1. Rainbow Bridge
2. Bhakti Yoga
Materials needed: Journal, drawing materials, paper and pen
* Living from the heart
Parabola: The teacher, 25(3), Fall, 2000
* Cutting through spiritual materialism
* Sufism: Transformation of the heart
* A path with heart
Exercises and Practices:
* You will already have these books.
The wishing tree is a small chakra located just below the heart chakra. It is called the Anandakanda. It depicts an altar shaded by an awning and a kalpa tree full of fruit, birds and flowers. This is the seat of the Ista-deva or personal god. This little chakra has eight petals and is the place of mental worship. The kalpa tree is one of the celestial trees in Indra’s heaven. It grants whatever is asked and leads the aspirant to moksa, liberation from the bondage of karma. This is why it is called the wishing tree.
We will use this symbol as a springboard to study Bhakti Yoga which is the path of worship and devotion. We will meet it again in subsequent chapters and in Easwaran’s book, Like a thousand suns.
The Rainbow Bridge
Take a moment and think of the most beautiful bridge you have ever seen. It need not be large. In fact, it could be as small as a tiny arch over a minute stream. Or it could be as big as The Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It might carry trains, automobiles, people or animals. Close your eyes and see this bridge in your mind’s eye. Notice as many details as you can. Then reflect on why this particular bridge is the one you chose. What is so special about it? You will probably find that there is more to it than just getting from here to there over a barrier of some sort. There is grace of form in it, beauty, or majesty.
Consider the rainbow as a bridge. It is said that a pot of gold is buried at the end of the rainbow. Have you ever tried to go to the end of the rainbow? Then you will have noticed that it moves with your approach. So the pot of gold is surely safe. This is rather like our dreams sometimes. We can’t quite latch onto them; they are evanescent rather like the antelope in our chakra symbol. Sometimes you can only see one end of a rainbow. The other is up in the clouds somewhere. This would be the kind of bridge we need for our metaphor.
There is a tendency in all humans to worship something greater than themselves. This “something” can take many different forms or be without form because It is the original Source. It is always powerful, all-knowing and present. We compare ourselves to It with awe. We project It into the heavens at great distance from us - to reduce our fear? However, we yearn for It, to be reunited with It, to overcome our separation from It. So we imagine a magic bridge that will carry us across the chasm that keeps us from unity. This is the rainbow bridge. It is a royal path from the world to Spirit or from the individual to the One Creator. It also serves as a symbol for the bridging of the personality with the Higher Self.
Another symbol for this connection is the peepul tree that is native to India. It is often drawn with its roots in heaven and its branches on earth. This represents the person whose roots are in the Divine while its offshoots manifest in the world.
Exercise: Peepul Tree
Draw the tree of your life indicating where your roots are, what the trunk is composed of, where your branches go and what your flowers and fruits are. When finished, put the drawing up somewhere in your house so that you can live with it for a while. Sometimes we see more in a picture we have drawn a day or so later than at the time we drew it. Make notes in your journal about what you see.
The rainbow bridge can also stand for worship since worship is what carries us from where we are to where we want to be in the arms of the Beloved. Whether it is worship of god or worship of money, focusing attention on the object of our desire along with devoting energy to it usually results in some kind of attainment. However, the devotion needs to be singlepointed and consistent over a long period of time. It takes concentration and effort to attain a lofty goal. And, at times, it may seem like the goal shifts and moves away rather like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So persistence is a worthwhile tool for the journeyer.
Have you ever been in love, passionate, all-compelling, can’t think of anything else but the other kind of love? Bhakti Yoga is a love affair with God complete with passion and absorption. Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion. It has been said that this is the easiest path since devotion comes naturally to most of us. However, in these times of restlessness and upheaval, accelerating change and unmanageable stress, many of us seem to have lost our faith in a divine being called God. It seems unsophisticated to us to envision an old man in long white robes seated on a throne up in heaven somewhere. Furthermore, we know that outer space does not even remotely resemble ancient images of heaven. That means we must look within for the divine realm, and we are unaccustomed to looking within for the objects of our desire. Nor do we know how to look within should we want to. Can you see within your heart? If so, what are you looking with? Perhaps your third eye, or inner eye can see into the heart. Devotional practices are designed to help you achieve this kind of inner sight.
