Devotion is love, and love is our true nature. The term bhakti comes from the root bhaj, which means attachment to God. Bhajan, bhakti, anurag, prem, priti, or worship, are all synonyms and refer to love and devotion to the Divine.
According to the teachings of yoga, devotion to God is developed in nine different ways, and intense love is the common factor in all of them. We cannot develop true devotion to God without a moral conduct or when we are too attached to worldly matters and our own desires. Eventually, as devotion to the Divine grows, detachment from all external objects also grows.
Ultimately, attachment to the world and love for God become opposite, so we have to choose between one or the other, internally. This renunciation to the world can be achieved through any of the nine forms of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is the quickest and most pleasant path to Liberation.
The Nine Forms of Bhakti Yoga
1. Sravana: listening to Divine plays and stories
2. Kirtana: singing the names of God
3. Smarana: remembering the name and presence of God
4. Padasevana: serving the feet of God
5. Archana: worshiping God
6. Vandana: praying and prostrating to God
7. Dasya: cultivating renunciation to be a servant of God
8. Sakhya: cultivating love of God as a friend
9. Atmanivedana: completely surrendering to God
Sravana is developed by listening to the stories and glories of God, of Divine beings, or of any form or name of God. This is usually done in the presence of a spiritual teacher who can convey his or her own devotion, as well as the real (symbolic) meaning of the stories. We cannot attain Sravana Bhakti without the company of saints or wise men, as simply reading from a book may lead to questions and doubts, feeding our mind with fuel for debate and our ego with spiritual pride.
Kirtana (or Kirtan) is singing the names and glories of God. This can be done in the form of individual mantra chants, group chanting, or bhajans (personal songs of love and yearning for God).
Smarana is developed by remembering the Lord at all times, whether mentally or out loud: listening to stories, talking or teaching about God, meditating on any form of God, and so on. Mantra repetition (japa yoga) is also remembrance of God and comes under this category.
Padasevana can be developed by serving any image or any representation of God, or by serving God through serving those in need. Padasevana is service of humanity at large without any expectation in return. Service to the world is service to the Lord: We serve God by serving others.
Archana is worship of any form of God. It can be done either through an image, a picture, a yantra, a spiritual teacher, or even a mental form. Worship can be done with external materials or internally with emotional intensity. The purpose of worship is to purify the heart and surrender our ego to God.
Vandana is prayer and prostration. Prostration is a sign of humility and surrender. This is developed by touching the earth with faith and reverence before a form of God, or internally prostrating to all beings, knowing them to be the forms of the One God. Prayer and prostration erase the ego or Ahamkara (the false “I-sense”) completely, and Divine grace descends upon the person with Vandana Bhakti.
Dasya is developed by serving God and carrying out His wishes. Serving and worshiping the murtis (deities) in temples, cleaning the temples, meditating on God and mentally serving Him like a slave; serving the saints and the sages; serving the devotees of God; serving those in need, who are also forms of God, are all forms of Dasya Bhakti. Likewise, following the words of the scriptures, acting according to the Vedas, and considering them to be direct words of God, is Dasya Bhakti.
Sakhya-Bhava or Bhakti-Marga is to be always with the Lord, to treat Him as our own dear relative or friend, and to love Him as our own self. This is when all our human love is directed toward God instead of people and physical love is transformed into spiritual love.
Atma-Nivedana is complete self-surrender. It is developed by offering everything to God, including our body, mind, and soul. We see ourselves as nothing but a part and parcel of God. There is the certainty that the Divine will take care of us and that God treats us as Himself. Grief and sorrow, pleasure and pain are seen as divine gifts and we do not become attached to nor create aversion toward them. We consider ourselves puppets and instruments of God. Any sense of individuality is lost. This is the culmination of all aspiration and love.
The Sweet Path of Devotion
True devotion softens the heart, quiets the mind, and removes all negative emotions, including jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, selfishness, pride, and arrogance. It promotes joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace, and knowledge. It dissolves all concerns, worries and anxieties, fears, mental torments, and tribulations. Furthermore, the fruit of bhakti yoga is Jnana Yoga, or the Yoga of Knowledge. Knowledge or wisdom dawns on those with true devotion.
As Swami Sivananda gracefully put it, bhakti is sweet in the beginning, sweet in the middle, and sweet in the end. It brings heartfelt, expanding, and profound bliss. True devotion is a pleasant, smooth, and direct path to God.
Of all yogic paths (see Ashtanga Yoga: Eight Limb Yoga), bhakti yoga is the easiest, especially in this time and age, as it does not go against the nature of our human inclinations nor does it demand excessive discipline or sacrifice on our part. This is probably why in the West this path has found many followers and most, if not all, Western saints reached liberation through profound devotion. Within the yoga community, group devotional chanting (kirtan) has also become very popular.
I personally believe that doing anything with absolute focus, attention, and to the best of our abilities is also worship and devotion to the Divine within. Not from an ego standpoint, to make us feel better or more “spiritual” than others, but from an empty mental space, where we become vehicles of Divine Consciousness to simply witness ourselves and the world around us.
In this sense, taking responsibility for who we are, what we think, what we do, and how (as in having the ability to consciously respond to the world instead of just reacting to it), is also a form of devotion that connects us to the bliss layer of our nature (anandamaya kosha) and to the Self. In other words, constantly remembering that you are the Self having a human experience is devotion to the Self within you. Contact me today to better understand your soul journey and develop greater devotion to experience inner peace and spiritual freedom!
© 2007 Yol Swan. All rights reserved.