For those on a spiritual path, you’ve likely heard the term, Bhakti, which is a strong form of devotion. The root word, Bhaj, means worship, attachment, devotion, faith, love and spiritual principles.
The felt sense of Bhakti is pure love, in which you just enjoy your heartful love towards your Deity. It is practiced not only in Eastern traditions but also the mystical traditions of Western religions. Any practice that shows devotion is a Bhakti practice. Some examples are chanting and taking the name of the God, performing puja ceremonies, or kissing a statue or picture of Jesus as is done in some Christian traditions. This article speaks to Bhakti from the Hindu perspective, but the main ideas will also apply to other traditions.
The Bhakti path is a spiritual path that takes you towards your Aradhya (favorite Deity). Deity is a commonly used term in the Hindu tradition and also applies to other Eastern traditions. It simply means God or Goddess.
Bhakti is also about having the courage to face yourself at the deepest level of your being while offering everything to God or asking the Deity to remove whatever is in the way. Sometimes it includes asking the Deity to transform everything we do into worship and acts that please the Divine. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. We offer the bad part of ourselves to the Divine, so that with its grace, we will have the ability to come out of it.
As a human, we do lots of acts that create Karma unknowingly or sometimes even knowingly. But in front of our God, we are just transparent. We do not want to hide anything. In this process, we don’t hold anything back. Not holding anything back is a good thing, It gives us the courage to acknowledge our true self in front of God, which helps in surrender and understanding the Divine God. In this path, we use all our senses, all our emotions, and all our actions to express love towards God. Bhakti is our form of love, we add puja, rituals, Jappa, meditation along with it. These are different ways to concentrate our mind towards oneness. We just try to have union through love and devotion with oneness.
It seems very easy, but it’s the toughest path. A path where you don’t know what is coming next, A path which is one way, you love, you admire, you trust, you believe, you surrender, you cry for your Divine, but you don’t want anything in return.
WHY BHAKTI IS IMPORTANT
Pure Bhakti is the path where we can walk, and slowly get rid of many parts of ourselves that keep us away from releasing the super consciousness. By practicing Bhakti, we try to love everything around us and we try to become a more beautiful person inside out. Bhakti slowly changes the personality of any devotee. When we are in intense love, beautiful feelings start to generate in our heart. We become tolerant towards everything. Love inside us makes us kind and compassionate towards fellow humans. We feel peaceful and happy all the time. Hatred towards others just vanishes away. Mind slowly becomes calm, and peaceful. People around us start noticing all these things.
If we want to understand Bhakti, we have to divide it into two parts. One is para Bhakti and another one is a little lower kind of Bhakti. Para Bhakti is Union with the Divine, the ultimate goal. At the end of the para Bhakti you enjoy Bliss, the ultimate happiness. You are free from all kinds of suffering. You are completely satisfied and usually, no more desires are left. After you attend to this Supreme Union, you just feel fulfilled.
Let’s talk about another kind of Bhakti. Now here I will try to make you understand, people just go to the temple, do puja, do rituals, chant mantras, do havan, donate money and other stuff in return they want something. This is alright, we look towards Divine beings when we want something. Most of the time Divine energy helps us by fulfilling our desire. They also consider themselves as Bhakti. But what I am talking about is something different, it is the fullest form of love and devotion where you don’t want anything, just looking at the Divine will take you to bliss, you don’t want anything, You will do everything to please your Deity, I am a bhakt I have many time felt intense love for my Divine Maa, sometimes I just remember her and start crying, I feel restless for her, to see her, to be with her. I do her seva in a temple, clean her room, get her puja stuff ready, doing her puja and Arti gives intense pleasure. Many people ask me there must be a very big desire inside you, to fulfill that you volunteer in the temple, how can I make them understand, my all desire just gets fulfilled by seeing or doing Seva for her. It’s very hard for me to make other people understand.
For moving towards the deepest form of devotion we need to learn how to cry for our beloved God. when we want something intensely from our heart, we miss it, sometimes we become sad and cry for it. When pure devotion flies out of our eyes, our ego starts melting away. When ego melts then the journey becomes easy. Ego holds us back from surrendering. Bhakti is the beautiful path that teaches us how to surrender.
The Bhakti movement started from 5th to 9th in south India, Saiva Nayanars and Vaishnav Alvars were the pioneers whose efforts helped spread the Bhakti movement. Their poetry and Ideas Move towards northern India slowly.
The 14th through 17th centuries was the time when Bhakti Movement was in its full flow. It was the time when foreign invaders started coming to India and trying to impose their religious values over the Indian subcontinent. It became hard for natives to follow their rituals and religious values. At that time many saints came out, and started teaching the easiest form of Bhakti. At that time the Bhakti Movement held people’s belief system and gave them the strength to follow the right path.
Most of the Bhakti movement leaders were poets and songwriters. They came out from all sectors of society. They challenged the caste system with their devotion and understanding of Supreme Divine power, they started influencing common people. During this invasion time, they held the society by their songs and poetry in common languages. These saints were from different castes and spoke different languages. they started writing in their language, so it was easy for common people to understand and relate. Their poems and songs were easy to memorize.
