The Message and Ministrations of Dewan Bahadur R. Venkata Ratnam, volume 2/Chapter 14
SERVICE* with Sermon on
SADHANA : ITS MEANING AND METHOD.
Om! Parabrahmane Namah! We salute and bow down before the Supreme One. We prostrate ourselves with the reverence, with the adoring obeisance, of the spirit before Him, the Supreme Spirit. Not the servile submission from fear, not the prudent and calculating praise for profit, not even the grateful acknowledgment and avowal of indebtedness and obligation; but truly and purely it is the devout prostration of reverence and love before the All-holy and the All-clement. This is our highest duty, oar rarest privilege, our keenest happiness, our surest salvation. The whole universe, as one organic and articulated system, joins with us, as we thus humble ourselves in spirit before Him, the Supreme Spirit. Not there, not here, not then, not now, but everywhere and always, truly this universe is a sacred shrine where the Lord's worshippers and adorers offer united and unbroken worship unto Him, the only Lord. Shall we not rejoice with all the ecstatic bliss of the heart and the soul that, while in no way fenced off from the rest of the world, we are yet in the sacred presence of our God, in the sweet embrace of our beloved Parent? Let us be filled, let us be through and through thrilled and pulsated, with the felt presence of our own dear God. How the heart yearns and longs for Him! Oh, the terrific recollection of separation—how it harrows us as it recalls the pang, the torture, that we suffer when we are separated from Him! But as this blessed opportunity is mercifully granted, shall we not, in complete self-forgetfulness, in utter self-abnegation, in absolute self-surrender, cast ourselves into His arms, to throb with the joy of restoration and to be transported with the ecstasy of reunion? If we have hitherto striven and endeavoured to any purpose, if our sadhana has any aim and use, it must prove and manifest itself even now in holy communion with our Lord. Why waste words when the heart is swelling and surging with the desire and the expectation of meeting and adoring its Spouse Divine?
How shall I name Thee? But why this madness of presuming to name Thee, the Nameless? No name is needed, no description is wanted, to tell our hearts what Thou art unto us. In fact, how oppressive is the sense of fear lest, in making a futile attempt to name Thee, we should lose the quickening touch of Thy Holy Spirit! All names, however carefully selected, are a veil and a mist between Thee and us. Thou the Nameless, Un-nameable, most dear One of our hearts! As we fold Thee to our hearts and as we feel drawn to Thy heart, what intrusion that we should word our joy, name our bliss? We feel even now that Thou art enshrined in us as the dearest, sweetest, mightiest, holiest One, the absolutely perfect One; and we bow down before Thee in reverent joy. In the beginning Thou didst abide in Thine own undifferentiated unity; but Thou didst, in Thy love and mercy, prefer to be figured forth in manifold and multiplied creation, and Thou didst again deign to re-integrate the whole of Thy limitless creation into the recess and embrace of Thine own undivided singleness. We are but the visionaries of the fleeting phenomena, we perceive only the shadows. But, by Thy grace and mercy, as the eyes are closed, the heart is opened; as the senses are sealed up, the spirit within is unveiled; and we behold Thee behind the phenomena, beyond the shadows, as the One Eternal Reality; and we rejoice that thus we are led even by Thee into the Holy of Holies. There, in the immost shrine of Thine eternal presence, what are we, where are we, except as mere glimpses and as surface-expressions of Thy profound reality? As Thou hast in Thy mercy taken us thus far, do Thou grant that even the semblance of difference, even the mere appearance of separateness, may fade away, and Thou be all-in-all. That is the end and fulfilment, the culmination and triumph, of this life which Thou hast vouchsafed unto, us : to know nought but Thee and to delight in nought but Thee. But are we to rejoice that we are thus transfigured? No; we rejoice that Thou hast been thus glorified. We are here only to reflect Thy glory, to emit Thy radiance and to transmit Thy sweetness. May we have no separate existence I We detest even the faintest desire for a separate being. May we be blended and blessed in this complete resumption into Thee! This is our humble prayer. Do Thou most mercifully vouchsafe it. Blessed be Thy name!
