When we hear the name Carl Sagan, we usually associate it with science. He is an astronomer, after all. We might think his views have no place in yoga. So why am I bringing him up now, especially when the Jivamukti focus of the month is bhakti or devotion to God?
Here's the thing. I read something he said and I thought that is exactly what bhakti yoga is about. The yoga of devotion requires humility. Carl Sagan said, with quite a lot of wit in my opinion, that "if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe". One sentence. It encapsulated bhakti, that is to humble ourselves to see ourselves not as the only doer, but as a player- or instrument, if you will- in this vast expanse of creation.
Bhakti yoga asks us to renounce the fruits of our actions, to defer to a power or force higher than our limited mortal selves, to recognize that there is a God, even if we don't call it God. Whatever name or face inspires us to acknowledge the expansiveness of our temporary lives on Earth is our higher power. It is personal and there is no right or wrong, only what speaks to us the strongest, only the face or concept we see when we think of unconditional love, when we are in awe of the universe and everything about it that is mysterious to us, when we look at creation and we are moved by the beauty of it.
We have many names for it. We call it God or Jesus or Krishna or Buddha or Allah or Yahweh or Nature or the Great Void or anything else. For whom we like serving does not matter. The service itself, the devotion itself, the desire to love with all of our hearts is what matters.
The act of devotion is not only limited to prayers and chanting, not limited to the structures of churches and mosques and temples. The act of devotion or renunciation can be and should be in every aspect of our lives. Brushing our teeth, eating our dinner, growing a garden can all be acts of devotion or practices of bhakti if we acknowledge that we are not the only doer. In other words, if we have a sense of gratitude with everything that we do, and we give credit where credit is due, the action becomes a spiritual one.
If we practice yoga asana thinking that we alone are responsible for the shapes that we are able to form with our bodies, then we are forgetting the apple pie and universe concept. So to borrow Carl Sagan's words and change it a little bit, if you want to come up to a handstand, you must first create the universe. If we start to approach our practice with this sense of vastness, then we might consider that every move we make is a little way of saying thank you, and maybe the entire 90 minutes of a yoga class is a dance of gratitude and devotion.
If we think of ourselves as the only doer, we may feel proud. We may even put it in our heads and become arrogant. But if we consider that we share this experience with countless others, it actually becomes more meaningful. It can move our spirits to a new place. Think about how many different bodies and body types are capable of coming into yoga poses. Think of how many yoga classes are simultaneously happening all over the world. Think of how even in nature animals do these yoga poses without having to get a one-week pass or a monthly unlimited package. Think of all of us doing yoga asana together. Now isn't that more amazing and expansive than us alone coming to a single yoga pose?
To give credit where credit is due- to God or the higher power in which we choose to acknowledge- does not minimize our accomplishments. On the contrary, it expands our experiences and makes us connected to the rest of the vast and beautiful universe.