"It is not what you do that matters, but how you do it – with what attitude and aim. The spiritual effect that a seemingly spiritual activity brings, can also be had by the domestic pursuit, provided you preserve a spiritual attitude and dedication."

The Guiding force of Narayanashrama Tapovanam & Center for Inner Resources Development

Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha

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In answer to Arjuna’s enquiry, Krishna described the characteristics of the stable-minded person (2.54-72). He also explained elaborately the spiritual vision, interactional attitude and behavioural sublimity of the Knower. Here now Krishna discusses devotion, and to complete the exposition, he vividly explains how and when does one become a devotee, and what kind of devotee will be pleasing to the Supreme. All those who walk on the path of devotion cannot escape the standards and refinement Krishna sets forth. With every statement Krishna adds that such a devotee alone is pleasing to the Supreme.

Any ardent student will strive to please his teacher. A good follower will no doubt be keen to please his leader. An efficient minister’s wont will be to please his King. Likewise, a devotee must also aim to please his Lord. Krishna uses this point of sentimental as well as ideological persuasion to drive home to the seekers how their devotional pursuit should not fail to incorporate a set of standards, restraints, moderation and refinement.

This particular section, called the bhakta-lakshanas (the characteristics of a devotee), comes as a beautiful finale in this bhakti-yoga chapter. These eight concluding verses describe who is the right, best and pleasing devotee. By that, Krishna also presents the whole devotional science, practice, goal and its realization in a very precise note. These verses, like the section on sthitaprajna, are to be used for daily recitation and reflection. One verse or another will always come handy, with its unique relevance and message, every time.

Devotion must give rise to inner expansion

Krishna makes a significant and touching beginning:

अद्वेष्टा सर्वभूतानां मैत्रः करुण एव च ।
निर्ममो निरहङ्कारः समदुःखसुखः क्षमी ।।
सन्तुष्टः सततं योगी यतात्मा दृढनिश्चयः ।
मय्यर्पितमनोबुद्धिर्यो मद्भक्तः स मे प्रियः ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 12.13-14)

Free of hatred to all beings, friendly and kind to all, free of possessiveness and egoism, equal in unhappiness and happiness, forbearing, ever contented, inwardly integrated with senses and mind well-disciplined, having firm conviction, with mind and intelligence fully resting on the Supreme – such a devotee is dear to the Supreme.

Krishna has already spoken in detail about raga and dvesha, kama and krodha, as spelling doom for the seeker. Did he not say that these are the stark enemies and that the seeker should not come under their sway (3.34)? Hatred or resentment towards anyone can agitate and ruin the mind to any extent. He insists that a devotee must scrupulously eliminate all notes of hatred, intolerance and resentment towards not alone human beings, but all creatures in the world.

To be devoted to the Supreme means to eliminate from the mind all forms of dislike or intolerance towards anyone or anything. In doing so alone does devotion become interactional and wholesome. The devotee should find out by introspection the constricting and anti-spiritual notes in his mind and intelligence. In the name of devotion itself, he should eliminate them. This process of elimination of unspiritual notes is the active part of devotional sadhana. It should be given utmost importance. Compared to worship with any material, this inner examination including purging of wrong traits, is far superior. It pleases the Lord more than anything else.

Devotional efforts do not stop when mind becomes free of resentment and hatred. Simultaneously, a definite note of friendliness should be fostered towards all. That alone will bring about real growth and expansion to the devotee. Everybody naturally grows love and concern for his family members, but not so for the others – a clear sense of division and partiality. This should be transcended and all-fold fraternity should be cultivated as much as possible. Devotional life means imbibing such wholehearted benevolence, says Krishna.

To foster love and concern is not sufficient, says Krishna. The loving devotee must also want to do something to help others. This emphasis is in line with what Krishna said while describing the akshara-upasana (12.3-4), where he uses the profound phrase ‘sarva-bhutahite-ratah’. The devotional seeker’s thoughts, words and deeds will have a definite move towards the welfare of others in general. That is the desired expansion of the devotional heart. Such expansion is characteristic of a true devotee.

