Bhakti Yoga By Sri Swami Sivananda

What is Bhakti?

The term Bhakti comes from the root ‘Bhaj’, which means ‘to be attached to God’. Bhajan, worship, Bhakti, Anurag, Prem, Priti are synonymous terms. Bhakti is love for love’s sake. The devotee wants God and God alone. There is no selfish expectation here. There is no fear also. Therefore it is called ‘Parama Prem Rupa’. The devotee feels, believes, conceives and imagines that his Ishtam (tutelary deity) is an Ocean of Love or Prem.

Bhakti is the slender thread of Prem or love that binds the heart of a devotee with the lotus feet of the Lord. Bhakti is intense devotion and supreme attachment to God. Bhakti is supreme love for God. It is the spontaneous out-pouring of Prem towards the Beloved. It is pure, unselfish, divine love or Suddha Prem. There is not a bit of bargaining or expectation of anything here. This higher feeling is indescribable in words. It has to be sincerely experienced by the devotee. Bhakti is a sacred, higher emotion with sublime sentiments that unites the devotees with the Lord.

Mark how love develops. First arises faith. Then follows attraction and after that adoration. Adoration leads to suppression of mundane desires. The result is single-mindedness and satisfaction. Then grow attachment and supreme love towards God.

In this type of highest Bhakti all attraction and attachment which one has for objects of enjoyment are transferred to the only dearest object, viz., God. This leads the devotee to an eternal union with his Beloved and culminates in oneness.

Types of Bhakti

Bhakti is of various kinds. One classification is Sakamya and Nishkamya Bhakti. Sakamya Bhakti is devotion with desire for material gains. A man wants wealth with this motive practices Bhakti. Another man wants freedom from diseases and therefore does Japa and offers prayers. A third one wants to become a Minister and does Upasana with this aim. This is Sakamya Bhakti. Whatever you want the Lord will certainly give you, if your Bhakti is intense and if your prayers are sincerely offered from the bottom of your heart. But you will not get supreme satisfaction, immortality and Moksha through Sakamya Bhakti.

Your Bhakti should always be Nishkamya Bhakti. God has already given you a good position, a good job, wife and children and enough wealth. Be contented with these. Aspire for Nishkamya Bhakti. Your heart will be purified and the Divine Grace will descend upon you. Be in communion with the Lord, you will become one with the Lord and you will enjoy all the Divine Aisvaryas (Divine attributes like wisdom, renunciation, power, etc.). All the Vibhutis (Special forms in which the Lord manifests) of the Lord He will give you. He will give you Darsan. He will help you to dwell in Him. At the same time He will give you all the Divine Aisvaryas also.

Another classification of Bhakti is Apara-Bhakti and Para-Bhakti. Apara-Bhakti is for beginners in Yoga. The beginner decorates an image with flowers and garlands, rings the bell, offers Naivedya (food-offerings), wave lights; he observes rituals and ceremonies. The Bhakta here regards the Lord as a Supreme Person, who is immanent in that image and who can be propitiated through that form only.

He has no expanded heart. He is a sectarian. He dislikes other kinds of Bhaktas who worship other Devatas. Gradually, from Apara-Bhakti, the devotee goes to Para-Bhakti, the highest form of Bhakti. He sees the Lord and Lord alone everywhere and feels His Power manifest as the entire universe. “Thou art all-pervading; on what Simhasana shall I seat Thee ? Thou art the Supreme Light, in whose borrowed light the sun, the moon, the stars and the fire shine; shall I wave this little Deepa or light before You ?” – thus the devotee recognizes the transcendental nature of God. Para-Bhakti and Jnana are one. But every Bhakta will have to start from Apara-Bhakti. Before you take your food, offer it to God mentally; and the food will be purified. When you pass through a garden of flowers, mentally offer all the flowers to the Lord in Archana (offering flowers in worship). When you pass through the bazaar and see a sweetmeat shop, offer all the sweetmeats as Naivedya to the Lord. Such practices will lead to Para-Bhakti.

Bhakti is also classified into Gauna-Bhakti and Mukhya-Bhakti. Gauna-Bhakti is the lower Bhakti and Mukhya-Bhakti is the higher type of Bhakti.

Go from stage to stage. Just as a flower grows in the garden, so also gradually develop love or Prem in the garden of your heart.

The enemy of devotion is egoism and desire. Where there is no Kama or desire, there alone will Rama (the Lord) manifest Himself. The enemies of peace and devotion are lust, anger and greed. Anger destroys your peace and your health also. When a man abuses you, keep peaceful. When blood begins to boil, it is impoverished. You lose vitality if you become a prey to fits of temper.

