Experience of God in Hinduism along the Gîtâ




With regard to the experience of God in Hinduism, one point should be kept in mind. In all world religions there are two main avenues of approach to God or ultimate reality: that of spontaneous illumination and that of gradual enlightenment. The first is the approach of the mystics; the second while also pursued by certain mystically-minded persons, is the way of the average believer, the man in the street. It is the latter who, in the words of the Bhagavad Gîtâ seeks an “ever deeper God realisation experience as present in man’s self, the world of beings, and the entire universe as the source of all what exists. Though stressing the approach of gradual enlightenment, however, one need not question the validity of the other approach (that of spontaneous illumination) for certain individuals, and especially among yogis and the Lord Kŗşna devotees as we all are, God and Gîtâ lovers, as among whom the mystical tradition is commonly accepted. In the Gîtâ, and Hinduism obviously, we shall do well to remember, that the mystical experience of God is similar to that of many Christian mystics playing a more important role than in everyday Christianity. The experience of God could be defined as “an immediate awareness of the ultimate reality”. It should be added that any real experience of the self and of the Supreme Absolute should lead to a communion with the whole of mankind and especially the poor. However, if we insist, and we do, on maintaining the distinction between a natural and a supernatural experience outside Christianity, we must refer to the Bhagavad Gîtâ, the most read and meditated book among Hindus, and earnest believers of all main religions everywhere in the world. Even Atheists read it, and modern psychologists refer to the Gîtâ.


How can we reconcile the experience of God as found in the Abrahamic religions with the experience of God as the immanent ground stressed in the various Oriental traditions? How can we reconcile belief in a personal God, to be found both in Oriental and Abrahamic (Semitic) religions, with the experience of the Absolute as “without duality” to be found in certain forms of Christianity and Islam, as well as in Hinduism and Buddhism?


The idea found widespread in the Gîtâ, that the different religions are all in harmony and even of equal value, corresponds to the true perception of the authentic values that exist in all religions and of the need to know these values from the inside in order to understand them. The search for God is part of the general experience of mankind. This is a certainty. Some people today would have us believe in the possibility of a humanism that would be self-sufficient and complete without God. Some even see the search for God as a form of escape that is keeping man back from perfect self-fulfilment. The Gîtâ conviction is that man is made for God and finds his completion only in God. Man can make remarkable technical progress and explore even inter-planetary space, and yet he has within him a void vaster than the universe which God only can fill. The great spiritual masters of ages past as well as today, whether Western and African spiritual masters, Hindu, Buddhist and Moslems, while all differ from each other, they are drawing themselves to the same God whom they seek and find in deep awareness.


The true seeker stand guard on his self and judge if he was in the Presence of God or if he was in the presence of his ego, at every moment of his life. The Gîtâ helps us to evaluate how one spends every moment: with Presence or in Negligence.


These are the ways how the seekers reach Self-realisation:


Some perceive the Supersoul in their inner psyche through mind and intellect that have been purified either by meditation, or by metaphysical knowledge, or by selfless service.”  (Gîtâ 13.24)


1)      Knowledge

2)      Meditation and Contemplation (prayer)

3)      Vision

4)      Unattached or disinterested service

5)      Reckoning

“Outward rituals cannot obliterate ignorance, because they are not mutually contradictory,” wrote Shankara in his famous Century of Verses. Realised knowledge alone destroys ignorance … Knowledge cannot spring up by any other means than inquiry. “Who am I? How was this universe born? Who is the maker? What is its material cause? All the answers are found in the Gîtâ, gaining knowledge through the technique of spiritual inquiry. The Lord Kŗşna said: I shall impart you Self-knowledge together with enlightenment, after comprehending that nothing more remains to be known in this world.”(Gîtâ 7.02)

In meditation, followed by contemplation one forgets the created and remembers only the Creator. “The yogi, who is devoted to meditation, is superior to the ascetics. The yogi is superior to the Vedic scholars. The yogi is superior to the ritualists. Therefore, O Arjuna, be a yogi.” (Gîtâ 6.46)

In the state of vision, inspiration from the unseen comes to the heart of the seeker accompanied by two states: contraction and expansion. In the condition of contraction, the vision of Majesty, and in the state of expansion the vision of Beauty. But, you are not able to see Me with your physical eye; therefore, I give you the divine eye to see My majestic power and glory.” (Gîtâ 11.08)

Unattached or disinterested service: The Gîtâ teaches us how to love and serve mankind, and that means how to serve the Supreme Lord in humanity. Selfless service is self-expansion. A sincere seeker serves precisely because he knows that there is and there can be nothing other than service. When one serves aspiring humanity, it is because the inner voice commands him to serve unselfishly. “King Janaka and others attained perfection of Self-realization by selfless service (Karma-yoga) alone. You should also perform your duty with a view to guide people, and for the welfare of the society.” (Gîtâ 3.20)

In the state of reckoning the seeker evaluates every hour that has passed: was he in complete Presence with God or in complete presence with the world. And, that means from the Gîtâ:


“Therefore, focus your mind on Me, and let your intellect dwell upon Me alone through meditation and contemplation. Thereafter you shall certainly attain Me. (Gîtâ 12.08)


If you are unable to focus your mind steadily on Me, then long to attain Me by practice of any other spiritual discipline; such as a ritual, or deity worship that suits you. (Gîtâ 12.09)


If you are unable even to do any spiritual discipline, then be intent on performing your duty just for Me. You shall attain perfection by doing your prescribed duty for Me — without any selfish motive — just as an instrument to serve and please Me. (Gîtâ 12.10)


If you are unable to do your duty for Me, then just surrender unto My will, and renounce the attachment to, and the anxiety for, the fruits of all work — by learning to accept all results as God's grace — with equanimity. (Gîtâ 12.11)”


Experience of God in the Gîtâ


The place of the experience of God in the Gîtâ, and indeed in Hinduism is absolutely central. Experience of God is integral to us in all its aspects. Every phase of Hindu belief as completely summarised in the Bhagavad Gîtâ – Vedic, Upanishadic, Puranic, Tantric, and Scholastic – is intimately related to it, as are the ideal formulations devised by Hindu lawgivers for the ordering of Hindu society. Union with God through immediate experience is the ultimate goal of every yogi, devotee to the Lord Kŗşna and every Hindu, with the exception of those comparatively few who have surrendered their faith to the assumptions of our century’s Western materialism. Since this is so, and since many of the greatest saints and seers have won through a constant “realisation of God experienced as present in the self and in the world” by way of what the today’s materialistic Westerner would call “abnormal” (and what the believers would call “supranormal”) experiences, I feel obliged to deviate slightly from the intent of this study about the experience of God. In my exploration of the place of the “God experience” (One Truth, One Life, One faith) in all religious life, and not only in Hinduism, I shall not hesitate to briefly take note of certain “psychological experiences” or “strange states of awareness”, which we would call “mystical” having a definitive impact on all world religions. Dealing with such states, it will only be with the understanding that our only claim to validity rests in leading our spiritual experiences to what we may designate the “normal” experience of Divine Presence. In this study, I shall of necessity be writing of God from the Gîtâ point of view. Only thus, writing from beyond the World Faiths, we will discover how the Gîtâ, and obviously the Hindu experience relate to Christ and other World Messengers (Avatars).


As, obviously, the Bhagavad Gîtâ is part of the sacred scriptures of Hinduism, we are speaking of a religion, a philosophy, with a long history. It is a history that includes the early Vedic religion, the Upanishadic intuitive revelation of Brahman-Atman, the devotional epic and Puranic development (including the synthesis of the Gîtâ), the Vedantic revival of the Upanishadic wisdom under Shankara and Ramanuja, the elaboration of Vaishnavism and Shaivism (we will see further) by devotees of Vishnu[1] in his many aspects and of Shiva[2], the development of Tantra by the devotees of the Divine Mother of the Universe, the Vaishnavite revival under Chaitanya, and in the preceding century (to mention only the most influential example) the synthesising of all phases of Hindu belief under Ramakrishna (Sri Aurobindo, and others). We are in fact dealing here not only with the Gîtâ, but with Hinduism as a whole as both are part from each other, a religion (philosophy, way of life) coming from the very depths of human existence, happening to be a modern religion or philosophy, very much alive, and at present developing worldwide through devotees everywhere.


The whole of Hindu culture is permeated by the spirit of formal or ritualistic religion as well as by religious mysticism. One of the first things that strike anyone visiting India who is at all in contact with Hindus is the continuous reminder of the presence of God afforded by daily worship in private homes and temples. Worship of the Deity through puja, or ritual communion before an image, forcibly impresses on the believer’s mind, from childhood onward, the fact of God’s nearness to human affairs. The validity of such ritual is accepted even by those whose philosophy would perhaps in another culture tend to lessen their sympathy with such “popular” forms of devotion.


