Sathya Sai Baba

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Devotion and its Expressions

The aim of all religions, of all Yogas, is the realisation of the Ultimate Reality. Different religions or paths...

With Acknowledgements to "Vedanta" Magazine - Ramakrishna Mission

The aim of all religions, of all Yogas, is the realisation of the Ultimate Reality. Different religions or paths are only various ways leading to this realisation. While the nature of the Ultimate Reality is variously interpreted, it is agreed that realisation or direct experience is the end or goal. Swami Vivekananda says:

"You must bear in mind that religion does not consist in talk, or doctrines, or books, but in realisation; it is not learning but being. Man must realise God, feel God, see God, talk of God. That is religion."

The realisation of God needs sadhana or spiritual practice. Sadhana in the devotional path seems easier compared with other paths. It is easy because it follows the objective path. Every path or method is easy or difficult depending on the person's bent of mind. It is easy for a person having a natural bent and difficult for one who does not have it. Though nothing is easy or difficult, still generally it is possible to mark out one method as easier than another. The object rouses the attention of a child and attracts him long before he has any idea of the subject. Man's attention is naturally directed first towards the object; it is only late in life that he learns to direct his attention within and notice the subject. It is for this reason that the path of devotion places before the devotee an object that attracts him. This attraction seems to be spontaneous and guides the devotee further along the path. As he goes on practising the devotional disciplines his mind becomes focussed on the object of his devotion more and more until his whole mind gets occupied with it without much difficulty. In the path of devotion there is no great strain because there is no attempt to go against the grain. The instruction is to follow one's natural bent of mind until its source is reached which is the Absolute Reality, for all objects, what we call "the world", are in reality the manifestations of that One Reality only. This is why the different schools of devotion are unanimous in agreeing that the path of devotion is the most effective means to the realisation of God. Sri Ramakrishna says: "For this Kali Yuga, Naradiya-Bhakti, or communion with God by love, devotion and self-surrender as practised and preached by the Rishi Narada, is enjoined."

The devotional path lays special stress on the personality of God and regards the personal God as the Highest Reality. A devotee is expected to love God intensely to the exclusion of everything else. Devotion or Bhakti is attraction to the Absolute. Sandilya defines devotion as intense attachment to God. This attachment to God is the genuine characteristic of devotion. Narada also defines devotion as `Parama Prema Rupa' i.e., of the nature of supreme love towards the Supreme Lord. And the nature of this supreme love is `Anirvachaniyam', indescribable. It is like the dumb tasting nectar.

In order to gain this one-pointed devotion one must develop certain virtues. Narada advocates that a devotee must cultivate harmlessness, truthfulness, purity, compassion, faith, and other such qualities. Without the cultivation of these qualities it is impossible to attain devotion to God.

When a devotee consciously starts cultivating these virtues love for God starts manifesting spontaneously. It is like the sunlight streaming in as soon as the curtains are drawn.

Spiritual practice in the path of devotion lays emphasis on establishing special ways of adoring Him and cultivating special types of relationship with Him. Different religions stress different types of relationships. Narada, one of the greatest teachers of devotion tells us that God can be worshipped in eleven ways. This does not mean He cannot be worshipped in other ways. God can be worshipped in any number of ways; He can be worshipped through all human relationships.

Some devotees spend all their lives adoring the Lord in one particular manner. There are others who adopt different approaches according to their mood and need. Since no man may remain in the same mood one may adopt one or more of these aspects that help him forward in his path.

These are the eleven ways:

(1) A devotee loves to chant the praises and glories of the blessed Lord. Thus Narada and Vyasa are always found delighting themselves in singing the glories of the Lord, helping to convert others to a life of spirituality and love.

(2) He loves His enchanting beauty. The Gopis of Brindavan were naturally attracted by Krishna's enchanting personal beauty, and they revelled in it.

(3) He loves to offer Him the worship of his heart. Ambarisha spent his whole life in worship, Prahlada in remembrance.

(4) He loves to meditate on His presence constantly. Brother Lawrence puts great emphasis on practising the presence of God.

(5) He loves to think of himself as His servant. Hanuman is the supreme example of service to God.

(6) He loves Him as his friend. Uddhava and Arjuna had the attitude of friendship. It is said of St Teresa of Avila that she looked upon God both as a friend and as her Beloved. Certainly God considered her as a friend. Once when she was passing through great hardship she complained of it to the Lord. He seems to have replied, `Thus I treat my friends'. Like a flash came the retort from St Teresa, `No wonder, you have so few friends!'.

(7) He loves Him as his child. Kausalya, Devaki and Yashoda adored Him as their darling child. Many Christian women saints too had this attitude adoring baby Christ.

(8) He loves Him as his beloved. Radha, Meerabai, and Andal are supreme examples of adoring God as their Beloved.

(9) He likes to surrender himself to Him completely. Bali and Vibhishana are supreme examples of complete self-surrender to the Lord.

(10) He loves to be completely absorbed in Him. The great Rishis like Sanatkumara and Yajnavalkya immersed themselves in His bliss.

(11) He likes to feel the pangs of separation from Him. This attitude is a common characteristic of all devotees, because it is in the very nature of intense love that it cannot bear separation; and Narada has made this one of the supreme tests of devotion.

(Narada Bhakti Sutras, Sutra 82.)

Sri Ramakrishna is the supreme example of the practice of all these ways and relationships. He practised all these moods and relationships in his life and proved their validity.

Whatever may be the mood or relationship it is the intensity of one's desire, Vyakulata, that matters. As Sri Ramakrishna used to say, one realises God through intense yearning alone.

"Bhakti is supreme devotion to God. One has to do spiritual practices in order to get devotion to His lotus feet; one has to weep for Him with the intense longing of the heart. The mind should be gathered up from the different objects and concentrated exclusively on Him. He is not in the Vedas or Vedanta or in any scripture. Nothing will be achieved unless one's heart yearns for Him. One has to pray to Him with intense devotion, and practise Sadhanas. God cannot be realised so easily."

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