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Devotional Principles

By Swami B.B. Visnu

After wandering in this material world for many lifetimes, by the mercy of guru
and Krsna, the seed of devotion is awakened within our heart. The process starts
with a little faith (adau sraddha) and this faith leads us to seek answers
(pariprasna) and the association of devotees (sadhu-sanga), those who are
practitioners of the devotional process. The cultivation of this seed of the
creeper of devotion is the substance of our devotional life.

brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-krsna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
mali hana kare sei bija aropana
sravana-kirtana-jale karaye secana

"According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the
entire universe. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such a
person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service. When a person
receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a
gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by
the process of sravana and kirtana [hearing and chanting], the seed will begin
to sprout." (Cc. Madhya 19-151-2)

Just like a tender new plant, we must nurture this creeper carefully so that it
will grow. Water, fertilizer and avoidance of harsh conditions or treatment,
such as bad soil, being stepped on and being crowded out by weeds, ensure the
healthy growth of a plant. The devotional creeper is similar, its healthy growth
is assured by following carefully the positive practices of bhakti and avoiding
certain negative aspects.

These verses imply the gradual and healthy growth of the creeper — if the
process of devotion is followed properly, then bhakti will thrive. The positive
aspects of devotional life (yama) are to first find a guru (gurupadasrayas
tasmad), follow his instructions and thereby serve the guru and devotees, and
engage in daily devotional practices, such as chanting the Holy Names of Krsna
on beads, associating with devotees and regularly hearing about the Lord from
the devotional scriptures (nityam bhagavata-sevaya).

The negative aspect (niyama) requires that one avoid activities unfavorable to
devotional service, such as meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and gambling.
Other unfavorable activities to be avoided are association with those not
interested in devotion (asat sanga tyaga), avoiding offenses to devotees, the
Lord, His Name and anything related to the Lord or His devotees.

An offense to a devotee is the most detrimental activity one can have in
devotional life. Such an offense is called the mad elephant offense (hati-mata)
because of the great harm it does to our devotional creeper, like an elephant
trampling a garden. If we unfortunately make such an offense, but we are
remorseful and understand that we have made an offense, then it is not difficult
to rectify. The only remedy for an offense to another devotee is to sincerely
apologize and beg forgiveness from the very devotee whom we have offended.  The
key is sincerity, for as we know well, no one appreciates an insincere apology.

It is also necessary to overcome our pride and admit our mistakes, for pride
(pratistha) is perhaps our greatest enemy. Humility, pridelessness and tolerance
are most important qualities for a Vaisnava and are said to be the ornaments of
a true devotee (sadhavah sadhu-bhusanah). Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has stated
that humility is one of the most important qualifications for chanting the
Lord’s Holy Name — trnad api sunicena (Siksastakam 3). As soon as one
surrenders to Krsna, giving up all other activities, one is immediately
considered to be a liberated soul — jivan-muktah sa ucyate (Brs. 1.2.187).


It is said in the Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.5, parabhavas tavad abodha-jato yavan
na jijnasata atma-tattvam, that a human being is defeated in all their
activities as long as they do not know the goal of life. One can understand this
goal when they are inquisitive about their spiritual position. Knowledge of this
spiritual or constitutional position is divided into three classes, as described
by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: ataeva bhagavate ei ‘tina’ kaya
sambandha-abhidheya-prayojana-maya, “One’s relationship with the Lord
(sambandha), activities in devotional service (abhidheya), and the attainment of
the highest goal of life, love of Godhead (prayojana), are the subject matters
of Srimad-Bhagavatam.” (Madhya 25.131)

We must want to know who we are, what the environment is, what God is, and what
the relationship is between ourselves, God and the world we live in. Knowledge
of these four items, sambandha-jnana, is the knowledge of one’s relationship
with the Supreme Person as the center of all relationships. When we hear
properly from authorized sources, such as the guru and scripture, our
understanding awakens and we will come to understand our actual position as an
eternal servant of Krsna — jivera ‘svarupa’ haya krsnera ‘nitya-dasa
(Cc. Madhya 20.108). Understanding this is an essential step in
self-realization. However real hearing means to act upon what we hear. Otherwise
we have not heard properly.

And this is the next step, acting upon this knowledge. This is called
abhidheya, or activity in relationship with the Lord and His devotees. This is
our real occupation, engaging in the practical activities of devotional service
to Krsna.

Thus, if we can understand our relationship with the Lord and act accordingly,
our mission in life will be fulfilled. After properly executing our duties, when
we attain the highest goal of life, pure love of God, we are said to have
achieved prayojana, or the fulfillment of the ultimate goal of life.

