins and thus experience purgation. No doubt this will seem far-fetched or meaningless to those not involved in the search for God, but those on the inward way who are experiencing purgation, know from their own hard experience that their intellectual knowledge of God (the finger-not the moon), is for a while the only lifeline that keeps them from drowning in the waters of their own doubts and passions. For without un-attachment, we will surely be hard used by our own latent tendencies.

Purgation is like being thrown in the raging sea of confusion, doubt, cynicism and hatred. In a word, our own naked self. This, with sudden moments of going beyond it-the calm and the storm, is the experience of our cleansing. In this stage, the Bhakti will find it almost impossible to practise devotion owing to the release of cynicism and doubt, while at other moments he will throw himself upon God with many tears, realising his weakness while immersed in doubt. In this episode of cleansing one realises that with all one’s desire for God, and feelings of loss, one does not know what to do, or where to go. Beforehand, there was certainty, now there is doubt. The experiences of one’s passions and doubts, however, hold in them the seeds of their own destruction, even if we are swept away by them, for having glimpsed our goal, if only through veils, we hold these other experiences up to it and compare. We say to ourselves even in the midst of gratifying personal desires, “This is not it! This is not it!” So, gradually, they pass out of our life.

It is during this period of purgation, that many Bhakti’s have practised asceticism. All over the world, even among the down-to-earth Anglo-Saxons, there have been those who scourged their body, fasted, denied their passions and senses, forced themselves to do that which was loathsome, and generally tormented their whole body and soul. In a few notable cases, like St. Catherine of Sienna and Milarepa, this worked and they achieved union. Many failed to reach this stage, while a number of those who succeeded then dropped their asceticism and entered a new phase entirely. Ramakrishna, who himself reached union, asked another Yogi what was the point of daily meditation in his present advanced state. The Yogi replied that, “A brass vessel would lose its lustre unless scrubbed every day,” one’s mind could not be kept pure without daily meditation. Ramakrishna replied that, “If the vessel were made of gold it would not be tarnished.” That is to say, devotional exercises were no longer necessary for one who had come to know God. Certainly, however, Yoga considers them necessary beforehand. However, such a lot of misunderstanding has grown up around the practice of asceticism as a devotional exercise that it is well to consider it further.

First of all we have to admit that in a number of cases it appears to have succeeded in producing remarkable people who have passed joyfully through the most severe afflictions life can offer. Torture, burning, public scorn, disease, loneliness, poverty, have all been as naught to those who have found union. A point of interest, however, is that their practice of asceticism has often been almost a spontaneous thing. It has arisen out of their own nature rather than being ordered to it. Rather as if there was an unconscious recognition that this would help them reach their goal. Any deep student of such personalities will soon see that once they had reached union, they displayed a remarkable understanding of human psychology. Yet even then, although they may have dropped their ascetic practices they do not decry asceticism. What they have done, however, is to point to a more fundamental practice of it. Because all Bhakti’s will come to the point where asceticism will be considered by them it is important that we understand this “fundamental practice”.

Let us put it this way. If parents, out of concern for their child, ask it to do something and the child disobeys thus endangering its life, the parents may thrash it in order that it may obey, for its own safety. However, the important thing is the child obeying, or at least remaining safe. Therefore, if a means of safety can be found that does not involve thrashing, the loving parent uses it. So let us try to understand why the Bhakti may thrash himself, or in other words, what is the fundamental issue? To see this, one has to see what is going on within the devotee at that time. Why should the urge arise? What would the asceticism do? Imagine that one has glimpsed something that, if grasped fully, could change one’s whole life to Love, Wisdom and Power.

At first the glimpse may be pushed aside in the pursuit of one’s personal ambitions and desires, but as the fruits of these are experienced, the memory of the glimpse will come back. There will be a whisper in us saying, “How far beneath That, these are.” So a restlessness grows into the life and one sees how imperfect it is compared with what was glimpsed. One attempts to get back to the glimpse, to enlarge, and finds one cannot! One asks why, over and over again. why will it not come back! Has one lost it forever? Oh, fool and sinner that I am to have lost it! To let such a precious jewel slip away in the stones of life!

So begins the soul-searching, the enquiring into books, into the lives of those who have also glimpsed, or even been possessed by the fuller vision. Till at last it is seen that one did not bring this on at all. It happened in a moment when self was still, when we had relinquished our hold on self. J.G. Bennet, commenting on this, and looking back on his earlier opinions says, ” . . .I too missed the essential point that the mystical action and experience do not come from man himself.”

So, deeply moved by this realisation, the Bhakti attempts to surrender again to God but his very attempt to surrender stands between him and what is beloved. For an attempt is an action arising from self, and while the self acts, the deeper self is immersed (lost) in that action, and cannot be realised. So the Bhakti is faced by his own desires, his own yearnings, good and bad, which stand in the way of union. This is terrible, for he realises how full of sin (self-action) he is, and how far from God. How can he cleanse away this barrier? How can he become empty of impulses arising from self? Might it not be by denying self, killing out its appetites and activities?