Thou the Lord of my heart, the Charmer of my heart, the Beloved One of my heart, what words can describe the pang of separation from Thee? How the heart longs and yearns, is tortured with the desire for Thee! The whole world is a dreary desert, if Thy face is concealed from me; my life is a heavy infliction, if it is not inspired and cheered by Thy grace and Thy voice. In these many ways I bemoan my separation, I weep over my desertion. As we have sung, so we sigh; for a single drop of Thy mercy do we pray and do we yearn. Oh! Thy amritham, Thy amritham, Thy nectar, Thy nectar, the nectar of Thy sweet name, do Thou grant unto me. Parched, roasted, burnt up, the heart can know what peace, what rest? Thou alone canst refresh and revise it. Do Thou shed one drop, a single drop, of Thy grace upon this forlorn one. Then refreshed and revivified, my heart shall spring into life and into joy, and praise and glorify Thee, the Beloved One. I beseech and supplicate this only blessing, that Thou shouldst shed a single drop of Thy grace upon this wholly Wretched, utterly miserable, piteously widowed heart. How, how, how can I draw Thee in? Who but Thee could feel any pity, who but Thee could spare any compassion, for this helpless and prostrate creature? Wilt Thou neglect me, wilt Thou reject me, wilt Thou desert me? Whither can I possibly go, where can I possibly reside, where can 1 possibly shelter myself, if Thou forsake me? I cannot advance any claim, I cannot urge any right, that I should receive Thy compassion. I can only appeal and implore. As the fulfilment of Thy compassion, as the consummation of Thy mercy, as the triumph of Thy grace, do Thou compassionate me, do Thou cast Thy mercy upon me, do Thou impart Thy grace unto me, that I may sing forth in joy and praise, 'I have the Lord and I have all. This is my humble prayer. Do Thou mercifully vouch-safe it Blessed, blessed, blessed be Thy name!
Hymn—Neeve gathiyani nammithimi (Telugu)
That is the sum and substance of our application unto Thee. We have been taught by Thee to consider ourselves and to esteem ourselves as Thy children. Thou hast further revealed to us the privilege, the honour, the glory of being humble, lowly but none-the-less heaven-chosen instruments of Thy purpose and Thy providence; and we seek to realise Thee as the Ocean of Mercy, With mercy do Thou employ us; for mercy do Thou shape us; and into mercy do Thou absorb us. Thou art verily the Ocean of Mercy. Unto Thy mercy what impertinence to think of limit or end ? Every drop in the deep ocean is Thy crystal mercy. Every ray from the glorious orb of day is Thy effulgent mercy. Every star in the expansive firmament is Thy beaming mercy. Every flower that makes the earth an Eden is Thy fragrant mercy. Every lisp of the innocent babe fresh from Thy bosom is Thy cheering mercy. Every look of confidence and trust from eye to eye is Thy unifying mercy. Every word of genuine insight, wherever spoken, is the gospel of Thy own illuminating mercy. Every so-called obstacle, now a hindrance, anon a triumph, is Thy own reassuring mercy. All so-called calumny or vilification is only Thy own purifying and invigorating mercy. Every beat of the heart, with its push and its pause, is the pendulum-swing of Thy recurring mercy, now advancing into sight and then receding into secrecy. Every heave of the breath signifies a two-fold mercy—Thy in-coming, life-bringing and Thy out-going, refuse-removing mercy. Thou art the Ocean of Mercy. And we cast ourselves into it with absolute satisfaction as children of mercy, Blessed, blessed, blessed be Thou now and for ever!