The substance of this process is in the abhidheya, the activities that we
perform. Regular activities performed in devotional service are called
sadhana-bhakti — engaging in the prescribed duties of devotional service.
There are nine processes described by Prahlada Maharaja:

sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam
arcana vandanam dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam

"The nine kinds of devotional service are hearing about Krsna, chanting about
Him, remembering Him, offering service to His lotus feet, offering Him worship
in the temple, offering prayers to Him, working as His servant, making
friendship with Him and unreservedly surrendering to Him." (Bhag. 7.5.23)

bhagavan-prapti-hetu ye kari upaya
sravanadi bhakti——krsna-praptira sahaya

"It is only by devotional service, beginning with hearing, that one can
approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is the only means to approach
Him." (Cc. Adi 7.141)

One can directly approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead simply by
executing these nine kinds of devotional service. Hearing about the Lord is the
most important of the nine aspects of devotional service, for if we are simply
given a chance to hear about Krsna, our devotion will surely develop —
Sravanadi-suddha-citte karaye udaya (Cc. Madhya 22.107). Love of God is dormant
in everyone, and if one is given a chance to hear about the Lord, certainly that
love develops.

Each of these nine processes is so potent that any one of them guarantees
success, what to speak of engaging in all of them, as in the case of Ambarisa
Maharaja.  Pure devotion is free from speculation and the desire for knowledge
as well as the desire for material gain — karma-jnanavrtam (Brs.) That is,
real devotional service is performed only to please the Lord, and not for one's
own benefit. Of course, when devotional service is performed purely, the maximum
benefit is achieved and one does benefit greatly. Of all of the processes,
chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is the most important. It is emphasized by
our gurus that all success in devotional life is guaranteed if we can regularly
chant this mantra carefully.

Sadhana-bhakti is the diligent practice of the regulative principles of
devotional service. This first stage of devotion is rendered under the direction
of a pure devotee, and is practiced out of duty, knowing that engaging in all
these activities is essential to ensure one's advancement in devotional life. As
one’s mental disease is cured by a psychiatrist, so sadhana-bhakti cures the
conditioned soul from their madness under the spell of material illusion. When
the heart is freed from unwanted habits (anartha-nivrtti) one becomes firmly
fixed in devotional service and begins to develop a taste for the Holy Name of
Krsna and devotional service to Krsna. One's progress can be analyzed in a very
scientific way as we become free from unwanted habits and become attached to our
devotion. It is described that this is just like the feelings a hungry person
has when eating to their satisfaction — Bhaktih paresanubhavo viraktir anyatra
syat (Bhag. 11.2.42).  The difference is that when our stomach becomes filled we
become uninterested in food, however, when we become filled with Krsna, our
attachment for Krsna only increases and we want more of Krsna. In fact we become
so attached that we feel that we cannot live without Krsna.

In this way, a sadhaka or practitioner of bhakti, can see their positive
advancement in devotional service by how they are developing attachment to all
things related to Krsna and simultaneously becoming detached from all things
unfavorable to devotional service. Additionally, an inverse proof of the process
becomes evident when we look at the results of activities which are unfavorable
for devotional service. Those who don’t chant regularly or sincerely, who
offend devotees or anything related to Krsna, who associate with non-devotees,
etc, they are seen to lose their taste for the Holy Name, for the association of
devotees and for devotional life in general. In other words, by engaging in
activities unfavorable to devotional life, we lose our taste for devotional life
and drift away.

Srila Prabhupada writes:
"Now this sadhana-bhakti, or practice of devotional service, can also be
divided into two parts. The first part is called regulative principles: one has
to follow these different regulative principles by the order of the spiritual
master or on the strength of authoritative scriptures, and there can be no
question of refusal. That is called vaidhi, or regulated. One has to do it
without any argument. Rupa Gosvami defines the first part of devotional
practice, or vaidhi-bhakti, as follows: 'When there is no attachment or no
spontaneous loving service to the Lord, and one is engaged in the service of the
Lord simply out of obedience to the order of the spiritual master or in
pursuance of the scriptures, such obligatory service is called vaidhi-bhakti.'"

"The second stage of devotional service is called raga-bhakti, in which a
devotee automatically and enthusiastically engages in the various services of
the Lord out of sincere desire. By performing raga-bhakti in loving
transcendental service one can even control the Supreme Powerful Lord. Raganuga
refers to the point at which, by following the regulative principles, one
becomes a little more attached to Krsna and executes devotional service out of
natural love. As one’s devotional service becomes mature, the Lord reveals
Himself to the devotee, and all fear is totally vanquished forever."

