Devotion or Liberation?
Life is what you make it. Life can be a succession of parties, jobs or homes. Life can be boring, exciting, happy or sad, but the greatest life to lead has been praised by saints and seers from every land: a life devoted to realising God, the source of life within us.
If we look through the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Koran or Upanishads, we find endless advice about life and how to live it. This is common knowledge for all who can read but it is uncommon to find this knowledge put into practice. The way to put this common knowledge into practice is by meditating on the highest Knowledge of all, Knowledge of the Soul.
Knowledge of the Soul is the ingredient needed to realise God because it is very clear that a limited body andl a limited mind cannot comprehend an unlimited God. We require new tools for a new job and the tool of realisation is direct and immediate perception. No thinking, wishing, imagining, austerities nor chanting will substitute for a direct, immediate experience of he goal itself. It is the ability to transmit this experience that made Jesus the Christ, Gautama the Buddha and Mohammed the Prophet. And it is this ability that either proves or refutes anyone's claims to be a teacher, Guru or Master of this path.
Once we have this key, the mystery of the scriptures dissolves before our eyes; we can understand what was previously unintelligible, see what was previously hidden. It is only by the power of this highest knowledge that the life of God realisation becomes possible. This Knowledge of the Soul is meditation on God in the four primary aspects of inner light, vibration, sound and fluid. By concentrating our consciousness on these, we proceed on the path automatically. Our life changes from one of normal expectations to one of unimaginable peace and bliss.
The Better Path
Slowly but surely this experience allows us to ease our dependence on the material world and sever attachments to mind and body. Eventually, we are completely free from any physical or mental limitations: we are liberated. Of course, it takes a great deal of effort and patience before a lifetime's ingrained habits and ideas can be superseded by a new reality. This transformation can be hindered greatly by continual association with or reaffirmation of our past lifestyles.
In the Bhagavad Gita, it is at this point that Arjuna asked Krishna if there wasn't some easier way of doing it. Arjuna, having been given the supreme Knowledge of God, asked his Guru, Krishna, which is the better path and who are the most dear to Him: those who meditate on the four unmanifest aspects of God, or those who devote their lives in service to the manifest God who reveals Knowledge?
Krishna explained that although the path of meditation is the path of liberation, it is fraught with difficulty as the human mind will always have trouble comprehending the unmanifest form. He told Arjuna that the dearest devotee is the one who meditates and serves his Guru. This devotee will he liberated. "Him I will swiftly lift forth from life's ocean of distress and death, whose soul clings fast to Me." This is the path of devotion.
Devotion is more important than liberation. Devotion brings liberation from worldly suffering whereas the path of liberation does not guarantee devotion. One possible reason for this is that the devotee who does not recognise his Master as being worthy of unlimited devotion is not going to recognise Knowledge as being worthy of unlimited effort. By the same token, the devotee who recognises his Master as Lord not only knows his search to be at an end and plunges into meditation with great determination, but is also able to mix freely on the manifest world, knowing that he has a manifest God to relate to. Surely it is much easier for us to relate to God through the accustomed external manner of our five senses than through this new internal Knowledge. Naturally, one is not really possible without the other, but it is important to know which one comes first.
Devotion is immediate in its effects. The devotee can live in the manifest world not as a stranger but with his Lord before him as strength and guidance. For those who wish to travel the path of God realisation, the direction is clear: devotional service to the Perfect Master is the sure way to liberation but the path of liberation without devotional service is fraught with trouble.
In fact, it has been reported that a Perfect Master once said, "there are two paths to God realisation: liberation and devotion. I have chosen the path of devotion for you."
In the conclusion to his book, Bhakti-Yoga (the Yoga of Love and Devotion), Vivekananda sums up the nature of Divine Love:
"When this highest ideal of love is reached, philosophy is thrown away, who will then care for it? Freedom, Salvation, Nirvana - all are thrown away; who cares to become free while in the enjoyment of divine love? "Lord, I do not want wealth, nor friends, nor beauty, nor learning, nor even freedom; let me born again and again, and be Thou ever my Love. Be Thou ever and ever my Love." "Who cares to become sugar?" says the Bhakta, "I want to taste sugar." Who will then desire to become free and one with God? "I may know that I am He, yet will I take myself away from Him and become different so that I may enjoy the Beloved." That is what the Bhakta says. Love for love's sake is his highest enjoyment. Who will not be bound hand and foot a thousand times over to enjoy the Beloved?
No Bhakta cares for anything except love, except to love and to be loved. His unworldly love is like the tide rushing up the river; this lover goes up the river against the current. The world calls him mad. I know one whom the world used to call mad, and this was his answer: "My friends, the whole world is a lunatic asylum. Some are mad after worldly love, some after name, some after fame, some after money, some after salvation and going to heaven. In this big lunatic asylum I am also mad, I am mad after God. If you are mad after money, I am mad after God. You are mad; so am I. I think my madness is after all the best." The true Bhakta's love is this burning madness, before which everything else vanishes for him. The whole universe is to him full of love and love alone; that is how it seems to the lover. So when a man has this love in him, he becomes eternally blessed, eternally happy. This blessed madness of divine love alone can cure for ever the disease of the world that is in us. With desire, selfishness has vanished. He has drawn near to God, he has thrown off all those vain desires of which he was full before.
We all have to begin as dualists in the religion of love. God is to us a separate Being, and we feel ourselves to be separate beings also. Love then comes in the middle, and man begins to approach God and God also comes nearer and nearer to man. Man takes up all the various relationships of life, as father, as mother, as son, as friend, as master, as lover, and projects them on his idea of love, on his God. To him God exists as all these, and the last point of his progress is reached when he feels that he has become absolutely merged in the object of his worship. We all begin with love for ourselves, and the unfair claims of the little self make even love selfish. At last however, comes the full blaze of light in which this little self is seen to have become one with the Infinite. Man himself is transfigured in the presence of this Light of Love, and he realises at last the beautiful and inspiring truth that Love, the Lover, and the Beloved are One."