The essence of Bhakti Yoga

The word Bhakti means dedication. Originally, the approach of Bhakti Yoga was based on human emotions, which is why it is also called the yoga of love. Bhakti Yoga encourages the practice of devotion directed to a higher power. Practitioners recite prayers, meditate and dedicate their lives to God as they understand God.

As you can see, the line between religion and yoga is blurred in this yogic approach. Yet Bhakti Yoga focuses on personal practice and devotion. In contrast, organized religion has other goals and is often involved in political disputes and other practices that can hardly pass for spiritual practice.

Although it has its origins in Hinduism, Bhakti Yoga makes no distinction between religions. It doesn’t matter how practitioners define their higher power, as long as they cultivate a relationship through prayer and meditation.

This type of religious tolerance is relevant today.

Vivekananda on 09/11/1893

For reference, I want to share a short speech that Swami Vivekananda gave to the world parliament of religions in Chicago on September 11, 1893.

Sisters and Brothers of America,

It fills my heart with unspeakable joy to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome you extended to us. I thank you on behalf of the oldest order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; I thank you on behalf of millions and millions of Hindus of all classes and sects.

My thanks also to some of the speakers on this rostrum who, referring to the delegates from the East, told you that these men from distant nations could well claim the honor of carrying the idea of ​​tolerance to different lands. I am proud to belong to a religion that has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We not only believe in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true.

I am proud to belong to a nation that has sheltered the persecuted and refugees of all religions and nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered into our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to southern India and took refuge with us in the very year their holy temple was torn to pieces. by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion that has housed and still nourishes the rest of the great Zoroastrian nation.

I am going to quote to you, brothers, a few lines of a hymn which I remember having repeated since my earliest childhood, and which is repeated every day by millions of human beings: the water of the sea, of the springs of different tendencies, however diverse they appear, twisted or straight, all lead to You.

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the marvelous doctrine preached in the Gita: “Whoever comes to me, in whatever form , I reach it; all men struggle along paths that eventually lead to me.

Bigotry, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful land. They filled the earth with violence, often flooded it with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent entire nations to despair. Without these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time has come; and I earnestly hope that the bell which has rung this morning in honor of this convention will sound the death knell of all fanaticism, of all persecution by sword or pen, and of all uncharitable sentiments between people going towards the same goal. .”

Even though progress has been made since Vivekananda gave that speech, it might as well have been given yesterday. There is still a lot of work to be done if we are to achieve the ideal described by Vivekananda.

The Many Faces of God

Notions of God are human attempts to understand the universe and our role in it. Wrapping our heads around the galactic universe is nearly impossible; trying to understand the creator and the support of the creation is even more difficult.

Let us see how yogic philosophy has approached this impossible task.

In yoga, the concept of a higher power has two major distinctions.

Brahman = One

One is the concept of Brahman, the one without a second, which rhymes very well with the modern understanding of physics; a connective field of consciousness that underlies the energetic field of the atoms.

According to yoga philosophy, nothing exists except Brahman.

Everything is Brahman.

Ishwara = Deity with qualities

The other concept has a closer connection with modern religious definitions. Because Brahman has all the qualities, it has no distinguishing qualities. From this lack of distinction, the concept of Ishwara was born.

Ishwara is deity with qualities. This means that as soon as people attribute qualities – say their deity, he/she/it, is good, bad, the creator, full of love or anything else for that matter – then they refer to Ishwara, not to Brahman.

Ishwara exists within Brahman.

Three faces of Ishwara

For further distinction, Ishwara has been divided into three parts related to birth, life and death. These three qualities or distinctions appear in mythology as three distinct Gods, the Creator Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman), the support Vishnu and the destructive Where transformer Shiva, sometimes called Mahesh.


When Ishwara (deity with qualities) sends messengers to the inhabitants of Earth, they are called Avatars (Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, etc.). You see how remote the concept of Avatar has become in our society today through movies and video games, which is just one more example of how overuse of a specific term taken out of context can dilute its meaning.


Because of these distinctions, many people believe that yoga and Hinduism preach polytheism. But the concept of Brahman is at the core, so the approaches are monotheistic.

Everyone can be devotional

By understanding Bhakti Yoga in this way, everyone should be able to find a devotional aspect that matches their upbringing and personality. Prayers can be directed to an indefinite higher power, God, Jesus, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Buddha, Allah or any other version of Ishwara. In Bhakti Yoga, the emphasis is on strengthening one’s relationship with a higher power through various methods of devotion, creating a personal relationship with an Avatar or deity with qualities.

Due to the Hindu connection, many Bhakti Yoga prayers and mantras are directed to Hindu deities, reflecting Brahman. Some Western yoga practitioners welcome these new distinctions, while others stick to their current definitions of God. Both work equally well.

Several religious paths or a single path?

As an example of choosing a path, Gandhi strove to practice various religious paths before settling into his devotion to Rama, using the Bhagavad-Gita as his vehicle of spiritual inspiration.

As an example of choosing many paths, Ramakrishna, the teacher of Swami Vivekananda, invested many years of practice in each of the major religions and is said to have attained the state of enlightenment in each of them.

true worship

So what is true worship?

From Brahman’s point of view, it is see the spark of the divine in everythingexperiencing the interdependence of the universe and experience to like that ties it all together.

The spark of Brahman, Atman (soul, self, spirit), is in all of us, no matter what we call it. It is in people of all races, nationalities and religions. Yoga practitioners who engage in the practice of Bhakti Yoga become sources of love and compassion as they see the divine in everything.

Practitioners must continually elevate their emotions towards love and compassion through prayer and meditation before the state of love becomes permanently available. Even then, they must work to maintain it. As you progress to this state, love emotions can rise and fall.

A Tibetan monk described it like this. At some point, he experiences himself as a source of love and feels the interconnectedness of all life; the next moment he doesn’t understand how anyone can love the limited and often irritating human beings around him.

The Christian Connection

Many Western yoga students raised in Christianity ask how it is possible to practice Bhakti Yoga and remain devoted to Jesus. There is no contradiction between the two. According to the philosophy of yoga, the true worship of Jesus would consist in following his teachings and directing all prayers and rituals towards the father, the son and the holy spirit (the trinity connection is another cross-spirit thread I might draw on later).

A path of love and compassion

Bhakti Yoga is a path of love. It is the easiest of the four main paths – Raja, Karma, Bhakti and Gnana – as it focuses on elevate human emotions. All Bhakti Yoga practices focus on raising the vibrations of the base animal instincts to divine love and compassion.

With that in mind, even atheists might adhere to some of these principles. They would not have to believe in God or an architect of the universe, but instead could cultivate kindness, Acknowledgement, tolerance and ethical behavior.

This is what the practice of Bhakti Yoga produces.

Gudjon Bergman
Author, coach and columnist

ps I have been teaching yoga since 19998, have studied with Yogi Shanti Desai and Sri Yogi Hari, and am registered at the highest level with Yoga Alliance. This article is taken from my book titled Know Thyself: The Philosophy of Yoga Made Accessible.