Path one to raising consciousness is the path of deep, loving devotion to God. Within Hindu tradition, this path is called bhakti yoga. This path is expressed by means of worship, rituals, prayers and the repetition of a mantra – the holy name of a chosen aspect of God. Followers of this path worship either a specific aspect of God – such as, Shiva, Vishnu or Devi – or a divine incarnation – such as, Krishna, the Buddha or Jesus Christ. Since most believers who follow this path assume themselves separate from God, they dedicate their lives to cultivating a direct and intense personal relationship between themselves and the chosen aspect of God, between the worshiper and the worshiped.
By focusing on the concrete and tangible human-like deity or real human avatar, the love of the worshiper is more easily directed and concentrated. This is why this path is considered the simplest and the most prevalent of all. In fact, the vast majority of believers in all the world’s religions are followers of the path of devotion.
Although this path is considered the simplest, there are several pitfalls in it. Despite the fact that millions of believers follow this path, only a few avoid falling into these pitfalls and actually reach union with God.
The first snare on the path of loving devotion to God lies in the very nature of devotion. Devotion is based on undeniable and indisputable faith in the chosen aspect of God. Such faith can be sincerely felt only by those rare individuals who actually have experienced a direct, personal relationship with God, which happens in cases of illuminated sages or saints. The rest of the worshipers usually fall into one of two groups: the overt doubters and the covert doubters or fanatics.
In the face of innumerable instances of seemingly undeserved suffering existing in the world, most worshipers start doubting God’s love, God’s power, God’s justice or even God’s existence. However, while some of them are aware of their doubts, many are ignorant of them. Among those who are aware, some accept the doubts and keep worshiping their chosen aspect of God to the best of their ability. Others – exaggerate the doubts and turn into cynics, skeptics and pessimists. Those who are unaware of their doubts, tend to suppress them and often become blind extremists or fanatics, who are capable of doing anything, including murdering, in the name of their chosen aspect of God.
The second pitfall in the path of loving devotion to God is performing the rituals and saying the prayers in a mechanical fashion, without remembering their Context and their Essence. Perhaps, there is nothing wrong with saying prayers, going to temples or celebrating religious holidays habitually, just because it is a tradition. However, it is not likely that one can reach union with God by merely following the tradition. Devotion to God is devotion, which requires dedication, enthusiasm and fervor; it is the willingness to think of God with the same regularity as we think of our beloved; it is the readiness to cry for God with the same intensity as we cry for our children.
How many of us are capable of such a level of devotion? Only a few, and these few do reach union with God by following the path of devotion. The majority, however, despite prayer, attendance in temples and engagement in the rituals, remain ignorant and closed to the Absolute Love, Absolute Truth, and Absolute Grace – the Essence of God. In some extreme cases, people even steal, lie, or murder right after performing their religious rituals.
The third drawback in the path of devotion to God lies in the premise that it is supposed to be loving devotion. Those who love God wholeheartedly and unreservedly are incapable of hating, harming or despising anyone or anything within God’s creation. True devotees love and appreciate all people – regardless of their creeds or tribes – and all living things – regardless of their species. Only a few devoted believers are capable of such unreserved, all-inclusive love. And these few do reach union with God. The rest – though they continue to be engaged in worship and ritual – often feel hatred or fear toward others, especially if these others worship a different aspect of God.
Finally, the fourth danger in the path of devotion to God is that it often leads devotees to believing that they are “God-chosen people” while all non-believers or followers of other creeds are “sinners” or “non-chosen.” Only a few devotees within each religious tradition believe that their way to God is not the only way. They respect other religions and honor people’s right to follow them. The rest – wallow in the pride of being a devoted Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and so on – the pride that inevitably restricts their ability to raise their consciousness and experience the Presence.
In the next post, I will describe the second path to raising consciousness – the path of God-dedicated action.
Please stay tuned.