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Joy of Devotion

THE JOY OF DEVOTION


The great and peaceful ones live regenerating the world like the coming of the spring; having crossed the ocean of embodied existence themselves, they freely aid all others who seek to cross it. The very essence and inherent will of Mahatmas is to remove the suffering of others, just as the ambrosia-rayed moon of itself cools the earth heated by the intense rays of the sun.

SHANKARACHARYA  

The waters of immersion purify a man only if he is wholly immersed.

HASIDIC SAYING

 True devotion is neither involuntary emotion nor gratuitous feeling, but an innate and indestructible soul-power. There is a vital difference between the surging depths of feeling and the oscillations of volatile emotion. Emotion is often compelling, but its seeming intensity is as short-lived as the cyclonic wind which howls and vanishes. Feeling is much more durable, corresponding to the unmoved silent depths of the ocean, a measureless expanse of water with a potential strength far greater than manifest energy. Every human being risks, through faulty upbringing or through grievous neglect of finer feelings – especially when the libido is awakened between fourteen and twenty-one – being scarred for life by becoming caught in one of two extremes. Either there is wasteful expenditure of emotion – excess of excitement with its inevitable shadow of disappointment, deficiency and gloom, or there is stern external control over emotion that induces an inability to convey authentic feeling in one"s relationship to a child, in one"s encounter with a stranger, or even in greeting a friend with the eyes of trust.

 The term "devotion" remains one of the more beautiful words in the language, its suggestive and sacred etymology harking back to the taking of a vow. At the popular level this may be seen in frenzied devotion to a secular cause such as that of a political party. There can be total commitment without any streak of scepticism. There is neither wavering nor weakening of such commitment, but it is focussed upon an abstract idea attached to some tangible form. Few human beings, however, can contain the vast energy of unconditional commitment within the vessel of any external organization. Attempts to do so in messianic politics merely re-enact what happened in earlier history in relation to dogmatic religion. Owing to the limitations of sectarian ideologies and organizational structures, and especially due to the difficulty of distinguishing between the impersonal, immortal individuality and the changing personal mask, ardent votaries fall prey to self-righteousness, an outburst of exaggerated emotion mistaken for deep feeling. No wonder Socrates challenged Euthyphro"s claims to knowledge of piety or holiness – the relation between gods and humans – the most exalted, elusive and mysterious of subjects, wherein one"s credential is the uncommon recognition that one does not really know. What was true in his day is even more evident in our own time. Many people are running away from past symbols of piety, from various forms of totalism and tokenism in churches, and from every kind of trivialized, degraded and vulgarized ritual and sacrament. But in rushing to the opposite extreme, pretending to be nihilists, they are often trapped in the tragic nihilism of having no faith in themselves, not even enough to carry on from day to day. Muddled thinking and negative emotions reinforce each other, corrupting the psyche.

 Devotion is much more than wanting to be devoted. It is far more than having a euphoric feeling, however holy this may seem at the time. Devotion is a different order of consciousness from that involved in the expenditure of emotion. Its sovereign power can only flow freely from the Atman, the perpetual motion of transcendental light that shines upon every human soul. It is invoked through an inward prostration of the mind within the sanctuary of the heart, towards the Light of the Logos. To ask how one can prostrate before that which one does not comprehend is to ask how to be humble before the great mystery of nature, the vastitude of life, or the saga of humanity. To be humble in this sense is not merely to say to oneself that one does not know, but also means that one can thrill with the thought of the mysterium tremendum. Even though one does not know its destiny or destination, one may feel reverence for the whole of humanity; though one cannot fathom the breadth or depth of nature, one rejoices in one"s kinship with nature; though one has no final answer to the basic questions of life, one remains open towards the life-process. Such simple devotion generates the proper mental posture, which Krishna depicts in the Bhagavad Gita. It is neither too high nor too low, neither so abject that one cannot generate any enthusiasm nor so lofty that one is isolated within an ivory tower of self-delusion.

