82. The Way Of Bhakti Is Not Different From The Way Of Efforts
Brothers, in a way we have today reached the end of the Gita. In the Fifteenth Chapter, all the ideas put forward in the Gita reach their consummation. Chapters 16 and 17 are in the nature of appendices, and there is summing up in Chapter 18. Hence the Lord has termed this Fifteenth Chapter ‘a shastra’ (science). ‘अत्यंत गूढ हें शास्त्र निर्मळा तुज बोलिलों’ (‘O blameless one, I have told you this most secret shastra.’), says the Lord at the end of this Chapter. The Lord says so not because this is the concluding Chapter, but because the elaboration of the principles of life and the revelation of the spiritual wisdom is complete here. The essence of the Vedas is contained in this Chapter. The very function of the Vedas is to make man aware of the realm of spirituality. This has been done in this Chapter and it has therefore earned the title, ‘the essence of the Vedas.’
In the Thirteenth Chapter we saw that the Self should be separated from the body. In the Fourteenth Chapter we saw how efforts could be done in this regard. Rajas and tamas should be resolutely forsaken, sattva should be developed and attachment to it should be overcome. The fruit received because of it should be renounced. Efforts should be continued in this way. In the end, it was told that Self-realisation is indispensable for those efforts to be wholly successful. And Self-realisation is possible only through bhakti.
But the way of bhakti is not something different from the way of making efforts. To suggest this, the samsara has been compared, at the beginning of the Fifteenth Chapter, to a great tree. This tree has enormous branches that are nourished by the three gunas. It is said right at the beginning that this tree should be cut down with the axe of detachment and dispassion. It is clear that the ways and means described in the last Chapter have been mentioned here again. Rajas and tamas are to be destroyed and sattva nourished and developed. One is the destructive aspect and the other is the constructive one, but both of them belong to the same work, just as removing weeds and sowing seeds are two parts of the same job.
There are three brothers in the Ramayana: Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Bibhishana. Kumbhakarna is the embodiment of tamas, Ravana that of rajas and Bibhishana that of sattva. The drama of the Ramayana with these three characters is being continuously enacted inside our body. In this drama, Ravana and Kumbhakarna ought to be killed. Only the Bibhishana-principle, provided it takes refuge at the feet of the Lord, may be nurtured, as it can help our progress. We saw this in the Fourteenth Chapter. This has been repeated at the beginning of the Fifteenth Chapter: Cut down the samsara tree full of sattva-rajas-tamas by the axe of detachment. The Gita is thus placing before us the ideal of the lotus flower.
In the Indian culture, the best and the noblest things in life are described using the simile of the lotus. The lotus is the symbol of Indian culture. It expresses the most elevated thoughts. It is clean and pure and remains unsoiled by the mud around. Sanctity and detachment are its distinguishing characteristics. Different organs of the Lord are, therefore, described employing the simile of the lotus: He has lotus-eyes, lotus-feet, lotus-heart and so on. It is meant to show and impress on us that everywhere there is beauty, holiness and detachment.
This Chapter is intended to take to its consummation the sadhana described in the last Chapter. This consummation takes place when bhakti and Self-knowledge are combined with effort. Bhakti is also a part of effort. Bhakti and Self-realisation are parts of the same spiritual discipline. The Vedic sage says,
‘यो जागार तं ऋचः कामयन्ते यो जागार तमु सामानि यन्ति’
‘Vedas love him who is awake; they come to meet him.’ It means that jnana and bhakti come to him who is awake. Bhakti and jnana are not different from the effort. They, in fact, make the effort interesting and add flavour to it. This is what this Chapter intends to show. Grasp with full concentration the nature of jnana and bhakti that is revealed here.
