25.8 'MY BHAKTA PERISHES NOT'
"na me bhaktaH praNashyati "
The Lord Himself classifies His devotees into four categories, by analysing the quality of their devotion. The first kind is ‘Arta-bhakta’. ‘Arta’ means ‘afflicted’, ‘distressed’. His is the kind which seeks the Lord for the redress of his grievances and sufferings in this world. This is the devotion which longs to get out of the hellish circumstances one is placed in. There is nothing wrong in this. What we need or why we need them is not as important as from whom it is that we are asking help. We are only asking it from One who is infinitely capable of granting it. So it is not wrong. Draupadi, Gajendra, Bhattatiri, Appar, Bhadrachala Ramadasa, Ahalya and many others have done this before. We are certainly in good company. All stotras of the Lord refer to this ‘redressing capability’ of the Almighty. ‘ArtAnAm-ArtihantAraM’ – so begins a very familiar stotra on Rama. It means ‘Him who vanquishes the distress of the distressed’.
The next type of bhakta is called ‘arthArthI’ by the Lord; he is the one who comes to the Lord seeking the good things of life in this world. Many worldly minded people have exhibited such devotion. Vibhishana, Sundarar, Sugriva and Dhruva may be listed in this classification.
The third type is called ‘jijnAsu’, the one motivated by the urge to know. This has its base on a search of an intellectual nature. One who is involved in dhyana yoga and seeks to see God belongs to this category. Also there could be a curiosity – maybe academic or scientific or philosophical -- to know the ultimate meaning of life by logical excursions. Such bhaktas were Uddhava, Vivekananda, Tulasidasa, Manikkavachagar and Gautama (the Buddha).
The fourth type of Bhakti is that of a jnAni. It is based on internal enlightenment. It is born out of an attempt to link everything with God. It is in fact the natural urge of the jIva. Prahlada, Shuka, Jnaneshvar, Sadasiva-brahmendra, Bhishma, Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Bhaskararaya, Mira, Kabirdasa, Chaitanya, Sambandar, Nammazhvar, Narada, Purandaradasa, Ramakrishna, and Ramana – all these great names belong to this type.
Most of us could be in one or more of the first three categories above. But it is the fourth type that Lord Krishna praises to the skies. All the four kinds of people are my devotees, says He. But the type most dear to Him is the fourth type, namely the jnAni. His is ‘Eka-bhakti’. “I am most dear to Me and He is most dear to Me” (VII – 17, first line).
The million-dollar question is: Can we ever rise up to these levels? Yes, we can. Just for the sake of discussion take the concept of idol worship. Is there a God within the idol or is it simply an inert matter? Hinduism first prescribes to you: Have an attitude of belief that God is in it; start with that attitude. It is a bhAvanA, of course. But there is a logichere. God is everywhere; and so He should certainly be also in that inert matter called ‘idol’ . This is the truth. But this truth does not appeal to us in the beginning, because we expect the indwelling God to somehow express Itself so as to be visible to our perception. So the only thing we can do is to have an attitude of belief, a bhAvanA. If we go on practising this bhAvanA, it means Truth is being practised as a bhAvanA. In due time the false belief that idols of God are only idols, will disappear and it will gradually lead one to the realisation that it is in truth not a bhAvanA. In fact one will reach the bhAvanAtIta stage where we don’t have to have any bhAvanA any more, because what we have taken as true is indeed true! This is the esoteric basis of idol worship.
The ascent however is difficult. For, not every one wants to know. The Lord Himself says: “Only one in a thousand really attempts to know me. And of those who so attempt only a rare individual knows the real Me” (VII – 3). And again, only after several births, even such a devotee, really comes to realise that “all this is Vasudeva”.
bahUnAM janmanAm-ante jnAnavAn-mAM prapadyate /
vAsudevas-sarvam-iti sa mahAtmA sudurlabhaH // (VII – 19)
After several lives, the wise man reaches Me. Very rare indeed is the great soul who understands that Vasudeva is all there is.
In Sanskrit almost every noun and compound word goes back to the root verbs from which all meanings are derived. The root ‘vas’ means to dwell, to cover, to be the source of.The root ‘div’ from which the word ‘deva’ is derived, means to play, to conquer,to create, to shine, to be worshipped, to be the lord of. Thus there are several meanings for ‘VAsudeva’:
He who dwells in or covers everything. (cf. ‘IshA-vAsyam-idam sarvam’, the very first words of Ishopanishat).
His very dwelling in the hearts of men is His sport.
He covers everything by His mAyA.
He is the source of everything.
He is the source of all divinities.
He is sought after by all seekers of mokshha.
Just as birds protect their little ones in the nests by covering them with their wings, the Lord resides in our hearts
and protects us by His Grace.
Such a person who realises that Vasudeva is all there is, is a mahAtmA, he is a rarity, says the Lord. Now we ordinary people might wonder: ‘How is it the Lord has spoken of good devotion as such a rarity; then, where are we? Do we have any chance of rising up the spiritual ladder?’. In order to assure us He says “na me bhaktaH praNashyati”—‘My devotee perishes not; that is My promise’ – this is what the Lord declares in IX – 31. And just one verse earlier, He trumpets a great reassuring declaration:
“api cet sudurAcAro bhajate mAM ananya-bhAk /
sAdur-eva sa mantavyaH samyag-vyavasito hi saH // IX -30.
Even if he be a person of evil conduct, if he worships Me with devotion to nothing else, he too should be regarded as righteous, for he has rightly resolved. In other words the Lord seems to say: “You have taken the first step and I will take several steps to meet you on your own ground”! (This is a quotation from Sathya Sai Baba).
In fact in the eighth chapter he enunciates a general thesis as to the mental state of people at the time of their death and what consequences follow. “Whoever leaves his body and departs remembering Me alone at his time of end, he attains my being; there is no doubt about this” VIII – 5:
“anta-kAle ca mAmeva smaran-muktvA kaLebaraM /
yaH prayAti sa mad-bhAvam yAti nAsty-atra samshayaH //”
Whosoever at the end abandons his body, thinking upon any form of being, to that form does he go, because of his constant thought of that being (VIII-6):
“yaM yaM vA’pi smaran bhAvaM tyajaty-ante kaLebaraM /
taM tam-evaiti kaunteya sadA tad-bhAva-bhAvitaH //
And He issues thereon a practical advice: “Therefore at all times remember Me and fight; with mind and intellect absorbed in Me, you shall doubtless come to Me alone”. VIII – 7:
“tasmAt-sarveshhu kAleshhu mAm-anusmara yudhya ca /
may-yarpita-mano-buddhiH mAm-eva-ishhyasy-asamshayaM //
The word ‘anusmara’ is significant. “mAM smara” means ‘think of Me’. “mAM anusmara” means ‘think of Me without interruption’. It is this continuous non-stop thinking of God that is emphasized. One might naturally wonder: How is this possible? There are several obligations for a person – such as what devolves on him as a member of the family, as an individual in society, as an employee in an office, as a responsible person in an organization, and so on. These obligations he has to discharge. Then how is it right to demand of him that he should be thinking of God continuously? This is a legitimate question and should be answered.
Let me now bring you a scene which must be very familiar to listeners of Indian origin. Look back on your last visit to India, to your hometown or even to your native village in some distant corner of India. You have gone there with your wife and two kids and all of you are visiting the old village temple about which you have heard so much from your parents and grandparents in your younger days, but have never visited it yourself in your adult life. Now is the opportunity and you are looking forward to it. As you enter the temple they ask you to leave your footwear outside the temple; so your entire family leaves the expensive American footwear outside the entrance tower (gopuram) of the temple. You notice, with some concern, that there is no provision in that isolated place by either the temple authorities or anybody else for a caretaker for the footwear left outside. As you go round inside the temple where the temple priest treats you with great hospitality and shows you round, your wife is taking more and more interest in visiting every altar, making praNAms, watching a Deeparadhana and so on.
While all this is going on, you are quite concerned about the footwear you have all left outside, because you have heard very uncomplimentary reports of petty thefts in such surroundings in Indian temples. So you now and then cast an anxious glance or two towards the entrance looking for a glimpse of any movement there, but as you go round the temple through its various altars, you lose sight of the view of the entrance itself. In the meantime your wife has picked up an exciting conversation with the temple priest about the financial and managerial aspects of the temple administration as also its religious importance and significance in the mythology of Hinduism. And you have to be courteous enough to feign interest in what is going on, though of course your mind is worried about the ‘valuables’ left outside the entrance. Finally the visit is over and all of you come out and of course, nothing is lost; all the footwear is safely there at the entrance.
