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NITAAI-Veda.nyf > All Scriptures By Acharyas > Bhaktivinoda Thakura > Bhaktyaloka > Six Foults That Desteoy Bhakti > Prayasa




If prayasa is not given up, devotion will never arise. The word prayasa means endeavor, useless labor. Spiritual life is nothing other than pure devotion unto the Supreme Lord. Devotion cannot be defined by any symptoms other than full surrender and subordination unto the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. Full surrender and subordination are the natural, eternal constitutional duties of the living entities. Therefore, only devotional service is the natural propensity or inherent occupation. In one's inherent occupation there is no need of prayasa; still, in the living entity's conditioned state there is need for a small amount of prayasa in order to cultivate devotional service. Except this little prayasa, all other kinds of prayasa are unfavorable for devotional service. Prayasa is of two kinds—jnana-prayasa and karma-prayasa. In jnana-prayasa the feeling of oneness, or kevaladvaita, arises. This is also known as sayujya, merging, or brahma-nirvana, absorption in the Supreme. Jnana-prayasa is hostile to spiritual life; this is explained in the Vedic literature, Mundaka Upanishad (3.2.3), in the following words:

nayam atma pravacanena labhyo

na medhasa na bahuna shrutena 

yam evaisha vrinute tena labhyas

tasyaisha atma vivrinute tanum svam

“The Supreme Lord is not obtained by expert explanations, by vast intelligence, or even by much hearing. He is obtained only by one whom He Himself chooses. To such a person, He manifests His own form.” Therefore devotion is the only way to attain the lotus feet of the Lord. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam (10.14.3) Brahma says to Lord Krishna:

jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva

jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam

sthane sthitah shruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir

ye prayasho 'jita jito 'py asi tais tri-lokyam 

“Lord Brahma said, O my Lord Krishna, a devotee who abandons [jnana-prayasa*] the path of empiric philosophical speculation aimed at merging in the existence of the Supreme and engages himself in hearing Your glories and activities from a bona fide sadhu, or saint, and who lives an honest life in the occupational engagement of his social life, can conquer Your sympathy and mercy even though You are ajita, or unconquerable.”

In order to further clarify prayasa, Lord Brahma says:

shreyah-shritim bhaktim udasya te vibho

klishyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye

tesham asau kleshala eva shishyate

nanyad yatha sthula-tushavaghatinam

“'My dear Lord, devotional service unto You is the only auspicious path. If one gives it up simply for speculative knowledge or the understanding that these living beings are spirit souls and the material world is false, he undergoes a great deal of trouble. He only gains troublesome and inauspicious activities. His endeavors are like beating a husk that is already devoid of rice. One's labor becomes fruitless.”

The philosophy of monism does not originate in the Absolute Truth; it is only a demoniac provision. Glorification of the knowledge of one's relationship with the Lord is often heard. That knowledge is pure and spontaneous—there is no need of prayasa. The knowledge given in the Catuh-shloki [the four main Bhagavatam verses] is acintya bhedabheda, inconceivably, simultaneously one and different. This knowledge is naturally dormant in the heart of the living entity. The Lord is like a spiritual sun, and the living entities are like molecular particles of the sun's rays. The living entity cannot remain in his constitutional form without being subordinate to the Lord, therefore servitorship of the Lord is his constitutional duty. Cultivation of this constitutional duty is the nature of the living entity. This is the spontaneous—devoid of prayasa—dharma, or duty, of the living entity. Although in the conditioned state this dharma is almost dormant and is awakened by sadhana, or spiritual practice, still the prayasa found in devotional practices is not like that found in the paths of karma and jnana. If one takes shelter of the holy name with some respect, then within a short time the obstacles due to ignorance are removed and one's constitutional happiness is reawakened. But if one gives a place to jnana-prayasa, then he has to suffer more. And if jnana-prayasa is renounced in the association of devotees, then that is a devotional endeavor. The Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita (12.2-5):

mayy aveshya mano ye mam        nitya-yukta upasate

shraddhaya parayopetas        te me yuktatama matah

ye tv aksharam anirdeshyam        avyaktam paryupasate

sarvatra-gam acintyam ca        kuta-stham acalam dhruvam

 sanniyamyendriya-gramam        sarvatra sama-buddhayah

te prapnuvanti mam eva        sarva-bhuta-hite ratah 

klesho 'dhikataras tesham        avyaktasakta-cetasam

avyakta hi gatir duhkham        dehavadbhir avapyate

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Those who fix their minds on My personal form and are always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith are considered by Me to be most perfect. But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed, and immovable—the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth—by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me. For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.”

In karma-prayasa there is also no benefit. In the First Canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam it is said:

dharmah svanushthitah pumsam        vishvaksena-kathasu yah

notpadayed yadi ratim        shrama eva hi kevalam

“The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor, or prayasa, if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” Therefore karma-prayasa is contrary to devotional principles in the same way as jnana-prayasa. The conclusion is that karma-prayasa and jnana-prayasa are very detrimental. But a devotee who desires to properly pass his life still accepts his duties according to varnashrama, as those duties are favorable to devotional service and counted as part of devotional service. All these activities are no longer called karma. In these activities, the svanishtha devotees, or devotees addicted to their own line of devotion, bring karma and its results within the realm of devotional service. The parinishthita devotees, or devotees fully addicted to devotional service, perform pious activities that are not contrary to devotional principles only to attract people. The devotees who are nirapeksha, or neutral, accept activities favorable for devotional service without caring for popular approval.

