Faith, Devotion, Love and Union
While advancing from faith to ultimate goal of self-realisation, one has to pass through various stages. Belief or faith is the starting point of advancement. Devotion comes after faith, love after devotion. Union, which is a consummation of yoga, is a culmination of love.
In other words, without faith, there is no devotion, without devotion there cannot be any love. Without love there is no union or liberation.
Faith does not come by itself. Faith is impelled by some background knowledge. Knowledge helps us understand and appreciate things due to which we are able to believe or disbelieve some thing or even God. Hence faith is the result of knowledge. If we do not know some thing how can we believe it? Knowledge is 'knowing some truth'. That means, only after knowing some truth, faith comes. By repeated contacts with some body, one becomes aware of more and more truths about him. At that time he becomes more inclined towards him. When he starts respecting and obeying more and more that is termed as devotion. There is faith as well as respect in devotion (bhakti). In other words, faith and respect together make devotion (bhakti). Such devotion (bhakti) is not fully pure. It is a preliminary stage of devotion and is desire-driven.
When the devotee knows more and more about God's greatness, he starts loving. By God's grace only he gets the knowledge by which he realises God's greatness.
Love is attributed to Atman. Atman attracts in many ways. That power of attraction is called exhilarating power. Without His grace, neither we can love Him nor we can surrender ourselves to Him. The knowledge by which one can love him comes from His Grace. Real devotion is in loving God. At that time the devotion (bhakti) is pure and desireless. Next stage is the highest blissful state, which cannot be described by words. To explain that state, it is said, 'Atman loves Atman' or 'Self loves the Self'. Atman being one and indivisible, it is said that self loves the self.
When true knowledge will come we can love others as we love ourselves. At that stage there remains no feeling of discrimination between self and others. Loving the self is Union. That is Yoga. There is no differentiation, no ill feeling towards any one as there is none other than the One i.e. Self.
To see all in the self and to see the self in all is called equal-minded vision. In other words, one can not see any thing other than own self. At that stage only freedom from all sufferings is attained. After returning from that state, he realises that Atman is every thing and every thing is Atman. To put it differently, Atman manifests as every thing. In such a state of knowledge, he has to respect one and all. That is called real devotion (bhakti). But we claim ourselves to be devotees by offering bananas and coconuts and undergoing different types of rituals. That is no real devotion (bhakti).
Faith, devotion and love are nothing but expressions of different stages of knowledge. Every stage is important. One serves as a stepping stone to a higher stage. Therefore, which one will you accept or reject? If you discard 'belief' then how 'devotion' (bhakti) will come?
There is jnana in every thing. There is no faith without knowledge. There is no devotion without knowledge. There is no love without knowledge. In other words, knowledge lies at the background of every thing. Also by knowledge, we understand different stages.
That is why, every one should acquire knowledge. He, who acquires knowledge, can get every thing i.e. from faith to freedom, from belief to bliss, from love to liberation and from devotion to direct experience.
Depending upon the level of knowledge faith, devotion and love shine out in one's conduct.
The knowledge level at which faith comes can be said to be attainment of 90 degree.
The knowledge level at which devotion comes can be said to be attainment of 180 degree.
The knowledge level at which love comes can be can be said to be attainment of 270 degree.
The knowledge level at which union comes can be said to be attainment of 360 degree.
Faith, devotion, love and union- all are but different stages of varying degree of knowledge. Without knowledge these have no roots. All these will never sprout without the support of knowledge. It is knowledge that takes the forms of faith, devotion, love and union.