83. Bhakti Makes The Effort Easier
I cannot cut up life into pieces. I just cannot conceive that karma, jnana and bhakti are disconnected from each other; and they are really not so. Let us take the example of cooking in this jail. Some of us do this job. If a man does not know cooking, he would make a mess of it; food will either be undercooked or burnt. But even if a man knows cooking, he would still not be fit for the job if he has no love or devotion for the work; if he does not feel, “This food is meant for my brothers, that is, for the Lord Himself. I should prepare it as best as I can. This is service of the Lord Himself.” Thus, cooking needs knowledge as well as love. Food would not be tasty unless there is bhakti in the heart while cooking. That is why nobody can cook better than the mother. Who else can do it with equal love and care? Cooking needs hard work or penance as well. It is thus clear that love, knowledge and effort, all three are needed for any job. All the activities in life are supported on this tripod. If one of the legs of the tripod is broken, it cannot stand. All the three legs are necessary. The very term ‘tripod’ conveys this meaning. The same is true of life. Jnana, bhakti and karma—that is, ceaseless effort—are three legs of the tripod of life. Life should be built on these three pillars. Logically, you may take jnana, bhakti and karma as different things, but they cannot be separated from each other in practice. The three together make one great entity.
Even though this is true, it does not mean that bhakti has no special merit of its own. If bhakti enters into any work, that work appears easy. Not that it ceases to involve toil, but that toil does not then appear to be toil; it becomes a labour of love. To say that the way of bhakti is easy means that work does not appear burdensome because of bhakti. Work loses its strenuousness. No matter how much work we do, we feel as if we have done nothing. Jesus Christ has said that when you fast, your face should appear cheerful: “But thou, when thou fasteth, anoint thine head and wash thy face: that thou appear not unto men to fast.” In short, we should be so full of bhakti that we do not feel any hardship. We talk of patriots walking smilingly to the gallows. Sudhanwa was smiling in the cauldron of boiling oil, chanting God’s name. It means that such persons did not feel even the most terrible pain because of bhakti. It is not difficult to row a boat in a river, but how difficult it would be to drag it over rocky land! The boat of our life should also have the water of bhakti beneath it, so that we could sail happily. If there is rocky and uneven terrain, then it would be extremely difficult to drag the boat of life. Bhakti, like water, makes easy the voyage of our life.
Bhakti makes sadhana easy. But without Self-knowledge, there is no hope of going beyond the three gunas permanently. How could then one have Self-knowledge? The only means is the way of bhakti which involves doing sattvik actions continuously, assimilating sattva thereby, and overcoming pride for it and attachment to its fruit. Only by continuing efforts on these lines unremittingly one can reach the goal of Self-realisation. Till then, efforts should never be given up. This is a matter for the greatest endeavour. It is not a child’s play. It is not something that can be taken casually. Spiritual quest demands that one does not allow despair to creep in and slacken the efforts even for a single moment. There is no other alternative. The seeker does sometimes get exhausted and exclaims wearily, ‘तुमकारन तप संयम किरीया, कहो कहां लौ कीजे!’ ‘O God! How long should I continue to be engaged in penance and self-control for you!’ But such utterances should not be given much importance. Penance and self-restraint should become so ingrained that they become our very nature. To ask, “How long am I to continue sadhana?” is unbecoming in the path of bhakti. Bhakti will never allow impatience and despair to arise. This Chapter has put forth an extremely noble thought in order that one does not get tired and experiences ever-increasing joy and enthusiasm in bhakti.
84. The Triad Of Service
We see countless objects in the world. They are to be divided into three categories. When a bhakta gets up in the morning, he has only three things in mind. First, he remembers the Lord. Then he makes preparations for His worship. The bhakta is the servant, while the Lord is the one who should be served. The rest of the creation is the means of worship. It exists to provide flowers, incense and sandal paste for the worship. This is the triad of service. This is the teaching in this Chapter. But normally a devotee worshipping an idol does not look upon everything in the world as means of worship. He picks and chooses a few things. He goes to a garden and fetches a few flowers, brings a few incense sticks, prepares some food-offerings. This is not in keeping with the teaching in this Chapter. All the means of doing penance, the means of doing karma constitute the means for the Lord’s service. Some of these may be called flowers, some may be called incense and so on. The idea is to make all the actions the articles of worship in this way. Nothing exists in the world except these three: the worshipper, the Lord and the means of worship. The Gita is infusing the spiritual discipline of non-attachment (vairagya), which it wants to impress on us, with bhakti. Thereby it is removing the arduousness in karma, the ‘action-ness’ in action and rendering it easy.
