There is one question that repeatedly comes from seekers:
“How can I know the Bliss and Joy of the SELF? How can I experience that first hand?”
The first thing to know is that you and Bliss are never apart. Yet we search for it everywhere.
The great saint, Kabir Das, wrote a famous couplet:
Kasturi kundal base, mrig doonde van mahi.
Aise ghat ghat Ram hai, Duniya dekhe naahi…
This says that from the navel of a musk deer arises a powerfully-intoxicating scent, but the deer tries to find its source elsewhere in the forest.
Similarly the Bliss of the SELF is ever within us, but we try to find it only in the objects and relationships around us.
In traditional spiritual paths, there are two ways, two levels, to know and realize this Bliss. One is realizing the Bliss that ever flows from the SELF. This is called ‘SELF-realization.’ The other one is realizing the Bliss of LOVE through surrender and seva (service) to God. This is called ‘God-realization’.
Wisdom — Jnana
Let us talk first about the path of Wisdom — Jnana:
We are always identified with some object or other, and we lose perception of our SELF in the midst of all these objects. Therefore the conscious effort to bring the mind back to the SELF or I-AMNESS is the path of Jnana.
So that we can perceive our real SELF, there is a necessary shift that needs to be initiated. It is like making a nest… a small home. Like a pigeon carrying small twigs to build a nest, we must carry small moments of attention to build the nest of the SELF.
What really happens is that…
WHEN YOU ARE ABLE TO SHIFT YOUR PERCEPTION TO A SOLID PLACE OR HOME WITHIN, THE OUTER WORLD BEGINS TO APPEAR LIKE A DREAM OR A MOVIE SHOW…
That does not mean you do not get affected or emotional at times. For example, if you watch a horror movie, you will still gasp “Ah, ah!” at the scary scenes. But there is a limit, an end to its impact… you know it is not real. It is simply entertainment. You do not carry it forever.
Similarly you will know that this world does not matter, and nothing is actually real. Everything is non-SELF… and ‘superimposed’ on some background. It is all a dream. The place where the waking, dream, and deep sleep states submerge into, dissolve into, is the HOME.
That place is the NEST. You get anchored in that resting place, and the hypnotic spell of the world breaks. That place is called the SELF. It is the Divine Essence of God, a reflection of God. It is our true Home. It is pure Joy and Ananda.
Every night in slumber, your waking ‘reality’ is replaced by the dream ‘reality.’ Why take either of these ‘realities’ to be real?
That is the path of Jnana — Wisdom.
Devotion — Bhakti
The other way to Bliss is through Devotion — Bhakti.
Here the attention is ‘split’ between the SELF and the outer object, which could be God, the Guru, or the beloved of your heart.
In devotion and the act of seva, due to the attention being in two places, the Joy is also multiplied, and the response to that Joy is quicker. In fact, God prefers this path to the path of worshiping the Absolute. It is easier than the former, as the mind can more easily experience Bliss by surrendering and devoting itself to God or any deity.
In the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 12, verse 5), there is a verse:
Klesho dekhaterastesam Avyaktasaktesam Avyakta hi gatir dukham dehavadbir ayapyate
In this verse, Lord Krishna says that the path towards the Absolute or Unknown is full of tribulation and hardship.
This is because the mind cannot surrender or devote itself to anything that cannot be perceived, recognized, or experienced. The seeker questions this ‘dry’ Jnana path, and wonders, “The I-thought does arise and fall into the Heart, but from whence does the Heart arise and fall?”
The need to surrender to someone or to serve someone is STRONGER than the need to realize the SELF. Ask yourself what your goal was as a child. Was it SELF-realization? Or was it God-realization?
The search for the SELF is always centered around ‘I, me, mine,’ and that becomes a limitation or obstacle to surrender. But surrendering to God causes the spiritual ‘juices’ to effortlessly begin to flow. Surrendering thus becomes an effortless way to know God.
While a Jnani needs to make supreme effort to reach the place of Bliss and to break the hypnosis of the world, the Bhakta achieves it quite easily due to his surrendering to God and Guru. The Gopis used to love Rasa Lila — the Divine, ecstatic dance of being drunk on the name of God. Many Gopis used to leave all their household work behind when they heard Krishna play his flute. Do not misunderstand this to be an ordinary human romantic thing. No. The word ‘Gopi’ means ‘that which is hidden.’ Every one of us has that hidden need and thirst for God-realization, and to serve the other… to surrender to the other.
In Bhakti, there is MORE happiness and LESS anxiety because even the need to be alert is not required. Every action becomes a celebration of God and the beloved.
Please understand that being established in the SELF through the path of Jnana can be a constant discipline of reminding yourself, watching yourself, and being aware. But when you are in Divine LOVE, no such carefulness is needed. Every step is a step in God Consciousness — a step towards Him. Everything becomes His responsibility.
The difference between the two paths could be described through the analogy of a mother monkey and mother cat.
When a mother monkey moves from branch to branch, the baby monkey has to hold onto the mother to keep from falling. This is the path of Jnana. It requires great care and effort.
But when a mother cat moves her kitten, she lifts it gently by the nape of the neck, and carries it. This is the path of Bhakti. It is effortless. The responsibility has been given to God.
Devotion to God means loving whomever you consider your deity (or your Guru). It means loving His stories, His virtues, His values, and His teachings. So learn about Him and His ways.
Devotion can also mean loving and being devoted to a lover or any other person. But you must have unconditional love for that person, as well as the discernment to truly realize that the relationship is based not just on the worldly plane, but also on the spiritual. The devotional relationship is both human and Divine.
When this devotion happens, you will know how God responds to you through some form, and delivers you Joy and Bliss which makes even the Bliss of the SELF pale in comparison. He will reveal Himself to you slowly but surely, filling your life and body with so much Joy, Happiness, and Bliss that you will not be able to contain It!
However, I personally believe that Jnana and Bhakti perfectly compliment each other. They help each other. You must first realize the Bliss of the SELF through wisdom before moving towards the Bliss of God through devotion and seva.
In the Ramayana it is declared:
Jnanen binu na hoi paratiti,
binu paratiti hoi nahin priti…
This says that without wisdom, you cannot have faith, and without faith, you cannot have love.
So the path of Bhakti has to go through the path of Jnana. First you have to recognize the God principle within yourself. This develops faith. Then as the faith develops, you automatically, naturally become a Bhakta. So you must practice Jnana and Bhakti together.
Practicing only Bhakti can compromise your sense of discernment, and unsettle you. You need to know that safe haven within you in which you can retire. Practicing only Bhakti can make you attached and obsessive.
Therefore one needs to practice both Jnana and Bhakti. Because, if you have the foundation and support of Jnana, even obsessiveness and possessiveness towards your beloved can become a punya (virtue), and thus will not be able to touch you.