by Swami Krishnananda
The Vaishnava Agama method of worship conceives approach to God in five different ways, designating God as Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Archa and Antaryami. In one sense, God is the unapproachable Absolute. This character of God keeps us away from Him, viewing the situation from one angle of vision, because there is nothing in the human being that can be compared with God’ s glory. Submission, saranagati – utter humiliation of one’s own self in the presence of the mighty God – is one of the special emphases laid in Vaishnava Sastras. Kimkaryam is the word they generally use to represent their attitude towards the Almighty: servitude, the attitude of a humble servant.
This follows from the transcendence, the para-tattva of Bhagavan Narayana who, in addition to being that unapproachable Creator, is also, due to His compassion, capable of coming down, especially as Krishna Avatara, so that we can worship him in a form. Herein the Vyuha concept arose – known as Vasudeva, Samkarshana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha – which has an exoteric meaning as well as an esoteric meaning. Esoterically, it is comparable to what we know in philosophical parlance as Brahman, Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. But exoterically, Vasudeva is Sri Krishna; Samkarshana is his elder brother, Balarama; Pradhyumna is Sri Krishna’s son; and Aniruddha is his grandson.
The entire family of Bhagavan Sri Krishna was brought together into a hierarchy of adoration. A Vaishnava is a devotee of the avataras of Vishnu, principally the avataras of Rama and Krishna, and many a Vaishnava bhakta includes the Narasimha avatara as a part of his adoration, due to an inner psychological admiration. A dualistic system of Vaishnava worship is the Madhva Sampradaya of the Udupi Mutt, which brings the Narasimha-tattva together with the Vishnu-tattva and combines these two aspects, perhaps with the intention of blending two faces of God: the fearsome and the benevolent.
According to the Vaishnava Agama, the attitude of the devotee towards God is a manifestation of five feelings: the feeling of relation between father and son, between master and servant, between friend and friend, between parent and child, and between lover and beloved. These bhavas, or feelings, are actually supposed to be rising in an ascending order of closeness to God until in the madhurya bhava – the unity of the soul of the devotee in the rasa, or the essence of God – he becomes ecstatically maddened. That is the only thing we can say: He becomes ‘God-mad’. Some of these illustrations of God-madness and crying for God, as a person who is raving in his conscious separation, can be seen in the Divya Prabandham of the Alvar saints, the most important being the Tiruvaimozhi of Nammalvar. It is an ecstatic pouring. Words cannot adequately express the feeling of the devotee who pours himself into God. Pouring is the word to be underlined. It is not the gauna-bhakti of a ritualistic type – collecting flowers, waving lights and offering a formal presentation of gifts, etc., to God, as we do in the temples. This excels. Ragatmika-bhakti is superior to gauna-bhakti, the secondary devotion which requires external appurtenances of worship.
For instance, we feel we cannot worship God unless we have a place to sit and there is an idol in front of us. A little shrine must be there; some prasadam should be offered; a garland of flowers should be on the deity; incense sticks must be lit; light must be waved in front of the deity. If these items are not there, we feel that the worship cannot be done. This is an externalised – gauna – ritualistic type, a secondary type of devotion where we feel the need for something other than our own self in the worship of God.
Ragatmika-bhakti is that inner attunement of the deepest essence in us. ‘Raga’, ‘rasa’, ‘inner essence’ are all feeble, apologetic terms to suggest what the devotee actually feels. Vaishnava devotees like Saint Tulsidas, Surdas and Mirabai had also risen to this level of an ecstasy of raga, but it is only in some of the songs of the Alwars that we find ragatmika-bhakti reaching its apex. These are poems expressing the outburst of the soul for the immediate entry of God into oneself. Not tomorrow, not the next moment – it is here, just now.
The Divya Prabandham is written in the Tamil language, and the importance attached to these songs is such that it is called Dravida Vedam, the Veda of the southern countries, equal to the Veda Samhitas – Rig Veda, Yajur Veda or Sama Veda. These great souls were Godmen, as I mentioned. God had entered them; they lived in God. They saw God. They could speak to God, and they had nothing else but God power – power which automatically followed from their love of God, sometimes manifesting itself in queer behaviour.
