Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion) by Swami Sivananda
- 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
6) Fruits of Bhakti
WHAT IS 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.
TYPES OF BHAKTI
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.
HOW TO CULTIVATE BHAKTI
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
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.
BHAVAS IN 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
FRUITS OF BHAKTI
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.