What is devotion – भक्ति – and its role?

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The Relative and the Fundamental

Everyone is, from one moment to another, a relative person. Father, husband, son, uncle, master, servant each one is I, but I is only one, assuming different roles. Each role exists only when there is a particular relationship that evokes it; when objects or individuals change, the role also changes. But among these relationships there is one that does not change. I is related to the total as an individual, to the Creator as the created. This fundamental relationship exists for every being in this world. Whether you like it or not, whether you disavow it or not, every creature in the world and you are related to the Lord.

When you are with your father, you are also a son; but when you are with your son, you become a father and the son that you were is gone. Relationship with individuals is thus peculiar and distinct, but is one’s relationship to the total, the Lord, distinct and peculiar? You are created, your father is created, your grandfather is created, your uncle, grandson, friend, enemy, mountain, river all are created and He is the Creator. He is the sustainer, we are the sustained; He is the destroyer, we are the destroyed; He gives the fruits of action, we perform the action; He is the Lord, and we are devotees. Father, son, uncle, friend, enemy – all are devotees. Any role that anybody plays is played only as a devotee. In all your changing roles, you are an individual – jiva जीव –  related to the Lord; you are a devotee first and last, a fundamental devotee. With this understanding, how can you ever miss the Lord?

Without this understanding, however, you are a devotee only at the altar. Outside, you are a business person. You are only a spasmodic devotee having bouts of devotion whenever, you are in a temple or a church. If you are fundamentally a devotee, devotion cannot be intermittent.

A cook who has a flare for music is only a cook who sings. If he studies music very well and finally becomes a professional musician whose hobby is cooking, he is a great, musician who cooks. See the transformation. When music becomes his life, he is no more an occasional musician; he will discover music in the boiling of water or in the noise or a moving train.

Similarly, an occasional devotee can become a permanent devotee by constant remembrance of the Lord. That is why a temple tower or church steeple is so high to be constantly in sight, reminding us that the Lord is there in all our thoughts and actions, so that we may all the time gracefully accept His blessing. By cultivating this attitude one comes to command a mind that can receive the knowledge that destroys the – ahankara अहङ्कार  –  ego, the notion of an isolated I.

Until one is able to see the Lord always, in all the phenomena and laws of the world, one must cultivate the devotee in oneself by engaging in various forms of worship such as prayers, singing, chanting, rituals, etc. To become a musician, a person practices singing until it becomes natural; the practice is meaningful because singing is the means by which the singer can attain his or her goal “of being an accomplished musician. Similarly, all forms of worship become relevant if one understands that worship is, the means of becoming a permanent devotee, and that a permanent devotee can discover his or her identity with the Lord.

Invocation and Worship

All worship is aimed at cultivating this attitude; to help bring out the devotee in one. The purpose of offering a coconut to the Lord or doing ritualistic worship is that by these actions the fanciful mind learns to appreciate Him. This is not the worship of an idol. When you invoke the Lord in a form such as a cross or a crescent or a lump of turmeric powder, you are not worshiping that form, but the Lord represented there. Anything you offer goes not to the idol of clay or stone, but to the Lord you invoke.

Day after day people in India go to temples and declare, “All wealth is yours; my body, and my mind bring to you; of all this you are the author and owner. 0 Lord!” If by these words you really mean to offer all you have to the Lord, what is the need for repeating this everyday? Does it mean you are bluffing even in your prayers? Of course it doesn’t. This chant is repeated daily so that one can slowly transform oneself into a real devotee, a devotee first and last. The business person who prays can become the devotee who transacts business. When one’s relationship to the Lord becomes primary, all other relationships become secondary and the problems encountered in them are resolved. As a devotee you have no problem; the Lord does not need anything from you.

Devotion is an Attitude

पत्रं पुष्पं फलं तोयं यो मे भक्त्या प्रयच्छति |
तदहं भक्त्युपहृतमश्नामि प्रयतात्मन: || 9-26

patraṁ puṣhpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayachchhati !
tadahaṁ bhaktyupahṛitam aśhnāmi prayatātman !!

Whatever is offered to Me with devotion – leaf, flower, fruit, or water, offered by the pure-minded I take. (Bhagavad Gita, 9-26)

Lord Krsna tells Arjuna that what is offered is not of consequence; “You may even offer something mentally; that is enough for Me. What is important is only your attitude.”

Many people feel that devotion is easy; but it is not. Often respect is not shown and salutations that traditionally are to be offered to elders are not offered, because of ahankara, ego. Similarly, ego often prevents one from expressing devotion to the Lord. A man with a big ego cannot even place a flower at the altar of an idol unless he has at least some appreciation from the Lord. Surrender is not easy. It is not easy to love. To discover devotion one must create a mental condition that is conducive to expressing love for the Lord – at least one must avoid creating conditions that stifle the expression of love.

If is you who stand isolated from the Lord as an iceberg of ego which, though surrounded by its source, water, remains crystallized and separate. Worship the Lord in order to melt away this crystallized ego. Even while you act in order to achieve, remember the Lord when you receive the result of our action. By this you will neutralize your likes and dislikes and your ego will be dissolved. Only then can you discover that He and you are the same. This knowledge of identity of the Lord and the devotee is the consummation of a life of devotion, for worship helps the devotee to develop a tranquil mind free from wants, a mind that can recognize the truth presented by the teacher and the teaching.

Absolute love resolves duality. Even in the love between two persons, separation ends; the two are fused in emotionally identity. If love for the Lord – is total, it liquidates the; individual. In perfect love or surrender the individualism dissolved in the Lord not like a salt crystal in water, but like water in water. There is only one Lord who expresses the m inside and outside of you. The individual is a notion; all is the Lord. You dissolve as the wave dissolves into the ocean; what goes is only your notion – that you are different. It is dissolved in the ocean of knowledge.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Excerpts from the Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

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