Bhakti Yoga: 2nd Branch of the Yoga Tree of Enlightenment
This article is the third in a series of seven articles explaining all about the yoga tree and its 6 branches. This article addresses the second branch of the yoga tree – Bhakti yoga. Catch up with the first article here and the second article here.
What is Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti means ‘to adore God.’ Bhakti yoga is known as the yoga of the heart and of devotion. The practice of Bhakti yoga leads to union with the divine through love and devotion.
Bhakti yogis dedicate their time to devotional practice, seeing the Divine in all elements of life, and so Bhakti yoga is also referred to as ‘love for love’s sake.’
Of all 6 branches of yoga, Bhakti yoga is the most beautiful. Followers of this branch demonstrate their devotion to the divine through every thought, word, and action, dedicating everything they do to their chosen deity. In this way, life becomes a sacred spiritual practice, with each moment bringing us closer to union and liberation.
Because Bhakti yoga is such a heart-based practice, it is excellent for channeling the power of the emotions. The emotional energy is the force behind this path to liberation.
Through consistent practice the Bhakti yogi gains the realization that the object of their devotion (the divine/deity) is actually woven into the whole of existence, including the yogi herself. It is this self-realization which leads to the dissolving of separateness and duality and the realization of divine union and Moksha.
What Do Bhakti Yogis Do?
Bhakti yogis see their whole life as a sacred spiritual practice and everyday activities as opportunities to worship the divine. I think this is very inspirational – it shows us that we don’t have to live like monks and be in hours of meditation or ritual every day to live a sacred and meaningful life. Life itself is sacred and each action can be an offering of gratitude and devotion, depending on the intention with which it is performed.
Aside from dedicating every word, thought, and deed to devotion, Bhakti yogis participate in the following practices:
- Pada Sevana (devotional ritual)
- Smarana (meditating on the divine)
- Kirtana (singing sacred mantras and songs)
- Vandana (prostration)
- Shravana (listening to sacred scriptures)
- Sakhya (devotional friendship)
- Atma Nivedana (offering of the self to the divine)
- Dasya (a slave-like devotion to the chosen deity)
Let’s explore each of these devotional practices individually.
Pada means feet, and Sevana means service. So Pada Sevana literally translated means ‘service at the feet of the divine.’ In Bhakti yoga, this means devotional ritual, or puja, to a statue or representation of the deity.
Smarana is meditating constantly on the chosen deity. It can also be thought of as Divine mindfulness as it is an act of constant remembrance of the deity throughout daily life.
Kirtana is devotional singing and springs from the sheer delight and love of the deity. This evokes strong emotion, which is released in the form of devotional song. Kirtana is a form of Japa mantra practice – the repetition of a sacred mantra.
Vandana is prayer and prostration practice done before a statue or representation of the deity. Vandana can be done as a stand-alone practice each morning and evening or as part of a puja.
Shravana is listening to divine stories and scriptures. Shravana is done through Satsang, listening to talks, and hearing readings of sacred texts.
Sakhya involves cultivating spiritual friendships. Friendship with the deity and friendships with other Bhakti yogis. In Buddhism this community of spiritual friendship is called the Sangha and is a crucial part of the journey to enlightenment.
Atma Nivedana is the offering or dedication of the self to the divine. It is also known as self-surrender – giving up all selfish desires to be of service to the divine. It is the dedication of the body, mind, and soul to the will of god.
Dasya is cultivating a slave-like devotion to the chosen deity. Much like Atma Nivedana, it involves relinquishing all personal desires and volitions and giving the self completely to be in service to the divine. Practicing Dasya means demonstrating love of the deity through selfless service.
What Deities Do Bhakti Yogis Worship?
The specific deity varies from person to person, and each yogi may choose several deities, either at once or at different times in their lives. Some Bhakti yogis will only worship one deity their whole life. It is a really personal choice.
A selection of the most worshipped deities for Bhakti yogis include:
Many Bhakti yogis prefer to worship a living or deceased guru rather than a deity. The Buddha is a prime example of a deceased guru, even though Buddhism is technically a religion, the Buddha was not a deity, he was a living human being. Other Gurus often worshipped in Bhakti yoga include:
- Swami Sivananda
- Swami Satchidananda
- Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
- The Dalai Lama
- Thich Nhat Hanh
- Paramahansa Yogananda
- Neem Karoli Baba
- Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma)
How Can I Bring Bhakti Yoga into My Life?
Bhakti yoga is easily infused into your day. It can be as simple as reciting a mantra to your chosen deity when you wake up and offering gratitude and thanks before each meal and for all the blessings in your life. You might like to start a gratitude journal if you haven’t got one already.
If you don’t already have a deity that you worship, you can do some research to decide which divine energy you resonate with. A good place to start is right here in the Goddess Scrolls. We have articles on Goddess Shakti, Goddess Kali, Goddess Aphrodite, Goddess Isis, and Goddess Lakshmi.