There are stories of the odd behaviour of these Vaishnava saints, the Alwars, and also of the Nayanars, the Saiva saints. Their devotion sometimes goes to such extremes that it looks fantastic to us, but it is fantastic only to the limited approach of the human legalistic viewpoint. In the devotee’s envisagement of God, there are no boundaries and no limitations. We cannot set a limit for the devotee’s behaviour. “Thus far and no further” – we should not say that. Sometimes their behaviour, due to being inundated by God’s presence, becomes so very incomprehensible that they may not look fit even to live in human society.
These Nayanars could go to Lord Siva in Kailasa, and come back. As we go to Delhi for some business or commitment of ours and then return, they could go to Kailasa, speak to Lord Siva and harangue before him, and return to their houses. And Siva came in any form whatsoever – sometimes in a visible form, sometimes in an intriguing form. The relationship between Lord Siva, the Supreme Being, and the Nayanar devotees was more intimate than the relationship we have among ourselves here. Any time the Nayanars could chat with God. They could go physically, and come back.
So was the case with the Alwars. They were not only filled with God inwardly, but also outwardly. It appears there was an Alwar who was caught up in a heavy rain and he had to find a little shelter while it was pouring. He lay down on a small bench projecting from a wall, waiting for the rain to stop. While he was lying there, another Alwar came and asked, “Is there some space?” The first Alwar said, “One can lie down, but two can sit. All right, let us sit.” After some time a third came, “Is there some space? It is raining.” They said, “Well, two can sit but three can stand. Let us stand.” A fourth one came: “Is there space?” They said: “There is no space.” “I do not require space to exist,” said that fourth one, and he vanished from that place. Then the outpouring started, because only Narayana Himself could say, “I do not require space to exist.”
Throughout the history of the lives of these people, there were occasions galore for such outpourings. This is also the case with Mirabai and Surdas. They did not sit down and write poems; their poems were outbursts -automatic outpourings that manifested spontaneously, on various occasions, from the soul. There must be some stimuli from outside to evoke that particular sentiment; then immediately something comes out which specially, in a very, very poignant and significant manner, describes a new character of God.
Among these Nayanars to which I made reference, four of them are supposed to be most important. They are known as the Samaya Acharyas—that is, the progenitors of a procedure or mode of worship. These Samaya Acharyas, or the four great Nayanars, are Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manickavachagar. These four great devotees are supposed to represent the methods of charya, kriya, yoga, and jnana that I mentioned yesterday, with Manickavachagar representing jnana, the highest outpouring through wisdom – that is, the knowledge of God. An old Tamil saying is “He who cannot be touched by the words of Thiruvachagam – which is the masterpiece and magnum opus of Manickavachagar – cannot be touched by any word uttered by anybody.” Thiruvachagam is a masterpiece of Tamil literature and spiritual outpouring of devotion.
These songs of the Nayanars and the songs of the Alwars constitute a twofold presentation before us of the highest peak that devotion can reach, transcending all limitations and gauna ritualistic modes of worship. They need nothing with which to worship God except God Himself. “What do I need for worshipping God? I want myself and God. I don’t want anything else. That is enough.” And what is it that is going to be offered to God? “Myself.” And what is it that you are expecting from this offering? “God Himself.” Do you want anything from God?” “Nothing!” What do you want? “God only!”
The gauna bhakti type of worship sometimes utilises God in order to fulfil certain longings. That is, in our adoration of God we have, more often than not, a subtle longing to obtain the blessings of God in the form of varieties of comforts that we would like to have in this world. But ragatmika bhakti or sahaja bhakti, the final type which is mathura rasa, wants nothing from God. This is because, as we know very well, to expect something from God, and not God Himself, is to utilise God as an instrument for the fulfilment of our desires – which are connected to something other than God Himself. We consider our object of longing as somehow superior to God Himself when we say, “God must give me this.” Otherwise, why would we ask for it? It is difficult for the soul to appreciate the greatness of God, especially because people are earth-bound, sense-bound, object-bound, instinct-bound, and desire-bound.
I was referring to certain esoteric systems, secret methods of worship through the Agama and Tantra. They become secret and difficult merely because of the fact that it is impossible for an ordinary human being to conceive this system of practice. Man is just what man is; he cannot be other than what he is. He is a bundle of apprehensions, prejudices, loves and hatreds, expectations, and all things connected with this earthly mortal continuance of life. This mischievous desire that is at the root of the continuance of mortal existence through this body has to be cut and severed asunder. There should be nothing left – not even a trace of this kind of love for the body and the earthly existence – if we are to be initiated into this great esoteric doctrine of God wanting the soul of the devotee and the soul wanting only God and nothing else.
