July 7, 2022
Karma Marga, Jnana Marga, and Bhakti Marga, are what Swami calls, “the royal paths, for humanity to attain salvation”. In this excerpt, taken from the ‘Summer Showers in Brindavan 1974’, He explains how these paths, though different, actually complement each other.
There are two kinds of people—the Jnanis (the wise ones), and the ordinary people. The ordinary people can do the right thing by looking at, and imitating the path followed by the Jnanis. It is only in the aspect of the body, mind and the daily life, that these three philosophies—Dwaitha (dualistic philosophy, that differentiates between God and Prakriti or creation, as being different), Adwaitha (non-dualistic philosophy, that considers God and His Creation to all be one), and Visishta Adwaitha (qualified Adwaitha or being close to the lord, through Bhakti or devotion)—were being taught. From the point of view of the body, the path of Karma, or work was taught. From the point of view of the mind, the path of Bhakti, or devotion, was taught. From the point of view of one’s own daily life, the path of wisdom, or Jnana, was taught. Therefore, in order to enable the person to practise these, Sankara, Madhwacharya and Ramanuja (ancient sages), taught the three paths which can be called the royal paths for humanity to attain salvation.
One must recognise the purpose and the essence of these three approaches. It is not correct to see only the outward differences and apparent contradictions between them. If we follow the pure non-dualistic path taught by Sankara, and regard everything in the world as Brahman (supreme consciousness), then we have to ask ourselves, “what is it that we are able to see in the ordinary human life”? Only when we take the other approaches, will we be able to understand the human aspects of divinity. It is only from a superficial point of view that these paths appear different. But from the point of view of the ultimate goal, these three are one and the same. It is necessary for us to accept the upasana or the work aspect, having this common goal in mind.
While recognising the importance of the Karma Marga and involving ourselves in the necessary duties that we have to perform, we should also realise the importance of the Bhakti Marga and know that we can reach the Lord by the path of devotion. Without inner cleanliness, whatever work you might do will be a waste. It will not yield any results. What Sankara taught was that we should have bhakti or devotion towards the Lord in view of the temporary and transient nature of the world. In this material world, some kinds of desires and diseases relating to the senses are natural, and they appear in human beings. In order to cure these diseases, it is necessary to take the appropriate medicine, in time. There is a small story in support of this.
There was a housewife who had great faith in the Lord; and so, whenever she had time, she used to take a japamala (rosary), and chant the name of the Lord. In this manner, with the idea of sanctifying the time that was available to her, she used to always utter the name of the Lord. She had the feeling, that her body was like the container, and her prema (love), was like the oil in the lamp. She thought that divinity, was a Jyothi or a bright lamp. In this manner she was spending her life with a view to making it useful. She came to the ultimate conclusion that, while the lamp of life, is still glowing in her, she should be able to fulfil the duties that are entrusted to her. If this light is extinguished, she would not be able to perform her duties. Hence, she thought that even while living, she must make the best use of it and attain salvation.
Her husband, who saw this kind of devotion and attachment to the Lord on the part of his wife, told her that she would not be able to find the time for looking after the family, if she spent all the time in the contemplation of the Lord. He was also of the opinion that, they should think of the Lord only after they grow much older. The wife did not agree with this contention. She argued that they should think of the Lord only when one is physically and mentally sound, and not in the old age when these faculties are failing. While strengthening her own belief and conviction in this manner, she was, from time to time, trying to convince her husband too. Once, while she was alone with her husband, and he was in a good mood, she told him that the body was temporary, like a water bubble. It is not known how long the body will survive and hence, it is wrong to go on postponing one’s duties to a later period in life. Maya (illusion), is something which will make one forget the purpose for which one has come into this world. To forget the Lord is due to Maya. Therefore, one should think of the Lord while one is still strong, and should not postpone it to a later date, because the body may disappear at any time.
