Thursday, January 11, 2007

True Devotion - The Scope of Bhajana

Hare Krishna Friends,

In the postings related to Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami, I had mentioned about the book “Dialogues with the Guru” (published in Tamil as “Then Muzigal”) recorded by Sri Jnanananda Bharathi. Recently, I got a copy of the book from a friend here. Mahasvami explains various aspects of our Dharma in his own inimitable way. We might have come across some people having the attitude that doing some Bhajans or chanting some particular Mantra is sufficient in itself and they can do away with their Nithya Karmas. Some even have an attitude of intolerance towards devatas other than their upasya devata. In the following conversation, Mahasvami clearly brings out their ignorance.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Another evening, the conversation which was quite general at first, gradually turned on the subject of Bhajana, a singing of devotional songs to the accompaniment of music. A bhakta who belonged to the party in attendance mentioned that such devotional exercises had an exhilarating and soothing effect on our wayward minds and that it was pleasing to find that bhajana parties were being formed in increasing numbers in every town and village.

H.H. I am very glad to hear this. But I have heard that at the same time the observance of our religions rites is steadily going down. Why is it so?

B. It is mainly because the ordinary people lack faith in the efficacy of religious rites that they resort to bhajana for pleasing God.

H.H. I suppose that many of the persons engaged in bhajana may not care for or may even neglect their ordinary religious duties like the Sandhya worship.

B. Yes. They say that while engaged in bhajana they can give up the Sandhya worship, because bhajana being a higher kind of worship makes Sandhya unnecessary and redundant.

H.H. As a general proposition it is quite true that the greater includes the less. But how do we know that bhajana is of greater efficacy than karma in the matter of pleasing God?

B. Bhajana is a direct appeal to God while karma is but an indirect appeal through the observance of rituals.

H.H. I suppose you concede that we have never met God personally.

B. Certainly, I do.

H.H. You must also concede that we can never of our own accord find out what will please God and what will not, for we cannot ask him directly nor can he tell us in person.

B. It maybe so, but we can easily ascertain it from the Shruti, which embodies his teachings.

H.H. You may also add the Smritis, especially the Bhagavad Gita, which record in no unmistakable terms his mind as divulged to those who have had the rare fortune to hold direct communion with him, both in the spirit and in the flesh.

B. Certainly.

H.H. And what do they teach us?

B. They certainly do not discount Bhakti.

H.H. Certainly no. But the question is what is Bhakti? Is it your Bhajana or is it Karma?

B. How can Karma be Bhakti?

H.H. In fact, you will find that Karma alone can be Bhakti and certainly not the Bhajana, if it is inconsistent with or is divorced from Karma.

B. How can that be?

H.H. The Lord tells us quite unambiguously 'Man attains perfection by worshipping God by performing the Karma enjoined on him. He clearly enunciates here the proposition that the way to worship him is to perform one's assigned Karma.

B. But, such a performance of Karma is not the only way in which devotion can be shown to the Lord.

H.H. It is the only way for those on whom Karma is enjoined.

B. Surely a person who spends his time in prayer and contemplation of the Lord is as much a bhakta as, if not more, as the one who busies himself with outward rituals.

H.H. Leave again comparing. He will not be a bhakta at all if he chooses to neglect the Karma enjoined on him in favor of mental prayers and contemplation.

B. Why so?

H.H. Take the ordinary case of a master and his servants. Suppose one of his servants is always standing before him and singing his praises. The master may sometimes ask him to fetch something from another room. Suppose the servant replies, 'O, Master, I cannot bear the thought of parting from you even for a moment. I cannot forego even for a moment the pleasure and the privilege of looking at your handsome face. I like to be ever with you and to praise you by recounting your inestimable qualities. Don't ask me to leave your presence.' Suppose again there is another servant who is always away from the presence of the master, but is carrying out with scrupulous care all the commands of the master, communicated to him either by the master personally or through his deputies. Wherever the master turns, he finds that he has been most loyally obeyed by this servant who nowhere seems to intrude on him. Which do you think is the more devoted of these two servants and with whom in your opinion, will the master be pleased more?

B. Certainly the latter.

H.H. Is a father happy with the child who always prefers to sit on his lap and declines to do anything or with the one who is going out on errands?

B. With the latter, I should think.

H.H. Further, can you grant that the servant, or the boy, who refuses to leave the presence of his master or father and does not carry out his orders, is really devoted at all?

B. Surely disobedience cannot go hand in hand with devotion.

H.H. Quite so. The primary test of devotion in any sphere of life is obedience, unquestioning and loving obedience, not inquisitive or grumbling obedience.

B. Certainly.

H.H. 'The Shruti and the Smriti are the commands of myself,' says the Lord. Can you conceive of a devotion to the Lord side by side with disobedience of his commands?

B. I now see that bhajana can never be a substitute for Karma.

H.H. It can never be.

