Bhakti is devotion or unselfish love. This is the literal meaning of the word. It comes from the root “Bhaj”–to serve or be deeply interested in, “Bhaj Sevayam” is the Sanskrit root. Bhakti is, therefore, an intense attachment to God or deep interest in God and things concerned with God.
The innate nature of all beings is to love an external object. We cannot but love or cherish something in the heart. For, truly, the Absolute alone is existent. Man is only an ego apparently separated from it. Love for external things is an unconscious internal urge to become unified with everything. For, in reality, man is everything, the Absolute Itself. He wants everything. Love is the fore-runner of Experience. Love is the craving. Experience is the fulfilment of it. None can live without love for something. “The creator pierced the senses with outward activity,” and that rule applies to one and all here. The mind is the main sense of perception, for it is only the mind that perceives through the various channels of senses. The senses do not work when the mind does not.
But it is folly on our part to allow the mind to run extrovert in all directions. The dissipated rays of the mind take interest in countless objects of the universe, seen and heard equally. Yogins have come to the conclusion that the mind that is centred in one point of space at all times can do and undo things with supernatural force. It is the concentrated ray of the sun passing through a lens that burns things focused through it, and not so much the rays that are scattered here and there. Mind has to be concentrated on one substance, be it this or that. The mind should not jump from one thing to another. This is the way of Samsara. This should be stopped by controlling the mind through one-pointedness of it.
But man can concentrate his mind on any object. He can concentrate his mind on his wife or children as he usually does. But this is not the concentration or love that is meant here. Meditation on or love towards the objects of earthly pleasure are binding chains which hurl down the Jiva to many cycles of birth and death. We mean here concentration on and love for God. This Love of unselfish origin is a ladder to Final Emancipation.
Emotions are generally considered as a hindrance in perfect Realisation. But only certain emotions are of a binding nature while certain other will liberate the Jiva from bondage. The conception of God does not rouse in man any binding emotion. It is pure emotion devoid of carnality and attachment. One cannot develop earthly love towards God. The conception of God and love for God rouses the purest of emotions and it is far better than evil emotions which overpower man day and night. Those who cannot still all emotions must have at least pure emotions. This is the significance of divine emotion in Bhakti-Marga. Love for God can never be the type of love cherished towards wife, children and property. There is much difference, through even love for God is given an earthly colouring like that of son, husband, father, friend etc., by some devotees who find it difficult to break all earthly connections at a stretch.
How, then, does love for God give us Liberation from Samsara? Man is an egoistic entity. His only enemy is the ego. He feels that he is entirely different from other things of the world. He is convinced that he is sharply marked off from the universe by his physical body. He is sure that he is only the body even through he may try to deny it in any way. When he says “I” he always points out to his chest and not to the yonder tree. Many unfortunate Vedantins also feel that when they assert “I am Brahman,” they mean only that the body is Brahman. It is very difficult to separate the “I” from the notion of the body. When one says “I am Ramakrishna,” he means only that “the body is Ramakrishna.” None can get rid of this notion of the body as the real Self. The ideal of all Yogas is to root out this sense of ego. And Bhakti Yoga is a method to kill the sense of separateness or egoism. It annihilates the modifications of the mind and fills the individual with Universal Consciousness.
A Bhakta says: “O Lord! I am Thine. All is Thine. I am not a separate entity. I have no power to do anything. You are doing everything; taking myself as an instrument. O Lord! You are everywhere. I cannot even move, for You are everywhere. I am walking over Your Body. I am not able to live separately for I am seeing You everywhere. You appear as the man and the woman and as the old man that totters with a stick on the road, You have become everything. I have no independence. I am Your slave. A slave has no optional views. He can do only what the Master commands him to do. I am doing nothing. You only are doing through me. You are the Doer. You are the Enjoyer. I am nothing. Thy will be done.”
This is the highest type of Love. This is Divine Love. The ego cannot assert itself, for God alone is everywhere. The mind cannot modify itself into Vrittis of sense-objects, for to him, there is no object except God. Who is there to be loved or hated? The Bhakta is therefore blissful at all times. The mind cannot think of anything. For, everything is God. “Yatra yatra mano yati tatra tatra samadhayah“. Wherever the mind goes there it experiences Samadhi, for it does not find an object of enjoyment. God is filling every speck of space. The whole world is clothed with the glory of God. The saint and the sinner, the virtuous and the vicious, the good and the bad, the man and the animal,–all are forms of God. How can the mind deal with them in an undivine way? There the mind experiences Samadhi. The mind has Consciousness. But it has no object. This is Samadhi. Samadhi is thoughtless Consciousness, objectless Knowledge. This is Para Bhakti. This is one with Vedantic Realisation. Vedanta-Sakshatkara and Para Bhakti are only two names for one and the same thing. The effect of both is annihilation of the ego or the destruction of the mind. The mind cannot live without an object of perception. God, who is supremely powerful, supremely wise and supremely blissful is pervading the entire atmosphere and the earth. He is the father and the mother, brother and sister. God is the consummation of all love and aspiration, desire and ambition. He is the stoppage of all mental Vrittis. He is the ideal to be attained.
Objective consciousness is dead when the presence of God everywhere is felt, the sense-objects are transformed into the glory of Divinity, wife is no more an object of lust, and money is not a property to be coveted. All is God and nothing is but God. All are to be worshipped. “The ass, dog and the Chandala are to be saluted,” said Sri Krishna to Uddhava, “for all is God”. This is equal to saying Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. There is no difference.
