In Shri Atmananda's approach, devotion (bhakti) or love (prema) is of the greatest importance. The higher reason (vidya-vritti) is only an expression of love for truth. It's only love that can take a sAdhaka from dry ideas to living truth (see note 1952 #98 below). As the word 'philosophy' implies (from 'philo-' meaning love and '-sophy' meaning 'true knowledge'), all genuine enquiry is a love affair with truth. And reason - in particular the higher reason - is just a means through which love works, to express itself in the affair.
But, since reason is only a means of expression, it is subject to love and not the other way around. The workings of love are not subject to reason and cannot rightly be directed or described by reason. The only proper use of reason is to question false beliefs, in search of a truth that is loved beyond all else. It's only through such all-consuming love that every last remaining trace of falsity may be surrendered, on the way to truth.
Just how love works, through this surrendering enquiry, is not a subject to which reason properly applies. When a sAdhaka's love for truth is genuine enough, that love for truth manifests itself in the form of a teacher and of sAdhanas or investigations which are thereby taught. There is of course a deeply emotional side to this, but it is a side that has to dealt with in its own right - as a highly delicate matter between teacher and disciple, expressed in a way that is quite specific to their particular conditions and circumstances.
Shri Atmananda himself was a Krishna-bhakta, and his teacher asked him to undertake
the traditional bhakti sadhana of Radha-hridaya-bhavana (contemplation on
the heart of Radha, who took Krishna as her lover). Arising directly from this sadhana,
Shri Atmananda composed a poetic work, called Radha-madhavam.
The work is composed in very lyrical and passionate Malayalam, as it describes a
transcendence of Radha's personal desires into a pure love of non-dual self. Long after
it was composed, Shri Atmananda was once persuaded to try translating it into
English. He sat down to do so, but after a while he gave up, saying that the mood just
wouldn't come. An English disciple (John Levy) did make some sort of translation;
but it comes across as rather quaint, thus sadly missing out the searing power and
spirit of the original. Unlike the reasoned discourse of Atma Darshan and Atma
Nirvriti, which Shri Atmananda did very effectively translate into English, the impassioned
bhakti of Radha-madhavam was not thus translated by Shri Atmananda himself.
Perhaps it was too specific to the particular, traditional environment in which it
In his reasoned discourses, Shri Atmananda did sometimes speak about devotion and love, but he didn't elaborate here nearly as much as when he spoke of the consciousness or existence aspects of truth. And he emphasized that in the end, the heart or devotional aspect must be left to itself, as beyond the jurisdiction of head or intellectual aspect.
Even so, in Nitya Tripta's 'Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda', there are some brief discussions of the devotion and love, usually in relation to knowledge. A few of them are appended below.
1st October 1951
228. What is the nature of love in its application?
If you love another for his or her gross and external qualities alone, that love is of the lowest type.
But if you love the other knowing that it is the life principle alone in the other that you love, then that love becomes sublime.
And lastly, if you love the other knowing that it is that which transcends the attributes - body, senses and mind - that you love, there the otherness vanishes at once. That love is the most sublime, and is the Absolute itself.
The ordinary man believes the object he desires to be real, and to be the source of the pleasure he enjoys. But the Sage sees objects as mere pointers to the Self.
5th June 1952
57. Love and how to love?
All worldly love is mere bargaining and has always its opposite attached to it, ready to express itself when the consideration anticipated is in any way obstructed.
But a Vedantin's love alone knows no bargain, and naturally knows no opposite. It is perfect and unconditional; and always in the form of giving and not taking. Therefore, even to love one's own wife or child in the best manner, one has to become a Vedantin first. All talk of love in this world is nothing but unadulterated fraud.
So know yourself first. Then alone can you love anybody or anything truly and unreservedly.
8th July 1952
98. Heart and prema
Heart + I am = I am the heart.
Love is the expression of the Self through the heart, and the heart is always wet. It takes you straight to the Self or Atma and drowns you in it. Language is dry and is the expression of the Self through the head or reason. It takes you only to the brink of Atma; and leaves you there, till the heart rises up to wet reason and ultimately to drown you in love.
So when you begin to discuss love, it is impossible to proceed with the discussion when the heart wells up. Of the different styles in literature, 'shringara' (based on human love) is the one style found best suited to clothe the highest Truth through the message of love or prema. This is why even the Upanishads have invariably utilized this style to express Truth.
26th December 1952
480. What do you love?
Answer: 'You can love only the right Absolute, represented by the life principle in others. You can love nothing else.'
10th April 1953
83. What do I love? And why?
Your love is directed only to the real substratum or Self. You happen to love the qualities in one, simply because they belong to the substratum you love. You love, because love is the real nature of the real Self and you cannot help loving even for a moment.
10th April 1953
84. How to love?
Love is the feeling or sense of oneness with another.
If you correctly understand yourself to be beyond body, senses and mind, your love for another will also be for that self in him. Because there are no two selves, and love is its nature.
