True Devotion

The Bhagavad Gita (7.16) describes four kinds of people who worship God: the afflicted, those desiring prosperity, the seekers of knowledge, and the knowers of God.

The afflicted pray to God for relief from physical and mental problems. These could range from anxiety or stress to complicated diseases of body and mind. Finding other means inadequate, such devotees pray to God, placing their trust in Him.

Devotees of the second kind pray to God for worldly prosperity: wealth and enjoyment, name and fame, power and position, and so on.

What is the meaning and purpose of human life? How are we to deal with evil? Does God exist? Is there a soul behind the body and the mind? What happens at death? These are questions that all of us encounter sometime or other, after we have had our share of pleasure and pain, success and failure, and praise and blame in the world. Most people brush aside these thoughts and continue with their humdrum life. There are some, however, who take them seriously. They turn to God for answers. They are seekers of knowledge, and belong to the third kind of devotees.

And there is the fourth kind-those who have known God. Why do they worship God? "He who knows the Supreme Brahman verily becomes Brahman," says the Mundaka Upanishad (3.2.9). Such devotees see God, the supreme Spirit, in others as well as in themselves. Their lives are a blessing to humanity, and everything they do is worship of God.

Sri Krishna says that all four kinds of devotees are noble-hearted, but He considers the knowers of God to be His very Self (Bhagavad Gita, 7.18). The first two kinds of devotees turn to God to realize their worldly ambitions, instead of merely relying on their ego to manipulate things. And, in due course, turning to God can become a habit with them, helping them to turn to Him for devotion and Knowledge. When they become seekers of devotion and Knowledge, they long to love God and know God alone. True religion, true devotion, begins at that stage.

Swami Vivekananda's words are most appropriate here: "One that wants to love God, to be a Bhakta, must discard all such [worldly] prayers. He who wants to enter the realms of light must first give up this buying and selling, this 'shopkeeping' religion, and then enter the gates. It is not that you do not get what you pray for; you get everything, but such praying is a beggar's religion. 'Foolish indeed is he who, living on the banks of the Ganga, digs a little well for water. A fool indeed is the man who, coming to a mine of diamonds, seeks for glass beads.' This body will die some time, so what is the use of praying for its health again and again?...We are striving to come into the presence of the King of kings. We cannot get there in a beggar's dress....Shopkeepers never have admission there; buying and selling have no place there....Do not pray for little things. If you seek only bodily comforts, where is the difference between men and animals? Think yourselves a little higher than that."

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