Bhakti begets bhakti, bhaktya sanjataya bhaktya  (Bhag. 11.3.31, devotion
produces more devotion. As our taste for devotional service increases, we
automatically increase our service with the result that the reciprocation of the
Lord also increases, further increasing our taste for devotion.

The Six Gosvamis of Vrndavana were so absorbed in their devotional activities
that they forgot to eat and sleep — nidrahara-viharakadi-vijitau. Even while
exhibiting the most extreme renunciation, they were experiencing the greatest
pleasure from their activities — premonmada-vasad asesa-dasaya grastau
pramattau sada.


The ultimate goal of life is pure love of God, prema pumartho mahan. A devotee
who has achieved this pure love of God, is not concerned with his position in
this material world or even the next (spiritual world). They are fully satisfied
to simply be engaged in the Lords service. Liberation is the concern of the
neophyte, while serving and pleasing the guru and Krsna are the only concerns of
the advanced devotee. Pleasing the guru and pleasing Krsna are one and the same,
for the self-realized guru's desires are non-different than those of Krsna.
Pleasing the guru and Krsna also means pleasing the devotees, for all devotees
are very dear to the Lord — kascin me priya-krttamah (Gita.18.69). It is
essential to understand this point, for by pleasing the devotees, we please
Krsna automatically.

To understand these desires of Krsna and guru properly, is one of the most
important aspects of a devotees life, for without this, all one's efforts will
lead us away from Krsna, not towards Him. There is a fine line, a subtle
difference between the pure line drawn by our acaryas and the not so strict or
impure line followed by many in the name of pure devotion. So much has been
written about the highest position or aspects of devotion, and many choose to
imitate its form, rather than understand its substance and qualify themselves.
It is so easy to imitate, but to be a true Rupanuga, or follower of Srila Rupa
Gosvami and our line of acaryas, we must enter deeply into an understanding of
the essence of their teachings as given to us by our guru.

The emphasis of our nearest acaryas is to respect this highest position, the
prayojana, the ultimate goal from a distance and to realize that we are very far
from it. In particular, our parama-guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
Prabhupada, has given a sloka emphasizing just this, as related by Srila B. R.
Sridhara Deva Gosvami:

Pujala raga-patha gaurave-bhange — very sweet. The raga-patha is on the head.
We are servants of the raga-patha. We are in vidhi-marga, under sastrika rule.
We must live and move under sastrika rule, and always keep the raga-patha upon
our head. The whole tenor of Guru Maharaja’s (Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s) life
was such: "That is high, very high, and from below we are to honor that." We
must establish this conception, the proper regard for that higher lila,
throughout the entire world: "That is too high." (Follow The Angels, Part 2)

To quote from The Standard for Higher Lila, an article enunciating the proper
qualifications from hearing higher spiritual topics:

"The so-called followers of rasika-gurus have written, 'The highest good can be
obtained by anyone who faithfully hears krsna-katha from a bona-fide
rasikacarya.' They then cite Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura in an attempt to
justify the hearing of confidential lilas by the unqualified: 'A person averse
to hearing these lilas will never attain perfection. I refuse to hear his name.'
What they fail to state, however, is that Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura, does not
say that one who is unqualified to hear such pastimes must hear, or should hear
such pastimes. Being averse to hearing the Lord's lilas and being properly
qualified to hear the Lord's pastimes are two completely different things. One
rejects hearing the lila of Krsna due to the preference of being engaged in
maya, illusion, while the latter is concerned with proper qualifications before
hearing the Lord's confidential pastimes so as not to make any offense."

Further, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada stated, "Raga-katha
is high, but in our small mouth it doesn't look nice. Hearing such high words
from our little mouth, devotees whose life and soul is bhajana will laughingly
push us away." (Prabhupader Patravali)

We should therefore take warning from our realized acaryas, that we must
approach higher topics very carefully and then only under the instruction of our
guru directly. We must not be impatient, and jump like monkeys over the clear
instructions of our acaryas.

If we simply chant the Holy Name sincerely in earnest and follow the
instructions of our guru, everything will be revealed when it is time to be
revealed. This process is a descending process and no material effort on our
part can produce spiritual results. As no amount of darkness can produce light,
so, no amount of non-devotional activities can help our devotion.

The non-devotees are engaged in a hard struggle to enjoy their senses in this
material world but in the end they will be defeated by old age, disease and
eventually death. However, we are engaged in a struggle to control our senses
and please Krsna by our devotion. And we will be successful, for this is
inherent in the process, success is guaranteed. Krsna, speaking to us via his
great devotee Arjuna, assures us of this in Bhagavad-gita 18.65.

man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji ma namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te pratijane priyo ’si me

"Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto
Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My
very dear friend."

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