Devotion is a tricky thing, especially for a Westerner. Displays of spiritual/religious fervor are supposed to be confined to church on Sunday or inside the privacy of our homes. In other words, kept behind closed doors. Those of you who are of Italian heritage, like myself, will remember the crucifixes that hung in every room of the house, including the basement. I could never figure out if they were there as displays of reverence or to ward off evil spirits.
Unfortunately, where there is still that element in society where might makes right, devotion is neither admired nor taken seriously at any level of consideration. I remember back in the 60’s, when the peace sign first became popular. It was considered, by some, to be the sign of the chicken since the symbol resembled a chicken’s foot. People who wanted peace instead of war were branded as cowards. Devotion has gotten an equally bad rap.
The West’s discomfort with displays of devotion could just be a cultural thing, as it doesn’t seem to be an issue in other parts of the world. Or, it could go deeper than that. Devotion is love. That could be where the problem is. Maybe we don’t know how to love. Be it loving others or ourselves, maybe we just don’t know how. As it is generally understood, love revolves around the ego, so that love is completely conditional. The real thing is unconditional. Love with no strings, no expectations – love that is totally free of the demands of the ego – is not a familiar concept to most people.
As a result, spirituality/religion tend to be more a mental exercise rather than an emotional one, like having to memorize the catechism in school, the emphasis being on dogma rather than devotion. Early in my sadhana, as now, my teacher would read us works by and about Indian masters such as Ramakrishna (probably the greatest saint India has ever produced), Swami Ramdas, Shivom Tirth, among others. Their words were filled with love for the Sacred. They stressed the importance of keeping our awareness on the Divine so that we may experience that love. Remember, what we think we become, so by keeping our thoughts on the Absolute we become the embodiment of love, which projects outward into world, which, let’s face it, could use a lot more of it.
Devotion is love. When you open yourself to the possibility of letting love into your life everything changes. You become filled with the love that you are expressing. Japa, kirtan, and contemplation are all tools to help the sadhan along the bhakti (devotional) path. The bliss that is felt during and after kirtan or contemplation is unsurpassed by anything the material world has to offer. It is not to be found in any book. You do not have to be in a church or temple – love is within. It needs to be felt, but, just like direct spiritual experience, you can’t make it happen. It has to evolve. And as you progress in your sadhana, it will.