In these practices we do not suppress emotion but intensify it and direct it toward God. Give the Lord all your feelings. It is not easy to connect with the Divine One especially if you have been away for a while. It requires renunciation of attachment to everything else and purification. When you are suitably humble, clear and able to honor all beings, grace may come. However, grace cannot be summoned but comes at the will of the One. Self-surrender is also required and trust which means no bargaining, no fear and no rivals. When we are taken by the One, then we discover that God is Love, Lover and Beloved and the separation is overcome. We have a taste of what this is like when we fall in love with another human being. In such cases, surrender, trust and renunciation of other attachments comes naturally. Similarly, when you fall in love with God, the releases are easy.
The Sufi path is a Bhakti path. Sufis proclaim that they are lovers of God.
Exercise: Bhakti Yoga
Please read pages 1-23 and 55-113 in Bhakti Yoga by Vivekananda. Vivekananda was a well known yogi around the turn of the century. He was one of the first to bring Yoga to the west. He gave a series of lectures at the first meeting of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in September, 1893. This little book is a compilation of some of his material. Vivekananda had a great mind and a tremendous love for God. It has been said that he was not granted visions because he would not have been able to stay in his body had he had them. By itself, this is a very small book. You may have acquired it already along with the one on Karma Yoga because they have been published in one volume. If not, you can buy it separately.
Think about the ways in which Vivekananda’s concept of love might differ from what you think love is. How is Ishvara, the personal god, different from Brahman, the Absolute One? What is a personal god? What is the difference between essence and form? Compare with the Buddhist ideas. Why do we need a personal god?
[Beginning on page 55] What does attainment of “That” demand? What is the role of will? What is para-bhakti and what is the greatest purifier? For what does the soul need experience? What does the Bhakta [seeker] do with his/her emotions on this path? What is the Bhakta’s renunciation? What is the role of love? What are the forms of love-manifestation and which ones are you familiar with? Keep this list for use in the next unit. What is the meaning of “Thy will be done” for Vivekananda? How do we break all bondages? How is para-bhakti different from ordinary love? What are the three angles of the love triangle? How is love a projection? How do humans manifest divine love? Make a list and hold for the next unit. Why do we all have to begin as dualists? What is the ultimate outcome?
Write a short paper on the way you now understand worship.
We met selfless service in our study of karma yoga. Now we run across the concept of selflessness once again. In both cases we are dealing with renunciation of the ego’s desires for rewards and acknowledgement. Remember that spiritual practice involves peeling off layers and layers of social conditioning. This means giving up our attachments to things, people, ideas, opinions, conceptions, etc., all of the barriers to Self-knowledge. Selfless devotion also means giving up any expectations about what will happen to oneself in the relationship with the object of worship. This is not easy because of the power inherent in the One. One of ego’s deepest terrors is of engulfment and loss of identity or individuality. That may be the last attachment to go. So to give up oneself in devotion is a tall order, and one that may not be achieved right away. Spiritual practice takes us gradually to the flame into which we may ultimately sacrifice ourselves. As we make this journey into light, Its increasing brilliance and the power of Its love eventually overcome the fear and carry us finally and willingly to Itself. Do not undertake this worship unless you are willing to go there.
One of the first steps on the Bhakti path is to try to step outside ourselves. To this end, we can dedicate our energies to the Most High. This can take the form of dedicating your work to God. Or you can dedicate a day at a time to God’s work, or your activities during one day to God. Or you might select one particular activity such as cleaning up the kitchen at night to dedicate to the Most High. In doing something like this, you would imagine, as you clean up the kitchen, that you are cleaning up your life as a gift to the divine One. You can dedicate your suffering and pain to God. What matters is not the form it takes but the motivation behind it and the remembrance that is involved. To make a dedication means we must remember what we are doing and why. You could, for instance, think of a personality characteristic in yourself that you would like to erase. So you offer it up to God every time you think of it or remember what you are doing with it. Of course, you use your own form or image of the Divine One in this exercise.
Select something you would like to dedicate to the Most High and set
up a schedule of remembrance and/or ritual that will help you stay on track.
Practice this dedication on a daily basis until it becomes a habit.
Then, select something else to work with. Journal your progress.
