by Swami Krishnananda
Devotion, or love of God, is a renowned way of the saints and sages who could speak to God as one could speak to a human being. While all saints and sages were of this special character throughout the world, India, especially, has been known since ages for the practicality of religion and the very intimate relationship that a devotee can maintain with God. Always, in most of the religions, God has remained a distant object of reverence and obedience to divine law. We have, here, a religion that has come to the homes of people and become a part of the daily life of the individual; and religion becomes a living feature in the world only when God becomes something vital in one's daily life – for religion is love of God. The daily contact that we inwardly establish with God is religion. Our personal relationship with what really is, is religion. And while cultures of the past in different countries had towering philosophies and scientific achievements of their own, it is rarely that we find God coming to the hearts of people and speaking in the language of man. The lives of saints and sages are a more elaborate commentary on the nature of the working of God than all the scriptures and revelations that we hear of, because the saints it is that bring God to the world in a living flame of experience rather than through the vehicle of language and words, textbooks or even scriptures.
It is this interesting theme which is dear to the heart of man, to the intellect rather, that is the preoccupation of a very interesting and prominent set of religious literature in this country, known as the Epics and Puranas. The country is filled with people who adore God in terms of the description in this type of religious literature. We have always a name given to God. We have always a heart-to-heart feeling of relationship with the God that we worship, whether in temples or in our homes. We can cry before God. We can sob and weep before Him. We can represent our petitions before Him, and we need not merely fear Him. This is what the Puranas tell us. While it is often said that religion commences with the fear of God, we may also say that religion culminates in the love of God. It is not merely a philosophic love that the Puranas and Epics speak of; rarely do we find love being philosophical. It has, of course, a philosophy of its own, which rationalistic philosophy cannot understand. All our loves are super-rational. A mystical feature characterises all affection in the world, mystical in the sense that they are purely private, and we will not explain, nor can we explain, this feeling of ours to other people in the world. All love, whatever be its nature, is inexplicable. The moment it becomes explicable in a scientific language, it ceases to be affection charged with vitality. It has a very uncanny feature, which also is the characteristic of the love of God.
The way in which we contact God in our life – 'in our life', is the phrase to be underlined – is our practical religion. That which the scriptures speak of, is one kind of religion which only keeps us in a sense of reverence and awe and creates in us a particular type of Bhakti called Aisvarya-Pradhana-Bhakti, that is, the love of God as Creator, Father and Sovereign Supreme, the love of God as Isvara or the Master of all Creation. Aisvarya-Pradhana-Bhakti is one type of devotion which is especially to be noticed in the later Sri-Vaishnava literature of the South, initiated by the great Vaishnava theologian, Ramanuja; but we have another type of internal contact that the devotee established with God, more intimate, we may say, in one sense. Sometimes, it goes by the name of Madhurya-Pradhana-Bhakti, the devotion which was emphasised by certain other teachers of the Bhakti schools, especially Nimbarka, Vallabha and Gauranga Mahaprabhu, as well as the Tamil saints, the Alvars, who preceded Ramanuja. Here, all intellectuality, ratiocination and analytical approach ceases, and the soul speaks to God in its own language. It contacts God in the vitality of being, rather than the words that the tongue speaks. As already mentioned, love does not want any philosophy, nor does devotion to God. It can feel the presence of God. Why should we try to analyse Him? When I can touch Him, see Him, hear Him, contact Him, and imbibe whatever He has, why should I try to subject Him to scientific analysis or philosophical disputation?
Thus it is that in a symbolic language the Puranas speak of such saints as Narada going to all the worlds including Vaikuntha, Satyaloka and Kailasa. These analogies of saints like Narada penetrating through all the realms of the cosmos, contacting God on one side and meeting man and even the demons on the other side, is a representation of the significance of divine devotion – the extent to which devotion can reach in practical life. One of the peculiarities of the representation of God's activity in the Cosmos, in the Puranas and Epics, is that creation is said to be constituted of different layers – the fourteen worlds, realms, or Lokas as they are called; and to make the theme interesting, catching and vibrating to the soul, to make you have a stir in your personality and to make your hair stand on end even by listening to the glories of God, the Puranas employ a technique of making God a personality similar to your own. He also lives in a realm, as you do. He has certain features as you also have, and He sees you. Not only that, He sees through you. He sees your past, your present and your future, Not merely that; God is the repository of supreme compassion, pity and mercy. He is not merely a judge who is pitiless to your representations, who reads only the textbooks on law and says, 'I am not concerned with justice but only with law,' as some of our judges may say today.
God is not concerned not only with law but also justice. There was an Englishman, a Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court. It is said that one of the advocates stood up and said: "Your Lordship is, after all, bound to do justice". The Chief Justice remarked: "Far from it; I am here to dispense law". This shows the way in which man's mind works, and the way Dharma works in the world. Dharma is not law merely; it is also justice. If there are five hundred witnesses against an innocent man, he can be hanged, though he has committed no crime. This is law working, but it is not justice. And this happened actually. This is not merely an illustration. A poor man was hanged once during the British regime and the mistake was realised much later, some ten years afterwards, that an innocent man was hanged; and the then Government, in order to hush up the fuss that people might create, paid a sum to the wife of the victim and asked her to go to Bangalore and settle down there. But there was no mistake on the part of the judge, because he had evidence.
