PART III: THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGIOUS CONSCIOUSNESS
Chapter 23: The Ecstasy of God-Love
While the Srutis, as the Vedas and the Upanishads are called, lift the principle of Godhead above the region of creation and make it shine gloriously in the firmament of utter perfection beyond the dust of the earth, and create a sense of veneration and fearsome devotion to the Eternal Potentate, the Epics and Puranas joyfully endeavour to bring the Judge of the universe to a homely relation, of a friend, philosopher and guide to humanity in turmoil. God, while He is the powerful parent and ruler over all things, to whom everything is subject as dependent and servant, He is also the friend of man, as in the symbol of the concept of Narayana and Nara, God never separable from man's welfare, Krishna never forsaking Arjuna, and coming to his succour and help even unasked and unsolicited. Many a time, man himself does not know that he needs help from God, but God knows it even beforehand. This is the intimacy and compassion which characterises God as highlighted in the Epic and Purana texts. The comradeship of God and man is the special touching feature which is promulgated here as distinguished from the transcendent majesty of the Brahman proclaimed in the Upanishads, or the gods adored in the Samhitas. It is the purport of these specialised teachings to make religion not only easy of practice but also a pleasant and enjoyable means of concourse with God, who is with us at all times, and is ever wary of the needs of devotees. The relation between man and God is now the apotheosis of the emotions and feelings, loves and aspirations of man, and human longings are concentratedly focussed on the form of God. While the Krishna-Arjuna relation is one of dignity and wonderment, as the cosmic and the individual working in unison, the most intimate relation of man with God, according to the Bhagavata Purana, is to be found reaching its heights in the love of the Gopis of Vrindavana. While the father-son relation, the master-servant relation, the friend-and-friend relation, and the mother-child relation are indeed masterpieces of human relation, the romance of the soul in its ecstasy of God-vision is considered as the highest point which love and devotion can reach. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the intimacy and ecstasy of the union of the soul with the Absolute is compared to the self-transcendence felt in the communion of the lover and the beloved in an act of fast embrace. Rarely does the soul rise to total action in life. Mostly, what works in the daily occupations of man is the pressure and vehemence of intellect, mind and senses. The soul is supposed to rise to the surface of direct action, pulling up the whole personality without exception, in hunger, sleep and sex. The totality which one experiences in these states is a feeble apology for the entirety of merger which one experiences in God-union. God is not merely the awesome justice of the universe but a source of beauty and attraction capable of enchanting the whole world, surpassing every form of beauty and lovableness conceivable anywhere, melting the hearts of things at the very sight and even a thought of that Glorious Beauty. Beauty of beauties is God (Sakshat manmatha-manmathah).
Religion pales into a dreary occupation when it becomes a muddle of rules and regulations and a Procrustean bed of regimented practices, and is bereft of the thrill that one feels in the presence of the beloved. Religion is not merely discipline but also love and grace. The instance of the Gopis is, on the one hand, an illustration of the superindividual and supersocial nature of the soul's asking for God, and, on the other hand, the way in which God can dissolve His parliament and council of enactments and rules, and run to the devotee personally without the use of secondary means of assistance. The twenty-second verse of the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is a promise of God that He shall personally take care of His devotees when they are undividedly united with Him. Spiritual ecstasy is the subject of the five chapters delineating the Rasa-Lila of Krishna in the Tenth Book of the Bhagavata. Here devotion reaches a pitch to the point of breaking and collapsing as the individual is melting down into the blissful menstruum of the sea of God. Devotion of this kind, known as Ragatmika-Bhakti, or the devotion of ecstasy, as different from Gauna-Bhakti, or formalistic and disciplined form of devotion, commences with a kind of agitation of the soul within, a stimulation it feels in itself, not through the intellect, mind and senses, but verily as it is in itself, when the devotee attempts firstly to cry for God in a state of bereavement from Him; secondly becomes temporarily unconscious through exhaustion caused by the intensity of longing; and thirdly enters into a rapturous impulsion to imitate God, His features and actions, and dances in the spirit of a possession, as if that which one imitates has actually entered the person so imitating. The best actors in a dramatic performance are those who virtually become the very part they are playing and lose their personal identity. The Gopis were in this penultimate state of actual union with God, which, further on, led them to a state of tearing down all the empirical shackles of personality-consciousness and external relation in a verily maddening reach of giddy heights where it is not merely the devotee that runs after God, but God Himself running to the devotee, God wanting man much more than man wants God. It is not enough if the devotee wants God; the highest devotion is where God loves the devotee and behaves as if He is a very servant of the one who loves Him. The lives of the saints who lived such a life of God-possession are examples practically to be seen in the history of religious thought and practice.