Bhakti Yoga; An Introduction

Bhakti Yoga is known as Yoga of love and devotion; it is a path of complete surrender and devotion to the divine. That divinity can have any form; guru, saint, god, goddesses, nature or even teachings. Bhakti Yoga shows us the process to awaken wisdom of the heart. This wisdom of the heart sprouts in the form of unwavering compassion, love, faith, service and surrender in our life.

Literally Bhakti comes from root word ‘bhaj’- means to adore, love, serve. Tradition of Bhakti Yoga suits most to someone who is devotional in nature. It is easier for them to follow the teachings of Bhakti Yoga in their lives. In bhakti there is intense concentration on the object of devotion. All of energies is focused on just one object of contemplation, love and devotion. It is a process of unwavering devotion.

Tradition of bhakti yoga is universal system; found across all religions and faiths. It is the path of widening one’s awareness and consciousness from identification of little ‘I’ (Ego) to higher reality or concept of divinity. The aim is to reduce personal whims, conflicts and disharmony which tend to limit one’s awareness.

Bhakti YogaProcess of Bhakti Yoga helps one to transcend the limitations of lower  or restrictive emotions. It uplifts one’s energy and awareness from from the realms of ego-centric limiting emotions to transpersonal dimension. It is the path, a process which helps transcending the ego. Bhakti yoga is also a path of transcending the intellect through the wisdom of the heart. It is a means  and process to channel our energies and release our pent up emotions.

When emotions are pent up and suppressed, it often expresses in the forms of violence, self-destruction and aggression. Hence Bhakti Yoga is very relevant in modern age where there is limited opportunities to express one’s emotions in a positive, healthy and healing ways. When emotions are channeled and concentrated in a healthy manner then one’s mind gets calm and concentrated as well.

If one doesn’t feel devotionally awakened then there is no need to follow this path. It is seen following other paths of yoga eventually there is spontaneous awakening of bhakti (Devotion) as well. Bhakti or ability to love, share, serve are inherent in every one. Path of bhakti creates inner ecstasy and bliss. It is considered as quickest ways to expand and liberate the consciousness from suffering and its limitations.

In Bhakti there is expression of unconditional love. This form of love is for the sake of love without any expectations. Whereas ego-centred love restricts one to the finite realms of ego and its boundaries.  Therefore this love often returns the favor with emotions such as anger, depression, hatred, revenge, jealousy and sadness. Because it is directed towards finite and transient which constantly changes and bring suffering. Whereas the hallmark of bhakti yoga as Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh puts it; is LOVE, SERVE and GIVE.

Modes of Unfolding Bhakti

In Sri Madbhagwatam there are nine modes/methods of unfolding bhakti (These can also be rephrased as types of Bhakti):

  1. Shravanam: Means hearing. It is a tradition of hearing stories about the divine incarnations, saints, gurus such as Rama, Krishna, Christ, Buddha and so forth.
  2. Kirtanam: Means Singing. Singing and chanting the names of the divine is another form of Bhakti Yoga found again across all traditions of spirituality and religion.
  3. Smaranam: Remembrance. A continual remembrance of divinity in any form like a mantra, names of god, goddesses, saints etc.

Benefits of Shravanam, Kirtanam and Smaranam

  • These three modes of bhakti tend to harmonize the mind and remove any mental blockages, helping the mind to become more receptive, peaceful and vibrant.
  • These process of Bhakti help to unfold aspirations to develop divine qualities in one’s life.
  • Modes of bhakti such as Smaranam (remembrance) and Kirtanam (Singing) involve continuous concentration and one pointedness of mind.
  1. Pada Sevanam: Service to the guru or service done in the name of the divine or even humanity.

This involves serving one’s guru or doing work in the name of the divine without carrying any expectations or longing for a return for one’s service. It means doing seva (service) without being influence by one’s selfish desires and aspirations. Principles of Karma yoga are  included in this mode of bhakti, where quintessence of teaching is to perform one’s action/duty without getting identified with the outcomes (result of action).

  1. Archanam: Ritualistic worship and offerings.

This is a ritualistic form of bhakti, involving certain rules and methods. This can be powerful when done with awareness and feelings. This is an integral part of most religions and traditions of spirituality including Tantra. Branches of Raja Yoga, Hatha yoga, Kundalini Yoga etc. are grouped under this form of bhakti. When one does ritualistic asasas, kriyas and meditations to awaken the divine consciousness or energies with awareness and feelings. One of the important aspects of this bhakti is that process of ritual should not be mechanical. Rather these methods/rules or process are used to attune one’s Head (Intellect), Heart (emotions) and Hands (behavioral expressions) with the desired deity or divine forms.

  1. Vandanam: Mental worship of everyone and everything as being the form of divinity.

In this form bhakta worships every form of manifestation as creation and part of divinity. In various philosophies such as Tantras, Puranas, Vedanta and even in the tradition of Sikkhism the practitioner sees every aspects of creation as manifestation or the form of goddess, shiva, Brahman or one divine source.

  1. Dasyam: the feeling of being in the total servitude to the divine. Here practitioner drops one’s ego and surrenders one’s entire life to object of worship. This is the process of complete surrender of one’s ego or personal whims and desires.
  1. Sakhyam: the attitude of friendship. At this stage bhakta (devotee) enjoys personal and friendly terms with the supreme. He treats the supreme as his/her close friend.
  1. Atma Nivedanam: Total surrender of the self. This leads to the perfect union where the lover, loving and the loved become one. This is the way of complete submission to one’s god, deity or Guru. Example of Mira bai.

These are nine approaches of Bhakti Marga (path or tradition). These nine approaches together in Indian spiritual traditions, are popularly known as Nava Vidha Bhakti (Nava=Nine, Vidha=approach).

About author
Sushant Pandey

Sushant is Meditation & Philosophy Teacher and Academic Director at Rishikesh Yogis. Sushant carries long years of experience teaching practical as well as philosophical aspects of Kundalini yoga, Kriya yoga, Hatha Yoga and Tantra philosophy.