When someone in the Ashram has to do more work, he never thinks, ‘Why should I do more work?’ There is great significance in this. If a devotee gets an opportunity to worship for four hours instead of two, would he complain about it? In fact, he would be more delighted. This is what we experience in the Ashram. We should have this experience everywhere in life. Life should be fully devoted to service. There is the Purushottam (the greatest Person, the Supreme Self) to whom service is to be rendered, and there is the akshar purusha (the imperishable person)1, the eternal servant, who knows no weariness and who has been serving since the dawn of creation. He is like Hanuman, who is ever standing before Rama with folded hands. Hanuman knows no weariness. The servant, who is deathless like Hanuman, is also ever-ready for service.
Akshar purusha issuch a lifelong servant. He says, “The Lord is ever there and I, the servant, too exist for ever. If He is deathless, so am I, the servant. Let us see whether He gets tired of my service or I get tired of serving Him! I shall follow Him in all His incarnations. If He is born as Rama, I shall be born as Hanuman. If He is born as Krishna, I shall be Uddhava. Every time He comes into being, I too shall be born.” Let there be such a lovely emulation. Akshar purusha, the imperishable person, serves the Lord in this way age after age. It should always be borne in mind that He is Purushottam, the Master and the bhakta is His obedient servant; and the whole creation, which changes every moment and presents itself in innumerable forms, should be made the means of worship, the means of service. Every act should become the worship of the Lord.
The Lord who is to be served is Purushottam and jiva, the servant, is the akshar purusha. Both are imperishable, but the creation around us, which provides the means for service is perishable and its perishability has profound significance. It is not a defect; it is rather a good quality. It is because of this that the creation is ever new. Yesterday’s flowers will not do for today’s worship; everyday you can have fresh flowers. That the creation is perishable is a great blessing. It adds to the glory and splendour of service. ‘Just as I daily use fresh flowers daily for worship, I shall also put on new bodies and serve the Lord. I shall go on giving new forms to my means of worship.’—That is what the bhakta aspires for. Beauty is because of perishability.
Today’s moon is not the same as yesterday’s; tomorrow’s moon will also be different. It exudes a different kind of charm every day. What a joy it is to behold the two days old waxing moon! It is the second day’s moon that shines on the forehead of Lord Shiva. The beauty of the eighth day moon is quite different. Only a few stars are seen in the sky that night. The moon . On the full-moon night, stars are almost invisible. In the full moon we can see the Lord’s face. The beauty of the new-moon night is truly serene. There is calmness everywhere. Innumerable stars twinkle freely in the absence of the overpowering brightness of the moon. The new-moon night celebrates freedom in its fullness. The moon on that night merges into the Lord—into the Sun from whom it receives its luminosity. Then it seems to show to the jiva how it should surrender itself to the Lord without causing any trouble to the world. The form of the moon is ever-changing; but that is, in fact, a source of ever-new delight.
It is its mutability that makes the creation perennial. The nature of the creation is like a gently flowing stream. If a stream stops flowing, it would become a stagnant pool. The water of the river flows in an unbroken stream. It is for ever changing. One finds joy in something if there is newness, freshness in it. Traditional rituals have laid down that the Lord should be worshipped with different leaves and flowers and fruits in different seasons. This lends newness and freshness to the worship and makes it interesting. Children initially find the learning of the alphabet quite boring. Mastering the writing of the alphabet involves repetitive practice and the children try to wriggle out of it. But subsequently they become familiar with different words and sentences and start reading books. Then they develop a taste for literature, get acquainted with various classics and masterpieces and experience boundless joy. This happens in the realm of service as well. If the means of service are ever new, the enthusiasm for service grows and the spirit of service gets developed.
