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What Is Bhakti?

by Swami Sivananda

Bhakti comes from the word "Bhaj" which means 'to be attached or devoted to'. It is pure unselfish love mixed with reverence.

Bhakti is the basis of all religious life. Bhakti destroys Vasanas and egoism. Bhakti elevates the mind to magnanimous heights. Bhakti is the master-key to open the chambers of wisdom. Bhakti culminates in Jnana. Bhakti begins in two and ends in one. Those who fight on the point: "Which is superior Bhakti or Jnana?" are groping in darkness. They have not understood the real Tattva. Para Bhakti and Jnana are one.

Bhakti or devotion in the form of Anuraga or attachment to the Lord leads to the highest good or the attainment of God-realisation. The stronger the attachment, the quicker the realisation.

Prahlada says: "O Lord Hari, may I have the same sort of profound abiding love for Thee, which the worldly people cherish for the fleeting sensual objects of this universe. May not that Bliss disappear from my heart, when I think of Thee." What a beautiful definition of Bhakti. These thoughts have emanated from the core of Prahlada's heart. They are charged with intense feeling and devotion.

It is easy to have a thing that is beautiful. God is Beauty of beauties. God is the source for all beauties. God is an embodiment of undecaying beauty. So it is very easy to love God.

If you are attached to a finite, perishable object as wife or son, you become miserable when your wife or son dies. But if you are attached to God you get eternal, infinite Bliss and peace. A Bhakta aspires, therefore, to something imperishable and infinite.

Without love man's life is empty. Without love man lives in vain. Love is vital. It is all-pervading. Love is a great power. Love is the sap of life. Give love. It shall be given unto you. Cultivate this love through service, Japa, Satsanga and meditation.

Human love is all hollow. It is mere animal attraction. It is passion. It is carnal love. It is selfish love. It is ever changing. It is all hypocrisy and mere show. The wife does not care for her husband when he is in the role of unemployment. She frowns at him. The husband dislikes his wife when she loses her beauty on account of some chronic disease. You can find real, lasting love in God alone. His love knows no change.

A selfish man loves his body only. Then he extends his love to his wife, children and friends. When he evolves a bit, he begins to love his own caste people and those who belong to his own district. Afterwards he loves people of his own province. His heart further expands. Then he loves the people of his own country. In the long run, he develops the feeling of universal brotherhood. He begins to love any man in any part of the world.

Devotion is the seed. Faith is the root. Service of Bhagavatas is the shower. Self-surrender is the flower. Communion with the Lord is the fruit. This is the path of Bhakti Yoga.

In Bhakti Yoga, no learning, no deep erudition of Vedas is needed. What is wanted is a devotional, sincere heart. Anyone can sing or repeat His Name. Tukaram was an illiterate peasant. He could not even sign his name. Through devotion and grace of Lord Krishna he had super-intuitional knowledge. His famous Abhangas or songs are texts for M.A. students in Bombay University. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa also was an illiterate. When he lived in Dakshineshwar temple, he got divine knowledge through the Grace of Mother Kaali and Advaita Guru Sri Swami Totapuri.

From a careful study of the lives of these two saints, it is quite clear that there is the fountain of knowledge within the heart and that any one can tap this source through sincere devotion.

"I bow to Lord Narayana or Lord Siva or Lord Krishna." This is Bhakti Yoga. "I am the Self in all." This is Jnana Yoga.

Men in their social and domestic relation develop love, affection, Prema, Preeti, admiration, reverence, awe and other sentiments. This cannot serve the purpose of life. It is only when one develops devotion or Bhakti for God that one’s real purpose of life is gained. Devotion is the consummation of the above emotions.

He does not practise Pratyahara. He tries to get himself drowned in the Prema of the Lord. He attempts to fix his mind either at His lotus-feet or charming face. Consequently Pratyahara follows unconsciously. A Raja Yogi practises Pratyahara deliberately. A Jnana Yogi does not practise Pratyahara, but tries to identify himself with the hidden self in all objects. He tries to remove the veil that covers the Atman within the objects by the force of Vedantic Nididhyasana. He negates the names and forms and identifies himself with the all-pervading hidden consciousness.

A sage says: "This world has come out of Ananda (bliss); it subsists in Ananda and it dissolves in Ananda." A devotee says: "This world has come out of love; it subsists in love and it dissolves in love." In Ananda love is hidden. The sage loves his own Atman. He is devoted to his Atman. In love, Ananda is hidden. The devotee loves his Beloved and dances in joy.

