How to Meditate
in the Bhakti Yoga Tradition
Meditating in the bhakti yoga meditation will answer the most important questions we ask ourselves in life: Where is perfect love? Who is my true companion? What is real happiness?
Finding these answers is our eternal quest.
As a soul, we want a spiritual solution, which translates into realizing our relationship to God and attaining perfect divine bliss.
The instructions for how to meditate in this section are the basic guidelines for establishing a regular bhakti yoga practice. They will provide practical solutions for finding authentic happiness and introduce you to the sweetness of divine love.
The Power of the Mind
We meditate with the mind and the mind is the source of all our devotional experiences. The mind is a subtle material power that has two phases. At any moment, it is either intellectual or emotional, but not both simultaneously.
When we are understand, criticize, conceptualize or discern, we use the analytical aspect of the mind called intellect. When we are absorbed in any kind of feeling, we use the emotional aspect of the mind called heart.
In bhakti yoga, we meditate from the emotional mind or heart.At the heart of bhakti yoga meditation is devotional remembrance, called roop dhyana (roop=form, dhyana=meditation). It is rich with visualizaion and affectional emotion that is directed towards the divine beloved.
Although intellectual processes of meditation demand the cessation, elimination or observation of thought, the heart-based process of bhakti is simply single-minded love and unconditional dedication.
As you will discover in reading the section on jnana yoga, even if your aim is to realize the goal of thoughtless meditation (nondual enlightenment), practicing bhakti to receive God's grace is still a must for any kind or type of divine realization.
When we feel emotion, the mind is adoptive. In other words, it is deeply influenced by the object that is being meditated upon with feeling. That emotion could be either positive (affection) or negative (animosity)
For example, if you melt wax and add dye to it, the dye can't be extracted. When the wax hardens, the dye becomes a permanent feature of the wax.
Similarly, the mind "melts" when emotional, and the qualities of the object that inspired that feeling enter the mind. Your mind then adopts and retains the qualities of that object. If you meditate deeply on an object for a long time, the quality of your mind becomes identical with the quality of the meditated object.
Instead of trying to remove thoughts from the mind, in bhakti yoga meditation we learn how to meditate using this adoptive quality to transform the mind. By increasing your devotional thinking you use the emotional quality of the mind for God realization.
By uniting your mind with a divine subject and saturating your heart with devotional feeling, your mind purifies. This increases your capacity to receive divine grace. Through grace you attain God realization, enlightenment in the bhakti tradition.
Through grace your mind is transformed into a vessel that is capable of 'holding' divine bliss. This purification happens easily if we know how to meditate and our practice is correct.
Although bhakti yoga is a heart-based practice, intellectual understanding plays an extremely important role, because the intellect guides the affectionate nature of the mind. The metaphor of a chariot describes the crucial role that the intellect and intellectual understanding play.
By understanding we need perfect happiness, we can develop our feelings of love God, knowing that He is the source of divine happiness. If we know we want perfect love, great Rasik Saints have refined our goal even more and have told us to love Radha Krishna, the form of divine love.
Both the intellect and the heart are essential in bhakti meditation. The intellect governs our progress at every stage of devotion with right understanding and helps us to discern the difference between limited nature of material happiness, and the unlimited greatness of God's divine bliss.
When we learn how to to meditate and begin to experience devotional happiness through our practice, our heart confirms this understanding naturally.
Foundational Guidelines for How to Meditate
Bhakti yoga meditation is devotional remembrance for the evolution of love. It is an emotional state of unity you feel in the heart as a sweet yearning and desire for God. It has five important foundational guidelines for how to meditate:
Focus it: Be single-minded in approach. This is called ananyata in Sanskrit, which means "having only one". God is one, but with uncountable powers. In Hinduism, all divine powers are described with an eternal personal form. God realization means realizing one aspect or form of God.
All true Saints in the bhakti yoga tradition taught devotion to one form and name of God, the form realized by that Saint. In this way, the attainment of a true Saint is imparted to his qualified disciple.Narrowing your focus to one aspect or form of God has two important benefits:
- It enables you to direct your feelings towards a defined spiritual goal;
- It gives you a base upon which to build your devotional visualization, so you may cultivate a feeling of relationship (see below).
Build it: Establish a personal relationship. The path of bhakti is the path of relational love. Most teachings of absolute divinity refer to the supreme being as omniscient, almighty, powerful, righteous, etc. In comparison we are powerless, insignificant, incapable, needy and helpless. Relating to this concept of divinity may be unsatisfying and confusing. How to meditate with love becomes a challenge.
To develop love, Saints in the bhakti yoga tradition have stressed building a close personal relationship with God through a bhava, which is a particular style of devotional expression. These are:
- Shant bhava -- loving God as a supreme governor
- Dasya bhava -- loving God as a servant
- Sakhya bhava -- loving God as a friend
- Vatsalya bhava -- loving God as your child
- Madhurya bhava -- loving God as your beloved
Learn how to meditate with one or all of these relational attitudes in your meditation. Meditation consists of expanding and deepening your feeling of connection to God through these feelings of loving affection.
- Picture it: Visualize divine presence. Feel and mentally visualize God close to you in His or Her personal form. Imagine with all your senses how He might relate to you through a loving bhava. Utilize all your senses: see His expression and form, smell His perfume, hear His voice, feel His touch and so on.
- Activate it: Enliven your meditation with dynamic remembrance through call and response chanting or kirtan -- the chanting of God's Divine names, qualities, or leelas (pastimes) as revealed by Saints. This singing can be done alone, with a group, with or without instruments or with a recording. Kirtan composed by Saints is the most powerful way to enliven this process.
When you center yourself in your feelings, and visualize you are relating to God in His personal form (as described above), the vibration of the Divine name enters deeply into your mind and awakens your devotional potential, and manifests as feelings of relatedness, affinity and love for God. This feeling is reflected into conscious awareness, which further sweetens your meditation experience.
- Release it: Leave behind any expectations for a material outcome. Know the goal of your bhakti yoga meditation practice is to receive God's grace and attain supreme divine happiness. You may have some experience relating or praying to God for material gain. All Saints in the Bhakti Tradition have taught how to meditate feeling that there is no happiness greater than God's bliss, and to release our material expectations in devotional meditation and replace them with a simple desire for God's love, vision and grace.
- Reduce it: Lessen your egoism and be humble. Humility suppresses other weaknesses of the mind such as pride, egoism, anger, jealousy and so on. Humility is a natural by-product of devotional longing.
When you fall in love, your desires and attachments are naturally focused on your beloved and your desire to serve increases. You don't have to learn how to meditate on your beloved; you do it automatically. Love also means having faith and confidence in your beloved. In the same way, in bhakti meditation you transfer this same feeling of confidence to God, and deepen your sense that He is your true friend, relative and guardian, who can grace you with divine love and happiness.
By engrossing your mind in this kind of devotional attitude, and using these guidelines as your starting point for how to meditate, it is possible to overcome these distracting emotional weaknesses in a very natural way.