Gratitude and Devotion in the Vedic Tradition

 By: Professor Shashi Tiwari (Retd.),

Maitreyi College, University of Delhi, (& General Secretary, WAVES, India)

The Vedic religion, as it developed through the centuries as ‘Hindu Religion’ incorporated ideas of different orders. A variety of beliefs, customs, rites and philosophies have amalgamated here to evolve an organic system. From the very beginning, India has witnessed conflicting civilizations. Each has contributed its own share to the common storehouse of Hinduism. According to the famous philosopher, and former President of India, Honorable Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, ‘Hinduism is more a culture than a creed.’ We can see that the spirit of Hinduism is expressed in various ways through rituals, modes of worship, temples, philosophy, theology, dance, music, festivals, values and beliefs, but all have their base in Vedic concepts.

Long tradition of Hinduism has produced many scared works. The most ancient and authoritative are the revealed literature, the Vedas ‘Śruti’. There are the Saṁhitās, Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads. The Upaniṣads, record the philosophical and spiritual teachings given by the ancient seers. In addition to this, Hinduism has a vast corpus of auxiliary scriptures including the two great epics, the Ramāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. The Bhagavad-Ḡitā is regarded as the essence of the Mahābhārata. These epics have had a profound influence on all aspects of Hindu life and culture in India for thousand of years. Then there are eighteen Purāṇas, rich in myth and symbol of which the best known is the Shrimad-Bhagavatam but traditionally epic and purāṇas are considered as the extension of Vedic texts in their contents and style.

A verse from the Vedas can be considered the essence of Vedic concept of openness– ‘Ā no Bhadrāḥ kratavo yantu Viśvataḥ (YV 25.14; RV1.89.1) meaning ‘Let the noble thoughts come to us from every side’.

This statement reflects the spirit of Vedic outlook which is stated in another Vedic verse as- Ekam sad viprā bahudhā vadanti (RV.1.164.46), ‘there is one and the same Reality but the wise ones describe it in many ways.’ That Reality is responsible for generation (creation), operation (sustenance), and dissolution (merger). The Upaniṣad declares that ‘one Supreme Being manifests in all humans, animals and other beings and one who understands this happens to be liberated from hatred. Do not create enmity with any one as God is within every one’

  • Yastu sarvāṇi bhūtāni ātmanyevānupaśyati/

sarvabhūteṣu cātmānam tato na vijugupsate// (Isa. Up. 6).

The tolerance for others is an essential quality for spiritual development of any individual. The Sanskrit wisdom proclaims- ‘Vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ meaning ‘the entire world is one family’.

I. Rta – The Inherent Law Principle

In Vedic view, Ṛta can be seen as the inherent law principle of the whole entity. The Vedic seers studied nature’s drama very minutely. Sand-storm and cyclone, intense lightening, terrific thunder-claps, the heavy rush of rain in monsoon, the swift flood in the stream that comes down from the hills, the scorching heat of the sun, the cracking red flames of the fire, all are witness to power which is beyond man’s power and control. They felt the greatness of these forces and activities and adorned them distinctively in the Vedic Mantras. Their realization of divine supreme power for managing creation, movement, change and destruction in the whole universe was not without any set arrangement. They called that order ‘Ṛta’ after good deals of observation. Simply it is Eternal Order or Eternal Law. The word is obsolete in modern times, but its negative Anṛita (RV.1.105.6) meaning literally, disorder or chaos, has been used from ancient times as the negative of truth. Ṛta, in broader sense, is more than truth as it includes justice and goodness. Ṛta gives integration to natural substances, harmony in environment and reduces chaos to (ordered) cosmos. Hence, the conception of Ṛta has an aesthetic content. It implies splendor and beauty. It is controlling and supporting power. It upholds sun in the sky. Rta as Universal Law governs everything in the cosmos. The whole of the manifested universe is working under it. This is the reason that the Vedic gods, upholding Ṛta, are all lawful, and beautiful and excellent. The brilliance and glory are their significance attributes. Rta exists before the manifestation of any phenomena. The phenomena of the world are shifting and changeable, but this principle regulating the periodical recurrence of phenomena is constant.

