“When love is directed towards something higher, nobler, and greater, it is known as bhakti (devotion).” Swami Paramarthananda.
Bhakti has two primary meanings, devotion or love of Isvara (God) and sadhana (spiritual practice) done with love of God, this is yoga.
There are three stages (qualities or intensities) of bhakti and three practices of bhakti.
Three Stages of Bhakti
1. Manda – asking God/creation for what we want in the world. God is the means, the material (security, pleasure and virtue) is the end.
2. Madhyama – using the material world to connect with God. Matter is the means and moksha (freedom) is the end. Love is still dvaita (dual) and conditional, though our eyes are on the prize. This is the path of sanyasa (renunciation), viveka (discrimination) and vairagya (dispassion).
3. Uttama – is the understanding that the Self and God are one. Love for my Self and the lord are one. This is unconditional advaita (non-dual) love.
Three Types of Bhakti Yoga
1. Karma Yoga – dharmic (right) action with The understanding that we do not control the results, Isvara does based on the needs of the total. We perform karma (action) as service to the whole and receive all results as prasad (gift), enjoying the good, learning from the bad.
2. Upasana Yoga – meditation (sitting near) the Self. Upasana includes Ashtanga yoga, which prepares the mind for Jnana yoga.
3. Jnana Yoga – Atma Vichara, inquiry into the Self, via Shravanam (immersion into the teachings), Mananam (reasoning, exploring our doubts), and Nididyasanam (absorption into the truth of Self).
Bhakti Yoga is not a separate yoga because love and devotion are infused into Karma, Upasana and Jnana yogas.
The above is a summary of Bhakti shared in the Essence of Vedanta/Upanishads by Swami Paramarthananda.
An example of Bhakti is offering thanks before eating a meal with the Brahnarpanam prayer. Learn more here.