What is Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti or devotion holds a very unique and important place on the path to God. It's very common that all the yoga traditions are described as spokes of a wheel that all lead to the same hub (spiritual enlightenment).
Generally, four yoga traditions are described (with the remainder falling into subgroups of these), and the type of temperament that is attracted to that tradition:
- Jnana (or Gyan) Yoga - philosophical and intellectual temperament
- Bhakti Yoga - emotional temperment
- Raja Yoga - mystical and scientific temperament
- Karma Yoga - active temperament
In actual fact, there are many paths of heart and mind purification expressed through many types of physical and mental practices, but there is only one path to God - the path of grace or bhakti. If a path or practice is to have a divine outcome, it must include or culminate in bhakti.
Although it is natural to think your temperament or inclination determines the right path for you, in actual fact each path has "eligibility requirements". For example, there are very specific guidelines for those who wish to practice nondual meditation or jnana yoga, just as there are for those who wish to begin a practice of bhakti yoga.
A more correct relationship of all the paths would look like this:
The style of your realization will be determined by your previous practice, whether that was to experience God's love and beauty or to merge into absolute truth, but reaching that perfected state is only through the grace of the personal form of God.
Through bhakti yoga we join our heart and mind with God through devotion to receive divine grace. Grace is the power that enlightens us with spiritual realization; bhakti is the means by which we attain grace.
Bhakti yoga for the attainment of divine love
When you hear the word "bhakti" you may think of a feeling, but bhakti is a divine power. Bhakti is also called divine love.
It is such an astonishing power that when great Jnani Saints absorbed in absolute truth come into contact with it, their bliss of impersonal divinity and state of divine samadhi is forcibly replaced by the sweetness of divine love. This is because bhakti is the supreme personal power of God.
We can understand its greatness in comparison to other divine powers (power is shakti). According to the Vedic scriptures, there are three eternal existences:
- Swaroop Shakti - the power related to God's own personality, also called 'chit shakti' or 'antaranga shakti' or the most intimate power of God
- Jeev Shakti -- all the individual souls who are dominated by maya, also called 'tatastha shakti' or the marginal power of God
- Maya Shakti -- the material power between the souls and God; also called 'bahiranga shakti' or the external power of God
Both the souls and maya are dependent powers of God. Plus, one supreme God has countless names, forms and powers that are related to His own personal power, swaroop shakti.
Swaroop shakti has three aspects: existence (sat), knowledge (chit), and bliss (ananda). These three qualities are God's personality. This is detailed in the diagram below:
Each of these qualities or aspects also has a power associated with it:
- Existence (sat) is related to the power of creation (sandhini shakti);
- Knowledge (chit) is related to the power of omniscience (samvit shakti);
- Bliss (ananda) is related to the power that imparts bliss (hladini shakti)
Hladini shakti, the power of bliss, is the sweetest and most potent divine power. It is due to this power that even though God creates uncountable worlds populated by uncountable souls who are performing uncountable actions, and He is keeping an account of those actions every moment, He still remains ever-blissful.
Hladini shakti also includes within itself the other two powers. For example, if you say, "the big black horse", "big" and "black" are adjectives that describe "horse". Similarly, "sat" and "chit" describe "ananda". God's bliss or ananda is eternal and unlimited. As sat and chit are included within ananda, the powers of sandhini and samvit are included within hladini, the power of bliss.
Further, hladini shakti has an essence that is called 'bhakti', 'siddha bhakti' and also 'divine love'. This divine bhakti is synonymous with supreme God in the form of Radha Krishna.
The spiritual enlightenment of divine bhakti is received through your practice of devotional bhakti or bhakti yoga. In other words:
- You do devotional bhakti (preparatory or sadhana bhakti), then,
- You receive divine bhakti (siddha bhakti) with God's grace after your heart has become completely purified through devotional bhakti.
Preliminary Devotion of Bhakti Yoga
The path to God is love (bhakti). Love is true affection, caring and relatedness we share with someone. Love is always based in relationship - in other words, what inspires our love always has a form.
We may have general feelings of goodwill that we call "love for humanity", but the feelings between you and your significant other have an unique quality of affection. Humanity is an impersonal concept - but "my beloved" is something tangible, nearby and highly personal.
In bhakti yoga meditation, we direct our affectionate nature and our desire for love to a Divine subject -- the personality and form of God. These feelings are awakened, elevated and perfected through the grace of the Guru. The writings and experiences of Rasik Saints are used as a base to develop our devotional imagination. They reveal a true glimpse into the actual name form, qualities, actions, beauty and love of God.
Nondual forms of meditation require you to eliminate, observe or transcend your thoughts or mental activity, but in bhakti yoga meditation our aim is to keep deepening and multiplying the thoughts, but of Divine subjects. It is more natural for the mind to form loving attachments than it is to eliminate thoughts.
The mind adopts the qualities of whatever it meditates on. Deep and affectionate meditation on a divine personality -- either God (Radha Krishna) or the true Rasik Saint (the Guru who has attained Divine bhakti) purifies the mind and introduces the bliss of Divine love in your heart. The grace of the Guru inspires a true and natural feeling of connection, love and relatedness with Radha Krishna.
For our preliminary devotion to be successful, there are five main points:
- Keep your devotion free of all material desire
- Don't combine your bhakti practice with other spiritual practices
- Remember Radha Krishna with feelings of relational love
- Be single-minded
- Do loving remembrance
Advanced and Final Stages of Bhakti
The amazingly complex and enriched stages of bhakti start to unfold from this point on the base of your devotional dedication and the Guru's grace.
This makes bhakti yoga a very simple meditation process and the easiest to practice that yields the greatest spiritual benefits in the shortest time. Anyone can begin bhakti yoga meditation - the only prerequisites are a desire for God and faith.
It's important to bear in mind that your spiritual realization of divine love or divine bhakti is determined by four things:
- the style of your meditation practice: bhakti yoga
- the divine goal of your practice: divine love or Radha Krishna
- the state of divine realization of your Guru: Rasik Saint
- The grace of God and Guru
These four factors form an interrelated process that is guided by the Guru. The Guru explains the divine goal he has achieved to the disciple, he gives the guidelines for what is required to attain that goal, and bestows spiritual enlightenment on the qualified disciple in the end.