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Disciples and Devotees—What’s the Difference?

Singing Kirtan
Episode No. 200

What is a disciple? What is a devotee? Shambhavi riffs on the evolution of her relationship to these questions over decades of practice. Along the way, she shares teachings from Anandamayi Ma, Utpaladeva, and Jñanadeva. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Podcast First Words

The question is—what’s the difference between a disciple and a devotee? I first encountered the lineage of Anandamayi Ma when I went to India for the first time and met Indian members of that sangha. And they made the distinction between a disciple and a devotee. They actually said a devotee is more in it, somehow. More deeply in it.

I would have thought exactly the opposite at that time. I would have thought a disciple is someone who’s taken vows and made some sort of commitment. And I would have thought a devotee is just someone who has some squishy, nice feelings about the teacher. That was my uninformed view at the time.

Then there’s something that Anandamayi Ma actually said in satsang many times that helped open up a little bit of a door for me to understand why the Indian sangha thought the devotees were more immersed in the practice and the lineage. Ma said you can either burn your karmas with knowledge or melt them with devotion. And even at that time way back then, melting did seem a little better than burning. Somehow I got the impression from Ma it would be better to melt than to burn. And that somehow burning was more aggressive and maybe a little over-effortful.

Then fast-forward twenty-five years, and I’d gone from a practitioner myself who was over-effortful and trying to burn everything up, to more of a squishy, devotee type of a person. I actually learned about the reality of a practitioner’s life. I learned about what naturally happens the more that you encounter primordial wisdom, or the nature of reality, or the nature of the self.