I am the origin of all. Everything emanates from Me. The wise ones who understand this adore Me with love and devotion. (Gîtâ 10.08)


My devotees remain ever content and delighted. Their minds remain absorbed in Me, and their lives surrendered unto Me. They always enlighten each other by talking about Me. (Gîtâ 10.09)


Whosoever desires to worship whatever deity — using any name, form, and method — with faith, I make their faith steady in that very deity. Endowed with steady faith they worship that deity, and obtain their wishes through that deity. Those wishes are, indeed, granted only by Me. (Gîtâ 7.21-22)


Whosoever offers Me a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water with devotion; I accept and eat the offering of devotion by the pure-hearted. (Gîtâ 9.26)


O Arjuna, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as oblation to the sacred fire, whatever charity you give, whatever austerity you perform, do all that as an offering unto Me. (See also 12.10, 18.46) (Gîtâ 9.27)


Even if the most sinful person resolves to worship Me with single-minded loving devotion, such a person must be regarded as a saint because of making the right resolution. (9.30)


A short outline for true worship, at home in front of the shrine, in the temple or wherever you are:


Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me, and bow down to Me. Thus uniting yourself with Me by setting Me as the supreme goal and sole refuge, you shall certainly come to Me. (Gîtâ 9.34) (And, Gîtâ 9.26, see above)


There is no rule requiring orthodox Hindus to attend worship in temples or mandirs. Whether they attend or not, worship continues at stated times throughout the day. Devotees, however, do not fail to perform worship daily at least before their own private shrines (example). This formal side of religion, what one might call its externalised aspect, is only one of the many strands making up the fabric of religious culture everywhere. It may be mentioned in this connection that there are also a number of “purifying rituals” practised in popular Hinduism through which the individual Hindu’s life is brought in touch with God’s grace, as most of the sacraments practised in Christianity such as baptism common to all Christians, and in Islam ablution before prayer. The role of purity is of paramount importance in our spiritual life. It does not mean that we have to bathe ourselves so many times a day. It is the inner purity that we need and not just outer cleanliness. When we are pure, we are open to Divine Grace. Purity is the ceaseless shower of God’s omnipotent Grace on aspiring living souls.


How to be pure? We can be pure by self-control. We can control our senses. It is sometimes unbelievably difficult, but it is not impossible. What we must do is fix our mind on God. To our utter amazement, the lion and tiger of impurity, now tamed, will leave us of their own accord when they see that we have become too poor to feed them. But as a matter of fact, we have not become poor in the least. On the contrary, we have become stronger and richer, for God’s Will energises our body, mind and heart. To fix our body, mind and heart on the Divine  is the right approach. The closer we are to the Light, the farther we are from darkness.


Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, offer service to Me, bow down to Me, and you shall certainly reach Me. I promise you because you are My very dear friend. (Gîtâ 18.65)


Setting aside all meritorious deeds (Dharma), just surrender completely to My will (with firm faith and loving contemplation). I shall liberate you from all sins (or the bonds of karma). Do not grieve. (Gîtâ 18.66)


You ca n rise no higher in consciousness than to that place where the spiritual Presence enters the heart, and you realise it has happened, the Presence is within you.


Therefore, always remember Me and do your duty. You shall certainly attain Me if your mind and intellect are ever focused on Me. (Gîtâ 8.07)


Experience and Love of God in the Gîtâ


Along the Vaishnava Vedanta


Divine Love is a flowering of happiness and self-giving. It is detachment leading to true satisfaction. Divine Love is for everybody. It is like the sun. A believer has only to keep open the window of his heart to receive Divine Love. Divine Compassion is for the yogi and earnest devotee, the selected few as it were. God’s compassion is like a magnet that pulls the yogi or devotee (in Kŗşna) toward his goal. It is a mighty force that guides, pushes and pulls the yogi or devotee constantly and does not allow him to slip while on the path of Self-realisation. Divine Love comforts and helps the yogi or devotee, but if he falls asleep, God’s Love will not force him or her to awaken and compel to resume his or her journey. Divine Compassion is not like human compassion. In a human way we can have compassion and pity for somebody, but this kind of compassion does not have the strength to transform the person and make him or her run from the ignorant condition toward the Light.  In the case of God’s Compassion, it is a force that changes and transforms the living soul and keeps him or her from making great mistakes on his or her spiritual pilgrimage in present life.


Indian thought is reflection on the experience of being. The text of Revelation, the Sruti, and the eternal word heard by the Vedic seers, show the way to this experience: it is in oneself that one finds the Absolute Being, Brahman. The reflexive principle, the Universal Spirit (Atmâ) which constitutes us, comprehends in itself its own immediate relationship with God (Paramātmā, Para-Brahman, or the Supersoul). The techniques of the yoga tradition help the individual to realise this relationship by purifying him, pacifying him, joining him to himself, and finally, establishing him in the equilibrium of Samādhi[3]. These points are admitted by all the schools of Vedanta, but there still remains the question of the nature of this experience. What is the content of Samādhi? Is it an experience of oneself or of another? How can we find within ourselves something that transcends us? Shankara poses the question in all its strictness and concludes that such an experience is impossible in so far as it would have us attain to the Supreme Being as another object different from ourselves. He is the subject who is never an object. The subject in us can attain him only by denying itself; it can know him only by coinciding with him.


What place in their vision do Shankara[4] and his school give to the love of God? Bhakti[5], or devotion, produces of itself a purification of the being, since it detaches it from inferior (sense) desires to attach it to the one supreme reality. It is one of the auxiliaries of the yogi, and Gîtâ devotee obviously, helping him or her to concentrate on something that supports his or her meditation, the representation of whichever divinity he or she particularly loves and chooses (işta-devata[6]).


“The nascent spiritual man makes his appearance in the emotional nature as the devotee, the bhakta; if, in addition, he becomes directly aware of his soul and its dictates, unites his emotional with his psychic personality and changes his life and vital parts by purity, God-ecstasy, the love of God and men and all creatures into a thing of spiritual beauty, full of divine light and good, he develops into the saint and reaches the highest inner experience and most considerable change of nature proper to this way of approach to the Divine Being.”

(The Life Divine, The Triple Transformation, by Sri Aurobindo. Page 903.)


The great originalities of the Schools of Vaishnava Vedanta (those of Ramanuja and Madhva, to limit ourselves to two) lays in the fact, that they developed a theology of the love of God, Bhakti. It is possible to speak of theology, for it is a question in this instance of knowledge of what God is in Himself and in his relation with us. Bhakti is our way of grasping this relation. The doctrine of Bhakti is not pure sentiment, a transport of mystical passion, as it is sometimes represented. It is a justified and reasoned position developing the consequences of its principles quite logically. The Vedanta of Ramanuja, like that of Madhva, claims to be a rounded doctrine which embraces the whole field of philosophical reflection, whether on the concept of knowledge and the theory of error, the analysis of perception and the demonstration of the truth of its object, or the nature of the human being and the Divine Person. It is outside the limits of this study to go any further about the subject, but it does seem possible to pose the question regarding the experience of God, as understood in Bhakti-yoga[7], from these three basic aspects:



Love and Knowledge

(Bhakti and Jnana)


Love and Self-realisation

(Bhakti and Yoga)


Love and Surrender

(Bhakti and prapatti


Absorbed in the Supreme Being, the serene one neither grieves nor desires; becoming impartial to all beings, one obtains the highest devotional love for God. (Gîtâ 18.54)


By devotion one truly understands what and who I am in essence. Having known Me in essence, one immediately merges with Me. (See also 5.19) (Gîtâ 18.55)


Devotion is the complete submission of the individual’s will to the Divine Will. Devotion is worship. Worship or adoration is the spontaneous delight that springs from the heart. Devotion is the feminine aspect of love; it is sweet, energising and complete. Devotion is also selfless service, as it is dedication. The manifestations of devotion are simplicity, sincerity, spontaneity, beauty and purity. As to the Gîtâ yogi or devotee, the manifestations of devotion are one’s intense, devoted feeling for one’s object of adoration and one’s consecration (as for us) to the Lord Kŗşna. And, here we have arrived to the last stage “surrender”.


Set aside all meritorious deeds and religious rituals, and just surrender completely to My will with firm faith and loving devotion. I shall liberate you from all sins, the bonds of Karma. Do not grieve. (18.66)


Surrender is simply this: No matter what God wants to give me, no matter what He wants to do with my life, I am ready with my very breath and existence. Even if God does not want my help, my life, or my existence, I will be happy. Surrender is the soul of the yogi’s or devotee’s body. Surrender is the unparalleled fulfilment of the yogi’s or devotee’s life. Surrender takes one to the source. When he or she is in the Source, he or she becomes the Highest and reveals the Deepest.


And I consider the yogi-devotee ¾ who lovingly contemplates on Me with supreme faith, and whose mind is ever absorbed in Me ¾ to be the best of all the yogis. (See also 12.02 and 18.66) (Gîtâ 6.47)


The experience of God’s fatherliness, motherliness, friendship, saviourhood and love is profound indeed. Whenever one finds these qualities displayed, one may confidently hail the presence of God. But where one finds them denied by hatred or selfishness, one cannot think of God as immanent at all, except as their “immanent antagonist”. In the higher forms of personal life especially, the yogi or devotee can recognise that central and supremely valuable aspect of God that lays at the heart of all religious life, namely, “God is Love”. It is this thought and experience of God as love – or rather, as the indwelling lover – that is deepest in the Gîtâ experience of God.


Before going any further, let us remember that the Bhagavad Gîtâ teaches us the mystical life, whereas the following is absolutely needful to remember:


(1)      The awakening of the Self to consciousness of the Supreme Absolute, the only Reality, accompanied by intense feelings of peace, joy and exaltation.

(2)      The Self, aware of Divine Beauty, realises by contrast its own finiteness and imperfection in sin (wrongdoing), the manifold illusions (glamour) in which it is immersed, the immense distance which separates it from the Supreme Being.