Ṛta implies not only the religious and philosophical framework but a total world-view, including the scheme of right conduct under various circumstances. It also implies such concepts as justice, virtue, morality, righteousness, law and duty. Most importantly, love of God is regarded here as the essence of righteousness because through it man becomes pure, kindhearted, honest and virtuous. On the other side, Ṛgveda establishes Śam as ultimate goal in life for being peaceful and happy. All the natural energies, activities, worldly materials and resources are wished to be in harmony and concord for the welfare of all beings (RV7.35.1-15). Harmonization brings desired peace and smooth management which is result of Ṛta.

II. God-Realization and Its Ways

The Vedic view of the Divine is much subtler and deeper in spiritual content than the cults ordinarily known as monotheism and polytheism. This makes a difference in the entire conception of life and religion. According to the Vedic philosophy, God-realization is the main aim of human life. Taittirīyopaniṣad proclaims that god is One and That is the truth.

  • Satyam jañam anantam brahma (Tai. Up. 2.1.1).

God is the sole controller of universe. He is present in all hearts. He is one and indivisible. The whole world is his creation. God is giver of light and warmth to the sun, the moon, and the stars and even to fire according to Kathopaniṣad. He is supreme power in the whole nature. One Supreme God is addressed by different names as Devas.

After a careful consideration, Upaniṣadic philosophy emphasizes that God is the only object of loving adoration. He alone is to be praised and adored for Divine assistance through out life. Man can have his direct relation with God without any hindrance and hitch because He looks upon every one and cares for all beings. God can help one out of one’s sorrows and imperfection.

Those who realize and praise God as their savior, creator and father, seek eternal bliss and not others. Muṇḍakopaniṣad declares –yamevaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyaḥ ( Kath.Up. 1.2.23; Mund.Up. 3.2.3).

In fact, attainment of salvation is the ultimate goal of all means in ancient Indian thoughts but without the grace of God it is not possible. As says Kaṭhopaniṣad –‘By the grace of God, Self (Ātman) can realize the glory of Self.

  • Dhatuḥ prasādānmahimānamātmanaḥ(Kath.Up. 1.2.23)

Kenopaniṣad (4.6) and Chāndogyopniṣad (3.14) have laid stress on the Upāsanā of Brahman , which is regarded as the main subject of Sāmveda Saṁhitā .

Vedic religion prescribes openness of thoughts and beliefs. That is the reason we find here description of different modes of worship and various ways of realization of God. Among them four ways are important-

  1. The path of knowledge (Jñāna)
  2. The path of action (Karma)

  3. The path of Meditation (Yoga)

  4. The Path of Devotion ( Bhakti)

It is significant to note that first three paths involve Devotion (Bhakti) for their fulfillment.

Realization of Self is the path of knowledge (Jñāna). But it appears that the way of Jñāna passes through the way of devotion, Bhakti. It needs Self- determination and renunciation with absolute faith in the Great God. The devotion to God is an innermost means of gaining true knowledge. Knowledge devoid of devotion remains as mere information. Knowledge attains its consummation when the aspirant not only knows God, but he feels a consuming love to attain Him. Among all charities imparting of divine knowledge is regarded as the best charity by Upaniṣads and Manusmṛti.

The man of knowledge is called in the Vedas Vipra (wise), Kavi (Poet- Philosopher) and Ṛṣi (seer), and by many such words. Prayers for wisdom (RV 7.32.26; AV 18.3.67), mental power (RV 3.62.10), mental perfection (RV10.25.1), talent (RV 8.4.16; YV 32.14), knowledge of Brahman ( AV 11.5.5), and Brahmcharya (AV 11.5.17-19) are done in Vedic verses here and there. It is regarded that knowledge of Supreme is essential ‘Ya it ta vidus ta ime samāsate’(RV 1.164.39) meaning ‘Those who have known That- they are perfect’.

The second is the way of action (Karma) which means performance of all actions and activities without any desire or motive. In the late religious literature we find a tendency to consider action useless or at best as a necessary evil, but in the Vedas action is accepted as a vital part of human life.

