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Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion) by Swami Sivananda

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    BHAKTI YOGA By Swami Sivananda SIX SECTIONS OF THE ARTICLE: 1) What is Bhakti? 2) Types of Bhakti 3) How to Cultivate Bhakti 4) Bhavas in Bhakti 5)
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2007
      By Swami Sivananda


      1) What is Bhakti?
      2) Types of Bhakti
      3) How to Cultivate Bhakti
      4) Bhavas in Bhakti
      5) Nava-Vidha-Bhakti
      6) Fruits of Bhakti


      The term Bhakti comes from the root 'Bhaj', which means 'to be
      attached to God'. Bhajan, worship, Bhakti, Anurag, Prem, Priti are
      synonymous terms. Bhakti is love for love's sake. The devotee wants
      God and God alone. There is no selfish expectation here. There is no
      fear also. Therefore it is called 'Parama Prem Rupa'. The devotee
      feels, believes, conceives and imagines that his Ishtam (tutelary
      deity) is an Ocean of Love or Prem.

      Bhakti is the slender thread of Prem or love that binds the heart of
      a devotee with the lotus feet of the Lord. Bhakti is intense devotion
      and supreme attachment to God. Bhakti is supreme love for God. It is
      the spontaneous out-pouring of Prem towards the Beloved. It is pure,
      unselfish, divine love or Suddha Prem. There is not a bit of
      bargaining or expectation of anything here. This higher feeling is
      indescribable in words. It has to be sincerely experienced by the
      devotee. Bhakti is a sacred, higher emotion with sublime sentiments
      that unites the devotees with the Lord.

      Mark how love develops. First arises faith. Then follows attraction
      and after that adoration. Adoration leads to suppression of mundane
      desires. The result is single-mindedness and satisfaction. Then grow
      attachment and supreme love towards God.

      In this type of highest Bhakti all attraction and attachment which
      one has for objects of enjoyment are transferred to the only dearest
      object, viz., God. This leads the devotee to an eternal union with
      his Beloved and culminates in oneness.


      Bhakti is of various kinds. One classification is Sakamya and
      Nishkamya Bhakti. Sakamya Bhakti is devotion with desire for material
      gains. A man wants wealth with this motive practices Bhakti. Another
      man wants freedom from diseases and therefore does Japa and offers
      prayers. A third one wants to become a Minister and does Upasana with
      this aim. This is Sakamya Bhakti. Whatever you want the Lord will
      certainly give you, if your Bhakti is intense and if your prayers are
      sincerely offered from the bottom of your heart. But you will not get
      supreme satisfaction, immortality and Moksha through Sakamya Bhakti.

      Your Bhakti should always be Nishkamya Bhakti. God has already given
      you a good position, a good job, wife and children and enough wealth.
      Be contented with these. Aspire for Nishkamya Bhakti. Your heart will
      be purified and the Divine Grace will descend upon you. Be in
      communion with the Lord, you will become one with the Lord and you
      will enjoy all the Divine Aisvaryas (Divine attributes like wisdom,
      renunciation, power, etc.). All the Vibhutis (Special forms in which
      the Lord manifests) of the Lord He will give you. He will give you
      Darsan. He will help you to dwell in Him. At the same time He will
      give you all the Divine Aisvaryas also.

      Another classification of Bhakti is Apara-Bhakti and Para-Bhakti.
      Apara-Bhakti is for beginners in Yoga. The beginner decorates an
      image with flowers and garlands, rings the bell, offers Naivedya
      (food-offerings), wave lights; he observes rituals and ceremonies.
      The Bhakta here regards the Lord as a Supreme Person, who is immanent
      in that image and who can be propitiated through that form only.

