Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Upadesa Sarah of Ramana Maharshi – Introduction to Bhakthi Yoga

Bhakthi Yoga or the path of devotion is one of the path that leads one to the ultimate reality of oneness of oneself with God. This is the simplest of all paths as this doesn’t require much intellectual thinking or logic. This doesn’t require study of scriptures nor sitting in meditational postures.

Bhakthi can be defined broadly as two – Apara Bhakthi or lower devotion and Para Bhakthi or higher devotion.

When a devotee always tries to constantly remember God, there is still the difference between the devotee and God. Such type of devotion wherein one finds difference between the devotee and God is termed as Apara Bhakthi or lower devotion.

That devotion wherein the difference between the devotee and God vanishes and what remains is pure Existence or Consciousness alone is called Para Bhakthi. This para bhakthi is also called Jnaana or Atma Jnaana or Brahma Vidya.

The normal bhakthi that people speak of is Apara bhakthi alone. This devotion is very powerful indeed that it removes all delusion, all sorrow and leads one to para bhakthi wherein the Oneness is realized and everything vanishes to becomes just ONE alone.

What are the characteristics of Bhakthi???
Understanding what Bhakthi or devotion is very essential because there are certain wrong notions among people about devotion. It is normally thought that a person who wears either the sacred ash or other marks, the person who regularly goes to temple, the person who at times sings about God and talks about God are all very devoted and hence devotees of God.

This notion is completely wrong. This is not Bhakthi or devotion. This is just a small part of the real devotion. These all are just means or ways to get the real devotion. If a person thinks that by going to a temple daily, he is a devotee – then there is no greater fool than him.

The above mentioned is what the scriptures and great saints proclaim and not mere statements.

Devotion can be put in a single word as SURRENDER. Now the question has to be answered as to Surrender to Whom??? Is it surrender to the sense organs and the sense objects? Is it surrender to the wife or to lust? Is it to power or money???

No, Devotion is surrender to God, the Almighty.

In order to understand about devotion clearly, one needs to know first about God and then about surrender and other such qualities of devotion.

Who is God or What is God??? – a wonderful topic which can be talked for days on and on which people can debate for long days.
The perfect answer to this question is a counter-question – Who is not God??? What is not God???

God, according to the scriptures, is omni-present, omni-potent and all-knowing. God is present in each and every place. God knows each and every thing. God is the substratum for this world. God is the final cause of this seemingly existent world. He is the creator, he is the protector, he is the destroyer of this seemingly existent world. God is what scriptures declare as Brahman, Self and all.

The word used for God in Sanskrit and scriptures is Ishwarah – Isha means ruler – thus God is the ruler of this world and everything that is present or that appears as existing. Here, ruler doesn’t mean kings or presidents like Bush and Vajpayee – who are very much selfish and have limited vision alone. But, here ruler means one who controls everything, one who is aware of everything, one who is the cause for everything. Such a God is being put forth in the Upanishads and the Vedas.

Bhagavatham says
“Vadanthi Tat Tattva vidhah yad jnaanam advayam
Brahma ithi paramaatma ithi bhagavaan ithi sabdhyathe”

The people who know the ultimate reality of non-dual knowledge or non-dual Consciousness call it as Brahman, Paramatman, Bhagavan and all.

Therefore, the ultimate reality or absolute reality is what is meant by God. This God is not separate from oneself but it is one’s own very nature itself. The Self or Consciousness is God itself and God is not separate from this Consciousness. Realization of this ultimate reality which is non-dual in nature is the aim and goal of devotion. The lower devotion leads slowly one to the higher devotion wherein this ultimate reality is realized. Therefore the aim or goal of Vedanta is to merge into God, is to realize that “I am the God who is present everywhere”.

Now, we have seen what God is – everything that is being seen is God alone, everything that is not being seen is also God alone. Whatever was, whatever is, whatever will be is God or Brahman alone.

If a person has to realize the reality of God or the ultimate reality that “I am God” – there needs to be some spiritual practices through which alone a person can realize it.

Now, a doubt might arise that If I am God, then why should I pray???
This prayer is required to realize that I am God because now this ultimate reality has been veiled through ignorance. When a person says “I will not pray” – this itself indicates that “I” is limited to a body and mind alone and that there are somethings and some people different from this “I”. This “I” that is speaking so is the Ego and not the Self or Consciousness. This Ego causes the veiling of the Consciousness and the Bliss which is God and therefore makes one do all sorts of things and enjoy happiness and sorrow. It is the killing of this Ego and realizing one’s own real “I” – the pure and unlimited “I” which is beyond the body and the mind and everything in this world – is the aim of devotion.

