About the Self – We are each an eternal spark of spiritual energy. Our consciousness is not a product of matter, but is rather a symptom of the soul. Wherever one finds life, whether in the form of humans, animals or plants, the soul is present. The soul is atomic in size, situated in the heart, and spreads its influence over the entire body.
Every soul is eternal, never losing its individuality, and every soul is simultaneously one with God in nature (sharing the qualities of sat – eternality, chit – full cognition of truth, and ananda – bliss) yet different, being always dependent on the Divine source of their existence. In the conditioned state the soul is bound under the influence of matter, and in its liberated state the soul is free in its natural expression of devotion and connection with God, nature and all living beings.
About Karma & Reincarnation – All beings are born and, in time, all die. According to the yoga tradition, all beings are then born again. The idea of reincarnation, the cyclical round of births and deaths that are experienced but not remembered, and the closely related concept of karma (for every action there is a corresponding reaction) are both central to yoga philosophy. Bhakti-yoga’s understanding of karma and reincarnation can be summarized according to the following three principles:
- Every living being is a soul, trapped within a material body.
- Actions performed in this body determine the next body.
- The soul can transcend the cycle by developing a higher consciousness through yoga.
About Yoga – Yoga is a practice which empowers one to break the cycle of reincarnation, transcend the influence of karma, and experience one’s own true spiritual nature through developing a higher state of mind. Traditionally there are four general paths of yoga, each of which deals with the mind in a different way.
- Ashtanga-yoga – stills the mind through deep states of meditation which can be achieved having purified oneself through strict practices of discipline in terms of lifestyle, body, breath, senses and mind.
- Jnana-yoga – breaks the attachments in the mind through practices of austerity and renunciation, coupled with strengthening ones spiritual conviction through analyzing the illusory nature of the world compared with the spiritual nature of the self.
- Karma-yoga – transforms the sense of identity held within the mind through combining jnana-yoga’s spiritual conviction and analysis with the ethic of working dutifully and responsibly in the world.
- Bhakti-yoga – harmonizes the mind with the true loving, devotional nature of the soul by connecting it with God through meditation, acts of service, hearing sacred texts, engagement in meaningful ritual, communing with like-minded people and absorption in spiritually centered cultural arts.
The Bhagavad-gita presents bhakti-yoga as the culmination of the other three, as the love for all living beings, found through connection with God, is the very essence of the nature of the soul.
About God – Vaishnavas believe in one supreme Divinity that manifest in three features:
- Brahman – the non-personal, formless, all pervading spiritual energy (the Divine light)
- Paramatma – the localized form within the heart of every living being
- Bhagavan – the personal form
Bhakti-yogis understand Bhagavan as the ultimate and original feature of God. They recognize Bhagavan in the form of Krishna, accompanied by Radha, whose power and majesty are secondary to their beauty, love and sweetness. They believe that the Absolute Truth, or God, is all-attractive and has both male and female natures that are beyond the influence of this temporary world. The discovery of a personal relation with the Absolute is “the most secret of all secrets”, the highest truth which sages, yogis and philosophers have been seeking since the dawn of time. After penetrating into the deepest, most confidential aspect of the spiritual journey one finds God to be a person whose beauty, charm and love is all pervading and infinite. The essence of spiritual perfection for a bhakti-yogi is to awaken ecstatic love for God, which is the intrinsic nature of the soul.
About the World – Those on the path of bhakti-yoga see the world as the scared property of God, and its resources as meant to be used it in a spirit of seva (selfless service). This type of vision has the potential to counteract our lower nature of greed, envy, lust and anger. It helps one to understand, “I am not the proprietor, I am the caretaker”. It allows us to celebrate the good fortune of others, seeing them as brothers and sisters, all children of God. It allows us to transform the spirit of arrogance and exploitation to the spirit of humility and compassion.
Today’s import social crises, such as racism, misogyny and the destruction of the environment, can best be addressed through building our lives and relationships with all living beings, as well as with the Earth and the environment, on the bhakti-yoga principle that everything is sacred.