The Heart and Soul of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Love of God

What I am going to tell you has a background which is purely philosophical, though I am not going to touch that aspect of the subject. I am taking up a more practical side of spiritual living, but practice is preceded by a theory or a structure of philosophical background, which is called the Vedanta philosophy.

The metaphysical foundations of the relationship between God, world and the individual, to which I made reference earlier, are to be found in the Vedanta philosophy. You will find it easier to steer the course of your life towards its wondrous destination – highest peace of mind and, in the end, Immortal Life.

Actually, what I am going to tell you is the final conclusion of all learning, and everything else to which I made reference is a preparatory procedure. It is implied that you have a good knowledge of the preparatory stages through other aspects of philosophical thought. You have to bring them together into a holistic way of approach so that all knowledge becomes one knowledge in the end.

I am principally emphasising the aspect of love of God. Here is a mysterious but highly elevating, soul-transforming picture before you. Such a thing as the love of God escapes the attention of most people who may be religious in their own way, because to love God is not enough if you are merely religious in the ordinary sense of the term.

Religions that are known to the world – the 'isms', as they are called – are the outer form taken by an inner significance which is the quintessence of spiritual aspiration. Actually, you will find that to love a thing is different from doing something in regard to that thing. You may do several things in regard to a particular object, but that is not necessarily the same as to love it. There is an action of the soul taking place in every form of affection. A mother knows what it is to love a child. There is no need for ceremonies or gestures for the mother to show her affection to the child. It is there, and that is enough.

Whoever has experienced what it is to love will know how it differs from any other occupation of the mind. In love, you do not simply think. It is different from thinking something. Also, you are not going to do anything. What happens, then? You will find it difficult to adjust yourself to the necessities that go together with this so-called act of the soul you call love. A lost friend, as it were, whom you have not seen for years together, your bosom friend, your alter-ego with whom you lived for long as one soul in two bodies – such a friend has disappeared for some reason, whatever that reason be. After years you are seeing him in front of you. You run up in ecstasy: "Oh, you have come!" You lose all your sense and apparatus of thinking with which you may express your feeling on seeing that friend who is suddenly there before you after many years. You do not know what to do at that time. Are you going to embrace him? Are you going to hug him? Are you going to request him to be seated comfortably? Will you entertain him? Will you speak to him in a sweet tone with beautiful words? Will you enquire about his welfare? At that time, you do not know what to do. You are torn into pieces of feeling, and the surge of your being rushes forth in the love that you are unable to express by external means. This is what you feel when your friend who had been lost is standing before you.

In the midst of a large gathering or a crowd where there is a stampede, a mother loses her little child. Where the child has gone, nobody knows. People are running helter-skelter, as we have seen in the Kumbha Mela. The child is lost. The mother does not know whether it has been killed in the stampede. She strikes her breast with great grief, strikes her head on the ground: "My dear child, the one alone that I had, is gone!" Many days later the child runs to the mother, screaming, "Mummy! I am here!" What does the mother feel at that time? Does she perform any ritual to express her love for the child?

What does God want from you? When you love something immensely, you want to make a gesture of offering something to it because you do not know in what other way you can express your love for it. In this world, rarely do people feel love. In so-called affections and friendships in the lives of people, we find a commercial relationship – a give-and-take policy. "If you do this, I will like you. If you do not do that, I will not like you." This kind of liking is not love. Will you tell God in the same way, "If you give this, I will love you. If you do not give this, I will not care for you"? Would you deal with God in this manner?

The importance of the principle of the existence of God will free you from this tangle of confusion as to how to relate yourself to God. Mortal expressions of human thought cannot understand what love is. There are, however, instructions in scriptures dealing with this path of love – how to gradually move in the direction of this ultimate consummation of the meaning of love. Nobody has seen God. Certain things which you would like to have, you might not have seen with your eyes. Unseen longings sometimes disturb your soul. "I would have liked to have that, but I have not seen it."

