22.18: Grace of God
Descent of Grace is the culmination of bhakti yoga. The theory of Grace is more complicated in the Hindu religion than in the semitic religions. Because the karma theory is so central to Hinduism, its view of God's Grace is much more subtle than the naïve argument that if God is pleased with your devotion, He immediately gives you what you want. The history of Hindu devotees of the Lord is a long saga of excellent examples of mystical devotion and the acceptance of the Lord as the embodiment of the Supreme Absolute Reality. It includes not only just devoted extraordinary men and women but composers, authors, singers, poets, missionaries, visionaries and common people breathing the spirit of genuine bhakti, sometimes born of a naïve theory of surrender, sometimes born out of the loftiest intellectual conviction, and, very often, of both. Each one of their lives was such that bhakti itself got its definition from what they did and preached. Even before the time of recorded history, as we know it now, the mythological names that had become proverbial in this connection in the Indian subcontinent cannot but be recalled, if nothing else, for paying our homage in this account of bhakti. These names are for instance, (in the alphabetical order of their names transliterated into English, for want of a better order!):
Ajamila, Akrura, Ambarisha, Arjuna, Bhishma, Dhruva, Draupadi, Gajendra, Garuda, the Gopis, Hanuman, Jatayu, Lakshmana, Narada, Parasara, Parikshit, Prahlada, Radha, Rukmangada, Sanandana, Saunaka, Sudhama, Sugriva, Suka, Uddhava, Valmiki, Vibhishana, Vidura, Vyasa, Yasoda and Yudhishtira.
No special treatise on bhakti has to be studied to know about bhakti. It is enough to read the stories about these characters from the tradition. Coming nearer to historical times we have numberless devotees of the Lord on the Indian soil whose devotional lives have been so exemplary that bhakti itself came to be evolved by their unique actions and pronouncements. A study of the life of an Appar, or a Thiagaraja, or a Ramadas, or Mira, or Kabir or a Vedanta Desika or a Prabhupada and scores of others would show how devotion finally ends up with the Grace of God being showered on the devotee. That does not mean, however, that the devotee does not suffer any more in his material life.
There are two views in Hinduism of how one may win God's Grace. One view is that you have to cleave to God as a baby monkey clings to its mother. This view, the markaTa-nyAya -- the monkey theory, considers human effort as essential in obtaining salvation just as a young monkey has to exert itself and cling to its mother while being carried to its destination. The second view is that you don't have to make any positive effort, just surrender yourself to God as a baby cat surrenders to its mother and relaxes. This latter is the mArjAra-nyAya -- the cat theory, which emphasises prapatti, complete resignation to God's will as the most effective means of salvation. In fact the tenkalai ( = Southern Learning) sect of Vaishnavism holds that prapatti is the only means of salvation. It is open to all, the learned as well as the ignorant, the high as well as the low, while the path of bhakti involves a little understanding of jnAna and karma. But anyone who has been initiated by a proper guru, may fling himself on the bosom of God and surrender to Him and thus, taking refuge in the Almighty, the devotee need not exert any further, as, according to the tenkalai school, individuals to be freed are selected by the Grace of God. This school holds that the essence of the gItA is contained in that one verse, the carama Slooka, which says, 'Renounce all dharmas and seek Me, the One, for thy protection and I shall deliver you from all sins.':
sarva dharmAn parityajya mAmekam SaraNam vraja /
aham tvA sarva-pApebhyo mokshayishyAmi mA SucaH //
But according to the advaitic viewpoint, when the Lord says, shed your dharma, He does not mean: abandon your action. Your duties you have to do, certainly. But they must be done in a spirit of detachment. In fact you must surrender the doership itself to God, then God by His Grace will convert all your actions to dhArmic ones. Once this kind of surrender is done to the Lord to the extent of merging one's individuality with the Lord, thereafter one becomes an instrument in the hands of God and nothing more. To all external appearances such a devotee may appear to behave like ordinary people, discharging all his duties scrupulously according to his station in life. But within himself the devotee will not be conscious of doing anything of his own accord or for his own sake. Often he may be seen to override accepted codes of conduct or social custom or propriety but also often he may be so immersed in the bliss of his god-experience that he appears dead to his sourroundings. It is this kind of self-effacement that is the the culmination of a complete surrender to God. And such a surrender has to be done by one's own free will. Man has the free will to obey or to disobey God. The so-called fatalist view in religion is only a fragmentary part of Hinduism. Because of the vAsanAs that one brings along with his birth one is born in a particular environment and this facet of one's personality, mistakenly branded as Fate, reflects mainly in one's tendencies. Fate does not influence anything except the tendencies. Everything else is one's own making. One has the total free will to surrender to God or not.
