Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #15 – The Devotional and the Diabolical

April 9th, 2018

My conversations with Peter are always illuminating. Peter fully serves his church as an author, lecturer, and retreat facilitator. He was briefly passing through New York at the end of a lecture tour and we met at Divya’s Kitchen for lunch. I don’t remember how we got there, but somehow today’s discussion became about the devil. I was fascinated with Peter’s explanation of the word’s Latin derivative:


“The Greek term diabolos is the root for the English word ‘devil’. When we speak of ‘diabolical behavior’ we typically mean actions that are pure evil. The Greek term is from a compound: dia means to scatter (it’s where the term ‘diaspora’ comes from) and bolos (from the verb, ballo) means to throw an object. Together they connote someone taking a vessel and throwing it against a wall so it shatters and scatters into a million pieces. That’s what the Devil does in Judeo-Christian tradition. He kills and destroys (John 10:10). That’s what the world does on a more subtle level. It takes our attention, energy, and affections and scatters them in a million different directions, so we are never quite present, put together, or focused.”


I found the concept fascinating, especially the last point; our challenges in spiritual life are devilish, breaking our focus and concentration away from God and selfishly scattering it in different directions. Peter continued by explaining that the term “perfection or wholeness” is from the derivative of another word. Again I appreciated how he illustrates concepts by the root derivatives of a common word:

“On the contrary, shalom (peace, wholeness) can mean literally ‘nothing missing, nothing broken’. It’s our state when we turn to God. He puts us back together, collects the broken pieces, making the broken beautiful like the stunning art of mending in Japanese lacquerware called kintsugi. It’s when skilled artisans take a broken vessel and meticulously restore it. Rather than hide the cracks and imperfections, they fill them with powered gold (see photo above).”


His explanation of how completeness and peace is becoming whole by turning to God also struck a chord. Finally, he continued his line of thought by describing why an English word was chosen to describe the opening prayer for the Christian Mass:


“In the Mass, the opening prayer is called ‘The Collect’. The idea is worship collects, gathers our heart and mind back so we can give God ‘one-pointed attention’.”


As we were discussing these topics it was natural for me to immediately think of verses in my own tradition that, not surprisingly, define the same concepts in a similar way. The first verse that came to mind was Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.2.37[1] where the great sage Kavi describes that all fear and duality (bhayaṁ dvitīya) arises from turning away from God (īśād apetasya) and thus an intelligent person worships God fully with devotion (ataḥ budha ābhajet taṁ bhaktyā bhaktya). Interestingly, this verse is quoted by Śrī Jīva at the beginning of the Bhakti Sandarbha, where he defines the practice of devotion as reversing the cause of ignorance, which is turning away from God, by worshipping Him or turning towards Him.


The next verse that came to my mind that describes this dichotomy is Bhagavad-gītā 2.41[2]. Śrī Krishna contrasts one fixed in devotional service, one single-pointed in his attention towards God (vyavasāyātmikā buddhir ekeha), with one who is not, whose mind is thus many branched (bahu-śākhā) or scattered.[3]


I very much enjoyed my time with Peter and the perspective he shared from his tradition that inspired me in my own. If we are here in this world, by definition our consciousness has been shattered and disconnected from our true self and we have falling prey to the “diabolical”, so to speak. Those who are intelligent must therefore seriously take up a devotional practice. By turning our attention to Krishna we can then become once again whole or peaceful. Shalom!



[1] Fear arises when a living entity misidentifies himself as the material body because of absorption in the external, illusory energy of the Lord. When the living entity thus turns away from the Supreme Lord, he also forgets his own constitutional position as a servant of the Lord. This bewildering, fearful condition is affected by the potency for illusion, called māyā. Therefore, an intelligent person should engage unflinchingly in the unalloyed devotional service of the Lord, under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, whom he should accept as his worshipable deity and as his very life and soul.


[2]  Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched.


[3] Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī in his commentary to this verse offers the bhakti perspective to this concept by explaining that this one-pointed attention in spiritual life means to take the order of one’s spiritual master as one’s life and soul. Śrīla Prabhupāda credits this specific point in Viśvanātha’s commentary of 2.41 for inspiring him to fully take up his spiritual master’s order for him to preach Krishna-consciousness in the western countries.


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