Focus of the Month: November 2017

Harvest of the Heart: Bhakti Yoga & the Art of Devotion

One of the greatest tales of India helps me to remain devoted to the divine. The Ramayana, which some say is the “soul of India,” is one of the most romantic, surprising and thrilling adventure tales that speaks to a colorful array of human emotions. One of the main characters in the story is Hanuman, who is half monkey and half god. He represents the struggle humans face on their quest to remember self and god-realization, which according to Ramana Maharshi, “is the greatest gift a human can render the world.” Hanuman teaches us that by remembering god, we remember our true nature to serve love to all beings, and by doing so, our struggle transforms into devotion, which unveils the Harvest of the Heart: Bhakti Yoga.

Ram Dass does a fabulous job articulating Hanuman’s symbolism of Bhakti Yoga and the Art of Devotion. “Hanuman’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled the Lord’s virtues. He ever enjoyed the nectar of the Lord’s story. His only desire was to be allowed to remain as a devotee of Rama. Again and again the Lord tried to raise him up; He, however, was so absorbed in love that he would not rise. When Rama asked him what he wanted, Hanuman answered: Grant me unceasing devotion, which is a source of supreme bliss” (Miracle of Love, Ram Dass).

To me, this quote symbolizes the love that we feel when we remember our true divine nature, and Hanuman’s mission is to be a constant reminder when we forget. He is often depicted ripping open his chest, inside of which sit Sita and Rama, the divine feminine and masculine aspects of creation, signifying that inside each of us dwells the harvest of the heart. It seems as though part of the human predicament is that we forget that we are in fact divine beings alive on Planet Earth. Thankfully, the art forms of Bhakti Yoga practiced today can help us overcome the obstacles that our minds like to present and bring us back to remembrance of the beauty that dwells within, like Hanuman so humbly distills.

Bhakti Yoga means to share love and to devote our lives to something beyond the human form; something that reconnects us to eternal joy. Sharon Gannon and David Life say, “Bhakti is attained through surrender to a higher force.” Bhakti yoga has taught me what it means to practice devotion and Hanuman’s story from the Ramayana has taught me how to feel devotion. My favorite story of Hanuman is when he remembers his divinity, which continues to help me do the same and can help anyone eager to harvest the wisdom of the heart. The story goes like this:

Jambavan said to the moody Hanuman, “Why, O Son of the wind, do you doubt yourself so much? But it is the curse of the all the greatest” (Ramayana). Hanuman had spiraled into a state of negativity, fear and self-doubt because he thought he failed King Rama. Hanuman and his comrades were on the southern tip of India in despair because they did not know how they would cross the ocean to Sri Lanka to rescues Rama’s wife, Sita; but there was still hope. Jambavan, an elder from the bear clan, remembered Hanuman’s innate divinity. He gathered all of the bears and vanaras around Hanuman to sing him a song. Hanuman fell to his knees on the earth with his head down for fear of failure. Jambavan approached Hanuman and said, “It seems as though you have forgotten who you truly are. We are going to remind you.” Jambavan then lead the bears and the vanaras in a musical recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa (a 40-line hymn of praise) to remind the warrior of his divine nature. At the peak of the song, the sacred vibrations ignited Hanuman’s inner devotion to King Rama, and he rose to his feet and expanded to a magnificent size in full remembrance of his will to serve God. As his faith in Rama deepened, his self-confidence soared as he jumped off the mountain and flew across the ocean to rescue Sita.

I heard this story for the first time during my teacher training at Swan River Yoga. I was in a state of suffering because the inner voice in my head was criticizing my actions. Thankfully, I had attended a kirtan that day and the teacher had chanted the Hanuman Chalisa. Tears were streaming down my face because the words were an invocation to my higher self to save me from the delusion of the voice in my head; and it did. The tears not only symbolized the struggle, they were tears of joy, for I remembered my true nature of loving awareness. By chanting this story with unconditional shraddha (faith), I had transcended the suffering and landed in the Harvest the Heart. I truly felt devotion and I felt healed thanks to the 40-line praise of Hanuman’s glory. This is the potency of Bhakti Yoga.

Hanuman’s story continues to heal me daily because not only does it ignite faith, it reminds to be devoted to serving god. Chanting is one of the most potent tools that has refined my ability to clear negativity, to be receptive to intuition, and to reinstate an indomitable faith in the present moment. Hearing the ancient stories, singing, and dancing are some of the art forms of Bhakti Yoga. However, this path encompasses any aspect of being alive that makes you feel in love, empowered and grateful to be on this journey, or as Mooji says, “when you are the one that wins your true self back.” Ultimately, these art forms, whatever they may be for each individual, are a way to relish in the bliss of the present moment and potentially to experience jivanmukti, or soul liberation. As the Ramayana says, “Every word the king of bears said seemed to sever a link in the chain that bound Hanuman’s spirit.”

November is the perfect month to devote all of the effort of our yoga practice to the divine, so that we too can potentially dwell in the harvest of our heart, and serve god humbly like Hanuman. This is Bhakti yoga, a lifestyle that honors the interconnectedness of all things and the loving force that is alive in our hearts. We can honor this force by dwelling in heart openers and expanding into our magnificence as we flow and rest with ujjayi breath. Practice dropping awareness from the mind chatter to the heartbeat, on and off the mat. As we celebrate the harvest and the coming together of loved ones, we can devote our practice to all of the plants, animals, loved ones and unseen beings that contribute to the bounty that we get to enjoy. Bhakti yoga and the art of devotion can help us stay attuned to the divine forces of love day after day. Like Paramahamsa Yogananda says, “As you cannot broadcast through a broken microphone, so you cannot send out prayers through a mental microphone that has been distorted by restlessness. By deep calmness you should repair your mind microphone and increase the receptivity of your intuition. Thus, you will be able to broadcast effectively and receive divine guidance.” Let this month be an invitation to practice Bhakti Yoga so we can “restore calmness” and remember our divinity. Because when we do, our life becomes an expression of devotion that ultimately contributes to the happiness of all humans, as well as all animals, plants, and sentient beings. Hanuman’s story is our story and by remembering it, we dwell in the “harvest of the heart,” and manifest harmony on earth.

Written by Bradley Spiegel
November, 2017