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The Spiritual Import of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 15: The Rarest of Devotees

The ninth chapter of the Bhagavadgita gives us an idea of the universal religion, an approach to the God of all gods, standing above all human concepts of even religious ideals, and yet accessible to everything that is manifest in any form whatsoever. The Supreme Being is all things. Aham kratur aham yajnah svadhaham aham ausadham, mantro'ham aham evajyam aham agnir aham hutam. Pitaham asya jagato mata dhata pitamahah, vedyam pavitram omkara rksama yajur eva ca. Gatir bharta prabhuh saksi nivasah saranam suhrt, prabhavah pralayah sthanam nidhanam bijam avyayam. Tapamy aham aham varsam nigrhnamy utsrijami ca, amrtam caiva mrtyus ca sad asac caham arjuna. God is all things—this is the sum and substance of these immortal passages in the Bhagavadgita.

There is nothing that is not included in the Being of God. Conceivable or inconceivable, manifest or unmanifest, subtle or gross, holy or unholy, transcendent or immanent, imperishable or perishable, immortality or death—everything is within this tremendous completeness of God the Absolute, the Almighty. Amrtam caiva mrtyus ca sad asac caham arjuna: Even existence and non-existence are comprehended within God. The supremacy of the divine ideal is described in the magnificent, poetic images of these verses. It is hard for the human mind to understand how death, non-existence, negativity, darkness and the powers that we usually consider as belonging to the phenomenal world can be attributed to the Absolute. What we call non-existence is also comprehended there. What we call ugly, unholy and impure—even that is comprehended within the great love that God-being itself is. The great un-understandable mercy, compassion and love which are imbedded in the existence of God takes within its fold even that what we reject as undivine and unholy.

Anything that is conceivable must exist, and therefore to think of the non-existent is an anomaly and a misnomer. There is no such a thing as non-existence, because the moment we think it, it becomes existent. Therefore the so-called 'non-existent' is also included in this existence. The impure, ugly and what is usually considered as undesirable are not so in the eyes of God, because a relative judgment of things and a comparison and contrast of values is impossible in the all-inclusiveness of the indivisibility of Being. The standards of reference with which we judge things, considering one or the other as of this character or the other, are themselves relative, and that which is relative cannot pass an absolute judgment. Hence, our judgments are relative, and thus our ideas of even non-existence, ugliness and the like are not to be regarded as complete in themselves.

Having been given an outline of the idea of what God could be in His supra-essential, quintessential Being, we are admonished as to the path that leads to God. Usually the religious practicant worships and offers prayers with an ulterior motive. The religious enthusiasts look for the delights of heaven and an everlasting existence as happy individuals, for which sake they perform virtuous deeds in this world, accumulate punya, merit and the effect of righteousness. But all these meritorious acts—in fact every result that accrues to every act—have an end, and they have to go one day or the other, because nothing that we do in this relative world can touch the non-relative Absolute. The planes of existence that are above this mortal earth may be the regions of higher satisfaction and enjoyment by the denizens of that region, but all planes of existence are relative to one another. The seven planes above the earth plane mentioned in the Epics and the Puranas, reaching up even to the seventh plane known as satya-loka—all these are comprehended within the fold of creation. Even if we reach the highest plane, we may have to revert to the place from which we rose to it, because of the exhaustion of the momentum of the meritorious deeds that were performed for the sake of reaching those celestial delights.

Every finite cause produces a finite result. An infinite result cannot follow from a finite aspiration or action. Everything that we do in this world is infected with finitude and limitation of various types, and hence nothing that we do can produce an infinite result. Thus, infinite realisation or the experience of the Absolute is impossible through any performance of a relative character. Trai-vidya mam soma-pah puta-papa: Those people who worship the deities mentioned in the Vedas, for instance, go to heaven and drink nectar, the ambrosia of the immortals. But—ksine punye martya-lokam visanti—as a person who has exhausted his bank balance becomes a pauper, and he cannot be a rich man forever, so one cannot remain in the regions of heaven perpetually. When the results are exhausted, there is a reversal of values. Therefore religion, in the true sense of the term, is defined in a different manner altogether. In the verse that follows—ananyss cintayanto msm ye janah paryupasate, tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham—God, in His infinitude, protects the devotee when devotion becomes an undivided awareness of the glorious Being of God. To regard God as an object of the senses, to consider Him as an extra-cosmic Creator, to imagine any kind of distance, spatial or even temporal, between ourselves and Him would not be undivided devotion.

