Spiritual life is a diverse and vast topic. It is also one of the most confusing because of the various philosophies and interpretations we encounter when we take a step into the world of self-realization.
Then there are so many practices within these different paths that it can be difficult to navigate through them and practically apply the teachings within one's own life.
In the Vedic teachings of yoga, many paths are given to aid people from all walks of life in elevating their consciousness and ultimately answering the time old deep question of "Who am I?" All of these paths are said to culminate in bhakti yoga, or the yoga of devotion.
Even within bhakti yoga, the path is vast. There's no real cookie cutter bhakti yogi. There are recommended processes for elevating ones consciousness on this path though and the aim of this website is to provide a guide to practically living the path of self-realization. Each section has links to websites that I feel provide practical knowledge of the foundational elements of spiritual life. My hope is that this will provide somebody just starting the path of self-realization the tools they need to make tangible and practical spiritual progress.
Try the practices out for yourself (especially kirtan) and see what the results are within the laboratory of your own consciousness.
And for a little more philosophy behind the practices above, I find this enlivening talk by Visnujana swami is great for people from all backgrounds. Puts things very simply in easy to understand language. Listen through the video or read the transcript below (edited slightly for readability):
The first teaching of yoga is that this body is only a vehicle; it's not really my self. I'm not black or white. I'm not pretty or ugly. I'm not man or woman. I'm not young or old. I'm not American or Indian. I'm not rich or poor. These are bodily designations; these are the things that keep us apart from each other, aren't they? These are the things that wars are fought over. See, these are the things that prejudice develops over. These are the things that all anxieties, in fact, develop over, these bodily false egos, these bodily designations—oh I'm black, I'm white, I'm Christian, I'm Jew, I'm young, I'm old, I'm pretty, I'm ugly, I'm this, I'm that. But “I” am not these things.
Just like I say that this is my hand, this is my arm, this is my belly, this is my head, these are my thoughts—but where is that “I” that's saying my hand, my leg, my belly, my thoughts? That “I” was there when I had a ten-year-old body. When I was having ten-year-old thoughts, I was thinking that I was Davy Crockett. But that's changed, the body has changed, and my ego, my sense of identity, has also changed. But “I”, the one that's watching these different changes of body, these different changes of mind, that “I”, my self, my consciousness, that's been there and will go on as I change, 80 years old, 90 years old, and again and again and again.
That consciousness is the real beautiful thing in everyone here, isn't it? Just look around you, it's life, isn't it? The grass you're sitting on, the trees that make the atmosphere so cool in here, the people that you're sitting next to, your loved ones, your children, your wife, your husband, your mother, your father—it's life that makes it beautiful, isn't it? Because suppose we took the life out of this tree. Suppose we took the life out this body, took the life out of the body of your child, or your wife, your husband—would you want that body anymore? Would anyone here be happy to take their beautiful wife, their beautiful husband home if there was no life in that body? No, you'd want to leave the body right here about six feet underground, wouldn't you? 'Cause the body is not the thing that we're attracted to; it's not the thing that we love in one another. The thing that we're loving, the thing that's attracting us to this atmosphere, to one another, is that of consciousness, that living force. And it's not black, it's not white, it's not young, it's not old, it's not man or woman, it's not pretty or ugly. It's far beyond these gross designations.
It's called sat-chit-ananda, it's eternal, it's full of knowledge, and it's full of bliss, but it's limited right now because of our attachments, because we meditate too much on the temporary. For example, we take care of this body, we brush its teeth, we comb its hair, when it gets wrecked we take it to the body shop and get it patched up and glued up, etc., and we meditate on it—we look at it in the mirror and we think “Oh, this is so nice, my hair, my chin, my eyes.” We also meditate on our wife's body, too, our husband's body, “Oh, she's so beautiful”, or “He's so wonderful, he speaks in such a deep voice”, “She talks so sweetly.” And we meditate on these bodily designations. Then there's children, right? “Oh, isn't he cute? goo, goo, goo, goo, goo, goo!” And then there's the dog, “Oh, here Rover, lick my face.”
