The Crown of Life

continued ...


He who with unwavering devotion (Bhakti Yoga), does God service, has crossed beyond the strands, and is fit for salvation.  BHAGAVAD GITA

    It is a yoga of worship with loving and living faith, absolute and steadfast, in one's Isht-deva or the object of one's reverent adoration. It is a very popular path, most suited to those who are endowed with an emotional bent of mind. Selfless devotion is the keynote to success on this path. A bhakta or a devotee delights in rapturous strains, and is ever engaged in singing hymns in praise of his Lord and never gets weary of them. He tends to differ from a jnani both in his outlook on life and approach to God, for instead of seeking the true Self, which is also the Brahman, he sets up a dualism between himself and his God, whom he adores as a separate and superior being. But this dualism is not necessarily ultimate; the bhakta knows the secret that one becomes that which one adores.
    The cult of bhakti occupies an important integral place in all the yogic sadhnas. In a jnani, it provides substantial support in the form of devotion to the cause of self-knowledge. In a Karma yogin, it manifests itself in the form of an effect, and finds its efflorescence in acts of loving devotion for the common weal of all creatures, for they are the creation of God.
    The path of bhakti is characterized by three salient features: japa, prem and the symbolic representation of the object of veneration.
    (i) Japa: It connotes the constant remembrance and repetition of God's name; in the beginning, orally, by means of the tongue, and then mentally. All the devotees engage in this practice irrespective of their religions orders. The practice of telling beads is widespread in the world. The Hindus name it mala, the Christians "rosary" and the Muslims tasbih. Unless it is performed with devotion and concentration, it defeats its purpose, for it runs the risk of becoming mechanical. Thus in some countries the whole practice has resolved itself into a mere rotating of a wheel on which are inscribed various prayers, only the hand being kept busy, while the mind instead of being fixed on God is left free to wander in worldly thoughts.
    (ii) Prem Bhava or love-attitude assumes multitudinous forms with a bhakta. Sometimes, he assumes the role of a child, and clings to God as one does to his father or mother, and at other times altogether reverses the process and sports with Him as one does with his child. At times, he adopts an attitude of a friend and a companion (sakha-bhava), of a lover pining for his beloved spouse, of a devoted slave for his Master, or a tippler for the Saqi, as we find in the quatrains of Omar Khayyam. It all depends on one's varying moods and predilections. Christ always spoke of God as the "Father;" Paramhansa Ramakrishna adored Him as the "Mother;" Arjuna, the warrior prince, and Meera, the Rajput princess, always regarded Him as a Sakha or a friend and companion, while the Gopis sang songs of poignancy and grief as any love-smitten maiden would do for her lover.
    (iii) Next comes the chosen symbol of the Lord. Everyone has his own conception of incarnations and God's manifestations. As the Nameless assumes many names, so does the Formless appear in many forms according to the desires of His devotees. One may find Him in a stone as Sadna did, another in an idol, for He is immanent in all forms and answers to the prayers of all His sincere bhaktas and never lets them down. One can, of course, serve the Lord when He appears as a Godman, a teacher of humanity like Buddha, Christ, Kabir, Guru Nanak, who by their very presence illumine the world.
    The process of bhakti gradually widens the outlook of a bhakta until he sees the light of his chosen idol pervading everywhere in and around him, and he begins to feel himself expanding with love, till he embraces the entire creation of God. This is the climax to which love brings him. The process was powerfully illustrated in our own time by the life of Sri Ramakrishna. At first he worshiped the Divine Mother as the idol in the Dakshineswar temple, then as the principle that manifested itself in all things good and holy, and finally, as the spirit that pervaded everything, the evil no less than the good, considering even the courtesan as its manifestation. The stages of the progress of a true bhakta from dualism to monism, from a limited individuality to universality, are traditionally termed as under:

(a) Salokya: The stage where the devotee desires to dwell in the same region
      as his Beloved.
(b) Sampriya: The stage where he not only wishes to dwell in the same region
     but also in close proximity to his Beloved.
(c) Sarup: The stage where the devotee wishes for himself the same form
     as that of his Beloved.
(d) Sayuja: The final stage when the devotee is content with nothing less than
     becoming one with the deity.
    When a bhakta has reached the end of his journey, he no longer sees any duality, but beholds the one Deity pervading everything and everywhere. He may continue to speak of It in the manner in which he used to do, as a Father or a Mother, but he no longer knows any difference between that Being and himself, and so we read of Christ saying: "I and my Father are One."