How to caltivate Bhakti

It would be a gross mistake if you consider Bhakti as merely a stage of emotionalism, while it is actually a thorough discipline and training of one’s will and the mind, a sure means to intuitive realization of God Almighty through intense love and affection for Him. It is a means to thorough apprehension of the true knowledge of Reality, beginning from the ordinary form of idol worship right upto the highest form of cosmic realisation of your oneness with Him. You can achieve this by following the eleven fundamental factors which Sri Ramanuja had prescribed. They are:

  • Abhyasa or practice of continuous thinking of God;
  • Viveka or discrimination;
  • Vimoka or freedom from everything else and longing for God;
  • Satyam or truthfulness;
  • Arjavam or straightforwardness;
  • Kriya or doing good to others;
  • Kalyana or wishing well-being to all;
  • Daya or compassion;
  • Ahimsa or non-injury;
  • Dana or charity;
  • Anavasada or cheerfulness and optimism.


People put a question: “How can we love God whom we have not seen ?”

Live in the company of saints. Hear the Lilas of God. Study the sacred scriptures. Worship Him first in His several forms as manifested in the world. Worship any image or picture of the Lord or the Guru. Recite His Name. Sing His glories. Stay for one year in Ayodhya or Brindavan, Chirakut or Pandhapur, Benares or Ananda Kutir. You will develop love for God.

Every act must be done that awakens the emotion of Bhakti. Keep the Puja(worship) room clean. Decorate the room. Burn incense. Light a lamp. Keep a clean seat. Bathe. Wear clean clothes. Apply Vibhuti (sacred ash) or Bhasma, and Kumkum on the forehead. Wear Rudraksha or Tulasi Mala. All these produce a benign influence on the mind and elevate the mind. They generate piety. They help to create the necessary Bhava or feeling to invoke the Deity that you want to worship. The mind will be easily concentrated.

Practice of right conduct, Satsanga, Japa, Smarana, Kirtan, prayer, worship, service of saints, residence in places of pilgrimage, service of the poor and the sick with divine Bhava, observance of Varnashrama duties, offering of all actions and their fruits to the Lord, feeling the presence of the Lord in all beings, prostrations before the image and saints, renunciation of earthly enjoyments and wealth, charity, austerities and vows, practice of Ahimsa, Satyam and Brahmacharya – all these will help you to develop Bhakti.


Bhavas in Bhakti

When the devotee grows in devotion there is absolute self-forgetfulness. This is called Bhava. Bhava establishes a true relationship between the devotee and the Lord. Bhava then grows into Maha-Bhava wherein the devotee lives, moves and has his being in the Lord. This is Parama-Prema, the consummation of love or Supreme Love.

There are five kinds of Bhava in Bhakti. They are Shanta, Dasya, Sakhya, Vatsalya and Madhurya Bhavas. These Bhavas or feelings are natural to human beings and so these are easy to practice. Practice whichever Bhava suits your temperament.

  • In Shanta Bhava, the devotee is Shanta or peaceful. He does not jump and dance. He is not highly emotional. His heart is filled with love and joy. Bhishma was a Shanta Bhakta.hqdefault
  • Sri Hanuman was a Dasya Bhakta. He had Dasya Bhava, servant attitude. He served Lord Rama whole-heartedly. He pleased his Master in all possible ways. He found joy and bliss in the service of his Master.Maha018
  • In Sakhya Bhava, God is a friend of the devotee. Arjuna had this Bhava towards Lord Krishna. The devotee moves with the Lord on equal terms. Arjuna and Krishna used to sit, eat, talk and walk together as intimate friends.Mahabharata-Krishna-
  • In Vatsalya Bhava, the devotee looks upon God as his child. Yasoda had this Bhava with Lord Krishna. There is no fear in this Bhava, because God is your pet child. The devotee serves, feeds, and looks upon God as a mother does in the case of her child.Shri-Krishna-With-Mata-Yashodra-
  • The last is Madhurya Bhava or Kanta Bhava. This is the highest form of Bhakti. The devotee regards the Lord as his Lover. This was the relation between Radha and Krishna. This is Atma-Samarpana. The lover and the beloved become one. The devotee and God feel one with each other and still maintain a separateness in order to enjoy the bliss of the play of love between them. This is oneness in separation and separation in oneness. Lord Gauranga, Jayadeva, Mira and Andal had this Bhava.
    Meerabai (1)

A Caution: Madhurya Bhava is absolutely different from conjugality of earthly experience. One should not be mistaken for the other. Earthly conjugality is purely selfish and is undertaken only because it gives pleasure to one’s own self. But in love for God it is because it gives pleasure to God and not for the sake of the devotee. Divine love is not selfish. It is born of sattva. But earthly lust is born of rajas and attachment to bodies. Earthly conjugality is the outcome of egoisitc self-regarding egoistic feeling, while divine communion is the outcome of other-regarding feeling devoid of egoism. Strong selfishness is the root of worldly passion; divine love is the product of loss of egoism. This is the greatest difference between lust (kama) and divine love (prema). The two are related as darkness is related to light. No development of earthly affection, however perfect it may be, can lead one to supreme joy of divine communion. Lust lurks in the heart due to the passion that burns in the core of things. Divine love is unknown to the man of the world, however religious he may be. The secret of divine love cannot be understood, and should not be tried to be understood, so long as man is only a man and woman only a woman. The austere transformation of the human into the divine is the beginning of true love for God.maharas-bhakti



Devotion to God is developed in nine different ways. It is supreme attacment to God through a Bhava predominant in the devotee. Intense love is the common factor in all the nine modes. Exclusive love for God is expressed through various methods. All Bhaktas of this type are above the formalities of the world. They are untouched by the laws of human Dharma and are out and out concerned with God.