Krishna next refers to the devotee’s inner framework, which must imbibe the basic and ultimate spiritual qualities. Nirmamatva means transcending the sense of mineness or possessiveness. Nirahankaratva means being free of ego. Undue pride or ostentation comes under ahankara. Absence of doership, enjoyership and sufferership with regard to actions done as well as their consequences, is an inevitable devotional refinement. About this Krishna has already spoken in the sthita-prajna section (2.71).

Krishna has described earlier how earth, water, fire, air, space, mind, intelligence and ego constitute the eight-fold Nature of the Supreme (7.4 & 5). In these constituents ego also finds a place. Thus the ego is to enable and facilitate our life on earth. To the extent it coordinates the sensory, mental and intellectual activities, it is desirable and indispensable. But it should not give rise to any undue attachment, ownership or causality. The ego, when properly reflected upon, denotes the ‘I’, which should lead the seeker to the thought of the Self in its universal magnitude. If, instead of instilling freedom and expansion, the ego brings bondage and constriction, that is bad. Krishna provides the necessary safeguard to avoid such misfortune.

Sama-duhkha-sukhah is the next quality Krishna emphasizes. This is an oft-repeated phrase of Krishna in Bhagavad Gita. He started speaking about samatva (equalness) right from the beginning (2.15), and it has been repeated all through (2.38, 56, 57; 4.22; 5.19, 20, 23, 26; 6.9). No devotee can distance himself from this essential quality. Sukha-duhkhas are the twin mental creations of the world at any time in anyone. To be equal to them would be to win over the world, sublimating all its effects.

Krishna defined life as matra-sparsah (2.14) – interaction between the senses and the world objects. Without the senses contacting their objects in the world, no experience or knowledge can transpire. And whenever such sense-object interaction takes place, it inevitably evokes sukha-duhkhas. While these interactions are external, sukha-duhkhas they generate are internal. These being inevitable, where is the question of avoiding either sukha or duhkha in life? So, he said, “tan titikshasva – forbear them”.

So, to forbear sukha-duhkha, which interactions in the world are bound to bring about repeatedly, is a basic quality of the seeker. But it is something to be gained by understanding the nature of life, world and the interactions between the two. In fact, all spiritual qualities have their genesis in right understanding. Krishna also added that one who is not tormented by sukha-duhkhas, by dint of the equal vision he cultivates towards them, becomes fit for winning immortality, liberation (2.15).

A devotee should be patient, kshami, is what Krishna states next. It implies tolerance, an enlightened reconciliation with whatever comes and proceeding forward with resolve and dedication. It is an inner spiritual enrichment, resulting from the right understanding of how life courses through the worldly vicissitudes. The vision has to be broad enough to incorporate all possibilities and eventualities in life and in the world.

Cheerfulness is another characteristic of true devotion. If the devotee is aspiring for the Supreme alone, it should make him look for nothing else as a gain or goal. Such a dedicated mind is naturally free of all desires and expectations, with the result that it will remain cheerful always. This kind of abiding inner contentment is a sure corollary of devotion.

Devotion and behavioural refinement

The succeeding propositions Krishna makes have great relevance in the interactional life of the devotee:

यस्मान्नोद्विजते लोको लोकान्नोद्विजते च यः ।
हर्षामर्षभयोद्वेगैर्मुक्तो यः स च मे प्रियः ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 12.15)

One by whom the world is not troubled and who does not feel troubled by the world, who is freed from the clutches of delight and hatred, fear and anxiety, is very dear to the Supreme.

A devotee is supposed to be an excellent individual. Sadhakas should not forget this basic fact. In the name of devotion, none has the freedom or right to lead a haphazard, uncivilized or unrefined life, unmindful of all righteous norms. In fact, devotion should enrich one with adequate goodness, elegance and refinement, which are otherwise hard to acquire. The devotee should excel in character, behaviour and interactions with others. Only then devotional life will shine and be worthy of emulation by others.

