Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Stages in Devotion

Hare Krishna Friends,

The following is an exposition by Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami on the stages of devotion as per Madhusudana Saraswathi, the famous author of Advaita Siddhi.

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Madhusudana Saraswathi, the famous author of the Advaita Siddhi, was a great devotee of Krishna. His being an Advaitin par excellence did not in any way stand in his way of composing soul-stirring verses on Krishna. He has spoken of three stages of devotion.

First stage of Devotion

The first stage is the one where the devotee feels "I am yours" with regard to God. In other words, the devotee dedicates himself to God. A special characteristic of a true servant of God is that he longs for nothing from God in return for his devotion and service.

Here the following instance comes to mind. To prove Prahlada’s view that God is present everywhere and also in a pillar pointed at by Hiranyakasipu, the Lord emerged from the pillar in the form of Narasimha. Lord Narasimha slew Hiranyakasipu but continued to be very fierce. The Devas were afraid of approaching Him and so was Goddess Lakshmi. Hence, Prahlada, who was but a young boy, was asked to pacify the Lord. Prahlada consented and fearlessly walking up to the Lord, who was full of fury, prostrated before Him. Immediately, the Lord calmed down and moved by compassion, He rose from the throne He was occupying and placed His hand on the boy’s head. Being pleased with His devotee, the Lord asked Prahlada to seek a boon. Promptly, Prahlada replied that he desired nothing from the Lord.

There is a scintillating verse in the Bhagavatam wherein we have Prahlada telling the Lord "He who desires anything from God is a trader and not a servant of God". The story brings out two aspects. One is that a true servant of God knows no refuge other than God. That is why Prahlada felt no fear in approaching Lord Narasimha. The second aspect is that the true servant of God desires nothing from God. In fact, he does not even pray for Moksha.

In a verse in the Sivanandalahari, Sankara tells the Lord, "Tell me why You are not redeeming me from this wretched worldly state. If the answer is that it pleases You that I should wallow thus then I have achieved all that has to be achieved". When God is pleased what else is there to long for?

Second Stage of Devotion

The second stage is the feeling "He is mine" with regard to God. Here the devotee is positively concerned about ensuring God’s welfare. It is not as though God is in need of the devotee’s care. In spite of this, He allows Himself to be even controlled by the devotee on account of the devotee’s love.

The Bhagavatam contains the explicit declaration of Bhagavan, "I am subservient to My devotee like one under the control of another". Yashoda’s love for Krishna is an illustration of devotion of the form "He is mine". To her Krishna was her darling and not the Lord. Krishna seems to have relished her motherly love so much that He deliberately withdrew from her the awareness that He was none other than the Supreme. Though omnipotent, He even allowed Himself to be tied to a mortar by Yashoda (ah! Damodara…what a wonderful sight).

Third Stage of Devotion

The third stage of devotion is the feeling "I am He" with regard to God. In other words, Advaitic realization is the highest stage of devotion. A reason is that while others are willing to brook at least some minute separation from God, a devotee of this class cannot bear even that. When can separation be totally obliterated? Obviously when one realizes that one is not different from the Supreme. In the Gita, Krishna Himself indicates that the knower of the Truth is not different from Him.

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Prostrations to All.

Regards,
Neelakantan

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