The Science of Bhakti Yoga

Om Vishnupad 108 Tridandi Swami Sri Srimat Bhakti Sravan Tirtha Goswami Maharaj ki Jai !!


In simple terms Bhakti Yoga means communion or “connecting” with God through love and devotion.

The simplest definition of Bhakti is found in the ninth chapter of Bhagavad Gita where Lord Krishna says, “If one offers me with love a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” Bhakti is any interaction with God with love from the bottom of one's heart. It is that simple. That’s why Bhakti Yoga is extremely simple to follow (as long as the devotee has the "right Bhava" or sentiment 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, satsang (being in the company of devotees); 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. The seeker progresses on the spiritual path by maintaining the right Bhava (inner sentiment) in their Upasana (efforts to please God).

In Bhakti there is clear reciprocation from the Lord, because as much as we are attracted to God and desire to serve Him, so does he long to receive our loving service.

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. Because to know God is to love Him.

The fruit of Bhakti is gyan (knowledge). Knowledge intensifies love. Even great gyanis like Shankaracharya, Vyas and Sukhdev took to Bhakti after Self-realization to enjoy the sweetness of a loving relationship with God. Bhakti is the most direct, easy and smooth path to God. It is the means as well as the end of our spiritual hunger.

In reality Bhakti is a natural process that cannot be taught. Just as we do not need to be taught to love our children, brothers and sisters. It comes naturally. Bhakti has to be present inside one’s heart which expresses itself in the form of service and love towards the Lord. Just as water flows downstream without any effort, so also Bhakti (devotion) flows from the heart of the Bhakta towards his preferred God.

The ultimate objective of Bhakti (or Bhakti Yoga) is the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul - Liberation or Self-Realization. But this rarely is the objective in the initial stages of Bhakti Yoga. Most of the times Bhakti is Sakaam (devotion with objective of attaining some material goal). There is nothing wrong with Sakaam Bhakti. In fact every devotee always starts with Sakaam Bhakti. It is next to impossible to find an example of a devotee who directly started with Nishkam (selfless or desire-less) Bhakti without doing Sakaam Bhakti first.

Nava-vidha Bhakti (The Nine Methods of Bhakti)

The Bhagavata Purana teaches the nine definitive methods of Bhakti, as explained by Prahlada. They are Sravana ("listening" to the scriptural stories of Lord Krishna, Sri Rama etc.), Kirtana (singing and chanting His names and glories), Smarana (remembrance or fixing the mind on God), Pada sevana (rendering loving service to His Lotus Feet), Archana (worshiping an image), Vandana (glorifying and paying homage), Dasya (servitude), Sakhya (friendship) and Atmanivedana (complete surrender of the self). 

The Vedas exhort us to develop a relationship with God. This could be in any of the following moods: as a parent or son; as a friend, a servant, a lover or even as an enemy or rival. Many characters in Hindu scriptures who envied and hated the Lord, ended up achieving liberation.

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

Bhakti is 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. 

All human beings fall into two categories, devotees (Bhaktas) and 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 does not believe, or who has not served the learned or to one who dislikes me". He also says in Chapter 7, verses 15 and 16: " 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 negative reactions are ended, and who are freed from the illusion of opposites that walk to me with firm determination". 

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 preliminary 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 Being, 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 reciprocates and protects the Bhakta by his Grace in his efforts.

Para-Bhakti is obviously a 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 a long time (even decades), before a devotee becomes Para-Bhakta. Para Bhakti can never be achieved with the devotees’ efforts, it comes to the Bhakta as the Grace of God as his mind is purified with loving service 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-Realization or Liberation. 

Another classification of Bhakti is Sakaam (motivated) and Nishkam (unmotivated) Bhakti. Sakaam Bhakti is devotion with desire for some material gain. A person who wants problems solved in life prays to God with the motive of material gain. Other 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 Sakaam Bhakti (Bhakti with material objective). Ideally love has to be Nishkam (for the sake of love only) but God still responds to Sakaam Bhakti. It is like the mother who loves all her children equally the sincere one (Nishkam Bhakta) as well as the naughty one (Sakaam Bhakta). 

Gradually, from Sakaam-Bhakti, some devotees progress 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 Sakaam-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 Sakaam Bhakti.

The sadhak should always aspire for nishkam bhakti even if he is doing sakaam-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 the mind, the three expressions of Bhakti (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) are called Guna Bhakti as distinguished from Mukhya Bhakti which is devotion transcending the Gunas. Gauna-Bhakti is a lower form of Bhakti while Mukhya-Bhakti is higher type of Bhakti. 

A Bhakta should go from stage to stage. Sakaam-Bhakti is a stage before Nishkam Bhakti. The sincere devotee should gradually move from Gauna-Bhakti to Mukhya-Bhakti or from Apara Bhakti to Para Bhakti. 

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; completely surrender to me and me alone". 

This is the simple definition of performing Bhakti!


Jai Gurudev !

Jai Jai Sri Radhey !!