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 Bhakti Yoga: What is Bhakti and How to do Bhakti?
  Topics
siddha yoga blue What is Bhakti Yoga?
siddha yoga blue Why Bhakti Yoga is a Science?
siddha yoga blue What is Bhakti?
siddha yoga blue Navavidha Bhakti (Nine forms of Bhakti)
siddha yoga blue Bhakti is Only for Believers in God (Bhaktas)
siddha yoga blue Types of Bhakti
siddha yoga blue How to do Bhakti?
siddha yoga blue How God Protects the Bhakta?

God is love. Bhakti is the experience of that divine love. Bhakti is essential for attaining Gyan (Knowledge of Self)
What is Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti Yoga is a very beautiful way to show love for the Divine. Bhakti Yoga is spiritual practice based on love and devotion towards God. It is done to unfold yourself continually and to endeavor, continually, to get nearer to the God.

In Sanskrit, the term Bhakti translates to "devotion" or "love". The term Bhakti comes from the root "Bhaj", which means "to be attached to God" and the word "Yoga" means "Union with God". So Bhakti Yoga translates to "Devotion or love to attain union with God".

Bhakti Yoga is one of the simplest and most powerful of all Yogas. It is suitable for vast majority of persons because it doesn’t involve extensive Yogic practices. Bhakti Yoga’s aim is a form of divine, loving union with the Supreme Lord. The exact form of the Lord, or type of union varies between the different individuals. The common forms of Lord are Lord Sri Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Shankar, Kali Mata and so on.

Bhakti Yoga is a progressive path; we start by giving some of what we do or have to Ishta-Devata (one’s preferred form of God) and end with giving everything to him (or her). Ultimately, we won’t want anything except his pleasure, and when he’s happy we’re happy - this is Prem Bhakti, or Ahaituki Bhakti or pure devotion.

Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavat Purana are the main Bhakti Vedanta texts. Bhakti Yoga falls within the realm of Vedanta dualism, which states that the soul is an eternal individual and has an eternal relationship with God. [Vedanta non-dualism proposes that there is no individuality of God and after Mukti (liberation) the liberated soul merges with universal consciousness.]

In simple words Bhakti Yoga is the science of getting closer to God by developing pure love towards him.

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Why Bhakti Yoga is a Science?
Technically every Yoga is an exact science. It aims at the harmonious development of body, mind and soul. Bhakti Yoga is a science because there are definite steps that one can apply, and when applied correctly with the right Bhava (feelings) within Antahkarana (mind, intellect & egoism together), communion with the divine, though very difficult, is achieved. You WILL get definite results as long as you have patience and right Bhava behind your Upasana (efforts).

The results of Bhakti Yoga are - Attaining your short-term material Goal and the long-term spiritual Goal of Mukti (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) eventually.

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What is Bhakti?
The simplest definition of Bhakti is found in the ninth chapter of Bhagavad Gita where Lord Krishna says, “If one offers me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” Bhakti is any offering to the God with the love from the bottom of your heart. It is that simple. That’s why Bhakti Yoga is extremely simple to follow (as long as the devotee has the "right Bhava" within him or her).

Bhakti or devotion takes various forms. Prayer, Pooja (worship), Japa (repetition of God"s name), Kirtan (chanting), Anusandhan (conscious remembrance), meditation, self- surrender are all forms of Bhakti.

Bhakti means unfolding yourself before God. The more you unfold yourself, the more guidance you receive (from within) and the more power you manifest. The more Bhakti you develop the more protection you will receive from the divine in your worldly life. Seeker progresses on the spiritual path by maintaining ideal Bhava (inner feeling) during their Upasana (efforts to please God). Bhakti is not mere emotionalism but is the turning of the will as well as the intellect towards the divine. There is no difference between Gyan (Knowledge of Self) and Bhakti.

In reality Bhakti is a natural process that cannot be taught. Bhakti has to be present inside one"s heart which expresses itself in the form of service & love towards the Lord. Just as water flows in a river 24/7, so also Bhakti (devotion) is flowing within a real Bhakta.

Primary objective of Bhakti (or Bhakti Yoga) is the union with the Divine will - The Liberation or Self-Realization. But this rarely is the objective in the initial stages of Bhakti Yoga. Most of the times Bhakti is Sakam (Bhakti done with objective of attaining some material goal). There is nothing wrong with Sakam Bhakti. In fact every devotee always starts with Sakam Bhakti. I do not think we will find an example of a devotee who directly started with Nishkam (selfless or desire-less) Bhakti without doing Sakam Bhakti first.