If you want to practice devotional ritual and mantra you can find lots of examples for specific deities on YouTube.
I love this one for Lakshmi (abundance and prosperity) – Om Shreem Mahalakshmiyei Namaha
And this one for Ganesh (destroying obstacles and gaining self-knowledge) – Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. Watch a video of this mantra and chant along.
If you like to practice Shakti Bhakti – devotion to the supreme Goddess Shakti, you might like this mantra:
Adi Parashakti Mantra in Sanskrit:
Adi Shakti, Adi Shakti, Adi Shakti, Namo Namo
Sarab Shakti, Sarab Shakti, Sarab Shakti, Namo Namo
Pritham Bhagvati, Pritham Bhagvati, Pritham Bhagvati, Namo Namo
Kundalini Mata Shakti, Mata Shakti, Namo Namo.”
The Mantra in English:
”First force of all creation, to You I bow.
Divine force, everywhere, to You I bow.
Creative force, primal force, to You I bow.
Rising up, Divine Mother, to You I bow.”
Contemporary Bhakti Yoga
Remember, you don’t NEED to worship a deity to practice Bhakti yoga. A more contemporary view of Bhakti yoga is that the divine (universal energy/consciousness) is in all things and all people, as so by honoring ourselves and our relationships with others we are honoring the divine and practicing Bhakti yoga. If you choose to see the divine in everything and everyone, you will begin to treat others and yourself with more kindness.
“Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”– Philo (Jewish sage)
We are often so caught up in the small struggles of life that we forget that everyone has their own struggles, dreams, goals, and hardships. 1 in 4 people will be affected by a mental health condition at some point in their lives. It is important to recognize that each person you meet has their own battles going on that you know nothing about. By choosing to practice Bhakti yoga you honor each person you meet instead of criticizing or judging them.
You can practice contemporary form of Bhakti yoga by dedicating your spiritual practice to someone in your life who is suffering. This is also a Buddhist practice – the releasing of any merit gained from the practice to go to the alleviation of the suffering of all beings. If you prefer this approach, silently offer the energy of your yoga and mediations sessions back into the universe so that it may be of the highest service. This is a beautiful way to practice as it reinforces the ultimate goal of Bhakti yoga – liberation through the realization of oneness with the universe and all things.
Kirtan – Devotional Singing
Kirtan has gained popularity and thanks to the internet groups can be found in most major cities and even via online meeting. A kirtan session is organized in a call-and-response style, with the leader chanting a line and the congregation responding with the same.
I have been to many kirtan sessions and have had some deeply spiritual experiences. The energy in the room builds and builds and lifts your own vibrational frequency. This powerful energy opens up the Sahasrara chakra and enables divine cosmic connection.
I have personally felt huge waves of love, gratitude, and reverence overcome me during kirtan sessions, and if you are interested in Bhakti yoga, I highly recommend joining a group and trying it out. You can get a taster of it by watching this video of a live kirtan session by Krishna Das in New York in 2013.
More Ways to Practice Bhakti Yoga
Here are some more ways that you can infuse your life with devotion and become a Bhakti yogi:
Practice mindfulness. Simply by being totally present with our activities and relationships we honor them and make them sacred. Create a sacred altar with a representation of your chosen deity. Chant their mantra morning and evening as an act of devotion. Meditate on your deity and ask them to help you open your heart to love for them and all beings. Spend time outside in nature and revere the beauty of the universal temple.
Offer a prayer of gratitude before you eat or drink anything. You can even silently dedicate your first bite or sip as an offering to your deity. Start a gratitude journal and each evening write down ten things that you are grateful for from your day. Practice forgiveness. Remember that most of the time most people do their best with the resources and knowledge they have available. It is normal to make mistakes from time to time but holding a grudge will create a far more destructive result.
Go out of your way to help someone, even if it means doing something you don’t love doing. Making sacrifices for others is making sacrifices for the divine. Remember that you are a manifestation of the divine. Take time to practice self-care and cultivate self-love and self-forgiveness. Remember that you are allowed to make mistakes too.
Bhakti yoga is known as the yoga of the heart. It is the way to liberation through devotion to the divine, whatever that means to you. Bhakti yoga is a very personal practice and there is no right or wrong way. Explore the suggestions given in this article, do some more research, and try out some different devotional practices. You’ll know that you’ve found the method of Bhakti yoga for you because it will touch your heart and raise your vibrational frequency. You will start seeing yourself and others with compassionate eyes and you will gain joy from dedicating elements of your life to your deity or to other people.
If you only try one thing from this article, my personal recommendation is that you try kirtan. Devotional singing with a group of people is a truly transformative experience. As always, we are here to help you on your spiritual journey so if you have any questions, pop them in the comments box below or join us over at the Sacred Circle forum.