Bhakti and Bhakti Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

When people hear 'bhakti yoga' they automatically presume that one is going to talk about pooja or rituals of worship. This is not so at all.

There are two words: bhakti and bhakti yoga. Bhakti is devotion. When one goes to a temple or bows the head before the pictures and statues on one's altar at home one is expressing devotion. Bhakti yoga is quite different from this.

When the word 'yoga' is added to bhakti it refers to the management of human emotions. Just as the purpose of hatha yoga is to manage the physical condition and the purpose of raja yoga is the management of mental behaviour, bhakti yoga means equalizing and rebalancing the human emotions. Unbalanced emotions create disturbance and disruption in a person's life.

Restrain the riot

Emotions find expression not only in the form of bhakti but also in the form of envy, hate, greed, infatuation, arrogance and jealousy. It is these emotions which make one's mood swing endlessly all day long. The fashions of Mumbai and the moods of a person change so fast it is hard to keep track!

People are not aware of how and when their moods change. Suddenly they are angry, the next minute they feel jealous, all of a sudden they become happy and in the next moment they feel bad – no one has any control over their moods and their emotions. When these emotions manifest within they destroy inner balance and equanimity. One becomes internally and emotionally fraught.

No matter what happens, everything is perceived as something negative and sad. If one's child disobeys, it becomes a reason for sadness. If someone speaks rudely, it makes one feel bad. Under such circumstances there is no restraint or balance in one's life, behaviour and emotions. Without restraint or balance one cannot experience any peace. Even if there is some stillness or calm within the mind, one cannot exercise any restraint since the emotions are running riot. Though the mind is still, focused and calm, the emotions of envy, anger, disgust, fear, insecurity, attachment, love, infatuation and arrogance keep expressing themselves.

Fear not

It is these obstacles that prevent one from moving ahead in life. The appropriate management of these emotions is bhakti yoga. Bhakti refers to pooja, worship and rituals and bhakti yoga refers to disciplining emotions and trying to bring about a balance in one's emotions and their expression.

So if you hear the word bhakti yoga, do not be afraid. You may well go ahead and be frightened of bhakti, but do not be frightened of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is related to your essential inner self. Bhakti yoga is an experience, a change, and this change is easy, simple and beautiful indeed.

—21 September 2014, The Railway Officers Club, Delhi, India