Excerpts from ‘Divine Grace’,
by Swami Ranganathananda,
Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras 600 004.
Some of the World’s Mystics on Divine Grace
The idea of self-revelation of God is a recurring theme in the writings of several mystics of the East and the West. Says John Ruysbroeck (Selected Works of Fan Van Ruysbroeck, John Watkins Edition, 1912, p. 48):
‘God in the depths of us receives God who comes to us; it is God contemplating God.’
Jalal-ud-din Rumi conveys in a song the message which God sent to devotee who began to doubt His existence, because he did not receive a clear answer to his prayers:
Thy call ‘Oh God’ is my call ‘I am here’,Says Meister Eckhart:
Thy pain and praying, message mine so clear;
And all thy strives to reach the ear of mine,
That I am drawing thee, it is a sign.
Thy love-woe is my grace. Why doesn’t thou cry?
Thy call ‘Oh God’ means hundred ‘Here am I’.
‘Suppose a man is hiding and he stirs; he shows his whereabouts thereby; and God does the same. No one could ever have found God; He gives Himself away.’
Sings a Sufi mystic- Mantiqu,t-Tair (Tr. by Fitzgerald):
Emphasizing the need to combine the role of Isvarakripa with Purusakara in spiritual life, the Sufi, Sheikh Sa’di’ of Iran sang (Sufis, Mystics, and Yogis of India by Bankey Behari, Bhavan, 1971, pp. 38-9):
All you have been, and seen, and done, and thought, Not you, but I have seen and been and wrought...
Pilgrim, Pilgrimage, and Road,
Was but Myself at my own Door. .....
Come, you lost Atoms, to your Centre draw. .....
Rays that have wandered into Darkness wide,
Return, and back into your Sun subside.
‘Very right is thy faith and pride in His Grace,
and true it is that it works
like rain shower on a tilled field.
But to what avail all shower,
If ye habe not sown the field!’
Sings Baba Farid, many of whose songs have been included in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs (ibid., p. 105):
‘His grace may fall on us at any time. There is no definite rule regulating it. Some do not get it even after performing great austerities and night long vigils, whilst it is forced on those who lie asleep.’The charming Sufi poet-saint of India, Sarmad, the friend of Dara Shikoh, whom Dara’s brother, Emperor Aurangzeb, got executed for emphasising the universal vision of Tariqua, or spiritual path and experience of the mystical Islam, over the rigid creed-bound Shari’ah, do’s and don’ts of dogmatic Islam, sang of God giving Himself to man (ibid., pp. 105-106):
‘If I were pure, never shall I taste the SweetsSarmad faced execution, like Sufi Mansur of earlier centuries, with this song, breathing the strength of Divine Grace and love (ibid., pp.119-20):
of the forgiveness of Sins.
If I were holy,
I could never behold the tears.
O! Love! O! divine Humility!
O! Forgiveness! O! Pity and Compassion!
If I were pure I should never have known Thee. ......
Would Thou love one who never died for Thee;
or even die for one who had not died for Thee?
And if God dieth not for man
and giveth not Himself
Eternally for Man,
Man could not exist;
For Man is Love, as God is Love,
Every kindness to another is a little death.
In the Divine Image
None can exist but by brotherhood.’
‘Ah! How merciful is He that He orderedThe touch of Divine Grace, and the intimacy of Man with God, shine glowingly in the life Brother Lawrence, the humble Christian devotee of the seventeenth century, and in his conversations and letters (Practice of the Presence of God, pp. 16-31; Revell edition):
my head to be severed from my body!
From a serious headache I was suffering,
He cut the matter short!
The incident of Mansur was forgotten
through passage of time,
By ordering my crucifixion,
once more He renewed the Tale of Great Love’
‘I engaged in a religious life only for the love of God, and I have endeavoured to act only for Him; whatever I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God....'
‘That when an occasion of practicing some virtue offered, he addressed himself to God, saying, Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me; and that then he received strength more than sufficient.'
‘That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself; it is you who must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss. That after this he had himself no further uneasiness about it....'
‘That our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own.... That it was a great delusion to think that the time of prayer ought to different from other times; that we are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action, as by prayer in the season of prayer.'
‘That his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but divine love; and that when the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so that he passed his life in continual joy....'
‘His very countenance was edifying, such a sweet and calm devotion appearing in it as could not but affect the beholders. And it was observed that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen, he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. ... “The time of business,” said he, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of the kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” ’
In all such experiences of saints, be they simple cooks of a monastery like Brother Lawrence, or princesses like Mira Bai, we can witness the truth of Divine Grace and its flooding of human life. One of the most oft-quoted verses, on the impact of Divine Grace on human life, is what occurs among the group of 9 verses known as Gita Dhyana Slokas-'Gita Meditation Verses’ (verse8):
Mukam karoti vacalam‘I salute Madhava (Sri Krishna), the embodiment of supreme bliss, whose grace makes the dumb eloquent and the lame cross mountains.’
Pangum langhayate girim;
Yat krupa tamaham vande
The mature of purusakara or self-effort and Bhagavadkripa or Divine Grace, and their place in man’s spiritual life, are brought out lucidly through the illustration of gardening, by Saint Teresa of Avila, in a beautiful passage in her autobiography (The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Tr. by Alison Peers, 1950, Vol. I, p. 65):
‘The beginner must think of himself as of one setting out to make a garden in which the Lord is to take His delight, yet in soil most unfruitful and full of weeds. His majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their stead. Let us suppose that this is already done–that a soul has resolved to practice prayer and has already begun to do so. We have now, by God’s help, like good gardeners, to make these plants grow, and to water them carefully, so that they may not perish, but may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance to give refreshment to this Lord of ours, so that He may often come into the garden to take His pleasure and have His delight among these virtues.
