Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ananya Bhakthi – a brief analysis.

Bhakthi comes from the root Bhaj , which means to serve with attachment, here the attachment is to God.  Those who follow the path of bhakthi are called bhakthas. These bhakthas can be broadly divided into two groups, Sakama bhakthas and Nishkama bhakthas.  Sakama bhakthas are those whose devotion to God and worship of God is motivated by material wants and desires.  So here God is not the end goal of the bhaktha.  God is only an intermediate means through whose help he wants to attain the fulfillment of his material wants. This is usually the early stages of bhakthi in which we most are. In this early stage God is worshipped in many forms, depending upon bhaktha’s moods and needs.  In this early stage there is also much importance to rituals, and worship is offered equally out of fear as of love.

The Nishkama bhakthas are those bhakthas for whom God is the end as well as means. They do not have a material goal either for themselves or in respect of others to whom they are attached, except for the welfare of all of humanity as a class.  For them bhavana, the mental attitude, in bhakthi  is more important  than any physical  ritual.  Under Nishkama bhakthas come Jijnasu bhakthas and Jnani bhakthas.  The Jijnasu bhakthas  have as their goal Jnanam, knowledge of God and to this end pray for anthakaranasuddhi, the purity of mind and thoughts, necessary for acquiring Jnanam overcoming raga and dwesha.  Their goal is spiritual goal which is related to God, who can be called as Iswara as well.  Those Nishkama  bhakthas, who after attaining  Jnanam, revel in that Jnanam with bhakthi  are the Jnani bhakthas.  The Jijnasu’s path to Jnanam is through ananya bhakthi.  

Lord Krishna gives the formula for ananya bhakthi that is the hallmark of Bhakthiyoga in a few places in Gita. We shall see two of them starting with the advice to Arjuna in 9-27.
यत्करोषि यदश्नासि यज्जुहोषि ददासि यत्। ( Yad karoshi Yad asnasi yad juhoshi dadhasi yad )
यत्तपस्यसि कौन्तेय तत्कुरुष्व मदर्पणम्॥ (Yad tapasysi kaunteya tad kurushva madharpanam )
Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever ritual you perform, whatever you give, whatever religious discipline you follow, Arjuna, please do it as an offering to me.

After revealing his Viswarupa, Sri Krishna again spells out the recipe for ananya bhakthi to Arjuna in 11-55.
मत्कर्मकृन्मत्परमो मदभक्तः सङ्गवर्जितः। matkarmakrit matparamo madbhakthaha sangavarjithaha
निर्वैरः सर्वभूतेषु यः मामेति पाण्डव॥ nirvairah sarvabhutheshu yah sa mamethi Pandava
He who does actions for Me, who looks upon Me as the Supreme goal, who is devoted to Me, who is free from attachment and who bears no enmity towards any being, he attains Me.

In this sloka Lord Krishna has laid down four criterions for ananya bhakthi with a rider that such an ananya bhaktha will attain Him.  As Lord Krishna is speaking these words not as the son of Devaki and Vasudeva but as the incarnation of Cosmic Supreme, attaining Him is Mukthi or liberation from the cycle of birth and death and so we can take these as criterions for a bhaktha to reach his spiritual goal of liberation. They are:
 1)   Whose work is all for Iswara  
2)  For whom Iswara is the Supreme goal
3)  Who is free from all worldly associations
4)  Who has no sense of enmity towards any living being. 

