Q. What is Bhakti Yoga?
A. The ancient Sanskrit term yoga, literally means union or to yoke and bhakti (pronounced buck-tee) means devotion. Thus, this yoga aims at reestablishing, consciously, the relationship between the Absolute Truth and the individual. All the different forms of yoga (karma, astanga, jnana) culminate in bhakti. This yoga teaches how to direct all our activities so we can evolve, spiritually, toward perfection.
Q. Is Bhakti Yoga a religion?
A. No. It’ a philosophy. Religions are sectarian. It is possible to change one’s religion during a lifetime. Bhakti Yoga is sanatana-dharma, or the basic duty of the soul. It establishes a philosophical framework from which one can build a successful life. It can be practiced by anyone of any religious or non-religious affiliation.
Q. I do Hatha Yoga. Should I also practice Bhakti?
A. Bhakti Yoga and the literatures we study in the Bhakti Yoga club (BYC) will give you the philosophical basis to take your physical exercise beyond just stretching asanas. Bhakti will round out your yoga experience to engage your mind while Hatha yoga improves your health and fitness.
Q. What sort of things does a Bhakti Yogi do?
A. A Bhakti yogi performs the same activities as anyone else. The change is in consciousness. You don’t have to change your situation to practice yoga, what changes is your consciousness. There are also some practices called sadhana that serious bhaktas take up to speed advancement.
Q. Are there specific things a Bhakti yogi studies?
A. In the Bhakti Yoga Club get-togethers we use the Bhagavad-gita (see BG page on this website) as a springboard for learning the principles of Yoga. Some of the topics we study are karma, reincarnation, meditation, purifying the mind, the difference between material and spiritual, methods of obtaining knowledge, sense control, service, answering life’s existential questions, etc.
Q. Do Bhakti yogis meditate?
A. Mantra meditation is one of the practices of Bhakti. Sound vibration is very powerful (as every student can attest to!) and mantra meditation involves the repetition of powerful ancient Sanskrit mantras which, when chanted regularly (on a string of beads called japa mala) cleanse the heart and wake up our original, pure consciousness.
Q. What do you do at BYC get-togethers?
A. They’re fun! We begin the program with mantra meditation set to music. We use diverse percussion instruments, and we sing several mantras. The mantras are written on large cards so everyone can read and learn them. Many participants, once they learn the mantras, will close their eyes and enjoy the beautiful sounds of the mantras and music.
After several minutes of chanting, we have a class using Bhagavad-gita as a basis for the discussion. Usually the class is given by one of the club’s sponsors who studied under A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, and who have been practicing Bhakti for over 30 years. Occasionally, one of the students will give a class, and they are encouraged to do so if they wish.
After the class, there is a period of questions and answers and discussion. Then there is a large, free, multi-course vegetarian dinner, during which everyone talks informally. The whole program is very informal and comfortable, and the club becomes almost like a second family to those who attend regularly. No fees are ever charged, and there are no dues.
Q. Can I come once, or occasionally, or do I have to attend every get-together?
A. Certainly we encourage everyone to come at least once to see if he/she is interested. Like anything, the more you attend, the more you will learn and understand, and the easier it will become to incorporate the practices of Bhakti into your life. However, some students find they can only come occasionally, due to schedule conflicts or school work, and that is fine. We welcome anyone to come whenever possible.
Q. Do I need to have any knowledge of yoga to attend? Will I be lost if I don’t?
A. No previous knowledge is necessary. The Center’s classes are targeted toward those who have limited or no past experience with yogic philosophies.
Q. Are only UVA students welcome?
A. No, everyone is welcome. Our get-togethers are about 1/3 undergrads, 1/3 grad students, and 1/3 members of the Charlottesville community. We are a multi-cultural group.
Q. Are the programs on Grounds?
A. No the programs are at the Club’s sponsors Bhaktivedanta Center, which is on 10 acres up on a ridge overlooking the mountains. Several cars take students from Grounds to the Center each week. Generally, the students enjoy getting away from the dorms to the warm atmosphere of the Center for the chanting, class and sumptuous dinner.
Q. Do I have to be a vegetarian to participate in the Bhakti Yoga Club?
A. No. However, at the Bhaktivedanta Center we practice ahimsa or non-violence to all living creatures. We do not serve meat, fish or eggs, nor do we allow them, alchoholic beverages, or smoking on the Center’s grounds. But you do not have to be a vegetarian to begin the practice of Bhakti yoga. Once you begin the practice, and practice mantra meditation for awhile, you may find your desire for flesh will diminish on its own.