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Conversation With Aiya (35)

“He is a great bhakta that I know”, said Uma about a family friend of us, adding, “I have seen him always praying….forever he has a dozen prārtana.”

I did not say anything, except thinking about my friend who runs his own business; he does many pujas, often in a grand scale.

Uma continued.

“Please don’t forget to book the ‘abhishekam’ at our Harrow Temple,  may be for the next week or so.”

I had that said to me for the second time today, as I was about to leave for my evening walk.

‘I must do this’ – I uttered within myself and jogged gently towards the park, where I would join with Ayya.  My walks with him always fill my heart with cheers.

Ayya was already waiting.

“Hello Ayya, Namaskāram.

“All well?”, Ayya’s tag meant if I was feeling restful before the relaxing walk.

“Perfect Ayya”, while saying,  I was just noting in my phone to remind me to pass by the temple on our way back to book for the abhisheka.

“I am just reminding myself about booking a puja at the temple that Uma has asked me to do.”

We were walking.

“That’s good, what is the occasion?”

“Nothing Ayya.  Perhaps she has a ‘prārtana’, or just that we have not done it for a while.”

“Does it mean you don’t have any prārtana?” – Ayya was teasing me.

“Not that Ayya.   These days I don’t even know what to ask for…”

“Is it because that you have attained everything”, laughingly Ayya asked.

I looked at him  to measure how serious he was when saying so!

“Not at all  Ayya.   I think my bhakti is getting weaker.  I don’t have lots of ‘prārtana’ but I do enjoy going to the temple”.

Ayya did not say anything.

“Is my bhakti in regress Ayya?”, I asked him.

“What is bhakti?

“Ayya,  it is our feeling towards God, our devotion to the Almighty, seeking the grace for all our wellbeing.”

“Is that it?”

“Well, it also means, asking God to be our succour, the protector against anything evil.”

“So, bhakti is the means to summon God to be of service to us!”

“Please don’t put it like that Ayya.  It is a plea, like a child asking the mother.  It is out of love.”

“So, bhakti is out of love?”  Ayya exclaimed.

“Yes, of course! It is ‘prema’, love towards God.”

“Then what is the role of  ‘prārtana’ ? Is not prārtana the plea for getting some favours?”

“Ayya,  we have to ask God for our wellbeing and protection from grief! Who else we can go to?”

“Certainly!  Then why use the term ‘love’ for that? Is not the need of yours  the driver for your prayers?”

I did not answer as it is always the case.

Ayya touched my shoulders.

“Do not feel guilty.  It is absolutely fine,  and it is the right thing to do, asking God to help us in our needs and in  our distress.   You know the terms ‘artha’ and ‘ārtha’, which are respectively referring to our needs and distress. When we are caught by those situations, we seek the intervention of God and that’s why we offer ‘prārtana’ to God to grant us what we want, be it an accomplishment or a relief.”

“That is bhakti, right?”

“Of course!  But it is invested for the reason of return.  It is a ‘vyāpāra’, a trade.  We ask for some fulfilment and in return, we  pledge our services to God in gratitude.   If ‘prārthana’ is to remove some grief, then we make it as a remedial rite or ‘prāyacitta karma’; do you see my point?”

“Yes Ayya,  but those are also considered as bhakti!” I said in haste.

“Yes, any form of adoration to God, whatever the reason that triggers, is bhakti only.  But its level of reverence and esteem vary.”

“How Ayya?”

Ayya smiled at me.

“You said that you don’t have many prārtana or is it any prārtana?

“No Ayya,  I just said that my mind these days doesn’t really long for material pleasures.  Even at the ordeals of life, I go to temple only to fill my mind with peace, but not really asking for any grant from God.   Not sure if it it is my delusion or development.”

Ayya laughed heavily.

“Not delusion my friend, at lease I hope so!   May be your experiences in life and your inclination towards introspection have started to work on you.”

I was calmly walking.

“Don’t you seek anything from God?”