      He has no expanded heart. He is a sectarian. He dislikes other kinds
      of Bhaktas who worship other Devatas. Gradually, from Apara-Bhakti,
      the devotee goes to Para-Bhakti, the highest form of Bhakti. He sees
      the Lord and Lord alone everywhere and feels His Power manifest as
      the entire universe. "Thou art all-pervading; on what Simhasana shall
      I seat Thee? Thou art the Supreme Light, in whose borrowed light the
      sun, the moon, the stars and the fire shine; shall I wave this little
      Deepa or light before You?" - thus the devotee recognizes the
      transcendental nature of God. Para-Bhakti and Jnana are one. But
      every Bhakta will have to start from Apara-Bhakti. Before you take
      your food, offer it to God mentally; and the food will be purified.
      When you pass through a garden of flowers, mentally offer all the
      flowers to the Lord in Archana (offering flowers in worship). When
      you pass through the bazaar and see a sweetmeat shop, offer all the
      sweetmeats as Naivedya to the Lord. Such practices will lead to Para-

      Bhakti is also classified into Gauna-Bhakti and Mukhya-Bhakti. Gauna-
      Bhakti is the lower Bhakti and Mukhya-Bhakti is the higher type of

      Go from stage to stage. Just as a flower grows in the garden, so also
      gradually develop love or Prem in the garden of your heart.

      The enemy of devotion is egoism and desire. Where there is no Kama or
      desire, there alone will Rama (the Lord) manifest Himself. The
      enemies of peace and devotion are lust, anger and greed. Anger
      destroys your peace and your health also. When a man abuses you, keep
      peaceful. When blood begins to boil, it is impoverished. You lose
      vitality if you become a prey to fits of temper.


      It would be a gross mistake if you consider Bhakti as merely a stage
      of emotionalism, while it is actually a thorough discipline and
      training of one's will and the mind, a sure means to intuitive
      realization of God Almighty through intense love and affection for
      Him. It is a means to thorough apprehension of the true knowledge of
      Reality, beginning from the ordinary form of idol worship right upto
      the highest form of cosmic realisation of your oneness with Him. You
      can achieve this by following the eleven fundamental factors which
      Sri Ramanuja had prescribed. They are Abhyasa or practice of
      continuous thinking of God; Viveka or discrimination; Vimoka or
      freedom from everything else and longing for God; Satyam or
      truthfulness; Arjavam or straightforwardness; Kriya or doing good to
      others; Kalyana or wishing well-being to all; Daya or compassion;
      Ahimsa or non-injury; Dana or charity; and Anavasada or cheerfulness
      and optimism.

      People put a question: "How can we love God whom we have not seen?"

      Live in the company of saints. Hear the Lilas 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 one year in
      Ayodhya or Brindavan, Chirakut or Pandhapur, Benares or Ananda Kutir.
      You will develop love for God.

      Every act must be done that awakens the emotion of Bhakti. Keep the
      Puja(worship) room clean. Decorate the room. Burn incense. Light a
      lamp. Keep a clean seat. Bathe. Wear clean clothes. Apply Vibhuti
      (sacred ash) or Bhasma, and Kumkum on the forehead. Wear Rudraksha or
      Tulasi Mala. All these produce a benign influence on the mind and
      elevate the mind. They generate piety. They help to create the
      necessary Bhava or feeling to invoke the Deity that you want to
      worship. The mind will be easily concentrated.

      Practice of right conduct, Satsanga, Japa, Smarana, Kirtan, prayer,
      worship, service of saints, residence in places of pilgrimage,
      service of the poor and the sick with divine Bhava, observance of
      Varnashrama duties, offering of all actions and their fruits to the
      Lord, feeling the presence of the Lord in all beings, prostrations
      before the image and saints, renunciation of earthly enjoyments and
      wealth, charity, austerities and vows, practice of Ahimsa, Satyam and
      Brahmacharya - all these will help you to develop Bhakti.


      When the devotee grows in devotion there is absolute self-
      forgetfulness. This is called Bhava. Bhava establishes a true
      relationship between the devotee and the Lord. Bhava then grows into
      Maha-Bhava wherein the devotee lives, moves and has his being in the
      Lord. This is Parama-Prema, the consummation of love or Supreme Love.

