Strictly speaking, bhakti is not mere love or devotion but a
combination of several
concepts. It is a powerful emotion of the mind,
that is both earthly and transcendental, an overt sign of the highest
nature hidden in us and the possibilities that await us as we make
progress in our onward spiritual journey.
It is characterized by faith, love, trust, loyalty, devotion,
attachment and reverence manifested towards oneself, a thing or an
external entity such as God or teacher, parent or some loved being or
even to oneself. While excessive devotion to oneself and ones
interests leads to the strengthening of the asuric (demonic) nature,
pure and selfless devotion to God leads to salvation and eternal life.
In spiritual terms bhakti means intense spiritual love and devotion
to God. It helps a devout person satisfy his or her spiritual needs
without following an ascetic way of life. Hindu scriptures extol
bhakti-marg or the path of devotion as one of the surest and easiest
ways to reach God.
Especially in the Bhagavadgita, there is an entire chapter(12)
dedicated to this concept, which emphasizes the importance of bhakti
in the religious life of an individual. Elsewhere in the same
scripture we also come across a description of the four types of
devotees: the man in distress (arta), the inquisitive (Jignasu), the
seeker of wealth (artharhti) and the man of wisdom (7.16). Of them,
declares Lord Krishna, the man of wisdom, established in single minded
and continuous devotion, is extremely dearer to Him (7.17).
Types of Bhakti
Bhakti or religious devotion is however of several types. On one
extreme is the
purest form of satvic(selfless) devotion extolled in
the Bhagavadgita by Lord Krishna (12:13 - 12:20) that tends to be
sacrificial and selfless in nature and leads to the liberation of its
practitioner and his or her union with God,. Next comes the
rajasic(egoistic) form of devotion that seeks to use devotion as a
means to gain some physical, mental or spiritual power or boon in
order to further ones own egoistic interests or selfish motive. On the
other extreme is the dark and tamasic(deluded, psychotic) devotion
that indulges in cruel and bizarre practices such as human or animal
sacrifices and dark tantric rituals that aim to appease the objects of
their devotion and gain control over things or cause intense
pain and suffering to others in the most abominable, cruel and
In the Bhaktisutras, Sage Narada describes bhakti in the following
That is highest love, that is like Amrit, finding
which, a person becomes perfect, becomes immortal, becomes
satisfied, finding which, he desires nothing more, neither grieves,
nor hates, neither engages and not gets enthusiastic about any thing
else, having known which, he becomes as if drugged, lost as if,
stunned, surprised, and dwells in his own self. By nature bhakti is
free of desire, possessing the nature of unconcern towards worldly
affairs, exclusive devotion toward That (God), and unconcern toward
any thing that contradicts it, giving up of other shelters, and
exclusively taking the shelter of That (God). Even when interacting
with this world, or conducting worldly affairs, living according
toThat (God), and having unconcern toward any thing that contradicts
In the Mahabhagavatam, we hear the description of five forms of
bhakti from Prahlada, a great child devotee of Lord Vishnu.
The 'Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu' (written by Rupa Gosvami) gives the
following as the nine primary activities of bhakti, with the
instruction that by following all, or just one or any of these
activities perfectly, the aspiring devotee can achieve pure love of
1) Hearing about the Lord - singing & chanting God's names (japa),
hearing stories from scripture.
2) Glorifying the Lord - describing God's all-attractive features.
3) Remembering the Lord - internal meditation on the Lord's form,
activities, names or personality.
4) Serving the lotus feet of the Lord - providing a form of physical
5) Worshiping the Lord - deity worship (arcana) is a popular form of
this within India.
6) Offering prayers to the Lord - any form of prayer offered to please
7) Serving the Lord - offering a service for Lord's pleasure, such as
8) Building a friendship with the Lord - having an internal, loving
relationship with God.
9) Surrendering everything unto the Lord - surrendering one's
thoughts, actions and deeds to God.
Suggested Further Reading