Ideals and Values/Bhakti or Devotion to Bhagavān
The Meaning of Bhakti
The word Bhakti means loving Bhagavān like you love a friend, a brother or sister and respecting Him like you respect your mother and father. Our parents gave birth to us. They look after us. They love us. Therefore, we love our parents. Our brothers and sisters love us. They help us in many different ways. Therefore we love them. Our friends like us and we like them. They play with us. They share their things with us. Therefore, we love our friends.
Bhagavān gives birth to us and takes care of us all the time like our parents. Bhagavān loves us and has given us many gifts like the sun, the moon and the earth. Bhagavān shares his world with us. Therefore, we should also love Bhagavān. Loving Bhagavān is called "Bhakti". When we love Bhagavān, we become his "Bhakta".
For a True Bhakta, nothing is dearer than Bhagavān
We illustrate this with the example of two stories.
Story: Hanuman Looks for Ram inside Precious Pearls After the coronation ceremony of King Rama in Ayodhya was over, Shri Rama received a lot of expensive presents from other rulers of the world. He distributed these presents, which included precious pearls, diamonds, gems etc., to his friends the Vanaras, King Vibhishana of Lanka and others who had helped him defeat Ravana.
[Hanuman]] was gifted a necklace of very rare and precious pearls. Everyone was overjoyed upon receiving their gifts. They started comparing their own gifts with those of others and there was a lot of excitement in the air.
Suddenly, someone noticed that Hanuman was sitting in a corner. He was biting the pearls of the necklace, one by one, and then discarding the pieces in a heap of trash. When asked to explain his strange action of destroying the necklace of expensive pearls, he replied, "The only thing I value is my Lord Shri Rama. I do not find him inside these pearls. Therefore, they are worthless for me."
Story: Sūrdās asks Krishna to make him Blind Sant Surdas lived in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the 15-16th cent CE. It is believed that he was born blind. Surdas was greatly devoted to Bhagavān Krishna. Every day, he composed hymns in praise of Krishna and sang them melodiously. One day, he fell into a well. He sang out to Krishna. Miraculously, a couple appeared soon and pulled him out of the well.
Surdas realized that the couple was none other than Radha and Krishna. Moved by the devotion of Surdas, Radha came back to see Surdas, who immediately caught her feet to get her blessings. Radha was able to get away but in the process, her anklets fell off. She asked Surdas to return them, but he insisted, "How do I know they are yours because I cannot see."
Radha restored his vision and at once, he saw none other than Bhagavān Krishna and Radha in front of him. Krishna requested Surdas to ask for some boons because He was very pleased with the devotion of the saint. But Surdas asked for only one thing, "Please make me blind again. I have seen my Lord with my own eyes. And now I do not wish to see anything else." Krishna insisted that this would be unfair to Surdas. He could keep his vision and also ask for something else. But Surdas insisted, "No, please make me blind again. But give me the boon that I always remain devoted to you as your servant."
How can we show our love or Bhakti to Bhagavān?
There are many ways in which we can show our love for Bhagavān. Some of these ways are:
- Listening to stories about Him.
- Chanting and singing prayers to Him.
- By remembering Him in our heart every day.
- By worshiping Him in our home or in the Mandir regularly.
- By serving His feet.
- By praising Him.
- Serving Him like a servant.
- Thinking of Him like a friend. Whenever we need help, we should talk to Bhagav?n in our heart like a friend.
- When we are in deep trouble, and nothing works, then we should just say to him ? ?Now only You can help me. I am leaving everything in Your hands.?
True Bhakti is Not in Worship alone but in seeing Bhagavān everywhere
Story: God turns to see his disciple Kanakadasa Kanaka Dasa lived in 1509-1609 CE. He was a humble cowherd who wandered from village to village singing the praises of Bhagavān Viṣṇu. Vyasateertha, a very famous scholar of Vedanta, took him as his student. Very soon, Kanakadasa became his favorite student.