Bhakti eventually leads Bhakta to the God. Para (supreme) Bhakti and Gyan (self-knowledge) are one and the same. Knowledge dawns in that mind that is purified by selfless service and devotion to the God.

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Navavidha Bhakti (Nine forms of Bhakti)
Bhagavata Purana teaches nine primary forms of Bhakti, as explained by Prahlada. These are nine rungs in Navavidha Bhakti. They are Sravana ("listening" to the scriptural stories of Krishna and his companions), Kirtana (singing His names), Smarana (remembrance or fixing mind on God), Padasevana (rendering service of His feet), Archana (worshiping an image), Vandana (paying homage), Dasya (servitude), Sakhya (friendship) and Atmanivedana (complete surrender of the self).

These nine principles of devotional service are described to help the devotee remain constantly in touch with God (Anusandhan). The processes of Japa and internal meditation on the aspirant devotees’ chosen deity form (Ishta-Devata) are essential.

Bhakti is the basic nature for advanced seekers in Bhakti Yoga. They generally do not need external help or guidance to progress in Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti is their life, Bhakti comes to them naturally. Bhakti is spontaneous and effortless for advanced follower of Bhakti Yoga just as swimming is for a swimmer.

But what about those who want to follow the God’s path and dont know exactly how to do it best? What about those who have done some kind of Bhakti in their current (and previous lives) but are not advanced followers of Bhakti Yoga? The best approach is to use any combination of the nine principles of devotional service described above. This will help the devotee to remain constantly in touch with God (remain in Anusandhan) that will lead Bhakta to God eventually.

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Bhakti is Only for Believers in God (Bhaktas)
All human beings fall into two categories, the devotees (Bhaktas) and the non-devotees (Abhaktas). Bhakti path is not for everyone. Lord Krishna says Bhakti Yoga is ONLY for "Bhaktas" and NOT for "Abhaktas".

In Chapter 18, verses 67 Krishna says, "This (Gita) is not to be communicated to one who is not disciplined, or who is not a devotee, or who has not served the learned or to one who dislikes me". He also says in Chapter 7, verses 15 and 16: "The lowest among men, those of wicked deeds, and the foolish ones, do not resort to me; for their mind is overcome by Maya (illusion) and their nature is "Asuri" (demonic), inclined to worldly pleasures. Four kinds of people of good deeds turn to me-those who are in distress, or who search for knowledge, or who desire worldly goods, or the truly wise". The Lord further elaborates in the 28th verse of the same chapter "It is only those with good deeds whose sins are ended, and who are freed from the spell of opposites that walk to me with firm determination".

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Types of Bhakti
According to the Bhagavad Gita, one of the classifications of Bhakti is Apara (lower) and Para (higher) Bhakti, each directed towards a different type of object. Apara-Bhakti is for beginners in Yoga. Apara-Bhakti in fact is the starting point; on that account it is also the premature stage of Bhakti. The beginner decorates an image with flowers, rings the bell, offers garlands and Naivedya (food-offerings), wave lights; he observes rituals and ceremonies. The Bhakta here regards the Lord as a Supreme individual, who is based in that image and who can be propitiated through that form. Bhakta may revere other forms of God but the one he loves most becomes his aim of devotion.

Gradually, from Apara-Bhakti, the devotee goes to Para-Bhakti, the highest form of Bhakti. Para-Bhakta (those who have Para-Bhakti) sees the Lord and Lord alone everywhere and feels his Power manifest as the entire universe - "Thou art all-pervading”. Para-Bhaktas therefore sail effortlessly through all the currents of life, gaining merit on the way through love and adoration of a manifestation of God, who responds and protects Bhakta by his Grace to their prayers. Para-Bhakti is obviously more difficult path and is possible only for a small minority of adepts (advanced Bhaktas). Most of the times Apara-Bhakti and Para-Bhakti go together hand-in-hand for several years (say decades) before devotee becomes Para-Bhakta. Para Bhakti can never be achieved with efforts, it comes to Bhakta as his mind is purified with the services to God over period of several decades (or lives). Para-Bhakta has reached to a stage where he even has no desire for the Self-Knowledge or liberation.

