I would like to know the difference between Bhakta and Para bhakta?
- Is there any difference in how they worship?
- Is there any difference in their character?
- Do they do more Poojas than bhaktas?
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A bhakta (devotee) is someone who does bhakti (devotion). The word bhakti has been derived from the Sanskrit root bhaj, which means to chant, sing or glorify. So generally, a bhakta is someone who sings, chants or praises someone else or God through various means. But the thing is, the reason why a person does bhakti can be different and this reason and attitude differentiates a bhakta from a para bhakta (a superior devotee).
The Gita says there are four kinds of people who do devotion:
catur-vidha bhajante mam janah sukrtino 'rjuna
arto jijnasur artharthi jnani ca bharatarsabha [BG - 7.16]
O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me--the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.
So these are normal devotees because they worship God for the fulfilment of their own purpose and desires. But that devotion which is done out of love for God and without any personal desires is called as uttama or the best devotion:
anukulyena krsnanu-silanam bhaktir uttama [BRS - 1.1.11]
Devoid of any personal desires, not tainted with impersonal knowledge and fruitive actions, following of Krishna in favour of Him is known as the best of all devotions.
So these kind of bhaktas who are devoid of personal desires are called as niskama bhkata and superior than the other devotees.
Because it is the attitude and mentality for doing devotion that is different, there are hardly any differences between how they worship. A devotee does the worship for fulfilling his personal desire, but a true devotee does this only to please his lord.
However, one important difference is that, mental worship (manasika puja) becomes the primary mode of worship for most such true devotees. And the nabadha bhkati (nine types of devotion: singing, chanting, remembering, etc.) remain common for most devotees.
Yes, as the feelings of devotion increases and one gets absorbed more and more in it, the character of the devotee changes and many other symptoms can appear. Their knowledge will mature and eventually they will understand and realize that everyone is nothing but God and their attitude towards other will change.
Generally there are people who are devoted to God, but because their knowledge is not mature their characters and attitude towards others are not good. Even they hate, despise or quarrel with others. So there are these 3 types of devotees: ordinary or common devotee, intermediate devotee and best devotee:
arcāyām eva haraye pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate
na tad-bhakteṣu cānyeṣu sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ [SB - 11.2.47]
He is considered as an ordinary devotee who faithfully worships the Lord and his acharya or guru, but doesn’t respect other devotees and other people.
This is the beginning stage of a true devotee. He likes his personal deity whether it's Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna or anyone else and he likes his guru or acharya. But he has negative feelings for devotees of other sects and traditions. In this stage the ego is very high so it causes the feeling of personal superiority and produces negative feelings towards others.
īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ [SB - 11.2.46]
An intermediate devotee loves the Lord and is friendly to all devotees of lord. He shows mercy to ignorant people but disregards those who dislike the Lord.
This generally happens because a devotee considers himself and other devotees fortunate and superior because they are walking on the path of God and not following materialistic life. So a subtle ego in him causes to dislike other materialistic people. (In this state there is dvesha towards the materialistic world)
sarvabhūteṣu yaḥ paśyedbhagavadbhāvamātmanaḥ
bhūtāni bhagavatyātmanyeṣa bhāgavatottamaḥ [SB - 11.2.45]
He is best devotee who sees his own self situated in everything and sees everything situated in God.
This is the state when a devotee actually realizes everything is God (vasudeva sarvam iti). There is neither raga (attachment or liking) nor dvesha (dislike or hatred) for anything. Generally devotees say everything is God, in everyone God resides, etc., but they don't actually realize it. When they do, they become the best devotees.
Well, it's not like that. But just like Sai has mentioned in his comment they always remember their Lord. Even a moment feels like an aeon to them without their Lord. It's a thing of inner mentality, not external worships. But because true devotion is generally love, no one can say how it will manifest. People do different sorts of things out of love. So depending upon one's personality, attitude and knowledge a bhakta can do anything out of devotion, even may perform more pujas, vratas, etc.
True devotion is that which is causeless and without any personal desires. To state this I cited a verse from Bhakti Rasamruta Sindhu which sums it all beautifully in one verse. BRS is one of the best books that exists on devotion. But if you are somehow biased by sectarian views and don't appreciate works and writings of other saints, even if they are correct, then kindly ignore that verse (BRS - 1.1.11) and consider the following from Narada Bhakti Sutra instead:
gunarahitam kamanarahitam pratikshanavardhamanam [NBS - 54]
- True devotion is devoid of material qualities and desires and it increases every moment.
If NBS is also controversial to you then please ignore that as well and replace it with the following verses from Bhagavata which also states the same thing:
ahaituky apratihatā yayātmā suprasīdati [SB - 1.2.6]
ahaituky avyavahitā yā bhaktiḥ puruṣottame [SB - 3.29.12]
-Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted...
PS: I am neither a Gaudiya Vaishnava nor do I belong to any sect or sampradaya. I respect all saints so I don't think a right and correct thing is controversial just because a saint from another sect says it.
Vivekananda quoting Narada says that Bhakti is "intense love of God". He further states "The repetition of names, the rituals, the forms, and the symbols, all these various things are for the purification of the soul. The greatest purifier among all such things, a purifier without which no one can enter the regions of this higher devotion (Para-Bhakti), is renunciation...This is religion - renunciation." (C.W., V3, p 70)
When one has attained Para-Bhakti, all thought of this world falls off, one whole mind and soul are devoted to God only. Outer manifestations of rituals may or may not fall off. Vivekananda once asked Pavhari Baba (whom he considered to have attained the highest states of Para-Bhakti) why he performed ritualistic Karmas and ritualistic worship of Shri Raghunathji. Pavhari Baba replied "'Why do you take for granted that everybody makes Karma for their own good? Cannot one perform Karma for others?'" (C.W. V4, p.293)
Religion lies not in rituals, religion lies in realization. Realization is gained through renunciation.