“No Ayya, not that! I start questioning things.  I like to go to temple, recite mantras, sing bhajans etc., but to ask for a promotion in the job,  to a good alliance for my child or for a windfall of lottery to alleviate the economic burden – I back out.”


“I don’t know, may be because of my understanding, that too out of limited learning… that whatever happens is due to my past karma and so, I need to endure.”

“Then why are you praying to God, even when there is no plea?”

“It is because, I get peace Ayya.  Somehow I think, God will let me navigate the ordeals  and come out unscathed when I just offer my obeisance without burdening the Lord with any plea!”

“You think that the plea of devotees is a burden to the Lord?”

“Not that Lord cannot handle! But it makes it hard for Him in my limited view.”

I continued.

“For example, when many are asking for the same benefit, exclusively for their own enjoyment, how could God be equitable to all?”

“He cannot! He will not!”, said Ayya.

“Ayya, what are you saying? God is not fair to all?”

“God is always fair to all! That’s what I am saying.  That is why ‘prārtana’ are very much on the assumptions that God will be somehow fair to you only, expecting God to be merciful to you.  God cannot exhibit any pārapaksha or unfairness.”

“So, God won’t grant our plea?” I asked with some disappointment.

“Listen, devotion due to artha and ārtha, needs and grief, is seeking God’s intervention in rewriting the impact of Karma-phala, the results of your past deeds.  How could He do that!  Is not the Lord the witness to all our actions and to allocate proportionate result of those actions, both timely and fairly!”

“Yes Ayya!  So, if we ask for the grief to go away  or some gains to be received, then we are asking the Lord to change the laws of karma, that are already scribed!  Is that what you are saying!”

“Aptly”, Ayya summed up in brief.

“Ayya,  won’t God do such adjustments to help us?”, I was looking for some comfort.

“May be!  Perhaps He adjusts the proportion of the impact, or the timing, just as courtesy for your persistent prayers.  But God will not write off what is already written.”

“That means, I still have to endure”

“Yes, and be happy with that mercy!  You may not even notice that you have passed through some hardship when Lord’s mercy is upon you!  So do pray, make pleas…… but don’t try to be over-smart!”

“What do you mean Ayya?”

“You cannot simply place the plea for material gains and reliefs,  without any effort on your part.  Without studying, how could you  pass the exams just by praying to God!”

“Sure Ayya!”

Aiya continued.

“Perhaps the prayers bestow grace upon you, that your memory does not let you down at the examination hall. So, your right efforts and hard work pay dividends by the grace of God.”

“Sure Ayya.  What if I don’t ask for any help from God towards such material accomplishments?”

“Far better, provided your bhakti is still intact.  It then becomes true to its meaning,  ‘prema’ or love of God.  You offer prayers because you love God and not to seek something special.”

“Ayya,  I still seek peace!  I still need some light to guide! I am not sure how to express.  When I go to temple, it is not that I go without seeking anything as I yearn for something… may be the peace that fills my heart when I am there. But only for some time as I again become restless and I need to go again.  Is it still a valid bhakti?

“It is, and it is superior than the other two. Although you don’t ask for anything, your intrinsic quest is to gain clarity on the purpose of your life.  You are seeking the knowledge about God, about you, about Truth.”

“All those three?”, I pondered.

“All those three are nothing but one!  That is the true happiness! That is what driving you to God, even when you have nothing material to ask for.”

I was waiting to hear more.

Ayya continued.

“What it means is that your desire has taken an elevated space; it is placing an elevated pitch to God, saying: ‘Look God, Not sure what I need to do, I am yearning for something that will soak me in the bliss; make me free, utterly joyful and immune to the mundane chores of life! Lead me’, that is what it is.”

“Something like that Ayya!  What is it?”, I asked.

“That is jijñāsa, a deep desire to know the Truth.  Such desire may be explicit after gaining some scriptural knowledge or like in you, a blessing that culminates from the experiences of life, driving you to seek without knowing!”

“Am I therefore a seeker of Truth?” I asked with zeal!

“We all are!   We do not recognize it.  Truth is unblemished happiness! But we see happiness in material objects and feel sad when such material things fail us.  That is why we are driven to God with our arta-ārtha conditions.”

