Traditionally, it is believed that God is one, and that God directs everything in life, in creation and so forth. This concept is all right when you are experiencing adwaita, when your consciousness has evolved to that level where you can actually experience the oneness of creation and yourself with God.
Unfortunately, adwaita is not an intellectual philosophy, because the moment intellect comes in, you are not able to experience the unifying aspect of life. Therefore, many times we become confused as to what God is, what the role of God is in our lives, etc. These are the eternal questions which people have been asking throughout the ages.
Let us look at this concept from a different angle, the world and the person. Bhakti is very much a personal affair. Bhakti cannot be taught to other people. Singing kirtan is not bhakti. Repeating a mantra is not bhakti. According to many, they may be external forms of bhakti, but real bhakti is a personal experience of oneness with the divine nature. However, the world which represents maya, on the other hand, is also a very powerful force.
The role of bhakti is to move away from the attractions and repulsions of maya, the world. The manifest world represents the changing reality, and the spiritual dimension represents the eternal existence.
So, how do you combine the changing reality with eternal existence? Reality does change. Different people seeing a chameleon at different times of the day describe It as having different colours. One person sees a chameleon in the morning and says, "I saw a funny brown animal at this spot in the forest." Another person says, "No, I have also seen that same animal, but it was not brown, it was green." Yet another says, "No, I have also seen it, but it was neither green nor brown, it was grey."
What each one failed to realise was that they were describing the same chameleon, the chameleon which changes colour. What is the actual colour of a chameleon? Those three people did not know. What is the actual nature of the manifest world? We don't know. What is the underlying reality of this world? We don't know. We identify with realities that keep on changing according to different environments and conditions.
Eternal existence is the realm of bhakti. It is moving from the world to the experience of eternal existence which is the aim of bhakti eventually, in the form of adwaita, awareness of one principle everywhere, the principle of divinity. This divinity can be given different names at different times, whether you see that aspect of divinity in a salcara form, a manifest form, or in a niralcara form, an un-manifest form.
So, devotion always represents moving away from the influences of the senses, the mind, the attractions and repulsions of the world, to another level of human experience where we experience the nature of harmony bliss, peace, the eternal experience within ourselves.
We can even say that the human consciousness has both potentials. Consciousness has the power to interact with the manifest dimension, with the un-manifest dimension and with the transcendental dimension. Consciousness has the power to become omniscient and omnipotent. If we consider consciousness in the form of a scale, then we are on one side where we are experiencing changing realities. We are not able to experience the fullness of consciousness where we eventually begin to experience the states of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence.
In bhakti we move along this scale from the beginning towards the end, from one side to the other. As we do so, transformation of the mind happens which enables us to experience the pure nature of the individual in relation to the cosmos. There is a poem by William Blake:
'To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wildflower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.'
These are the symptoms of one who is a bhakta.
So, what is bhakti? Bhakti is being able to experience the macrocosmic consciousness in a microcosmic state. Maya is being awed by the microcosmic environment. Moving from maya to bhakti is just a progression from one side of the scale to the other. Bhakti means realising the nature which we hold dear in our lives. That is the meaning of bhakti.