Another classification of Bhakti is Sakam and Nishkam Bhakti. Sakam Bhakti is devotion with desire for material gains. A man who wants problems solved in life prays God with motive of material gain. Other man wants a child or wants freedom from diseases and therefore does Seva, Japa and Upasana. Another one wants wealth and does Upasana with this aim. This is called Sakam Bhakti (Bhakti with material objective). Ideally love has to be Nishkam (for the sake of love) but God still responds to Sakam Bhakti. It is like the mother who loves all her children equally the studious one (Nishkam Bhakta) as well as the naughty one (Sakam Bhakta).

Gradually, from Sakam-Bhakti, some devotees (not all) go to Nishkam-Bhakti, which is the highest form of Bhakti. Nishkam-Bhakta has no expectation of fruits. He wants God and God alone. It is divine love for love"s sake.

In Sakam-Bhakti, God will certainly give you whatever you want, if your Bhakti is intense and if your prayers are sincerely offered from the bottom of your heart. At the same time it should be remembered that the Bhakta will NOT get supreme bliss and Moksha through Sakam Bhakti. Sakam Bhakti stays at the worldly level.

Ideally Bhakti should always be Nishkam Bhakti. We should be contented with what God givens us. This form of Bhakti is extremely difficult. Sadhak should always aspire for Nishkam Bhakti even if he is doing Sakam-Bhakti (which most of them do understand and try to achieve).

Bhakti is also classified into Guna-Bhakti and Mukhya-Bhakti. As Bhakti is based on the qualities of mind. Three expressions of Bhakti (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) are called Guna Bhakti as distinguished from Mukhya Bhakti which is devotion bereft of all Gunas. Gauna-Bhakti is lower form of Bhakti while Mukhya-Bhakti is higher type of Bhakti.

Bhakta should go from stage to stage. Sakam-Bhakti is a stage before Nishkam Bhakti. Devotee should gradually move from Gauna-Bhakti to Mukhya-Bhakti or from Apara Bhakti to Para Bhakti.

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How to do Bhakti?
Lord Krishna says to Arjuna (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18, verses 65-66) - "Let your mind be constantly directed towards me; be devoted to me; dedicate all your actions to me; prostrate yourself before me; achieve complete surrender to me and me alone".

This is simple definition of doing Bhakti!

Lord Krishna says to Arjuna after exhibiting His Virat Swaroop (cosmic form) Chapter 11, verses 53-55 - "It is not possible to see me as you have done through the study of the Vedas or by austerities or gifts or by sacrifice; it is only by one-pointed devotion (Bhakti) to me and me alone that you thus see and know me as I am in reality and ultimately reach me. It is he alone who dedicates all his notions and actions to me with a knowledge of my superiority, my devotee with no attachment and who has no enmity to any living being that can reach me". Bhakti therefore, is the only way to the true knowledge of God and the surest way to reach Him.

Let us consider an example from material life.

Boy sees a girl that he really likes. He is attracted, He wants to do something for her to let her know he cares for her but he doesn’t really know her at all. He tried to find out from friends what she may like and buys her a gift or flowers. This is expression of love. This is sign that his heart (which is in love) cannot keep quiet. Bhakti is the same - love towards the divine which must express itself in various forms of expressions - Navavidha Bhakti.

Bhakti is a state of being in contact with the one you love. To love one needs another person or object. Similarly, to do Bhakti one needs an aim or object for Bhakti - which is form of God. There cannot be Bhakti without an object (form of God). You cannot be devotee of a vacuum. You cannot love just a concept of God. You need to create a form of God to love him. Bhakti cannot be done in absence of an image of God (physical or in mind). That is the basic logic behind drawing picture of God or Image or God. This is the foundation behind idol worshiping in Hinduism. This is the reasoning behind 33 Crore Gods (so many forms of the same God). There is only one God in this universe but there can be millions of his forms depending on millions of Bhaktas of this world.

Most of the times the ideal form of God is one’s Ishta-Devata - Lord Sri Krishna, Lord Shankar, Kali Mata and so on. Devotee serves his Ishta-Devata with Bhava (inner feeling), Prem (love) and Bhakti (devotion).

