Bhakti – Now and Then

Bhakti is a very important mechanism to expand one’s mind to approach God. This mechanism thrives on the mind and its emotions. Mind can naturally dwell on things it likes for prolonged periods of time, though its default nature is to keep jumping between different ideas.

A common experience for many people will be that of intense love between couples, yearning during separation. This kind of love has no impact on the inner moorings, but still demonstrates the ability of mind to stay intensely lodged on a single object of desire. Rishis of the yore used this nature of the mind to be channelized towards a deity of choice.

Since all the mental makeup will not be inclined to the same deity or entity, in Sanatana Dharma, we have so many options. We find some are more inclined to Shiva, that too just the linga form, whilst the reclining Ananta Padmanabha or standing Venkateswara or the fearsome Narasimha or Kali may be inspirational to others.

This natural gravitation is due to the vasana baggage of each individual. A detailed insight on how this can be used as a tool to study oneself has been discussed in the article – BMI chart – Swami Chinmayananda’s teaching aid.

Sanatana Dharma views time as a cycle of four yugas – Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali, with each of the preceding one being twice, thrice and four times of Kali. The duration of each yuga seems to be different based on the scholars, either ranging in millions or mere thousands of years. To keep it simple, we will not wade into the mathematics behind these periodic cycles.

Every yuga has its own unique features. The dominant Dharma for each yuga is called Yuga Dharma. In Kali Yuga, it is obvious to see unrighteousness everywhere. The natural prevalence of Adharma is not an excuse for either doing Adharma or giving excuse for not doing Dharma. One has to strive to rise above these tendencies. But to its credit, in Kali Yuga, the mind naturally gravitates towards Bhakti. Great Sage Narada has emphasized Bhakti as the dominant vehicle to reach Paramatma in Kali Yuga.

Bhakti is very easy and natural, unlike meditation where the mind has to be trained or Jnana where the intellect is constantly being challenged. This also happens to be a bane, as each one imagines being an expert. When ideal bhaktas like Meera or Thyagaraja are shown, pat comes the response, we are not in that league, so why aim that high.

We will walk through what is happening now and some of the wonderful gems given to us in the past for training our mind in better bhakti. Through this oversimplification, we will not use this analysis to beat others down, but ONLY to CHALLENGE OURSELVES.

Bhakti NOW

No assumption is made to categorize true bhaktas. I seek their pardon ahead of time, if anyone gets the wrong perception that I am placing all of them under these labels. I place my prostrations and obeisance to the genuine bhaktas.

We live in a world even the world Bhakt has been made into a derogatory political term by the useless sickular liberal media and its band of believers. Yet we do not challenge such a poor choice of using a word that can take us to the transcendental plane.

One way of reading the title is appropriate in describing the way we do Bhakti these days: Bhakti – Now and Then. Before exams the aspirant’s prayer is: give me an easy question paper. Exams are over, in comes ‘now and then’ Bhakti seeking more marks. Replace exams with your situation of choice.

For any situation we use this temporary connection, which is like the dial up router of yester years, instead of using the Wi-Fi to stay connected all the time.  The Ishta Devata has been downgraded to a psychological safety valve to reassure ourselves and retain some hope. Many times, we lean on to hope as the plan. Some great devotional saints in the past saw this trend, even back in the times, and sang songs seeking Bhagwan to keep them immersed in problems. Problems seem to naturally take us towards his feet, whilst God is totally forgotten in good times.

We also have a transactional mindset towards Bhakti: we pray to God and say, if you do this for me, I will do that. How much more ignorant can we get? Universe is Paramatma that includes us and our offerings. What is our offering going to benefit? Why should God take our bribe and do a favor for us? We reduce God to a wish granting genie, which runs at our beck and call. If God were to be reduced to such a state, we may be more powerful in the first place. What an idiotic folly on our part.

Worse still is the fact that we go back sometimes to thank HIM by sharing our fortunes. It is akin to making God as a shareholder to our crimes. A variation to this theme is the fact we use our relationship with God (our perception) to seek atonement – prayaschita. We seem to be partly inspired by some desert religions which have an option to dump all their papas (sins) to the burden bearer. We have tried to cheaply copy this into our format, going to God for showing us the escape mechanism from our karmas.

We sincerely believe that God will protect us from ourselves. We forget that the only karma we suffer… is ours. Such atonement bhakti does not take us anywhere as we soon realize that karmas bear their fruit with time, but our band aid prayers did not work for the heart attack of the karmic burden and our ignorance. Bhakti being used to escape from reality gets us more disillusioned.

Rituals are a key ingredient in any Bhakti sampradaya. But we have hijacked rituals as bhakti. Many a time, it is often evident that the rituals are either done due to compulsions of time or driven by desire. In either case, bhakti becomes futile as there is no spiritual benefit. In Bharat, we have so many festivals, each one giving us a great opportunity to not merely celebrate life, but also a channel to get closer to ourselves. We are too busy lost in the festivities that we forget the main reason why we are even having it in the first place.

