By Jayaram V
What bhakti means?
Literally speaking bhakti means, loyalty, surrender, faithfulness,
attachment and devotion. The word is derived from bhakta meaning
a person who is attached or loyal to someone, a worshipper, devotee,
adorer or faithful attendant. Bhakta also means food, boiled or
cooked rice, an offering made in a sacrifice. The concept was probably
rooted in the ancient practices of animal and human sacrifices.
A person who offered himself to the bhokta (eater or deity) as a
sacrifice was a bhakta. Overtime, the practice disappeared, but
with the internalization of sacrificial rituals, the idea stayed.
A bhakta became a devotee who surrendered himself to God and lived
a life of detachment and renunciation full absorbed in the contemplation
Spiritually speaking, bhakti is one of the most sublime human
expressions not easily attained. True bhakti arises in a person
who is filled with the purity of sattva, who is free from worldly
desires and whose sole aim is liberation. A loyal devotee of God
does not seek anything, other than the attention of God or oneness
with Him. He may even act or appear as if he is out of mind.
In spiritual terms bhakti means intense spiritual love and devotion
to God. In true devotion, a person reaches the heights of out of
body and out of mind experiences, suffers frequent mood changes,
loses consciousness or falls into rapturous trance. True devotion
often manifests itself as a kind of divine madness and total indifference
to worldly matters.
Thus, bhakti is not mere devotional feeling or activity. It is
much deeper than that. It is intense yearning of the soul who is
caught in the phenomena of birth and death to become free from the
phenomenal existence in which it is held in captivity. It manifests
in one's being as a powerful emotion which is both of this world
and not of this world. It arises in a mind that is stabilized by
one pointed intelligence and purified in the fire of virtues and
The Bhagavadgita identifies four types of devotees. a person
in distress (arta), the inquisitive (Jignasu), a seeker of wealth
(artharhti) and a man of wisdom (7.16). Of them, declares Lord Krishna,
the man of wisdom, established in single minded and continuous devotion,
is extremely dearer to Him (7.17). Thus absence of desire, stable
mind and pure intelligence are vital to experience deep devotion.
Since the human mind is susceptible to modification and afflictions,
the devotion of worldly people is limited in its purity,
capacity, and intensity.
In many respects it is a poor reflection of true bhakti. It is
a devotion arising from delusion and ignorance, rather than
knowledge and intelligence. From
a religious perspective, it is still better to have worldly devotion
than not having any faith or devotion at all. We may consider it
part of growing and evolving process, an initial stage of inner
awakening, which one has to transcend eventually to experience true
devotion. Worldly devotion is limited in its scope, conditioned
by duality and desires, thrives on emotions, such as fear and greed,
is propelled by the triple qualities and suffers from the weight
of expectations. Like many human emotions, in many respects it is
a disguised from of self-love only in which the ego plays an important
role. Many Asuras in the Puranas were great devotees of Lord Siva.
Their devotion mostly degenerated into pride, ambition and egoism
when their desires were thwarted. True devotion is selfless.
Worldly devotion is selfish. This is the main difference.
Bhakti in liberation
Hinduism suggests many paths to liberation. As the Bhagavadgita
declares, the paths to God are many all paths eventually lead to
the Supreme Self only. However some paths are difficult to pursue.
Some paths lead to other divinities and lesser gods. Some paths
may even lead to one's downfall. However, the consensus opinion
is all paths leads to devotion and devotion culminates in liberation.
This is so because liberation implies oneness and union and none
can reach or become one with Brahman unless one is completely in
harmony and agreement with Him. True union arises only when the
individuality and all notions of separation and duality
disappears from the consciousness. Therefore any union with God, whatever
may be the means, is possible only with surrender, faith, harmony, peace,
unconditional love, acceptance and devotion.