    Karma is the essence of existence, whether of man or of God, the Lord of Karma. Karmas rightly performed, in a spirit of service to the Divine, can lead to spiritual emancipation.
    Karmas or actions are of two kinds: good and bad. Good deeds are those which tend to take us nearer to our spiritual goal while the bad deeds are those that take us farther away from it. There is no pleasure higher and more abiding than the one that comes from rediscovering one's true Self, which is really finding one's identity with the world around.
    Life in all its forms is characterized by activity; and change is the law of life. No man can do without action, even for a fraction of a second. Wordsworth has described this state of perpetual activity thus:

The eye cannot choose but see,
We cannot bid the ear be still,
Our bodies feel where'er they be,
Against or with our will.
    This being the case, what one has to do is to sublimate the course of one's actions, from end to end, so that they are purged of the dross of low and mean desires and sensual relationships. The selfless service of mankind is the highest virtue "Service before self" should then be the guiding principle in one's life. Since all life springs from God, the fountain of life and light, life must be made a perpetual dedication unto Him, without any desire for the fruit thereof. Brahmsthiti or establishment in Brahman comes not by renunciation of work (saivyas), but by giving up the desire for the fruits thereof (tyaga). It is not work, but the motive power behind the work, that binds us and pampers the ego.
    Karma, to be the means of moksha or liberation from mind and matter, must satisfy three conditions:
    (i) True knowledge of the higher values of life: Life itself being a continuous principle immanent in all forms of creation and is, therefore, worthy of respect and adoration. This is the realistic aspect of Karma.
    (ii) Sincere and loving feelings toward all living creatures from the so-called lowest to the highest. This is the emotional aspect of Karma.
    (iii) Karma must be performed with an active will, without fear of punishment or hope of reward. It should, in other words, be spontaneous, flowing automatically from one's specific nature (swadharma), i.e., from a sense of duty--work for work's sake and not under any restraint or compulsion. Man is not merely a creature of circumstances, but has a will whereby he can modify his environment and direct his own destiny. This is the volitional aspect of Karma.
    A man who lives completely for others does not live for himself, nor would he allow his ego to get inflated by thoughts of possessiveness. With his spirit fully detached, a Karma yogin lives in complete dissociation from his ordinary self.
He who does the task
Dictated by duty,
Caring nothing
for the fruit of the action,
He is a yogi.
    In brief, "selfless devotion to duty" is the keynote to success on the path of action. In the performance of duty, one must rise above the sense-objects, the senses, the mind and the intelligent will, so that whatever is done from the fullness of one's being will be a spontaneous act in the light of the atman, and a righteous action; enabling one to see action in inaction and inaction in action, and to be a still point in the ever-moving wheel of life, which is at once in action and in inaction. In this way, both the "action rightly performed" and "action rightly renounced" lead to the same goal, for it is the right understanding of the nature of action that brings the yogic state.
    These then are the three main types of yoga designed and fashioned according to human nature. Each one receives the mystic call, as one may be inclined temperamentally. To the reflective philosopher gifted with a logical mind, it comes as --"Leave all else and know me." The spiritual aspirant endowed with an emotional mind gets it as--"Leave all else and lose thyself in my love;" while a highly practical and active mind gets the call as--"Leave all else and serve me."
    As has already been said, these three approaches tend to overlap and cannot be wholly separated. Something of the bhakta and the Karma yogin is present in the true jnani; something of the jnani and Karma yogin in the true bhakta; and something of the jnani and the bhakta in the true Karma yogin. The matter is not one of exclusiveness but of dominant tendency.


    Besides these well-known and popular forms, Lord Krishna gives us a few more types as well, with varying shades of distinction between them.

Yoga of Meditation

    It is yoga of one-pointed attention, like the "light of a lamp in a windless place." It is for the self-controlled who can struggle hard. With the mind ever fixed on the atman, a person with the aid of an intelligent will gradually withdraws himself from tile distractions of the mind, and finds himself a living and self-luminous soul and ever after moves toward perfection, For this, one has to divest himself of all aspirations, desires, hopes and possessions, and retire to a solitary place to practice control over mind and body.