Thou, the Indweller, the Oracle in every heart, the Torch-bearer before every pilgrim, the Path-finder for every humble wayfarer! These, Thine own children, my dear sisters and brothers, have desired that, on this auspicious day, even this confirmed, hardened sinner should bear testimony to the ceaseless yearning of the Divine Mother for ea,ch one of Her children. Not the healthy but the sickly, not the affluent but the needy, not the faithful but the prodigal can tell how eager, careful, watchful, interested, intensely solicitous is the Mother. Thus even unto me, the ignorant* the erring, the blemished, the tarnished, the fallen, the abject, is granted the occasion to be able, from pure personal experience, to say, 'Thou art, Thou livest, Thou abidest for ever as the eternal Mother of all.' Do Thou grant that on this occasion a word, a single word, uttering Thine own eternal truth, might find its way to the hearts of these sisters and brothers, even through the soiled lips and the sullied heart of this reprobate sinner. Do Thou grant that, like the sun shining through the densest clouds, like the rose scenting through the thickest brambles, like the stream rippling up from the lowest abyss, one word of truth might well up even from this abased heart, just as it is Thy word, Thy sweet word, Thy sovereign word, Thy sanctifying word, Thy immortal word, Blessed, blessed, blessed Le Thju for everi Sisters and brothers,
Truly the All-holy is to Le praised and glorified that He has so mercifully enabled us to be here to celebrate this anniversary day, the returning day of recollections and of rejoicings on account of our Sadhanasramam. What shall I utter, what shall I place before you, which you do not know? Yet I may remind you of the central purpose, I may recall to your minds in one word the inmost aim and object, of the Institution.
It is said that, in the early days of Mahammedan inroads into this country, a certain town was sacked by Mahammedan troops; and as was the practice then, a rush was made towards the temple, that it might be pulled down as a sort of tribute and honour to the Lord of hosts who had given the Islamic arms the victory of the day. There was a priestess attached to the temple. She ran in, embraced the idol, pressed it to her bosom, held it close to her heart, clung to it with the utmost confidence and trust; and she did not mind the other consequences. The troops came, ran into the holy place, and saw the woman holding fast tenaciously to the idol. They wanted to separate her from the object of her attachment and then pull down what to them was an abomination. But the woman would not let go her hold. She must live or perish with it. In helplessness and disgust, the men thought the only way to accomplish the purpose of demolishing the idol was to put an end to the woman. Under the commander's order, a soldier drew out his sword and cut off the head of the woman. It is said that, as the blood gushed out, every drop of it wore the form of the god, of the idol, she worshipped. Every drop of the blood in her body was thus shaped into the image of the object of her worship. Her assassins felt astonished at this wonderful transformation in the very physical system of the woman. The wisest of the band rightly reflected: "Leave alone her errors; hers is the faith that transforms the devotee into the Deity." That is the end and goal of our sadhana—to make and shape the devotee into the image of the Deity, that naught may remain of his own self. As Maeterlinck has Said, the great secret, the final mystery, of the universe is that the substance of all is one and that substance is not matter but spirit. The substance of all is one; only its manifestation is in myriad forms. But we very often mistake the forms for the substance, and thus we mislead ourselves and misjudge others; we mislead ourselves in making the passing phenomena permanent landmarks, and again, we misjudge others by magnifying the chance incident of the moment into an eternal characteristic of the soul. If we would know the true meaning of life, if our sadhana is to bear good fruit, if, in fact, the purpose of creation is to be realised, we should strive, ceaselessly, ardently, and with the hunger and thirst of an irrepressible passion, strive for the realisation of the one supreme end of our life, namely, to transform the devotee into the Deity. Just for a moment let us realise this purpose of creation; and we shall, as a matter of sheer logical necessity, be driven to the conclusion that such is the duty and such the occupation that have been assigned unto us. The purpose of creation is even this—the self-realisation of the Supreme Spirit. As the oldest of our national scriptures has said, He in His undivided unity dwelt from beginningless time till in His immortal love He decided: "I am One; I shall be many, that the many might be incorporated and integrated once again, re-assumed, into the One." Thus the out-going God, the out-ranging God, the returning God, the realised God;— that is the object of all sadhana. The end and aim of all sadhana is: How to leap out of the illusion of 'the many' and reach out into the spotless pure vision of 'the One,' Ekame-vadvitheeyam. As ye perceive this supreme truth — the self coming out of the Self and ranging forth as the self, and coming back into the Self to be the Eternal Self—as we realise this process as the divine purpose of creation, a process which construes the complete cycle of cosmic life as a four-fold