Dharana Practices and Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga is a system of Yogic practices that utilizes the power of love, longing and devotion to propel the devotee towards union or oneness with God. Bhakti Yoga has developed out of the thousands of years of Yogic practices employed by traditional Hindu sages. The two classical Hindu Bhakti Yoga treatises, the Narada Bhakti Sutra and the Shandilya Bhakti Yoga, emphasize the supreme efficiency of propelling the Bhakta into divine oneness through fanning the fires of divine longing and supplication.
The practice of Dharana is the intense concentration on a form of one's divine beloved, a sacred mantra, mandala or inner focal point. Dharana is one of the core practices of Bhakti Yoga. When discussing Bhakti Yoga, traditional Hindu beliefs break down Bhakti into various bhavas or feeling states. These emotional states of longing towards God/Goddess traditionally come in the form of a relationship similar to that of a mother to her child, a servant to his or her master, a contented love for God, a friend to a friend, or to that of a woman to her lover. All of these relationship paradigms are filled with love, longing and devotion.
The specific relationships that often evoke the most longing and concentration are that of a mother to her child, a dedicated servant to his or her master and a woman to her lover. When this longing and adoration is in the context of a devotee towards his or her chosen divine beloved, deity or Guru, the longing and devotion itself will support and accelerate a devotee's pining for oneness with the divine essence within. Dharana practices are based on this bhava of an unremitting one-pointed focus.
A classical Dharana practice is to focus with unwavering concentration of the form of one's divine beloved, a picture of one's beloved or an internal image of the deity or Guru. It is said that when a Yogi or Yogini focuses on the image of the divine, the very essence of that divine being becomes embodied in the devotee. As the state of the divine beloved is established in the Bhakta, that state will become established over time with continued meditation and contemplation practices on the form of the beloved.
Another traditional Dharana practice is to focus on the repetition or written form of an enlivened mantra or sacred word that has been given to the Bhakta by his or her Guru or lineage holder. Internally repeating a sacred mantra with a one-pointed focus helps the mind to settle and nourishes the inner awakened spiritual energy, known as the Kundalini Shakti. Focusing on the written Sanskrit words of an enlivened mantra will also have a similar effect on the devotee. Ultimately, all Dharana practices are aimed at the same goal: establishing the devotee in the same divine state as his or her Guru, chosen deity or divine beloved.