It is because of the perishability of the creation that we have fresh flowers every day. A town is lovable because there is a cremation ground near it. Everyday, old people die and new children are born. That makes life interesting. Had there been no death, and therefore no cremation ground, life would have become a veritable hell. You would have got tired of seeing the same people day after day. In the hot summer, earth is parched. But do not be troubled; summer days will pass. The heat of the summer is necessary to have later the joy of the rainy season. If summer is not hot enough, rains will make the earth slushy. We would not then have plentiful crops. Once I was wandering about on a hot summer day. My head felt the heat and it made me happy. A friend warned me that I could fall ill. I told him, “The earth below is getting heated. Let this head, a lump of clay, too get heated like it.” How joyful is the experience of receiving the shower on the heated head! But if a man is not in the habit of being out in the scorching summer heat, he would not feel like coming out in the open when it is raining; he would remain within the four walls of the house and bury his head in books; he would not dance under the grand and sacred shower. He would miss the divine joy. The sage Manu was a great lover of nature. He writes in his Smriti, “When it starts raining, holiday should be declared.” Should the pupils sit in the ashram roting something when it is raining outside? That is the time for singing, dancing, becoming one with nature, watching ecstatically the meeting of the earth and the sky. Nature is itself a great teacher.
In short, the perishability of creation implies newness in the means of worship. Thus we have creation endowed with creative energy to create endlessly new means, the eternal and ever-ready servant and the Lord. With the coming together of these three, let the game go on. Purushottam, the Supreme Person, is giving the bhakta different means of worship and taking from him service that springs from love. ‘He is ever-engaging me in play by putting in my hands new and newer means. I am nothing but His instrument.’—Let this feeling pervade the life and it will then be full of joy.
85. Bhakti Means Service Without Any Sense Of ‘I’
The Gita wants every action of ours to be imbued with bhakti. It is good to worship the Lord for half an hour. It is worthwhile to steady the mind and meditate on the Absolute, forgetting the ordinary worldly affairs for a while, at the time of sunrise and sunset when the splendour of sunshine is particularly appealing. Such good habits must, of course, not be given up. But the Gita is not satisfied with this much only. It wants that all the activities that we do throughout the day should be done in the spirit of worship. While doing everything—be it bathing, dining, sweeping—we should have the Lord in mind. For instance, while sweeping we should feel that we are sweeping the Lord’s courtyard. All our actions should thus become acts of worship. Let this spirit be ingrained in you, and then you would see how your behaviour changes. When we pick up flowers for worship, we choose them carefully, put them delicately in the basket, see that they are not crumpled and remain fresh, and do not even smell them. All the activities in life should be informed with this spirit. While sweeping the village roads, I should feel that I am serving the Lord in the form of my neighbours. The Gita wishes to imprint this attitude on us. It wants to see all the actions become acts of worship. Worshipping for half an hour or so does not satisfy it. The holy text yearns to see the whole life charged with the Lord’s presence, with the spirit of worship.
By teaching Purushottamyoga, the Gita is bringing the life of action to fulfillment. The Lord (Purushottam)is the master, I am His servant, and this creation is the means for worship.— Once this is realised, what else is needed? Tukaram says, ‘झालिया दर्शन करीन मी सेवा, आणीक ही देवा न लगे दुजें ।’ (‘When I meet you face to face, I shall devote myself to your service; I do not need anything more.’)
Then there will be never-ending service. Nothing like ‘I’ will exist. The sense of ‘I and mine’ will be completely erased. Everything will be for the Lord. There would be nothing else except wearing ourselves away for the good of others. The Gita is exhorting us repeatedly to remove the sense of ‘I’ and live a life devoted to the Lord, imbue the life with bhakti. The Lord is the master, I am the servant and the creation is the means for service; there is then no question of getting encumbered with anything else. Life will then be free of any worries.
