Bhakti: The Practice of Love

Lorin Roche’s book The Radiance Sutras is a contemporary interpretation of the 112 contemplative meditations known as the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, one of the earliest teachings on yoga meditation. The first written version appeared in Kashmir around 800 AD, and was likely handed down orally for generations before that. In this excerpt, Lorin explores the sutra Bhakti, beginning with its Sanskrit definition.

Bhakti: Distribution, partition, separation. A division, portion, share. Division by streaks or lines. A row, series, succession, order. That which belongs to or is contained in anything else, an attribute. Attachment, devotion, fondness for, devotion to. Trust, homage, worship, piety, faith or love or devotion to (as a religious principle or means of salvation, together with karnan, “works,” and jnana, “spiritual knowledge.”

During meditation, you will find yourself thinking of the people you love. You will be attending to the texture—the tantra—of your relationships and feeling what is there. This is your heart vibrating and pulsing with your connection. You can transcend on bhakti, on love and devotion.

When you love someone, you carry them inside you and will think of them all the time, including during pranayama, Savasana, and meditation, even if you try not to. You can’t help but be bothered by your love. Your awareness is sneaking off to practice bhakti yoga and will do so no matter what style of class you are in, no matter what you call your meditation system. In the bhakti yoga stories, otherwise honorable and diligent women (the gopis) are always getting up in the middle of the night and slipping away to worship Krishna down by the river. In daily life, attention steals moments of bhakti here and there to muse about your lover, baby, cat, dog, or creative project. Part of love is worrying about people, praying for them, attempting to find words to say what you feel. All of this is welcome in meditation.

Loving any one being, one person, expresses your devotion to your local part of the infinite universe. This is a tangible thing you can do, an act of power and creativity. The everyday practice here is to know that no matter who or what you love, this love is yoga in its most fundamental form: linking, connecting, valuing the other, honoring the relationship. There arer many kinds of love, many textures of relationship, and each moves and challenges us in a different way. There is erotic love and all those wild energies of sexual devotion. There is friendship, parental love, family love, unconditional love. Every form of love is sacred; every relationship, temporary as it may be, teaches us about eternity. Bhakti yoga says that you can be in an erotic, passionate relationship with God; you can be friends and equals with God; you can even feel parental and protective of God. All rivers flow to the ocean.

Adapted from The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder and Delight by Lorin Roche. Copyright © 2014 by Lorin Roche. (Sounds True, August 2014.)

Lorin Roche, PhD, has been practicing meditation since 1968. He is the author coauthor of eight books, including The Radiance Sutras and Meditation Made Easy.

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