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51. Devotion and Knowledge of God's Greatness:

For true meditation on God one requires a background of devotion or bhakti. The essential nature of devotion will be described in the seventh chapter of the Gita. Two elements constitute devotion (bhakti -iKt) -- knowledge and love. The harmonious fusion of knowledge with love is devotion. Devotion is nothing but an incessant flow of love for God, born of a knowledge of His greatness. If we love a man without being aware of his greatness it is mere indulgence. We indulge in love for our children and other family members. Whether they possess good qualities or not we love them all the same only because they happen to be related to us. If we love God without knowing His greatness, it becomes blind faith. The more we become aware of His greatness, the purer will be our devotion. That is why all the Vedas praise the glory of God. Even in the Gita, God's greatness is described to strengthen our sense of devotion.

If we just cast a glance on the world, we soon become aware of the marvellous power of God. No other evidence or proof of the existence of God is necessary than the visible universe itself. The universe proclaims the existence of God. The evolution of the universe is not haphazard. It is created with a clear plan. In the creation and the growth of every phenomenon or object of this universe we see the concatenation of hundreds of natural forces. The complexities of our anatomy, the physiological and biochemical processes of digestion, and breathing, the movement of planets and evolution of stars, to mention only a few, reveal the grand purposeful design of the Master Creator. If it had been an isolated instance or two, we could have brushed it aside as mere accident. But when we see myriads of objects obeying lakhs of natural laws and when we see a perfect coordination between a multitude of forces in the creation and evolution of the world, how could we ever say that it is all mere accident? If we go on joining blindly even for years together the letters of the alphabet at random, we cannot produce by chance even a single stanza of Kalidasa's Shakuntala. When such is the case, we can never prove that this vast and well-designed universe is a mere product of natural forces without any hand of the living power of God behind it. The great scientist Einstein is of the opinion that this well-structured universe is the handiwork of a Being with a supreme intellect. The more we see of this world and the mysteries of nature, the more convinced do we be come of the existence of the Supreme Creator, God.

"How can we believe in something we cannot see?" is a question asked by Svetaketu to his father Uddalaka. The father asked him to get a jug of water and put some salt into it and asked him to taste the water. The water was salty whatever part he tasted. The father asked his son to show the salt in the water. Of course the salt could not be seen because it had dissolved and pervaded every part of the water in the jug. Similarly though invisible to the naked eye, God pervades every particle in the universe. God may be invisible to the eye but his presence is felt inside each and every object of the universe.
miy svRimd< àaet< sUÇe mi[g[a #v.
mayi sarvamidaÕ protaÕ s¨tre maõigaõ˜ iva -- VII-7
(Everything in this world is woven within me as a series of pearls is held by the string.)

The universe is like a garland of beads and not a litter of beads scattered all over. The fine thread which runs through all the beads and holds them together and makes them into a garland is God. But for this thread, the beads would be scattered all over. The one support on which all these beads hang and the one power by which all the elements in the universe function is the Almighty God. He is the support and the power behind all activities in the universe. God creates the whole universe through the medium of inert matter, earth, water, air, heat, ether and sentient spirit. God does not create the universe in the same way as a potter does a pot. The potter makes the pot out of clay but has no control over the properties of clay. The potter sits apart from the material and makes the pot. God is not like that. God does not sit in a corner and create the universe. He gets into and pervades every particle of the material universe, endows it with its natural properties and makes it function. Just as electricity flows through the electric motor, the Godhead flows through each and every atom in the universe and is responsible for the unique composition of everything as the efficient cause and the indwelling controller.

The omniscience and the omnipotence behind the creation of this vast and splendid universe transcend our conception. The omniscient, omnipotent Almighty God of infinite auspicious qualities alone is capable of creating this entire universe. The more we explore the universe and delve into its mysteries, the more do we become aware of the greatness and the majesty of its creator.

