Mystical Yogi : Sant Jnanesvara

Extant during the years  1275 to 1296 A.D.  Jnaneshvara had been a great saint in Maharashtra and a great poet of Marathi language. The father of Jnaneshvara, Vitthal Pant had re-entered the householder's life on the order of his preceptor from the life of an ascetic ( Sannyasi ), that was why he had to suffer social boycott along with his entire family. But all the four offsprings of Vitthal Pant achieved extra-ordinary accomplishments amounting to supernatural powers. The eldest, the elder brother of Jnaneshvara, Nivrittinath, having been initiated in the practice of Yoga by a Nathpanthi Yogi, became an expert Yogi, Jnaneshvara received initiation from his elder brother and the miracles performed by the two brothers through their supernatural powers ( Yogic Siddhis ) became a topic of household talks throughout Maharashtra. Their younger brother, Sopan and sister, Muktabai.too achieved high spiritual status. As a result of the efforts of Jnaneshvara the dirt of deformities that had sabbied the Hindu system, of division of caste-class ( Varna - into Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya and Sudra ) and stages of life ( Asrama, as that of Student - Brahmacarya, Householder - Grihastha, Forest-dweller - Vanaprastha and that of an Ascetic - Sannyasa ), was washed out and the Varnasrama Vyavastha got strengthened, gained appreciation and moved towards re-establishment in a healthy manner in society and Hindu Society and Dharma were saved from the misfortune of being scattered into varied quarrelling sects because of they having been bound with the elastic thread of devotion to God. Jnaneshvara, at quite a young age, wrote Bhavartha-deepika, a poetic commentary on Srimadbhagavad-Gita, famous as Jnanesvari - a unique contribution of his to religious spiritual literature and the Bharatiya culture. Amrtanubhava, Cangadeva Painsathi, Haripatha ( a collection of Abhanga verses in praise of Hari ) and hundreds of other independent Abhangas are his other poetic works. Jnaneshvara treated and cured the malady of society contemporaneous to him, through an active devotional Karma Yoga of Bhagavadgita. Having Strengthened the Varkari-sect ( the devotional Bhakti Dharma or the Bhagavata-Dharma of Maharashtra ) he defeated the alien sects.

aint Jnanesvara's father, Vithal Pant, was married to Rakhumabai. The couple had no children. Vithal Pant left his home and wife in Alankapur for the holy city of Varanasi. But Rakhumabai succeeded in persuading her ascetic husband to return home. This shocked the orthodox Brahmins, as one who renounces the world is not supposed to come back to it.

Vithal Pant was ex-communicated, but the couple began to have children. Jnanesvara was the second of four children, including a girl, that were thus born. The eldest one, called Nivrittinath, ran away from home in search of God when he was barely eight years old. The second one followed and found his elder brother in the forest the latter is said to have initiated him into spiritual truths. Jnanesvara was for ever grateful for this. He not only regarded his brother as his guru, but preached that the greatest path to God is by unswerving devotion to one's guru.

According to another version, Vithal Pant and his family left the town as a result of the persecution. On the way in the wilderness they were attacked by a tiger. The first son escaped to a hermitage where the sages initiated him into spiritual knowledge in a very short time. Thus elevated, the young man returned to his family and shared with them his awakened insights. When all the children became thus enlightened the parents drowned themselves in a holy river.

Jnanesvara was inspired by the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. He preached the message and meaning of this immortal work embodying the essence of the Hindu faith. His preachings have been collected in a book called Jnaneswari which he reported to have completed at the age of fourteen. Gnanadeva insisted much on austerities and ceilbacy, and declared in his commentaries on the Gita that the path of action was fundamental for spiritual growth, that all action must have self-realization as the goal.

Gnanadeva also emphasized the importance of bhakri. i.e. pure devotion. He defined bhakti as "that in which one thinks of nothing except of God; refuses to hear anything except His name; serves none but God and contemplates on nothing except God." Even the inferiority resulting from non-humanhood, caste or sex could be overcome by bhakti. He says, "Just as the impress of the king's order makes a piece of paper go as silver, so also a beast, a woman or a Sudra ... whosoever performs Bhakti, gets emancipated and reaches God".

Another major work, known as Amritanubhava or Experience of the Elixir, is also attributed to Gnanadeva. The goal of this work is stated to be The extension and diffusion of the knowledge of God, which he had himself gained through the unlimited magnanimity of his spiritual teacher to all the people in the world."

Dnyaneshwar (b. 1271-d. 1296) was the second child of Vitthal Kulkarni. His parents were derided and humiliated by the Brahmin society because Vitthal had run away from ascetic life to be a house-holder. He had an elder brother in Nivvruttinath, a younger brother Sopan and younger sister Mukta. Vitthal's efforts to have his socially outcast children accepted by the society failed and as a final desperate measure, he and his wife committed suicide in the river Indrayani. The four children, nine year old Dnyaneshwar being the most prominent, went to Paithan, the then center of learning, to obtain a testimonial of purity from the Pundits.

After obtaining the certificate, he went to Nevase where in 1290 he completed a classic commentary on Bhagavad Gita - 'Bhaavarth Diipikaa', better known as Dnyaneshwari. It is widely regarded as the first and foremost creation of Marathi literature.