The Vedas give emphasis on living a full life span with health and vigour and in joy of being (RV 7.66.16; YV 36.24; AV 19.67.1-7). The Vedic God Indra is the most typical representation of this conception. The path of Karma-yoga recommends that actions performed without attachment to their results do not bind one –‘Na karma lipyate nare’(YV40.2) meaning ‘thus actions do not cling to man’ and hence lead to God. Śrī Kṛṣṇa called it Niṣkāma Karma in Gītā. He said, ‘Thy business is with the action only, never with its fruits; let not the fruit of action be thy motive, nor be thou to inaction attached’ (Gītā 2.47).

The Indian philosophic system classifies work in three categories – Sāttvik, Rājas, and Tāmas. Niṣkāma Karma comes under the first category, while Sakāma karma and Akarma belong to the second and third categories respectively. However, by self-control and modulation of desires, one can elevate oneself from an Akarma state to the Niṣkāma state.

Niṣkāma does not mean that one would not get fruits out of it. It only suggests that one should work for its own sake and the best of fruits would follow automatically. For achieving this state, Śrī Kṛṣṇa suggests dedication of fruits of all activities to Supreme God. He, who acts offering all actions to God, shaking all attachment, remains untouched by sin as lotus leaf by water. In such cases of complete surrender, it is combined with meditation and single minded devotion of God. God takes all the responsibilities of the individual and rescues him from troubles. Here too, devotion and remembrance of God is essential for detachment from the fruits of actions. The way of action leads to the realm of devotion, when fruits of actions are dedicated to God. With this view the Īśopaniṣad can be referred here. The last four mantras of this Upaniṣad are regarded by Ācharya Śaṅkara, the great commentator, as prayer of a person who has performed actions through out his life and now, at the final departure time, he is asking a superior region (loka) from God.

For the path of Yoga, the method of Iśvarapraṇidhāna (Yogasūtra 1/23) is prescribed by Maharshi Patañjali. It again means ‘dedication to Lord’. He says- ‘Restriction of the fluctuations of mind i.e. Yoga can be attained through dedication to the Lord. Meditation is a necessary accessory of devotion. The Upaniṣads and Gītā emphasize on the contemplation of God at every moment. Śravaṇa, manana, nididhyāsana are said three steps of contemplation. In Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad finally Yājñavalkya explained to Maitreyi, that it is the Self that should be realized, should be heard of, reflected on, and meditated upon.

’ – Ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo Maitreyi.(Br. Up. 4.5.6)

According to Vedic philosophical thoughts, the God can be realized through the practice of meditation, chanting of His name ‘Om’, surrendering before Him, and absolute dedication. A devoted Yogī realizes His glory and greatness in the form of His grace. Thus these paths are associated directly or indirectly with the devotion to God.

III. The Path of Devotion ( Bhakti)

Of the different ways by which we can concentrate our lives in the Supreme Lord, the way of devotion, the Bhakti Marg is regarded most accessible to all, may (he or she) be the illiterate or the literate. It is the path of devotion to God and submission to His will. The Sanskrit term ‘Bhakti’ means experience as well as practice, reverence as well as love and adoration to God. Gratitude and devotion to God is defined variously in the ancient Indian scriptures. There are many Sanskrit scriptures dealing devotion as their main theme. Sāṇḍilya-Sūtra (1.1.2) defines Bhakti as the deepest attachment and intense longing for God. Nāradabhakti-Sūtra (1.2) defines Bhakti as the highest form of love towards God. The Bhagavadgītā treats the way of devotion at length. The excellence of Bhakti is clearly brought out in the Gītā. Devotion and admiration for God is its highest teaching. This topic has been treated mainly in chapter twelve and in some sections of other chapters of this great treatise. In many places, Gītā states that the Supreme state is attainable through the practice of devotion only. Here, undoubtedly devotion is described as surest, swiftest and easiest path. Devotion to God with all gratitude is regarded as the culmination of all paths in ancient religion of India. But the Vedas are the foundation of this devotional path. Here the Divinity is contemplated as the Lord and in most affectionate terms, as Father, Mother, Brother, Guest and so on. The worshiper seeks Divine Bliss (Swasti). He prays for Divine help (Ūti), benediction (Śam), protection (Śarman), assistance (Avas ), mercy ( Mṛḍa) benevolence (Sumati), love(Vena) etc. God is the Saviour (Trātā) ,the merciful (Marḍitā) and protector(Avitā). He is the most beloved (Preṣṭhaḥ)   and best (Śreṣthaḥ)-RV 10.156.5. Here superlatives are very significant. He as well as the worshiper is described as the Loving Being (Vena- YV 32.8).