Good conduct which is in accordance with perfect moral law is an auxiliary to pure Bhakti and it follows the true Bhakta wherever he goes. One cannot develop true devotion to God if he is crooked in his heart, if he has got objects of love in this world, if he is tempted by charming worldly things, if he wishes to take care of his wife, children and relatives, if he wishes to feed his body well, if he wishes to earn a great name in the world, if he wants to establish a permanent fame on earth, if he does not like to part with the alluring contents of the world. Perfect detachment from all objects is a preliminary to real devotion. Vairagya is the product of real love for God. One who has love for the world cannot have love for God. Where there is Kama, there cannot be Rama and where there is Rama there cannot be Kama. Love for the world and love for God are diametrically opposite things. One has to be renounced for the attainment of the other. This renunciation can be acquired through the nine forms of Bhakti.

In the Srimad-Bhagavata and the Vishnu Purana it is told that the nine forms of Bhakti are

  1. Sravana (hearing of God’s Lilas and stories),
  2. Kirtana (singing of His glories),
  3. Smarana (remembrance of His name and presence),
  4. Padasevana (service of His feet),
  5. Archana (worship of God),
  6. Vandana (prostration to Lord),
  7. Dasya (cultivating the Bhava of a servant with God),
  8. Sakhya (cultivation of the friend-Bhava) and
  9. Atmanivedana (complete surrender of the self).

A devotee can practice any method of Bhakti which suits him best. Through that he will attain Divine illumination.

Sravana is hearing of Lord’s Lilas. Sravana includes hearing of God’s virtues, glories, sports and stories connected with His divine Name and Form. The devotee gets absorbed in the hearing of Divine stories and his mind merges in the thought of divinity; it cannot think of undivine things. The mind loses, as it were, its charm for the world. The devotee remembers God only even in dream.

The devotee should sit before a learned teacher who is a great saint and hear Divine stories. He should hear them with a sincere heart devoid of the sense of criticism or fault-finding. The devotee should try his best to live in the ideals preached in the scriptures.

One cannot attain Sravana-Bhakti without the company of saints or wise men. Mere reading for oneself is not of much use. Doubts will crop up. They cannot be solved by oneself easily. An experienced man is necessary to instruct the devotee in the right path.

King Parikshit attained Liberation through Sravana. He heard the glories of God from Suka Maharishi. His heart was purified. He attained the Abode of Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha. He became liberated and enjoyed the Supreme Bliss.

Kirtana is singing of Lord’s glories. The devotee is thrilled with Divine Emotion. He loses himself in the love of God. He gets horripilation in the body due to extreme love for God. He weeps in the middle when thinking of the glory of God. His voice becomes choked, and he flies into a state of Divine Bhava. The devotee is ever engaged in Japa of the Lord’s Name and in describing His glories to one and all. Wherever he goes he begins to sing and praise God. He requests all to join his Kirtana. He sings and dances in ecstasy. He makes others also dance.

Smarana is remembrance of the Lord at all times. This is unbroken memory of the Name and Form of the Lord. The mind does not think of any object of the world, but is ever engrossed in thinking of the glorious Lord alone. The mind meditates on what is heard about the glories of God and His virtues, Names, etc., and forgets even the body and contents itself in the remembrance of God, just as Dhruva or Prahlada did. Even Japa is only remembrance of God and comes under this category of Bhakti. Remembrance also includes hearing of stories pertaining to God at all times, talking of God, teaching to others what pertains to God, meditation on the attributes of God, etc. Remembrance has no particular time. God is to be remembered at all times without break, so long as one has got his consciousness intact.

Padasevana is serving the Lord’s Feet. Actually this can be done only by Lakshmi or Parvati. No mortal being has got the fortune to practice this method of Bhakti, for the Lord is not visible to the physical eyes. But it is possible to serve the image of God in idols and better still, taking the whole humanity as God. This is Padasevana. Padasevana is service of the sick. Padasevana is service of the whole humanity at large. The whole universe is only Virat-Swarupa. Service of the world is service of the Lord.

Archana is worship of the Lord. Worship can be done either through an image or a picture or even a mental form. The image should be one appealing to the mind of the worshipper.

Worship can be done either with external materials or merely through an internal Bhava or strong feeling. The latter one is an advanced form of worship which only men of purified intellect can do. The purpose of worship is to please the Lord, to purify the heart through surrender of the ego and love of God.

Vandana is prayer and prostration. Humble prostration touching the earth with the eight limbs of the body (Sashtanga-Namaskara), with faith and reverence, before a form of God, or prostration to all beings knowing them to be the forms of the One God, and getting absorbed in the Divine Love of the Lord is termed prostration to God or Vandana.