 True devotion comes to birth through the firm recognition of the unity of all life and the universality of the highest ideals and ideas conceived, transcending the human capacity to formulate and transmit them. When devotion continues undiminished through the trials that it necessarily brings – just as light increases the shadow – it renews itself. It must be put to the test, and it surely will be. The moment one approaches the presence of a spiritual Teacher and professes one"s devotion, the jealous Lhamayin of endless space rush to taint and rupture the current of total commitment. That is always the way, illustrated in the fairy stories and myths of all peoples. One has to encounter the abyss; one has to be tried and tempted. Jesus had three great temptations, of which a beautifully perceptive account is given by Dostoevsky in the story of the Grand Inquisitor. All Initiates go through trials, and they do this deliberately because, although those who are perfected before birth really need no tests, they compassionately re-enact the archetypal story for the sake of the human race. Any person can, from small beginnings, tap the immense potential power in a vow to give birth to lasting devotion. This cannot be done even with an authentic start and a self-sustaining rhythm unless it is fortified by the fearlessness and courage that are rooted in the invulnerable truth of one"s devotion. We can discover many analogies in daily life. Individuals may recognize that however much they muddied their relations with their parents, they need not be hostile toward those who gave them human bodies. Persons can look back and see that although they were dreadful in their behaviour towards their teachers, they can still cherish the feeling of gratitude to those who taught them the alphabet. Without retrospective veneration of parents and teachers, one has no right to speak or put words on paper or to enjoy the privilege of articulation. All of this is part of the universal code of human decency.

 When a person is willing to put right his elementary obligations, then the more difficult problems in one"s relationship to one"s spouse or children, to friends, strangers, critics and so-called enemies can also be brought into the arena of rigorous self-examination. There is essentially one paramount choice for every person. Either one self-consciously tests oneself and cooperates with the process of testing by nature, or one is dragged unwillingly to life"s examinations. Much as one may be afraid of failing every question, still, the only way one can calmly face the moment of death is by seeing that there is something yet to be learnt. No one can complete the probation of a lifetime without having learnt some critical lesson to be derived from each incarnation. In every age and all over the world, noble souls have taken birth for whom none of this is new. They have known from early childhood that their lives have a single sacred purpose, the golden karma of devoted service to the Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas. They faithfully nurtured the fire of devotion even before they found the sole object to which it could be fully directed. Therefore, as surely as day follows night – the long night of awakening which may seem very long indeed while it lasts – they infallibly enter the orbit of the Mahatmas who are ever at work in the world and who are compassionately concerned to extend every opportunity for the whole of humanity to benefit from the sacred circle of chelas. Disciples pledged and put through probationary trials and training become one-pointed in mind, single-hearted, and of one will in their heroic capacity to release a power stronger than the sum of its parts and truly a magnet for the highest forces in nature.

 Devotion is rather like the harnessing of electrical energy. In order to be properly channelled to some end, the resistance or responsiveness of the conductor is crucial. Just as a river cannot rise above its source, the power of devotion is as great as the height upon which it is focussed. Devotion is also affected by the clarity of the mental picture of the ideal, even though that evolving picture may fall short of the ideal which, when fully realized, becomes so all-encompassing that it is beyond the possibility of formulation in words or of any expression in particular modes. As Shelley knew,

 Rome"s azure sky,
Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak
The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.

Human beings can come to learn that devotion fundamentally alters the relation and ratio between the unmanifest and the manifest: what is not said is more important than what is said; what is not shown or seen is more suggestive than what is shown and seen. Francis Thompson exclaimed –

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

This celebrates the passage from the region of maya to the realm of Sat. One of the oldest invocations in the Upanishads is: "Lead me from the unreal to the Real. Lead me from darkness to Light. Lead me from death to Immortality."

