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From three classical yogas in Hinduism viz. Karma, Bhakti and Jnana, I found me Ajnani in case of Bhakti yoga probably due to improper concept of god.

I understand the Karma Yoga:

  • Nishkam Karma or Selfless/Desire-less Karma can save you from Karma bandhan and can lead to Liberation/Moksha.

  • It is necessary to understand the concept of Karma-Yoga in order to get necessary qualities like चित्तशुद्धि or purification of mind, Elimination of Ahmkar(I-ness) so that one can spiritual progress for Jnana!

I understand the Jnana Yoga:

  • Self-Realization leads to Atma-Jnana/Brahma-Jnana and to the oneness, Jivanmukta state & Liberation/Moksha, In other words, to the Ultimate Reality!

But I can't understand the Bhakti Yoga:

  • Serving god, Surrendering to god, devotion to god ?

For the understanding the Bhakti-Yoga, one should have the clear understanding or right knowledge about the concept of god which I'm missing I think!

Because serving/worshipping of/surrendering to god whom I actually/really don't know about! The main problem is: If I don't know myself (until self-realization), then how do I know god?

So, Help me to understand the Concept of God or Right Knowledge (Jnana) about God.


I believe that Jnana leads to Bhakti and vice-versa but Starting from Bhakti without Jnana about God seems misunderstand-able for me

  • I had written an article on this topic some time back titled- "Jnana, Bhakti, and Karma"- nithinsridhar.blogspot.in/2013/08/jnana-bhakti-and-karma.html I hope this helps. – Nithin Sridhar Oct 17 '15 at 16:42
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    Bhakti Yoga means complete surrender to God. It means serving the immortal children of Lord. Swami Vivekananda also said, if you serve 1 person seeing Shiva in him then God is more pleased with you. – Chinmay Sarupria Oct 18 '15 at 5:43
  • Regarding your knowing of God, is there any soul ever who has claimed to know God fully? Even Vedas can only describe the undescribable as Satchitananda. God can be known yet he is unknown. He is infinitely higher than both - known and unknown. Can a drop of water claim to know the whole ocean? – Chinmay Sarupria Oct 18 '15 at 5:45
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    Bhakti is love for God. Knowing God in totality is a result of Bhakti. This is nothing but jnana - the case of Bhakti leading to realization. No need to worry that you don't yet know God. Start with loving what little you know of God. When you have time, read Narada Bhakti sutras. This will help recognize Bhakti and progress as appropriate. Remember Shankaracharya said Bhakti is the most superior tool in the attainment of moksha(which is nothing but self - realization). – user1195 Oct 24 '15 at 4:13
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    @moonstar2001 actually love is not the sole way of Bhakti which is discussed in this answer. I also found that this answer already touched upon this topic already. The 2 main questions relating Bhakti yoga are: "whom to surrender" and "how to surrender". Both answers are bit controversial. "Any manifestation" and "Any type of remembering". This is still an open topic for which many wars have happened and continuing. :-) – iammilind Oct 24 '15 at 4:56
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Good question! This is an advaitic view of Bhakti and Bhakti Yoga.

What is Bhakti

Bhakti means to always think of God. Bhakti Yoga implies constant remebrance of God.

Sri Swami Sivananda says in Bhakti Yoga by Sri Swami Sivananda

The term Bhakti comes from the root 'Bhaj', which means 'to be attached to God'. Bhajan, worship, Bhakti, Anurag, Prem, Priti are synonymous terms. Bhakti is love for love's sake. The devotee wants God and God alone. There is no selfish expectation here. There is no fear also. Therefore it is called 'Parama Prem Rupa'. The devotee feels, believes, conceives and imagines that his Ishtam (tutelary deity) is an Ocean of Love or Prem.

What is the benefit of Bhakti? How can I believe that it leads to Brahman?

From a Yogic point of view, Bhakti results in the following benefits:

  1. One-pointed concentration (Dharana) - Because you are always thinking of God.

  2. Complete Vairagya (Detachment) - Because you give up your sense of doership (You think that everything is done by the Will of the Lord, you have no fears). Because you do not live for yourself anymore, you live for God. You perform actions only for His will.

  3. Absolute selfless love for all - Because whoever you see, You do not see their physical form, but you see the God in them. Thus you love all and you perform selfless service to the society.

