This weekend ( Oct 18th/19th) Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya will visit ESY and offer a program on Bhakti Yoga – The Ocean of Bliss. For those yearning to go deeper into Yoga teachings or curious about this event this insightful interview with Sri Acharyaji gives a hint to the depths of his teaching.
Can you address comments you’ve made regarding Bhakti Yoga and how it is the Yoga for our time?
To address the significance of Bhakti Yoga, we need to understand what is the goal of Yoga itself. The goal of Yoga itself is not merely to have a good body physically. But more than this, the actual goal of Yoga is to know the Divine. In fact, the goal of Yoga is twofold: it’s to know ourselves in a pure and unadulterated way, and then secondly, to know the Divine.
With that understanding, we need to then ask, “If that is the goal, then what is the best means to achieve that goal?” All of the Vedic scriptures, including Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras, are in agreement on this: Bhakti Yoga is the most efficient, fastest, and most joyous means of knowing our true Self and of knowing the Divine.
The next logical question is: Why is it that we don’t know ourselves and why is it that we don’t know the Divine? The reason why is because of false ego- ahamkara. False ego creates an artificial sense of self. It covers up who we are and it covers up our relationship with the Divine. With this being the case, what we want to do is overcome this false ego. The best way of doing this is in the way that is most radical. And the way that is most radical in order to transcend ego is to surrender ego, to surrender everything that we are, at the feet of the Divine. There is no more radical path. There is no path that is more direct than this. So this is the reason why Bhakti Yoga is the most important Yoga of today. Given the fact that, in this current age especially, undertaking time-consuming, serious practices is very difficult. What is wonderful about Bhakti Yoga is the fact that it is not that difficult. What it requires, essentially, is developing devotional consciousness toward the Divine. This is something that a person can do anywhere, regardless of who they are, regardless of where they find themselves, if they are single and celibate or if they are married and within the world. It doesn’t matter what their lifestyle is. As long as they have sincerity, they can cultivate this devotional consciousness. Being that practicing long, long periods of meditation and yoga is very difficult, if a person develops Bhakti, devotional consciousness, this is something that’s much easier to do.
Could you elaborate on the ideas you presented during one of your recent talks here in Austin that, contrary to the notion that modern-day Western Yogis are avoiding the world and its problems, in fact true Yogis (perhaps even especially Bhakti Yogis?) are heroic people and very much in the world?
Very practically speaking, I would challenge anyone to even find a modern Yogi who is living in America who is avoiding the world, who is living stereotypically in a cave somewhere or just living in an ashram. Very few people are doing that. 99.9% of Yogis are indeed very much engaged in the world: they have jobs, they have families, they go to school, they have a social life, et cetera. You’d be very hard-pressed to find a Yogi who indeed has renounced the world to such a degree that they fit that stereotype.
Yoga, properly understood, does not encourage us to artificially renounce the world. In our current age specifically (known as the Kali Yoga in Vedic philosophy) we are actually called upon as Yogis to very much engage in the world. This is the central teaching, for example, of the Bhagavad Gita. When Arjuna wanted to renounce the world due to his own illusion, when he truly did just want to hide away from his actual duties, what does Krishna say to him? He doesn’t pat him on the back and say, “Okay, wonderful, Arjuna, come off to my ashram with me and let’s disappear from everything.” No, on the contrary, he chastises him, and he says “ You are meant to practice Yoga, but also to be in the world. You are meant to complete your duty.” And Arjuna, having fallen into a depression, Krishna actually says to him, “Arise Arjuna, Arise!” And he again encourages him to do his duty. This is the message for Yogis today. Like Arjuna, we are meant to not artificially renounce the world and pretend we’re something we’re not. Rather we are meant to be wherever we find ourselves, in whatever city, in whatever nation. We are meant to have family, we are meant to have jobs, we are meant to be active in the world: that means socially, that means politically, that means in every way that everyone else is.
