The Graded Way of Devotion

Sri Ramakrishna speaks of Hanuman's attitude toward Sri Rama, his spiritual ideal: "When I am conscious of my body, I look upon you as the Master and myself as your servant; when I am conscious that I am an individual soul, I look upon you as the whole and myself as a part; when I am one with the Atman, I look upon myself as one with you."

Hanuman's attitude teaches an important truth in spiritual life: Our idea about God depends on our idea about ourselves. Almost all of us feel that we are limited individuals, men and women, bound by body, mind and senses. For us devotion to a personal God with form and attributes is the logical way to progress in spiritual life. But there are a very few people who are pure in mind and free from body-consciousness from their childhood, and they alone are able to derive spiritual benefit by worshiping God without form. Sri Krishna makes it clear in the Bhagavad Gita that the ideal of a formless God is hard to attain for those who are embodied, or those who are bound by their body and mind (12.5). For them there is the path of devotion. Assures Sri Krishna: "But those who consecrate all their actions to Me, regarding Me as the Supreme Goal, and who worship Me, meditating on Me with single-minded concentration-to them, whose minds are thus absorbed in Me, verily I become before long, O Partha, the Savior from the death-fraught ocean of the world." (12.6-7) Then follows a graded course of devotion in decreasing order of difficulty.

1. Fixing the mind and buddhi on the Lord

Sri Krishna teaches the first and foremost stage in devotion: "Fix your mind on Me alone, rest your buddhi on Me alone, and in Me alone you will live hereafter. Of this there is no doubt." (12.8) The word used for mind is "manas." Manas is the deliberative faculty in us. It comes into play when we examine the pros and cons of anything. Manas is characterized by restlessness, doubt, confusion, anxiety, emotions, and desires. It is outgoing and ever eager to attach itself to any of the five sense organs: the ears, the skin, the eyes, the tongue, and the nose. In turn, these organs are eager to be in contact with their corresponding sense objects. Fixing the mind on God involves the challenge of giving an inward turn to the outward-directed mind by repetition of God's name, prayer, discrimination, meditation, study of sacred texts, and such disciplines. In his commentary on the Katha Upanishad (2.1.1), Sri Shankara compares turning the mind inward to reversing the current of a river. The task is as difficult, but steadfast spiritual discipline makes it progressively easier.

Buddhi comes into play when we practice discrimination between the real and the unreal, good and bad, moral and immoral, and allow our thoughts and actions to be guided by the knowledge gained from such discrimination. Buddhi is also our determinative, or decision-making faculty, and the seat of our willpower and resolution. Buddhi awakens in proportion to the strength of our willpower. It remains dormant in those who are impulsive and indecisive, and indiscriminate in their thoughts and actions. Fixing the buddhi on God implies making a firm resolve to seek God alone as the supreme goal in life, says Sri Ramanuja.

"And in Me alone will you live hereafter": The word "hereafter" is usually interpreted as "after the death of the body." But Sri Ramanuja's interpretation is as inspiring as it is logical: "You will live in Me from the moment you fix your mind on Me with the firm conviction that I alone am the supreme goal to be attained."

Part 2

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