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Understanding Bhakti

by Swami Sivananda

Make use of this precious human birth for the achievement of this supreme purpose-God-realisation. Pray to the Lord to make you desireless. But have one strong desire and let it be for attaining self-realisation. Through a life of devotion, service, purification, charity, sadhana (spiritual practice) and meditation attain the highest self-realisation and dwell in the supreme peace and bliss (paramananda).

Devotion is supreme love of the Lord, supreme attachment to the Lord. The notion of God means an absolutely perfect being, who has all the possible attributes, including the attribute of existence; so God must exist. The existence of God cannot be proved by rational arguments. It is purely a question of faith and refers to the intuitive side of man.

The deepest craving, the deepest aspiration in man is for eternal happiness, eternal knowledge and eternal truth. Man should search for some supernatural entity which can satisfy his deepest aspirations.

As we explain everything within nature by the law of cause and effect, so also the nature as a whole must be explained. It must have some cause. This cause must be different from the effect. It must be some supernatural entity, i.e. God. Nature is not a mere chance collection of events, a mere jumble of accidents, but an orderly affair. The planets move regularly in their orbits, seeds grow into trees regularly. Seasons succeed each other in order. Now, nature cannot order itself. It requires the existence of an intelligent being, i.e. God, who is responsible for it.

Everything in nature has some purpose. It fulfils some function or other. Certainly every object by itself cannot choose a function for itself. Their different functions ought to have been planned or designed by a single intelligent being or God. You cannot explore or probe into the Iila (sportive play) of God. You must accept it with faith and reverence.

What is the nature of God? God is love and love is God. God is the source for this world, body, mind, prana and senses. God gives light to the mind, sun, moon and stars. God is your only redeemer, refuge. God is your real father, mother, guru, friend and relative.

God is the only reality. God is the dispenser of fruits of actions. God is the designer and architect of the universe. God is immanent and transcendent. God is unchanging, undecaying and imperishable. God is the supreme goal, beauty, truth.


Bhakti or devotion is indispensable for attaining jnana. Jnana is the condition necessary for bhakti to reach its fullest development in love. Knowledge without devotion is as futile as devotion without knowledge.

Love follows from the basic oneness of all beings. God is being. World is becoming. The creation of the world does not in any way affect the integrity of God. The world does not stand apart from God, but is pervaded by him.

Bhakti is not mere emotionalism but is the turning of the will as well as the intellect towards the divine. The ideal devotee is a karma yogi as well as a jnana yogi. Bhakti originates in knowledge, is essentially of the nature of love, and bursts forth in selfless action.

True love gives the highest wisdom, Diffused love is wisdom. Concentrated wisdom is love. True wisdom vibrates in the hearer. Bhakti begins with emotional dualism and culminates in monism. Lover and the loved, the devotee and the object of devotion, are fused into one spiritual ecstacy.

All creation is the family of God. This world is sustained by the power of God. The deepest urge of life is to know God and to live in God. God's will is the very law which governs the universe. All beings are guided and controlled by the divine will.

Life on this physical plane is a mere preparation for the eternal life in God. Though the Lord resides in all creatures and things, there is a difference in the degree of His manifestation in them. In human beings the Lord is more manifest than in others. And, among human beings, He is more or less manifest according to the degree of knowledge or consciousness that is realised.

He who follows the path of meditation knows his self as divine and one with God. Any man or woman has equal right to follow the path of devotion. The greatest sinner can practise devotion and attain God-realisation. Though unborn, God takes birth as an avatara (incarnation) to destroy the wicked, to protect virtue and to establish dharma (righteousness).


There is one God. He is above all, in all, through all. He is all in all. In God all are united. God is the essential power and reality in all things. God is one, God is the all-pervading spirit and life of the universe.

God is the inner soul of all alike. In every form behold the blessed Lord himself. That is my yoga. Cows are of diverse colours but all milk is alike. The kinds of flowers vary, yet all worship is one. There is but one God-the creator, the governor of the world, almighty, eternal, incomprehensible. God is almighty - he governs every action in the universe. Not even an electron can move without his will.

