Krishna Statue at Brindavan

The festival Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated every year to commemorate the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu as per a Hindu belief. According to the Hindu lunar calendar, Krishna was born on ashtami or the eighth day at midnight in the holy month of Shravana (usually falls in August). The devotion of the Gopis, the cowherd girls who played with Lord Krishna during His childhood days is considered the highest as the Gopis surrendered themselves in the service of Lord Krishna. Remembering this auspicious day, we like to present this article on devotion to God.

Once, Lord Vishnu asked Narada which among the five elements is the greatest. Narada replied that the earth is the greatest. Vishnu remarked, “Three fourth of the earth is enveloped with water. In such a case, which among the two is greater?” Narada agreed that water was great. Vishnu said, “But the sage Agastya drank up the ocean in a single gulp. So, is Agastya greater or water?” Narada replied, “You are right my Lord, Agastya is greater than water.” Vishnu asked again, “But this Agastya is a tiny star in the sky (akasa). Now is this star greater or the sky?” Narada replied, “It is the sky that is greater.”

The Lord agreed and said, “Your understanding is correct. The sky indeed is greater. In His incarnation as Vamana, the Lord asked for three steps from king Bali. And in the course of taking the gift of three steps, Vamana assumed the form of Thrivikrama and covered the entire earth in one step, and the space from the earth to the sky in second, and there was no room for the third step. King Bali had to offer his head for the third step. So, now, is God great or the sky?” Narada replied, “Swami, when the mere foot of the Lord covers the entire sky, how much greater His full form would be? God indeed is greater.”

“God, who envelops the entire cosmos, dwells in the heart of His bhakta (devotee). So now, is the heart of the devotee greater or God?” asked Vishnu.

Narada replied, “Indeed, the devotee is greater than God.”

God is Bhakta Paradheena, He is the servant of devotees. There is none superior to a devotee in this world. Such an all powerful, supreme God can be bound by anyone with genuine devotion.

“What is Devotion”

So, what is genuine devotion and what is the best way to practice it?

In the letter to His brother Seshama Raju dated May 25, 1947, Sathya Sai Baba wrote: I have a ‘task’: to foster all mankind and ensure for all of them lives full of bliss (ananda). I have a ‘vow’: to lead all who stray away from the straight path again into goodness and save them. I am attached to a ‘work’ that I love: to remove the sufferings of the poor and grant them what they lack. I have a ‘reason to be proud,’ for I rescue all who worship and adore me, aright. I have my definition of the ‘devotion’: I expect those devoted to me have to treat joy and grief, gain and loss, with equal fortitude. This means that I will never give up those who attach themselves to me.

The twelfth chapter of Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of the Hindus, describes various modes of devotional practices. This chapter is known as Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion.

Recitation of Chapter 12, Gita by Hymon Johnson

Passport and Visa

Sathya Sai Baba captures the entire teaching of Bhakti Yoga with a simple example. Anyone who wants to travel to another country must have a passport and visa. No matter what the person’s position is, without these two items, one cannot complete the journey. Similarly, in order to enter the kingdom of Moksha, one must have the visa of God’s grace acknowledging him as belonging to Him, as well as, one must also have the passport of good qualities (sadguna). Bhagavad Gita has described several qualities that devotees should acquire. Swami says that among them, even if one possessed by him, he is entitled to God’s grace.

The Gita emphasizes the two hallmark attributes of devotee who is dear to the Lord. They are “Samthushtah Sathatham” (ever content) and “Dhruda-nischayah” (with firm resolve). He has to be content and cheerful always, without regard for the changing tides of fortune. It should not be a pose, a passing phase, an artificial, superficial show. Swami explains that the prefix ‘sam’ indicates that the “thushti” (contentment) has to be deeply rooted in the heart manifested in and through every thought and act.

Ever Content

Sathya Sai Baba - Ever Happy

Samthushti fills the heart with divine delight. It marks a stage of detachment from the world, for the world makes one swing from pain to pleasure and back again. The devotee therefore must desist from attempts to earn joy or avoid grief. He has to be unconcerned with ups and downs. Success should not boost his ego, nor should defeat land him in dejection. Honors should not turn his head, nor dishonor make it droop. Equanimity, serenity, these are the signs of samthushti. The devotee welcomes gratefully whatever happens to him or is given to him by the Divine Will, to which he has surrendered his own will.

Firm Resolve

Drudha Nischayam” (firm resolve) is the other requisite. Of course, all men possess this qualification; it is an asset that assures survival, and secures popularity and pre-eminence. Those who climb Himalayan peaks derive the tenacious courage, that sustains them, from the firmness of their resolve not to turn back. Others exhibit their heroism in crossing tumultuous oceans alone. Some others resolve on exploring fearful forests. Firmness of resolution, bravery and skill are utilized even for merciless torture of others to rob them of their riches. Ignoring their inner divinity and setting aside their human-ness, some people descend to demonic levels and become fanatically cruel. We have to conclude that dhruda-nischala can serve good purposes as well as evil.

Sathya Sai Baba wonderfully summarises the qualities possessed by one who is a genuine example of devotion:

He must be free from anxiety and fear, pride and envy. He has four enemies that are intent on ruining him---anger, envy, hatred and the horde of desires. He regards both high and low as roles in the Divine play. When he insults or injures or rejects any one, he is, in fact, inflicting them on the God he adores. He cannot reap the harvest of Grace or the Bliss from the Atma, if he sows spiritual ardor on a heart full of the weeds of greed and hate. The basic moral prescription for the devotee who aspires to be near and dear to the Lord is "Worship God and offer Love to Him in every living being.

Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 19, Ch 16, August 2, 1986

The Essence of Devotion

Gopis Search for Krishna

Devotion (bhakthi) is a word that is used only with reference to love as directed to the Lord. When this love is broken up into many streams flowing in many directions and towards many points, it causes only grief, for it gets fixed on mortal things of the moment.

Instead, allow the love to flow single-pointedly to the ocean of the Lord’s grace; this is the discipline (sadhana) called bhakthi. Why waste life in the salty marsh of worldly life (samsara)? Strive rather to reach the vast ocean of grace. There you realize yourself. You attain sath-chith-anandam (being-awareness-bliss). How holy is that consummation, how filled with bliss!

The Gopikas strove and succeeded in this sadhana. Every moment, under every condition, every thought, word and deed of the Gopikas was dedicated to the Lotus Feet of Sri Krishna. That is why the Gopikas are called, “Yogis.” When Lord Krishna Himself addresses the Gopis as Yogis, you can gauge the height of spiritual sadhana they had achieved. 

Gita Vahini, Ch 21


  1. Gita Vahini
  2. Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 19.16 - “Near and Dear”
  3. Bhagavad Gita Discourses Vol. 1 and 2 (August 2, 1984 to August, 18, 1984)