According to Vedic ideology Divinity is common and universal. The principal centre of spiritual life is the heart. By inward prayer, we enable the heart to participate in the union with God. By devotion and prayer we attain a state of mind in which we become detached from every thing pertaining to the world and are directly united with God. Devotion (Bhakti) includes faith and love. The faith and devotion are like oars of a boat which lead life towards God. Meditation of God is important for devotion because through it a devotee reaches nearer to God. The invocation of the Divine Names is a part of the spiritual movement of Bhakti. Attributes and characteristics of God are constantly chanted through these names in the prayers. Praise of the One Divine Being is done in prayers of all Indian languages with many names and forms. In Vedas, Om and Udgītha are referred to as important names for the chanting of Brahman.

It is believed that truly devotional and spiritual practice is constant repetition of the name of the God. ‘Remember Govinda, remember Govinda, remember Govinda, O unintelligent! – Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam, Govindam Bhaja mūḍhamate- is a famous prayer sang by great philosopher Śaṅkara who propounded Advaita philosophy on the basis of Vedas. Through his inner joyfulness and natural bliss a devotee approaches God, the Merciful and Absolute Bliss. Prayer to God in pain and pleasure is a simple attribute of Bhakti.

In the way of devotion, special attention is given to the path of surrender and refuge to God. Śri Kṛṣṇa began to teach Arjun only when he fully surrendered at His feet accepting himself as His disciple. Gītā ends with this note that whoever surrenders to God with his entire ego, will be relieved from all sins. God saves one from all sins and sufferings who takes His refuse. Lord Kṛṣṇa says in Gītā, “By single-minded devotion to Me, it may be possible to understand, to see and enter Me” (11.54). He promises that “My devotee shall never perish” ( Gītā 9.31) and he will be protected from every trouble in his life. In short, following are the essential requisites in the path of devotion and gratitude to God, according to Vedic tradition:

-Single minded devotion to God

-Meditation and chanting of prayers

-Perfect control over mind and senses

-Absence of attachment

-Complete surrender to God

-Seeking Divine Grace and kindness

Devotion to God is regarded the simplest attitude and the most effective way of attaining the highest realization in Hindu tradition ever since Vedic times. For a devotee all actions become the veritable offerings to the Supreme. All his thoughts become God-centric. He is simply to accept God as the only object of his thought, word and action. His life and existence is devoted to living in consonance with His will. A genuine urge and desire is sufficient to make the God take care of the devotee. God is never partial and is equal towards all beings. But since the true devotee always worships Him devotedly, He stands for him and looks after him completely.

IV. Devotion with Knowledge

Knowledge and devotion are complementary. Knowledge and love of God are ultimately one and the same because knowledge is the foundation of devotion. It is typical of Vedic worship that the worshipper seeks the knowledge of the Object to be worshipped. His devotion is not blind, but based on enlightenment. The Devotee asks, ‘who was manifested as the one Lord of creation? Who upheld this earth and the sky? The Divine being was existed in the beginning. Then to whom we shall adore with our oblations?’

  • Hiraṇyagarbhaḥ samavartatāgre Bhūtasya jātaḥ patireka āsit.

Sa dādhāra pṛthivīm dyām utemām kasmai devāya haviṣā vidhema// RV 10.122.1

The devotion is best cultivated when one has accurate knowledge that Supreme resides in all creatures, and is the real motivating force of all actions, and is means and goal of all our attainments. The second verse says, ‘He who bestows soul-force and vigour, whose laws the whole world including deities obeys.’