The ego or Ahamkara is effaced out completely through devout prayer and prostration to God. Divine grace descends upon the devotee and man becomes God.

Dasya Bhakti is the love of God through servant-sentiment. To serve God and carry out His wishes, realizing His virtues, nature, mystery and glory, considering oneself as a slave of God, the Supreme Master, is Dasya Bhakti.

Serving and worshipping the Murtis in temples, sweeping the temple premises, meditating on God and mentally serving Him like a slave, serving the saints and the sages, serving the devotees of God, serving poor and sick people who are forms of God, is also included in Dasya-Bhakti.

To follow the words of the scriptures, to act according to the injunctions of the Vedas, considering them to be direct words of God, is Dasya Bhakti. Association with and service of love-intoxicated devotees and service of those who have knowledge of God is Dasya Bhakti. The purpose behind Dasya Bhakti is to be ever with God in order to offer service to Him and win His Divine Grace and attain thereby immortality.

Sakhya-Bhava is the cultivation of the friend-sentiment with God. The inmates of the family of Nandagopa cultivated this Bhakti. Arjuna cultivated this kind of Bhakti towards Lord Krishna.

To be always with the Lord, to treat Him as one’s own dear relative or a friend belonging to one’s own family, to be in His company at all times, to love Him as one’s own self, is Sakhya-Bhava of Bhakti-Marga. How do friends, real friends, love in this world ? What an amount of love they possess between one another ? Such a love is developed towards God instead of towards man; physical love turned into spiritual love. There is a transformation of the mundane into the Eternal.

Atma-Nivedana is self-surrender. The devotee offers everything to God, including his body, mind and soul. He keeps nothing for himself. He loses even his own self. He has no personal and independent existence. He has given up his self for God. He has become part and parcel of God. God takes care of him and God treats him as Himself. Grief and sorrow, pleasure and pain, the devotee treats as gifts sent by God and does not attach himself to them. He considers himself as a puppet of God and an instrument in the hands of God.

This self-surrender is Absolute Love for God exclusively. There is nothing but God-consciousness in the devotee. Even against his own wishes, the devotee shall become one with God and lose his individuality. This is the law of being. The highest truth is Absoluteness and the soul rises above through different states of consciousness until it attains Absolute Perfection when it becomes identical with God. This is the culmination of all aspiration and love.

The nine modes of Bhakti are the ways in which a devotee attains the Supreme Ideal of life. A devotee can take up any of these paths and reach the highest state. The path of Bhakti is the easiest of all and is not very much against the nature of human inclinations. It slowly and gradually takes the individual to the Supreme without frustrating his human instincts. It is not direct assertion of God, but a progressive realization of Him.

Fruits of Bhakti

Bhakti softens the heart and removes jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride and arrogance. It infuses joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace and knowledge. All cares, worries and anxieties, fears, mental torments and tribulations entirely vanish. The devotee is freed from the Samsaric wheel of births and deaths. He attains the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss and knowledge.

The fruits of Bhakti is Jnana. Jnana intensifies Bhakti. Even Jnanis like Sankara, Madhusudana and Suka Dev took to Bhakti after Realization to enjoy the sweetness of loving relationship with God.

Knowledge or wisdom will dawn by itself when you practice Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti is the pleasant, smooth, direct road to God. Bhakti is sweet in the beginning, sweet in the middle and sweet in the end. It gives the highest, undecaying bliss.

Kindle love divine in thy heart, for this is the immediate way to the Kingdom of God.

Pray to the Lord. Sing His glory. Recite His Name. Become a channel of His grace.

Seek His will. Do His will. Surrender to His will. You will become one with the cosmic will.

Surrender unto the Lord. He will become your charioteer on the field of life. He will drive your chariot well. You will reach the destination, the Abode of Immortal Bliss.


Jnana Yoga – Yoga of Knowledge

Jnana Yoga, discussed in Vedanta, is the discipline of philosophical discrimination by which jnana, or the knowledge of Brahman (the Supreme Reality) is attained.

A Hindu philosopher once said about Vedanta: “I shall state in half a couplet what has been described in a million books: Brahman alone is real; the phenomenal universe is unreal; the living being is none other than Brahman.”

Jnana Yoga establishes the sole reality of Brahman.


The ultimate openness of the Godhead, living beings, and the universe is emphasised by Sankaracharya as the essence and conclusion of Vedanta as expounded in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma-Sutras. Sankaracharya, popularly called Sankara, was born, according to modern scholars, during the eighth century after Christ. The year of his birth is given as A.D. 788 and that of his death as 820. He belonged to a sect of austere, scholarly, and industrious Brahmins of Malabar in South India. After completing the study of the Vedas, he embraced the monastic life at an early age, devoted himself to the practice of spiritual disciplines, and was soon recognised as the leading philosopher and mystic of India, and a reformer of Hinduism.

