What is the meaning of “devotee”

Author: Gopal Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)


Many Human Beings like to boast about their intellect, intelligence, power and influence, their parents and siblings etc. Some even believe that they are born Brahmins and speak about it with pride and ego, little realizing that they are very far from such a realization. Some also give discourses on various topics, even spirituality, and with their ego driven intellect want to take ownership of it, and expect others should do same. The real owner of all these is Parama Puruśa. By His grace alone can one utilize or enjoy this world. If Parama Puruśa so desires He can snatch away all intellect, power, influence and possessions from humans, and they will be unable to do anything about it. After realizing the Supreme truth, intelligent people should endeavour to realize Parama Puruśa with the power He has given them. All knowledge is His. With His grace we become privy to it. To take possession of it is merely a display of one’s ego.

What is the meaning of “devotee”? There are two requisite points. The first point is, the person must be a devotee of Parama Puruśa, not a devotee of wine, money, name or fame. A devotee can only be for the Infinite Entity. If the object of ideation be finite, the term “devotion” should not be used; “addiction” is the proper language. Where the object is infinite, then the psychic movement is called “devotion.” The second requisite factor concerns whether the psychic action should be unilateral or mutual. In the case of devotion, you have to give your very existence, your very self. You are giving yourself and getting Him in return. But after giving yourself, who is there to get Him? You become one with Him. Even though the motive was a mutual one, finally it cannot remain mutual. It becomes unilateral.

The cult of devotion first originated during the period of Vraja Krishna. We find Parama Puruśa in charming form, in attractive form, in the form of one’s own for the first time in human history in Vraja Krishna. In the cult of devotion, devotees view Parama Puruśa from their respective viewpoints according to their individual saḿskáras. The people of ancient India adored Krishna in three different ways:

– vátsalya bháva;

– madhura bháva; and

– sakhya bháva.

Nanda and Yashoda (Krishna’s foster father and mother) adored Him in Vátsalya bháva, whose spirit is: “How lovely the child is, how pleasingly He speaks, how charming is His smile, how sweet is his inarticulate ‘Pa-Pa-Pa Ma-Ma-Ma’. I shall feed Him, I shall dress Him, I shall bathe Him, I shall make Him laugh. I shall caress Him, placing Him on my lap.” Such devotees are busy exclusively with Him. Nanda and Yashoda were the first to find the Cosmic bearing of Parama Puruśa reflected in a tiny child. Krishna’s own father, Vasudeva, and mother, Devakii were separated from Krishna during His childhood and thus were deprived of Vátsalya bháva. Krishna only returned to them when He was quite mature.

Rádha, the devotee of Krishna, attained Krishna through Madhura bháva. In Krishna she found everything that was charming and sweet in life. The spirit of Madhura bháva is explained like this: “I will make my entire existence, whether physical, mental, social or spiritual, one-pointed to derive bliss from my dear Krishna.” Usually ninety-nine percent of all devotees maintain this Rádhá bháva due to its sweetness. Never before in history did anyone attain Parama Puruśa in Madhura bháva; they attained Him for the first time during the period of Vraja Krishna. And Vraja Krishna increased the degree of sweetness by playing His flute. People might say, “I will never look at Him again” – but then the flute sound would come to their ears and they would say, “How can I not look at him?” Or they might say, “I will never even think of Him again, but will remain content to look after my little worldly family”. But then the notes would call to them: “Why didn’t you come today? Are you not coming? I am waiting for You.” This is Madhura bháva.

In the history of the world, Parama Puruśa first appeared as the personification of charm and sweetness, to be attained through Madhura bháva, in Vraja Krishna.

Krishna was one, but adored in different ways. Radha adored Him in Madhura bháva. “Yashodá and Nanda worshipped Him” in Vátsalya bháva, and the cowherds – who had no schooling, no learning, but sincerity and a loving heart – adored Him in Sakhya bháva, as a friend. This attitude of friendliness which draws the creation close to Him is called Sakhya bháva. When this sakhya bháva matures, when this love for Parama Puruśa deepens, it is transformed either into Dásya bháva or into Madhura bháva. “Parama Puruśa is my best friend. He loves me.” When a person thinks like this, he or she draws close to Parama Puruśa. From a distance one cannot feel His greatness, but when one comes within His proximity one realizes that He is unfathomable, immeasurable, and thinks: “Oh, although He is my my friend, how great He is! How vast! I consider myself fortunate to have come so close to Him.” When one thinks in this way, one’s Sakhya bháva is transformed into Dásya bháva. One then feels that since Parama Puruśa is so great and loves one so much, it is one’s duty to serve Him and fulfill His desire in every possible way. This is the spirit of Dásya bháva. “He is my Master, my Lord – I am His servant.” This friendship between the Pandavas and Krśńa was born out of Sakhya bháva, out of mutual friendship.

