What is Bhakti?
by Swami Sivananda
Bhakti is the slender thread of Prem or love that binds the heart of a devotee with the lotus feet of the Lord. Bhakti is intense devotion and supreme attachment to God. Bhakti is supreme love for God. It is the spontaneous outpouring of Prem towards the Beloved. It is pure, unselfish, divine love or Suddha Prem. It is love for love's sake. There is not a bit of bargaining or expectation of anything here. This higher feeling is indescribable in words. It has to be sincerely experienced by the devotee. Bhakti is a sacred, higher emotion with sublime sentiments that unites the devotees with the Lord.
Sandilya defines Para Bhakti or preliminary devotion as supreme attachment to God. "Sa paranuraktir ishvare." "Para Anurakti" is intense attachment or love for God. The Narada Pancharatna defines it as realisation of God alone as "mine" accompanied by deep love for Him without attachment to any other object in the world. It is undivided love for God in which He alone is felt as "mine".
A distinction is drawn by some later devotional literature between Bhakti and Prem. Bhakti is spontaneous attachment to God. The devotee is entirely possessed by Him. He is absorbed in Him. Prem is the crowning consummation of Bhakti. It is the most concentrated love for God which is full of the most intense attachment and purifies the heart thoroughly. Love of God is the completion and perfection of devotion.
Love between husband and wife is physical, selfish and hypocritical. It is not constant. It is carnal passion only. It is sexual appetite. It is tinged with lower emotions. It is of a bestial nature. It is finite. But Divine Love is infinite, pure, all-pervading and everlasting. There is no question of divorce here. There is no internal union between husband and wife in reality in the vast majority of cases. Savitri and Satyavan, Atri and Anusuya are very, very rare in these days. As husbands and wives are extremely united only for selfish ends there is only some show of smile and external love, it is all mere show only. As there is no real union in their heart of hearts, there are always some kind of friction, rupture, wry faces and hot words in every house. If the husband does not supply his wife with the necklace and silk sari she demands and take her to the cinema, there will be regular tug-of-war and fighting in the house. Can you call this real love? It is mercenary, commercial, business. On account of lust men have lost their integrity, independence and dignity. They have become slaves of women. What a pitiable spectacle you see! The key is with the wife and even for few rupees the husband has to stretch his hands to her. Still he says under delusion and intoxication of passion: "I have a sweet, loving wife. She is really a Mira. She can be really worshipped. "
Robert J. Ingersoll, the great philosopher defines Love as follows:
"Love is the only bow on life's dark cloud. It is the Morning and the Evening Star. It shines upon the cradle of the babe and sheds its radiance upon the quiet tomb. It is the mother of art, inspirer of poet, patriot and philosopher. It was the first to dream of immortality. It fills the world with melody, for Music is the voice of Love. It is the perfume of the wondrous flower-the heart. Without it we are less than beasts but with it earth is heaven and we are gods in embryo. "