52. Varieties of Devotion:

We are aware of His greatness. We are deeply indebted to Him every second of our life for whatever bounties we receive from Him. Because of these our devotion upsurges. There are different categories of devotees. Burdened by miseries and hardships some run to Him and cry for succour. Some pray to Him for wealth and pomp. Of course begging God even for worldly pleasures is much better than either committing crime or cringing before people for the fulfilment of their worldly desires. These people who go to Him but do not ask for any worldly favours but only for His knowledge and direct vision are unique devotees. One who has already realised God makes an excellent devotee. He has had a glimpse of the Supreme God and has deeply fallen in love with Him; he is a perfect devotee. When we hear about something we form a mental picture. But when we see it with our eyes, the impression it creates and the emotion it generates are of a superior kind. God does not present Himself to ordinary devotees who ask for worldly rewards. We get our knowledge of God either from the scriptures or from preceptors, and our devotion to God is quite ordinary. But a devotee who is actually seeing and experiencing God can attain the highest pinnacle of devotion.
iàyae ih }ainnae=TywRmh< s c mm iày>.
priyo hi jñ˜nino'tyarthamahaÕ sa ca mama priya× -- VII-17
(I am extremely dear to the jnani; and so is he to Me.)

The God and his devotees are dear to each other. An aspirant can obtain the grace of God only by true devotion.

53. Non-dualism and Devotion:

Some argue that there is scope for devotion only till we acquire spiritual knowledge and when once we attain wisdom or jnana, the distinction between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul disappears and a jnani cannot therefore practise devotion. During the phase of devotion, the awareness of God's greatness and the knowledge that He is the Lord and we are His servants is imperative. This is against the non-dualistic philosophy because if a jnani also happens to be a devotee, it has to be accepted that there is a sense of dualism in him. The knowledge possessed by a jnani is true and infallible. In a jnani who has experienced God, where is the room for doubt and confusion? Hence, we have to believe whatever a jnani has seen and experienced. If a jnani worships God in devotion, we have to accept his sense of dualism as true and free from errors. For fear that their whole edifice of non-dualistic philosophy might crumble, the Advaitins argue that there is scope and necessity for devotion only till one achieves wisdom and thereafter, a jnani cannot remain a devotee at all. They say that they are dualists as long as they are enveloped by Maya or illusion and when once they gain true knowledge, all this distinction between God and individual soul disappears.
deh†òœvatudasae=h< AaTm†òwaTvmevah<,
dehad®ÿ÷v˜tud˜so'ham ˜tmad®ÿ÷ath˜tvamev˜haÕ
(From the point of view of the body, I am your servant; from the soul's I am your very self.)

Such an argument reduces the conception of devotion to absurdity. According to them, devotion is a false and illusive experience. If we think that there is no God distinct from and superior to us, how can we have sincere devotion to Him in our hearts? From the sincere practice of a devotion which is based on a fiction how can we ever attain salvation?
AsÊpsnya AaTmhn>,
asadupasanay˜ ˜tmahana× -- Bhagavata
(The destroyer of self through the worship of the unreal.)

When our shastras have severely rejected the pursuit of the non-real why did they give such a high place for devotion if it is to be practised only by the ignorant people?
-KTya TvnNyya zKy Ahmev< ivxae=juRn,
}atu< Ô:qu< c tÅven àve:qu< c pr<tp.
bhakty˜ tvananyay˜ þakya ahamevaÕ vidho'rjuna
jñ˜tuÕ draÿ÷uÕ ca tattvena praveÿ÷uÕ ca parantapa
-- XI-54
(I am to be really known, seen and attained (by the liberated) only through undivided devotion.)