Yoga of Spiritual Experience

    This experience one gains by breaking through the three dimensional egg of gunas: satva, rajas and tamas, and by transcending the physical and mental states. It comes with the understanding of the true nature of things, i.e., vivek or discrimination. Its merit is greater than that of the performance of rites and rituals, sacrifices and ceremonials, scriptural studies and chantings of psalms, practice of austerities, and the giving of alms and doing of other charitable deeds, all of which are perforce done on and concerned with the plane of the senses, and cannot take one beyond.

Yoga of Mysticism

    It is a refuge in the Lord by total self-surrender unto Him. It comes from knowledge of God's true nature and from direct vision. In this way, one frees himself from the good and evil effects of his actions, all of which he performs as an offering at the Lotus Feet of the Lord.
    The Bhagavad Gita is truly a compendium of the yoga systems prevailing at the time of its exposition, and in fact mentions as many as eighteen: Vikhad Yoga (Ch. I), Sankhya Yoga (Ch. Il), Karma Yoga (Ch. III), Gyan-Karma-Sanyas Yoga (Ch. IV), Karma-Sanyas Yoga (Ch. V), Atam Sanjam Yoga or Dhyan Yoga (Ch. VI), Gyan-Vigyan Yoga (Ch. VII), Akshara-Brahma Yoga (Ch. VIII), Raja Vidya Raj Guhya Yoga (Ch. IX), Vibhuti Yoga (Ch. X), Vishva-Rup Darshan (Ch. XI), Bhakti Yoga (Ch. XII), Kshetra Kehetragya Vibhag Yoga (Ch. XIII), Gun Trai Vibhag Yoga (Ch. XIV), Purshottam Yoga (Ch. XV), Devasura Sampad Vibhag Yoga (Ch. XVI), Shradha Trai Vibhag Yoga (Ch. XVII), and Mokshar Sanyas Yoga (Ch. XVIII).
    From the above analysis, it is clear that the distinctions drawn between the various aspects of the yoga system are illustrative rather of the human mind's habit of looking at the same thing in different ways, then of any inherent difference between one type and another. They are just different facets of the same subject, and they often overlap and interpenetrate each other. If one studies the Gita closely enough, one will begin to see that while Lord Krishna speaks of different yogas to harmonize with varying human approaches to the Divine, the practical esoteric discipline that accompanies them is the same. When he initiated Arjuna into the mystic science, he opened his Divya Chakshu or third eye, and it was only subsequently that the prince could behold him in his Universal Form or Vishva Roopa (Ch. XI). Finally, as Guru, the great royal yogi told him to leave all else and surrender himself completely to him; Sarva Dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja (Ch. XVIII). Further hints of the inner path are not lacking in the Gita; thus in Chapter I, we are told that at the very outset the Lord sounded the five-melodied conch. But in the absence of a teacher who has himself practically mastered the science, we tend to treat it either on the level of intellectual discussion or that of ritual chanting, thus missing its inner import.
    It may be noted that the dualistic assumption characterizes the first stages not only of Bhakti Yoga, but of all the other types of yoga as well. They begin by distinguishing the jiva from the Brahman; one imperfect, finite and limited, and the other Perfect, Infinite and Limitless. Creation itself is the product of two principles, the positive and the negative: Sat and Sato in the purely spiritual world, Purush and Prakriti at the higher reaches of Brahmand, Brahma and Shakti in mid-Brahmand, Kal and Maya still lower and Jyoti and Niranjan at the bottom of the Brahman. It is the union of these, whatever the stage, that brings the various forms into manifestation, from the minutest atom to the largest Universe. The term Brahman itself comes from two roots: vireh which denotes growth or expansion, and manan which connotes cognition. The process of creation is one in which the Unity projects itself into dualistic and pluralistic forms, and the way back is through the reverse process from duality and plurality to Unity. But so long as a person remains in the body, he cannot, according to the yogins, be always in a state of samadhi or union with the Adi Purush, the Primal Being. The yoga system therefore believes in vedeh mukti, or final liberation only after death. Again, the highest heaven of the yogins is Sahasrar, the region of the thousand-petaled lights, and that of the Yogishwars is Trikuti, the headquarters of the Brahmand, the origin or the egg of Brahman itself. Most of the Prophets of the world descend from this region, which is a half-way house between the physical and the purely spiritual realms, and at times refer to the beyond as Par Brahm only. The path of the Saints and the Masters, however, goes beyond these, for they speak definitely of Sat Lok, the abode of the True One, the realm of pure spirit, and of regions even beyond thereto: Alakh, Again and Anami.


