The Heart and Soul of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: The Approach to God

Often it appears that the world is totally different from us and we bear no relation to it. For instance, if someone is felling a tree in a forest, we do not feel that anything is happening to us at all. If someone dies somewhere, we do not feel any effect of the demise of someone far away. Many events take place in the world, but we are unaffected by those things. All this observation may make us feel that we are totally independent individuals because the world was there even before we were born and it will be there even if we leave it. These observations may make us conclude that the world is totally independent of us. But, if we go deeper into the circumstance of life, we will also observe that we are dependent on the world. We are not as independent as we may assume. Our very existence in the world is totally determined by the operation of nature.

We are determined by the society around us and we cannot disassociate ourselves from society. We cannot live alone, literally, disconnected from human society; social cooperation is necessary for our survival. Apart from this fact, there is a more important issue which makes it obvious that we cannot live in the world without cooperating with nature. We breathe the air that is outside us, and we breathe it in such a way that it appears to be part and parcel of our very existence itself. So is the case with other things like water, air, sunlight and food, which are not manufactured by us from within our body. That there is an organic relationship between ourselves and the world is very clear on a deeper analysis of the situation. This is another side of it. The third truth that will come out from a further, deeper analysis is that the world and ourselves are not merely interdependent; we are just one only. The world is existing in us, and it is the world that is operating through our so-called individualities. There is no totally independent existence of anything. It is the world that exists, and we are just it. These three points of view, all of which are absolutely correct in their own way, have given rise to three schools of philosophy known popularly as Dvaita, or dualism, Visishtadvaita, a qualified monism, and Advaita, absolute monism.

The approach to God, which is the principle aim of life, has to take into consideration these three facets which we have to encounter in our daily life, whether it is personal, social, or, carried further, universal. We live in a dualistic world; we also live in a cooperative world, an organically connected world, and finally a time comes, on the deepest analysis of things, that there is only one surviving Being. It is not qualified by anything else, because anything else does not exist. The world is, and it need not be qualified by something outside the world. Even society is a part of this creation. One Being alone is.

These three aspects are highlighted in our operations every day, whether we are able to pay sufficient attention to it or not. Because of this threefold impact that the world seems to be having upon us, we have different moods in life. We do not think in the same way always. There is the dualistic emphasis which makes us feel that we are, out and out, centralised individuals with no concern whatsoever with the world in any way; and often we feel that there is a vital relationship. These days there is special emphasis laid on the preservation of nature. Ecological considerations are now coming to the surface of man's awareness – how even the trees in the forest, the plant kingdom – has a vital connection with our own selves, apart from animals and human beings. Though these facets of our life operate every day, we generally, with a blinkered view of things, look at the world only in one way at a time and shift our point of view according to our convenience. We are not always philosophical in our life. Nobody thinks philosophically in practical day-to-day life, though one has to accept that it is necessary to think philosophically because to think philosophically is to introduce the element of Ultimate Reality into our existence – without which, or ignoring which, life would wither into shreds of lifeless pieces.

We love the world. We want to preserve creation. We wish that humanity should survive. But, at the same time, we become careless about the events that take place in the world, and we mind our own business. When things come to brass tacks, we mind our own business; let the world go to hell. But that it cannot go to hell so easily is not acquiesced due to the ego, the central nucleus of our personality, asserting itself vehemently in terms of this bodily existence. The body is everything. It can survive by itself. What we need is physical comfort and biological security, mental peace in an individualistic sense, though often, with tongue in cheek, as it were, we accept that other people should also survive and they should be as happy as ourselves. But this is not taken seriously when matters come to a crisis; then we feel that we are more important than other people. Each person feels, "I am more important than others. I have to survive, even if another may not survive!"

These issues that I am presenting before you have relevance to the subject that we are discussing, namely, our attitude to God. We cannot jump on God suddenly, like a fruit falling from a tree. We have to pass through various stages of experience, even suffering and unexpected thunderbolts of experience, because of our variegated relationship with the degrees of reality manifest in creation. It is not that we just think God and He comes. It is not so easy a matter, because we cannot think God unless we know our relationship to God. We have a difficulty in knowing even our relationship to the world – to people outside and the trees and plants – so how will we know our relationship to higher realities?

