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 (ii): 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 Part XVI (i)

QUESTION: But this is not true. We see many devotees - some of them really true devotees in every sense of the word - suffer either hunger or poverty or disease or failure in their endeavours. How can this be explained?

The elementary answer is that God tests them to gauge the intensity of their belief and devotion. But how long does God have to test? Very often one finds that there is no end to the suffering one undergoes, in spite of one's devotion. Our teachers explain this with the help of several analogies. One is that of driving a nail into a wall. What does one do? After hitting the head of the nail a few times, one shakes it and checks whether it can be pulled out from the wall. And one does this several times, alternatively hitting and driving the nail into the wall and checking by shaking. This process of intervening by periodical trials of strength goes on in the life of a devotee. This is part of the science of spiritual love. The more one survives each trial, the more intense one's faith becomes. So when God says: My devotee never perishes, He means, ultimately. How long is 'ultimately' is the question. It depends on the accumulation of one's pUrva karma (karma of all one's past lives). If the bank balance of karma is too much on the negative side, the only way to wipe out the deficit is to 'suffer' it.

This elementary answer that God tests them to gauge the intensity of their belief and devotion is indeed given by many exponents of Hinduism and is also mentioned in some contexts in the purANA-s. But experts in the scriptures do not accept this answer. It was in one of Sri Krishna Premi's lectures that I gathered a more sophisticated answer to this question. The elementary answer only underestimates the omniscience of God. He has no necessity to test us, ordinary mortals. He clearly knows that we will fail in such tests. But then this theory of God testing his devotees is certainly true in the case of confirmed intense devotees of the Lord. In such cases, He tests them just to show to the rest of the world how intense and effective their devotion is and how far a devotee's faith can carry him. He knows that they won't fail His test. In our ordinary cases, the theory that God tests us is not acceptable. We suffer because of our karma. And we have to suffer it. Hinduism is very clear on this point. In fact even in the case of leading devotees they could not avoid the suffering that they had to endure But their lives show how when the Lord's Grace descended on them, the most intense suffering could be either transformed into intense delight or, more often than noty, God's Grace, instead of wiping out their suffering, provided an insulation of faith which enabled them to be oblivious of that suffering underneath (pp. 93-4).

QUESTION: If God's Grace is what ultimately decides what is going to happen to me, why does He not give me or grant me that bhakti which I seem to lack and need?

Yes, God grants you that bhakti. But you have to receive it. The rain may pour, but if a vessel is upside down no water will collect in it. Your mind is free; by your own free will you have to decide to receive what God is ready to give you. By your own volition you have to decide to trust in God and surrender to Him. If by supplanting your will, God has to give you what you need, then there need be no creation, no existence of the universe. This is the mystery of God's lIlA (sport, play) of creation. Creation is a kind of play where God allows beings to have the feeling of separateness from Him and then waits and waits until the beings that have emerged from Him come back to Him. If they don't want to come back to Him, He allows them to go their own way and take their own time to discover that that is the Want which will finally rid them of all their wants. The 'agony of God' in this great cycle of creation is that beings do not want to get out of this cycle. So sometimes He gives them all the petty things they want, so that in due time they would want what He wants to give them. All our temples, gods and goddesses and the innumerable ways by which we can propitiate the divine in these places of worship, as well as the uncountable methods by which we may offer our private prayers -- all of them have that one objective, that we should ultimately want to go back to where we came from, that is, merge in Him and His Glory.

To understand the glory of divinity, one has to tune one's mind to take time off from one's constant activity in the mundane world. To see darkness, one must have darkness. To understand intelligence the right way, you have to be intelligent. To be conscious, you must have consciousness. So also, to become divine, you must live in the memory of the divine. There is a saying, a favourite of Sri Ramakrishna: 'Just as a dancing girl fixes her attention on the waterpot she bears on her head even when she is dancing to various tunes, so also the true devotee does not give up his attention to the blisfful feet of the Supreme Lord even when he attends to his many and varied concerns'. So fix your mind on Him and make obeisance to Him by serving Him and humanity at large. Unite yourself to Him and to His cause. Entirely depend on Him and surrender to Him even your feelings of mine and thine. Then, says bhakti yoga, you shall win His Grace.

Finally it is important to note that the Hindu thought process has always a built-in tendency toward evolution as opposed to revolution. It has continuously shown a flexibility, an adaptability, and a resilience which have undoubtedly been the key to its long survival. It gradually came out of its own partial eclipse that it experienced during the challenge of Buddhism and Jainism. It showed an extraordinary degree of accommodation and adapted itself to face the continued onslaught of Islam in the 2nd millennium. It reacted with similar flexibility to the challenge of scientific rationalism as well as that of Christianity. The really most distinguishing feature of Hinduism is that it has always been a matter of faith, not a policy of diplomacy, with Hindu thought, to consider all religions as true. Since God can be worshipped in several forms and ways, a true Hindu believes that different religions are just so many paths to God. No religion may assume that it is the only true religion. Each is a path to the same one God. So there should be no hate or distrust of another religion or another point of view with respect to God. In this modern world of strife, competition and hatred this tolerance of other religions and other points of view with respect to God is the major lesson that the world may adopt from the Hindu way of life. We shall end this monograph with the clarion call which Swami Vivekananda gave to the whole world at the Parliament of Religions in 1893:

If there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose Sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development; which in its catholicity will embrace in infinite arms, and find a place for every human being from the lowest grovelling savage, not far removed from the brute, to the highest man towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity, making society stand in awe of him and doubt his human nature. It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be centred in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature.

Om shAnti shAnti shAnti


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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012