Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Fundamentals of the Bhakti Tradition
in Hinduism

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by Professor V. Krishnamurthy

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Part XVI (i): Grace of God

Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V Part VI Part VII Part VIII Part IX Part X Part XI (i) Part XI (ii) Part XII Part XIII Part XIV (i) Part XIV (ii) Part XV

Descent of Grace is the culmination of bhakti yoga. The Theory of Grace is more complicated in the Hindu religion than in the semitic religions. Because the karma theory is so central to Hinduism, its view of God's Grace is much more subtle than the na�ve argument that if God is pleased with your devotion, He immediately gives you what you want. The history of Hindu devotees of the Lord is a long saga of excellent examples of mystical devotion and the acceptance of the Lord as the embodiment of the Supreme Absolute Reality. It includes not only just devoted extraordinary men and women but composers, authors, singers, poets, missionaries, visionaries and common people breathing the spirit of genuine bhakti, sometimes born of a na�ve theory of surrender, sometimes born out of the loftiest intellectual conviction, and, very often, of both. Each one of their lives was such that bhakti itself got its definition from what they did and preached. Even before the time of recorded history, as we know it now, the mythological names that had become proverbial in this connection in the Indian subcontinent cannot but be recalled, if nothing else, for paying our homage in this account of bhakti. These names are for instance, (in the alphabetical order of their names transliterated into English, for want of a better order!):

Ajamila, Akrura, Ambarisha, Arjuna, Bhishma, Dhruva, Draupadi, Gajendra, Garuda, the Gopis, Hanuman, Jatayu, Lakshmana, Narada, Parasara, Parikshit, Prahlada, Radha, Rukmangada, Sanandana, Saunaka, Sudhama, Sugriva, Suka, Uddhava, Valmiki, Vibhishana, Vidura, Vyasa, Yasoda and Yudhishtira.

No special treatise on bhakti has to be studied to know about bhakti. It is enough to read the stories about these characters from the tradition. Coming nearer to historical times we have numberless devotees of the Lord on the Indian soil whole devotional lives have been so exemplary that bhakti itself came to be evolved by their unique actions and pronouncements. A study of the life of an Appar, or a Thiagaraja, or a Ramadas, or Mira, or Kabir or a vedAnta Desika or a Prabhupada and scores of others would show how devotion finally ends up with the Grace of God being showered on the devotee. That does not mean, however, that the devotee does not suffer any more in his material life.

There are two views in Hinduism of how one may win God's Grace. One view is that you have to cleave to God as a baby monkey clings to its mother. This view, the markaTa-nyAya -- the monkey theory, considers human effort as essential in obtaining salvation just as a young monkey has to exert itself and cling to its mother while being carried to its destination. The second view is that you don't have to make any positive effort, just surrender yourself to God as a baby cat surrenders to its mother and relaxes. This latter is the mArjAra-nyAya -- the cat theory, which emphasises prapatti, complete resignation to God's will as the most effective means of salvation. In fact the tenkalai ( = Southern Learning) sect of Vaishnavism holds that prapatti is the only means of salvation. It is open to all, the learned as well as the ignorant, the high as well as the low, while the path of bhakti involves a little understanding of j~nAna and karma. But anyone who has been initiated by a proper guru, may fling himself on the bosom of God and surrender to Him and thus, taking refuge in the Almighty, the devotee need not exert any further, as, according to the Tenkalai school, individuals to be freed are selected by the Grace of God. This school holds that the essence of the gItA is contained in that one verse, the carama Slooka, which says, 'Renounce all dharmas and seek Me, the One, for thy protection and I shall deliver you from all sins':

sarva dharmAn parityajya mAmekam SaraNam vraja /
aham tvA sarva-pApebhyo mokshayishyAmi mA SucaH //

But according to the advaitic viewpoint, when the Lord says, shed your dharma, He does not mean: abandon your action. Your duties you have to do, certainly. But they must be done in a spirit of detachment. In fact you must surrender the doership itself to God, then God by His Grace will convert all your actions to dharmic ones. Once this kind of surrender is done to the Lord to the extent of merging one's individuality with the Lord, thereafter one becomes an instrument in the hands of God and nothing more. To all external appearances such a devotee may appear to behave like ordinary people, discharging all his duties scrupulously according to his station in life. But within himself the devotee will not be conscious of doing anything of his own accord or for his own sake.

Often he may be seen to override accepted codes of conduct or social custom or propriety but also often he may be so immersed in the bliss of his god-experience that he appears dead to his sourroundings. It is this kind of self-effacement that is the the culmination of a complete surrender to God. And such a surrender has to be done by one's own free will. Man has the free will to obey or to disobey God. The so-called fatalist view in religion is only a fragmentary part of Hinduism. Because of the vAsanA-s that one brings along with his birth one is born in a particular environment and this facet of one's personality, mistakenly branded as Fate, reflects mainly in one's tendencies. Fate does not influence anything except the tendencies. Everything else is one's own making. One has the total free will to surrender to God or not.

Great souls, the pious and the devout who possess a divine nature -- they know Him as the prime cause of all creation, they know Him as the Imperishable, as permeating everything just as air pervades all space. They know Him as agent-provacateur for even the swing of a little leaf. They constantly chant his names and glories and strive to attain His Grace through worshipping Him with single-minded devotion. They constantly think of Him and nothing else and worship Him for the sake of worship. To such people who are ever immersed in His thought, God promises that, 'He will take care of their security and well-being': yogakshemam vahAmyaham. He goes on further to promise:'Whosoever offers to Me with love a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water, I delightfully partake of the article offered by such a disinterested devotee of purified intellect':

patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktyA prayacchati /
tadaham bhaktyupahRtam aSnAmi prayatAtmanaH // (bhagavadgItA (9- 26))

Note that all the things he has listed above are products of nature and nature alone; man does not have to strain himself to get them. God does not calculate the value of the things you offer Him. He only calculates the feeling that prompted your offering. This is the art of Spiritual Love. We have only to purify the feeling behind the act, in order to win His Grace. 'Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as oblation to the sacred fire, whatever you bestow as a gift, whatever you do by way of penance, offer it to Me,' says He:

yat karoshi yad-aSnAsi yaj-juhoshi dadAsi yat /
yat tapasyasi kaunteya tat-kurushva mad-arpaNam // (bhagavadgItA (9-27))

This is the science of Spiritual Love. Everything is an offering, or dedication, to Him. Hindu religious scriptures are replete with Slokas, depicting these two concepts: the art and the science, of Spiritual Love. Even if the vilest sinner worships Him with exclusive devotion in this spirit he should be considered noble, says the Lord, for he has taken the first step:

api cet sudurAcAro bhajate mAm ananyabhAk /
sAdhur-eva sa mantavyaH samyag-vyavasito hi saH // (bhagavadgItA, (9-30)).

And to those who have taken towards the Lord even a single step, the Lord promises to take several steps towards them, so that they can speedily become dharmAtma-s. The simple meaning of this word 'dharmAtma' is 'a virtuous soul'. To such a devotee the Lord assures us: My devotee never perishes - na me bhaktaH praNaSyati - (bhagavadgItA, (9-31)).

Part XVI (ii)

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012