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What is Bhakti?

Bhakti Yog / August 28, 2016


Bhakti, devotion to Krishna, love for Radha Krishna, etc… we all have heard so much on this topic – there are so many video lectures of Shree Maharajji and Swami Mukundananda on YouTube; so many snippets on Facebook; so many audio lectures on soundcloud. There are even blogs that discuss the Nature of Bhakti or the nine methods of practicing bhakti and yet, most people have varying perspectives regarding the meaning of bhakti. So let’s attempt to understand the concept as explained by Jagadguru Kripaluji Maharaj.

Meaning of Bhakti
The word bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit word bhaj meaning ‘to serve.’ We happily serve the ones we love. We love our children, consequently, we are ever ready to serve them by making sacrifices for them. When they are babies, we happily forgo our lunch or dinner because it is time to put them to sleep. When they are sick, we serve them by taking them for their doctor’s appointments, monitoring their medications, staying up all night, etc. We happily serve as parents because we are attached to them. In other words, we love them so we serve them and make the requisite sacrifices.

Who/What is the object of service?
Having understood the definition of bhakti, the next question that comes is who is to be served or who is the object of service?  The simple answer is that it is Guru and God who are worthy of being served.  Swamiji explains in verse 3.11 and again in verse 9.23 of the Bhagavad Gita that just as watering the roots of a tree ensures that the water reaches all the different parts—branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits—similarly, by serving Shree Krishna, we serve all the celestial gods and everyone else as well.  Thus, there is no need to serve anyone else.  However, to keep things interesting, Shree Krishna throws a twist.  He explains to Arjun that one can serve him by serving his true devotee i.e. a God-realized Saint or a Guru. A God-realized Saint is an entity who not only understands the theory—the scriptures—but has also walked this path and so has the direct experience. After all, only one who has walked this path would be best suited to lead others down this path. Would you accept someone as a teacher who has not “walked the walk”?

Who can practice bhakti?
Having understood that Guru and God are to be served, the next question that comes is who can practice bhakti i.e. who can serve?  The simple answer is all of us.  In this context, ‘us’ means all souls that have been granted the human form.  Celestial gods cannot, plants and animals cannot, and neither can the souls delving in the seven layers of hell.  This concept was elaborated upon in our blog titled Why is Bhakti so Rare?

How does one practice bhakti?
But exactly how do we do this i.e. how do we practice bhakti?  Service to Guru and God can be done in three ways – with wealth (dhan), by volunteering our time (tan), and with the mind (man).  This concept was explained in our blog titled 4S’ of Spiritual Journey. Service should be done with loving sentiments of any of the following: a servant (dasya bhav), a friend (sakhya bhav), a parent (vatsalya bhav), or a gopi (madhurya bhav). In each instance though, the criteria to keep in mind is that we should be constantly focused on Guru and God’s happiness alone. “Tat sukh sukhitvam” is how Sage Narad explained it in his namesake scripture Narad Bhakti Darshan. This involves the three tenets of exclusiveness (ananyta), constant (nirantar), and complete selflessness (nishkamta).

Now that we understand bhakti as meant, resolve to practice it daily. Let’s start with something small in terms of serving Guru and God and each successive month and year build upon it. After all, it is the only way to love Krishna.