86. The Mark Of Jnana: Seeing The Purusha Everywhere
Till now, we have seen that bhakti should be combined with karma. But it is also necessary to have jnana (knowledge) fused with them. The Gita is not otherwise satisfied. This does not mean that these three things are distinct from each other. We use different terms for them for the sake of convenience only. Karma and bhakti are one and the same; there is thus no question of combining bhakti with karma. The same is true about jnana. How can we have jnana? The Gita says, “You will have it when you see the Purusha everywhere.” The eternal servant is Purusha; the Lord, the recipient of service, the Purushottam, is also Purusha and the creation which flows continuously, takes different forms and provides different things for worship,is also Purusha—all are different forms of Purusha only.
What is implied in having this outlook? It implies an attitude of perfect and flawless service to all. If your sandals squeak, oil them. Keep them in good condition. The Lord is present in them too. The spinning wheel is a means of service. Lubricate it regularly. Otherwise it will refuse to let you spin. It too is Purusha. It should be kept neat and clean and in working order. The whole creation should be seen as full of consciousness; do not look upon it as inert. Nothing is inert, nothing is devoid of His presence. The spinning wheel that hums melodiously is not inert; it is the Lord’s idol. On the Pola2day we worship the oxen, shedding our pride. This is not an ordinary thing. In fact, we should always have the Pola spirit in mind while taking due work from them; it should not be restricted to a single day. An ox too is a form of the Lord. We should also take due care of the plough and the agricultural implements. All the means of service are sacred. How grand this vision is! Worship does not mean offering flowers etc. to the idol; keeping anything neat and clean and tidy is its worship—be it a lamp, a scythe or a door hinge. The means of worship should be spotless and faultless. Divine consciousness pervades everything. When we have this vision, jnana will enter into our karma.
First, bhakti was infused with karma, and now jnana too is poured into it, forming the divine elixir of life. The Gita has finally brought us to the path of service that is full of advaita (non-duality). There are three forms of Purusha in the whole of the creation, and it is the Purushottam who takesall these forms. These three together constitute one single Purusha. Nowhere is there any duality, any distinctions. This is the pinnacle of spirituality where the Gita has brought us. Here, karma,bhakti and jnana fuse together and become one. Jiva (the lower self), Shiva (the Absolute, or the Supreme Self) and the creation become one. There is then no conflict, no contradiction between karma, bhakti and jnana.
Jnanadeva has given in his ‘Amritanubhava’ an illustration that is dear to Maharashtra,
‘देव देऊळ परिवारु । कीजे कोरूनि डोंगरु
तैसा भक्तीचा वेव्हारु । कां न होआवा ।’
(‘The temple, the idol and the devotee are all carved out of a single rock. Why cannot bhakti be like that?’)
The temple, the image of the Lord and that of the devotee and the flowers for worship are all carved in the same rock. A single rock takes different forms3. Why should not the same thing happen in the realm of bhakti? Why cannot there be unity between the bhakta and God even when the relationship of master and servant is retained? Why cannot the creation, the means of worship, verily become the Self even though it is distinct? All the three Purushas are after all one. Jnana, karma and bhakti should combine together to form the spring of life. This is the perfect Purushottamyoga. The sport of loving devotion should go on even though the servant, the master and the means of service are one and the same.
A true devotee is one who has fully assimilated this Purushottamyoga.
‘सर्व-ज्ञ ता सर्व-भावें सर्व-रूपीं भजे मज’
(‘He who knows Me, the Purushottam, knows all; and he worships Me in all the forms with all his being.’)4
Such a man is a jnani and still he is a perfect bhakta. One who has attained jnana is invariably full of love. Knowing the Lord and loving Him are not two different things. If we know that something is bitter, we do not develop any love for it. Exceptions apart, bitter taste arouses dislike. But sugar immediately arouses liking. In the case of the Lord, knowing Him and loving Him are one and the same thing. But should one compare the Lord with so ordinary a thing as sugar? Knowing and loving Him being one and the same thing, there is no point in debating over the place of bhakti in advaita (non-duality). As Jnanadeva says, ‘हें ची भक्ति हें चि ज्ञान । एक विठ्ठल चि जाण ।।’(‘As far as the Lord is concerned, knowledge and devotion are one and the same thing. Know the Lord, and that is all.’) Bhakti and jnana are two sides of the same coin.