Thus, in hundreds of places, the Gita has reiterated that for the direct vision of God and attaining salvation, practice of devotion is absolutely necessary. In his concluding remarks in the Gita, Sri Krishna says: "Oh Arjuna, because you are near and dear to Me, I vouchsafe to you this highest secret. Always think of Me, be My sincere devotee, worship Me with faith, I promise, you will certainly attain Me. Since you happen to be dear to Me, I am advising you; so listen to the words of Mine which are a supreme secret. Since you are certainly dear to Me, I am telling you that which is efficacious. Let your mind be full of Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice for Me, salute Me; you will certainly get Me since you are dear to Me.
svRguýtm< -Uy> z&[u me prm< vc>,
#òae=is me †Fimit ttae vúyaim te ihtm!.
sarvaguhyatamaÕ bh¨ya× þ®õu me paramaÕ vaca×
iÿ÷o'si me d®ýhamiti tato vakÿy˜mi te hitam
-- XVIII-64
mNmna -v mÑKtae m*ajI ma< nmSk…é,
mamevE:yis sTy< te àitjane iàyae=is me.
manman˜ bhava madbhakto mady˜jŸ m˜Õ namaskuru
m˜mevaiÿyasi satyaÕ te pratij˜ne priyo'si me
-- XVIII-65

When the Gita clearly gives such a high place to devotion and preaches that true devotion is the only means of attaining salvation, it is not proper to denigrate it as something unreal and illusory. Even the Gita which preaches the message of Bhakti would lose its importance if it were to preach such a falsehood. There will be nothing more ridiculous and more self-deceptive than the practice of devotion and worship of God, even after knowing fully well that God and the visible world are really not what they seem to be. We cannot believe for a moment that our scriptures preach such an absurd and inconsistent theory regarding the ultimate goal of life and the means of attaining that sacred goal.

The Gita has stated that of all the devotees, a jnani is the best devotee. This shows clearly that devotion is not for the ignorant only. If among the four different classes of devotees, a jnani is the best devotee, it becomes evident that spiritual knowledge and pure devotion can coexist. Even after the realisation of God if there is scope for devotion and the notion of dualism, then the theory that devotion is meant only for the ignorant people crumbles down. Devotion is not a mere toy of the ignorant people; on the other hand, it is the staff on which one leans, the sole support of one and all. Thus devotion, which is essential both before and after the dawn of spiritual wisdom, cannot itself be born of illusion or invention of the mind. The conception of devotion is based on philosophic truths like the fundamental difference between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, the supremacy, omnipotence and the primacy of God. From such a conception arises an unwavering faith and supreme love for God, and that is called devotion. From the realisation of the truth there will be a further blooming and enriching of this devotion only and we can never believe that the sun of knowledge would ever wither up the lotus of devotion.

54. Spirit of Worship is an Indivisible Part of Devotion:

There is another theory regarding devotion. They say that as a background for devotion, there is no need for dualism. Devotion does not rest on the foundation of either a master-servant relationship or the spiritual awareness of the greatness of God. Devotion is the true knowledge of the self. The self and the God are one and the same. This is the true knowledge of the self. One who is aware of the identity of God and the self is a perfect devotee. Hence there is no contradiction between devotion and non-dualism. There is a greater scope for devotion in non-dualism than in dualism. Nobody loves others more than one's own self. Instead of taking Brahman as some other person, if you take Him as yourself, you will certainly love Him intensely as you love yourself. Thus even in non-dualism there is ample scope for devotion.

Such a description of devotion is contrary to what is described in the Gita.
mNmna -v mÑKtae m*ajI ma< nmSk…é,
manman˜ bhava madbhakto mady˜jŸ m˜Õ namaskuru -- XVIII-65
(Be My devotee, prostrate before Me, do your duties in a worshipful attitude.)

Thus has the Lord indicated what devotion is and what duties are attached to it. If a devotee has to have a sense of worshipful attitude and sense of surrender, how can the idea of non-dualism lead him to devotion? Wherever Bhakti or devotion is described, emphasis has been laid on the essential ingredients of devotion such as the spirit of humility, a sense of service, a firm awareness of His overlordship and spirit of obedience to His laws, etc.
tmev zr[< gCD,
tameva þaraõaÕ gaccha -- XVIII-62,
mamek< zr[< ìj,
m˜mekaÕ þaraõaÕ vraja -- XVIII-66
("Surrender to Him alone." "Surrender yourself to preached the lesson of Me alone." Thus the Lord has preached the lesson of "surrender" to his devotees.)
Ah< Tva< svRpape_yae mae]iy:yaim,
ahaÕ tv˜Õ sarvap˜pebhyo mokÿayiÿy˜mi -- XVIII-66
(Surrender yourself completely to Me and I shall free you from all yours sins ... "I will look after you.")

