“Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47)
There are certain transcendentalists who believe that bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is reserved only for the unintelligent. Devotional service involves offering prayers to and worshiping a personal God, meaning that the Supreme Lord is viewed as having a form consisting of hands, legs, etc. There are many transcendentalists who believe that it is impossible for God to have a form, thus they prefer impersonal yoga meditation or deep study of Vedanta over devotional service. They believe that devotees worship a form of God in order to help themselves better understand the difference between matter and spirit, but that in the end, such worship should only be performed by neophytes. In reality, bhakti-yoga represents the highest form of religious practice.
The human body is mutable. Not only the body, but everything in the creation is as well. We take birth, remain for someone, perform some activity, and then die. The Vedas tell us that the soul inside the body is what counts, for the soul is eternal and unchangeable. It cannot be cut, burned, made wet or dry, nor can it ever take birth or die. Therefore the Vedas advise us human beings to pay more attention to the soul than to the body. The soul is often referred to as the self (atma), since that is what identifies us. Our bodies are constantly changing so it is quite foolish to base our identity off its appearance. There are so many equal rights and fairness movements that have sprung up over the recent years, but they are flawed since they don’t recognize the presence of the soul. People say that men and women are equal, or blacks and white are the same. These statements are most certainly true, but the Vedas go one step further. They tell us that every living entity is equal in nature.
“One who sees the Supersoul accompanying the individual soul in all bodies and who understands that neither the soul nor the Supersoul is ever destroyed, actually sees.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.28)
A person is considered learned if he views all living entities equally. This includes the plants and animals, since anything with a soul can be considered a living entity. Dull matter is subordinate to spirit, since without the presence of the soul, matter itself is useless. We see this fact on full display when someone dies. Death is the event where the soul leaves the body. The friends and family of the departed soul then lament over their loved one’s death. Yet the body remains there right in front of them, so what they are really lamenting is the exit of the soul.
The Vedas tell us that the point of human life is to connect with the Self, the supreme soul. This is done through yoga, of which there are many forms. Since the various yoga systems help us link our consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness, they are collectively referred to as self-realization methods. Hearing of the existence of the Self is one thing, but realizing it is a completely different story. Upon taking birth, we immediately become conditioned into falsely identifying with the body. This misconception results in such things as nationalism, racism, and patriotism. In order to break free of this flawed mindset, the Vedas recommend the practice of yoga.
There are various methods of yoga, each having prescribed rules and regulations. As mentioned before, the aim of yoga is to realize the Self. In order for that to happen, one must break away from the bodily conception of life. This can be achieved by adjusting our mindset and our way of life. In the Bhagavad-gita, many recommendations are given to the aspiring transcendentalist. We should view all living entities equally; we should not lament over bad fortune nor should we overly rejoice over good times; we should not grieve for the body which is subject to destruction; we should perform our prescribed duties with detachment; we should not think ourselves to be the doer, and so on. There are so many brilliant aphorisms and prescriptions provided by Lord Krishna in the Gita and for this reason this book has been studied by religionists, scholars, and devotees for almost five thousand years.
There are several specific yoga systems in the Vedic tradition, but they all basically belong to either one of three categories. The first category is that of fruitive activity, or karma. In the beginning stages, a person can perform yoga by taking up regulated fruitive activities in order to help themselves break free of the bodily mindset. The second category is that of mental speculation. Vedic literature is very comprehensive and contains something of interest for just about every type of person. The Vedanta-sutra is one of the more popular Vedic texts, consisting of many high-level and deep-meaning aphorisms. The people known as Vedantists engage all their time in studying the Vedanta-sutra, which is also generally known as Vedanta. By engaging in deep study, one can slowly realize that the Supreme Absolute Truth is the source of everything and that the entire creation is part of Brahman.
“From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.26)
The third category is that of mystic yoga. The Vedas tell us that our gross senses are very difficult to control, especially our tongue and genitals. The mind, which is a subtle sense, is the driving instrument of our gross senses. As we all know, controlling the mind is almost impossible. We are always thinking, even while asleep. The mystic yoga process involves various breathing exercises and sitting postures aimed at curbing the influence of the senses. If our mind is in equilibrium, it is easier for us to see the soul residing within the body.
“The culmination of all kinds of yoga practices lies in bhakti-yoga. All other yogas are but means to come to the point of bhakti in bhakti-yoga.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 6.47 Purport)
Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, doesn’t fall into any of these categories. For this reason, the fruitive workers, mental speculators, and mystic yogis often view bhaktas as less intelligent. “They couldn’t understand Vedanta or they were too lazy to take up mystic yoga, so they chose the easier path. They simply imagine a form of God and worship Him. This way, they can make progress in curbing their senses and better understanding the difference between matter and spirit. Eventually, as their intelligence increases, they will give up their second class process.”