If your understanding is incorrect, you love the incorrect self in him; and as a result of that incorrectness, you hate others.
Genuine love absorbs everything into you, and then duality dies. But in conditioned love, or gratitude, duality persists in giving and taking. Even this gratitude, if directed to the Guru, goes deep into you, takes you beyond duality and is transformed into objectless love.
18th April 1953
97. What differentiates love from knowledge?
Knowing with your whole being is Love itself. In thought (which is knowing with the mind alone) you do not lose yourself. But in love you lose yourself. So love entails the sacrifice of the ego.
21st April 1953
109. What are the activities of love and knowledge?
Love creates an object for its enjoyment. Immediately, knowledge destroys that object, leaving love objectless. Being objectless, it is one with love Absolute. Love is enriched not by taking but by giving.
2nd July 1953
125. Where is subject-object relationship in love?
When you say you love yourself, you yourself and love stand as one. So also when you love another, you become one with the other. The subject-object relationship vanishes, and the experience is one of identity. In order to 'love thy neighbour as thyself' you have to stand as Atma itself.
The disappearance of subject-object relationship is a natural corollary of the experience of love. So also of the experience of knowledge. This actually happens in all experiences in the plane of the relative.
Instead of taking note of the sublime Truth, after the event the ego tries to limit, misrepresent and possess it. Whenever any doubt arises, refer to the deep sleep experience. There is no subject-object relationship there.
In the experience of Happiness the mind dies. There is neither enjoyer nor enjoyed in it. There is only Happiness. It is an egoless state; but this is usurped subsequently by the ego. You are not getting Happiness by loving all, but loving all is itself Happiness. The humanitarian worker emphasizes the 'all' and misses Happiness; the vedantin emphasizes Happiness, his own nature, and misses or loses the 'all'.
1st June 1957
So also bhakti or devotion is a mental attitude directed to an object, generally an iShTa-deva [a chosen form of God]. This by itself does not give the ultimate result, moksha.
Moksha [liberation] is impersonal. To attain moksha, the goal of bhakti has to be gradually changed to the impersonal, by understanding the nature of God. But the truth about God is that it is the highest concept of the human mind. Therefore, a subjective examination of the mind has to be gone through and its background, the Self, visualized. This can never be done by the mind alone, unaided.
Hence the truth of one's own real nature has to be heard from the lips of a Sage (Guru). By that, one's svarUpa [own true nature] is immediately visualized. It is then that incessant devotion has to be directed to that goal. That is real bhakti, and it enables one to get established in Atma. That is mukti (liberation).
23rd September 1958
72. How is misery related to love?
Answer: Misery is love itself. But how? Let us examine misery. Take any experience of misery. You say the thought of your departed father creates misery. But does it always do so? If your father, when living, was cruel and inimical to you, the thought of his demise would hardly make you miserable. Therefore it is clear that it was not the thought of the father that was the cause of the misery, but it was the thought of your father's love that was the real cause.
But love is attributeless and indivisible. It is wrong even to call it father's love, and it has been proved that the thought of the father was not the cause of misery. Therefore it was love and love alone that was the cause of the misery, if it could ever have had a cause. But you experience only one thing at a time - love or misery - and therefore there can be no causal relationship between the two [as different things].
Hence it is love that expresses itself as misery, and not your father [that causes it, as something different from love]. The father is forgotten in love. To find the source of misery, you must go beyond body and mind. If you emphasize body and mind, you are fixed in the expression of Truth. The substance is beyond.
Misery and happiness are both expressions. Love pure is the background of both. When you cling on to love, objects vanish. But when you cling on to objects, love is not perceived as such.
Where there is no love, there is no misery. So love goes into the make of misery; misery is love itself. It is the illusory concept of time that makes love appear as misery. If you separate love from misery, misery is not.
12th October 1958
78. What is bhakti?
Answer: You cannot have bhakti for something non-existent, nor can you have it towards anything you do not know. Every object of bhakti has two aspects:
1. The impermanent or non-existent form, and
2. The permanent or the real consciousness.
Bhakti should be directed to the latter aspect, and the former can be blissfully ignored when it has fulfilled its legitimate purpose. The purpose of the 'form' is only to arrest your attention and to enable you to direct it to Consciousness, which is its background. The Consciousness can never be objectified. That is always the ultimate subject (viShaya). It is in the devotee himself and indivisible.
Therefore, a real devotee can only and need only direct his attention to the Consciousness in him. This is real bhakti; and it immediately yields Peace or ananda, which is Consciousness itself. This is vastu-tantra, the outcome of Truth. Shri Shankara defines real bhakti of the highest order as follows:
moksha-sAdhana-sAmagryAm bhaktir eva garIyasI sva-svarIpA-'nusandhAnam bhaktir ity abhidhIyate [Viveka-cudamani, 31]
'Incessantly clinging onto one's own real nature is verily termed bhakti.'