“I am feeling better Ayya.  I used to feel guilty when I recognize the reduced intensity of prārtana these days. So, I am not failing after all!”

“Certainly not.  Bhakti is the shraddha on God. Love is its absolute nature! Shraddha is the condition of its expression.”

“I don’t understand Ayya.”

“I am saying, devotion is only when there is dedication; and dedication in turn, blossoms into devotion. When the underlying reason for such devotion and dedication is not any material gain but a keen desire for the freedom, then bhakti becomes purer.”

“How does the jijñāsu show such bhakti?”

“By being positively immersed in praising the glory of the Lord! He may do the archana, abhisheka and all those rites as everyone does, but with the single goal of attaining the right path to Truth. Or he may not do all those elaborate rites, yet be with those who do such things, calmly helping and rejoicing the reverential ambience.”

After a pause, Ayya continued.

“That’s why we cannot be judgemental about anyone by their outward appearance or attitude. One who shows very little interest in ornate pujas may be an elevated bhakta, whereas one who persistently performs even great yajnas, a material seeker.”

“Interesting Ayya!  What if, one day, I really hope that day is soon, I gain the knowledge to the right path of Truth, may be due to my jijñāsa-bhakti, … what then?”

Aiya smiled.

“May God bless you with that boon!  Well, that would mean, you are steered to meet with the Atma-Guru, in whose shelter, your final journey for perfection, redemption or liberation – whatever you call that – happens.”

“You mean mukti?

“Yes!  The right knowledge of ‘shoka-vināsa-kāranam’ will make you positive about the exit from all grief.  You will then be possessed with only that goal, that desire.  It is called ‘mumukshutvam’, the unassailable desire to be free.  You will tread that passage which is equipped with steadfast focus in the form of ‘nidhityāsana’.  You are then poised to be free.”

“I don’t need bhakti then?”

“What do you mean by that?  You will  by then naturally transformed into a bundle of love. Your love will be for everything. So, devotion to God further excels.  You are then a ‘jnāni’ in that phase of your evolution and your bhakti is the supreme,  which delights the Lord.  The ‘knower’ of Truth adores God with no needs or expectations. Even if he has to ask for anything, he may only ask for the harmony of the world but never for his own needs.  Afterall, he needs nothing thereafter!”

I was speechless as Ayya continued.

“Don’t you remember when we studied Sri Bhagavad Gita, the verse:

caturvidhā bhajante māṃ janā: sukṛtino’rjuna |

ārto jijñāsurarthārthī jñānī ca bharatarṣabha ||”

“Of course, Ayya,  I was about to say the same. It is in the 7th chapter. I also remember it is verse 16.”

“Knowing the import is important. Not its loci.”, Ayya gently mocked.

“Bhagavan says among the four types of Bhaktas, namely, arta, ārta, jijñāsa and  jñānī, He delights in the devotion of jñānī. We should not take as four types of devotees, but four states of devotion, as we progressively elevate the stature of our devotion.”

“Yes Ayya.  I am feeling very positive that I am progressing in my devotion to God. Thank you.”

We were walking  along the lake.  The swans were busy searching into the water by dipping their heads in vain. I was like that for many years, not knowing what I was seeking in utter darkness.  Now it looks like that I have  something to trace along.

“Aiya,  I have not seen you in the temples?”


“I am always curious about you.  Don’ you pray?”


“But then why are you not going to the temples?”

“For what?”

“Ayya…. To worship God, for what else?”

“Is God only in the shrines!”

He did not say anything.  He waved his hands and walked along the narrow path leading further into the woods.

I waved back and walked towards the temple. I must ask Ayya, as a new doubt is now nagging me.

Ayya,  based on his strong devotion to Advaita Vedanta, may be void of bhakti! Or may be full of Bhakti!  That curiosity started to itch my heart.  I will pin him down in the coming days to know about it.

As if to endorse my wish, just then my phone beeped, reminding me of the abhishekam booking that was due.

Mee. Rajagopalan

30 May 2024

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