When supreme bhakti is infused into life, the karma that followsis not different from bhakti and jnana. Karma, bhakti and jnana together make a single beautiful form. And wonderful service, saturated with love and knowledge, springs from it naturally. If I love my mother, my love should express itself in my actions. True love always toils for the loved ones. It expresses itself in service. Service is the outer, visible form of love. Love adorns itself with innumerable acts of service. Where there is love, knowledge inevitably follows it. When I am to serve somebody, I must know what kind of service would please him; otherwise the service could prove to be disservice. Love must therefore have knowledge of those whom it serves. Knowledge is needed to spread the grandeur of love through actions. But love has to be there primarily. Without it, knowledge would be of little use. An action done out of love is quite different from an ordinary action. When the son comes home tired from the field, the old mother looks at him with affection and concern and speaks a few comforting words, “My child, you really are tired; aren’t you?” These few words have tremendous effect. Pour knowledge and devotion into all the actions in life. This is what Purushottamyoga means.
87. The Essence Of All The Vedas Is In The Palm Of My Hands
This is the essence of all the Vedas. TheVedas are many; but Purushottamyoga is their short and sweet essence. Where are these Vedas? Their ways are strange indeed! The very first verse of this Chapter refers to the tree having the Vedas in its leaves—‘ज्याच्या पानांमधें वेद’. The Vedas—that is, the spiritual wisdom—are not, after all, hidden in a book; they are there in the whole universe for everybody to see. Shakespeare has spoken of ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stones.’ The Veda is not made up of words, it is not in some book; it is in the creation around us. Devote yourself to service and it will be revealed to you.
‘प्रभाते करदर्शनम्’—One should behold one’s palms in the morning. The Veda is there in those palms. They ask you to serve. See whether your hands have toiled yesterday, whether they are ready to toil today, whether your palms carry marks of labour. ‘प्रभाते करदर्शनम्’implies that when your hands work tirelessly, that which has been ordained for you by Providence will become clear; you will know what you are destined to and are supposed to do.
What is the point in asking, “Where is the Veda?” The Veda is not somewhere else; all of us have received it when we are born. We are the living embodiment of the Veda. We are the consummation of a long tradition. We are the fruit of the tree that has sprouted from the Veda-seed. Within this fruit, there are seeds of innumerable Vedas. The Vedas have grown many times within us.
In short, the essence of the Veda is in our hands; it is for us to realise it. It means that life has to be built on the foundation of service, love and knowledge. We can interpret the Vedas in the way we like. The saints, who were embodiments of service, claim, ‘वेदाचा तो अर्थ आम्हासीच ठावा’ (‘We alone know the meaning of the Vedas’). The Lord is saying here, ‘The Vedas know Me only; I am the Purushottam, the essence of all the Vedas.’ Would it not be wonderful if we could assimilate this Purushottamyoga in our lives! The Gita is suggesting here that the Vedas express themselves in every action of the person who assimilates Purushottamyoga. This Chapter contains the essence of the Gita. The Gita’s teaching is fully revealed here. Everybody should strive to follow this ceaselessly. What else can one say?
We have already referred to the concept of Purusha in the footnote in Chapter 7.2. 'There are two persons in the world—the perishable and the Imperishable', says the Gita (15.16), 'All the contingent beings are perishable and the unchanging is called the Imperishable. It also speaks of the third Purusha—the Purushottam. The Gita's speaking of three Purushas or rather a triple status of the Purusha differs from the standpoint of traditional Sankhya.
A festival, particularly in rural Maharashtra.
Ellora caves in central Maharashtra are famous for these sculptures.