It may be surprising to many to know that the concept of bhakti came to us from Vedic sacrifices and it is deeply associated with the ritual terminology of the Vedic period. As time passed by the idea became more refined and sublimated as the highest expression of love and self-sacrifice to God.
The bhakti movement emerged in India in the later Vedic times with the internalization of Vedic rituals and its elevation as a yogic practice. Symbolically it is deeply associated with Vedic rituals and may be even animal and human sacrifices and the ascetic practice of self-mortification as the means to escape from the bonds of Nature.
Bhakta means food, the sacrificed; bhakti is the act of sacrifice; and bhokta is the recipient of the sacrifice. In a ritual sense, a bhakta is one who offers himself or who is offered as a sacrifice in a sacrificial ritual. Bhakta (devotee) also means he who offers sacrificial food (bhakta) as an offering to God, who is the final recipient and the Enjoyer (bhokta) of all material things. He is also the devourer.
Bhakti (devotion) is thus a sacrificial offering to God. God’s mercy or grace (prasadam) is the leftover or the outcome of this sacrifice or offering. It is customary to redistribute the remains of the sacrifice or the food that is left over from a sacrifice among the worshippers. It is known as prasadam or God’s mercy, food that is touched and purified by the effulgence of God. Whoever eats it is purified of sins.
Thus devotion is a sacrificial act of offering in which you earn the grace of God by offering either yourself or what you have as the sacrificial material or food.
In a general sense, bhakti means having devotion, attachment or loyalty to God. Every Hindu who participates in a ritual worship receives prasadam and knows that it signals the end of the ritual. However, few people know what it means and what it signifies.
The ideal represented in a ritual worship is one should live by sacrifices, making offerings to God, who is the source of all, rather than accumulating things for oneself. What you accumulate becomes your burden. In end, you have to account for it because you have taken what does not actually belong to you. You cannot wash it away with a few temple rituals or dropping a part of your wealth in the temple coffers (hundis). You must take the sacrifice or the ritual everywhere. You must make your whole life a ritual offering, a continuous worship.
In truth, we do not accumulate wealth, name or fame through our selfish and egoistic actions. We accumulate sin. When you take what does not belong to you, it is called stealing (aparigraha). You should therefore return what does not belong to you to the One to whom it actually belongs. An offering is therefore an important act of liberation and a right solution to the problem of karma.
Every offering that you make to God is returned to you in the form of God’s mercy. As the Bhagavadgita declares, when you eat food for yourself without offering it to God you eat sin. It means it binds you through your selfish actions (karma); but when you offer it to God and eat it as His mercy, no sin will incur to you.
A devotee worships God with single-minded devotion as if nothing else matters. Out of unconditional love, he offers Him reverence, homage and service. His offerings lead to his liberation, as he remains untouched by his actions.
Bhakti is a sattvic feeling whose location is in the heart region, the seat of the Self. True devotion of the purest kind, which leads to liberation, arises in those who have discerning wisdom (buddhi vikasam), and disinterest (virakti) in material things, and who are free from attachments arising from the impurities of rajas and tamas. The gross body does not experience devotion as much as the subtle ones. It arises in those whose minds and bodies are filled with the radiance of sattva.
Therefore, the practice of devotion is considered an advance practice of yoga not possible for everyone. Bhakti leads to freedom (vimukti) or liberation (mukti). If you are attached to Nature and have passion for material things, you cannot attain liberation (mukti).
How such devotion arises in people? According to the Bhagavadgita, true devotion arises after one achieves perfection in the yoga of action (karmayoga) and knowledge (jnanayoga).
A devotee exemplifies divine qualities. He surrenders to God and remains ever absorbed in His thoughts and contemplation. His devotion is free from the impurities of egoism, vanity, desires and expectations. It is characterized by an attitude of reverence rather than craving. It is devoid of attachment and demonic passions. It is free from the impurities of egoism and delusion. It liberates rather than binds. It is not sustained by fulfillment but by sacrifice.
You should not worship God with selfish attitude. Deluded people may worship Him for material gains; but it does not qualify as true devotion. Sacrifice is the basis of true worship. Devotion is an act of offering, not receiving. A true devotee makes an offering to God without expectations.
When you worship God, you give Him whatever you have. You surrender to Him unconditionally and make your life an offering; and you do it selflessly out of profound love, reverence and gratitude. You do not eat the fruit of your labor. You offer it to God and live freely… (In complete)