The Foundation of Spirituality
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: Upasana or Devotional Worship

Performance of duty is not only a discharge of the obligation that we owe to the environment in which we live, but it is at the same time the manifestation of the necessary cooperation that is expected of us in regard to the environment of which we are an integral part, and without which cooperation our very existence itself would be at stake. Thus, the performance of duty is not a grudging condescension on the part of a person as a charity, as it were, that he doles out to others in a highly lofty superior attitude. We do not render service to others because they are poor and we are rich. This is not the reason. The service that is expected of everyone is not a superior attitude expressed by an authority, as it were, in regard to one lesser or lowly placed. These ideas, though very wrong indeed, cannot be easily avoided. There is a spontaneous feeling of superiority whenever one recognises another as someone placed on a lesser pedestal than one’s own self. This feeling should not be there for obvious reasons, but nevertheless it is there. The idea of superiority and inferiority does not leave us. It will not easily leave us as long as we are alive in this ego-ridden bodily complex.

The service, the performance of duty, a philanthropic attitude, a cooperation that you extend is to be defined only as duty, and there is no other suitable word to describe what exactly it is. A duty is not a charity. It is not a help that you render as a more powerful person to a weaker one. It is a duty in the sense that it is unavoidable, inviolable, a must and an imperative – compulsive, not in the sense of a compulsion coming from somebody outside, but a compulsion arising from a higher dimension of your own being. The compulsion of duty comes from you only; it does not come from others.

But here is another difficulty for us to understand. The obligation, the injunction in regard to duty appears to be a command received from others. Therefore, we resent it oftentimes. But the command of duty, the imperative so-called, does not come from others. These so-called ‘others’ are only a phenomenal expression of your own higher self and, therefore, it becomes impossible for you to violate this command that may look like a thing coming from outside. The outsideness, again, is a misnomer. There is no outsideness, really speaking, because you know a thing that is really outside you is not connected with you and, therefore, you need not be afraid of it. You are not obliged in any way whatsoever to a thing that is totally outside you. The fact that you seem to be terribly obliged and feel the need to kneel down before that compulsion coming from outside, which you so much resent, shows that this so-called outer mandate does not come from an area that is totally outside you. If that were the case, who would listen to any instruction, and why should there be any kind of law, regulation or any kind of authority at all? What authority can there be upon someone who is totally independent?

The inviolable need felt to be subservient to an authority is at the same time an acceptance of the fact that the instruction, the direction, does not come from outside. This is a very interesting logical and psychological background of the environment of so-called duty and obligation in which we are placed. This is a philosophical analysis which goes into the very root of the nature of human duty and performance, and therefore, no one can grudge the performance of duty. “Why should I do this? I do not like it.” These statements have no sense because a thing you would not like to do, you will not do. A grudging performance of a duty is the outcome of a malaise, a malady in the mind, a kind of illness that has crept into the brain of the person which, on the one hand, feels the need to perform that action which seems to be a compulsive force upon it; and, on the other hand, it resents it.

There is a dual conflict of psychic individuality in a person who does a thing grudgingly; therefore, there is no such thing as doing a duty with resentment. Either it is done, or it is not done. Such is the very intricate structure of human duty in this world of internal relations, which are not obvious before the perceptive empirical eye.

There is a simple moral which is expressed in half a verse in the Mahabharata: Do not do to others what you would not expect to be done to you. There is no need of reading many a book. You know very well how you would expect other people to behave with you, it is clear to every conscience: “I wish that all people in the world should have this kind of attitude towards me.” Do you think that others do not have this feeling? And if that is the case, can you afford to have a different attitude towards others, and grudgingly condescend to be of some service to others? Would you like others to grudgingly do some service to you?

Here is something which takes us beyond ethics and morality. The need to be ethical and moral, the need to perform duty, to discharge one’s obligations, and the necessity for being righteous and cooperating in every way in life arises on account of a deeper-than-ethical structure of the universe, and that is the foundation of something which is breath-taking, into which we gradually enter when we ascend the pedestals of spiritual practice, sadhana, a Godward movement of the human soul.

