7.12: THE NON-ABSOLUTIST SCHOOLS
The seeds of the concept of bhakti go back to even the vedas. The plant of bhakti sprouts in the Upanishads; becomes a full-fledged plant in the itihAsas, particularly the mahA-bhArata, blossoms in the PurANAs, and flowers in the Aagamas both of the Saivite and vaishNavite varieties . The AlvArs (See 12.12) and nAyanmArs (See 12.11) bring out the fruits which ripen in the age of the AcAryas for all posterity to consume, enjoy and attain beatitude. The personal God with all His superlative attributes is worshipped mainly in six forms – Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, SUrya, GaNapati and SubrahmaNya.
Among the various non-Absolutist conceptions of God Shri Ramanuja’s is the most well known, has the largest following and has the claim to the longest tradition. It conceives of a Personal God with infinite divine attributes and infinite varieties of auspicious forms. He, however, is the single Conscious Entity that has all matter and all the souls as His body. He has infinite compassion for the souls and so He is greatly concerned about their salvation. The soul has to comprehend this Inner Reality, rid itself of the three-fold miseries of life and merge in the infinite bliss of the eternal sanctity of God. This is moksha. This is a communion with God, not a realization of complete identity. Those who desire this, should practise a seven-fold discipline – namely, the discretion of consuming only the right type of pure food; dispassion; the attitude of living in the presence of the Absolute; the action of the five daily rituals (yajnas), the ethics of a dhArmic life, absence of frustration and, finally, the absence of delusion caused by affluence and material happiness. Such a one does his duties as the dictates of the Lord and in total dedication to Him. This leads first to internal purity and in due time blesses one with the insight of Yoga wherein one can visualise the Spirit. That leads to the awareness of the Soul of all Souls. Love of God pours forth spontaneously now. It is a self-forgetting Love that continues uninterruptedly like the pouring out of oil. This is the bhakti. The Lord may be conceived of as your guide, your master, your friend, your child, your beloved. Each one of these perfects the devotional attitude and ends up by creating the irresistible urge to see Him in person. That is the stage of bhakti par excellence. And when that vision of the Supreme Person sparks then is the stage of Supreme Enlightenment. Thereafter there is no return to the mundane living. The Lord then frees you from the bodily prison and takes you to His abode to live in fellowship with Him.. The thing that makes this happen is only the Grace of the Lord and nothing else. That is why the Lord is said to be both the ultimate goal (upeyaM) as well as the path (upAya) to that goal. Such a faith ends up in the action of surrender to the Lord. Desika lists eight kinds of devotion which epitomise the concept of spiritual love in a masterly fashion:
Feeling at home in the company of devotees; Enjoying the worship of the Lord; An unsatiated eagerness to listen to the stories of God; Horripilation and choking of voice when hearing about Him, talking to Him and remembering Him; Performing of ritual pujA to the deities; Not showing off in one’s service to God; Meditation of Him and Him only; and Praying to Him, never for mundane trivialities.
Nimbarka of the twelfth century propagated what is called dvaitAdaita school of thinking; dvaita is duality and advaita is non-duality. According to Nimbarka the souls and the universe are different from the Absolute which rules them. Yet just as the spider’s web though different from the spider which has woven it is still one with the spider because it is nothing but the saliva of the spider it is the Lord that has become the souls and the universe. Thus difference and non-difference are emphasized equally. Difference is when existence is separate though not independent. Non-difference is the impossibility of separate existence. Like the ocean and the waves, like the Sun and its Light, there is difference and at the same time non-difference. One should take the Absolute Brahman as the Soul of all souls and of the Universe, comprehend this difference-in-non-difference and surrender oneself to the Lord in toto. The attitude of Radha to Krishna is what is recommended by this school. Shrimad BhA. is the most respected scripture.
