What is the relationship between yoga and bhakti?
Yoga, with its extraordinary health benefits, has achieved global acclaim today. The word ‘yoga’ comes from the root ‘yug’, which is similar to the English word ‘yoke’ and means to ‘connect’ or ‘link. The Patanjali Yoga-Sutra, which is the foundational guidebook for yoga, explains that yoga in its completeness comprises eight stages and so is called ashtanga-yoga (ashta – eight, anga – limbs). What is today popular as yoga is actually just one of the eight stages named asana. The ancient Indian wisdom-tradition that is the source of yoga explains that yoga has much more to offer than what we are currently receiving. In its most evolved form, yoga does much more than heal the body. Its potential goes far beyond even calming the mind. The highest yoga fulfills the need of our innermost being, our heart. More than treasures and pleasures, positions and possessions, our deepest longing is for love. All of us want to love and to be loved. In our times, love is a much talked, little understood word. Often love is misunderstood to be the physical relation between two people, but real love goes beyond the body, beyond the mind, to the real person, the spiritual being. True love enables us to connect with others at an eternal dimension by centering our relationship on the origin of all love.
This art of centering and connecting our love is what bhakti is all about. That’s why bhakti is often called the yoga of love. Bhakti is the universal wisdom that underlies and unifies all the great wisdom-traditions of the world. Bhakti efficaciously fulfills the ultimate purpose of yoga by devotionally connecting our hearts with the Supreme Lord, who is origin of all love and the pivot of all loving relationship. That’s why Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita after describing states explicitly that bhakti-yoga is the most complete of all yogas: “Of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in me, thinks of me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to me is the most intimately united with me in yoga and is the highest of all.” The Patanjali Yoga-Sutra also states that the culmination of yoga is samadhi, complete, loving, trancelike absorption in the divine.
The yoga of love empowers us to tune our consciousness so that we can receive the love that is at the heart of the creation and then radiate that love to all whom we contact, thus enriching many, many love-starved hearts with warmth and joy. The easiest way to practice this yoga of love is by chanting the mantra of love, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.