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73. The Worship of the 'Shree' (Lakshmi) Principle:
It has been clear from the exposition of bhaktiyoga so far that devotion to and service of God is the only way for salvation. Presiding over all the material objects of the universe is the Goddess Lakshmi who is the mother of all creatures and who is the consort of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. Can we obtain salvation by Her worship also? Both the Lord and His consort equally pervade the whole universe and both are eternally free. One is tempted to feel that worship of either should be conducive to salvation. Between the two one may feel, it is easier to please the Mother and obtain Her favours and grace than the Father of the universe. Hence one will be tempted to ask why we should not follow the easier path and obtain release by worshipping the Goddess Lakshmi alone. Arjuna also gets the same doubt in his mind and asks the Lord:
@v< sttyuKta ye -KtaSTva< pyuRpaste,
ye caPy]rmVyKt< te;a< ke yaegivÄma>.
evaÕ satata-yukt˜ ye bhakt˜s-tv˜Õ paryup˜sate
ye c˜py-akÿaram-avyaktaÕ teÿ˜Õ ke yoga-vittam˜× -- XII-1
(Who are the better yogis -- between those who devotedly worship You with meditation and those who worship Lakshmi, called akshara and who presides over the principle of 'Prakriti'?)
Even if you worship Lakshmi, you cannot obtain salvation without the grace of God. If you do not propitiate the Lord, even His consort will not be pleased. It may be easier to approach God through His consort but you cannot obtain salvation without His very grace. Instead of going through the indirect path that lies through Her, one should follow the direct path of worshipping the Lord, advises Sri Krishna:
kleþo'dhikataras-teÿ˜m avyakt˜sakta-cetasam-- XII-5
(Those whose minds are steeped in the Lakshmi principle experience a greater difficulty and affliction.)
The Lord and His consort are the Father and the Mother of
every creature in the universe and the easiest path is to endeavour to obtain
release from our mortal existence by worshipping Him, Lord of Lakshmi, with all
our devotion. In a sense, all of us are worshippers of Lakshmi, the Goddess of
Wealth. Forgetting God we have engaged ourselves in brooding over money alone.
But will His consort favour us in any way if we forget God and are engrossed in
thoughts of wealth? Naturally She too will keep away from us, since we have left
iv:[una sihta Xyata saihtuiòpra<ìjet!,
viÿõun˜ sahit˜ dhy˜t˜ s˜hituÿ÷ipar˜Õvrajet -- Gita Tatparya
(She will be supremely pleased only when She is worshipped along with Vishnu).
She is absolutely pleased only if the Lord is worshipped. If we forget God and worship riches only throughout our life, then we will lose both God and wealth. Thus the purport of this section is that the supreme means of salvation is the worship of Lakshminarayana rather than Lakshmi alone.
74. Is the Unmanifest (AVyKt)
Some people confuse the issue by bringing in the conception of Saguna and Nirguna Brahma. They define the Brahma possessed of knowledge, power and activity as Saguna Brahma and the indivisible spirit devoid of all these qualities as the Nirguna Brahma. Since the worship of Nirguna Brahma, though the most excellent, is the most difficult, Krishna preaches, in the Gita, the easy path of worshipping Saguna Brahma, they say. It is not proper to bifurcate the Supreme Brahma into the Nirguna and the Saguna, calling the one as the ultimately Real and the other, fictitious. Nowhere do the Upanishads divide Him in this manner. There is only one Brahman and He is both Saguna and Nirguna. The Lord who is free from the three gross gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and who is full knowledge, bliss and energy Himself is called both Nirguna and Saguna. He is Saguna so far as He possesses the supra natural qualities and is Nirguna in so far as He is devoid of the gross ones.
@kae dev> svR-Ute;u gUF>
sa]I ceta kevlae inguR[í.
eko deva× sarvabh¨teÿu g¨ýha×
s˜kÿŸ cet˜ kevalo nirguõaþca -- Svetasvataropanishad 6-11
(The one Lord is immanent in all beings. He permeates everything, indwelling and controlling all from within. He presides over all the actions, lives in all the worlds. He is the supreme witness, the spirit, the unmixed and free from the gross qualities.)