(3)      By purification the Self has become detached from the “things of sense”, and acquired those virtues which are the “ornaments” of spiritual union (communion), its joyful consciousness of Transcendental Order.

(4)      In the development of great and strenuous seeking after God, is followed, or sometimes intermittently accompanied, by the most severe of all experiences of the Mystic Way: towards the final and complete purification of the Self, which is called by some Western mystics the “mystic pain” or “mystic death”, and by others in the words of saint John of the Cross, the “Dark Night of the Soul”. It means, that the consciousness which had, in “illumination”, sunned itself in the sense of the Divine Presence, now suffers under an equally intense sense of Divine Absence: learning to dissociate the personal satisfaction of mystical vision from the reality of mystical life.

(5)      Samādhi, the true goal of the mystic quest. In this state the Absolute life is not merely perceived and enjoyed by the Self, as in Illumination: but is one with it. This is the end result in spiritual life experience from birth to death, towards which all the previous oscillations of consciousness have tended. It is a state of equilibrium, of purely spiritual life; characterised by peaceful joy, by enhanced power, and intense certitude.


1.     Bhakti and Jnāna


The school of Shankara considers Bhakti as a stage on the way to deliverance; but it holds that this deliverance itself is the result of knowledge alone (Jnāna). Salvation, that is, the final cessation of the cycle of transmigration, is acquired when the individual recognises the illusory character of all plurality: that which constitutes the material universe, that which distinguishes the individual mental faculties from each other, and that which makes of us a consciousness distinct from its object.


All these forms of “dualism” (dvaidhaaH) or difference (bheda) are erroneous; the Veda teaches by its “great words” (maha-vakyas), such as “Thou art that” and “I am Brahman”, that there is no existence outside absolute reality. All the “being” that is in us and in the world is, in truth, the very Being of the Absolute Brahman. To know ourselves in the truth of our essence amounts to knowing ourselves as identical with God – to know that our atmâ is no different from the supreme Atmâ. This non-dualism (advaita[8]), however, strongly refuses to be a pantheism[9] losing the divine transcendence by identifying it with the finite and the transitory; for there is no possible identity between contradictory realities.


There remains only one solution and this is that plurality, which cannot exist over against God and cannot be identical with God, does not exist. It is only an appearance without consistency, superimposed on Being. And this superimposition is not a real relation but only an illusion, like that which makes us superimpose the image of a snake on the perception of a rope. Just as the rope is not altered either by our error or by its cessation, so the Supreme Absolute is not affected either by the existence of the world or by the destruction of the cosmic illusion in the awareness of one delivered from it.


This entire universe is an expansion of Mine. All beings depend on Me (like a chain depends on gold, and the milk products depend on milk). I do not depend on ¾ or affected by ¾ them; because I am the highest of all. (See also 7.12) (Gîtâ 9.04)

Look at the power of My divine mystery; in reality, I ¾ the sustainer and creator of all beings ¾ do not depend on them, and they also do not depend on Me. (In fact, the gold-chain does not depend on gold; the gold-chain is nothing but gold. Also, matter and energy are different as well as non-different). (Gîtâ 9.05)

Perceive that all beings remain in Me — without any contact or without producing any effect — as the mighty wind, moving everywhere, eternally remains in space. (Gîtâ 9.06)


Here comes the question of the adversaries of “advaita”, “can the Supreme Absolute know the world and souls?” The answer, strictly speaking, would seem to be “no”. In this perspective there can be no truth in the relation of love between the individual subject and the Supreme Absolute; it must be inevitably be one of the false relations, the superimpositions destined to be abolished. Maybe, at the beginning of his spiritual pilgrimage, the yogi or devotee to Mukti (salvation) consecrates his devotion to the representation of a personal God; perhaps he calls on God’s grace; but these conceptions are by some left behind, and it is to knowledge alone, not to Divine Grace, that the beings own its deliverance. The Gîtâ answers the question, “Should one worship a personal god or an impersonal God?”


Arjuna asked: Those ever steadfast devotees who worship the personal aspect of God with form(s), and others who worship the impersonal aspect, or the formless Absolute; which of these has the best knowledge of yoga? (Gîtâ 12.01)

Lord Krishna said: Those ever steadfast devotees who worship with supreme faith by fixing their mind on a personal form of God, I consider them to be the best yogis. (See also 6.47) (Gîtâ 12.02)

But those who worship the unchangeable, the inexplicable, the invisible, the omnipresent, the inconceivable, the unchanging, the immovable, and the formless impersonal aspect of God; restraining all the senses, even-minded under all circumstances, engaged in the welfare of all creatures, also attain God. (Gîtâ 12.03-04)


In his translation of the Bhagavad Gîtâ Dr. Ramananda Prasad comments on page 197:


Devotion (Bhakti) is the highest love for God (SBS 02). True devotion is motiveless intense love of God for attaining Him (NBS 02). Real devotion is seeking God’s grace, and serving with love to please Him. Thus, Bhakti is Sevā, or doing one’s duty with love for Kŗşna in one’s heart. It is also said that Bhakti is granted by the grace of God. A loving relationship with God is easily developed through a personal God. The faithful followers of the path of devotion to the personal God in human form such as Rāma, Kŗşna, Moses, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, etc. are considered the best. The Bible says: I am the way; no one goes to the Father except through me (John 14.06). Bhakti is superior to Self-knowledge (Jnâna) (SBS 05).


This rigorous and austere synthesis was what was needed in order to call forth the protests of the schools of  Bhakti and arouse a new awareness of the riches of the way of love, which many epic and Puranic texts and the religious hymns of the mystics are praised. The protests centred on the very centre of Shankara’s construction, the notion of illusion (Maya), by which his doctrine tries to avoid falling into pantheism by denying all possibility of real relationship between the One and the multiple. Now love either is or is not a true relation; to admit it provisionally is to deny it. A relation of love and grace with an illusory God is the most intolerable of frauds, for a God who is not can do nothing for us, and love can love only what is. The schools of Bhakti therefore reverse the order of values: if Bhakti exists, it carries with it a requirement of absolute truth. It expresses on one hand the truth of our being, and on the other, that of our relation to God: and these two make but one, for our being finds its truth only in this eternal relation with the Supreme Absolute or Being. It is in this sense that the “maha-vakyas” of Scripture must be interpreted. For Ramanuja, they signify that God is the soul of our soul; for Madhva that we are in total and constant dependence on the Divine Will, “in all that we are, in all our knowledge and in all our activity”. Our personal and finite existence is real and is in real relationship with the Divine Person.


If love expresses a real relationship, it subsists in the world of salvation. It is not a means that one rejects when the end is attained. The schools of Ramanuja and of Madhva say that Bhakti is both the means and the end of the spiritual quest, and that it exists in the state of deliverance, of which it constitutes the beatitude. The end of man, his supreme happiness, is to love God eternally. This does not at all mean that knowledge has no role to play; it is the means to Bhakti. Bhakti is not a sentimental effusion but is nourished by true knowledge about God, knowledge which comes from the texts of the Bhagavad Gîtâ, and indeed the Veda, and from inner experience. This experience actualises for us the “strong memory” of God and in the end, Ramanuja thinks, is equivalent to a direct intuition of His Presence. Madhva defines Bhakti as “an attachment preceded by the knowledge of the greatness of God.”


Arjuna asked: If You consider that acquiring transcendental knowledge is better than working, then why do You want me to engage in this horrible war, O Krishna? You seem to confuse my mind by apparently conflicting words. Tell me, decisively, one thing by which I may attain the Supreme. (Gîtâ 3.01-02)


Lord Krishna said: In this world I have stated a twofold path of spiritual discipline in the past. The path of Self-knowledge for the contemplative ones, and the path of unselfish work (Sevā, Karma-yoga) for all others. (Gîtâ 3.03)


Those who perform selfless service obtain the nectar of Self-knowledge as a result of their sacrifice and attain the Supreme Being. O Arjuna, even this world is not a happy place for the non-sacrificer, how can the other world be? (See also 4.38, and 5.06). (Gîtâ 4.31)


Acquire this transcendental knowledge from a Self-realized master by humble reverence, by sincere inquiry, and by service. The empowered ones, who have realized the Truth, will teach you. (4.34)

Every man, to whatever religion he belongs, can feel God’s love rest on him and invade Him utterly. The relation of Bhakti overcomes the antinomy posed by Shankara. It makes it possible to say that one knows God as other than oneself, yet without reducing Him to the status of an “object” of knowledge, measured to our image of Him, limited to our patterns of thought.


For the God of Bhakti is He a Person, Infinite in perfection, endowed with an infinite number of infinite attributes. Our thought cannot contain Him. He transcends all the determinations that we could want to impose on Him. Moreover, He is sovereign liberty, complete unpredictability, and perfect gratuity. He makes the world “in play”, without having any need of it, and it is “in play” that He leads souls, often disconcerting them in their spiritual search.


Know that three modes of material Nature ¾ goodness, passion, and ignorance ¾ also emanate from Me. I am not dependent on, or affected by, the modes of material Nature; but the modes of material Nature are dependent on Me. (See also 9.04 and 9.05) (Gîtâ 7.12)


Ramanuja gives as the motive for this game the sole pleasure of playing. Madhva rejects even this motive: God acts only from excess of beatitude, by a kind of rapture of bliss.


