We have previously learnt about the two paths that lead towards God. The third and final path, devotion or Bhakti is the most suitable path for all human beings.
As we learnt earlier, Karm and jñana have many injunctions, rules, obstacles and is very difficult to follow in this day and age. The path of devotion is very easy and anyone can practice it simply because every human has a mind and a heart! All we need for devotion is the presence of these two elements!
If a blind man has to practice Yog and jñana, it would be extremely difficult for him to follow instructions given to him. How can he practice it? What will a lame man do to practice Yog? What about people who are very sick and frail? If a poor man does not have the means and provision to follow the path of Karm, does that mean he cannot reach God?
The path of Bhakti can be followed by every human being, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, colour, gender or age. This cannot be applied in whole to the other two paths. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that Karm and jñana are true paths but their application is extremely difficult in KALI-YUG.
To attain God-realization, Bhakti is essential in every path. The karm yogi does Bhakti along with Karm, or worldly duties. The Jñanayogi and Aṣhṭāṅg yogi progress by their particular sadhana path. However, in the end, they too need to do Bhakti, to attract the Grace of God, and reach the final destination. The scriptures state very categorically, that without Bhakti, no one can attain God.
Jagadguru Shankaracharya & Bhakti
Adi Jagadguru Shankaracharya, the foremost exponent and master of jñana in the last 2500 years was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. He advocated devotion to Shree Krishna in his commentaries and even wrote poem in praise of the Supreme Lord!
Is it not astonishing to note that the one of the greatest philosophers and spiritual teachers of the path of jñana is a devotee of Lord Krishna?
What is Bhakti?
Bhakti is presence of immense love for the Lord. The devotee develops an intense longing to see God, meet Him, and be with Him. Whatever one does, the mind remains attached to God and the thoughts flow towards Him, like rivers flowing towards the ocean. Such love in the heart cleanses it of all impurities. With a pure heart, one begins to see God in all living beings and in all things. As the thoughts become sublime, the devotee experiences the unlimited Divine Bliss of God and becomes fully satisfied
Those who are established in this knowledge perform all their actions as an offering to him and are released from the sinful reactions of their work.
There are souls who have the good fortune of being born in pious families, where they are educated in good values and virtuous living from childhood. This is a consequence of their good deeds in past lives. Then, there are also souls who have the misfortune of being born in families of criminals, gamblers, and atheists. This is also the result of sins committed in past lives.
Here, Shree Krishna states that irrespective of birth, sex, caste, or race, whoever takes complete shelter of Him will attain the supreme goal. Such is the greatness of the path of devotion that everyone is eligible for it, whereas in other paths there are strict criteria for eligibility.
This verse states that God is not concerned with the time or place where we perform devotion. He only sees the love in our heart. All souls are the children of God, and he is willing to accept everyone with open arms, provided they come to him with genuine love.
The amazing thing is that Bhakti, or devotion, does not only have to be done in the temple or a place of worship. It can be performed in any place, at any time of the day, and with every action we do. A businessman, without Bhakti, will go about his business in material consciousness - "Let me earn money so that I can enjoy in the world." If you have love for God, you will still do business, but your attitude will change: "Let me earn a lot of money, so that after taking care of my bodily necessities, I can serve God with it."
A student will probably spend a large portion of the day studying. The material attitude is: "Let me get good results, so that I can make a good career." But if one has devotion in the heart the feelings towards studies will be: "Let me acquire knowledge and use it to serve and glorify my Beloved Shree Krishna."
If one is to eat food, the material attitude would be, "Let me eat tasty things and have a good time. It does not matter if I fall sick later, as long as I enjoy myself now." In contrast, if someone possesses Bhakti, that person would still be eating food, but with sublime thoughts: "Let me eat good food, so that I may become strong and healthy, and then I will be able to do a lot of service to God."
Bhakti & The Mind
Bhakti or devotion is performed by engaging the mind in complete absorption of God. It is the mind (that includes the heart) alone that has to do the devotion by applying its thoughts towards God. Other physical actions can be subservient to the act of devotion but the primary engagement is through the mind alone.
When a person desires an object, he works towards procuring it. Our minds have been trained to desire for material objects since eternity. Hence, it would seem extremely difficult to concentrate the mind on God since He is not yet our subject of desire. By learning more about God and His Divine Grace, the mind needs to be slowly trained to develop loving sentiments and emotions towards God since He alone can bring us the happiness that we seek.
