(Based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Sivarathri talk, 2018)
Bhakthi comes from the root Bhaj, which means to serve with attachment, here the attachment is to God, whom we shall refer to as Iswara. Those who follow the path of bhakthi are called bhakthas. Bhakthas have reverential love for Iswara. Even though Iswara as Supreme Brahman is formless and non-dual, scriptures provide for worship, representative forms as deities such as Siva, Vishnu, Devi etc. A bhaktha displays devotion to a chosen deity called his Ishta Devata and his reverential attitude and various acts of worship of Ishta Devata are also called bhakthi. Bhaktha believes that his Ishta Devata is the Supreme God and is omnipotent, omniscient, all compassionate and Jagat Karanam. Swami Tejomayananda has made the following classification of bhakthas in his facebook remark:
1. Those who pray to God for material gains, looking upon Him as a wish-fulfiller
2. Those who pray to God for material gains, looking upon Him as well-wisher
3. Those who pray to god for spiritual gains, purification of mind, good qualities etc. i.e. in short for Moksha,
4. Those who pray for the sheer joy of praying, seeking nothing
Type 1 and 2 are called sakama bhakthas and their bhakthi for material gains is called sakama bhakthi, as opposed to type 3 and 4 where the motive for bhakthi is Moksha or pure love of Iswara that is called nishkama bhakthi. These are the two types of bhakthi .
Sakama bhakthas have the false notion that Iswara in the form of their Ishta Devatha being omnipotent and compassionate will respond to their prayers positively and help them get their wants fulfilled and also get rid of their unwanted things. This arises from a limited study of scriptures and from stories they hear from pauranikas and others. Swami Paramarthananda calls this type of bhakthi as apply-supply bhakthi, because of their belief that they need only apply and Iswara will supply. This sort of understanding is not correct as scriptures do not talk of sakama bhakthi but only talk of sakama karmasahita bhakthi which means that relevant karma or actions as prescribed by scriptures, must accompany their bhakthi. Even then they should bear in mind that Iswara being karma phala dhata grants only in conformity with the laws of karma which takes into account all karmas, past and present. If one does not have this understanding then one is likely to get emotionally upset when his prayers and worship do not yield the desired fruits. This may make one do deity-hopping or doubt the scriptures and in the extreme cases turn a nasthika. Further in sakama bhakthi, scriptures prescribe elaborate regulations as to the nature of worship depending on the deity chosen for worship, the detailed procedure to follow in rituals down to the minute detail of naivedyam to be offered, that one has to follow to achieve his desires. Even then getting the desired results is subject to limitations discussed earlier and so the uncertainty about the results; may get, may not get or partially get, is always there. In sakama bhakthi worship is offered in many cases out of fear rather than out of love and so they are emotionally disturbed and lose peace of mind when their expectations are not fulfilled.
Nishkama bhakthi does not suffer from these drawbacks. Love is the motive and there is no element of fear and as no material gains are sought there are no expectations and so there is no tension and no disappointment. Nishkama bhakthi helps the bhakthas to gain a strong mind free from emotional disturbances both from inside and outside, assure the scriptures. Further no rigid procedure is prescribed as can be seen from Lord Krishna’s words in Gita (9-26); “Whoever offers Me with love a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I accept that (gift) of the pure-hearted person which has been devotionally presented.” Lord Krishna also says in Gita (2-40):” In this path of (disinterested action) there is no loss of effort nor is there fear of contrary result, even a little practice of this discipline protects one from great fear.” In Nishkama bhakthi the baktha offers worship and prays for a strong mind that can accept choiceless situations without resistance and can stand the strain of adverse situations caused by prarabhdha karma. Yogabhyasa involving karmayoga, upasana yoga and jnana yoga is also a form of nishkama bhakthi that helps to purify the mind and keep it strong. Keeping the mind pure and strong is important as mind alone is responsible for bondage as well as liberation.