 The relation between the manifest and the unmanifest is analogous to the relations between chela and guru, between manas and the Manasas, and between man and mankind. Every human being is a necessary limb in the whole of humanity, a fact symbolized in the ancient and profound Jewish conception of humanity as the manifestation of Adam Kadmon, one great collective person. The same idea is found under different forms in the Renaissance, for example in Leonardo da Vinci"s suggestive painting of a man within a man. Every human being is a microcosm of the macrocosm. Each is as a child in reference to the whole of humanity, a chela in reference to the sacred and mystical collective Host. But humanity is more than existing human beings. Though a difficult conception for a small minority of the world today, this is as obvious as 2 + 2 = 4 to the vast majority. Humanity is always greater than the number of people incarnated at any given time. E.F.Schumacher pointed out that the earth could be seen as underpopulated. From the universal standpoint of global welfare, the resources of the earth are capable of supporting a larger number of people than the present population. When human beings fail in their plans – based upon false, half-true or short-term assumptions – they begin to mock Mother Nature. Nature in all her abundance and affluence has never failed the entire human race in recorded history nor earlier, and will not fail the human race in any time to come. Human beings bring upon themselves their own karma, collectively in groups and as individuals, and thereby they experience the holocaust, mentally or physically.

 All human beings are fallen gods. As a thinking being with a highly complex brain that no animal possesses, with the sacred gift of speech, each human being already has the highest faculties. Each one has the sovereign powers of choice and of imagination – the king-faculty – which are both essential to the guru-chela relationship. Suppose a person suddenly awakens and affirms that to be a human being is a tremendous privilege. Even though it may be, as Thoreau said, that only one out of a thousand is a real individual with courage and strength, none the less anyone can gain access to the entire human heritage. If one is willing to rediscover what it means to be human, this brings one into the radius of the divine. One is at least on the threshold of the recognition that there are powers and principalities throughout the whole of nature, and that so far from being a blind and inanimate world moved mechanistically by collocations of atoms in random statistical patterns, this is indeed an intelligent universe with innumerable conscious centres of cosmic ideation and energy. If a person begins to see nature in this way, then it is possible to recover the richness of one"s divine inheritance. Man is descended from those whom Pythagoras called the Fathers of the human race, whom the Hindus called the Agnishwatha Pitris, the givers of the solar light of self-consciousness to humanity. These spiritual ancestors were reverenced by the Chinese and the ancient Egyptians, just as the heroes of old were honoured by the Greeks and the Romans. The whole of the human story is a magnificent and mostly unrecorded saga replete with immense resources that are still accessible to individuals. By self-election and self-determination, each person must lay claim to the universal treasure of wisdom.

 Mahatmas are primarily concerned with humanity as a whole, not with separate units in themselves. Their constant focus is upon universal good, and their wise efforts are directed to the humanity of tomorrow. How can a person with a restricted range of consciousness become a chela to Mahatmas, who are attuned to Mahat or cosmic ideation and whose compassion flows towards the entire human race, born and unborn? Although the vast gulf in awareness cannot be easily spanned by the prospective chela, it is bridgeable through true devotion. Inversion of standpoint begins with looking and judging from below above. It is like standing on a little footstool in a crowded room and formulating an exact conception of the Himalayas or of the galaxies moving through boundless space. This is futile and even perverse. Generally, the mental posture of diverse individuals towards mankind or the Mahatmas is not the same all over the world, and therefore none can really gauge the destinies of souls. How, then, may aspirants who from their own altitude cannot fathom the empyrean come any closer to the Mahatmas by devotion, determination and total dedication? This is possible only because the enlightened are generous in their shower of light and wisdom, like the rains which render the earth fragrant and fertile. One should rise mentally as far above as possible towards the most exalted conception of humanity, of Mahatmas and chelas, and then with eyes open, see everything mirrored below. Thus one can heal, correct and cure oneself.

 One can become capable of showing expansiveness, generosity, magnanimity and gratitude and, above all, reverence, because without reverence one is less than human. Where there is reverence, there is growth. It is nurtured in the silence in which, from humble beginnings unseen below the soil, a plant may grow and in time become a tree that can take its place in secluded forests of towering sentinels. Primeval forests mirror something vastly more overwhelming in relation to the Mahatmas, who have been compared to the sturdy limbs of a mighty banyan tree with its roots above the firmament and its branches below on earth. The heavenly tree of wisdom has been known as Brahma Vach, Bodhi Dharma, gnosis and by many other names. The Vedas depict the Rishis and seers as of one mind, one heart, one will and one voice. It is the Voice of "the Ancient of Days", transcending all known frontiers and concepts of human history and evolution. With the vast perspective of the accumulated wisdom of the ages, the disciple must rejoice rather than despair in the realization that he is zero. The power of the zero in mathematics depends upon where it is placed. Zero before a number has no value. If zero is the numerator of a fraction, the value is nought; if it is the denominator, the value is infinite. If zero is put after a number, its power is significant. Everything depends on where the zero is inserted. The three-dimensional sphere filled with empty space can accommodate tetrahedrons and the dodecahedron. If a human being did not have analogous empty spaces within the brain and the chambers of the heart, there would be no room for the Akashic fires or the Anahata vibration.