Krishna thus insists that the world, despite all its complexities and contradictions, should not the least disturb or agitate the devotee. The devotee too should not prove harmful or troublesome to the society. The devotee will be able to imbibe and display this kind of spiritual elegance and charm only when his mind is freed from the conventional agitations, namely harsha (delight), amarsha (resentment) and bhaya (fear). It is the mind’s own swinging and swerving that result in harmful, displeasing or painful reactions. From a moderated, refined and expanded mind, whatever interactions follow will be quite endearing and enriching. This is what should transpire in the case of a devotee, says Krishna.

See how effectively Krishna incorporates true spiritual disciplines and sublimation in devotional life and pursuit! To make the pronouncement most effective, he states that only a devotee with such inner sublimity and enrichment will become dear to the Lord. What greater motivation, inspiration or compulsion can be there for any devotional seeker to look into his mind and bring about these refinements that represent true sadhana?

Step by step Krishna presents the subtler refinements a devotee must imbibe and display:

अनपेक्षः शुचिर्दक्षः उदासीनो गतव्यथः ।
सर्वारम्भपरित्यागी यो मद्भक्तः स मे प्रियः ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 12.16)

The devotee, who is free of expectations, pure outwardly and inwardly, efficient, moderate and impartial, free of any strong afflictions, keeps away all sense of doership in all that he does or proposes to do, is dear to the Supreme.

Krishna thus includes anapekshata as another virtue. It means non-desiring, non-expecting. This single quality is worth contemplating upon throughout one’s life. Devotion makes one rest upon the Supreme, with full reliance. As Supreme is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, where is the need for one who relies upon the Supreme, to wish for or desire anything any time? Is not the Supreme wise and competent enough to look after our needs and fulfillment? Only when the mind is rid of desires, it becomes pure. Such a pure mind alone becomes worthy of inviting the right blessings and fruition every time.

To be clean inwardly and outwardly is a definite corollary of devotional life. There should be no lethargy in this. A devotee should keep his residence, place of work and the articles he uses, clean and tidy. Cleanliness extended to mind and intelligence implies straightforwardness, openness and innocence in all ways. This is the real spiritual quality that graces the seeker.

With regard to life and interactions, the devotee should always preserve an attitude of evenness, keeping preference or prejudice attentively away. Impartiality thus becomes a constant note in the devotee. To overreact to any event, person or action, is not proper. Likewise to lament or grieve for anything done, not done or being done is also not devotional. Human mind becomes the best when it is steeped in flexible harmony and integration.

Krishna stipulates something more as an inevitable corollary of devotional life. Devotee should be a sarva-arambha-parityagi, he says. This dictum must be understood with clarity. What does it mean? At no time should a true devotee feel that any event or undertaking in his life depends upon him, and he has to do it somehow. To arrogate to oneself the causality of an action and to foster doership about it is wrong. Normally such doership is not easy to remove from the mind. Dutifulness always infects the mind.

The philosophy of action, as explained earlier (3.27,28, 4.18,19, 6.1, 5.15,16) makes it clear that one must shun the feeling of kartrtva and bhoktrtva with regard to anything whatsoever. This does not mean that the devotee will not be doing anything. In fact, he will be doing much more than what any other ordinary person will. Many benevolent activities of larger magnitude may result from him. But at no time should he suffer any kind of torment, thinking that he is the doer, sufferer or enjoyer. This is a unique spiritual loftiness or refinement. Not to foster any doership and at the same time to do all that is necessary, even with greater sacrifice and risk, is the call for a true devotee!

It is significant that Krishna enjoins all these as characteristics of a true devotee. By doing so, he emphasizes that a devotee must ensure goodness, propriety, moderation and excellence in his own character and behaviour. In other words, Krishna insists that a devotee or seeker should be one in whom the best of human excellences and virtues are present. Devotion should elevate one to a model man or woman, whom others will look to for inspiration. The devotee who becomes a repository of these virtues, mental and intelligential excellences, truly pleases the Creator. Naturally, it is for the earnest devotional seeker to enlist himself in this category of beautiful humans.

