The following is from two students from the NHE Teacher Preparation Program

Understanding Devotional Sentiment

By Dada Maheshvarananda and Christy Shaver

The founder of Neohumanism, P.R. Sarkar, defines devotional sentiment as “the highest and most valuable treasure of humanity.” In his book, Liberation of Intellect: Neohumanism, he writes further that “devotion makes the heart sweet and strong, and leads to expansion of mind because it is not a limiting sentiment. As such it transforms the sense of worldly existence into the supreme spiritual stance.”

To a Western secular audience, this certainly sounds surprising. The word devotion comes from ancient Latin, meaning “loyalty, fealty, allegiance.” In the Latin of the Catholic Church, it meant “devotion to God” or “piety.” The word came to Middle English about 1150–1200 meaning “profound religious emotion, awe, reverence.” Today it also implies “dedication to a cause or enterprise”.

Whereas our rational mind interacting with the objective world around us is considered a great asset in Neohumanism, equal importance is given to our internal world of the heart. Every human being longs to feel love. Love brings us happiness, and falling in love can be deeply fulfilling. Parents often feel devotion to their children. Awe, wonder, joy, and bliss all attempt to describe the intoxicating feeling of love.

Our emotions tend to be haphazard, because our feelings are whimsically swept away by our changing desires. Devotion, however, is more steady, and wants nothing in return, only to give.

Some people are impassioned with their work and dedicated to it. Some scientists are devoted to science itself and the rationality that underpins it, dedicating themselves to research for its advancement. Many activists are devoted to the cause of social justice, working for the ideal of an ethical, moral world.

How can one expand the feeling of devotion to an individual person or thing towards a more Neohumanist perspective? By sharing the idea that love is universal and should include everyone and everything. The more we can expand the circle of our love, the more loving we become and the more happiness we feel. Meaning and purpose come to us when we live for others, not just ourselves. Sometimes, in nature, the feeling of connection, awe, and reverence can leave us speechless.

A similar concept is that of the four immeasurables (brahmaviharas) in Buddhism: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. A Buddhist will practice and cultivate these for the good of others and for their own spiritual development.

Neohumanism recognizes the fundamental oneness of which all mind and matter are composed. It is our awareness of this Universal Consciousness that makes us self-aware. Our own feeling of existence is actually a reflection of the cosmic sense of existence. The divine essence resides deep within every human being. Just as the movements of the ocean currents govern the dance of the waves on the surface, so very deep, powerful but unseen forces greatly shape our lives.

According to Neohumanist philosophy, a Supreme Consciousness controls this universe. We and all life on this planet are not the result of a cosmic “accident;” rather, a Higher Intelligence that guides the stars guides us, too. Yet it is difficult to feel extreme love for an impersonal, abstract idea. Humans want something personal to which they can express their joys and sorrows, their fears and affections. Ecstatic, devotional love can be expressed to such a personal entity who is always with us, always inside us.

This is the mysterious, spiritual world of grace within us. We are loved unconditionally, despite all our past mistakes. That type of love is intoxicating for devotees, because it is unlimited and the highest expression of our heart.

Protecting our devotional sentiment is essential for our mental peace. The prevalent materialist society tends to deny the value of spirituality. If our devotional sentiment is ignored or criticized, if we or others deny the value of our spiritual feelings, then we suffer mentally. Just as we protect a young tree seedling from animals with a small fence, which becomes unnecessary when the tree becomes strong, we need to protect our devotional sentiment with the Neohumanist philosophy, which honors it.

Neohumanists have a responsibility to explain the value of devotional sentiment. Good listening is a crucial part of this communication, because using appropriate words and metaphors that resonate with people depends a lot on understanding who we are speaking with and what their belief systems are.

When explaining devotional sentiment there is no magical answer that will convince everyone that this is the treasure of humanity. The role of Neohumanist educators is to model devotion and love for all.

Dada Maheshvarananda is a yogic monk, activist, and author. Christy Shaver is a holistic wellness coach and activist. They wish to thank the many people who contributed their thoughts to this article: Amal Jacobson, Didi Ananda Devapriya, Marcus Bussey, Arete Brim, Devashish, Dada Vishvarupananda, Didi Ananda Tapati, Didi Ananda Madhupurna, Andjela Vekic, Dada Jinanananda.