Bhakti yoga is one of six prominent disciplines of yoga, symbolizing the way of self transcending love or complete commitment to God or the divine. Bhakti yoga is based on the tenet “Love is God and God is Love”.
Bhakti is the Sanskrit term which stands for a happy, adorable and selfless love of God as the loving Father, Mother, Friend, Child, or whichever relationship of God that finds place in the devotee's heart.
Bhakti specifies both devotion and a dedicated attachment to the Divine. In professional terms, the word means “participation” (from the verbal root bhaj “to participate, partake”).
Bhakti yoga is acknowledged by some to be one of the ancient forms of yoga having its roots in the Vedas, or ancient scriptures of India. Some of the hymns in the Vedas are believed to be four thousand years old. Nevertheless, Bhakti yoga did not evolve as a distinct form of yoga until 500 B.C., the time of the creation of the Bhagavad-Gita, a Sanskrit work including the teachings of Krishna, one of the most auspicious epics of Hindu deities.
Bhakti yoga finally caught the focus of a famous devotional movement in India termed as bhaktimarga or "road of devotion." This movement was prevalent between 800 and 1100 A.D. Around 900, devotees of Krishna hailing from the bhakti-marga created a scripture known as the Bhagavad-Purana, which includes Krishna's instructions to his worshipers.
In one passage of the Bhagavad-Purana, Krishna praises bhakti above all other ways to bliss. He says, "The wise person should abandon bad company and associate with the virtuous, for the virtuous ones sever the mind's attachments [to worldly concerns] by their utterances. O greatly blessed devotee, these blessed ones constantly tell my story, by listening to which people are released from sin. Those who respectfully listen to, esteem, and recite my story become dedicated to me and attain faith and devotion to me."
A practitioner of bhakti yoga acknowledges God as being present in every individual or living being.
Nonetheless, bhakti yoga was evolved within a Hindu culture it can be learned by members of other cult and disciplines as it emphasizes the believer's mind and heart on God as a supreme Power rather than an impersonal entity.
Bhakti yoga does not put great focus on processes of breathing or asanas (physical postures), but on activities of devotion, worship, and service.
Bhakti Yoga is probably best known through the presence of the Krishna Consciousness Movement. Often known as the "Hare Krishnas", this movement introduces a form of Bhakti Yoga and is commonly known for the chanting of the hare krishna mantra.
The 'Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu' (the Hindu sacred book written by the teacher, poet, and philosopher Rupe Gosvami) offers nine primary activities of bhakti, with the instruction according to which by following all or simply one of these accurately, the devotee can gain pure love of God:
Archana: This specifically signifies that the worship of God should be done through some images or religious pictures or through spiritual visualizations. The aim of archana is to purify the heart with the love of God.
Atma-nivedana: This is the state of entire self-surrender before the Almighty God.
Dasya: In dasya bhakti, the follower regards him or herself as God's slave, carrying out God's directions, meditating on the words of God, serving the sick and the poor, and assisting to clean or repair sacred buildings or workplaces.
Kirtana: This talks about the singing or chanting of God's praises. Ram Dass has explained of this form of bhakti, "When you are in love with God, the very sound of the Name brings great joy."
Padasevana: This type of bhakti yoga manifests love toward God by servicing others, specifically the sick.
Sakha-bhava: This type of bhakti yoga is nurturing of friendship-love toward God—to love God as a part of one's family or dearest friend, and rejoins for the companionship with God.
Smarana: This is recollection of the memories of God at all times, or keeping God in conscious mind of individual all the time. In Christian terms, smarana is what the French monk Brother Lawrence (1605–1691) said "the practice of the presence of God."
Sravana: This is the Sanskrit term for listening to stories and poetries about God's mighty deeds. Sravana bhakti is not practiced in isolation. The devotee should listen to the stories from a prudent teacher in the company of holy people.
Vandana: This instructs to pray and lying face down on the ground with arms folded and outstretched. This form of bhakti yoga tries to curb self-absorption and self-centeredness.
Far from some other forms of yoga, however, bhakti yoga does not expect and instruct the devotee to completely lose his or her personal entity through absorption into God. God is acknowledged as infinitely greater than the human worshiper, even one at the highest pedestal of spiritual attainment.
These nine principles of devotional service are elucidated as helping the devotee remain continuously in touch with God. The processes of japa and meditation on the devotee’s selected deity form ishta deva are particularly famous in most bhakti schools.