A Deeper Understanding of Devotion

[I had shared a version of this article to a closed group of spiritual practitioners in 2016. I have edited the same to share it here more broadly.]

Indian scriptures, like the Bhagavad Gita, have pointed to four paths to Self-realization:  

  1. The Path of Wisdom (Jnana Yoga or Gyana Yoga)
  2. The Path of Service (Karma Yoga)
  3. The Path of Devotion (Bhakti Yoga)
  4. The Path of Meditation (Raja Yoga).

In my own journey, I had come to see these as four wheels in the car that is this body-mind.  Self-Inquiry, selfless work and cultivation of generosity, devotional chanting, meditations and cultivation of gratitude, these constituted my personal practice. For me, when i pursued them equally, there was a harmony in the movement of the car through life, and that experience felt like being in a profound flow. This was marked by ease, peace and Grace. This way of living and experiencing life was dotted by synchronicity and miracles.

Devotion was special to me, stemming from my deep affinity from childhood to the deity, Hanuman. In the course of my spiritual journey, I started experiencing that Presence vividly in my heart.  Given my cultural background and upbringing, and my specific affinity to Hanuman, and my deep love (devotion) for Him, I have picked up, practiced and indulged in many devotional chants as a way of surrendering myself in devotion to Hanuman. In this way, devotion, to me, has been through the medium of Hanuman, who has been the target, the inspiration, the goal, the destination, the process and everything in-between.

Starting in 2014, as I’ve pursued the so-called “direct path”, the path of self-inquiry, the palpable direct experience of True Self naturally occurs. 

However, my mind could not reconcile the simplicity of the direct experience of Reality, with the rich, deep and profound experiences of being in devotional surrender to Hanuman.

For a time there, it seemed as it there was a conundrum, something unresolved, that the mind kept getting agitated about.

And then, one day, I came across this quote:

Among the means and conditions necessary for liberation, devotion (bhakti) alone is supreme.  A constant contemplation of one’s own Real Nature is devotion.

~ Adi Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharya was the greatest non-dual teacher of India, one who lived in and as that essence of True Self. 

The direct path of Self-Inquiry that has been taught by Ramana Maharshi, has its origins in the Path of Wisdom taught by Adi Shankara.  And here, that very icon of the Path of Wisdom says that the Path of Devotion (Bhakti) is supreme.  And that, by devotion, is meant the contemplation of one’s own Real Nature, i.e. True Self.

That was a profound shift for me, in the understanding of devotion.

It is thoughts and concepts that separate the profundity of Presence that is experienced in devotional surrender, from the simplicity of unbroken Peace that is experienced in tracing the I-thought to its source in Self-Inquiry.

The unnameable is eternally real
Naming is the origin
Of particular things.

~ Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

And just like that, the arising thoughts and the web of concepts have tried to divide into neat compartments and boxes, the eternal Tao, the infinite True Self!

“Devotion” means this….
“Self-inquiry” means that …. etc. 

A habitual clinging to concepts and the mind. And in doing so, they have effectively veiled True Self.

Intense love (devotion) of Hanuman, is identical to the dispassionate experiential exploration of “Who am I?”, i.e. Self-Inquiry, is identical to being aware of being aware, is identical to diving into the silence of the heart. 

Hanuman is the gateway to that infinite, just as silence is the gateway to that infinite.

After all, the Hanuman Chalisa says this:

You are the guardian of the door to the Divine
No one can reach the Divine, but through you

~ Goswami Tulsidas, The Hanuman Chalisa

Hanuman and surrender through the devotional chants,
Buddha and the heartfelt chanting of the Heart Sutra,
Experiential Self-Inquiry,
Diving into the silence of the heart
… a few of the infinite ways to dissolve the separate-I and experience the One, True Self.

One spiritual teacher in India said this:  “You can realize the Self in untold number of ways.  If you are an angry person, go deep and intense into your anger, as deep and intense as possible, and you will wake up.” (my paraphrasing).

The techniques we pick up, the nuggets of knowledge we are given by teachers, the chants or meditations we become fond of, they are training wheels.  At the right time, you should be wise and let them go.  To not do so, would be to cling to the world of concepts.  And that is pointless.  Why?  Because, thoughts are what veil the True Self.

Which leads to humble re-recognition of the wisdom of the enlightened Master, Ramana Maharshi:

Summa Iru (Be silent)

~ Sri Ramana Maharshi

Simpler and truer and wiser words haven’t been spoken.

The essential instruction to waking up: “Summa Iru“.

Love
Sundar

~~–

The free book, “What is Enlightenment? A Simple Guide” brings you clarity on what Enlightenment is and what it is not, as well as information on preparatory practices as well as the direct paths to Enlightenment.

The book “Awaken: An Experiential Exploration of Enlightenment” brings guidance to Self-Inquiry, the direct path to Self-Realization. Come and experience the result of the inquiry, “Who am I?”, the question that destroys the questioner.

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