This is listening to stories of the Lord’s lilas or plays. The same way that hearing sermons on the new gospel will inspire awe and wonder in the heart of the aspirant and increase his faith and devotion to Jesus Christ, listening to stories about the deities will help the bhakta increase his devotion. The mythological scriptures of yoga/sanatana dharma are called puranas. Each purana is dedicated to a deity. Some of the most well know puranas, and the deities to which they are dedicated are:
- Siva purana – Lord Siva
- Srimad bhagavatam or Vishnu purana – Lord Vishnu
- Devi mahatmya – the divine mother, Goddess Durga
. . . there are many more.
An important aspect of practice of sravanam is that although the scriptures can be read directly by the aspirant, it will be much more powerful to hear the stories as told by a saint or genuine bhakta who has had mystical experiences.
This is chanting of God’s glories. Over the course of history countless mystics and yogis have spontaneously composed and written devotional songs. Most kirtans and bhajans are in the Sanskrit language and, to take full advantage of the inherant spiritual power of this ancient sacred language, it is highly recommended to chant them in the original.
When you feel happy, you find yourself chanting naturally and spontaneously. Chanting sattvic kirtans will bring the joy and bliss of devotion into the devotee’s heart.
Smaranam consists in remembering the presence of the Lord constantly. You can do that by remembering His name – meaning repeating His mantra. Smaranam will change one’s mental attitude. Becoming aware of the omnipresence of God, there is a respect for not only human beings but all creatures, plants and even objects of one’s surroundings.
Unceasing prayer is also a form of smaranam. If somebody is in love with another person the first thought that comes to their mind in the morning is the beloved one. Automatically they will mentally see his/her face, mentally say his/her name and feel good. Practicing remembrance of the Lord will bring about complete love.
Pada means feet. Seva means service. This is when you get to blend your practice of karma yoga (seva) with bhakti. In doing your duty and serving humanity, develop the bhava that you are serving and worshiping the Lord’s Feet.
It is to be noted here that in the bhakti tradition of India, the Lord’s Feet are an important symbol of the sacredness of the Divine. Psychologically worshiping the feet of God drives home the point that God is a higher entity and it helps establish humility in the devotee’s heart.
Worship of God through rituals such as puja, havan or homa. Again, performing rituals is now recognized as a basic psychological need. If you observe well you will see that in daily life everyone around you is performing rituals. Most of them of course are meaningless.
Bhakti yoga teaches us how to worship god in a codified manner using gestures, offering different items such as flowers, incense, food, light etc. while chanting corresponding mantras in order to express our love and devotion to a certain aspect of the divine.
Many like to argue the necessity of rituals by pointing out that the true feelings in the yogi’s heart and the spirit of the teachings are more important than performing rituals with an empty heart. This is very true but with equal heart, the one who does ritual will feel closer to God than the one who does not. Furthermore if devotion is lacking at first, it can develop after regular practice of rituals.
Anyhow, this argument is often presented out of laziness owing to the so-called yogi’s tamasic nature or out of pride by jnani-wannabes who like to think they are too evolved for such practices forgetting that the great Adi Sankara himself was no stranger to practicing and instructing archanam.
Vandanam is prostration. The yogi expresses his respect and love to God by prostrating physically to the ground thereby developing humility. There are different techniques but the main thing is to touch the floor with the forehead.
As for every yogic practice, the most important part is the bhava. Therefore as you prostrate you want to cultivate the awareness that the Almighty is present in the altar in front of you and in all names and forms.
The devotee is developing the feeling of being the Lord’s servant. This will weed out pride, selfishness, arrogance and egoism which are all based on avidya.
Feeling of friendship. This bhava helps the devotees establish a personal relationship with God, picturing him as his best friend. One should be ready to do anything for their friend.
Complete surrender of self. The term bhakti is often translated as devotion or love but rarely as surrender. Actually surrender is the highest aspect of bhakti. One’s ego is totally offered to the Lord and nothing but the atman remains and non duality is experienced.