By Dr. Rita Khanna
Let’s take a deep look at the nine steps of Bhakti Yoga and the practice itself. Bhakti Yoga is one of the four main Yogic paths to enlightenment. Bhakti is a Sanskrit term, means devotion to the Lord. Yoga means union. It is the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Self. Thus, the path of Bhakti serves to unite us with the divine and to reawaken the eternal blissful love that lies within each of our hearts. It is the most divine and spiritual form of Yoga. The only requirement for Bhakti yoga is an open and loving heart. One need only surrender all doubts, fears and worries to the Almighty Lord of The Universe.
“And of all Yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me—he is the most intimately united with Me in Yoga and is the highest of all. – Sri Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 6 Mantra 47. The ultimate aim of Bhakti is to merge oneself in the ocean of Divine love through the process of devotion.
The Process of Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga is a very powerful tool for the generation and expression of love without boundaries – universal love. The process of Bhakti Yoga is simple, just as the processes in Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga or Kriya Yoga are simple, but the aim is quite different from this process. The aim of Hatha Yoga is purification and harmony of the body. The concept of harmony of the body is quite complex, but the process is simple – Asana, Shatkarma, etc. The aim of Raja Yoga is self-management; the process is Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The purpose of Kundalini Yoga is to awaken the dormant potential; the process is Chakras, Mantras, Yantras, and so on.
In Bhakti Yoga, you have to recondition the existing human nature and channel all the forces that flow out to converge at a single point of focus. That point can be called God, the force of creation; it can be called Guru, the energy which removes ignorance and darkness; it can be called love, Prem. The literal meaning of the word Prem is to appreciate and be identified with something intensely and silently. In that identification there is absolute peace. There is not even the birth of a desire. It is a state of contentment, wholeness and fulfilment.
What are the Stages?
Within the nine steps of Bhakti Yoga, the aim is to identify with the pure nature of emotions, love and spirit. The process is through Kirtan, Mantra, Adoration, Contemplation, Prayer and so forth. But these transformations have to take place in an area of our personality that has not yet been mapped or charted. So, there are nine steps of Bhakti Yoga and one should be able to attain each step or stage, experience it and live it.
1. Encounter with Truth: The first form of Bhakti is encounter with the inherent truth. It means that we all wear different kinds of masks which we wear for self-identity. Each mask projects us as a particular type of person at different times, hiding our true nature. The discovery of truth is learning to live without a mask so that you can discover who you are, what your real nature is after dropping all the masks. This is the first attainment of Bhakti.
2. Identification with the Godly Qualities: Identifying with the positive and the uplifting qualities of Godhood is the second form of Bhakti. It means that we identify with the qualities of the Godly nature and they take a place in our life. If people tell us that God is within and can be realized, then upon realization that would make us identify with the Godly nature and we would have the same potential as God at a microcosmic level. Through identification with that quality there will be identification with and understanding of the nature of God and a transformation of the whole personality can take place.
3. Adherence to the Teachings: The third form of Bhakti is adhering to the teachings given by the Guru, the enlightened master, with innocence and simplicity, following in his footsteps sincerely without superimposing your own ideas and beliefs upon the teachings you have received. When you try to adjust and accommodate the teachings to suit your own needs then the teachings become irrelevant. However, when the teaching is taken in the spirit of learning, in order to improve the quality of life, then it becomes a relevant personal philosophy, a way of life on the nine steps of Bhakti Yoga.
4. Acceptance of Reality: The fourth form of Bhakti is being aware of the miracle of the glory of God without manipulation or deviousness. In this form of Bhakti, we learn to accept reality as it exists. Our normal tendency is to try to adjust reality to suit ourselves. In summer we try to make our environment cool; in winter we try to make it warm, even though suffering a little heat in summer and cold in winter makes the body strong. So be aware of the glory of reality and learn to accept it as an ongoing process. Every step of life is some kind of miracle.
St John of the Cross said, “I swear by God, I die every night.” That is one miracle, and the fact that you wake up in the morning is another. The fact that you can analyze things is another miracle, and that you can be aware of every moment as it goes by is another. We do not live just in a mechanical clockwork world. There is also a way to respond directly to the miraculous expressions of every dimension of life. We learn about them and we live being guided by them, and accept that reality.
5. Remembrance of God with faith through Mantra: The fifth form of Bhakti is using Mantras to go deep inside one’s mind and consciousness, without any identification with the intellectual mind or the inner experience, and remaining connected with faith. It means that remembrance of God’s name, God’s nature and God’s wisdom with absolute faith. Faith is the natural outcome of acceptance. Once there is faith, then remembrance will follow, which is the key to opening your connection with the cosmic self. Faith comes in Bhakti and with faith comes remembrance. Remembrance is a link between the lower self and the higher self in the form of a Mantra. Mantra is that force which liberates the mind, without identifying with it – mananat trayate iti mantrah. Normally there is some association with every word. If somebody says you are good, you associate with the word ‘good’ and feel happy. If somebody says you are bad, you associate with the word ‘bad’ and feel bad. The self-image and self-esteem are affected because we tend to see ourselves through the eyes of others and do not know our real nature.
6. Restrained and Graceful Action: The sixth form of Bhakti is giving yourself a focus and fulfilling your human Dharma by performing the appropriate action in a graceful manner. It means that modesty and gracefulness, which is an outer expression in life where you are living and expressing, is your human Dharma. Yoga is known as restrained expression. When we are not restrained, it means that our actions are not clearly guided and do not really have a purpose. In Yoga the idea of restraint does not mean to hold back but to give purpose, direction, motivation and clarity to whatever we do. Knowledgeable, considered action is where you restrain the usual tendencies of the mind, focus upon one thing and fulfil it. Dharma is generally defined in English as purpose, duty, commitment or obligation, but the real meaning of Dharma is an attitude