When the Lord gives such an absolute assurance to the devotee one can easily see how dualism forms the very warp and woof of devotion. It is natural for anyone to love himself. But if he can love his country and fellow-men more than himself and if he can devote himself to their service, then he will be considered as above the ordinary. But the best and the noblest attitude is to love God more than oneself, sacrifice everything and surrender oneself completely at the feet of the Lord Almighty who is the creator and sustainer of the whole cosmos. Selfish love shown to one's own kith and kin cannot be called true devotion. Even when one loves God if one does so thinking God is nothing but one's own self then that love becomes narrow selfishness and can never be called devotion. It is natural for everyone to love himself but that is not devotion. Transcending the self, knowing that God is different from and infinitely superior to one's own self, and being emotionally aware of His greatness to the point of a trance of ecstasy and offer of love to Him, could be described as true adoration. Where is the room for non-dualism in such an attitude? Thus devotion and non-dualism are two mutually opposing concepts. Since we are to follow one of them only, we should take to the devotion advocated by the Gita based on the spirit of worship and surrender, and progress further in the spiritual path.

55. Devotion and self-growth:

Some more objections have been raised against the practice of bhakti. One is that the practice leads to an inferiority complex; the faith that God is the Lord and we are His humble servants will help only generate a sense of humiliation which leads to the debasement of the self. By this very bhakti-cult India has been subjected to slavery. As long as we have this feeling we can never expect our dignity and virtues to develop. If even after liberation we are going to be under the Lordship of God what happiness is there in such a subjection? The bhakti-cult, with its concomitant slavish mentality, is thus detrimental to the progress of both the individual and the state. This indeed is an absurd argument. Even Swami Vivekananda subscribed to this view. In his lectures he has stated that disgust for the bhakti-cult alone was responsible for the ushering in of Buddhism in India; it has been argued that the genesis of Buddhism lay in the belief that the nullification of self is preferable to a salvation which means slavery to God.

There is very little substance in such an argument. It is not that bhakti-cult is peculiar to the religions of India only. Even in Christianity and Islam a prominent place has been given to bhakti or devotion. History is full of facts to testify that the followers of these two religions by the vehemence of their faith, conquered vast peoples and ruled over them for hundreds of years. Hence it is not right to say that India had to suffer subjection as she held bhakti in high regard.

The Almighty God is full of infinite auspicious qualities. There is no difference between God and His attributes. It is not possible to differentiate the flame from its light, sugar from its sweetness. God is but a mine of good qualities. He is the ideal for all individual souls. Casting off our inert conditioning body and shining in the intrinsically virtuous self itself is our sole aim; this fruition itself is salvation. If we become a devotee of God and become his slave, it is as good as becoming a slave of His infinitely auspicious qualities. If we surrender ourselves to infinite goodness, where is the room for the degradation of our personality? There is a greater self-respect in becoming a slave of noble ideals and leading a disciplined life than in being a slave of selfishness, avarice and lust and leading a life of wanton wilfulness and ruining oneself. Does owing allegiance to the constitution of one's country and being bound by its laws and regulations ever become derogatory to the self-respect of any law-abiding citizen? Similarly being a devotee of God and obeying the laws laid down by Him for the ordered functioning of the Universe is not derogatory to the self-respect of any individual; on the other hand, he experiences a greater self-respect in this obedience.
dasae=h< kaesleNÔSy,
d˜so'haÕ kosalendrasya -- Ramayana
(Lord Rama -- I am the servant of Kosalendra.)