This transcendental God is near, however, for He has entered into this creation, penetrating it by His power so that no cause can operate without it. He can also, by the free effect of His benevolence, descend into this world in the form of an Avatar[10], to re-establish the right balance of moral forces. Wherever God or a Divinity is called upon in mind and truth, before a shrine or within oneself, His Presence is there.


Whosoever desires to worship whatever deity — using any name, form, and method — with faith, I make their faith steady in that very deity. Endowed with steady faith they worship that deity, and obtain their wishes through that deity. Those wishes are, indeed, granted only by Me. (7.21-22)


But, let us also remember the following:


Such material gains of these less intelligent human beings are temporary. The worshipers of celestial controllers go to celestial controllers, but My devotees certainly come to Me. (Gîtâ 7.23)


The Supreme Being can also and especially appear as the “antaryamin”, the interior guide who conducts those devoted to Him, rousing spiritual alertness, the desire of salvation and the presentiment of their destiny as “devotees of the Lord Kŗşna”. The kingdom of God is neither here or there, but also within our own being. And, how to we find that kingdom? By love! Love is the answer: the love of God, the love of Truth, and the love of our neighbour. God is experienced in proportion as God is permitted to flow out from us in the form of love, truth, unattached service, and dedication. The Presence of God is made available on earth as it is in heaven through the experience of conscious union.


And I consider the yogi-devotee ¾ who lovingly contemplates on Me with supreme faith, and whose mind is ever absorbed in Me ¾ to be the best of all the yogis. (See also 12.02 and 18.66) (6.47)


(a) The Path of Jnāna (Spiritual knowledge)


“Jnāna” aims directly at the “mystery” and takes no notice of its signs and expressions, be they ritual, cultural, traditional, conceptual or even historical. “Jnāna” is a royal path, an aristocratic one if you will, yet it is not esoteric. It is found on all levels and vivifies them. It is “par excellence” the way of the yogi, the ascetic, the monk, the devotee. The word “Jnāna” means knowledge and wisdom. Too often the path of “Jnāna” is wrongly understood as a path of speculation and mental abstraction, or supposed to be similar to the various forms of Gnosticism so much in favour at the end of the Hellenistic era and the beginning of the Christian era. “Jnāna” is not to be discovered at the end of laborious reflections, nor has it anything to do with formulas whose ritual transmission will confer illumination on the disciple or initiate. Yet “Jnāna” is a secret knowledge, a mysterium fidei, which man is only able to obtain when he is willing to rise to a superior level of consciousness. That knowledge takes over the whole being and renovates it from its very roots.


The path of “Jnāna” is essentially a path of “Dhyāna”, silent meditation. It points the mind, or rather, the consciousness, at its very centre. It does not allow it to get dispersed in the spheres of the imagination or abstract thought. It brings it back unrelentingly to the present moment and to the very source of all the mind’s activities. Man’s innermost self must wake up to itself in its absolute purity, apart from any conditioning.


That central point and definitive level of oneself can be discovered only by oneself. Even the sacred scriptures, even the guru or spiritual leader, can only show the way and open the door to the inner sanctuary. No one but oneself can go inside. For this reason, precisely, brahmavidya or self-realisation cannot, properly speaking, be reached with meditation alone. It is there, here, from the beginning. That self-awareness is the very ground of being. “Jnāna” is simply an awakening, of which nothing can be said except “Asa”, “that is that”. One opens one’s eyes and sees the sun shining on high. The state of “Jnāna” is total simplicity, pure transparency. It is the unborn state of man (a-ja), or, if you will, the born-with, “sahaja”, congenital, state. It is the primordial and final truth of oneself. It is oneself known in the cognitio matutina of Saint Augustine. Let us further refer to the Gîtâ:


“The Vedantic way of acquiring wisdom consists of listening to scriptural wisdom, explained by a Self-realised guru, and meditating on it, perceiving its essence by becoming one with it. The far different theoretical method of learning scriptures does not produce real wisdom – merely imaginary ideas about it.”


(The Bhagavad Gîtâ, by Paramahansa Yogananda, part One, page 536)


Acquiring transcendental knowledge is superior to any material sacrifice ¾ such as giving charity. Because, purification of mind and intellect that eventually leads to the dawn of transcendental knowledge and Self-realization is the sole purpose of any spiritual action. (Gîtâ 4.33)

Acquire this transcendental knowledge from a Self-realized master by humble reverence, by sincere inquiry, and by service. The empowered ones, who have realized the Truth, will teach you. Gîtâ (4.34)

After knowing the transcendental science, O Arjuna, you shall not again become deluded like this. With this knowledge you shall see the entire creation within your own higher Self, and thus within Me. (See also 6.29, 6.30, 11.07, 11.13) (Gîtâ 4.35)

Even if one is the most sinful of all sinners, one shall yet cross over the ocean of sin by the raft of Self-knowledge alone. (Gîtâ 4.36)

As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes; similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all bonds of Karma to ashes, O Arjuna. (Gîtâ 4.37)

Verily, there is no purifier in this world like the true knowledge of the Supreme Being. One discovers this knowledge within, naturally, in course of time when one's mind is cleansed of selfishness by Karma-yoga. (See also 4.31, and 5.06, 18.78). (Gîtâ 4.38)

The one who has faith in God, is sincere in yogic practices, and has control over the mind and senses gains this transcendental knowledge. Having gained this knowledge, one quickly attains supreme peace or liberation. (Gîtâ 4.39)


Properly speaking “Jnāna” is not a path in the way Karma and Bhakti are, since in the “Jnāna” approach, there is no goal to be reached or anything to be received. It is just a sort of preparation for that awakening. A sleeping man may be awakened by hitting him or calling his name loudly. But, it is not the stroke or the call that is responsible for that wonderful perception of oneself in one’s cosmic environment which we call the waking state.


Man is in time and in the world. His senses open outwards, and he himself grows mentally only by the successive impressions recorded by his senses. He attains to himself only in the “milieu” of the universe and human society. Yet man is an “interiority”, an “en soi”, an “in himself”. It is this interiority that gives him his identity and makes it possible for him to assimilate and integrate into himself what comes to him from outside.


Transcendental knowledge destroys the ignorance of the Spirit and reveals the Supreme Being just as the sun reveals the beauty of objects of the world. (Gîtâ 5.16)

Persons, whose mind and intellect are totally merged in the Supreme Being, who are firmly devoted to the Supreme, who have God as their supreme goal and sole refuge, and whose impurities are destroyed by the knowledge of the self, do not take birth again. (Gîtâ 5.17)


From the first awakening of his consciousness within the universe, man has been in quest of himself. He has sought himself in the many cultural and religious heritages, and later in the physical and human sciences. But, he seems to himself to be constantly other than and beyond whatever even the most advanced psychological techniques can reveal to him of himself. Neti, neti, “not yet this, not yet that”, as proclaimed in the Upanishads. It is as if some gulf were separating him from his true self. Generally, as already said, man contents himself with traditions and formulas which enable him to realise the “Beyond” at the level of his thoughts and feelings. The time comes, however, in the history of mankind – and increasingly in the development of the individual man – when man recognises that nothing he thinks or feels is really himself, any more than it is God, the Supreme Absolute. As long as there is still a self in quest of itself, one has not yet found oneself. Or rather, when this has been discovered, even dimly, in that very experience one has discovered oneself, has realised oneself beyond all successive and changing expressions of oneself.


If man is in time, he is also beyond time. The “I” which I pronounce at sixty-three years old differs in no way from the “I” I pronounced when I was twelve. When a man enters within himself entering the silence through meditation; and, as it were scrutinises his memory to try to discover the origin of this “I”, the moment when it woke up to itself, however far he goes back in that recollection he finds this “I” as the ground of all, the source from which all emanates, the ocean to which all converges; yet it is itself beyond all definition or possession.


“Meditation, or any other act, becomes more powerful and efficient if it is done with knowledge, faith, and devotion to Kŗşna. Meditation is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for spiritual progress. The mind should be kept ever absorbed in the thoughts of Lord Kŗşna. The meditative mood is to be continued during other times through scriptural study, Self-analysis, and service. It is said that no single yoga alone is complete without the presence of other yogas. Just as the right combination of all ingredients is essential for preparation of a good meal; similarly, Sevā, Japa, meditation, study of scriptures, contemplation, and devotional love are essential for reaching the supreme goal. The person who meditates with deep devotional love is called a yogi-devotee, and is considered to be the best of all yogis.”

