The liberation of the soul can come only from knowledge proceeding from spiritual grace. (Shri Shankara)
The spiritual aspirant practising service, study, meditation and worship, may well come in time to that dry arid desert in which he recognizes the inadequacy of personal effort. At such a time the concept of grace as the crucial factor in spiritual life is like a draught of pure spring water to a thirsty traveller in a desert land. It brings with it relaxation, peace, to the struggling mind enlightenment.
He wonders how he could ever have thought otherwise. How could his puny efforts bring him spiritual light? How could he ever have imagined that any effort by mind and heart, limited and finite as they are, would lift him to the infinite and transcendent.
Once the concept has been accepted urgent questions arise. If grace is all important what need is there for meditation, worship and service?
Is grace open to all or is the grace of God arbitrary? What attracts it and what is the knowledge to which it gives rise?
Shri Krishna takes up these very points in the Bhagavad Gita, and His answers are expanded and clarified by the great commentator Shri Shankaracharya.
Shri Krishna teaches His pupil, Prince Arjuna, that service, meditation and worship are essential for the spiritual aspirant.
They prepare the pupil for the highest grace, that is union with God and transcendence of the finite self.
There is one proviso, they must be performed without personal self-seeking. If performed for self-advancement, the practices may well increase and not decrease the power of the ego. They may polish the ego and so increase our dependence on it, thus effectively blocking the way of grace.
In text after text this theme occurs: no self-seeking in the practices performed. On service – works performed for God’s sake – Shri Krishna teaches, in Ch.II,v.48: ‘Steadfast in devotion do thy works, casting off attachment.’ To which Shri Shankara adds: ‘casting off even such attachment as, may God be pleased.’ On worship Shri Krishna speaks most highly of that worship which is offered: (Ch.XVII, v. 11) with a fixed resolve in the mind that one should merely worship.’ Shri Shankara adds: ‘With no personal end to be achieved.’
On meditation Shri Shankara notes in the introduction to Ch.VI,v.3, that the essential ingredient of the practice is steadiness of mind. Thought of reward, even for success in the practice will cause unsteadiness and therefore must be given up. Not easy but essential. In Ch.VIII,v.10 and 11.
Shri Krishna sums up: ‘To those ever devout, worshipping Me with love, I give that devotion to knowledge by which they come to Me.
Out of mere compassion, I abiding in their self, destroy the darkness bom of ignorance by the luminous lamp of wisdom.’
It may sometimes seem to the unintelligent mind that the grace of God is arbitary. Why is it given to some and not to others?
The point is raised at least twice in the Bhagavad Gita and definitely and clearly answered.
There is no variation in grace, no question of its being arbitrary. The variation is in ourselves and in our capacity for its reception.
That capacity, in turn, is dependent on the extent to which we are one- pointedly devotees of truth and surrender ourselves and particularly our egos to God.
In this sense we determine the grace we receive. This is not to say that God does not lead us on by His grace when we turn to Him and ask for help. In Ch.IV,v.ll: ‘Howsoever men approach Me even so do I reward them.
’ Shri Shankara glosses the words ‘I reward them’ with, ‘I grant My grace,’ and expands the verse as follows:
‘I grant My grace just in the way they seek Me,
I grant My grace to the seekers of fruits by securing to them their selfish ends.
I grant My grace to men of knowledge by granting them grace . . .
but never do I grant My grace to any from affection or aversion.’
The grace of God is then never arbitrary and always available, but we receive it in accordance with our innermost desire. If our desire for truth is tainted by the least hint of desire for personal reward, the grace we receive will be in accordance with that self-seeking. We are at that moment incapable of receiving any other form of grace. So that it is only in complete surrender to God that we receive His highest grace – Himself.
This is due to no particularity on His part, but because we ourselves are blocking the way to union with Him. Swami Rama Tirtha tells us:
Beware imprudent one, do not forget God.
If you forget, forget the ego.
O omnipotent One
What did I not receive in Thy grace.
Thy mercies flowed without stint,
But the neck of my bag was too narrow.
In Ch.IX,v.29, Shri Krishna gives us a hint on how we can overcome our problem of attracting grace.
He says: ‘The same am I to all beings. There is none hateful to Me or dear, but those who worship Me with devotion I am in them and they are in Me.’
One-pointed devotion. This is the key to the grace of God. Prince Arjuna is the exemplar par excellence of just such undistracted devotion, and it is to him that a vision of the Lord in universal form is granted. Having permitted this vision Shri Krishna again makes the same point. Ch.XI,v.47 and 54:
‘By Me, gracious to you, this supreme form has been shown’, ‘By undistracted devotion can I be seen and known in reality.’
Why should one-pointed devotion be so essential for the final grace? Because it is only in such devotion that there is no separation between the lover and the beloved.
There is no longer a barrier. The devotee and God are one. It is to this state that the grace of God brings us when our practice of Yoga has made us ready.
This is the promise of Yoga and it brings with it the knowledge of the unity of God and man. We find Him in our own hearts – our very Self.
Dr. Shastri has written: ‘There are two aspects of Ishwara (the personal God) in the holy philosophy.
‘One is called the inner controller; the imminent aspect of Shri Bhagavan.
The other is the aspect called Narayana; the transcendent Being.’
While we are in a state of spiritual ignorance we see God as separate from ourselves and as giving His grace to us.
But slowly, through the practice of Yoga, by the grace of God, the separateness from Him dissolves and we find identity with Him.
We find that He is indeed within our Self. Then it is that the way of transcendence is open to us.
This is the point at which we leave Prince Arjuna who finally says to Shri Krishna:
‘Destroyed is my illusion, I have acquired memory of the highest state. All this is the result of Thy grace.’
© Trevor Leggett