Swamiji on Facebook Swamiji on Twitter Swamiji on Youtube

The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 33: What Divine Love Is

In at least two sutras, Sage Patanjali refers to the efficacy of devotion to God in the practice of yoga. Previously I made reference to this subject – how the love of God can act as a masterstroke in the control of the mind. The distractions of the mind, in the form of what are known as the vrittis or the psychoses in respect of objects of sense, get completely reorganised, modified and sublimated by this all-absorbing menstruum that is known as the love of God.

Devotion to God is constitutionally different from ordinary loves known to us in the world, though it is the doctrine of the philosophy of bhakti that human affection may be turned to God and then be allowed to get sublimated in this manner. The structure of divine love is different from the structure of human affection because of the nature of the object itself. The object of divine love is God, whereas the object of human affection is a finite something, located somewhere, and persisting only for some period of time. As I mentioned, because of this peculiar character of finite objects, loves in this world automatically become conditional, and there is no such thing as unconditioned love in this world. It is not possible to love a thing for all time and under every condition, because human affection is the reaction of the mind in respect of an object or a condition outside which is felt as a necessity by the mind under a given condition. When the necessity is not felt, the love vanishes automatically. So love is a peculiar instrument in the fulfilment of a necessity felt by the mind in its individual capacity. Just imagine – love can be selfish, and perhaps it is, because of its being backed by a necessity felt inside, and if the necessity is not there, the love also cannot be there.&nbsp.

But divine love is of a different nature; here, the question of conditional necessity does not arise. We do not love God for some other purpose, though, in ordinary popular religious attitudes, it appears that the love of God is used as a kind of tool for the satisfaction of certain ulterior motives of untutored minds. But, ultimately, that is not real devotion. When we pray to God for long life or promotion in the office, that cannot be called an expression of divine love. We do not pray to God because we love Him when we say, "God, give me long life." Well, it may look as if we love Him because we are praying to Him; but this is not love, because our love is for a long life and not for God, and He is used only as a tool. Most unfortunate is this peculiar situation in which God is placed. But that is not the intention of divine love. The intention is to comprehend all that God is, because of the value that is inherent in God's very existence itself. God Himself has a value by Himself, and His value does not consist in what He does for us – as it is, or as it may be, in the case of human beings. The value of an officer in the government, for instance, may be said to consist in what he can do or what he is supposed to do, so that his value is his action or his capacity to act. But God's value is not merely in His action or in His capacity to act, but is merely because of His very Being Itself.

The 'being' of a human being, the individual, is not complete, and therefore it has to be completed by certain extra additions in the form of qualifying activities. We work hard so that our finite being can get modified into a larger, more expanded, comprehensive constitution. Why is it that we act? We act because we are finite. We are incomplete. There is something wanting and lacking inside, and our activities are supposed to pinpoint themselves to certain ends in view which, when acquired, or possessed, or enjoyed, are supposed to increase the dimension of our being, lessening our finitude. That is why we work hard from morning to evening.

But God has no such necessity. He need not work to increase the dimension of His Being, because His Being is infinite, and there is no need to increase the dimension of infinitude. Hence, the worth or value of God is the very existence of God, whereas the worth or value of anything else in this world does not lie merely in its being, but in what it means in its relationship to someone else who is the experiencer or the observer thereof. God's existence does not depend on the relationship that He has with others, or what He would mean to others under different conditions.

In this world, which is a relational world, or the relative world, as we may prefer to call it, the worth of a thing depends upon its connectedness with other things. This table has a value, and we know why it is valuable. It has value because it serves a purpose for somebody. So, the worth or value of a table is not intrinsic, but extrinsic. It serves a purpose, but to whom does it serve a purpose? The table does not serve a purpose to itself; it serves a purpose to someone other than itself. So the value of the table is not in itself, but in a peculiar relationship that seems to be obtaining between itself and someone else, for whose purpose it is valuable or worth the while. Everything in this world is like that - organic or inorganic, living or otherwise. There is no such thing as a self-existent value in this world, and therefore everything is conditional.

So, once again, I come to the point that we cannot unconditionally like or love anything in this world. When we have nothing to do with a table, we cannot have any affection for it. If we have no work to do on the table and have nothing to do with it, then naturally our mind will not go towards it. So is the case with every blessed thing in this world, even the dearest and the nearest, which is so only on account of a conditional necessity felt by our psychophysical individuality. When this necessity is obviated on account of a transformation that we automatically undergo in the process of evolution, our needs change and our loves also change, and therefore what we loved in our previous birth may not be the objects of love in this birth. As a matter of fact, whatever we experience in this life are the reactions of what we desired in those previous lives.

