Which Is The Surest Path to Enlightenment?

I’m sure many of you are expecting the answer to this question to include terms such as meditation, yog (the school of thought or philosophical system that delineates disciplining the body and then the mind through various exercises and breath control), gyan (the school of thought that delineates the process of ‘discerning the self’ through introspection, renunciation, discrimination, etc.), tapas (penance that involves, but is not restricted to, extreme self-abnegation), silence or awareness of the present moment.
I am very much aware how enamoured the new-age spiritualists are by the very notion of these practices. For long has the world been fed the story of absolute triumph of Gautama Buddha over maya – the material nature who has all of us subject to ignorance. The image of a serene monk unmoved by loss, insult, disease and death captures all imagination. Then, of course, there are the yogis, great ascetics of the Himalayas who are referred to as the conquerors of death in self-help books and autobiographies across the globe. And the gyanis, who discern the permanent from the impermanent with their sharp intelligence and Olympian patience.
As widely popular as these transcendentalists and their doctrines may be, and no matter how tremendous their contributions in putting India on the philosophical map of the world (I humbly thank all the great Gurus – whose foot dust I don’t deserve – for this), the answer to our original question is not found in any of their practices or siddhantas.
The answer is a doctrine that is most simple. If I am to be honest, it is simpler than what you do in your waking hours at present, at least. However, in order for the answer to have any effect on our life, thoughts or intellect, we must first understand why it is so simple. For, as we all know, man doesn’t accept simple things. He loves complicated stuff.
‘Be grateful to God for all the small things that you have in life and which comfort you.’
Nah! What will that ever bring!

‘Concentrate on the space between your eyebrows without moving a muscle and breathe once in 18 minutes.’
Oh yes! That seems challenging. Now that might result in something.

And so, our very first step on the way to enlightenment takes us into the deep, dark jungles of austerity, where every thorny tree is naught but a manifestation of our own pride.
‘I chanted 64 rounds of the Gayatri mantra, standing on one leg!’
‘I ate just one piece of fruit every night for 15 days!’
I belonged to this category; maybe still visit it, every now and then. But all this time, the answer was lying right in front of me. I was an absolute fool to not notice the diamond, right in my hand’s clasp.
So, are you ready for the big reveal?
Well, here you go: the surest (and fastest, and easiest) path to enlightenment is loving God as you would love a friend, mother, son or lover.
First of all, you must know that God is the most compassionate Being there can be. No, really. You need to get that straight, because if you do, accepting the simplicity of the answer will be much easier.
yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau  - Upanishads
upasate purusam hyakamah - Upanishads
These mantras state that God is attainable only through devotion of the mind or bhakti.
Sa Tu Karma Gyan Yogebhyo Api Adhiktara - Narad Bhakti Sutra
The ancient sage, Narad, states that Bhakti is superior to Karma, Gyan and Yog (meditation).
Great, spiritual Giants like Ramakrishna Paramhans, Buddha, Anandmayi maa, etc. presented to the monists and atheists philosophical systems that were essentially facades for the underlying blueprint of bhakti. Why, even the great Adi Shankaracharya, the Father of Advaita, set examples of bhakti by singing humble hymns to the eternal forms of God. What is Soundarya Lahiri, if not a petition to the Great Devi to bestow Her divine Grace?
Of course, you may think I am most shameless for talking about all these great Gurus and claiming to know their real views. You may be right, too. However, I simply wish to broadcast the real glory of bhakti, without any ill-feeling towards other paths. Why? Because bhakti is just so pure and good for us. It nourished our souls. It’s healthy.
Dare I say that bhakti, or devotion to God, is at the center of all spiritual philosophies and no real progress on the path of enlightenment can be had without it.
What to speak of beginners, even the great enlightened masters need to engage in bhakti.
sadhak siddha vimukta udasi,kavi kovida krthajna sanyasi,yogi sur sutapas jnanidhrma nirat pandit vijnanitarayee naa! binu seyen mam svamiram namami nami namami.     - RamcharitmanasEven the vimukta (the enlightened one), yogi, siddha (perfected being) needs to practice devotion to Lord Ram (God) if he wants to cross this ocean of material existence.
Adi Shankaracharya states:
Shuddhayati naa antar aatma
Krsna padam bhoj bhaktimriteh- Prabodha ShudhakaraIt is not possible for the mind to get purified unless one engages it in sincere devotion to the lotus feet of Sri Krsna (God).
I say this with the hope of receiving one trillionth of a drop of Adi Shankara’s bhakti.
Enlightenment is possible only after the mind is purified. Thus, all religious systems work towards the purification of the mind. Even Buddhism, which is a staunchly atheistic philosophical school, discreetly directs its followers to meditate of the form of Buddha to purify the mind. Thus, even those schools of thought which seem to be completely disjoint from the path of bhakti on the surface, do, in fact, secretly employ bhakti in all their doctrines.

I humbly submit this for you to consider. Know that I am nothing compared to the great Masters whose names I have taken. The ways of God’s saints are inscrutable. I only wish to glorify bhakti, nothing else.

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