But what does all this tell us? You can keep the thought of the footwear at the bottom of the mind when you are outwardly with the rest of the family, worshipping and participating in the prayers etc. that went on in the temple. In other words, the thought of the footwear was continuously at the bottom of the mind, while all the activities at the temple were at the upper layers of the mind only. This is the clue to us. Why can’t we reverse this situation? Keep the thought of God at the bottom of the mind and let the outer layers of the mind be involved in the activities of the world, which are legitimately yours.
“anusmara” means ‘remember without interruption’. Interruption in remembering is forgetting. So ‘without interruption’ means ‘not forgetting’. Thus it means the thought of God should always be there at the bottom of the mind. One may be doing things, may be talking, may be discussing, may be watching something or listening to another, may be involved in any action. Still the thought of God and His presence could be at the bottom of the mind without any discontinuity. That this kind of subconscious continuity of thought is possible is what is shown by the above story. This is what Krishna means when he says: “mAM anusmara yudhya ca”. That is, “keep the thoughts of Me continuously at the bottom of your mind, and go about all your activities”.
Such a devotee perishes not, says Krishna in the 9th chapter . ‘Perishes not’ - as we have mentioned earlier -- means ‘He does not go down the spiritual ladder’. But the Lord knows the weakness of us humans rather thoroughly. He knows that most often what we expect from him is a better life, and satisfaction of material wants. And naturally he gives us the greatest assurance we want from Him. This ‘trademark shloka’ of the Gita occurs almost in the dead centre (less than three percent. forward of the centre) of the Gita text. (IX – 22).
ananyAsh-cintayanto mAm ye janAH paryupAsate /
teshhAM nityAbhiyuktAnAM yoga-kshhemaM vahAmy-ahaM //
Whoever is thinking of Me without any further thought, and is ever worshipping Me, of such devotees who are ever in unison with Me, I take responsibility for their welfare, of securing what they do not have and preserving what they do have.
The punch line in this shloka is the pair of conditions. One is “ananyAs-cintayantaH” (not thinking of any other thing, i.e., without any further thought). The other condition is “nityA-bhiyuktAnAM” (who are ever in unison with Me).
The importance of this shloka comes not only from what it says, but also from what it does not say. For instance it does not say then why so many of devotees of God do suffer. We have heard many a lamentation of the following kind: ‘I have been a great devotee of God all my life. I have not harmed a single being. But see what has befallen me’. Why is it they have to live with their sufferings? The ordinary answer that the Lord is testing us may not be the right answer. This answer under-estimates the omniscience of God. He has no necessity to test us, ordinary mortals. He clearly knows that we would 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, who are ‘durlabha’ (rarity). In such cases. He tests them just to show to the rest of the worldhow 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 reasons for our suffering are three. One is our prArabdha-karma – the karma that has started dispensing the consequences of past actions and thoughts. This starting has occurred at our very birth and nothing on earth can change it.
The second reason is the fact that even in spite of ourselves, our ego is dominant. If we are real devotees then we must have faith in the conviction ‘Sri Vasudeva is everything’. When everything is Vasudeva - no devotee can afford to ignore this divine assertion – then the so-called suffering, against which they are complaining is also Vasudeva’s will. Any contrary thought would mean the first condition of the shloka is not fulfilled. Again, the fact that ego comes into the picture and is allowed to have its say is to go against condition two above.
The third reason is the most subtle of the three. The Lord takes care of our welfare, no doubt. But this does not mean that we will have everything we want. He knows what should be our needs and what should be satisfied. We cannot fault Him for missing our commuter train, for not getting the promotion we were expecting, for the dissatisfactions in our expectations from our spouse, and for all the illnesses we are suffering from. And on these accounts we cannot also take the words ‘yoga-kshhemaM vahAmy-ahaM’ (I will take care of your welfare) as just a comforting statement said mostly to console us and no more. No. His declaration is really a serious declaration. He is talking of our long-lasting welfare, namely a spiritual welfare, rather than petty mundane welfare. When He says ‘My bhakta perishes not!’ what is meant is that we will not go down the spiritual ladder any more. But in the process of His granting our spiritual welfare and Ultimate Happiness, if there also pour (it would, surely) some rain of mundane happiness, we should take it more as a bonus than as a satisfaction of a demand that we made on Him!
