‘Horses for the coaches’ is a commonly used phrase to say one ought to select the right kind of tool based on the ecosystem within which it needs to operate. So also in the Bhakti-yoga path or the path of devotion there are not one but nine paths, that one can pursue to reach out to the all encompassing and omnipresent.
A recent discourse brought back to me the amazing flexibility that is actually provided in the design of the practice of spirituality by our great masters. Given below are the nine paths:
- Sravanam – Hearing the name of the Lord, listening to his stories and puranas. When one listens to these with rapt attention, automatically the entire being gets cleansed and is elevated to receive the higher frequencies of SELF
- Kirtanam – Chanting of the Lord’s glory. Singing the praise of the lord enables not only the person practicing it but also the listeners to move closer to the realm of realization
- Smaranam – Remembering the Lord. Not only at the time of problems, not as a convenience or choice but as an ingrained habit. Constant focus on God enables men to see godliness that resides in fellow human beings, thereby spreading the spirit of oneness both within and outside
- Padasevanam – In service of Lord. When one transcends to blend the practice of one’s karma with bhakti, whatever action is performed is considered as service at the lotus feet of God. Hence the man walking the path of padasevanam does everything not seeking the act’s results but with the attentiveness of service.
- Archanam – In adhering to rituals. Only following rituals as rote is not construed as archanam. The person choosing this path performs the rituals with complete understanding of the reasons and does it with full spirit of involvement. In doing rituals in this manner he is bound to feel closer to the infinite.
- Vandanam – Prostrating to the lord. More than the physical act of prostrating this path symbolises humility in the presence of the omnipresent. Vandanam as a path signifies the complete understanding of a man of his inconsequential nature when compared to the bigger scheme of the universe. It enables him to bow as an implement in god’s hand.
- Dasyam – In this path one dedicates his entire life serving as a servant to the lord. In this path the follower loses all arrogance, ego, selfishness – thereby removing in effect ignorance. He accepts the lord as his only master and lives to service his needs
- Sakhyam – A path where the follower considers lord as a peer and friend. In this path the follower demands, debates but always remains steadfastly loyal and attached to the Lord. By taking this path a person inherently elevates his own being to realise oneness of spirit
- Atmanivedanam – The last and the highest path of bhakti is that of complete surrender. This is the path that is most glorified as in this path there is no separate existence of the follower from the Lord. By surrendering himself to the Lord, the follower merges with the omnipresent Brahman
Logically it seems that the paths are organized in incremental stages of importance and effect. However it is widely accepted that a true follower, walking in any one of the path is assured of experiencing the oneness that is sought in all the nine paths. These nine paths to devotion were surprisingly narrated by the seven year old prahalad to his demon father. Yet again, proving that age is not a criterion for experiencing oneness.