by Sharon Gannon |
February, 2005

Bhakti means “devotion to God”. In Bhakti Yoga the practitioner cultivates desire for God. Without devotion, asana is meaningless exercise and Yoga cannot be attained. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali repeatedly says that devotion to God is the most direct path to Self-realization.

One who has devotion to God is called a bhakta. It does not matter to what form of God your devotion is directed; what matters is that the devotion should be directed to something higher than your own ego-self. Devoting yourself to some form of God by mirroring your soul, shows your inner wisdom, and stirs your heart toward your highest potential for unconditional love.

Bhav is the Sanskrit term used to describe the mood of one who is in love with the Divine. This mood of love is essential to any yoga practice.

Devotional music is an important component of Jivamukti Yoga. Devotional chants sung by Bhagavan Das, Jai Uttal, Krishna Das, Shyam Das and others, whether live or recorded, continuously permeate the Jivamukti classrooms, reminding us all of the deep sweetness of devotion.

Krishna Das tells us that “Chanting the Names of God is one of the devotional practices that can dissolve the feeling of separateness from the Beloved. Chanting utilizes the body, mind and emotions.”

Devotional singing, kirtan, is a bhakti practice, which can elevate the fire of emotion to devotion, and melt away the faithlessness of our hearts which may have become hardened by years of intellectual bondage. When the river of tears floods the mind, the soul is carried to the shores of the Divine Heart, there to drop into the embrace of the Beloved. “Home (OM) at last.”

Excerpt from Chapter 12, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life

Commentary on Bhakti: Devotion to God

by Uma Nanda Saraswati

Devotion is actually nothing other than love. The Sanskrit root of the word bhakti is bhaj, “To engage with affection.” To be devoted means to engage with love. The yogi strives to allow all their thoughts, words and actions to be motivated by love, kindness, affection, sweetness, and compassion. This enables the yogi to nourish the light of God in all of manifest creation, no matter how dense or dark. In order to accomplish such a task, you must first learn to listen. If you cannot even sit with your best friend and really hear what they have to say, how will you be able to hear the pleas of the rest of creation: the animals, the trees, the rivers, and the atmosphere around us? Through deepening your capacity to listen, you eventually come to hear the echoes of God in all phenomena. When God is heard everywhere how can you help but sing the sweet song which vibrates in the depth of your heart? Through the practice of Kirtan, call and response chanting, one cultivates the ability to truly hear. First you listen, and then you respond. The more complicated the chant, the more deeply you have to listen. When you really hear the chant, you go beyond the thinking mind and enter into the realm of the heart. Your heart then begins to open up to its full compassionate capacity. This is when you start to hear the echoes of God in all phenomena. It is at this point that you can begin to nourish the light in all creation no matter how dark, dense, annoying, or ugly it may appear. This is how you can manifest heaven on earth.

Bhakti is about creating a divine mood or, bhav. Through this mood your life becomes a bhajan, a song of sweet devotion, which sings, “Look at God, not at me”. In the atmosphere of this mood, you create the space to fall in love with God. It is this falling in love which is at the core of the bhakti path. It’s about creating a personal and loving relationship with the Divine, in which you cry out for and long to become reunited with the beloved once again.

In order for love to be supreme (true devotion) it cannot just exist for the formless, absolute Brahman (God). Supreme love is the love for everything and everyone at all times. For in supreme love all is seen as the beloved. By chanting the nam, the name of God, and by worshiping the rupa, a form of God, you begin to create a personal relationship. Nama-rupa gives you something to grasp onto, something you can reach out and hug. It is very difficult to love and create a relationship with the infinite absolute Brahman. So through name and form you make God real and that reality becomes a gateway to the infinite. The name and form itself does not matter, it could be Mary, Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Kali. It’s your devotion to the Ishta Devata, the cherished or chosen form, that really matters.

Asana means “seat” or connection to the earth. Earth is all of manifest creation. When the practice of Asana is motivated by devotion, not selfish desires, it becomes a means to deepen your relationship with all beings and things. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that God is most pleased with a simple, sincere offering of a leaf or a piece of fruit (IX.26). That which makes an action spiritual or devotional is not so much the action itself, but the love that inspires it. In essence bhakti is simple: think less, love more; talk less, chant more. So, “Chant and be happy”. Jai Ma!

Uma Nanda Saraswati graduated from the Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training Course in 1997. She has been a devoted practitioner and teacher of Yoga since 1994. She brings elements of art, dance, devotion and meaningful living into each Jivamukti Yoga Asana class. In a lifelong search for meaning and depth, Uma found herself at the feet of many Spiritual Masters. She has studied Sanskrit, puja (worship of the Divine), meditation, chanting, Bhakti and Karma Yoga. Her teaching of Yoga asanas is steeped with this intensive background of Yogic Studies. Her many years of association, touring and teaching with Bhagavan Das, Sharon Gannon and David Life have brought a high level of integrity and maturity to her graceful teaching style. You will find Uma’s classes challenging, informative, spontaneous, and worshipful.