Bhakti Yoga: the Yoga of Devotion

Bhakti Yoga is one of the four main yogic paths to enlightenment. Bhakti means “devotion” or “love” and this path contains various practices to unite the bhakta (Bhakti Yoga practitioner) with the Divine. Bhakti Yoga is considered the easiest yogic path to master and the most direct method to experience the unity of mind, body, and spirit. While Hatha Yoga requires a strong and flexible body, Raja Yoga requires a disciplined and concentrated mind, and Jnana Yoga requires a keen intellect, the only requirement for Bhakti Yoga is an open, loving heart. But Bhakti Yoga complements other paths of yoga well, and it is said that jnana (knowledge or wisdom) will dawn by itself when you engage in the devotional practices of Bhakti Yoga.

This deeply spiritual practice draws heavily on the Hindu pantheon of deities. Each of these deities is seen as representing a humanized aspect of the single Godhead or Brahman – much the same way the Christian saints represent specific attributes and qualities of God. The use of Hindu deities in Bhakti Yoga can be a large obstacle for Western practitioners, especially for those with a deeply religious background. But the use of the Hindu deities is not required for this practice – in fact, finding your own object(s) of devotion will be all the more effective in achieving yoga (union) with the Divine.

There are nine main practices of Bhakti Yoga that can be practiced independently or together. Each of these limbs creates a specific bhava (feeling) that appeals to different inner constitutions of practitioners.

The Nine Limbs of Devotion

1. Shravana – “listening” to the ancient scriptures, especially potent if told by a saint or genuine bhakta.
2. Kirtana – “singing” devotional songs, usually practiced in a call-and-response group format.
3. Smarana – “remembering” the Divine by constantly meditating upon its name and form.
4. Padasevana – “service at the feet” of the Divine, which incorporates the practice of karma yoga (selfless service) with bhakti (devotion).
5. Archana – the “ritual worship” of the Divine through practices such as puja (deity worship), and havan or homa (fire offering).
6. Vandana – the “prostration” before the image of one’s chosen image or representation of the Divine.
7. Dasya – the “unquestioning” devotion of the Divine involving the cultivation of serving the will of God instead of one’s own ego.
8. Sakhya – the “friendship” and relationship established between the Divine and the devotee.
9. Atmanivedana – the “self-offering” and complete surrender of the self to the Divine.

The most popular limb of Bhakti Yoga in the West is Kirtana (usually called Kirtan), with national and local Kirtan walas performing weekly in small to large cities. Bhakti Yoga can be practiced by itself or be integrated into other types of yoga or spiritual practices.

The benefits of Bhakti Yoga are immense, as Swami Sivananda writes, “Bhakti softens the heart and removes jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride, and arrogance. It infuses joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace, and knowledge. All cares, worries and anxieties, fears, mental torments, and tribulations entirely vanish. The devotee is freed from the Samsaric wheel of births and deaths. He attains the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss, and knowledge”.

The ultimate goal in the practice of Bhakti yoga is to reach the state of rasa (essence), a feeling of pure bliss achieved in the devotional surrender to the Divine.


Comments 10

  1. Bhakti yoga is the easy path to God. If this path is followed with faith and devotion then one can evolve faster on the sptritual path. If one prays for worldly pleasures, then one will gain these pleasures only and not God. Therefore bhakti has to be without worldly desires and then one attains God or divine bliss

  2. Bhakti aims for the love of God and a state of bliss is just a side effect. Haribol!

  3. Through bhakti, one can see krishna before them as they see the material world. One must learn to trust Narayana and surrender his doubts unto him. When one does so, they are alike in pleasure and sorrow, always aware that Narayana is on his way. And one day, hearing the weeping heart of the restless devotee, the lord himself appears. And in his flawless stride, the devotee is absorbed into his limitless nature, both the lord and servant bound by each other’s love. he who questions, doubts, reviles, hates, neglects and tortures the devotee, his words will become dust beneath the feet of Giridhar Gopal. But he who praises, cares for, admires, adores, cherishes, and truly loves Narayana, he will be readily and immediately accepted by his lord.

