1. What is the nature of God: personal, impersonal, both equally, or is one of the two primary?
God is only personal or impersonal in relation to a consciousness immersed in the duality of samsara. God is beyond the two, just as God is beyond samsara. So those in samsara will consider God either personal or impersonal, and being samsarins will no doubt wrangle with or disdain one another for holding a wrong view. Those who have gone beyond duality will be beyond personal/impersonal, and will keep silence–just as does Brahman.
2. What is the nature of spiritual practice/sadhana/yoga?
The only purpose of yoga sadhana is to realize the Self, both the individual and cosmic, the jivatman and the Paramatman. Therefore it must be exclusively adhyatmic in nature. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines adhyatmic: “pertaining to the Self (Atma), individual and Supreme.” A practice centered on an external “god” such as Shiva, Durga, Ganesha, etc., which is really only a symbol or portrayal of one or more aspects of God, or on an avatar such as Rama and Krishna, is by its and their nature partial and therefore limited and cannot lead to Self-realization and liberation in the Infinite. Gods and avatars only exist for us in samsara. Parabrahman, the Supreme, is beyond samsara and cannot be revealed through concentration or worship on either gods or avatars. To realize God we must get beyond all that which God is beyond.
3. Is meditation on OM and pranayama sufficient?
Since sadhana must be adhyatmic, the meditation and japa of Om, which involves observation of the breath (which is the highest pranayama), is both sufficient and essential. Patanjali says very clearly: “Its japa and meditation is the way” (Yoga Sutras 1:28).
4) Is bhakti of a deity necessary?
As already pointed out, a deity or a symbolic form of God is partial and therefore limited, whereas our goal is to realize our eternal Self within the Infinite, the Self of our Self.
Jnana and bhakti are states, not practices or “yogas” (sadhana). Shankara in his writings says that bhakti is total dedication to the search for God-realization and liberation, and that jnana is God-realization, the state of liberation itself. Bhakti means dedication to an ideal or a purpose–in this case realization and liberation. Swami Sivananda often said: “Emotion is not devotion.”
In Chapter Six of Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda, he says about much of the “bhakti” in India:
“All over the world there have been dancing and jumping and howling sects, who spread like infection when they begin to sing and dance and preach; they also are a sort of hypnotists. They exercise a singular control for the time being over sensitive persons, alas! often, in the long run, to degenerate whole races. Ay, it is healthier for the individual or the race to remain wicked than be made apparently good by such morbid extraneous control.
One’s heart sinks to think of the amount of injury done to humanity by such irresponsible yet well-meaning religious fanatics. They little know that the minds which attain to sudden spiritual upheaval under their suggestions, with music and prayers, are simply making themselves passive, morbid, and powerless, and opening themselves to any other suggestion, be it ever so evil.
Little do these ignorant, deluded persons dream that whilst they are congratulating themselves upon their miraculous power to transform human hearts, which power they think was poured upon them by some Being above the clouds, they are sowing the seeds of future decay, of crime, of lunacy, and of death. Therefore, beware of everything that takes away your freedom. Know that it is dangerous, and avoid it by all the means in your power.”
5) What is ideal for a daily practice?
The meditation and the continual japa of Om, as Patanjali says.
- The Peace and Freedom of Self Knowledge
- Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi, and Meditation
- The Four Qualities Necessary for Samadhi