Before his death at Kedarnath in the Himalayas, at the age of thirty-two, he had travelled the length and breadth of India and established monasteries at the four corners of the country. Sankara lived during the decadent period of Buddhism when India was torn with sectarianism and religious conflict, causing bewilderment to earnest seekers of truth. In open debate and through his now well-known commentaries on the scriptures he refuted the views of his opponents and established non-dualism as the ultimate teaching of the Vedas. It is refreshing to contemplate the serenity and unshakable assurance of Sankara’s philosophy amidst the polemics of his time.

It may be safely stated that Sankara’s interpretation of Hinduism is, even today, India’s original and unsurpassed contribution to the philosophical thought of the world. He established the fact that ultimate reality, though supra mental, need not remain a dogma of religion or the private vision of mysticism, but that it is a philosophical truth which may be demonstrated by reason and which is supported by universal experience. Despite ceaseless activity, he found time to write, in addition to his more famous works, several small philosophical treatises and to compose hymns in praise of the Hindu deities. In Sankara one finds the unusual combination of a philosopher and a poet, an astute thinker and a clear writer, a savant and a saint, a mystic and a religious reformer, a debater of rare forensic power and a passionate lover of God. He is one of the brightest stars in the philosophical and religious firmament of India.

The Ideal Teacher

The knowledge of Vedanta, like all other forms of genuine spiritual knowledge, has been transmitted through a succession of teachers. Books may give information or even mental stimulation, but the guru, or teacher, helps to awaken spiritual consciousness. Naturally, a high degree of perfection is expected of the teacher, who must be properly qualified.

A teacher must be properly qualified and should possess knowledge of the scriptures in order to dispel students’ doubts. He must have direct experience of God, the most important qualification. Free from sinfulness and selfish motives, he must be’ like an ocean of mercy which knows no reason’. With infinite patience and infinite love he unfolds the disciple’s heart, as the breeze opens the buds at the advent of spring. The father provides one with the physical birth, but the teacher with the spiritual birth. The student should approach the teacher with respect, in a spirit of service, and ask him intelligent questions. The meeting of a qualified student with a God-like teacher – as when Peter met Christ, or Vivekananda met Ramakrishna- is a wonderful event in the spiritual world. The ideal teacher here described is indeed rare. But one may also derive benefit from a less perfect guide. As the mind of the pupil becomes purer, he finds that God- who dwells in everyone’s heart- is guiding him on his spiritual path.

The Disciple

An aspirant, pure in thought, word and deed, seeks the help of a spiritual teacher. God no doubt dwells in all men and is their inner guide. But since at the outset a man’s impure thoughts usually distort the divine voice, he needs a guide to show him the right path. The teacher quickens the spiritual awakening; a candle is lighted from another lighted candle. Religious history shows that even the greatest saints and mystics have taken help from a qualified teacher. The mere study of books is not enough.

The disciple approaches the benign guru and says to him, in the words of Sankara: ‘Save me from death, afflicted as I am by the unquenchable fire of the forest of the world, a fire which blazes violently on account of the wind of the wicked deeds performed by me in my previous lives. Save me, who am terrified and who seeks refuge in thee; for I know of no other with whom to take shelter. How I shall cross the ocean of phenomenal existence, what is to be my fate, and what means I should adopt- as to these I know nothing. Condescend to save me, and describe at length how to put an end to repeated births and deaths, fraught with suffering and frustration.’

The distressed disciple is reassured by the guru: ‘Fear not, O blessed one. There is no death for you. There is no means of crossing the ocean of apparently interminable births and deaths in this transitory world. The very way the sages have trod heretofore, I shall point out to you. It is through the touch of ignorance that you, who are the Supreme Self, find yourself under the bondage of the non-self, whence alone proceeds the round of births and deaths. The fire of knowledge, kindled by discrimination between the Self and the non-self, consumes ignorance with its effects.’

The successful study of Vedanta presupposes a sort of intuitive knowledge of the limitations and misery inevitable in the life of the embodied soul: there is suffering in birth, disease, old age, and in death. One believing in progress and ultimate perfection in the phenomenal world will not be able to grasp the essence of non-dualistic Vedanta. Furthermore, the student of non-dualism must be equipped with proper qualifications. True knowledge does not consist of mere information; it must transform a man’s character and inspire the activities of his daily life. An objective attitude, faithful adherence to facts, an intellectual honesty may be adequate for scientific knowledge, but Vedanta requires much more.

The four cardinal disciplines of Vedanta are

1.Discrimination between the real and the unreal
2. Renunciation
3. A group of six virtues
4. Longing for freedom.

    1. Discrimination between the real and the unreal. This discrimination springs from the intuitive conviction that the eternal and unchanging Brahman alone is real, and all other objects are transitory and unreal. The student is born, as it were, with this conviction on account of his having been previously disillusioned, by experiences in previous lives, about the reality of the happiness one may expect on earth and in the heavenly worlds. Discrimination is the first and the foremost discipline; without it the next discipline cannot be practised.

