When you think of devotion to God, do you imagine many people praying, listening and singing the praises of God in places of worship? Or do you see it as a personal connection with the divine that you seek through prayer, practices and meditation?
Both are different expressions of devotion but what is common is the feeling behind the practices.
What exactly is the nature of devotion to God? Why is it important and how can we grow in our devotion?
The nature of devotion to God
Who is a perfect devotee whom we can learn from?
The celestial Sage Narada embodies devotion to God. He is the quintessential devotee whose very life purpose is to propagate devotion in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.
His devotion is directed to Lord Vishnu, a manifestation of the supreme deity who is the preserver and protector of the universe.
Sage Narada is the perfect devotee whom we can learn from. His Narada Bhakti Sutra (Narada’s Aphorisms on Devotion) which comprises 84 sutras, is considered to be the authoritative text on the philosophy of devotion.
A sutra means a thread or a string of concise, yet profound and meaningful statements (aphorisms) to reflect on, in literature.
Although the context of the Narada Bhakti Sutras comes from Hindu culture, you’ll probably find that the ideas in this article are similar to your own faith and other faiths.
What is the nature of devotion to God? Narada lists the characteristics of the highest form of devotion:
1. The mind is totally turned toward God.
In the highest form of devotion, God is the central and only focus of our life. Narada writes that it is an exclusive love.
In this type of devotion, we are fully identified with Him*. All our thoughts and feelings are directed toward Him. Everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell reminds us of our beloved. All other people and things are experienced as expressions of this one divinity everywhere.
This type of devotion belongs to a seeker who has been cultivating a constant loving remembrance of God through long spiritual practice.
Most of us don’t want God exclusively. We love Him as well as all the other people and things in our lives. Our practice of devotion should take us from wanting God also, to wanting God only.
2. There is unconditional love for God. In the highest devotion to God, there are no ulterior motives or personal desires that we want fulfilled. We invoke God for God’s sake.
Our worship is often tainted with personal desires. My Guru, Swami Chinmayananda used to joke that we don’t “pray to” God, but we “prey upon” God. Our prayer sinks to pleading and begging God to fulfill our list of wants. He tells us that the only thing that we should ask in prayer is more and more love to love God.
True devotion to God eradicates all other worldly desires and we find total peace and fulfillment. Our love never wanes and keeps on growing as we invest more of our love and attention to the divine.
3. There is total surrender and dependence on God. In the highest devotion, the devotee totally surrenders her life, worries and troubles to God. And so, she is always at peace.
She has great faith that nothing comes into her life accidentally. It is all God’s wish and will and she is able to accept situations and grow from them.
A great saint once said that the devotee who says she loves God and has surrendered to Him and yet worries about things, is no real devotee at all. True devotion brings deep faith that brings peace of mind.
Why develop devotion to God?
Here are some reasons to develop devotion to God:
1. Peace of mind. Imagine the peace you feel when you come back to a safe and quiet home after a challenging day. Love for God provides us a place of safe refuge from the storms of the world. It’s a place to surrender your worries and cares and regain inner peace. Amid uncertainty and sorrow, you naturally want something that brings you stability, security, and peace of min
2. Breaks down the ego – Devotion to God helps to break down the ego and cultivates humility. With humility, other noble traits such as forgiveness, compassion, love, and patience can grow. This enhances our relationships with others and promotes our inner growth.
3. Develops inner strength. The only permanent and unchanging presence in this changing world is the divine power who created it. When we place our faith in this larger and more powerful presence, it builds resilience and the ability to face the ups and downs of life with equanimity of mind. Read, How to stay centred, positive and manage anxiety naturally.
4. Inspiration for your work. Work can become monotonous and fatiguing. But you can gain inspiration, focus and energy if you consider God as the altar at which you dedicate your actions.
How to grow in devotion to God
Devotion to God is the practice of re-directing our attention and feelings away from people and things around us, to the divinity within our hearts. It grows as we repeatedly remember and invoke God’s presence in everything that we think, say and do.
This remembrance of God can be maintained through the following devotional practices:
1. Chanting the holy names of God. We can repeat the name of God using a rosary or mala. Watch how to recite a mantra.
2. Singing or listening to the glories and praises of God. This can be done at a place of worship, at home with others, or alone.
3. Dedication of duties to God. Work can become our worship when we dedicate our everyday duties to God. We can also see ourselves as instruments of the divine.
4. Reading and listening to the stories of God. This is a spiritual practice that greatly elevates and purifies the mind.
5. Striving to see God in all. One and the same divine presence is at the core of all beings. Striving to see God in all will increase our love for God.
What to avoid to grow in devotion
Not only must we take up certain practices to grow in our devotion to God, Sage Narada cautions us against the biggest obstacle on our path.
The company we keep influences our state of mind and can change our character over time. The greatest danger comes from keeping what Narada calls, “evil company.”
We must avoid keeping the company of people who are averse to worshipping God, do not believe in a divine higher power, and are staunch materialists focussed only on enjoying worldly pleasures.
Narada cautions us that keeping the company of such people may seem harmless in the beginning. But like a small wave, it can grow into an ocean and totally devastate us.
Swami Chinmayananda, while commenting on this point writes, “ …an apparently insignificant sensuous passion can, fanned by evil company, grow to become an invincible force driving the seeker and his entire world of virtues to total destruction.”
Devotion brings the greatest fulfillment
By learning from other devotees of God such as Sage Narada, we come to understand the real nature of devotion, what are the benefits of such devotion, how to gain it and what to avoid.
When we grow in our devotion, we come closer to God. Our devotional practices and commitment on the path eventually lead us to rediscovering God as the divinity within our own hearts. When we do, we will gain the highest bliss and fulfillment in life.
*I’ve used “Him” and “He” for convenience. God has no gender and you can use any pronoun that appeals to you.
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