Forms of Devotion (Part 2)

2. Kirtana, or Group singing of God's names

This form of devotion involves participation in collective singing of hymns in praise of God, chanting of the Thousand Names of Lord Vishnu (Vishnu-sahasra­nama) or of the Divine Mother Lalita (Lalita Sahasranama), or of the one hundred and eight names, called Ashtottaranama. Bhajans and sankirtans are forms of collective singing of God's names and His glories. Such divine names can also be chanted individually by the seeker. When done with concentration, kirtana helps kindle devotion in him.

3. Smarana, or Remembrance of God

The nine forms of devotion are distinct up to a point, but they often overlap one another. The efficacy of the first two forms of devotion (shravana and kirtana) are effective to the extent they lead to remembrance of God, even in the midst of our daily activities. Sri Krishna teaches that the only purpose of life is to worship God: "Having come into this joyless and impermanent world worship Me." (Bhagavad Gita, 9.33) Struggle is inevitable in life. No incarnation of God or realized soul has ever promised that we would be exempt from adversities in life because we were devoted to God. We are bound to have problems in life, but devotion to God can help us face them boldly, understand them, and address them with a calm mind. Without devotion to God we can easily be overpowered by problems. Nothing can be more unwise than to think that spiritual exercises like japa, prayer and meditation can wait till the evening of our life, when we have completed our worldly responsibilities. According to a well-known verse attributed to Vyasa, "He who wants to think of the Lord when all his worldly responsibilities are over is like the fool who waits for all the waves to subside before taking a plunge into the ocean." In his "Hymn of Forgiveness to Shiva" (13) Sri Shankaracharya describes the evanescence of life and teaches the need to seek God's protection without delay: "Life keeps on ebbing away every day. Youth keeps on decaying. Days that are gone never return. Time is the devourer of everything. Worldly prosperity is as fickle as waves in the ocean. Life itself is as fleeting as lightning. Therefore, O Granter of refuge, I have taken refuge in You. Please protect me even now."

Sri Krishna commanded Arjuna to remember Him at all times and fight. (Gita, 8.7) Arjuna's duty was to fight the righteous battle before him. For the rest of us it means fighting the battle of life. The Maharaja of Khetri asked Swami Vivekananda, his guru, "What is life?" Swami Vivekananda replied: "Life is the unfoldment and development of a being under circumstances tending to press it down." We ourselves are that being, the Spirit imprisoned in body, mind, and senses. They constantly prevent our unfoldment and manifestation. Life is a continuous struggle against our rebelling mind and the impressions stored in it. Sri Krishna asks us to seek God's help in this struggle, and to remember him in the midst of our everyday activities.

Sri Ramakrishna teaches, "Live in the world but, in order to realize God, hold fast to His Lotus Feet with one hand and with the other do your duties. When you get a respite from your duties, cling to God's Lotus Feet with both hands-live in solitude and meditate on Him and serve Him ceaselessly."

The silent repetition of a mantra, or a divine name, at fixed times is one of the most effective ways of practicing remembrance of God.

Part 3

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