There is a difference between the act of the soul and the thinking of the mind and the actions of the hands and feet. Inasmuch as the depth of the spirit of affection to God is not clearly intelligible to the ordinary mind, stages of approach to this goal have been prescribed by ancient masters and seers who loved God truly. The saints and the sages about whom you might have heard, about whose lives you might have read and have observed the way in which they lived, would perhaps be great instructors to you on the path of love of God.

There are types and types of devotees of God. I would like you to read the lives of certain saints known as Nayanars, who lived in what today is called Tamil Nadu, and Alvars – Vaishnava saints. I cannot describe to you how they loved God! You have to read, with great concentration of mind, how these great masters of divine devotion lived and manifested their love for God. The Nayanars were principally devotees of God in the form of Lord Siva, and the Alvars were devotees of the great Almighty in the form of Vishnu – Narayana. There are 4,000 Tamil poems, called Narayana Prabandham in the Tamil language, which record the expressions of the love which these great Alvars had for this Supreme Being. Those who have studied it and appreciated it consider Narayana Prabandham as equal to the Veda itself; it is called the Ardhavedam. Similar is the case with the lives of the Nayanars. You will be stunned and breathless when you read the lives of these great people.

How do you call God? Do you know how you can call God? "Oh, my dear!" It is not enough if you say that. God is not merely dear; He is something more. "Oh, honey! – ananda tene!" There was a great saint who described God as the bliss of honey, or the honey of bliss. You become crazy when you love something. You get drowned in honey, in nectar. You get drowned in your own soul! You get drowned in the soul of that which you love! Read the life of Saint Mira, of Varender Das, of Tukaram, of Kabir Das in addition to those saints who I have mentioned just now.

The difficulty is proverbial. How do you love God when He is an omnipresent being? This concept of omnipresence is hard to entertain in the mind. So, there is a prescription for you. Begin your devotion with actual worships that you can perform; apply the concept of omnipresence to a lesser degree, such as a portrait of God that you have in your mind – which, also, it will be difficult for you to entertain for a long time. Do you not keep with you a photograph of the person whom you love – a memento connecting yourself with that person whom you love? You hang a photograph of your deceased father on the wall of your house. It is a portrait. The father is not there, but it represents the father who lived once upon a time.

Temple worship, for instance, has been prescribed as a means of developing devotion to God. Even temple worship is not an easy thing. You do not just ring the bell and offer flowers and wave arati and go away. This is not what it stands for. The temple is the diagram of the way in which the universe is operating in front of us. The whole universe is there in this little area occupied by the temple. Even to build a temple is not easy. There are scriptures, known as the Vastu Shastras, which describe in minute detail how to construct a temple. You do not enter into the holy of holies suddenly. In well-constructed temples there are several prakaras – seven corridors – one inside the other, one outside the other. They are comparable almost, as they say, to the sheaths of this body. Similarly the levels of existence: bhur loka, bhuvar loka, swarga loka, mahar loka, jnana loka, tapa loka and satya loka are, in a cosmical sense, almost comparable to the physical body and its layers: anamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas – inside which is the Atman, the Light in the holy of holies.

In all temples you will find that in the holy of holies, in the innermost garbhakuda, it is dark. It is not lit up with electric light, though today some of the temples have electric light also, which is a tragedy. It should not be. It is a dark anandamaya of the cosmic existence in which there is a limpid lake of illumination – the shining Atman. I am not going into great details of the pattern of the structure of temples; I am coming to the main point of what you do when you actually worship in a temple.

The Bhakti Shastras tell us there are four ways of worship. There can be many other details of this fourfold way, but principally they are designated as four, known as chariya, kriya, yoga and jnana. We have a temple in the ashram – the Lord Vishvanath and Lord Sri Krishna temple. There are people who worship the divinity by collecting flowers from gardens, plucking bael leaves from outside, cleaning the temple – keeping it neat and clean, spic and span. This is worship of God. It is worship of God because you want to keep the area of this holy abode of God neat and clean, as your mind should be when you worship God. These persons do only this work. This is one stage: chairya.