(Comments on “The Bhagavad Gîtâ”, by Dr. Ramananda Prasad, page 113)


Meditation as found in the Gîtâ, chapter six, aims exactly at that central point of the consciousness which is untouched, unmovable, “acala”, beyond all conditioning, all becoming. Let us now pause and read from that very chapter:


A yogi, seated in solitude and alone, should constantly try to contemplate on a mental picture or just the majesty of the Supreme Being after bringing the mind and senses under control, and becoming free from desires and proprietorship. (Gîtâ 6.10)

One should sit on his or her own firm seat that is neither too high nor too low, covered with grass, a deerskin, and a cloth, one over the other, in a clean spot. Sitting there in a comfortable position and concentrating the mind on God, controlling the thoughts and the activities of the senses, one should practice meditation for self-purification. (Gîtâ 6.11-12)

One should sit by holding the waist, spine, chest, neck, and head erect, motionless and steady; fix the eyes and the mind steadily on the front of the nose, without looking around; make your mind serene and fearless, practice celibacy; have the mind under control, think of Me, and have Me as the supreme goal. (See also 4.29, 5.27, 8.10, and 8.12) (Gîtâ 6.13-14)

Thus, by always practicing to keep the mind fixed on Me, the yogi whose mind is subdued attains peace of Nirvana and comes to Me. (Gîtâ 6.15)

This yoga is not possible, O Arjuna, for the one who eats too much, or who does not eat at all; who sleeps too much or too little. (Gîtâ 6.16)

The yoga of meditation destroys all sorrow for the one who is moderate in eating, recreation, working, sleeping, and waking. (Gîtâ 6.17)

A person is said to have achieved yoga, the union with the Spirit, when the perfectly disciplined mind becomes free from all desires, and gets completely united with the Spirit in trance. (Gîtâ 6.18)


In phenomenal consciousness man discovers himself acting, thinking and so on and forth. The Upanishadic seers invite him to discover himself simply as “being or living soul”, to realise pure awareness, that infinitesimal point which is the origin of all consciousness and all thought, yet transcends all particular thought and time itself as well. Beyond all becoming, or even mental phenomena, is the Real, “Sat”, the Self. It is only here that man’s quest for himself reaches its end, when man realises his inner truth, the absoluteness of his being a person, himself.


What then of the experience of God? But precisely here is the purest and simplest experience of God. Until then, God was a notion, a projection. He was known in the idea which one had of him, even if the irresistible thrust of love was already pointing to God’s infinitude like a rocket pointing towards the infinitude of space. Here we are beyond the sphere and reach of notions or ideas. The Supreme Absolute in itself has been touched in the inner realisation of absoluteness – of self, of the I, of pure consciousness.


Waking up to himself, man wakes up to God. Waking up to God, he wakes up to himself, beyond God, beyond himself as it were, in that inner silence of meditation.


Supreme bliss comes to a Self-realized yogi whose mind is tranquil, whose desires are under control, and who is free from faults. (Gîtâ 6.27)

Such a sinless yogi, who constantly engages his or her mind and intellect with the Spirit, easily enjoys the infinite bliss of contact with The Spirit. (Gîtâ 6.28)

A yogi, who is in union with the Supreme Being, sees every being with an equal eye because of perceiving the omnipresent Spirit abiding in all beings, and all beings abiding in the Supreme Being. (See also 4.35, 5.18) (Gîtâ 6.29)

Those who perceive Me in everything, and behold everything in Me, are not separated from Me, and I am not separated from them. (Gîtâ 6.30)

The non-dualists, who adore Me as abiding in all beings, abide in Me irrespective of their mode of living. (Gîtâ 6.31)

One is considered the best yogi who regards every being like oneself, and who can feel the pain and pleasures of others as one’s own, O Arjuna. (Gîtâ 6.32)


2.     Bhakti and Yoga


In order to attain the supreme experience, Hindu tradition has cultivate a systematic method, yoga, which makes use of physical and mental exercises fostering concentration. The schools of Bhakti use yoga to attain constancy and steadfastness in the memory of God. This memory, says Ramanuja, must become “like a flow of oil”. Madhva, defining Bhakti as an attachment to God, comments on the word “sneha”, “attachment”, by its other meaning of “viscosity”, and compares the state attained to the continuity of a flow of water. Sri Aurobindo in his work, “The Life Divine” writes so beautifully around the subject:


“In the experience that he is nothing and no one, or everything and everyone, or the One which is beyond all things and absolute, it is the Brahman in the individual[11] that effectuates this stupendous merger or this marvellous joining, Yoga, of its eternal unit of being with its vast all-comprehending or supreme all-transcending unity of existence. To get beyond the ego is imperative, but one cannot get beyond the self, - except by finding it supremely, universally. For the self is not the ego; it is one with the All and the One and in finding it it is the All and the One that we discover in our self: the contradiction, the separation disappears, but the self, the spiritual reality remains, united with the One and the All by that delivering disappearance.”

(The life Divine – God, man and Nature, page 696)


The Gîtâ:


A Karma-yogi or the selfless person becomes free from both vice and virtue in this life itself. Therefore, strive for selfless service. Working to the best of one’s abilities without becoming selfishly attached to the fruits of work is called Karma-yoga or Seva. (2.50)


Dr. Ramananda Prasad writes:


“Peace, composure, and freedom from Karmic bondage await those who work for a noble cause with a spirit of detachment and do not seek any personal reward or recognition. Such persons enjoy the joy of selfless service (Sevā) that ultimately leads them to the bliss of salvation (Mukti). Karma-yoga purifies the mind and is a very powerful spiritual discipline (Sādhanā). There is no religion better than Sevā. The fruits of vice and virtue grow only on the tree of selfishness, and not on the tree of Sevā.


Generally, it is thought that one works harder when she or he is deeply interested in, or attached to, the fruits of work. Therefore, Karma-yoga or selfless service may not be very conducive to the material progress of the individual or the society. This dilemma can be solved by developing a hobby of selfless service (Sevā) to a noble cause of one’s choice; and never let the greed for the fruits dilute the purity of action.

(Bhagavad Gîtâ, 3rd edition, hard cover, page 32-33)


But while the yoga techniques favour the development of Bhakti, a certain antimony exists between the underlying conceptions of the philosophical system of classical yoga and the themes of the schools of Bhakti. Yoga as a system is atheistic, and even though some of its later forms admit the unquestionable existence of God, he is an inactive and indifferent God who does not help the yogi but only furnishes him with an example of the indifference which he must attain when, by his yoga, he has returned to the state of isolation which belongs by nature to every spiritual monad[12].


The doctrine of Shankara easily integrated yoga; the absence of divine grace was no difficulty for it. The yoga method, rejection of the sensible and of all false identification of the mental faculty with the illusions of this world, followed a movement analogous to that of the Shankaran system. The final state of yoga, which of kaivalya, isolation, could itself be transposed into an “advaita” perspective: instead of a multiplicity of subjects, isolated (kevala) each in its own essence, there would be no one subject, the supreme Subject, in his perfect self-sufficiency and total solitude.


The famous Swiss psychologist, Calvinist Christian, from whom I always like to quote, Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, wrote:


“Quite apart from the charm of the new and the fascination of the half-understood, there is a good cause for Yoga to have many adherents; it offers the possibility of controllable experience and thus satisfies the scientific need for ‘facts’; and, besides this, by reason of its breadth and depth, its venerable age, its doctrine and method, which include every phase of life, it promises undreamed- of possibilities. 


Every religious or philosophical practice means a psychological discipline, that is, a method of mental hygiene. The manifold, purely bodily procedures of Yoga[13] also mean a physiological hygiene which is superior to ordinary gymnastics and breathing exercises, inasmuch as it is not merely mechanistic and scientific, but also philosophical; in its training of the parts of the body, it unites them with the whole of the spirit, as it is quite clear, for instance, in the Pranayama exercises where Prana is both the breath and the universal dynamics of the cosmos…


Yoga practice … would be ineffectual without the concepts on which Yoga is based. It combines the bodily and the spiritual in an extraordinarily complete way.”


The Bhakti schools accommodated themselves less easily to the negative character of yoga, both in its method and in its end. They modified it and enlarged its techniques in ancient times, charging them with a positive content meant to arouse devotion. In this way were introduced such practices as “japa”, the repetition of the name of the Lord, and bhajana, which is a recitation of His praises, a kind of litany in which each epithet recalls one of the great deeds proving the compassion of God for His devotees. These repetitions are still more efficacious when they are collective, producing a communion of devotion which can result in ecstasy, whether in temples, in homes, on pilgrimage to sacred places. Other world religions (Apostolic Christianity, Buddhism, Islam (Sufism), etc.), know also these techniques. It is a way to direct the yogi or devotee towards the Divine Presence, where he will not see other than his Beloved Lord. It means to experience His manifestation in all states; His presence in such a way that one cannot look to anyone other than Him. He is the centre of power. In mind, thoughts and inspirations, good or bad, are felt and appear one after another, circling and alternating, moving between light and dark, in constant revolution. Meditation, japa, and the like, are required in order to control and reduce that turbulence of the mind and heart. A quotation from the Gîtâ:


I am Bhŗgu among the great sages; I am the monosyllable cosmic sound, OM, among the words; I am Japa-yajna among the spiritual disciplines (Yajna); and I am the Himālaya among the immovables. (Gîtâ 10.25)


Dr. Ramananda Prasad comments on the verse as follows (pages 167-168):


“Japa is considered the easiest and the most powerful method of Self-realisation in the present age by all saints and sages such as Tulasīdāsa, Nānak, Lord Caitanya, Prabhupāda, and others.


OM Śrī Rāma, Jai Rāma, Jai Jai Rāma


With faith will drive sound vibrations into the deeper layers of mind where it works like a damper in preventing the rise of the waves of negative thoughts and ideas leading the way to the inner awakening in due course of time. Meditation is the extended and higher stage of Japa. One must first practice Japa before going into transcendental meditation. Swami Harihar says: There should be no desire to gain any worldly objects in exchange for the repetition of the divine name. The spiritual force of divine name should not be applied for the destruction of sin. It should be resorted to for divine realisation only.


