What is true devotion? Is it mere allegiance to a particular deity or prophet? Does it necessitate a change in lifestyle? How does one know if one qualifies as a devotee? In Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita Krsna lists 35 qualities of a devotee that help assess our spiritual level as well as develop the qualities to evolve further.

The very first quality is an eye opener – advesta sarvabhutanam – one who hates no being. Yet the worst battles have been fought in the name of religion. People who profess to have devotion to the Lord often have conflict-ridden relationships. Devotion is not about professing love to God, it is the ability to love one’s fellow beings. How can you love an unknown, unseen God when you dislike those you interact with daily?

The world sorely lacks inclusive love. Everyone is deeply entrenched in feelings of otherness, antagonism and bitterness. This springs from insecurity and you project imaginary enemies. Partners are viewed as opponents, benefactors are mistaken for wrong-doers and you end up utterly lonely and isolated. The Bhagavad Gita says there are no adversaries out there. Your worst foes are within. It is your lack of self-sufficiency that projects enemies outside. Yudhisthira was called ajatasatru or one whose enemy was not born because he did not consider anyone as a malefactor.

Even the love people claim is not true love. It is attachment or self-love. You expect a return from the other person, make demands and impose restrictions. Ultimately the relationship breaks down. Attachment is the single most important cause of friction between spouses and the yawning gap between parents and children.

The solution is to become detached. People misunderstand detachment as giving up relationships. Many reject the advice of the Gita and continue to suffer the devastating effects of attachment. A few give up their families and suffer. There are three states of being – indifference or lack of feeling, attachment or selfish love and detachment or pure love. The Bhagavad Gita asks you to give up selfishness which comes in the way of meaningful relationships. Continue the association but let go of expectations and demands.

Assess the people around you. Understand them for what they are. Then you will not have unreasonable expectations of them. Do you hate a lion for its ferocity? Do you dislike a deer for its timidity? Do you get upset if a dog barks at you? No. You understand that they all function according to their nature. But you complain about a neighbour or boss because you have no understanding of their nature. As long as you feel negatively about anyone you will suffer, not the other person. If you want to be free of stress you must address your most intense dislikes.

In the past, the extended family lived together, harmoniously. Now, even nuclear families are breaking up because of selfishness. In Western countries single parents are becoming the norm! Enlarge your circle of love. Identify with the larger community. Feel one with your countrymen. As your love expands the friction in your existing relationships reduces and you become truly happy.

When you think of your body you see maximum separateness. Move to your mind and you see oneness within the family. Identify with the intellect and you see oneness among all Indians. It does not matter whether they are educated or not, wealthy or poor, refined or crude. They are all yours. Take the mighty leap into the realm of the Spirit and all differences vanish. You see yourself in all beings and all beings in your very own Self. Then you will be totally free from hatred.