In the Gita there is mention of Gyan Marga (the path of knowledge) and of Bhakti Marga (the path of devotion) for attaining communion with God. But as already mentioned by Lord Krishna has given preference to devotion.
Action, knowledge and discipline are practices of attaining communion with God. But devotion is both a practice and the reward of such a practice. For the path of knowledge and for the path of Yoga, one must have certain qualifications to be able to make any progress. But devotion can be performed by the weak, the sick, or even by one who is of low intellect. It is easier than the path of knowledge, because one does not fall or waver once he has taken up this path.
Some people think that knowledge is a means for achieving devotion, whereas others think that they are both interconnected. Narad Rishi believed devotion to be the means as well as the end. But another great Rishi of ancient times considered that both yoga and knowledge were essential for devotion because, according to him, devotion needs concentration and purity of mind, and these are considered to be the essential qualifications for knowledge and yoga.
The Bhagwat says:
“Devotion to God creates knowledge. Such knowledge is the true knowledge, which results in attachment to the Lord. Mere superficial knowledge gives nothing, nor does devotion without faith. And knowledge without faith is also considered to be useless.” (Chapter 4, Verses 29, 36, 49)
In the Granth Sahib it is stated:
“You should follow the instructions of your Guru, because without devotion all types of intellectual actions are useless.”
Tulsi Das says:
“Bhakti is complete in itself and is not dependent on any other practice. On the other hand, knowledge and detachment are dependent upon it.”
The path of devotion is the easiest, and everybody is capable of treading it. The feeling of devotion is to be found in human beings and in some of the lower types of life like cattle, dogs and some other animals. It is a natural quality and is designed by God Himself. Everyone has it to some extent, although it is more developed in some than in others.
In order to be truly devoted it is necessary to believe in the omnipresence of the Lord. True devotees are always welcome at the Gates of God. They give their devotion to God through the grace of the Lotus Feet of Saints, because it is only through them that they are able to see God everywhere and are thus devoted to Him.
Devotion is a natural attribute of the heart. But this quality can be developed only through the grace of a True Master who is himself dyed in devotion to the Lord. The knowledge obtained from books is not sufficient.
Saint Ravi Das says:
“The feeling of devotion in one’s mind is not awakened without the company of Saints, and without such a feeling devotion is not complete.”
Lord Ram Chandra says in the Yoga Vashisht:
“By the amassing of wealth all good qualities are destroyed, in the same manner as the heat of the sun dries up the drops of dew on the leaves of the trees.”
A greedy person is extremely selfish because he is not capable of using his wealth for his own needs, and will not dole it out amongst the poor or others. So it is true that wealth is not worthy of our devotion. We were not born for amassing wealth, because wealth is like a shadow that lengthens and shrinks at different times, and when wealth goes, it causes a mental disturbance. Actually, wealth is for the use of man, and man was not born to be its slave.
Our relatives, our family and our community, all are subject to extinction by death. Nobody is free from death, and everybody is going his own way. If all these people are subject to death and separation, why should we attach oneself to them? They all have different temperaments and naturally there are differences of opinion. Consequently, devotion to them cannot be unchanging or always the same.
Devotion to one’s community and to one’s family is better than devotion to one’s own self. And devotion to one’s own nation is still better. But this has natural pitfalls because it gives rise to favoritism and group rivalry. Sometimes one has to do desirable and undesirable things in order to keep up one’s own reputation, for one is always concerned about the criticism of others.
Yet it is desirable that a person engaged in devotion to his nation or country should be fearless of all criticism, should stick to his principles, and should not be afraid of any adverse opinion. Truth will not diminish and should never be abandoned.
Selfish people even go so far as to destroy the happiness of others for the fulfillment of their own desires. People who are absorbed in devotion to their own family often create enmities with others. People who are devotees of their country also quarrel with each other and with other countries. The fire of war and enmity in the world is entirely due to the pugnacious tendencies of such people.
Similarly, those who are proud of their intellectual attainments are often fond of arguments and wrangling, which lead them farther away from the Truth. Such people always try to fight on the plane of intellect. The egotism of knowledge swells their heads, and they are so intoxicated by it
that at times they even forget their principles. Brother becomes an enemy of brother, and by the help of science, technology and learning, weapons of destruction are produced. This type of knowledge is constantly on the increase and is a cause of conflict and misery.
