I never thought I would one day write an essay titled “What is Devotion?” I thought “devotion” was self-explanatory. But, every time I mentioned “devotion” there was either silence or questions.
I now recognize that there is a linguistic barrier here. I still want to believe that many people experience devotional feelings but they don’t necessarily call them “devotion.”
Feelings are experiential by definition. We can’t define them but we make attempts to describe them. Literary writing is all about the description of feelings I suppose. Devotion is experiential. There is no academic definition of it.
Among the intellectuals “devotion” is a foreign concept. Intellectuals rarely talk about devotion. Among the religious fundamentalists devotion is a misunderstood word. Fundamentalists emphasize the fear of God. Devotion has nothing to do with fear. It has nothing to do with guilt either.
You know that I have no problem saying God. It is so sad that in modern times intellectuals hesitate to say God because of the overuse and abuse of the word by the organized religions. It is true that when we name the Cosmic Consciousness we limit it but we have to use a word to refer to the ultimate reality, the ocean. The important point here is that the infinite ocean is full of consciousness. The infinite ocean is full of love.
Since consciousness and love are synonymous, this infinite ocean of love is absolute consciousness. Our souls are mysterious internal reflections of this reality. Whenever I reflect on the infinite ocean of consciousness my mind experiences a special feeling. This is devotion. The intensity of the devotional feeling varies. Sometimes it is a pleasant sentiment and sometimes it is an overflowing blissful feeling.
Devotion is longing, intense longing for the beloved. In a different essay I said, remember the feeling of falling in love. Once the remembrance is established, it triggers a higher devotional sentiment.
Devotion is like falling in love. When you are in love you are constantly longing to see the beloved. In devotion there is a sweet pain of separation.
Devotion is the love of God. Those who spread the fear of God to control people will never understand devotion.
God appears to us according to our desires. There are 7 billion humans on Earth. God knows how many billions of sentient beings live on other planets. Each one has a different conception of God. Some devotees prefer the Father metaphor because this allows them to have a close relationship with the source of the infinite love. Other devotees prefer the Mother metaphor for the same reason. Devotees understand that God is not anthropomorphic but they use those mental images to achieve closeness. I often use the “Universal Teacher” metaphor to achieve closeness. Because to me “Universal Teacher” expresses the caring aspect of God. The Universal Teacher loves me and He is always with me. This is not just self-hypnosis. This is the reality.
Devotion is reflection. God loves us. His love for us is infinite. Our souls are like mirrors and ego is like a stain on the mirror. Devotion is about constant struggle of trying to remove the stains on the mirror. Devotion is about holding a mirror to God and every soul in the universe.
Devotion is remembrance, constant remembrance of the Beloved.
Devotion is attraction. He attracts us and we attract Him through devotion.
Now, I leave the platform to my teacher, my Baba, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti who in my view was one of the highest expressions of the Universal Teacher on Earth.
“There is mutual attraction everywhere. A tiny ant attracts a large entity and the large entity attracts the tiny ant. In the sentimental flow of devotion, when a person thinks that he or she is attracting the vast universe including Parama Purusha, and I am also being attracted, this conscious feeling of mutual attraction is termed Bhakti (devotion) in psychological parlance. Whether literate or illiterate, young or old, one endowed with this element of devotion is said to have a successful career, for the highest fulfillment of microcosmic existence lies in the very capacity of attracting the Great. The greatest Entity is attracting you with a mighty force. You are also attracting the greatest Entity with your limited force – you are not inferior to anyone.”
From “Namámi Krśńasundaram”
“Now what is devotion? Leaving all the relative things, when mind moves toward the Absolute, that alone is known as Devotion. When the mind moves toward the Supreme Soul, the nearer it comes to Him, there is an unknowing change in it. The caterpillar does not know when it becomes a butterfly. The mind does not know how changes occur in it. Thus, one day it sees that it is no longer an individual being and hence the individualistic feeling disappears. When the mind is free from individualistic feelings, that alone is the Supreme State.”
From “Karma Samnyasa and Parabhakti”
“When a person is established in devotion one becomes able to understand the greatness and magnificence of the Supreme Consciousness The understanding at this moment is born of real experience through taste. Sweet things, mango and sugar, can be distinguished only by taste. One cannot enjoy the flavour of mango by seeing its reflection in water. One will have to climb the tree, pluck the mango and taste it. Similarly, experience in the spiritual realm also can be had only after climbing a step on the tree of devotion. Only then can one understand the brilliance and greatness of the transcendental Cosmic Entity.”
From “Bhakti Rupa Setu”
“The Supreme Consciousness Himself will teach knowledge and the technique of doing the work. It is not the devotees’ headache. Surrender everything to the Lord. If one requires something from God, one must ask only for absolute devotion. When devotion is attained, God is attained. If God is attained, everything is attained. What remains unattained?”
From “Astitva and Shivatva”
“The devotee says, ‘Oh, my Lord, I love you because in loving You, I get pleasure. I want nothing from You. I want to love You because I get pleasure.’ But this is not the highest form of devotion. In the highest form of devotion, the devotee says, ‘Oh Lord, I love You. I want to love You. And why do I want to love You? Because I want that my love should give You pleasure. I don’t want any pleasure. I love you not to get pleasure, but to give You pleasure.’ And by means of this type of devotion, the Yogi comes in closest contact with the Supreme Self and becomes one with Him. When one’s love is to give pleasure to the Lord and not to enjoy the pleasure for oneself, one’s mind gets metamorphosed into the mind of the Lord. By this devotion, the Yogi gets established into the stance of Supreme Beatitude. The person and his God become One.”
From “Man and His God”
“The microcosmic nucleus approaches the Macrocosmic nucleus not through Jinana (knowledge) and Karma (action) but through Bhakti or devotion. Then why should the people cultivate Jinana or Karma? They do so in order that their devotion may become more intense, not for any other reason. People don’t eat pickle to fill the stomach but to whet their appetite so that they can enjoy their food more. Similarly, devotees cultivate Jinana and Karma not for their physical growth but to gather the strength to move on the path of devotion with greater acceleration. This movement towards Parama Purusha is Bhakti or devotion. Jinana and Karma are aids and therefore Jinana and Karma should both be cultivated.”
From “Namami Krsnasundaram”