Criterion 1 was explained in the sloka we saw earlier i.e. sloka 9-27.  For a Nishkama bhaktha seeking liberation, Iswara is the Supreme goal.  His attachment is only to Iswara and to Satsangh and so he is free from all other worldly associations and material attachments.  Criterion 4 which results from the Universal vision, that Lord Krishna speaks of in Gita 10-8, is very important as it lifts bhakthi to its higher form, Parabhakthi.  For what constitutes lower form of bhakthi, let me quote from Swami Vivekananda’s work on Bhathiyoga

Swamiji  writes “ The one great advantage of Bhakti  is that it is the easiest, and the most natural way to reach the great divine end in view; its great disadvantage is that in its lower forms it oftentimes degenerates into hideous fanaticism……... That singleness of attachment (Nishthâ) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of the denunciation of everything else. All the weak and undeveloped minds in every religion or country have only one way of loving their own ideal, i.e. by hating every other ideal. Herein is the explanation of why the same man who is so lovingly attached to his own ideal of God, so devoted to his own ideal of religion, becomes a howling fanatic as soon as he sees or hears anything of any other ideal. This kind of love is somewhat like the canine instinct of guarding the master’s property from intrusion; only, the instinct of the dog is better than the reason of man, for the dog never mistakes its master for an enemy in whatever dress he may come before it. Again, the fanatic loses all power of judgement.”

He further states later “It has always to be understood that the personal God worshipped by bhaktha is not separate or different from the Brahman.  All is Brahman, the one without a second; only the Brahman, as unity or absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped; so the bhaktha chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is Ishwara, the Supreme Ruler”.  So all personal Gods are to be understood as different manifestations of Brahman.  With name and form, they are different, but without name and form, as Absolute Truth, there is no difference.  Swamiji uses a simile to drive home this point. 

In Swamiji’s words “Brahman is as the clay or substance out of which an infinite variety of articles are fashioned. As clay, they are all one; but form or manifestation differentiates them. ….. the clay-mouse can never become a clay -elephant, because, as manifestations, form alone makes them what they are, though as unformed clay they are all one. Ishvara is the highest manifestation of the Absolute Reality, or in other words, the highest possible reading of the Absolute by the human mind”From this understanding comes the Universal vision an essential constituent of ananya bhakthi that can lead to Mukthi.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

“Flow” and Ananya bhakthi

Flow is a term used by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to describe a state where you are totally immersed in the activity you are engaged in.  He describes the mental state of flow as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."  Flow, also known as Zone, is described as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Csíkszentmihályi explains it with examples drawn from games like chess, athletics and activities like music and painting.  This focused absorption is also the feature in deep meditation and also in ananya bhakthi, the one-pointed devotion to one’s chosen deity.

Bhakthi can be defined as reverential love for God and bhaktha as a person leading a dharmic life who has bhakthi.   On the basis of Lord Krishna’s classification of bhakthi in Gita (7-16), we can classify bhakthas into four categories as Aartha bhakthas, Artharthi bhakthas, Jijnasu bhakthas and Jnani Bhakthas.  Aartha bhakthas turn to God seriously only when then they are in distress or in trouble.  Artharthi bhakthas regularly think of God but always with a plea for a favour, maybe it is fortune, position, fame etc. or for the redressal of some grievance, for themselves or for their loved ones. An Artharthi bhaktha is an Artha bhaktha as well but not the other way round. But both are only sakama bhakthas for whom God is only a means for a material goal.

Unlike these two the Jijnasu bhaktha, who is a seeker of  spiritual Jnanam, has a spiritual goal and is a nishkama bhaktha for whom God Himself is the end goal and not any other material means. For a Jijnasu bhaktha, bhakthi is a sadhana to reach his spiritual goal of God-realization and so his bhakthi is called sadhna bhakthi as well.  When he realizes that God, the Supreme Self called Paramatma, is in essence his own true Self, Athma, he blossoms into a Jnani bhaktha, and his bhakthi, Jnani  bhakthi,  is siddha bhakthi, i.e. bhakthi after achieving the goal of Realization and not bhakthi for achieving the goal of Realization.  For such a bhaktha all his actions are for God only and the thought of God is always in his mind in the background in all his deeds, words and thoughts.  His devotion is so intense that all thoughts, all words, and all deeds are given up unto the Lord, and there is no forgetfulness of God at any time in all his activities.  This intensity is the hallmark of ananya bhakthi.  When the sadhana bhakthi of a Jijnasu who has no material goal acquires this intensity his bhakthi also qualifies as ananya bhakthi.
According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors, many or all of which accompany the experience of flow. Those ten factors are:
1)   Clear goals, while challenging, still attainable
2)   Strong concentration and focused attention
3)   The activity is intrinsically rewarding
4)   Feeling of serenity; loss of feeling of self-consciousness
5)  Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing
6) Immediate feedback
7)  Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented
8)  Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome
9)   Lack of awareness of physical needs
10)   Complete focus on the activity itself.

