The Lord said in the Gita, "Develop steady and unwavering devotion for me and you will become very dear to me."
In the world, you can earn money, you can gain wealth and property, you can attain honor and prestige, you can gain position and power. All these are rewards you can attain from your worldly endeavors. But the Lord declared in the Gita that these are but temporary fruits. They are transient and have no lasting value. The only thing you can attain through your life here on earth that is of real value, that remains with you permanently and eternally, is the love of God. This divine love is extraordinary. No price can ever be set upon it. It is a treasure that is valuable beyond all measure. You must make every effort to discover the means for acquiring this precious love of God.
God's love is unconditional. It is the same for all. But what must you do to experience this extraordinary love of God? What path should you follow ? If you sow some seeds without first weeding and properly preparing the field, you cannot expect to get a good crop. In the same way, in the field of the heart, unless all the bad traits of selfishness are first removed, you will not get a good crop. In the Gita it is taught that the principal weed that has to be removed from the field of the heart is the attachment to and identification with the body. Even now, you may imagine that you love God; but merely having this thought will not produce any worthwhile result for you. It is like sowing good seeds on barren, unprepared soil. The most important thing for you to find out is if you are dear to God. Even if you love God, if you haven't transformed your life to become very dear to him and feel his boundless, unvarying love, then your devotion will not have taken you very far.
What, then, is the way to become dear to God? You will find the answer to this question in the Gita, in the chapter on the path of devotion. The chapter on devotion gives a number of human qualities that are very pleasing to God. It speaks of being resolute and making a firm commitment to practice only the spiritual teachings in your daily life. It puts great emphasis on developing steadiness of mind under all circumstances. And it enjoins you to be fully contented and joyful at all times, under all conditions. What is the inner meaning of this last directive?
Consider the feelings you get from singing devotional songs at a spiritual function. If a song is being sung that is not very familiar to you or whose melody is not especially pleasing to your ear or if you are not drawn to the particular aspect of the divinity to which it is being sung, you might find that you have very little real feeling towards the song. You merely follow the song perfunctorily with your lips. What a great difference between that and a song which you love, which comes from the very core of your heart, emerging freely, spontaneously, with a great deal of joy, filling you with rapture and devotion for God.
In the same way, there is a vast difference between the temporary joys you derive from this apparent world and its transitory objects and phenomena, and the true joy that emerges from the depths of your heart. The latter joy is totally different from the temporary satisfaction you get from worldly things. This deep joy coming from the heart is associated with truth. It is permanent. It is detached from all transient worldly concerns. It represents the unity of the spirit. For this joy there is no possibility of change. There is nothing that can be added to true joy. It is full and complete in itself.
True joy comes from equanimity. Do not be carried away by or attach any importance to worldly things. Use your time and effort to control the vagaries of the mind and develop mental steadiness. Equal-mindedness; means that you remain unaffected by victory or defeat, by profit or loss, by joy or sorrow. Accept whatever happens, whatever comes your way, as the gift of God, to be enjoyed with great satisfaction, regarding it as a gift of love given to you for your own good. When your heart is not swayed by worldly things, when you treat all people and all things with equal mindedness, then you will experience true joy. Then your heart will be filled with feelings of love and satisfaction, and you will know the true joy of devotion.
Another important quality that every devotee must possess is to be resolute and courageous. It is completely natural for you to have courage and a firm resolve. You can manifest these qualities in a number of ways in life. You may use these attributes to climb mountains. The same sense of adventure and courage may be used for crossing the ocean or traversing through wild jungles. You may also behave in a courageous and resolute manner in earning wealth, acquiring properties and making a profit. Or, you may be brave and courageous, but manifest these qualities in a merciless manner. You may choose to abandon all the noble qualities of humanity and divinity and, instead, acquire the qualities of a demon. This firmness and resolve may be used either for good or for bad. How you use these God given qualities depends upon you.
Earlier in his life, the great sage Valmiki was Ratnakara, the despicable robber. At that time he was using all his courage, prowess and firmness in an evil way. Thanks to his association with the seven sages, and listening to their teachings advising him to constantly repeat the name of God, he was able to transform his life, and use his strong determination and powers for the good of mankind. Soon he had the name of Rama constantly on his tongue. That is how he became the author of the Ramayana, the great epic recounting the life of Rama. Therefore, you should not use your steadiness and firmness in doing bad things or even for ordinary worldly things. Instead, use your courage and resolve to acquire the grace of God.
