Bhakti Yoga: A Spiritual Pathway

Bhakti Yoga: A Spiritual Pathway

Bhakti Yoga, a spiritual pathway within Hinduism, centers on profound devotion to personal deities, including Ganesha, Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parvati, Durga, and Surya among others.
Rooted in ancient traditions, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad mentions Bhakti as love and dedication in various pursuits. Described extensively in the Bhagavad Gita, Bhakti Yoga stands among the three classical routes to Moksha, alongside Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga. The Bhakti Movement, flourishing from the 1st millennium CE, notably in Tamil Nadu, witnessed devotees led by Saiva Nayanars and Vaisnava Alvars. Their influence gave rise to a rich tapestry of Bhakti poetry, fostering devotion across India in Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism practices.


Bhakti comes from the Sanskrit root “bhaj,” meaning to share or belong. It signifies attachment, devotion, love, and worship towards a spiritual principle. Yoga, meaning union or yoke, is a practice for salvation. In this context, it refers to uniting one’s true self (Atman) with the Supreme Brahman. Bhakti yoga is an Indian tradition known for divine love mysticism, emphasizing oneness and harmony between the individual, the Divine, and all creatures. According to yoga scholar David Frawley, bhakti yoga involves focusing the mind, emotions, and senses on the Divine.

Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita talks about three paths to spirituality: Bhakti yoga, where one shows loving devotion to a personal god; Jnana yoga, the path of wisdom seeking knowledge and self-understanding; and Karma yoga, the path of virtuous action without expecting rewards. Some later Hindu movements introduced Raja yoga as a fourth path, but it’s not universally accepted as different from the first three.

Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana)

The Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) is a well-known text in Vaishnavism, emphasizing devotion to a personal god, particularly incarnations of Vishnu like Narayana and Krishna. It teaches Bhakti yoga, influenced by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita, focusing on the deep connection between the individual self and a personal god. Instead of abstract concepts, it presents these teachings through enchanting tales. The Uddhava Gita, found in the eleventh book, showcases a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his devotee Uddhava, illustrating the pure devotion and bhakti of the gopis of Vrindavan towards Lord Krishna.


In Hinduism, there are four types of people who practice Bhakti yoga, a spiritual path of loving devotion to a Personal Divine. Some turn to it for relief from life’s challenges, others out of curiosity to learn about God, some seek rewards in this or the afterlife, and the fourth type practices it out of pure love for God.

The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text, mentions that all four types of devotees are noble because their journey on the path of Bhakti yoga eventually leads to spiritual growth, keeping them away from negativity and evil karma. The highest level is attained by those who love God with pure knowledge.

In Hinduism, major traditions include Shaiva (worshiping Shiva), Vaishnava (worshiping Vishnu or his avatars like Krishna), and Shakta (worshiping goddess Shakti or her avatars like Durga and Kali). Despite different forms of worship, these are considered manifestations of the same metaphysical reality known as Brahman.

Panchayatana Puja

Panchayatana Puja is a special way of worship in Hinduism, particularly in the Smarta tradition. People following this practice show devotion to five main deities at the same time: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya, and their chosen personal god like Ganesha or Skanda. In the Smarta belief, these images are considered representations of the one Saguna Brahman, a personal God with form, rather than separate entities.

Philosophically, the Smarta tradition highlights that these images are like symbols of saguna Brahman, serving as a way to think about the abstract Ultimate Reality known as nirguna Brahman. The ultimate goal of Panchayatana Puja is to move beyond relying on these images and instead, embark on a philosophical and meditative journey to comprehend the unity of Atman (soul, self) and Brahman – recognizing the profound concept that “That art Thou.

Saiva Siddhanta

Devotion to Shiva

The Saiva Siddhanta tradition is all about loving devotion to Shiva. It believes in three important things: the individual soul (pashu), the lord Shiva (pati), and the soul’s bondage (pasha) due to ignorance, karma, and maya. This tradition guides people to live ethically, serve the community through their work, practice yoga, and continuously learn for self-knowledge. By doing these things, individuals can break free from the soul’s bondage. The tradition also values spiritual ideas, worship, and devotion to Shiva as SadaShiva. It emphasizes the authority of the Vedas and Shaiva Agamas in its teachings.

Shakti Bhakti

Shakti Bhakti is a special way of worshiping the divine goddess in the tradition of Shaktism. In this belief, there’s a beautiful connection between the goddess and her devotee, reflecting eternal and fearless love. This theme is beautifully expressed in the Devi Gita, a text nestled within the Devi-Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Devi Bhagavatam).

Goddess Durga

People who follow Shakti Bhakti, known as Shakta, practice Bhakti yoga similar to other Hindu traditions. This devotion is particularly widespread in the eastern states of India, especially in West Bengal. Shakta devotees hold deep reverence for various personal gods, including Durga, Tara Ma (influenced by Buddhism), Kali, and to a lesser extent, Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Bharat Mata, the goddess of the land. This diversity adds richness to the Shakti Bhakti tradition, reflecting the vibrant tapestry of spiritual practices in this part of the world.

Vaishnava Bhakti

Meera Bai holds a special place among saints in the Vaishnava devotion tradition

Vaishnava Bhakti is a spiritual tradition deeply rooted in Bhakti yoga, with a strong historical association with Vaishnavism. In this tradition, devotees express loving devotion to the personal god Vishnu or one of his avatars, often focusing on Vishnu-Lakshmi or Lakshmi as the shakti of Vishnu. Popular avatars for devotion include Krishna and Rama.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a significant figure in Krishna-oriented Vaishnavism

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a significant figure in Krishna-oriented Vaishnavism, highlighted nine types of bhakti sadhana based on Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam). These include listening to scriptural stories, praising through group singing, remembering Vishnu, rendering service, worshiping an image, paying homage, servitude, friendship, and complete surrender of the self.

Rupa Goswami, linked to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, emphasized these principles as integral to spiritual practice focused on Krishna. The gopis, in their separation from Shri Krishna, exemplified these forms of bhakti. According to Rupa Goswami, bhakti is selfless service to Krishna, free from limitations and pure in intention. Jiva Goswami aligns closely, highlighting bhakti as the foremost path to perfection through dedicated service to Krishna. In essence, the ultimate expression of bhakti is found in selfless devotion and service to the divine.

Meher Baba

Meher Baba leads a movement emphasizing the importance of Bhakti Yoga, which is seen as a key path to humanity’s ultimate goal—God-Realization. Bhakti Yoga, often simplified as the art of worship, goes beyond its common interpretation. Meher Baba highlights that true Bhakti Yoga involves profound worship grounded in high philosophical and spiritual ideals, driven by divine love. Pashayan agrees, noting that Bhakti Yogis can be found in unexpected places, from yoga mats to delivering pizza, academia, and even in politics. These Yogis, diverse in their backgrounds, come together to find common ground and work towards solving today’s pressing issues with a shared sense of purpose.

Leave a Reply