Bhakti Yoga: The Path of Devotion and Surrender

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Bhakti means “devotion” or “love”, and this Sanskrit term originates from the root word “bhaj,” which translates as “devotion, worship or to serve God”. The word “yoga” translates as “union” or “to yoke”. Thus, Bhakti Yoga is understood as the path of devotion to find spiritual liberation and union 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. 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.

Origin and history of the Bhakti movement

The practice of Bhakti dates back thousands of years, with its origins rooted in South India during the 6th century CE. However, it wasn’t until the medieval period in the 15th century that the Bhakti movement gained prominence and became a significant force in Indian spirituality.

The Bhakti movement emerged as a response to the rigid caste system and the dominance of ritualistic and intellectual forms of worship. It sought to democratize spirituality by emphasizing the power of devotion and love towards a personal deity.

The movement saw the rise of numerous saints and poets who expressed their devotion through music, poetry, and dance. These saints, known as Bhaktas, hailed from different regions of India and composed devotional hymns in various languages such as Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, and Gujarati.

Some of the prominent Bhakti saints include Mirabai, Surdas, Kabir, Tulsidas, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They spread the message of love and devotion through their writings and teachings, inspiring people from all walks of life to embrace Bhakti as a spiritual path. These saints preached the idea of surrendering oneself completely to the divine and experiencing a deep connection through love and devotion.

One of the defining features of the Bhakti movement was its inclusiveness. It transcended the boundaries of caste, gender, and social status, welcoming anyone who sought a personal connection with the divine. This inclusivity played a crucial role in breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of unity among diverse groups of people.

How to practice Bhakti

Bhakti Yoga involves developing a deep sense of love and devotion towards the divine. This selfless devotion can be directed towards a specific deity, such as Krishna, Ganesha, Shiva, or any other form of God that resonates with the practitioner. Through constant remembrance and contemplation of the chosen deity, one seeks to establish a personal and intimate relationship with the divine.

The practice of devotion often involves various rituals, prayers, chanting, and singing of devotional hymns or mantras. These acts of devotion are not mere external rituals, but rather tools to purify the heart and awaken the inherent love and devotion within. By offering one’s thoughts, words, and actions to the divine, the practitioner cultivates a sense of surrender and selflessness.

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.

The Nine Limbs of Devotion

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.

  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.

Bhakti yoga benefits

The benefits of a consistent practice of Bhakti Yoga are immense—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 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.

On a physical level, the devotional practices in Bhakti Yoga can help reduce stress, anxiety, and promote overall well-being. The rhythmic chanting and singing in Bhakti Yoga can have a calming effect on the nervous system and promote a sense of inner peace.

On a spiritual level, Bhakti Yoga helps to purify the mind and heart and cultivate qualities such as love, compassion, and humility. The practice offers a profound sense of connection and union with the divine, allowing practitioners to experience a deep sense of joy, bliss, and fulfillment. It helps to dissolve the ego and foster a sense of oneness with the divine, leading to a heightened spiritual awakening and a deeper understanding of one’s true self.

Bhakti Yoga provides a path for emotional healing and transformation. By directing one’s emotions and desires towards the divine, practitioners learn to detach from the material world and ego mind to find solace in the unconditional love of the divine. This process helps individuals overcome negative emotions, such as anger, jealousy, and greed, and replaces them with positive qualities, such as forgiveness, gratitude, and contentment.

On a mental level, Bhakti Yoga helps individuals navigate the challenges of life with grace and resilience. Through the devotion to the divine, practitioners develop a deep trust in a higher power, knowing that they are not alone and that the divine is always guiding and supporting them. This belief system provides a sense of inner strength and peace, enabling individuals to face difficulties with courage and equanimity.

Bhakti yoga in daily life

Integrating the principles of Bhakti into everyday activities can transform our mundane routines into mindful and sacred rituals. One of the simplest ways to practice Bhakti Yoga in our daily lives is by offering our actions to a higher power. Whether it is preparing a meal for our loved ones, completing a project at work, or even doing household chores, we can infuse these actions with love and devotion. When we shift our mindset and see these tasks as opportunities to serve and express our gratitude, even the most mundane activities become conscious, sacred, and fulfilling.

We can practice Bhakti Yoga by looking for beauty and divinity in the simplest of things—a blooming flower, a gentle breeze, a kind word from a stranger. By cultivating a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for these small moments, we open our hearts to the divine presence that permeates every aspect of our existence.

Another powerful aspect of Bhakti Yoga is the practice of chanting or singing devotional songs. The vibrations created by these sacred sounds can purify our hearts and bring us closer to the divine. By setting aside a few minutes each day for chanting, we can create a space of peace and tranquility within ourselves. The simple act of surrendering our voice and emotions to the divine creates a deep sense of connection and unity with something greater than ourselves.

Final thoughts

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it is easy to get caught up in the never-ending cycle of work, responsibilities, and stress. But Bhakti Yoga teaches us that true fulfillment lies in connecting with something greater than ourselves, in cultivating a deep and unwavering devotion towards the divine.

In the depths of our hearts, there is a yearning to be in union with the divine. This intense longing is the fuel that propels us on the path of Bhakti Yoga. It is a flame that burns brightly, guiding us towards a life filled with love, compassion, bliss, unity, and selflessness. This transformative journey beckons one to discover the immense power of an open, loving heart

Published on October 30, 2023 Timothy Burgin,

 

One thought on “Bhakti Yoga: The Path of Devotion and Surrender

  1. Thank you for this beautiful article. I myself has started weekly Kirtan gatherings and have found myself on the path of Bhakti Yoga.

    Though I have not studied Bhakti Yoga, is there perhaps recommended resources I can consider? And especially on the different deities.. And here the path of Jnana Yoga is raising its head.. 😉

    Thank you again!

    Namaste

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