Considering these aspects of spiritual practice, seers have taught us that there are three ways of looking at things, looking at reality itself. One aspect is that the world is perpetually active. We are also continuously active. Every cell in our body is active. Every atom is vibrating, and no atom can be quiet. Due to the impetus of cosmic activity continuously taking place, directed towards some destination which one cannot easily decipher, we are compelled to act. You act in this world not because you are pleased with the work that you are doing; you have to work because of the impulse that is planted in you by the very structure of the universe that is part and parcel of your existence. Is it very pleasant to work – to do hard work in the world? You would like to have more and more holidays from the necessity to work. Why do you want holidays? Because work is not pleasant. You want recreation and want to be yourself, and not to be identified with work. Yet the compulsion from nature demanding you to cooperate with it in its purpose of the evolutionary process requires that you have to work in a dexterous manner. This dexterous working is called karma yoga: yoga karma sukoshalam. It is not enough if you merely work; you should work dexterously. Adroit and very wise should be your movements. What is wisdom in action? It is buddhi yoga, on which the karma is to be supported, as the Bhagavadgita puts it. You have to work with understanding. Dexterous, wise action based on understanding, which is called karma yoga, is a cooperation on your part in the work of nature rather than an independent working for your own personal benefit. There is no such thing as personal benefit; this has to be understood first of all. There is no personal benefit accruing to any organ of your body; the benefit goes to the entire organism which is the personality. There is no personal benefit, so-called, because all benefit that may accrue to you is a consequence of the cooperation of multifarious forces of nature. You must know that you cannot even breathe unless the whole world operates through you and cooperates with you in many ways. You cannot lift a finger if the organism is not in harmony with the forces of nature.

Knowing this fact that you are part and parcel of the evolutionary process of creation, while you feel compelled to act, do not act as if you are doing it, because nature abhors 'you' and 'I' issues. There is no 'I' in nature, no 'you' in nature, no 'it' and 'this' and 'that'. These are all concoctions for our human convenience. It is just what it is. Can you imagine how difficult it is to do a wise work in this world, with no reaction following? Do you know that every action produces a reaction? What is reaction? It is the Bhagavadgita's doctrine that it is possible to act without producing reactions. You must know this. You must have read the Bhagavadgita several times, but I do not know how far you have understood the secret of this non-reactionary action.

Usually, every karma produces a result. Why should it produce a result? The result is nothing but a kick struck upon you by nature outside when you are not in harmony with it. When nature reacts against you, it pulls your ears, pinches you and makes you feel a certain pain and, like a good schoolteacher, punishes you, as it were, when you are not a good student in the school of life. The whole of the Bhagavadgita is the wondrous gospel of cooperative activity in terms of the participation required on your part in the universal evolutionary process. You have to work. Nobody can sit quiet without work, but that work is not meant for your benefit, because you cannot stand outside nature. The bodily insistence on its importance, from which even a saint cannot be free, requires that some work is necessary in this world. But work is not everything. Why do you work? Because nature compels you, as you say. But why does nature compel you? Because it has a purpose. What is the purpose?

Now comes the next step of understanding in your spiritual career. It is correct – accepted – that nature propels us to act. But why does it do that? Is it crazy, or has it any understanding? Nature is very wise. It is all eyes, all ears, and all mind, knowing everything in every way. It is moving in one direction. The movement of the cosmic process in that given direction, which you cannot understand, is the next step in the way of living a spiritual life. It is accepted that you have to work; but, you cannot work purposelessly. You may have a selfish purpose such as earning a salary, maintaining a family, becoming a wealthy person. This is a foolish idea of the purpose of action. The purpose is to satisfy nature – to be one with it, and to move with it for the fulfilment of a purpose which is its purpose, and not yours. Where does nature take you? It takes you to the Self-realisation of itself. All evolution is a process of the Self-realisation of the universe. It is moving towards God. This movement towards God is an ardent feeling present, as it were, in the whole of nature. Nature – the world – loves God, as it were, and it is rushing towards it.

