In Vedanta, devotion to God is the greatest instrument of spiritual cognition6 min read

Our progress on the path of spirituality is helped by selfless benevolence. In Vedanta, devotion to God is a sure means of purifying the heart and the greatest instrument of spiritual cognition. Many people think, including a number of Western scholars of Vedanta and their blind followers in India, that devotion to the personal aspect of God is unnecessary. For our moral life and inner peace it is most essential. The personal God is real and devotion to Him is a stern necessity. Brahman, the Absolute of Vedanta, is not entirely quality-less.

There is room in His infinite being for Jiva and Jagat, but their reality is not different from the reality of Brahman, nor does their existence create a point of difference in the conception of Brahman the Absolute.

The conception that the worshipped is different from the worshipper is not accepted in the philosophy of the great Shankara. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1. 4. 10.) it is laid down: “He who thinks that the worshipped God is different from himself, he is ignorant of the spiritual Truth”. Brahman is the Self of us individually and of all beings; nothing apart from Him has any existence at all whatsoever. The real essence of the Self of the individual and of the universe is one and the same.

Devotion and cultivation of virtues like compassion, service and renunciation are not the path of unreality.

They are all included in the one infinite being of Brahman who is the Self. Sometimes Brahman is spoken of as absolute and free from all qualities, but it is also a fact that all qualities inhere in an aspect of Brahman called Maya. The most holy Acharya says (Commentary on Vedanta Sutras 1.1.4.) that Brahman who is established in His infinite glory is considered in a certain form so that devotion may be offered to Him, and the form cannot but be conditioned. He further says that the all-pervasive infinite Ishvara assumes a personal form and shows His pleasure to the devotee, and by His grace and pleasure the Jiva obtains his ideal.

So that the Jiva may offer devotion, Brahman, the absolute Truth who is the metaphysical Reality, is to be taken as a pragmatic Reality. The most holy Acharya says in his commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad (1.1.10.) that what counts is the feeling of devotion which animates the heart of the devotee and not the nature of his object of devotion. The fruit of devotion depends upon the feelings of love and self-sacrifice which dominate the heart of the devotee.

There are certain minor fire-flies among the Advaitins who oppose the worship of the personal God and consider only the transcendent aspect of the Lord. Their view is erroneous and is not supported by the most holy Acharya Shankara. It is recorded in the Shankara Dig Vijaya that the august Acharya silently worshipped Shiva for at least three hours every day in a temple.

Let it be remembered that the concept of the personal aspect of Brahman is fully recognised in the Advaita Vedanta. How foolish it is to say that Ishvara is Maya. A certain Vedantin, who was also a high Government official, remarked to the writer: “Every Jiva is like a bubble in the ocean of Brahman and Ishvara too is a large bubble”.

The writer had to contradict him.

“Ishvara is the Creator and the Lord and Governor of the universe and he determines the fruit of the actions of the Jiva”. (Commentary on Kena Upanishad 3.1.) “If the world is called Shrishti  (creation) then surely there is a Creator as well”. (Commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8.9.)

The world manifests the infinite power, omnipotence and omniscience of the Lord.

“Though it is impossible for any Jiva to create the world, Ishvara creates it as his lila (sport)”. (Commentary on Vedanta Sutras 2.1.33.) These are quotations from the commentaries of the holy Acharya himself,

When it is said that the world is the lila of Ishvara it does not mean that it is an object of sport or pleasure or a mere joke. The word ‘lila’ only indicates the absolute independence of the Lord in the creation of the world. The holy Acharya says:

“The creation of the universe is a mere sport of the Lord. It is a manifestation of His natural bliss aspect. We see in life that sometimes a playful prince, who has no desires left unfulfilled, sports for his own amusement. But it cannot be said that the Lord either acts or does not act like a person without motion. He is the omniscient Overlord of all and shines in His own glory beyond all the laws which He has established”.

(Commentary on Vedanta Sutras 2.1.33.) of the most holy Acharya about Ishvara and devotion to Him will be found useful:-

“The state of the world and nature and the fixed laws by which the world is governed point to a supreme Ruler by whose order nature keeps the laws which He ordains and dares not obstruct them”. (Commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8.9.)

Ishvara is not bound by the governance of the world in any way. It in no way obstructs Him who is infinite and the root of self-dependence and freedom. He is not a pitiless ruler like the God of Deism depicted by Voltaire and others.

“Ishvara is the Self of all beings and, as such , he governs them”. (Commentary on Aitareya Upanishad 1.3.11.) “Ishvara is also the ordainer of the fruition of the actions of the Jivas”. (Commentary on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.8.9.)

“Like the clouds which rain without any partiality or prejudice, the Lord dispenses the fruitions of the actions of the Jivas. No action can be attributed to Him. By His mere presence and by His mysterious power He dispenses the fruit of actions”. (Commentary on Vedanta Sutras 2.1.39.).

“By virtue of His omniscience and omnipotence He ordains the fruition of the Karma of the Jivas”. (Commentary on Katha Upanishad 2.2.13.)

“Ishvara is the abode of all good and great qualities”. (Commentary on Kena Upanishad 3.1.)

“He is absolutely pure. No sin can ever touch Him”. (Commentary on Bhagavad Gita 13.2.) “Sin is the result of ignorance, and as Ishvara is without ignorance He is the Self of all beings and also their one great friend”. (Commentary on Katha Upanishad 2.2.11.)

By devotion to Ishvara we acquire our moral personality and also rise higher in the grade of evolution into the regions above the earth. When devotion is applied to purely spiritual purposes, it leads to release (Moksha).

Index for this series of essays

1.Introduction : Limitations make Reality appear what it is not

2.Preliminary Observations : ”Darshana” means the search after the ultimate truth of life in the world

3.Brahman as the cause of the world : According to Vedanta, Brahman is the highest truth

4.The Jiva : Shri Shankara gives no hint as to the birth of the Jiva

5.Advaita : There is no other existence apart from the existence of Self (Atman)

6.Maya : The theory of Maya is found both in the Upanishads and in the writings of Shankara

7.Theory and Practice : Vedanta can he learned only by practice

8.The help of a Guru is needed : The real essence of Shruti is the great experience of the Sage

9.The function of Reason : Realised experience alone is the highest proof in determining the nature of Self

10.Contemplation (Niddhidhyasana) : Sat-Chit-Ananda is an experience of the Self and not of the mind

11.Renunciation (Sannyasa) : In the philosophy of Shri Shankara, the highest good is Moksha

12.Moral virtues : Ethical living according to Dharma makes the spiritual experience easier

13.The Personal God (Ishvara) : In Vedanta, devotion to God is the greatest instrument of spiritual cognition

14.Release (Moksha) : According to the Advaita Vedanta of Shri Shankara, release (Moksha) is eternally true.