Thoughts constantly flowing in love toward the Supreme is devotion. —Swami Chinmayananda
The discipline of maintaining a steady stream of love-filled thoughts toward God, the supreme cause of this world is called the yoga of devotion or bhakti yoga.
The word, ‘yoga’ as in karma yoga and bhakti yoga refers to a path or means to grow spiritually.
A seeker on this path strives to cultivate an unflinching faith in and an intense longing for God.
This is done by repeatedly taking the mind’s attention away from the various changing worldly things, beings, and matters and placing it on the constant and unchanging presence of God.
Because of this, the yoga of devotion reduces the restlessness of the mind.
The yoga of devotion also brings inner purification. This happens because the loving remembrance of God uplifts the mind and removes negative thoughts and emotions.
But love for God does not come on its own. It has to be cultivated through some special means. All religions teach various methods, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned from the Hindu epic poem the Ramayana.
The Ramayana tells the story of Lord Rama, who is worshipped as an embodiment of the Supreme Reality. In it, Lord Rama explains nine ways to develop divine devotion.
The techniques are not unique to Hinduism, and you’ll probably be able to relate to them.
9 ways to practice the yoga of devotion
1…Be in the company of noble souls. Noble souls are people devoted to God and see that one Cause in everyone. They are great givers of love. Being in the company of such people will kindle love for God in our hearts and give rise to a desire to share that love with others.
2…Listen to the stories of God. All traditions and religions have stories that describe the miracles and glory of God. Listening to them elevates us, inspires us, and creates deep love and faith in God. “Listening” in today’s world includes reading or watching depictions of the stories of God.
3…Humbly serve your true guru. A true guru is someone who has achieved oneness with the Supreme Truth and guides others to the same goal. There are thousands of such masters from all traditions of the world. Jesus Christ, Buddha, Prophet Mohammad, Ramana Maharshi, and Swami Chinmayananda are only a few well-known examples of such great gurus and masters. Humbly serving your guru in his divine mission is serving God. Over time, such selfless service leads to a deep love for God.
4…Sing the praises of God with no selfish motive. True prayer is connecting with the Supreme with feelings of love and gratitude. But often we pray only when we need something. Gurudev used to joke that we don’t “pray to” God, we “prey upon” God, hounding Him to fulfill our long list of wants. We strike up “deals” where we beg for a lot and promise to give back some paltry thing when our desires are fulfilled. A true devotee sings God’s praises without any selfish motive. She only prays for more and more love for Him. She wants nothing else.
5…Chant the holy name of God with unwavering faith. Chanting a name of God invokes His presence and divinizes our thoughts. It is a great remedy for the impurities of the mind. In fact, chanting the holy name of God is “the easiest way to be freed from the worst of sins.” The power of God is contained in the name of God. When we chant His name with faith, the hidden power in that name manifests, destroying our sins and bringing us closer to Him.
6…Control the senses and live a clean, chaste life. Allowing ourselves to be controlled by our senses keeps our focus on worldly pleasures, pushing our spiritual goals to the background. It also stirs up negative emotions and prompts us to take wrong actions. Living a chaste life of self-control and moderation makes it easier to grow in devotion to God.
7…See God in All. God is the creator of all and resides in all. At the core of all beings is this divine presence. Striving to see God in all will not only open our hearts in warm acceptance and reverence for everyone but also increase our love for the creator. A sincere devotee sees the whole world as the very form of God.
8…Be content in life and never point out the faults of others. In life we always get what we have earned as the results of our own past actions. We are advised to be content and not compare what we have with others. When we compare, feelings of envy and jealousy arise. These feelings separate us from others and make us want to point out others’ faults. Pointing out the faults of others doesn’t highlight how bad they are; rather, it reflects on the kind of people we are.
9…Be honest and straightforward in your dealings with others and have firm faith in God at all times. No one likes to be cheated or lied to. We should be open in our interactions with others, holding no underlying selfish motives. If there is full faith in God and His protection, we needn’t worry about the danger of being taken advantage of by others, or fearing we will lose face, wealth, or possessions. We must have faith in the inherent goodness of God and that He always has our back.
Lord Rama tells us that even if we sincerely practice only one of the above nine means of devotion, love for the divine will take root in our hearts.
Universal devotional discipline
There is a special discipline that is explained in the devotional Hindu scripture called the Shrimad Bhagavata. This discipline is said to be the duty of all people everywhere, man or woman, young or old. When practiced, it brings the highest good of all. Through this discipline, one attains God.
The practice is encapsulated in this Sanskrit prayer:
kaayena vaachaa manasendriyair vaa
buddhyaatmanaa vaa prakriteh svabhaavaat
karomi yadyat sakalam parasmai
—Shrimad Bhagavata, 11.2.36
It means: “Whatever I do with my body, speech, mind, sense organs or intellect and ego due to my own nature, I offer it all to the supreme Lord.”
God is our life-giver, sustainer, and the enabler of all our actions. The best spiritual discipline is therefore to keep Him* in our minds at all times and mentally offer all our actions to Him. So whether you are working at the office or at home, walking, driving, eating, drinking, exercising—literally every action that you perform can be offered to God.
In fact, not only should we offer all our actions, but the Shrimad Bhagavata also advises us to surrender our sense of possessiveness and concerns about our family members, wealth, and belongings, and offer them all to God. Ultimately, everything and everyone comes from God, and so we all belong to Him. He alone will take care of us. By always offering everything to God, we will slowly begin to feel that everything is indeed His alone. In this way, devotion will develop in our hearts.
To be able to offer everything to God and grow in devotion, we must have a relationship with Him. The first thing to do is to set up a connection. You can begin by seeing Him (or Her) as your master, guru, father, mother, brother, sister, or a good friend. God is infinite and can be invoked in any way that you like.
Once you’ve determined your connection with God, building a relationship is similar to how you would build a good relationship with your friends or family members. You would cultivate it through frequent contact, heartfelt communication, and the sharing of common experiences.
In other words, you would continuously reach out to God in your thoughts, talk to Him, and remember Him in all that you do. You would ask Him for guidance for your life and offer all your concerns and actions to Him. A true devotee surrenders her whole life to God.
As you bring in the remembrance of God in all aspects of your daily life, He will eventually become the center of your life, and a trustworthy confidant whom you will come to love and have faith in. All your efforts in practicing the yoga of devotion will eventually lead you to become one with your beloved in your heart.
*God has no gender. I have used the pronoun “Him” for ease of writing. Please feel free to replace this pronoun with Her or It as you feel comfortable.
**This article was extracted from chapter 9 of Manisha Melwani’s book, So You’re a Spiritual Being–Now What?
Like this post? Sign up for the free fortnightly Spiritual Solutions Newsletter and receive the latest articles, news and updates in your email inbox!