The Origins of Bhakti

[ In the current day and age, the word Bhakti has been associated with gullible and almost sheepish following of a demagogue or unquestioning obedience to an outdated religious text .

Bhakti however is a much more profound concept. The story is about how the word and  the concept was discovered. ]

This is story of young boy who lived  in present day UP, India long long time ago. They called him Krishna, because of his really dark complexion.’Krishna‘ means black. He was known to be really ugly.  Everybody believed that he was, especially him.

He just never forgot that. Even if no one was around his mind would remind him constantly of how ugly he was. He hated his face, he hated his name, he hated his life. He continued to live his life in suffering burning.  His Uncle took him to various Gurus. They would prescribe him various sermons and methods. “God is within you my child, just recite these mantras 1000 times and you will be cured”. or “God is the only truth everything in your mind is false”. In Krishna’s mind there was no bigger truth than his ugliness, all he had to do was look.  What kind of God would unleash so much suffering on young a kid. Nothing made sense to him and no one could help him.

Every time he went to Yamuna to fetch water. He saw his face in the water and a deep sorrow engulfed him. He had learnt to avoid looking at his face, just look elsewhere else he started contemplating jumping in and put an end to his miserable existence. He was afraid, anything could trigger and get him into a loop depressive loop and didn’t know what he might do. One day however all of that changed forever.

In nature there are certain times when a Black Swan event happens. Such event are really unexpected, it has a huge impact, and changes something fundamentally and deeply forever. People try to rationalize why this happened post event, but no one can see it coming. One such random event happened to young Krishna one fine day. People even now ponder as to why this happened to him, may be it was karma from his past life or may be someone poured Somras in Yamuna that day. We might never know why, but this event effected the course of a civilization and its effects are still felt now.

As Krishna bent down to fetch his pale of water and he glimpsed at the reflection of his face in the ripples of water, but unusually he wasn’t reminded of his ugliness. In fact his mind said absolutely nothing, it fell completely and deeply silent. The kind of silence that he had never experienced before. The ripples of waters started to settle, but fascinated young Krishna didn’t move an inch. For the first time he felt liberated from the voice in his head. He realized that for the first time in his life he was witnessing the truth about his appearance. Without cribbing, criticizing, without judgment and without any input from his mind whatsoever, he was couldn’t spot the ugliness in his face. All his misery seemed insignificant. Without the chatter of mind, he felt free and the world seemed like a place full of possibilities

In the reflection, It was him but it was not him. Every time Yamuna used to show him the ugliest guy in the world, but today she showed him the most beautiful man ever. Suddenly all these mantras and sermons made sense to him. He had accidentally stumbled upon this mental space in himself which the Yogis talk about. His mind was overcome with deep unconditional love and admiration.

He stood there exactly like that 18 hours straight submerged in ecstatic love. He came to his senses when some passing villagers shook him, fearing he would fall into water. “What were you staring at?” they asked.  As he opened his mouth to speak, he realized it was something else speaking through him, he merely was a medium just witnessing. He turned to them smiled and said  “Krishna”.

Ever since then young boy’s life completely changed. He became deeply interested in spirituality, Yoga and Dharma. In India back then there was no standard religious textbook. There were thousands of different Gurus and ascetics spread across the region, each of them preaching their own unique insights, their unique take on God and Dharma. But young Krishna was determined, he had seen the spark within him which motivated him to become the best student ever. He travelled across India, learnt from different Rishis, stayed with different cults, learnt different practices. He became the master of all spiritual knowledge that existed in North India.

His encounter with “Krishna” at age of 14, ended up being his inner compass for rest of his life. All his actions were done in such a way that he kept on getting closer and closer to “Krishna“. He discovered that there was a deep purpose to his life. He complied all spiritual knowledge known to the civilization at the time, which later formed 4 books, which came to be known as the Vedas. He laid the foundation for what is now known as the Vedic age. No one called him Krishna anymore. He was known as Ved Vyasa, the compiler of Vedas. He became a renowned Rishi and sought after Guru, even today his birthday is celebrated in India as Guru Purnima.

Towards the end of his life, he started working on his master piece which is now known as the Mahabharata, the worlds longest epic poem. Vyasa wanted to reach out to larger people and not just the Brahmins. He knew that common people were less interested in philosophy and more interested in stories. Vyasa created one of the most gripping stories ever told and subtly embedded his last and most important lesson within it. It is within Mahabharata that the word Bhakti was used for the first time.

At the age of 14, on the banks of Yamuna, a young sad and ugly Krishna Dvaipāyana found within him, “Krishna”, the dark beautiful god of love who relieves everbody’s misery. Through Mahabharata, Vyasa wanted to tell people about the truth of this love he experienced for “Krishna”, his inner self. This love which became his guiding light. The love that helped him overcome his limitations and serve society. The love which has the power to heal. The love for divine which is holding the universe together. This unconditional ecstatic love towards divine, he called “Bhakti”.

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