Krishna is giving more and more prominence to devotion, devotional attitude and devotional worship in his exposition. In fact, as mentioned already, from the 7th chapter onwards the whole discussion has tilted in favour of such a wholesome devotional note. Everything necessary to install, encourage and deepen its sublimity is what Krishna analyses and expounds.
The visible world must naturally evoke in the curious mind ample imagination and enquiry about the Prime Source – the Presiding Power and Presence – to which all existences and expressions owe themselves. This Presence, Krishna emphasizes, must become the sole focus of all devotional attitudes and practices. When you come to think thus of the endless universe and its pivotal Presence, the whole devotional pursuit becomes one of pure contemplation and introspection.
Worship through contemplation
Such introspectional pursuit or involvement is called jnanayajna. In this, the seeker has to repeatedly engage his mind and intelligence. He thinks and wonders, he enquires and investigates, more and more every time, about the wondrous work of creation – how the whole phenomena subsist on a changeless Substratum, how that Substratum holds the full power and potential to evolve, sustain and also to dissolve all expressions in a cyclic order.
In that higher level of introspection, there is ample scope for divergence. The contemplation need not always be a singular one. It can imply a broad variety. The question is not what one worships and thinks about, but where he intends to reach by such adoring thoughts and contemplations.
Whatever that may be, one gets to think of the Supreme only after first perceiving the creation around. From the visible alone can one go to the invisible. The visible has no standing without such a supreme Presence. Likewise, the Invisible has no relevance except when it beckons to be considered in and through the perceivables.
So, whether the visible or the Invisible is thought of, the objective as well as subjective effect becomes verily the same, provided the seeker is able to have the right relevance and association. This is done by his mind and intelligence alone. Thus worship of any kind, when deeply thought of, becomes purely personal. It rests upon one’s own mind and intelligence alone. One has to leave all external focuses, and be fixed on his own inner faculties.
Others worship the Supreme through contemplation on its Universal aspect in its singular as well as plural forms.
Krishna calls such contemplative devotion as jnana yajna. Why so? It is a process in which the seeker tries to think about the invisible Supreme, the Source of the whole creation. The more and more he does so, his mind expands, deepens and becomes lofty. Rising above all the limited, changeful, things around, the mind soars high and becomes vast, like space, to distinctly reflect the Presence and Power, which comprehends and enfolds all else.
The effect of any such contemplation is instantaneous. As the mind grows with object-knowledge while analyzing the properties and constituents etc. of the objects in the universe of Creation, it likewise grows with the higher understanding while dwelling upon the Supreme and its infinite dimensions.
The importance consists in making the contemplation rise to such great heights.
Perceiving the Invisible through the visible
Whether the contemplation is ekatva (singular whole), or prthaktva (distinctive and many), or still something else, it should definitely have a universal linkage. This is what Krishna means by visvato mukham. This earth on which we all live, the water in it, the air and space surrounding these, whatever their properties and usefulness be, are but a small door taking us to the vast universe beyond. It is the opening to the endless existence. Every seen object begins to reveal the infinite universal display.
It does not permit the worshipper to remain constricted or limited any more in his vision. His mind has to expand, leading his perception to universal dimension.
In that universal aspect, representing the endless dimension of infinite variety, every small as well as big thing counts, says Krishna. To aid in this comprehensive thinking Krishna mentions a few constituents. The list can only be illustrative and not exhaustive. What all Krishna includes in the list, what he does not, should not evoke any conflict or hindrance in the mind.
Krishna touches a few salient features like the rituals (daily and occasional), the sacrifice (yajna), the offering to the departed (svadha), the medicines (aushadham), the mantra, the clarified butter, ghee (ajyam), the fire (agnih), the oblation and the material placed on the fire (hutam).
These are but external acts employing external materials. What about concepts, which rest upon the mind and intelligence? Such conceptual involvement is itself a distinct unique pursuit. So Krishna says that the Supreme is the Father (pita) of the universe, the Mother (mata), the Grandfather (pitamahah), the Sustainer (dhata). Considering the sublime status of the Vedas, which are revelations about the Supreme, Krishna says, the Supreme itself is the three Vedas. ‘Om’, which is expounded in the Vedas is also the Supreme alone (9.17).
From these limited dimensions Krishna leads the thinker to loftier and greater relevances. The goal (gatih), protector or supporter (bharta), the one great Lord (prabhuh), the witness (sakshi), the one abode for all (nivasah), the sole refuge, (saranam), the most dependable friend, benefactor (suhrt) – all these qualities are attributed to the Supreme (9.18).
