According to Hinduism there are four major paths by which one can reach God. They are Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga and Karma Yoga. The Sanskrit word ?Yoga? is derived from the root ?yuj? meaning ?to unite? or ?to join?. Yoga means ?a bond? between the person and the God.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion. The idea is that one can reach God by sheer devotion to him. It is a path suitable to the emotional kind of person. It is said that the emotional person can have a direct perception of God through the path of devotion. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineshwar near Calcutta, who was addressed as the Master by his disciples and as Guru Maharaj by his followers had a direct vision of Goddess Kali by his sheer devotion towards her.
Man is considered to be selfish when it comes to the emotion of love. On the other hand if the love becomes unselfish and is directed towards God, it gets converted to devotion and leads him to high levels of bliss. The conversion of passionate feeling into divine feeling is the underlying factor in Bhakti Yoga. It is said that Tulsidas, the great poet who wrote the Ramayana in the Hindi language turned into an ascetic after chided by his wife to whom he showed passionate love. He understood the inner meaning when he was reprimanded by her to show the same amount of passion towards God.
It is important to know that several factors contribute to the state of God-realization through Bhakti Yoga. They are Shaucha or purity of the body and the mind, prarthana or prayer, Japa or chanting the name of God, Gita or singing and puja or upasana or the worship of God. Bhakti Yoga aims at the purification of the body and the mind. An impure mind and body cannot reach God. Thoughts that occur in the mind should be pure enough to inculcate the feeling of divinity within the mind. Impure thoughts act as stumbling blocks to the path of devotion. Daily prayers offered to the God extol the greatness in Him. It is said that prayer steadies the mind.
There are three important ways of conducting Japa or chanting the name of God. It can be audibly, to oneself or silently. When chanting is done audibly it is called Vachika Japa. When it is done by moving the tongue and lips so that it can be heard by the chanter alone, then it is termed as Upamshu Japa. Manasa Japa is the chanting of the name of God mentally in silence. It is said that Manasa Japa is the most superior form among the three kinds of Japa. Vachika Japa is said to be the most inferior type of Japa. A Bhakta or a devotee engages himself in two kinds of worship, namely, external or image worship and mental worship. The latter is the way handled by the spiritual aspirants whereas the former is the path resorted to by the novices in the act of worship. Mental worship is considered superior to image worship. In the external form of worship the practitioner indulges in the performance of rituals too.
Various Bhavas or states of mind are recommended for the Bhakta or the devotee when it comes to his devotion to God. These states are mental attitudes that bring about his proximity to God. There are five kinds of Bhavas called as Shanta Bhava, Dasya Bhava, Sakhya Bhava, Vatsalya Bhava and Madhura Bhava. Shanta Bhava is the condition in which the devotee shows dispassionate and calm love towards God. The state of the mind in Shanta Bhava is such that the devotee longs for the Almighty without any intention of having personal relationship with Him. The devotee serves the God as a servant would serve his master in the Dasya Bhava state of mind. The devotee tries to maintain some distance from the God as a servant would try to maintain some distance from his master.
As a person would expect close relationship with a friend, the devotee wants close relationship with the God in the Sakhya Bhava attitude of the mind. Sakhya means ?friendly?. The devotion shown to God by the devotee is friendly in attitude. At the same time the devotee expects love to be shown to him by the God. Sakhya Bhava is exactly opposite to Vatsalya Bhava. The latter is akin to the love shown by a mother to her child. Vatslaya means ?motherly affection?. In the same way the devotee also shows love towards the God and never expects anything in return just as a mother does not expect anything in return of her love to the child. In Madhura Bhava type of mental attitude, the devotee shows love towards God as a faithful wife shows her love towards her husband. Madhura means ?love shown by a wife towards her husband?. It is said that Madhura Bhava is the highest form of mental attitude and it is equated to growing spiritual relationship with God.
Hinduism speaks of other kinds of Bhavas too in addition to the five kinds mentioned above. The devotee can look upon the God as his father or mother and himself as a child yearning for the love of the mother. In fact Sri Ramakrishna looked upon Goddess Kali as the Divine Mother. One might wonder what the influence of the various attitudes or states of mind on devotion as a whole is. It can be said that such attitudes go a long way in purifying the mind and lead the person towards God. In other words the various forms of love discussed above have the ability to cleanse the mind of the spiritual aspirant and take him closer to God. Thus Bhakti Yoga rightly becomes a connecting bond between the spiritual aspirant and the God if practiced with discipline and control of the mind. There are several instances in the culture of India wherein the practitioners were successful in having the direct vision of God through Bhakti Yoga.