The Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga book by Swami Vivekanada defines Bhakti yoga as “a real, genuine search after the Lord, a search beginning, continuing, and ending in love.” A connection to the higher self, and the higher power. The Study Guide to the Classical Yoga Lifestyle holds Bob Buteras idea on the aim of Bhakti as “to discover how to utilize the emotional energy for personal growth, or to increase devotion to God. To discover what is the center of your life.” Yoga Journal talks about a few things: learning to love globally, practicing self-love and devotion, being nurtured by nature, and filling your heart with song. Yoga journal also agrees that Bhakti-yoga although has seemingly erupted across America, is deeper than the typical western yogis idea what it actually is. There are many western, or American yogis who have tiptoed around Bhakti yoga, and have claimed to practice it, however are unsure of what Bhakti-yoga really is. This is not to say that they did not want to learn or that they could not; but more so that they may not have been educated properly maybe on the entirety of the concepts behind Bhakti-yoga. Bhakti-yoga is seen as one of the most natural ways to reach the higher power, or the divine. Bhakti is a combination of many yoga practices (“and many religions, in fact it does not exclude anything or anyone which is different from most other systems of belief since they normally ask that you believe in a specific something or someone. Bhakti asks you more to believe in yourself, which can be more difficult than you think. Bhakti asks you though to bring your beliefs with you. Why? Because they are what you believe in and they are a part of what makes up you, the idea of leaving behind a part of your practice or system of belief would be contradictory to Bhakti. Bhakti yoga is separated into stages: Gauni, the preparatory and Prana, the supreme.
Bhakti-yoga is part of karma yoga and part of Jana. I recently wrote about Karma yoga, and how it is the yoga of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world. Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities. Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind. Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine. Each of these have their own concepts, and are traditionally divided, but never should have been in the first place, they are all yoga. Yoga itself is a path to spirituality, and each of these four paths are needed in order to reach the end. While Jnana Yoga deals with knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation, everybody has a mind and at some point will need to examine it, wherein quiet reflection naturally comes. All people will experience emotions such as love, compassion, and devotion at points along the journey, regardless of which of the four paths of Yoga is predominant. Nobody can live in a body and the world without doing actions, and thus, some degree of Karma Yoga is essential. Everybody will become still and quite from sadhana or spiritual practices, will naturally encounter and deal with attractions and aversion, and will meditate, thus touching on Raja Yoga. Bhakti-Yoga takes the time to recognize the other forms of yoga and Swami Vivekananda tells us that “Three things are necessary for a bird to fly: the two wings, and the tail as the ruder for steering. Jnana is the one wing, Bhakti is the other, and raja-yoga is the tail that maintains the balance. For those who cannot pursue all these three forms of worship together in harmony, and take up, therefore, Bhakti alone as their way, it is necessary always to remember that forms and ceremonials, though absolutely necessary for the progressing of the soul, have no other value than to lead us on to the state in which we feel the most intense love for God.” The Generic term for God in Hindu is Isvara. When God is spoken of in these terms, I am not referring to s specific God or deity, but the higher power that you trust in and believe. Bhakti yoga lays on the command not to hate or deny any one of the various paths that lead to salvation. Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga explains this as Isvara being the relative aspect of Brahman, which “is the clay or substance out of which an infinite variety of articles are fashioned. As clay, they are all one; but forms differ from one another. Previously they had all been potentially in the clay; and of course, they are identical in substance. But when formed, and so long as the form remains, they are separate and different.” This basically means that if the clay represents our faith, all of our Gods are formed from our faith, but take different forms depending on our religions and belief systems. So in Bhakti, any God is good because each is built from the same thing: faith. Isvara is the personal God.
Bhagavan Ramanuja gave a commentary on the Vedanta Sutras which is summarized to say that the scriptures tell us that “Meditation, again, is a constant remembrance, flowing like an unbroken stream of oil poured from one vessel to another. When this kind of remembering has been attained, all bondages break.” If someone is near than you can see them, but you can remember them when they leave, so remembering can be as good as seeing, and the act of constantly remembering is considered worship. This means that meditation, or the constant reemergence is denoted by the word Bhakti. In the many times I have meditated both alone, or guided, there is one thing that stays constant; me. Weather I am learning about my emotions, thoughts, personality, or physical self, I am always in my meditation, so even when I am meditating on a situation that may have had close to nothing to do with me, I am meditating about myself. This means that my meditations revolve around a constant remembrance of myself. Now not being especially skilled with meditations, I will go back to something Bob always says: “Every time you meditate, aim to learn something about yourself.”