  4. Total and Complete Self-Knowledge (Advaitic Realization of Brahman) - When you think of God day in and day out without any selfish motives, that one pointed concentration leads to complete Samadhi or Unity with Divine. From a Bhakta point of view, God Himself liberates you instantly, when you surrender to Him.

  5. Destruction of Karma - Sri Krishna says in the Gita Chapter 18, Verse 66, that to the one who has surrendered everything to Him, He Himself will eradicate all His sins and liberate Him! Reference

What is Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is nothing but the methodology to obtain this love of God.

There are Nine ways to practice Bhakti also called as Navavidha Bhakti, mentioned in Shrimad bhagavatam:

  1. Shravanam
  2. Kirtanam
  3. Vishnu Smaranam
  4. Pada Sevanam
  5. Archanam
  6. Vandanam
  7. Dasyam
  8. Sakhyam
  9. Atma Nivedanam

Here is a detailed answer on Navavidha bhakti

Sri Swami Sivananda prescribes Sri Ramanujacharya's teachings of eleven factors to achieve Bhakti:

It would be a gross mistake if you consider Bhakti as merely a stage of emotionalism, while it is actually a thorough discipline and training of one's will and the mind, a sure means to intuitive realization of God Almighty through intense love and affection for Him. It is a means to thorough apprehension of the true knowledge of Reality, beginning from the ordinary form of idol worship right upto the highest form of cosmic realisation of your oneness with Him. You can achieve this by following the eleven fundamental factors which Sri Ramanuja had prescribed. They are Abhyasa or practice of continuous thinking of God; Viveka or discrimination; Vimoka or freedom from everything else and longing for God; Satyam or truthfulness; Arjavam or straightforwardness; Kriya or doing good to others; Kalyana or wishing well-being to all; Daya or compassion; Ahimsa or non-injury; Dana or charity; and Anavasada or cheerfulness and optimism.

People put a question: "How can we love God whom we have not seen ?"

Live in the company of saints. Hear the Lilas of God. Study the sacred scriptures. Worship Him first in His several forms as manifested in the world. Worship any image or picture of the Lord or the Guru. Recite His Name. Sing His glories. Stay for one year in Ayodhya or Brindavan, Chirakut or Pandhapur, Benares or Ananda Kutir. You will develop love for God.

What are the types of Bhakti

There are four types of Bhakti that are commonly recognized by saints, initially mentioned by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

  1. Vatsalya Bhava (Think of God as your child)
  2. Dasya Bhava (Think of God as your Master)
  3. Sakhya Bhava (Think of God as your friend)
  4. Madhurya Bhava (Think of God as your Self / your Beloved)

Details are presented in the same answer on the different styles

What are the characteristics of a Bhakta

Nishkamya Karma (action without any desire for the fruits/results)

Your Bhakti should always be Nishkamya Bhakti. God has already given you a good position, a good job, wife and children and enough wealth. Be contented with these. Aspire for Nishkamya Bhakti. Your heart will be purified and the Divine Grace will descend upon you. Be in communion with the Lord, you will become one with the Lord and you will enjoy all the Divine Aisvaryas (Divine attributes like wisdom, renunciation, power, etc.). All the Vibhutis (Special forms in which the Lord manifests) of the Lord He will give you. He will give you Darsan. He will help you to dwell in Him. At the same time He will give you all the Divine Aisvaryas also.

A Bhakta prays to God out of His love for God. He does not expect anything in return for His devotion. He simply enjoys the proximity with God without expecting anything in return. He does not say 'Oh God I will perform this and that pooja, please give me X job and Y house'. He says 'Oh God please accept this pooja as a humble offering from Thy Child'.

All the best.

