Bhakti: the means and the goal
Bhakti means love of God or, as Srila Prabhupada would often translate the word, pure devotional service to God. (The Sanskrit root of the word bhakti is bhaj, which means “loving service.”) Bhakti is the essence of the eternal relationship we souls have with Krishna. In material existence, our Bhakti is covered by our material consciousness and misdirected away from Krishna and toward the temporary things of this world. Therefore we are never fully satisfied. We can awaken our natural Bhakti by practicing Bhakti. In other words, we can awaken our love for Krishna by performing acts of love for Him. Since yoga means “connection, ” the process by which we connect with Krishna through acts of love is called Bhakti yoga.
There’s much more to loving God than just saying, “I love God. ” We attain pure love for Krishna through a gradual process that takes us through progressively higher realms of Bhakti. Fortunately, we can begin the process at any point in life or wherever we are in our spiritual journey.
The Bhakti process is systematic and is laid out in detail by the followers of Sri Chaitanya in books such as Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (presented by Srila Prabhupada as The Nectar of Devotion). These books provide not only instructions but also guideposts by which the student of Bhakti can evaluate his or her progress.
The awakening of Bhakti takes place in three progressive stages: (1) regulated practice, (2) attachment, and finally (3) pure love.