Meditation Space for Bhakti Yoga
To establish devotion in our hearts and minds, it is important to have a structured daily practice of sitting meditation. This is most easily done in a place you designate as your meditation space. This area in your home would include an altar, temple or mandir and it would be the focal point and private devotional refuge for your daily practice of bhakti yoga meditation.
There are no rules about where to create a meditative worship area in your home, but a quiet space away from any commotion or household disturbances is recommended, however small or large, which is dedicated for this purpose.
Preparing the Devotional Altar, Temple or Mandir
The purpose of creating meditation space and establishing an altar is not to introduce physical ritual in your bhakti yoga meditation, but to give the mind a place of devotional focus and to enhance your feelings of relationship with God.
In bhakti practice, your altar may face any direction. A typical altar includes whatever inspires your devotional remembrance. This may be traditional items of worship, such as deities, incense, flowers, bells and candles, along with photographs, and chanting books, or it may include any other item that is devotionally meaningful to you.
Typically the altar or worship area is 18" - 24" high and 36" wide, but any size that suits the available space is fine. This can also be portable, collapsible or of any other shape. Here are some examples:
You will utilize this meditation space for the main elements of your daily bhakti yoga meditation practice:
- Heart-centered prayer - click here for a sample.
- Meditation and Kirtan or chanting meditation. Click here to learn more about kirtan, click here to learn the importance of combining kirtan with active visualization or rupadhyana.
- Aarti -the offering of light. This is a brief ceremony that reaffirms the spirit of your devotional dedication. Click here to hear and read a Radha Krishna aarti. Click here to see the aarti performed in the ashram.
Seating is typically on the floor with or without a pillow or Zafu cushion. If this is difficult for you, place the altar at a higher level and sit on a chair.
The actual altar area in your meditation space should accommodate any offerings you make during the aarti. Your altar should always be kept clean. You may arrange deities or pictures of Guru and God on this surface, and if you wish, you may place oil lamps or candles before them.
You will also need an aarti plate or aarti thali that can accommodate a small candle or oil (ghee) lamp. This can be any style, traditional or otherwise.
As a gesture of your devotion, you may wish to offer prasad. 'Prasad' literally means 'grace' and it refers to anything that has been offered to God, especially food. These dishes are placed in front of the altar and covered with a cloth or lid, and then offered during the arti. This may be traditional Indian recipes such as kheer and halva (click here to see these recipes) or any other light vegetarian offering such as fresh or dried fruit and nuts. Below are samples of prepared prasad, from complex to simple.
To offer the prasad, remove the cloth or lid, and present the bowl or plate to the image of God as if you were offering this to a friend or loved one. Imagine this is being accepted in any style that is loving to you. All Bhakti Saints have offered prasad to God in their own style.
Prasad is eaten at the conclusion of your meditation time with the feeling that you are receiving divine blessings. To maintain your feeling of esteem for offering prasad, the amount you offer should only be what you can fully consume at that time. Partaking of prasad is another method for keeping the mind absorbed in devotional remembrance.
A typical meditation session
Starting your session with meditative prayer introduces a feeling of humbleness in the your heart. This could be in any language that evokes these feelings.
Your prayer recitation is followed by kirtan or chanting meditation. This could be done with traditional instruments such as the Indian drum (dholak or tabla), a harmonium and cymbals (manjira), or with a recording.
Kirtan is highly recommended for focusing the mind in meditation and for awakening your devotional feelings towards God, but to be most effective, it must be combined with active visualization or rupadhyana. Depending on your schedule, allow at least 15 minutes for your kirtan practice so the mind has time to absorb itself in the vibration of the divine name. Click here for a selection of kirtans you may find inspiring in your bhakti yoga meditation.
Kirtan is followed by aarti, which reaffirms your dedication and feelings of loving surrender. The aarti plate and candle is circulated in a slow clockwise motion around a picture of God or a deity while the aarti song is sung.
After the aarti song has finished, place the aarti plate on the altar, cup your down-turned hands over the flame and then raise your palms to your forehead, feeling that a devotional blessing has passed from God through the flame to you.
After the aarti plate has been placed back on the altar, the prasad is offered to the deity or picture of God and then eaten or shared with others present.
If your aarti light is a ghee or oil lamp with a very small oil reservoir, allow the lamp to go out by itself. If you have used a candle or larger oil lamp, you may blow the flame out at this time.
If the area near your meditation space is used for other activities, cover your altar area with a cloth or screen when you are not meditating. This will give a feeling of importance to your practice area and respect for any sacred images you have placed there.
Your meditation space and altar are meant to enhance your feelings of loving remembrance of God and Guru. Your time in devotion should not be a mechanical ritual. Feelings are always foremost in bhakti meditation.
As you continue with regular practice, this will help stabilize the feeling of God's presence throughout the day, and this will also deepen over time.