To give an instance as to how things happen, suppose you ask for cold, fresh water from the fridge during the hot summer. You tell me, "I want cold water because it is summer, and very hot." Then I give you cold water in the middle of January because you asked for that water once upon a time. "You want cold fridge water? Here it is." But now you do not want it, because it is the middle of January – it is shivering cold and you would like to have hot coffee or tea rather than cold water. For some peculiar reason, our desires do not fructify themselves at once. And so, when the water is wanted and asked for in summer, it can come in winter, and then we say, "What a wretched thing this is. Why this prarabdha has come on my head?" And so, all these painful prarabdhas that we are undergoing in this world are cold water coming in winter, or hot tea coming in midsummer when we would like to have a cold bath.

We are getting what we wanted - nothing else. But unfortunately, these things are coming at the wrong time when we do not want them, which is a different matter altogether. The law of nature has a system of its own, and for extraordinary reasons which cannot easily be comprehended by the human mind, the asking is not granted at once – but it is granted. Sometimes it may be granted after several births, and not even after a few months as I mentioned in the above analogy. And when it comes to us after many births, we do not know what this devil is that is coming. Why are we suddenly confronted with a horror? But it is not a horror – it was a very desirable thing that we wanted, though many births previously. Because of the weakness of the desire, it has taken so much time to materialise itself. But if it was a very vehement desire, well, it may manifest itself immediately. If our virtue or vice is very strong, it can materialise itself as the fruit here in this birth itself. But if it is mild and we are indifferent as to when it is fulfilled, then it will come after some time and not immediately. However, if we say, "No, I want it immediately. I must get it just now. Please bring it right away. I must get it," – then it will come. But usually such a strong asking is not there, so it takes a lot of time.

So, the conditional relationships of our individuality with circumstances outside prevent us from having any kind of genuineness in our approach to things or in our affections. God is infinite. Kleśa karma vipāka āśayaiḥ aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣaviśeṣaḥ Īśvaraḥ (I.24). Who is Ishvara whom Patanjali mentions in a sutra? He is not affected by anything that usually affects the individual, and therefore the defects of the individual are not present in Ishvara. There are no kleshas – the afflictions which we are subjected to are absent in God. He is pristine purity and abundance of everything that is positively needed for anyone, at any time. Kleshas are undesirable, painful, limiting factors which harass the individual, and cannot be said to be present in an infinite Being like God.

The kleshas or the painful afflictions, at least in the system of Patanjali, are ignorance of the true nature of things, known as avidya; and as a consequence thereof, egoism or the principle of self-affirmation, asmita; and a further consequence following from it – raga and dvesha, like and dislike; and a far greater concretisation of this attitude manifesting itself as intense love of physical life and fear of death. These are known as the painful kleshas. God is not unaware of the true nature of things, so there is no avidya in Ishvara. He knows the correct position of everything. He knows the past and the future and the present, and so there is not the least trace of nescience in God. Everything is known to Him in its proper place and in its proper condition, so there is no avidya, no ignorance of any kind, no cloud of unknowledge in the case of God, and therefore there is no egoism in God. He does not assert Himself in contradistinction to an object outside Him. There is no egoism in God because there is no object in front of God, so there is nothing to oppose Him, confront Him, or limit Him. He doesn't need anything. He need not show His power to anybody else.

The question of egoism, or the principle of individual self-affirmation, does not arise in the case of Ishvara or God, and therefore He has no likes and dislikes. He does not need anything, and therefore He cannot have likes. For the same reason, He cannot have dislikes, because when there are no likes, naturally there are no dislikes. Dislikes are only those peculiar mental attitudes in respect of factors contrary to those necessary for the fulfilment of our likes. This question does not arise in the case of God, for obvious reasons. God has no fear of death, because the Infinite cannot die, and therefore He has no love of physical life. God is not a physical individual. So, these kleshas are absent in God. Avidya, asmita, raga, dvesha, and abhinivesha cannot be in God. Also, the other kleshas – those which are of a non-painful nature, namely perception of objects, etc., which involve a mental modification in respect of what is observed or cognised under circumstances of the remoteness of objects of perception – are also not present in God. God does not perceive objects with eyes as we see objects, for instance, because the objects are not outside Him.

There is no need for vritti-vyapti, etc., in the case of God. The vritti-vyapti, which is the movement of the mind in respect of an object outside as well as the pervasion of the object by the mind, etc., are not in God. The mind of God does not move towards an object, because all objects are comprehended within the Being of God. So there is no mental modification or vritti, no limiting perception or cognition in the case of God. All kleshas, all afflictions, all limitations, and all conditions of every description are absent in the case of God. So He is aparamristah – untouched by afflictions of this type. Karma vipaka is also not present in God. He need not suffer the consequences of His actions. His actions, if we can call them actions, do not produce reaction. Every action that we do has a reaction, but the actions of God cannot have a reaction. Also, for the same reason, the actions performed by those who are in God-consciousness do not produce a reaction.