The yearning that comes out of recognition of our separation and alienation can set us on the path to God, and it may find expression in worship. Now there is a difference between meditation, prayer and worship. Meditation is a tuning in and opening out, a receptive mode in which we can receive. Prayer is a dialogue, a two-way communication or a supplication. It may also be an offering. Worship is loving, longing, yearning, glorifying, an expression of devotion and passionate love. In the process of worship, human longing becomes transmuted into compassion which means “passion with.” We have a model for how to love God in Divine Mother. Mary, the mother of Jesus, shows us how to love maternally and selflessly. Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva, models compassion. Kundalini and/or Shakti is the embodied lover while Mary Magdalene is the prototype of the passionate lover of God.
Worship needs to be carried on regularly, preferably daily, in order to have an effect. It also needs a private space and quiet so you can concentrate. It is a good idea to set up a prayer space in your dwelling that is only used for worship and meditation. To this end, find a likely spot that is out of the line of traffic. If your house or apartment is small, this may have to be a corner or a closet. You could use a screen to protect it from everyday vibrations that are not conducive to worship. If you live in a warm climate, it might even be outdoors in a spot that is protected from the elements.
In this space, set up an altar. This can be a small table, shelf, bench, stool, rock, etc. On the altar, place the items that are meaningful to you in terms of your spiritual journey. These can include images, statues, rocks, feathers, pictures, candles, flowers, anything that reminds you of the purpose of worship. These items can change as your focus changes. A candle is useful as a symbol of light. Water is often used. Offerings may be placed on the altar. Some people like to make regular offerings to the deity they worship. Keep in mind that any images of god you are using are not the target of your worship, but they stand for aspects of the divine that you want to keep in mind or to honor. If, for instance, you wanted to remind yourself to love others, you might use a statue of Divine Mother who is known for her compassion. If Christ on the cross is meaningful to you, use a crucifix. The important thing is what it means to you. Each thing should help you focus attention on the Divine One.
The point of images is not to worship the image as is incorrectly believed by many Christians and Jews. Like statues of Jesus or the Torah or candles in church or stained glass windows, they serve to help us keep God in mind. It is extremely difficult for the mind to imagine something that is not in a form. So we use the images until such time as the Presence Itself becomes unmistakable. We use mantra and chanting the same way. The form of mantra occupies the mind and helps to keep it attentive.
1. If you have not already done so, set up an altar in your place and select the items you want to place on it. Find a satisfactory way to place yourself before it. You may sit in a chair or on a cushion or kneel. You should be comfortable enough to be able to stay there for a while, but not so comfortable you drop off to sleep.
2. Read pages 47-54 in Bhakti Yoga.
3. Develop a worship ritual that feels right to you, and make a commitment to do it on a regular basis. Start off modestly with a pattern that you know you can sustain rather than one that is so elaborate you won’t get around to it. It needn’t take very long. For instance, some people have altars in their kitchens and light a candle or some incense and say a prayer or two to begin each day. You could do your dedication as part of this ritual, or that might be the entire ritual as a beginning. If you have young children, they may enjoy being included in the ritual - with appropriate cautions about candles, etc. You can hide the matches if your children are active experimenters. Other family members may be drawn into participation as well if they see some positive effects upon you.
You may use the same location for your meditation sessions. As time goes by, this space will acquire noticeably pleasant vibrations that it has picked up from your practice. For example, I have seen flowers in my prayer room last longer than those in other parts of the house. Eventually the entire house will take on a noticeably more peaceful ambience.
4. Read chapter 6 in Living from the heart and do the breathing
exercises. Do these exercises in your new prayer space and apply
them to your dedications.
Need for a teacher
A spiritual teacher will appear, it is said, when the student is ready. However, you need to be vigilant so as not to miss her or him. Teachers come in all forms and not necessarily in a form you might expect. There may be a formal arrangement whereby you ask someone to be your teacher and make a formal commitment, or you may just learn one lesson from someone who crosses your path. My last dog gave me some of my most important lessons in love and devotion. If you recognize them, they are your teachers; and, if you do not recognize them, they may still be your teachers. However, the lesson may be missed if you are not conscious of what is going on around you. In that case, you may have to repeat it. Many, if not all, of your unpleasant experiences are teachers and always should be heeded. We ask ourselves what the lesson is this time. If you feel inclined to make a formal arrangement with a teacher, be sure to study the criteria for a good teacher and test to make sure you have a valid one.