  • You may be interested to know where these eleven factors come from. Sri Vaishnavas usually refer to them as the Sadhana Saptaka or sevenfold discipline. In this section of the Sri Bhashya, Ramanujacharya quotes Tanka's Chandogya Upanishad Vakya: sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe48/sbe48006.htm "This (viz. steady remembrance= meditation) is obtained through abstention (viveka), freeness of mind (vimoka), repetition (abhyâsa), works (kriyâ), virtuous conduct (kalyâna), freedom from dejection (anavasâda), absence of exultation (anuddharsha); according to feasibility and scriptural statement." – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 24 '15 at 1:28
  • And then Kalyana is explained as "truthfulness, honesty, kindness, liberality, gentleness, absence of covetousness". Sivananda is combining these two lists into one. By the way, Tanka, also known as the Vakyakara, wrote an ancient Vakya or commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad. It's one of the works Ramanujacharya consulted in composing the Sri Bhashya. Another such work is Baudhyana's Vritti, which I discuss here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/3198/36 Ramanujacharya felt that Adi Shankaracharya had misinterpreted the Brahma Sutras, so he consulted as many pre-Shankara works as possible. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 24 '15 at 1:41
  • @KeshavSrinivasan Thank you for explaining those factors. – Sai Oct 24 '15 at 2:59
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    Can you add "whom to surrender" and "how to surrender". I feel at least 1 of them is asked implicitly in question which is missed in this otherwise an informative answer. – iammilind Oct 24 '15 at 5:55
  • @iammilind Yeah sure, buddy. I will add those parts to the answer. As you already know, one can surrender to any deity. How to surrender is a tricky question which I will look for some good references. Thanks a lot. – Sai Oct 26 '15 at 3:05
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This is how Swami Vivekananda explains the concept of God in Bhakti-Yoga:

Who is Ishvara? Janmâdyasya yatah — "From whom is the birth, continuation, and dissolution of the universe," — He is Ishvara — "the Eternal, the Pure, the Ever-Free, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Merciful, the Teacher of all teachers"; and above all, Sa Ishvarah anirvachaniya-premasvarupah — "He the Lord is, of His own nature, inexpressible Love." These certainly are the definitions of a Personal God.

Are there then two Gods — the "Not this, not this," the Sat-chit-ânanda, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss of the philosopher, and this God of Love of the Bhakta? No, it is the same Sat-chit-ananda who is also the God of Love, the impersonal and personal in one. It has always to be understood that the Personal God worshipped by the Bhakta is not separate or different from the Brahman. All is Brahman, the One without a second; only the Brahman, as unity or absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped; so the Bhakta chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is, Ishvara, the Supreme Ruler. To use a simile: Brahman is as the clay or substance out of which an infinite variety of articles are fashioned. As clay, they are all one; but form or manifestation differentiates them. Before every one of them was made, they all existed potentially in the clay, and, of course, they are identical substantially; but when formed, and so long as the form remains, they are separate and different; the clay-mouse can never become a clay-elephant, because, as manifestations, form alone makes them what they are, though as unformed clay they are all one. Ishvara is the highest manifestation of the Absolute Reality, or in other words, the highest possible reading of the Absolute by the human mind. Creation is eternal, and so also is Ishvara.

In the fourth Pâda of the fourth chapter of his Sutras, after stating the almost infinite power and knowledge which will come to the liberated soul after the attainment of Moksha, Vyâsa makes the remark, in an aphorism, that none, however, will get the power of creating, ruling, and dissolving the universe, because that belongs to God alone. In explaining the Sutra it is easy for the dualistic commentators to show how it is ever impossible for a subordinate soul, Jiva, to have the infinite power and total independence of God. The thorough dualistic commentator Madhvâchârya deals with this passage in his usual summary method by quoting a verse from the Varâha Purâna.