In the chapter on devotion, Krishna expounds on the worship of God both with and without a form. The Gita compares these two modes of worship and points out which is better, which is easier and safer for devotees at each stage of their spiritual progress. The Gita declares that it is impossible to realize the formless and attributeless divine principle except by going through the stage of worshipping God with form and attributes.
As long as you have attachment to your body and remain steeped in body consciousness, you will not be able to understand and reach the formless aspect of the Supreme. You attain the necessary qualifications to worship the formless only after you have overcome your attachment to the body, your attachment to the world, and all your other attachments. Therefore, as long as you identify yourself with the body, and think that you have a particular form, then you must also visualize God with a form. So, you start your spiritual journey by worshipping God in a particular incarnation, having certain recognizable divine qualities. Gradually, after following this path for some time, you can change your practice to worshipping the formless aspect of the Supreme.
In truth, the whole world is the form of God. Everything you see everywhere is the form of God. But to begin with, you focus on a particular form of God, one of the avatars or incarnations of God. These divine incarnations are associated with the physical universe. Corresponding to these physical forms there are the subtle forms of the Lord which are in the mental or the subtle aspect of the universe. The physical and mental domains have to do with the senses and the mind. Transcending both the senses and the mind is the causal universe. This causal universe is made up of the subtlest manifestation of matter, containing in potential form the seeds of all names and forms. This causal aspect is experienced every night in deep sleep. Here the formless aspect of the Lord can be experienced.
During the waking state the effect of the mind and the senses will be very strong because they are associated with the phenomenal world. During the dream state, associated with the subtle world, the senses will not hold sway over you, but the mind will be very active. In the deep sleep state, associated with the causal world, the mind gets dissolved and does not comprehend the sense impressions. It is only in such a state, when the mind and senses are totally inactive, that it is possible to experience the formless aspect of the divinity. But, this can be experienced even in the waking state, when the mind becomes perfectly steady and equanimous and the senses are maintained tranquil and inactive. Then, you enter the causal state while awake and experience the formless aspect of divinity.
Many devotees base their spiritual experiences only on God manifest in name and form. The form and the formless are both essential for a devotee. It is like having two legs for walking or having two wings to fly. To reach the final spiritual goal you must have the two legs of form and formless, putting one in front of the other, with the one leg representing form, taking its support from the other, which is the formless. It is important to realize that the manifestation of the Lord with form is only transient, whereas the formless aspect of the divinity is permanent. It is everpresent and unchanging. Here is a small example to illustrate this principle.
When you come to hear Baba give a spiritual discourse, you will be with about a thousand others seated in the temple. This will be happening in the physical domain, and may last for one to two hours. Associated with this experience is a given time and activity. But this very same experience can be re-experienced even after you go home. Whenever you want to think of it, it will be there in your mind... one thousand people seated in the temple and Sai Baba giving the discourse. In the external vision and in your experience in the waking state, you can see that all of you are sitting in the temple. What happens when you are back in your home? You find this temple will be in your heart and can be recalled to your mind at any time.
You were there for one hour, but this can become a permanent experience for you forever, even after you leave the ashram. Having initially had the physical experience in the phenomenal world, it becomes a permanent record in the subtle universe of the mind, which can then be recalled at some later time. As you repeatedly recollect this experience and ruminate on Baba's teachings, its message becomes permanently embedded in your heart.
Without first having had the actual experience in the hall, there would have been no permanent impression in your heart which you could later re-experience in your mind. Once the impression has been made in the mind, there is no need for actually being physically present in the temple or seeing Baba's physical form. In the same way, once you have experienced God in form, you will certainly be able to get the experience of the formless God later on. The form is momentary whereas the formless is eternal; but the formless will live on as a permanent entity for you only after first having experienced the divine form and imprinted it on your heart through worship and devotion.
Consider another example. Suppose you want to teach the word 'chair' to a small child. If you merely utter the word 'chair' it does not become clear to him what its form is. However, you can show him a chair like this and ask him to look it over carefully. While he is doing this you repeat the word 'chair'. Then later on, whenever he sees a chair he will remember the word associated with the form you have shown him and he will repeat to himself 'chair'. The form of the particular chair you used to teach him the meaning of the word may be impermanent. That chair will change, but the word 'chair' and the type of objects it represents will remain. Unless he sees the impermanent form he will not learn the permanent word 'chair'. The permanent element is understood through the impermanent one. Therefore, though divinity is formless, you first have to associate it with a particular form to understand it.