God is always just. God is truth. God is love. God is absolute good, know that everything is vanity except God. God can be attained by truthful behaviour, by leading a highly moral life and by the acquisition of knowledge. God's way is mercy. God's name is love. God's first manifestation was sound.

In the eternity of God is real life. In truth God is eternal light. In the goodness of God is eternal bliss, peace and joy. God is near at hand to help you in your difficulties.

Difficult it is to get a human birth. Difficult it is to get a guru (spiritual preceptor). Difficult it is to attain God-realisation. But, through the grace of God, you can overcome all difficulties.

You have the urge of hunger and there is food to appease that hunger. You have the urge of thirst and there is water to quench that thirst. There is the urge to be always happy and there must be something to satisfy that urge. This 'something' is God.

Appeal. Knock. You will be heard. The door shall be opened unto you. Do not seek him far and wide-He is in your own heart-He has his dwelling there.

God is the great deliverer. Surely, He is near at hand to help you in your difficulties. God is the bread of life eternal. This bread is more than anything else. It is more abundant life.

God is the embodiment of happiness. Realise God and you will enjoy eternal happiness.


God is self-luminous and self-existent. God is eternal, perfect, pure, free and all-pervading. God is beginningless and endless. God is without pain, sorrow, fear, passion, caste, creed, sex and colour.

God is the indweller of your heart, God is the controller and governor of this world, body and mind. God is the centre of the whole of creation. He is the first causeless cause.

That supreme source of life is God. The Lord has become all. He permeates all. He is all in all. God is the way, the source, the goal, the truth and the life. God is with form and without form - like ice and steam.

God is your sole refuge, benefactor and master. God reveals himself to you in the form in which you love Him most. God cannot be comprehended but can be realised.

God sees without eyes, hears without ears, works without hands and tastes without tongue. God is unknowable through intellect but is knowable through intuition. The law and the law-giver are one-the eternal law is God himself.

God is near and far. He is nearer to the pure and sincere, but farthest to the passionate God witnesses all your thoughts and actions. God is your unseen guest at every meal. God is the head of your house. The reality of God is his universal existence (sat).

God is not responsible for the wealth of a man or for the poverty of another. Everyone bears the fruits of his karmas. God is the greatest doctor, the greatest engineer. He is the greatest mathematician.

God is the enjoyer and He is the object enjoyed. God is the high and He is the low. He is the knower and He is the known. God is the word spoken and He is the breath which speaks it.

God is the manifest and He is the unmanifest. God is the breath of all breath, the prana (life) of all pranas, the self of all selves.

He is the one ultimate truth, unborn, undying, everlasting, ever-existent, subtle and devoid of pain and sorrow.


God has no purpose. God is not bound by any action, just as the sun is not bound by the activities of the people of this world. God acts out of compassion for the individual soul. His sole purpose is to see that His creatures evolve spiritually.

God is the lover and the beloved at the same time. Justice, love, and goodness are expressions in the divine will.

In the word 'Bhagavan'-'bhaga' signifies the six qualities of God. These are: jnana (wisdom), vairagyam (dispassion) kirti (fame), Sri (prosperity or wealth, divine aisvarya), sakti or bala (omnipotence), and dharma (righteousness),

According to the Prasnopanishad there are fifteen kalas or rays of God. These are: prana (life), faith, sky, air, fire, water, earth, senses, mind, food, strength, penance, mantra (mystic formula), karma (action) and name.

God has hands and feet everywhere. He has heads and eyes, mouths and ears everywhere. He is immanent in the world-possessing the vast whole. God breathed into man the breath of life and man became a living soul.

Pleasure is due to virtuous actions and pain is due to vicious actions. Virtue and vice constitute adrsta (unseen potency). The various experiences of man are due to this adrsta. But adrsta is a blind force-it needs an intelligent director to guide it. And that intelligent director is God.

God is the verity of all verities. There is a moral and spiritual order through which is fulfilled the will of the Lord in the world. God has created not only the world, He has also created time along with it. God's knowledge is eternal, complete and perfect.