      There are five kinds of Bhava in Bhakti. They are Shanta, Dasya,
      Sakhya, Vatsalya and Madhurya Bhavas. These Bhavas or feelings are
      natural to human beings and so these are easy to practice. Practice
      whichever Bhava suits your temperament.

      In Shanta Bhava, the devotee is Shanta or peaceful. He does not jump
      and dance. He is not highly emotional. His heart is filled with love
      and joy. Bhishma was a Shanta Bhakta.

      Sri Hanuman was a Dasya Bhakta. He had Dasya Bhava, servant attitude.
      He served Lord Rama whole-heartedly. He pleased his Master in all
      possible ways. He found joy and bliss in the service of his Master.

      In Sakhya Bhava, God is a friend of the devotee. Arjuna had this
      Bhava towards Lord Krishna. The devotee moves with the Lord on equal
      terms. Arjuna and Krishna used to sit, eat, talk and walk together as
      intimate friends.

      In Vatsalya Bhava, the devotee looks upon God as his child. Yasoda
      had this Bhava with Lord Krishna. There is no fear in this Bhava,
      because God is your pet child. The devotee serves, feeds, and looks
      upon God as a mother does in the case of her child.

      The last is Madhurya Bhava or Kanta Bhava. This is the highest form
      of Bhakti. The devotee regards the Lord as his Lover. This was the
      relation between Radha and Krishna. This is Atma-Samarpana. The lover
      and the beloved become one. The devotee and God feel one with each
      other and still maintain a separateness in order to enjoy the bliss
      of the play of love between them. This is oneness in separation and
      separation in oneness. Lord Gauranga, Jayadeva, Mira and Andal had
      this Bhava.

      A Caution: Madhurya Bhava is absolutely different from conjugality of
      earthly experience. One should not be mistaken for the other. Earthly
      conjugality is purely selfish and is undertaken only because it gives
      pleasure to one's own self. But in love for God it is because it
      gives pleasure to God and not for the sake of the devotee. Divine
      love is not selfish. It is born of sattva. But earthly lust is born
      of rajas and attachment to bodies. Earthly conjugality is the outcome
      of egoisitc self-regarding egoistic feeling, while divine communion
      is the outcome of other-regarding feeling devoid of egoism. Strong
      selfishness is the root of worldly passion; divine love is the
      product of loss of egoism. This is the greatest difference between
      lust (kama) and divine love (prema). The two are related as darkness
      is related to light. No development of earthly affection, however
      perfect it may be, can lead one to supreme joy of divine communion.
      Lust lurks in the heart due to the passion that burns in the core of
      things. Divine love is unknown to the man of the world, however
      religious he may be. The secret of divine love cannot be understood,
      and should not be tried to be understood, so long as man is only a
      man and woman only a woman. The austere transformation of the human
      into the divine is the beginning of true love for God.


      Devotion to God is developed in nine different ways. It is supreme
      attacment to God through a Bhava predominant in the devotee. Intense
      love is the common factor in all the nine modes. Exclusive love for
      God is expressed through various methods. All Bhaktas of this type
      are above the formalities of the world. They are untouched by the
      laws of human Dharma and are out and out concerned with God.

      Good conduct which is in accordance with perfect moral law is an
      auxiliary to pure Bhakti and it follows the true Bhakta wherever he
      goes. One cannot develop true devotion to God if he is crooked in his
      heart, if he has got objects of love in this world, if he is tempted
      by charming worldly things, if he wishes to take care of his wife,
      children and relatives, if he wishes to feed his body well, if he
      wishes to earn a great name in the world, if he wants to establish a
      permanent fame on earth, if he does not like to part with the
      alluring contents of the world. Perfect detachment from all objects
      is a preliminary to real devotion. Vairagya is the product of real
      love for God. One who has love for the world cannot have love for
      God. Where there is Kama, there cannot be Rama and where there is
      Rama there cannot be Kama. Love for the world and love for God are
      diametrically opposite things. One has to be renounced for the
      attainment of the other. This renunciation can be acquired through
      the nine forms of Bhakti.