Jnana-prayasa and its resultant prayasa for the liberation of merging with the Lord are extremely contrary to devotional principles. If ashtanga-yoga-prayasa aims at mystic powers and liberation, then it is also extremely contrary to devotional principles. The rules for devotional practice and the knowledge of the living entities' relationship of simultaneous oneness and difference are most natural and therefore devoid of prayasa. This type of activity and knowledge is only accepted as a means. If they are accepted as the goal, then they become the source of fault. I will explain this further under niyamagraha. The hard labor for activities like visiting holy places is prayasa that is unfavorable for devotional service. If, however, one goes to the places of Krishna's pastimes with a greedy desire to awaken his ecstatic love for Krishna and to associate with the devotees, then this is certainly devotional service—not useless prayasa. Following the vows of devotional service is not useless prayasa, they are all accepted as part of the process of devotional service. The prayasa for serving the Vaishnavas is not prayasa; for greed to associate with one's own peers destroys faults in the form of desires to associate with worldly-minded people. The prayasa for temple worship is a spontaneous manifestation of the heart's emotions. The prayasa for activities like sankirtana is only meant to open one's heart to chanting the Lord's holy names; it is therefore extremely natural.

There is no need for prayasa in renunciation; because when devotion to Krishna arises in the heart, the living entity easily becomes disinterested in everything other than Krishna. The Shrimad Bhagavatam (1.2.7) says:

vasudeve bhagavati        bhakti-yogah prayojitah

janayaty ashu vairagyam        jnanam ca yad ahaitukam

“By rendering devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge [or knowledge of eternally perfect servitorship of the Lord*] and detachment [or detachment free from prayasa*] from the world.” So when one gives up jnana, karma, and vairagya prayasa and engages in devotional practices, then the obstacles of jnana, karma, yoga, and vairagya cannot pull one down. Therefore it is established in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (11.2.42): bhaktih pareshanubhavo viraktir anyatra caisha trika eka-kalah—“devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things—these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

When a devotee humbly and without duplicity chants and remembers the holy names of Krishna, then real intelligence easily awakens in this way: “I am spiritual particle, servant of Krishna; Krishna is my eternal Lord; surrender to Krishna's lotus feet is my eternal nature; this world is like a traveler's rest-house; and to be attached to anything of this world will not give me eternal happiness.” Like this, a practitioner soon attains all perfection. Jnana-prayasa, karma-prayasa, yoga-prayasa, mukti-prayasa, as well as overendeavoring for material enjoyment, worldly achievements, and association with materialistic people are all hostile principles for one who has taken shelter of the holy name. By these different forms of prayasa, one's devotional service is ruined. The prayasa for attaining pratishtha, or fame, is the lowest of all kinds of prayasa. Although it is the lowest, it is unavoidable for many. And that also should be given up by the simple process of devotional service. Therefore Sanatana Gosvami has stated in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, the concluding verse:

sarva tyage 'py aheyayah        sarvanartha bhuvash ca te

kuryuh pratishthavishthaya        yatnam asparshane varam

“Even if one can give up all material desires, the desire for fame is very difficult to give up. This desire for fame, which is compared to stool, is the root cause of all anarthas. Therefore, one should carefully avoid touching this stool-like desire for fame.” This instruction is extremely serious. The devotee should follow this exclusive duty with special care.

A practicing devotee should pass his life in a natural occupation that is favorable to devotional service, and he should chant and remember the holy names with knowledge of his relationship with the Lord. This process of worship without prayasa again has two different kinds of applications—for householders and for renunciates. Making varnashrama favorable to devotional service, the householder should pass his life engaged in devotional service free from prayasa. They should earn and save only to easily maintain the family members. If they always remember that worshiping Hari is the only purpose of life, then they will never fall into illusion. In happiness and distress, in good fortune and bad, in waking and sleep—in every condition—worshiping Hari will quickly be perfected. And the renunciate should not save at all. He should maintain his body by daily begging alms and thus engage in devotional service. They should not stay in any enterprise. By entering into enterprise, he is at fault. The more he worships the Lord with humility and simplicity, the more he will understand Krishna, by His mercy. As stated by Lord Brahma in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (10.14.8):

tat te 'nukampam susamikshamano

bhunjana evatma-kritam vipakam 

hrid-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te

jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak

“My dear Lord, one who constantly waits for Your causeless mercy to be bestowed upon him and who goes on suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds, offering You respectful obeisances from the core of his heart. is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” Nothing is achieved by jnana-prayasa, but one can know Krishna only by His mercy. Therefore Shrimad Bhagavatam (10.14.29) says:

athapi te deva padambuja-dvaya-

prasada-leshanugrihita eva hi 

janati tattvam bhagavan-mahimno

na canya eko 'pi ciram vicinvan

“My Lord, if one is favored by even a slight trace of the mercy of Your lotus feet, he can understand the greatness of Your personality. But those who speculate to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead are unable to know You, even though they continue to study the Vedas for many years.”

If one takes shelter of the holy names with humility, then by the mercy of the Lord—without prayasa—all knowledge of the Absolute Truth that should be known awakens within the heart of the simple devotee. This knowledge is never attained by independent prayasa.