Do you pray to God everyday?
What is Bhakti?
Bhakti means to be obedient. It also means to serve and to satisfy. But this does not mean that Bhakti can be rendered to anyone and everyone. Bhakti does not mean that our heart should melt for someone on the material platform with a material body and hence rendering service to them, satisfying them and being obedient to them cannot qualify as Bhakti. Only when this obedience and the sense of service is extended to the Supreme Lord can it be qualified as Bhakti. The word Bhakti is usually associated with the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as Lord Krishna. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord confirms categorically that anyone who does Krishna (All forms of Vishnu) Bhakti alone is guaranteed Liberation or Mukti.
What are Mrityu and Amrutam?
The Upanishads have their own viewpoint about Bhakti. There is a repetition of a word, Vedanam (वेदनम) in the Upanishads. This means Knowledge. This Knowledge refers to the knowledge of Brahman alone. It is the knower of Brahman. Knowledge about the Brahman is a necessary condition for liberation. To cross the ocean of nescience, Samsara (समसारा the world), Brahma Jnana (ब्रह्म ज्ञान knowledge of Brahman) is necessary. For Mukti or liberation, Brahma Jnana is a necessity. Pain has two forms at both ends of life. If one is born, there is pain and when one dies there is pain. This pain is cyclic in nature, because life and death alternate with every life. This material world is linked directly to Mrityu (मृत्यु) or death while the attainment of Vaikuntha, the Supreme Abode of the Lord is to become free of Mrityu and attain Amrutam (अमृतम nectar or immortality). Amrutam is also seen as the diametrically opposite of Mrityu or death. Escaping from death is also to escape from Samsara, Maya or the world. That which is lost, is the world and that which is gained is the loved object which is the Lord and His Abode, Vaikuntha.
What is the Nature of Dhyanam?
However understanding Brahman or just attaining knowledge about Brahman is not a sufficient condition for Liberation. Knowledge about Brahman is a necessary and yet not a sufficient condition for attaining Liberation. The second necessary condition is Dhyanam (ध्यानम to mull over). In addition to knowing about Brahman one needs to contemplate about Brahman. For example one may know a certain gentleman by name, address and form. But, one may not remember the introduced person with clarity after a few months. One may rack one’s memory because one has not often thought about that person repeatedly. Hence, although a person is known, he is not remembered. Thus to recognize a person instantly, one has to know a person and remember the person so that he may be recognized in a crowd. The contemplation is the aspect of Dhyanam. Hence the Brahman (also stands for the Lord), has to be contemplated or remembered with intent. This is also a necessary condition for Liberation.
How should we remember the Lord?
Dhyanam is a necessary condition. However Dhyanam is also not a sufficient condition for Liberation. We may remember a person by mulling over him for some time. But if we leave our habit of contemplating upon him, the trace is lost and we may still forget the person, in a few years time. Same is the case with Brahman. The next stage of Dhyanam is Nidhidhyasanam (निधिध्यासनम) which means contemplation without break, continuously. The contemplation should be such that there are no breaks in the contemplation. The contemplation should flow on the screen of the mind in the way that oil drops in a flow from one vessel to another. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says that one should hear about the Lord, Brahman, from an authorized source. Then one should practice remembering the stories, stories of the Lord is not a figment of imagination but the very essence of Truth. The remembering should be such that there are no breaks in thoughts and the process is prolonged even till one finally attains or experiences the Lord. The final stage of Nidhidhyasanam is Darshanam (दर्शनम) which means one shall finally meet the Lord, be face to face with Him. This is the claim of the Upanishads.
What is Upasanam?
The question arises as to how long should one conduct Nidhidhyasanam? The Upanishads claim, even after one attains liberation, one is face to face with the Lord, Nidhidhyasanam continues even after Darshanam, after one attains God. Nidhidhyasanam becomes the very characteristic of the soul. When it becomes so much a part of our being, how can one rid oneself of Nidhidhyasanam after one attains the Lord? It is not possible. The entire chain of Vedanam, Dhyanam, Nidhidhyasanam and Darshanam is known as Upasanam. This Upasanam itself is Bhakti, its true form. Thus the Upasanam of the Vedanta is same as Bhakti Yoga. There is no difference. All forms of spiritual practice appear difficult if we consider them as duty, if we consider them as discipline. However, if we perform the practices out of attachment and love for the process, the very practices will transform themselves into spiritual love.
What is Anudhyanam?
Another terminology that Sri Ramanujacharya introduces about Bhakti is Anudhyanam, an extension of Dhyanam. Anudhyanam means to stick with complete attachment to the process of Bhakti. It is to be considered as a vehicle being stuck to another vehicle which is leading the way. The second vehicle is simply depending on the first vehicle. The first vehicle is completely being followed by the second vehicle which is sticking to the body of the first vehicle. In Anudhyanam, the second thought is stuck to the first thought, fully emulating the first thought of Bhakti. Thus a train or bogey of thoughts follow each other, where all of those thoughts are an exact repetition of the first thought of Bhakti. This is Anudhyanam. That means there should be no gap between two thoughts. Every single thought should be part of a continuous trail of Bhakti thought, remembrance of God.
Sanatana Dharma versus Man-made religions.
There are two components for interest in Bhakti. One will hear about Bhakti only if one desires. One will remember the Lord after hearing about Him, only if one desires. Both these processes cannot be forced from the outside. None of these can be forced. If one remembers the Lord accidently, a few times a day as part of the regular train of thoughts, cannot qualify itself for Bhakti or Upasanam. However, if an individual attends Satsanga through free-will and remembers the Lord through applied will, the Upanishads come to that individual’s aid, so as to direct him in the right manner. Only if the Scriptures are followed in the right manner, can one qualify for liberation or Moksha. The greatness about Sanatana Dharma is that, it does not force anyone into any practice. The option is completely with the living entity whether to follow the Dharma or not. Dharma comes to help only after the living entity has made up his mind to abide by Dharma, not before that. The talk of other man-made religions is that all people, good and bad come together and then after coming together, one prepares to become good. Sanatana Dharma is based on Satsanga. One comes together under one roof after the decision is made on the part of the individual that one shall strive only to become good. Satsanga happens in an association of noble souls. Hence the difference between the approaches of man-made religion and Sanatana Dharma is phenomenal. The approach of coming together and then devising a means to become good through man-made books is diametrically opposite to the approach of coming together out of goodness and then undertaking time-tested processes and Satsanga based on Sanatana Dharma. The results of both these approaches are beyond any comparison. One needs to decide whether the coming together of good people, guided by a sage established in Truth is called Satsanga or the coming together of a handful of misdirected people and then deciding to locate Truth is Satsanga. The demand of Sanatana Dharma is that it has to be established in the nuclear family first and then only an attempt should be made to take it outside the four walls of a household. This is the methodology of the Dharma. It cannot be called Dharma, where, in a crowd, people talk about Truth, high principles and morals and then after dispersal, one continues to behave and do as the mind pleases. This is the drawback of man-made religious structures. Other man-made religions are based out of communities and groups, however Sanatana Dharma focuses only on transformation of individuals. It demands individual transformations alone. In Sanatana Dharma, transformation of individuals alone is the goal. If individuals get serious about transformation, then there shall be no need to transform society. On the other hand if one gets concerned about groups and communities, only hypocrisy shall prevail.