Reaching still higher and subtler concepts and levels, think of the Supreme as the very source of everything (prabhavah), into which all existence dissolves ultimately (pralayah). The Supreme Source is where all exist like stocks in a store-house (sthanam), then to where all merge finally (nidhanam), also the one seed, causal source of one and all (bijam), imperishable to the core (avyayam).
Now the common large-scale functions in the world are mentioned: Causing heat, bringing rain and withholding it, immortality (amrtam), death (mrtyuh), being and non-being (sad-asad) alike. All are but pointers to the same Supreme (9.19).
Futility of religious rewards
The next statement Krishna makes has great practical relevance. It is first a support for the pious ritualists, who implicitly believe in and follow the Vedas and their prescriptions. But, subtly and forcefully, Krishna also points out how flimsy, short-ranged and self-defeating are such ritualistic flairs and pursuits.
After enjoying the vast svarga-loka, when the religious merit gets exhausted, they return to the perishable world. Thus, resorting to this dharma, those who are desirous of such objects (kama-kamah) continue to get this maze of life and death (gatagatam labhante).
Assuming that the acclaimed results of what they do and propose to win, will grace them, the question as to when these will actualize, becomes significant. It is only after death – after the performers of the rituals have shed their body. Even when they are given the reward, that reward will still be terminable. It will not last forever, says Krishna. As these ritualists gain the reward, so too they will lose it soon. Even if they get to the highest planetary regions (brahma-loka), they are bound to have an abysmal fall. Any result gained by human actions, using human organs in this world, is subject to limitation, decay, and termination. Any worldly creation will not have a long-standing or permanent outcome or benefit.
This analysis of Krishna here, as in the 2nd chapter (2.42- 44), while introducing the karma-yoga tenets, is highly significant and far-reaching. It should open the eyes of any dogmatic devotee or Vedic votary.
What is the ultimate benefit of all rituals and ceremonial life? Krishna says: The ritual-addicts will continue to be where they are – ever cycling in the maze of life and death repeatedly (gata-agatam). Not an iota of elevation takes place for them at all. One may call their pursuits, Vedic yagas and yajnas, great. What of it? They merely carry flowery promises, of taking the votaries somewhere high, but only to drop them from there, to be again suffering in the world as now.
Where is then any real promotion or elevation in their plight or state? The words ‘kshine punye’, meaning ‘when the merit of virtue declines and wears off’, must awaken vigorous introspection in anyone addicted to ceremonial life. Like food eaten, water drunk, even the virtue earned by man in the name of rituals, is subject to depletion. Its effect is bound to be over, after a period.
This means that no ritual or religious ceremony has a status, power or potential above that of the secular, worldly acts done by the human. Both are parallel. They equally operate within the field of cause and effect. The difference is but a sheer belief as is their reward or fruition merely imaginary.
However, Vedas and their ritualistic statements and injunctions have a significant traditional influence on the human minds. And so Krishna too, standing on the same Vedic pedestal, provides this critical evaluation about what they mean, what they are worth, and what should the sober view about them be.
These two verses thus exert a great influence on religious and spiritual minds. They provide a powerful insight to thinking minds. In the seekers, their effect is marvellous, in that they generate untold dispassion and discrimination to intensify their sadhana. Staunch seekers generally have a religious background. To outlive it authentically, and take to exclusive spiritual sadhana, they need the scriptural support and spiritual strength and inspiration, which Krishna provides through this beautiful and powerful analytical pronouncement. Seekers should read these verses and remember them, to face all onslaughts from any religious quarter.
The real possession of a devotee
Now follows the summary of the whole analysis and description:
For those who take to the thoughts of the Supreme exclusively, making such exclusiveness itself the core and content of their worship, the Supreme itself ensures their welfare and prosperity.
Compare this statement with the many Vedic prescriptions on rituals and ceremonies. Is mind with its attitudinal involvement deeper and greater, or the physical body with the various acts it instruments? The religious effect of any action is in the performer’s inner being. It is this inner being that is meant here, as taking to the Supreme in a spirit of exclusive devotion, reliance and linkage. ‘Ananyas-cintayantah, nitya-abhiyuktanam’ (exclusiveness of thoughts and ceaselessly engaged in this worship) are the key words here.