The need to be cooperative with everyone whom you consider as apparently outside you arises on account of the non-separateness of these so-called persons and things from you. Otherwise, there would be no duty in this world, and you would not have to do anything at all. You can close your eyes and wither away in this world. Unknown, unwept, unhonoured, unsung you can quit this world. This is not possible because there is a need to extend cooperation. From where comes this need? It arises from the very simple fact that the so-called others, in respect of whom you are expected to extend cooperation, are not outside. If they are outside, cooperation is not necessary. There is no need to do anything. The world would vanish in one second if this were the fact.

So the spirit behind the performance of duty, the essential at the back of the discharge of obligation or the paying of one’s debt, comes out onto the surface of our understanding when we go deep into the diagnostic rock-bottom of the need to do anything at all in this world.

Yesterday I mentioned a sentence, or even a half sentence perhaps, that there is a deity, there is an angel, there is a god, there is a divinity, there is a superintending principle beyond both the percipient and the perceived world, a reference to which is casually made in the verse of the Bhagavadgita I quoted yesterday: devān bhāvayatānena te devā bhāvayantu vaḥ, parasparaṁ bhāvayantaḥ śreyaḥ param avāpsyatha (Gita 3.11). “Discharge your duty to the gods,” says this verse.

The gods are not persons like us, though they can assume personalities in a different sense altogether. And I also made reference to the organisation called the government, which is not a human being but it can manifest itself through a human being. A god, therefore, is not a person, but this divinity can manifest itself as a personality if the necessity arises. Money is not something visible to the eyes. It is a power of purchase, but it can manifest itself as a visible something which we keep in our purse, and so on.

The higher reaches of spiritual practice or sadhana take us to a level or realm called upasana, devotion, adoration of a divinity or a god, the need for which arises because there is something at the back of even the necessity to do anything in this world. That which is at the back of your obligations to persons and things in this world is the divinity so-called, the god that superintends over the relationship between you and the world or people at large, invisible yet immanently present – invisible because it is not an object. If it were an object, it would not be the connecting link between you and the object. Therefore, the god that you are referring to here, the angel, the divinity, has to be invisible. You cannot see God with your eyes. The moment you see Him, He ceases to be God. He becomes something like any other object in the world. A divinity, a god, an angel, a superintending spiritual power is what is referred to in this little verse of the Bhagavadgita – that which comprehends you as well as that which you see with your eyes; that which you contact with your senses as an object; that which is between you, and yet includes you both. Here is something very important for you to remember. It is that which is neither you nor the object which you see, but that which includes you and that also.

This is a little hard for the brain to comprehend, but once it enters your head you will be thrilled and be in a state of such joy that you are always guarded by a power which will not allow a hair of your body to shake. There is a protection behind you always, and you are never in peril if this divinity is to guard you.

But the god loves only itself. It cannot love somebody else. There is nothing outside the god, whatever be the level of your conception of this god. What you call a god or angel or divinity is a principle outside which nothing can be because, as I mentioned, it includes you as well as the so-called object of yours, and hence, you cannot say there is something outside. Therefore, your relationship to this divinity cannot be as if it is a relationship to somebody external to you. Do not bring this logic of externality even in your devotion to God, whatever be your notion of God.

Now, this is a very difficult thing because our understanding is not usually accustomed to think in this manner. We can never think impersonally. We are always persons and persons and persons. We cannot believe that law is a universal principle which is not intended to harass us. It is an acceptance on our own part of a need to be subservient to that which is superior to us – superior not as something or someone sitting on a chair physically above us in space, but superior logically. Your so-called boss is not a physical superior, but a logical superior. Many will not be able to understand this because you see another person like you even when you consider that person as a superior. That superiority is not a person.

