Intense devotion at one stage takes the path of Vedanta before reaching the destination, moksha. Intense devotion cannot be viewed as separate from Vedanta. Majority of the people have faith in form worship, which is the concept of duality. In the initial stage, they depend on God for worldly pleasures and satisfying their desires. They are unable to grasp the subtle concepts of Vedanta. They have faith in a form and perform the rituals before a deity in that form. They imagine that they are doing this to the Lord directly. They simplify their idea of God in that particular form. According to the mentality of the different people, the form, rituals, and practices differ. They imagine that God is separate from them. They believe that God is superior to them and stay in a faraway place. They think that by doing these rituals, they can reach that place of God after their death. They believe that God is responsible for their activities and pray God to spare them from the difficulties in life. They pray to allot them with wealth and prosperities. Sometimes this faith also takes a negative turn. Negative turn implies that, they want God to take revenge on their enemies, on their behalf. Many people involve in blind faith without knowing the truth.
Intense devotion is a sure step towards moksha. Devotion of whatever method or form will definitely purify the mind. The matter is, if the devotion is pure and selfless with proper understanding, then the path is clear and moksha is not far away from the devotee. If we use devotion to satisfy the emotions, then the devotee has to travel a long path before reaching the final destination.
It is common practice in the initial stages of devotion to imagine God as separate from us and expect God to satisfy our needs. However, when we mature, this idea has to fade away. The truth has to be realized and the method to know the truth has to be practiced accordingly, else one will not have any spiritual evolvement even after several births. When we mature the devotion must also mature, and the two parallel lines of thought that ‘I am different from God’ has to merge into a single path. When pure devotion for God intensifies, the knowledge about God automatically happens. When we depend on God for self motives, even though we have intense devotion, our selfish motives becomes an obstacle for enlightenment.
Even in form worship, when we have knowledge about the rituals (instead of blind faith), it helps us to overcome ignorance. The above points are made clear by citing the example of devotion of the two very young children, which is explained in Srimad Baghavada. Their pure devotion, their attitude and spiritual knowledge differ in their own way. The two young children are Prahlada and Dhruva. They both were of the tender age of five, but their spiritual knowledge and maturity were remarkably different.
Prahlada was born in the Asura clan, and Dhruva was born in the extremely holy line of Swayambhuva manu and a shathriya. They both used the medium of devotion to know the truth. The knowledge of truth is deep rooted in Prahlada, whereas the spiritual knowledge of Dhruva was a fleeting experience. Both of them are par excellent than a common devotee. Their devotion is praised and referred as examples even after thousands of years after their life time. Both of them had sage Narada as their Guru (teacher).
Dhruva was the grandson of Swayambhuva manu and the son of Uttanapada, by his wife Suniti. One day Dhruva’s step brother Uttama was made to sit on his father’s lap and this rejection of not being able to near his father caused distress in the young mind of Dhruva. In addition to this, the harsh words of insult from his step mother were like rubbing salt on the wound. Seeing Dhruva crying inconsolably, his mother Suniti advised young Dhruva to worship the sattvic form of Brahman (Lord Vishnu), with intense devotion. She advised that this tapas will be a turning point in his life. Accepting her advice, Dhruva went to the forest to worship Lord Vishnu with intense devotion. In the forest, sage Narada advised him about the secret of happiness and unhappiness. Sage Narada said that one might sense honour or dishonour, but the feeling of happiness and unhappiness associated with it is caused by ignorance. Karmas are the main cause for happiness and unhappiness, and only an ignorant person does not know to overcome the karmas. He too advised young Dhruva to meditate on the divine form of Lord Vishnu. When a person has intense selfless devotion, he attains dharma (morality), artha (prosperity), kama (attaining desires), and moksha (liberation).
Dhruva meditated on Lord Vishnu with unswerving devotion. He began his meditation based on the form of the Supreme Lord and imagined the Lord is separate from him. When the devotion became intense, he perceived only the divine form in his mind and nothing else. When his devotion intensified further through meditation, he perceived that the Lord, the universe, and he are not different from each other. Lord is non-dual and infinite. He had the vision of the Lord in the form he meditated. However, when he returned to the normal life after his intense meditation, he grew up forgetting the divine knowledge. Like on ordinary person he took revenge on the killers of his brother, the Yakshakas. The Yakshkas are people with intense emotion and passion. He killed the Yakshkas in great number, till his grandfather reminded him of his past meditation and realization. He forgot about the non-dual nature of the Lord, the universe and himself. He thought that the enemies killed his brother, forgetting the fact that it was his brother’s past karmas that took his life. He was unable to perceive the reality at that moment of time. The vision of the Paramatma removed his ignorance; still his knowledge was not deep rooted. That may be the only reason for him destroying his brother’s enemies. Even after understanding the universal nature of Brahman, his mind was not entirely relieved from enjoying the worldly pleasures. This does not demean the spiritual excellence and devotion of young Dhruva. It only means that intense devotion lead to the path of Vedanta, and to establish in the concept of Vedanta and to attain moksha, the knowledge of Vedanta must be deep rooted. Otherwise our worldly desires and ambitions will become an obstacle on the path of moksha. This is evident from Dhruva’s repentance over his ignorance in asking the boons to the Lord. He repented later for having wasted the precious opportunity by asking boons for worldly ambitions. Dhruva’s mentality, devotion, vision, knowledge, and the boon he asked and duly rewarded were all entirely different from that of another young devotee, Prahlad.
