Bhakti Yoga – Divine love allegorized

Many mystics have allegorized divine love or bhakti in terms of human love. They have done this so that people can gain some idea of the meaning of the word bhakti. Most people know about the love between a man and a woman. Therefore, it is easier to explain the path and experience of bhakti in terms of male-female love, in terms that most people can relate to through personal experience. The problem is, however, that people forget that stories and poems in this form are allegories and they take them too literally. Many allegories of bhakti are totally misunderstood. A good example is the well-known poem Rubaiyat by the Persian poet Omar Khayam. Most translators of this masterpiece have interpreted it as a series of wine drinking, women frolicking escapades.

The introduction to this poem in a book in the ashram library says: “He was a poet of revolt, preaching the unbeliever’s pessimism and the creed – let us eat and drink now for tomorrow we die.” This misses the whole point. Omar Khayam was neither a believer nor a non-believer. He was a bhakta, tuned in with higher states of consciousness and knowledge. He was in communion. There is nothing wrong with eating and being merry; if you want to do this, then do it. But Omar Khayam is not suggesting this at all. He is depicting bhakti through divine experience. The story really depicts the life and love of a bhakta.

The poem talks much about drinking wine. But this is not the alcoholic wine. It is the divine nectar of bliss. This is the intoxicating experience of expanded awareness, known as amrit (nectar or immortality) in many Indian scriptures, as soma in the Vedas, and as wine in the tantric texts. In the poem the main preoccupation seems to be drinking wine, day in and day out. This does not mean that the hero of the poem is in a continual state of drunkenness or semi-consciousness through consuming too much alcohol. It means rather that the bhakta was always in a state of divine intoxication, of heightened awareness. He was in a continuous state of meditation through drinking the inner wine of bliss.

Let us illustrate what we have said with a few quotations from the poem:

And if the wine you drink, the lips you press

End in what all begins and ends in – yes;

Think then that you are today,

What yesterday you also were

Tomorrow you shall not be less.

(v. 42)

The wine is the bliss of increased awareness and the poem points out that you are, always have been, and will be exactly what you really are. This is realization of one’s real inner nature.

You know my friends, with what brave revelry

I made a second marriage in my house;

Divorced old barren reason from my bed,

And took the daughter of the vine for a spouse.

(v. 55)

Here the narrow confines of the intellect are discarded and the aspirant becomes a bhakta, experiencing intoxicating joy (wine or the daughter of the vine).

For ‘is’ and ‘is not’ though with rule and line

And ‘up and down’ by logic I define,

Of all that one should care to fathom, I

Was never deep in anything but. . . wine.

(v. 56)

In this beautiful verse the bhakta points out that hidden in the fog of concepts and definitions is his real nature . . . wine or bliss.

The grape that can with logic absolute

The two and seventy jarring sects confute;

The sovereign alchemist that in a trice

Life’s leaden metal into gold transmute.

(v. 59)

The conclusive certainty of one’s own personal experience of transcendental awareness (the absolute logic of the grape) through devotion overcomes all contradictions and differences in life and in religious sects. Through the alchemy of bhakti, life is transmuted from a whirlpool of dissatisfaction into a magical blissful experience.

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