Aristotle told us that the pull that God exerts over the world is like the lover pulling the heart of the beloved. The lover-beloved relationship seems to be between God and the world. Restlessly the movement of nature takes place, as a lover would restlessly work, sleeplessly be active and never keep quiet until his purpose is fulfilled. What is this impetus to move towards the fulfilment of the purpose of life? It is an action of the soul taking place for the realisation of its own higher dimension – God. What is God? Where is God, actually speaking? Can you imagine? It is the highest dimension of your own self. You are asking for your own higher nature – the higher Self being sought by the lower self. As Bhagavan Sri Krishna mentions to us in the sixth chapter of the Gita, the Atman is being pulled by the Atman. The higher Self is the beloved. The lower self is the lover. He is restless. Why should you not be restless when your real nature is calling you: "Come on! I am here!" And you are here, wretched, creeping on the surface of the earth as a lower nature. If your own higher nature calls you, will you keep quiet without responding to it? You are calling your Self. This is love. It takes a dualistic form as two persons – two things. At one stage it takes an organic relationship, and at another stage, finally, it takes one unitary face, indescribable in its nature.

There are feelings described in the Bhakti Shastras, scriptures on devotion to God. Devotion is a kind of feeling – not an ordinary psychological operation in a reckless manner, in a careless way, but a deep root of your personality surging forth to reach up to its own state of perfection. These feelings, in regard to the higher Being, or call it your higher Self, or God Almighty – these feelings are called bhavas, emotional attitudes. Do you love anything in this world? I have touched upon this subject a little before. There is no one who cannot love. You love a tinsel, a corpse or something worthless, or you love something better – but, nevertheless, you love something. At least, you love yourself.

The bhavas, or the feelings generated by the operation of love, are multifold. Whom do you love in this world? Think over this matter. You must be a little wise, and not be simply a work addict, only doing things but not feeling anything. You have love for your father, is it not? You have love for your mother. You love also a good boss in your office who is a perfect gentleman. You like him. "Here is a wonderful man." Like the headmaster of Rugby in Tom Brown's Schooldays – a perfect schoolmaster. The students like him. They love him; they adore him. They offer presents to him; they observe his birthday, and so on. You love your father and mother. You love your boss, your master. You love even a good servant who serves you. There was a judge in the High Court of Allahabad who had a servant from Bihar. This servant served the judge so affectionately, considering him as more than his father, that even after the judge retired, the servant clung to him. "Master, whether or not you are a judge, it does not matter. I love you. I will serve you till death." I have seen the judge when he came here, and the servant also. The servant clung and served this judge until he died. That is the love of the master. Sometimes we are given the analogy of Hanuman loving Rama – love of the master. You love your child. You know how intensely you love your child. If the child is not visible for some time, especially if you have only one, you experience how intensely you love your child. The wife loves the husband and the husband loves the wife. In what way do they love? There are cadences – differences – in the intensity of affection. The love for the father is one kind of love. It cannot be identified with the love for the child.

There is a limitation in certain forms of love, and there is no limitation in certain others. Love is an action of the soul; it is not a mental activity. To the extent the soul operates, to that extent your love is unselfish and genuine. Often commercial love may take hold of us and we may find ourselves in a tragedy later on when the business fails. It is impossible not to love your father. It is impossible not to love your mother. It is impossible not to love your superior. It is impossible not to love your child. It is impossible for the husband and the wife not to love each other. But these loves, in the mortal world, have limitations. If the father dies, you weep. If the mother goes, you feel even worse. If the child is dead, you do not know what to do. So is the case with all other things. Tragedy follows from mortal affection. In order that this affection may become immortal, you are supposed to divert it to a form of sublimation to God Himself.

