What is Bhakti? It can be generally translated as devotion and Webster gives 'religious fervour' as its meaning. Does this mean that atheists cannot have devotion? How can explain this to different people from different walks of life? Most of all, how can we explain this to children who are influenced by what their parents think?
Theists - It is very easy to reach out to theists and say: devotion or bhakti is that belief that you have in God which directs certain actions (puja, prayers etc) in your everyday living.
Atheists - One has to leave out God equation and explain devotion in terms of concentration on activities close to one's heart.
Children - Now this is the tricky part. Children are always forever trying to assess what to take forward to their adult years. Some children don't want to believe in God because their parents don't believe and their acceptance is of utmost importance. Some children implicitly believe what their parents say. Yet others are skeptical and more inclined to go by what their teacher says.
का इयं भक्तिर्नाम? शङ्करभगवत्पादाः विवेकचूडामणौ वदति –
मोक्षकारणसामग्र्यां भक्तिरेव गरीयसी।
स्वस्वरूपानुसन्धानं भक्तिरित्यभिधीयते॥ 31॥
मोक्षसाधनाय ये ये मार्गाः वर्तन्ते तेषु भक्तिरेव श्रेष्ठा। सा च भक्तिः स्वस्य स्वरूपस्य अनुस्यूतचिन्तनमेव इति अभिधीयते।
“Among the different paths to attain moksha, bhakti is the greatest. And this bhakti is defined as the uninterrupted contemplation of one’s true nature”, says Shri Adi Shankara in his Vivekachudamani.
A very passionate and realistic definition of bhakti is given by Shri Madhusudana Sarasvati in Bhaktirasāyanam.
द्रुतस्य भगवद्धर्माद् धारावाहिकतां गता।
सर्वेशे मनसो वृत्तिः भक्तिरित्यभिधीयते॥3॥
Mind when it surrounds the Lord in a continuous manner is defined as bhakti.
चित्तद्रव्यं हि जतुवत् स्वभावात् कठिनात्मकम्।
तापकैर्विषयैर्योगे द्रवत्वं प्रतिपद्यते॥4॥
The mind is like wax, hard by nature. It melts due to various reasons like anger, lust, friendship, jealousy etc.
द्रवतायां प्रविष्टे सद् यत् काठिन्यदशां गतं।
चेतः पुनर्द्रुतौ सत्यामपि तन्नैव मुञ्चति॥8॥
At that point if the form of Shri Krishna or any Ishta devata is put in the mind, then when the wax hardens the form of the Lord cannot be removed from the mind. It remains there for ever.