Marks of True Devotion
A Devotee’s Attitude toward the World
As mentioned earlier, the world consists of inseparable pairs of opposites. But the mind likes the pleasant and loathes the painful. A devotee cultivates even-mindedness by offering both to God and praying for pure devotion. When he receives what is desirable he is not elated, and when the undesirable comes to him he does not feel hatred. He is able to perform all actions as offerings to God. Sri Krishna teaches that such an attitude of surrender frees us from work-related bondage: “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give away, and whatever you practice in the form of austerities—do it as an offering to Me. You will thus become free from the bondage of actions, which bear good or evil results. With your mind firmly set on the yoga of renunciation, you will become free and come to Me.” (Bhagavad Gita, 9.27-8)
A Devotee’s Attitude toward Work
None can remain without work for even a moment; for the gunas born of Prakriti make everyone act in spite of themselves, says the Gita (3.5). Even the bare maintenance of the body will be impossible without work. (Gita, 3.8) Only a man of Self‑realization has no duty to speak of. (Gita, 3.17) Everyone else has to work—physically and mentally—as prompted by their karma. Sri Krishna teaches us how to work without attachment, offering our actions and their fruits to God.
Sri Krishna describes a devotee dear to Him as a daksha (Gita, 12.16), which means one who is prompt, resourceful, efficient, and dexterous. Sri Shankaracharya explains that such a person is able to promptly and rightly understand duties as they present themselves to him. Two important points emerge from this Gita verse: (1) Efficiency in work and devotion to God are perfectly compatible. (2) Procrastination regarding work, indifference to work in the name of devotion, or a sloppy work habit under the guise of spirituality have no place in a devotee’s life. Such ways of doing work are born of tamas, or ignorance. A person who is careless in work will also be careless in meditation, since both are based on the same untrained mind.
The Gita (3.9) teaches that the world is bound by action unless it is done as worship. A devotee does not take up selfish projects, but performs all his actions with a worshipful attitude. He looks upon himself as an instrument in the hands of God. An embodiment of devotion to Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Ramakrishna-nanda explains how to forget oneself in doing work as worship: “The true devotee…never thinks of himself. He is so full of the thought of God that his own self is forgotten. This body is only an instrument and an instrument really has no existence of its own, for it is wholly dependent on the one who uses it. Suppose a pen were conscious, it could say, ‘I have written hundreds of letters,’ but actually it has done nothing, for the one who holds it has written the letters. So because we are conscious, we think we are doing all these things, whereas, in reality we are as much an instrument in the hands of a Higher Power as the pen is in our hands and He makes all things possible.”
A devotee does his duties, looking upon them as worship, without yielding to despondency or weakness, as did Arjuna just before the Mahabharata war. In Swami Vivekananda’s words, “Every duty is holy, and devotion to duty is the highest form of the worship of God….By doing well the duty which is nearest to us, the duty which is in our hands now, we make ourselves stronger.”
By strengthening his faith in God’s protecting power under all circumstances, a devotee becomes free from anxiety about the uncertainties of life. Says Swami Ramakrishnananda, “When worries and perplexities rise in your mind, you have ceased to believe in God, and that he is caring for us. If we have real faith in God, we can never grow anxious.”
(To be continued) ─ Swami Yuktatmananda
Copyright© 2015, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.