The devotee may begin the process of devotional surrender to the Divine with a form of bargaining, expecting a recompense from God for the efforts made to express the devotion. Thus, people pray and expect an answer to their prayers, or they carry out devotional exercises and expect God to respond with spiritual solace, vision or experience. Devotion, however, is not a business transaction but a whole-hearted giving of oneself to the object of devotion, without thought about any form of compensation.

Additionally, our own determination of what we expect from the Divine as a return for our devotion may be flawed. The Divine may understand our need better than we ourselves can, and provide us the appropriate response that is in our actual best interest, not what we demand in the moment from our status of ignorance. Let us consider, for example, the case of a young child who has parents who have separated. In many cases, one parent becomes the primary caregiver and thus has to address the education, the intellectual, moral, emotional, vital and physical development of the child, with responsibility to prepare the child for life and living, while the other parent tries to “buy” the good will and love of the child by letting it do whatever it wants, giving in to demands and tantrums, and providing gifts that the primary caregiver cannot give, or which would, in the view of the primary caregiver be actually harmful to the development of the child. The child responds by returning love and devotion to the indulgent parent, and becoming resistant to the caregiving parent. Yet, in the long-term, it is the caregiving parent who has provided the true expression of love for the child, by giving it the tools and support needed to survive and thrive in the world, while the indulgent parent may actually have inculcated habits of response, reaction and ways of dealing with life-situations that can harm the child in its later life and activities.

God does not have a duty to respond as the devotee wishes; rather, it is a Grace that the Divine showers upon the devotee, sometimes in forms that the devotee does not necessarily recognise as a grace at the time it is experienced.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Then again you may say, ‘Yes, but whether I love or not, I want, I have always wanted and now I want more and more, but I get nothing.’ Yes, but wanting is not all. As you now begin to see, there are conditions that have to be met — like the purification of the heart. Your thesis was, ‘Once I want God, God must manifest to me, the real, solid, concrete experience, not mere vague things which I can’t understand or value. God’s Grace must answer my call for it, whether I yet deserve it or not — or else there is no Grace.’ God’s grace may indeed do that in certain cases, but where does the ‘must’ come in? If God must do it, it is no longer God’s Grace, but God’s duty or an obligation or a contract or a treaty. The Divine looks into the heart and removes the veil at the moment which he knows to be the right moment to do it. You have laid stress on the Bhakti theory that one has only to call his name and he must reply, he must a once be there. Perhaps, but for whom is this true? For a certain kind of Bhakta surely who feels the power of the Name, who has the passion of the Name and puts it into his cry. If one is like that, then there may be the immediate reply — if not, one has to become like that, then there will be the reply. But some go on using the Name for years, before there is an answer. Ramakrishna himself got it after a few months, but what months! and what a condition he had to pass through before he got it! Still he succeeded quickly because he had a pure heart already — and that divine passion in it.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Divine Love, Bhakti, pp. 158-162

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and a daily podcast at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.