There are various stages in the evolution of devotion. Baba explained that the highest type of devotion evolves “when all the propensities of the mind are withdrawn from all other objects and are diverted towards the Supreme Goal: that is true bhakti.”
“You may have noticed that people sometimes establish a kind of devotional relationship with God out of selfishness. For example, there is tamasik bhakti or static devotion. People sometimes wrongly pray to God, ‘Lord, I am your devotee and I am willing to do this and that to propitiate you. Such and such persons are my enemies. Let harm befall them.’ Here the thinking is fundamentally defective. There is no doubt that the ideation relates to Parama Purusa. However, the person does not want to attain Him, but wants Parama Purusa to help him or to harm his enemies. Under these circumstances, Parama Purusa may or may not grant your prayers, but one thing is certain – you will not attain Parama Puruca because you do not really want Him. A genuine sadhaka should not practice this type of tamasik devotion because it leads to the degradation of the mind.
The second type of devotion is rajasik or mutative devotion. Here also there is devotion, no doubt, but the mind does not want to attain Parama Purusa either. The aspirant prays to Parama Purusa, ‘O Lord, bless me with a better political future or with more profit in business or grant me a promotion in my job; please help me to do well in the examinations or arrange the marriage of my daughter without difficulty.’ In this type of devotion, you do not pray to Parama Purusa to help you to harm your opponents, and that is good, but still, you do not attain Parama Purusa.
There is a third type of devotion, which is called sattvik or sentient devotion. In this type of devotion, you do not ask Parama Purusa for anything. There are yet others who pray to the Lord, ‘O Lord, I have been on earth for a long time; I have to face so many problems in life. Please, O Lord, take me in your lap.’ Here the person praying wants his or her worldly afflictions to end. So there is also a defect inherent in this type of devotion. Such ideations will not serve the purpose. None of these things kinds of devotion has any significance on the spiritual path. Why?
To take an analogy, a little child is crying to its mother, so what does the mother do? She immediately rushes to the child and gives it a few colorful toys. the child stops crying immediately. But if the child insists that it does not want anything except its mother, the mother is compelled to take the child on her lap. So devotees with true bhakti in their hearts do not ask Parama Purusa for anything. Even if Parama Purusa offers this or that, the sadakha will say, ‘No Lord, I don’t want anything but You. I want to be with You. What You are offering to me is a trivial thing; I want You and You alone, nothing else.’
When a person advances spiritually through the practice of yoga or tantra, he or she comes even closer to Parama Purusa, the Macrocosmic Nucleus. Gradually, even the thought of being separated from Him becomes unbearable to the devotee. In that sublime state, every action that the sadhaka does, be it worldly or otherwise has only one propose, and that is to please Parama Purusa in all possible always. Now even within this ideal state of devotion, there are two categories.
When the devotee says, ‘I love my Parama Purusa intensely and do everything only to please Him because by doing so I get indescribable bliss.’ It is a fact that when true devotion develops in a person, one start to enjoy bliss. This type of devotion is called raganuga bhakti. Although it is one of the higher categories of devotion, it is not altogether free from a tinge of selfishness.
There is yet another type of devotion which is free from even a trace of selfishness. This type of devotion is called ragatmika devotion. This is also called kevala bhakti or non-attributional devotion, and those who have this kind of devotion are called gopa in Sanskrit.”
In order to clarify the nature of ragatmika devotion, Baba told the following story:
“Once, Lord Krishna felt seriously ill and was suffering from a severe headache. Nothing could cure Him. Eminent doctors also tried but they too were unsuccessful. When everything else failed, those around Him asked Krishna for advice, saying, ‘dear Lord, please tell us what will cure you.’
Krishna replied, ‘There is only one remedy. If you bring dust from the feet of my devotees and apply it to my forehead, I will be cured.’
It was a very difficult task. Narada was given the duty of traveling around the world to search for devotees who were willing to give the dust from their feet. Everyone Narada approached said, ‘My goodness, how can I agree to such a proposal? How can I possibly give dust from my own feet to smear on my Lord’s forehead? Is there any greater sin than this? I will have to suffer the tortures of hell for ages if I do that. I can’t even think of committing such a sin, so I categorically refuse to give you any dust from my feet.’
Finally, Narada came to Vrindava where he saw some gopis tending their cows. When they saw him approaching, they rushed over and asked, ‘O sage, how is our dear Lord Krishna?’
Narada replied, ‘The news is not very good. The Lord is sick.’
‘What is His problem? What’s being done to cure Him?’ asked the worried gopis.
Narada told them about the headache that had not responded to any treatment, ‘So far, everything we have tried has failed. Lord Krishna told us that if dust from the feet of His devotees is smeared on His forehead, then alone will He be cured. Would you be willing to give me some dust from your feet?’
‘Why not?’ replied the gopis. ‘O Sage Narada, we don’t know whether we are worthy to be called His devotees or not, but please take the dust from our feet and smear it on your Lord’s forehead. If we are worthy of being called His devotees, it will certainly cure Him.’
‘That is fine. But tell me, are you not afraid of committing a sin by giving the dust from your feet to smear on the Lord’s forehead? Isn’t this an act of great sacrilege?’
‘Why should we be afraid, O sage Narada?’ replied the gopis. ‘Our Lord is in great pain. If dust from our feet can cure Him, what else can we wish for? We don’t care if it is an act of great sacrilege for which we will be doomed to live in hell. We will happily go to hell. It’s all the same for us. We love our Lord so much that He too will have to come with to hell to be with us. All that matters to us is that the Lord should be pleased and freed from His suffering.’
This is kevala bhakti, true selfless devotion.
By Acarya Pravanavatmakananda Avadhuta, adapted from the book Shri Shri Anandamurti – Advent of a mystery
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