Introduction – the Three Paths
The Bhakti path is one of the three (3) main paths to the Supreme; Karma, the path of Action, Jnana, the path of Knowledge and Bhakti the path of Divine love. One can enter the spiritual journey via any one of these three but ultimately all three integrate if one is to attain the highest state. In the Bhagavad Gita Bhakti is the crown, the final stage, which takes one to a rapturous, integrated experience of the Supreme.
It is my experience that all three paths integrate, one dominating for a period of time and then another. It is as if they leap frog over each other, taking one to higher and higher states of surrender in Karma, awareness in Jnana and devotion in the case of Bhakti.
Which path are you on, karma, Jnana or Bhakta? How do you know it is the right path? These are the questions to ask yourself. Let me share some of the insights I have gathered to help you along.
If you are a person of action, of ideas, drives and ambitions then Karma yoga is your path. If your intellect is strong and you are philosophical by nature, then Jnana is likely your path. If you are more motivated by feelings and emotions then your path is likely to be Bhakti. But no one is a pure Karmi, Jnani or Bhakti. They all intermingle because we all have a physical, vital, mental and intellectual component. But the tendency is to develop spiritually along the line of least resistance. The most developed component is the one that is most sattwic. The least developed component is more tamasic. So we tend to see people very advanced spiritually in one area but undeveloped in others. You therefore need to take this into account as you try to identify your path.
So as we explore the Bhakti path take into consideration that integral development is needed to reach the ultimate goal. Bhakta without knowledge will wander and likely get lost is the domain of emotions, feelings and moods, and without action one can not test one’s integration nor integrate one’s spiritual progress into day-to-day life. Jnana without Divine love is dry, abstract and without Karma is likely to get trapped by hypocrisy or ego. A karmi or bhakti without Jnana will loose their way. The domains of spirit are vast, subtle and impossible to traverse without knowledge and guidance.
Guidance is crucial on all the three paths. We need an example, someone who has traveled the journey, at least further along than we have traveled and preferably completed it. Without guidance we are easily distracted or overtaken by our unconscious parts and are subject to subtle influences that can lead us astray. This is an important topic but for now let’s hold off this discussion until another time.
The Bhakti Path
V. 280: Of all the yogis, however, one who is ever linked with Me in heart and for Me has love and faith, him I consider to be the greatest and most dear to Me. 6.47
In the Bhagavad Gita the Bhakti path is the crown of yoga. In Bhakti, God is not abstract. God becomes personal, someone we can relate to and hopefully relate back to us. He or She is universal in nature but takes on a form, becomes someone we can directly know and interact with. A bhakti needs Divine to be intimate, someone we can grow to know, not an abstraction as it is for a jnani or karmi, but a personal God. Divine becomes manifest as God; the Mother, the Father, the God in heaven, or Jesus, Buddha, Krishna or Guru. If this is one’s experience then the Bhakti path has begun for you.
Bhava is the beginning of Divine love. Bhava is the “feeling” of one’s connection to Divine, to God. This “feeling” grows and grows as time goes on becoming Divine love. This sets in motion a process that transforms us from a human being into a divine Being.
Bhava becomes “Ananda”, the primal existential force of life which sustains all of this creation, and the Ananda takes one to “merger”, where one’s individually is lost in the ocean of ananda of the Beloved.
Initially this spiritual feeling, this “bhava”, drives us to action; to service and worship. This is the karma yoga for the bhakti. There is a feeling of humility, gratitude, appreciation. One only sees the good, the positive in others. If the form is in a body then the feelings are reciprocated and this will activate the human emotions; attachment, need for attention, recognition, like a child or new lover. At this stage one is motivated by love, all it seeks is to feel this love to drown in this love. We become both the lover and the beloved of Divine. It is the ultimate love affair. To talk of God, think of God, chant God’s names, to be with other lovers of God…is all one does or live for. Divine becomes our obsession, our addiction.
This process is not easy, as with all love affairs; we become tortured by the object of our love. All our suppressed human emotion, attachment, fear, the need to control, to withdraw, to dominate or submit, etc come to the surface. At this stage the action of bhakti is transformation and the karma yoga is to “surrender”. Surrender is the means by which the last of the hidden issues, the final karmas are purified from our system.
It is at this stage that Bhakti merges with Jnana and one begins to see the truth of Prakriti, the “Maya”. One “sees” the ignorance and delusion; the nature of bondage, not only in oneself but in all of mankind. The mechanisms of the creation are revealed. The supreme Wisdom is revealed.
This leads to the final Karma, the expression of this Divine Wisdom and Love in action. This is Manifestation.
This is how the three paths, Jnana, Karma and Bhakti merge. This is the Integral yoga. Tamas has become rajas, rajas became sattwa and sattwa becomes cosmic; the Gunas are transcended. One becomes the Cosmic Being. This is the final transformation, the Prefect Perfection. One is enlightened. What was human, individual and personal, becomes the Divine person; both individual and universal, both personal and impersonal. Head merges with heart and actions become Divine’s integral, flawless, natural expression; Love, Truth and Wisdom are manifested. This is the final Karma yoga; the yoga of Manifestation. This is the ultimate Dharma, the ultimate purpose, the final of expression of Divinity, the ultimate goal; one is the Supreme Being.