Nature of True Bhakti
True Bhakti or devotion is that condition of a devotees mind when it is unable to bear even a moments separation from the shelter of God, and when even if is forcibly withdrawn from that shelter, by force of circumstances, it struggles and rushes back and attaches itself to God, like a needle to a magnet.
Ankolam nija beeja-santatih ayaskaantopalam soochika,
Sadhvee naija vibhum lataa kshitiruham sindhuh sarid
Praapnoteeha yathaa tathaa pasupateh paadaaravindadvyam,
Chetovrittir-upetya tishthati sadaa saa bhaktirityuchyate.
This verse occurs in Sivaananda Lahari, and in it, Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada has explained what real bhakti is. The relationship between the devotee and Isavara is explained with reference to five examples. They are: the tree known as ankolam and its seeds; the lodestone and the needle; a chaste woman and her husband; a creeper and a tree; and a river and the ocean. The ankola tree (azhinchil maram in Tamil) is found in the forest. It is that when its fruit falls to the ground, the seeds, liberated from the fruit by some compelling force within, move close to the trunk of the tree, gradually climb up, and get inseparable attached to the tree. During my travels, I was shown this tree in a forest. I saw the seeds sticking to the trunk of the tree, though I was not able to observe the actual movement of the seeds from the ground to the tree. The example of the seeds which fall away form the tree struggling back and attaching themselves to the tree, is denoted by the words, ankolam nija beeja santatih.
The next example given is ayakaantopalam soochika .Ayaskaanta means magnet, upalam means stone, and soochika means needle. When a needle is brought near a lodestone, it rushes towards the stone and gets itself attached to it. Similarly, the mind of a devotee rushes towards God and finds a heaven there. The next example is that of a saadhvee, a pativrata or chaste woman and her husband, is significant. The literal meaning of vibhuh is, one who pervades everywhere. The idea Sri Sankara wants to convey by using the term vibhuh is that a true pativrata has only the thought of her husband uppermost in her mind, all the time, whatever other objects may be in front of her eyes. She is so saturated with the thought of her husband that she sees her husband, whichever way she may turn. So also a bhakta see only God in everything around him.
The example of Lataa creeper, and kshitiruha tree, is next given to indicate the minds frantic efforts to get itself attached to Isvara like a creeper to a tree. As a creeper grows, its shoots sway hither and thither, in an attempt to get a hold on something to which they can attach themselves. The moment the shoots come into contact with a neighbouring tree, the creeper winds itself around that tree, get itself attached to the tree. The mind of the devotee is constantly in search of Isvara, and the moment He is realised, it attaches itself to Him inseparably.
The last example is that of the sindhuh, river and SaridvallabhaOcean. A river has a small origin on a mountain. In the intial stage of its course, which can be compared to our own childhood, the river is noisy, plays about by jumping from one rock to another, and is resless and so flows fast. Its speed reflects its anxiety to join the ocean. When nearing the sea, the river becomes calm and placid. This state can be compared to a womans humility, shyness, and serenity in the presence of her husband. The ocean, being a loving husband, rushes forward to receive the river in her arms. That is why the river water is saltish for some distance inland from its mouth. Similarly, the restless soul finds serenity when it reaches the proximity of God, and finally gets engulfed in that ocean of Supreme Bliss.
Sri Sankara has expounded advaita tatva both in the main them of the verse and in the illustrating similies. Water from the sea evaporates into cloud and returns to the earth as rain. The rainwater goes back to the sea as rivers. In that way a circle is completed. The river and the sea, though apparently two, are in reality one. By the process of evaporation, the volume increased by the inflow of river waters. In the same way, everything in this universe is part of God. He is everything and everything ultimately merges in Him. He is Full always, and His fullness is in no way affected either by creation or by the merger in Him of the created beings. The human soul, jeevatma, is restless like a creeper, in search of a support to sustain it, and eager to rejoin its source, like the river is to rejoin the ocean, its ultimate source. As the jeeva gets to be more and more proximate to God, it obtains saanti or serenity, like that which the waters of a river attain near the rivers confluence with the sea. The bhakta, who eventually becomes a jnani see only Isvara in everything, even as a pativarata thinks only of her husband and lord. When the should finally finds its haven in the Paramaatma, it unites with the Paramaatma, like creeper bugging a tree, or a needle flying to and getting attached with a magnet. If, for any reason, the jeeva is forcibly detached from Isvara, it becomes restless, struggles and eventually gets back to Isvara.
When our devotion to God is motivated by a desire to secure some earthly benefit, it ceases to be real bhakti; it becomes a barter. But when our bhakti is for our spiritual elevation, we attain the saanti of the river when it is near its Lord, the Ocean. The devotee begins his quest for bliss with devotion to One, who, he thinks is outside him. When the devotion is selfless, that is, when the quest is a quest of his own real self, the dvaita bhaava (the duality of God and himself) changes into advaita bhaava, the oneness of himself and God. He surrenders himself absolutely and unreservedly to the Paramaatma, and becomes one with that Only paadaaravinda dvayam Chetovrithirupetya tishthati. We must all strive to develop the kind of devotion to Isvara indicated in the verse from Sivaananda Lahari I have quoted in the beginning.
February 8, 1958