Have you ever thought who life we are living?
We always talk about great kings, administrators and businessmen.
But, when we look at our own lives, we are in reality living the life of great saints. Our daily life is hugely influenced by them.
If one looks at Indian society, people prefer to identify themselves by spiritual traditions developed by saints. People see themselves as Madhvas, Lingayats, Sri Vaishnavas, Sikhs, Ramanandis, Varkaris and others. Each state in the country has its own spiritual tradition and culture, which is directly influenced by one or more saints of the region.
While thousands of great kings ruled the country since ancient times, we don’t really identify ourselves with them. We don’t even remember most of them. While there are highly respected kings like Janaka and Bali, again they are remembered for their spiritual achievements.
Even an Asura like Ravana is highly revered because he was a great devotee of Shiva. We still recite the great ‘Shiva Tandava Stotram’ composed by him.
However, is the path of devotion still relevant the modern society? If so, how? Let us try to understand.
The psychology of devotion
Bhakti or devotion is one of the four paths of spirituality. The others being Karma, Jnana and Raja or Kriya Yoga.
Bhakti Yoga or the path of devotion is simply an act of devoting yourself to God. What is the benefit of it?
Human beings are born with a great potential within. But, due to life’s circumstances, they develop limiting beliefs about themselves. They fail at maintaining good health, relationships and fail financially too. As they grow older, it becomes more difficult to erase such limiting beliefs from their mind.
So, instead of striving to replace self-doubt with positive beliefs, they are given the path of devotion. They are told to select a deity and build a deeper connection with it. And let the deity work on their behalf.
Once they start on this path, devotees begin to believe that their chosen deity will help them solve problems, and show them ways to create wealth and healthy relationships. Devotees drop all kinds of negative thoughts, resentment, jealousy and live a happy God-centred life. It makes them more compassionate towards fellow living beings.
If you can learn the art of devotion and know how to connect with your deity, you can easily access your inner potential and use it to transform your life.
The other three Yoga methods are strenuous. The Karma Yoga is when a person does his work without any desire for its fruits. Not easy. It takes years to develop such a mindset. The Jnana Yoga is a hard mental exercise. And the Kriya yoga too demands intense physical action. All these three demand a lot of time, sometimes many years to reach the goal. They don’t really go well with your daily life.
But, you can practice Bhakti yoga as part of your life. You can practice it no matter who you are, and wherever you are. It is a simple spiritual practice to connect with God. Once you build this connection, God will start giving answers to your life’s questions and guide you all through.
It does not require any mantras, rituals or even the help of a priest. This nature of Bhakti yoga had a great influence on Shrimanta Sankar Deva during his 12-year long pilgrimage.
How Shankara Deva used devotion to rebuild Assamese culture
A neo Bhakti movement emerged in southern India during the 5th century and brought a lasting change in Indian spiritual life. It created many great saints, who in turn influenced kings and common people to transform Indian society forever. Srimanta Sankaradeva was one such great saint who transformed Assam.
When Srimanta Sankaradeva was born in the 15th century, the Bhakti movement was already becoming popular in north India. Started by the Tamil Alvars in the 5th century, neo-Vaishnavism got propagated by the great acharyas such as Ramanuja. Then it spread across Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. In the early 15th century, Saint Ramananda passed this on to north India.
Sankaradeva, who was from a Shiromani Bhuyan family, was a Shakta by family tradition. But, during his 12-year long pilgrimage at the age of 32, he was profoundly influenced by the neo Vaishnavite tradition. This tradition is based on the Bhagavad Gita and considers Lord Vishnu as the supreme being. Vaishnavism made the spiritual practices so simple that a layman could practice it. It said that there was no need of Mantras or heavy spiritual practices or even the need for a priest to mediate. Anyone can approach God just by surrendering to him and start living a God-centred life.
After returning to Assam, Srimanta Sankaradeva began to preach his new found religion Ekasarana Nama Dharma. In contrast to the earlier Shakta spiritual path, Ekasarana Nama Dharma taught a simple method of devotion for the common people. Instead of huge temples and long spiritual rituals, Srimanta Sankaradeva founded monasteries called Satras, centres for practising devotion. The miniature versions of these monasteries, called namghors, were built in villages to conduct kirtans in praise of the lord.
This way, Srimanta Sankaradeva simplified spiritual path for common man.
How to use devotion in your life
Srimanta Sankaradeva used two elements to not just transform his own life, but also the life of whole Assam. The same elements you too can use to transform your life. They are 1. Master and 2. Mission.
Srimanta Sankaradeva considered Lord Krishna as his master. And his mission was to help people directly connect with the God without long rituals or priests. We all have missions in life, but with a master, it is easy to accomplish them. The master is the deity that you choose to be devoted to. Whether you are a businessman or an artist or a teacher, if you can connect well with your deity, you can reach great heights.
Once you connect with the creator, your mind easily connects with creation. As a devotee, you will easily connect yourself with nature, all living and non-living beings in it. You will begin to revere all natural phenomena – dawn and dusk, night and stars. With this kind of connection, you tend to be protective toward nature and all life. You will become more loving and compassionate. You need not struggle to acquire these qualities. With devotion, they become a natural part of you.
So, if you can understand the process of devotion and find your deity, your life will be put in a forward motion, from success to success.
(This post was published in Assamese magazine Uruli)