Take Diwali, Holi, Sankaranti. We can blame the outside psuedo-secularizing forces or we can turn the gaze within. Worse still we have even taken these events to extreme bestial heights. For instance, if one were to relate the gross incidents happening around Navarathri in Mumbai-Gujarat region.

Ritual becomes SPIritual when the focus is either dissolving the “I” into Paramatma or when the “I” understands it is a manifestation of this Cosmic Energy, just like every other “I”. In other words it is a Special I Ritual.  If this purpose is not attained, then one fails to gain anything spiritually.

Bhakti becomes a cloak for showing to others that they are still a practicing Hindu. Instead of using this great vehicle for personal liberation, we are merely trapped with this facade. Tradition exerts a strong pull, which has been weakening in the last few decades, to continue the past practices. Mindless chanting of mantras without understanding the great meaning hidden within is a good example of how superficial rituals have become. Unfortunately bhakti of modern Hindus is steeped in far too many superstitions.

To get a resolution to all these chronic ailments peddled as bhakti today, one must turn our gaze to the past acharyas, sages, rishis and scriptures.

Bhakti THEN

The above examples of Bhakti, as practiced today, are all centered on some desire to obtain some benefit from God. This is called Sakamya Bhakti.  This is also referred to as Anya Bhakti. When we shed all desires in our unadulterated attention to God or if the only desire is a burning desire to be bathing in Spiritual Bliss of HIS grace, it is called Ananya Bhakti, also known as Avyabhicharini Bhakti, as described by Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita.

Great acharyas, sages and all our great scriptures have constantly been underlying great values which aid in our spiritual journey. Swami Sivananda has collected many such gems on bhakthi and strung a beautiful necklace in this must read book – Bhakti Yoga. (Do not miss some great links to Swami Sivananda’s nectarine wisdom below)

Another way to see Bhakti is Apara(lower) and Para(higher). The beginner uses rituals like flower, aarti, offerings as a way to direct and develop one’s bhakti, which is called APARA. Eventually this leads to a higher state where everything around is seen as GOD’s presence. This state is called PARA bhakti, which is possible only by going through the former. At this exalted state, many great personalities have revealed that there is no difference between them and Jnanis.

Though there are more ways to dissect bhakti, we will not be dwelling on that aspect. The bhava behind determines both the means adopted and the outcome in Bhakti. This bhava is both the karana (cause) and karmaphala (effect) of the current actions of the bhakta as well as what he reaps in future. We saw in detail in the series ‘Whom Does God Love’, where Krishna goes into great detail about the values that a Bhakta ought to have to find favor in HIS eyes. (Whom does God love? – Part 1, Whom does God love? – Part 2, Whom does God love? – Concluding part)

This list which Krishna has provided is perhaps a bit long for many beginners and the standards may be higher, depending on the vasana baggage each one carries. Many great Acharyas and Rishis have provided their insights to aid the extremely vasana hardened people to take up bhakti. Acharya Ramanuja is one such exemplar who out of his love for humanity has given the following traits, which every bhakta must master. (Eleven points for Development of Bhakti – Swami Sivananda)

The need for these values which a bhakta must possess, not mere emotional connect as perceived by masses, has been described by Swami Sivananda as –

“It would be a gross mistake if you consider Bhakti as merely a state of emotionalism, while it is actually a thorough discipline and training of one’s will and the mind, a sure means to intuitive realization of Bhagwan/God through intense love and affection for Him. It is a means to thorough apprehension of the true knowledge of the Reality, beginning from the ordinary form of idol-worship right upto the highest form of cosmic realisation of your oneness with Him.”

The eleven points detailed by Acharya Ramanuja:

  • Abhyasa – Constant practice of thinking about God
  • Viveka – Discrimination
  • Vimoka – No other longing, except for God
  • Satyam – Truthfulness (This is not just non speaking of lies, but also trying to go deeper into understanding the true nature of things, which comes from Viveka)
  • Arjavam – Straightforwardness or Honesty
  • Kriya – Doing good to others, almost like Karma Yoga but voluntarily serving others
  • Kalyana – Wishing others well; nothing but goodness comes from the heart for others
  • Daya – Compassion – Always viewing others through the lens of compassion, even if it is at a personal cost
  • Ahimsa – Non Violence – In thoughts, words and actions. Ahimsa is perhaps one of the least understood of ideas.
  • Dana – Charity – Giving away has been a central practice of Sanatana Dharma
  • Anvasada – Cheerfulness and hope

Without these traits, barely having focus on emotions takes the bhakta nowhere. A bhkata may or may not have any of these traits to begin with, but with constantly focusing on these attributes, eventually bhakti takes a deeper root.