The form of the Lord cannot be known, or comprehended by human mind without a name. If one chants, or meditates on the name without seeing the form, the form flashes on the screen of the mind as an object of love. Saint Tulasīdāsa said: Place the lamp of the name of the Lord near the door of your tongue if you want the light both inside and outside. The name is greater than both impersonal and personal aspects of Eternal Being (Brahman), because the power of name has control over both aspects of Brahman (TR 1.21-26). Guru Nānak said: The best of all efforts is to always remember and repeat the name of God.”


For the withdrawal from the world prescribed by yoga a very different attitude was substituted, one that sought the experience of the Divine Presence in a sacralised universe, where so many places bore the traces of its history, or in the company of devotees, rousing each other by their common Bhakti. Some Bhakta[14] found in these experiences such religious fulfilment that they rejected the old idea of evasion and their hymns ask the Lord to give them innumerable rebirths in places consecrated to Him, in the midst of the faithful who honour his name.


We are a long way here from the kaivalya ideal of the yogi attaining his own strength, without any help from Divine Grace, a stable state which gives him for ever to the sole enjoyment of his essence. Madhva insists on the fact that spiritual states are fragile and fluctuating, and that even in salvation they depend on the divine favour. The progress of the Bhakta is due to this divine favour, in the measure in which God reveals His own greatness and makes the Bhakta’s knowledge and love grow side by side to the very fullness of his capacity, a capacity of which God Himself is the author. For Madhva, yoga is only an auxiliary in the spiritual progression.


But, it is in the school of Ramanuja that the synthesis between Bhakti and Yoga presents some difficulties which are significant of the duality of spiritual traditions. Ramanuja is not willing to reject the model of the yogi who seeks his solitary salvation in the isolation of his monad. He admits that the yogi obtains what he desires, the enjoyment of his own essence, but apart from the elect who possess the vision of God and the beatitude of serving Him. Ramanuja’s partisans were later to be divided on this question. The so-called School of the North, which of the Vadagalai, considered that this mode of salvation was a stage on the way to total bliss,  and that the yogi, after having for a while enjoyed his sole essence, would rejoin the heaven of Vishnu.  The Tengalai, or School of the South, said that the salvation of the yogi is certainly a true salvation, but in saying this they had to reinterpret the very notion of “kaivalya”: in conformity with the doctrine of the master, the discovery of our atmâ is the discovery of the one who is the Atmâ of this atmâ, the Soul of our soul – that is, the discovery in us of the Lord Himself.


3.     Bhakti and Prapatti


The way of Bhakti, stressing as it does the omnipotence of God and the gratuity of His Will, must pose the problem of the relation of grace and liberty. In the school of Madhva the response is great: God alone is svatantra, dependent on Himself; all other beings are paratantra, dependent on another. Even the eternal beings, the spirits, are what they are only by the will of God: their essence, their svarupa, is different for each of them, and manifests an inner capacity (yogyata) which commands their destiny. From this there results a rigorous predestination – all the more rigorous in that certain beings are predestined to eternal hell. This notion of the eternity of hell, which is accepted in the Indian tradition only by Madhva, corresponds with his refusal to carry belief in the gratuity of salvation to the point of accepting “salvation by hatred”. This latter doctrine is illustrated by several mythical accounts telling how a demon, obsessed with hatred for God, reached fulfilment at the moment when God killed him with his own hand. Madhva reinterprets these texts: hatred, the opposite of Bhakti, can only lead to eternal unhappiness.


But, it is in the school of Ramanuja that the problems of the relation between grace and freedom assume their full importance, being at the origin of a quarrel, resembling Western “quarrel of quietism”, which divided the school into Vadagalai and Tengalai. The Vadagalai draw their chief inspiration from Sanskrit sources, the Tengalai from Tamil religious hymns of the Alvars. The Vadagalai School is called “School of the Monkey” because it represents God’s relations with the soul by the image of the monkey carrying her little one, which clings to her. The Tengalai School is called “School of the Cat”, because it attributes all the action to God: as the cat takes her kitten by the scruff of the neck, so the divine protection takes hold of the soul and asks only for complete surrender.


This surrender is called Prapatti, the state of one who gives himself wholly to God after consecrating himself to Him by a solemn act. The way of Prapatti becomes clearly distinguished from that of Bhakti only after Ramanuja. The whole question, especially after the Vedanta Desika, is in what circumstances one can choose this way and who has the right to do so. The Vadagalai, respecting the tradition of orthodoxy and the duties of caste, hold that the normal way is that of the bhakta,  who practises devotion to Vishnu  within a fixed social framework and according to well-tried methods, submitting to ritual obligations, purifications and prescribed exercises, and making of his activities so many disinterested offerings to the Lord. They admit, however, that for one who is prevented from following these practices through not belonging to a higher caste, or through any other reason independent of choice, there exists a short and difficult way, that of total surrender to the will of God. The Tengalai praise Prapatti. This is not, according to them, a second way; it is open to all the faithful who are worn down by the long delays of the way of Bhakti. Prapatti is not a means comparable to the other known means of spiritual progress, for its preliminary act consists in renouncing one’s own will and hence any intention of using some efficacious  technique. Prapatti, then, cannot without contradiction be considered as such a technique. It consists solely in “laying one’s burden” in the hands of the Lord: since it is to Him that we belong, His concern is to care for us, as a householder takes care of his servants and his herds even if these turn away from Him. There is no reparation for faults except to renew mentally one’s act of consecration. The Tengalai praise the total gratuity of the Divine Benevolence. The Vadagalai also admit that it is “without cause”, but they add that our good works give God the pretext that He waits to show His love. Our actions, good or evil, have no influence on the tenderness, vatsalya, of God, say the Tengalai: God loves even our faults, as the cow tenderly licks the dirt on her calf (vatsa).


The Vadagalai and the Tengalai differ equally on the subject of God’s “pity”, daya. The Vadagalai define pity as the will to remove the suffering of those whom one loves. The Tengalai define it as suffering this suffering, to the point of not being able to bear it. To apply this conception to God represents an absolute novelty in Indian thought: the constant dogma of the schools of Hinduism is to deny all possibility of suffering in God; all agree in saying that when the Saviour descends into this world in an Avatar, the grief that He can manifest under the form of Rama, Krishna, etc. is only the “playing of an actor” who in condescension makes Himself like us, without really taking on our condition. This is said in the Bible about Jesus Christ, along the words of the apostle Paul: “… Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself …” (Philippians 2. 6-9).  But the logic of love leads the Tengalai School to this great exigency: all the words of Scripture are true, they say, and if it is said for example in the Ramayana, that Rama “suffers much because of the misfortunes of men” we must believe that He truly suffers from them.


These are the main lines along which developed the theology of the great and important schools of Vaishnava Vedanta, the school of Ramanuja and the school of Madhva. These two schools, each confronted with the difficult problems posed by the philosophy of Shankara, sketched the outlines of two original syntheses. Each answers these problems according to its own character, and each opens up new ways of thought, going so far as to create a new problematic and elaborate new ideas. It seems remarkable that the internal logic of the doctrine of the love of God, skirting round discussions belonging to the most specifically Hindu form of technicality, should lead to spiritual insights which, while situated at the great boundaries of what Hinduism accept based on ‘Ancient Wisdom’ of all times, link up with some doctrines of other World Religions as Christianity and Islam. The unity of Truth behind diversity and even discord, is the secret of the variety of religious denominations and philosophies within the great World Religions, as all get at some image or some side clue, touch even some portion of ancient Wisdom and Truth as revealed in the ancient and most psychological religion of the world, Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gîtâ reveals “Hinduism” in a nutshell, and only needs 700 verses to do this, in the form of a dialogue between the Lord Krishna and Arjuna.


 “Experience of God in Southern Shaivism


1.  Experience of Divine Immanence


How deeply the Shaivite saints felt immanence of God in their religious experience can be glimpsed in the verses of Manikkavacakar:


Thou know’st no increase, measure, end! All worlds

Thou dost create, protect, destroy, enrich with grace,

Release. Thou causest me to enter ‘mid Thy servant band.

More subtle Thou than fragrance. Thou’rt afar, art near.

Thou art the mystic word transcending word and thought.

(The Tiruvâcakam, 1.41-43)


Uyyavanta describes the divine activity in the world as follows: Shiva is Father and Mother of the universe because of his five functions, namely creation, preservation, dissolution, concealment, and the bestowal of grace. He performs these functions through his power, love and mercy (arul-catti), and his mercy is personified as his consort called Mother. He is therefore said to be the Lord and husband of Catti. It is interesting to note that for the universe and finite souls he is king, guru, chief, lord, bridegroom and benefactor. These attributes bring out clearly the fact that he unceasingly looks after souls and the rest of the universe in a most intimate manner. His actions in the universe are conceived as operative through his Shakti.


Shiva is always spoken of as playing among his subjects, and his five actions mentioned above are often represented as mere play. “He plays in the world, he plays in the soul” (kelati ande, kelati pinde) is a recurring theme in Shaivite writings. This idea is explained by his omnipotence, that is to say, all his actions are easy, involving no effort, so that he is often said to act without acting. The whole universe is bright with his smile and alive with his joyous movements. The titles such as “Deceiver” and “Maniac” applied to Shiva are cast in the same mould: they explain that Shiva tries to win over souls by mysterious ways which look grotesque to human wisdom. Closely connected with this doctrine are his frequent manifestations in order to try and test his followers – though they take forms which might be represented in an unfavourable light.