In explaining this aphorism the commentator Râmânuja says, "This doubt being raised, whether among the powers of the liberated souls is included that unique power of the Supreme One, that is, of creation etc. of the universe and even the Lordship of all, or whether, without that, the glory of the liberated consists only in the direct perception of the Supreme One, we get as an argument the following: It is reasonable that the liberated get the Lordship of the universe, because the scriptures say, 'He attains to extreme sameness with the Supreme One and all his desires are realised.' Now extreme sameness and realisation of all desires cannot be attained without the unique power of the Supreme Lord, namely, that of governing the universe. Therefore, to attain the realisation of all desires and the extreme sameness with the Supreme, we must all admit that the liberated get the power of ruling the whole universe. To this we reply, that the liberated get all the powers except that of ruling the universe. Ruling the universe is guiding the form and the life and the desires of all the sentient and the non-sentient beings. The liberated ones from whom all that veils His true nature has been removed, only enjoy the unobstructed perception of the Brahman, but do not possess the power of ruling the universe. This is proved from the scriptural text, "From whom all these things are born, by which all that are born live, unto whom they, departing, return — ask about it. That is Brahman.' If this quality of ruling the universe be a quality common even to the liberated then this text would not apply as a definition of Brahman defining Him through His rulership of the universe. The uncommon attributes alone define a thing; therefore in texts like — 'My beloved boy, alone, in the beginning there existed the One without a second. That saw and felt, "I will give birth to the many." That projected heat.' — 'Brahman indeed alone existed in the beginning. That One evolved. That projected a blessed form, the Kshatra. All these gods are Kshatras: Varuna, Soma, Rudra, Parjanya, Yama, Mrityu, Ishâna.' — 'Atman indeed existed alone in the beginning; nothing else vibrated; He thought of projecting the world; He projected the world after.' — 'Alone Nârâyana existed; neither Brahmâ, nor Ishana, nor the Dyâvâ-Prithivi, nor the stars, nor water, nor fire, nor Soma, nor the sun. He did not take pleasure alone. He after His meditation had one daughter, the ten organs, etc.' — and in others as, 'Who living in the earth is separate from the earth, who living in the Atman, etc.' — the Shrutis speak of the Supreme One as the subject of the work of ruling the universe. . . . Nor in these descriptions of the ruling of the universe is there any position for the liberated soul, by which such a soul may have the ruling of the universe ascribed to it."

In explaining the next Sutra, Ramanuja says, "If you say it is not so, because there are direct texts in the Vedas in evidence to the contrary, these texts refer to the glory of the liberated in the spheres of the subordinate deities." This also is an easy solution of the difficulty. Although the system of Ramanuja admits the unity of the total, within that totality of existence there are, according to him, eternal differences. Therefore, for all practical purposes, this system also being dualistic, it was easy for Ramanuja to keep the distinction between the personal soul and the Personal God very clear.

He explains the concept of Ishta-Devata as:

The word Ishta is derived from the root Ish, to desire, choose. The ideal of all religions, all sects, is the same — the attaining of liberty and cessation of misery. Wherever you find religion, you find this ideal working in one form or other. Of course in lower stages of religion it is not so well expressed; but still, well or ill-expressed, it is the one goal to which every religion approaches. All of us want to get rid of misery; we are struggling to attain to liberty — physical, mental, spiritual. This is the whole idea upon which the world is working. Through the goal is one and the same, there may be many ways to reach it, and these ways are determined by the peculiarities of our nature. One man's nature is emotional, another's intellectual, another's active, and so forth. Again, in the same nature there may be many subdivisions. Take for instance love, with which we are specially concerned in this subject of Bhakti. One man's nature has a stronger love for children; another has it for wife, another for mother, another for father, another for friends. Another by nature has love for country, and a few love humanity in the broadest sense; they are of course very few, although everyone of us talks of it as if it were the guiding motive power of our lives. Some few sages have experienced it. A few great souls among mankind feel this universal love, and let us hope that this world will never be without such men.

This way, this method, to which each of us is naturally adapted, is called the "chosen way". This is the theory of Ishta, and that way which is ours we call our own Ishta. For instance, one man's idea of God is that He is the omnipotent Ruler of the universe. His nature is perhaps such. He is an overbearing man who wants to rule everyone; he naturally finds God an omnipotent Ruler. Another man, who was perhaps a schoolmaster, and severe, cannot see any but a just God, a God of punishment, and so on Each one sees God according to his own nature; and this vision, conditioned by our own nature, is our Ishta. We have brought ourselves to a position where we can see that vision of God, and that alone; we cannot see any other vision. You will perhaps sometimes think of the teaching of a man that it is the best and fits you exactly, and the next day you ask one of your friends to go and hear him; but he comes away with the idea that it was the worst teaching he had ever heard. He is not wrong, and it is useless to quarrel with him. The teaching was all right, but it was not fitted to that man. To extend it a little further, we must understand that truth seen from different standpoints can be truth, and yet not the same truth.

This would seem at first to be a contradiction in terms, but we must remember that an absolute truth is only one, while relative truths are necessarily various.

Reference:CW of Swami Vivekananda

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