In Hinduism, therefore, rites and spiritual paths are as numerous as there are philosophical and ethical tendencies in the Indian Sub-continent. Among others, is the path of devotion (Bhakthi) which itself is divided into by-paths and sub-paths so as to match and sublimate every type of predominant emotional feeling.
At first sight, the complexity of inter-related ways appears like an unravellable mesh which makes one wonder as to how, in their diversity, they are all able, to lead one to the goal.
1) The Tamasic Way (The dark path): That which demands total abnegation of the self in a sudden metamorphosis of the soul, furiously and passionately calling on its inner self to annihilate all relative experience and illusions by assuming a frightful appearance and mercilessly sacrificing falsehood and delusion at the altar of truth. Some devotees worship an awe-inspiring deity usually called Kali and promptly offer themselves as Her victims.
2) The Vatsalya Path (Maternal love): Childless women, mothers engrossed in their young ones and even sometimes men, prefer this smooth path which sublimate their maternal instinct and makes them transpose mentally the Soul Eternal of the Infinite into that of their young child or, if they haven’t any, into that of an imaginary babe who keeps them constantly occupied in a psychic world of their own. This causes them to become willing slaves of the whims of a divine child and thus helps them eradicate all sense of the ego.
3) The Prema Path (Lover’s love): Poets, thinkers and philosophers refer to this love as the highest human expression of attachment to another being. No other infatuation can compare with the one lovers have for each other. There is little wonder of devotees of the love path choose the one which promises ecstasies surpassing all others in variety and intensity. To become divine, love has to be directed towards the object of love without any thought of reciprocity. The lover sees the divine as his or her beloved and forgets himself or herself in unabating service and remembrance of the Lover.
4) Matru Bhakthi (Child-to-mother devotion): This is what some sages point out as the safest way. In it, there are no dangers of deviating from a divine ideal into human degradation by forgetting at inopportune moments the true goal of life and being engrossed in love or devotional feelings gradually tending to be very worldly indeed, as is often the case in (1) and (3) types.
The love of the child for its mother is pure and tender. It entails complete trust in the divine. As a kitten lets himself be carried from place to place by its mother, the devotee simply nestles in his divine mother’s bosom and allows her to do with him as she pleases. This can be summed up as a complete surrender of the self to the Divine Will.
5) The Sakhya Bhava (Comradeship feeling): Which some carefree souls choose for being the least tying and trying.
Knowing their own self to be part and parcel of the Infinite Self, they turn to the divine with a feeling of equality and treat it as a near and dear friend. They do not go into spasms of imaginary passions but they see in every being the reflection if their friend and companion.
To the earnest seekers after self-realisation, contradictory paths are often puzzling and confusing unless they understand that the differences lie in their approach only. To each, a particular path is indicated according to one’s mental and sub-conscious trends. The goal of different seekers is the same, except for a tiny fraction of delay, who prefers the path of love to that of knowledge.
The devotee (yogi) seated in meditation, who concentrates his whole being on the ideal or self, which by dint of patience and will he realizes as his soul, bathes in the bliss of Divine Union. The devotee, on the other hand, surrenders his being at the feet of his Lord and succeeds mentally in projecting the forms of his ideal and of himself, embracing Him and merging in Him.
The difference can be described in the words of a saint who said: “I do not want to become sugar for I want to taste sugar!” Both seekers are practicing union with the divine on the bank of the same stream which allows lotuses of different shades to bloom in its waters.
Only those truly yearning for liberation from the trammels of life, know indeed the desperate longing of the soul when, saturated with worldly cares and enjoyments, it craves solely for its freedom from bondage and the return to its true nature, the Self.
The soul is compared here to a human bird imprisoned in its worldly cage, envying others at liberty cutting across the azure of the skies with wings outspread, and utters a desperate call rising from its very depths: ‘To fly, fly again and greet the Sun in the wide spaces of the Infinite!…’
This article is based on the ‘Ashirvachana’ rendered by His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Sri Sri Dr Balagangadharanatha Mahaswamiji, 71st Pontiff of Sri Adichunchanagiri Mahasamsthana Mutt.