How to practice practice bhakti-yoga?

Post By: Published on: December 16, 2016 Reading time: 5 minutes

What is bhakti-yoga?

Bhaktiyoga is the technique of transferring the sense of identity (asmitā) from ourselves to an external object such as a personal deity (iṣṭadeva), Guru/ master or teacher.

As a result, there is conscious and unconscious merger of the personality of the practitioner into that of the deity, or Yoga.

In Srimad-Bhagavata-Purana (chapter 7.5.23-24) Prahalada propounds nine primary tools of bhakti.

  • Śravaṇa (listening to achievements of the deity) – here, we listen to the achievements of the diety and try to emulate those achievements. One of the most popular dieties is Hanumān, one of the heroes of Rāmāyaṇā. One can see from the video that the achievements are inspirational as well as aspirational.  Consequently, as we introduce these qualities in our own life, we slowly lose our feeling of doership (ahaṅkāra) and sense of Identity (asmitā).

What is important here is that we must personify the deity with values that are ideal to us. This allows easy surrender and our own evolution into that vision.

Kirtana (praising the achievements of the deity) – here, we extol the diety with qualities of specific behavioural patterns which we then imbibe and make our own. One of Bhārat’s greatest bhakti proponents of the kirtana was the great princess-saint Meera who merged with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Enclosed is one of her bhajans (kirtana of a specific format) from the movie Meera, sung by the late M. S. Subbalakshmi.

  • Smarana (retaining an image of the deity at all time) – this element has two parts;
    • We try to retain the deity in an external form in pictures and other forms
    • Then, over time, we try to subsume our memory with the image of the deity.

One of the biggest role models of this kind of worship is Hanumān who looked for Rāmā in everything.

Smarana in society.

In society, this is used extensively – nations use flags, companies use brands and logos. However, such transferences are transient, to the extent of building and retaining a bond for a specific purpose. Bhakti-yoga requires diffusion of identity that is deeply sublime.

  • Pāda-sevana (pada = feet + sevana = service) – pāda-sevana means service at the feet of the deity or Guru, which can be interpreted as subsuming one’s personality into that of the deity.

In society, this can mean any service that is rendered in the spirit of sacrifice (without selfish interest)

  • Srchana (worshipping the deity with hyperbole) – Here, the practitioner places the deity above his self-worth (asmita). Consequently, he or she is motivated to surrender his or her identity to the deity or object of bhakti.

Srachana and leaders.

Leaders and dictators around the world often use this technique to become larger than life – Mao Zedong was venerated just as the Beatles. Even the Kim family of North Korea have entered the consciousness of every North Korean.

  • Vandana (worshipping the deity) – Whilst srachana is worshiping with hyperbole, vandana is deep surrender and integration of the self with the deity.
  • Dāsya (servitude) – Dāsya comes from the root dasa or servant. The yogi serves the deity as a servant and dedicates all his actions and outcomes to the deity. Thus, the yogi negates all sense of personal achievement, opinion and identity.

Bhakti-yoga an intrinsic part of the gurukula form of teaching in Oriental societies. Here, the yogi or student stays with the teacher and slowly imbibes verbal as well as non-verbal teaching during the residency through service. So, when the student leaves the gurukula, he or she has subsumed his or her psyche below that of the guru or teacher.

Example of guru-vandana.

There is a famous story in the 1950’s regarding the 2 famous Quality Guru’s Deming and Juran when they were invited to Japan for training the Japanese on Quality. Many of the delegates were found trying to mimic Deming and Juran in their walk, talk and eating styles. Their intent was to imbibe the character of these masters completely, to the extent of their personality.

  • Sakhya (retaining a base of friendship) – Maintaining momentum in such an endeavour is always difficult. Moreover, our identity will not allow subsuming so easily. Therefore, company of like-minded individuals allows us to stoke each other’s motivation and maintain momentum.
  • Atma-nivedana (atma = soul + nivedana = state of no schism) or state where there is no difference between the yogi and the deity. Initially, the aspirant always views the deity as different, but with time and practice, the aspirant becomes the deity.

ExampleGora-kumbhar was a Maharashtrian saint potter who experienced complete integration with Panduranga Vittala (an avatara of Śrī Kṛṣṇa). Once, when he was preparing  clay for his pot, he went into complete sublimal integration with the Absolute and did not notice that his child had fallen into the clay that he was ponding with his feet (watch the video here).

Bhakti-yoga in Bhārat

There are many examples of bhakti-yoga in India such as Meerabai, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu etc.

Importantly, the object of bhakti can be a deity, person, an entity such as country or even a concept such as environmental protection or archaeology.

Unfortunately, if the influence of the master overwhelms the aspirant, it can damage the practitioner. Also, it can also result in the formation of a cult or a society dominated by a master.

Points to Ponder on bhakti-yoga.

Internal TagsDharma (conditioning)Stress and Situational AwarenessStress and pranaAwareness measures, Bhakti Yoga fundamentals, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga.

External Tags: Bhakti Movement in India

  • What is your favourite bhakti-yoga method?
  • What does devotion (śraddhā) mean to you?
  • Who is your role model? Which qualities have you taken from this entity?
  • How would you implement bhakti-yoga in daily life?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *