Understanding Bhakti from Sri Sathya Sai – By Sai Giridhar Sairam

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his disciple Swami Vivekananda
Swami once asked students in Bhajan Hall, “What is Bhakti?” A student replied, “Swami, Bhakti is love for You”. Swami said, “Yes, that is the right answer”. Bhakti is Love for God! During several of my journeys to the Himalayas, I have had numerous opportunities to meet sincere Sadhakas (spiritual aspirants), who have dedicated their life to Self-Discovery and to love God. I have asked them a question that often troubled me: “Why is my Sadhana not consistent?” Interestingly, all of them had the same answer to give, “Your love for the world is more than your love for God”. This led to another question which kept lingering in my mind: “How do I love God?” for which I could never get any satisfactory answer, rather no answer satisfied me. I was once watching a motion picture on Swami Vivekananda, wherein a particular scene made a deep impact on me. Naren (Swami Vivekananda) had approached Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa with a similar question. Naren asked the Master (Thakur), how he could gladden himself with the vision of Divinity, and love God as spontaneously as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa did. Thakur, who noticed a housefly meandering about a glass of juice, said, “Look at this housefly: as long as it is going to move around the glass of juice, there is no way it is going to taste the juice. The only way the fly can taste the sweetness of the juice is by diving into the juice. The fly may lose itself in the process, but that is the only way!” In Thakur’s words, I also found direction towards my answer.

The first: that I need to take a plunge into that cosmic uncertainty, and not merely meander along its boundaries. The second: there is a good chance that I might lose myself in this process; a scarier proposition for anyone who believes he/she is journeying to a destination! Uncertainty still loomed large in my mind, just not the cosmic kind. Unsure about ‘where exactly is the end of the cliff’, ‘where do I plunge into’ and ‘how’, I continued my journey: sometimes trying Namasmaran, sometimes of what I thought was meditation. A part of my time was spent on one spiritual activity and another part on another, uncertain each time which was going to be my path to love God truly! Even as restlessness and dissatisfaction were creeping in, I heard the experience of one of our senior teachers. Swami had called all the teachers of the School and College at Puttaparthi to His Brindavan Ashram to bless them before the commencement of the new academic year. There were then many students at Brindavan who were eager to enjoy the most coveted privilege of a ‘Trayee session’ with Bhagavan. Even as the students were pleading with Swami to bless them with a Trayee session, Swami was clear with His equation. He said, “Why should I give you a Trayee session? You all ‘show’ only part-time devotion. What I want is full-time devotion!” The Master was to play His Master stroke then. Swami asked this senior professor seated nearby, “You have worked in a company haven’t you?” The professor replied in the affirmative. Swami then asked him, “What different types of employees were there in your company?” The professor replied that there were two types of employees, one temporary and another permanent. Swami then asked, “What is the difference between the two in terms of their payment?” He replied that the temporary employees were paid on a day-to-day basis, while the permanent employees had structured pay with basic, HRA, periodical increments and bonuses as well. Swami then said, “In the same way for permanent devotees, I too shower constant grace, give bonuses and most importantly ‘Dearness Allowance’. Not just that, I also give them pension for their life hereafter! But nobody seems interested to be a permanent devotee!” It was only after listening to these nectarine words of Bhagavan, I understood that at best I was a mere worshipper, or a temporary devotee. The difference between a worshipper, and a devotee or a Bhakta is that – a worshipper, however ardent and sincere he/she might be in their worship of their Lord, is rooted in fulfilment of their desires or some personal benefits. A devotee, on the other hand, has no reasons to love God. That is why, probably, Swami sang, “No reason for Love, no season for Love, No birth, No death”. The classic example to elucidate this difference would be the lives of Ravana, the greatest worshipper and Hanuman, the greatest devotee.

