In the Vedantic traditions, Bhakti yoga or the practice of growing in love is called the nectar of devotion. Even saying the words ‘nectar of devotion’ gives one a good feeling doesn’t it!
Devotion is not really something we study, it’s something we be. It involves opening our heart and surrendering to love.
The Ancient teachings say there are 9 limbs of bhakti yoga. The first limb is Sravanam, which means listening to spiritual topics. The idea here is to listen as stories are shared about the scriptural accounts of our chosen deity, or any deity. If we are Christian it may involve listening to the accounts of Jesus and his teachings. Buddhists may enjoy the tales of Lord Buddha, or Padmsambhava. I also like stories about Shiva, and Ganesha, about the Divine Mother, Hanuman, Krishna, they offer insights into the kind of journey we can expect when we are on a mystical spiritual path.
What makes Sravanam different to study? The idea is to listen with your heart. To allow someone else to read, while you listen. The listening may be a whole-body experience of trying to merge with what is being said.
It is particularly powerful when the stories are being told by a devotee who has merged deeply in bhakti and with the aspect of the Divine that is being discussed. Hence, keeping the company of long-term practitioners of bhakti is part of Sravanam. From the voice of the devoted disciple comes an even more coalesced Divinely alive version of the story. Bhakti carries in the sound.
Stories in Vedanta usually cover such things as the qualities of the deity, which are always uplifting and sublime. They cover the asuras, or demons, and their qualities which the God or Goddess overcomes in order to save humanity. The stories have a transcendental aspect, and even listening to these stories helps our consciousness to expand beyond the mind. It is also interesting to hear the scriptural accounts of those who were close to the Divine, either in the Heavenly realms or on Earth when the deity incarnates as an avatar. Hence, following the stories of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita or the various people described in the Devi Bhagavatam are ways for us to enter into fields of bliss and love, to open our hearts as we empathise with the stories, the qualities and the presence of the Divine.
At our spiritual festivals such as Navaratri or Shivaratri we often have story time. It is so bonding, so much fun, and so enlivening. Next time you are present at story time, understand that it is a devotional practice, and that we are partaking in the Divine feast through auditory processes and inner connection to love. More than anything, listen through your heart. You just may hear the Divine Mother speaking from inside your very own being.