Harnessing the mind

Krishna continues to dwell upon the qualities that constitute devotional refinement and excellence. Spirituality is a profound subject, calling for thorough analysis and exposition. To understand it rightly, the seeker must be able to transcend the material level of existence and step boldly into the supra-material levels of mind, intelligence and ego to end with the Soul or the Self. It is natural that he finds the subject not comparable to whatever his senses are familiar with. At the same time, the information gained by the senses alone has to form the basis for spiritual study and analysis. This is intriguing, no doubt.

Our body, with all its limbs and senses, is but an instrument for the inner mind. Mind, in its turn, is to be led by the knowing intelligence. In fact, we already employ the mind and intelligence in whatever we do. An action, once done, passes away forever. What survives is only its memory, the mind-picture about it. The actor from then on uses this mental stock.

In spiritual pursuit, the emphasis on the mind and intelligence is enormous. Knowledge about these inner faculties consequently grows deeper, very soon making the seeker or devotee become more a mento-intelligential being than otherwise. He begins to harness the mind-intelligence potential in greater measure as he advances in his spiritual pursuit. Thus, spiritual pursuit becomes the most desirable for anyone.

Krishna relates devotional refinement to the mind and intelligence and lays down an assortment of dicta, all bearing upon one’s understanding, attitude, objective and interactions. See how he develops the subject further:

यो न हृष्यति न द्वेष्टि न शोचति न काङ्क्षति ।
शुभाशुभपरित्यागी भक्तिमान्यः स मे प्रियः ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 12.17)

He, who does not either revel or resent, gives vent to neither grief nor desire, who relinquishes the sense of auspicious and inauspicious on the ground of his devotion to the Supreme, becomes naturally dear to the Supreme.

The statement implies the entire spirituo-devotional sadhana, refinement and enrichment. Devotion does not consist in merely thinking of the Supreme and making It an object of worship. To keep an idol or picture and invoke all religious feelings and express them in colourful ways can at best mark the beginning of devotional pursuit. These will soon have to be intensified and deepened to become a wholesome pursuit engulfing the mind and intelligence, generating a constant note of refinement, sublimation and enrichment. That is where Krishna’s exposition becomes indispensable.

Harsha means elation. Dvesha means hatred, resentment or intolerance. Socana means grief or affliction. Kanksha denotes desire, greed or possessive thoughts.

These are the natural mind-responses and reactions. All these fall under pairs of opposites, dvandvas and spiritually viewed, constitute every aspect of the world. Krishna says that the devotee should not allow his mind to be victimized, constricted or subdued by dvandvas. Generating these dvandvas is ingrained in us. But when one becomes a devotee or seeker, his attitude should surely change.

Consciously overcoming and sublimating dvandvas is the one message of Bhagavad Gita. In fact, it is so of all spiritual scriptures. Krishna made this call right from the beginning, with the exposition of the sankhya wisdom (2.15, 38, 45, 48, 50, 56, 57, 64). Thereafter, he intensified it, clothing the message in different phrases (3.34, 4.22, 5.3, 5.19, 5.20, 5.23, 6.7, 6.29, 6.32, 7.28).

Viewed in whatever manner, spirituo-devotional pursuit has the sole aim of making the seeker’s mind non-dependent on the external world for its delight, stability and fulfillment. It regards the inner personality as causal, the source, and outer personality, namely the body, as merely instrumental. The attention should therefore be shifted from the outer to the inner. It is to mark this shift that Self-realization is held high as a goal to be attained.

Our mind has the capacity to originate thoughts, generate reactions and bring forth various responses. It has equally the potential to refine, sublimate and unify all these and preserve homogeneity. The first part is generally known to all. The second part is very rarely cognized and is accessed only by the discriminating seekers and devotees. But when accessed, it will zealously lead the seeker to transcendental refinement and sublimity, generating thoughts and emotions from that level. It is a question of inspiring and guiding the mind properly.

