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Bhakti Yoga and the Kali Yuga

Posted by on Sep 8, 2010

Bhakti yoga has its traditions steeped in the Hindu religion but goes as far back as the Upanishads in India. The influence of Bhakti Yoga is also apparent in Buddhism as well, which has its own austerities, spiritual practices, and alternate states. Buddhism actually grew out of Hindusim, so the tradition is quite old. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion or unconditional love for the Supreme Being. It is a stage of existence in which one can purify oneself through concentrated devotion.

In the Hindu understanding of time, we are now in the phase of Kali yuga. This is a stage of time named after the goddess Kali. You may have seen pictures of Kali. Most of them are rather impressive. She stands atop Shiva, with a necklace of skulls around her neck, a tongue dripping blood and several arms outstretched from her sensuous body, one which holds the decapitated head of a human being. Ironically, this menacing Goddess represents the Universal Energy of the ever-changing and temporal universe in time and space. Kali yuga is thought to last 432,000 years. According to Hindu and Buddhist calendars it began approximately 3100 BC. There are important philosophical connections between the practice of Bhakti yoga and Kali yuga.

During this stage of time, human beings are considered to be in the ‘dark night of the soul’. It is supposedly very hard for human beings to progress spiritually during this stage. Some believe we are just exiting Kali yuga and entering the next phase of time called Dvapara Yuga. The ‘dark night’ stage often propels one forward, as if from a backlash from all that is not eternal. The Dalai Lama describes our current times as such; we live in a world, “beset by forces preventing development: increasing tendencies toward exploitation, greed, lust, rampant consumerism; incessant manipulation of opinions that reinforce coarse urges; the ubiquitous presence of contentless entertainment; increasing divides between rich and poor; sound-bite explanations for complexities of human existence; overeating to the point of pain and obesity; movements to roll back worker rights to nineteenth century levels; a ridiculous emphasis on economic profit, as if this could be the only goal of breathing.” It is in direct response to these forces that one is compelled to find alternative meaning in life. Bhakti yoga is one way in which we can look toward a less commercialized and self-centered existence.

The ego is eradicated through selfless devotion to the Deity. All the vile forces of Kali Yuga are but symptoms of the ignorant ego. Things like sex, money and greed for material things become meaningless through the focus of the mind and heart on the object of desire – a simple glimpse into the heart of the Beloved. Once a glimpse of the Eternal is gained through egoless love, nothing else is satisfying. All the coarse urges that the Dali Lama speaks of are vanquished. The evil influences of Kali yuga are overcome in this way.

Surrender and Devotion are the main themes of Bhakti yoga. The individual soul is simply an attribute of Brahman. Brahman is the unchanging, the ever present, the infinite, the transcendent who manifests itself as many things via matter, energy, time, space and also being. Brahman is the One but encompasses All. At birth we are entrenched in the circle of life due to our accumulated karma. Through liberation via Bhakti yoga (one of the fastest ways to enlightenment, it is said) one is cleansed of the accumulated karma and therefore needs to play in the circle of life and death no longer. There is no need for further reincarnation. Real knowledge is attained through right action. Right action is guided by Bhakti yoga. Self surrender to the Brahman is the highest form of Bhakti yoga.

Though there are many deities which one can give devotion to, especially in the multitheistic traditions such as Hinduism, all deities are manifestations of the One. The earliest practices of Bhakti were in conjunction with Ramanuja and later three more sects were founded — Nimbarka, Madhva and Vallabha. Nimbarka propagated the Vaishhnava theology, whose primary focus of Hindusim was to worship Vishnu and all his incarnations. Madhva was an important philosophy in the Bhakti movement. Shri Madhvacharya propagated Tattvavāda, or True Philosophy and was greatly revered as one of the incarnations of Hanuman, a Hindu deity. The Vallabha tradition preached pure non-dualism through the teachings of Sri Vallbhacharya.

No matter the philosophical background, nor the form of the Infinite one chooses to devote oneself to, practicing Bhakti yoga can be very beneficial.

interconnections between all that is manifest through the myriad forms of Brahman. Bhakti yoga is a pathway to this realization.

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