    2. Renunciation.This means non-attachment to all pleasures, ranging from the enjoyment of the tangible objects found on earth to that of the happiness a virtuous soul experiences in heaven. All actions are by nature finite; therefore, their results, too, are finite. Such impermanent factors of an action as the doer, his body and sense organs, and the physical accessories he employs, cannot produce a permanent result. A student of Vedanta must be endowed not only with a keen power of intellect in order to discriminate between the real and the unreal but also with a stern power of will to give up the unreal. Too often the unreal appears to us in the guise of the real, and too often we lack the power to renounce even what we know to be unreal.

    3. Next comes a group of six virtues: (i)control of the body and the senses, (ii)control of the mind, (iii)prevention of the sense-organs, once they are controlled, from drifting back to their respective objects, (iv)forbearance, (v)complete concentration, (vi)faith.

Self-control must not be confused with torture or mortification of the body. The sense organs, which are ordinarily inclined toward material objects and employed to seek only the pleasant, should be controlled in order to create that inner calmness without which profound spiritual truths cannot be grasped. But self-control does not mean the weakening of the organs, as is explained in the Katha Upanishad by the illustration of the chariot. The body is compared to the chariot, the embodied soul to its master, the intellect or discriminative faculty to the driver, the mind to the reins, the senses to the horses, and sense-objects to the roads. The chariot can serve its purpose of taking the master to his destination if it is well built, if the driver can discriminate between the right and the wrong road, if the reins are strong, if the horses are firmly controlled, and if the roads are well chosen.

Likewise, the spiritual seeker should possess a healthy body and vigorous organs, unerring discrimination, and a strong mind. His discrimination should guide his senses to choose only those objects, which are helpful to the realisation of his spiritual ideal. If the body, the mind, or any of his faculties is injured or weakened, he cannot attain the goal, just as the rider cannot reach his destination if the chariot and its accessories are not in the right condition. Thus the two important elements emphasised in the practice of self-control are discrimination and will power.

The middle path, which makes a man ‘temperate in his food and recreation, temperate in his exertion in work, temperate in sleep and waking’ has been extolled by the Bhagavad Gita and also by Buddha.

Through the practice of forbearance, the student remains unruffled by heat and cold, pleasure and pain, and the other pairs of opposites. By means of concentration, he keeps his mind on the ideal. Faith enables him to listen, with respect to the instruction of the teacher and the injunctions of the scriptures. This faith is not mechanical belief, but an affirmative attitude of mind regarding the existence of reality, as opposed to a negative and cynical attitude. The man who always doubts comes to a grief.

    1. Longing for freedom.

 A serious student of Vedanta relies through rational investigation and actual experience that a man attached to the world is a bound creature and never really happy. Thus a genuine aspirant longs for freedom; but this longing must not be confused with the momentary yearning created by frustration or worldly loss. True renunciation and longing for freedom are the two vital disciplines through which the other disciplines bear fruit. Without these, even ethical virtues create only a mirage of spirituality. The Upanishads state that the knowledge of the self reveals itself only to one who longs for it intensely.

Sankaracharya lays emphasis on bhakti as a means to the realisation of freedom, and defines it as a single-minded longing for truth. Without this emotional urge the aspirant often becomes lost in the wilderness of philosophical speculation or seeks satisfaction in intellectual gymnastics.

The path of knowledge is steep and austere, and the search for impersonal reality is extremely difficult for those who are constantly aware of their duties to the world. This path, therefore, is usually pursued by monks, who have renounced the world. The monastic ideal of India is as ancient as the Hindu spiritual culture itself, though it received added impetus at the time of Buddha. Sankaracharya, in his commentaries on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma-Sutras, emphatically asserts the incompatibility of the unitive knowledge of Brahman with any kind of activity, ritualistic or philanthropic, because the latter cannot be dissociated from the triple factors of the doer, the instrument of action, and the result of action. Thus he is convinced that the non-dual Brahman can be realised only by all-renouncing sannyasins (monks), and not by householders, if the latter are true to their dharma.

To the qualified pupil who has properly approached the preceptor, the latter gives instruction so that he may overcome ignorance and realise the oneness of existence. It is explained to the pupil that on account of Maya, or nescience, Brahman, that is to say, Pure Consciousness, appears as the conditioned Brahman or the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of the universe. From the conditioned Brahman evolve the five subtle elements of akasa (space), air, fire, water, and earth, which, becoming gross, produce the universe and all the physical objects contained in it. Under the influence of the same nescience, Brahman appears as the individual soul, who is endowed with a mind, a body, sense organs, vital breaths, and is a victim of birth and death. All this is called in Vedanta the illusory superimposition of the unreal upon the real.

This superimposition does not change in the least the nature of pure consciousness, just as the illusory water of the mirage does not affect the desert. From the relative standpoint, however, the conditioned Brahman is the cause of the universe: Maya is the material cause, and pure intelligence the efficient cause.