The illustration of the two varieties of Samadhi is found in the Rasa Lila of Sri Krishna. At first the Gopis perceive that all is Krishna alone. This is equal to Savikalpa Samadhi. Afterwards they feel that even they themselves are Krishna only. This is equal to Nirvikalpa Samadhi where the sense of ego is absent. The Srimad Bhagavata is the Bible of the devotees. It illustrates the various kinds of Rasas and modes of developing Bhakti.
“Control the mind, annihilate the ego”. This is the essence of all Yogas. Whatever be the name given to the yoga and whatever may be the methods employed therein, the ideal to be achieved is annihilation of the mind and the ego. And this is the ideal of Bhakti-Yoga which is a very sweet and easy method of procedure. One has not got to curb his emotion and one has not got to run to the forests. He has to direct his emotions to God and he has to see God as present in the world. This is the essence of Bhakti-Sadhana. Bhakti is thus only a reflection of the love for the self which the Upanishads declare. Only the names are different: one calls it Self, another calls it God. Names do not matter much. It is feeling that counts. And that is the same.
Self-surrender is the highest form of Bhakti. Self-surrender is surrender of the ego or individuality. And what remains is the Absolute of the Vedantins. Thus there is no difference between Vedanta and the highest form of Bhakti. The Bhakta surrenders the ego and Vedantin disintegrates the ego. Anyhow the ego is not there in both. There ideals are the same. Whether one eats rice or wheat, it is all the same. The purpose of both is to appease hunger. And there is no quarrel between the two. Whether you follow Bhakti or Vedanta, the effect is the annihilation of the ego. This is the truth.
There are two varieties of Bhaktas. The inferior type of Bhakta feels that everything is God except himself. He feels that he is the only one who is not God, and all else is God. This is the lower Bhakti and the presence of the ego hampers the ultimate experience. The higher kind of Bhakta feels that he himself is included in God and that he has no independent existence. His ego is rooted out completely and this is the realisation of Para Bhakti or Vedanta. Here his emotions stop and he becomes a calm ocean without waves. His mind is stilled and it merges into the Universal Truth. This is the culmination of Bhakti which supreme devotees like the Gopis of Vrindavan and Gouranga Mahaprabhu experienced.
Love for God should be unselfish. There should be no earthy motive behind love for God. Otherwise, it becomes only a modification of infatuation and delusion. Arta, Jijnasu and Artharthi are all selfish Bhaktas. They cannot have the highest fruit of devotion. They are deluded by earthliness. Only a Jnani is a true selfless Bhakta, flooded with the majesty and grandeur of emotionless peace. The highest kind of Bhakta is one who wants God. He says: “O Lord! I want thee. Nothing else do I want! What is there which I have to get after getting Thee, the source and the root of everything?” When wheat is obtained, bread, parotta, halva, and all the modifications are obtained. When gold is obtained, all ornaments are obtained. When God is attained, everything else is attained. The devotee is lost in the consciousness of God. He has plunged into the ocean of Bliss. He has taken a bath in the sea of Nectar. He has drunk deep of the essence of Immortality. He has become an Apta-Kama, for he has attained God.
The text book of the highest kind of Bhaktas is the Srimad Bhagavata. It embodies the great ideals of renunciation, Devotion and Knowledge brought to a stage of unblemished perfection. This Purana, for above what a Purana is supposed to be like, is the cream of the devotional literature of the Hindus. It is the wealth of the lovers of God. It is a book of divine wisdom, it advocates the path of non action. Sri Krishna-Chaitanya (Gouranga) is said to have considered this work as the greatest of Indian spiritual productions. It is a great authority on pure Spiritual Dharma, not as a means for Artha (wealth) and Kama (desire), but directly for Moksha. It has a fascination even for those who are keenly alive in finding out its defects. The whole body of the work is completely saturated with high expositions of Bhakti, Vairagya and Jnana–Devotion, Renunciation and Wisdom. The Ideal of Renunciation and Knowledge of Rishabhadeva, Jadabharata and the Brahmana of Avanti, the Devotion of Dhruva, Prahlada and Ambarisha, the Wisdom of Narad, Kapila, and above all the immortal life and teachings of Bhagavan Sri Krishna to His devoted disciple Uddhava, form the nucleus of the Srimad Bhagavata.
It is a grave mistake to misrepresent and cavil at Bhakti, for the true spirit of every religion implies the adoration and love of God and the desire for Union with God. The highest conception of perpetual Bliss is not mere prostration and service, but a loving union with the Eternal. In emphasising true Devotion as a method for Salvation, it is not meant that services and love of humanity should be paid a deaf ear to: for all is God. He that loveth his neighbour, loveth God. The Bhakta identifies himself with all the beings of the world; he feels the universe as a mere manifestation of God, which is nothing short of advaitic realisation. Those men who truly love God with sincere feeling, cannot go astray. They do not perish. Even the sinner and the Sudra is lifted up to the magnanimous height of Emancipation. The kindness of God is immeasurable. God illumines their intellect, and takes care of them at all times. The Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata are witnesses to this facts. The Bhakta will be guided by God, and illuminated with Wisdom for the attainment of the supreme Blessedness.