Christianity and Judaism are mainly bhakti religions, though there is much esoteric data hidden in the Bible and other texts, and in various sects, japa is widely practised by various groups. An important mantra is Kyrie Eleison. Constant chanting, verbal or mental, with remembrance throughout the day and night, can lead to one-pointedness of mind and transcendence. Such is the power of mantra combined with devotion.
Prayer is an important part of Christianity, as it is with most other religions. Prayer combined with devotion helps to purify the mind and reduce the power of the ego. This too can lead to greater levels of awareness. In a text called the Philocalia (a collection of early mystical Christian writings) St. Nilus says that the method of transcendence is the: “.. . collection of the mind from its wandering and quietly leading it to the heart by way of breathing, and by repeating the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’, in harmony with the breath. This leads to unification with the one, the single and unifying, directly in a union which transcends reason.” This is a method of bhakti yoga combined with breath awareness. It can be done while sitting for meditational practice or during everyday activities.
In Christianity, the focal point for bhakti is Christ. Most of the great Christian saints have made this clear and it is written in the mystical books. Christ also indicated the path of bhakti for his disciples.
The following are a few selected quotations of Christ: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” “Love thine enemy.” This is urging aspirants to worship the supreme in other people. “No man cometh unto the Father (supreme consciousness) but by me.” Although to some people this may sound dogmatic, its meaning is that devotion to Christ can lead to spiritual evolution. The very essence of Christianity is centred on devotion to the form, life and teachings of Christ.
The Old Testament of the Bible also strongly preaches the path of bhakti. For example it says in no uncertain terms: “Seek ye ever the face of God, and seek ye Him in all things, tarrying not until ye find him”. (Psalms 104, 4) “Thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind and with all thy soul and with all thy strength.” (Deuteronomy 6, 5)
There have been many great Christian saints. One of the best known is St. Francis of Assisi, born in Italy at the end of the 12th century. It is he who said that ‘idleness is the enemy of the soul’. And he practised what he preached for he continually did karma yoga, whether it was sweeping the floor or helping the poor. He was a great bhakta and his words have inspired many:
All my will is burnt up with love,
Is united to love,
Is transformed into love,
Is consumed and consecrated by love.
Neither the fire nor the sword
Shall separate me from love.
Suffering and death never may rise
To the heights to which love doth lure me on
Outside the mystic union with love.
All created things are restless.
By love the soul is raised,
Is exalted, elevated above everything.
This clearly shows the path and the culmination of bhakti. He also said: “With all thy heart love the love which loves thee, love the love which desires thee, and has created thee to draw thee wholly to Himself.” He expressed his bhakti to everything – the birds, the animals, fellow humans – everything was included in his circle of bhakti. He referred to the sun as brother sun’, regarding it as the image of the supreme. The moon and the wind were his sisters, as was everything else. He was definitely an intoxicated bhakta.
There are various books on bhakti in Christianity. A particularly practical one is the Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. It is a bhakti scripture from cover to cover and gives sensible advice on the pitfalls on the path of bhakti. It also prescribes the ten steps on the bhakti path, which are very similar to those given in the Indian text, the Srimad Bhagavatam.
There are notable modern bhaktas. An example is Kahlil Gibran who wrote: “Who knows that your neighbour is your better self wearing another body? See that you love him as you would love yourself.” “It is in your longing that you shall find the son of man (self-realization). For longing is the fountain-head of ecstasy, and is the path to our father (the supreme consciousness).”