From the Faculty: Shambhavi Sarasvati

What is devotion to you?

Devotion is the active, fundamental attitude of this alive, aware creation toward itself. You could say that devotion is the active outflow of wonder at the nature of the Self. It is built into the fabric of this alive, aware reality.

I set out on the path of sadhana as a rather snarky, punky, and pissed off atheist person. After more than 35 years of daily practice, I’ve discovered that devotion naturally expresses as a result of encountering reality in a more subtle and comprehensive way. Devotion and knowledge of the nature of the Self are co-arising. When you see how things are, you feel overwhelming devotion and spontaneously embody it in your activities.

Is your practice of devotion oriented towards a religious tradition? What is the connection or relationship of devotion to religious traditions?

The devotion I experience now is simple and unmediated. The more I experience being immersed in devotion, the more I appreciate any expressions of devotion from any tradition or none. Devotion is a mighty river that sweeps away all dogma and divisions.

All religious or spiritual traditions move us closer to the natural conclusion of devotion. Spiritual life followed through to its natural conclusion will always conclude in devotion because devotion is the attitude of all of existence.

What are tools, techniques or special objects that inspire or help you in your devotional practice?

Practices are not devotional in and of themselves.They are for stripping ourselves of the impediments to feeling devotion. Then anything we do, including brushing our teeth, is devotional.

So, for instance, the Zen practice of cleaning and organizing everything in sight is not a practice of devotion until you actually feel devotion. Before that, you might feel bored, pissed off, pridefully righteous, humiliated, and so on. Under the glaring light of the practice of cleaning and the destructive influence of open-eyed meditation, you become more humble and porous and uncontrived. Then natural devotion can show itself more fully. Perhaps the most humbling, karma-destroying practice in my life has been contemplating my Guru: her face, her movements, her words, the experience of her.

Do you have a favorite devotional author, text or poem that inspires you in your devotional practice? Please name them and tell us why. If appropriate, include a short quotation.

The devotional writings I visit most often are Utpaladeva’s Shivastrotravali and Jñanadeva’s Amritanubhava. They were both great devotees who deeply understood that the constant feeling-state of nature, of the Lord, is devotion. When we are immersed in that, we are wholly unattached to spiritual and religious concepts, organizations, and practices. We even forget about the somewhat contrived “goal” of liberation.

The last section of Jñanadeva’s Amritanubhava is called “Natural Devotion.” It’s one of the pieces of writing I cherish most, and it has taught me a lot, especially about the worship that goes on ceaselessly everywhere.

“The non-dual one enters of his own accord the courtyard of duality. And the unity deepens along with the growth of difference.

The enjoyment of the objects of the senses becomes sweeter than the bliss of final emancipation, and in the home of loving devotion the devotee and his God experience their sweet union.” ~ The Amritanubhava of Jnanadeva (translated by B.P. Bhairat, page 85)

What is the biggest obstacle to devotion? What techniques do you have for overcoming that obstacle?

The biggest obstacle is our attachment to and enjoyment of more contracted states such as stomping around, asserting our superiority, complaining, clinging, hoarding, fighting, and so on. Lesser enjoyment is the only obstacle, and it is the essence of what keeps us bound.

But the Lord is in a profound, uncaused state of enjoyment. Our contracted enjoyment is the Lord’s enjoyment under tension. My Guru Anandamayi Ma taught that the ground we fall on is the same ground our hands will use to push us up again. Eventually we realize that being swept away by devotion and expressing unimpeded generosity are life’s greatest enjoyments.

What are some of the ways that your practice has changed over the years?

My practice started off complicated, effortful, and ornate and then gradually simplified. Although I still do more formal practice, it doesn’t feel much different from anything else I might be doing. Everything has become following that.