What is Bhakti?
The word Bhakti in Sanskrit means the repetition of Holy Names or prayers of devotion, remembrance or worship. To give one’s love and attachment to a highly qualified person or to the Deity is called devotion. In other words, unceasing attention and love coming from the heart of a person for a spiritually advanced and noble soul is termed devotion.
Guru Nanak Sahib said that God Himself is devotion. Guru Amar Das stated that devotion to God is love for Him, and this love cannot be achieved by any outward show.
Devotion is a quality by which the soul rises upwards and attains communion with God. Thus God is attracted downwards towards His devotee and comes and dwells within him.
Narad Rishi says:
Ardent love for the Lord is devotion.
Devotion to the Lord is a strong magnetic power by which the attention is removed from worldly objects and becomes fully concentrated in the Lord. There is thus no interference by one's intellect or power of reasoning. Devotion is the act of withdrawing our attachment from all directions and fixing it only in the Lord.
A true devotee alone can perform devotion, because his mind and his body are completely engrossed in love and adoration of the Lord; so much so that God Himself comes and meets him.
This type of devotion is not material. It brooks no interference. It is a strong magnetic current which attracts the soul towards God and connects it with its Beloved. A tiny glimpse or idea of such a love is partially portrayed in some of the rare types of true love in this world, because the principle underlying worldly love and spiritual devotion is the same.
The only difference is that worldly love is transitory and is subject to dissolution. It cannot give us the same high degree of happiness and eternal bliss as does spiritual love and devotion.
Everybody wishes to attain the bliss of God-realization.
Nothing is dearer, oh Nanak!, to Him, than Bhakti.
The reward of true devotion is communion with God (God-realization). And devotion to God is the highest form of practice by which to achieve communion with the Lord, as compared to yoga, knowledge, contemplation, repetition, penance, pilgrimages, worship and so forth.
Guru Arjan Sahib says:
Some are busy getting happiness out of yoga, worldly pleasures, knowledge, contemplation, worship, penance, going to holy rivers and religious places, and reading scriptures. Nothing yields, oh Nanak! greater happiness than Bhakti.
Devotion is the method by which one can meet the Infinite Lord who is eternal and deathless.
Shandlya Rishi says:
Devotion consists in withdrawing one’s love, ideas and thoughts from worldly objects and in thinking of the Lord alone, and in keeping oneself wholly engrossed in this thought. It leads to lasting communion or contact with the Lord, by withdrawing one’s attention from the objects of the world.
Shankaracharya also praises the value of devotion. He says:
Of all the methods for the achievement of Salvation, devotion has the highest place. To search for one’s own self is devotion. It may be difficult. There may be certain barriers or restraining ties, but it has the highest and the purest aim, and one should not deviate from it. It is like our association with people. We always try to leave evil associates, but we cling to good ones. Similarly, we should abandon our attachment to the world and its objects and cling to attachment or devotion to the Lord, which will withdraw our attention from worldly objects and connect us with Him. We should cling to that type of attachment.
Devotion is an Elixir because it gives us the gift of Eternal Life. And the fountain of that Elixir is in the hands of a Satguru or Master. If one is able to create conditions of devotion in himself, then he himself becomes eternal or everlasting, like the object to whom he has given his devotion.
The taste of devotion is intoxicating. It attracts the mind and creates a condition of intoxicating bliss, which cannot be described either by pen or tongue. It is impossible for anyone to express the joy and happiness which springs from Bhakti. It is beyond description. Its taste is the prerogative of the soul alone. The enjoyment of its taste may be compared to the case of a dumb man enjoying sweets; although he enjoys the taste, he cannot describe it.
Mira Bai says:
The world is happy with the intoxication of wine, but I have drunk deep from the fountain of love and devotion. Day and night I am intoxicated with its bliss.