We're meditating on my dog, my wife, my family, my country, it goes on extending. It's my country now and I have to extend my energy out to my fellow Americans and my fellow this and my fellow that. This is called limitation of consciousness. This is how we limit our eternal, blissful, knowledgeable consciousness—by limiting it to these designations. So let's get free. Let's free our consciousness from these designations. Nobody wants to be limited, right? No one wants limited happiness; no one wants limited relationships. You don't really want to feel uptight around me just like I don't want to feel uptight around you. But the only way we're going to actually be able to live together very peacefully and intimately is if we realize the beautiful thing in one another. That thing which makes us all equal; that thing which makes us equal with the plants, the trees, the animals and everything else, and that's consciousness.
That's the beautiful thing we're developing, and that's what this festival is all about. We're developing consciousness. How? By sitting together, dancing together, singing together, feasting together, and serving together. We have to serve something, don't you think so? Just think about it for a minute—we have to serve our belly at least, right? We have to put some food in it. We have to fill it up. Now, what else do you have to serve? Well, you have to serve so many things: you have to serve your boss, you have to serve your tax collector, you have to serve this, you have to serve that, your wife, your children, your this, your that, but how long can we go on serving these things? How long can we go on serving the belly? For a few minutes, that's all, then go on to serving something else. In this way our mind is wandering—accepting something, and rejecting it, accepting, rejecting, accepting, rejecting—looking for pleasure. Why do I serve my belly? I'm looking for happiness. Why do I serve my wife? I'm looking for happiness. Why do I serve my children? For happiness. I'm serving because I want to be happy, and I know there's no other way to be happy but to serve.
But what to serve which will bring the highest happiness, unlimited happiness, that we haven't yet found in this material world? Everything has a saturation point like our belly, like our wife, like our family, like our eyes, ears, nose, our genital—it also has a saturation point. How long can we enjoy sex life? For some time, then we have to reject it and go on to something else. Because it has a saturation point like anything else. But there is a type of pleasure that has no saturation point, and that can be experienced even by a child if he simply allows his consciousness to stop accepting, rejecting, accepting, rejecting, and fix on that unlimited pleasure within, Hare. That unlimited pleasure within.
And if we fix our mind on this unlimited pleasure then we'll become madmen; in the ordinary sense of the term, we'll become madmen because people will think, “Why is he doing that over and over again—Hare Krishna Hare Rama, Hare Krishna Hare Rama, why doesn't he say Coca Cola, Coca Cola, Coca Cola, Coca Cola—why?” Try chanting Coca Cola for a while and you'll see why. For one thing you're going to get really thirsty and you'll find out that the word Coca Cola is not going to satisfy your thirst. You need the substance; but if you chant Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama over and over again you'll find out that that name and the object, that unlimited reservoir of pleasure, are the same—and therefore whatever you could derive from the reservoir of unlimited pleasure, you can derive from this sound vibration, and therefore you'll be very illuminated as you chant. You'll think, “I can go on doing this forever!” and you'll become a madman going through the streets, Hare Krishna! Hare Rama! Hare Krishna! Hare Rama!
It's something you can do forever—while you're in jail you can do it, and you won't be in jail, you'll turn the jail into a place of self-realization. When you're the president you can do it, and you won't be the president, you'll be a self-realized yogi, really able to lead people to the path of perfection instead of cheating them. You won't be a wife anymore or a husband, or black or white, or young or old, or man or women. You'll be pure consciousness. You'll see yourself and everything as pure consciousness, and at that stage you can really be happy—then you can actually see things as they are and not be illusioned any more.
So this is the warm invitation of Krishna Consciousness. It has nothing to do with black or white, young or old, Christian or Jew or Hindu or anything like that. We consider these to be as much a part of false ego—Christian, Hindu, Jew—as we do black, white, young, old, man or woman. Because they were delegated to this body—I'm born in a Christian family, I call myself a Christian; I'm born in a Hindu family, I call myself a Hindu—so because of this body I'm a Hindu, because of this body I'm a Jew, and if I was born a million years ago would I be a Hindu, Christian or Jew? No. But I'd still be a servant, I'd still have my consciousness. See? Suppose you're born a hundred thousand years from now? Are you going to be a Christian or a Hindu or a Jew? No. But you'll still have your consciousness, you'll still have to serve, and you'll still want to be happy.