But this is the only difference: unlike everyone else, our consciousness should be different. While we are in the world, we are not of the world. That’s it. This is one of the common teachings of actually many spiritual paths, even Christianity, interestingly. We are meant to be within the world but not of it. Again, we are meant to have our full life within the world, but unlike other people, we are meant to approach all things in this world with wisdom. Understanding the ultimate context in which we are encountering everything that we are encountering. We are encountering other people and we’re encountering other situations in the world: what is their ultimate meaning, not simply the meaning before my eyes right here and right now? I’m encountering conflict within the world, well that’s a terrible thing. But I need to ask myself: what is the ultimate cause of conflict? Ultimately it’s spiritual; it’s a spiritual problem. The reason why people steal from one another, take from one another, manipulate one another, the reason why they abuse one another is because of spiritual ignorance. Because they have made the mistake (false understanding) of thinking they are something they are not. They don’t know their true selves; they don’t understand that they, and every living being that they are encountering, are eternal beings. That being the case, with that understanding: how can you try to harm, exploit, take from, someone who really is the same as you on the level of consciousness? You can’t. So, if anything, taking the spiritual approaches teaches us how to be within the world, but also approach the world with wisdom. In such a way that, if anything, the Yogi has the ability to actually function in the world even better than the non-Yogi. Because again, they have everything that the non-Yogi has, but the Yogi also has wisdom that the non-Yogi does not.
Can you explain more about who this event is for, who would be welcome, and perhaps even speak to concerns people may have about feeling either feeling that in some way that they aren’t Yogic enough (whether they think they haven’t done enough asana or meditation) or spiritual enough to attend (they don’t identify with a path or faith or even feel themselves to be very spiritual at this time)?
As far as who this event is meant for: it’s meant for any individual who sincerely wants to know the truth of themselves, the truth of everything they are encountering in this world, and the truth of the Divine. And what’s more, it’s those who not only want to know this, but want to experience the Divine in a very loving, connected, close sort of way.
If a person is worried that they may not be spiritual advanced enough or advanced enough in Yoga to take this seminar, that probably is the person who should be taking this seminar, because they have humility. That’s the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say is this: how do we truly know who is advanced in Yoga? It’s not merely who is the person who can do the best, most pretzel-like asana. It’s not merely who is that person who can sit for three hours in meditation. You see, we don’t know what they’re meditating on. Rather it is that person who has sincerity and who wants to know and embrace truth who is advanced in Yoga.
True story: Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is one of the most famous sages in Sanatana Dharma. He lived 500 years ago. There is this famous story of when he was traveling throughout the length and breadth of India. And at one point he was in South India and when he was there, he encountered this person who every day he would see the person come into the temple, put the Bhagavad Gita in front of him, look at it, as in reading it, and just start crying and crying and crying.
Chaitanya at some point wanted to speak to this person because it was obvious that this person was just crying out of devotion. So he went up to the person and as he looked a little bit closer, he noticed that the Bhagavad Gita was upside down. This person wasn’t even really reading the Bhagavad Gita. Chaitanya asked him, “Sir, everyday I see you here and … and you read the Bhagavad Gita and you start crying and crying. And as I look, I see your Bhagavad Gita is not even right-side-up. Can I ask how are you reading this and why is it making you cry?” And the person said to him, “Actually sir, I’m illiterate and I can’t read. But the reason why I do this every day is because my Guru told me, “Every day, sit here for two hours and read the Bhagavad Gita. Well, I can’t read but still my Guru ordered me to do this. So everyday I come here and I put the Bhagavad Gita in front of me and I try to read it.”
And Chaitanya understood and he said, “Well that’s interesting but why do you cry when you sit here? You’re obviously crying in devotion.”
And the person said, “Well I see this image of Krishna and Arjuna. And I see that Krishna, who is the Avatara- the incarnation of the Divine- decided to become the servant of his servant, as his charioteer. That rather than Arjuna being the charioteer for God, and God simply sitting on the chariot, rather it’s the other way around. That Krishna decides to be the charioteer of his devotee. And when I think about that, I just have to cry and cry and cry out of devotion to Krishna. And it was at that point that Chaitanya understood that this person, though he was illiterate, was a liberated being.
So in the same way, an individual who may think they are not advanced enough, either in Yoga or just in spirituality in general to take this seminar that we are going to do, just have them know this, that even an illiterate person can become liberated as long as they are sincere
To learn more about Acharyaji’s teachings visit www.dharmanation.org