Hinduism affirms multiple ways of conceptualizing the divine and many spiritual disciplines for achieving the ultimate goal of release from the Samsaric world. We explored the Way of Action, which provides the great majority of Hindus with a manner for improving future rebirths in order to attain a life from which moksha can be realized. We’ve also studied the Way of Wisdom, which provides those who are so inclined with a path for gaining enlightened freedom in this very life. The way of wisdom, however, is arduous, and it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Many Hindus find the Way of Devotion more compelling.
The approach of the devotional path is to focus one’s passionate nature on the love of a personal deity. Bhakti, the term for devotion, tells those who take this path that the love of god is paramount above all things. From a complete whole-hearted love for god all good things come.
The way of devotion became important during the late classical and early medieval period. At this time, new texts were added to the cannon of Hindu writings. These writings include the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the two great epics of India, much like the Iliad and the Odyssey in ancient Greece. Also composed and accepted was a collection known as the Puranas. This collection, assembled between 300 and 1000 A.D., provided the sources for much of the mythology of the Hindu gods and goddesses. Consequently, these texts were very important in shaping Hindu piety and the Bhakti movement, and continue to influence popular Hinduism.
We will discuss the Bhakti path by means of the Bhagavad Gita, probably the most popular religious text among Hindus. Although it is not the most sacred or most authoritative Hindu writing, the Gita is widely read and extremely well-known. Many Hindus have it completely memorized.
Studying the Gita will not only provide us with an exposition of the path of devotion, but will also demonstrate how Hinduism embraces the other ways to god as well.
- The Hindu God Vishnu: Before adventuring into the Gita itself, let’s first get acquinted with the god Vishnu, who in his manifestation as Krishna, is one of the story’s central characters. According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu is a member of a cosmic triad, the three gods who have the responsability for creating, maintaining and destroying the universe. The destroyer we have already discovered in the figure of Shiva. The cosmic creator is Brahma. The god who sustains the cosmos between the times of creation and destruction is Vishnu.
- A Summary of the Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita is probably the work of Indian literature with which Westerners are most familiar. Gandhi referred to it as his eternal mother. The Gita is essentially a dialog between Vishnu, in his avatara as Krishna, and a warrior named Arjuna. Their conversation takes place on the battlefield, just as two armies are about to go to war.