  • Ya ātmadā baladā yasya viśvam upāsate praśiṣam yasya devāḥ / RV 10.121.2;YV 23.1.

The doctrine that all men, high and low, are equal before God happens to be the central idea of devotion. The sense of essential divinity of man is a special feature of Vedic religion and spiritual idealism. Man establishes his kinship with divine in the mother’s womb according to Ṛgveda (8.83.8). The path of knowledge removes the ignorance which creates diversity of all living beings. One who realizes the Divine as the Loving One finds the whole world united in Him, and the universe comes to have one home.

  • Venas tat paśyan nihitam guhā sad yatra viśvam bhavatyekanīḍam /YV 32.8

In fact, it is knowledge (Jñāna) that finds fruition in devotion. There remains no scope for dualism and diversity in devotion. It is the basic realization of his imperfection that makes the devotee grateful and appreciative to the Lord. The thirst for union with the Lord is nothing but fervent yearning for perfection.

V. Divine Grace and the Devotee

While experiencing devotion to Supreme God, worshiper looks upon Him as Father, Creator, Saviour, Great Support, Helper, Friend, Merciful One and Most Beloved and prays for His grace. There are numerous Vedic mantras which express this type of feeling of devotee which is according to Bhakti ideal. For instance, a few are given below:

-Yo naḥ pitā janitā yo vidhātā/ RV 10.82.3

-Sa naḥ pitā janitā sa uta bandhuḥ/ AV 2.1.3

-Sa no bandhr janitā sa vidhātā/ YV 32.10

-Uta vāta pitāsi na uta bhrātota naḥ sakhā/ SV 1841

For a sincere devotee, God is full source of all strength, spiritual as well as physical. This results in absolute surrender to Him. In Him he has his ultimate refuge. Consequent upon the complete surrender, the divine grace (Kripā) comes. A mantra of Agni describes him as the great refuge of man, ‘I will bring you oblation. I will send you my prayer. You are adorable in our invocations. O Deity! O King! You are fountain in the desert to a worshipful man.’

-Pra te yakṣi pa ta iyarmi manma bhuvo yathā vandyo haveṣu/

Dhanvanniva prapā asi tvamagna iyakṣve pūrave pratna rājan// RV 10.4.1 8

Here we find an attitude of worship in keeping with what has come to be known latterly as the spirit of Bhakti. As in the desert the thirsty man is saved by a fountain of water found in oasis, so in the world man is saved by Divine grace. When love deepens and absolute surrender happens, the grace of God descends on the devotee. God seems to be under the control of such a devotee. In Gītā, Lord Kṛṣṇa says, “He who is ever content, harmonious, self-controlled, determined, with mind and reasons dedicated to Me, he, My devotee, is dear to Me” (Gītā 12.14). The worshiper seeks only Divine Bliss, help, benevolence, love, and protection. When a devotee disregards everything except devotion to God, it becomes responsibility of God to take care of the devotee. The devotee regains peace by meditation and seeks grace of God by prayer. The attractions of love between the worshipper and the Deity have found fine comparisons in a mantra. ‘ Like cattle to the village, like warriors to their horses, like loving milky cows to their calves, like the husband to the wife, may the deity, the Upholder of the heaven, Lord of all bliss, turn towards us’.

  • Gāva iva grāmam yuyudhi ivāsvān vāśreva vatsam sumanā duhānā/

Patiriva jāyām abhi no nyetu dhartā divaḥ savitā viśvavāraḥ//RV 10.149.4

He experiences the grace of God within him in every situation. God does not refuse His grace to any one who is his sincere devotee. Grace is said to be divinely bestowed to devotees without any discrimination. According to this, the chief thing in religion is Divine grace which is most needed by the humble and distressed. The devotee constantly realizes that all he has and all that he enjoys are from God who in His infinite kindness has endowed him with these. Even a Jñāni or karmīworships Almighty for His grace at the time of his death for better future.