In Srimad Bhagavata Purana, Prahalada explains what types of relationships happen to a Bhakta –

Sravanam Keerthanam Vishnoho:

Smaranam Padasevanam,

Archanam Vandanam Dasyam,

Sakhyam Aatma Nivedanam

Sravanam – Hearing the Lila’s of God – can also be interpreted as ‘reading’. King Parikshit had only 7 days to live, and he focused to listen to divine stories to enable him to evolve spiritually.

Keerthanam – Singing his glories, bhajans. Many saints in Dasar lineage like Purandara Dasa, Swami Thyagarajar are good examples. Sage Narada may be on the top of this category.

Smaranam – Remembrance of HIS name and presence. Prahalada (No kidding – Follow this child – Part 3)

Padasevanam – Service to his feet.  – Bharata s the foremost amongst the Bhaktas. But if one notices the feet of Narayana, Sri Lakshmi is eternally found there to remind Bhaktas to practice this relationship.

Archanam – Adoring the beauty of God. Real archanam is exemplified by Gopikas

Vandanam – Worshipping God – All the bhaktas seem to have this relationship.

Dasyam – Looking at God as the master – No better example can be given than Ramabhakta Hanuman.

Sakhyam – Friendship – Arjuna is the best example

Aatma Nivedanam – Complete Surrender. Saranagati is the central tenet of Sri Vaishanvism. Rama Avatara is filled with many Saranagatas like Guha, Sugriva and Vibhishana.

Humans have relationships with Paramatma based on certain bhavas, according to Sri Chaitanya Charanamrita:

  • Shanta Bhava – Attitude of a sage or saint
  • Vatsalya Bhava – Attitude of a mother, Yashoda
  • Dasya Bhava – Attitude of a servant, Hanuman
  • Sakhya Bhava – Attitude of a friend, Arjuna
  • Madhurya Bhava – Attitude of a lover, Andal, Meera

It is interesting Krishna also categorizes the bhaktas into four categories.

चतुर्विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सुकृतिनोऽर्जुन ।
आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ ॥७- १६॥

chatur-vidhā bhajante māṁ janāḥ sukṛitino ’rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī jñānī cha bharatarṣhabha ॥7-16 ॥

Four kinds of virtuous men worship Me, O Arjuna, and they are distressed, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of wealth and the wise, O Lord of the Bharatas.

Artha: Such a devotee seeks out for the grace of God, in order to get rid of some sorrow or pain. Pain elimination is the primary motive. When Draupadi found there was no hope of saving herself from Dhushasana, despite the presence of her five husbands and all the elders of the Kuru family, she realized that her only solace and hope is Bhagawan Shri Krishna. Gajendra, the king of elephants fought the crocodile for such a long time, even Vishnu was overanxious to come and help. When the ego got bruised with the slipping energy, Gajendra gave out a cry, Adhimoola, and Vishnu was there to assist.

Jijnasu:  Such a devotee is a seeker of Knowledge. To such a devotee, Bhagawan’s grace will solve a lot of unanswered questions. He is not after trivial pursuits of sensory pleasure. Uddhava was a reat devotee of Krishna and thanks to his relentless pursuit of Knowledge, we have Uddhava Gita.

Artharthi:  There are different angles provided by different commentators. The most common one is the seeker is after money, spouse, children, power, position, name and fame. There is a subtle draw for the worldly objects even in their surrender. Sugriva’s friendship or Vibhishana’s surrender had the hopes of getting the lost kingdom and getting rid of Ravana respectively. Such commentators view Artha and Arthaarthi under one category where the seeker is after paltry things, whilst Jijnasu and Jnani are after more subtler things. They opine the order should have been flipped, but for maintaining the metre of the song.

Swami Krishnananda opines otherwise. Since Artha means Value and Jijnasu means Knowledge and the Jnani is seeking ultimate Wisdom. It appears there is a gradual ascent in the sequence of devotional spirit. He opines Artharthi to be interpreted as the fulfilment of purusharthas of life, which would include dharma-artha-kama-moksha. This category, Purusha Arthaarthis, would be a perfect way to interpret this third category.

Jnani:  A man of self-Illumination. Such a a person is the devotee of the highest order. Sage Narada, Suka Maharishi, Prahalada are few prime examples.

Let us use all these pointers given by these wiser folks who have not only traveled this path before, but also laid it.

Om Tat Sat

Suggested Reading:

Featured Image Credit:

To read more from the author, please visit

(Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and the Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content. HinduPost will not be responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information, contained herein.)

About the Author

Sanatana Dharmist. Endeavor is to share the little I have learnt along this Cosmic journey with my fellow travelers. Sincerely interested in raising awareness of Hindu Dharma, especially to Hindus.