Prahlad was also a young boy of age five. He was the youngest son of the famous asura Hiranyakasipu. Prahlad was noted for his virtues. Even at that very young age, he was learned, exemplary in his conduct; he had mastery of the senses, and was equipoise. Wealth, learning, beauty, noble birth etc, none of these swelled his ego or filled him with pride. He did not have any trace of the nature of his asuric clan. When Prahlad was very young, he and his mother had an opportunity to stay with sage Narada. Sage Narada taught him about the nature of the Self and the universal truth. Sage Narada’s teachings created great impact in the young mind of Prahlad. Later, when he grew among the asuras, these noble teachings created strong vibrations in Prahlad. Prahlad’s mind was completely absorbed in the thoughts of Lord Vishnu. Whatever activities he did externally, he was internally absorbed to the Supreme Lord. Unswerving devotion to the Lord became his nature. His nature was just opposite to the asuric nature of his father, and this inflicted cruel tortures from his father. Advices and teachings from asuric teachers had no impact on the divine mentality of Prahlad. His father took extreme steps to change his divine nature but it had no impact on Prahlad. He was well aware of the universal nature of the Lord but at the same time he meditated on the form of Lord Vishnu. He knows that worldly pleasures never bring peace and satisfaction to one self. They are fleeting and impermanent.
He was aware of the fact that, Vedic ritualism brings only fulfillment of desires, and causes repeated births. To elude from the wheel of samsara, one has to feel the presence of the Lord continuously. He advised that the karmas that brought the body into being yields both happiness and sorrow, and no special effort is needed for that. Instead of devoting time in that, one should have intense devotion to Lord. He advises to practice devotion and renunciation even at a very young age, before the tendencies of samsara entangle a person. He taught the fellow asura boys about Self-knowledge. Sage Narada taught him about the characteristics of the Atma and this knowledge enabled him to give up his identification with the body. The body is the result of ignorance. The body which is the complex of the categories of the prakriti is non-Atma, and it is to be rejected to reach the ultimate end. One has to purify the mind by devotion to know the truth. The states of waking, dream and sleep are the three modifications of the buddhi (intellect). The awareness which stands aloof from the three states as their witness is the Atma. These three states are born of the gunas of prakriti and are the result of karma. They do not contact or contaminate the Atma. The Atma pervades all and is distinct from all these. This samsara is based on ignorance, producing the false identification of the Atma with the modifications of the buddhi, which are a product of the gunas of prakriti. Prahlad gave such valuable advices and asked the fellow asura boys to destroy ignorance. He believed that devotion is the easiest path to attain liberation and intense devotion automatically leads to Self-knowledge. When the subtle tendencies and ignorance are destroyed by intense devotion, a devotee identifies himself with the Lord. According to Prahlad, this state is called “Bliss of oneness with Brahman”. Prahlad said that the bodies are formed with the primordial elements and Sri Hari pervades as Atma (self) in all the bodies. Prahlad’s supreme knowledge irritated Hiranyakashipu. He ordered tremendous tortures to destroy young Prahlad, but Prahlad was protected by God’s grace and his own intelligence. Prahlad advised his father that one’s enemy is in his mind and so the mind should be kept even and unperturbed, seeing no difference between the friend and foe.
Prahlad had the vision of the Supreme Being according to the specifications of the boon received by his father Hiranyakasipu, the man-lion form called Lord Narasimha. The whole world was feared of this form, but not Prahald. He was well aware that form is only an external appearance of the all pervading Atma. Even though prahlad was tempted by the boons by the Lord, he felt that a person who seeks for boons and favours is not a true devotee, and instead of boons he asked for purity of mind. He was well established in the fact that it is the mind which weakens all the faculties of man. Even though Prahlad was not keen in receiving boons from the Lord, the Lord granted him with dharma, artha, kama and moksha, which are the results of true devotion.
If a person is endowed with dispassion (vairagya), he can straight away enter the path of Vedanta and attain liberation. He has to be well established in the concepts of Vedanta. If a person is worldly minded, he can select the path of intense devotion and experience dharma, artha, kama and finally moksha. Vedanta is nothing but an advanced form of devotion (bhakti) to the universal nature of the formless Brahman.
Srimad Bhagavata, vol I & II, (trans, Swami Tapasyananda), Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.