Who can know the will of God? He who knows God, he alone can know His will. God and His will are one. The Lord is the supreme healer-He is the divine indweller in all medicines.


God is the subtle essence underlying all things. God is the salt of life. The Lord is the source of life and bliss. He is all in all, He is indivisible, indefinable. He is the only reality. His light pervades every being.

God creates the world and remains as its inner ruler. He also rises above the world. God is never involved in samsara (or the world process). God is the 'unmoved mover'. God desires and wills but does not experience pleasure or pain. God is not touched by evil. He is free from hate. God joins in himself all contraries and contradictions.

God is immanent in the world. He is also transcendental. He is the inner ruler of all souls. He is their goal also. God is both immanent and transcendent-He is in the world but also rises above it. The one God is hidden in all things. He pervades all things. He is the inner ruler of all things. He lives in all things. He is the soul of all.

God is within you. He dwells in your heart. Within everyone is this divine spark. Look above the beauty of the objects to the beauty of the cause, that which brought these beautiful objects into being. Feel God. See God in the rising sun and in the setting sun. See God in the little flowers. Talk to Him in the flowers. Have silent communion with God and His secrets or laws will be revealed unto you.

God is the source and strength of all life. He is the abode of bliss, peace and light. Everything in this world is a manifestation of the Lord, All joys and all sufferings are also the Lord's manifestations.

Divine will is an eternal, unalterable law. Surrender your will at the feet of the Lord. You will know the divine will. Or, identify yourself with God, then the divine will, will be known. Mysterious, ever eluding comprehension, ever receding further and further, subtle, inexpressible, invisible and yet all-pervading, knowable only through intuition, devotion and purity-such is the Lord of the universe.

It is by the power of God alone that all spiritual people do their spiritual activities in this world of the pairs of opposites. God is revealed through the laws of nature and through the splendour of the human intellect.


God is infinite. He is the indwelling presence. He has no limit. He dispels the fear of the devotees. He is an ocean of mercy and bliss. He is an ocean of limitless love. God is immutable. He is the giver of all happiness. God fulfils the desires of his devotees. He is the only shelter in danger.

God is the supreme resort of those who aspire for the highest bliss or final beatitude. He is mother, father, real friend, true preceptor and the supreme deity.

God is a mystery. His grace and ways are a greater mystery. God is the unchanging, unfading, eternal, almighty, all-wise, all-loving one-our refuge and our solace. God is our blissful, immortal abode where no danger can touch us, where no calamity can overwhelm us and where no thieves can attack us.

Know that everything but God is vanity, Love none but God. Hear none but God. Think of none but God. See none but God. To be in tune with God is to be like God. The first approach to God is sincerity and earnest love for him.

To know God is to love him. The more you know him the more you must love him. To know yourself is to know God, for then you perceive your relation with him. The more we develop ourselves, the more we find ourselves filled with love for him.

Speak to the Lord-not with the lips but with the heart. Day by day feel closer to God. Day by day feel more and more your oneness with all life. Walk close to God at all times .

See all things in the light of truth and thus you will find freedom, the fullness of life, perfection and absolute independence. How to attain the Lord? He is the means himself-for all gifts flow from Him.

The real teacher is God. He lives in your heart. Seek Him. Find Him. Enter into Him. And rest peacefully, for ever. The Lord is within you. He has your souls as his abode.

God is the soul of your soul. He is the self of all. Offer everything to Him, unreservedly. Seek and you will find Him in your own heart.


There is nothing eternal but He and there is no God besides Him. He is neither body, nor shape, nor form, nor person. He is caitanya (or absolute pure consciousness). God is formless and yet He is the form of all forms.

God's beauty is love and His love is beauty. There is a power higher than yours, little man! Some of your desires are realised but many are thwarted. There is an over-ruling power which brings results and consequences, irrespective of your wishes and volition. This power is God.

Man has no volitional power or control over events. He is not a dictator of the future. God draws him hither and thither as he deserves. When there is an engine, there must be an engine-driver to control and direct it. Mind is the greatest engine and the engine-driver is God-He is the mind of all minds.