For this, the right exposure and enlightenment that one gets from the Teacher, as did Arjuna from Krishna, are what count. To be receptive to the exposure, to reflect upon it and orient the mind and intelligence accordingly, is the most important part of spiritual sadhana. The progress thereafter will be irresistible and exhilarating.

To be delighted with some things – be they events, circumstances or even persons – or to be resentful or hateful towards some others is, in fact, to strengthen the delusion. How does the same mind become delightful with some and hateful with others? The outer links in the process apart, the mind alone functions and generates the like and dislike.

If the mind is the originator of these contradictory notes, it can as well be free of them. It can rise above both. Spirituo-devotional life inspires the mind to strike the sovereign, transcendental, homogeneous level above dvandvas. The waves of socana, grief, and kanksha, desire also have no place in the devotee’s mind. Instead of preserving and intensifying them, as is generally done, the devotee must strive to attenuate them. In fact, spirituality means sublimation of all these contradictory notes.

Krishna, in the same strain, makes it clear that devotion means abandoning the notions of subha (auspicious) and asubha (inauspicious). Arjuna found the whole war to be inauspicious and leading to hell. Krishna pointed out that to believe so was a sheer delusion, the characteristic entrapment of the mind.

Interactional excellence in devotional pursuit

To think of the Supreme is to transcend all limitations, divisions, contradictions, opposites and be devoted to homogeneous, all-engulfing perception. Unless such wholesomeness and transcendence are displayed by the devotional mind, it disproves itself. By the strength, meaning and purpose of his devotional pursuit, the devotee must get to this singular transcendence, whereby his mind becomes free, homogeneous and sublime. This is true spiritual sadhana. One who does this is dear to the Supreme.

समः शत्रौ च मित्रे च तथा मानापमानयोः ।
शीतोष्णसुखदुःखेषु समः सङ्गविवर्जितः ।।
तुल्यनिन्दास्तुतिर्मौनी सन्तुष्टो येन केनचित् ।
अनिकेतः स्थिरमतिर्भक्तिमान्मे प्रियो नरः ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 12.18, 19)

Looking at the enemy and friend with equalness, reacting to respect and disrespect with evenness, receiving with equanimity sukha and duhkha like cold and heat, remaining free of wrong identification, even-minded to blame and praise, given to spiritual silence and indifference, contented with whatever comes or goes, having no special attachment to any place, and with the mind unwavering – such a one is dear to the Supreme.

Krishna now shifts to the inter-personal front, which is the most complex part in human life and interactions. Individuals have their own preferences and prejudices. And these inevitably lead to liking some and disliking others. If for any reason, some one dislikes the devotee, what should the devotee think? Krishna is very clear that devotion should imply assimilation of everything and all. That includes accepting without resentment dislike and enmity from others. The earnest devotee should enrich and empower his mind to be at ease with friends or foes.

Not to be allured by sukha and not to be repelled by duhkha is another distinction the devotee should gain every time. This will be possible only when the sanga – the wrong identification – is eschewed by him. Sanga-vivarjitatva is a sure note of devotional maturity.

In blame and adoration too, the devotee must search his own heart to find out whether there is any feeling of resentment or elation. A fullness of understanding will not allow him to be swung by anything.

Krishna lays down another devotional dictum that with whatever comes or goes, the devoted heart must be happy. The power of devotion is such that it makes one always cheerful. If any development or outcome takes place, then the right course will be to accept it unreservedly. Any conflict will only breed affliction. Is this not the same principle as contained in “yadrccha-labha-santushtah”, being happy with whatever chance brings (4.22)?

Contentment results solely from the mind. Mind can be discontented even with many things around. It can be contented with nothing around. Train the mind to be contented with whatever is available. Human life hosts untold potential for joy and freedom.

