The word "bhakti" is used in the Vachana literature in the two senses of devotion and of spiritual force. When used in the sense of devotion the word refers to a form of love, trust (or faith), respect and worship. Guru deserves this attitude because it is he who initiates the aspirant to Lingayathism; the devotee shows this attitude to the Ishtalinga, because it is a symbol of Paraśiva who has created us and has placed the whole world at our disposal for our use; and he is grateful to Jangama for his selfless service to each member of the society in the form of a social mentor, or for leading us to the highest spiritual goal. One way of showing our bhakti to guru is to dedicate our body to his service; one way of showing our bhakti to Linga (Paraśiva) is to contemplate Paraśiva for whom the Linga as a symbol stands; and one way of showing bhakti to Jangama is to offer him money, food grains etc. which he utilizes for dāsōha (see DĀSŌHA).
The second sense in which the word “bhakti” is used is unique to Lingayathism and cannot be found in other religions. In this sense, the word refers to the spiritual force, bhakti-śhakti.[ಭಕ್ತಿ-ಶಕ್ತಿ] The whole physical world is a creation out of kalā-śhakti[ಕಲಾ-ಶಕ್ತಿ], which is a binding force, and man is created out of these and the liberating force (bhakti-śhakti) as well. Technically speaking, the same six creative or binding forces, namely, Cit, Parā, Ādi, Icchā, Jñāna, and Kriyā-śhakti[ಚಿತ್, ಪರಾ, ಆದಿ, ಇಚ್ಛಾ, ಜ್ಞಾನ, ಮತ್ತು ಕ್ರಿಯಾ ಶಕ್ತಿ ] when used for spiritual purposes, are converted into, respectively, samarasa, ānanda, anubhāva, avadhāna, naiṣṭḥikā and śraddhā.[ಸಮರಸ, ಆನಂದ, ಅನುಭಾವ, ಅವಧಾನ, ನಿಷ್ಠಾ ಮತ್ತು ಶ್ರದ್ಧಾ] The conversion begins at a lower level, i.e., conversion of Kriyā-śhakti into śraddhā-bhakti and ends in the conversion of subtlest energy (cit-śhakti) into samarasa-bhakti.
śraddhā-bhakti:-The aspirant in the first stage of his spiritual journey is called bhakta (devotee or aspirant) and his devotion is called śraddhā-bhakti, which involves mainly pure faith or trust in what the guru says. He does all acts which the guru teaches, but without knowing their meaning or purpose. He should at this stage realize that his devotion is fragile enough to be shattered by day to day distractions, that he is incapable of concentrating a realization of limitations dawns on him and unless he repents of them he cannot overcome them.
The Vachana-writers have suggested the ways of overcoming limitations of certain kind; such as hunger, thirst, sorrow, infatuation (mōha),[ಮೋಹ] decrepitude and death, which are important impediments in our spiritual course. We can overcome hunger by eating not for our sake, but for the sake of Linga (Paraśiva); thirst by sipping pādōdaka:[ಪಾದೋದಕ] sorrow by gazing at the Ishtalinga with concentration till tears of joy doll down; infatuation by becoming Linga lover; decrepitude by believing one's own sense organs, motor organs etc. as those of Linga; death by uniting with Paraśiva. Moreover, the devotee of this stage is advised to use his karmēndriyas [ಕರ್ಮೇಂದ್ರಿಯ] not for selfish purposes, but only for spiritual purpose (or e.g. hand should be used for worshiping Linga).
Niṣṭḥā-bhakti or Naiṣṭḥikā-bhakti (devotion of loyalty): This is devotion of the aspirant of the second stage called mahēśa or mahēśvara.
The devotion in the first stage is fragile and is based mostly on blind faith in what the guru instructs. So he has to guard himself against all internal and external impediments to spirituality by developing his devotion into loyal devotion. The latter includes two important elements: one, he must be loyal to the one god, i.e, Linga or Paraśiva and avoid worshipping other gods like Viṣṇu, etc. and even visiting temples where Lingas are established, because worshipping other gods means lack of faith in Linga. Just as a good wife is faithful to only her husband, so also a real devotee must be faithful to Paraśiva. Perhaps the intention of prescribing this is that the devotee must not worship gods and goddesses who are believed to grace their devotees with wealth, health etc., which are, from the spiritual standpoint, worthless, and must worship Linga alone who is the goal of spiritual life. Two, he must learn to control his senses, because one cannot be loyal to both the worldly life and spiritual life, and one who is loyal to Paraśiva must control his senses. The controller of senses is called mahēśa (controller).
