The Way of Devotion in Hinduism

Ms. Neelima Shukla-Bhatt
Harvard University

This lecture deals with bhakti, the Hindu path of devotion through love and surrender. This approach is a counterpart to the way of knowledge found in yogic practices and meditation. The basis of bhakti is the belief in a personal Creator of the universe who can be united with through prayer and devotion. The central text inspiring the bhakti way is the Bhagavad Gita, a small section of the religious epic the Mahabharata.

The most important aspect of the devotional path is bhava, which is the state of mind of devotion and love to be cultivated in every situation. The use of images in prayer is central because the image acts as an invitation for the god to be present before the worshipper in the form given.

Other aspects of bhakti worship include pilgrimages to holy sites, especially to the holy river Ganges. Temples also serve as pilgrimage destinations, and their physical forms often represent the universe as understood religiously, rising up to represent the spiritual ascent. Ritual offerings made in the temples are understood here as a form of mystic prayer, of offering oneself to God. This approach breaks down the idea of the mystical as otherworldly. Bhakti highlights the power of the process of ritual, allowing every prayer to possibly be a mystical prayer.