Even when a person doesn’t do prayers or he does prayers – he is the Self or God alone. But unless this reality is realized, there will be sorrows and sufferings arising out of attachment like “I” and “mine”. Devotion is to be followed in order to remove this wrong notion, in order to remove this attachment and the sufferings which are illusory in nature and have no reality at all.

Therefore, prayers are required, devotion is required so that this ultimate reality of Oneness which has been forgotten has to realized through removal of the veils and obstructions to it.

The key word that can be used to define devotion to God is SURRENDER. Surrender is not mere speaking or telling at all times that “you are there, God you take of everything” and then doing bad things and all. Surrender is not just crying out to God at times of sorrow and forgetting him at times of happiness. But it is remembrance of God at all times.

Surrender is
Whenever something good happens – his grace
Whenever something bad happens – his Wish.

Only when this attitude is completely present in a person, that person can be called a devotee. Unless this quality is present, a person can not be called devotee but is just a mere seeker of materialistic happiness from God and God becomes a mere servant for such a person at times of sorrow and sufferings.

Sri Krishna speaks about devotion in the very second sloka of Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12
“Mayi aavesha mano ye maam nitya yuktaa upaasathe
Sraadhayaa parayaa upethaah te me yukta tama mataah”

Krishna mentions three qualities for a devotee
Fixing the mind unto Me
ever steadfast in Me
knowing or realizing me as the final goal

Devotion is not just thinking of God twice a day but it is remembrance of God at all times. It is knowing that God is the final goal which has to be achieved. The moment a person craves for some materialistic things, that very moment he ceases to become a devotee. Craving for materialistic things is fine if the thought about God and the thought that God is the final goal is present. Unless a person realizes that God is the final goal – God is full of bliss alone and where all sorrows and sufferings vanish – the person will never aspire for and work towards that goal. Therefore knowing God as the final goal is very important.

Going by the above definition given by Lord Krishna, a person needs to have complete and unconditional surrender. Surrender to God and thought of God should be beyond any conditions. If a person says that “let me get old and I will think about God” – this thought is limited by time and age. Therefore this is not unconditional surrender. If a person says that “I have to cook food for my husband and hence I don’t have time to think about God now and will go to the temple and think about him”, this is not unconditional surrender.

One needs to remember the story of Draupadi’s dress-removal in Mahabharatha where when draupadi was holding her one hand to her saree and calling Krishna with the other hand. Krishna did not go to help her. Then she called Krishna with both her hands (leaving the one hand which she was holding to the saree which meant that she still did not have unconditional and complete surrender). At that time, Krishna came and helped her out.

Therefore, God must be thought at all times, the thought of God should be such that it is always present in the person. Such a person alone is a true devotee. When a devotee is cooking, he will have the thought of God and think about God while cooking. He will not just think about God, but see the stove as God, the food as God, the fire as God. When a devotee is working in the office, he will be constantly thinking about God alone, the various instruments or equipments that he uses for his work will be seen as God alone, his boss will be God alone, his co-workers will be God alone.

God is present everywhere and hence there is no place where God is not present. A person can think about God, pray to God wherever he is, whatever he is doing. Such a person alone is a true devotee.

Now, one may ask “then what is the use of going to temples if God is present everywhere”???
Even though the milk is the essence of a cow, still we get milk only we milk the udder of the cow and not the ear or tail of the cow. Similarly God is present everywhere, but because of ignorance veils a person can’t recognize the presence of God everywhere & hence God is prominently seen or felt in certain places like temples, ashrams and all.

Initially a person goes to the temple so that he constantly remembers God – then after that he realizes that the thought of God is continuously in him and hence now everywhere and at all times, he sees God alone. Therefore at this state, he doesn’t need to go to temples anymore.

One needs to remember the story of Namdev who used to frequently visit the temple and talk with Vittala (Lord Vishnu). But once, he realized this ultimate reality of Oneness of God, he stopped going to the temple. Lord was a bit worried (not real worry but just acting in a drama J for the sake of the devotee) and hence decided to enquire and went to Namdev’s house. Lord asked Namdev “Why didn’t you come to the temple for so many days?”. Namdev replied back “Don’t try to fool me, you are present everywhere, then what is the need to go and seek you specifically in the temple”. Hearing this, Lord smiled and replied to him “I wanted you to realize this truth and you have realized this ultimate reality”.

Therefore, God should be constantly remembered.

Narada defines Bhakthi in Narada Bhakthi Sutraas as
“Tad arpita akhila achaaratha tad vismarane parama vyaakulathaa cha”
Offering everything unto Lord and getting really sad when one forgets him (even for second).