    It will be of interest to know that we have, in the Gathas of Zoroaster, a five-fold system of the Beatific Union with Ahura Mazda, which corresponds closely to the yogic systems like Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja Yoga, etc., that we have been examining. We quote in extenso from Practical Metaphysics of Zoroastrians by Mr. Minochehr Hormusji Toot, a leading Zoroastrian scholar.

(i) Gatha Ahura Vaiti --The Path of Divine Knowledge:

Look within with the penetrating enlightened mind and search out the truth for your personal self so as to overpower the base self and gross physical selfish egoism, akeen, by the evolution of the better and higher self, vahyo, and ultimately to realize the best, Absolute Being (Vahisht Ahura), and the highest self, of Ahura Mazda or the Ultimate Reality of the Universe, Asha Vahishta.

    The polarity of the "Better and the Base," the primordial, spiritual subtlety and the grossest inertia, is created by the twin spirit forces: the unfolding (spento) and the straightening (angoo), produced by Mazda. Both the Life and the Matter produced by the harmonious coalescence of these twin spirit forces, evolve toward perfection by their related activity.
    The above is the metaphysical path of spiritual knowledge, as given by the Gatha Ahura Vaiti (Refer Jnana Yoga).

(ii) Gatha Ushta Vaiti -- the Path of Love and Devotion:

The Path of Armaiti, Divine Love and Devotion, acquired by steadfast attachment to the Truthful Beloved Master Ratu Zarathustra. Considering the Beloved Master, connected with the All-pervading, Infinite Reality, as all in all, the alpha and the omega, the devotee remains detached from and unentangled with worldly attachments, and procures the divine love, which seeks and cherishes the Beatific Union with the All-pervading Reality after Creator Ahura Mazda.
    Thus proclaims Ratu Zarathustra in this Gatha:

Thus I reveal the Word, which the most Unfolded One has taught me,
The Word which is the Best for the mortals to listen;
Whosoever shall render obedience and steadfast attention unto me,
  will attain for one's own self, the All embracing Whole Being
  and Immortality;
And through the service of the Holy Divine Spirit will realize Mazda Ahura.
                                                                      (Ha. 45-8--Refer Bhakti Yoga)

(iii) Gatha Spenta Mainyu - the Path of Selfless Service:

Selfless service is rendered for the furtherance, growth and benevolence
  of the entire Universe and all living beings therein:
The Unitive Knowledge is best for men since their birth,
Let the selfless service be rendered for the Universe,
This Universe must prosper for our sublimation.
                                                              (Ha. 8:5)

    We must sacrifice the finite self, ego or individuality at the altar of benevolent, philanthropic service of the entire Universe, in order to acquire the Infinite vision of the Unity of Life and the immanence of the All-pervading Reality through the worship of Ahura Mazda, the Creator, Source, and Ultimate Goal of all.
    The Gatha ends with the soul-strirring axiom of life:

The Most-Sublimating, Ennobling Will or Volition is that of righteous service.
Which the Creator of the individualized human existence culminates
  with the Enlightened Super Mind.
(Refer Karma Yoga)
(iv) Gatha Vahu -- Khshetra or the Path of Self-Mastery:
By controlling the base mental propensities and mean tendencies of physical nature, through the sublimation of the volition power, aspiring to the Divine Kingdom of the communion of the All-loving and All-pervading Ahura Mazda, the self-mastery is attained with calm and composed mind.

The Holy Self-mastery is the most sustaining absolute sovereignty.
By introspecting worshipful service, it is procured inwardly through
  the All-pervading Reality,
O Mazda! Let us achieve that best now.
                (Ha. 51: 1--Refer Raja Yoga)