Bhakti for anything other than this is really unworthy of the name. It may, at the most, be called a fascination as unreal as the object itself.
Q: Do you mean by 'reason' the mind that needs
to be appeased by practice to let Brahman shine?"
A: No, "the mind that needs to appeased" is what Shri Atmananda called 'lower reason'. He defined such mind or lower reason as 'consciousness going out towards objects'. And he gave the name 'higher reason' or 'vidya-vritti' to what Ramana Maharshi called 'self-enquiry' or 'atma-vicara'.
That higher reason is consciousness reflecting back into the self from which mind arises (and seems to go out). That alone is true reason. And it is not mind at all. Instead, it is consciousness itself or love itself, expressed in the form of investigating questions, so as to take a sAdhaka back to her or his own truth.
Q: What do you mean by speaking of questions that can 'take a sAdhaka back to her or his own truth'? In particular, does this imply that there are different truths, to be found by different sAdhakas?
A: It looks that way, because different sAdhakas see themselves differently - as different personalities, with different bodies and minds. But, in the end, it's only when we talk of personality that 'hers' and 'his' seem different. When any sAdhaka comes finally to truth of self, 'hers' and 'his' are found to be the same, in reality.
All difference there is shown to be appearance only, always showing one same self. That's what love points to, as a sAdhaka gives up what seems to be 'my' for what is truly 'I'.
Q: When one talks about truth, is this not the turiiya and turiyatiita states? According to Sri Ramana Maharshi the final truth is the Self, which is realized in the states mentioned above.
A: Again, there is a problem of terminology, with different words producing seeming differences that have to be transcended on the way to truth. But the problem here is a bit technical, I'm afraid. In Sanskrit, the word 'turiiya' simply means the 'fourth'. In the Mandukya Upanishad, the truth is called 'catush-pat' or 'fallen out in four'. The four are:
1. 'jAgarita-sthAna' or the 'waking state'
2. 'svapna-sthAna' or the 'dream state'
3. 'suShupta-sthAna' or the 'deep sleep state'
4. 'chaturtha' or the 'fourth'.
In this fourfold division, the word 'sthAna' or 'state' is applied only to the first three divisions, which are the states of waking, dream and sleep. The last division is where all divisions are dissolved. It is merely called the 'fourth', and the word 'sthAna' or 'state' is significantly omitted. Here is the concluding stanza of the Mandukya Upanishad:
amAtrash caturtho 'vyavahAryah prapanc'-opashamah shivo 'dvaita evam om-kAra Atm' aiva samvishaty Atman' AtmAnam ya evam veda ya evam veda
I would translate this (somewhat freely) as follows:
The fourth is not an element; nor has it elements. It cannot be transacted or made up. In it, the whole created world of made-up things is brought to rest.
It is the unconditioned happiness of non-duality.
'Om' is thus self alone. One who knows that joins back, through self, into the truth of self.
In this interpretation, the 'fourth' is not a state that comes and goes. Instead, it is a non-dual reality beyond all change and movement. It is the changeless reality described by the mantra 'om'. It is the 'fourth' merely in the sense that it is beyond the three states of waking, dream and sleep. These three are states that come and go. The 'fourth' is the reality that's found beyond these changing states. It's that which stays the same, while they come and go. Each one of them shows it alone and nothing else.
However, there is also another interpretation, in which the 'fourth' refers to a state of nirvikalpa samadhi, which is forcefully entered through the waking state. Such a samadhi state does come and go, but it is taken as a special gateway from the waking state to changeless truth. Then the word 'turiiya' (which is just another Sanskrit word for 'fourth') is used to describe a changing state. And the changeless truth is described as 'turiiy-atiita' or 'beyond turiiya'.
Sometimes, even 'turiiy-atiita' is spoken of as a higher state, beyond 'turiiya'. And then, the changeless truth has to be conceived as 'turiiy-atiit-atiita' or 'beyond turiiy-atiita'. So the conceiving of higher and higher states can go on indefinitely, so long as a sAdhaka keeps thinking in terms of changing states. To avoid this endless elaboration of terminology, Shri Atmananda recommended a simple questioning of the experience of deep sleep, in its own terms. And he said that this questioning could well be carried out in the waking state, by reflecting into the objectless depth of waking consciousness. For it is that same objectless depth which stays present in all dreams and in deep sleep as well.
As the experience of deep sleep is considered, the consideration can take a sAdhaka reflecting down-beneath all waking assumptions - into a knowing relaxation that dissolves all pettiness of ego into unconditioned truth. But that knowing relaxation needs the help of truth itself, which arises in the form of a 'kAraNa guru'. A 'kAraNa guru' is a teacher (guru) who is at one with 'kAraNa' - the inmost source within each sAdhaka.
According to Shri Atmananda, love for such a teacher is the highest devotion. And
it is utterly beyond all reasoned questioning, through which the teaching is conveyed.