The International Yoga Day was celebrated worldwide on June 21, though in Manipur there was not much news of the day being celebrated due to the Covid pandemic. Nevertheless, a leading Preacher of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness from Manipur, Ramanuja Prabhu represented the ISKCON by giving a lecture on the topic of ‘Yoga and science’ at the concluding day of the Himachal Pradesh Central University’s 51-day Yoga Camp, which was well appreciated by the participants including the Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof Roshan Lal Sharma. Here we have RK Lakhi Kant speaking to Ramanuja Prabhu on important aspects of Bhakti yoga as practiced in the ISKCON and how it is different from other yoga forms due to its simplicity and universal appeal.
RK Lakhi Kant: People think Bhakti yoga is only about preaching, it does not tell what yoga is. Please say something regarding this?
Ramanuja Prabhu: Actually, when you say yoga, it means connecting with the Supreme consciousness. We have Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, Hatha yoga, so many processes. Bhakti yoga is also about connecting with the Supreme. So, we’ll talk about Bhakti yoga. As Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita which is considered to be one of the topmost books on the philosophy of yoga, of all yogis, the devotees are considered the topmost yogis. Why does he say this? In yoga there is Ashtanga yoga which is known by different names like Raj yoga, Sahaj yoga, etc. The main purpose of yoga is to control the mind. This follows 8 kinds of yoga and is known as Ashtanga, which includes yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhyana, dharana and samadhi. When you want to do yoga there are some rules and regulations, or dos and don’ts which have to be followed. Bhakti yoga is natural for any living entity. Bhakti means out of love and when we dedicate everything to service of God, yama, niyama etc., are automatically followed. Pranayama or asana is not done as it is but these things are followed in Bhakti yoga. Ultimately the purpose is to control the mind and focus on the object we are meditating on. An example in the scriptures is how Ambarisa Maharaja used to dedicate himself, utilize his eyes to see the Lord, ears to hear the Lord, utilize the mind, hands, body, legs, head, the whole body and all the senses in serving the Lord. There’s no chance of becoming misdirected or doing any unproductive unwanted activity. Isn’t this the goal of yoga? If one is able to attain what yoga promises by practicing Bhakti yoga then what’s the harm in preaching. Why anybody should claim Bhakti yoga is not yoga. It’s based on scriptures.
RK Lakhi Kant: Some people have health problems. How does Bhakti yoga improve your health? Also, who can practice Bhakti yoga?
Ramanuja Prabhu: I’ll answer the second one first. Everybody can practice Bhakti yoga. It’s open for all. There is no discrimination. Irrespective of age, color, creed, community, everybody. Because Bhakti means loving God. Anybody who has little love can practice Bhakti yoga.
About health, everybody has health issues because as long as the body is there, health problem will be there. ‘Sariram rog mandiram’, body is a storehouse of disease. It depends what kind of lifestyle we have. Whatever we are eating, somehow or the other it is affecting. In Bhakti yoga whatever the person is eating he offers first to God, and when we offer it is good for your mind and body. Not very extravagant; in Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says ‘patram pushpam, phalam, toyam’, anybody can offer me a leaf, a flower, fruit or water with love and devotion and I’ll accept it. So, it is not compulsory to offer many items. Lord Krishna says about the modes of ignorance, passion and goodness. In ignorance we are lazy, we procrastinate. In passion we have unlimited desires. There are foodstuffs which are in these categories. Like those which are stale, putrid, cooked for long hours, which have not much nutritional value are categorized in the mode of ignorance. Those foods which are pungent, burning, hot, too rich, these are those which enhance the mode of passion, like greed, anger. In mode of goodness there are fatty foods, juices, which are pleasing to the heart when we eat; mild in nature, they promote mode of goodness. Mode of goodness means illumination with knowledge. We are able to think properly and in a creative manner. So, when we are eating this kind of foodstuff, having this kind of lifestyle, not trying to harm any living entity, when you are calm, peaceful and composed in mind, there are high chances your health develops and becomes better. And even if your health breaks down because of unfortunate circumstances, still we are able to have a balanced mindset even in that diseased condition. They are not so much disturbed as others. So, this is one clear benefit of practicing Bhakti yoga.
RK Lakhi Kant: How much time is required for daily Bhakti yoga practice for a newcomer?
Ramanuja Prabhu: See, Bhakti yoga is something like we say mindful meditation, mindful living, how awareness of our surroundings is there. In other forms of yoga people assume or expect that they can practice yoga for some minutes, some hours every day and they will benefit. And after practicing yoga they will go back to their lifestyle as before. But here in Bhakti yoga your whole life is molded along with the Bhakti yoga system. That is, you are engaged 24-hours in Bhakti yoga. How is that? Like, whatever you are doing, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says ‘ki sayane, ki bhojane, ahar nisha chinta krishna’, whether you are sleeping, whether awake, doing something, whatever you do your mind should be focused on thoughts of the Supreme Lord. You should always be Krishna conscious, always be god conscious. Always chant his glories, remember him, think about him. So, this is the beauty. It is not alien to the nature of the person. This is the most natural process for any living entity because love of God is already there in the heart of every living entity. Only thing is it is dormant, it has to be awakened. So, anything you do every day, like eating, sleeping, taking care of family, all these things can be molded so that they are one way or another related to god. Like we are duty bound for food for family. So, eat something healthy, nutritious, which does not involve violence. Cook what is offer-able to Krishna and offer that to Krishna with love and devotion. Then take the prasad which is wholesome and good for your mind and body. So whole day we are working for the Lord and we want to give the best service to the Lord. If you are a student, work hard, be obedient, if you are a professional you do your duties right, then you have no intention of corruption. If you are a parent, your duty is taking care of your children. So, when you have done your best duties and come back home, naturally you can sit nicely and your mind is clear. So, when your mind is free and purified and you wake up you can take care of your children and they can also practice yoga. There’s always scope of doing better.
RK Lakhi Kant: What do you mean by progress in Bhakti yoga? How much time does it take to understand the whole process of this yoga?
Ramanuja Prabhu: Progress in Bhakti yoga is measured by how happy you become. You become joyful. An essential part of Bhakti yoga is that you are asked to chant the holy name of God. We chant Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. You can chant any authorized name of God. Instantly you can get the result. That is, you become happy. It’s said in Bhagavad Gita ‘raj vidya, raj guhyam, pavitram idam utamam’, pratyaksavagamam, this process is directly experienced, susukham, you become so happy, it can be joyfully performed, and it’s everlasting, all throughout life, you’ll remain happy. So, Bhakti yoga is for every living entity to become genuinely happy.
Regarding how long this process takes, it is a process that is recommended lifelong. There are instances when people asked how long does it take to become perfect in yoga. Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of ISKCON, says ‘it takes a minute, a moment, to become perfect in Bhakti yoga’. Krishna is saying just surrender and I’ll deliver you from all your sinful activities. If we surrender, we will become free from all disturbances. But we cannot because we have so many material desires. We think why we have to follow. This is like a doctor’s prescription. Doctor tells us, you do like this. So, we have to at least follow him. First follow him. Unless we follow him, we can’t be happy. There’s the story of Khatvanga Maharaja. He used to fight in battles in the side of the demigods. He was very brave and the demigods asked him, we want to give you a benediction. He asked, how much time I have to live. Then they said you have only one moment to live. So, he gave up everything and started to immediately remember Krishna. He focused his thoughts on Krishna, and Krishna says, anybody who remembers me at the time of death surely comes to me. And once he comes to me, he will never come back to this miserable material world. So, it takes only a moment to become perfect in Bhakti yoga.
(The second part of the interview will be published next week).