Kriya is an inner cooperation in the offering of worship, such as keeping the lights of the arati neat and clean, dipping the wicks in the oil, placing it in the proper position and lighting it up – putting camphor on it, then creating a flame – and offering this lamp to the person who actually performs the worship. An internal seva, the inward cooperation in the performing of worship, is what is called kriya. The external cooperation is chariya. But before reaching the pinnacle of the actual performance of worship, there are two more stages. The one who is outside has done his duty in picking flowers, offering bilvapatra and keeping the temple clean, and the inner one has done his own job in providing all the necessities to the performer of the worship by arranging lamps and other things.

But what does the performer himself do? We call them pujaris. Pujari is a very poor word. He himself is an incarnate divinity. As I mentioned to you, very unfortunately these days everything has become commercial. It has become a routine. Mechanically, like a bulldozer moving they do worship, and the mind is somewhere else. It becomes an act without a thought, much less a feeling. This should not be. You should not disregard temples. They are representations, visibly before you, of the miniature structure of the cosmic operations of God. You must feel a thrill when you enter the temple. It is not like entering a police station or a railway platform. See the difference.

Where there is no movement of the heart, there is no affection. A stone heart cannot love anything. Love is a melting process of the very being of yourself. The performer of the worship does a miracle before he actually performs the worship. He does what is called yoga. As I mentioned, there are four stages: chariya, kriya, yoga and jnana. What is this yoga? Yoga is the identification of oneself with the form of the deity to be worshipped. These ways of identification of oneself with the deity, and vice versa, identifying the deity with oneself, is known as the performing of nyasas. Anganyasa and karanyasa are the principal ways of nyasas. What is nyasa? It is the placement – fixing – of the parts of the form of the deity in your own personality. "The head of the deity, of the beautiful divinity, is my own head, and my head is the head of the divinity." Intensely he feels and thinks in this manner so that the mind of the divinity enters the performer. Every part of his body gets identified with every conceived part of the divinity – the hand with the hand, the feet with the feet, the heart with the heart, the face with the face; everything is set in tune. Do you know what happens when you practice this kind of meditation? The performer of the worship, in deep meditation, considers himself as a replica of the divinity that is worshipped. God possesses him – at least, He is expected to possess him. And, he is possessed of God.

This technique is applicable in various other fields of life also, such as thought transference, telepathic communication and such other things with which you may be acquainted. If there is any other person to whom you want to transfer your thought, think like that person. You become that person. You lose the consciousness of the form of your body as this Mr. So-and-so; you become that person. Who is thinking? You are not thinking; that person is thinking, whose mind has to operate according to your wish. This is about telepathic communication, thought transference, etc. This technique is also employed in the case of God, in worship. Sometimes the worshipper trembles if he has really equipped himself with this process of self-identification with the parts of Lord Siva, Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu – whoever it is. The cosmic superstructure of the Almighty is represented in the form of the image of the portrait that is worshipped in the temple. The whole cosmos is vibrating there.

Inasmuch as God is everywhere, He has to be present in the idol also. There are some people who decry idol worship. They say it is stupidity. It is not stupidity. If God is everywhere, he has to be even in your pencil, your fountain pen, the pig that you offer in sacrifice in homa, and in the idol that you worship, in the portrait, in the yantra, in a diagram – everywhere He has to be. Otherwise, you cannot accept the omnipresence of God. People who consider idol worship as a kind of stupidity and a meaningless caricature of divine devotion do not understand what God is. So this performer of the worship gets possessed due to this self-identification of the structure of his being with the structure of the divinity whom he is worshipping.

There is another stage, called jnana, in the process of worship, along with chariya, kriya and yoga. I have explained to you briefly what yoga is in the course of performing worship in a temple. If it is not in a temple, it may be on an altar in your own room. Some people have a mini-temple or altar of worship in their own puja room. The same process takes place in your adoration of the deity that you have, in a mini-form, on your puja room altar. While yoga is identification of yourself with the form of the deity and identification of the form of the deity with your own self, jnana takes you a step further.

