Kirtan is one of the fundamental practices of Bhakti Yoga—the yoga of grace, love and devotion. Here in the West, many of us approach yoga with the same energy we bring to many other areas: a hard work ethic, a high drive to achieve, the desire to succeed and make recognizable progress on whatever it is we are working on.
Many forms of yogic practice seem to repay that attention well. If you want to make progress in asana, or pranayama, or meditation, it is widely accepted that you need to put in the time, consistently and over decades. How can we expect to evolve and get “better” at these spiritual disciplines if we don’t dedicate our time and effort? Everywhere we look, we can see stunning pictures on yoga magazines and websites of people doing amazing things with their bodies, because of the effort they have made to achieve those results.
Bhakti Yoga offers an entirely different approach. In Bhakti, it is understood that no amount of skill, effort or achievement is, ultimately, sufficient to earn the favor of the Divine. We cannot compel God’s grace by our efforts, no matter how impressive our human accomplishments. In the end, Grace flows outside the realm of effort and austerity. Divine grace is, by definition, not something we can earn or deserve through our own work. It comes at a time and place, and in a manner, that is not ours to command through our sweat and effort, or through the number of hours we have spent in meditation.
According to the devotional tradition of Bhakti, God is most pleased by our humility, by our devotion.
Humility and devotion spring from the heart. They are not developed as a result of skills acquisition, hours of meditation, or the ability to stand on our head for an hour. Grace and awareness don’t come because we repeat a mantra a million times: all we need to do is sing it!
When I feel the presence of this Grace, it comes not because I sang well. God’s blessing does not alight because of my pitch control, or because I hit some difficult low note. It’s not rooted in how good my bass or harmonium chops are, or whether people like how I sing, or whether I get paid well or whether I dance ecstatically enough to impress the angels and devas.
Grace comes in its own mysterious ways and times. And while we pray and wait for Grace, what a blessing it is to realize that, through the gentle, loving practices of Bhakti—joining with each other in sacred song and mantra recitation, and cultivating the sweetness of satsang and devotional service and connection in community—we can deeply enjoy the ride with each other all along the way.
If that’s not yoga, then I’m not sure what is.
Adam Bauer played bass for years supporting artists like Krishna Das and Shyamdas, among many others. Now accompanying himself on harmonium singing his own original kirtan compositions, he is emerging as a compelling and deeply soulful kirtan wala in his own right. His first solo record, Shyam Lila, debuted on Mantralogy Records on April 15 2014, and is available here and on his website.
Additionally, Adam has a unique online store, Dharma Boutique, filled with sacred and sensual treasures collected on his travels in India.