That it is not only the mundane welfare (yoga-kshemaM) that He is taking care of, but also the spiritual welfare is assured, comes also from shloka VIII-14 (where the same words ‘ananya-cetAH’ and ‘nitya-yukta’) is used:
ananya-cetAs-satataM yo mAM smarati nityashaH /
tasyAhaM sulabhaH pArtha nitya-yuktasya yoginaH //
For him who thinks all the time of me with nothing else ever in his mind, to that yogi who is ever in unison with Me, I am easily reachable. Note that already we saw the use of this word “ananya-bhAk” in the context when He said: (IX-30) Even a person of vile conduct, if he worships Me to the exclusion of everything else, is considered to be a good man”
This ‘ananya-bhakti’ (bhakti to the Absolute, without other thoughts of materialistic values coming in between) is extolled often by the Lord. Even when He is giving a whole bunch of expressions for saying ‘This is what I mean by jnAna’ (XIII – 7 to 11), He says “mayi cAnanya-yogena bhaktir-avyabhicAriNI” (XIII – 10, 1st line). It means ‘a will non-vacillatingly set firm to worship Me, without distractions of multiplicity’.
He is reachable easily by such a devotee. Once He is reached, there is no more birth or death:
mAm-upetya punar-janma dukhAlayam-ashAshvataM /
nApnuvanti mahAtmAnaH samsiddhiM paramAM gatAH // VIII - 15
Having reached Me, the great souls, now that they are at the Supreme goal, do not come back for another birth, that is impermanent and full of sorrow.
On the other hand, the entire world of beings have to come back to this earthly living again and again :
Abrahma-bhuvanAl-lokAH punarAvartino’rjuna /
mAm-upetya tu kaunteya punar-janma na vidyate // VIII – 16
All the (beings of the) worlds from that of BrahmA downwards have to recycle. But for those who reach Me, there is no coming back to birth.
In fact all those who do great meritorious ritgualistic acts religiously do go the heavens where they enjoy divine excellences. (IX-20). But after such enjoyment, once the merits (puNya) are exhausted, they again enter the world of humans (IX-21 first line).
It is after this that the famous shloka (ananyAsh-cintayanto mAM ... IX-22) occurs. Thus the thought process of Sri Krishna appears to be: Think of Me all the time; Be ever in unison with Me. You will reach Me. Otherwise, even if you follow your religious injunctions to the letter, you will only go the heavens, where after a specific period of enjoyment, you will have to come back to this earth and continue your spiritual sAdhanA. The spiritual pursuit that takes you to Me has to be done only in this earthly life.
Yet, it cannot be denied that the condition of the shloka, which says that you should be ‘without any other thought’ (ananyAsh-cintayantaH), is rather tough. The Lord obviously knows it is tough. So He helps you by giving you strategies of achieving that. A leaf, a flower, a fruit, a cup of water – even if any of these is offered to Him with a full heart, He accepts it as the expression of your devotion, from a striving soul.
patraM pushhpaM phalaM toyam yo me bhaktyA prayachhati /
tad-ahaM bhaktyupahRtam ashnAmi prayatAtmanaH // IX – 26
This is because He takes it as His responsibility to protect us. As if singing in His own glory, He expresses this obligation of His in four monumental shlokas of the Gita (IX – 16 to 19). The third shloka of this quatred should be immortalised in golden letters:
gatir-bhartA prabhus-sAkshhI nivAsas-sharaNaM suhRt /
prabhavaH praLayaH sthAnaM nidhAnaM bIjam-avyayaM // IX – 18
I am the goal, the supporter, the Lord, the witness, the abode, the shelter, the friend, the origin, the dissolution, the foundation, the treasure-house, and the imperishable seed.
A goal may not ‘support’ you; but He is also the supporter. But the supporter is not a third party; He is your boss, the Lord. The Lord is not a partisan supporter; He is only the Witness. The Witness is not indifferent; He is the very abode where you live. The abode is not just a temporary shelter; it is ‘the’ shelter, your refuge and permanent shelter. The shelter (sharaNaM) is not a public shelter where you are one among many; it is the shelter given by your own friend (suhRt). This friend is the source from whom you originated, this friend is the source where you will dissolve, and this friend is your ultimate strength, foundation. He is a treasure-house. He is the seed from which everything arose, but the seed is imperishable in the sense that after the sprouting of you, me and all the universe, the seed is still The Seed!
Not a leaf therefore moves, without His sanction. Everything is His Will.
Question: If everything is God’s Will, and God is the purushha within me, then are my bad thoughts due to Him, this purushha?
The answer will come in Chapter 10, where we discuss the concept of the three purushhas – kshara-purushha, akshara-purushha and purushhottama – from the fifteenth chapter of the Gita.