VI. God’s Gifts to Man and Man’s Thanks to God

The gifts of God to men are as varied as men are varied. In Vedic way of life devotee expresses thanks with all modesty to God and praises Him with all sincerity for his wellbeing and his achievements from the sunrise till the end of the day through performing various religious practices, yajans and prayers. Praise and thanks are due to Him for life, health, food, intelligence, society and the whole creation. All the achievements and capacities in life are only possible due to the grace of God. Elements of nature that sustain life such as trees, sun, wind, day and night are all expressions of His grace. Truthful devotees thank God for His grace whenever they pluck a flower or a leave, whenever they take a bath in any holy river, whenever it rains, when there is sunrise or sunset, when there is good harvest and so on. In every prayer to God the devotee expresses hearty praise and thankfulness to God for his existence and wellbeing. Prayers, illustrate God and various deities as father and mother Who can protect the worshiper. All namaḥ is nothing but thankfulness. It shows sense of honour and gratitude towards respectable.

  • Namo Bharanta emasi /RV1.1.7
  • Tryambakam yajāmahe/ YV 3.60 9

  • Bhūyiṣṭham te nama uktim vidhema/ RV 1.189.1; YV 3.25, 40.16

  • Similarly, a popular Sanskrit Prayer says, “You are my mother, You are my father, You are my relative, You are my friend, You are my learning, You are my wealth and You are all and every thing for me.”

    Tvameva mātā ca pitā tvameva tvameva bandhuśca sakhā tvameva/

    Tvameva vidyā draviṇam tvameva tvameva sarvam mama devadeva//

    Feeling of gratitude involves one’s thought, speech and action. It is desired by a devotee that God always be in his memory so that he can lead a happy life by thanking Him. Devotee sings enumerable glories of God with feelings of dedication, and surrender to Him. He performs religious rites for his purification and also for pleasing God. Praise and prayer to God is a natural function of a holy man because he likes to listen and sing enormous glories of God.

    • Tajo asi tejo mayi dhihi/ Vīryam asi vīryam mayi dhihi/

    Balma asi balam mayi dhihi/ YV19.9

    VII. Expression of Gratitude to God

    According to Vedic view, various types of help and support received in one’s growth can be classified into three categories. They are – family and friends, 2. The great sages, and 3.God. These are called three debts – Pitri Ṛṇa, Ṛṣi Ṛṇa, and Deva Ṛṇa. Family and friend provide help and support in our immediate necessities. The great sages and teachers have provided the various levels of knowledge about life and nature which is always very helpful in our growth. God has provided us life and every thing to lead a good life. ‘Jīvem Śardaḥ Śatam’ is a famous prayer of Vedic origin. Besides, He has provided vast nature and its beautiful variations through seasons and other diverse elements for sustenance and growth. The Vedas direct that one has to repay these debts in one’s life by performing certain prescribed actions and above all, by expressing gratitude for them time to time through prayers or yajans. The act of giving earnest thanks is an elevating one because it also expresses the humility and humbleness of a person and reflects one’s wisdom in recognizing the limitation of the individual ego and ability. It also provides everyone a calm, blissful and joyous frame of mind.

    VIII. Perfection Pertains to Providence

    For everlasting peace and bliss of mankind it is imperative that human beings should possess some divine qualities. In comparison to Maker, man is a feeble and frail creature full of flaws and foibles. Man, however strong he may be, is after all a tiny creature in the vast cosmos. Hence, he should not be puffed up with pride over his victory and forget his magnificent Master who is Supreme and sole Sovereign of the universe. He should ascribe his triumph to grace of God. He should resign himself to the will of Magnificent Maker and entrust all his desires and deeds to benign Benefactor. Man is abode of errors. Perfection pertains to Providence only. Admiration is attributed to omnipotent Almighty only. Obeisance suits Supreme Being only. Eulogy and praise befit beneficent Giver of bliss only. Adoration behooves benign Being only. A prayer from the Veda says: ‘Profound obeisance is offered to Provider of bliss! Heartfelt homage is paid to beneficent Lord! Sincerest salute is made to benevolent God! Affectionate adoration is rendered to blissful and benign Supreme Being!’