This is where the impersonalist philosophers and meditational yogis go wrong. Since bhakti-yoga enables one to realize the self, and to also view all living entities equally, it is most certainly a bona fide method of self-realization. However, bhakti-yoga is more than just some transcendental exercise, for it is the original occupation of the soul. Bhakti means love and yoga means linking of our consciousness with the Supreme, thus devotional service means lovingly serving God.
Studiers of Vedanta aim to realize the self residing within the body. After realizing the self, they come to the understanding that Brahman is everything. Thus they hope to merge their existence into Brahman. Mystic yogis also hope to realize the self, but they go one step further by trying to understand the Supersoul, or Paramatma, which resides side-by-side with the spirit soul. These two self-realization systems are certainly nice, but bhakti-yoga is superior since it connects directly with the source of both Brahman and Paramatma.
The Vedas tell us that God, or the Self, is a person and that His original feature is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhakti-yoga is the original occupation of the soul because it aims at connecting directly with Bhagavan. For this reason, bhakti-yoga is also known as bhagavata-dharma. Bhagavan means one who possesses all opulences. This definition can only apply to God since He is the Creator and proprietor of everything in this universe. Brahman and Paramatma are two of His features. The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Bhagavan is Lord Shri Krishna. He is the controller of all living entities.
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.61)
Bhakti-yoga involves nine distinct processes, all of which are directed at Krishna, or one of His personal expansions. A question may then be raised as to how God can have a form. The Vedas describe the Supreme Absolute Truth as both nirguna and saguna. Guna means material qualities, so nirguna means without gunas and saguna means with gunas. Krishna is most certainly nirguna because He, by definition, cannot directly come into contact with the material energy. For this reason, to manage the affairs of the material world, He expanded Himself into three guna avataras: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Krishna is also saguna because He has spiritual qualities. He doesn’t have the types of arms, legs, and hands that we do, but this doesn’t mean that He doesn’t possess a spiritual body. On the contrary, the Vedas give us specific information as to what type of body Krishna possesses: sach-chid-ananda-vigraha, an eternal body full of bliss and knowledge.
Our bodies are mutable. For this reason, we are told to identify with the soul and not the body. God is different though. There is no difference between His body and His spirit. Everything related to Bhagavan is immutable. Therefore worship of His deity or one of His incarnations is the same as worshiping His original form. Unlike the other types of yoga, bhakti-yoga has no end. There is no ultimate end-goal. Devotees certainly enter Krishna’s spiritual world after death, but it doesn’t mean that their activities stop. Bhakti-yoga is an eternal occupation, something which provides eternal pleasure to the soul.
"Causeless devotional service is unmotivated by sense enjoyment, perfection or liberation. When one is freed from all these contaminations, he can bring Lord Krishna, who is very funny, under control.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 24.29)
Krishna is known as Bhagavan and those who associate with Him are known as bhagavatas, or devotees. There are countless great devotees that we can learn from, with one of them being Lord Shri Hanuman. Hanumanji is the eternal servant of Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s primary incarnations. Hanuman is one of the most commonly worshiped devotees/divine beings. He is loved and respected by almost everyone, including non-devotees. Hanuman is a perfect practitioner of bhakti-yoga. The key to his success is that he doesn’t even care about self-realization. He acquired all the intelligence of the Vedantists and all the siddhis, or perfections, of the yogis simply by dedicating himself to serving Lord Rama in a loving way. God is more than ready to grant him mukti, or liberation, but Hanuman refuses to accept it.
In the famous Rama Darbar photos, we see Lord Rama standing with His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana. Hanuman is also in the picture, but he is kneeling down on the floor offering His obeisances to Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. One of Hanuman’s great yogic powers is his ability to change the size of his body, meaning he is capable of becoming extremely large or extremely small. In the presence of God, Hanuman chooses to assume a small stature because he never wants to think of himself as greater than God. This is the perfect example for all of us to follow. The Self, or Superself, being the original source, is always superior to the individual self, or atma. Thus any discipline which aims to please the creator of everything will always be superior to disciplines that aim to please the mind, body, or even the individual soul. Hanumanji is a true mahatma. No ordinary scholar or yogi can claim to be a higher authority than him. If such as an exalted person as Hanuman chooses bhakti-yoga, it must be the discipline reserved for the most intelligent class of men. Hanuman and a great many other devotees achieve perfection in life by taking up bhakti-yoga, thus we can never go wrong following their example.