One further note: Do not be too concerned if the teacher has some personality characteristics that put you off as long as they are not harmful to you or to others. Enlightenment does not destroy the personality. It just makes it more transparent. We need our personalities to interface with the world. The point is to disengage from personality issues, demands and attachments toward increasing freedom to be one’s true Self. For instance, you may find “tough love” in your teacher rather than a kind, all-accepting, nurturing type of love you might prefer. If so, it is probably what you most need. The types of things you should avoid are sexual advances and exploitation that could be to the teacher’s advantage. Because the teacher’s job is to work on humbling the ego, it is difficult sometimes to tell what his/her motives really are. But you would suspect a teacher who asks for money while s/he is riding around in a Cadillac. A teacher should model acceptable behaviors.
Exercise: Spiritual teacher
1. Read pages 24-41 in Bhakti Yoga. Why do we need a teacher? What does “the blind leading the blind” mean on the spiritual path? What are the four conditions necessary to teaching? Make a list of them in your journal for reference when you seek a teacher. What is an avatar? Why do they come to earth, and for what do we need them? What avatars can you think of?
2. Read “The Source of Wisdom” by Richard Smoley, “Spiritual Masters: An Interview with William Segal,” “The Spiritual Guide”by Jalalu’lll-Din Rumi, “The Guru Function” by Georg Feuerstein and “Questioning Authority” by Mariana Caplan in Parabola, 25(3), Fall, 2000. If you cannot get it online, try your local library. If they do not have it, they can order xerox copies of the articles for you if you give them the reference.
3. Read pages 23-50 in Cutting through spiritual materialism and pages 127-154 in Sufism: Transformation of the heart.
Pay close attention to all four of these readings. Outline them,
so you can study them. Make a list of each set of the characteristics
you think are important with special attention to the ones that are on
more than one list. There are a host of self-appointed pseudo-gurus
out there who are not properly prepared to teach, and they can be very
dangerous. If you investigate, you should find evidence of a lineage
that enables you to see that the teacher has had the proper training.
If you run into any kind of sales pitch or appeals to your fears, beware!
If you ask for credentials and are refused or intimidated, beware!
Even if you are not searching for a teacher right now, it will not hurt
to know how to select one. Discernment is of the essence.
Other kinds of teachers
You can find guidance in anyone who is ahead of you on the path. Especially in the beginning, you may have to learn from someone who is not famous nor very impressive. These people will not be called gurus. They may call themselves spiritual guides or spiritual friends, or they may not give themselves any special title. Titles should be undergirded with training, and the training should be documented and observable.
A spiritual friend is the most informal type of guide. This is someone who knows more about the spiritual path than you do because s/he has been on it longer and has more experience. Such a person can give you a great deal of help and support. Their guidance should take the form of active listening and encouragement. Generally speaking, guides do not give advice as they know, or should know, that the direction comes from within the seeker. Their function is to help you to access it.
A spiritual guide is someone who has had some training in guidance. This person may come from any of the religious disciplines or mystical traditions. The training a spiritual guide receives is non-denominational. The focus of that training is to teach people how to lead someone on the path. Again, they should not be giving you advice, but encouraging and challenging you.
Exercise: Spiritual guides
1. Get paper and pen and draw three columns on the page. Make a list in the first column of all the people or even animals or events, if it does not make your list too long, in your life who have been spiritual teachers to you. In the second column make note of what you learned from each of them. In a third column, you may want to write down what was special about them that made them a good teacher for you at the time. Then send your gratitude to each of them either formally in a letter or email, or via telepathy or prayer.
2. In A path with heart, do the meditation on page 82.
You can substitute your own deity if the Buddha does not work for you.
How is it true that all beings are your teachers?
The inner teacher
All teachers should have as their goal to lead you to your inner teacher. This is often called your Higher Self or may be referred to by Sufis as the Beloved. For me it is Spirit. Perhaps it will help you to hear how I met Spirit.
I was in training at The Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO in their Contemplative Psychotherapy program. We were spending the spring quarter in retreat at the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in Red Feather Lakes, CO. Part of our training was to work with maitri rooms. These are five 8' X 8' cubicles each of which is a different color: red, yellow, blue, green and white. They represent the different realms of existence in Buddhist thought. You take a different, specified position in each one and hold it for 45 minutes allowing the color and the position to work on you. When this practice is done regularly and several times daily for a couple months (but not all rooms every day), you come to have every possible experience of each realm from the very negative to the very positive. This prepares you to understand first hand a wide range of human experience from pathology to virtual enlightenment. This is a very brief and inadequate description of the practice, but it will set the stage for what follows.