On the other hand, the husband argued that she was out of her mind. He asked her to think about who was going to feed them if they spent all their time thinking of the Lord. He asked her if the Lord would come and look after the children and attend to their other needs, if they spent their time in the thought of the Lord. He said that they would have to earn money, because no one would look at them, if they did not have sufficient wealth. He was thus trying to divert the attention of his wife. But the wife, who had total commitment and faith in the Lord, said that the Lord who had sown the seed, would also water the plant. She asserted that God, who has given us this life, will also provide food for us. If you spent all your time thinking that you have to find food for yourself, you are just like an animal. The one difference between man and the other animals is that man has ‘wisdom’ which the animals lack. This is the only faculty that distinguishes man from an animal. If you always talk of finding food, you are behaving just like an animal.
Such a line of thinking, on the part of his wife, made a deep impression on the husband’s mind and finally, he came to the conclusion that these statements were really true. However, he told her that he had to think about the marriages of the children and other such commitments. He said that after these commitments were fulfilled, he would then think only of the Lord. He said that while he does have faith and devotion, he has other duties as well.
That day had gone in such conversation. As the days passed, the husband contracted a dreaded disease, and the lady had to consult various doctors and specialists. In those difficult days, she went to the bedside of her husband and told him to think of the Lord at least under those circumstances and try to earn His grace. She said that the grace of the Lord was the best medicine for the husband.
The husband, however, had great faith in the doctors, and so, he forced her to call the doctors again. One doctor, who was liked by the husband, came, and after examining him, gave a bottle of some liquid. He instructed the wife to give the mixture to her husband, three times a day. This was advised by the doctor, and the husband saw the bottle being handed over to his wife. He knew the instructions that had been given. The wife, however, took the bottle, but did not give the husband the medicine regularly. After three days, the husband asked her why the medicine had not been given according to the instructions given. The wife thought that she had a very good opportunity to teach the husband a lesson. She asked, “after all, the doctor has given a medicine, but why should it be taken in the manner in which it has been, prescribed? It could, as well, be swallowed in one go”. The husband answered that the medicine should be taken when the disease was there in the body. He further asked, “what is the use of taking it later”? Then the wife explained, that on the same analogy, we should take the medicine for the Bhavaroga (birth-death cycle), immediately after we are born, and not postpone it to a later date. He was told that the medicine given by the doctor was for the physical illness which he had got just a few days ago; but, for the Bhavaroga, which starts right from birth itself, the medicine is, the constant contemplation of the Lord. The husband was thus convinced at last, and he started contemplating, seriously, on the Lord. Consequently, his disease was cured quickly and then, both of them were very happy.
Our life is like that. As soon as we are born, our material desires start. Hence, it is very necessary for us, to constantly think of the Lord, so as to acquire happiness and bliss, right from the time when these desires crop up. To take the view that you will think of the Lord only when you are in difficulties, is foolish. It is not correct to postpone thinking of the Lord till you retire from service. We must begin to think of the Lord early. That is why, it is said, “Start early, drive slowly and reach safely”. If you think that you can think of God after you grow old, it is not right. When the messengers of Yama, the God of death, come and drag you to your end, or at the time when your body is put outside the house, just before your death; and when the anguishing cries of your wife and children are being heard, is it possible for you to utter the name of the Lord? You should think of the Lord while you have all your faculties under your control, and when you have all your mental and physical strength unimpaired. You must earn His grace when you are young, and store it for the future.
When you are still young, your body and mind are like fruits which are just ripe. When your body is in good and ripe condition, you must surrender the body to God. Will He accept it, if you surrender it to Him after it becomes bad, old and rotten? From now on, surrender yourself to the Lord; do good work with the body, have good ideas in your mind and purify your thoughts. It will then be possible for you to earn the grace of God. Such good deeds and the grace thus earned, will stand you in good stead in your old age when you can do nothing. If today, you are prepared to do good work, then the kind of happiness which you want, will be available. If you postpone, thinking of the Lord till you become old, there is no guarantee that you will earn His grace.
‘Summer Showers in Brindavan 1974’, Chapter 16,
By Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba