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Ramana Bhagavan's view on Bhakti

Bhakti as advocated by Ramana Bhagavan, Akshara Mana Malai, Hymns to Arunachala, Hymns by Ramana Maharshi, Works of Ramana Maharshi, Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Quotes of Ramana Maharshi, Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Videos of Ramana Maharshi, Hindu Spir Hindu Spiritual Articles and Videos
We come now to bhakti marga, the path of love and devotion, worship and surrender. This is usually considered the very antithesis of Self-enquiry, since it is based on the presumption of duality, of worshipper and worshipped, lover and beloved, whereas Self-enquiry presumes non-duality. Therefore theorists are apt to presume that if one is based on truth the other must be based on error, and in expounding one they only too often condemn the other. Bhagavan not only recognised both these paths but guided his followers on them both. He often said:

"There are two ways; ask yourself, `Who am I??' or surrender."

Many of his followers chose the latter way.

D.: What is unconditional surrender?

B.: If one surrenders completely, there will be no one left to ask questions or to be considered. Either the thoughts are eliminated by holding on to the root thought, `I', or one surrenders unconditionally to the Higher Power. These are the only two ways to Realisation. [Talk 321]

Self-enquiry dissolves the ego by looking for it and finding it to be non-existent, whereas devotion surrenders it; therefore both come to the same ego-free goal, which is all that is required.

B.: There are only two ways to conquer destiny or to be independent of it. One is to enquire whose this destiny is and to discover that only the ego is bound by it and not the Self, and that the ego is non-existent. The other way is to kill the ego by completely surrendering to the Lord, realising one's helplessness and saying all the time: `Not I, but Thou, oh Lord!', giving up all sense of `I' and `mine' and leaving it to the Lord to do what he likes with you. Surrender can never be regarded as complete so long as the devotee wants this or that from the Lord. True surrender is the love of God for the sake of love and nothing else, not even for the sake of salvation. In other words, complete effacement of the ego is necessary to conquer destiny, whether you achieve this effacement through Self-enquiry or through bhakti-marga.[Day by Day with Bhagavan, p 266]

The spark of spiritual knowledge (Jnana) will consume all creation like a mountain-heap of cotton. Since all the countless worlds are built upon the weak or non-existent foundations of the ego, they all disintegrate when the atom-bomb of knowledge falls on them. All talk of surrender is like stealing sugar from a sugar image of Ganesha and then offering it to the same Ganesha. You say that you offer up your body and soul and all your possessions to God, but were they yours to offer? At best you can say: `I wrongly imagined till now that all these, which are Yours, were mine. Now I realise that they are Yours and I shall no longer act as though they were mine.' And this knowledge that there is nothing but God or the Self, that `I' and `mine' do not exist and that only the Self exists, is Jnana.[Day by Day with Bhagavan, p 49]

He often explained however, that true devotion is devotion to the Self and therefore it comes to the same as Self-enquiry.

It is enough that one surrenders oneself. Surrender is giving oneself up to the original cause of one's being. Do not delude yourself by imagining this source to be some God outside you. One's source is within oneself. Give yourself up to it. That means that you should seek the source and merge in it. Because you imagine yourself to be out of it, you raise the question, `Where is the source?' Some contend that just as sugar cannot taste its own sweetness for there must be someone to taste and enjoy it, so an individual cannot both be the Supreme and also enjoy the Bliss of that State; therefore the individuality must be maintained separate from the Godhead in order to make enjoyment possible. But is God insentient like sugar? How can one surrender oneself and yet retain one's individuality for supreme enjoyment? Furthermore they also say that the soul, on reaching the divine region and remaining there, serves the supreme Being. Can the sound of the word `service' deceive the Lord? Does He not know? Is He waiting for these people's services? Would He not -- Pure Consciousness -- ask in turn: `Who are you apart from Me that presume to serve Me?'

If, on the other hand, you merge in the Self there will be no individuality left. You will become the Source itself. In that case what is surrender? Who is to surrender, and to whom? This constitutes devotion, wisdom and Self-enquiry. Among the Vaishnavites, too, Saint Nammalwar says: "I was in a maze, clinging to `I' and `mine'; I wandered without knowing myself. On realising myself I understand that I myself am You and that `mine' (that is, my possessions) is only Yours." Thus, you see, devotion is nothing more than knowing oneself. The school of qualified monism also admits it. Still, adhering to their traditional doctrine, they persist in affirming that individuals are part of the Supreme -- his limbs as it were. Their traditional doctrine says also that the individual soul should be made pure, and then surrendered to the Supreme; then the ego is lost and one goes to the region of Vishnu after death; then finally there is the enjoyment of the Supreme (or the Infinite). To say that one is apart from the primal source is itself a pretension; to add that one divested of the ego becomes pure and yet retains individuality only to enjoy or serve the Supreme is a deceitful stratagem. What duplicity this is ? first to appropriate what is really His, and then pretend to experience or serve Him! Is not all this known to Him? [Talk 208]

It is obvious that surrender in the total uncompromising sense in which Bhagavan demands it is not easy.

As often as one tries to surrender, the ego raises its head and one has to try to suppress it. Surrender is not an easy thing. Killing the ego is not an easy thing. It is only when God Himself by His Grace draws the mind inwards that complete surrender can be achieved.[Day by Day with Bhagavan, p 263]

Dr. Syed asked Bhagavan: Doesn't total or complete surrender imply that even desire for liberation or God should be given up?

B.: Complete surrender does imply that you should have no desire of your own, that God's will alone is your will and you have no will of your own.

Dr. S.: Now that I am satisfied on that point, I want to know what are the steps by which I can achieve surrender?

B.: There are two ways; one is looking into the source of the `I' and merging into that source; the other is feeling `I am helpless by myself. God alone is all-powerful and except for throwing myself completely on Him there is no other means of safety for me,' and thus gradually developing the conviction that God alone exists and the ego does not count. Both methods lead to the same goal. Complete surrender is another name for Jnana or Liberation.[Day by Day with Bhagavan, p 162-3]

However, partial surrender can come first and gradually become more and more complete.

D.: I find surrender impossible.

B.: Complete surrender is impossible in the beginning but
partial surrender is possible for all. In course of time that will lead to complete surrender.[Talk 244]

The dualists may however object that the devotional path approved by Bhagavan is not that which they have in mind, since theirs presupposes the permanent duality of God and worshipper. In such cases, as in the last sentence of the following dialogue, Bhagavan would raise the discussion above theory, bidding them first achieve the surrender to a separate God, of which they spoke, and then see whether they had any further doubts.

The state we call realisation is simply being oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything. If one has realised, then he is That which alone is and which alone has always been. He cannot describe that state. He can only be That. Of course we talk loosely of Self-realisation for want of a better term, but how is one to realise or make real that which alone is real? What we all are doing is `realising' or regarding as real, that Which is unreal. This habit has to be given up. All spiritual effort under all systems is directed only to this end. When we give up regarding the unreal as real, then Reality alone will remain and we shall be That.

The Swami replied: `This exposition is all right in the framework of non-duality, but there are other schools which do not insist on the disappearance of the triad of knower, knowledge and known as the condition for Self-realisation. There are schools which believe in the existence of two and even three eternal entities. There is the bhakta, for instance. In order that he may worship there must be a God'.

B.: Whoever objects to his having a separate God to worship so long as he needs one? Through devotion he develops until he comes to feel that God alone exists, and that he himself does not count. He comes to a stage when he says. `Not I but Thou; not my will, but Thine'. When that stage is reached, which is called complete surrender in bhakti marga, one finds that effacement of the ego is the attainment of the Self. We need not quarrel whether there are two entities or more or only one. Even according to dualists and according to bhakti marga, complete surrender is necessary. Do that first and then see for yourself whether the one Self alone exists or whether there are two or more.

Bhagavan further added: `Whatever may be said to suit the different capacities of different men, the truth is that the state of Self-realisation must be beyond the triad of knower, knowledge and known. The Self is the Self; that is all that can be said of it.'

The Swami then asked whether a Jnani could retain his body after attaining Self-realisation. He added: `It is said that the impact of Self-realisation is so forceful that the weak physical body cannot bear it for more than twenty-one days at the longest.' Bhagavan replied: `What is your idea of a Jnani? Is he the body or something different? If he is something apart from the body, how can he be affected by the body? Books speak of different kinds of Liberation: videhamukti (without body) and jivanmukti (with body). There may be different stages on the path but there are no degrees of Liberation.[Day by Day with Bhagavan, p 181-2]

Sometimes Bhagavan was asked how the paths of love and knowledge could be the same since love postulates duality.

D.: Love postulates duality. How can the Self be the object
of love?