All these things – wealth, family, intellect, and so on – may be good for our own use and happiness, but they must be used properly; and because it is not possible to do so, they are not worthy of our devotion. They are incomplete in themselves, and are not permanent.
Amongst all the types of devotion, the highest is that which is offered to God (Sat Purush), who is One, Unchangeable and Indestructible. He is the Creator of all, and we are all His children.
By loving God we are also able to love all His creatures, because we are all brothers and God is the Father of all of us. Through this love there flows the current of God and the Brotherhood of Man.
What Are the Practices by Which We Can Be Successful in Devotion?
The first condition is to have only one object in mind, for devotion should be offered to one only. The rays of the sun are able to burn a piece of cloth if they are concentrated through a magnifying glass, but if they are spread over a large area they are unable to do so. Similarly, if the currents of devotion coming from one’s mind are concentrated on one’s beloved, then the fruit of devotion increases and one can act in any manner one desires.
So long as devotion is not one-pointed, the idea of duality will be on one’s mind, and consequently, there will be no concentration. Therefore, for true devotion, one-pointedness is most essential. In other words, the object of devotion should be one.
A woman who has one husband is “sohagan” (happily married). She is able to obtain real happiness out of marriage. Contact and communion with one person or one object only gives purity of heart and also results in a joyful life. Intimate contact with more than one is impure and leads to disputes and other troubles. This is also true in connection with the spiritual life.
Therefore, in the Sikh and other Scriptures one will find emphasis placed on the fact that the object of devotion should be one:
“You should sing the praises of One. You should have Simran with a one-pointed mind. How can I praise the qualities of that state in which mind and body are both joined in being devoted to one object of love!” (Adi Granth)
We should think of only one object and we should repeat the Name (Holy Names) of only one object (the Lord). That object should rest firmly in the seat of our mind and we should sing His praises at all times and remember Him with concentrated attention.
In devotion it is considered sinful to give place in one’s mind to thoughts of love for more than one object, because that brings no results. We should not give our heart to anyone other than the object of our love, because if we do that, we will not have peace of mind.
The second essential condition is Satsang (true association). We should stay in the company of persons who have devotion fully established in their minds. A melon near another melon will take on its color. If we are in the company of Saints, we shall also be dyed in the hue of their devotion.
In other words, our devotion will become strong.
“Association with a Saint is exalted and pure. Whoever remains in such company develops the state of communion with God.” (Adi Granth)
“Devotees whose minds have made friends with Saints are so much dyed in the hue of God’s love that their love will never waver.” (Adi Granth)
Devotion is a gift which is bestowed on devotees. When we enjoy this boon, we are fully saturated with the color of devotion. But this can be achieved only by the grace of the Lord. Association with Saints is association with God. Their grace and kindness is the grace of God, because God is manifest in the Saints, and the Saints are fully immersed in God.
“The devotee of the Lord is the same as the Lord. There is no difference between the two, even if one of them should be found in human form.” (Adi Granth)
In the Bhagwat, Krishna says:
“Saints are my heart, and I am their heart.”
We should avoid bad company. Wealth and lust are two difficult obstacles which cause destruction if one is engrossed in them. By intimate contact with bad company one becomes lost. Likewise, we should not associate with persons whose behavior turns our minds away from our object of devotion, because association with them will lead us astray, will make us arrogant, and will tempt us into many other vices.
Even if you have many good qualities, you should lead a life of humility and consider those qualities as a gift from God, because God loves the humble. Remember this well in your heart and do not enter into unnecessary disputes or critical discussions, because such discussions lead nowhere. They may be compared to churning water.
The path of devotion is also the path of action.
“We should not indulge in disputes with anybody, because the tongue that speaks ill of others should instead drink only the Name of Ram (God).” (Adi Granth)
Consider the entire world as having issued from the one God, and therefore do not harm or injure anybody’s mind by your talk or action.
The study of Scriptures, maintaining good character, the practice of simran, attending satsang, the habit of non-violence, kindness, purity of body and mind, faith, prayer, seeing God in everything – all these factors help us in our devotion to Him. One should forget himself and everything else while engrossed in love for the Lord. He should lead a life in accordance with the edicts of his religion. Then he makes progress towards the object of his devotion; otherwise, he reverts to idle pursuits.