Should one be engrossed in mere rituals? Or should he engage his mind directly in the thought of the Supreme and reliance on It? Even the best of yajnas and y¡gas are meant to propitiate the Lord of Sacrifices, the Supreme. That Lord, says Krishna, is most pleased by the exclusive reliance and thoughts of the devotees. When exclusiveness fills the mind and intelligence, it makes one worthy of full attention and care from the Supreme. The Supreme Itself directly looks after his whole welfare, bringing whatever should enrich his life, ensuring the upkeep of whatever he has already with him. Yoga denotes things to be further had, and kshema implies the welfare of whatever the devotee already has now. Yoga-kshema covers all that is needed to make life prosperous, peaceful and fulfilled.
But here is a warning, a caution, a reminder: What are the yoga and kshema of a true devotee? Do they consist of any physical or material things from the external, gross world, or do they verily mean the deepening and enhancement of his devotion itself? If some gross additions are imperative, no doubt, they will be furnished. But the real focus must be to make the mind free, pure and pious to the core. So the earnest seeker should not get confused and misunderstand this promise to be one of making him materially richer or more resourceful, or even ensuring the physical upkeep of all that he has.
Take for instance what happened during the Kurukshetra war itself. For Arjuna, with Krishna close by, was it all a gainful ride through the 18 days of war? Or had he too to suffer severe losses? Imagine the scene when his dear son Abhimanyu, the matchless hero of the unprecedented battle, meeting death in an encounter, when all the warriors of the enemy side encircled him to bring about his downfall! Could Arjuna console his mind? How severe was his agony?
So it is not sensory, physical or gross well-being that the devotee should aim at as a reward for his devotional pursuit. Devotion is aimed at making his mind more and more devotionally reliant, and such reliance will itself make him content, confident and fulfilled. If he does not intercept the process with any confusion, greed or delusion, then ananya bhakti (exclusive devotion), as Krishna speaks of in this verse, will have its full meaning and relevance.
Like the other assurances of Bhagavad Gita, this too is a very important one. In our land, everywhere, one can find this particular verse sung so often by the people traditionally. Over 5000 years ago, a Sage wrote Mahabharata. And – ah! – from then on its content and message began to spread in the society. And even after thousands of years, it is still echoing in the hearts and minds of our people. What is the power and scope of writing! When and how do writing and writers reach such an undying, immortal dimension?
Devotional sadhana – right perspective
Exclusiveness is the one quality that is paramount in devotional pursuit. Krishna stressed this, explaining what such a pursuit would fetch. As a corollary and also as a timely guideline, he indicates what would befall those who, misled by wrong attitudes and practices, worship various other deities:
Those who, with devotion and piety, worship other deities, they also worship Me (the Supreme) alone, but not in ordained manner.
Krishna makes it clear that worship will be effective only when it is wholesome. Such wholesomeness is accomplished through exclusiveness in devotion. To be exclusive, the mind and intelligence alone need be used. True worship is solely based upon one’s own inner being. Outer elements become redundant.
Futility of worshipping heavenly-deities
The seekers and devotees have thus to make use of their own mind and intelligence to cultivate exclusiveness in their relationship with God. When this is done, they will soon understand that devotional pursuit is one of instilling into oneself sufficient devotional qualities, all of which make the mind purer and the intelligence clearer. And in this purificatory and expansional process of true worship, knowledge constitutes an important part.
True, the Vedas prescribe a number of religious routines in the form of daily, occasional and special ceremonies. Each ritual may propitiate a certain deity. And there are a number of such deities. Krishna says that the devotee should make a proper devotional assessment in his own mind about what he should or should not do about these plural prescriptions.
Let there be many deities like Indra, Soma, etc. But in reality the Lord of all sacrifices and rituals is but One, the Supreme. Is there any need therefore, to seek or to propitiate individually, or severally, other powers or deities? Altogether there is only One. It is this basic sense of Oneness that needs to be cultivated with discrimination, instead of going hither and thither for plural propitiation.
As devotion deepens, the attention of the devotee should be centred on his own self and he will find that God becomes more a subject of thought and reliance, than otherwise. All that is needed is to fix one’s mind, with the help of intelligence, exclusively on God. The notions and attitudes about God and worship have thus to become deeper and finer.
However, the compulsion and obsession to worship many sources is strong in the human mind. Constriction of the mind is the lot of such devotees, says Krishna.
Those given to the worship of Devas (heavenly deities) attain to them. And those taking to the manes, go there. Those who worship the spirits reach the state of the spirits. Whereas, those who take to the worship of Me, the Supreme, verily attain the Supreme.
This is a clear pronouncement. As one thinks so he becomes. Mind and its thoughts alone are the architects of one’s fate. The attainment is not at all physical, when it comes to spiritual worship. Worship is itself a means for focusing the mind on its ideas, emotions and attitudes. For helping devotees, some props are, no doubt, required. So, various alternatives are presented like Devas, Manes, Spirits and the rest. These are to be soon outlived because the source as well as the terminus of all these is but One, the Supreme. But, instead of seeking and identifying oneself with intermediary agencies, why not engage the mind in the beginning itself, directly on the Supreme?
Inability to conceive of such a Supreme is only due to sheer constriction of the mind and the intelligence. It is but self-denial. That intelligence which is generally given to ratiocination in so many other worldly matters, can it not spend some time to think about worship, the subject of worship, the meaning and goal contained therein? And is there any extra effort involved in accomplishing this? Indeed, the significant point is that the worshipper, his efforts, the time he employs, all remain the same.
It is like using the eyes to see what is close by, and equally employing them to see far and beyond. In both cases, the eyes alone see. Do they see only the small, near and few, or do they acquire the vision of the endless spatial variety? In the second case, a sense of expanse, vastness and abundance is bound to arise in the mind.
The Supreme recognizes devotional fondness
The mind grows or declines through its own thoughts and imaginations. No outside factor ever intercepts the mind. The outside acts merely as a support. Using worship as a means, does the mind intend to remain narrow and declined? Or does it want to be broad, deep and lofty? The question is simple and the answer too.
Narrow thoughts bring a narrow outcome. Broad thoughts ensure breadth of outlook and vision.
The effort remaining the same, indiscreet people do not seek the path of supreme Expanse, laments Krishna. Instead, they get bogged down by constricted thoughts and attitude. To that extent they deny themselves the benevolent benefits of true and benign worship!
Having said this much to point out where lies the distressing plight of devotees and devotion, Krishna makes some profound philosophical pronouncements. All these declarations are couched in the language of devotion and though quite familiar among devotees, the real message is not fully reflected upon and pursued by many.
The popularity of these statements certainly indicates how there reigns an innate note in every one, which yearns for the supreme goal and ideal. Somehow this innate aspiration does not become pronounced. Why so? The mind remains enmeshed in externalities. Krishna’s statements hold the key to exclusive devotion:
Be it a leaf, flower, fruit or even water – whatever is offered to the Supreme, the Supreme accepts it heartily, provided the material offered is associated with enough devotional fondness, and the offerer has a pure and disciplined mind.
What a moving proposition! The greatest truths are, indeed, the simplest too! Should not everyone understand and get to their depth and profundity?
Krishna keeps to the same trend of emphasizing how the mind and intelligence alone are the seat and fulcrum of devotion and devotional practices. In any elaborate worship, a lot of detail is involved. What and how the materials are collected or brought; how they are arranged; what is offered first, second, third and so on; what mantras are chanted; which is the direction that each article is laid – every such minute detail is to be attended to.
All these are necessary, in a way, so that one becomes attentive. Carelessness is ingrained in each one. To eradicate it and fill oneself with attention and alertness is not easy. This attentiveness is but a general need. In every act one has to become attentive. Unless these details are enjoined in devotional practices too, the challenge and application will not be there. Devotional texts know this basic fact and need. And hence, they have come up with numerous prescriptions.
But alas, out of ignorance, the whole emphasis shifts to these externalities losing sight of the purpose and objectives for which these details were prescribed. And as it happened to Nachiketas’s father, Vajasravas, the inner sublimity is lost, sometimes grievously and piteously.
In Srimad Bhagavatam too a similar episode is narrated: Prachinabarhis, who was zealously given to the performance of rituals, took to yagas and yajnas so much so that the kusa grass he had used virtually covered the earth. Imagine his flair and its result! In order to perform all these yagas, he also had to slaughter a number of cows, every time by wringing their necks! The piety and zeal of the external prescriptions of the Vedas alone overwhelmed his mind and intelligence. Little did he ever think about the cruelty being inflicted on those innocent animals! He had conducted not one or two, but scores of such yagas.
