By Leah Kinney, February, 2010
Bhakti Yoga is one of the six branches of yoga. Six different paths, all with the same destination: unification of the individual self with the divine. Of all the paths, bhakti is unique in its alleged accessibility. All that is required is unwavering devotion to the divine. The Bhagavad Gita suggest that a pure practice of bhakti is so earnest that every thought, word, deed is carried out as worship. Through this, the ardent practitioner is absorbed into the divine. “Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in Me hereafter. There is no doubt of this.” —Bhagavad Gita, C:12 V: 8.
At first glance, the loftiness of bhakti can seem overwhelming. However, at its base, bhakti is simply devotion initiated by and steeped in love. Bhakti’s loved fueled devotion is steadfast, engaged, mindful and compassionate. This love is modeled after relationships within our realm of understanding and experience. For example, the love between parent and child, friends or lover and beloved. Because these exchanges of love are conducted within the worldly plane they are subject to the corporeal laws of impermanence and duality. Effectively ensnaring us more thoroughly in the material. Take heart, as this is not inherently bad. Thich Nhat Hanh writes that, “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.” We can utilize bhakti to engage deeply with the tangible reality of our lives. Even through unsophisticated expressions of bhakti, our understanding of yoga expands and seeds of interconnectedness are sown. Think of Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful writings on the miracle of mindfully washing the dishes or eating a tangerine.
Infusing our practice with bhakti props us up with the courage to move out of our habitual emotional, physical or mental patterns and then sustain us in that uncharted and raw territory. Bhakti’s love does not make us blind, rather it clarifies our sight and wakes us up. So be brave and infuse your life with some bhakti! Act with heartfelt awareness, stay present and engaged with those you love and revel in your connection to the divine nature of all things.
Thich Nhat Hanh
To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them is a miracle!
If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert. With the fork in my hand, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the texture and the flavor of the dessert, together with the pleasure of eating it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.
Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane. I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy. Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end- that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.
Thich Nhat Hanh
If I offer you a freshly picked tangerine to enjoy, I think the degree to which you enjoy it will depend on your mindfulness. If you are free of worries and anxiety, you will enjoy it more. If you are possessed by anger and fear, the tangerine may not be very real to you.
One day, I offered a number of children a basket filled with tangerines. The basket was passed around, and each child took one tangerine and put in his or her palm. We each looked at our tangerine, and the children were invited to meditate on its origins. They saw not only their tangerine, but also its mother, the tangerine tree. With some guidance, they began to visualize the blossoms in the sunshine and in the rain. Then they saw petals falling down and the tiny green fruit appear. The sunshine and the rain continued, and the tiny tangerine grew. Now someone has picked it, and the tangerine is here. After seeing this, each child was invited to peel the tangerine slowly, noticing the mist and the fragrance of the tangerine, and then bring it up to his or her mouth and have a mindful bite, in full awareness of the texture and taste of the fruit and the juice coming out. We ate slowly like that.
Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.