Next, the teacher explains the refutation or negation of this illusory superimposition. As a snake perceived in a rope is found, after proper investigation, to be nothing but the rope, so also the world of unreal entities beginning with ignorance and ending in the material universe and physical bodies and the conditioned Brahman- all superimposed upon Reality through ignorance- is finally realised to be nothing but pure Brahman. Causality itself, as also time and space, belong to the realm of phenomena and cannot affect Brahman. Brahman alone exists; the universe apart from Brahman is non-existent. Vedanta is neither pantheism, which would tacitly admit of Brahman’s becoming the universe, nor is it illusionism, which would accept the reality of a Maya under whose influence Brahman projects the universe. From the ultimate standpoint there is neither projection nor becoming. Pure consciousness is immutable.

According to non-dualists, the true nature of Brahman is realised through the method of negation. Every act of negation leaves behind a positive residuum. Thus, when the snake is negated, there remains the rope, and when the rope is negated something else remains. After all the changing superimpositions have been negated, there remains Being, or Sat, which is pure consciousness.

It may be contended, as certain of the Buddhist philosophers have argued, that when the process of negation is carried to its logical conclusion, what remains is a void; thus ultimate reality is a void, or non-existence. In reply it is said that there must be a perceiving consciousness, which is aware of the void. And this consciousness is Brahman. He who doubts or denies this fact is himself Brahman.

The Four Great Vedic Statements

What is the process by which a student realises his oneness with Brahman? The teacher instructs him about the four great Vedic statements asserting this unity directly experienced by the Vedic seers and subsequently explained by philosophers:

‘That thou art,’ ‘I am Brahman’, ‘This self is Brahman’, and ‘Brahman is consciousness.’

Let us try to understand the meaning of the first statement, ‘That thou art’ (tattvamasi), with which many people in the West have now become familiar. The direct meaning of the word That comprises the conditioned Brahman (associated with the upadhis, or limiting adjuncts of creation, preservation, and destruction, and endowed with omniscience, lordship, omnipotence, and similar attributes) and pure consciousness, which is its unrelated substratum.

Likewise the direct meaning of the word Thou comprises the jiva or individualised soul (associated with the limiting adjuncts of the body, mind, and the sense-organs and endowed with such traits as little knowledge, little power, and dependency) and pure consciousness, which is its unrelated substratum. But there is also an implied meaning of the words That and Thou, namely, pure consciousness itself, unassociated with any limiting adjuncts. It is common practice to explain a statement through its implied meaning when the direct meaning contradicts actual experience: When we see that a red hot iron ball burns something, we say that the direct agent of burning is the iron; but the implied, though real, agent is fire, unassociated with iron. Again, in the statement ‘He spent the night on a sleepless pillow,’ the word sleepless does not refer to the pillow but to the person, who used the pillow.

Similarly, in the Vedic statement ‘That thou art,’ the word Art denotes the identity of That and Thou, which directly refer to the conditioned Brahman and the embodied soul respectively. But this identity is obviously absurd, since they are poles asunder. Therefore we must explain the statement by its implied meaning. The identity is really based upon the pure consciousness, which is the unrelated substratum of both. The limiting adjuncts in both cases are the creation of ignorance and therefore unreal: so these must be discarded. Therefore the statement ‘That thou art’ really conveys a transcendental experience of oneness which is beyond the body, mind, senses, and ego and the sensations associated with them. When a person realises his oneness with Brahman, he is oblivious of the idea that he is an embodied being.

Next, the teacher exhorts the disciple to meditate on his real nature:

‘That which is beyond caste, and creed, family and lineage, which is devoid of name and form, merit and demerit, that which transcends space, time, and sense-objects- that Brahman art thou. Meditate on this in thy mind.

‘That which is free from birth, growth, maturity, decline, infirmity, and death; that which is indestructible; that which is the cause of projection, maintenance, and dissolution of the universe- that Brahman art thou. Meditate on this in thy mind.

‘That which is free from duality; that which is infinite and indestructible; that which is supreme, eternal and undying; that which is taintless- that Brahman art thou. Meditate on this in thy mind.

‘That beyond which there is nothing; which shines above maya and is infinitely greater than the universe; the innermost self of all; the One without a second; existence-knowledge-bliss absolute; infinite and immutable- that Brahman art thou. Meditate on this in thy mind.’

As the disciple reflects deeply on the teacher’s instruction, he gradually frees himself from the superimpositions, which, like chains, bind one to the world. Vedanta speaks of three strong chains, namely, the observance of social formalities, over-engrossment in the scriptures, and undue attention to the physical body. The more the mind is established in Brahman, the less it feels attached to the physical world. The discipline must be practised, without interruption, as long as even a dream-like perception of the phenomenal universe and the physical body remains.

Even after the truth has been known, there often lingers the strong, primordial, and stubborn notion of ego, which can be destroyed only by living for some time in a state of constant communion with Brahman. Sloth and inadvertence are great enemies of the spiritual life, more harmful than many notorious sins. Inadvertence, delusion, egotism, bondage, and suffering are the successive links in the chain of the worldly life.