B. What then is the function of bhajana? It cannot certainly be all waste.

H.H. A servant, when he finds leisure after discharging all his duties, may certainly stand in the presence of the master, but not when he has got duties to perform. Similarly a person, who after performing all the Karma enjoined on him still finds leisure, can spend it in prayer or in singing the praises of the Lord and thus utilize the leisure to the best advantage. Bhajana is thus intended only for the occasions of leisure in the midst of Karmic duties.

B. I fear if a Brahmana should be asked to perform properly all the duties enjoined on him by the Vedas and the Smrtis he cannot have bhajana at all.

H.H. It is not quite so. It is only the lazy people that are ever short of time. The busy ones are always able to find leisure.

B. It seems to me that if bhajana is to be done only at the times not occupied by religious duties, the castes other than the Brahmanas will have more leisure for it, as they have to perform only very few religious observances. It seems that the non-Brahmanas are more competent to take up bhajana.

H.H. Quite so. It is intended more for them than for the Brahmanas.

B. Is it not an anomaly that the Brahmanas should be denied equal privilege in this matter?

H.H. No. They are not denied this 'privilege' as you call it, for they can enjoy it in their leisure moments. Further, you forget that carrying out the commands of the Lord is a greater act of devotion than singing his praises. Now you may look at the matter from another point of view also.

B. What is that?

H.H. A servant who loves to look at the face of his master and avoids performance of his duties does so because he derives pleasure from being with the master and fears a cessation of that pleasure if he has to perform his duties.

B. It may seem to be so.

H.H. The only consideration therefore which weighs with him in determining his conduct is his own pleasure and not the pleasure of his master.

B. Strictly analyzed, it is so.

H.H. Can you call such a servant devoted in any sense when he places his own selfish pleasure above his master's pleasure?

O. Certainly not.

H.H. Similarly, if a so-called bhakta prefers to sing to the accompaniment of enchanting music the praises of the Lord at the same time ignoring, neglecting and disregarding his divine commands, can you call him a 'devotee' at all?

B. I fear, not.

H.H. Again please consider for a moment that that so-called bhakta has a conception of the Lord only as a very attractive object intended for his enjoyment. What can be more absurd than dragging down the All-conscious, Omnipotent Lord to the level of a toy intended for one's amusements? To conceive of the Lord as an object of pleasure is sheer profanation, which should never pass off under the name of devotion. Real devotion lies in carrying out his dictates implicitly. To disobey him in action and to profess allegiance in words is blasphemy. It is not Bhakti. By Bhakti it is meant single-pointed devotion uniformly expressed in mind, speech and body.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

We will see the section on “Name and Form” in the next post.

Hari Om,


Blogger vedanta said...


Prostrations to all.

Pardon the late reply. The topic that Chandrasekhara Bharathi Swamigal deals here is interesting and can be seen in different aspects. Of course, "I" as an individual can never argue with Swamigal (as Sankara himself mentions in Sadhana Panchakam not to argue with jnaanis) but the scriptures doesn't tell a seeker to blindly follow without analyzing. The Lord's final statement to Arjuna was:

Ithi the jnaanam aakhyaatham guhyaat guhyataram mayaa

Vimrishya etat asheshena yathaa icchasi tathaa kuru

Thus I have propounded knowledge to you, the secret of all secrets -- analyze this thoroughly (note the word ashesha meaning completely) and then do as you wish.

The intellect or buddhi has been given to human beings for analyzing things. The aim of manana is to analyze whatever one has heard from the Guru and scriptures through sravana. It would be but foolish if a person blindly follows things (there are exceptions to this but a person who has not analyzed things will surely be susceptible to doubts/confusions later).

With due regard to swamigal, let us try to see this particular topic in a different perspective. Here we are talking about bhakthi, bhajan and karma (karma here means svadharma or doing one's enjoined activities). We have to remember that all these three come into picture only when there is lack of knowledge as the scriptures propound that knowledge burns actions into ashes (actions in general includes bhakthi, bhajan and svadharma). Yes, the Lord does mention to Arjuna about "fighting" (in the 8th chapter - tasmaat sarveshu kaaleshu maam anusmara yuddhya cha -- Sankara explains yuddhya here as yuddham cha svadharmam kuru - do fight and do your svadharma) but even before that in 4th chapter (after explaining karma thoroughly in the 3rd chapter) the Lord mentioned that actions are burnt in the fire of knowledge.

Thus for a seeker, it is a matter of one question --- "is there knowledge???". The answer to this question determines whether actions are to be done or not.

Now the interesting question of "what is knowledge" comes to picture --- knowledge is knowing that everything is the Lord alone and that world is only naama-roopa mithyaa prathibhaasam. If a person knows this (yes just that everything is Lord and jagat is mithyaa naama roopa prathibhaasam), then there is no ordained actions for him -- no, no, this is not my personal words but the word of the Lord alone.