You do not know where God is – maybe, accepted. But you can imagine that God is your father, and love Him in the same way as you love your father. This is called shanta bhakti, shanta bhava – the perfected, philosophical love, which you have towards your father. Even in your love for your father and your mother, there is a difference. You do not love your father in the same way as you love your mother. You know what it is; I need not explain it. Though both of them are objects of your affection, there is some difference. There is a difference in all these affections. Because of the fact that loves end in travesty, tragedy, bereavement and sorrow, teachers of the bhakti marga – love of God – have pointed out ways and means by which we can turn our affection to God. You can love the Almighty God as much as you love your father. He is really your father; it is not merely an imagination. Mata dhata pitamahah (B.G. 9.17): "I am your grandfather; I am your father; I am your mother," says the Almighty Lord, as we have it in the Bhagavadgita.

The scriptures point out that you can move along these bhavas in a graduated way or you can take them all together, at the same time, if you are an adept in the path. Sometimes it is also possible to choose one aspect of the bhava, and not all of them together. Consider. You love so many things – father, mother, child, wife, husband, and so on. Among all these things, which one attracts you most? Think over this matter. It is not that you love all of them in equal measure. You will not be able to decide this issue so suddenly, so quickly. You will make a mess in thinking. If you are unselfish in the analysis of your personality, you will know there is something which takes you above yourself. The nearness of the object of love to yourself is the test of your intensity of affection. Is your father closer to you, or is your mother closer? Who is closer? Decide for yourself. Is the spouse dearer, or is the child is dearer? Is your office superior a better object of affection, or is your spouse a better object of affection? Think over this matter. Do not make a mess of your analysis. Be careful in this matter.

We pass through all these experiences in our life. No one is free from them. Every one of us has these bhavas, these feelings of affection, every day. Often they are smothered by certain pressing activities which are of a personal nature. We have to go by the injunctions of the great masters who lived intense spiritual lives. It is better to follow the path of these great men than try to understand things by ourselves. Follow the path of the great men. Maha-jano yena gatah sa panthah (C.C. 17.186): Which is the way? The way that was trodden by the great masters of yore, that is the way. You cannot independently judge yourself. You do not know which you love more, which you love less. You make a jumble of all things every day, and you are unhappy from moment to moment because of the impossibility to judge what you want, finally. You like your spouse, you like your boss, you like money, you want wealth, you want prestige, and whatnot. You do not know what you want, finally. You want everything. Is it true, or is there something more?

The transmutation of human affection into spiritual affection, which is called devotion, is a great art of psychological operation. This psychology of the human being is what is called the work of the antahkarana, or sometimes known as chitta, the root of our psychic activity. In the language of yoga teachers like Patanjali, the root of our psyche is called chitta. But in other cases we classify the functions of the antahkarana, the inner organ, into four facets: the thinking, the self-asserting, the understanding and the memorising activities. But there is a root of these fourfold activities. The root has to be taken into consideration and get transmuted completely. It is not sufficient if you merely think of God, or remember God in a psychological fashion, or accept that God exists. Your root has to accept that it is so. When you love anything, it is the root that loves. It is not the ego that loves, not the memory that loves, not mere logical understanding that loves. There is a root in you which comes up to the surface of action and wells up in great intensity. Very rarely can people bring this principle of affection and love to the surface of their activity.

Wholly we cannot love anything. Partially we love. Our love is finite. Devotion to God is an entirely complete form of affection, outside which nothing can be. It is all-in-all! You may feel sometimes, "My child is all-in-all; I may die for the child." Your father is all-in-all. Your mother is all-in-all. "My wife is all-in-all." "My husband is all-in-all." You may say that, but they are not really all-in-all if you go deep into the matter. There is a condition put on this affection. These affections are limited by certain circumstances. The father loves the son – accepted. The son loves the father. But they are conditioned by certain circumstances. The son would expect the father to behave in a particular manner. The father would expect the son to behave in a particular manner. Otherwise, there is a great rift between father and son. The father asserts independence. "You quit this place!" he tells the son. And the son does the same thing to the father when there is no collaboration of feeling and attitude between them. You may say the love of husband and wife is very intense, but even that is conditional. There is a reciprocation, a give-and-take policy even in the husband-and-wife relationship. It is not true that they love each other one hundred percent, because if the condition necessary for that love is broken, see what happens.