  4. Knowledge and wiseness only give an awareness of the cosmic principle. Bhakti Yoga lets one see the independent manifested in all experience.

  5. Thanks, always nice to hear anything on “performance of action” as yet another way to connect to God

  6. I am a new yogi and a Christian. Please don’t obliterate me for asking this but I am very careful about playing with spirits. A lot people on here have said that this type of yoga aligns with you with God but what God are you worshipping? Again, I am NOT being critical. I just want to know if this is a leg of yoga with which I should participate as my faith is everything to me. I’m not really comfortable with this. Thoughts?

  7. The god is upon you.
    It’s a process of personal god.
    The one you feel a connection or any sort of love towards.
    Devotion and love are the key parts of this path.

  8. Wonderful..Now i understand the conditions or rules which we follow for silence program..thanks a lot

  9. yogiinmissouri, God is God. There is only one God. One sage named Parasara defined God (“Bhagavan”) as the possessor of all six opulences in full. The six opulences are: wealth, strength, knowledge, fame, beauty and renunciation. You can find someone who is very wealthy, but someone else will be wealthier still. However, God is fully wealthy. No one can be wealthier than God, who is the source of everything and who in one sense is everything, and yet He remains a unique person.

    If you properly understand this definition of God, you will see that the God of the Christians and the God of the Yogis is the same. In Bhagavad-gita (“Song of God”), Krishna reveals that He is that same God. By His own sweet will (“atma mayaya”), He appears again and again in His various transcendental forms to reestablish dharma (morality) and to annihilate the atheistic demons. Sometimes He sends His empowered representatives, and sometimes He appears Himself. He appears as Rama, Narayana, Narasimha, and Krishna at various times.

    Other “Devas” like Laksmi or Siva or Brahma, Indra, Varuna and so on are not actually Bhagavan, but are His agents, energies or representatives who perform specific functions in connection with the creation, maintenance and destruction of the material world. As explained in Bhagavad-gita, all these partial representatives of God are in one sense Krishna, because they are emanations or extensions of His power. Yet they are never independent from or equal to Him, because He remains the unique source. Therefore in Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that those who worship other gods actually worship only Him, but if they do not completely know His ontological reality (tattva) they cannot approach Him fully. They fall down. Those who worship Devas go to Devas (in their next life); those who worship ancestors go to dwell with the ancestors,; those who worship powerful spirits or ghosts go to dwell among such beings, but only those who worship the Supreme God (whom Krishna is declaring Himself to be) will go to Him.

    So you can be a Christian and a devotional, bhakti yogi at the same time. If you accept Christ as Supreme Lord, and understand Him as such, that understanding is not incorrect.

    However, many Christians become very disturbed about God being worshiped in any other form such as Krishna or Narayana or Vamana or Kurma. They are not familiar with the Puranas such as Srimad Bhagavatam and the amazing theistic philosophy they expound. They take “only begotten son” to mean that Jesus is the only personal form of God with whom one can have a relationship, and “no man cometh to the Father but by Me” to be practically condemning all other forms of worship and devotion. When my wife was a child in Catholic school, she was trained it was a sin even to attend a Lutheran service!

    But the attitude of the genuine bhakti yogis is, whatever practices awaken genuine love of the One Supreme God should be accepted as bona fide, regardless of church or specific doctrine.

    Christians (and Jews and Muslims) may have other traditions based on Mosaic law or Pauline teachings that make them recoil from worship of images (vigrahas) or that reject the ideas of reincarnation and karma. That is okay. They can still practice Bhakti yoga in their own way. The great exponent of Bhakti Yogi in 15th-16th c. India known as Sri Krishna Caitanya encouraged everyone to practice by chanting whatever holy names of God they knew, such as Allah or Jehova or Christ or Elohim or Buddha. God has invested His holy names with great power, and they should be revered and repeated in heartfelt, prayerful mood, and this is a powerful form of yoga that helps one meditate on and become passionate about serving God.

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