It is the nature of the mind to desire or like an object that gives happiness. By understanding (through the intellect) that God alone is ours and He alone can bring us eternal peace, we can train the mind to constantly think of God. We will learn more about this in the section about PRACTICAL DEVOTION.
When the mind slowly begins to meditate on God, it will receive his Grace to that extent and progress on the path of Bhakti. The end result of this practice is the attainment of Divine Love.
God does not easily bestow Divine Love, since it is His highest power, and the ultimate thing one can possess. He waits till the devotee becomes deserving of it. So if we want Divine Love, we will have to qualify ourselves for it. This qualification is not an external certificate or degree; it is the preparation of the heart and mind. We will have to purify our mind completely, to have the good fortune of receiving Divine Love.
During the initial stages, the mind is unaware of the method to 'visualize' God. How can the mind meditate or concentrate on someone when it does not know how that person looks? In the path of Jñana yog and Aṣhṭāṅg yog, the aspirants aim to concentrate their mind on a void, a circle or on some 'formless' power. This is extremely difficult to realize an entity which has no form.
On the contrary, the full personal form of God can be chosen as your beloved deity for worship. It is much easier for any person to imagine 'his' or 'her' God to be of a certain form which is easier to identify with. Remember, God is present in both, Formless and Personal Form in this world.
How does one perform or practice Devotion? What are the benefits?
The aim of practicing devotion or Bhakti is to cleanse one's mind and heart so that is can receive the Divine Love of God. Cleansing involves the removal of mental afflictions like greed, hate, anger, lust and many such impurities that cloud the mind. Our mind has been attached to this material world since eternal lifetimes. It is also through the practice of devotion, we aim to neutralize the mind by detaching it from the world and attaching it to God.
Neutralizing the mind denotes that we neither hate nor love this world. We should become indifferent to the events that unfold in front of us. Whether the situation or the incident is favourable to us or unfavourable, the path of devotion builds the inner strength so that we can remain unaffected by the external disturbances, good or bad.
This practice also helps us to develop the ability to give up desires for material happiness or pleasure. This is closely related to the "attachment" that we have for the material world andthe people around us. Bhakti helps to reduce material desire and increase desire for objects related to God. This is the beginning of devotion. We will want to meet Him, talk to Him and be with Him. This is the germination of the seed of bhakti in our hearts.
When the mind becomes strong enough to withstand the vagaries of this dynamic world full of changes that are good and bad, we will find more peace, stability and serenity within. With such a neutral mind, one can move towards God swiftly and steadily.
How will the mind be cleansed? This will happen through “preparatory devotion”. Such devotion will prepare the vessel of the mind, in which God will then bestow His Divine Love. Hence, Bhakti is of two kinds:
Sadhan Bhakti, or Preparatory devotion. Sadhan Bhakti is what we will have to do to cleanse the mind from anger, greed, lust, envy, pride, and illusion.
Siddha Bhakti, or Divine Love. Siddha Bhakti is a Divine power that we will receive by God’s Grace. The purification of the mind is a natural consequence of doing Sadhan Bhakti. God is all-pure, beyond the three modes of material nature. When we attach our mind to Him, it starts rising above the three modes. First, tamoguṇa, the mode of ignorance, is destroyed. Then, rajoguṇa, the mode of passion is finished, and the mind becomes sattvic, or established in the mode of goodness. Finally, by the Grace of God, the sattva guṇa is also destroyed. At this stage, Sadhan Bhakti is complete, and the vessel is ready for receiving Siddha Bhakti. So to get Divine Love, we must first learn how to do preparatory devotion.
Another name for Siddha Bhakti is upasana. The word upasana means to come close to God. How can we do that? By thinking, “He is mine.” We can think, “Shree Krishna is my Father. Radharani is my Mother.” Or if wish, we can think, “Shree Krishna is my Friend.” Just as the cowherd boys of Braj looked upon Shree Krishna as their friend. We then have the privilege to play with Him, and confide in Him.
We can even think that Shree Krishna is our Beloved. This is how the gopis of Vrindaban worshipped Shree Krishna. A great example of this bhav (sentiment of devotion) was Meera Bai. She looked upon the Lord as her Beloved, and in this way, felt the greatest proximity with Him. We too can increase our love for Shree Krishna, by establishing loving relationships with Him.
Devotion may sometimes seem very similar to worldly love, but actually it is totally the opposite. The distinction is that love in the world is selfish, while true Love for God is selfless.