Bhakti: Path of Devotion
Bhakti comes from the Sanskrit root “Bhaj” (भज) which means to worship, to pray or to be devoted. Without devotion there can be no Bhakti. But over many years and with social changes, the word Bhakti seems to have lost most of its meaning.
Today, Bhakti only stands for some “process” which means either chanting or repetition of certain syllables. These syllables that may be considered to represent the Name of the Lord or the Supreme Force.
Bhakti may sometimes be interpreted as “doing” something that may allude to getting “qualified” as a Bhakta. It may also be interpreted as doing “something”. This may include worshipping and praising the deity, singing His songs and a host of other things. I have also seen some good saints who encourage people to simply “chant” names of the Lord. They want to get them involved into the so-called Bhakti process so that someday they ‘develop’ the elusive mood of “bhakti”. This, unfortunately is not sound advice!
What is not Bhakti?
If I intend to “gain” something “out of” Bhakti, then I shall be thoroughly misinformed and cheated. The Bhakti process is not expected to give you anything. It is there to take everything away from you.
Let’s set the goals right here. Bhakti is “Genuine Love”. Even in so-called material love, people give some good definitions. Indian movies also have done some good work in this regard. They say “Love, is to lose, lose everything including yourself to the one whom you are in love with.” Fortunately this definition is of a superior kind and it is apt. Love and Bhakti are one and the same. There is not an inch of difference.
However we do not use the word “love”, because usually the word love has material connotations. Much of the material love includes “give and take” of some manner, as a hidden policy. It includes relatives, one’s own parents and all others who exist as separate “bodies.”
It is better to understand Bhakti with regards to a deity or the Lord. Then, more can be said and understood about Bhakti. The service part can be only explained if Bhakti is understood at its very root.
Definition of Bhakti
Bhakti, was beautifully defined by one of the pioneers of the Modern Bhakti movement, Srila A.C Bhakti Vedanata Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acharya of the ISKCON movement. I am not a great admirer of this movement nor its proponent in any manner. However the definition that Srila Prabhupada gave to Bhakti is interesting and immaculate. He said Bhakti is “devotional service”. Now devotion cannot be proved without impressing ourselves in our heart of hearts that we are in Bhakti. The question is, are we ready to serve the person whom we love unconditionally under all circumstances? This has to be established.
Who deserves our unconditional love?
If we are ready to serve our object of love round the clock, unconditionally, then bhakti exists in the heart. Only then one has True Love towards the person. Now, we have a material body. If the object of Love also has a material body, he shall be moody like us. He shall be unpredictable. He is not perfect. We may not expect anything out of this person, no doubt. But suppose we are serving this person and he insults us owing to external pressures can our love towards him be maintained forever.
The simple answer to the above question is a big “NO”. So who can be the object of such love or Bhakti? Obviously that person cannot be human. He should be perfect and even be the source of perfection. If we are convinced within that the object of our Bhakti is Supreme then Bhakti can be perfect, unadulterated. The Shastras proclaim that other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead, no being can come close to perfection. Our service thus, can only be towards the Supreme Being, Vishnu, Krishna or Rama.
Should we have desires in Bhakti?
When we deliver service to the perfect being, should be we worried or expectant of any fruits from the Supreme Being? No, not at all. One shall be satisfied that “I can be imperfect in my service to Him all the time, but he can never err in His love towards me.”
This thought or emotion is the basis of such Bhakti. Bhakti cannot be anything else. The devotee toils day and night for Bhagavan’s pleasure and satisfaction alone. When one totally commits to the deity without an ounce of expectation, only then can “Service or Seva be delivered”. I am using the word Service for easy readability. But Seva (सेवा), which is the perfect word cannot be equated to its english translation, service.
Basics of Bhakti
But the question is how can we serve unconditionally when we can’t see and assess His level of happiness. Are there mechanisms to know this?
The answer is- Yes, there are a million ways to know this and get a response from Him. Following 9 are the ways-
1) One must learn to not expect anything from Him. Whatever happens is by HIs Will alone. One can never blame one’s object of Love or Bhakti. If one has desires in the heart, one should do sadhana under the guidance of the spiritual master. One should purify one’s thoughts and intentions. Willingness to lose everything for the Lord should slowly develop as a passion for being alive.
2) Whatever happens in our life, is by His will alone. We may recognize, good or bad happenings as mere projections of the mind and a result of our Karma. Anyway, We must pay back our karmic debt.
3) If we are good on points 1 and 2 then we are ready for Seva.
4) Since we have discarded personal agenda, whatever manifests in our life is by the Lord’s pure will. He expects it to be attended as His service.
5) When we perform all actions as divine service at the same time mentally unclutch when things are taken away accepting it as the Love of the Lord for us, then true devotional service is being performed.
6) When one has the thought of the Lord throughout the day, involving His presence in all activities, with complete forgetfulness of “Me and Mine”, or “My Objectives”, devotional service is performed.
7) When one completely immerses in the mood of Bhagavat Seva, all activities shall automatically become pure “spiritual activities”. Towards maturity of the Seva, you must talk about the Lord only to the right people whom He sends. You may only be writing and promoting the Lord’s wishes which is totally of spiritual nature.
8) One shall automatically be fully dependent on the Lord and rely completely on His Power for survival.
9 To know the outcome of such devotional service, one needs to get conscious of how the heart feels. If your heart feels content, fully satisfied, with no complains in life, know that bhagavan is happy with “your” Seva.