This sense of complete surrender and complete thought to God is real devotion. Such a person alone is a real devotee who ever thinks of God, ever offers his work to God, ever partakes everything as the prasadam of God, ever sings glories of God, ever is established in the single thought of God alone.

Now, one may have doubt whether one should worship form God or formless God????
God is without forms. But even though he is without forms, as he is all-knowing and present everywhere – he can manifest in any form. Hence God can exist with forms too. The ultimate reality is that God has no forms because when a form-God is thought of, the form limits God to a single body – and this contradicts the all-pervading nature of God.

But it is not easy for people who are so body-conscious to think about formless God and hence the form-God serves to give them concentration and slowly realize the ultimate reality that God is present everywhere.

Therefore God might take any form of Jesus or Vishnu or Siva. The form is just used for constant thought of God alone and not that the form seen is real.


But, a person has to remember here that this devotion where the devotee is different from God is lower devotion only. The higher devotion or knowledge or realization is when the difference between the devotee and God vanishes.

Devotion or Bhakthi Yoga is so vast and there are lot of literatures or scriptural works on Bhakthi that it is tough indeed to cover it in a single day or a single session of an hour. Hence, Bhakthi Yoga will again be described in the next day.

Bhakthi or devotion is one of the easiest path to the ultimate reality and to absolute and eternal bliss inherent in the Self. A bhaktha is one who is always immersed in the thought of God, he is a devotee who has God as the final goal and each action of his is towards achieving that goal.

One famous sloka that every one knows speaks about Bhakthi

“Kaayena vaacha manaasaindriyair va budhyaatmana va prakriteh svabhaavaat
Karomi yad yad sakalam parasmai narayanaayethi samarpayaami”

Whatever I do with words, body, mind, sense organs, the intellect or the Ego – everything is offered to Narayana, the Supreme Being or Brahman alone.

Sankara speaks about the same in his Shiva maanasa pooja
“Kara charana kritam va kaayajam karmajam va
Sravana nayanajam va maanasam va aparaadham
Vihitam avihitam va sarvam etat shamasva
Jaya jaya karunaabdhe sri mahadeva sambho”

O Lord Siva, whatever wrong I have done through hands, feet, body or through action – whatever bad things I have done through hearing, seeing and through mind (knowingly or unknowingly) – forgive all these sins O Lord Siva who is full of compassion alone.

“Yad yad karma karothi tad tad akhilam sambho tava aaraadhanam”
O Lord, whatever actions I do, those are your worship alone.

This attitude of complete and total surrender along with deep devotion is real Bhakthi. All other things are just means to this real Apara Bhakthi or lower devotion (where the distinction between God and the devotee is there). Once a devotee completely follows this Apara Bhakthi, slowly he merges into the Almighty full of Consciousness. Hence now what remains is Consciousness alone devoid of the distinctions of devotee and God, devoid of distinctions of caste and creed because now there is only ONE here and no TWO things.

Maharshi in further slokas tells us that this Para Bhakthi where the devotee and God merge into ONE is greater and superior to the Apara Bhakthi because in the former there remains no distinctions and hence no sorrow and sufferings. But in the latter, there still are distinctions and hence sorrows and sufferings result from this distinction.

Once a person completely follows Apara Bhakthi – slowly the devotee realizes that the difference between him and God are not real but only temporarily appearing and illusory and hence unreal only.

But in order to reach the state of Para Bhakthi, one needs to follow Apara Bhakthi – devotion endowed with complete surrender, full faith and steadfast in the path & to the goal of realization.

Krishna explains about such a devotee in beautiful slokas in the 12th of Gita (the complete chapter consisting of 20 slokas speaks about devotion alone and is worth reading and contemplating and putting it into practice).

Krishna says to Arjuna that “O Arjuna! Fix your mind and intellect unto Me and thence you will merge into Me, there is no doubt about this”.

Now, a person might not be able to completely think about God at all times and fix the mind unto God directly, therefore Krishna puts forth three different ways to achieve this complete fixing of mind.

If a person is not able to completely fix his mind unto Me, practice fixing of mind unto Me and thereby you will attain Me.
If you are not able to even achieve this through practice, do works for Me (here doing work means service to the Lord and his devotees, service to temple and sacred places and all) and thereby you will attain Me.
If you are not able even to do work for me, just do all actions without expectations and you will attain Me.

The path that Krishna tells in these three methods is beautiful indeed. It is not easy for a person whose mind is used to travel into various thoughts and objects, to all of a sudden, concentrate on the Lord and fixing the mind unto Lord. Therefore, Krishna says do practice, try to do it slowly. Put all your effort into it and you will surely achieve it. Even then, if a person is not able to achieve, do works for my sake, do service to my devotees and thereby you will attain Me.