In the ananya bhakthi of Jijnasu, we can see these factors present, when we leave out those factors pertaining to material goal.  This ananya bhaktha has clear goals of God-realization, which he hopes to achieve not through his efforts alone but through his efforts blessed by God’s Grace.  He has chitha ekagratha, which is focused attention of mind on the single subject, i.e.his Ishta devatha.  He revels in the very act of  bhakthi and is neither conscious of time nor of his own self, when he is immersed in acts of Bhakthi, be it singing, chanting or in satsang.  He is totally oblivious of his physical needs and there is complete focus on the activities of devotion.

We can also define this concept of “Flow” and ananya bhakthi using computer terminology.  Studies by psychologists have revealed that the amount of information the mind can attend to at any time is only limited to 126 bits.  Some bits of this are taken up for  the involuntary coding and decoding of vital information essential for the running the autonomic system of the body. Where all the available balance bits are taken up by what one is engaged in, the condition of flow occurs. Same way ananya bhakthi is the state where all the available  balance bits are taken up by the act of devotion to God.

Talking of such bhakthas Lord Krishna says in Gita (10-10)
तेषां सततयुक्तानां भजतां प्रीतिपूरर्वकमम्।
ददामि बुद्धियोगं तं येन मामुपयान्ति ते॥
tesam satatayukthanam bhajatham preetipurvakam
dadami buddhiyogam tam yena mamupayanthi te
For those who are always committed to me, seeking me with love, I bless them with the yoga of knowledge through which they reach Me.

He reinforces this assurance more emphatically by clearly spelling out His act of Grace in the next verse (10-11)
तेषामेवानुकम्पार्थम् अहमज्ञानजं तमः।
नाशयाम्यात्मभावस्थो ज्ञानददीपेनभास्वता॥
tesamevanukampartham ahamajnanajam tamah
nasayamyatmabhavastho jnanadeepena bhasvatha
For them alone I shower my Grace, destroying the darkness born of ignorance through shining the light of knowledge, dwelling in their heart

Any bhaktha when he acquires this “Flow” in his bhakthi and stays with it can reach the spiritual goal of God Realization, irrespective of his past as Lord Krishna assures in  Gita 9-30, where he says that even a worst sinner when he  turns a new leaf and worships Him with this “Flow” (indicated by the term अनन्यभाक्,ananyabhak), he must be considered as a noble person only.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Kodagu, the coffee-land.

Kodagu, once known as Coorg is an administrative district in Karnataka state of India.  It was under the direct governance of British till the Indian Independence in 1947 and became an independent state in 1950. In the year 1956, during the re-organization of the states, it was merged with Karnataka and today it is the smallest district of Karnataka with Madikeri, formerly known as Mercara, as the district headquarters.  Kodagu, situated in the Western Ghats of southwestern Karnataka is famous for its evergreen forests, lush green valleys, sprawling coffee plantations, and fast flowing streams and is termed as the Kashmir of Karnataka.  To this Madikeri, myself and Rajam travelled from Bangalore in the air-conditioned luxury of Airavat, the Karnataka State Transport Corporation’s de-luxe service.