Apart from mythical stories, not much is known about life of Dnyaneshwar and his brothers. Judging purely by their writings, they lead a hard life. In 1296 AD, Dnyaneshwara, aged 25, walked into a stone-walled room in Alandi near Pune. He had it closed and passed away in samadhi (a state of spiritual liberation). The room has not been opened since then and Alandi has been a revered place. None of his siblings were to enjoy a long worldly life either and passed away within months of Dnyaneshwar's samadhi.

Dnyaneshwari's stature can not be overemphasized. The exposition of ideas is paralyzingly beautiful and the grace of employing meter ovi for composition is peerless so much so that Saint Eknath has said, "If, after reading Dnyaneshwari, anyone tries to compose an ovi , it will be as if he were dressing a dish full of nectar with coconut shells." Do read a translation (a slight modification of Swami Kripananda's "Dnyaneshwar's Gita") of some of his verses.

In his introduction to "Dnyaneshwar's Gita" by Swami Kripanand, S. G. Tulpule of Indian Institute of Advanced Studies writes, "... Although time and place of birth of him are controversial, the fact remains certain that Dnyaneshwari was written in A.D. 1290. Whether he was fifteen or nineteen when he produced this unique literary work is a futile query for neither of these is a sufficiently mature age for the production of a highly philosophical work like this unless, of course, it can be explained on the basis of the 'brought-over' from the previous birth or births - an explanation that was indirectly supported by Dnyaneshwar himself (Dnya-6.451).

"... If Dnyaneshwari teaches anything, it is the way of devotion. It is an easy but a long, long way. In fact, it endless. The aspiring mystique goes on continuously approaching the God, and instead of reaching a final and perfect identity between these two, the devotee meets God at infinity. There is only a little difference left between them which disappears upon the mystique's giving up the ghost. The reason for this asymptotic approximation to Reality, as Ranade calls it, is the physical, mental and other limitation of the seeker. As long as he has a body, a mind and a world to live in, he must fall short of total Divine Attachment. Says Dnyaneshwar: "Even though a devotee may reach unison with God, yet he remains a devotee". The doctrine of asymptotism can be said to be a veritable landmark in the history of the philosophy of mysticism.

"... It is surprising to find parallel thoughts in the writings of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, who lived in the 5th century B.C. To the question "How can the finite man attain the infinite Cheng ?" he answers: "Cheng is actually to be reached only by the sage, but it is the business of the ordinary seek and strive with all his faculties to approach it. It is true that the path of this approach, though convergent, is endless - asymptotic, like the mathematical straight line that draws ever nearer to a curve, yet never meets it. There is no need for dismay on that account, however, for the path is rich in compensation and promise."

Dnyaneshwar says: Granted that one completely renounces the world, meets the proper Guru, gets initiated in the right way - granted all this, granted that the seed that is sown is the best of its kind and is sown in the best of the land, yet it is only in the course of time that a rich harvest can be reaped.

In his book "Maharashtratiy Sant Mandaliche Aitihasik Karya" (The Historical Work of the Saints in Maharashtra"), B.R. Sunthankar says: "In Dnyanadeva, devotion, yoga, knowledge and karmayoga had an excellent blend. He was the philosophical Guru of the Varakari Movement. He had not taken up a crusade against casteism or untouchability and, in fact, stated some rules against the lower castes. Untouchability was ruled out the only in the realm of devotion and spiritual world.

"... He held that the primeval seed of the universe was alone. It created, out of itself, its counterpart and this couple unified to create the universe ('Amrutanubhav'). He thought that Truth is dynamic and rejected Shankaracharya's doctrine of 'the world is an illusion' saying God and Creation are the same; Just as Fire and Flame, Lotus and Petal, Diamond and Luster, Ocean and Wave are not different, God and Creation are not different. He tried an intellectual proof but seeing that the mystery of creation was beyond intelligence, he propounded Ajatvaad (the Ism of non-creation).

" ... The ambition to create a unified society out of the prevalent mess expresses itself from his non-dualistic (adwait) philosophy. He accepted age-old principle of Hinduism that 'liberation (moksha) is through knowledge' and broke that ground for women and lower castes. He was Maharashtra's greatest philosopher. In fact, the Medieval Indian Philosophy reached its climax in him. So great was the influence of Shankara, that even Dnyaneshwara couldn't caste him off. His philosophy bears a veil of Shankara Philosophy but it is only a veil. It's a pity that nobody came forward to develope his philosophy else he too would have been established as a founder of modern philosophy like Spinoza and Berkeley."

Given all this, in Alandi, even today there are lodges by specific subcastes for specific subcastes. The whole town has made a business out of Dnyaneshwara's samadhi. It is a sad commentary on the public mind that people back in Maharashtra spun stories about Dnyaneshwara reciting Vedas out of the mouth of a bull, making a wall walk etc. To me, it serves to directly oppose what he stood for. It is as if people have found Dnyaneshwar wanting, and have felt compelled to come up with astonishing stories to justify the reverence accorded to him. But then again we are talking of a society which focuses on a person rather than his/her extraordinary deeds, mythifies, rather than rationalize, that person to the extent that his actual contribution bears little semblance to the newly formed version and then spends its time chanting his name. If a warrior/statesman of the stature of Krishna couldn't escape this fate, what price a poor philosopher named Dnyaneshwara?