The Agamas, as I mentioned, are mostly of three types – the Vaishnava, the Saiva and the Sakta. But there are also other Agamas, such as the Ganapatya, the Saura and the Kaumara. The Agamas or systems of worship instituted to adore Maha Ganapati are known as Ganapatya Agamas; those connected with the worship of Suryanarayana are called Saura Agamas; and those connected with the worship of Skanda or Kartikeya are called Kaumara Agamas. These are all inaccessible to ordinary academic approach. The Agama and Tantra method are not philosophical, logical or intellectual. Everything that boasts of human pride should be set aside when we approach God in the inner recesses of our heart, where the intellectual eminence of a person becomes just a husk, another form of ignorance which has to be shed – the earlier, the better.
Varieties of methods are suggested for purifying the human soul in order that the soul may become fit to envisage or encounter God. Unless we have some quality of God in us, we will not be able to see God. “Devo bhutva devamaradhayet” is an old saying which means that we have to become God in order that we may see God. Animals cannot visualise God, because similars attract each other and dissimilars repel each other. The attraction that the soul can have for God, or the attraction that God can have for us, is the pull of the similar in respect of the similar.
Is there in any one of us some quality which can be called a quality that is in God? Go deep into your own hearts. “Have I in myself some spark of quality which I can say is also the quality of God?” We will find there is nothing in us. We are topsy-turvy in every way, and bound hand and foot by the pasa, the bonds, as we tie a beast. Pasa is a word used in Saiva Siddhanta. The pasa,or the bondage, the rope of Varuna described in the Veda Samhitas, is the inscrutable tie of three knots – called Brahmagranthi, Vishunugranthi and Rudragranthi – with which the beast of the individual is tied to samsara, this earthly torturous existence. This pasa is to be loosened and the dirt, which is known in Tamil as anavamalam – the defect of the seed-like potentiality in the human individual that confines its consciousness only to its body – is opened up and the dross therein is completely cleansed through these charya, kriya, yoga and jnana methods by a processional approach and a sequential ascent of the soul in the act of purification that is conducted gradually.
The Tantra Sastra, especially of the Sakta type, has various stages of self-purification known as Vaishnavachara, Saivachara, Dakshinachara, Vamachara, and finally ending in Kaulachara, the perfection of the soul where it becomes identical in its character with God. The Vaishnavachara stage constitutes the ritualistic method. The earliest stage of religion is ritual, a kind of performance that is exteriorly manifested by gesticulations of offering, dancing, singing, chanting, etc., which is the gauna bhakti that I referred to; this categorisation of bhakti is called Vaishnavachara. It becomes more and more inward and esoterically more sublime and deeper in the Saivachara.
The Saivas have fewer scruples than Vaishnavas. Vaishnavas are very orthodox people. We have only to see a Vaishnava in order to know what kind of a person he is – a very fanatic type. There was a venerable lady who was an utter, out-and-out, hundred-percent Vaishnava devotee, but due to her prarabdha she had to live in a room which was very close to a Siva temple. She somehow accommodated herself to it. She had to live there; no use of complaining. One day a Vaishnava Iyengar came to see her. He was shocked: “You are staying here, near a Siva temple? Are you not ashamed that you are living near a Siva temple?” This is the fanaticism of Vaishnavas.
A Vaishnava lady from Karnataka used to go to Badrinath. When asked if she would also visit Kedarnath, she covered her ears. They cover their ears when such words are uttered, because Kedarnath is Siva’s temple. This fanaticism is characteristic of the intense orthodoxy of the dualistic Vaishnava theology – partly in the Shrivaishnava type, and much more in the dualistic Madhva type, who go to the extreme of orthodoxy. We have to see them in order to believe how extreme they are.
But when we enter into the circle of Siva worship, the restrictions of the type of orthodoxy that is imposed on us externally by society or by ourselves are diminished. Saivas are more and more informal, free, and personalistic rather than socialised in their worship. In the Sakta modes of worship there is complete freedom. Even the little restriction imposed on us by the Saiva methods goes.
As I mentioned, these are all intricate things, like the manufacture of an atom bomb. The procedures cannot be explained. We cannot understand what God actually requires of us unless we know how far we are from God in the qualities that constitute our individual personality compared to the qualities that we expect to see in God.