At that time the traditionally religious people took them as rebellious. These saints with their spiritual experiences and knowledge started challenging the traditional way of worship. Their main point was love, unconditional love towards God and humanity. They started introducing the teaching that by helping humans, we will be helping God. They taught that all humans have the same Divine Light inside them. So, treat everyone the same, stop discriminating. It helped a lot at that time, lower caste people who were trying to convert or become atheists, So this kind of saint started coming out from all over India. It started from the Southern part and moved towards the Northern part. Many of the saints started writing the praises off their beloved God. Most of them were devotees of one God. Some of them realized God in a formless way. Slowly this Bhakti movement of these saints divided in two secs. These two were Sagun Bhakti and Nirgun Bhakti. Now let’s try to understand the difference between Sagun Bhakti and Nirgun Bhakti.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishana said, “No doubt that worship of the unmanifest reality is definitely better, but people who worship me in my manifested forms attend salvation comparatively easily.” When Gayana appears, Nirgun Bhakti starts, and then the love of the entire world appears. It’s about Vishva -Kalyan.
Uddhava was a cousin and devotee of Krishna, he reached Nirguna Bhakti and became egoistic so Krishna sent him to console Gopis, But the Gopis taught him about sagun Bhakti by describing Krishna. When he realized the love and pain of the Gopis he just, at last, gave up and he considered Gopis as his guru.
The first syllable, “nir,” in Nirgun means without qualities, properties, and form. Nirgun Bhakti is thus an unconditional devotion towards a God without form, which means you cannot imagine your God in a manifested form. Some people consider it as the highest form of Bhakti. It is always tough to attach with Nirgun. Worshiping and meditating towards the formless was not easy at all. However, around that time, many saints followed this tradition and tried to reach the superconscious. They all belonged to different casts and backgrounds. Most of them didn’t have a proper education and most of them were oriented to self-realization. They played a major role in transforming the belief system and making it more strong. Most of them wrote poetry and songs in the local language, which was easy for the masses to understand and relate to. Most of the teachings were verbal because these saints didn’t have a proper education. Till now their verse and poetry are considered the most realistic genuine work. They used to say the toughest truth in a very easy way. Some of the pioneers were Kabir Das, Guru Nanak, Ramdev, etc. We can keep Sufi saints in this category too, they were also Nirgun.
Nirgun Bhakti is mostly based on the path of righteousness in any situation. They consider everything Divine. Worldly matters don’t affect them. They live in this world, but keep themselves detached. It’s inward love for para Brahma. This kind of Bhakti gave Nirgun saints to come out of the social structure because in this Bhakti they didn’t need any Deity or temple.
When I tried to understand the basics of Nirgun Bhakti, it took me from Sagun to Nirgun. In my personal experiences, I went from God to Brahma. What I realized was that initially the human mind needs something to hold on to. It can be anything. It can be nature, Guru, book, Deity, name, etc. We can hold on to these things and reach our destination. Realize superconsciousness, reach the ultimate goal, and attain bliss.
If we talk about Kabirdas, initially he also got his spiritual initiation by Guru Ramadas. After that, he moved towards Nirgun Bhakti. So, we can say that they are closely related to each other. Another example is Guru Nanak who talked about the devotion towards Divine without Gunas. He followed the Nirguna Bhakti path. He said the most important form of worship is Bhakti. Nam Simran- the realization of God – is an important practice in Sikhism.
“Sun with the body is Sagun Bhakti, but sun rays are a pure form of Nirguna Bhakti.”
Now we talk about Sagun Bhakti, Sagun Bhakti is the practice of recognizing and honoring God. God is manifested in all forms. In Sagun Bhakti, awareness of God’s presence is unlimited in all forms. In Sagun Bhakti the awareness of God being in every particle makes God reachable. It is a much easier way to reach God or supreme consciousness. In Sagun Bhakti it’s easy to make a relationship with God. During the Bhakti movement, many Sagun Bhakti saints came out with their songs and poetry. These songs and poems were about praises of God, they all considered God very near and dear to them.
We can divide the Sagun Bhakti into many different parts, Bhakti of Hanuman was in Sevak and Maitri that, Bhakti of Yashoda for Krishna or Kaushalya for Rama is the Vatsalya bhava. Draupadi have Sakha bhava for Krishna. Gopis have Sakha Bhav for Krishna. Shakuni have enemy bhava for Krishna, which is also considered as Bhakti, etc.
During the Bhakti movement many Sagun saints arose. A good example is Meera, who was a Krishan devotee. She wrote beautiful songs praising Krishna and describing her love as beloved of Krishna. Still, people sing her devotional songs, which are full of surrendering everything to Krishna and considering him as the supreme power. Another one was Swami Tulsi Das who rewrote the Ramayana as Ramcharityramanas in the local language. Ramayan was in Sanskrit. It was tough to read it, but Tulsi Das wrote in Awadhi language which was very easy to read. People started memorizing it and singing. Which made everyone dip into Bhakti, and feel the divinity. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was another name of the Bhakti movement. He was a Krishna devotee. He went on the streets of Bengal, sang devotional songs and danced. Thousands of people started following him. There were many more who contributed to society.
These practices, which started in medieval India, brought a new form of spiritual leadership and social reforms, such as community singing, chanting, celebrating the festival together, going to pilgrimages, and doing rituals together. Many of these regional practices have survived into the modern era.
Even the Bhakti movement introduced new forms of voluntary social giving such as seva, dana, and community kitchens where they served vegetarian foods. Gurudawara and many temples have these kinds of community kitchens and Bhandara where anyone can go and eat food. These increased mutual understanding for helping each other. Many temples and Matha started helping after any natural disaster, helping poor people by arranging community group marriages. For people with a low income, it became easy to marry their daughters. Providing volunteers during times of need. Many of these mathas and temples have free schools so poor kids can go and get an education. They even have orphanages where orphan kids live. They even made old age homes for elderly people to live in. The Bhakti movement played an important role in bringing everyone together and reforming a beautiful and sustainable social structure.
If you are interested in learning more about Bhakti, please check out the True Inner Mastery website, we have many kinds of meditation and kriya yoga practices that will help you understand Bhakti.
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