We are all wired differently, aren’t we? Some of us are the intellectual types and some emotional, some are action-driven and so on. In my pursuit of God, I confess I am inclined to loving with all my mind and it doesn’t seem to demand much labouring. It’s rather effortless for the most part. I’m quite pleased with myself here: a specialist-of-sorts, in loving God with my intellect, I am!
But Jesus doesn’t leave his request in this one dimension. The greatest commandment he says is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.(1) This unsettles me. It seems to recommend, rather command, that I love with all my heart and my soul and my strength, and not just specialize in loving him with my mind. For the life of me, and increasingly so, loving God with my emotions doesn’t seem to be my forte. This emotional frigidity bothers me more so, when I spot others who are able to effortlessly love the Lord with their emotions. In order to not despair over this malady, I keep indulging in that pursuit of God that flows for me effortlessly, un-laboured—totally ignoring the command to love him with my emotions, will, and energies as well. A wholesome, well-rounded, robust love for God with one’s entire being, rather than a uni-dimensional, fragmented, stunted expression of intimacy, it appears, is what we should yearn to grow towards eventually.
However, as an easterner, I was pleasantly surprised to find parallels to my pet “specialized-pursuit-of-God” motif in the pages of the Bhagwad Gita, one of the popular Hindu scriptures. Each of us has different talents, strengths, leanings, or inclinations that enable us to seek God, in the way that best suits our make-up. Hence, Hinduism offers the seeker more than one path to choose from to pursue liberation. In fact there are three paths: the Karma Marga, Jnana Marga, and Bhakti Marga (Sanskrit, for Way).(2) Oh, how I wish I had this concession!
Amrita Sher-Gil, Ancient Storyteller, oil on canvas, 1940.
Karma Marga is for the socially active. It is called “the path of works.” It is for people who prefer to seek liberation through day to day tasks such as raising a family or volunteering and the like. Jnana Marga is the path of knowledge, it is for philosophical or intellectual types. And Bhakti Marga is the path of devotion. It is for the emotional followers who worship gods or goddesses of their choice. Worshiping the divine is the way of liberation here.(3)
Each is presented as a path to God suitable for different human temperaments: the active, the emotional, and the philosophical. True enough, I believe that God has and does use the manner in which we are wired, our needs, natures, circumstances, and contexts to enable us in responding to his invitation. To some of us he has appealed through our emotions, to others through their intellect, and for some others through their sense of duty, deeds, disciplines and so on. However, to call them as the three marga or ways to pursue liberation/salvation might need deeper inquiry.
As it appears, the recommendations of the Bhagwad Gita are methods or techniques, at best, to reach God. But mere methods are not what help us here. We need a Masiha (Hindi, for Messiah). We need the one mediator between God and man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. He minces no words when he says, “I AM the Marga.” Modest as Jesus was, this statement, might sound out of character to eastern ears. What could sound even more audacious is when he reiterates that “there is no other marga” besides him. “No man can come to the Father, but by me (masiha).” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(4)
An all-inclusive eastern mind would surely take issue with this gospel claim as far too narrow and stifling. We might puff and pout and fume at the thought of it. But on intense wrestling, what emerges is that Jesus seems to be clear in that methods can’t get us where we want most to go, but the Masiha alone can. Call it the Masiha Marga! He seems to be suggesting personhood over pathways. His sinless personhood alone qualifies as the highway that transports the woefully fallen to the Utterly Holy.
May I invite the seeker in you to consider this Holy Highway, the Masiha, over the arduous, methodological margas that seem to weigh solely and heavily on our efforts toward God, rather than his efforts towards us.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
(1) Mark 12:30.
(2) Gavin D. Flood, An introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, 1996
(4) John 14:6.