Many great masters have emphasized devotion as an essential ingredient of the spiritual path. One monk said to Paramhansa Yogananda, “Devotion, that’s the main thing, isn’t it Master?” Yogananda surprised him by saying, “It’s the only thing!”
A deep yearning of the heart
Devotion is a vital component for success in any field. I’ve yet to meet a world-class athlete, artist, nurse or farmer who didn’t have a deeply felt, intense yearning to do the best possible job in their field. It’s devotion that motivates them to undergo long hours of effort and other hardships until they can say, “That’s the best I can do.” They never compromise the heart’s constant call to strive for excellence.
Devotion is a line of demarcation for those who pursue success in any field. In the spiritual arena, few if any can tap into the energy needed to succeed in the practice of meditation without devotion.
Devotion is the deep yearning of the heart for God. Kriyananda writes that “To seek God… without at least wanting Him would be self-contradictory. To want Him is to feel devotion to Him.” If there is no desire for God, the incentive to persist in meditation will be lacking.
Without devotion, we aren’t likely to enjoy meditation enough even to stay with it! In his poem, Samadhi, Yogananda says, “By longer, thirsty, Guru-given meditation comes this celestial samadhi.”
“Thirsty” is a reference to the deep yearning of the heart which eventually draws the divine response. Once the heart is open and receptive to the feelings of peace, love, and joy that flow from Spirit, we can meditate “longer” because these feelings, when experienced, are extremely enjoyable.
Where is your treasure?
Jesus admonished, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” When we treasure God more than the things of this world, our heart’s devotion naturally flows upwards to Him at the spiritual eye, the point between the eyebrows.
The more we let go of material desires that pull our energy downward and away from God, the more our heart’s energy is channeled into the upward flow to Spirit. Only when the heart is purified of outer attachments can we concentrate on the Divine with our entire being, not just our mind.
How can we increase our devotion? Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “Even a leaf or a blade of grass offered with devotion is pleasing to Me.”
Devotion can be fostered by our approach to life. To see the daily blessings of our family and friends, the sunshine, our freedom, or our health—as gifts from the Divine, arouses the heart’s natural gratitude and joy. This practice will increase your devotion and deepen your meditation.
Devotion is our natural state
Reading books about the lives of devotional saints can help us feel devotion. Devotion is our natural state. We become increasingly more comfortable with it when reminded of it by saints who lived it so purely. Even to see a picture of a Padre Pio or Yogananda, and the devotion in their eyes, can help arouse our heart’s sleeping love for God.
Yogananda encouraged chanting as an especially effective way of tuning into the heart’s refined feeling. Chanting while concentrating in the heart helps us to relax and open the heart. We’re able to feel the vibrations of the Divine much more easily once devotional chanting has “primed the pump” of feeling.
Which chant is best? Whatever engages your heart easily and naturally. Sometimes, a certain chant will easily absorb us, whisking us past the conscious, rational mind into the superconscious dimension. Experiment with various chants until you feel them uplifting your consciousness.
Learn to identify obstructions
The more we keep our hearts in a devotional attitude of love for God, the more natural it feels to us. We then can more easily identify and avoid those things which obstruct our natural devotion.
Try to increase your devotion to the Divine and see if the depth of your meditations isn’t proportionally increased. Yogananda often said, “God watches the heart.” May you feel His love there always!
Ananta and his wife, Maria, currently serve as Acharyas (spiritual directors) of Ananda Sacramento.
The Sweetness of “Wistful Yearning”
by Swami Kriyananda
As much in yoga as in any other approach to the Infinite, one’s meditation must be filled with the sweetness of longing, and of love. It had been said that God has all things—all wisdom, all knowledge, all power—that there is only one thing He lacks: our love. It is in our power to give or to withhold this gift from Him.
Some yogis, over-preoccupied with techniques, postures, and pranayamas, with subtle energies and psychic centers, forget that without love all such efforts are wasted—like a mountain stream that loses itself in a vast desert. Love is the prime necessity. All one’s efforts in yoga should be directed with love, and offered on the altar of devotion.
If one would draw a response from the heart of the Infinite Silence, an attitude of respectful, loving attention is necessary. The egotistical attitude, “I can conquer all!” is self-defeating. An attitude of humility and surrender must be the guiding force in every self-effort to advance spiritually.
Feel in meditation that your heart center (situated in the spine opposite the heart) is like a flower with its petals turned downward. Mentally turn these petals upward so that they point toward the brain. Feel rays of energy flowing up from the heart to the point between the eyebrows. Awaken love in the heart and channel all this love upwards, as if to the altar of God, in deep meditation.
This is the end of chanting and mantras, of pranayama, of all self-effort: when the heart’s love flows upward in silence, with “wistful yearning” (to use my Guru’s lovely phrase), toward the heart of God.