We stayed in Hotel Cauvery Residency, which is opposite to the bus depot, which we misread as bus stand while reserving on-line. So when we found that the hotel is a bit away from the town centre where all the shops and vegetarian restaurants are located and as we did not fancy the walk in the hilly town with all the ups and downs, we felt initially a tinge of disappointment over the choice.  But as the hotel was comfortable and the staff very courteous, our stay for two nights and three days became quite enjoyable though hectic.

As we landed in Madikeri  in the afternoon, we went round the local and nearby attractions the first day after lunch and brief rest. Our first visit was to the local fort, which is in the heart of the town.  The fort was originally built by Muddurajah and later re-built by Tipu Sultan, and now houses government offices.  There is a museum with ancient antiques like weapons, idols, canon etc.  Our next visit was to Abbey falls, which is about 8 kilometres from city centre. The winding drive on the mountain path to the falls is through the forests and coffee plantations,  You have to walk down another kilometre in the rugged path to reach the hanging bridge, from which you have a good view of the gushing waters of Cauvery that cascades down a mountain face.  We were told that this beautiful falls will present an awesome sight in monsoon.

From Abbey falls we retraced our steps to the city, to view other attractions there.  Our first stop was at Rajah’s tomb or the tombs of Dodda Virarajendra & Lingarajendra II.  The royal tombs provide a commanding view of the entire town. The tombs are of Muhammadan style with central domes and turrets. Even the bars of the windows are made of fine brass and adorned with beautiful engravings.  From Rajah’s tomb we made our way to Omkareshwar temple. This temple where the main deity is Lord Siva is also built in Muhammadan style with a central dome and turrets in four corners.  Our last stop for the day was at Rajah’s seat. This is the spot from where the kings watched the sunsets with their consorts and is a beautiful scenic spot.  From here you can have a fascinating view of not only the green valley but also of the curved road to Mangalore down the valley.   We sat here for sometime giving rest to our tiring legs watching the sun go down

Next day morning we started early for Talacauvery, the birthplace of Cauvery river.  It is 42 kilometres uphill from Madikeri.  On the way we spent some time in a coffee plantation. The source of the river is a small pond at the foot of the Brahmagiri hills.  The river originates as a spring supplying water to this tank. The water then flows underground to emerge as the Cauvery river at some distance and travels down the states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu before entering the sea at Poompuhar in Tamilnadu. Though it is considered  sacred to have a dip in the pond, we did not attempt it but only had the water sprinkled on our head. Nor did we venture to climb up the Bramagiri hills, as we were happy with the scenic view from the base of the hill and as we did not want to tire ourselves before the afternoon program.  Though there was a toilet facility here unlike some of the tourist spots, they were charging higher rates for the use of toilet by ladies(Rs. 5), as compared to the use of toilet by men(Rs. 2).

On our way back from Talacauvery we made a halt at Bhagamandala, where River Cauvery is joined by two other rivers, Kannika and Sujyothi. There is a temple built in Kerala style at this place of confluence dedicated to Lord Siva. The rivers Kannika and Sujyothi look like little streams at the point of confluence.  In the afternoon we proceeded to Bylakuppe, near Kushal Nagar to visit the the Tibetan temple, which is called the Golden temple in view of the big gold coated statues of  Buddha,  Padmasambhava and  Amitayus.  Bylakuppe is the second largest Tibetan settlement in India.

From Bylakuppe we proceeded to Nisargadhama, which is on our way of return to Madikeri, 3 Kilometres from Kushalnagar.  Nisagadhama is a picnic spot where Cauvery river splits forming an island, with a bamboo forest. A hanging bridge, deer park, elephant ride, tree-top shelters, boating facilities, dwelling cottages etc., all add to the charm of forest  scenery.  From Nisargadhama we made our way back to Madikeri

Next day after going round the shops in the city and getting the feel of the town through roaming round,  we made our way back to Bangalore, the same way we left, by Airavat service of KSRTC.   Photos of this trip can be viewed in my Picassa album “Coorg, the coffee-land” at