Bhakti or the process of rendering devotional service unto the Supreme Lord is really very easy. In the process of Bhakti Yoga, one does not require to practice the physical austerities of astanga yoga or renounce the society altogether as in the other yogic processes. Yet one practicing Bhakti, finally achieves that supreme destination that eludes the practitioners of all the other yogic paths. The Gopis of Vrindavana were simple cowherd girls, who could achieve the supreme treasure of the Lord’s love. Now one might question, as to what their qualification was? They were neither the experts of astanga yoga nor learned scholars of the Vedic scriptures. Instead their qualification was simply an intense desire to serve the Lord and His beloved associates. Their desire was so intense that they could completely overlook their own pleasures or even sacrifice their very existence to serve Sri Krishna. Such was the stature of their devotion, that it bewildered even the Supreme Lord, and made Him wonder ,as to how one could love Him so much. The Supreme Lord hence had to descend again as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to relish and understand the devotion of the Gopis. ‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ has covered the appearance pastimes of Lord Caitanya in a separate article entitled – ‘YogPeeth, Mayapur, Navadvipa – The birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’. Though it is not possible for us to imitate the exalted mood of the Gopis, we should hanker for opportunities to serve the Lord and deepen our relationship with Him. This is the very perfection of our lives.
The beginning of Bhakti:
Though the process of Bhakti is very simple, yet its application at times, might prove to be a bit difficult. In order to practice Bhakti (Krishna consciousness), one must always possess a keen desire to perfect his life. We must understand ,that it is not possible for us to be situated in a selfless loving relationship with the Supreme Lord overnight.Taking the shelter of a bonafide spiritual master, we must seek his instructions on how to advance in our spiritual life. Following the footsteps of the great acharyas, under the directions of the spiritual master, one must try to develop a taste for executing loving devotional service.We must understand that we are mere neophytes (beginners), who have been entangled in this material creation from time immemorial.Travelling through the cycles of birth and death, and rejecting the mercy of the Lord, we have been suffering intensely for innumerable lifetimes.It is only by the mercy of the Lord and His pure devotees, that somehow we are fortunately receptive to the supreme science of devotion this time.Our hearts are polluted though and bound tightly with the ropes of material conditioning.Thus it is very natural, that initially we might not obtain any taste in rendering service to the Lord or feel any connection with Him. But realizing the gravity of our purpose and our ultimate objective, we must try to teach our minds (apply force if required) to be subservient to the Supreme.
The power of the holy Name :
So how do we rekindle our lost relationship with the Supreme Lord ? How do we become eligible to be engaged in His service ?
The Srimad Bhagavatam states that the most important quality of this age of kali, which is otherwise an ocean of faults, is that one can be freed from all of his contaminations and be eligible to reunite with his beloved Lord, simply by chanting His holy names. It has been further stated that whatever benefits one could have previously attained in the Satya Yuga by meditating upon Vishnu (astanga yoga), in Treta by performing sacrifices, or in Dvapara by serving the Lord’s lotus feet can be obtained in Kali by simply chanting His holy names.
kaler dosha nidhe rajan, asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya ,mukta sangah param vrajet
Thus we understand that the holy name of the Lord is exceedingly powerful and chanting them regularly is the primary means by which we can obtain our supreme objective. ‘The Gaudiya treasures of Bengal’ would like to clarify at this point,that the holy name of the Lord is non different from Him and whenever we chant His name, we are actually calling upon Him. Sri Narada Muni emphasizes again in Brhad Naradiya Purana, that chanting the names of Lord Hari is the only hope for the suffering souls in this age of quarrel and hypocrisy (Kali yuga). In order to stress upon his point, he repeats thrice that there is absolutely no other way.
Harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty-eva nasty-eva nasty-eva gatir anyathaa
(Brhad Naradiya Purana)
In this age of Kali the only means of deliverance is chanting of the holy name of Lord Hari. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.
Again, analyzing the scriptures deeply, we further understand that the Supreme Lord has two kinds of Names – Primary (Mukhya) and Secondary (Gauna).Those names of the Lord that allude to His activities with respect to the material nature are His secondary names. For example Srishti-karta (Creator), Jagata-Pala (Universal preserver), Paramatma (supersoul), and so on. There are immense benefits of chanting even these secondary names of the Lord but they do rarely award one with transcendental results.
On the other hand, the names that allude to the Lord’s activities in His transcendental spiritual abode are His primary names. These names have nothing to do with this mundane plane and they are all auspicious. Examples of His primary names are Gopala (one who protects the cows), Rama, Narayana,Hari, Hrishikesha, Janardhana,Vishnu, etc. These primary names of the Lord are non different from Him and are endowed with His full potency. They descend upon this mundane sphere to annihilate maya. Therefore the conditioned souls of this material world have no better friend than these primary names.
