Bhakthi comes from the root Bhaj , which means to serve with attachment, here the attachment is to God. Those who follow the path of bhakthi are called bhakthas. These bhakthas can be broadly divided into two groups, Sakama bhakthas and Nishkama bhakthas. Sakama bhakthas are those whose devotion to God and worship of God is motivated by material wants and desires. So here God is not the end goal of the bhaktha. God is only an intermediate means through whose help he wants to attain the fulfillment of his material wants. This is usually the early stages of bhakthi in which we most are. In this early stage God is worshipped in many forms, depending upon bhaktha’s moods and needs. In this early stage there is also much importance to rituals, and worship is offered equally out of fear as of love.
The Nishkama bhakthas are those bhakthas for whom God is the end as well as means. They do not have a material goal either for themselves or in respect of others to whom they are attached, except for the welfare of all of humanity as a class. For them bhavana, the mental attitude, in bhakthi is more important than any physical ritual. Under Nishkama bhakthas come Jijnasu bhakthas and Jnani bhakthas. The Jijnasu bhakthas have as their goal Jnanam, knowledge of God and to this end pray for anthakaranasuddhi, the purity of mind and thoughts, necessary for acquiring Jnanam overcoming raga and dwesha. Their goal is spiritual goal which is related to God, who can be called as Iswara as well. Those Nishkama bhakthas, who after attaining Jnanam, revel in that Jnanam with bhakthi are the Jnani bhakthas. The Jijnasu’s path to Jnanam is through ananya bhakthi.
Lord Krishna gives the formula for ananya bhakthi that is the hallmark of Bhakthiyoga in a few places in Gita. We shall see two of them starting with the advice to Arjuna in 9-27.
यत्करोषि यदश्नासि यज्जुहोषि ददासि यत्। ( Yad karoshi Yad asnasi yad juhoshi dadhasi yad )
यत्तपस्यसि कौन्तेय तत्कुरुष्व मदर्पणम्॥ (Yad tapasysi kaunteya tad kurushva madharpanam )
Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever ritual you perform, whatever you give, whatever religious discipline you follow, Arjuna, please do it as an offering to me.
After revealing his Viswarupa, Sri Krishna again spells out the recipe for ananya bhakthi to Arjuna in 11-55.
मत्कर्मकृन्मत्परमो मदभक्तः सङ्गवर्जितः। matkarmakrit matparamo madbhakthaha sangavarjithaha।
निर्वैरः सर्वभूतेषु यः स मामेति पाण्डव॥ nirvairah sarvabhutheshu yah sa mamethi Pandava॥
He who does actions for Me, who looks upon Me as the Supreme goal, who is devoted to Me, who is free from attachment and who bears no enmity towards any being, he attains Me.
In this sloka Lord Krishna has laid down four criterions for ananya bhakthi with a rider that such an ananya bhaktha will attain Him. As Lord Krishna is speaking these words not as the son of Devaki and Vasudeva but as the incarnation of Cosmic Supreme, attaining Him is Mukthi or liberation from the cycle of birth and death and so we can take these as criterions for a bhaktha to reach his spiritual goal of liberation. They are:
1) Whose work is all for Iswara
2) For whom Iswara is the Supreme goal
3) Who is free from all worldly associations
4) Who has no sense of enmity towards any living being.
Criterion 1 was explained in the sloka we saw earlier i.e. sloka 9-27. For a Nishkama bhaktha seeking liberation, Iswara is the Supreme goal. His attachment is only to Iswara and to Satsangh and so he is free from all other worldly associations and material attachments. Criterion 4 which results from the Universal vision, that Lord Krishna speaks of in Gita 10-8, is very important as it lifts bhakthi to its higher form, Parabhakthi. For what constitutes lower form of bhakthi, let me quote from Swami Vivekananda’s work on Bhathiyoga
Swamiji writes “ The one great advantage of Bhakti is that it is the easiest, and the most natural way to reach the great divine end in view; its great disadvantage is that in its lower forms it oftentimes degenerates into hideous fanaticism……... That singleness of attachment (Nishthâ) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of the denunciation of everything else. All the weak and undeveloped minds in every religion or country have only one way of loving their own ideal, i.e. by hating every other ideal. Herein is the explanation of why the same man who is so lovingly attached to his own ideal of God, so devoted to his own ideal of religion, becomes a howling fanatic as soon as he sees or hears anything of any other ideal. This kind of love is somewhat like the canine instinct of guarding the master’s property from intrusion; only, the instinct of the dog is better than the reason of man, for the dog never mistakes its master for an enemy in whatever dress he may come before it. Again, the fanatic loses all power of judgement.”
He further states later “It has always to be understood that the personal God worshipped by bhaktha is not separate or different from the Brahman. All is Brahman, the one without a second; only the Brahman, as unity or absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped; so the bhaktha chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is Ishwara, the Supreme Ruler”. So all personal Gods are to be understood as different manifestations of Brahman. With name and form, they are different, but without name and form, as Absolute Truth, there is no difference. Swamiji uses a simile to drive home this point.
In Swamiji’s words “Brahman is as the clay or substance out of which an infinite variety of articles are fashioned. As clay, they are all one; but form or manifestation differentiates them. ….. the clay-mouse can never become a clay -elephant, because, as manifestations, form alone makes them what they are, though as unformed clay they are all one. Ishvara is the highest manifestation of the Absolute Reality, or in other words, the highest possible reading of the Absolute by the human mind”. From this understanding comes the Universal vision an essential constituent of ananya bhakthi that can lead to Mukthi.