The undividedness or ananyas that is mentioned in the verse is the absorption of the consciousness of the devotee, a total saturation of the devout spirit in the magnitude and the immensity of God's existence. The prayer that is offered to God and the worship that is performed here is not intended to receive any boons or benefactions from God. This is parabkakti or the supreme form of devotion to God, where offers of any kind, religiously or spiritually, do not become a means to an end. The prayer becomes an awareness rising within oneself of the presence of God everywhere. It is an offer of prayer by the lower self to the higher Self. It is a rise of the lower to the higher and not merely a movement of the individual finite to the so-called imagined distant Infinite. This particular verse is one single magnificent teaching. This particular slokaananyas cintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate, tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham—may be regarded as the pinnacle of all scriptures on the path of devotion to God. As a child has no fears of any kind as long as it is under the protection of the parents, so the devotee of God has no fear from anywhere. There is no insecurity or dissatisfaction of any kind. There is a perpetual sense of protection coming from all sides due to the undivided consciousness of the presence of God.

How the grace of God works instantaneously in the case of such devotees, how God takes action in a timeless manner is dramatically displayed and demonstrated in the experiences of the great saints and sages of yore. These sages could speak to God more intimately then we speak with one another. Even the so-called inanimate idols could wake up into consciousness and speak to them due to the intensity of their feeling of the presence of God. If we study, with concentration of mind, the lives of such faiths as those who lived sometime back in Maharashtra, for instance, around the holy place of Pandarpur, the Shaivite saints known as the Nyanars and the Vaishnava saints known as the Alvars, we would simply be wonderstruck as to the sincerity of those saints in their devotion to God and the unimaginable miracles that God automatically worked around them, even without their knowing what was happening. These devotees never asked anything from God. As a matter of fact, one who asks anything from God is a merchant of devotion—he sells his devotion for merchandise of divine grace. The highest devotee seeks nothing temporal, material or visible from the Almighty, because what can be greater than the Almighty? Do we imagine that what He gives is greater than He Himself? The One who gives is greater than what is given, and hence wisdom-charged devotees ask nothing from God but seek God only.

That seeking of God as the ultimate goal of love, devotion and aspiration is the ananya bhakti that is mentioned in this verse of the Bhagavadgita. And in the case of those devotees, who are rare to find in this world, it is God's responsibility to take care of them. The Yoga Vasishtha says that as the solar system is taken care of by powers that are not human, as the planets move in their orbits systematically by the ordinance of a force which is not man made, as the universe is maintaining its balance by a power we cannot think of in our mind, that power shall take care of us also. Why not? If the whole solar system can be sustained in mathematical precision and utter perfection, unthinkable to the human mind, how is it that that power cannot take care of a human being? It shall, and it always does. So the great promise that is divinely bestowed upon us here, in this majestic utterance, is that not only shall we be provided with everything that we need at any moment of time, but such is the grace and kindness of God that He shall also take care of those things with which He has provided us.

Can you imagine a greater loving parent than this mighty Being? He gives you what you need and also sees that it is taken care of on your behalf. Such a friend you cannot see in this world, and therefore you cannot have a friend of that type anywhere. There is only one friend who loves you—not because there is any reciprocal affection expected of you—but because there is an inseparable relationship between you and Him. This devotion is usually unimaginable, unthinkable, and not possible for the minds of human beings which are encrusted with material desires and infected with values that are wholly temporal. Those who love God as the All Being and as the Only Being are themselves rays of God. Their very presence is the presence of God. Their very existence is activity, their very thought is a universal service that they are rendering. Such great heroes are the blessedness of the earth. Their presence cannot be easily recognised, because of their unassuming character. They speak not much and ask not anything from anyone. They are the humblest of people, the last ones that could be recognised as of any importance whatsoever. The least of people, as they appear, are the greatest in the eyes of God. Several births one has to take even to attain this love that can encompass within its fold the Almighty God and nothing else.

