What is the way to success in bhakti yoga? It is overwhelming devotion to your deity or guru. The greater the aspiration, the quicker you are likely to transcend and the quicker you are likely to come face to face with something beyond everyday experience. This is perfectly illustrated by the following well-known story by Ramakrishna. A disciple asked his teacher how he could see the supreme. The guru told him to follow him to the nearby lake. Beside the lake the guru suddenly took hold of the disciple and pushed him under the water. He held the disciple under the water for several minutes, while the disciple put up a furious struggle. Then the disciple was released and he came spluttering to the surface. The guru asked: “How did you feel?” “I was panting, gasping for breath – I thought I was going to die. I was desperate!” was the reply. The gum then said: “When you have that same overpowering feeling for the supreme, then you will know that you are not far away from seeing his form (darshan).”
There must be an intense quest. There has to be aspiration. According to Swami Ramdas: “Unless you have a burning aspiration for the supreme, the mind cannot be fixed on him. Where your love is, there your mind also is. Just as the miser constantly thinks of money and money alone, so a bhakta has exclusive devotion to the supreme.”
This is the way to expanded awareness. One must try to act, feel and think while being aware of divinity, the deity or the gum. Always know that it is divinity that makes you feel, do and think. You are not the doer. This recollection will reduce the hold and the power of the ego. This is called surrender, and it is the way to higher states of consciousness.
Strangely enough, it is anguish that can lead to intensification of bhakti. Distress and torment at being separated from divine communion can lead to an upsurge of bhakti and heightened awareness. But this anguish must come from the very depths of one’s being. The dissatisfaction leads to this intensification. The bhakta accepts all that comes to him as a gift intended to lift him into the deeper realms of awareness. Whether it is anguish, joy or whatever, it is all intended to raise the level of awareness of the bhakta, to speed him along the path to higher knowledge. You too must feel the pain of separation and have the same intense longing for union that the gopis felt for Krishna. This is one-pointed bhakti.
Bhakti grows steadily and naturally as you become more and more aware. It becomes stronger as misconceptions progressively drop away. The greater the awareness, the greater the bhakti. One becomes enveloped in a continuous stream of bhakti. It flows unceasingly and spontaneously like the River Ganges in full flood. In the Devi Bhagavata it says: “When you think of the supreme in the same way that oil is smoothly poured from one pot to another; when the thought is continuous, then there arises unspeakable love and bliss.” This is intense bhakti. There are no thoughts of one’s limited self, only thoughts of one’s deity, one’s gum, one’s symbol or thoughts of one’s unlimited nature.
When the aspiration and bhakti reach such an intensity, then you will automatically invoke the grace of illumination and bliss. Alter this point there will be a total transformation in one’s whole being. This is the power of concentrated bhakti. This illumination will in turn increase bhakti and reduce the ego. The grace will repeat itself. The circular feedback will be repeated, but will include more and more. The power of the ego decreases while bhakti and understanding become greater and greater. When you have tasted the sweetness of divinity even once, you will never forget. You will become a slave, unable to do anything but remember.