Bhakti, as it is commonly understood, refers to love, faith, and devotion. It is an important term to consider as many of us hear that we should love ourselves and others; that we should have devotion — further: that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. We might hear, know, and indeed be making every attempt to practice this; we hear that we should have or practice bhakti and we are happy make this attempt, and, at the outset, all of this does not seem too difficult or problematic. Yet, while bhakti is often regarded as the easiest method towards realizing the nature of the Divine, many have trouble with it in practice. As such, this paper begins an elucidation of particular intricacies of this lived concept — intricacies which, for this author, have proven quite successful to date.
Bhakti, foremost, is its own reward. It is love for the sake of love; devotion for the sake of devotion. It is a way of life, bringing with it in its evolution both fuller manifestations of itself within the person and his or her life, and the ever-deeper knowledge that we are all intimately united. It is wisdom, and its evolution is enmeshed with the development of intuition. This intuition is of a refined and specialized sort: it is enmeshed within the person and is resonant as a voice of soulful Divinity filled with love, guiding one's thought itself in a higher thinking process that carries within itself the awareness of both broad and smaller realities, and the suggestion of specificities of action or inaction which soon become themselves surrendered or relinquished to the Infinite. Further, as bhakti enables faith and refined thinking, its successful practitioner can transcend dualistic concepts and ways of seeing the world, such that they may be of great aid to others and a friend of life. For someone consciously living the depths of this practiced mind-set, that which is the Divine is everywhere: in every circumstance, in every person; indeed, in all. While bhakti may begin with a mere fraction of this thinking — where it incorporates likes and dislikes — this fraction is not its greatest fulfillment, by far. At its heart, is an ever-joyous celebration; an appreciation and remembrance of the Divine, in all. It enables one to transcend the worst of suffering, even likening that same suffering to bliss. At its height, please be sure that it is most magnificent.
Now, consider the idea that the practice of bhakti begun within the person should not consciously or unconsciously seek ego gratification. What is love when there are big egos involved, warring with each other? Uncover your intentions and be unified within yourself about them. Honestly consider: is the path of bhakti for you? If not, there are many other ways to approach the Infinite in all of its blissful unity. Loving for love will fill itself, but loving to gain advance over, or overtake another might likely soon injure itself in the foot; indeed, this is probable. What are your innermost motivations? Have you an authentic, deep desire to know the truth of yourself, God, and the truth of the cosmos, or, is there another reason you have become interested? What draws you towards this particular path, among others? Perhaps also: to approach bhakti in this way may simply be too abstract, and therefore, a more concrete starting point would be of greater benefit. To this end, move your attention to your body itself. Practice loving that which is closest to you: your own sensations, your own body. Notice that love, joy, and bliss radiate from within your being itself. Sit with yourself and feel what you feel, loving all that you feel. Dear one — please oh please do not confuse yourself with flowers or fruit offerings, ceremony, or even lectures that baffle your mind. You might begin with a few moments like this in this lifetime, but do transcend this, however your path curves. God is not outside of you, ever-separate. Get to know God, truly. Journey within through ongoing self-reflection and self-inquiry. Journey within most devotedly. Journey within through the depths of meditation, and uncover the cosmos.
Fullness begets Fullness
Now, how beautiful is bhakti? How magnificent is the Divine? Even with its beginnings of deep appreciation as such, honored within the person, there can nonetheless be a very vast reward or reciprocation through the practice of bhakti. Such reciprocation strengthens the practice of bhakti itself. We come to see that a life of bhakti does not lack anything: in itself it is not a consciousness of lack, but instead one of fullness, unity, and all-embracing love. Those who adopt bhakti as a way of life — as an authentic way of being with others in the world — always find themselves in the grace of the Divine, regardless of circumstance. Many quietly undergo great trials in life, yet may fail to see these tribulations as such at all, and appear to others as consistently protected or oft redeemed by the Divine.
