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Six Classifications of Bhakti

by Swami sivananda

There are the following six classifications in Bhakti:

Apara (lower) and Para (higher) Bhakti.

Ragatmika and Vidhi Bhakti.

Sakamya and Nishkamya Bhakti.

Vyabhicharini and Avyabhicharini Bhakti.

Mukhya (primary) and Gauna (secondary) Bhakti.

Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic Bhakti.

Ragatmika Bhakti is otherwise known as Mukhya or primary Bhakti. Para Bhakti is also primary devotion. Sakamya Bhakti is Gauna or secondary devotion. Nishkamya Bhakti, Avyabhicharini Bhakti or Para Bhakti is otherwise known as Ananya Bhakti.

In Apara Bhakti the devotee is a neophyte. He observes rituals and ceremonies. He rings bells, applies sandal-paste to the Murti and offers flowers, Arghya, Naivedya, etc. He has no expanded heart. He is sectarian. He dislikes other kinds of Bhaktas who worship other Devatas.

Para Bhakti is Nirguna Bhakti which is free from the three Gunas. It is the spontaneous, unbroken flow of pure love towards God. It is Ahaituki (free from any sort of motive) altogether. It is Avyavahita or unmeditated devotion towards God. This type of devotee does not care for divine Vibhutis even if they are offered. He wants the lotus feet of the Lord. He does not want even Kaivalya Mukti or absolute independence. He wants to serve God. He wants to see His face always. He wants pure divine love. God is the be-all and end-all of the devotee of Para Bhakti.

A devotee of Para Bhakti type is all-embracing and all-inclusive. He has cosmic love or Visva Prem. The whole world is Vrindavana for him. He does not visit temples for worship. He sees his Ishtam everywhere. He has equal vision. He has no hatred for any object. He welcomes snakes, pain, disease and suffering as messengers of God. His mind is ever fixed at the lotus feet of the Lord. His Prem flows like oil in one continuous current. Para Bhakti is Jnana only. This is the highest culminating point in devotion. Nama Dev, Tukaram, Rama Das, Tulsidas and Hafiz had Para Bhakti.

In Ragatmika Bhakti there are no fetters, shackles or barriers of customs or rules of society. There is no binding of any sort. There is an absolutely free flow of divine Prem. The devotee cares not a jot for public opinion. He is above public criticisms. He is as simple as a child. He pours forth exuberantly his love towards his Beloved. The devotee is intoxicated with divine Prem. Whereas in Vaidhi Bhakti the devotee observes rules and ceremonies and has certain restrictions. The simple-hearted cow-maids of Vrindavana and Mira had Ragatmika Bhakti. Though Mira was a Rani, she never cared for the opinion of the public and her relations and husband. When she was under intoxication of Krishna Prem she danced in the streets and open places amidst men and ordinary people. Ordinary people were not able to gauge the depths of her heart. Even Bhaktas were not able to fathom out the recesses of her innermost chambers of heart, the depth of her unbounded love for Lord Krishna. Her thrilling devotional songs which bring tears from the eyes of the hearers bespeak clearly the exalted state of her heart that was deeply saturated with the nectar of devotion towards Lord Krishna. She says: "I have none else for me besides my Giridhar Gopal. " Can anyone fully understand the God-intoxicated Mira?

Showing devotion to God for getting riches or son or removal of sufferings from diseases is Sakamya Bhakti. Sakamya Bhakti will eventually terminate in Nishkamya Bhakti. Prahlada only had Nishkamya Bhakti from the very beginning. Even the boy Dhruva had only Sakamya Bhakti. It was for getting dominion that he retired into the forest on the advice of his mother in the beginning. It was only later on that he developed Nishkamya Bhakti after he had Darshan of Hari. All his desires melted away.

To love God for sometime and then wife, children and property for sometime is Vyabhicharini Bhakti. To love God and God alone for ever and ever is Avyabhicharini Bhakti. Mark this carefully!

In Sattvic Bhakti the quality of Sattva predominates in the Bhakta. He worships God to please Him, to destroy Vasanas etc. All these three types of Bhakti are secondary devotion only.

In Rajasic Bhakti the quality of Rajas predominates in the devotee. He worships God to get estates, wealth, name and fame.

In Tamasic Bhakti the quality of Tamas predominates in the devotee. He is actuated by wrath, arrogance, jealousy and malice in showing devotion to God. To worship God for destroying one's enemy and for getting success in an enterprise through unlawful means is Tamasic Bhakti. The thief prays to God: "O God Ganesha! Let me get something tonight. I will offer Thee 100 cocoanuts. " This is Tamasic Bhakti.

Sandilya also mentions of primary Bhakti and secondary Bhakti. The primary devotion is the attachment to the Lord. It is single-minded devotion. It is one-pointed, whole- hearted devotion to God (Ekanta Bhava). Primary devotion is the principal, because others are subservient to it.

According to the Gita (VII-16), there are four kinds of Bhaktas. "Fourfold in division are the righteous ones who worship Me, O Arjuna! The distressed, the seeker for knowledge, the selfish and the wise. " The devotion of the distressed, the seeker for knowledge and the selfish man is after all secondary as they have ulterior, selfish motives in view. But the devotion of the wise is pure and absolutely unselfish. It is Para Bhakti or primary devotion. He has undivided love and whole-hearted devotion to the Lord. He is eternally united with Him. God is the dearest to him and he is the dearest to God. Lord Krishna says: "Noble are all these but I hold the wise as verily Myself; he self-united is fixed on Me, the highest path" (Gita: VII-18).

Prahlada later on meditated on his own Self as Lord Hari. This is Abheda Bhakti. This is the advanced stage of devotion.

When a devotee has devotion for Lord Hari, Lord Siva, Devi, Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and thinks that Lord Hari is Siva, Rama, Devi or Krishna this is Samarasa Bhakti. He has equal vision. This is also advanced stage of devotion. He makes no difference between Rama and Krishna, between Siva and Hari, between Krishna and Devi. He knows and feels that Radha, Sita and Durga are all inseparable Saktis of Lord Krishna, Rama and Siva respectively.

Narada also classifies Bhakti into two kinds, primary and secondary. Secondary devotion is of three kinds according to Sattva, Rajas and Tamas in the devotee. Or it is of three kinds according as the devotees are the distressed (Aartha), the seeker after knowledge (Jijnasu) and the selfish (Artharthi).

Just as you see wood alone in chairs, tables, doors, windows, bed-steads, clay alone in earthen jars, pots and jugs, so also see Lord Krishna alone in all these names and forms. This is Ananya Bhakti. Para Bhakti, Ananya Bhakti, Avyabhicharini Bhakti are one and the same.

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