This should not happen in the case of love of God. Inasmuch as in all objects of love in this world there is a limitation imposed upon these objects, they are not complete in themselves. God is complete Being. We may define God in this manner. Whatever complete Being is, that is God. Complete Being means a Being that has nothing outside itself, because if there is something outside, then the Being becomes finite and it is not complete Being. You have to adjust your consciousness with dexterity to place before your vision the presence of such a complete Being, and then move towards it. The bhavas, or the feelings of love to which I made reference, are categorised in five or six ways, as I mentioned, but some are more intense than others, as you yourself may feel.

In mortal affection – human love of persons and things in the world – there is an expectation from the object of love. Unexpected, total affection is not seen in this world. When I love you, I expect you to love me also in some way. It is not that I unilaterally love you, whatever be your behaviour. That is not seen. If there is a give-and-take commercial policy in affection, naturally it ends in tragedy, bereavement. Can you love anything unconditionally – let that do anything, let it be anything, in whatever way? Have you seen such affection in this world? No. The partners in affection can separate on the littlest of suspicions and doubts arisen between themselves in their relationship. This can happen everywhere – in the office, in the family, and in every way of your life. Bereavement is the necessary consequence of worldly love. But, love being an essential ingredient in one's nature, it cannot be set aside. Though it does not work well in this world, it has to work somehow, as in the case of your activities in the world. Though every action has a defect, you have to act somehow by freeing it from the limitations that may be imposed upon it.

Though every love in the world is defective, it has to be there somehow. You cannot exist without it. In a morbid form of affection which finds that everything that is its object of affection is lost, it turns itself upon itself and becomes narcissistic love. You love your own self, afterwards. You become a maniac of self-love – a megalomaniac, sometimes.

It is a great art to turn the affections of human circumstance to God. I mentioned to you to choose one form of your affection which will be turned towards God. "Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come…." is one form of prayer. Usually religions consider God as a father, for whatever reason. Sometimes God is considered as a mother also, especially in Indian circles. God as mother, God as father. Sometimes God is treated as a brother-companion-friend, as in the case of Arjuna who had the companionship of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, whom he knew as divine and yet he was a colleague and a friend – an equal, as it were. How will you turn your love to God?

All aspects of love should come together into a focus of single attention in the case of love of God. When such a thing becomes difficult at the outset, people take to one side of affection and become devotees of God in terms of ordinary worldly relations, chosen one by one, or all together, or only one at a time. Bhisma of the Mahabharata is said to have had the attitude of a son of the Supreme Father in respect of God. He was a philosopher, so he philosophically conceived the Supreme Being as his original Source, the Parent of all things. Hanuman is reputed for his dasa bhakti, love manifested in a servant towards his master. Mother Yashoda, renowned in history as the mother of Sri Krishna, was fond of Sri Krishna as a baby. Prahlada also considered God a parent and accorded him such affection. Arjuna's love is an example of the love of companionship – friend to friend. In the case of the gopis of Brindavan, it was an apex of affection. Affection becomes complete and it reaches its climax when the lover loses his self-consciousness. As long as you are existing as a lover, your ego is also preponderating at the same time. In an intense form of love, the lover loses consciousness of oneself and merges into the consciousness of that which is loved. The lover becomes the beloved. The gopis had this experience. They hugged a tree, embraced a dry stick, kissed a leaf. They could visualise their beloved in all these things when they found that they could not actually, physically, see their beloved.