B.: Love is not different from the Self. Love of an object is
of a lower type and cannot endure, whereas the Self is Love. God is Love.[Talk 433]

For those whose temperament and state of development demanded it, the Maharshi approved of ritualistic worship, which usually accompanies a devotional path.

A visitor said to Bhagavan: `Priests prescribe various rituals and forms of worship and people are told that it is a sin not to observe them. Is there any need for such ritual and ceremonial worship?

B.: Yes, such worship is also necessary. It may not help
you, but that does not mean that it is necessary for no one and is no good at all. What is necessary for the infant is not necessary for the graduate. But even the graduate has to make use of the alphabet he learnt in the infant class. He knows its full use and significance.[Day by Day with Bhagavan, p 93]

Worship might also take the form of concentration on one of the Hindu gods, that is one of the modes in which Hindus conceive of God.

D.: What are the steps of practical training?

B.: It depends on the qualifications and nature of the seeker.

D.: I worship an idol.

B.: Go on doing so. It leads to concentration of mind.

Get one-pointed. All will come right in the end. People think that Liberation (moksha) is somewhere outside them to be sought for. They are wrong. It is only knowing the Self in you. Concentrate, and you will get it. It is your mind that is the cycle of births and deaths (samsara).

D.: My mind is very unsteady. What should I do?

B.: Fix your attention on any single thing and try to hold
on to it. Everything will come right.

D.: I find concentration difficult.

B.: Keep on practising and your concentration will come
to be as easy as breathing. That will be the crown of your achievement.[Talk 31]

However he did not approve of the desire to see visions -- or in fact, any desire at all, even the desire for rapid realisation.

Miss Uma Devi, a Polish lady who has become a Hindu, said to Sri Bhagavan: Once before I told Sri Bhagavan how I had a vision of Siva at about the time I became a Hindu. A similar experience occurred to me at Courtallam. These visions are momentary, but they are blissful. I want to know how they can be made permanent and continuous. Without Siva there is no life in what I see around me. I am so happy when I think of Him. Please tell me how I can make the vision of Him continuous.

B.: You speak of a vision of Siva, but a vision always presumes an object. That implies the existence of a subject. The value of the vision is the same as that of the seer. That is to say, the nature of the vision is on the same plane as that of the seer. Appearance implies disappearance also. Therefore a vision can never be eternal. But Siva is eternal. The vision of Siva implies the existence of the eyes to see it, of the intellect behind the sight and finally of Consciousness underlying the seer. This vision is not as real as one imagines it to be, because it is not intimate and inherent; it is not first hand. It is the result of several successive phases of Consciousness. Consciousness alone does not vary. It is eternal. It is Siva. A vision implies someone to see it, but this someone cannot deny the existence of the Self. There is no moment when the Self as Consciousness does not exist, nor can the seer remain apart from Consciousness. This Consciousness is the Eternal Being and is only Being. The seer cannot see himself. Does he deny his existence because he cannot see himself as he sees a vision? No; so the true vision does not mean seeing but BE-ing. TO BE is to realise ? Hence `I AM THAT I AM'. I AM is Siva. Nothing else can be without Him. Everything has its being in Siva, because of Siva. Therefore enquire: `Who am I?' Sink deep within and abide as the Self. That is Siva as BE-ing. Do not expect to have visions of Him repeated. What is the difference between the objects you see and Siva? He is both subject and object. You cannot be without Siva. Siva is always realised, here and now. If you think you have not realised Him you are wrong. That is the obstacle to realising Him. Give up that thought also and realisation is there.

D.: Yes, but how shall I effect it as quickly as possible?

B.: That is another obstacle to Realisation. Can there be an individual without Siva? Even now He is you. There is no question of time. If there were a moment of non-realisation, the question of realisation could arise. But you cannot be without Him. He is already realised, ever realised and never non-realised. Surrender to Him and abide by His will, whether He appears or vanishes; await His pleasure. If you ask Him to do as you please, it is not surrender but command. You cannot have Him obey you and yet think you have surrendered. He knows what is best and when and how. Leave everything entirely to Him. The burden is His.

You have no longer any cares. All your cares are His. That is surrender. That is bhakti.[Talk 450]

D.: A vision of God is something glorious.

B.: A vision of God is only a vision of the Self objectified
as the God of your particular faith. What you have to do is to know the Self.1

Bhagavan was often heard to say: `To know God is to love
God, therefore the paths of jnana and bhakti (knowledge and devotion) come to the same.'


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