Aniketah is a word Krishna has used in this verse. It evokes a great deal of doubt, imagination and even debate in the minds of seekers. To which extent can this concept take a zealous seeker? Is the message practical? Or is it that it has a hidden meaning, inaccessible to ordinary minds? Aniketatva however, carries great significance, especially when Krishna includes it in the concluding part of his definition of a dear devotee.

‘Aniketah’ literally means one who has no place of dwelling. To be so will only please the Supreme, says Krishna. Devotional attunement will and should aim at such loftiness for the mind and intelligence. What can this mean?

Earlier also, Krishna has stated many such truths. Sannyasa is not, he emphasized, renunciation of any physical or external activity. The yukta, integrated yogi, will not have any thought that he does anything, though his senses, like those of others, go on with their respective activities (5.8, 9).

The devotee has to realize that he is not the body, but the Soul. When the subtle, spiritual awareness becomes stronger and deeper, the gross material physical affinity becomes weaker.

Every one is, no doubt, born in some dwelling, be it a cottage or a palace. Like food and clothing, dwelling place is indispensable for a human. Where is then any question of a devotee being bereft of any dwelling place for him at all? To live means to live somewhere, in a residence.

Remember, the whole spiritual pursuit is – “sva-samvedyam, na tu para-pratyaksham – to be felt and experienced by oneself only, not evident to another.” This uniqueness about spiritual wisdom and truths must be clearly kept in mind. In other words, whatever value, discipline or refinement is laid down has its bearing upon the mind, intelligence and heart. Aniketatva is also something like this.

As desire, possessiveness, ego and association with external entities leave the spiritual mind, the identity with any specific dwelling place will also drop. This does not mean that a devotee should live on the streets or in a forest. As the soul dwells in the body, the body also has to be under a roof.

The evaluation and enrichment are to make the mind free and poised in any situation. As Krishna stated in the sthita-prajna description “yah sarvatra-anabhisnehah” (2.57) – one who does not have undue attachment to blood, matrimonial, and other relationships or possessions – here also he is trying to lift the mind from its conventional constrictions.

Aniketatva only reflects what Krishna imparted in sthitaprajna-prakarana (section on stable-mindedness). He, who lives and moves in the world leaving all gross and subtle desires, rid of all possessiveness and egoism, alone has peace and blessedness (2.71). Just as the devotee should not have any possessiveness about his body, he should also not have about the dwelling place for his body.

Concluding the verse, Krishna brings in sthira-matitva. Devotional resignation and exclusiveness will have to make the mind and intelligence resolute and stable. Like drdha-niscayatva mentioned earlier (12.14), sthira-matitva also emphasizes spiritual firmness and resolve. This means that the seeker is free of all doubts, desires, ego and possessiveness. The least insufficiency in any of these will make the mind waver. That should not be. Does not this confirm what Krishna said about the sthita-prajna in the 2nd chapter (2.55)?

In conclusion, Krishna adds that his description of the ‘dear devotee’ and ‘essence of devotional life’ constitutes a full-fledged dharma, meaning a code of conduct or pursuit which has the capacity to sustain and enrich human life on earth. For one given to follow this dharma, no other aid, assistance or reinforcement is needed. Those who take to this with love, affinity, assiduousness and piety are extremely virtuous and dear to the Supreme, he assures (12.20).

This marks the conclusion of the second phase (Chapters 7 to 12) of Krishna’s instructions in the Kurukshetra battlefield. This section is rich in devotional elements as against the earlier subtle philosophical dissertations.

Like the preceding sthita-prajna description (2.55-72) and the following gunatita description (14.22-26), this exposition on who is a true and dear devotee also stands distinct and unique, to be specially reflected upon. It is a touch-stone for all spiritual seekers and devotees any time anywhere. Its special note is that the whole description relates directly to devotee’s mind and intelligence, showing clearly what should be their character and behaviour in actual life, making devotional life an adorable and effective interactional sadhana.

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(Essential Concepts In Bhagavad Gita - Volume 4 - The End)