Great souls, the pious and the devout who possess a divine nature -- they know Him as the prime cause of all creation, they know Him as the Imperishable, as permeating everything just as air pervades all space. They know Him as agent-provacateur for even the swing of a little leaf. They constantly chant his names and glories and strive to attain His Grace through worshipping Him with single-minded devotion. They constantly think of Him and nothing else and worship Him for the sake of worship. To such people who are ever immersed in His thought, God promises that 'He will take care of their security and well-being': yogakshemam vahAmyaham. He goes on further to promise:'Whosoever offers to Me with love a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water, I delightfully partake of the article offered by such a disinterested devotee of purified intellect':
patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktyA prayacchati /
tadaham bhaktyupahRtam aSnAmi prayatAtmanaH // (bhagavad-gItA: 9 - 26 )
Note that all the things he has listed above are products of nature and nature alone; man does not have to strain himself to get them. God does not calculate the value of the things you offer Him. He only calculates the feeling that prompted your offering. This is the art of Spiritual Love. We have only to purify the feeling behind the act, in order to win His Grace. 'Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as oblation to the sacred fire, whatever you bestow as a gift, whatever you do by way of penance, offer it to Me', says He:
yat karoshi yad-aSnAsi yaj-juhoshi dadAsi yat /
yat tapasyasi kaunteya tat-kurushva mad-arpaNam // (bhagavad-gItA: 9 - 27)
This is the science of Spiritual Love. Everything is an offering, or dedication, to Him. Hindu religious scriptures are replete with Slokas, depicting these two concepts: the art and the science, of Spiritual Love.
Even if the vilest sinner worships Him with exclusive devotion in this spirit he should be considered noble, says the Lord, for he has taken the first step:
api cet sudurAcAro bhajate mAm ananyabhAk /
sAdhur-eva sa mantavyaH samyag-vyavasito hi saH // (bhagavad-gItA: 9 -30).
And to those who have taken towards the Lord even a single step, the Lord promises to take several steps towards them, so that they can speedily become dharmAtmAs. The simple meaning of this word 'dharmAtmA' is 'a virtuous soul'. To such a devotee the Lord assures us: My devotee never perishes. - na me bhaktaH praNaSyati - (bhagavad-gItA: 9-31).
QUESTION: But this is not true. We see many devotees - some of them really true devotees in every sense of the word - suffer either hunger or poverty or disease or failure in their endeavours. How can this be explained?
The elementary answer is that God tests them to gauge the intensity of their belief and devotion. But how long does God have to test? Very often one finds that there is no end to the suffering one undergoes, in spite of one's devotion. Our teachers explain this with the help of several analogies. One is that of driving a nail into a wall. What does one do? After hitting the head of the nail a few times, one shakes it and checks whether it can be pulled out from the wall. And one does this several times, alternatively hitting and driving the nail into the wall and checking by shaking. This process of intervening by periodical trials of strength goes on in the life of a devotee. This is part of the science of spiritual love. The more one survives each trial, the more intense one's faith becomes. So when God says: My dfevotee never perishes, He means, ultimately. How long is 'ultimately' is the question. It depends on the accumulation of one's pUrva karma (karma of all one's past lives). If the bank balance of karma is too much on the negative side, the only way to wipe out the deficit is to 'suffer' it.
