What is Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti means devotion. The word “Bhakti” can be split into “bhaj” which means service and “ktr” which means love. Not only does the devotee love God, but it is said that if done with sincerity, God also loves the devotee to the extent that he becomes his servant.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has explained that there are three types of Yoga or three paths to Enlightenment:
Karma yoga – the path of Action – the control of selfish desires in order to perform selfless action or services to those who are in need of it. These selfless deeds or “nishkarma yoga” when done in dedicated to the Supreme/Divine is considered a form of worship.
Jnana yoga – the path of Knowledge – based on the attainment of spiritual knowledge and understanding the difference between real and unreal. This can be done by listening to or reading scriptures, reflection on the knowledge, and meditation.
Bhakti yoga – the path of Devotion - one must have pure love and devotion to God through prayer, kirtan, ritual, and chanting. This was highlighted by Lord Krishna when he explained to Arjuna while giving him the discourse on the Bhagavad Gita, that if Arjuna has complete faith, concentrates and worships him (Krishna) then he will be rescued from the cycle of life and death (gain Moksha/Liberation/Enlightenment). He has clarified bhakti further to state that “I accept the offering, even of those who give me a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or some water with devotion”.
The evidence of Bhakti yoga in ancient times has also been found in Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.23:
“He who has the highest Bhakti of Deva (God), just like his Deva, so for his Guru (teacher). To him who is high-minded, these teachings will be illuminating.”
According to the Vedic texts there are different forms of devotion/bhakti:
Shravana – listening to the name of the Supreme, the stories of the Divine and saints in an attempt to direct one’s mind towards spirituality. It is also listening to the cosmic sound “Om”
Kirtan – it is singing the glory of Paramatma through hymns and chants. This can re-awaken one’s faith in the divine and even manifest as a trance or ecstacy through dance.
Smarana – remembering Supreme Consciousness with faith. In Advaita philosophy, it is meditation on the Self/I AM. Here one can use the help of mantras as through repetition, it helps to raise one to a higher vibration.
Pada-Seva – service at the feet of the Supreme Lord or living Guru.
Archana – worship to request divine blessings from Paramatma. This can be done externally through ritual and ceremony or internally in the mind with a focus on that which is infinite and formless.
Vandana – devotional gesture of prostration before an idol or deity and giving thanks.
Dasya - being in service to the Guru or servitude to the Supreme.
Atma-Nivedana is surrendering one’s mind-body-soul to Paramatma and his protection/guidance.