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April 27, 2015
In the west there are many forms of Hatha and Ashtanga Vinyasa, but Bhakti is removed from the classes. Why? Does anyone have a theory as to why Bhakti yoga is not popular in the west? Bhakti is the most popular type of yoga in India. Bhakti is the path of spiritual devotion to the devine. The word Bhakti comes from the root word "Bhaj," which is defined as "attachment to God." A devotee can practice any method of Bhakti which suits him best.
April 27, 2015
It has been recently reported that an Islamic body in Malaysia has forbidden Muslim people to practice Yoga. This measure has come as a result of a similar prohibition that an identical body has issued in Egypt in 2004.
The reason is that Yoga is originally Hindu and is looking for spiritual union with a divinity that is other than God. In the same report it was mentioned that in USA many Christian fundamentalists oppose Yoga for exactly the same grounds. But in fact is Yoga acting as an offense to Christian traditional concepts?
In order to answer this question it is more than necessary to seek to Yoga roots and the types of Yoga that exist in Hinduism (according to Mary Pat Fisher in her book "Living Religions"):
Raja Yoga - this one goes for concentration practices.
Jnana Yoga - this one is based on using the rational mind.
Karma Yoga - is based on actions that are helpful for the world.
Bhakti Yoga - it is the path of dedication, to sharing a connection with the Supreme.
It is worth mentioning that out of these four types (the main ones) of Yoga, there is only a single one to invoke a relationship with a divine figure - Bhakti Yoga. Therefore we can easily say that these Islamic bodies are mistaken to ban Muslim people from practicing Yoga as there are several other types of Yoga that do not relate to the presence of a divine figure, "other than God". But what about the Christians: Are they allowed to practice Yoga?
For starters we should relate first to the things that Christians may or may not do that are described in the Scripture. The dominant point of reference is defined as the 'principle of Christian liberty'. Paul sets forth in here the guiding features of the Christians' way of life. These features-principles relate to the freedom that people receive in this life, in the death and the resurrection of Jesus.
Although Pope Benedict has tried to condemn in 1989 the Christians who practiced Yoga, the Vatican detached itself from this stance on 2003 allowing Catholics to be involved in Yoga practice as long as this is not done for spiritual needs and reasons. It goes without saying that Bhakti Yoga would be an idolatrous position for a Christian to practice, provide that the Christian has taken a more universal approach to this religion.
Thus the Paul's principles related to liberty are preserved and Christians are permitted to practice Yoga as long as this one stays away from Bhakti Yoga practice.
April 27, 2015
The Nine Aspects of Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavata Purana
Bhakti Yoga refers to the devotional system of Yogic practices that ultimately leads to oneness with the divinity that resides in the hearts of all human beings. The Sanskrit term "bhakti" can be translated to mean devotion, affection, attachment and longing. Bhakti is often seen in the relationship between Guru and disciple, which is referred to as "guru-bhakti" in classical Sanskrit scriptures and teaching stories. Bhakti or love for the divine is also evidenced in the relationship of a spiritual ardent to his or her own personal God or deity. Bhakti can also take the form of the love of the internal connection to divinity or the God/Goddess energy within. This form of bhakti is known as "nirguna."
The classical Indian scripture on Bhakti Yoga, the Bhagavata Purana, enumerates nine aspects of the systemized path of Bhakti Yoga. Each path is likened to a spoke on a wheel. Ultimately, all of these paths lead to the same hub, oneness with God/Goddess. The first path detailed in the Bhagavata Purana is "sravana" or listening to the stories of traditional Indian deities such as Shiva, Krishna, Radha and Durga. Sravana is also known in Yogic circles as satsang. Gathering together to listen to the stories of God/Goddess also includes other traditional Western teachers such as Jesus and the Buddha. Whenever devotees and spiritual seekers gather together to remember God and to talk about how to better follow the spiritual path, their time together may be considered Sravana.
The other Bhakti Yoga practices delineated in the Bhagavata Purana are the chanting of the sacred names of deities or the various aspects of God. Kirtana or the singing of sacred texts is also an aspect of the practice of Bhakti Yoga. "Smarana" or remembering one's Guru or chosen deity throughout the day, as well as the practice of Japa or mantra repetition, firmly connects the Yogi or Yogini to the divine essential nature of the Guru. Focusing the mind on one's Guru through worship, known in Sanskrit as "Arcana" and "Vandana," are also core aspects of the Bhakti Yoga path.
Likewise, the powerful and uplifting practice of engaging in selfless service, or Pada-Seva, through a grateful sense of servitude and surrender is known as "Dasya." Relating to one's Guru or teacher as a friend is specified in the Bhagavata Purana as the practice of "Sakhya." The ninth spoke on the wheel of the system of Bhakti Yoga practices is "Atma-Nivedana" or self-surrender to the awakened Kundalini Shakti energy within one's own being as the Bhakta walks the spiritual path.
