The seeker, the seeking and the sought are the three limbs that go to the making of the Quaternary — the Four Norms or Objects of life — the Right Law, Interest, Desire and Liberation (Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha). Seekers have different natures; therefore different ways of seeking have been prescribed, and the goal sought is also different for each. But even if the outer view sees many goals, the inner vision understands that the goal sought is one and the same for all seekers: it is self-fulfilment. In the Upanishad Yajnavalkya explains to his wife that all is for the self. The wife is for the self, wealth is for the self, love is for the self, happiness is for the self, suffering is for the self, life is for the self, and death too is for the self. Therefore the importance and necessity of this question as to what the self is.
Many wise and learned people ask what is the use of worrying over the problem of self-knowledge. To waste one’s time in such abstruse discussion is madness, better to engage oneself in the more important subjects of worldly life and try to do good to the world. But the problem as to what are the things important in worldly life and in what way good will come to humanity, needs for its solution a knowledge of the self. As is one’s knowledge so is one’s goal. If one considers one’s body as the self, then one will sacrifice all other reasonings and considerations for its sole satisfaction and thus become a selfish demon in human form. If one considers one’s wife as the self, loves her as one’s self then one becomes a slave to her, ready to die to please her, inflict pain upon others for the sake of her happiness, do harm to others in order to satisfy her desire. And if one considers one’s country as the self then he may become a mighty patriot, perhaps leave behind an immortal name and fame in history, but then one may reject all other ideas and ideals, injure and rob and enslave other countries. Again, if you consider God as your self and love Him as your self, then too it would be the same thing. For love means supreme vision: if I am a yogi, full of love for the Divine, if I am a man of action acting desirelessly, then I shall be able to possess a power, a knowledge or joy beyond the reach of the common man. And finally if I consider the indefinable Supreme Reality (Brahman) as the self then I may attain the sovereign peace and dissolution. As is one’s faith, so one becomes — yo yat śraddha sa eva saḥ. Mankind has all along been pursuing a development: it started with a small objective in view, then through comparatively greater ones it realised the highest transcendent reality. Finally it is now entering its goal, the supreme status of the Divine. There was an age when mankind was solely preoccupied with the body; the cultivation of the body was the law of the age. That was the way to Good in that age even if it meant depreciating all other laws. Otherwise the body, as it is the means and the foundation for the fulfilment of the law of the being (dharma), would not achieve the required development. Similarly there was another age in which the family and yet another in which the clan become the object of development as in modern times it is the nation that is the objective. However, the highest, the transcendent objective is the Supreme Lord or the Divine. The Divine is the real, the supreme self of all, therefore the real, the supreme objective. So the Gita says, “abandon all laws, remember me alone”. All laws are harmonised in God. If you follow Him, He takes charge of you, makes you His instrument and works for the sovereign welfare and happiness of your family, your clan, your nation and the whole of humanity.
Even if the objective be the same, different seekers having different natures, the way also differs in each case. One important way for realising the Divine is through prayers and hymns. But this is not suitable for everybody. One who follows the path of knowledge takes to meditation and concentration. For the worker, dedication of works is the best way. Prayers and hymns form a limb of devotion; even then it is not the highest limb; for unqualified love is the highest perfection of devotion. That love can realise God’s true self through hymns and prayers and then, transcending their necessity, merges itself in God’s self-enjoyment. And yet there is hardly a man of devotion who can do without hymns and prayers. When there is no need of the process and practice (sadhana) even then the heart wells out in hymns and prayers. Only one has to remember that the way is not the objective and my way may not be another’s. Many men of devotion have this notion that one who does not take to hymns and prayers, who does not take delight in them, is not a spiritual man (one following the true law). This is a sign of error and narrowness. Buddha did not indulge in hymns and prayers but who would declare that Buddha is unspiritual? Hymns and prayers have developed for the practice of devotion.
Men of devotion are also of many kinds and hymns and prayers are used in different ways. A man becoming a devotee because of distress takes to hymns and prayers in order to cry out to God, to pray for His help in the hope of getting relief. One who is a devotee with a purpose takes to hymns and prayers in the hope of the fulfilment of his purpose, with the intention of securing wealth, fame, happiness, prosperity, victory, welfare, enjoyment, liberation, etc. Devotees of this category at times even try to tempt God and propitiate Him; some failing to achieve their objective get terribly indignant with God and abuse Him calling Him names such as that He is cruel, He is a cheat, declaring they would never more worship God, never see His face, never accept Him. Many again in despair turn atheists and arrive at the conclusion that this world is a domain of suffering, a kingdom of torture, that there is no God. These two categories of devotion are an ignorant devotion; even so it is not to be despised; for from the lesser one rises to the greater. The discipline of ignorance is the first step to the discipline of knowledge. The child is ignorant; but there is a charm in the ignorance of a child. The child too comes weeping to its mother, demands redress from suffering, rushes to her for the sake of some satisfaction and self-interest, laments, pleads and when refused gets enraged, creates trouble. Even so, the Mother of the worlds bears with a smiling face all the claims and clamours of the ignorant devotees.
Now, a devotee in quest of knowledge does not take to hymns and prayers for the sake of securing a desired object or for pleasing God. For him, hymns and prayers are only a way to realising God’s self-being and developing his own consciousness. But for the devotee who has already the knowledge, that necessity too disappears; because he has realised his self-being, his consciousness has become firm and well established: hymns and prayers are needed only for the outpouring of the fullness of the heart. The Gita says, these four categories of devotees are all largehearted, none negligible, all are dear to God, but of them the devotee who has the knowledge ranks highest; for one who has the knowledge and God are the same in being. For a devotee God is the objective, that is to say, he is to be known and realised as the self; the devotee who has the knowledge, and God are related to each other as the self and the Supreme Self. The self and the Supreme Self are united together through this triple bond, knowledge and love and work. Work is there but the work is given by God, there is no necessity of it, no self-interest in it, there is nothing to desire here. There is love, but that love is free from conflicts and quarrels; it is selfless, stainless, pure. Knowledge is there but that knowledge is not something dry and devoid of feeling, it is full of a deep and intense joy and love. The objective may be the same, but the way differs according to the aspirant. For different aspirants even the same way admits of different applications.
(Dharma, No. 24, February, 1910)