The Longing of the Soul
The journey begins with the longing of the atma, or soul.
Devotees of Paramahamsa Vishwananda do not come from a single country or background. We come from many different cultures and life circumstances. Every devotee has a unique story to share, but what we all have in common is that we met our guru and we were transformed by His teachings of unconditional love.
So what is it that drives someone to embark on the spiritual path of devotion, Bhakti Marga?
The answer varies from person to person, but ultimately, the reason is love! There is something inside us that recognizes a deep truth to be discovered on this path.
‘The bhakti path means a love relationship with God, with the Ultimate. A love affair with the whole. It means that one is ready to dissolve into the whole, that one is ready to invite the whole to come into one’s heart.’
When the negativity of the mind is transformed, the true Self shines through. The bhakti path is centred around developing a personal relationship with the Divine in such a way that, as a result, unconditional acceptance of oneself blossoms and pure Love flows to all things. As the Divine Love arises within, so does the self-confidence to apply it in everyday life.
Encountering the Guru
It is when the sincere longing of the soul awakens, that the satguru appears in our life and guides us on our spiritual path. Maybe you have had an encounter with Gurudev at a darshan or other event. Maybe you have met His devotees or seen His videos and now you are wondering, 'Is Paramahamsa Vishwananda my guru?'
The guru is the ‘dispeller of darkness’. He guides the devotee in removing negative qualities such as pride, ego and attachment so that they may realise their divine potential.
In practical terms, the satguru is like a mirror. He will reflect whatever love you have a thousand times more, but He will also be the mirror that will show exactly what is stopping you from experiencing the infinite and unconditional love within your heart.
‘When you meet your satguru, you will have lots of thoughts about whether you are on the right path or not, or if it’s the right guru for you. But what brought you to that path is your atma. You should let go of these thoughts, centre yourself in the heart, and follow your feeling, not your thinking. Follow your inner feeling, and it will always bring you where you have to be.’ -Paramahamsa Vishwananda
Over time, trust is built between the guru and the devotee. When trust is firmly established, transformation becomes possible. The guru instructs the devotee on how to gain knowledge and how to purify themself with spiritual practice. Then, the devotee can rise to their potential and embrace life in all its fullness. The devotee can dive into the deepness of their unique relationship with God and awaken the Divine inside their heart.
Following His Teachings
If you do not come from a Hindu background, or you are brand new to Bhakti Marga, the beliefs, customs, and practices may seem overwhelming at first. It takes time and consistent effort to enter into a new culture, but do not be discouraged.
Before making the lifelong commitment of becoming a devotee, it is essential to understand the teachings of the path. The teachings given by Paramahamsa Vishwananda are covered extensively in the Devotee Course, but here are the answers to five fundamental questions that will introduce you to the beliefs of a devotee:
- Who are we?
We are the eternal soul, not this body.
‘The embodied soul casts away old bodies and takes up new bodies, as a man changes worn-out clothes for new.’ -Bhagavad Gita 2.22
Although we have this body, ultimately, we are our eternal Self, the atma. The more we come to understand this and change our identification, the more we will begin to experience our true nature.
- Who is God?
Narayana, the source of all things and the indweller of all things.
‘Arjuna says: You are the Supreme Brahman, the supreme abode, the supreme purity, the One permanent, the Divine Purusha, Narayana Himself, the unborn, the all-pervading Lord.’ -Bhagavad Gita 10.12
The Lord is described as being all-pervading. Narayana is both immanent and transcendent, allowing Him to be experienced in this world and beyond.
- What is our relationship to Him?
Our relationship is one of eternal love and servitude.
‘Of all the yogis, he who with all his inner Self given up to Me, for Me has love and faith, him I hold to be the most united with Me in yoga.’ -Bhagavad Gita 6.47
Krishna declares in the Bhagavad Gita that, amongst all beings, the one to be held in the highest regard is the one who is firmly established in a relationship of love and surrender to Him.
- Why are we here on Earth?
We are on Earth because we have forgotten our relationship with God. Earth becomes a platform for us to approach Him.
‘It is an eternal portion of Me that becomes the jiva in the world of living creatures and cultivates the subjective powers of prakriti, mind and the five senses.’ -Bhagavad Gita 15.7
The atma incarnates to ‘use’ the experiences provided by prakriti (material nature) and our bodily existence to establish its relationship with the Lord, as seen in the answer to question number 3.
- What is our goal?
To revive and re-establish that perfect loving relationship with God.
‘Focus your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me, prostrate before Me and you shall come to Me alone. I promise you this verily, for you are dear to Me.’ -Bhagavad Gita 18.65
Krishna instructs Arjuna that the highest goal is to come to the Lord’s abode. To do that we must become His devotees, in the prescribed manner as laid out above.
Walking the Path
A devotee is someone who has committed themselves to the guru-disciple relationship and has been accepted by the guru. This section goes over the devotee rules.
While there is so much more to understand about the lifestyle of a devotee, it is important to go over these fundamental rules carefully to make sure that you are able and willing to adhere to them before receiving devotee initiation.
- Strict vegetarianism. (No eggs, fish or meat. Buying, touching or cooking any meat should also be avoided.)
- No intoxication. (No smoking, no recreational drugs, no drinking of any alcohol.)
- Exclusivity and loyalty to Paramahamsa Vishwananda and Bhakti Marga.
- Obedience to Paramahamsa Vishwananda and His instructions.
- A devotee wears the tilak during official Bhakti Marga events and during temple prayers.
- A proper dress code is expected from the devotees during official Bhakti Marga events and in temples and ashrams. Prabhus are recommended to wear dhoti or trousers and a kurta whilst matajis are recommended to wear a sari/skirt/punjabi, keeping their shoulders covered. If one prefers to wear western clothing for prayers and/or events, then one must remain well-covered and wear modest clothing. (Wearing the colours orange, red or yellow from head-to-toe is forbidden for initiates.)
- A monthly minimum of 10% tithing of all income after expenses have been covered.
- As an initiated member of the Bhakti Marga family, one should always offer one’s help and support. This seva must especially be offered in one’s own country. Also, if one visits Shree Peetha Nilaya or any other Bhakti Marga centre around the world, one’s service is expected.
- A lifelong commitment to learn and practise the teachings of Paramahamsa Vishwananda.
Discovering the True Self
For the true devotee, God is the focus of their life. Centred in the heart, the devotee transforms their mind. They do not chase after self-centred desires, but engage in spiritual practice and do everything as an act of loving service.
By following the guru’s instructions with sincerity, we can rise in love and regain the divine qualities of our soul. When one person puts in this effort to transform themselves, all of humanity benefits from their efforts.
‘The true Self knows no judgement, no difference, no pain, no hatred, no jealousy and no anger. The true Self is in constant unity with all and is in each one of us - that’s true Love.’ -Paramahamsa Vishwananda
Are you ready to learn more?