As the practice of yoga asana has spread around the world, in varying degrees of traditionalism and modern adaptation, many yoga-related concepts have also arrived at our Western doors. The physical practice of yoga poses is just one part of the vast history, philosophy, and theory behind yoga.
Bhakti is one concept that has exploded in the West, offering practitioners an accessible and effective way to embrace their spiritual practice on and off the mat. It has a deep and rich history that offers a lot of insight into the culture from which it evolved and the way it is practiced today.
Bhakti is a Sanskrit word comes from the root term 'bhaj', which means 'to divide, to share, to partake, to participate, to belong to'. According to Sri Lankan Buddhist scholar, Sanath Nanayakkara, no single term in English adequately depicts the concept of Bhakti. While it is commonly translated as devotion, love and worship, modern scholars debate that this a misleading and incomplete definition. It is suggested that Bhakti is not just devotion to God, but participation in a way of life that encompasses, behavior, ethics, and spirituality. It involves not just the practice of, but the internalization of spiritual devotion.
The Bhagavad Gita, a 'love song to God,' presents Bhakti Yoga in combination with Karma Yoga (the yoga of right action), and Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge). The Gita is the first recorded place where Bhakti is defined as its own path. Bhakti Yoga is described by Swami Vivekananda as "the path of systematized devotion for the attainment of union with the Absolute". Indian sage Ramana Maharishi describes bhakti as the surrender to the divine within one's own heart.
The Bhakti Movement was the great and rapid growth of bhakti that began in southern India and spread north during the 12th-18th centuries CE. This movement inspired devotional poetry and hymns, such as the Trimurai, which is a compilation of the works of 63 poets from this era. It is believed that the movement was a response to the arrival of Islam in India, and the consequential violence that too often accompanies religious invasions. The Bhakti movement was revolutionary in its call for peace, love and equality. The texts invited all people to practice and embody devotion, regardless of gender or class. The Bhakti poetry devoted to the Beloved and peaceful Bhakti ideals influenced many aspects of Hinduism and Indian culture, with its influence also extending into Sufism, Christianity, and Jainism.
There are two important Bhakti texts, the Shandilya Bhakti Sutra and the Narada Bhakti Sutra. They define devotion, emphasize its importance, and classify its forms. According to the Sutras, Bhakti is practiced in four ways.
Atma-Bhakti - the devotion to ones Self (Supreme Self)
Ishvara-Bhakti - the devotion to a formless being (God)
Ishta Devata-Bhakti - the devotion to a personal deity
Guru-Bhakti - the devotion to one's guru
The Navaratnamalika lists nine forms of Bhakti.
Sravana - study of the ancient texts
Kirtana - prayer
Smarana - remembering the teachings of the ancient texts
Pada Sevana - service to the feet
Acrhana - worship
Namaskar - bowing to the Divine
Dasya - service to the Divine
Sakhyatva - friendship with the Divine
Atma-Nivedana - surrender of Self to the Divine
Because Bhakti is fundamentally about love, it is embraced and practiced in many ways by modern yogis and spiritual seekers. In today's ever-evolving society, God and spirituality are defined in many different ways by many different people. Regardless of our beliefs and convictions, Bhakti can be practiced through meditation, prayer, and daily actions. It is an essential key to the moment, to not only be in the moment, but to feel the love, beauty, and divinity in every moment and bow in gratitude to this blessing.