Here again is a difficulty before us. The superior in any sense, whether in an office or in a religious field, is not a person. If that is a person, then that person cannot be your superior because you are equal to that person. The superiority, or superiority of that so-called position you call the authority, is an impersonal pervasiveness which is not standing outside you, though apparently to your empirical eye it may look like that person is sitting on the chair. Otherwise, you cannot be subservient to that person. It is a pervasive force which includes you also, and that principle which you call the superior is the symbol of the exercise of that law which is necessary for your own maintenance also and, therefore, a law which you accept of your own accord. It is a self-ordinance that you are manifesting from yourself. So there is no such thing as resenting law, just as there is no such thing as resenting duty. A law is not made by somebody outside you, but many of us may be thinking it is made by some people who are very selfish. It is nothing of the kind. A law is a pervasive inclusiveness in which you are also comprehended; therefore, it is intended for your good also, for your protection. When I say it is for your protection, it means for the protection of everybody like you also. So sometimes it may appear that it is not intended only for you. But man being what he is, he wants everything to be for him only, not for anybody else.

Therefore, a sufficient intensity of education is necessary here even to understand the principles behind the political administration, the principles behind social cooperation, the principles behind family maintenance, and the principles behind even being a good person. These are not simple things, as they may appear.

The upasana that spiritual circles enjoin upon a seeker of truth is, therefore, an adoration of a divinity that is not outside you. It is that which includes you also. That is why you are thrilled before it. You are thrilled when you think of God or even a representation of God, even a lower degree of your notion of God, because even that lower concept of God is a concept that overcomes the limitations of your present individuality. Otherwise, who will worship any divinity? Why should you worship an image? Why should you bow down before a photograph or a painted picture of someone whom you adore? What kind of adoration is this?

You are not adoring an outside painted picture, idol, photograph – nothing of the kind. You are adoring a principle, a pervasiveness, a universality, a superior position which cannot be outside you, which is inclusive of you; therefore, you are obedient to your own higher dimension. You are obedient to yourself only, not in the sense of a person, but obedient to your larger self. If this is not acceptable to you and you cannot understand it, you also cannot understand that famous verse of the Bhagavadgita which says, ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (Gita 6.5): Your self is your friend, your self is your enemy. You are your friend and you are your enemy. This statement of the Bhagavadgita also means you become your own enemy when you resent the performance of duty under the impression that it is doing something for somebody else, while it is not so. The performance of duty is the discharge of an obligation – not in respect of another person, but in respect of your higher dimension, which includes others as well as yourself.

So is upasana – God-realisation or God concept or the worship of a divinity. It is a still further rising up of the level of your consciousness. What does it mean? In the performance of upasana, worship of a god or divinity, what do you do? You place yourself in the presence logically, not physically, not by way of a measurement of distance by a foot ruler. God is not sitting five feet in front of you. This god is a pervasiveness, a superior, a comprehensiveness, an integrality, and therefore, it is something superior to you in a very, very significant manner. You cannot but obey it. You cannot say, “No, I do not worship God. I do not care for anybody.” These statements lose sense in the light of the impossibility of a person to exist without the cooperation of that integral environment in which one is involved, whether you call it a society, or you call it a divinity superintending over both you and the object, or humanity, the world that is outside. So what is upasana? It is worship of a god.

I mentioned that sometimes it appears that they are many gods, and I also told you how there are no many gods, though the concept of a multitude of gods is unavoidable under the circumstances of the present way of human thinking. But the manifoldness is not in any way a contradiction of unity. The manifoldness of the limbs of a human body does not contradict the unitary character of your personality. You are a single Mr. so-and-so, undivided in every way, indivisible to the core, in spite of millions of cells being the constituents of your personality and several limbs such as hands and feet forming part of you. So multiplicity need not always contradict unity. There are conditions where they can be coextensive and in harmony with each other. There are stages of this realisation. There may be a stage where the very notion of multiplicity may be redundant. We need not go so far. But at a particular level they can be harmonious.