The Upanishad calls the Saguna Brahma who is omnipresent, omnipotent and who permeates the whole Himself as Nirguna Brahma. When such is the evidence, it would be nothing but a travesty of truth to fragment Him into two different entities like Saguna and Nirguna and treat as illusory the Saguna Brahma who is the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the Universe and Omniscient and Omnipotent.
When Arjuna asks Sri Krishna as to who is superior, the
worshipper of the Unmanifest Prakriti or God Himself, Sri Krishna says clearly:
mYyaveZy mnae ye ma< inTyyuKta %paste,
ïÏya pryaepetaSte me yuKttma mta>.
mayy-˜veþya mano ye m˜Õ nitya-yukt˜ up˜sate
þraddhay˜ parayopet˜s-te me yuktatam˜ mat˜× -- XII-2
(I consider those as the greatest yogis who worship Me with their mind perpetually steeped in Me and who are possessed of the supreme faith.)
Sri Krishna replies that those who worship Him are better
than those that worship the unmanifest. How could the words of Krishna that the
worshippers of His Saguna Self are the greatest yogis, have any consistency if
Nirguna Brahma alone was the ultimate Reality? It is known to all that Sri
Krishna is not a Nirguna principle but is full of auspicious qualities,
omniscient and the Purushottama.
ye Tv]armindeRZymVyKt< pyuRpaste,
ye tv-akÿ˜ram-anirdeþyam-avyaktaÕ paryup˜sate -- XII-3
te àaPnuviNtmamev svR-Utihterta>.
te pr˜pnuvanti-m˜m-eva sarva-bh¨ta-hite-rat˜× -- XII-4
From the above the statement that the worshippers of the unmanifest also reach Him it is impossible to equate the worship of the Unmanifest with the Nirguna Brahma. How could the worshippers of Nirguna Brahma attain Sri Krishna who is Saguna Brahma? Advaita philosophy does not accept the attainment of Saguna as the consummation of the worship of Nirguna Brahma; the one who pursues the Nirguna path, attains Brahma Himself. Thus when we examine the fruit of the worship of the Unmanifest and see the superior place given to the worship of the Lord as Manifest as against the pursuit of the Unmanifest, it is clear that what is referred to in this context is not the Saguna and Nirguna aspects of the Supreme Lord but the worship of Sri Lakshmi and the Lord Himself.
75. Worship of Saguna Brahma is acceptable to all:
There is one more point to be borne in mind by all. Some
people may think of Nirguna Brahma as the Supreme Reality, the undivided spirit
which is beyond the Saguna. Whatever may be the truth, these people themselves
concede that final redemption can be obtained by the worship of the Saguna
Brahma and that such a worship is the easiest path for salvation.
n c punravtRte, n c punravtRte
na ca punar˜vartate, na ca punar˜vartate
(And he does not return and verily does not return (to the world of birth and death) once he attains salvation.)
Even Sri Sankaracharya has accepted in his commentary on the
AaE< Anav&iÄzzBdat! , Anav&iÄzzBdat! AaE<
aum an˜v®ttiþaþabd˜t, an˜v®ttiþaþabd˜t auÕ
referred to above that by worshipping the Saguna Brahma it is possible to attain the release from which there is no return.
(From His will alone are both bondage and release.)
Once again, while commenting on the above Brahma Sutra, Sankaracharya has glossed that the release from the ancient bondage is possible only through the grace of God who is omniscient and omnipotent. When it is clear that the final consummation of life can be obtained by the devoted worship of Saguna Brahma and there is absolutely no danger in following this path, why should we then give up the indisputably royal path, free from confusion and harm, and tread the other highly disputed path of the soul-self identity and the Nirguna Brahma? Instead of creating confusion among the simple men by raising the disputed ideas in their minds, it is very much proper to lead them on the broad royal road of the universally accepted worship of the Saguna Brahma.