This elementary answer that God tests them to gauge the intensity of their belief and devotion is indeed given by many exponents of Hinduism and is also mentioned in some contexts in the purANAs. But experts in the scriptures do not accept this answer. It was in one of Sri Krishna Premi's lectures that I gathered a more sophisticated answer to this question. The elementary answer only underestimates the omniscience of God. He has no necessity to test us, ordinary mortals. He clearly knows that we will fail in such tests. But then this theory of God testing his devotees is certainly true in the case of confirmed intense devotees of the Lord. In such cases, He tests them just to show to the rest of the world how intense and effective their devotion is and how far a devotee's faith can carry him. He knows that they won't fail His test. In our ordinary cases, the theory that God tests us is not acceptable. We suffer because of our karma. And we have to suffer it. Hinduism is very clear on this point. In fact even in the case of leading devotees they could not avoid the suffering that they had to endure But their lives show how when the Lord's Grace descended on them, the most intense suffering could be either transformed into intense delight or, more often than noty, God's Grace, instead of wiping out their suffering, provided an insulation of faith which enabled them to be oblivious of that suffering underneath.(p.93-94).
QUESTION: If God's Grace is what ultimately decides what is going to happen to me, why does He not give me or grant me that bhakti which I seem to lack and need?
Yes, God grants you that bhakti. But you have to receie it. The rain may pour, but if a vessel is upside down no water will collect in it. Your mind is free; by your own free will you have to decide to receive what God is ready to give you. By your own volition you have to decide to trust in God and surrender to Him. If by supplanting your will, God has to give you what you need, then there need be no creation, no existence of the universe. This is the mystery of God's lIla (sport, play) of creation. Creation is a kind of play where God allows beings to have the feeling of separateness from Him and then waits and waits until the beings that have emerged from Him come back to Him. If they don't want to come back to Him, He allows them to go their own way and take their own time to discover that that is the Want which will finally rid them of all their wants. The 'agony of God' in this great cycle of creation is that beings do not want to get out of this cycle. So sometimes He gives them all the petty things they want, so that in due time they would want what He wants to give them. All our temples, gods and goddesses and the innumerable ways by which we can propitiate the divine in these places of worship, as well as the uncountable methods by which we may offer our private prayers -- all of them have that one objective, that we should ultimately want to go back to where we came from, that is, merge in Him and His Glory.
To understand the glory of divinity, one has to tune one's mind to take time off from one's constant activity in the mundane world. To see darkness, one must have darkness. To understand intelligence the right way, you have to be intelligent. To be conscious, you must have consciousness. So also, to become divine, you must live in the memory of the divine. There is a saying, a favourite of Sri Ramakrishna: 'Just as a dancing girl fixes her attention on the waterpot she bears on her head even when she is dancing to various tunes, so also the true devotee does not give up his attention to the blisfful feet of the Supreme Lord even when he attends to his many and varied concerns'.
So fix your mind on Him and make obeisance to Him by serving Him and humanity at large. Unite yourself to Him and to His cause. Entirely depend on Him and surrender to Him even your feelings of mine and thine. Then, says, bhakti yoga, you shall win His Grace.
Finally it is important to note that the Hindu thought process has always a built-in tendency toward evolution as opposed to revolution. It has continuously shown a flexibility, an adaptability, and a resilience which have undoubtedly been the key to its long survival. It gradually came out of its own partial eclipse that it experienced during the challenge of Buddhism and Jainism. It showed an extraordinary degree of accommodation and adapted itself to face the continued onslaught of Islam in the 2nd millenium. It reacted with similar flexibility to the challenge of scientific rationalism as well as that of Christianity. The really most distinguishing feature of Hinduism is that it has always been a matter of faith, not a policy of diplomacy, with Hindu thought, to consider all religions as true. Since God can be worshipped in several forms and ways, a true Hindu believes that different religions are just so many paths to God. No religion may assume that it is the only true religion. Each is a path to the same one God. So there should be no hate or distrust of another religion or another point of view with respect to God. In this modern world of strife, competition and hatred this tolerance of other religions and other points of view with respect to God is the major lesson that the world may adopt from the Hindu way of life. We shall end this monograph with the clarion call which Swami Vivekananda gave to the whole world at the Parliament of Religions in 1893.:
If there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose Sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development; which in its catholicity will embrace in infinite arms, and find a place for, every human being from the lowest grovelling savage, not far removed from the brute, to the highest man towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity, making society stand in awe of him and doubt his human nature. It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be centred in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature.
Om ShAntiH ShantiH ShantiH.