      In the Srimad-Bhagavata and the Vishnu Purana it is told that the
      nine forms of Bhakti are

      Sravana (hearing of God's Lilas and stories),
      Kirtana (singing of His glories),
      Smarana (remembrance of His name and presence),
      Padasevana (service of His feet),
      Archana (worship of God),
      Vandana (prostration to Lord),
      Dasya (cultivating the Bhava of a servant with God),
      Sakhya (cultivation of the friend-Bhava) and
      Atmanivedana (complete surrender of the self).
      A devotee can practice any method of Bhakti which suits him best.
      Through that he will attain Divine illumination.

      Sravana is hearing of Lord's Lilas. Sravana includes hearing of God's
      virtues, glories, sports and stories connected with His divine Name
      and Form. The devotee gets absorbed in the hearing of Divine stories
      and his mind merges in the thought of divinity; it cannot think of
      undivine things. The mind loses, as it were, its charm for the world.
      The devotee remembers God only even in dream.

      The devotee should sit before a learned teacher who is a great saint
      and hear Divine stories. He should hear them with a sincere heart
      devoid of the sense of criticism or fault-finding. The devotee should
      try his best to live in the ideals preached in the scriptures.

      One cannot attain Sravana-Bhakti without the company of saints or
      wise men. Mere reading for oneself is not of much use. Doubts will
      crop up. They cannot be solved by oneself easily. An experienced man
      is necessary to instruct the devotee in the right path.

      King Parikshit attained Liberation through Sravana. He heard the
      glories of God from Suka Maharishi. His heart was purified. He
      attained the Abode of Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha. He became liberated
      and enjoyed the Supreme Bliss.

      Kirtana is singing of Lord's glories. The devotee is thrilled with
      Divine Emotion. He loses himself in the love of God. He gets
      horripilation in the body due to extreme love for God. He weeps in
      the middle when thinking of the glory of God. His voice becomes
      choked, and he flies into a state of Divine Bhava. The devotee is
      ever engaged in Japa of the Lord's Name and in describing His glories
      to one and all. Wherever he goes he begins to sing and praise God. He
      requests all to join his Kirtana. He sings and dances in ecstasy. He
      makes others also dance.

      Smarana is remembrance of the Lord at all times. This is unbroken
      memory of the Name and Form of the Lord. The mind does not think of
      any object of the world, but is ever engrossed in thinking of the
      glorious Lord alone. The mind meditates on what is heard about the
      glories of God and His virtues, Names, etc., and forgets even the
      body and contents itself in the remembrance of God, just as Dhruva or
      Prahlada did. Even Japa is only remembrance of God and comes under
      this category of Bhakti. Remembrance also includes hearing of stories
      pertaining to God at all times, talking of God, teaching to others
      what pertains to God, meditation on the attributes of God, etc.
      Remembrance has no particular time. God is to be remembered at all
      times without break, so long as one has got his consciousness intact.

      Padasevana is serving the Lord's Feet. Actually this can be done only
      by Lakshmi or Parvati. No mortal being has got the fortune to
      practice this method of Bhakti, for the Lord is not visible to the
      physical eyes. But it is possible to serve the image of God in idols
      and better still, taking the whole humanity as God. This is
      Padasevana. Padasevana is service of the sick. Padasevana is service
      of the whole humanity at large. The whole universe is only Virat-
      Swarupa. Service of the world is service of the Lord.

      Archana is worship of the Lord. Worship can be done either through an
      image or a picture or even a mental form. The image should be one
      appealing to the mind of the worshipper.

      Worship can be done either with external materials or merely through
      an internal Bhava or strong feeling. The latter one is an advanced
      form of worship which only men of purified intellect can do. The
      purpose of worship is to please the Lord, to purify the heart through
      surrender of the ego and love of God.

      Vandana is prayer and prostration. Humble prostration touching the
      earth with the eight limbs of the body (Sashtanga-Namaskara), with
      faith and reverence, before a form of God, or prostration to all
      beings knowing them to be the forms of the One God, and getting
      absorbed in the Divine Love of the Lord is termed prostration to God
      or Vandana.

