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Path of Devotion in The Gita

In the XII chapter of the Gita (on Bhakti Yoga) in the first verse, Arjuna inquires of Sri Krishna:
"O Lord, those devotees, who, ever steadfast, thus worship You (as personal God), and those also who worship the Imperishable, the Unmanifested - which of those devotees is better versed in Yoga?"

He who, with his mind constantly fixed on You, worships you as possessed of form and attributes, and the other one who adores and seeks Imperishable, formless Brahman, of these two who is the real knower of Yoga? Who is superior?
Sri Krishna answers:
Both of them reach Me; but those who worship the Imperishable, the Indefinable, the Unmanifested, the Omnipresent, the Unthinkable, the Unchangeable, the Unmovable, the Eternal - they have to struggle more. They pass through greater hardship, for, the sadhaka with attachment to body and mind must needs find it extremely difficult to experience the state of Formless and Unmanifested Brahman.

An attempt to concentrate on Un-manifest or Supreme Brahman devoid of name and form is always difficult, and those who are attached to the body can attain it with still greater struggle. (Gita, XII, Verse 5.) Because most of us identify ourselves with body and mind i.e. are always fixed to our body consciousness, we would be unable grasp the Truth in its Formless - Impersonal aspect.
In the next verses the Lord maintains:
On the other hand, those who, being solely devoted to Me, and surrendering all actions to Me, worship Me - the manifest Divine - constantly meditating on Me with single minded devotion, them O Arjuna, I speedily rescue from the ocean of birth and death. (Gita, XII, Verse 6, 7.)
And how to achieve this single-minded devotion? In subsequent verses Sri Krishna suggests:
- by fixing the mind on Lord only and by placing reason and intellect in Him,

If this is not possible then:
- by Yoga of constant and repeated practice (Abhyasa Yoga) one should seek the same result of reaching Him,

if even this is not possible, then one should try to attain perfection:
- by being intent on performing all actions - minor or major - for the sake of Lord only,

If this is not possible then:
- by trying to subdue one's mind and senses, and relinquishing the fruit of all actions at the feet of Lord.
In subsequent verses, Sri Krishna tells which devotee is most dear to Him:
1. The devotee who is free from malice, who is friendly and compassionate, who is free from egoism and the idea of 'doership', who has firm resolve, who has surrendered his mind and intellect to the Lord, whose senses are under his control, 'such devotee of Mine is dear to Me'.

2. One who is not source of annoyance to anyone in the world, one who never feels offended with the world, one who is free from both delight and anger, perturbation and fear, 'that devotee is dear to Me'.

3. One who craves for nothing, one whose mind and intellect are pure, one who is clever and impartial, one who neither rejoices nor grieves, nor desires anything special, one who has renounced both good and evil, 'such a devotee is dear to Me'.

4. One who is alike to friend and foe, honour and ignominy, pleasure and pain and is free from attachment; one who takes praise and reproach alike and is content with whatever comes to him unasked for, whose mind is full of devotion and engrossed in the Lord, 'such a devotee is very dear to Me'.
Bhakti (Devotion) and Jnana (Knowledge) not different

Thus we see that path of devotion - Bhakti Yoga - as described in the Gita is, in fact, a path of total surrender to the Lord. This somewhat dualistic approach suits common (our) psyche. It is difficult for us, initially, to understand and accept that surrender to external Deity, Ideal, or Power is in essence surrendering to our own higher self! It is in fact transcending our petty ego and getting established in cosmic or Universal Ego. It is merging the idea of one 'body and mind complex' into the reality of Cosmic Oneness.

Normally in our ordinary (human) consciousness, we are aware of multitude of forms. The cosmic mind is divided into various forms: the sun, the moon, stars, plants, animals, human beings etc. - this whole universe. In Bhakti Yoga a stage is reached when all multiple forms merge into one Cosmic Form, which is none other than sadhaka's Chosen Ideal (Ishta).

Such conceptualization is neither an utopia nor mere imagination. This can be actualized - many have had visions of their Ishta Deva. It is in fact experienced by many saints, sages, Rishis (Seers as we call them) in every religion. During all such experiences the aspirant has knowledge of only two existences: one, of himself and the other of his Chosen Ideal. This chosen ideal may be a Form or an Idea. For instance, Arjuna had Sri Krishna as his chosen Ideal. The mind of the spiritual aspirant is totally concentrated. The sadhaka has no knowledge of anything else other than these two realities. Still further by way of Advaita Jnana (Knowledge) the sadhaka can consider and actualize his or her oneness with Universal Principle by transcending his ego and consciousness; then the sadhaka, the Self and the Chosen Ideal become one!

Christian Mystics have realized such Oneness with Jesus, etc.; Sufis experienced Universal Brotherhood on their path in Islam; Hindus have had visions of Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, and their incarnations; Buddhists, though deny the existence of Atman and God, still believe in Nirvana -a state of transcendental Reality of stoic changelessness.

In the Gita, it is the Seer aspect of Sri Krishna, which is giving us the approximate description of visions of realities of Arjuna as he progresses from lower truth to higher truth. Thus as Sri Krishna describes the Yogas, Arjuna's mind gets concentrated and actually experiences those states or truths. Thus, in the eleventh chapter Arjuna could visualize his Chosen Ideal Sri Krishna as Universal or Cosmic Reality. He is able to see Sri Krishna in everything, and everything in Sri Krishna!

This vivid visualization becomes a non-effacing lifetime experience for the spiritual aspirant. Then, when the sadhaka returns to normal human consciousness, his experience still remains with him. Therefore, he understands that whatever he sees, feels, or thinks is all in the Cosmic Consciousness. He is not the doer; he is not anything. Thus comes the idea of total surrender from an experienced soul to inexperienced masses.

Depending on preparedness of aspirants, different advice regarding methods and practices are advocated for various sadhakas. This is the basis of idol or image worship. The Westerners, deeply influenced by scientific temper, are free from restrictive effect of faith, and as such are most benefited by sadhana of Jnana Yoga. But to force others, not fully exposed to science, to follow the same path of objective rationality, reason, and discrimination would be like putting a student of first standard to a higher standard or to be more precise, to put a student of literature into a class of physics! How can he understand science when he is not yet introduced to its basics?

Bhakti is defined as unconditional love for personal God. It may appear lower form of sadhana and may lead to religious fanaticism; all the same Bhakti remains the best option for most of us, bound as we are to the body-mind complex.
c s shah