Teachers of the Bhakti Movement made religion not only simple but also affable, by their inspiring lives and simple teachings.
One such teacher who wielded consi-derable influence over a large section of people was Vallabhācārya or Vallabha (A. D. 1473-1531.)
The words ‘puṣṭi’ and ‘puṣṭimārga’ are his contribution to the bhakti literature.
He categorises bhakti or devotion to God into ‘maryādābhakti’ and ‘puṣṭi-bhakti’.
The devotion that follows the beaten track as per the various steps given in the scriptures like śravaṇa (listening to the glories of God), kīrtana (singing devotional songs) and arcana (worship) belongs to the first category. The jīvas (souls) or sādhakas (aspirants) who follow this path have to depend much on self-effort.
Puṣṭimārga is the path of devotion categorised as ‘puṣṭi’.
‘Puṣṭi’ literally means ‘nourishment’. It means the special spiritual nourishment that a sādhaka gets when God’s grace descends on him. It has nothing to do with the fattening of the body with nourishing food, as some epicureans want us to believe!
In this path, the jīva on whom the grace of God falls, is called ‘puṣṭi’. He is the one whom God has accepted as his own. These jīvas have an innate and unconditional love and attachment to him. That love is actually a reflection of the light of divine favour and fervour on that blessed soul.
Well-known scriptures on bhakti or devotion advocate navavidha-bhakti or ninefold devotion. They are: śravaṇa (listening to the stories of God in his various aspects of avatāras), kīrtana (singing his names and glories), smaraṇa (remembering him constantly), pādasevana (serving the feet of his images), arcana (ritualistic worship), vandana (obeisance to him), dāsya (cultivating the attitude that one is his servant), sakhya (an attitude of friendship towards him) and ātmanivedana (offering oneself completely to him or total self-surrender) (vide Bhāgavata 7.5.23).
The first eight modes belong to the mode of maryādā-bhakti. In the puṣṭimārga, the devotee starts with the last mode (ātmanivedana). Realising that the grace of God is the sole means of achieving spiritual progress, he gets the mantra of self-dedication from a qualified guru in a ceremony called ‘brahma-sambandha.’ This absolves him of all his past sins even as the river Gaṅgā purifies all the dirty water that may flow into it.
Of course, the efficacy of such an initiation depends on the intensity of the faith and aspiration of the disciple.
See also VALLABHĀCĀRYA.