Having reflected, by means of suitable reasoning, on the instruction of the teacher, the student next devotes himself to meditation on Brahman, which means that his mind constantly dwells on a stream of ideas identical with the conception of the non-dual Brahman, to the exclusion of such foreign ideas as body, senses, mind, and ego. As he meditates on his oneness with Brahman, there arises within him a mental state, which makes him feel that he is Brahman- ever free, ever blissful, and ever illumined. This mental state gradually destroys his ignorance and doubts about Brahman. Yet even now for him Brahman is only a mental state or wave in the mind.

With the deepening of meditation, the mind, which is a manifestation of ignorance and a form of matter, is destroyed, and in the absence of the reflecting medium, the Brahman reflected in the mind is absorbed in the Supreme Brahman, which shines alone; it is like the reverting to the sun of its reflection in a dish of water when the dish is destroyed. Thus the subject and the object, pure consciousness and the individualised consciousness, become one. This unity, indescribable in words, is known only to him who has experienced it.

There are two kinds of samadhi

Later Vedantists have recommended the practice of the disciplines prescribed by Patanjali in the Yoga-sutras for the attainment of the knowledge of Brahman through samadhi, or total absorption. There are two kinds of samadhi. The experience of the one, in which the aspirant retains the distinction of the knower, knowledge, and the object of knowledge, may be likened to looking at a clay elephant and remaining conscious of the clay that permeates the figure. In this samadhi one retains consciousness of the individual soul, the body, and the world, and at the same time sees them all as permeated by Brahman, or pure consciousness.

In the other samadhi, the I-consciousness is totally obliterated, and there no longer remains any distinction between knower, knowledge, and the object of knowledge. This experience may be likened to the dissolving of a lump of salt in the water of the ocean, from which it was originally extracted; the salt cannot be separated any more from the water.

The four main obstacles

The need of vigilance is imperative at every step of the spiritual life. The obstacles which beset the path until the goal is reached are generally created by the mind’s inability to rest in Brahman, though it has become somewhat detached from the world. The four main obstacles are torpidity, distraction, attachment, and enjoyment of bliss. Often the student, while practising meditation, falls into a state of sleep because his mind is without a support either in Brahman or in the world. The remedy for this is devotional music, study of the scriptures, a visit to holy places, or some such stimulating spiritual exercise.

Second, the mind, while practising meditation, feels distracted by ideas, for the most part petty and inconsequential, which flit through the mind like the dust particles dancing in a sunbeam coming through a chink in the door or the wall into a dark room. They are often the result of the aspirant’s futile talk and physical movements when not engaged in meditation. The remedy is in the pacification of the mind through patience and perseverance.

Third, the mind may suddenly be seizes by a violent attachment to a long forgotten experience lying nestled in the subconscious mind. This can be overcome by means of stern discrimination and will power.

And last, one may feel quite satisfied with the enjoyment of an inferior bliss or a foretaste of the joy of Brahman, and be unwilling to make any further effort to reach the ultimate goal. This is explained by the illustration of a man who has heard of a treasure box hidden under a stone. As he approaches the place, he is challenged by a powerful dragon. A life and death struggle follows and at last the dragon is killed. But the man feels so exhilarated by the destruction of his enemy that he dances about in joy, forgetting all about the treasure. A spiritual seeker, too, becomes extremely delighted when, after a stubborn fight, he suppresses certain passions and attachments, and forgets to go further in order to realise his freedom. Sometimes the enjoyment of the delight arising from supra physical experiences makes the aspirant forget his goal.

The remedy for this obstacle is that the aspirant should not permit his mind to dwell long on any transient experience. He must detach himself from all forms of reflected bliss, however alluring they may appear, and not stop till the goal is reached. With sincerity and zeal, earnestness and perseverance, patience and love for the ideal, the devotee finally overcomes all obstacles, great and small, through the blessings of his teacher and the grace of God: he realises his oneness with Brahman.

Now the imprisoned lion is freed from its cage and can roam again in the forest, its natural habitat; the bound soul has attained freedom while dwelling in the body. The characteristics of a free soul have already been described (Read Page ‘The soul and its destiny’). Himself released from fear, he gives the assurance of fearlessness to all. Himself free from worry, he does not cause worry to anyone. He lives, works, and dies under the spell of the soul’s immortality, non-duality, and divinity. But whether endowed with a physical body or not, he has entered into a realm of new consciousness, from which he redirects his activities for the welfare of all. By the birth of such a person, as a Hindu poet has said, his family becomes purified, his mother blessed among women, and the earth sanctified for having nourished a worthy soul.

By swami Nikhilananda Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore

[Note: In this article, the use of the word ‘Vedanta’ is limited to apply to the philosophy of non-dualism. There are two other interpretations of Vedanta, namely, qualified non-dualism and dualism, whose chief exponents are respectively Ramanuja and Madhava.]