So the real religion, which underlies Christianity, which underlies Hinduism, which underlies Judaism, which was taught by people who weren't Christians, like Jesus—he wasn't a Christian; and people who weren't Jews, like Moses—he wasn't a Jew either; and people who weren't Muslims, like Hasrat Mohammed—he wasn't a Muslim; or people that weren't Buddhist, like Lord Buddha—who is not a Buddhist either. These were persons who realized the religion which underlies the organizations that came after them, which then lost it for the most part. That realization can be had at any time, in any place, in any circumstance—never mind what designation you may be in. And that realization is your loving service attitude. Just like Jesus said, “Love God with your heart and soul and mind and all your strength, and your neighbor as your self. In this is contained all the laws and the commandments.” That's the real religion. That's it right there in a nutshell. What does Krishna say? “Abandon all varieties of religion and surrender unto Me, and I promise I'll protect you from all karma, from all reactions from millions of births.” That's it, surrender, give your love to the Absolute and all living beings—then you're in the real religion. And you won't call yourself a Christian, you won't call yourself a Hindu anymore, or a Jew or this or that because you'll actually be able to communicate with every living being.
So this is the warm invitation in Krishna Consciousness, that you realize that beautiful nature of your self, which was the nature of all great personalities, of all liberated souls. You and I are meant to be liberated souls. We're not meant to be in these false egos. We're not meant to be in these limited bodies and minds. But we have to make the best use of it. It's a great tool, it's a great opportunity, especially this human life, for developing our consciousness. Krishna says, “Many, many births both you and I passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot.” So it's many, many times we've taken birth; therefore it means we're learning a lesson. We're learning how to develop our consciousness to that point where we can actually fulfill our desires, 'cause no one wants to die; everyone wants to live. Even a cockroach. I saw one the other day running around trying to get away. Everyone wants to live, and nobody wants to be diseased. That's why you spend millions of dollars on hospitals every year, because no one wants to be diseased—we all want to be in perfection.
And naturally, nobody wants to be miserable—we want to enjoy. We want to be eternal and full of knowledge. That's why we go to schools and universities; nobody wants to be ignorant. And we want to be blissful. That position, sat (eternity), chit (knowledge), ananda (bliss)—sat, chit, ananda—that is your right. That is you. That is yourself—eternal, full of knowledge and bliss, in your service, in your love for the Absolute and all living beings. This is Krishna Consciousness. Don't think that Krishna Consciousness means another sectarian religion. It doesn't. We're not pushing a religion. I didn't quit all other religions when I was 18 years old, and at the age of 19 accept this. I already rejected organized religions. This is not that. This is not what makes another rope-end that doesn't tie to the rest of them; this is what ties all the rope-ends together and makes them all seem very sensible. Why Jesus appeared, why Buddha appeared, why Mohammed appeared, why Shankaracharya, why Chaitanya appeared. There are millions of incarnations and all of them have their function.
And this knowledge, although it may appear to have been hidden for thousands of years, is actually revealed. If you look at some of the books that we have on display, our Spiritual Master has very kindly translated the ancient Sanskrit knowledge of India into English. That knowledge, which was hidden in Sanskrit, which was being sought after as the fountain of youth, which was being sought after as the wealth of the East, that wealth was not material. Therefore, everyone that went to India to conquer and find the fountain of youth and the reservoir of wealth, they all became frustrated 'cause they were looking for something material and it wasn't. What they heard about, what they saw through the astrological predictions of the stars, that there was a great wealth in India, was true. But it wasn't a material wealth. And therefore it remained hidden from them in this ancient Sanskrit language. So this is the invitation of Krishna Consciousness, that you take advantage of this hidden wealth, this fountain of youth that everyone's been looking for, for thousands of years, and achieve it. Achieve that reservoir of sat, chit, ananda—eternity, knowledge and bliss.
So any of you that would like to get out of this, this ocean of birth and death, this ocean of old age and disease, and enter into our real atmosphere—eternity, knowledge and bliss—our invitation is open to all of you: to chant, to dance, to feast. Not to necessarily join our religion, not to shave your head, not to put on robes, not to do all the things that we do, but to do that which was done by all great souls, singing the glories of the Absolute, dancing in ecstasy, and feasting on beautiful food first offered with love to the Absolute. That's our invitation, not that you shave your head. Or that you have to live in our community. No. But let's come out to the park, let's make this our temple from now on.