One of the four main yogic paths to enlightenment is Bhakti yoga. The word “bhakti” means devotion or love. It is well known as the yoga of love. It comes from the Sanskrit word ‘bhakti’ which is derived from bhaj which means ”divide or participate”. It also means faith, love, and devotion which can be correlated to something religious and it focuses on the spiritual aspect of life. The philosophy behind this practice is to unite the individual who practices yoga to the Divine. It is speculated by experts that this path originated around second or third BCE wherein Bhagavad Gita was written, it is a love song to God which expresses an idea of the possibility of an individual to experience spiritual realization by having a deep connection with his heart.
Bhakti yoga is one of the easiest to perform among the different paths and it is the path that can be easily mastered by an individual. This is the path that offers the most direct process that helps an individual in the union of the mind, body, and spirit. The requirement when practicing Bhakti yoga is for the individual to have a loving heart and devotion. It is the yogic path that complements other paths as well; by practicing it an individual is able to understand other paths more easily.
Bhakti yoga is surrounded by spiritual practices and uses Hindu deities. Western practitioners may not use the Hindu deities as it not required to practice this path, an individual can find his personal object of devotion and it will help in achieving the ultimate goal of the path which is to unite with the Divine.
Bhakti yoga is also known as Bhakti marga which means a spiritual path amidst Hinduism with the ultimate purpose of loving a personal god. Bhakti yoga has nine main practices that can be practiced by an individual separately or together as one. Each limb creates different feelings that can affect the individual accordingly.
Here are the nine limbs of Devotion:
- Shravana – This is done by listening to different scriptures done by saints or genuine bhakta (practitioners).
- Kirtana – This is done by singing songs about devotion, it is presented in a style of a call and response.
- Smarana – This is done by remembering the Divine, an individual will constantly meditate the name and form of the Divine.
- Padasevana – This is done by doing selfless service with devotion.
- Achana – This is done by practicing the worship of the Divine with different offerings and deity worship.
- Vandana – This is done by being subservient to the image or an individual’s chosen form of the Divine.
- Dasya – This is done by having an extreme devotion to the Divine which also reflects when an individual follows the will of God instead of his worldly and egoistic desires.
- Sakhya – This is done by having a close relationship between the Divine and the individual practicing Bhakti yoga.
- Atmanivedana – This is done by the individual when he offers everything he is and it is also the selfless act of complete surrender to the Divine.
Bhakti yoga, as explained thoroughly in the Bhakti Sutras, is both a means and the end. The lower bhakti or aparabhakti means the process of enhancing and deepening of devotion and the higher bhakti or parabhakti is the ultimate union with the Divine, which is the ultimate goal of an individual who practices this yogic path.
Aparabhakti consists of three stages:
This stage is the initial phase of an individual’s devotion. It is the beginning of the devotee’s relationship with the Divine. During this phase, an individual’s devotion is new and fresh. External forms of worship are involved in the process, wherein an individual may build an altar where he can worship the Divine.
An individual offers prayers in a form of worship to God. By offering genuine prayers, an individual is able to express his inner self.
By using chants, an individual can channel his emotions. Singing praises on his own or with other people usually in concert halls.
By using contemplation, an individual will be able to work through his devotion to the Divine.
By reciting the mantra, or Japa, an individual is able to develop his inner self which allows him to remove all the negative thoughts that happen in his daily life.
According to St John of the Cross, the Desert is also known as the “the dark night of the soul.” The spiritual path has to undergo the process of growth and deepening. This process can be likened to a small seed staying underneath the soil in order for it to blossom into a plant. In this phase, doubts and trials might happen. An individual must pass this stage and come out on the other end, successful and full of joy.
In this journey, an individual may cry out to God and reflect with his inner self. During this dark phase, the individual must trust fully in God, and he should envision himself being carried by God in the palm of his hand. By having faith, an individual will rely on God that He will help him all throughout the process and he will be able to overcome all the trials that happen to him.
By bringing out all the outspoken parts of the inner self, the individual will be able to enter the process of the awareness of his consciousness. An individual has to accept all his issues and with this process, he will able to continue his spiritual practice.
Surrender and Grace
This is the last stage of Aparabhakti, wherein an individual is able to worship internally. By offering and humbling himself to God, he is able to receive grace. The divine light will flow to the individual and he will be able to experience the fullness of joy and all the blockages and barriers of the inner self will be removed, only peace and love occupies the heart and mind.
The individual who practices Bhakti yoga may experience this stage as he continuously undergoes the different stages, which in return he receives great strength that will help him experience the deepening of his practice. The more he surrenders his inner self and all his actions, the channel expands and he will be able to receive the Divine light to manifest in his everyday life.
The three stages of Aparabhaki help an individual become prepared for Parabhakti or also known as the higher love. An individual needs to be ready before he experiences it. In this state, the individual will be able to unite with the Absolute Reality.
Bhakti yoga is not just about memorizing chants and performing external offerings; it is the process wherein an individual sees the deepest level of his being and offering himself to the Divine without any doubts in his heart. By completely dedicating and surrendering all to the Divine, every small act in an individual’s daily life is symbolized as an act of worship. An individual must learn to expand his devotion which results in the transformation of his life that is filled with love, joy, balance and harmony, and inner peace.