Types of Bhakti
Devotion may arise from any or all the three qualities, namely
sattva, rajas and tamas. On the one extreme is the satvic (selfless)
devotion of the purest kind extolled in the Bhagavadgita by Lord
Krishna (12:13 - 12:20), which is selfless and pure and which leads
to liberation and bliss. Next comes the rajasic (egoistic) form of
devotion, which seeks to use devotion as a means to gain physical,
mental or spiritual powers to further ones own
interests or selfish desires. The third one is the tamasic
(deluded and psychotic) devotion which is practiced by deluded
people using cruel and painful methods such as animal and human
sacrifices, extreme forms of self-torture and self-mortification
with an aim to harm others or gain control over things and
objects. Devotion may also be practiced physically in the form
of rituals, fasting and sacrifices, mentally in the form of
prayers and chants or spiritually in the form of meditation,
concentration, detachment and renunciation.
How devotion is practiced in Hindu tradition
In the Bhaktisutras, Narada describes bhakti in the following
That is highest love, that is like Amrit, finding which, a person
becomes perfect, becomes immortal, becomes satisfied, finding which,
he desires nothing more, neither grieves, nor hates, neither engages
and not gets enthusiastic about anything else, having known which,
he becomes as if drugged, lost as if, stunned, surprised, and dwells
in his own self. By nature bhakti is free of desire, possessing
the nature of unconcern towards worldly affairs, exclusive devotion
toward That (God), and unconcern toward any thing that contradicts
it, giving up of other shelters, and exclusively taking the shelter
of That (God). Even when interacting with this world, or conducting
worldly affairs, living according to That (God), and having unconcern
toward anything that contradicts That (God).
The Mahabhagavatam describes nine forms of bhakti or devotional
services which are listed below.
- Shravanam: Listening the stories and glories of God.
- Kirtanam: Singing or Reciting the names and glories of God.
- Smaranam: Recalling God and His exploits.
- Pada-sevanam: Waiting on Him.
- Archanam: Ritual Worship of God’s forms or images.
- Vandanam: Prostration to God.
- Dasyam: Service to His personality or incarnation.
- Sakhyam: Befriending Him.
- Atma-nivedanam: Dedicating oneself to him, heart and soul.
The 'Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu' (written by Rupa Gosvami) states
the following nine primary activities of bhakti, with the instruction
that by following all, or just one or any of them, a devotee can
secure the love of God:
1) Hearing about the Lord - singing & chanting God's names
(japa), hearing stories from scripture.
2) Glorifying the Lord - describing God's all-attractive features.
3) Remembering the Lord - internal meditation on the Lord's form,
activities, names or personality.
4) Serving the lotus feet of the Lord - providing a form of physical
5) Worshiping the Lord - deity worship (arcana) is a popular
form of this within India.
6) Offering prayers to the Lord - any form of prayer offered
to please God.
7) Serving the Lord - offering a service for Lord's pleasure,
such as preaching activity.
8) Building a friendship with the Lord - having an internal,
loving relationship with God.
9) Surrendering everything unto the Lord - surrendering one's
thoughts, actions and deeds to God.
Is devotion to many gods and goddesses helpful?
Popular form of Hindu worship involves worship of many gods
and goddesses. When you visit a Hindu temple, it is customary to
worship all the deities installed there. Throughout the year,
Hindus celebrate many festivals and worship many deities. In the
Bhagavadgita Lord Krishna clearly says that those who worship
the lesser gods go them while those who worship Him (Brahman.
Isvara or Supreme Self) will go to Him only. The ideal practice,
therefore, is to worship the Highest God only, in whatever form
one may chose to envision Him and stick to that. This will help
the worshippers to stabilize his mind in that deity and gradually
develop affinity with God and advance on the path.
If liberation is the aim this is the ideal practice. The mind
should remain focused on one thought, one image and one deity.
If one persists in this practice, then someday that image will
come to life and guide the worshipper on the path of liberation.
Then that Deity will take care of all the needs and wants of His
devotee and rescue him for the cycle of births and deaths. If
one want to achieve liberation in this life, this is the best
practice. However, if one is not serious about salvation in the
current life, but wants to prepare for that in some future life,
without sacrificing his worldly aims, then one may indulge in
rites and rituals and worship any number of deities seeking
boons and favors. Such practices would not lead to liberation,
but to the other three aims of human life, namely dharma, artha
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