Successfully living in bhakti can perhaps begin easiest within the person who loves all of humankind as much as possible, consistently and regardless of circumstance. It can begin in the person who sees, remembers, or adores the Infinite in all others regardless of whether or not he or she likes or dislikes these others at any given moment. Love transcends commonplace likes and dislikes and keeps this same awareness near. As such, bhakti is more akin to an art or a science rather than a simple emotion that may change of over time or, perhaps more unfortunately, from moment to moment. To practice bhakti is to practice love and to recognize and accept love; it is not a reaction or action of emotionalism, nor is it stifling attachment. Rather, it is freeing. It is love, it is acceptance, and, just as the taste of a thing is difficult to describe with words alone, so too is bhakti difficult to explicate.
Through the ongoing practice of bhakti, there can be an experiential realization of the nature of the innermost Self that baffles common expression. From the birth of this consciousness — an experience perhaps best described simultaneously as: eternity in all of its authentic magnificence most deeply enmeshed with all in complete perfection, ever-peaceful nothingness and all possibility in the cradle of life's own cosmic awareness, complete bliss and an authentic awareness of the nature of one's own being — strong adverse reactions in life (such as anger, especially as an ongoing aspect of temperament) can be revealed as unfortunate and unwise. Love is affirmed and strengthened as the path or method, goal, and highest value of life in a completely loving cosmos of all-possibility. Reducing or eliminating harm and illusion can also be revealed as of the utmost importance. Having arrived at this place through deep effort, and meditation, the practitioner of bhakti is wise.
For the Love of Humanity
Bhakti, as love, is the internal surrender to that which already has and
holds everything. As such, bhakti is the art of living in
Truth. Such bhakti strengthens actions that seek to help others
in true partnership or fellowship. Such actions balance individual
freedoms with collective interests while maintaining awareness of our
intimate connectivity; our true nature.
Attachment, Ownership, and Depth
An important caution: that we are attached to an ideal, a goal, a person, a place, a thing, or even a lifestyle does not signal that we also of necessity love the same. That we claim ownership, also: this is not a symbol that we love. Rather, blind attachment and misunderstandings about ownership can be great pitfalls, as behaviors flowing from the same tend to forsake wisdom altogether. First, let us try to learn who or what it is that we actually are, and from this — from knowing Self — well, from here then it is reasonable to ascertain what we are truly attached to and what it is that we own. In the interim, let us consider ourselves humble guardians of all, caretakers of life, beloveds of the cosmos — true friends to all. This is an important point, because it has been noted that attachment can deeply block the growth authentic love and spiral itself into something quite horrid, masquerading as it does, that it is something else it merely strives or wishes to be. If one has single-pointed attachment which manifests as deep care flowing over everywhere outwards, such that one embraces all of creation manifest and not yet manifest and carries within the interest to humbly serve all of the aforementioned in the spirit of peace, love, and deep reverence, and without ulterior motive — well, then I would assert that this is a wonderful choice. However, should a person have attachment in some places and not others, i.e. should a person remember God within a few only and fail to transcend to higher depths to see, remember, or know God in all, form and formless, and accordingly fail to revere That within all... Well, I would suggest that this is an unfortunate direction. Another path to the Divine would likely be a better fit, and a far more fruitful one, at that. Love is not about attachment and aversion. Love is something more.A simple idea that may help with the practice of bhakti: try to live like your most loving, humanitarian saint or Self-Realized Master. That is: journey within. Be curious about the nature of reality, the nature of the cosmos, the nature of your own being, and God. Earnestly desire to uncover deep truth. Make much of your present blessed existence through meditation. Meditate to fine-tune your faculties, meditate to begin to deeply understand, and watch your life flourish. Journey with, most devotedly. What you will uncover, dear one — what you will uncover within your own being itself — is sure to leave you breathless.
Sukhu, Eppi. Bhakti: A Self-Fulfilling Path.
Swami Vivekananda. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. (Try: Wikisource.)