April 27, 2015
Bhakti Yoga and the Act of Arcana or Worship
Bhakti Yoga is a series of devotional practices that ultimately leads a Yogi or Yogini to oneness with the divine essence of all beings. There are nine main Bhakti Yoga practices as extolled in traditional Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and Narada's Bhakti Yoga Sutras. One of the primary Bhakti Yoga practices elucidated in these texts is the the act of Arcana or worship of the divine beloved. In traditional Hinduism, the divine beloved may come in the form of a Guru, meditation master or deity from among the pantheon of Hindu deities. In Western Christian culture, the divine beloved may be God, Jesus Christ or any of the Christian saints.
By focusing on any one of these teachers, deities or enlightened beings, the devotee will attract and imbibe the divine grace of that lineage. One of the most powerful ways to connect with and harness the energy of one's divine beloved is through the act of worship known in Sanskrit as "Arcana." Worshiping a divine Guru or deity connects the Bhakta will that particular path and the teacher, saint or deity that represents that path. A one-pointed focus of the mind on the divine image he or she has chosen will pull the shakti or divine energy of the Guru, teacher or deity into the very core of the student's being.
There are many different rituals and forms of worshiping the God/Goddess energy. Some of these forms are external and others are internal. External forms of worship in Hinduism include chanting morning and evening prayers while waving lights in the form of the burning of clarified butter or ghee. Additional rituals of external worship are the offering of flowers to one's chosen deity or teacher, the chanting of sacred mantras and texts while maintaining a focus on the image or form of one's divine beloved and the offering of financial support to one's teacher. In Christianity, lighting candles, offering flowers, reading about the lives of the saints and performing the Stations of the Cross are all external ways of focusing on and honoring Jesus.
Internal acts of worship include the offering of prayers and thanksgiving to the image of the Bhakta's Guru or chosen deity in the heart. Holding the image of one's Guru, teacher or chosen deity in the center of the inner field of vision is also a way of imbibing the teacher's grace through the act of internal worship. Dressing in a beautiful way in order to honor the internal enlivened presence of divinity is a fun and sublime way of performing Arcana or worship on the Bhakti Yoga path.
April 27, 2015
Dharana Practices and Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga is a system of Yogic practices that utilizes the power of love, longing and devotion to propel the devotee towards union or oneness with God. Bhakti Yoga has developed out of the thousands of years of Yogic practices employed by traditional Hindu sages. The two classical Hindu Bhakti Yoga treatises, the Narada Bhakti Sutra and the Shandilya Bhakti Yoga, emphasize the supreme efficiency of propelling the Bhakta into divine oneness through fanning the fires of divine longing and supplication.
The practice of Dharana is the intense concentration on a form of one's divine beloved, a sacred mantra, mandala or inner focal point. Dharana is one of the core practices of Bhakti Yoga. When discussing Bhakti Yoga, traditional Hindu beliefs break down Bhakti into various bhavas or feeling states. These emotional states of longing towards God/Goddess traditionally come in the form of a relationship similar to that of a mother to her child, a servant to his or her master, a contented love for God, a friend to a friend, or to that of a woman to her lover. All of these relationship paradigms are filled with love, longing and devotion.
The specific relationships that often evoke the most longing and concentration are that of a mother to her child, a dedicated servant to his or her master and a woman to her lover. When this longing and adoration is in the context of a devotee towards his or her chosen divine beloved, deity or Guru, the longing and devotion itself will support and accelerate a devotee's pining for oneness with the divine essence within. Dharana practices are based on this bhava of an unremitting one-pointed focus.
A classical Dharana practice is to focus with unwavering concentration of the form of one's divine beloved, a picture of one's beloved or an internal image of the deity or Guru. It is said that when a Yogi or Yogini focuses on the image of the divine, the very essence of that divine being becomes embodied in the devotee. As the state of the divine beloved is established in the Bhakta, that state will become established over time with continued meditation and contemplation practices on the form of the beloved.
Another traditional Dharana practice is to focus on the repetition or written form of an enlivened mantra or sacred word that has been given to the Bhakta by his or her Guru or lineage holder. Internally repeating a sacred mantra with a one-pointed focus helps the mind to settle and nourishes the inner awakened spiritual energy, known as the Kundalini Shakti. Focusing on the written Sanskrit words of an enlivened mantra will also have a similar effect on the devotee. Ultimately, all Dharana practices are aimed at the same goal: establishing the devotee in the same divine state as his or her Guru, chosen deity or divine beloved.
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