76. Stages on the Path of Meditation:
It is not possible for ordinary people to undertake sustained
meditation upon God with intense devotion for self-realisation and the
attainment of ultimate release. Even if we are unable to undertake unbroken
devotion, since we lack the necessary devotion, moral strength, spirit of
renunciation and non-attachment, we should at least make an eager attempt at
practicing these. We may see only smoke and no fire in a burning firewood. It is
only the dry wick dipped in ghee that can burn. Soaked in worldly pleasures, our
heart is full of the smoke of desires and attachments and there is no room for
the spark of knowledge. Only in a heart purified by penance and good deeds and
bathed in the ghee of devotion, the flame of knowledge can glow. Hence we should
make an immediate and incessant endeavour to cultivate and increase
non-attachment to worldly pleasures and devotion to God.
Aw icÄ< smxatu< n zKnaei; miy iSwrm!,
A_yasyaegen ttae maimCDaPtu< xn<jy.
atha cittaÕ samadh˜tuÕ na þaknoÿi mayi sthiram
abhy˜sa-yogena tato m˜m-icch˜ptuÕ dhanañjaya -- XII-9
A_yase=PysmwaeR=is mTkmRprmae -v,
abhy˜se'py-asamartho'si mat-karma-paramo bhava -- XII-10
(Arjuna, if you are not able to repose your mind fully in Me try to know Me by means of steady application; if application is not possible, perform actions for My sake (in dedication.)
If we have not yet attained mental tranquillity to undertake such an exercise, we should at least have attained the readiness to perform actions without hoping for its rewards and with the sole purpose of pleasing God. Such action increases our soul force and prepares us to undertake the more difficult exercise of contemplation on God. If even this is not possible, at least while engaged in our day-to-day activities steeped in manifold desires, we must think of God again and again and cultivate the spirit of dedication to God. Even if we do not succeed in keeping the spirit of detachment and dedication to God throughout the tenure of our action, we may at least think of God in between and if there is room for such intermittent light a deeper darkness will not envelope our life. Even if it is not possible to see the omnipresence of God in all that we do, why should we not make even these tiny attempts at establishing our relationship with God? Thus the Gita has revealed to us the means of divine realisation at different levels and within our reach. Thus, establishing communion with God, performing action in a detached spirit, intense effort at meditation upon God, unbroken contemplation upon God, are the four stages preached in the Gita; we should climb them step by step and try to elevate ourselves spiritually.
77. Desireless Devotion:
There are two kinds of devotion, one is desire-prompted and another desireless. The routine and the special rituals may be performed both ways, with or without desire for reward. There are people who do penance for attaining some goal, Dhruva for example. There are other people who do penance for its own sake just to please God and without expecting any reward. This is the highest type of penance. Those that usually perform action without any hope of reward are the people who will succeed in this perfect penance and achieve their consummation by pleasing God with pure meditation.
There is a story of a sage who worshipped a goddess for a number of years. The goddess appeared before him and offered to grant him any boon he desired, be it the joys of the entire earth or even of the heaven. The saint refused saying: "Oh Goddess, I want neither the pleasures of the heaven nor of the earth. Kindly give me Your grace so that I may continue in my penance in this very body without any hindrance." By the grace of the goddess his penance continued uninterruptedly. Once the Ikshvaku king happened to pass that way. He saw the sage in penance and implored him to accept some gift from him. The saint said that he did not accept anything even from God and what could he ever get by asking an ordinary king. On the contrary, he asked the king to accept something from him. Being a Kshatriya he hesitated to ask anything from a Brahmin but he finally asked for the entire merit earned him by his penance. What an awful request! What an unimaginable thing it is to give away the fruit of the strife of a whole lifetime! The saint wavered for a moment and offered to give half of it. The king was thunderstruck by his magnificent generosity and utter selflessness. The king hesitated to accept it and asked the sage what the extent of that merit was. To this the sage replied: "Oh king! you asked me for the whole fruit of my penance and I have given. I know neither its nature nor its extent. I did this penance without any hope of reward and hence how can I tell you the worth of that fruit?" The king then said: "Oh sage! without knowing its nature and its value, how can I accept it?" So he refused the offer. The sage insisted that a king should stick to his word and not go back from it. To settle this dispute the gods themselves gathered there in large numbers. This story is beautifully narrated in 'Japakopakhyana' of the Mahabharata. This is the highest example of Desireless Devotion. The sage performed severe penance for a lifetime and he did not know how much merit he had accumulated; the sage's detachment is amazing as he did not hesitate to part with it. After practising desireless action, every aspirant should strive to reach this stage of desireless devotion.