Yet the great Teacher of the Bhagavadgita tells us that the others of a lesser category, who cannot come up to this level of the supreme devotion of self-identity with the Absolute, are also practicing religion in their own manner. Ye'py anya-devata-bhakta yajante sraddhayanvitah: They also worship God in one way or the other. Because of the faith that they have, they can be regarded as worshippers of God. They worship, not according to the rule of ideal devotion, but deviating from this rule, they meander in various abysmal regions due to the desires that they have not fulfilled. They are finally seeking God. The images that people worship and idols that they adore in the various religions of the world are temporarily taken as God Ultimate, and the wholeheartedness of divine devotion by these temporal idealists to the gods that are worshipped will justify that devotion. It takes a long time to reach the Supreme God on account of the error that is involved in their devotion, the error being that they consider their god as one among the many and distant or away from them. Hence this universal religion of the Bhagavadgita includes all faiths, whether they are of a lower degree or a higher degree, and each one is rewarded according to the nearness that characterises that particular devotion in respect of the presence of God. The nearer one's consciousness is to the all-pervading God, the greater is the value of that religion. The more distant we feel God is in the worship of the religion, the lower is that category of this religion.

The absoluteness or supremacy of God is again asserted, in spite of this concession that is made towards lower categories of religions, when it is said that even the least of offerings can satisfy God. God does not ask of us rich presents, gorgeous articles or decorated things. Anything that we offer as a symbol or insignia of our inward feeling is enough to satisfy. What satisfies you is my attitude towards you, and not what I physically or materially hand over to you—that cannot be regarded as a correct demonstration of my feelings. The feelings of people are capable of speaking in a louder language than the words that are uttered through the mouth. Many a time people may be under the impression that they can hide their feelings, and with the veneer of language they can live an apparently social existence in a cooperative manner. But feelings are recorded in realms that are subtler than the physical one, and they shall come to the surface of experience one day or the other. The feelings that one entertains in one's own heart are the real language that one speaks. The language is not necessarily the words that are uttered. The mind is the speaker, and the words are only outer expressions or forms that the thoughts or the feelings of the mind take. If the feelings are there, the words may not be there, yet the feelings shall work when words are uttered. The gestures are performed as visible expressions of the inner attitude that one has towards anything.

God is omniscient and sees all things with millions of eyes. God looks to the feelings rather than the words that are uttered, the prayers that the lips offer and the materials that are placed before the symbol of God as the sacrament, the prasad or the gifts. There is nothing material that we can offer to God, because nothing really belongs to us, and what does not belong to us cannot be offered as a gift. And so our offerings to God are a misnomer again, and they have a value only in the sense that they are the expressions of our feelings. As we offer a light or wave a lamp before the brilliance of the sun though the sun is not in need of a candle or an arti, and one does not have to perform ablutions with water to the ocean, likewise there is no need of any kind of offering to the Almighty. Yet our feelings shall be recognised. Even a leaf that is offered, even a drop of water that is sanctified in the name of God shall satisfy Him, because it is offered with love. Tad aham bhakty-upahrtam asnami prayatatmanah. What satisfies reality is reality alone; the unreal cannot satisfy the real, and the greatest reality is God's existence and God's Being. Any kind of counterfeit attitude, whether it is religious or otherwise, cannot touch the reality of the Supreme Being. Hence, the diplomatic adjustments that we make in human society cannot be transferred to the realm of the Absolute, and diplomacy will not work there. There is a heart-to-Heart communion—the heart speaks to the Heart of the universe. The soul communes with the Soul, and that which is the deepest in us enters into the bosom of That which is deepest in the whole cosmos. This is the consummation of religion. That is why what is interior is respected and regarded as of greater value than anything that is exterior. The deeper we go, the more real we become, and the more valuable is the expression. Hence, feelings are considered to be the greatest expression of devotion. Thus it is that God is considered to be a recogniser of feelings rather than of material offerings.

There is a great ethical point that is made out in this wondrous universal religion of the Bhagavadgita. There is no sinner in the eye of God. The idea of sin does not occur. The sin that we think of does not exist in the brilliant light of God-perfection. What we call a 'sin' is a dereliction, a deviation, a movement away from the centre. It is a tentative or a temporary mistake that the soul commits on account of its inability to visualise the present state of affairs with the great goal towards which it is moving. It is a blindness of vision that causes the commission of errors which, when they are related to the set-up of all things in the cosmos are called sins, and when they are committed with respect to mere human society are called crimes. But they are all stages that shall be passed, transcended one day or the other. No one can be a criminal or sinner for all time to come.

There are stages and stages of education. There are faltering steps that each one takes. We tumble down and fall into the pit many a time, only to wake up into the awareness that there is a pit and it has to be avoided. In the eyes of the all-seeing God, error is completely obviated, and the soul that commits a sin or error is taken into the fold of God one day or the other, because what God expects of anyone is a longing for Him. This longing may be expressed in many ways. The history of religion is a standing example of the variety that is there in the manner that devotees express their devotion. Many a time a most sincere form of devotion may look very odious in the eyes of polished or aristocratic human society. There were butchers, hunters, carpenters, shoemakers and farmers who knew not the elegancies of modern intelligentsia, but they were more sincere and more devoted to the great Creator than aristocrats.

