bhakti (Sanskrit: भक्ति), derived from the Sanskrit verb root bhaj, which according to the Nighantu(glossary for Vedic terms) means to "offer seva" — is an expression of devotional Love for God; single-minded devotion to one's Iswara, or personal deity. One who practices bhakti is called a bhakta, while bhakti as a spiritual path is referred to as bhakti marga, or the bhakti way, or the bhakti yoga.
Bhakti is commonly translated as ‘the path of devotion’ which is an over-simplification of the Sanskrit term. The word ‘devotion’ can be used in a purely secular sense, as in the case of devotion towards one’s family members, business or job.
Bhakti, commonly translated as devotion, derives from the verbal root bhaj which means ‘to offer seva’.Here "seva" does not mean "service", rather it is a Sanskrit word commonly used to denote acts done out of devotional love/selfless activities done for realization of Bhagavan/Ishwara.It is purely motivated out of love and reverence for the Bhagavan.
The sadhana of bhakti-yoga requires two entities – a bhakta who practices bhakti and Bhagavan/Iswara who is the recipient and object of bhakti. In bhakti-yoga, the supreme goal of human life is to attain unbounded prema for Bhagavan/Ishwara, devoid of any self-interest, which leads to, and culminates in, divine communion.
Ninefold Path of Bhakti
nava-vidha bhakti or the ninefold path of bhakti includes:
- shravana or satsang — Listening to spiritual discourses or devotional songs related to God.
- kirtana — Singing or talking about God.
- smarana — Remembering God.
- pãda-sevana — Serving God's holy feet.
- archana — Anointing God with sandalwood paste, etc.
- vandana — Bowing before God.
- dãsya — Behaving as the servant of God.
- sakhya — Behaving as the friend of God.
- ãtma-nivedana — Unconditionally offering oneself and all of one's belongings to God with absolute submission.
Where the ten types of bhakti are mentioned1, the tenth type is prem-lakshanã bhakti — profound, loving bhakti.
In Valmiki's Ramayana, Rama describes the path as ninefold (nava-vidha bhakti):
Such pure devotion is expressed in nine ways, . First is satsang or association with love-intoxicated devotees. The second is to develop a taste for hearing my nectar-like stories. The third is service to the guru (…) Fourth is to sing my kirtan (communal chorus) (…) Japa or repetition of my Holy name and chanting my bhajans are the fifth expression (…) To follow scriptural injunctions always, to practice control of the senses, nobility of character and selfless service, these are expressions of the sixth mode of bhakti. Seeing me manifested everywhere in this world and worshipping my saints more than myself is the seventh mode of bhakti. To find no fault with anyone and to be contented with one's lot is the eighth mode of bhakti. Unreserved surrender with total faith in my strength is the ninth and highest stage. Shabari, anyone who practices one of these nine modes of my bhakti pleases me most and reaches me without fail.
The Bhagavata Purana teaches nine similar facets of bhakti, as explained by Prahlada:
(1) śravaṇa ("listening" to the scriptural stories of Kṛṣṇa and his companions), (2) kīrtana ("praising", usually refers to ecstatic group singing), (3) smaraṇa ("remembering" or fixing the mind on Viṣṇu), (4) pāda-sevana (rendering service), (5) arcana (worshiping an image), (6) vandana (paying homage), (7) dāsya (servitude), (8) sākhya (friendship), and (9) ātma-nivedana (self-surrender).