Bhakti Yoga: How Yogis Get High

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Jul 31, 2010
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How can we cure our spiritual heart disease? By getting high on Bhakti Yoga.

In the great tradition of the Bhagavad Gita and other Eastern sacred scriptures, it is often said that the gateway to the Divine is through the heart of love, the path of Bhakti, the path of intense passion and loving adoration for the Divine.

Poetic giants and mystical geniuses such as Rumi were the embodiment of this sacred path of passion. In the words of Rumi:

From beyond the intellect beautiful Love comes…

And from beyond Love, that One who cannot be

described, who can only be called “That” keeps


But how do we find “That” in our life? How do we experience “That” in others and in nature?

As Rainer Maria Rilke—arguably one of the greatest poets to be born on Western soil—wrote in The Sonnets to Orpheus: “Praising is what matters.”

It is through praising the Divine in everything that our heart opens up and expands to dissolve all barriers of duality and separation.

Bhakti Yoga is thus the gracious act of offering of love and gratitude to “That.” Through loving praise for the existence of “That” in all others, we can connect with the spiritual heart of everybody around us.

Through an all-embracing awe of the presence of “That” in nature, we can celebrate the oneness of creation.

That is Bhakti Yoga, the perennial cure for the aching emptiness we sometimes feel inside.

The great sages have always reminded us of the importance of Bhakti, of love for the Divine. Their reminders cannot be underestimated.

My guru, Anandamurti, used to say that spiritual praise or devotional love “is the highest and most valuable treasure of humanity.”

And what is the role of this love, this devotional sentiment? “To transform our worldly existence into the supreme spiritual stance.”

This kind of transformation is exactly what our self-obsessed and narcissistic Western world needs. Despite our many technological wonders, our materialistic culture is suffering from a chronic case of spiritual heart disease.

And what is the cure for this disease? Bhakti Yoga, a daily, transformational diet of Divine praise, adoration and love.

Here are some ways to practice Bhakti Yoga:

  • Chant your heart away with kirtan.
  • Play kirtan at home or in the car.
  • Dance while singing kirtan.
  • Join a kirtan group at your local yoga studio.
  • Write love poetry to the Divine.
  • Write love poetry to your lover as if he or she is Divine.
  • Read or sing the Bhakti poetry of Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, and others.
  • Read the Gita and other sacred books.
  • Love the Divine in nature by watching the stars at night, walking in the woods, meditating and practicing yoga in awe-inspiring places.
  • Praise your family and friends as manifestations of the Divine.
  • Eat and drink as if your meal is Divine nectar.

The heartfelt love of the Divine is our most delicate and tender, inner asset. Like a delicate plant, it must be nurtured and preserved. Bhakti Yoga is to love the world as God and Goddess.

Bhakti Yoga is to cultivate the dynamic harmony between the material, mental and spiritual realms. To love and live the dance of opposites as if all is One.

That vision has always been, and will always be, the sweet song of Bhakti Yoga. Its melody and metaphors may change from time to time, but its transcendental beauty, charm and wisdom will forever remain unchanged.


About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


13 Responses to “Bhakti Yoga: How Yogis Get High”

  1. Beautiful, Ramesh. As you know, I brought in a special guest to write about Bhakti Yoga in Gita Talk #14: A Warm and Wonderful Article by Special Guest Amy Champ.

    In the introduction, I wrote that I brought in Amy because I could never do justice to Bhakti, "simply because I don’t practice it".

    However, you define it so broadly and flexibly in your blog above that perhaps that's not exactly true, maybe not true at all. I've always associated Bhakti with open expression in groups, whereas my Yoga, except for my writing and blogging, is solitary and internal. I'm more like the guy in the cave.

    But you allow for people like me in your definition of Bhakti.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Ramesh says:

    I have not mentioned this before to you, but I have found several of your descriptions of your yoga practice to be bhakti oriented. Your descriptions of awe and flow when reading the Gita, contemplating oneness of the universe, or being in nature or playing your flamenco guitar, that sense of loosing yourself in an inner flow beyond the intellect, that to me is also Bhakti Yoga. And yes, Bhakti Yoga can also be practiced alone. I do it every day myself, in sanskrit prayers and kirtan.
    In fact, I just returned from a visit to my friends in the country side of Norway where I am vacationing and working on my book on Tantra, and I played Jai Uttal's latest kirtan CD in the car. The great thing about doing it in a car is that you can sing as loud and crazy and out of tune as you like. As usual, it was a mind-altering experience (important to use a kirtan CD you really love) that brought tears of joy to my eyes. And I did it all by myself with a little help from my friend Jai Uttal.

    And, one other thing about Bhakti Yoga is that it is a great practice when we are sad or melancholy or stressed, a great vehicle of inner transmutation: to just let go and sing and dance, or play the flamenco and seeing the Divine lila in everything. Inner Flow Yoga!

  3. Great thoughts, Ramesh. Thanks.

    Bob W.

