Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of Devotion
Everyone has heard the term 'yoga' these days, but few people realise that the yoga system was devised thousands of years ago as a means of self-realisation. Most people are only familiar with the physical yoga postures and are likely to see it as a form of exercise for keeping the body supple and fit.
But, yoga is much, much more than that; it is a means for attuning to the Godhead through its manifold practices and techniques. In this article, we are exploring one of these great yoga systems, or branches, Bhakti yoga.
What Is Bhakti Yoga?
Properly understood, bhakti is the ancient Indian Sanskrit term which literally means devotion. So when an individual is practicing the methods of Bhakti yoga, he or she is learning the methods of devotion; that devotion is principally directed towards the Godhead, and by extension towards all living beings. It is the Yoga of Love, centred in the heart. Jesus would have understood this well, as essentially, he taught the same method.
Characteristics that are developed in Bhakti yoga are those of dispassion, or indifference to personal suffering. Dispassion can be understood more easily if we break down the word into two components; dis-passion. This means that the developed Bhakti yogi has learned the meaning of non-attachment to things, to people, to place, nation, etc. It literally means that there is an absence of passion.
We mustn't think that such an absence of passion means that the Bhakti yogi student becomes cold and calculating, or lacks energy for life's tasks; what it means strictly speaking is that the disciple of Bhakti yoga has no attachment to the outcome of anything that he achieves or does not achieve. There is equanimity in all matters, even to personal sacrifice and suffering.
Such a development creates a great balance of mind, body and soul in the individual. The temporary nature of the physical life is recognised, whereas the spiritual life is aspired to more and more. It is 'living in the world, but not of the world,' to paraphrase the teachings of Jesus. Although Bhakti yoga follows the lines of love and compassion, the qualities developed are actually heroic traits, not weak ones.
Absence of Ego
One of the most profound aspects of many spiritual philosophies is the suggestion of renouncing the ego. Now, the ego has many interpretations, but the one intended here is in reference to the sense of self-importance and vanity that is overtly apparent (or cleverly hidden) by many who claim to be doing good in the world for altruistic purposes when in fact it is only to gain attention and thus massage the ego further. Some amongst us want to be seen as good. The Bhakti yogi is indifferent to this need because he or she has subjugated the ego, or more pointedly, annihilated it.
This does not mean that Bhakti yoga encourages a demeaning or grovelling type of character, it means that the student of this practice is free from the need to be attached to outcomes, such as praise, reward and elevation in society. There is immense freedom when one no longer has desires for such transitory rewards.
The only attachment now, is the love of God (always open to personal interpretation) and other beings, including the creatures of the lower kingdoms in nature. The student of Bhakti yoga serves for the greater good, not for the little self.
Practical Bhakti Techniques
Try developing the faculties of Bhakti Yoga by doing something today that will help another, but ensure that you do it in secret in some way. Don't tell anyone about your good deed. This will help you to subjugate the ego because there is no reward of praise at the end of it.
Jesus advised that when we pray, we should do it in secret, to go into a room and close the door behind us. The idea of such spiritual devotion is not to draw attention to ourselves, otherwise, it is just the ego at work, desiring to be seen as being 'good' by others.
Perhaps you might like to write a cheque and send it to a charity; tell no one about it. Or save a spider from being trapped in your home, and let it outside; keep it to yourself. Give time to someone who needs it, forget yourself for a while. When you do these things, you are acting from Bhakti. When we serve the planet or other people, water a plant, or even help the smallest creature, this is all Bhakti. The Divine is in everything, so when you do these things, you serve the Divine.
Bhakti Yoga Postures
Some practical Yoga postures or asanas, to use the correct Sanskrit term, might also be applied with the mind fixed and focussed on devotion and prayer. You could sit in the Half-Lotus or Full Lotus postures if you are able to, and place the hands in prayer posture over the heart, and direct your prayer, energy and mental attention to those who you wish to help.
Spinal Twist posture is a good asana that also helps the mind to focus on the object of devotion in prayer. You can incorporate almost any asana that works for you, into acts of spiritual devotion and contemplation, combined with sincere prayer. All of this will develop the qualities of Bhakti yoga.
Ultimately, Bhakti yoga is the submerging of the little self, into the Greater Self of the Universe. All is One.
© 2018 S P Austen