God possesses the eight supreme attributes: absolute self-control, absolute purity, absolute intuition, omniscience, absolute freedom, boundless grace, omnipotence and boundless bliss.

Mind is a power of God. Energy is a power of God. Matter is a power of God. God is not only all-power, all-wisdom, he is all-embracing love who freely gives his grace. Love is joy-the divine power is wisdom and love combined. There is no separation between divine power, wisdom and love. There is no copyright in God-His property is for universal use. Tulsidas and Mira saw God with their fleshy eyes-you too can see God with your normal eyes. You must go through the necessary disciplines and destroy egoism.

My God thou art my hope, my rest, my delight, my centre, my ideal, my goal, my soul, my all-in-all.

Lord! I am in you and you are in me. I am He whom I love and He whom I love is I.

Wisdom divine! Enlighten my mind.

Love divine: Fill my heart with purity.


Truth, mercy, humility, self-control, purity, devotion, courage, dispassion, discrimination, serenity, equilibrium are the doors to liberation. Contentment is the greatest virtue-it makes a man richer than an emperor. It brings every blessing and everlasting peace. Bearing insult and injury is saintliness. Justice, mercy, compassion, honesty, selfless service, sacrifice, self-restraint, are the ingredients or limbs of "Be good, do good", yoga.

Self-control, charity, courage, compassion, humility, non-violence, truthfulness, purity and serenity are the cardinal virtues. Self-control means the control of the lower self by the higher self for the realisation of the self. The five virtues that lead to supreme blessedness are: truth, integrity, kindness, generosity and gentleness. Humility is the arch enemy of egoism. Therefore cultivate humility and egoism will perish. True humility is a mighty spiritual force. It is born of supreme realisation.

Courage, humility, purity, love and truthfulness are the real virtues of a man. Vrata is the practice of self-denial-it is a vow. There is a spirit of renunciation in every individual. It develops will power. Obedience is better than reverence. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Obedience is the secret of discipline. Kindness and love are the foods which sustain the soul within each one.

Is there one single virtue that will contribute to make the world a better place or a happier place? Is not unselfishness that virtue? Disinterested kindness is the highest virtue.

The nearest approach to truth or God is through love. Faith, devotion and love are immortal sisters. Love of God arises in the heart that is desireless. Love divine is the only solvent-the one great healer and forgiver. Love opens the doors of intuition. Love is the marriage of the individual soul and the supreme soul. The first condition of union with God is a state of love.


He who has no love cannot know God-for God is love. Love is the greatest force in this world. Love is immortal. Love is God. Where love is there God is. Therefore become an embodiment of love. Love is God. Love is light. Light is wisdom. Wisdom is divine life-it is oneness, unity.

The deeper a man's love of God is, the greater is his spiritual knowledge. The final consummation of the love of God is union with God. Love of God is not easily acquired by self-effort-it is inborn in man by virtue of his spiritual evolution.

Love God alone. Be detached and renounce everything for the sake of love of God. Cosmic love expects not any reward. It excludes none but includes all. Develop more and more pure divine love. Then the inner light will shine more brightly. Cultivate divine love. This selfless love is a great treasure-a pearl of great price.

Cultivate an abiding faith in God's love, mercy and grace. The lover himself becomes the beloved of his heart. Their love is so deep and intense that they merge in each other and then again re-emerge. They are the two inseparable aspects of the one.

Love envies not. Love resents not. Love revenges not. Love bargains not. God in his boundless love and mercy promptly chastises proud and arrogant persons, thus paving the way for a return to humility.

God reveals himself daily to every human being-but man shuts his eyes and does not see Him. Infinite is God. Infinite are His aspects and infinite are the ways to reach Him. The divine being is a living reality, a powerful presence that responds to our prayers, an all-pervading delight of existence that sustains our life.


Love is the cure for all evil. The power of love can transform the universe which is fettered in chains of hatred. Love is all-purifying and all-redeeming. Love is the greatest purifying force in the world. Love is the greatest creative force in the world.

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