Dvaita (dualism), Vishishtadvaita (qualified monism) are different stages or different rungs in the philosophical ladder. The highest summit is Advaita. The realisation of Dvaitins and Vishishtadvaitins is also quite true and correct from their standpoints. A little more Sadhana and understanding will make them land in pure Advaitic realisation.

In Bhakti Yoga, there are three things, viz., Lover, Beloved and Love. As soon as the Lover knows that he is identical with the Beloved, there is an end for Bhakti. Jnana dawns. Duality vanishes. Who is to love whom now?

According to Advaita Vedanti, devotion is constant thinking on the formula, "I am he" or "I am Brahman."

A Bhakta says: "Get knowledge of God first. Then only will get Prema, love or devotion for Him." A Jnani says in the other way: "Knowledge is the fruit of Bhakti or devotion."

Perfect knowledge is all love. Perfect love is all knowledge.

Just as the taking of food brings Tushti (satisfaction), Pushti (nourishment for the body), and cessation of hunger, so also Bhakti brings Vairagya and Jnana at the same time.

Bhakti destroys egoism and Vasanas just as the fire destroys the wood. The Bhaktas do not care for Mukti even. They prefer always to talk with each other about the Lord, to serve the Bhagavatas, the poor and the sick, to sing His Name and glories, to do prostrations unto Him, to sacrifice everything unto Him, to take Him as their Supreme Goal and to do unconditional, unreserved self-surrender unto Him. Mukti comes to them unasked. Mukti is their hand-maid. The Vibhutis of the Lord, Siddhis and Riddhis are theirs though they do not want them.

Unswerving Bhakti or devotion to the Lord and the company of Bhagavatas are the means to attain Supreme Bliss.

Puja is worship of the Lord. This is Upasana which helps the devotee to sit near the Lord or to commune with Him. It purifies the heart and steadies the mind. It fills the mind with Suddha Bhava and Prema or pure love for the Lord. It gradually transmutes man into a divine being.

Have intense love towards Lord Krishna's name (Bhagavan-Nam-Prem). All your miseries will come to an end. Draupadi took refuge in His Name when she was in great distress. The Lord saved her.

Faith or Bhakti in Hari alone can bring salvation. Build up a golden temple within your heart. Lord Krishna wants your sincere devotion only.

God is love. Love redeems, unifies and elevates.

Love is represented by the gift. Joy is represented by singing.

There is no virtue higher than love. There is no treasure higher than love. There is no Dharma higher than love. There is no religion higher than love, because love is God and God is Love. Love purifies. Love transmutes. Love redeems. Love subdues. Therefore kindle the light of love in your heart, O Beloved Prem.

There is no power greater than love. Out of love the formless Brahman takes the form of Lord Hari with four hands to please His devotees. The Lord runs after His devotees with food and water in His hands even into the forests. It was love that forced Lord Buddha, Lord Jesus, Ekanath and many other saints to teach the secrets of scriptures to mankind. Love is a magic rod in the hands of a devotee. He wields it in a majestic manner and brings the whole world under his sway. He who is endowed with pure love is the real emperor of the three worlds.

Prema is intense, selfless pure love to the Lord. Prema is concentrated love. Prema brings the devotee face to face with the Lord. Bhakti culminates in Prema. Prema is Divine Nectar. Prema destroys pains and sorrows and makes one immortal, blissful and peaceful. It is very difficult to describe the nature of Prema. You will have to experience it yourself. Cultivate it through Japa, Smaran, Kirtan, Satsanga, prayer, service of devotees and study of the Ramayana, the Bhagavata, etc.

Love in religion is a Science. It is the outpouring of the heart of a devotee on his Beloved. It is the natural outcome of a devotee when he is freed from the impurities and distractions of his mind. There is Ananda in love. Love is a mysterious divine force that transforms man into Divinity. It is the love which sets up a real communion with the Lord.

The tendency to love is natural and is implanted in the hearts of all persons. There is in fact no person of any kind who has not a natural aptitude to love and to be moved by love. You will have to develop this natural emotion of love to a considerable degree. You must purify it by destroying selfishness of all sorts. You must make it universal.

