Nine Principles of Bhakti Yoga
The ‘Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu’ (the Hindu sacred texts written by the teacher, poet, and philosopher Rupa Gosvami) provides the following as the nine primary activities of bhakti, with the instruction that by following all or just one of these activities perfectly, the aspiring devotee can achieve pure love of God:
- Sravana. This is the Sanskrit term for listening to poems or stories about God’s virtues and mighty deeds. Sravana bhakti cannot be practiced in isolation. The devotee must hear the stories from a wise teacher and seek the companionship of holy people.
- Kirtana. This refers to the singing or chanting of God’s praises. Ram Dass has said of this form of bhakti, “When you are in love with God, the very sound of the Name brings great joy.”
- Smarana. This is remembrance of God at all times, or keeping God in the forefront of one’s consciousness. In Christian terms, smarana is what the French monk Brother Lawrence (1605-1691) meant by “the practice of the presence of God.”
- Padasevana. This form of bhakti yoga expresses love toward God through service to others, especially the sick.
- Archana. This refers to the worship of God through such external images as icons or religious pictures or through internal visualizations. The purpose of archana is to purify the heart through the love of God.
- Vandana. This refers to prayer and prostration (lying face down on the ground with arms outstretched). This form of bhakti yoga is intended to curb self-absorption and self-centeredness.
- Dasya. In dasya bhakti, the devotee regards him – or herself as God’s slave or servant, carrying out God’s commandments, meditating on the words of God, caring for the sick and the poor, and helping to clean or repair sacred buildings or places.
- Sakha-bhava. This form of bhakti yoga is a cultivation of friendship-love toward Godâto love God as a member of one’s family or dearest friend, and delight in companionship with God.
- Atma-nivedana. This is the complete self-offering or self-surrender to God.
Unlike some other forms of yoga, however, bhakti yoga does not teach the devotee to completely lose his or her personal identity through absorption into the divine. God is regarded as infinitely greater than the human worshiper, even one at the highest levels of spiritual attainment.
These nine principles of devotional service are described as helping the devotee remain constantly in touch with God. The processes of japa and internal meditation on the aspirant devotee’s chosen deity form (ishta deva) are especially popular in most bhakti schools.
Bhakti Yoga Table of contents