[Advaita-l] Stages of Devotion

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Thu Mar 11 11:28:25 CST 2010

Stages of Devotion

Madhusudana Saraswathi, the famous author of Advaita
Siddhi, was a great devotee of Krishna. His being an Advaitin
par excellence did not in any way stand in his way of composing
soul-stirring verses on Krishna.

He has spoken of three stages of devotion. The first stage
is the one where the devotee feels “I am Yours” with regard to
God. In other words, the devotee dedicates himself to God. A
special characteristic of a true servant of God is that he longs for
nothing from God in return for his devotion and service.
Here the following instance comes to mind. To prove
Prahlada’s view that God is present everywhere and also in a
pillar pointed at by Hiranyakasipu, the Lord emerged from the
pillar in the form of Narasimha. Lord Narasimha slew
Hiranyakasipu but continued to be very fierce. The Devas were
afraid of approaching Him and so was Goddess Lakshmi. Hence,
Prahlada, who was but a young boy, was asked to pacify the
Lord. Prahlada consented and fearlessly walking up to the Lord,
who was full of fury, prostrated before Him. Immediately, the
Lord calmed down and moved by compassion, He rose from
the throne He was occupying and placed His hand on the boy’s
head. Being pleased with His devotee, the Lord asked Prahlada
to seek a boon. Promptly, Prahlada replied that he desired
nothing from the Lord.

There is a scintillating verse in the Bhagavatam wherein
we have Prahlada telling the Lord, “He who desires anything
from God is a trader and not a servant of God”. The story
brings out two aspects. One is that a true servant of God knows
no refuge other than God. This is why Prahlada felt no fear in
approaching Lord Narasimha. The second aspect is that the true
servant of God desires nothing from God. In fact, he does not
even pray for Moksha.

In a verse in the Sivanandalahari, Sankara tells the Lord:
“Tell me why You are not redeeming me from this wretched
worldly state. If the answer be that it pleases You that I should
wallow thus then I have achieved all that has to be achieved.’’
When God is pleased what else is there to long for?
The second stage of devotion spoken of is the feeling “He
is mine” with regard to God. Here the devotee is positively
concerned about ensuring God’s welfare. It is not as though
God is in need of the devotee’s care. In spite of this, He allows
Himself to be even controlled by the devotee on account of the
devotee’s love.

The Bhagavatham contains the explicit declaration of
Bhagavan, “I am subservient to My devotee like one under the
control of another”. Yashoda’s love for Krishna is an illustration
of devotion of the form, “He is mine”. To her Krishna was her
darling child and not the Lord. Krishna seems to have relished
her motherly love so much that He deliberately withdrew from
her the awareness that He was none other than the Supreme.
Though omnipotent, He even allowed Himself to be tied to a
mortar by Yashoda.

The third stage of devotion is the feeling “I am He” with
regard to God. In other words, Advaitic realization is the highest
stage of devotion. A reason is that while others are willing to
brook at least some minute separation from God, a devotee of
this class cannot bear even that. When can separation be totally
obliterated? Obviously when one realizes that one is not different
from the Supreme. In the Gita, Krishna Himself indicates
that the knower of the Truth is not different from Him.

[ Reproduced from the Book: 'Enlightening Expositions' of HH Sri Abhinava
Vidyatirtha SwaminaH, 35th Jagadguru of Sringeri Sharada Peetham.]

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