      The ego or Ahamkara is effaced out completely through devout prayer
      and prostration to God. Divine grace descends upon the devotee and
      man becomes God.

      Dasya Bhakti is the love of God through servant-sentiment. To serve
      God and carry out His wishes, realizing His virtues, nature, mystery
      and glory, considering oneself as a slave of God, the Supreme Master,
      is Dasya Bhakti.

      Serving and worshipping the Murtis in temples, sweeping the temple
      premises, meditating on God and mentally serving Him like a slave,
      serving the saints and the sages, serving the devotees of God,
      serving poor and sick people who are forms of God, is also included
      in Dasya-Bhakti.

      To follow the words of the scriptures, to act according to the
      injunctions of the Vedas, considering them to be direct words of God,
      is Dasya Bhakti. Association with and service of love-intoxicated
      devotees and service of those who have knowledge of God is Dasya
      Bhakti. The purpose behind Dasya Bhakti is to be ever with God in
      order to offer service to Him and win His Divine Grace and attain
      thereby immortality.

      Sakhya-Bhava is the cultivation of the friend-sentiment with God. The
      inmates of the family of Nandagopa cultivated this Bhakti. Arjuna
      cultivated this kind of Bhakti towards Lord Krishna.

      To be always with the Lord, to treat Him as one's own dear relative
      or a friend belonging to one's own family, to be in His company at
      all times, to love Him as one's own self, is Sakhya-Bhava of Bhakti-
      Marga. How do friends, real friends, love in this world ? What an
      amount of love they possess between one another ? Such a love is
      developed towards God instead of towards man; physical love turned
      into spiritual love. There is a transformation of the mundane into
      the Eternal.

      Atma-Nivedana is self-surrender. The devotee offers everything to
      God, including his body, mind and soul. He keeps nothing for himself.
      He loses even his own self. He has no personal and independent
      existence. He has given up his self for God. He has become part and
      parcel of God. God takes care of him and God treats him as Himself.
      Grief and sorrow, pleasure and pain, the devotee treats as gifts sent
      by God and does not attach himself to them. He considers himself as a
      puppet of God and an instrument in the hands of God.

      This self-surrender is Absolute Love for God exclusively. There is
      nothing but God-consciousness in the devotee. Even against his own
      wishes, the devotee shall become one with God and lose his
      individuality. This is the law of being. The highest truth is
      Absoluteness and the soul rises above through different states of
      consciousness until it attains Absolute Perfection when it becomes
      identical with God. This is the culmination of all aspiration and

      The nine modes of Bhakti are the ways in which a devotee attains the
      Supreme Ideal of life. A devotee can take up any of these paths and
      reach the highest state. The path of Bhakti is the easiest of all and
      is not very much against the nature of human inclinations. It slowly
      and gradually takes the individual to the Supreme without frustrating
      his human instincts. It is not direct assertion of God, but a
      progressive realization of Him.


      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 fruits of Bhakti is Jnana. Jnana intensifies Bhakti. Even Jnanis
      like Sankara, Madhusudana and Suka Dev took to Bhakti after
      Realization to enjoy the sweetness of loving relationship with God.

      Knowledge or wisdom will dawn by itself when you practice Bhakti
      Yoga. Bhakti is the pleasant, smooth, direct road to God. Bhakti is
      sweet in the beginning, sweet in the middle and sweet in the end. It
      gives the highest, undecaying bliss.

      Kindle love divine in thy heart, for this is the immediate way to the
      Kingdom of God.

      Pray to the Lord. Sing His glory. Recite His Name. Become a channel
      of His grace.

      Seek His will. Do His will. Surrender to His will. You will become
      one with the cosmic will.

      Surrender unto the Lord. He will become your charioteer on the field
      of life. He will drive your chariot well. You will reach the
      destination, the Abode of Immortal Bliss.

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