Sri Rama had that experience, as we have it in the Valmiki Ramayana, especially when he lost Sita. He cried, wept and ran hither and thither asking, "Where is my beloved?" – asking the trees, asking the twigs, asking the leaves, asking the animals, "Have you seen my wife?" It was Rama's experience in the wilderness; so was also the gopis'. This is madhurya bhava – love which is sweet in its nature, which is apart from the logical love of the master and servant, the love of friend and friend, etc. They become, in this form of ecstasy of sweetness of love, commensurate with all creation, practically. They become sahaja, as it is called in Vaishnava theology. Sahaja marga is a form of devotion to God where you become equal to the object of love. We do not actually become the lover of the object; we ourselves assume the role of the object of affection, so that we do not know whether the two mingle as two distinct things, or one looks like two things. We do not know, in the sahaja avastha, whether it is the beloved loving the lover or the lover loving the beloved. If water in two tanks is on par on the surface level, we do not know which water moves to which tank. There is a pair of companion-tanks in Brindavan called Radha-kund and Krishna-kund. There are two tanks; I have seen them. It appears that no water moves from one tank to the other. One cannot make out from which tank to which tank the water is moving. There is a little passage of movement of water from one tank to the other.

Likewise is this devotion in its heightened form of madhurya bhava. Who loves whom? You cannot find out. When this madhurya bhava is taken to the apex of perfection, is God loving you, or are you loving God? Can you understand what it is when God loves you? When you love God, it is called bhakti. When God loves you, what is it called? There have been great masters who compelled God to love them. That is a greater devotion than your loving God.

As a diversion from the main subject, here is a story, for your information. There was a sadhu who was known to be a person capable of conversing with God daily. He would talk to God at night. People knew that he was capable of conversing with God every day. A lady from the vicinity used to come daily to this sadhu, prostrate herself before him and put a mud pot of kheer before him, then leave without uttering a word. This went on for about one year or so. The sadhu did not utter a word as to why this kheer was coming. The lady also did not say anything. When a year passed, the sadhu asked, "Mataji, why do you come every day with a pot of kheer for me? What is the matter?"

The lady cried out, "I did not want to say anything; I thought you knew because you talk to God. I have no child, though I got married twenty years ago. I wish to be blessed with a child. Please ask God tonight, in your conversation, whether or not I can have a child."

"I will talk to God tonight and tell you tomorrow," replied the sadhu.

The next morning, the lady came. "Maharaj, what is the order of the Almighty God?"

"I have talked to God. He said you cannot have a child," replied the sadhu.

"Wretched is my life!" she exclaimed.

She ran along the bank of a river, intending to commit suicide by jumping into the water. Along the way she found another sadhu, looking like a crazy man with billowed hair. He saw this lady running in distress and asked, "Mother, Mataji! Where are you going? What is the matter?"

She said, "I have had no time to talk. I am going to end my life!"

"End your life? Why? What is the matter that you are ending your life? Tell me," the sadhu said.

"I don't want to say anything. God has refused my wish," she replied.

"God has not refused your wish. It cannot be possible. God does not refuse the wish of anybody. Tell me what the matter is," insisted the sadhu.

"I wanted a child. God has denied me," said the lady.

"Oh, that's all – simple matter. You will have. . . . How many children do you want?" asked the sadhu.

"One," she replied.

"One? You shall have two," he said.

Though God has denied everything, the psychology of the human being is very peculiar. One good word from a person satisfies; it cools the heart. When the sadhu said "You will have two," the lady withdrew her intention to end her life and went back and wept in the house.

It so happened, after a long time, the lady had one child, and after that she had another child. A year after having two children, she took the two children to the very same sadhu who said that God had denied her a child. She went to the same sadhu who used to talk to God, and prostrated herself before the Mahatma with her little children. He recognised the lady.

"Who are these children?" the sadhu asked.

"Your own, your own," the lady said. "They are your own."

"Heh? These are mine?" he said.

"Your children," she replied.

"No, it is not possible. God had denied you, yet here they are!" he said.

The sadhu was angry with God. "I shall quarrel with God tonight. How has God insulted me and told lies to me? No, it is not possible. I shall quarrel with God and tell him how He has blackened my face!"

That night he said, "What have you done to me? You have painted my face black. Oh! She has got two children when you denied even one!"

Then God told that sadhu, "What can I do, tell me? You are running after me, I know very well. You are my devotee. But that one, who told the lady that she can have two children – he is the person after whom I'm running! So what can I do? I have to accede to his wish."

Here is the power of God!