Hanuman has this excellence when he boasts of being a servant of Sri Ramachandra. A devotee wedded to high ideals does not fall a prey to temptations and is not led astray. The one who has an unbroken faith in the sole Lord and Ideal of the Universe, the very embodiment of precious virtues, alone is competent to express the latent virtues in Him. Thus, devotion is the chief instrument of self-expression and development of precious qualities; it stimulates a proper sense of duty by driving away the possible vicious impulses of the mind. For the welfare of the people and the orderly progress of the society God has laid down some laws and a devotee naturally obeys these laws in all sincerity. An ordinary person leads a disciplined and moral life and keeps himself away from sin out of fear of consequences in this world and also in the other; but a devotee leads an ideal life of absolute obedience by an unwavering love of God for its own sake and of his own accord.
k…vRÚeveh kmaRi[ ijjIiv;eCDt< sma>,
kurvanneveha karm˜õi jijŸviÿecchataÕ sam˜× -- Isopanishad 2
(One should live for a hundred years always performing one's duties and obligations only.)

If we believe that God is everywhere and that He is omnipotent, we cannot but lead a disciplined and moral life and we shall never indulge in any antisocial, immoral or ungodly activities. When our mind is steeped in the love of God, there will be no room for crooked and evil thoughts. Devotion will give us the indomitable strength and moral courage to overcome temptations and lead a dedicated, virtuous and disciplined life, and enables us to progress with enthusiasm in the path of self-evolution. Devotion is a veritable elixir in the battle of life. It alone can remove all the wounds and crookedness of our personality and make us upright and noble. If we spurn devotion it is like banging the great door leading to self-perfection. Devotion is the source of all noble deeds and we should ensure that such a source is not weakened.

It is with the help of this devotion that we can realise God who is of infinite auspicious qualities and who is of the essence of Truth, Consciousness and Bliss and bring out all the good qualities hidden in our personality. If we also should possess a personality as beautiful as that of God, we should serve God with intense devotion, faith and love and there is no other way. Even a piece of iron, buried in the earth for a long time, loses its hardness and takes up the properties of the earth. Similarly, if we bury ourselves in constant meditation on God's auspicious qualities we too can acquire a handsome self, mirroring the lovely form of God.
kIq> pezSk«taéÏ> k…fyeyaNtmnuSmrt!,
s<r<- -yyaegen iv<dte tTsêptam!.
kŸ÷a× peþask®t˜ruddha× kuýayey˜ntamanusmarat
saÕrambha bhayayogena vindate tatsar¨pat˜m
-- Bhagavata
How can devotion which enables us to rediscover our hidden divine and magnificent self and is the cause of our total fulness, could ever be responsible for our downfall? On the other hand, devotion is the great vehicle which takes us from pettiness to eternal magnificence.

56. In Hinduism there is only One Supreme God:

We have to consider what should be the focus of our devotion. In our religion there are thousands of gods. Which god are we to worship? That is the problem before the aspirants. Followers of other religions make fun of us. If there are thirty crores of Hindus, they have thirty-three crores of gods! Christians and Muslims have only one God each and when in difficulty they pray to their God and save themselves. But Hindus are bereft of this one-pointed faith. In times of difficulty hundreds of gods appear in their minds. They will be confused and they are at a loss to know which god to pray and which to reject and they cannot pray intensely and thus they cannot devote themselves one-pointedly. Since the Hindus believe in a multitude of gods, bereft of true faith, they cannot derive the right benefits from their prayers. This is one of the objections to Hinduism.

But if we critically examine the Vedas, Upanishads and Brahmasutras we find that there is no room for such a criticism. In Hinduism, even though there is a multiplicity of gods, there is only one Supreme God. In the Vedas and the Puranas it is mentioned in some places that Indra, Agni and Rudra are all supreme gods, but it must be interpreted that all these different names refer only to the one Supreme God. The Apaurusheya Vedas cannot be said to follow the usual eulogistic method of praising each god as supreme as it suits its opportunity. It accepts a multiplicity of gods who are subject to the sovereignty of one sole Lord. It accepts the God who is the swayer of all these gods and who is implied by the same words which describe them, who is sovereign and one without a second. The Vedas accept this idea of hierarchy of gods and the existence of the one and only Supreme God described by all these words, who is the Chief of all the other deities and who is the Lord of the whole universe.
-I;a=SmaÖat> pvte, -I;aedeit sUyR>,
bhŸÿ˜'sm˜dv˜ta× pavate | bhŸÿodeti s¨rya× | -- Taittiriyopanishad 2:8:1
(The wind blows out of fear for Him; the sun rises out of fear for Him.)

