• Bhakti Backdrop: How the Ecstatic Tradition Came to Us, YOGA INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE AUGUST 2016

    Posted in Articles by Eric Shaw

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    Within the living context of modern yoga we have kirtan, with such luminaries as Deva Premal, Krishna Das, and scads of others.

    These folks are reviving a pre-modern revival—the Bhakti saint movement of eleventh century India.

    At that time, the idea of devotional worship, or bhakti, that had been percolating since the early Common Era (around the birth of Christ), burst hugely into the Indian mainstream. 

    It then spread from its birthground of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India to the rest of the country and India’s larger transcendental traditions.

    Fourteen hundred years before that, small sects of Bhagavatas (those seeking God through devotional worship), had first introduced India to the idea of chaste and intimate love between a god and a human.

     

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    And two hundred years before the Bhagavatas, we saw the appearance of the Svetasvatara Upanishad, which told us Rudra-Shiva was the All-God.

    Svetasvatara recast our commonplace Shiva as Reality’s First Cause—as a god who precedes and outpowers all the other gods in the Indian pantheon.  Svetasvatara uniquely positioned Shiva as an object for adoration and worship.

     

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    This new idea of God as One-and-Only—Rudra-Shiva—surpasses anything seen in the earliest scripture, the Vedas (c. 1800–800 BCE).

    There, the gods were distant deities at play in their own heaven, far removed from mortals, but approachable through complex rituals which inveigled favors of every kind from their vast warchest of powers.

    Israel’s singular god, Yahweh, shouted from the sky-vault and eschewed incarnation in human bodies—except, as Christian scripture tells it, in the case of Jesus.

    Yahweh could smoke as a mountain, shine as a burning bush, or arrive in proverbial metaphor as a mother, eagle, or whip, but we never see him loosed from the sky cockpit, walking naked in the forest like Eve, or piloting a war wagon like Krishna.  

    India’s bhakti traditions made god intimate.

    It tells us:

    –Depart from the Tantric Kula-site of closeted upper rooms where you fool around with methods of pranic containment, guided by a guru’s wisdom hand.

    –Be an Aghori (an esoteric Tantric renunciant) in the agora (the public space).

    –Empower both earthly and celestial relationships by sacrificing self through the laya (dissolution) of exoteric song.

    –Rewind the early practices of the old kula-like bhakti cults and the intimate group activities of the renunciants! Host the wandering bhakti saints and singers in ashrams, on small-town stages, and in big-city melas (festivals)! Collapse divisions of caste, gender, and god/human divinity through public rituals of song!

    –Honor the sacrificial tradition of the Vedas through an updated relationship to the gods—one that not so much brings them down to the human plane, as lifts the devotee-masses up: to the plane of Ultimate Reality, through rhythmic, swaying chant-fest.

    Embrace Bhakti!

    Rise, all ye peoples, through kirtan!

    READ IT AT YOGA INTERNATIONAL
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