There is more to it even than this. The Bhakti sees that he only lost the original glimpse because the self-interest in him could not relate to it. In other words, if one is walking along a road and meets another person going in the same direction, one has glimpsed (met) them. Supposing this other person now wishes to sit for a while and admire the view, but one is impatient and wishes to go on. Then because of one’s impatience, one could not relate (go along) with them.

So there arises an autonomous, a spontaneous, urge to practise asceticism. The unconscious action of That upon us, urges us to self-surrender, to rid ourselves of self. That is, not to destroy the personality, but only to gradually cleanse that which is out of harmony with the deeper self. It is only our own ambition that leads us to the extremes of asceticism. The fundamental, after all, is to be free of the barriers standing between us and God-and for the personality to be able to respond instantly to what is revealed of the divine within.

This then is the fundamental we sought, the reason for asceticism, or thrashing. We can realise it in other ways however, even in the most unlikely circumstances. Unlike the ascetic, who left the world and scourged his or her body, realising the fundamental, we need not leave our present circumstances. Let us then, now consider more closely the actual practices of the Bhakti Yogi.

Before one can even begin the practice of devotion, one has to admit one’s dependence upon that which has caused our existence out of itself. We do not have to understand, only admit, Part of the admittance, in fact, is our ignorance. No matter if we already believe in God, or have well defined conceptions of what our secret being, our source, is. If we have not realised that source, we are still ignorant of it, and all our beliefs must be seen as founded upon our own ignorance, even if accepted from wise men who have themselves seen.

After we admit this, then we commit ourselves. We do this by throwing ourselves upon the unknown for guidance. All goals in life are only reached by committing oneself to them. No road is trodden by the person who will not commit himself to exploring the unknown. One commits oneself by letting go the hold on one’s life to see where it leads.

One allows oneself to become involved in the admittance of one’s own ignorance.

Next we begin to experience ourselves. The self as we know it has been grown by the unknown, not by personal effort. Personal effort can only be of aid when used to commit oneself to avoid acting against the something that has grown us. In this way the process of growth can continue, uninterrupted, by one’s self. Then one goes beyond self, becoming an instrument, an outcrop of Life.

As for the actual practices of Bhakti Yoga, we can call these asceticism, or the Overcoming of self-interest that suppresses the unknown God; worship, or the relating of self to the unknown God, and samahdi, or the offering of one’s life to the unknown God.

An example from the life of St. Catherine of Sienna will explain the practice of asceticism. Catherine, no more than fifteen, had already decided she would not marry, but wished to spend her time in prayer and devotion. Her parents however, wished her wed for political reasons, said that if she would not, then she could not spend her time “dreaming.” So they set Catherine to do all the drudgery of the house, looking after the large family. Instead of feeling bitter however, she “made believe” that her father was Christ, her mother Our Lady, and her brothers and sisters (her mother had 24 children) the apostles. In this way she served them patiently, joyfully and as a form of worship.

The point being made is that the common experience of everyday life became a spiritual adventure, a means of putting aside self-interest and selfish desires. Our family life, work, success and failure, all afford us the chance to practise asceticism. Instead of saying “I” want this, “I” believe that, “I” desire this, we can use these opportunities to drop away self. In this way, through our practice of asceticism, or the dropping of self, when we meet the experience of God taking hold of our life, we will not, through habit, reassert our self, thus breaking the relationship with God. For only inasmuch as we can surrender can we relate; can we go along with that which has produced us, and can grow us beyond ourselves.

The practice of worship is not so much going along with God, as a practice of recognising our dependence and relationship with God. For while we still have an awareness of self distinct from That, then there still exists a relationship between the individual and what we have named God. Thus there still remains for us a personal relationship with God.

Once self is lost in That, however, God and self cease to exist “I and my Father are one.” Then there is only Being-Consciousness-Bliss, and a personal God ceases to exist. For there is no person or self, to relate. Therefore we can worship with the prayers of our childhood, realising their deeper meaning.

The practice of surrender is almost entirely like the practice of relaxation. The only difference being that we learn through asceticism to relate more closely to what is acting upon us, to give ourselves to the unseen power behind our existence. Yet we do not surrender to God, for God is only a concept. We surrender to the unknown.

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown.'”

“And he said, ‘Go forth into the darkness, and put thy hand into the hand of God. This shall be to you better than a light, safer than a known way.'”

The Moment we consciously surrender to our wholeness that has been called God, a momentous event occurs within us. If we continue this surrender each day, then the prodigal is returning home, and the Father is coming to meet him.




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