 True joy is far from a frenetic attempt to convince oneself that one is enjoying oneself. When one continually needs convincing, nothing adequately convinces. Ananda has nothing to do with ephemeral pleasures or private self-satisfaction. True joy or ananda springs up in the heart and mind like artesian wells, and though it may overflow in appropriate words and gestures, it is always greater than the power and possibility of expression. The highest joy lights a fire that can never be put out. If the level of joy reached is unstable, it may be no more than a compensatory form of consolation. It will be temporary and intermittent. It cannot mirror the ananda of the Mahatmas, whose every affirmation has the accent of transcendental truth and is verifiable through self-realization. Once deep joy is aroused, it is consistent and capable of self-maintenance. It is similar to the quiet cheerfulness of mountaineers carrying little lanterns across dark, iridescent slopes, patiently climbing steep ascents, crossing abysses and caverns while heedful of the great rumblings of nature. Theirs is the peaceful joy of knowing that even if they cannot climb any further now, they could start again, that even if each is alone and without friends in a solitary spot, yet somehow something may happen and timely help may come. And if indeed it is one"s lot to die then and there, death comes as a deliverer and a friend. Human beings must seek out the meaning of life and death, asking the question, "Suppose I die tonight? What reason is there for me to be joyous?" If one can find it today, then one can live differently from tonight and tomorrow. There is always joy around us, and the hidden joy suffuses the manifest gloom.

 The worst of times is also the best of times. Joy sees beyond the chaotic city that has to go. It is not clinging but courageous, willing to greet the unknown and the uncertain, fearlessly and with maturity. It is capable of drawing the larger circle and enclosing myriads of unknown human beings, never confining oneself within a small circle of confused allegiance. The ancient teaching of India declared: He who loves lives; he who loves himself lives in hell (the hell of loneliness and gloom); he who loves another lives on earth; he who loves others lives in heaven; but he who silently adores and loves the Self of all creatures lives in that Self – and that is eternal peace. The level of love determines the measure of joy. Joy flowing from the degree of love one is initially capable of generating acts as a stimulus to larger loves and greater joys that eventually will dissolve into the cosmic dance of Shiva, wherein all the elements are involved. This is enigmatic because it involves the mathematics of the soul and of the universe, the Karma of nations and the whole of humanity. The moment one reaches out beyond one"s own shadow, turning towards the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world, then there is joy flowing from the immortal soul in the realm of illimitable light. There is joy in the sure knowledge that though there is life and death, there is also immortality, which does not participate in what is called life and what is feared as death, but is greater than all the small cycles and little circles of time and space. There is joy in the awareness that there is limitlessness in the realm of cosmic ideation, eternal duration and boundless space.

 This is the timeless teaching of divine wisdom, and it has always had urgency for the individual, as in the days of Jesus, when he asked, "Whom choose ye this day?" A critical, ultimate, irreversible choice is involved. Now, when the opportunities are great for the whole of the human race, something has begun which will become in time a mighty stream that will nourish the earth. It will reflect the hidden fire of the Mysteries, known to those who have travelled far on the secret Path that leads to the invisible summits of enlightenment. At the first portal of the Path, there is the fateful inscription: "Abandon hope all who enter here." Abandon hope for the petty personality, abandon hope for ambition, pride and selfish desire. Abandon hope, above all, for one"s own salvation if one would enter the Path, which leads to a galaxy of Gurus, mighty men of meditation and lovers of all humanity who are wholly dedicated to the sacred goal of universal enlightenment. They have said: "If you wish to know us, study our philosophy. If you wish to serve us, serve our humanity. If you take one step in our direction, we will take one step in yours."

Hermes, February 1978
by Raghavan Iyer

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