When God possesses you in the act of the yoga that I have explained, you cease to be yourself. The energy, the power, the consciousness, the form of God has entered into you and taken possession of the whole structure of your being. When you act, It acts. When you speak, It speaks. This occurrence is sometimes called avesha – the superabundance of being possessed by the deity. You can be possessed by anything if you love it deeply.

Why do you find it difficult to love anything? The hard ego prevents you from giving any concession to another person. The ego says, "I am all-in-all! Who cares for another?" It is not possible to love anything when the ego adumbrates its hard, single point of view and carries on a political affection, as people have in a parliament. There, every member has affection for another member, but you know very well what kind of affection it is. They are broken pieces struggling to get united. Such a thing is not affection.

To love God, you have to love everything. This also follows as a consequence of the love of God. Yo mam pashyati sarvatra sarvam ca mayi pashyati (B.G. 6.30) is a line from the Bhagavadgita: "When you see Me in everything, you also see everything in Me." The presence of God in every nook and cranny of creation makes you feel a divine presence in everything in the world. I have already mentioned that it is not easy to love God. I have to repeat this again and again. Until your stone-like heart melts – unless your ego melts – this will not be possible.

The lover of God – the true lover of God – transcends the realm of shame. When you love God, you may become something which will not be understandable to society, the public of people. Nobody could understand Mira, the queen of a kingdom, dancing in the streets. What did the king feel about it? "My wife, the queen, dancing in the streets like a crazy lady?" When true love emanates from the personality of a person, the difference between the lover and the beloved ceases. I am not going to that side of the matter just now; I shall touch upon this after some time. What actually is your relationship with God? When you love God, what is your position? And what is the position of God?

Sometimes it is said that there is a duality of concept in the bhakti marga, or the path of love of God. It may be so in one sense of the term, because when you love something, you behold it before you as a 'something' which is not yourself exactly. But in the case of God, it is not 'something' that you are loving. It is all things. So the duality which is generally said to be in the bhakti marga diminishes, and it becomes a non-dual love. Thus, bhakti leads to jnana in the end. Non-dual love – can you conceive of it? Whom are you loving in non-dual affection? Are you loving God? Or are you loving yourself? The lower forms of devotion, known as apara bhakti, have the appurtenances of items of worship, gestures and performances of different kinds, but in the higher bhakti you love in such intensity that the purpose of love is fulfilled in its consummation.

Do you know what is the consummation of love? What do you want from the object that you love? What is your expectation? You want it to be very near you. You want to touch it. You want it to enter into you. You do not want it to be separate from you at all. "My child is me!" cries the mother in love. It is not any more 'my'; it is 'me' only. The 'my' becomes 'me'.

Inasmuch as you have to accept that the presence is in all things – accept His omnipresence – loving such a thing is loving the entire creation at the same time. Apara bhakti becomes para bhakti, which is identical with jnana. Jnana does not mean learning. It is not academic knowledge. It is the actual apprehension of the true being of God himself. It is not the object called God, but the very Being of God – inseparable from yourself also, because God is omnipresent. In this tremendous ecstasy of the identification of the omnipotence of God with one's own self, puja – worship – becomes consummate. In heightened forms of worship, the performer, the pujari, waves the arati before the deity; he goes in circles – round and round, round and round. Finally, in certain forms of worship, he waves the arati to himself. Mostly, you might have not seen such a thing in temples. In the ecstasy of his performance he ceases to distinguish himself, his existence, from the existence of the God that he is worshipping; the arati turns to himself. I have heard it said that Swami Vivekananda was once performing worship. In his ecstasy, he turned the arati to himself – to the chagrin and shock of all people. "Are you worshipping yourself or are you worshipping God?" Only a worshipper knows what worship is.

Whatever I have told you just now is the inner significance of the fourfold types of worship: chariya, kriya, yoga and jnana. And I also mentioned that you must read the lives of these saints: Saint Mira, Saint Haridas, Saint Varender Das, Saint Kabir Das, and the Alvars and Nayanars.