Absolute truth speaks in silence, and none can fail to heed it’s voice.
Shall I start with personal gods or go into the complicated one first?
Personal. Ok. The different traditional paths of bhakti have their root in traditions leading way back into the history of India. They refer to them as lineages. The divinity being shown devotion represents principles that are seen as both essential and transcendental of the human condition. Shiva and Vishnu being the two most traditional, but there are other schools that give their devotion to demi-gods and goddesses. These groups aren’t really sidelined like they might be in western society though. It’s a lack of lineage that would be seen as questionable, so the “family” behind the devotional school is one of the things that matters most.
So principals like sins and blessings? Right and wrong? Well, not really dogma so much as spirit. The core ideal behind bhakti is that by putting the divinity up front in your mind, you will come to see their way in the world as well as their presence in your own life as a living thing. They don’t see the teachings of the divinities as being absolutely static or anything, sharing much in common with Gnostic Christianity in that sense, instead they believe that by filling ones heart with devotion to the divine, you will come to act in such a way as to support the will of the sacred just as you might support the best interests of a child or spouse.
It sounds a lot more open than orthodox worship. More free to interpret things in your own way. Indeed it is, though you would be considered to err if your interpretations cut you off from the world or your community. Any interpretation that supports a hateful or misanthropic attitude would be seen as personal delusion only. So one preserves their devotional practices not as a duty that they will be punished for if they neglect, but as a support to their own sense of unity.
Is being a hermit erring then? Being a hermit is only error if it is motivated by disdain for humanity. If it’s motivated by seeking space to clearly perceive your personal relationship with the divine, then it’s instead wisdom.
So, the one path of bhakti that follows what might be seen as a “depersonalized” god, actually is somewhat like gnani yoga having distinctly gnostic qualities. They give their devotion to a being they call Ishvara who is considered to be the personalized face of the universal spirit.
Like God? Yes. Ishvara is evident because of the process of Maya or illusion in the world. Illusion in this sense is not the same as deception instead being the creative expression of an inexpressible infinite reality. How could any effort to express that be anything other than illusion? But by giving their devotion to Ishvara, attempting to walk their lives in Ishvara’s shoes, they believe that they can come to see the essence or truth behind the Maya or creative expression. They can know the heart of Ishvara which is the universal being. Move beyond Ishvara by knowing the heart of Ishvara.
Kind of a metaphor. It is, yes, but the faces of the practice are not the heart of the practice, just necessary elements of its expression. To the bhakti yogi, any devotion is bhakti if pursued with genuine open heartedness.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.