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Karma Yoga Is Bhakti Yoga
Karl: Dear Ram/Sundari, I reread parts of your books, watched some videos and have a better idea of the vasanas, gunas and karma yoga and its importance. My practice was mostly meditation and reading books, so I need work on the devotion and karma yoga areas. I was a little confused after watching one of your videos, “Be Smart and Choose Bhagavan.” In that video, you sort of dismissed the devotional practices, saying they too were “doing” and part of karma yoga. Being raised Catholic, and turning away from that at a young age, I’ve had trouble worshiping any deities (recovering Catholics, as the old joke goes). I do enjoy listening to kirtan chanting, and singing along; it bypasses my brain and goes straight to my heart. But after watching your video, I’m wondering if I should continue any devotional practice at all.
Sundari: Vedanta definitely encourages a devotional and religious attitude, although it is not a religion or a “path.” Bhakti yoga can be helpful in negating the doer so it surrenders to Bhagavan, the dharma field, i.e. life. However, the problem with bhakti is that there is a doer involved. The bhakta has great desire for Bhagavan, and if he or she is pure, he/she loves Bhagavan for love’s sake, not for the gain of one of Bhagavan’s desirable objects.
But even a pure mind sees the beloved, whether it is called God or Bhagavan, as an object, something “other” than themselves, even though it is for the sake of the self – personified as Bhagavan – that he/she loves. If the mind in impure, the devotee relies upon their devotion to the object and that gives him or her a sense of identity, of virtue. Devotees feel incomplete and therefore love God because it makes them feel complete. This keeps many stuck preventing them from negating the doer, the devotee.
There is nothing wrong with devotion to and worship of anything that symbolises the self. The advantage that a bhakta enjoys over a kami (one who desires ordinary love for and from objects – another person, for example) is that God/Bhagavan is always available, whereas a person or a thing is not. Bhagavan is consciousness and consciousness responds when it is invoked. It responds predictably with love because it is love.
Freedom (moksa) is freedom from dependence on objects. Devotion to Bhagavan, while essential, ideally needs to be a practice of pure gratitude, born out of the understanding that it is all you, the self – and as a jiva, you are privileged to experience it. This is what James means when he says, “choose Bhagavan.” Parabhakti is when love is known to be YOU, awareness. It is your nature, God is known to be you; it is having all you could ever want and knowing it will never leave you. It is a feeling of limitless satisfaction, parama sukka is the word used in the texts. The self, awareness, is parama prema svarupa, which means the knowledge/love of your limitless nature.
Karl: Re karma yoga, I have a better understanding of what that is, thanks to your book and videos. I understand the teaching as you explain it on an intellectual level; my problem is putting it into practise on a daily basis. I mean, it’s easy to sit and meditate, but the karma yoga thing is not that simple (or is it?). Any advice in this area would be helpful.
Sundari: Karma yoga is bhakti yoga, an attitude of pure gratitude. It is simple, but it is not an easy practice for the doer, because it is aimed at negating it. It is simply the knowledge that the fruits of the actions are not up to you and dedicating every thought, word and deed on a moment-to-moment basis to Bhagavan. What would help you enormously would be triguna vibhava yoga, the teaching of the gunas. I have just posted a very long satsang on this topic, as it is so very important. You will find it on the “What’s New” page in the newsletter that has been posted there. I will send you the satsang in case you cannot find it.
~ Om and prem, Sundari