An action produces a reaction because of the mind impinging upon an object outside, which is the motive behind the action. Every individual action can be said to be a kind of interference with the law of nature. We are not wise enough to understand the circumstances under which nature works. We do not know what is good from the point of view of nature as a whole. Therefore, what we regard as good from our own individual point of view may, and of course it often does, come in conflict with what nature regards as ultimately good. When our individual attitude of the so-called good conflicts with the real good, which is the point of view of nature, there is a reaction set up by nature in respect of this so-called attitude of goodness or value arising from the individual.

It is something like an electromagnetic field giving a kick when we go near it. The forces that constitute our body cannot bear the power of the energy that is vibrating around that electromagnetic field. If we go near a substation of high-voltage electricity we may get a kick, or we may be pulled towards it and be destroyed. The reason for such reaction is that our actions may not always conform to the requisite laws of nature as a whole. Nature naturally tries to maintain an equilibrium; it cannot brook any kind of interference in its law. As every individual approach is an interference with the equilibrium of nature, there is an automatic reaction set up by nature for the purpose of maintaining the equilibrium which has been disturbed by the wrong notion of the individual.

So, individual actions produce reaction, and we suffer the consequence of these actions. This is called karmaphala. Why do we suffer? We suffer because we have done something wrong. Why is it wrong? It is wrong because it does not conform to the existent laws of nature as a whole. Why does it not conform to nature as a whole? We have no understanding of the laws of nature – we are not omniscient. But in the case of God, and in the case of those who have knowledge of God or experience of God - who are one with God – this question does not arise, because when there is God-consciousness there is also an infinitude of awareness in respect of everything. Our actions will then not be interferences, but rather participations in the existing laws. Participation in law does not produce any reaction from that law, but interference with law may produce a reaction. The law of nature and the law of God mean one and the same thing; they are not two different things. Therefore, there is no question of any reaction being set up by the actions of God. It is difficult to understand what an action of God is. It is not the movement of limbs, of hands and feet, etc. It is an inscrutable mystery, as the existence of God itself is.

For this wonderful reason that is behind the glorious existence of God, karma vipaka or fruits of action cannot be attributed to anything that God may do or does. He is also unaffected – aparamristah – by karma vipaka. Kleśa karma vipāka āśayaiḥ – the impressions of actions also are absent in His case. So there is no rebirth for God. He is not compelled to take repeated reincarnations. The incarnations of God are not compelled by karma, while our incarnations are forced by karma. We are born, not of our own accord, but by forces which exert a pressure upon us and make it obligatory on our part to be born under certain conditions. But in the case of the incarnations of God or manifestations of God, they are spontaneous revelations of the Universal Law. All these limiting factors are absent in the case of God.

Kleśa karma vipāka āśayaiḥ aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣaviśeṣaḥ Īśvaraḥ (I.24). A peculiar, definitive attribute is given here in this sutra by Patanjali in respect of God. Puruṣaviśeṣaḥ He is a purusha, but He is not an ordinary purusha. Generally, by purusha we mean a male; but God is not a male. We cannot attribute any such thing to God, or use 'he', 'she' or 'it'. These words are useless in respect of God; they are only helpful in describing the things of the world. God is purusha in the sense that He is totality of Being, all-comprehensiveness, and therefore adjectives and pronouns which are valid in this world are inapplicable in the case of descriptions of God. Neither a male, nor a female, nor a neuter – nothing of the kind is God. It is something transcendent. Anyhow, for the purpose of explanatory convenience, the word 'purusha' is used, by which what is intended is that it is the Supreme Unifying Principle. It is an extraordinary principle, and not an ordinary principle known in this world as vishesa, so sometimes we use the word 'purushottama' rather than 'purusha' in respect of God. Supreme Purusha, as we say – Paramatman – to distinguish Him from the ordinary concept of the atman. Just as Ishvara or God is Supreme Purusha, Purushottama, He is also Supreme Atman or Paramatman. This word, Paramatman, or Purushottama, is used as an epithet of God to distinguish His characteristics from the limiting characteristics of individuals. Such a God is the object of divine devotion.

Previously I mentioned that various bhavas or feelings are generated in one's devotion to God, and one of the principles of the doctrine of bhakti is that we can channelise human love to God. We can love Him as our father, as our mother, as our friend, as our master, etc. Different religious attitudes emphasise one or another aspect of devotion. Also, the worship of God is supposed to be a restraining principle over the activities of the mind, which is the purpose of yoga, of course. The worship of God, the adoration of God, is any attitude or function which can create in one's own mind the dependence of oneself on God, or the surrender of oneself to God, and also the conviction that God is everything and nothing else is required when God is attained.