In the Upanishads it is stated that gods are subservient to this Supreme God and at the same time in some other places it is stated that the Supreme God is called as Indra, Agni and Shiva.
säüa sizv> seNÔ>
sabrahm˜ saþiva× sendra× -- Narayanopanishad
When we critically examine the scriptures, it is seen that Hinduism accepts only one Supreme God who is the Lord of the whole universe and there are a host of lesser gods, each entrusted with some limited tasks which they carry out under the overlordship of one Supreme God, and distinct from Him.
AmI ih Tva< surs'œ"a> ivziNt
keicÑIta> àaÁjilyaeg&[iNt,
amŸ hi tv˜Õ surasaðgh˜× viþanti
kecidbhŸt˜× pr˜ñjaliyog®õanti
-- XI-21
(The hosts of gods enter you; others praise you with folded hands with fearful reverence.)

In the Gita also it is stated that all the lesser gods pray to the Supreme God in great respect with folded hands.
vayuyRmae=i¶vRé[> zza»>
àjapitSTv< àiptamhZc,
v˜yuryamo'gnirvaruõa× þaþ˜ðka×
praj˜patistvaÕ prapit˜mahaþca
-- XI-39
Thus does the Gita state that the Supreme God is called by the name of Vayu, Yama, Agni, Varuna, Chandra etc. Hence there is no truth in the criticism that Hinduism is nothing but polytheism and that there is no scope for intense meditation and devotion in this religion.

57. Sri Krishna is the Supreme God:

If it is established that there is one Supreme God, who is He? How can we find Him among the multitude of gods described in the Vedas and Puranas? There is a possibility of confusion in identifying this Supreme Godhead. The Gita has clearly stated who that Supreme God is and solved our difficulties.
ANtvÄu )l< te;a< tÑvTyLpmexsam!,
devaNdevyjae yaiNt mÑKtayaiNt mamip.
antavattu phalaÕ teÿ˜Õ tadbhavatyalpamedhas˜m
dev˜ndevayajo y˜nti madbhakt˜y˜nti m˜mapi
-- VII-23
(By worshipping lesser gods you obtain perishable fruits. By worshipping Me you obtain permanent bliss.) So says Lord Krishna. From this, it is clear that Vishnu does not belong to the category of lesser gods and that He alone is capable of giving liberation to the aspiring souls and that He is the Supreme Lord of the whole universe. In the Gita, in many places, clear distinction is made between the worship of lesser gods and the worship of Lord Krishna and it is said that devotion to Lord Krishna alone leads to salvation and eternal bliss. From this it is clear that Sri Krishna or Sri Hari is the Supreme God. In the eleventh chapter of the Gita, it is said that Sri Krishna is Himself Vayu, Yama, Agni and Varuna and it is clear from this that these different names are nothing but the names of the Supreme God Himself. The Godhead who is the creator of the whole universe, who is full of auspicious qualities, who is free from all blemishes and who is independent is the Supreme God.

(The One who is replete with infinite virtuous qualities and free from blemishes Himself is called the Supreme Lord.)

Thus does Sri Madhvacharya describe God. There is one Supreme God and under His orders all the other gods carry out their respective, allotted duties. This Godhead permeates all objects in a similar and sentient form and is thus responsible for the inherent nature and behaviour of objects and it is because of this all names and forms are considered existing in the Supreme God Himself. We can contemplate God in whatever name and form we like provided we do not forget the basic principle that God is infinite and full of auspicious qualities. In Hinduism there is no room for confusion in the multiplicity of names and forms of the Supreme God as to who is the Lord of all gods, who pervades the whole universe and still stands beyond it; all names and forms are merged and He can be described by any name and in any form. Such an all-inclusive conception of the One Supreme God is found in Hinduism and by sincerely praying to such a God one should pursue his salvation.

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This page prepared by  Ramadas
Created March 02, 2000; last modified March 08, 2000