To the great Madhwa-AcArya (13th century) (see 9.3.5) is to be attributed the credit for the massive propagation of the school of duality (dvaita). Lord Vishnu with all his attributes and forms is the Absolute Truth and God Almighty. The Lord is the infinite home of all auspicious qualities and has no material or detestable traits. His purpose of creation is to enable the individual soul to work out his salvation through devtion and discipline. He has a tremendous compassion towards his creation. He gives men what they deserve according to their past karma and their present tendencies. He is the protector of every soul. The three concepts cit, acit and ISvara are all three different. Lord Vishnu creates by his Will. Those who desire moksha should start from the hypothesis of God being the master and man his servant and live his life by serving Him and dwelling on the glories of God. This would generate the right bhakti in him. By doing God’s will, one nurtures this bhakti. Finally by His Grace one attains salvation and experiences the state of Bliss in proportion to the sAtvic deeds he has done. The goal of life is to serve God both in this life and in the after-life. Bhakti is uninterrupted attachment to the Lord with complete understanding of His greatness transcending the love of one’s own Self and possessions and which remain unshaken in the face of difficulties. The role model of this bhakti is Hanuman of the Ramayana. The entire philosophy of bhakti of this school is enjoyably summarised in a mini-encyclopaedic work - hari-kathA-mRta-sAram - of Jagannatha-dasa of the eighteenth century. That the Lord is such a compassionate One who takes ten steps towards you the moment you take one step towards Him is an accepted maxim of all schools of philosophy. But the dramatic and figurative way in which Jagannatha-dasa expresses this is inimitable. Says he: ‘The Lord is always one step ahead. If the devotee prays from a reclining position, God sits and listens. If the devotee appeals sitting, God stands attentively. If the former stands, God walks around him and registers his requests. If he walks and prays, God displays his love by ecstatic dancing and jumping’! The conclusion of course is implied: If the devotee dances and jumps in his chanting, what will not He do for him?
VallabhAcArya of the 15th and 16th centuries spread the theory of SuddhAdvaita . According to this the glorious Krishna in His sat-chid-Ananda form is the Absolute Brahman. He is permanently playing out His sport (leela) from His seat in the goloka which is even beyond the divine vaikunTHa, the abode of Vishnu. Creation is His sport. To obtain the Bliss given out by Krishna the only path is bhakti. But in this age of kali, the scripture-sanctioned bhakti is impossible to practise. So what is recommended is puSTi bhakti –which we can all get from the natural Grace of God just like that, for no reason whatsoever. It is that bhakti which gives itself up body, heart and soul to the cause of God. It is considered to be the fullest expression of what is known as Atma-nivedana (= giving-up of oneself) among the nine forms of bhakti. It is the bhakti of the devotee who worships God not for any reward or presents but for His own sake. Such a devotee goes to goloka after leaving this body and lives in eternal bliss enjoying the sports of the Lord. The classical example of this complete self-effacement is that of the cow-herdesses towards Krishna. They spoke no word except prayer and they moved no step except towards Krishna. Their supreme-most meditation was on the lotus-feet of Krishna.
Shri Krishna Chaitanya of the 16th century is universally known for his propagation, by excellent example of his own life, of the acintya-bheda-abheda philosophy and the conviction about the Radha-Krishna theme that popularised Radha as a Goddess and an Avatara of Lakshmi. The relationship between the Lord and His consort is that of difference within non-difference and is therefore mentally unimaginable. The Lord is having an eternal sport with Radha. By his charming sports and beautiful form He mesmerises Man, corrects him and blesses him. bhakti is the only means to reach Him. By constant practice of the instruments of bhakti, and by cultivating a taste for the names of the Lord, compassion for the living, service to the servants of God, one increases one’s component of satva-guNa (=divine tendency) and his devotion now becomes a passion for the divine in due course. This leads step by step to a state of supreme ecstasy. To reach this one may start from the silent bhakti of Bhishma, move on to the vAtsalya (filial affection) bhakti of Yasoda, the friendly bhakti of Arjuna, the dAsya bhakti (devotion by a servant) of Hanuman and finally reaches the mAdhura bhakti (devotion of Love) of the gopis– where the relationship between the devotee and the Lord is that of the spouse to the beloved. This form of bhakti is most graphically portrayed in gIta-Govinda of Jayadeva of the 12th century. For more about Chaitanya, see 12.2.3
Starting from Jnaneswar of the 13th century, the Maharashtrian tradition brought forth a philosophy which in some sense unified the two paths of jnAna and bhakti. According to this school, the ultimate Brahman is both attributeless and attributed -- that is, both impersonal and personal. To reach the Personal Ultimate one needs the bhakti of Love. To reach the Formless Ultimate one needs Enlightenment. For the former there is any one of nine methods which are classical.
To reach the Impersonal Ultimate one needs to discipline oneself through the three-fold ascent of SravaNa (listening), manana (deliberation on what has been learnt) and nididhyAsanA (the analysis and synthesis of the accrued knowledge). This school has a stronghold in the Maharashtra area because of a succession of great devotees and expositors like Namdev (13th and 14th centuries) Eknath (16th century), Tukaram (17th century) and Samarth Ramdas (also of the 17th century)