It is known that jiṋána (knowledge), karma (action) and bhakti (devotion) are the three aides for progress along the path of spirituality. A jiṋánii (person of knowledge) reaches near the goal but yet a little distance remains in between. A karmii (person of action) reaches nearer the goal but even then a little gap remains. A bhakta (person of devotion) reaches right to the goal. The jiṋánii has to repent ultimately that he or she wasted a long life on dry discourses of knowledge and could not fulfill their mission. Karmiis too, repent likewise. They think that they worked and reached nearer to the goal but could not achieve the same. There is no repentance in the minds of the bhaktas, however, because their minds are always full of bliss. They neither feel exalted nor humiliated. There is nothing else in their minds except bliss, the unbroken flow of happiness (ánanda), and therefore they remain unaffected by pain and pleasure.

However simple an intellectual may be, vanity always remains concealed in the inner cells of the mind. Intellectuals, and those few pundits filled with Ego (who believe they are Brahmins), think that they are not ordinary people. They feel that they know what other people do not know. These feelings exist whenever there is vanity. Karmiis, too, feel proud when they think they have accomplished some work. Outwardly they may express that they have done nothing, but secretly they harbour desire in their minds that newspapers may publish their names. A dexterous worker falls prey to these weaknesses. Bhaktas have nothing to lose. Since they realize Parama Puruśa as their own, they have nothing to lose or to gain. Only devotees can say that He is the same for all. Whether He causes pleasure or pain makes no difference because He who causes pain, like the one who give pleasure, is the manifestation of Náráyańa. But, this feeling is not with intellectuals because they think objectively. Therefore, they feel pleasure, pain or humiliation whenever confronted with different circumstances.

One day, one of my earthly Gurus took His seat before a large gathering of Bhaktas.

He said, “In the Mahábhárata period we find two persons coming quite close to Shri Krishna – Arjuna and Sudama. Both were greatly devoted to him. Now tell me, which of the two is the greater devotee of Shri Krishna, and whom would you choose as the ideal of your life?”

One by one, Devotees present there, expressed their views. Some said that Arjuna was more devoted to Shrii Krishna than was Sudama, for he did all that the Lord asked him to do. Arjuna was the ideal of their life for he was a great karma yogii (yogi of selfless action) and the much-troubled world of today needed a karma yogii. A similar number were for Sudama. Even being such a poor man and knowing that his childhood playmate Krishna could shower riches on him, he never ever asked for even a little material help. Sudama was a greater devotee than was Arjuna. Sudama was their ideal. When all had expressed themselves, Gurudev said, “Devotion means unconditional self-surrender. The measure of devotion is the amount of this self-surrender. One who has more of it, is a greater devotee than one who has less of it.”

Gurudev paused and then said, “Arjuna and Sudama were great devotees. But while comparing their devotion with a yardstick, we have to say that Sudama was a greater devotee than was Arjuna. You know the story in the Mahábhárata – Arjuna refused to fight when Shrii Krishna asked him to do so. This shows that Arjuna did not have full faith in and complete surrender to Shrii Krishna. Had there been complete surrender, Arjuna would have done as directed by Shrii Krishna. On the other hand, we notice a complete surrender by Sudama. He never desired anything from Krishna, his friend, who could have given him anything and everything. Howsoever he was, he remained content. Even when his wife forced him to go to Shrii Krishna to request Him to remove his poverty, he went to Him but did not ask for a thing. Sudama was a greater devotee than was Arjuna.”

Gurudev again paused and then continued in reference to the second part of the original question. “Now whom should you take to be your ideal? Neither of the two – neither Sudama nor Arjuna. You do know that neither of the two is perfect – so how to take anything imperfect as the ideal of life? Your ideal has to be perfect – so your ideal is to be the Lord and the Lord alone. No one else should be your ideal.

And you should not pray to the Lord, ‘Make me this, make me that; make me Arjuna or make me Sudama.’ No, such should never be your prayer, for suppose the Lord wants you to become even greater than what you are praying to become? In such a case, you are creating a hindrance to your own welfare.

What you must do is simply surrender to the Lord and leave everything else to Him and Him alone. Your ideal should be the Lord, and your efforts should be towards a complete self-surrender. You should ask the Lord to make you what He wants. You should ask the Lord to take that work from You which He desires.

And if he finds that you have the potentialities to do His work, but you are lacking in self-surrender and you have not forgone your ego, then in such a case He will first create circumstances in which your ego will be forced to yield and surrender. After this only will the Lord choose you to be the medium for His work. You do know, similar was the case with Arjuna. Arjuna had the potentiality, but he also had some ego left in him. Shrii Krishna first made him surrender by showing His Virát́a rúpa (Cosmic form), and then alone was Arjuna chosen to be the medium.”

At the feet of Guru