Devotion blossoms in a personal culture, not a personality cult
Bhakti-yoga with its injunction that disciples serve the guru may seem to promote a personality cult.
What bhakti actually endorses is a personal culture.
This personal culture is a preparatory replica of the destination of bhakti: the spiritual world where Krishna and his devotees delight eternally in personal exchanges of love.
Love is learned not in abstraction through theory, but in action through living experiences in the association of those who cherish and relish that love. That’s why the Gita urges (04.34) seekers to approach seers and form a personal loving relationship with them through submission, enquiry and service.
Love is naturally expressed through service – not just towards the object of love, but also towards that object’s objects of love. Accordingly, seekers express their devotion by serving not just Krishna but also his beloved devotees – the enlightened seers.
Significantly, this verse refers to such seers in the plural (jnaninas). Thus it enjoins seekers to learn not just from one seer, but also from a tradition that has engendered many seers. No doubt, one seer acts as the initiating spiritual master. But the Gita’s plural usage underscores that it doesn’t espouse a personality cult.
The problem with personality cults is that they deify the person, thereby distancing or even divorcing the seekers from the broader tradition and Krishna. The deified person, no matter how spiritually advanced, is still a finite human being. Uni-dimensional obsession with one person cuts seekers off from the rich personal culture found in a community of devotee seers and seekers. That community is the most fertile ground for the blossoming of bhakti, wherein the heart’s fledgling attraction for Krishna is nourished by different endearing glimpses of his all-attractiveness manifested in his many devotees. Thus does devotion grow, and fill and fulfill the heart.
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