Now, another problem comes here that even doing work for God is not possible because normally people are always afraid of the society and other people in the society. A person is afraid to wear the sacred ashes in his forehead – because his boss might take it wrong!!!!! And because the people who see him will suffer!!!! These are idiotic statements of fools. But, as the most compassionate Guru, Lord Krishna even goes down a level and tells that if you are not openly able to do works for me, do all actions without any expectations and you will surely attain Me.

Therefore, an individual has lot of options as to become a devotee. A devotee need not even go to temple at all – but he might be the greatest devotee of all for the Lord. Therefore, all actions whatever are being done will not affect a devotee because for the devotee there is nothing except the Lord. For a devotee, all actions, all karmas, all fruits are all leelas and manifestations of the Almighty alone & hence they are the Lord himself and not something different.

This is why all great scriptures proclaim that “everything is God alone, all this is pervaded by the Almighty”.

Krishna says in Gita chapter 9
“Kaunteya prathijaanihi na me bhaktah pranashyathi”

O Arjuna, Know that my devotee will never perish or suffer.

“Sarva dharmaan parityajya maam ekam saranam vraja
Aham tvaa sarva paapebhyo mokshayishyaami ma shuchah”

Leaving or renouncing all actions and dharmas, take refuge in Me alone – I will surely save you from all sins – don’t worry.

These are not mere statements of the Lord but these are words out of the mouth of the compassionate Almighty and who saved people who took refuge in him. We can see the stories of Kuchela, Sudhaama, Uddhava and all who were saved by the Almighty from all sorrows and sufferings.

Even in recent times, one should remember Mira, Vallabhacharya, Madhvacharya, Ramanujacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and all who were saved completely by the great Almighty. Hence a devotee is never left away to perish by the Almighty, but the Lord himself takes pains to save the devotee and to confer eternal bliss of the Self to the devotee.

One needs to remember the story of the great Jnaania Ambariksha whom Durvaasa cursed but the sudarshan chakra of Vishnu protected Ambariksha and went to kill Durvaasa. But the great King saved Durvaasa (saved the person who cursed him).

One should really remember such stories of great devotees who spend each moment in the thought of the Almighty alone.

One may think now that what attitude should I have towards the Almighty, should it be that of lover to a love or that of a disciple to his Guru, or of a child to his mother, or that of friend????

Bhagavatham answers this and tells about Nava Vidha Bhakthi (Nine types of Bhakthi – or bhaavaas of Bhakthi).

“Sravanam smaranam keerthanam vishnooh paada sevanam
Archanam vandhanam daasyam sakhyam atma nivedanam”

Hearing or listening to the glories of the Almighty
Remembering the glories of the Almighty
Singing the glories and names of the Almighty
Vishnu’s paada seva or worship of Vishnu’s lotus feet (means worship or seva to Lord’s devotees too). Here Vishnu means all-pervading alone.
Doing chanting or pooja of the Lord’s name like Lalitha Sahasranaama or Vishnu Sahasranaama
Offering salutation to the Almighty as pervading the whole universe
Being a servant to the Almighty and his devotees
Friendly attitude to the Almighty – Arjuna had this bhaava with Krishna
Atma Nivedanam – means offering oneself to the Lord

All these nine type of bhakthis help one to reach the ultimate state of Oneness. But the last bhakthi of offering oneself completely takes one very close to the ultimate state.

It is only in this bhakthi that there is no sign of Ego and humility is present in complete. Here, there vanishes the distinction between the devotee and the Lord as only the Lord exists of the nature of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss absolute.

But a person need to worry if he is not able to completely offer himself/herself to the Lord, it is enough if the thought of God is constantly present in the person. When the thought of God is constantly present in the individual, his mind becomes pure and slowly the dualities of sorrow, happiness vanish. Therefore, the devotee always remains the same – with only a single thought of God alone. Finally even this thought vanishes and only ONE Existence of the nature of Consciousness and bliss remains.

This is the final state of Bhakthi where there is neither God nor devotee but One alone. And this can be achieved only when there is total and complete surrender to the Supreme Lord, when there is not even a single moment when the thought of God is not present. Such a ceaseless though of God alone is capable of taking a person to the final state of eternal bliss, the bliss which everyone is searching in the external world.
Let us all try to spend at least some time daily when the thought of God is ceaselessly continuing. We will look into Maharshi’s description of Apara Bhakthi or lower devotion and Para Bhakthi or Higher devotion in the next day.


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