Now one might ask, as to which is the highest or the sweetest of the principal names of the Lord. According to the shata-Naam stotra, one name of Sri Vishnu is superior to all the vedic mantras and one name of Lord Rama, is even more potent than a thousand names of Sri Vishnu. Again, in the Brahmanya Purana, we find that chanting three names of Lord Rama is equivalent to chanting one name of Sri Krishna. Thus it is hereby concluded that the holy name of Lord Krishna is the sweetest and the highest of all. This is the conclusion of the scriptures.
Also, we notice, that the Lord, manifesting Himself as Sri Krishna is the most complete, and in this form exhibits all of His divine qualities in full.Sri Rupa Goswami explains in Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu how Lord Krishna possesses 64 qualities in all. Fifty of these qualities can be found in varying proportions among the jivas (ordinary living beings of this world). Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, and other demigods may possess as much as fifty five of them. Vishnu, displays up to sixty of these qualities. But the remaining four are found exclusively in Sri Krishna, escaping all the other manifestations of the Supreme. The four qualities unique to Krishna are as follows:
- Lila-madhurya: He exhibits numerous wonderful pastimes for the pleasure of His devotees.
- Bhakta-madhurya: He interacts with His loving devotees in many intimate ways.
- Venu-madhurya: He plays on His divine flute, thus attracting all souls.
- Rupa-madhurya: His beautiful form is incomparable, unrivaled in all of existence.
Hence when we chant ‘Krishna’, we are actually calling upon and associating with this Supreme primeval Lord, who is complete and the source of all His other incarnations. The supremacy of Sri Krishna underscores the superiority of love over power, sweetness over opulence.
The Supreme Lord, appearing as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ,has inspired us one and all to incessantly chant the holy name of Krishna.He has further instructed us to make an effort and preach extensively to others ,about the glories of chanting Krishna’s holy name (yare dekho taare kaha Krishna upadesha…). In this way He has bestowed this supreme treasure of love of God, by giving to us the ‘Hare Krishna Mahamantra ‘ (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare), chanting which ,one attains all perfection.This Hare Krishna Mahamantra also finds its mention in the Kali santarana Upanishad, wherein it has been described as the destroyer of all inauspiciousness (iti sodasakam namnam kali kalmasa nashanam).
However it is very important to mention in this regard that we, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, always seek shelter of the most magnanimous Lord Caitanya and His associates before we begin chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. So first of all we chant the below Pancha Tattva Mahamantra before we proceed to chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
‘Jaya Sri Krishna Caitanya, Prabhu Nityananda ,Sri Advaita, Gadadhara, Srivasa adi Gaura bhakta vrinda’
Translation – I offer my respectful obeisances unto Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Lord Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadadhara Pandit, Srivasa Thakura and all the devotees of Lord Caitanya.
Chanting the holy name of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates bestows upon us their causeless mercy enabling us to chant Krishna’s names without committing any offenses.In this way, we should chant the above pancha tattva mantra (in order to Seek shelter of Mahaprabhu) as many times, as the number of rounds (1 round= 108 times) of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra we chant .In other words, we should chant the Pancha tattva mantra once per every round of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. The Hare Krishna Mahamantra is our prayer to the Supreme Lord and His energies to engage us eternally in their loving devotional service.
In addition to chanting the holy name :
In addition to chanting the Mahamantra regularly, we should take care to engage ourselves in transcendental activities that further purify our consciousness and enhance our faith and devotion unto the Lord. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada singles out the ‘Association of devotees’ to be the most important factor that helps one sustain his/her Krishna conscious life. We should hence make it a point to visit the temple regularly (atleast once a week) and associate with the saintly vaishnavas who are selflessly engaged in serving the mission of Lord Caitanya. Associating with devotees and seeking inspiration from them, helps us imbibe their examples in our lives. The devotees of the Lord would further encourage us to chant the holy names and engage ourselves in the Lord’s service, to the best of our ability. The Association of the pure devotees has been glorified throughout the Vedic scriptures. We can look up the examples of Sri Raghunatha das Goswami (refer – ‘Srila Raghunatha Das Goswami Sripat, Krishnapur Thakurbari (Near Bandel)’) and even devi mahamaya (refer – ‘Sri Haridasa Thakura’s Bhajana Kutira, Phulia’), who became purified and subsequently achieved the perfection of their lives coming in contact with the exalted associates of the Lord. The more we associate with the devotees, the more we are encouraged to chant the holy name and also adhere to the four regulative principles of devotional life – No Meat eating (represents compassion), No Gambling (represents truthfulness), No intoxication (represents austerity) and No illicit sex (represents cleanliness) .These restrictions enable us to let go of the shackles that keep us bound to our material existence, and help us fly higher in the sky of divine love.However one should not be too bothered about adhering to these four regulative principles from the very beginning. An interested person should not feel discouraged to take up the life of Bhakti, pondering too much on these four restrictions.One can initially simply associate with the devotees ,focus on chanting the Lord’s holy name and take up some temple services. A life with these four restrictions, no matter how strict they might now seem, manifest gradually and spontaneously within a Vaishnava.
We should take care to regularly read the scriptures and books of the Acharyas. Reading helps us stay connected with the philosophy ,overcome confusions and enhance the quality of our chanting. Srila Prabhupada , Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and our previous acharyas have taken the pain to write hundreds of books in order to expound the Krishna conscious philosophy. These books are readily available today, for all of us to relish.
In addition we should also possess a keen desire to partake the remnants of the Lord or His elevated devotees, which shall further help us purify our consciousness. We can seek inspiration from the life and pastimes of Sri Kalidasa Roy, who had achieved the perfection of his life, simply by honoring the remnants of the Vaishnavas (refer – ‘Sri Jharu Thakura Sripat, near Bandel’).
So to summarize- Associating with Vaishnavas (A), Book Reading (B), Chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra(C) , and Diet : Honoring of Krishna Prasadam (D) are the four pillars of a blissful spiritual life. Though it is worthwhile mentioning at this point, that 99% of our spiritual progress depend on how many rounds we daily chant and how attentively we chant. In other words, the barometer of our spiritual success depend almost entirely on the quality of our chanting. So apart from chanting, the rest of the activities that we perform ,are only a support that help us obtain a higher taste and relish our chanting even more.
Stages of Bhakti:
This is the last section of this article where we would like to briefly talk about the stages of one’s spiritual advancement.The progress of one’s spiritual life can be broadly categorized into the following nine stages –
- sraddha (faith)
- Sadhu-sanga (association of devotees)
- Bhajana-kriya (performance of devotional service)
- anartha nivrtti (decreasing of unwanted attachments)
- nistha (steadiness)
- ruchi (taste)
- ashakti (attachment)
- bhava (love)
- prema (pure love for Krishna)
To explain the different stages of bhakti, my Guru Maharaja often cites the example of the transformation of a sugarcane plant. The sugarcane seed is first planted onto the ground and from there the seed gradually fructifies into a sugarcane stalk. The planting of the seed can be compared to ‘Sraddha’, the first stage of devotion. The sugarcane plant (which is being compared to one’s devotion) then gradually grows up being nourished by the surrounding air, water and soil. This may be compared to the stage of ‘Sadhu Sanga’ ,wherein a person’s devotion gradually develops and grows, the more he seeks out the association of vaishnavas.
When the plant becomes ripe, we cut it and crush it in order to obtain the sugarcane juice. We then take out this juice and boil it by applying heat. On boiling, all kinds of dust and impurities present in the juice begin coming off.This process of boiling the sugarcane juice may be compared to the stage of ‘bhajana kriya’, wherein the devotee begins sincerely practicing the process of Krishna Consciousness.
As a consequence of the juice getting boiled, all its impurities gather on the top as foam. This foam is then separated from the juice and is thrown out. This is the stage of ‘anartha nivritti’, wherein all the unwanted attachments ,sinful propensities of a person ,that stand as an impediment on his path to pure devotion, are gradually removed. In this way, we are now finally left with the clear sugarcane juice. One might ask, from where do we get the required firewood to boil the juice. The answer is that the sugarcane stalks themselves act as a fuel for this purpose. In other words, we don’t require to rely on anything other than bhakti(devotion) to fructify our Krishna consciousness. Just as we do not need any separate firewood to boil the sugarcane juice, similarly, there is no need to depend on Karma, Yoga or Jnana to progress in our spiritual lives.
When the sugarcane juice is clear enough, one takes out the juice and puts it into a separate container. This juice however does not automatically get condensed on its own. So in order to make Gur (molasses), one has to take a sugar crystal from a separate container and mix it with this sugarcane juice. When the crystal is added, this sugarcane juice gradually gets transformed into molasses. These condensed molasses can be compared to ‘nishtha’, wherein one becomes fixed in his devotional service. It is very important to note at this point ,that the sugarcane juice cannot be condensed into molasses on its own.It requires the help of a sugar crystal. This sugar crystal can be compared to the mercy of the spiritual master, without obtaining which, it is not possible for one to much progress in his devotional life.
This Gur candy (molasses) can be further refined by adding milk and different ingredients, to obtain brown sugar. This brown sugar can be compared to the stage of ‘Ruchi’, wherein one gets the higher taste to enthusiastically execute one’s devotional service. This brown sugar can be further purified, to get white sugar. This can be compared to the stage of ‘Ashakti’ ,when one develops attachment to his devotional service. So thus we can see, that a Krishna conscious person is not devoid of desires or attachment. Though he does not possess any material desires ,he is very attached when it comes to his spiritual life and devotional service.
When this white sugar is further purified, we are left with unrefined sugar candy. This may be compared to the stage of ‘Bhava’, wherein a devotee begins experiencing the love of God. When this sugar is further refined, it produces, the pure sugar candy, which may be compared to the highest stage of ‘Prema’, or love of God, wherein one becomes situated in an ecstatic love of Krishna. As the taste of sugar increases as it gradually gets more and more refined, similarly a devotee relishes the love of Krishna and becomes situated in ecstasy, the more he advances in his Krishna consciousness.
‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ has published these below articles in this series. Please read them in order to get a complete view of our philosophy –
- The A B C D of Bhakti