self-presentation of the Deity as the Progenitor, the Protector, the Perfector and the Perpetuator (to adopt the terminology of the first verse of our congregational chant, goshti pravdhana)—as we read the universe in this light, we understand why sadhana has been prescribed, not as a process of mere spiritual gymnastics, not as a system of self-help, but as the pilgrim's progress along the everlasting path unto the eternal goal. If only we thus address our-selves in the proper spirit, according to the right method, to this ceaseless quest of the Eternal One, how in a single moment we feel we are transformed! This so-called fleshly body, with its encumbrance of bone and muscle and skin and what not, becomes the holy temple in which the Spirit is enshrined; and, as one keen-sighted thinker suggests, when we touch the human body with the right sentiment, we really touch the hem of His garment, the sacred garb of the Divine. Aye, the whole universe is, as Goethe has said, the live-garment woven at the loom of time to half-reveal and half-conceal, as through a translucent veil, the adorable Indweller. All earth is holy ground; every object is a 'theophany', a suggestive token of God; all occupations are sacred engagements; every moment reckons a 'heart-beat' responsive to His Love. This conception of life gives unto us, on the one hand, the amplest opportunity to render back devoutly unto Him, though in a soiled state all the talents He has deposited in us; and, on the other hand, it brings us into the closest contact with the Spirit, as it in-dwells and permeates this marvellous creation. Man the imaged idea of God; God the indwelling Spirit of man—where is the cleavage; what becomes, after that, of all the divisions, of all the clashes and conflicts, with which we stultify ourselves and frustrate the purposes of life? One tender smile of affection from the devoted heart to the Eternal Beloved, and one sweet note of response from the Eternal Lover back to the expectant heart thus the Supreme Lord becomes alike the prompter and the fulfiller, the source and the gratification of all the joys of life. His outgoing is the manifest world; His home-returning is the ideal world. To realise this is the end of sadhana. And it has been enjoined on us even by our own God as a task, not imposed by extraneous compulsion, but induced within us for our own weal; so that we practise this sadhana for the healthy growth of our souls and not avoid it as a curb on the freedom of life. The aim and purpose of it all is to behold the glory of God here and now, within and without us. If we thus feel, through God's grace, encircled, embraced with the glory of His presence,. there is but one sentiment that the heart cherishes after that blessed experience—the sentiment of thankful joy, of joyful thanksgiving. Dear God, is this what Thou hast designed and provided for me—to see Thee, to perceive Thee, to feel the touch of Thee everywhere and always? If this is Thy purpose, how prosaic is the description which says, "Thy purposes are good"! Nay, Thy intentions and purposes are Godly and partake of Thy divine nature. Thou dost, every minute of eternal time, work out the purposes of reporting Thyself, reaffirming Thyself, reproducing Thyself, reincarnating Thyself through the whole universe, through every mote and monad, through every atom and animal-cule. There is Thy joy, blessedness, bliss, ecstasy, anandam, as well as there is Thy truth, reality, satyam—the transformation of humanity into Divinity. That is the end of sadhana.
How shall we practise it, how put ourselves into the normal mood and posture for it? There are many ways in which this is expressed. But, after all, the many ways resolve themselves into one single way, namely, to say, "Think not of thyself, think only of the Lord. No will of Thine, only the purposes of the Lord"; and again to say, "Thy will is mine". In Narada's Bhakti Sutras, those who adore God are divided into four classes. God is symbolised as the King; and it is said, the King has four classes of persons around and about Him: first, those who enter into His councils —the wise; second, those who serve Him—the philanthropic; third, those who entertain Him—the good-natured; the fourth class have no name: "the others" they are called. These last have no recommendation; they possess no special characteristic; they function in no capacity; they render no service to the King; they are useful in no way to him; and they are called 'dependents They have to get their all from the pure bounty of the Lord. They are bhaktas. They receive everything from God; and they have nothing to give in return. That is the position of the mind, that is the attitude of the heart, that is the peculiar state of the soul to which sadhana leads us. We are 'the others' that have no name. What pretensions have we to that wisdom which enters into His councils? What possessions have we to subserve His providence? What traits of good nature have we to entertain Him? We are 'the others', the 'dependents', the bhaktas, owing our all to Him and saying and feeling always, "I am nought: Thou art everything". It is only thus the stubborn separate self is annihilated. That is the true Nirvana in which the egoistic self is so eliminated that the Supreme One is All-in-all and shines forth in His radiant and enrapturing beauty. "Annihilate your-self, that you may have salvation;" says a renowned Sufi, "when you go away, Truth (haq, satyam) will be seated in your place".