    -Namaḥ śambhavāya ca mayobhavāya ca/ namaḥ śankarāya caMayaskarāya ca/

    namaḥ śivāya ca śivatarāya ca// -YV 16.41

    IX. Bhakti Tradition in Ancient India

    The charm of Gītā, Divine Song, appears more decided, when we find there an assurance from God about his constant relation and unconditional love with devotee. The ninth chapter deals with Divine constitution in which all creatures rest. The Lord describes that the surest way to approach Divine is to have unswerving devotion ( Ananyā bhakti) with a life and conduct set forth in the scriptures. The verse says, “On Me fix your mind; be devoted to Me, worship Me, prostrate yourself before Me, harmonized thus in the Self, you shall come unto Me, having Me as your supreme goal” (Gīta ̄9. 34). “By one-pointed devotion to Me alone will you be able to know Me, see Me and enter Me” (Gītā 11.54). The eleventh chapter is called Viśvarūpadarśna i.e. the vision of the universal form of the Almighty. Here Śrī Kṛṣṇa showed his Almighty form to Arjun to widen his vision and to put into his mind a higher conception of worship. Finally Arjun, amazed and puzzled by the glorious manifestation of the God, offered his prayers wholeheartedly, “I fall before You, with my body, I worship as is fitting; You bless me. As father with the son, as friend with friend, as lover with the beloved, please bear with me. O Supreme God! Be pleased and kind to me” (Gītā 11.44, 45).

    The Bhakti movement attained intensity and sweep up in different parts of India during medieval times. The Vedantic doctrines of Ramānuja and his disciple, Ramānanda, were the main source of inspiration for this reform movement. Ramānuja declared that it was possible for all men to attain communion with God and enjoy eternal bliss through devotion. His simple maxim was: “Let no one ask a man’s caste or sect, whoever adores God, is God’s own.” He traveled far and wide. He has twelve disciples. Of them, Raidāsa was a cobbler, Dharṇa an untouchable peasant, Senā a barber, and Kabīra a low caste weaver. This was the case with other religious reformers also. The great Tulsīdāsa who lived in the time of Akbar, was a brāhamin by birth but he left parents in his childhood to become a minstrel and a devotee of God. He wrote immortal poetry on Śrī Rāma but his Rāma was none other than eternal God. He desired only His absolute devotion for attaining His grace and thus Tulsīdāsa prayed, “I don’t have any other desire in my mind despite a desire that I can get the devotion, bliss and grace of God.” Dādu, leader of the Bhakti movement in Rajputanā, was a low caste spinner. Nanak was the son of a small trader. The Marathi poet, Nāmadeva was a tailor, while Tukāram was a low caste trader. The great Bengal saint Chitanya, belonged to a poor family but he showed the path of divine Bliss through devotion to God by His popular name Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Vemannā, the celebrated poet of Andhra, was an illiterate peasant. In short, the doctrine that all men are equal before God, became the central idea of this movement.

    These saints were neither idle philosophers nor arm-chair social reformers. They were active among the people and earned their livelihood by hard work. They raised voice against blind superstition and the caste system, and proclaimed the equality of all men before God.

    Kabīra, the fifteenth–century saint of Hindu -Muslim unity, said: “The Hindu God lives at Banaras, the Muslim God at Mecca. But He who made the world, lives not in a city made by hands. There is one Father of Hindu and Muslim, one God in all matter.” Some of his poems sang the unity of Hindu and Muslims: “In all vessels, whether Hindu or Muslim, there is one soul.” Again he proclaimed, “There is one earth and only one potter, one is the creator of all, all the different forms are fashioned by one wheel.” All saints of this movement proclaimed that in the way of devotion all people, irrespective of caste, color, creed and lineage, are basically divine and have innate urge and potentiality for liberation. Among the modern thinkers of India, the name of Swami Vivekānanda is significance in this context. He was a disciple of Śrī Rāmakṛṣna Paramahaṁsa whose association gave a new implication to his life.

