09.32 – Bhakti enfranchises everyone – even those disenfranchised by conventional religiosity

by September 7, 2012

Ours is an age that idealizes the equality of all human beings. The American Declaration of Rights which enshrines this equality is widely considered a watershed in human history. Significantly a similar egalitarian declaration is made by the Bhagavad-gita thousands of years earlier.

The Gita espouses the path of bhakti-yoga – the path of pure love for God, Krishna – as the best method for the empowerment and elevation of all. It (9.32) declares, “Those who take shelter in me, though they be of lower birth — women, vaishyas [merchants] and shudras [workers] — can attain the supreme destination.”

Is the reference to women, vaishyas and shudras a sexist or a casteist putdown? Not at all; rather, it is the opposite. Let’s see how.

In conventional Indian society, there were two major forms of conventional religiosity: ritualistic materialism (karma-kanda) and speculative impersonalism (jnana-kanda). According to their conventional standards, those with non-intellectual traditional engagements like home-keeping, agriculture or manual labor didn’t have the time or the disposition for ritual purity or metaphysical probing. Consequently, they were deemed under-qualified for spiritual advancement.

The Gita offers a nominal tip of the hat to this conventional notion and then delivers its universalist bhakti message which practically nullifies that notion.

Bhakti is a path of the heart – which all of us have – and the path of grace – which all of us can get if we approach Krishna through his devotees. Thus, bhakti opens the doors to spiritual enfranchisement for everyone – even those conventionally considered disenfranchised, as this verse indicates.

This universalism of bhakti, when applied to our times, guarantees that it can grant all of us, no matter how non-spiritual or anti-spiritual our backgrounds might have been, life’s greatest success: an eternal life of love in Krishna’s supreme abode.


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