Do you offer food to the Lord before eating?
In the path of Devotion, the perfect scripture to be referenced is the Narada Bhakti Sutras (नारद भक्ति सूत्र). The twelfth Chapter of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita (श्रीमद् भगवद् गीता) is also a great source for literature on Bhakti, Devotion. Then there is another scripture for consideration, which is the 10th and the 11th Canto of the great Bhakti Scripture, the Srimad Bhagavatham (श्रीमद् भागवतम्). It was Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great spiritual master of Swami Vivekananda who said that for this age of Kali, the Iron age, only Bhakti or Devotion towards the Lord, is the suitable method for the fallen people of this age. He said that Bhakti is expressed in the following ways.
(1) Through path of divine love for the Lord, expressing one’s emotions for God.
(2) Expressing Love through prayers to God.
(3) Through praising God and remembering His divine qualities.
(4) Through Divine Chanting of His Holy names.
(5) Through recollection of the Lord’s names.
(6) Through recollecting and remembering the Form of the Lord.
(7) Through divine contemplation and writing the names of the Lord.
(8) Through discussions about the Lord and His devotees.
(9) Through the regular reading of the Pastimes of the Lord
(10) By associating with the devotees of the Lord.
The Lord says in the Gita, that whatever one does, whatever one eats, whatever one offers, whatever is offered as oblations, whatever is given to others, whatever austerities one performs, should purely be done as offering to the Lord. This is the simple way of performing devotional service, Bhakti. God does not expect man to perform great acts for Him. Even the simplest act, can be transformed and transmuted as an act of devotional service. The Lord calls upon man, to offer himself to the Lord through thoughts, feelings, intentions, emotions, words, actions, as all acts of surrender to Him. The Lord shall be happy to accept all these and in return He shall initiate transformation into the heart of man.
Even in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, all through the eighteen Chapters, only devotion is the common string that connects all the processes described in the Gita. The Lord says that, they are very dear to Him who nurture devotion in their heart. Other than devotion, the Lord exhorts, there is no other reality. Other than the Lord’s love for man and man’s love for God, there is nothing else that is worthwhile and eternal. Devotion is the only entity that can make man truly happy, contented and permanently satisfied, especially in this fallen age. The power of devotion is such that, it can manifest the Lord even through a stone. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says: “The goal can be attained very easily through the power of faith and devotion, and never so easily through the power of reasoning.” The Lord promises that He shall remain bound to His devotees. As long as man nourishes selfish desires in his heart, the heart shall be unclean and hence Grace cannot be awakened. Unless man relinquishes the need to hoard and possess, the heart cannot be cleaned or cleared. It is the tendency to covet that is responsible for cluttering the heart and making it dirty. When man starts to chant the names of the Lord with a view to attaining His love, the filth of greed and selfishness starts to clear up and he shall be able to behold with clarity, the Grace of the Lord dawning upon him.
Surrender to the Divine means doing only what is pleasing in the eyes of God and refraining from doing anything contrary to His Divine Will. This is stated in the Narada Bhakti Sutras as constituting a part of what is real surrender. One who loves the Lord and one who wishes to surrender himself at the feet of the Divine would consciously strive to walk on the path of righteousness—that way of thinking, feeling and acting which will be acceptable in the eyes of the Lord and which would not go contrary to His Divine Will. Only through true Devotion can man become totally aware of the Will of the Divine. Even though one may have established oneself in the vision of the Lord, through intense and regular practice of Devotion, one has to follow the instructions of the Vedic Scriptures and continue to follow its recommendations, as much as one is performing Devotion to the Lord within one’s heart, in all sincerity. Only when one is bound by the spiritual laws, as enunciated by the Vedic scriptures, shall one overcome the risk of falling back into materialistic, defiled life systems. For, then, one’s devotion will be protected and secured against the likely risk of its moving away from the direction of God. Because there is a time when, in spite of all our sincerity, earnestness and genuine devotion to the Lord, the weaknesses of our human nature are such that many times those things that are unspiritual and fiendish, proceed from our being. Instead of our actions bearing witness to the divine, the contrary happens. To ensure against such lapses, to ensure against such sliding back or falling away from the path, one must always follow the Vedic Scriptures. Then there is a guarantee that one shall be saved from such avoidable pitfalls.