    Śrī Rāmakṛṣna, as is well known, has sincerely practiced the various leading faiths, including Christianity, Islam and several approaches of Sanātana Dharma, one at a time, and attained God-realization through them all. Hence, the followers of several religions hold the Paramahaṁsadeva in great esteem. Particularly, his significant pronouncement pertaining to ‘more than mere religious tolerance’ – yato mat tatho path – is hailed as a modern carter of religious freedom.

    The sage had said, “All religions are true: one can attain God by any path of one’s choosing provided it is practiced with sincerity and devotion.” Furthermore, and this is equally important in the present-day context, he inspired his favorite disciple, Swami Vivekananda, to commit himself to the service of the poor and the downtrodden whom, alas, the world has in such a large numbers everywhere; not in ‘an enforced or casual manner, but as a service of the living Nārāyaṇas (God-in-men)’. This counsel, later on, came to form the Ramakrishna Mission for ‘selfless service of suffering humanity.’ It is inspiring that even today people are drawn to it with devoted commitment. Swami Vivekānanda took a great effort to join together the springs of India’s religious thoughts. His Vedānta was to view humanity as the manifestations of Divinity.

    X. Conclusion

    Vedic religion teaches moral universalism and gratitude to God. Gratitude or devotion to God has universal appeal because it constitutes the essence of all types of religious practices. Indeed, gratitude to God is an inter-religious concept and a common virtue. The Vedic seers ask us to rise to the conception of God, who is beyond imagine and concept, who can be experienced but not known, who is the vitality of the human spirit and the ultimate of all that exists. This goal represents the transcendent unity of all religions which is above their empirical diversity.

    In fact, the unity of different religions can be realized in an inward and spiritual way. The feeling of gratitude towards God is a common sentiment in all spiritual experience. It is a universal foundation on which rests faith and devotion. But the building that is erected on this foundation differs with each individual. Each individual has, in some sense, his unique experience. The variety of experience adds to the spiritual richness of the world.

    Śrī Rāmakṛṣna used to narrate a short story on the importance of faith. “There are various sects among Hindus, which sect or which creed should one follow? Pārvati once asked Mahādeva ‘O Lord! What is the root of the Eternal, Everlasting, All embracing Bliss?’ To her Mahādeva thus replied, ‘The root is faith.’ Let every one perform with faith the devotions and duties of his own creed.” Finally it can be said that the cult of devotion which was stared by Vedic seers in their expressions through out the Vedic literature, later on developed and continued as the purest feeling of gratitude towards God in our religious tradition of India and thus refuted all man-made discrimination.

    Abbreviations:

    AV-Atharvaveda;

    RV- Ṛgveda;

    SV- Sāmaveda;

    YV-Yajurveda;

    Up. Upaniṣad;

    Kath.Up.- Kathopaniṣad;

    Mund. Up.-Muṇḍakopaniṣad;

    Br.Up.-Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad;

    Tai.Up.-Taittirīyopaniṣad;

    Isa.Up.- Īśopaniṣad

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    4 Comments (+add yours?)

    1. Mukundan Pandiyath
      Jun 02, 2017 @ 10:36:36

      You have written about the praiseworthy aspects of Indian spirituality. However, I would like to differ with your statement that Brahman is described as a Deva. The Vedas and Upanishads clearly mention that Devas (gods) are the creation of Brahman, not brahman themselves. They cannot have an equal status with Brahman, the Supreme Light of God. The fall of India and its glorious spiritual culture is due to this wrong conception that any deva can be equal to Brahman, the Almighty. Even the creator god Brahma is not equal to Brahman. Similarly, the varna concept has been misinterprted and it has degenerated into an objectionable practice of caste segregation based on birth which has divided India into thousands of caste groups. A lot of misinterpretations and wrong practices have taken their roots in Hinduism. Unless those mistakes are sincerely rectified, Hinduism cannot reclaim its lost glory.

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      • IPC
        Jun 02, 2017 @ 15:28:50

        No Deva or Being of subtle world is equal to Brahma – the Supreme Being – who is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Varna – which is called Caste today – is NOT determined by BIRTH but by karmas or one’s conduct. Please read “social justice” at this website.

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