Saturday, January 20, 2007

True Devotion - The Puranas Explained

Hare Krishna Friends,

The following conversation between a Bhakta (B) and His Holiness Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami (H.H) is selected from the book “Dialogues with the Guru”. Even some of us might have the same doubt that the Bhakta has.

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B. It seems to me that Sri Vyasa is himself responsible for these unseemly squabbles. He wrote a large number of puranas devoted to many different devata, and in every one of them he calls the devata dealt with there as the Highest Being, so that even a sincere reader is unable to understand which is really the Highest Being in Sri Vyasa's view.

H.H. I suppose we can start with the presumption that Sri Vyasa was neither an ignorant person nor was he deliberately out to mislead people?

B. Certainly.

H.H. He must have known the elementary proposition that there cannot possibly be more than one Highest Being.

B. Quite so. That is just my difficulty. I cannot understand how he chooses to call every one of the devatas as the Highest Being.

H.H. Your difficulty is very easily solved if you understand Sri Vyasa to say not that every devata is the Highest Being but that the Highest Being is every one of the devatas.

B. How is that?

H.H. The Highest Being having no name or form of his own has to take on some name or form when he is conceived of as an object of worship. Being in his essential nature absolutely formless, in the absolute view he has no form at all; but in the relative view, all forms are equally His.

B. I do understand this. But Sri Vyasa when he deals with a particular form say Shiva chooses to endow it not only with the attributes of the Highest Being but also with the attributes peculiar to other devatas. He does not deal with Shiva as the dissolver-aspect of the Highest Being, but says that he is even Vishnu or Brahma and sometimes says that Vishnu and Brahma are but his aspects, or offspring.

H.H. Take a familiar incident in family life. Suppose a gentleman has four children and the birthday of one of them happens to be celebrated. That child is the 'idol', the upasya for the day. He is seated on a raised seat in the central hall of the house; he is dressed in costly clothes and is decked with jewels. It is not unusual for the mother and the other children to part temporarily with the jewels that they themselves usually wear, so that the 'idol' may be better adorned?

B. It is so.

H.H. Do the mother and the other children feel the slightest regret at parting with their jewels or the slightest envy at that child wearing them for the occasion?

B. Certainly they do not.

H.H. Can anybody accuse that child of depriving its mother and the other children of their jewels on this day? Further, will anybody accuse the father of partiality towards that child because he gives it prominence for the day and even deprives the others of their jewels to enable that child to shine better?

B. Certainly not.

H.H. Now will you tell me in whom the right of ownership and possession of all this finery and all the jewels really vests?

B. Certainly in the father.

H.H. Quite so. Does he ever wear the jewels himself?

B. No.

H.H. That means, that though all the jewels really belong to him, he never shows himself off in them but finds pleasure in decking out his children in them as and when occasions may arise.

B. Quite so.

H.H. We may therefore say of him that he never wears any jewels though all the jewels are really his?

B. Yes.

H.H. The jewels are his, not only when they are kept in the safe in his custody but even when the child is actually wearing them.

B. Certainly.

H.H. The Highest Being, the impersonal Brahman, is like the father. He never wears any attributes, but all the attributes which every one of the devatas has belong to him. When a particular devata is conceived of as the upasya in a particular Purana for uplifting a type of bhakta, that devata is given the seat of honor, next to none (not even the father, who has to stand aside in the background looking on happily at the child), and has to be decked with all the attributes which ordinarily go with the other devatas also. There is absolutely no room for any charge of partiality if in any particular Purana certain devata is given prominence over others, for when their turn comes in the other Puranas they are treated with equal prominence. Such is the attitude of Sri Vyasa in every one of his Puranas. He knows that the Highest Being is devoid of any attributes, any name or any form; but, as a practical teacher, he knows equally well that such an absolute conception is not within the reach of people, a few exceptions apart, and, therefore, he offers for the contemplation of devotees particular devatas who, though mere aspects of the Absolute Brahman, are treated for the moment and for all practical purposes as being identical with the Supreme Being. He has so written the Puranas that the bhakta of any particular devata by intensity of devotional exercise can obtain the fruits of devotion to other devata also, without the need of worshipping them separately, and finally, by further effort, can attain even knowledge of the Absolute Brahman, through devotion to his particular devata. For practical wisdom, which combines economy of effort with maximum benefit and adapts the doctrine of the Absolute Brahman to the needs of the devotee without impairing in any way the truth of the doctrine, Sri Vyasa is inimitable. If we fight among ourselves without understanding Sri Vyasa properly, the fault is ours, certainly not his. On the other hand, all our gratitude must go to him.

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Hari Om,


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