Bhakti Yoga or the process of rendering devotional service unto God 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 Yoga, 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 Yoga:
Though the process of Bhakti Yoga is very simple, yet its application at times, might prove to be a bit difficult. In order to practice Bhakti (devotion unto Krishna), 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 (also known as Gauranga, Gaurahari, etc),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).
Lord Caitanya, is Lord Krishna Himself, who had descended in order to bestow the supreme benediction of love of God upon one and all, without judging one’s qualifications. Hence Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is more magnanimous than Lord Krishna Himself. One who worships Lord Caitanya, progresses very quickly in His devotional life and achieves the ultimate goal of ecstatic love of God. Lord Gaurahari freely gives what no other incarnation of the Supreme Lord has ever given before – the ecstatic pure love of God. He does not consider one’s qualifications or background or pedigree before bestowing this supreme gift upon them, receiving which one achieves the ultimate perfection of his human life.This ecstatic love of God eludes the great demigods like Brahma, Shiva and Indra. Even Lakshmi devi, the wife of Lord Narayana, hankers to receive it. A yogi cannot achieve it , even after performing severe austerities for thousands of years. A Jnani cannot smell it even after analysing the whole of the vedic scriptures. This ecstatic love of God is extremely rare but it can be easily achieved by the causeless mercy of Lord Gauranga. That is why lord Caitanya is known to be the essence of all the other incarnations of the Supreme – ‘Avatara sar Gaura avatara’.
Krishna-varnam tvishakrishnam sangopangastra-parshadam,yajnaih sankirtana-prayair yajanti hi sumedhasah
(Srimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.32)
– In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead (Gauranga) who constantly sings the holy name of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, weapons , servants, and confidential companions.
So 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 :
Yata yata avatara saba haite sar
Kabhu nahi dekhi heno premar bhandar
Safal janam din, safal nayan
Ki dekhilun Gaura rupa , prasanna bayan
(Caitanya Mangala , 2.121-122)
(Narada muni says) ‘Of all the Lord’s incarnations , Lord Gauranga is the best. I have never ever seen such a reservoir of pure ecstatic love. My life has become successful, my eyes have borne fruit, as today I have been able to behold the beautiful form of Lord Gauranga with His pleasant, blissful, smiling face’.
Along with His associates, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has manifested the most blissful , heart rending pastimes that has ever been witnessed in human history. In fact, some of the eternal associates of the Lord have experienced a greater degree of transcendental ecstasy being part of the pastimes of Lord Caitanya, as compared to being part of Sri Krishna’s vrindavana pastimes, as confirmed in the below verse.
Ati aparupa leela prakashila prabhu
Chari yuge adbhut katha nahi shune kabhu
(Caitanya Mangala , 1.94)
Sri Caitanya Chandramrita confirms that obtaining the causeless mercy of Lord Gauranga is the ultimate perfection in the life of a spiritual practitioner. He, who achieves it, hankers for nothing else in this entire creation. The heavenly abodes and the pursuits of liberation appear very insignificant to such a fortunate soul.
Kaivalyam narakayate tri dasa pur akasha puspayate
Durdantendriya kala sarpa patali protkhata damstrayate
Visvam purna sukhayate vidhi mahendradis ca kitayate
Yat karunya kataksa vaibhav-avatam tam Gauram eva stumah
(Caitanya Chandramrita, text 5)
For those who have attained the merciful sidelong glance of Lord Gauranga, impersonal liberation (merging into the brahmajyoti) becomes as painful as going to hell, the heavenly cities of the demigods seem to be as trivial as mere flowers floating in the sky, the venomous and poisonous fangs of the untamable black snakes of the senses become extracted and uprooted,the whole world which is otherwise full of misery becomes full of supreme joy and the exalted positions of Brahma, Indra and all the demigods become as insignificant as those of tiny insects. Let us glorify that supremely merciful Lord Gauranga.
In the navadvipa dham mahatmya, Pushkara tirtha reveals:
Koti koti varna dhari Sri krishna bhajana
Tathapi namete rati na paye durjana
Gauranga bhajile dusta bhava duure jaya
Alpa dine vraja dhame Radha krishna paya
– even after chanting the holy names of Radha and Krishna for millions of years, a rogue is not able to develop any taste for Harinama. But if he lovingly worships Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, his wicked mentality quickly vanishes and he soon achieves the lotus feet of Radha and Krishna in Vrindavana.
So the Key factor here is to worship Lord Caitanya. Only the causeless mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu can help us relish the ecstatic taste of chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. Thus one’s entire spiritual progress depends upon how intensely he/she worships Lord Gauranga.
How to worship Lord Gauranga while chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra ?
The word ‘Hare’ refers to the Supreme Lord’s internal energy or Srimati Radharani and the word ‘Krishna’ refers to Lord Krishna, the supreme personality of Godhead.As Lord Gauranga is non different from Sri Radha and Krishna (Sri Krishna Caitanya ,Radha Krishna Nahe anya), the syllables ‘Hare Krishna’ is non different from Lord Gauranga.Thus Lord Gauranga is also worshipped when we chant the above Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
While chanting on the above Hare Krishna Maha mantra we should try to meditate upon Lord Gauranga’s sankirtana pastimes. Chanting the Maha Mantra gives us an opportunity to pray so that Lord Gauranga accepts us as one of His own and engages us in His sankirtana movement. By Chanting the Maha mantra, we constantly beg for Mahaprabhu’s causeless mercy.
In order to derive the maximum benefits from chanting the above Hare Krishna Mahamantra , we must read,contemplate and preach atleast one of Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s pastimes everyday.
The Navadvipa dham mahatmya reveals –
‘ara eka gudha katha suna sarva jana, kali jive yogya vastu Gaura leela dhana’
Please hear the most confidential secret. The most suitable thing for the conditioned souls in this age of Kali, is the supreme treasure of Lord Gauranga’s pastimes.
The Urdhvamnaya Tantra states :
dhanye kalau sampravishte, Gaura leela manorama;
prakata bhavita hy etat, vyaktam tada bhavishyati
The advent of the age of Kali is most auspicious because in the near future the most wonderful and enchanting holy Pastimes of Lord Gauranga will be most openly and widely established and broadcasted.
Lord Gauranga’s pastimes are non different from Him. So when we meditate upon Him, His name or His pastimes, we are in fact directly associating with Him. The more we do this regularly, the more we cleanse our consciousness which further helps in reviving our spontaneous faith and devotion unto Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.One who meditates and contemplates upon Mahaprabhu’s ecstatic form and His enchanting blissful pastimes ,is very quickly cleansed of all contaminations. With a purified consciousness, they can then quite easily chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, offenselessly and attentively.
Stages of Bhakti Yoga (The science of Devotion):
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 Yoga, 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 processes of bhakti yoga.
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 spiritual 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 or Gauranga 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 Gauranga. As the taste of sugar increases ,as it gradually gets more and more refined, similarly a devotee relishes the love of Krishna or Gauranga and becomes situated in ecstasy, the more he advances in his spiritual life.
‘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 –