Let us now consider how this garden can be watered, so that we may know what we have to do, what labour it will cost us, if that gain will outweigh the labour and for how long this labour must be borne. It seems to me that the garden can be watered in four ways: by taking the water from a well, which costs us great labour; or by water-wheel and buckets, when the water is drawn by a windlass (I have sometimes drawn it, this way; it is less laborious than the other and gives more water); or by a stream or a brook, which waters the ground much better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there is less need to water it often, so that the gardener’s labour is much less; or by heavy rain, when the Lord waters it with no labour of ours, a way incomparably better than any of those which have been described.’
In his great book: The confessions of St. Augustine, this outstanding Christian mystic, who lived during the fourth-fifth century after Christ, describes, in a vivid and fascinating passage , his conversion to a God-centered life from a life of agnosticism and sensual dissipation, and the part played, in that spiritual transformation, by his own intellectual and spiritual efforts and struggles, his loving mother Minica’s prayers on behalf of her gifted but worldly son, and the shower of Divine Grace. In his experience of grace, we are able to recognize the vital place of self-reliance and the keen struggle to be grace-worthy, what Sri Ramakrishna calls vyakulata, yearning, and the true nature of that beautiful experience of conversion, as understood in the science of religion, unlike the political hunting and head-counting which it has degenerated into in his own Christianity and some other ethical religions. Confessing to God, and addressing Him, Augustine writes, in a moving poetic-prose passage of his book (pp. 181-83):
‘And now, from my hidden depths, my searching thought had dragged up, and set before the sight of my heart, the whole mass of my misery. Then a huge storm rose up within me bringing with it a huge downpour of tears. So that I might pour out all these tears and speak the words that came with them, I rose up from Alypius (solitude seemed better for the business of weeping) and went further away, so that I might not be embarrassed even by his presence. This was how I felt and he realised it. No doubt, I had said something or other, and he could feel the weight of my tears in the sound of my voice. And so I rose to my feet, and he, in a state of utter amazement, remained in the place where we had been sitting. I flung myself down on the ground somehow under a fig tree and gave free rein to my tears; they streamed and flooded from my eyes, an acceptable sacrifice to Thee. And I kept saying to You, not perhaps in these words, but with this sense: “And Thou, O Lord, How long Lord, wilt Thou be angry forever? Remember not our former iniquities.” For I felt that it was these which were holding me fast. And, in my misery, I would exclaim: “How long, how this ‘tomorrow and tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not finish this very hour with my uncleanness?”
‘So I spoke, weeping in the bitter condition of my heart. Suddenly a voice reached my ears from a nearby house. It is the voice of a boy or a girl (I don’t know which), and, in a kind of singsong, the words are constantly repeated: “Take it and read it. Take it and read it.” At once my face changed, and I began to think carefully of whether the singing of words like these came into any kind of game which children play, and I could not remember that I had ever heard anything like it before. I checked the force of my tears and rose to my feet, being quite certain that I must interpret this as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first passage which I should come upon. For I had heard this about Antony: he had happened to come in when the Gospel was being read, and as though the words read were spoken directly to himself, had received the admonition: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me. And by such an oracle he had been immediately converted to You.
‘So I went eagerly back to the place where Alypius was sitting, since it was there that I had left the book of the Apostle when I rose to my feet. I snatched up the book, opened it, and read in silence the passage upon which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence. I had no wish to read further; there was no need to. For, immediately I had reached the end of this sentence it was as though my heart was filled with a light of confidence and all the shadows of my doubt were swept away.
‘Before shutting the book, I put my finger or some other marker in the place and told Alypius what had happened. By now, my face was perfectly calm. And Alypius, in his turn, told me what had been going on in himself, and which I knew nothing about. He asked to see the passage which I had read. I showed him and he went on further than the part I had read, nor did I know the words which followed. They were these: Him that is weak in the faith, receive. He applied this to himself and told me so. He was strengthened by the admonition; calmly and unhesitatingly, he joined me in a purpose and a resolution so good, and so right for his character, which had always been very much better than mine.
‘The next thing we do is to go inside and tell my mother. How happy she is! We describe to her how it all took place, and there is no limit to her joy and triumph. Now she was praising You, Who art able to do above that which we ask or think; for she saw that, with regard to me, You had given her so much more than she used to ask for, when she wept so pitifully before You. For, you converted me to You in such a way that I no longer sought a wife nor any other worldly hope. I was now standing on that rule of faith, just as You had shown me to her in a vision so many years before. And You had changed her mourning into joy, a joy much richer than she had desired and much dearer and purer than that which she looked for by having grandchildren of my flesh.’
Then follows the spiritually account of his realisation of God, not as a far-away extra-cosmic monotheistic deity, which cannot be experienced, but can only be believed in, but as the very Soul of his soul, the life of his life (ibid., 215-16):
‘And what is this God? I asked the earth and it answered: “I am not he,” and all things that are on the earth confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things with living souls, and they replied: “We are not your God. Look above us.” I asked the blowing breeze, and the universal air with all its inhabitants answered: “Anaximenes was wrong. I am not God.” I asked the heaven, the sun, the moon, the stars, and “No,” they said, “we are not the God whom you are looking.” And I said to all those things which stand about the gates of my senses: “Tell me about my God, you who are not He. Tell me something about Him.” And they cried out in a loud voice: “He made us.”....
... For truth says to me: “Your God is not heaven or earth or any other body.” ... And now, my soul, I say to you that you are my better part; you animate the whole bulk of the body, giving it life-a thing which no body can do for another body. But your God is for you too the life of your life.’