Five Things Not Required For Practicing Bhakti Yoga

[Krishna speaking to Arjuna]“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

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avināśi tu tad viddhi

yena sarvam idaṁ tatam

vināśam avyayasyāsya

na kaścit kartum arhati

What is required for entering bhakti-yoga? Is it a religion? Is it a culture? Perhaps a mere way of life? We think of yoga as exercise taught in studios across the world. Is bhakti-yoga the same?

A good way to define something complex is to look at negation. In the beginning list all the things that something is not. For instance, when taking a medicine to reduce a fever, you need to make sure it doesn’t do other things. If you’re having stomach problems, you don’t want the medicine to increase pain in the stomach. If you’ve had trouble sleeping, you don’t want it to keep you even more awake throughout the night.

From the outsider’s perspective bhakti-yoga looks like a religion. It has all the classic elements: books declared as scripture, altars, houses of worship, specific clothes, places of pilgrimage, enumeration of pious and sinful acts, and the afterlife. Further analysis reveals that bhakti-yoga is an all-encompassing philosophy. It accounts for everything in life, from the mundane to the serious. It addresses the existence of many religions as well. From reviewing what is not required for trying bhakti-yoga, we can get a better idea of what it is.

1. Sectarian loyalty.

You don’t have to renounce your current religion. You don’t have to swear allegiance to a specific institution. After all, institutions are part of the temporary world. They manifest at some point, remain for some time, and then eventually disappear. The connection to the Divine does not. Bhakti-yoga is also known as sanatana-dharma. This means the system of religiosity that is without beginning and without end. Bhakti-yoga practiced purely is also described as ahaituki and apratihata. This means without motivation and without interruption. No boundaries based on religion or nationality can prevent the connection to the Divine when the desire is sincere.

2. Blind allegiance.

[Prabhupada]This accompanies sectarian loyalty. The person on the street tells you to accept such and such as your savior or be forever condemned to hell. This creates blind allegiance, which is done out of fear. Bhakti-yoga is a voluntary pursuit. Indeed, the cause of all the problems in the world is the misuse of independence. Basically, we have a choice, and we’ve made the wrong one for too long. To get back on the right track, we need to make up our own minds to choose the divine light. Following simply out of fear will not get us very far. Sentiment can only remain for so long; it is bound to change. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says that religion without philosophy is only sentiment. And philosophy without religion is mental speculation.

3. Knowledge.

Do you know how to build a car from scratch? Can you figure out complex math equations very quickly? Are you good at memorizing things? If so then great, but it should be known that such things are not required for entering into bhakti-yoga. If knowledge were necessary, so many people would be disqualified. This would mean that the majority of the population, who are God’s children, would immediately be prohibited from practicing love and devotion to Him.

Another thing to consider is that the more knowledge a person acquires, the more wrong information they may have. Therefore they have a more difficult time than the person who comes in with less knowledge. For the former there are more things to “unlearn,” as they say. Some of the incorrect assumptions are that God is the sole property of certain people, that He only manifests in a specific country, that He is impersonal and that all living beings are identical to Him.

4. Renunciation.

Can’t live in a remote cave? Can’t leave your family and friends behind? Can’t pack up everything and go live in a temple? No problem. Though renunciation is helpful for focus in bhakti-yoga, it is not required. The concept is similar to the knowledge aspect. Especially in the modern age, hardly anyone is renounced. Obesity is overconsumption of food; the classic sign of a lack of renunciation. If only those controlled in their senses were allowed to practice devotion to God, barely anyone would qualify.

5. Shaving your head; wearing certain clothes.

The dress helps to identify people. So do different paraphernalia on the body. For example, the necklace made of tulasi beads indicates that the person is practicing devotion to God the person. Tulasi is a plant who is very dear to the Supreme Lord Krishna. Not everyone will worship her, though it is highly recommended. Wearing the beads indicates a desire to serve God without motive.

[Tulasi plant]But then again, anyone can put on anything. My wearing a lab coat doesn’t automatically make me a scientist. I have to know what I’m doing. If I’m a skilled medical practitioner, I can heal patients even outside of the hospital or office. I don’t need my doctor’s gear on to do my job; though it does help to identify me to others.

What is required, then?

The entry point of bhakti-yoga is knowing the difference between matter and spirit. More specifically, know that you are spirit and not body. This truth will open the door to everything else. This truth is not found in the majority of spiritual traditions around the world; hence the descension into cantankerous, sectarian disputes.

[Krishna's lotus feet]Every individual is spirit at the core. Matter is what covers them, and that only temporarily. The home for the spirit soul is a realm where there is no difference between matter and spirit. The practice of bhakti-yoga creates such an environment in the present surroundings and also leads the way to the same type of destination in the future. A person who remains with the bodily identification will have a difficult time advancing in bhakti-yoga, for there are no promises for material gain, mystic perfection, or esoteric knowledge of the Absolute. The lone promise is continued service to the Divine, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness.

In Closing:

For into bhakti practice to go,

Just one thing needed to know.

That this material body I am not,

A spirit soul eternal engagement I have got.

With the Divine consciousness to live,

And endless service to Krishna to give.

Whether smart, renounced or tall,

The Lord any person with love can call.

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