There is a very touching scene described in the life of a great saint called Kannappam, whose devotion would stun you simply at the crudity in which it was expressed. But the sincerity and the genuineness of it was such that it excelled any other form of conceivable devotion. Usually it is not easy for ordinary human beings to imagine what sincere devotion to God is. We are accustomed to rituals, formalities and outward expressions standing in collaboration with human etiquette, etc. But devotion goes above etiquette and even ordinary social morality, all which was defied completely by the great devotees, to the confounding horror and fear of the society in which they lived. These devotees had to pass through various trials and tribulations. Many a time they were subjected to undeserved pains on account of the incompatibility of the state or stage in which they were in their divine devotion and the prosaic form of ethics which human society respected at those times. Often the saint or the sage suffers on account of the kind of society in which he is placed. The incompatibility is there; we can read about the lives of those great saints and sages who had to bear witness to the devotion that they had to the Supreme God and also to the ordeals of human society.

Such devotion is rare to find, because rarely does the soul express itself. What expressions we demonstrate outside in the form of religion are mostly social in character, and they are conditioned by the formalities of human society. Unconditioned devotion, transcending all limitations, social or otherwise, is rare to find, but it is a state through which everyone has to pass. That supreme form of devotion is called parabhakti, where one dances in the ecstasy of God-vision, wherein placed one recognises the magnificence and the beauty of the Eternal in the ugliness of the temporal. Sin and error, whatever be their magnitude, even if they are like mountains in their size, shall be destroyed by the fire of divine devotion. Errors, mistakes and sins that have been committed in past ages or births through which one has passed, innumerable though they may be, will be destroyed like heaps of straw that can be set fire to by the striking of a matchstick. When we wake up into the consciousness of the reality of the world, all the tribulations of the dream world are cancelled at one stroke—so are the values of this world. All rules and regulations, whatever be their nature, get cancelled at the touch of the light of the day of divine consciousness, even as all values of dream get cancelled at one stroke by a mere waking into the consciousness of the world in which we are today.

So there is a transfiguration of values when the soul rises to God-consciousness, and the mortal does not remain mortal anymore. The immortality that is attained is not a length and duration of individual persistence, but an expansion of the soul's consciousness to the infinitude of God's Being. We say sometimes that the river enters the ocean—well, the ocean has become conscious of itself, as it were. Such a magnitude of attainment is unthinkable. “Whoever wholeheartedly concentrates his entire being upon Me, such a person is redeemed by Me,” says the great Master.

What we are expected to perform or do in our religion or spirituality is to put together of all the parts of our personality and offer it to God. This is called self-surrender—atma samarpana or saranagati. Instead of offering a banana or a coconut, one offers oneself to God, because that is the last thing that one would offer. We are prepared to part with what we have, but we cannot part with our own selves, because the dearest thing is not what we posses—the dearest thing is our own self. That we cannot part with, even in the case of God. The ego is never prepared for this painful ordeal, but one realises that dying to the temporal existence is to live in the eternal Being. One knows for certain that sharanagati or self surrender, the offering of one's self in jnana yagna or bhakti or devotion, is no doubt a total annihilation of the local individuality. It is the death of the ego and destruction of everything that we regard as worthwhile in this world. It is terrifying indeed even to imagine, but it is an awakening into the cosmic emperorship of the soul of man—the enthronement of oneself in the supreme infinitude of the Godhead.

So the religion of the Bhagavadgita, which is concisely presented in the ninth chapter, is not a religion that we usually see practiced in this world, but a soul speaking to God, a rousing of the spirit within to the all-comprehensive reality that is present in all religious faiths, cults and creeds, and which far transcends the concepts of God held as supreme by the various religions of the world. The temporal religions of mankind are transmuted into this eternal religion of the Absolute. Here, no distinctions of any kind can count as worthwhile. There is a complete permeation of the universal meaning of religion into the several particularities of forms of worship, prayer, etc. Hence, when the Great Being speaks this immortal gospel of the Bhagavadgita, He gives us a message of religion which is consistent with the rule of the universe, the structure of the cosmos and the essential Being of God Himself.