Disciple: You said that by reciting sacred verses and hymns will not prevent premature death. Almost the concluding part (uttarabhāga) of all these hymns say that so and so benefits will accrue to the aspirant including relief from premature death? Then what is the purpose in reciting these verses and hymns? When Law of Karma is Law of the Lord, then what is the need for devotion and realization?
Guru: I will explain, but you need to have the highest spiritual bent of mind. There are two aspects of Divinity. First one is about understanding the Grandeur of God and another is getting His Grace. Grandeur of God is revealed through various verses and hymns. Let us take Lalitā Sahasranāma as an example as you are reciting daily. It begins by saying She is the Universal Mother, She sits on a throne which is beyond description, She is red in complexion, all gods and goddesses worship Her, etc. These are the descriptions about Her grandeur. By understanding the meaning of every nāma, you are able to contemplate Her perfectly. After thoroughly understanding the meaning of all nāma-s, you begin to construct Her image in your mind, which is known as contemplation. If you do not understand the meaning of these nāma-s, you cannot contemplate Her properly. Do you agree with me on this point?
Disciple: Yes. But I am not able to contemplate on the same form every day. Even though I try my best, I invariably fail.
Guru: You fail because you have not known Her thoroughly. For example, you see a mountain top during a tour. Can you remember the image of this mountain top with minute details? It is not possible, because you have not studied the mountain top in detail. If you happen to see the mountain top every day with concentration, you will be able to recall it as and when you like. This is called contemplation and your ability to contemplate effectively on a form of god or goddess gives you the mental vision of that god or goddess. Mental vision is also known as mentation, from which the word meditation was derived. This god or goddess is known as your Iṣṭadevatā or Abhīṣṭadevatā, which means your favourite deity. At the time of death of an aspirant, hymns in praise of Abhīṣṭadevatā should be recited during cremation or burial as the case may be. In the initial stages of your spiritual pursuit, you should be able to get the vision of your favourite deity, when you sit for mediation. If you are not getting this vision, then you have to intensify your concentration and practice more. This vision will not be perfect, unless you know every minute detail of the concerned deity.
These verses and hymns have two aspects. First aspect describes about the deity’s shape and form and the second aspect describes about the deity’s grandeur. Generally dhyāna verses describe the form of a deity. For example dhyāna verses of Lalitā Sahasranāma describe Her form and subsequent nāma-s describe Her Grandeur. If you take Śrī Rudram, it talks only about Śiva’s Grandeur. I am sure you can understand the difference between shape and form of a deity and its grandeur. Shape and form means how many hands the deity has, what is the type of throne and all such descriptions. Grandeur means the deity’s glory like he or she creates the universe, sustains, the universe, gives liberation, etc. Hence these verses and hymns are known as glorified verses and hymns, in the sense that they only talk about its glories. When you meditate, you should be able to see both its shape and form and you will now know how significant that particular deity is in your life. Over a period of time, you and the deity become one. In other words, the knower (the aspirant) and the known (the deity) become one, thereby making you to enter the path of Advaita or non-dualism. The verses that you have been referring to, belong only to these types of deities. They can be theoretically explained as gods with attributes. These gods and goddesses cannot fulfil your desires, but they take you to higher spiritual levels. You must have the highest mental clarity to understand this. At some point of time in your life, this god or goddess will pave way for your ultimate realization. When you are able to see the vision of your favourite deity, you enter into the state of Bliss. The deity ultimately becomes your spiritual Guru and turns you over to true spiritual path. Any vision of a deity is not Advaita, because you and the deity are different entities. Vision of your favourite deity is possible only if you are able to intently concentrate. During this process, your mind is purified and your favourite deity pervades your mind. It is the deity that you are able to create in your mind through your sincere practice. These deities cannot override your karma or premature death, etc.
When you move to the next state, that is the state of realizing the Self, the vision of these deities gradually go away and instead you will be able to see the Divine Light. Even this Divine Light cannot be explained as Brahman, as light is also an attribute, but at least this gives you an idea about nirguṇa Brahman, God without form. Most of the Upaniṣad-s describe Brahman as Light. All that you see with your biological eyes are the form of God only, hence He is known as omnipresent. Brahman divides Himself into two; one is Brahman with attributes, known as saguṇa Brahman and this is what we see before our eyes and another is Brahman without attributes, who is also known as nirguṇa Brahman. He alone rules the universe and He acts through saguṇa Brahman. For the sake of convenience, nirguṇa Brahman and saguṇa Brahman are known as Śiva and Śakti. This concept I have explained to you already.
Therefore, please understand that you have no other way except to undergo your karma. If someone is distained to have pre-mature death, it cannot be prevented under any circumstances. Please also understand that when you truly enter into your spiritual path, you will experience more pains as your karmic account is being wiped out. Typical example is sage Ramaṇa. He suffered from cancer and he was operated upon without even administering anaesthesia. He was fully conscious when a surgery to remove cancer was performed on him. Liberation does not come to you that easily. You can always notice that those who are in high spiritual level tend to suffer more, because their karmas are being wiped out due to God’s Grace. They are about to become jīvanmukta-s. When this Grace falls on you, you will be liberated very soon, may be in this birth itself (jīvanmukta-s), who knows. Please also understand that spirituality is not a commodity. It is about attaining His Grace and can be attained only through your efforts also known as sādhana and not through any other means. But, you certainly need a Guru, who can explain to you the intricacies of liberation.
If you want me to answer your first question in simple terms, my answer would be no and I have reasoned out for saying so.
Disciple: Is there any other Scripture that speaks about what you have said now?
Guru: All Upaniṣad-s, Bhagavad Gītā, Brahmasūtra, etc speak only on this. I have made things simpler for you by condensing their Supreme teachings.
Disciple: I think, now I am able to understand the reality, the difference between God with attributes and God without attributes. I am now confident that I will be able to make further progress. But what should be my routine? You know about my present stage.
(to be continued)