Shiva’s dancing, interpreted in the same way as his play, is symbolic of his perpetual and gracious action throughout the universe and in loving hearts. More esoterically, the dance is interpreted as the source of all movements in the universe, the origin of the five cosmic powers, and his gracious action in liberating souls. His posture as Nataraja (the dancing king) particularly represents his liberating activity. The hand holding a rattle removes the impurity of maya; the hand with fire burns out karma; the foot on the ground crushes anavam (the fundamental evil of darkness) lest this evil should gain power; the raised foot stabilises the power of his grace; and finally the two other hands, in gestures showing mercy and love, plunge the liberated souls into the ocean of bliss.


For Tirumular, God is not merely one who loves souls, but one whose very essence is love. Where there is love, there is God; and where there is God, there is love. God and love are convertible terms:


The ignorant think that love and God are two different things;

They do not know that love is God,

After knowing that love is God

They remain possessed of love which is God.


That God’s activity outside himself is determined by love and derives its inner meaning from love is clearly taught by the following lines:


The Lord is in love; he forms the body of love outside.

He is love before and after his action outside;

As the Lord of the mystics,

He resides within love, the Supreme Real;

He is the help of those who love him.


Being in himself the nature of love, he forms the body of love outside himself.


He stands as love, knowledge, good conduct.

He stands as bliss and the blissful union between lovers.

He stands as love in time and karma.

With love he stands in his five-fold function.


Experience of God’s fatherliness, motherliness, friendship, saviourhood and love is profound indeed. Wherever one finds these qualities displayed, one may confidently hail the presence of God. But where one finds them denied by hatred or selfishness, one cannot think of God as immanent at all, except as their “immanent antagonist”. In the higher forms of personal life especially, the religious person can recognise that central and supremely valuable aspect of God that lies at the heart of all religious life, namely, “God is love”. It is this thought and experience of God as love – or rather, as the indwelling lover – that is deepest in the Shaivite experience of God.


Another interesting point to the Shaivite teaching on immanence is that God is present in souls as an infused light. This universal presence of divine light is made effectual by the power of grace (arul-catti) in the soul. Here arises a difficulty. If we say that God is the light that enlightens every man, does it follow that he is in the heart of the murderer, the rake, or the heartless oppressor of the poor? Again, since good and bad qualities exist side by side in the hearts of some men, how are we to conceive of the divine presence as light?


This objection is answered by the Shaiva Siddhantin in the doctrine of three impurities in the soul. God, whose love for souls is at first hidden in them like the shadow of water in water, condescends to reveal his love in a visible form. To those who are under the influence of only one stain, i.e. anavam, he appears himself, as true wisdom, and illumines their minds from within. To those with two stains, i.e. anavam and karma, he appears as a guru in the form of Shiva, performs the saving acts and imparts the liberating knowledge. To the ignorant with three impurities, i.e. anavam, karma and maya, he reveals true knowledge by concealing himself in a form like theirs, as a guru.


In the Shaivite system this light of knowledge is considered as a form of grace and bliss immanent in the soul. First it is dormant, but then by the action of Shiva it becomes bright and blissful and is realised by the soul in genuine and inner love of God. Pattinattar expresses this wonderfully:


The grace of God came unto me

And slew delusion’s might.

Thereafter I obtained

The longing for high wisdom’s holy light;

Obtaining, I beheld thy deity;

Beholding, gained

The vision of my very soul.

And lo! The moment I attained

To such high knowledge, I began to see

All men, all things, as truly they should be,

And saw thee in thy fullness, no part but whole.

(Temple Bells, edited by Appasamy (Calcutta), p. 59.)


The divine indwelling in man can be variously explained in Shaivism. It is a “possession”, an “afflatus”, an “inspiration”, grace conceived as a personal force. It is at the same time “an infused divine light”, the “Voice of God” within us, or a “pre-eminent grace”, since it does really penetrate man’s personality. Arulnati gives the following theological explanation of the divine immanence as inner light: The eye that sees all cannot see itself; the internal senses can know neither themselves nor the soul through the agency of which they know; the soul, though it knows objects, can know neither itself nor the God through whose power (shakti) it knows. Hence, Shiva, the all-seer, manifests himself to the soul and enables it to perceive its own true form. When the Siddhantin tells us that the soul does not know itself when it knows objects, the soul is obviously understood in the sense of the transcendent self in union with the divine Shiva-form (arulshakti), for it is affirmed that the experiential and rational soul knows itself as the experiential ego in all ordinary knowledge. True divine knowledge is needed to get an insight into the divine nature of the soul. This knowledge is not is not only imparted to the soul through the medium of the gracious guru; the God Shiva also illuminates the believer’s understanding from within, by revealing his true nature by means of grace. The divine grace descends in varying degrees, in accordance with the degree of love of God (bhakti) that the individual soul possesses.


The Shaivite doctrine of divine immanence and of the experience of it can be summed up as follows.


We can distinguish two sorts of divine immanence, the ontological and the psychological. By ontological immanence the Siddhantin understands the presence in every soul of God’s power, on which the soul’s activity and change radically depend as on their instrumental cause. This indwelling of God in the soul is inseparable, a permanent state. It is not a static state, in the sense of God being passively present in the soul as a sort of ornament. God operates in the soul and co-operates with it in its every activity through the power of his grace. The purpose of God’s presence and activity in every soul is to save it from the bondage of the three impurities. God conducts the soul according to his ways and not according to the ways of the soul itself. Of course, impurity affects every soul and leads it away from God’s ways. Hence God makes use of the ways of impurity, such as karma and maya, for his own purpose of liberating souls; for both these impurities awaken the soul from the passive, static and dormant state of complete darkness due to anavam. The three impurities do not belong to the nature of the spiritual soul as such, and hence can be removed by Shiva’s grace and the soul’s operation. God is inseparable united with the soul as its very soul, with the mind as its mind. Such inseparability does not imply identity: that would jeopardise the divine immanence, and the Supreme Being would be affected by the imperfections of the soul. The best example to illustrate this union are the soul and body in man, the eye and the sunlight in sight, and the intelligence and the light of the eye in experiential knowledge.


By psychological immanence the Siddhantin understands that God in various ways discloses himself to the soul and reveals the nature of his ontological immanence, so that the soul, having been purged of its ignorance and misery, realises intuitively that God is present and operating in it. God reveals himself in various degrees. In the state of bondage, the life of love of God (bhakti) gradually emerges, thanks to the grace of illumination, and develops into a deeper awareness of the divine immanence. When the soul mistakenly thinks that it is itself the lord of the world and what is untrue is the truth, it identifies the unreal and impermanent with the real and permanent. Ignorant of the true nature of itself and God, the soul acts as if it were the sole agent, attributes everything to its own power, and becomes so self-centred that it judges all values selfishly. God then manifests himself in various ways to make the soul realise and acknowledge its dependence in him and its continuous indebtness to him. Not content with hidden immanence, God reveals himself when the soul shows signs of love to him. He manifests himself not only in symbols and images, but also in the form of the guru who instructs the soul and initiates it into the Shaivite path of liberation. All these are exterior manifestations of God’s immanence. The Shaivite conception of the divine immanence is that God’s power of grace (arul-catti) is actively present in the soul, first hidden and then manifest. At the stage of manifested immanence, the soul comes to know that its  activity really depends on God’s power. But this knowledge only paves the way for that higher knowledge which alone liberates the soul from the radical impurity of its selfishness.


2.  Experience of Divine Transcendence


The Characteristic note of Tamil Shaivite theism is its personality and monotheistic conception of the God Shiva as the unique Supreme Person to whom all other beings, divine and human, are entirely subordinate. This is in keeping with Bhakti religion, which offers single-minded and undivided love to one only supreme and personal God.


God is experienced primarily as the greatest mystery. No one, not even the other gods, such as Brahma and Vishnu, can know Shiva unless he chooses to reveal himself. This idea constantly occurs in Shaivite hymns, with great emphasis. Shaivite saints are fond of contrasting with the vain search of Brahma and Vishnu the revelation of Shiva graciously granted to them. Sambandar exclaims:


Thou light whom Brahma, being’s fount, and Vishnu could not see,

No righteousness have I, I only speak in praise of thee.

Come, Valivalam’s Lord, let no dark fruit of deeds, I pray,

Torment thy slave who with his song extols thee day by day.

( See F. Kingsbury and G.E. Philipps, Hymns of the Tamil Saivite Saints (Calcutta, 1921), p. 21)


Essentially unreachable, God reveals Himself to man by a gracious gift, and all man can do is dispose himself to receive such a revelation. Appar sings thus:


Vishnu, spouse of Lakshmi, and four-faced Brahma,

Searched the heights and depths, but thy feet could not see.

Yet, O unique Lord, who in Athikai dost dwell,

Formless, in thy grace, grant the sight of them to me.

( See F. Kingsbury and G.E. Philipps, Hymns of the Tamil Saivite Saints (Calcutta, 1921), p. 39)


God’s infinite greatness is justly and soberly portrayed by Tayumanavar in these words:


Mind of no mortal God’s greatness can measure;

He is the claim and content of all creeds;

Ways which bewilder the warring religions

Are his, and unreachable are his deeds.

Who can his greatness guess? Who claims to know him?

