Devotion, along with humility and compassion, is one of the greatest tools and biggest allies on the Tantric path. The Manthanabhairavatantra Siddhakhandah declares:
Devotion (is of three kinds, namely, devotion) to the Transmission, devotion to the teacher, and devotion here to the teaching itself. Devotion is power and the Transmission is transmitted by power. Speech is transmitted from the Transmission and the Command operates by Speech. Devotion is liberation that beholds the end of the Transmental.
– MBT, SKh 4:36-7. Translated by M. Dyczkowski.
There is a lot going on in this statement – but what I want to focus on is the necessity of devotion on the Tantric path.
What is the purpose of Tantra? Well, people will tell you different things, but for us the purpose is to realize God/dess and be liberated from rebirth within our present lifetime. In many Tantric paths, with the help of a personal deity (i.e. the ishtadevi or ishtadevata), that is to say a differentiated form of the undifferentiated reality, we are brought closer to that realization of Infinite Being. For most practitioners, this is accomplished best through devotion, or bhakti.
Devotion drives practice. When one is devoted heart and soul to one’s deity, and focuses that devotion on realization, suddenly practice becomes easier. The deity lives in our consciousness more readily. We are driven to provide service to our communities – both our spiritual community and our local community. In the same way, when we are devoted to our guru, and that devotion is focused on self-liberation (rather than seeing the guru as a savior, seeing the guru as one who guides you to your own realization), we become better disciples because our practice improves, we see the results, and we are driven to support the transmission and teachings in their most pure form. Our devotion to the teachings drives us to be better practitioners, and speeds our positive transformation on the path of liberation.
Essentially, devotion allows us to get out of our own way, and focus on what is important. It helps us to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Instead of ME, ME, ME, our focus becomes MAA, MAA, MAA. Once we begin to see that everyone is a manifestation of Her, it opens us to compassion that takes us even further into realization and toward liberation.
In puja from all different paths within Hinduism, when we perform dhyana (meditation), we first concentrate upon the form of a deity. In the yoga sutras this concentration of thoughts is called dharana and is the predecessor to dhyana. We recite a mantra that details the form this deity is taking, the form we wish to be present for our worship. We may receive visions of this deity coming to us, sitting with us, or emerging from us. But we are, at this point, still separate. We offer flowers, food, water, and most importantly, our sincere devotion. We create a loving and unbreakable bond with the deity, treating this deity like our parent or our own child. As we progress and deepen our awareness, we may find that this vision and experience transforms. External worship and defined forms reveal internal and eternal truths, the reward for a sadhika’s daily, disciplined practice. This gives way to true dhyana, the state of pure consciousness unsullied by thought which allows one to merge totally with Infinite Being.
Our devotion to the teachings drives us to be better practitioners, and speeds our positive transformation on the path of liberation.
External worship (which may take many forms – puja, aradhana, singing, service) is an important stage of the process, and for those entering the path, it is vital to perfect devotion. Now, this doesn’t mean that you show off to others, or try to prove anything externally. But rather, you cultivate an internal sense of devotion, and you let that drive your external efforts. MAA is not interested in people who do lots of external work but do nothing internally. She is not interested in helping those who profess selfless devotion but harbor selfish desires, who perform lots of pujas and know lots of mantras but harbor ill will or judgment toward others.
Pure devotion is about honesty and compassion. A true sadhak or sadhika will be honest, compassionate, open-minded, fair in dealing with others, will take responsibility for their own actions and reactions, and will always perform ritual actions for the highest good. Pure devotion means striving toward the recognition that we are all equally emanations and manifestations of Infinite Being.
Devotion gives us the means with which to drive the entire process of realization on the Tantric path. Devotion to MAA, devotion to our gurus, and devotion to the teachings. From that initial high of connection, with the guidance of gurus and the wisdom of the lineage teachings, we learn to mature on the path.
Devotion is essential in Tantric practice and philosophy. Without devotion, our practice is devoid of meaning. Devotion creates the bridge by which our limited consciousness traverses the divide toward limitless consciousness, suspending judgment and doubt, and opening our hearts and minds to an unhindered experience of divinity.