by Swami Krishnananda
What I am going to tell you has a background which is purely philosophical, though I am not going to touch that aspect of the subject. I am taking up a more practical side of spiritual living, but practice is preceded by a theory or a structure of philosophical background, which is called the Vedanta philosophy.
The metaphysical foundations of the relationship between God, world and the individual, to which I made reference earlier, are to be found in the Vedanta philosophy. You will find it easier to steer the course of your life towards its wondrous destination – highest peace of mind and, in the end, Immortal Life.
Actually, what I am going to tell you is the final conclusion of all learning, and everything else to which I made reference is a preparatory procedure. It is implied that you have a good knowledge of the preparatory stages through other aspects of philosophical thought. You have to bring them together into a holistic way of approach so that all knowledge becomes one knowledge in the end.
I am principally emphasising the aspect of love of God. Here is a mysterious but highly elevating, soul-transforming picture before you. Such a thing as the love of God escapes the attention of most people who may be religious in their own way, because to love God is not enough if you are merely religious in the ordinary sense of the term.
Religions that are known to the world – the 'isms', as they are called – are the outer form taken by an inner significance which is the quintessence of spiritual aspiration. Actually, you will find that to love a thing is different from doing something in regard to that thing. You may do several things in regard to a particular object, but that is not necessarily the same as to love it. There is an action of the soul taking place in every form of affection. A mother knows what it is to love a child. There is no need for ceremonies or gestures for the mother to show her affection to the child. It is there, and that is enough.
Whoever has experienced what it is to love will know how it differs from any other occupation of the mind. In love, you do not simply think. It is different from thinking something. Also, you are not going to do anything. What happens, then? You will find it difficult to adjust yourself to the necessities that go together with this so-called act of the soul you call love. A lost friend, as it were, whom you have not seen for years together, your bosom friend, your alter-ego with whom you lived for long as one soul in two bodies – such a friend has disappeared for some reason, whatever that reason be. After years you are seeing him in front of you. You run up in ecstasy: "Oh, you have come!" You lose all your sense and apparatus of thinking with which you may express your feeling on seeing that friend who is suddenly there before you after many years. You do not know what to do at that time. Are you going to embrace him? Are you going to hug him? Are you going to request him to be seated comfortably? Will you entertain him? Will you speak to him in a sweet tone with beautiful words? Will you enquire about his welfare? At that time, you do not know what to do. You are torn into pieces of feeling, and the surge of your being rushes forth in the love that you are unable to express by external means. This is what you feel when your friend who had been lost is standing before you.
In the midst of a large gathering or a crowd where there is a stampede, a mother loses her little child. Where the child has gone, nobody knows. People are running helter-skelter, as we have seen in the Kumbha Mela. The child is lost. The mother does not know whether it has been killed in the stampede. She strikes her breast with great grief, strikes her head on the ground: "My dear child, the one alone that I had, is gone!" Many days later the child runs to the mother, screaming, "Mummy! I am here!" What does the mother feel at that time? Does she perform any ritual to express her love for the child?
What does God want from you? When you love something immensely, you want to make a gesture of offering something to it because you do not know in what other way you can express your love for it. In this world, rarely do people feel love. In so-called affections and friendships in the lives of people, we find a commercial relationship – a give-and-take policy. "If you do this, I will like you. If you do not do that, I will not like you." This kind of liking is not love. Will you tell God in the same way, "If you give this, I will love you. If you do not give this, I will not care for you"? Would you deal with God in this manner?
The importance of the principle of the existence of God will free you from this tangle of confusion as to how to relate yourself to God. Mortal expressions of human thought cannot understand what love is. There are, however, instructions in scriptures dealing with this path of love – how to gradually move in the direction of this ultimate consummation of the meaning of love. Nobody has seen God. Certain things which you would like to have, you might not have seen with your eyes. Unseen longings sometimes disturb your soul. "I would have liked to have that, but I have not seen it."
There is a difference between the act of the soul and the thinking of the mind and the actions of the hands and feet. Inasmuch as the depth of the spirit of affection to God is not clearly intelligible to the ordinary mind, stages of approach to this goal have been prescribed by ancient masters and seers who loved God truly. The saints and the sages about whom you might have heard, about whose lives you might have read and have observed the way in which they lived, would perhaps be great instructors to you on the path of love of God.
There are types and types of devotees of God. I would like you to read the lives of certain saints known as Nayanars, who lived in what today is called Tamil Nadu, and Alvars – Vaishnava saints. I cannot describe to you how they loved God! You have to read, with great concentration of mind, how these great masters of divine devotion lived and manifested their love for God. The Nayanars were principally devotees of God in the form of Lord Siva, and the Alvars were devotees of the great Almighty in the form of Vishnu – Narayana. There are 4,000 Tamil poems, called Narayana Prabandham in the Tamil language, which record the expressions of the love which these great Alvars had for this Supreme Being. Those who have studied it and appreciated it consider Narayana Prabandham as equal to the Veda itself; it is called the Ardhavedam. Similar is the case with the lives of the Nayanars. You will be stunned and breathless when you read the lives of these great people.
How do you call God? Do you know how you can call God? "Oh, my dear!" It is not enough if you say that. God is not merely dear; He is something more. "Oh, honey! – ananda tene!" There was a great saint who described God as the bliss of honey, or the honey of bliss. You become crazy when you love something. You get drowned in honey, in nectar. You get drowned in your own soul! You get drowned in the soul of that which you love! Read the life of Saint Mira, of Varender Das, of Tukaram, of Kabir Das in addition to those saints who I have mentioned just now.
The difficulty is proverbial. How do you love God when He is an omnipresent being? This concept of omnipresence is hard to entertain in the mind. So, there is a prescription for you. Begin your devotion with actual worships that you can perform; apply the concept of omnipresence to a lesser degree, such as a portrait of God that you have in your mind – which, also, it will be difficult for you to entertain for a long time. Do you not keep with you a photograph of the person whom you love – a memento connecting yourself with that person whom you love? You hang a photograph of your deceased father on the wall of your house. It is a portrait. The father is not there, but it represents the father who lived once upon a time.
Temple worship, for instance, has been prescribed as a means of developing devotion to God. Even temple worship is not an easy thing. You do not just ring the bell and offer flowers and wave arati and go away. This is not what it stands for. The temple is the diagram of the way in which the universe is operating in front of us. The whole universe is there in this little area occupied by the temple. Even to build a temple is not easy. There are scriptures, known as the Vastu Shastras, which describe in minute detail how to construct a temple. You do not enter into the holy of holies suddenly. In well-constructed temples there are several prakaras – seven corridors – one inside the other, one outside the other. They are comparable almost, as they say, to the sheaths of this body. Similarly the levels of existence: bhur loka, bhuvar loka, swarga loka, mahar loka, jnana loka, tapa loka and satya loka are, in a cosmical sense, almost comparable to the physical body and its layers: anamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas – inside which is the Atman, the Light in the holy of holies.
In all temples you will find that in the holy of holies, in the innermost garbhakuda, it is dark. It is not lit up with electric light, though today some of the temples have electric light also, which is a tragedy. It should not be. It is a dark anandamaya of the cosmic existence in which there is a limpid lake of illumination – the shining Atman. I am not going into great details of the pattern of the structure of temples; I am coming to the main point of what you do when you actually worship in a temple.