Hinduism in India is essentially bhakti: traditionally, Indians have not imbibed the yogic world view from dense philosophical texts like the Yoga Sutras, but from the colorful and popular narratives of yoga tales derived from a genre of texts called the Puranas. It is in these texts that bhakti yoga, the path of devotion, is outlined and exemplified, and it is through these Puranic tales and legends percolating across the Indian subcontinent since well before the common era that Hinduism has spread and remained vibrant across the centuries (and where the source material for Hindu poetry, song, architecture, drama, dance and other aesthetic traditions is to be found). From the 18 ‘great’ Puranas, the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, literally ‘the Beautiful Legend of God,’ is by far the most important, and, indeed, one of the two most important texts in Hinduism, along with the Ramayana, in terms of “on the ground Hinduism” (rather than its exported forms in the West).
The Bhagavata Purana is focused exclusively on Isvara pranidhana – the various modes of bhakti, devotion, to Isvara, God, specifically, Narayana/Vishnu/Krishna. It is the principal Sanskrit textual source dedicated to the accounts of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations and activities, and to the lives and practices of the most famous yogi exemplars who dedicated their lives to seeking and experiencing the ultimate Truths of the individual self and its loving relationship with a personal God. All the teachings of the Yoga Sutras and Gita are to be found in these narratives, along with so much more, but in far more developed ways, and embodied in the form of charming and delightful tales that capture the heart and mind, the goal of bhakti. The workshop will consist of a reading of selections of the best known and loved bhakti yoga stories and teachings from the Bhagavata Purana, focusing on the amazing lives of the best known yogis of yore, and of their astonishing yoga practices. Meditation on devotional mantras is also an option as part of the workshop.