I was in the Padma room, the red room that represents the human realm, lying on my side when I became aware that I was not alone. There was another presence in the room with me. At first there was no other communication with this entity. I was not too frightened because my spiritual guide had already emerged, and so I knew there were beneficent presences in the world who were not in bodies. Over time, this Spirit revisited me, but it was not until I was at the Ashram several months later that a dialogue began. At first, it was not even like a conversation, just vague feelings; and ideas would come into my mind that I knew were not my own. Eventually, a simple dialogue began which gradually developed into conversations and even later into teachings.
At one point, much earlier in my life before either of these entities emerged, I had had the experience of dialoguing with my Higher Self while attending a workshop with Ira Progoff called “At a Journal Workshop.” My understanding, to this day, is that Spirit is not my Higher Self but a higher level essence or Presence. My spiritual guide stands somewhere between these two and feels more like an angel. His name is Michael, and he has something that resembles a personality. Spirit does not. Nor is Spirit engendered. Both Spirit and Michael are inner teachers.
The necessary condition for an inner teacher to emerge is a quiet mind. While at Naropa, I had been sitting for meditation an hour daily plus I had attended four Shambhala weekend meditation retreats. The retreat in the mountains was even more intense and opened the way for the inner teachers to emerge. It is as if the mind and its customary activity throws up a fence or screen through which the inner teacher will not come. The way must be prepared and the invitation issued.
Satsang is a meeting with the true and wise. Usually it takes the form of a group of seekers who meet together regularly to share the journey and to meditate, chant or worship in various formats depending upon the religous or traditional context. There are satsangs in both the Yogic and Buddhist traditions. Similar groups can be found in your local churches, at retreats, workshops and other gatherings of spiritual aspirants though they may not be called satsangs. The most important of their functions is spiritual support especially for worship.
1. Give some thought to who in your life, near where you live, is also on the spiritual path whether formally or informally, and who is either wise or open to acquiring new wisdom. If you can think of one or two others or more, consider the possibility of gathering them together to explore the idea of creating your own spiritual support group or satsang. It does not have to be called that if it would feel strange to your friends. If this works out for you and you would like some guidelines for how to be together in such a group, you can download a set at www.SpiritSong.org/process.htm. An alternative to creating your own group would be to find one that is already in existence. If there is a spiritual center, ashram, convent or monastery in your area, you may find one there.
2. In Living from the heart, read chapter 16. In addition to repeating some of the content you have just read, this chapter has some good suggestions on how to work in a group.
Choice to Continue on the Path
Because the heart center is an intersection point, it is a good place to renew your commitment to the spiritual journey. If you continue, you are going to be asked to do some strenuous renunciation and to develop humility. The discipline of both mind and ego is going to become more intense. There may be more anxiety. This path is not for the faint-hearted. Instead of just examining your social conditioning, you will be asked to change yourself in fundamental ways. Again, be warned that reading about this trip is not the same thing as traveling on it. It is like the difference between reading a travel brochure and actually boarding the train or setting off for a trek in the Himalayas.
Do you want to go? Really?
1. Do the meditation: “Reflecting on the cycles of your spiritual life” in A path with heart, page 183. Then sit with the question of continuance for several days or enough time for an answer to jell within you. You may consult your Higher Self through a visual or twilight imagery or dialogue, or simply wait until your inner guide speaks to you.
When you have an answer, honor it with a ritual that will celebrate a new beginning in your life. Express your gratitude to all those who have helped you arrive at this point in your evolution.
Bair, P. (1998). Living from the heart: Heart rhythm meditation for energy, clarity, peace, joy and inner power. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Kornfield, J. (1993). A path with heart: A guide through the perils and promises of spiritual life. New York: Bantam Books.
Palkhivala, A. B. A. (1990, Fall). Thoughts on teachers and students. Newsletter of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Washington State.
Parabola: Myth, Tradition, and the Search for Meaning: “The Teacher,” 25(3), (2000), 6-19, 27, 60-64, 100-105.
Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Boulder: Shambhala.
Vaughan-Lee, L. (1995). Sufism: The transformation of the heart. Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.
Vivekananda, Swami (1978). Bhakti-Yoga: The Yoga of love and devotion. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama (distributed by Vedanta Press, Hollywood, CA.)
We have been developing some new tools for the journey and have discovered some new practices to help along the way. Unit IV. Connection will examine how all of our relationships are reflections of and grow out of love for the Divine One.