Well, the point is that God is justice, it is true, not merely law; but He has also a very tender feeling for man. This is what the Puranas want to make out, which even the Vedas and the Upanishads do not properly explain. Your heart begins to melt when you think of God in terms of what the Puranas describe of Him. Nothing can be more effective than the method which touches your heart. If I speak to you in a way in which your heart responds, you are mine at the very moment; but if I speak to you as a lawyer, as a scientist or a metaphysician, you may nod your head, but, then, go your way.
This psychology of the human mind was very quickly realised by the authors of the Puranas who were not just interested in telling you something which is not a fact, as people there are who will merely cajole you by non-factual information. The Puranas tell you of the factual relationship that you have with God and which you have forgotten. It is not that the Puranas recount only grandmother's stories, as our so-called educated, modern youth might think. Not so. It is not a sweet lie that they tell us. It is a new type of truth which you have forgotten in your pride of intellectuality through a wrong type of education into which you have been introduced and which began to instruct your intelligence with an erroneous logic of God being subject to understanding and intelligence and having nothing to do with the private life of the emotions of the human being.
The special emphasis of the Epics and Puranas is that God can hear you and speak to you, and you speak to God. All the stories, analogies and symbols that these scriptures employ for describing man's relations with God and vice versa, signify that God is nearer to us than we imagine; and He shall help us even if we do not know Him. This is another speciality which this religious literature reveals to us. Even if you forget God, God shall help you. It is not that He thinks of you only if you think of Him. That would be a very legal way of looking at Him. God is not merely a legal man. He is, therefore, portrayed as not merely the Pitamaha (Grandfather) or Pita (Father) abut also Mata (Mother) and Dhata (Supporter). 'I am the Saviour, the Protector, the Generator, the Withdrawer, the Sustainer, the Onlooker, the Supervisor and many other things of that nature' – these are magnificently described in the pregnant words of the Bhagavadgita.
What God is, man is not supposed to know; but enough it is if you understand that it is easier to contact God than any other thing in the world. This is what the Puranas and the Epics want to tell you. Other scriptures of a more logical character may argue that God is difficult of approach, more difficult than anything else in the world; but here you are told that other things are more difficult of approach than God. Other things may be far away from you, but God is nearer to you than they. Your own wife and children may be very near you, but God is nearer still. Even such relations who are your own kith and kin may not help you in your difficulty, but God shall help you instantaneously. People help you only when you ask for help, but God helps you even when you do not ask for help, because God is one who knows what you want. You are not always in a position to understand what your needs are. Mostly you are in a confused state of mind. You cannot ask what you want, but God's speciality is that He can know what you would need even after hundreds of years, and those things are provided for even now. Provisions are made for your journey that has not yet commenced. He is like a very good tourist officer or travel agent – whatever you may call Him! He is more than all the people, who only show a lip-sympathy to you. His love for you is more than your love for Him. This is another speciality of the divine devotion portrayed in the Puranas. God's love for man is much more than man's love for God. He wants you more than you want Him. Who can understand this mystery? It is also said with great meaning and significance that when a devotee takes one step towards God, walking, God takes one hundred steps towards the devotee, running. While the devotee walks one step, God runs one hundred steps towards the devotee!
The stories of the Puranas and the Epics illustrate this important point of the divine relationship that eternally subsists between God and man. No one can read this literature without a stir in one's nerves and rapture in one's mind. No one can read this wondrous literature without a tear in one's eyes, because here it is that you know how to touch God through your soul, through your feelings, through your affection. When do you shed a tear? When your feelings are stirred; not even the best scientific argument can make you shed a single drop of tear. The heart should be shaken from its very roots, and then even the philosopher kneels down on the floor.
