Nine forms of Bhakti

We have already talked about the Navadha bhakti summarized in the Ramacharitamanasa. For a quick comparison, the nine forms of bhakti from the Puranas are listed in the table below.
 Lord’s Lotus feet
 Nishadraj Guha

Though the examples selected in the table above are all from the Ramayana, the nine forms of bhakti, being timeless, are experienced by contemporary devotees of all forms of the Divine. Also, because one form of devotion generally attracts the other forms of devotion in the heart, most bhaktas radiate more than one type of bhakti.

And if you are searching for Lord Hanuman on the list, he has been excluded. Why? Because his name can not be placed on a list with others; all beings, mortals and immortals, receive Rama-bhakti solely by his grace.

Please feel free to use the comments section to share the name of your favorite bhakta/saint (Vaishnava, Shaiva, and/or Shakta) and indicate the type(s) of bhakti that he or she focused on.

Navadha Bhakti

Besides chanting God’s name with faith and satsang, the classical nine kinds of devotion listed in the Ramacharitmanasa include adoration of God’s legends; ego less devotion to the Guru; singing praise for God with an honest heart; leading a spiritual life characterized by the control of senses, integrity, detachment, and saintly karma; recognizing God in all creation and treating saints higher than even God; contentment in whatever one gets in life and abstinence from criticism of fellow beings; and a combination of simplicity, lack of deception, and faith in God coupled with the absence of joy or sorrow. The presence of even one of these forms of devotion is said to be sufficient for a lifetime.

Out of the above, the last four forms of devotion are more likely features of great souls and cannot be classified as preliminary remembrance techniques for reaching God. As for adoration of God’s legends, it involves thinking about our chosen Personal God and our favorite sacred narratives associated with him or her in Puranas and Epics. Out of the innumerable tales that exist, devotees enjoy the freedom to remember and discuss the instances about their Personal God that they love the most….Singing hymns or praise for God with an honest heart is similar to chanting names or adoring stories, except that music is also used as a means in this form of devotion. When lyrics for God are served with music, the expression of devotion gets amplified, for music is itself composed of divine sounds.

Excerpted from Devotional Hinduism by M.S. Goel (2008), p. 22

Dussehra: The subjugation of tamas

The first Dussehra was celebrated on Earth when the nectar in Ravana’s body was dried up by a weapon from Sri Rama’s quiver and Ravana, the symbol of unrighteousness, died after being hit by another divine weapon. As soon as the evil king fell on the ground, an extremely bright divine light soon emerged from his body and entered Rama’s own body, according to the Adhyatma Ramayana. For the spiritual, this moment was not less significant than Ravana’s getting killed, for it showed Rama’s acceptance of Ravana’s soul, which was also a fragment of the Supreme Soul.

This moment showed the world that Bhagavan Rama did not really fight a battle with an evil jiva on that Dussehra. Rama, who is beyond all karma and nature, had only relieved Ravana from his tamoguni prakriti (dark nature) and his previous bad karma. Rama’s sharp weapons did not destroy Ravana, the individual being, but conquered the root cause of his negativity* — the tamas qualities he had gathered over a lifetime or more. Why did Ravana need Brahman-incarnate Rama to cleanse his karma? We could say that the amount of tamas (coupled with power) accumulated by Ravana was so high that a major adjustment to the world was needed. Not only Ravana but beings who were suffering because of his bad karma, including saints, gods, planets, and the citizens of Lanka, also had to be freed from the influence of his ignorance. And nothing is more liberating than the darshan of Rama.

*It would be worth revising that no being is everlastingly evil in Hinduism. Being good or bad is a consequence of the functioning of the three modes of nature.

Can we praise Rama?

In the Ramacharitamansa, Goswami Tulasidasa says that his Lord, Sri Rama, is beyond comparison and “Rama is only comparable to Rama.” This implies that all the metaphors and adjectives that we use in our glorification of the Divine are false or incomplete. “If one compares the Sun to a billion fireflies, it is, in fact, a criticism of the Sun,” for the Sun is nothing like them but much more. But we make this mistake everyday and will continue to do so, for we (this includes all saints and rishis) can never have the right words to describe the Unknowable.