The upasana, the devotional worship which is considered as a next step, as it were, is a larger absorption of our consciousness in the light of its involvement in a spiritual inclusiveness, a god who sees us with an eye that is intuitive and not perceptive. You have heard that intuitional perception is different from sensory perception. God knows things intuitionally and not sensorily. We see things sensorily, look at objects with our eyes. Therefore, everything appears as if it is outside us, and we have a difficulty in maintaining a relationship with other people in a harmonious manner. But intuition is an eye which does not require spectacles. It is not an eye in the ordinary sense of the term. It is the vision of the soul. It is not the physical eye or the orb, the iris that sees things here, but a radiance, a light that emanates from what you really are. I have made a reference that you are an indivisibility in respect of an apparent multiplicity of your personality; therefore, when the vision of this real indivisibility of yours becomes the instrument of knowledge, it becomes intuition, and the indivisible intuitional cognition would be an intuitive, inclusive perception. It will not see things as if it is outside.

In intuition you do not see an object outside, though you see it. The eyes see a thing as if they are outside in space and time; but the intuitive vision, which is the integrality of the manifestation of the light of the soul, visualises also its object, if at all you can call it an object, as an integral something. This is exactly what the Yoga Sutras sometimes refers to as samadhi. In samadhi you are in communion with the object, people say. You are in communion with the object in samadhi in a very special sense, not in an ordinary sense of your understanding of the coming of one in contact with another. Samadhi is not a contact. It is asparsa yoga, as great masters sometimes say. It is non-contactual contact. It is a coming in union with something, no doubt, but it is a coming in union as if you are awakening from dream or sleep.

The object of intuitive cognition is a part of yourself, referring to what I told you a few minutes before. An intuition is the vision of your own larger self which includes everything that you originally considered as outside you, so intuition is not an inferior perception. It is not something irrational, as some of the rationalists of the West may retort. Intuition, mystical vision, is not irrational, it is super-rational. It includes everything that rationality may comprehend. It is inclusive of everything that the eyes can see or the ears can hear, and yet is beyond.

In upasana you are endeavouring to commune yourself with the deity by way of adoration and worship, but this worship has to arise from your heart. It begins with a ritual. Rituals are not unnecessary things because the concept of externality, though it is not finally tenable, is a level of understanding and experience which has to be paid its due. Therefore, when you pay the due in respect of that which you consider as outside you, it becomes cooperation, it becomes duty, and so on, and in the religious realm it becomes a ritualistic worship.

The service that you render becomes a social cooperation in the lower level; it becomes a religious ritual in the higher level. It is necessary at a particular stage. Why is it necessary? It is because of the very impulsion which the empirical self of the human being feels under a given condition. We cannot but express ourselves in an empirical fashion as long as we are placed in an empirical circle. We have a hazy vision of a superintending universal principle around us and above us, and this surge of the innerness of ours in respect of that universality above us compels us to bow our head down even physically. It is, therefore, a physical external visible manifestation of an inward notion of our obedience of a larger self to our own self. Thus, ritual is a religious performance, and it has no contradiction with our higher meditations. Therefore, those who think that idol worship, ritual, etc., is nonsense do not understand human psychology. They perhaps do not understand even religion itself.

Everything is necessary, though nothing is ultimately necessary. There is nothing so irrelevant and meaningless in the world as to deserve total neglect or disregard on your part, yet there is nothing so meaningful as to deserve your clinging to it as a final reality, as an end in itself. So is the background of the need for worship, upasana, which begins with adoration, religious worship, some form of which you are seeing here in the ashram itself, and perhaps you will see it in all religious centres, temples, ashramas, churches, everywhere.

The need to be religious, therefore, arises on account of there being a reality above us. But for that, religion is not necessary. There is no meaning in it, and no sensible understanding would feel that such a superior inclusiveness is not there. There is always a feeling within us that there is something beyond, but for which we will not raise our finger for a moment, but for which we will not hope for a next better day, but for which we will do nothing in this world, but for which we would not have any kind of optimism in our life. All positive thinking is an indication that there is something higher, superior, more inclusive. Else, we would not be here alive for three seconds. That we are alive with a hope for a better future is an indication that there is something superior, higher, more inclusive and, therefore, deserving of our respect and adoration. And what this adoration is, in what way this adoration is to be manifest from our side, I have tried to dilate upon in a few words. These will be themes for a little further consideration in the coming days.