Does that take away from man's moral responsibility? No. But it only adds the spiritual confession that what I do is given me to do for His pleasure: hithayalo-kasyathavapriyardham. It abates not a single jot of moral responsibility; it only transmutes the formal, moral obligation into a quickening, enchanting spiritual exaltation. It is not that there is no distinction of good and bad; but in God's creation bad has no real place, for good is all-in-all: not that the distinction between good and bad is denied ; but the distinction is obviated by the elimination of bad. No doubt, there is the old, puzzling question of the will. "Our wills are ours to make them Thine," declares the great poet. Yet that is only the language of the well-ordered moral life, not of the well-beloved devout life—of reverential submission, not of entranced embrace—of Mary caressing the feet, not of Meerabai lost in the love-light; of the Lord. "What have I to do with owning a will and training it?" says the bhakta "Who am I that I should 'donate ' a will to the Lord? There is no will save 'His Will'. 'I will—that is the prerogative of Him alone who could avow, 'I am'. The rest is all the leela—the divine delight—of the Lord." It may be true that a man without a will is a 'machine'. But it may also be true that the devotion which recognises, provides a place for, no will but "His Will," flowers into a 'messiah.'
Thus the end of sadhana is God. The motive of sadhana is truth. The range of sadhana is the whole universe. The method of sadhana is the practice of "His Will" and "His Presence." For this is the end and aim ordained unto us by God. May He, in His infinite mercy, accomplish His purpose in us all, His own children!
Thou art the end and aim of our lives. And how wofully erring we should be, if for a moment we lost sight of the only end and aim of our lives! Where can we go, whither can we deflect, without somehow once again being brought into line with Thy plans and purposes? Here is Thy unfailing providence in that it prevails over all our deflections, adjusts all our aberrations and dovetails all our deviations into one unifying, all-inclusive, all-foreseeing, all-saving purpose. Thou art Mercy, Love, Grace itself, free Grace itself, pure Grace itself I
My beloved God! As I experience the sweetness of love, the charm of mercy, the beauty of grace, I bow down before Thee, the God of love ; I bow down before Thee, the God of mercy; I bow down before Thee, the God of grace. This is a day of so many holy covenants; and we are again here to reaffirm all covenants with Thee : our mind's covenant of faithful, earnest Quest of Thee; our heart's covenant of single-eyed, passionate love for Thee; our conscience' covenant of dauntless, selfless avowal of duty towards Thee; our soul's covenant of undivided, pure and holy adoration unto Thee; our body's covenant of willing, cheerful service unto Thee; the covenant as regards all that we call our own, all that we hold dear and near to us, to fit into, to harmonise and co-operate with, the best in Thy creation; the covenant of our mutual recognition in and through Thee, as of Thy household. All these covenants we are here to reaffirm on this holy spot, on this sacred day. Do Thou put into us that sincerity of mind, that fidelity of heart, that veneration of conscience, that consecration of spirit, that abnegation of will, that dedication of the body which we ought to render unto Thee now and for ever. Bless these, Thy children~not that Thou art slow to bless but because we are so tardy to be blessed. Make us eager, a left to be blessed. And even as we are thus blessed in Thee, may that bountiful blessing reach forth into Thy whole creation ! And thus may the whole creation be blessed in Thee and Thou blessed of it, now and for ever! May this little, tiny little harbour, haven, shrine that we hold dear as the Ashramam, may that for ever be made sacred with Thine own effulgent presence! And may all that are harboured in it, all that are interested in it, all that Wish well of it, be blessed with the blessing of Thine own direct presence and intimate companionship! Thus Thy kingdom be established and Thy love abide supreme; thus mayst Thou, the Lord of Righteousness, be the sole Sovereign from the beginning to the close of time, from end to end of illimitable space; thus mayst Thou be all-in-all and we find our all-in-all in Thee! Blessed, blessed, blessed be Thou now and for ever!
Om! Santhih! Santhih! Santhih!
- *At the 10th anniversary celebration of the Cocanada Brahma Sadhanasramam (25-12-22).