Bhakti yoga is one of six major branches of yoga, representing the path of self-transcending love or complete devotion to God or the divine. Bhakti yoga is based on the doctrine “Love is God and God is Love”. A practitioner of bhakti yoga regards God as being present in every person or sentient being.
The practices of Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga are not suited to the majority of people in this age, while they have always an irresistible charm for such practices because of their apparent concreteness and promise of speedy rewards. A vast majority of persons have no good physique and robust constitution. They are weaklings. In this age, children beget children. There are baby mothers. Devotion or Bhakti Yoga is, therefore, easy and safe. Any man can repeat the Name of God. Anyone can sing His praise. Without a mother, you cannot have a son. Even so, without one-pointed or single-minded devotion, you cannot have True Knowledge. When Bhakti is fully ripe, Supreme-Knowledge dawns of itself, without much effort on the part of the aspirant.
Any Mantra is very powerful. It purifies the mind. It induces Vairagya (dispassion). It causes thought waves focusing inward. Every Mantra has a Rishi who gave it; a Deity as its informing power; the Bija or seed, a significant word which gives it a special power; a energy of the form of the Mantra, i.e., the vibration-forms set up by its sounds; the Kilaka or the pillar, that which supports and strengthens the Mantra. Kilaka is a sort of plug which conceals the Mantra-Consciousness. By constant and prolonged repetition of the Mantra with right mental attitude and concentration, the Mantra-Consciousness is awakened. There is a spiritual current in all Mantras. A Mantra takes the devotees soul first to one centre and then to another and so on, till access is gained to the goal or final region.
Nine Principles of Bhakti Yoga
The ‘Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu’ provides the following as the nine primary activities of bhakti, with the instruction that by following all or just one of these activities perfectly, the aspiring devotee can achieve pure love of God:
- Sravana. This is the Sanskrit term for listening to poems or stories about God’s virtues and mighty deeds. Sravana bhakti cannot be practiced in isolation. The devotee must hear the stories from a wise teacher and seek the companionship of holy people.
- Kirtana. This refers to the singing or chanting of God’s praises. Ram Dass has said of this form of bhakti, “When you are in love with God, the very sound of the Name brings great joy.”
- Smarana. This is remembrance of God at all times, or keeping God in the forefront of one’s consciousness. In Christian terms, smarana is what the French monk Brother Lawrence (1605–1691) meant by “the practice of the presence of God.”
- Padasevana. This form of bhakti yoga expresses love toward God through service to others, especially the sick.
- Archana. This refers to the worship of God through such external images as icons or religious pictures or through internal visualizations. The purpose of archana is to purify the heart through the love of God.
- Vandana. This refers to prayer and prostration (lying face down on the ground with arms outstretched). This form of bhakti yoga is intended to curb self-absorption and self-centeredness.
- Dasya. In dasya bhakti, the devotee regards him- or herself as God’s slave or servant, carrying out God’s commandments, meditating on the words of God, caring for the sick and the poor, and helping to clean or repair sacred buildings or places.
- Sakha-bhava. This form of bhakti yoga is a cultivation of friendship-love toward God—to love God as a member of one’s family or dearest friend, and delight in companionship with God.
- Atma-nivedana. This is the complete self-offering or self-surrender to God.
Unlike some other forms of yoga, however, bhakti yoga does not teach the devotee to completely lose his or her personal identity through absorption into the divine. God is regarded as infinitely greater than the human worshiper, even one at the highest levels of spiritual attainment.
These nine principles of devotional service are described as helping the devotee remain constantly in touch with God. The processes of chating and internal meditation on the aspirant devotee’s chosen deity form (favorite god) are especially popular in most bhakti schools.
1. Mind – Its Mysteries and Control by Sri Swami Sivananda