The other students became jealous, because unlike them, Kanaka was not only from a very humble family; he was also not educated in scriptures. Vyasateertha decided to teach his students a lesson. He called all of them and gave them a banana each saying, "These are sacred bananas. If you eat them, you will be blessed. However, you must eat your banana in a secluded spot where no one can see you. Then come back and tell me where you had eaten your banana."
After a day or so, everyone came back and reported that they had eaten their blessed banana at such and such spot. Surprisingly, Kanaka had still not eaten his banana. When Vyasateertha asked, Kanaka responded, "Reverend teacher, I was not able to find a single spot where God could not see me."
Vyasateertha looked at his students and said, "For you, God is merely something whose name is chanted by you in rituals. But for Kanakadasa, God is a real, living and breathing person whom he experiences everywhere." After sometime, Kanakadasa decided to start roaming again to sing the praises of Viṣṇu. One day, he arrived at the famous Krishna temple at Udipi, a town in the Indian state of Karnataka. It had been his desire for a long time to have a darshana of Lord Krishna at the temple.
Unfortunately, the priests refused him entry, saying that he was a low caste cowherd and therefore he could not enter the temple. Disheartened, Kanakadasa went to the rear wall of the temple and started worshiping Krishna from there. While the priest was chanting his Sanskrit prayers to Krishna inside, he saw a miracle happen. The Murti of the Lord started turning around. A hole appeared in the rear wall and the face of the Murti gazed at Kanakadasa worshiping outside! Quite clearly, Krishna turned his back at the priest who had turned away his gentle and loving devotee Kanakadasa.
A window was later inserted into the hole through which Kanakadasa had darshana of Krishna and this window exists even today. It is called Kanakana Kindi in honor of the saint. Even today, devotees have a Darshana of Krishna through this window. The story of Kanakadasa shows how a devotee always experiences God and knows that God sees him at all times. Likewise, God too always keeps an eye on his devotee who always sees Him.
The Characteristics of the Best Bhakta
Sage Markandeya asked Sri Viṣṇu, the Blessed Lord:
How is the appearance of the devotees of God? By which great acts is their identity revealed? My heart is anxious to know this my Lord, and I want to satisfy my enquiry by hearing the reply from You alone.
Sri Viṣṇu, the Blessed Lord replied:
O best amongst ascetics! If you desire to know the qualities of the devotees of God, I shall expound them to you. But believe me, such is the glory of my devotees that it cannot be described even in millions of years.
They who are always busy in the welfare of other creatures, who are free of jealousy and do not feel upset when others progress, who are self-restrained, who never quarrel with others and love peace- these are the best devotees of God.
My devotees never hurt others by the actions, by their words or even in their thoughts. They do not hoard or accept charity from others (when they can live within their own means).
They those minds are pure and are ever engaged in listening the sacred stories from the scriptures, and they who serve other devotees of Viṣṇu- they indeed are the best devotees of God.
Those gem amongst men, who always speak words that will cause benefit to others and who accumulate good qualities from all - these indeed are the best devotees of God.
The true devotees of God consider everyone else as their own self, and do not distinguish between friend and foe but treat both with love and without malice.
They who always expound the scriptures for benefit of others, and always speak the truth; they who serve pious men diligently- these indeed are the best devotees of God. 
The true devotees recite the praises of Hari, the God who takes away our sins and sorrows, and feel elated when they see others progress and prosper.
They, who lay out gardens so that the birds and butterflies may live happily, get ponds and wells dug so that others may benefit- these are the best devotees of God. 
They who study hard to understand the teachings of all scriptures and then try to explain them to others; they who try to acquire good habits at all times- these indeed are the true devotees of God.
Notes & References
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.48
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.49
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.50
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.51
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.52
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.53
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.54
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.55
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.56
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.57
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.58
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.60
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.61
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.51.62
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.62
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.67
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.70
- Nārada Purāṇa 1.5.71