Bhakti Yoga

Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Bhakti Yoga Mean?

Bhakti yoga is one of the four classical schools of yoga alongside Jnana (knowledge or self-study), Karma (action) and Raja (meditation), each offering a path to moksha (spiritual liberation) and self-realization.

Derived from the Sanskrit root, bhaj meaning "to serve God," Bhakti yoga is a practice of selfless devotion and recognition of the Divine in everything.

Bhakti yoga is one of the most common paths of spiritual development, particularly in India where the practice originated. The concept was first described in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, ancient Hindu texts which focus on liberation from suffering.

Bhakti yoga involves surrendering to the Divine or uniting with the universal consciousness, through practices such as chanting, singing, dancing and selfless service within the community.


Yogapedia Explains Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti yoga was first outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Hindu scripture estimated to date back to somewhere between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C.E. The Bhagavad Gita offers several approaches to liberation from suffering, self-realization and connection with the Divine, of which Bhakti yoga is one of the most practical.

The text highlights the importance of selflessness, in which devotion is offered from the heart, with full attention and awareness.

The intention when practicing Bhakti yoga is to devote one's self to the Divine in everything, thereby realizing the union of atman (the individual self) with Brahman (universal consciousness).

It is motivated by a love of God rather than a fear of negative repercussions or punishment, and the path therefore helps to develop love and acceptance for all beings.

Although Bhakti yoga generally takes the broad approach of devotion in general, some Bhakti yogis worship a specific deity. For example, Shaivists devote their worship to Shiva and his family, Vaishnavists devote their worship to Vishnu and his avatars and Shaktists devote their worship to devis such as Durga and Kali.

All three groups have absolute respect for one another and their respective deities, despite focusing on their own primary gods.

Bhakti yoga is sometimes referred to as the "path of the heart", and practitioners may use chanting, devotional mantras, prayer, kirtan and rituals as part of their worship. Historically, this was a more accessible path for women and those from lower castes in Hindu society, for whom the education required for more studious paths of yoga was not readily available.

Surrender is both a necessary component and subsequent consequence of Bhakti yoga practice; by observing the divinity of everything in the universe, ideas of self and ego tend to dissolve, along with a sense of separation from others.

Those who follow Bhakti yoga don’t see themselves as separate from one another or from any other part of the universe, thereby enhancing feelings of love and unity.

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