A true devotee is firmly convinced that there is a divinity behind the world and it inheres in all living beings. He is not affected by arguments against the existence of God, because his affirmation is born of spiritual discipline, not of vain scholarship. He has no doubt that his prayers are certain to reach God, and so he practices spiritual disciplines with faith and perseverance. In the words of Sri Ramakrishna, "Sometimes it happens that discriminating between the Real and the unreal, a man loses his faith in the existence of God. But a devotee who sincerely yearns for God does not give up his meditation even though he is invaded by atheistic ideas. A man whose father and grandfather have been farmers continues his farming though he doesn't get any crop in a year of drought."
Sri Ramakrishna taught his householder devotees to live in the world like a maidservant in a rich man's house. She performs all the household duties, but her thoughts are fixed on her own home in her native village. She brings up her master's children as if they were her own. But in her mind she knows very well that they do not belong to her at all. In the same way, one should serve one's spouse and children, looking upon them as God's children. Such an attitude fosters devotion to God and reduces attachment to one's family. In the words of Sri Ramakrishna, "You can lead an unattached life to a great extent if you have faith in God and love for Him."
Freedom from joy and anger means freedom from our lower self and its constant involvement with sense objects and inevitable anger when its desires are not fulfilled. A devotee does not hanker after worldly joy, for his search is directed within, to God, the source of abiding joy. Sri Ramakrishna says: "If there are no desires, the mind naturally looks up toward God." The devotee is free from desire, anger and greed, the threefold gateway to hell. (Bhagavad Gita, 16.21) Sri Krishna considers him a yogi and a happy man who is able to withstand even while alive the impulses arising from lust and anger. (Gita, 5.23) Sri Sridhara Svamin's gloss on this verse illustrates this teaching with a forceful example: "A dead man does not succumb to the impulses arising from lust and anger when weeping young maidens touch his body or when his son cremates it. If a man is able to withstand such impulses even while alive, he is a yogi, he is a happy man."
Since he has given up the desire to possess sense objects, a devotee is free from fear. Fear is everywhere, says Bhartrihari: "In enjoyment is the fear of disease; in social position the fear of falling off; in wealth the fear of (hostile) kings; in adoration the fear of humiliation; in strength the fear of enemies; in beauty the fear of old age; in scholarship the fear of opponents; in virtue the fear of slander; and in the body the fear of death. Everything in this world is fraught with fear; renunciation alone is fearlessness." (Vairagya Shatakam, 31)
A bhakta's renunciation is not a forced giving up. As he moves closer to God, lesser things drop off of themselves. He leaves behind the lower for something higher. According to the Narada Bhakti Sutras (7), a bhakta's love is not desire-oriented because it is of the form of renunciation.
Worry and anxiety result from getting worked up about the turn of events, expecting a favorable outcome every time. A devotee is free from anxiety because he turns to God for solutions to his problems, and believes that God does listen to his prayers and will give him adequate strength to face difficulties. Sri Ramakrishna's life illustrates an important point. Even while having excruciating pain of throat cancer, he continued to dwell in God and help others advance on their path to God. A devotee will do well to remember his saying, "Let the body and pain take care of themselves; O mind, you be blissful." A true devotee does not pray for cure of his disease, but for devotion and strength to calmly go through the ordeal.
(To be continued)