    (v) Next we have the Gatha of Vahishto Ishtish, which deals with the Path of self-sublimation. It consists in physical, mental and spiritual culture by cultivation of higher and nobler qualities of head and heart, in trying to realize one's true self in relation to the Highest Self of Ahura Mazda, and in dedicating the finite self and relative being to Ahura Mazda.
    The life on earth is a great sacrifice, Yajna (yagna)--the voluntary sacrifice of self for the well-being of one's fellow beings.
    It is in self-sublimation that all human endeavors ultimately end, and in fact, it is the objective to which all the paths as described above Iead. Without true knowledge of the twin spirit forces, the better and the base, loving devotion of the aspirant to the great cause, and selfless service, one cannot master the self-assertive self within him so as to rise above body-consciousness, and thus prepare himself for the spiritual path that lies ahead.
    In Zoroastrian philosophy, the twin principles, or the "Better and Base spirit forces," is the fundamental law of the relative existence manifested in the Universe. This polarity is essential for the evolution of life, from the grossest base to the better and higher stages of spirituality, right up to realizing the infinite goodness and supreme benevolence of the Absolute Being beyond them. Without this polarity of the Better and the Base, the best of the Absolute Beyond can never be realized and the Impersonal Supreme Being cannot be comprehended:
Indeed unto one's self as the best of all,
The Sell-Radiant person shall impart Self-Enlightenment,
So that, 0 Omniscient Mazda, thou shalt reveal Thyself,
Through Thy Most Benevolent spirit, and shall grant
The Blissful Wisdom of the Divine Mind,
Through the All-pervading Reality.
                     GATHA USHTAVAITI

    In the Venidad, the Supreme Ahura Mazda assures us, thus:

Indeed I shall not allow the Twin opposite spirit forms
  to stand in contest against the superman who is advancing
  toward the Best Absolute Being.
The stars, moon and sun, O Zarathustra, praise such a person;
I praise him, I the Creator Ahura Mazda,
Hail of Beatitude unto thee,
O Superman! Thou who hast come from the perishable place
  to the Imperishable.


    Having discussed in some detail the various methods of yoga, we may in conclusion, remind ourselves of the true warning sounded by Shankara:

    The three-fold path; the path of the world, the path of desires, and the path of scriptures, far from giving the knowledge of Reality, keeps one perpetually bound in the prison-house of the Universe. Deliverance comes only when one frees himself from this iron chain.
    Liberation cannot be achieved except by the perception of the identity of the individual spirit with the Universal spirit. It can be achieved neither by yoga, nor by Sankhya, nor by the practice of religious ceremonies, nor by mere learning.

    To bring up to date Shankara's message that True Knowledge is a matter of direct perception and not mere ceremony, ritual or inference, we may add that it cannot come through the outer sciences either. The discoveries of the modern physical sciences have indeed been spectacular, and have confirmed many of the views about the nature of the cosmos and of existence voiced by the yogic systems. They have established, beyond doubt, that everything in the universe is relative, and that all forms are fundamentally brought into existence by the interplay of positive and negative energies. These discoveries have led some to presume that physical sciences can and will lead us to the same knowledge that yogins in the past sought through yoga; that science will replace yoga and make it irrelevant.
    A blind man, though he may not be able to see the sun, may yet feel its heat and warmth. His awareness of some phenomenon which he cannot directly perceive, may lead him to devise and perform a series of experiments in order to know its nature. These experiments may yield him a lot of valuable data. He may be able to chart more accurately, perhaps, than the normal man, the course of the sun, its seasonal changes and the varying intensity of its radiation. But can all this knowledge that he has gathered be a substitute for a single moment's opportunity to view the sun directly for himself?
    As with the blind man and the man of normal vision, so too with the scientist and the yogin. The physical sciences may yield us a lot of valuable, indirect knowledge of the Universe and its nature, but this knowledge can never take the place of direct perception, for just as the blind man's inferential knowledge cannot get at the sun's chief attribute which is light, so too the scientist in his laboratory cannot get at the cosmic energy's chief attribute, which is Consciousness. He may know a great deal about the universe, but his knowledge can never add up to universal consciousness. This consciousness can only be attained through the inner science, the science of yoga, which by opening our inner eye, brings us face to face with the Cosmic Reality. He whose inner eye has been opened, no longer needs to rely on spiritual hearsay, the assertions of is teacher or mere philosophic or scientific inference. He sees God for himself and that exceeds all proof. He can say with Christ, "Behold the Lord!" or with Guru Nanak, "The Lord of Nanak is visible everywhere," or with Sri Ramakrishna, "I see Him just as I see you--only very much more intensely" (when replying to Naren--as Vivekananda was then known--on his very first visit, in answer to his question: "Master, have you seen God?").

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