  4. Blake C. says:

    In all due respect, I am not sure where the author has come up with these concocted ideas about Bhakti Yoga. Where did this guy come up with this stuff? Bhakti Yoga is not something you "do," Bhakti is a way of life. It IS you life. Bhakti yoga is the culmination and purpose of all the other limbs of yoga, as a way to understand, love, and serve God. It is not something to get "high" off of, this is a typical Western misunderstanding and "bastardization" of very deep, profound, and intricate ancient systems and wisdom. Much like how tantra now means sex and yoga means stretching.
    It is more than that. And Bhakti is more than this surface-level activity for getting good feelings and relieving stress. That's a side effect of the process but to suggest that Bhakti is simply some nice heart warming activity or impersonal feeling of loving "that" is a deep misunderstanding. It's not about gaining warm and fuzzy feelings or feelings of peace and oneness either. Educate yourself properly. Bhakti is the process of reawakening our dormant eternal relationship with God through purely devotional acts, such as, chanting the Holy Names of God (Krsna, Rama, Govinda, etc), singing WITH TRUE DEVOTION to God in kirtan, offering all vegetarian foodstuffs ritually to God, being God's servant through loving devotional service, and remembering God's form, names, and being in constant prayer. It is not some impersonal imaginary exercise in seeing God everywhere and thanking Him for all your personal enjoyment. It is not pretending your food is divine nectar. This impersonal and shallow take on Bhakti should be disregarded. Bhakti is not a practice. Bhakti is the awakening out of our illusion and learning to truly love and serve the Supreme Lord. Sorry to sound so intense but this surface level-skimming and over-simplification and Westernization of ancient bona fide spiritual systems has got to end if we as Western culture are to ever truly find spiritual enlightenment and true culture. Lest we will continue to cherry-pick from this tradition and that, concoct, alter, speculate, and ultimately suffer and take birth over and over again.

  5. Blake says:

    Dear Ramesh,
    Well thank you for your response. I will admit I am perhaps a traditionalist to the best of my knowledge. And I think it is important for people to learn spirituality from a pure lineage or tradition, such as Gaudiya Vaishnavism is for Bhakti. Yes, Bhakti can be fun, but Bhakti is not some cheap way to get high or attain some material or mental benefit. This is what I am saying. It's like saying becoming a Christian is a way to get free wine and crackers, you see? You might be an expert in Bhakti, but I think there is a big danger in general of people misunderstanding these ancient and extremely complex spiritual traditions by over-simplifying them and "skimming the surface" while thinking they know what is the goal. Part of Bhakti yoga is singing, yes. But like I said, Bhakti is a way of life, a very intense and profound spiritual path. It's not simply some fun activity to enhance your hatha yoga practice or give you a feeling of highness. Yes, good and fun feelings come, naturally, but true Bhakti is total surrender and submission to the Supreme through devotional practices and lifestyle. "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Don not fear." Sri Krsna in Bhagavad Gita 18:66. This is Bhakti.
    It is not that I do not appreciate other people's expression of Bhakti, but people must know what Bhakti is. While some of what you described sounds valid, (singing, reading sacred texts, praying, etc), in my opinion it's just way too oversimplified and vague. I don't think these activities alone are practicing Bhakti Yoga. But anyway, many of your sentiments and points I can agree with but I just see this "New Age" tendency to change, simplify, and cut and paste from complex spiritual traditions is to our collective spiritual disadvantage. I think people are truly missing out on what these traditions have to offer by not going deep and truly surrendering to them. Bhakti blues sounds cute, but what is the goal? Is it entertainment or enlightenment? Can we truly be profoundly connected to the Supreme by concocting our own path or by cherry picking from this tradition and that? Is this imagination or illumination? Sure, get creative, but first we must learn the real basics before we can improvise.
    So Ramesh, glories to you for singing with devotion and love to God for all these years. You probably know more about Bhakti than I do. I just felt the need to express my concern and my viewpoint, even if it is a more traditonal one. Sorry if I sounded aggressive, but this is a very serious topic. No one can have a monopoly on Bhakti, for Bhakti is free for everyone and given by God as the path to Him. And by the way, I used to be the only white guy in an all-black gospel church. Hahahaha. Thanks for bringing Bhakti into people's awareness. Hari Bol.

  6. Glenn Russell says:

    Dear Ramesh,

    Thanks so much for your comments on Bhakti. I attended Jai Uttal's week-long Bhakti Camp north of San Francisco this summer and I can tell you it was a fabulous experience. I played the mridanga, chanted, and danced 10 hours a day with 50 other bhaktas. I lead kirtan with chants to Goddess Mahamaya. I listed to other kirtan singers lead chants with incredible love in their voices and hearts. You are right on, my friend, when you say much of our world's current heart disease could be cured by a daily practice of love, praise and devotion to the divine.

    Warm regards,

  7. Ramesh says:

    Blake, thank you so much for your thoughtful follow-up. I hear you and I embrace your deeply felt respect and practice of Bhakti in my heart. I think we are on the same page. I agree that Bhakti Yoga in its most refined expression is a way of life, a state of being and enlightenment that is as rare as other forms of yogic enlightenment. But, as Jai Uttal often talks about at his concerts, the beauty of Bhakti yoga is its expression of longing for the Great, for God, and in that longing, that separation, there is also Bhakti, there is also purity, even though it often expresses sadness, even anger and frustration, but that is the beauty of the Bhakti path, it allows the heart to be open and tender, even though it's in turmoil, as long as we attempt to surrender that turmoil, that feeling of separation to God. Thus, while Jai Uttal may mix experimental blues, folk, jazz and Appalachian tunes in his songs, his Bhakti tunes are deeply traditional in spirit, for the the Bhakti tradition is all about the heart opening to the One. The heart's longing for the One through the signing and chanting the many names of the One.
    So, Blake, thanks for your letter, thanks for keeping the tradition of Bhakti alive today!

  8. Ramesh says:

    Thank you so much, Glenn, for your breath of fresh Bhakti energy. Bhakti Camp sounds wonderful. Wish I was there!

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  13. Good answer 🙂 Bhakti is not "confined" to one movement/organization/country, or anything. Nor is Gaudiya Vaishnavism the only "pure" lineage of bhakti yoga. I really thought Caitanya wanted the whole WORLD to have access to bhakti yoga, not that everyone line up outside the door of one little institute!