Forms of Devotion (Part 6)

6. Vandana, or Offering obeisance to God

Vandana consists in bowing down to God in His images in a devotional attitude. This simple act of prostration can be made a meaningful spiritual exercise by looking upon it as an act of self-renewal. When a devotee prostrates before God, he imagines that he offers his body, mind, and soul to God, Who abides in his heart as the Light of all lights. (Bhagavad Gita, 13.17) He immerses himself as it were in that Light and cultivates a luminous self-image, imagining that he is a spark of that divine Light. Vandana enables a devotee to subordinate his ego to God and feel that God is everything and that he himself is nothing without Him. Says Sri Ramakrishna, "The universe and its created beings, and the twenty-four cosmic principles, all exist because God exists. Nothing remains if God is eliminated. The number increases if you put many zeros after the figure one; but the zeros don't have any value if the one is not there." Vandana enables a devotee to cultivate a natural humility without a touch of ego in his interaction with others.

7. Dasya, or Attitude of a servant toward God, the Master

When the earlier forms of devotion have attained perfection in a devotee, this and the next two forms of devotion manifest in him. These forms of devotion refer to a stage of advanced devotion and are different from devotion based on regulations (vaidhi-bhakti).

Devotional schools speak of different relationships that a devotee can cultivate toward God.

  1. Shanta: This is a calm, knowledge-oriented relationship.
  2. Dasya: Here the devotee looks upon himself as the servant and God as the Master. Sri Ramakrishna recommends this attitude when we are conscious of our body. Hanuman is cited as an example of this mood, though he is considered to be one who had realized his identity with God. His attitude toward Sri Rama varied based on his attitude toward himself, as evident from Sri Ramakrishna's words in his Gospel: "Hanuman had the attitude of a servant. He said to Rama: 'O Rama, sometimes I meditate on You as the whole and on myself as the part. Sometimes I feel that You are the Master and I am the servant. But when I have the Knowledge of Reality, I see that I am You and You are I.' "
  3. Vatsalya: Looking upon God as the child and oneself as the parent. Yashoda, Sri Krishna's foster mother, is an example of this relationship with God.
  4. Apatya: Related to the previous mood, this mood consists in looking upon oneself as a child and God as the Father or Mother. Sri Ramakrishna taught that looking upon God as Mother is the purest attitude one can cultivate toward God.
  5. Sakhya: The devotee looks upon God as a friend.
  6. Madhurya: This mood consists in looking upon God as one's beloved. Radha's attitude toward Sri Krishna is the traditional example of this relationship. Mirabai and Andal, two woman saints of India, are also known to have surrendered themselves to God looking upon Him as their beloved.

8. Sakhya, or Cultivating friendly intimacy with God

Arjuna is an example of this kind of devotion to Sri Krishna. The south Indian saint by name Sundaramurthy Nayanar is another shining example of this form of devotion. He looked upon Lord Shiva as his closest friend, and the Lord too responded to him accordingly and fulfilled his wishes.

9. Atmanivedana, or Surrendering one's body, mind, and soul to God

This is the culmination of all devotional practices. The devotee is immersed in God-consciousness, and God fills his whole being. Sri Krishna speaks of such a God-intoxicated devotee when he promises in the Gita (9.22): "Those who worship Me without any other thought and are ever devoted to Me-to them I carry what they lack and for them I preserve what they already have."

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