Bhagavad Gita has described different paths traversing which one can realise the self i.e. gain full awareness of his true nature. These spiritual practices are gyan yoga, karma yoga and bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga or bhakti marga is the way of attaining spiritual perfection through exclusive devotion to the Divine in His personal aspect as Ishvara, the Supreme Lord. Of the different paths, bhakti yoga is considered to be the simplest because offering one’s love and reverence to the Supreme Lord (God) is much easier than indulging in activities like abstract thinking, performing intricate rituals or maintaining ascetic disciplines. Bhakti is the most direct method of experiencing the ultimate truth.
The word ‘bhakti’ is derived from the root ‘bhaj’, which means to serve. Bhakti implies service of God with loving devotion. Bhakti is to believe in God, to have faith in Him ; and to be devoted to Him. It is to worship Him with an undistracted mind. It is adoring attachment to Him. It is to offer oneself to the Lord ; from the heart, with full awareness and focussed attention. The essence of bhakti is surrender. A devotee surrenders himself to God completely because he has full faith in His benevolence. He remembers God constantly with a devout heart ; and contemplates upon His power, grace and kindness. Wholeheartedly he submits himself to the authority of the Lord. He subordinates his will to the will of Ishvara. He dedicates all his actions to Him.
Real devotion is motivated not by fear of any adverse repercussions or some sort of punishment, but by the love of Ishvara. It is love for the sake of love. Worship promotes an attitude of gratitude. A devotee thanks God for everything he has got – even the most routine things of life. He is thankful to God not only for the pleasures he has experienced but also for the challenges he has faced. He thanks Him not only for his successes, but also for the lessons learnt during failures.
Bhakti involves establishment of a personal relationship with the Lord, who is the supreme ruler of the cosmos. A devotee relates to Him in personal terms such as father, mother, a friend or the beloved. He worships Him in the form of a deity, which can be any god or goddess in whom he has full faith. The devotee worships his chosen image as a manifestation of the Divine, a human representation of the ultimate truth.
In bhakti yoga, no form of the Divine is superior or inferior to any other form ; because different forms and names used to reach Him belong to Him alone. The form one worships is only an aid to enable one to attain the highest goal of spiritual perfection. The importance of the object of worship lies in its capacity to hold fast one’s attention. More important than the form is the intensity of one’s feelings for that form.
Krishna has stated (shlokas 14.26 and 14.27) that he who worships Him (the Supreme Lord) constantly with unwavering and exclusive devotion of love also transcends the modes of material nature, and becomes eligible for being one with Brahman (the Absolute) ; because He (the Supreme Lord) is the abode of imperishable Brahman, of immortality, of eternal law and of the absolute bliss. In other words, by worshipping the God in personal form, one can realise the formless eternal reality also.
The unfailing trust in God naturally develops a sense of trust in the material world also. Such trust generates positive energy for oneself and for others around him.
Bhakti marga is not the marga of blind following. It is the path of enlightenment. The more one progresses on this path, the more he becomes fit for channelising the divine light ; through his thoughts, speech and works. Spontaneously he experiences serenity of mind. He acts with more clarity and better understanding.
Bhagavad Gita has not prescribed any specific format for bhakti. Instead of rigid rules and regulations, bhakti yoga emphasises on sincere and direct devotion. A true devotee worships the Lord with an intense longing for union with Him. He sings devotional songs, remembers the Lord constantly, bows before Him with reverence, chants His glories, converses about His qualities with others ; and does all acts as His service. Such acts of devotion, whether done alone or in groups, are powerful tools for channelising one’s emotions in a positive and purposeful direction. But true bhakti does not mean loud shouting or excessive display of the shallowness of one’s feelings. Materialistic success and spiritual perfection can more easily be achieved by sincere devotion and calm submission to the will of the Divine.
On the path of bhakti, material offerings are not of much importance. Krishna states that whatsoever (a leaf, a flower or water etc.) is offered to Him (the Supreme Lord) by a devotee of pure heart, with love and devotion ; He accepts that with grace. In other words, what is important is not the quality or quantity of the offerings, but intensity of the feelings of the devotee.