78. Character Development in the Aspirant:
Along with the performance of desireless action, renunciation and practice of meditation, every aspirant should also strive towards the development of his virtues. This is essential for God-realisation. The aspirant souls, fit for salvation, are indeed intrinsically virtuous. The unfoldment of the intrinsic virtuousness and beauty of the soul itself is salvation according to the scriptures. All our activities in this world should thus either help in the unveiling of the true virtuousness of the soul or be conducive to it. Truth, knowledge, compassion, sacrifice are the natural qualities of the soul and if in our lives, we indulge in activities contrary to these, our souls would be still more enveloped in deeper ignorance. Untruth, violence, cruelty and deceit are the dire enemies of the good soul. If we encourage such evil forces in our lives, we would be suppressing the virtues of the soul and aggravating the conditions of ignorance and grossness.
If the evil inclinations start abounding we would be losing
the very capacity for meditating upon and realising God who is the soul of
infinite goodness. If all our daily activities are corrupted by vice and
misbehaviour how would we ever be worthy of salvation which is nothing but the
attainment of likeness with God who is the infinite soul of virtue? Thus we
should not give any scope for the forces which are utterly inimical to the
proper and intrinsic nature of our soul and the precious qualities of God who is
our final consummation. If we do, we would be creating a tragic situation of
remaining farther from God and impediments to God-realisation. Therefore our
conduct and character in this life should be exemplary if we want to realise God
and shine with the intrinsic glory of our own soul's identity. All our dealings
should be honest. The principles which an aspirant should inculcate in his
day-to-day life are enumerated in the slokas like the following at the end of
the twelfth chapter of the Gita.
AÖeòa svR-Utana< mEÇ> ké[ @v c,
adveÿ÷˜ sarva-bh¨t˜n˜Õ maitra× karuõa eva ca -- XII-13
(Non-enmity for all creatures, friendship in need and compassion ...)
Non-hatred, friendship, compassion, freedom from egoism and
pride of possession, patience, contentedness are some of the qualities which we
should try to inculcate in ourselves. The Lord declares that such a devotee is
the dearest to Him. Such a person is never inflamed by any activity of the world
and carries out his duties without any fear. Nor does he excite others with
fear, harm or disturbance. Being bold himself he infuses confidence in others
and thus creates an atmosphere of ease. He keeps himself away from all selfish
activities which are not pleasing to God. He looks on pain and pleasure alike.
He welcomes pain as much as pleasure. He is eager to burn with pain as an
atonement for his sins. With eagerness he welcomes pain as a purifier of his
soul and even creates such occasions of painfulness. Similarly a devotee looks
at pleasure also disinterestedly. Pleasure is as painful to him as misery! For a
bit of pleasure, how much humiliation does one suffer! A devotee attaches the
same value to both sense-pleasures and worldly sorrows. He spurns both of them.
He is not moved either by praise or slander. This unaffectedness is an
extraordinary virtue. There are very few good people who are not affected by
praise or slander. Even saints and selfless servants of society unfortunately
fall a prey to praise. When others praise their sense of sacrifice and service
to others, even the faces of saints cheer up. But for a devotee who has carried
on his work as a part of his sacred duty and as a service to God, both praise
and calumny are the same. If every aspirant should try to cultivate these noble
and everlasting qualities, there is no delay in attaining the spiritual
ye tu xMyaRm&timd< ywaeKt< pyuRpaste,
ye tu dharmy˜m®tam-idaÕ yathoktaÕ paryup˜sate -- XII-20
(Those who take to performing these means which are instruments of dharma and salvation.)
These qualities are profoundly religious and immortal.