Bhakti Yoga is one of the many schools or practices of the ancient Indian religious disciplines called Yoga. Yoga is a religious practice or discipline which involves physical, mental and spiritual enlightenment of the devotee. The word yoga is a Sanskrit word which means ‘concentration’ or ‘connection.’ The various forms of Yoga such as Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have distinct practices and philosophies yet the ultimate goal of each yogic path is Moksha, that is, liberation for the devotee. However, the exact meaning or implications of Moksha depends on the particular school of Yoga being practiced.
The Practice of Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga is practiced in Hinduism as loving devotion to a personal God with the goal of achieving oneness with that God. This oneness brings enlightenment or realization to the devotee. This love and devotion to God is independent of either the hope of reward from God or fear of punishment from him. Bhakti Yoga is one of the three schools of yoga expounded in the Bhagavid Gita - Song of the Lord - by the sage Ved Vyasa. The Gita is essentially a dialogue between prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna. In this dialogue, Krishna expounded the ideals of Bhakti Yoga in twenty verses. Other Sanskrit scriptures in which Bhakti Yoga is expounded include The Bhagavata Purana and The Puranas.
The Doctrines of Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti yoga is a monotheistic tradition of Hinduism and is part of three major Hindu philosophical schools, Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism. These schools are called Bhakti movements. Experts know that Bhakti yoga is seen as the simplest way for ordinary folk to attain Moksha, being less rigorous than other forms of Yoga and not actually requiring one to become a full time devotee. The Bhagavata Purana contains nine doctrines of Bhakti Yoga. These doctrines are:
- Sravana: This teaches the act of listening to the stories of Krishna based on the scriptures
- Kirtana: This refers to singing ecstatic praises as a group
- Smarana: This illustrates memorization by concentrating on Vishnu
- Padasevana: This teaches the need to render service
- Arcana: This harps on the worship of images
- Vandana: This harps on the need to pay homage
- Dasya: This emphasizes the importance of servitude
- Sakhya explains the place of friendship
- Atma-Nivedana: This stipulates total surrender of self
These principles are said to assist the devotee in maintaining constant touch with his personal God. It is claimed that upon the attainment of the nine spiritual disciplines and practices associated with Bhakti Yoga, an individual devotee is helped to attain oneness and eternal peace with God.