To start with, many people do not even have a firm faith in the existence of God. Most of the time their mind will be wavering, and they will ask themselves, "Does God really exist? Is it really true that there is a God?" An iron resolve is most essential to cultivate constant faith in God. You can travel from an unsteady mind to a steady mind with firm faith only through the process of worshipping the divinity with form. Consider one more small example.
Here is a pillow stuffed with loose cotton. What covers this pillow? A piece of cloth. What is the content of this cloth? Cotton. So externally you have a piece of cloth and internally there is the cotton. But, in fact, the internal and the external are both cotton. The formless cotton has taken the form of thread, and this thread has become cloth, and this cloth is covering the formless cotton. Cloth is form and raw cotton is formless. From the formless to the form and then from the form to the formless, these are the transformations that make up divinity. To have a pillow you cannot use the formless cotton alone. So, you must first convert the cotton into cloth and this cloth having form can then cover the formless cotton inside.
In the same way, the divinity in form and in its formless aspect are exactly the same. Both are essential. Through the impermanent form you become aware of the permanent formless. While you still identify yourself in terms of body-consciousness and feel that who you are is related to your body, it will be impossible for you to give up the aspect of form. As your mind becomes steady, rooted in faith, and you move beyond body consciousness, you will be able to experience the permanent formless aspect of the divinity.
Traditionally, in the worship of the God with form, you may become engaged in many types of ritual worship. You may offer flowers to the Lord, you may bathe his statue with holy water, you may burn incense or use other forms of worship. These will give you some satisfaction. Worshipping the Lord's form externally with various sacred articles yields satisfaction. But, once you establish God inside your heart, then you will worship him through the flowers of your heart. After body consciousness and the delusion associated with it is destroyed, then the divinity that you previously worshipped externally in form, with flowers and various articles of external worship, will now become established in its formless aspect in the depths of your heart, and you will want to worship it with the sweet flowers of your feelings. This will bring true unchanging joy.
As long as you are worshipping the Lord with form, you will use physical flowers such as roses, marigolds and jasmine. These are all impermanent and the body which performs this worship is also impermanent. But if you want to worship the formless God in your heart, then the flowers are different. Those flowers will be permanent. Those flowers are the noble qualities that you develop in your heart and offer to the Lord. They are the flowers of nonviolence, of sense restraint, of truth, of patience and forbearance, of perseverance, of love and compassion, of charity and sacrifice. All these flowers are meant for inner worship. To elevate yourself to the worship of the formless principle, you will have to develop these flowers of the heart and use them in your worship. Then you will experience the ineffable and unchanging joy of the spirit, and enter the path that takes you home to your divine source.
In the 12th chapter of the Gita, Krishna taught the essential characteristics that a true devotee should possess. These are the qualities which you have to develop if you want to be loved by God. To begin with, if you want to be a devotee of God you have to develop inner peace and a firm resolve. You should always be contented. You should never give room to worry and allow any pain to enter and disturb your heart.
The great devotional scripture called the Bhagavatam, gives the example of Prahlada as the ideal devotee who possessed all these qualities. When the demons were troubling Prahlada, who himself was the son of the lord of the demons, Prahlada never allowed any pain to trouble his heart, no matter what trials and difficulties he was passing through. He just kept on repeating the name of the Lord, taking shelter in him as his protector and savior. He never shed one tear in the midst of all these troubles. Therefore, Prahlada has been described as the one who was fully established in union with the Lord. Even though he was living in the phenomenal world and had a form, he did not allow any desires or attachments to enter his heart.
For a true devotee there should be no evil traits such as hatred, jealousy, anger or greed. These are the main obstacles to devotion which enter your being. You must develop a sense of unity with everyone. If you develop hatred towards anyone, you will be hating the very Lord whom you worship. It is because of your inflated ego that you take action against another, in the course of which, hatred, jealousy and anger arise. Therefore, the primary warning given in the Gita says, "Show no hatred towards any being".
Without uprooting the weeds from the field and preparing it for cultivation, the seeds will not yield a good crop. In the same way, without removing the weed of ego from within your heart, all attempts at spiritual practice will be useless. The most important thing to be learned from the path of devotion is that you should not only love God but you should also love all beings, treating everyone as God. Worshipping God while harming others cannot be called devotion. It only reveals the depths of one's ignorance. Such people will never progress on the spiritual path.
In the days to come you will learn the ways that you can develop your faith, and through your good actions sanctify your life. It is by developing these desirable qualities and practicing them in your daily life that you will call forth the love and grace of the Lord.
* * *