To get what? The attainment in all cases can at best be gross, external. Even the best ritualist has to die and drop his body. The rewards or results of the rituals are in the form of pious promises only. They become operative only after one dies! This means no religious attainment is tangible and visible in nature.
As against this, what in reality is the purport of spiritual sadhana? Does it not aim only at the inner realm, bearing upon the mind and intelligence? But alas, the ritualists do not by and large have this true vision, and they remain glued to Vedic and other rituals.
Think of what takes place even in the most elaborate worship. All the materials that are offered and placed before the deity remain where they are. After the worship is over, the worshipper himself has to remove them. If the things offered thus remain where they are, only to be removed afterwards, the question arises: What does the Deity or God partake then, in the whole worship?
Krishna says: the Supreme will take only the bhaktiupahrtam. Upahara means offering. Bhakti-upahara means devotional offering. A material is only a medium to evoke devotion from the mind of the worshipper. To that extent the material usage becomes helpful. That is all.
When one besmears the offered materials with devotion, that besmearing alone is taken note of by God. All the rest is left out. That is why the pudding one offers remains there, to be eaten by the offerer himself as prasada or blessing.
Be sure. The devotional besmearing in any offered material alone is accepted by God, and not the material as such. If this be so, asks Krishna, what difference does it make whether one gives a costly material, or a simple thing like a flower, a leaf, a fruit, or even water?
That is why in all our worship, simple common items like tulasi, bilva and other common flowers are used in plenty. In collecting the flowers with care, cleaning them up with attention, sprinkling water on them to freshen them, ensuring that every petal is good and comely, imagine how much of attention is employed! It is this attention cultivating process that becomes the true devotional linkage.
Making devotion a wholesome practice
If thus the focus of worship shifts from the material part and the associated processes, to the mind and its attitude, then why should worshipping, as a pursuit, depend upon any external factor at all? Can it not be made more wholesome and an all time practice – is an obvious question that comes naturally. Krishna senses it, and comes out with the next proposition which is equally inspiring and enlightening:
Whatever you do – the food you eat, the oblations you offer to fire, anything you give as dana, gift, or any austerity you perform – all that, must become a wholesome offering to the Supreme.
The act must have only one aim – that of offering to the Supreme. This is clearly an attitude the mind has to generate and preserve. It should revolve round the one Supreme Presence, Being and Power. One’s own mind and heart is its pivot, and the whole universe, the entire creation is the circle drawn from it.
Once thus the mind is extricated from its particular clingings, and freed thereby from the resultant constrictions, Krishna says, it begets a freedom and release, which will be instantly conspicuous:
In this manner, you will be delivered from the bondage resulting from actions, in the form of good and bad, virtue and vice. Imbued with the spirit and attunement brought by renunciation, feeling utterly free, you will attain the Supreme.
Though Krishna is not a sannyasin, nor does he want Arjuna to become one, he aptly uses the word sannyasa, and also instils its content and merit into Arjuna. This should make any zealous heart think about what does this ‘sannyasa’ really mean, and how it becomes applicable, relevant to one’s mind and perception. The idea has been dealt with earlier too.
The dropping of all clingings – preferences and prejudices – is, in refined spiritual sense, the essence of sannyasa. In other words, to free the mind from ahamkara and mamata (ego and mineness) is also equally the spirit and purpose of true renunciation. You may name a thousand things, where you have your sense of belonging. And what do they yield? All these together bring, and instill in the mind, only the twin responses or reactions, namely subha (pleasant and auspicious) or asubha (unpleasant and inauspicious).
When by dissolving all plural attitudes, the mind begins to foster a uniform wholesome perception of identifying every kind of action and interaction as a sublime unreserved offering to the Supreme, in that Supreme vision, all other things, external or internal, good or bad or otherwise, stand engulfed.
Earlier the mind was fostering plural views and divisive notions. Now the same mind preserves and rejoices in the singular wholesome attitude and vision. The place where plural wrangles thrived thus far, becomes clean and pure, shining with one singular wholesome perception. This transformation does not dislodge or alter the state of things anywhere outside. The world continues to be what it was. One’s interactions with it also proceed as earlier, but with one marked difference. None of the things or interactions is now able to dislodge oneself from the poise, stability and spatial-quality his mind feels, preserves and exults in. Is this not sufficient?
Here the sannyasa, renunciation, is of the plural wrangles, and the attainment that replaces them is the singular wholesome perception, engulfing both external and internal factors and constituents.
(From Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita - Volume 4)