Here is how Swami Sivananda explains how to perform Bhakti: “Select an Ishta Devata (a favorite deity) - either Siva, Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, Dattatreya, Gayatri or Sakti - according to the advice of your Guru, or your own inclination. Get the proper Mantra (a mystic formula). Then keep a picture of that particular Deity in front of you in the meditation room. For six months gaze steadily at the picture from fifteen seconds to fifteen minutes. Concentrate on the figure, without winking, until the tears flow profusely. Study the scriptures constantly - the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, the Narada Bhakti Sutras and the Sandilya Sutras. Live for one year in a holy place. Pass through the course of Nava Vidha Bhakti (nine devotional practices). Repeat your mantra constantly. Sleep only for three hours. Select an attitude suitable for you Madhurya Sakhya, Dasya or Vatsalya (lover beloved, friend, servant or mother child). Make ungrudging, unreserved, true, perfect self-surrender to God. Pray from the bottom of your heart. Prayer can move mountains. Prayer can reach a realm wherein reason can hardly enter. Have devotion to one ideal. Bhakti must be unswerving, one pointed, single minded devotion. Slowly develop Anuraga Prema, Priti, Viraha (pain of separation from God), Bhava, and Maha Bhava (stages or states of God love). In Maha Bhava the devotee is unconscious of his body and the world. He is absolutely merged in God. From lower Bhakti the devotee passes on to higher (Para) Bhakti. A devotee gets progressive emancipation after passing through salokya sampiya sarupya and sayujya mukti stages in emancipation or liberation.”

What all can you do as part of Bhakti?

Swami Sivananda continues “Live in the company of saints and hear of the divine sport of God, study the sacred scriptures. Worship Him first in His several forms as manifested in the world. Worship any image or picture of the Lord or the guru. Recite His name, sing His glories. Stay for a year in Brindavan or Ayodhya, Chitrakute, Pandharpur, Benares, or Ananda Kutir. You will develop love for the Lord. Every act must be done that awakens the emotion of bhakti. Keep the room of worship clean, decorate it, burn incense, light a lamp, keep a clean seat, bathe and wear clean clothes. Apply ash and kumkum (sacred red powder worn on the forehead by devotees). Practice of right conduct, keeping company with the holy, repetition of God"s name, remembrance, singing of the names of the Lord, prayer, worship, service of saints, residence in places of pilgrimage.”

This is how one can do Bhakti. There can be several other ways or expressions of Bhakti depending on character and inclination of Bhakta.

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How God Protects the Bhakta?
Yogakshemam Vahamyaham:
Declares Lord Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, “I shall ensure the safety and well-being of my devotees!” Lord says “I will take care of the material and spiritual needs of those who constantly think of me”….and He keeps his word, Always, Without fail....I have experienced this many times in my personal life.

Why should God protect Bhakta, you ask?

I would ask: What is use of the God who cannot protect Bhakta in his life? Why should one even believe in God if he is helpless?

Fortunately, the God is biased for those who believe in him and do sincere spiritual efforts by preying and worshiping him. God is rightly said to be very kind even though he is stern in punishing the wrong-doers and sinful persons (that is how law of Karma works) with merciful intention to improve them. The fact is: God is absolutely keen to help you in facing your Prarabdha provided you turn your mind away from gross desires and confess your sins committed open-heartedly with tearful eyes and start behaving properly hereafter in right earnest in obedience to his orders keeping your face towards him only.

God is considered omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient who always protects his Bhaktas (devotees.) If you live a life of deep love for God, you will begin to see life very differently. For your life truly can become a magical experience. Invisible hand will always be guiding you in the right direction and protecting you in certain events. You will begin to see that divine hand which upholds the universe guiding your life. In Bhakta’s life, he will have many magical experiences that were not prayed for or asked by him in any way. As unlikely as the outcomes would occur, these amazing experiences will be a demonstration of God’s Love, presence and Grace in one’s life. This will be a reward for devotee’s sincere practice of Bhakti Yoga. Bhakta eventually comes to a realization that the Divine is taking care of most of the things (events) of his life.

Consider God as a mother in a smaller comparison. Mother is always stern to her child even though she is merciful and sometimes she is biased and changes the rules because of her love towards the child.

Lord Krishna says: "I am not in my control. I am in the complete control of my Bhaktas (devotees). They have taken entire possession of my heart. How can I leave them when they have taken entire possession of my heart? How can I leave them when they have renounced everything for my sake? He who seeks me in all things, and all things in me - to him I am never lost, nor he to me."

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Yoga is an exact science. It aims at the harmonious development of body, mind and soul. Everyone should follow one Yoga as their primary Yoga (based on their character). Then we must combine Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Gyan Yoga. This “Yoga Synthesis” will lead one to the God.
    
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Kundalini Yoga is also known by the names: Siddha Yoga, Sahaj Yoga, Shaktipat Yoga, Maha Yoga, Shakti Yoga or Kriya Yoga