Some people pray to God to rid them of their physical or mental affliction. Some others pray to Him to fulfill their worldly desires for name, fame, power, position, or prosperity. These are two of the four kinds of devotees mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, 7.16. They are "the afflicted" and "seekers of prosperity." True love of God is different from such devotion. Says Swami Vivekananda: "Wherever there is any seeking for something in return, there can be no real love; it becomes a mere matter of shopkeeping. As long as there is in us any idea of deriving this or that favour from God in return for our respect and allegiance to Him, so long there can be no true love growing in our hearts. Those who worship God because they wish Him to bestow favours on them are sure not to worship Him if those favours are not forthcoming." However, in the long run, such devotion too has its positive side: it inculcates and strengthens in people the habit of turning to God. When dispassion for worldly objects begins to awaken in them, they will turn to God for the sake of devotion.
True devotion to God begins with the third class of devotees. If the first two are attached to the world, the third kind does not care for worldly things, but seeks God and longs for devotion to Him. Sri Krishna calls such devotees seekers of Knowledge. Having had their share of worldly experiences, good and bad, they are convinced that no lasting happiness is possible in the world. They understand the Gita teaching (9.33) that this world is impermanent and joyless. They seek to know the real meaning of human life. They look for something abiding amid all the fleeting things around them. They seek to know if there is a divine core in them, if God really exists and can be seen, what God's nature is, and what is their relationship to Him. These devotees turn to God to get answers to these existential questions. The fourth kind of devotees is the jnani, the knower of God. Sri Krishna considers all four noble hearted, but looks upon the knower of God as His very self.
Are there any guidelines that can help the third kind of devotees in their path of devotion? In the second and fourteenth chapters of the Gita Sri Krishna mentions respectively the qualities of a person of steady wisdom (sthitaprajna) and of one who has transcended the gunas (trigunatita). In his commentary on the Gita, 2.55 and 14.25 Sri Shankaracharya explains that the means of attaining Self- Knowledge are also the characteristic attributes of one who has attained Knowledge. Therefore the aspirant for Self-Knowledge has to make special effort to cultivate and acquire these virtues on his path to Self-Knowledge.
The twelfth chapter of the Gita (verses 13 to 19) mentions the characteristics of a devotee who is dear to God. Sri Shankaracharya says that these qualities portray a sannyasin's life, while Sri Ramanuja says they are the devotional traits of a karma yogi who adores God through his work. A seeker can gainfully cultivate these qualities in his search for God.
We will study these qualities under four headings: "Devotional Mindset", "Attitude toward the World", "Attitude toward Others", and "Attitude toward Work".
(To be continued)