Mind cannot measure, nor speech reach the heights

Where the eternal one, almighty Lord is,

Being all-blessed Bliss, Light of all lights.

(Temple Bells, op.cit., pp. 39-40)


Among God’s personal qualities it is His mercy that has attracted the Shaivite religious singers most, and they are never tired of giving expression to their deep experience of it. Manikkavasakar in “Love of God according to Saiva Siddhânta, op., pp. 161-2”, explains God’s love in terms of mercy and grace. God, who is the ocean of mercy, gives the heavenly food of mercy and grace to sustain believers in their spiritual striving. His nature itself consists of merciful love, more precious than a mother’s. He is the flood of mighty and changeless mercy. No one who reads the following verses of Manikkavasakar can remain untouched by the depth of the experience of God’s mercy in his soul.


The tree of divine grace in a unique way sprang, rose up, sent forth its boughs which none can count; rightly he cared for me and called me and helped me to ride in state aloft (i.e. in the realm of spiritual experience of grace).


He rules over my wandering thoughts and shows love and abides in my heart and soul. He works in grace of love in order that wickedness may die out in the hearts of men.


When I knew not his form, even then he fixed his love on me, planted himself within my thought and flesh and thus made me his. With greater love than that of the mother who thoughtfully feeds her child with milk, melting the flesh of the sinner I am, flooding my soul with inner light, God bestows, unweary, honeyed bliss.

(The Tiruvâcakam, 10:8; 1: 65-6; 37:9)


Together with the experience of God’s mercy, the Shaivite saints show a profound sense of humility and self-abasement, which pervade their whole Bhakti attitude. The believer, keenly aware of his own vileness and sinfulness, implores God’s forgiveness and mercy. This sense of sin and guilt does not deter him from placing his full trust and optimism in the forgiving mercy of God, for love of God engenders in the soul absolute trust and confidence in the power of God and the efficacy of his grace. The idea of sin with these saints, as with Hinduism generally, is closely connected with their fundamental belief that human existence, as subject to the rigid law of action and rebirth, is to be considered sinful and evil, and man seeks to be liberated from it. Nevertheless, we cannot but be struck by their sorrow and grief for not only the physical evil of action and rebirth but also the infidelity and insincerity that mar their relations with God. Let us illustrate this aspect of Shaivite Bhakti by some quotations from Nayanmars.


Sambandar, acutely aware of his own vileness and sin, cries out: “Who am I, who have righteousness, to know you, unknowable even by Brahma and Vishnu? I only speak in praise of you.” (Hymns of the Tamil Saivite Saints, op. cit., p. 21) The effects of surrender to the Lord are freedom from mental ills like dust and anger, enlightenment of the mind, inability to sin, cleansing from the fear of death and all other fears, and the birth of true love of God. Appar expresses his sinful state and implores help: “I am on a raft in the sea of life, wrecked on the rock of lust and selfishness. I cry for help.” (Panniru Tirumuraip Peruntirattu, 2047.) In more details, he sings:


My race is evil, my character evil, my ways evil. My sin is great. Even my good is evil. I am sinful and foolish. I do not join the company of the good. I am not beast, and yet I do not forsake the ways of beast. I talk big, exhorting men and telling them what to hate. Poor sinful wretch that I am, I only beg and never give to the needy. To do this was I born! (Panniru Tirumuraip Peruntirattu, 2443)


Together with the sense of sin, Appar experiences a profound feeling of humility and self-abasement. He exclaims: “I am not worthy to sing your praise as genuine Bhaktas should; I do not have such deep love for you as I should have; all the same, do not forsake me.” (Panniru Tirumuraip Peruntirattu, 11) Even though Appar is a true lover of God, still he feels that his love for God is nothing great, especially as compared with the supreme Bhakti, which is the purely gratuitous gift of God.


To sum up. Shiva is the Supreme Being, stainless and pure. He is One because he is the Supreme Lord of all things. Because he transcends every thought and word he is unknowable without the aid of grace, and inexpressible by image or symbol. It is important to note that he is eminently a personal God. He is endowed with personal qualities of knowledge, love and graciousness. Though immanent, he transcends the world of spirit and matter, unaffected by any kind of imperfection. Although his nature is beyond human comprehension, mystical perception of its reality shows that he is a personal deity in so far as he is defined by the title “the Wise One”.


Perpetual Pilgrimage on All the Roads of India


A pilgrimage is by definition a devotional journey to some holy place, for the purpose of purifying and sanctifying oneself. The sâdhvîs are in perpetual pilgrimage. It is not that they go to holy places on earth (this is done, but it is a stage they have already passed). It is that they go from place to place out of radical detachment and for the purpose of attaining liberation (Mokşa, nirvana, mukti). Each place where they stay is for them a stage nearer to liberation, and therefore a holy place. They are purifying themselves there simply by being more and more alert to reality.


The holy ascetic of Indian religiousness does not represent exclusively, and often not even mainly, an ideal of moral renunciation, but rather that of an authentic, naked and pure life. His body is no longer the medium and container of (his) life, but he “exists” in the purity of the Atmâ, in the transparency of Brahman, in the clear Presence, of which the witnesses of the life of a “saint” are aware, according to their degrees of awakening.


There is a constitutive dissatisfaction in human life. Even if one has done one’s best, other possible actions have remained undone. Disillusionment is, according to Indian tradition, the beginning of philosophy.  It may also be said to initiate the process of transcending the human condition. The well-known and well-balanced âsramic system in India allows the husband and eventually the wife also to retire to the forest, once their duty towards society has been performed, and adopt a life of renunciation in search of the ultimate, for it seems that this ultimate is not reached in married life.


There has, however, always been the option of a short-cut for the man who does not feel he must pass through the traditional stages, but enters straight away into the life of the monk, the samnyâsin, the renouncer. His earning is to merge into the One; he longs for total liberation from the temporal and spatial condition of human existence; he gives up his body, its care and even all thought of it.


He expresses and proclaims to the open sky and all the winds:


  • The primacy of the spiritual over everything else
  • Non-violence
  • Self-realisation
  • Complete asceticism, thirst for purification
  • Solitude (but not isolation)
  • Radical nudity, for some  in every sense
  • Nostalgia for being in its fullness.


After this brief summary of the essential of Hinduism and its reality, we leave our readers to draw their own conclusions about the nature of Eastern spiritual experience as a whole in its multiplicity. Let us say simply that there is at the root of Hinduism an authentic mysticism, a mystical experience of a transcendently immanent order.


This does not consist in experience of another, to whom one is united by the way of knowledge and love, as in other traditions. There is no question here of a subject tending towards an object. The subject, when purifies of all material dust, re-attains its own total purity, its infinity, its liberty.


It suffices to transcend this immanence in order to rediscover the ultimate reality, the soul (Jîva) in its pure consciousness of being, an undifferentiated unity with itself.


But can one still speak of “experience”, when the soul in its pure consciousness of being, is simply itself? In itself, it has nothing new, nothing other; it is, in fullness. This would seem to be the meaning of nirvana in Hinduism: both total destruction, annihilation of all karmas including the human covering, and ineffable reality, plenitude of being.




Religious or spiritual experience seems an excellent ground on which to meet mystics, devotees and believers outside Christianity. On the doctrinal level the encounter is often difficult with Buddhists. It seems better therefore to stress the search and the experience rather than the name of that for which we are searching. Indeed, what Christians call God is often conceived, in other religions, as the “ineffable reality”. As for the conditions required for enlightenment or mystical knowledge, they are the same everywhere, and can be expressed as a discipline of life and a progressive purification.


A more difficult ground for encounter, though it exists in many religions, is faith in a personal Being who helps man in his search for the Absolute. But the deepest encounter has certainly to be found in a common silent prayer.



(I see the Divinity in You)



[1] I am Vişnu among the (twelve) sons of Aditi, I am the radiant sun among the luminaries, I am Marīci among the supernatural controllers of wind, I am the moon among the stars. (Gîtâ 10.21)

[2] I am Lord Shiva, I am the god of wealth, I am the fire god, and the mountains. (Gîtâ 10.23)


[3] The superconscious state of mind. The final or the highest stage of meditation is called Nirvikalpa Samādhi.

[4] In India, the philosophy of world-negation has been given formulations of supreme power and value by two of the greatest of her thinkers Buddha and Shankara. Shankara in the historical process of India’s philosophical mind takes up, completes and replaces Buddha.

[5] Devotion.

[6] To the favourite Divinity one goes.

[7] Linking with the Supreme Lord through devotional service.

[8] Non-duality of the Universal Spirit.

[9] The belief or theory that God and the universe are identical. Among its best-known proponents are the Roman Stoics and Spinoza.

[10] One Who descends”; a fully or partially empowered incarnation of God who descends from the spiritual realm for a particular mission.

[11] The apostle Paul (Bible) wrote: “Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.5)  Meditation awakens within ourselves the dormant Divine Flame (Christ Mind), the Brahman in the individual.

[12] Meaning the One. Also, the threefold Spirit on its own plane. In  the esoteric teaching, it usually means the unified triad, Atmâ, Buddhi, Manas, Spiritual Will, Inspiration (intuition) and the Higher Mind, or the immortal part of man which reincarnates, and gradually progresses through them to man, and further after many births and deaths (if need be) reaching Mokşa (the final liberation).

[13] Hatha Yoga, in this case, a specialised branch of bodily postures and techniques for health and longevity.

[14] Devotee.