This is how God is brought to the home of man by the Puranas. A very interesting incident is recorded in the Drona-Parva of the Mahabharata, which shall simply strike you with wonder, and actually make you sob for the Iove that God has for man. During the war, after Jayadratha is slain, Arjuna is speaking to Bhagavan Vedavyasa on many a matter. One of the surprises which Arjuna expressed to Maharshi Vyasa was: "O Maharshi! Can you explain to me one interesting thing? Whenever I was up in arms in battle, I used to see some mysterious figure moving in front of me, which I could not decipher properly, sometimes visible, sometimes not visible, but not touching the ground. I saw a figure like that of a human being, now corning out of the mist as it were, making himself slightly visible to my eyes, now going into the background of the misty atmosphere of the war field, but his feet were not touching the ground. He was just a few feet above the ground level. He was doing nothing, just looking this way and that way, moving to this corner and that corner. The only speciality that I observed in his feature was that he had a trident in his hand, he had a knot of hair on his head, and I saw some snakes round his neck. These were all the things that I could see of him in the personality. I could not understand what it was, who he was, and what was the meaning behind it." Vyasa smiled and replied: "O Arjuna! It is very good that you spoke to me about this mystery that you saw, and I shall take this opportunity to tell you something of this miracle, which you cannot understand, nor can any man understand. Do you know who fought this war, and who it was that worked through your arms? Do you know that you have, yourself, no power to stand the ferocious warriors like Bhishma, Drona and Karna? Do you know the power of Bhishma? Not all the three worlds can stand before him, what to talk of the Pandavas! Arjuna! Can you stand before this mighty ferocity like that of a Bhishma who could defeat Parasurama, who learnt the art of warfare from Vasishtha himself? Is there a man in all the three worlds who can stand before Drona? Who defeated these warriors? Well! It is the greatness of those beings whom you cannot see with your eyes. They have worked this miracle for your sake, Arjuna, and remained always in the background. Do you know whom you saw? It was Lord Siva. You are indeed blessed. He knew the pitiable condition in which you all were. He came down from Kailasa to help you, not telling you what His intention was; and He knew that it was humanly impossible for any person to stand these – Bhishma, Drona and Karna. Not all of you, Pandavas, put together, can face them, even if they are to fight throughout their lives. 'What would be the fate of these poor children?' Siva knew this, and He is moving in the midst of the Kaurava forces sucking the energy of them all, not taking any direct action. Who could stand before Him if He were to take action; the very odour that emanated from His body was enough to paralyse all the Kauravas. Arjuna! I need not speak to you more about this wondrous being that you saw. Blessed thou art that you could see Him." And, after this narration, there is a beautiful prayerful description of the mighty Lord of Kailasa, which Vyasa speaks to Arjuna.
God works thus; and there are other incidents which we shall see, in what followed, to the same effect, as on occasions when Bhishma himself spoke to persons like Duryodhana many a time. Every day Duryodhana came after sunset and wept before Bhishma. "What is this? What is happening, Grandsire? Thousands of my people are being killed every day, and you are yet alive". Bhishma said: "My dear child! Do not tease me and taunt me like this every day. You are under the impression that I am only pretending to fight. It is not so. I would have pounded all these Pandava forces including the Pandavas themselves, in a single day, but for the presence of a single person there, who is sitting in the chariot of Arjuna. But for Him, the Pandavas would not have been there on the first day itself. I alone am sufficient; all your army is not necessary. Duryodhana! You do not know my strength. But what can I do! You do not understand the difficulty into which you have been involved. I have told you many a time that you should not engage yourself in a conflict with those people whom Krishna is helping, but you would not listen to me, and now you come and taunt me. Well! Tomorrow I shall do my best". This happened twice or thrice. Bhishma did his best. He went to the extreme of his ferocity. Like fire blazing he began to fight through the forces. Thousands were massacred by a single arrow that Bhishma shot, but not a single Pandava could be killed. Again Duryodhana cried at night: "What is all this? You could not kill even one Pandava, Grandsire, and I have depended upon you people. After so many days of battle, you could not bring down even one of the Pandavas". Again it was the same reply that Bhishma gave: "My dear child! I do not want to get angry with you, though you try to irritate me. But I shall tell you the truth again. You shall not win what you have in your mind as long as Govinda is on the other side". "Well! This is the old story again", said Duryodhana, "and I am not here depending on you senile people. I have my comrades like Karna". And there was a cutting reply from Bhishma. Bhishma held his tongue, however, because there was no use frowning at the stupid man, Duryodhana.
And how does God help? The Mahabharata, again, is an instance on the point – Asvatthama's ferocitv, to give another instance. We are told that Asvatthama, one day, approached his father Drona and said: "You teach everything to Arjuna, whatever you have taught me. What is the difference between a disciple and a son? No difference at all? The son naturally is dearer than disciples. You teach Arjuna everything. Will you not teach me something which Arjuna does not know?" Drona thought: "This is a very foolish son, not as wise as Arjuna, and I should not teach him mysteries that may enable him to work havoc". But Asvatthama went on pressing the father with importunities: "Teach me something which Arjuna does not know, otherwise what is the good of my being your son." All the Astras Arjuna was taught. There was nothing that Arjuna did not know, because of instruction from Drona. But on account of a fatherly affection for even a stupid son, which every father has, Drona finally agreed. "All right, come here, I shall give you something, but beware. I am giving you fire in your hands by which you can burn the worlds; but my child, do not use it against devotees of God, because it will not work against devotees of God. It will work against real enemies. This is the Narayana-astra, the missile that is invoked with the power of Narayana. I am telling you this today, and I am initiating you into this mystery. If you release this, all the world can be reduced to ashes; but do not use this. I am warning you, lest you should be yourself in danger when you misuse it." Yet Drona was cautious. He did not tell him how to withdraw the missile, because if he could withdraw it, he would go on using it again and again. He knew the lack of understanding of Asvatthama and the eagerness of his to use it one day or the other! So he could use it only once. Once if is let off, it is let off forever. It could not come back for a second use. But there is a method of withdrawing it also, which in this particular case, Drona never told Asvatthama.