The various aspects of this type of devotional ritual are mentioned in a very famous verse which occurs in the seventh skanda of the Srimad Bhagavata, which is put into the mouth of the great devotee Prahlada: Sravanam, kirtanam, vishnuh smaranam, padasevanam, archanam, bandhanam, dasyam, sakhyan, atma nivedanam. Nine types of devotion or devotional attitude are mentioned in this famous verse. The first one mentioned here is sravanam, or the listening to the glories of God. We go to satsangas or prayer meetings and listen to the glories and the magnificences of God, sung in praises and in songs in slokas and verses etc., in the scriptures. The glories of God, when they are heard, become purifying processes, just as fine music can bring about an internal transformation by the vibrations set up by the raga of music. Likewise the idea or the ideas generated in the mind when hearing or listening to the glories of God can act as cathartics for all impurities in the mind, and drive the mind towards the attainment of God. The glories and the beauties of God's Being, sung in scriptures etc., make the mind feel that God is everything that is needed by it; and so, merely the hearing of the glories of God by means of scriptural recitation or satsanga, etc., is also regarded as a complete devotion by itself. It is a principal mode of bhakti.

In singing the name of God, we daily chant His name, and this includes japa, which is a part of bhakti. The recitation of a mantra repeatedly, or even the singing of bhajans or kirtan set to tune, generates a devotional fervour in the mind of the devotee, putting an end to all other vrittis or psychoses in respect of objects of sense, merely by of the repetition of this practice, again and again. Singing the name of God, the glories of God, or recitation of His name in the form of a formula or mantra is a method of bhakti or devotion.

Constant remembrance of God is a more difficult thing. It is another form of devotion. It is called the 'practice of the presence of God' in mystical parlance. There was a Christian mystic called Brother Lawrence, who used to practise this devotion. We should feel the presence of God in everything that we see with our eyes, and remember Him in every little bit of thing. Whatever we touch and whatever we feel, whatever we see or hear, is identified with the presence of God. Because it is difficult to feel the presence of some invisible thing, an invisible object, this method of devotion is more difficult than the other ones. The mind is constantly brooding over the presence of God in all things, and this brooding or remembering can be accentuated by audible japa or singing of His name as well, so that smarana and kirtana can go together.

Padasevana is something very unclear. What it actually means cannot be understood, though various interpretations are given. Padasevana really means 'serving the feet of God'. Extreme traditional conservatives in the devotional path regard this as an impossible attitude of devotion, because nobody can serve the feet of God. Nobody has seen Him, and we cannot touch His feet, and so the question of serving His feet does not arise except by those who are in the proximity of God. But there are others who regard this as a practicable attitude, provided we regard God as manifest in all His creation. Service of anything and any form in this creation, unselfishly and without any feeling of recompense, may be regarded as padasevana, because God's feet are everywhere. Sarvataḥ pānipādaṁ(B.G. XIII.13), says the Bhagavadgita. Everywhere we find the feet of God. There is no place, no spot in space, where the feet of God are absent. This, again, is a very heightened attitude of devotion, because we cannot feel the presence of God's feet in things which are usually considered by us as objects of sense. But the feet of God are not objects of sense, because God is infinite. Sarvatah, it is said – everywhere His feet are. So how can we regard them as objects of sense.

Whatever it is, a feeling of utter abjectness and surrender of oneself in the presence of this mighty, all-comprehensive Reality, and an attitude of humility in respect of everything and everyone may be regarded as padasevana. We have no importance in this world – all importance is given only to others. We are the last person to ask for anything; in an audience we may occupy the last seat, perhaps near the shoes. It is not because we are egoistic, and it is not that we put on an added air of humility. Rather, we really feel a smallness of our individuality and an utter insignificance of our being in the presence of the mighty laws that operate in this cosmos, so that there is no occasion for manifestation of our egoism even a little bit if we only understand the powers of God and the powers of nature. With this genuine, spontaneous and dispassionate attitude of humility, we may surrender ourself to the conditions that are spontaneously brought before us without our asking, and be happy under every condition, under every circumstance, in the presence of anything that comes, whatever it be. Such is padasevana, to give only a bare outline of what it can be.

Archana is worship – ritualistic, or even psychological, mental. Formal worship which is performed in churches, temples, and mosques may also be regarded as archana. It is a very visible form of concrete ritual. We consider God as a king or an emperor, or an honoured guest, and treat Him in the same way as we would treat such a person. If an emperor comes to our house, how would we treat him? If an honoured guest comes, how would we treat him? If a very dear person comes to us, how would we treat that person? That attitude of offering all the facilities necessary for that person – to make that person immensely happy and grateful, and to provide everything in order to make that person immensely comfortable, charged with an utter love which asks for nothing else except the return of love, if at all - that sort of feeling is behind the various gestures that we perform in the nature of rituals, which can be seen performed every day in the churches and temples of different religions. Archana is worship of God through external symbols, which, though they are symbols from outside, can draw corresponding feelings from inside, so that the ritual form of worship may also be regarded as a genuine form of devotion to God.