Still, as Tulasidasa continues, it is the Lord’s grace that he accepts the love in our praise and feels contended on listening to our words that do not truly describe him. Because of his grace, he understands our limitations, which are created by the effect of his own maya on us, accepts our prayers and devotional actions, and continually guides us so that we may build a factual foundation in spirituality.

Bhakti and the three gunas of nature

The Adhyatma Ramayana classifies Bhakti into three types according to the mode of nature (guna) we attach it with. When we worship to hurt other beings or couple our worship with pride, jealousy, or anger, our Bhakti is said to be tamas. Because tamas makes us assume the wrong to be righteous, we may end up tying ourselves more to our negative karma as a result of it. As an example, prayers and mantras that try to bind a deity under an oath to get our mission accomplished may be classified under tamas.

Rajas bhakti simply focuses on the fulfillment of our material desires, which usually include money and fame. It should not be a surprise that this mode of worship is the most popular on earth. Bhakti becomes sattvic when we worship for the sake of worshipping and enter the desire-free mode. Interestingly, this is not the final level of devotion. When our continuous remembrance eliminates the separation between our soul and Brahman, Bhakti can be classified as Nirguna (devoid of gunas). This is the kind that gives mukti (liberation).

The Ramayana continues to tell us that Nirguna Bhakti can give us salokya, sameepya, sarishti, or sayujya mukti. While salokya refers to residence in the abode (loka) of Rama (or our favorite form of Brahman), sameepya means proximity to Rama. Similarly, sarishti refers to achieving majesty on a par with the Lord, and sayujya refers to complete merger in Rama.

Lord Rama meets Shabri: Devotion is the sole reason for ‘darshan’

According to the Adhyatma Ramayana, when God-incarnate Lord Rama visited Shabri’s hermitage, Shabri told Rama that she had been waiting for his visit ever since her guru, Rishi Matang, left for Lord Brahma’s abode. Her mystic guru had foretold her that the Eternal Supreme Soul, who had incarnated on Earth for the preservation of dharma, would bless her with his darshan (face-to-face meeting with God) one day and had instructed her to maintain her life till that moment. After pleasantly receiving Lord Rama and offering him some fruits, Shabri asked a question, “When even my guru, a great sage, could not obtain your darshan, how could I — a socially disadvantaged person — attain it?”
In reply, Lord Rama explained that his remembrance is not influenced by gender, caste, title, or age but finds its source in bhakti (devotion) alone. In the absence of bhakti, virtuous actions like sacrifices, charity, asceticism, and learning are fruitless in leading to his darshan.

Chanting, God remembrance, and prayer are interrelated devotional techniques for spiritual connectivity, and they can also antidote some of our bad karma while transforming us. Once love of God gets triggered, we may achieve the grace of God (kripa), which should generally include guidance for our liberation from the universe. Grace may also be seen in the spiritual guidance that we already possess — from religious scriptures, from discourses by saints, and from our learning experiences in temples. And grace may also be seen in our interest in spirituality.

In Goswami Tulasidasa’s retelling of Shabri’s meeting with Lord Rama in the Ramacharitamanasa, Lord Rama gave Shabri a discourse on the nine kinds of devotion through which an individual soul (jiva) can reach God. Rama concluded by clarifying that devotion leads to the experience of the Divine which, in turn, leads to emancipation: “I am here because you are endowed with bhakti. And my darshan will unquestionably lead to your liberation.” Lord Rama explained that his darshan has a unique result for an individual soul (jiva): the attainment of one’s true nature.

Because Hinduism allows multiple approaches to God, devotion and faith in God are not seen as prerequisites for liberation. If we choose to approach God through Bhakti Yoga, we can add devotional elements like forgiveness, patience, perseverance, and enthusiasm to our favorite devotional techniques to shape our spiritual path to God. It is interesting to note that some members of Hinduism’s devotional schools do not cherish liberation as highly as a darshan. It is the face-to-face meeting with God that the devotee seeks. Transcendence of the karmic field and permanent proximity to God consequentially follow a darshan.

Edited on July 24, 2019.