Loyalty to God is expressed in two ways:
1.The devotee's vow to worship Paraśiva alone means that he intends to always contemplate Paraśiva as the only goal, even on the worst adverse occasions.
2.His loyalty to Paraśiva also results in his vow to adhere to moral codes, such as truthfulness, abstaining from stealing, deceiving, adultery, showing compassion to all living beings, etc...
Avadhāna-bhakti: While the aspirant of this stage is called prasādi, his devotion is called avadhāna-bhakti. Avadhāna means mindfulness or attention. In order to clearly grasp why the prasādi should be attentive, we shall know the meaning of Prasaada.
Normally the word PRASĀDA (God-given) refers to food that is offered to Linga (Paraśiva) and implies that such a food becomes holy and that the eater of the holy food becomes himself holy. No Lingayat should eat a thing if it is not offered to Linga. But in a wider sense, depending on the spiritual progress of the aspirant, the word Prasāda applies not only to food but all that comes within the ambit of experience, viz, form, sound, taste, smell, and touch. One should learn to enjoy taste, smell, etc... only after they are offered to Linga.
In a still a wider sense, the word Prasāda means not only food or objects of sense, but also sense organs, motor organs and the internal instruments (antaḥkaraṇa), [ಅಂತ:ಕರಣ] which are also God-given. Here the prasādi is expected to use them after offering them to Paraśiva. This means that he is surrendering his own self. In this sense the prasādi himself is Prasāda (God-given). This is same as believing that he is just a vehicle of Paraśiva. To maintain this feeling the devotee must always be attentive (see PRASĀDA).
Anubhava-bhakti: Though the word “anubhava” normally means mystic experience, it really means something more than that. The aspirant of the fourth stage not only believes that he eats, thinks and works for Paraśiva, but also, as a result of meditation leading to mystic experience establishes Linga in all parts of his body. He is called Prānalingi, i.e., one whose all parts are pervaded by Linga. Wherever there is prāṇa (in him) there Linga exists, and since all parts are pervaded by prāṇa, Linga pervades all parts. That is, he convinces himself that Linga which is at the gate of eyes, for example, experiences form before he experience it, and in this sense, all objects have become Prasāda before he experiences them.
The essential point is that the devotee who is convinced thus is free from almost all selfish desires, and fulfills condition of effective spiritual life.
Ananda-bhakti: By the time aspirant reaches the fifth stage of spiritual development, the stage of śarana (one who surrendered himself), he has developed all virtues, like truthfulness, self-control, compassion, tolerance, self-contentment, steadfastness, and total and unconditional love for Paraśiva. Because of mystic experience he has convinced himself of the all-pervasiveness of Paraśiva. He has overcome all ignorance, karmas and other limitations of body and mind. Having surrendered himself completely to Paraśiva, he has nothing to worry of. In short, his life is full of ānanda (bliss), which is the characteristic of his devotion.
The Vachanas describe the blissful devotion of the aspirant at this stage in terms of conjugal love. That is, the devotee assumes himself to be the wife of Linga (Paraśiva), implying that, he has completely surrendered himself to God, like a faithful wife to her husband. Just as she thinks that her happiness lies in her husband's happiness, so also the śarana does everything for Paraśiva.
Samarasa-bhakti (devotion of union): The ultimate form of devotion is union with Paraśiva. When he unites with Paraśiva, he realizes that he does not have an independent or separate existence from Paraśiva, and that he is an inseparable part (anga) of Paraśiva. In this stage he is not aware of himself, nor aware of Paraśiva as different from himself. It is a stage where there is no scope for the ordinary distinction of subject and object or of the devotee and God. It is a union, which is compared to camphor becoming one with fire, or a river merging in ocean or a hailstone merging in water, implying that the devotee has lost his ego or individuality (or separateness). He has lost his individuality because ever after the mystic experience, he has come to realize that he has been guided and controlled by the superior power (see NAVAVIDHA_BHAKTI).
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