Asmad Gurubhyo namah.
Let me share my understanding on this topic with the Vaishnavas here, so that any defect in it may be weeded out. Thank you.
“Can spirituality be pursued only when basic needs are satisfied like food , water, place and air?”
There are two kinds of bhakthi discussed in the Bhagavad Gita. 1. Uttama Bhakthi (ananya bahkthi, avyabhicarini bahkthi, ahaithuki bhakthi) 2. Misra Bhakthi.
Those in the first category, no external conditions can stop their flow of bhakthi. They are constantly engaged in the service of Perumal every moment of the day, like the unbroken flow of oil. Our Swamy’s life is a good example. I have heard from people who have observed him at close quarters that every moment of everyday is spent in service; not one moment is wasted. In the history and Puranas we find so many examples of such devotees in all walks of life. Even among the Alwars we see both kings and very poor persons. So external conditions has no influence on pure bhakthi. Kuraththaazhwaar and Kuchelar are good examples – they were great devotees when they had everything and also when they had nothing. Kunti Devi addresses Perumal as “akincana vitta” “You are the sole wealth of those who don’t have anything”. This defines the common quality of all these great bhakthas. They did not consider anything belonged to them; everything belonged to Perumal and they themselves belonged to Perumal. Whatever condition Perumal placed them was acceptable to them. They are simply happy serving Him with whatever resources are available. It is said, when Lord Krishna was born, Vasudevar wanted to distribute charity. But he was in the jail; what to do? He distributed large amounts of charity in his mind! He did the best within the limited resources available to him and Perumal is equally pleased with such (mind-) service as He is pleased with physically tangible services.
To us, it may be surprising and unbelievable – is such devotion possible even in severe hunger? But when these great bhaktas are focused on service to Perumal, they don’t feel the pangs of hunger or thirst. They eat and drink only to keep the body functional for more service. It is easier for us to believe such a state of existence with this example: when we are absorbed in a cricket match (which is our object of devotion) we don’t realise the pangs of hunger or thirst or sleep or even the urge to go to bathroom!
2. Misra bhakthi: There are 4 broad categories of misra bhakthas – aarthi, jignasu, arthaarthi, jnani. Here, aarthi refers to one who is suffering, and arthaarthi refers to one who is wanting something. The impoverished people can be considered in this category. So, it is evident from Bhagavad Gita, that materially impoverished condition can actually be helpful to make one turn towards God. So, it is not correct to say, “first address the poverty and then teach about God”. (there are other religions which take this approach). As far as Sanathana Dharma is concerned, first teach about God; that will help one not only get rid of the karma of poverty, but take one completely out of material existence.
If poverty is a hindrance to bhakthi, then all middle class and high class people must easily become bhathas, and there must be no bhakthas from the poor category. But in reality, we do find bhakthas who are very poor and rich people who are outright atheists. Take ‘Sujatha’ Rangarajan for example; he had a good birth, good wealth and good education (even in scriptures). Yet his life and writings reflect atheism! So, these external criteria do not determine whether we will develop bhakthi or not. If any one of these factors was essential for bhakthi, then Kuraththaalwaar would not have set the example of ‘mukkurumbu aruththavar’.
Then what is the factor that determines whether we develop bhakthi or not? The answer is, it is Bhaagavata kataksham. The grace of great vaishnavas, their association and small small services rendered to them even unknowingly and unwittingly help us develop bhakthi. On the contrary, offence to them leads one in the opposite direction.
Great devotees of Perumal are so very merciful to us. Although they themselves may prefer to stay in one place and serve Perumal there, for our sake they constantly travel from one city to another to give us the opportunity to hear about Perumal. To make it even more easier for us, they enter our daily life through TV, through internet, through CDs, through En PaNi audio, through calendar for daily reading, and so many other ways. All we have to do it gratefully accept their mercy, and do the service of regularly hearing their glorification of Perumal. Also, this being Kaliyuga, we must engage in Nama Sankirtanam. Recitation of Sri Sahasranaamam as guided by our acharyas is a good way to engage in Nama Sankirtanam daily. If we do these simple services with a grateful heart, then we can easily progress from being atheist to misra bhaktha, and from misra bhakta to avyabhicarini bhaktha. Our external conditions will not affect this progress.