Bhakti yoga is one of the three main paths of yoga – jnana, karma and bhakti yoga – and it has as its goal to see the Divine in everything. The seeker feels the love, usually of God or the Divine, and goes about practicing devotion to that God, whatever form the God is in.
As you tap into this universal love there arises in the seeker an affinity with the love, and he usually considers it to be familiar, so it naturally follows that he practices devotion. This devotion is called Bhakti and Bhakti is the Path of Love and Devotion.
What Is Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti yoga is about love and devotion and is usually for seekers who are more emotional than intellectual, since it gives them the path to channel their feelings and emotions towards that God or Higher Power through several different means. We will discuss the varieties of Bhakti along this article.
Since Bhakti is the Love of God, each person would choose the God that is right for him.
Bhakti yoga started in India among the Hindus and traditionally the Hindus would offer devotion to Hindu Gods, like Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, Hanuman or even Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music, arts, and knowledge.
Many Westerners don’t understand the Hindu Gods so well and, as a result, they make devotion to the God of their choosing. And we know there are many Gods, like Buddha, Christ, Allah, Yahweh or other Gods like Sufi Gods. Some seekers have a personal God like an Ishta Deva (Cherished One).
Some people don’t believe in God but the Bhakti yoga uses one, and that is because the God is the object of devotion, so the bhakta has a God to direct his devotion towards and to serve.
Many people agree that, whatever the God they choose, they can all believe in a Supreme Father that unites us.
The Force of Love
When the seeker decides to practice Bhakti yoga he usually starts with a form of devotion, like love. The love is rich and fulfilling and it infuses joy, bliss, peace and divine ecstasy into the heart of the seeker.
As soon as the seeker starts to practice the Bhakti, he feels how it can soften his heart and remove the difficulties that bother him, like anger, stress, jealousy, pride and hatred.
The devotion can lift up the seeker’s life and bring him a fullness that was not noticed before. Some find that it brings a connection with the Divine that permeates their entire life.
Through devotion the devotee is freed from the world of illusion and sorrow and Bhakti has as its goal to merge with the Divine (God) for everlasting Union (Yoga).
Bhakti is a deep yearning to experience love in its highest and purest form, and to unite with that which is eternal and unchanging. In practicing Bhakti the seeker can attain to the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss and knowledge, or devotional surrender to the Divine.
Types of Bhakti
Making Holy offerings – One of the greatest parts of Bhakti practice is the making of Holy offerings. Since Bhakti is Holy then the offerings are usually Holy.
This can range from anything you want to offer, to the biggest best gift you might want to give. These offerings usually rise from the spirit of giving.
There is a Christian verse:
2 CORINTHIANS 9:7 NIV 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The Spirit of Giving
When the Bhakta (devotee) feels love for the Divine it usually rises in him to offer something, in the spirit of giving, and it is best to be from his heart. It is good when the giving comes naturally but sometimes we need to give things that are difficult for us to give, still it is good to follow through and complete the giving.
Many bhaktas give gifts like flowers, food or even musical songs performed and sung for the Higher Power. Sometimes people get together and make group offerings, like Holy festivals or dancing. India has quite a few of the Holy festivals.
Giving To Others – One of the greatest gifts we can give is the giving to others. And this can bring out the best in a bhakta when it is true offering from the heart. Many bhaktas who give offerings feel that it is God giving and that they are doing God’s work.
When we give to others, God gives us all that we need. God loves it when we are giving to others, whether it is our finances, time or talents. We can be a blessing to others by giving to them with a thankful and generous heart.
We can give to our freinds and families, and there are also so many people in need in our community and in our world. And there are so many ways to help people. Many people think that God rewards us for giving, and as the old saying says, “You reap what you sow.”
Giving Money – Sometimes the hardest thing for you to give up is your money. It represents your time, your energy, your talents, your total personality converted into the funds. We usually hold on to it dearly but it can be a great feeling to give.
We sometimes give money to friends or relatives and it can seem easy to give. Other times we might not want to give but we think it is for a good cause. This life has many blessings and enjoyments which have come to us and it is good to share too.
When you give money you can just hope and pray it is used for a good and positive purpose, but you don’t always have control over it.
But giving does have a significant impact on the giver, and the thinking of others and their sacrifice encourages more generosity.
God calls each one of us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and we like to think that if we were in need we’d want someone to give to us. It is good to extend ourselves by giving generously to others.
The Gift of Love – The greatest gift that the bhakta can give is the gift of love. The full feeling that he gets from his devotion brings up in him a generosity which fruit is giving.
Even our capacity for love is a gift from God, and we show our gratitude by giving back to Him a part of that which He has given to us.
Bhakti is really about tuning into a Universal Love.
The practice of Bhakti can be richly rewarding and bring many benefits to the devotee, and using devotional prayer is a good way to deepen the practice and go further. Devotional prayer can really help you to take your practice to the next level.
What Is Japa?
One good and popular method of prayer or meditation is japa, which is the meditative repetition of a mantra or a divine name. A mantra is a sacred sound or name that gets used for repetition in the japa practice.
Japa meditation is also called mantra meditation, and is a technique that uses a mantra or the power of chanting to focus your thoughts while calming the mind. The repetition of mantra is used to awaken the Self (Divine) and helps most devotees to gain calm, peace and tranquility.
Some good teaching for the practice of japa meditation is by the Indian Saint Anandamayi Ma in Her book.
The mantra or name may be spoken softly, enough for the devotee to hear it, or it may be spoken within the mind as a form of silent repetition.
The Chanting of OM
Probably the most common and popular form of mantra repetition is the use of the mantra OM. OM is said to be the cosmic sound of the Universe that is an everpresent sound, constantly going on. So it is said that the OM Mantra (or AUM Mantra) is a symbol of a deep reality that already exist and has been there since the beginning of time.
How To Use OM
The ON Mantra should be used as a repetitive form of meditation and is usually done in a seated position. Take a good seat and allow some time to practice meditation, and get ready to start repeating OM Mantra.
The OM Method
As you sit take notice of your breath, how the inhale comes in and is followed by the exhale, and so on.
Start to repeat the OM Mantra or sacred syllable only on the exhale, holding it for a while and feeling the beauty of it.
- inhale, then
- exhale: OMmmmmmmmmmmmmm
- then silence and inhale, then
- exhale: OMmmmmmmmmmmmmm
You can say it out loud a few times to get the feel of it, then take it within and repeat it silently in your mind. Keep doing it the same way, only on the exhale.
Take it at your own speed but you will find that in time the speed naturally slows. This is due to the calming effect of the OM Mantra and your breath and mind start to relax and tune into the peace.
The Depth of The OM Mantra
If the OM mantra is repeated just for the feeling, without any sense of meaning to it, the experience can still be pleasant, calming, and relaxing. However, if you add a deeper meaning to the mantra, like that it is the cosmic sound of the Universe’s vibration, then the experience can be deeper and more revealing as you grow in your yoga meditation.
The mantra practice can really help to further the devotees practice and goes well with the practice of selfless service to the Supreme (Divine). Many bhaktas dedicate their life to the service of the Holy.
The practice of Bhakti yoga is a rich path and one that is inviting for the seeker of love experiences and more rewarding depth to add to your life. We see the many ways to practice Bhakti and that it gets rendered deeper by the addition of prayer and meditation practices.
When using the OM method, use the mantra as you see fit and do what feels best for you. It is good to practice the mantra regularly and integrate it into your daily life.
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Cover photo: By Livingston – Own work
Orange man photo: By Dario feltan – Own work