It is also around this time I came across a never heard before, beautiful meaning of Bhakti from a wonderful devotee of Bhagavan, whom I had a chance to interact with. Swami had given the definition of Bhakti as “a state where there is no Vibhakti from God”. The Sanskrit word ‘Vibhakti’ means separation or division. Bhakti literally means “no separation”. When we are asked to indicate the number two with our fingers, we would raise the index and the middle finger in separation. But if we join the two fingers with absolutely no gap between them, then it would indicate one, and not two. That is Bhakti. While there seems to be a Lord and His devotee, they are but in a state of union all the time. The merger of the apparent two into one is also called Yoga, and the separation as Viyoga! It was on knowing this that an understanding dawned on a conversation we had with Swami earlier. It was a Ganesh Chaturthi day when we went to Bhagavan with a programme on the theme, ‘Nava Vidha Bhakti’. Swami heard the title and remarked, “Are you saying that Ganesha is beyond Navavidha Bhakti?” He then went on to add, “Vinayakudini Gudilo Matram Choosthe, Akkade Kanipisthadu. Vinayakudu Ni Atma Roopam Lo Choodali. Appude Meeru Ekkadavellina Akkade Untadu” (If you see Vinayaka as installed only in temples, He will appear only that way to you. You must see Vinayaka as Atman, then, He is wherever you are). Swami was in fact telling us the difference between a worshipper and a devotee. A devotee is never separate from God, as a Bhakta worships the Lord as his true self or Atman. Even as Bhaktas sing the glory of their Beloved, they are constantly aware that their beloved is not someone separate from them, but their own true Self! In this light, I began to see the couplets of Kabir, songs of Meera, or the Abhangas of Tukaram: they all convey this exalted truth that all there is, ‘Is’ the ‘Self’, all there is, ‘Is Krishna, Rama, Sai, God, Sadguru’ – all names of the One Self!

I now understood Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s words: (a) “to take a plunge” into the cosmic uncertainty is to dive beyond the idea of a “partitioned” me, beyond the body and mind, a separate name and form. While I readily say God is everywhere, then how am I exclusive of God? (b) To lose myself in the process is to merge my identity with my beloved, my Sai! The Ganga and the Godavari are rivers with their own identity, when they merge in the ocean, no longer do they retain their individual name or form; however sacred they may have been! Swami says that the syllable ‘Sa’ represents Divinity. Then is not Sai simply merging the small ‘i’ into Divinity or ‘Sa’? The only way for this to happen is to gain perfect understanding or perfect experience of the ‘Self’ that I am, that Sadguru alone is capable of conferring liberation. “How does one earn the Grace of Sadguru?” was my eager and obvious question. In Swami’s words: it is “Chaala Sulabham” – very simple! Whatever actions are done by the body-mind complex must be done for the pleasure of ‘Self’ alone, our beloved, our Sai, no other object or purpose. Is that not what we do when we are in love with someone? Whatever we do, we want to do it for their joy, to make them happy. This includes breathing, eating, bathing, dressing up, studying, working and everything else.

Then every activity is transformed into Satkarma. Sadhana literally means ‘Divine (Sa) Wealth (Dhana)’. Once the Divine account balance is sufficiently earned through Satkarmas, and when the time is right, the grace of Sadguru will dawn spontaneously. Who is Sadguru? Sadguru is neither with form nor formless. Sadguru is beyond all sense of duality. It is in fact revealed in the word Guru, which means ‘Gu’ – ‘Gunateeta’ (beyond qualities or attributes), ‘Ru’ – ‘Roopavarjita’ (without a form). The Gunas are themselves formless. By saying ‘beyond Gunas’, Swami has emphasised this truth that Guru is even beyond formless. That Sadguru divided Himself from Himself to Love Himself.

Lord Krishna and Radha
Swami once while describing the Bhakti of Radha, had told students that Radha’s life was “Union in Separation and Separation in Union”. Swami then asked if the students understood what Swami had just said. When they pleaded with Swami to explain, Swami expounded, “Radha was always in union with Krishna – Her Self, when the physical Krishna was away from Her, but when the physical Krishna was with Her, She was so engrossed in serving Him that She was separated from the identity of Her Self as Krishna!” Bhakti, in my understanding, is truly neither a path nor destination, but a most spontaneous state of being One with, or simply, loving the Self that I am. What do we really need to do to be ourselves? We should only abstain from doing things or thinking that we are anything unlike, or other than our ‘Self’.
Sai Giridhar with Sri Sathya Sai

-          Sai Giridhar Sairam
Student (2001-2006), Department of Chemistry
Currently, Doctoral Research Scholar
Department of Chemistry
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
Prasanthi Nilayam

Source: Sai Nandana 2015 (90th Birthday Offering)

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