The term Bhakti comes from the root, meaning ‘to serve’ or ‘to resort to’ and signifies service or resorting to another for assistance.
“It is turning to God for protection completely turning one’s self to His service and sacrifice for God, and God’s reciprocal love of man and the blessed communion between God and man.”
Bhakti brings order and beauty into the confused and tangled facts of our life.
Narada, the great sage, has given us an excellent text explaining the path of devotion and its characteristics.
The great Bhagavata Purana illustrates the function and the efficacy of Bhakti as seen in the lives of several devotees. It is the veritable treasure-house of devotional literature. Ramanuja and other theists draw freely on the Bhagavata for the doctrines of their faith.
Narada defines Bhakti as intense love of God and says: “A man who loves God has no wants or sorrows. He has neither hates nor joys nor strives with zeal for any ends of his own. For, through Bhakti he is moved to rapture, and through Bhakti he attains peace and is happy in spirit.”
“Love of God is ineffable. It is as if a dumb man had tasted a delicious food and could not speak about it. It would be revealed only to the chosen few. For it is an experience pure and selfless, subtle, unbroken and ever-expanding.
A man who has once experienced God-love will see that alone and speak of that alone, for he ever thinks of that alone.” God’s response to man’s devotion is called grace, i.e. prasada. The theistic schools believe that man’s salvation is dependent on God’s grace.
It is derivative and not native to the soul of man. It is not the birth-right of the soul. It is a gift from God. “The high and the best way thither is run by desires and not by the feet. For he may be loved not thought. By love may he be begotten and holden but by thought never,” says the great unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing. “The spirit bloweth where it listeth.” “Many are called but few are chosen.” The Katha declares, “The atman cannot be attained by the study of Vedas, nor by intellect nor even by much learning; by him it is attained whom God chooses.” Let us listen to what the Gita has to say on this topic. The Lord declares: “It cannot be attained either by the Vedas or by austerities or by gifts or sacrifices. But by unswerving devotion to Me, I can be known, truly seen and entered into.” “So he who does work for me, he who looks upon me as his goal, he who worships me, free from attachment, who is free from enmity to all creatures, he attains my fellowship. But those who worship me with devotion, they are in me and I am also in them.”
The Lord further says: “The devotees fix their thoughts in Me, their lives are wholly given up to me; enlightening each other and ever conversing of me, they are contented and rejoice in Me. They are constantly devoted and worship me with love. I grant them the wisdom by which they come to me. Out of compassion for those remaining within my own true state, I destroy the darkness born of ignorance by the lamp of wisdom in them.”