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The Importance of Bhakti
Seeker: Dear Sundari, I have followed Vishnu Deva on his Tattva Bodha video series and subsequently obtained James’ book How to Attain Enlightenment. I find the book quite helpful; however, I find the references to God most annoying and really off-putting. Non-dual awareness/consciousness has nothing to do with God, since God conjures images of the dualistic, Abrahamic God. Surely, it would be better to use “Isvara.” That implies universal consciousness rather than God. This spoils what is quite a good book.
Sundari: It is true, non-dual awareness has nothing to do with God by whatever name, because there is only one principle, awareness, so there is no creation, no creator and no apparent reality. However, with the appearance of maya, the apparent reality comes into existence. If moksa is your aim, the only way you will be free of the apparent reality (duality) has everything to do with understanding God/Isvara, by whatever name. Freedom is only for the jiva who lives in the apparent reality; as the self you are already free.The jiva, although its true essence is awareness, as the jiva never leaves the apparent reality. Freedom is freedom from the jiva and for it. To be free of bondage to the apparent reality or objects, the jiva has to understand what the jiva is and what Isvara is – what they have in common and what makes them different. Without this understanding there is no possibility of discriminating satya from mithya, which is the essence of moksa. A very important stage of self-inquiry is God-worship, upasana, before you get to non-dual, or jnanum. I have explained the different kinds of worship further down.
Isvara (or God) and jiva are essentially the same because their true nature is awareness, and together they make up or comprise the apparent reality. But they are also different because jiva depends upon Isvara wheras Isvara does not depend upon jiva. Isvara is omniscient and creates and sustains the whole universe; jiva only knows the objects it has contact with and creates nothing other than its subjective reality. And they are different because their upadhis are different. An upadhi is a limiting adjunct: that which makes something look other than it is. Isvara’s upadhi is maya – it makes pure awareness look like a creator. Jiva’s upadhi is the five koshas, or sheaths (body/mind/intellect/prana/bliss sheaths), which make the jiva look like a doer. Each upadhi is unique to the jiva, which is why one person cannot know what another is thinking, and vice versa.
The Importance of Bhakti
The tradition says there are two kinds of bhakti, or worship, and it is compulsory for moksa to go through all of them, except stage one of the first kind. I have broken down the two stages to four stages for ease of assimilation. The first stage is dvaita, or dualistic bhakti, and it has three parts to it. The fourth stage is advaita – jnanum, or knowledge, non-dual bhakti. All three stages are steppingstones for the next stage, with the fourth stage being the end of the line, i.e. moksa. Many people who come to self-inquiry (like yourself, probably) have a lot of negativity towards the idea of the religious God and hate the idea of God. It is essential that you understand the importance of worship.
Stage 1: Not essential, but it is a stepping stone to Stage 2.
(Note: Stages 1 and 2 correspond to Chapters I to VI of the Bhagavad Gita.)
This is informal or undisciplined worship, it is totally subjective and emotional, “heart” based. It is where all religions originate, where most samsaris worship a personal deity or god, seeing it as a HE usually, a big daddy who takes care of them and listens to their problems. It is worshipping God as a person. It is childlike or childish devotion. It’s about supplicating God in order to get results, getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want. This is where all religious fanaticism and dogmatism originate; it leads to sectarianism and fundamentalism. It makes people feel self-righteous, that they have “God on their side” and can act out whatever they believe “in His name,” that they are better than others and their way is the only way. It gives rise to all religious wars. It also makes ordinary people feel safe, providing guidelines that help sort out relationship and life issues. This is for people who are totally identified with being people and the world of objects.
Stage 2: This part is compulsory for self-inquiry if moksa is the aim.
This stage is emotional and intellectual. Here you start to practise karma yoga – surrendering the results of actions to Isvara with an attitude of consecration and gratitude because you have realised that the results of actions are not up to you. This is to help neutralise the idea of doership.
You also practise the five pancha yagna (sacrifices or activities):
1. Worship of your deity, however you see it;
2. Worship of your parents or ancestors;
3. Worship of your teacher and teaching;
4. Worship of society and people in general;
5. Worship of the environment (i.e. Isvara).
Stage 3: Upasana (meditation), and is also compulsory for moksa.
(Note: This stage corresponds to Chapters VII to XII of the Bhagavad Gita.)
This is where worship of Isvara/God is objective: purely impersonal or intellectual. Knowledge of Isvara and the creation start to crystallize. There is still duality and you see Isvara in special forms (like icons or beauty) progressing to all forms, the good and the bad.
All three stages of dvaita bhakti involve free will and the jiva, the person, which is why these stages are called dualistic worship. The purpose of these stages of worship, or bhakti, is that these practices reduce subjectivity and neutralize vasanas – likes and dislikes – as well negate the doer. It takes care of the childish ego.
Stage 4: Advaita, or non-dual bhakti: jnanum.
(Note: Corresponds to Chapters XIII to XVIII of the Bhagavad Gita.)
This is the final stage of bhakti, it is advaita – non-dual jnanum, or self-knowledge. It is non-personal, beyond subjectivity and objectivity, i.e. moksa. This is non-dual vision where you see everything as the self first and second as the jiva, never confusing the two again. You still live as the jiva and so follow dharma, your own and universal dharma, which requires following the rules of the field of existence, or Isvara, automatically. And you continue with dvaita bhakti except it is no longer dualistic in that you know that everything is you, awareness – i.e. you have permanently discriminated between satya and mithya.
You need to get over your childish and negative notion of God or simply substitute the word “Isvara.” How to Attain Enlightenment is not just “a good book.” It is one of the most important books to come out this century in the great tradition of Vedanta, especially for the West. It has been translated into many languages and has a huge audience worldwide. Perhaps you need to read the book again, more carefully. More importantly, I suggest you read James’ latest books, The Essence of Enlightenment, which is a slightly simpler version of How to Attain Enlightenment, and Inquiry into Existence: The Lamp of Knowledge, a more advanced text, which is all about Isvara.
~ Namaste, Sundari