Sarva dharmaan parityajya maam ekam sharanam vraja

O Arjuna, renounce all dharmas and take refuge in me alone -- Sankara comments on the word dharma by saying that here the Lord is meaning both dharma and adharma (in short, every action or everything).

Thus it is quite clear that the scriptures propound two paths (Sankara himself has exhaustively explained this in the introductory gita bhashya and the bhashya on the first two slokas of isha upanishad) - nivritti marga and pravritti marga. Those who are able to renounce everything (of course renunciation is not external but internal which might be accompanied by external sanyaas or not) can easily take the nivritti marga of knowing everything to be the Lord and knowing the duality to be a mere illusion in the Lord. Those who are unable to renounce everything because of desires should take the pravritti marga or the path of action -- the path of action is not mere doing of actions but doing actions as an offering to the Lord. Even if initially desires are there while performing actions, the seeker should offer those as well to the Lord (always keeping in mind that everything is the Lord alone -- the path which is devoid of this basic knowledge is not a spiritual path at all). Deeper analysis is already there in the english translation of the ishavasya upanishad (

Injunctions (vedic) like sandhya, agnihotra etc. are not primary but secondary in order to keep sins from being accrued - vedas say that a person gets sin if he doesn't do nitya naimmitika karma -- :) But for the seeker who has offered & is offering all actions unto the Lord, where is sin????? Darkness of sin cannot near such a person who has the light of Lord in his mind. Moreover this vedic injunctions totally vanish when the seeker analyzes and finds out that "I am not the body" for aren't injunctions associated with the body??? There cannot be a "no" reply to this question because in such a case, woman should also be able to learn the vedas and do gayatri -- how many so-called brahmins will agree to this??? How many of the sringeri or kanchi followers will agree to this (including the sankaracharyas of these institutes)??? No bad intentions or attacks are aimed at these people but "I" am here just trying to show that injunctions or karmas are valid only for a person who is still not able to apprehend knowledge & is striving to enter into knowledge --- once a person enters into knowledge, then there are no actions.

To this, the traditional (of course from the followers of these mutts) will say that "actions are to be renounced only after realization and injunctions are still there for seekers" --- can these traditionalists then explain the Lord's statement at the end to renounce everything??? Does a realized saint require anything -- he doesn't even require advice and hence the Lord's statement cannot be for the realized but is for the striving seeker alone. Thus the statement that karma has to be done until jnaana nista or jeevan mukthi happens is totally wrong. Such statements are only idoitic statements based on one or two of Sankara's misinterpreted slokas.

I am a brahmana by birth. I haven't been doing sandhya since 1994 when I had my upanayana from AMMA (:) oh God!!! upanayana from a christian fisher woman????). Yes, sins will have accrued for me since then. If going by this, then i wouldn't have been even able to apprehend the knowledge in the scriptures and tried to live by the knowledge. "You will get sin when you grow old or in your next birth" -- if this is the answer, then isn't this against Sankara's and the scriptures' theory that "I am not the body - I am the self without any birth and death"???

All the above arguments are not to show that the acharyas were/are wrong but just to show that for a real seeker who has surrendered to the Lord, there are no injunctions -- he is beyond all restrictions and limitations. Even as the realized saint becomes one with infinite Brahman and is beyond all limitations, the surrendered seeker is beyond the limitations of karma.

All the above words will be commented by the so-called brahmin followers by saying that "you are doing vithandaa vaadam" :) -- what to do other than laughing at those comments?

Let us try to see this mail from a real seeker's perspective & understand the acharya's teachings also from the perspective that it is directed towards those people who in the name of the Lord renounce nitya karmas and not even surrendering to the Lord/not even knowing who the Lord is.

If possible will try to have a separate article on karma, jnaana (along with sanyaas and grihastha) with quotations from shruthi, gita and bhashyas of Sankara.

Prostrations to all.


Let a moment not pass by without remembering God

10:19 AM  
Blogger vedanta said...

Hare Krishna Friends,

Valid points made by Hariram. As a matter of fact, in many places it is stated that the advices given by Jivan Muktas like Ramana, Kanchi Paramacharya, Sringeri Acharyas, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and others varies from person to person and cannot be a generalized one. The advice given depends on the maturity level and competency of the person.

Sandhya, Bhajana, none of these alone take a person to Mukti as clearly mentioned by Sankara in Vivekachudamani “atmaikyabodhena vinaapi muktih na sidhyati brahmashataantare api”. Processes like Bhajana, chanting Sahasranama, doing Sandhyas etc. helps in getting “Chitta Shuddhi”. If a person has already got “Chitta Shuddhi” and is in such a state that he does everything as an offering to the Lord, these might not be required.

The take away from each of the postings in the forum may vary from person to person. Let the Lord give us all the right viveka to understand them in the right light.


10:20 AM  

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