The world's need today is the message of Love. Kindle the light of love in your heart. Love all. Include all creatures in the warm embrace of your love. Nations can be united by pure love only. World war can be put to end by mutual love only. The League of Nations cannot do much. Love is a mysterious divine glue that unites the hearts of all. It is a Divine magical healing balm of very high potency. Charge every action with pure love. Kill cunningness, greed, crookedness and selfishness. It is extremely cruel to take away the lives of others by using poisonous gas. This is a capital sin. The scientist who prepares the gas in the laboratory will be punished by the Lord. Forget not the day of judgment. What will you say to the Lord then, O ye mortals, who run after power, dominions and wealth? Have a clean conscience and a loving heart. You will enter the Kingdom of God.

Develop universal love. This will help you to live peacefully with all men and all creatures. Love and peace are inseparable. Wherever there is love, there is peace and wherever there is peace there is love.

Develop a heart that will burst into tears of joy at the Name of the Lord. Allow the waves of love to arise constantly in your heart. Feel the warmth of the Divine embrace. Bask in the sunshine of Divine love. Taste the bliss of the eternal. Drink deep the nectar of divine love.

Do you really want God? You really thirst for His Darshan? Have you got real spiritual hunger? You may deliver thrilling lectures on Bhakti. You may write several volumes on Bhakti Yoga and yet you may not possess a grain of devotion. He who thirsts for Darshan of God will develop love. Unto him, He will reveal Himself. God is a question of supply and demand. If there is sincere demand for God, the supply will come at once.

In Bhakti Marga five things are indispensably requisite. (1) Bhakti should be of a Nishkamya type. (2) It should be Avyabhicharini also. (3) It should be Sadat (continuous). (4) The aspirant should have complete Sadachara (right conduct). (5) The aspirant should be very serious and must in right earnest do the practices. Then realisation comes quickly.

Without chart or compass it is very difficult to run a ship in the ocean. Even so, it is very difficult to have a safe voyage in this ocean of Samsara without a disciplined or well-regulated life, without right conduct and devotion to the Lord.

Language of love is the language of tears. Bathe the Lotus Feet of the Lord constantly with your tears of repentance, Viraha and Prema in the temple of your heart. You will meet now your Beloved. You will enjoy now the bliss of communion with the Lord.

Even for a quarter of a second, the time taken for the eyelids to close and open, if your mind does not run away from the lotus-feet of the Lord, i.e., if your devotion is like Taila-dhara (flow of oil) at all times, you will have the whole wealth of the three worlds at your disposal. The Lord gives a promise to this effect definitely. He will follow such a devotee wherever he goes. He wears the dust of his feet as His Tilak on His forehead.

Sudama came to see Lord Krishna, his friend. Lord Krishna was talking to Radha. As Sudama was clad in rags, he was hesitating to enter the palace. The guard informed Lord Krishna: "O Lord, a poor Brahmin named Sudama who is clothed in rags is awaiting at the gate of the palace." Sri Krishna did not allow the guard to talk a word more. The word Sudama was enough. He ran out of the room barefooted crying: "O My dear Sudama, my sweet friend." Radha was a bit annoyed, because Sri Krishna left the room abruptly without telling her a word even. Krishna came inside the palace in a few minutes with Sudama. He noticed that Radha was in a sorrowful mood. He knew the cause. He said to her "Dear Radha, forgive me. I am the slave of my devotees. I love them more than my very self." Lord Krishna seated Sudama in his own seat and snatched the parcel of baked rice from Sudama, as he was feeling shy to give this poor present.

Lord Krishna put into his mouth the baked rice and said in rapturous ecstasy: "O Radha, never, never before did I taste such a palatable thing."

When you have made a strong resolve to do Japa or meditation for one or two hours, you must do it slowly with devotion. You must not hurry up quickly with an agitated mind thinking of some other work, just as the contractor of a building hurries up his work with bad materials and deceives the landlord. You cannot deceive God. You will deceive yourself. You will not get the full benefit of Japa and Dhyana.

Constancy in worship of God is called Nishtha. The devotee gets himself well-established in his devotion to the Lord. The devotee gets Aasakti or attachment to the Lord when he progresses in his devotion and consequent depth of meditation.

Sing the names of the Lord. Sing His qualities. Remember Him. Meditate on His qualities. This is the essence of Bhakti Yoga.

When you have perfect devotion and love towards God (Poorna Prema), the whole world will be under your control.

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