Bhaktiyoga

(‘union with [God] through devotion’)

Hindu scriptural works posit mokṣa or liberation from transmigratory existence, as the final goal of life. This can be achieved either through jñāna (know-ledge) or through bhakti (devotion). The well-known path of bhakti or devotion that ultimately leads to yoga or union with, or, being firmly rooted in, God is termed ‘Bhaktiyoga’.

God has been described in the Upaniṣads both as the transcendent and as the immanent Spirit (Brahman-Ātman), as also a Person with infinite blessed qualities (Aupaniṣada-Puruṣa or Īśvara). In Bhaktiyoga, the stress is almost entirely on the latter aspect, though the former is accepted.

Dhyāna or meditation on the form of the deity and japa or repetition of the divine name are the chief disciplines of this yoga.

Diverse forms of one and the same God, first articulated in the Ṛgveda (1.64.46; 10.114.5), have received a much more detailed treatment in the purāṇas and allied literature, as a result of the growth of various cults. These have come in very handy for the votaries of the bhakti cult advocating Bhaktiyoga. Meditation on anyone of the forms of God that one cherishes—and this is called the ‘Iṣṭadevatā’—and repetition of the mantra or the divine name associated with it, has been a popular and effective mode of spiritual practice in Bhaktiyoga. However, as per the age-old tradition, this mantra has to be received from a qualified guru or spiritual preceptor in a ceremonial way, called ‘dīkṣā’.

A person to be qualified as a guru has to be sinless, fairly well-versed in the concerned spiritual literature and deeply rooted in God. Anyone who wishes to be a disciple should have cultivated the elementary moral virtues like satya or truth and dama or self-control. He should approach the guru in all humility and do personal service also. He should receive the mantra with great śraddhā or faith and adhere strictly to the instructions given by him.

Apart from japa or repetition of the divine name, other aspects of the practice of Bhaktiyoga are: śravaṇa (listening to the stories of God), kīrtana (singing devotional hymns and songs), arcana (ritualistic worship), vandana (obeisance), culti-vation of anyone of the well-known attitudes like dāsya, sakhya or vātsalya and so on.

The saints, sages and seers who have attained perfection by following the path of bhakti or devotion, are legion. Their characteristics like universal love and compassion, absolute selfcontrol, unselfishness to the core, equanimity under all vicissitudes of life are common to all the perfected beings who might have attained that state by other well-known means of sādhanā like jñāna or knowledge.

See also BHAKTA and BHAKTI.