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The Means of Achievement
tasyah sadhanani gayanty acaryah
tasyah-of it; sadhanani-the means of development; gayanti-sing; acaryah-the great teachers.
Standard authorities have described the methods for achieving devotional service.
Having described the essence of para bhakti, the highest stage of devotional service, Narada now turns to the practices one must perform to reach that stage. The practice stage of bhakti is called sadhana-bhakti. Narada previously stated that bhakti was its own means, that it does not depend on anything else-specifically jnana, or knowledge. And as Shrila Prabhupada points out, bhakti doesn't even depend on the devotee's practice:
Krishna consciousness cannot be aroused simply by practice. Actually there is no such practice. When we wish to develop our innate capacity for devotional service, there are certain processes which, by our accepting and executing them, will cause that dormant capacity to be invoked. Such practice is called sadhana-bhakti. [The Nectar of Devotion, p. 20]
The rules and regulations of bhakti are meant to cure a conditioned soul of the madness that causes his bondage and suffering. Shrila Prabhupada writes (The Nectar of Devotion, p. 21), "As a man's mental disease is cured by the directions of a psychiatrist, so this sadhana-bhakti cures the conditioned soul of his madness under the spell of maya, material illusion."
Narada says that the methods he will teach have been given by the acaryas, those who teach by both word and deed. Bhakti can be taught only by Vaishnava acaryas and their representatives, not by teachers of comparative religion or impersonalists in the guise of bhaktas. Narada himself is one of the greatest acaryas, and so his own sayings are sufficient. Still, following the parampara tradition, he quotes previous acaryas and also gives his own insights. Thus his teachings are acceptable to all, regardless of sampradaya or particular founder-acarya. Here Narada uses the word gayanti, "they sing," because the acaryas joyfully teach the principles of bhakti.
tat tu visaya-tyagat sanga-tyagac ca
tat-that; tu-and; visaya-of sense gratification; tyagat-by rejection; sanga-of (material) association; tyagat-by rejection; ca-and.
One achieves bhakti by giving up sense gratification and mundane association.
Visaya refers to the objects of sense enjoyment, and one who indulges in sense enjoyment is called a visayi. A visayi cannot succeed in devotional service. The acaryas therefore set down regulations for eating, mating, and so on. Narada states that one should not only give up gross practices of sense indulgence but should even stop thinking of sense gratification. The word sanga-tyaga indicates that one should refrain from associating with sense objects even within the mind and heart. The acaryas of all religions so consistently recommend such renunciation of sense pleasure that the need for it may seem a truism. But to practice it is not easy. And yet if we want to advance in bhakti-yoga, practice it we must. As Lord Krishna says, "What is called renunciation you should know to be the same as yoga, or linking oneself with the Supreme, O son of Pandu, for one can never become a yogi unless he renounces the desire for sense gratification" (Bg. 6.2).
The Krishna conscious method of renunciation is to engage the mind and senses in devotional service. As Shrila Rupa Gosvami says in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (2.255),
anasaktasya visayan yatharham upayunjatah
nirbandhah krishna-sambandhe yuktam vairagyam ucyate
"When one is not attached to anything but simultaneously accepts everything in relation to Krishna, one is situated above possessiveness."
An active devotee is more complete in his renunciation than one who rejects material things without knowledge of their relationship to Krishna. This method of yukta-vairagya gives one great freedom, but it must be done rightly. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "One should, however, note that after doing something whimsically he should not offer the results to the Supreme Lord. That sort of duty is not in the devotional service of Krishna consciousness. One should act according to the order of Krishna, [which] comes through disciplic succession from the bona fide spiritual master" (Bg. 18.57, purport). In short, sinful activity cannot be brought under the purview of "offering everything to Krishna." Indeed, Shrila Prabhupada would not accept disciples unless they agreed to follow the four regulative principles-no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, and no meat-eating.
Renunciation is possible because of the higher pleasure attainable in spiritual life. As Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita (2.59),
visaya vinivartante niraharasya dehinah
rasa-varjam raso 'py asya param drstva nivartate
"Although the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness." In his purport to this verse, Shrila Prabhupada compares the restriction from sense enjoyment mystic yogis observe to the restrictions a doctor places upon a patient that forbid him from taking certain types of food. In neither instance is the taste for the forbidden pleasures lost. "But," Shrila Prabhupada writes, "one who has tasted the beauty of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, in the course of his advancement in Krishna consciousness no longer has a taste for dead, material things. Therefore, restrictions are there for the less intelligent neophytes in the spiritual advancement of life, but such restrictions are good only until one actually has a taste for Krishna consciousness."
Previously Narada has stated that it is not sufficient merely to hear about spiritual life or to tell others about it without actually practicing it and realizing its fruits oneself. And so the sadhana-bhakta actually practices-he avoids lusty attachments on the strength of his vows, and Krishna helps him from within. Eventually he relishes a higher taste and loses the desire for sense gratification. Bhakti-yoga, being a transcendental science, yields the expected results when carefully followed.
The phrase sanga-tyagat, which Narada uses here, also appears in Shrila Rupa Gosvami's Upadesamrta (3). According to Rupa Gosvami, sanga-tyaga, by which he means "abandoning the association of nondevotees," is one of the most important requirements for the execution of pure devotional service. When Lord Chaitanya was asked to define a Vaishnava, He replied, asat-sanga-tyaga-ei vaishnava acara: "Characteristically, a Vaishnava is one who gives up the association of worldly people, or nondevotees" (Cc. Madhya 22.87). Just as asat-sanga increases our material attachment and impedes our devotional service, so sadhu-sanga furthers our devotional service by helping us become attached to Lord Krishna and detached from the practices of nondevotees.
In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam Lord Kapila advises His mother, Devahuti, that while material attachment is the greatest entanglement for the spirit soul, "that same attachment, when applied to the self-realized devotees, opens the door of liberation" (Bhag. 3.25.20). In his purport, Shrila Prabhupada writes, "This indicates that the propensity for attachment cannot be stopped; it must be utilized for the best purpose. Our attachment for material things perpetuates our conditioned state, but the same attachment, when transferred to the Supreme Personality of Godhead or His devotee, is the source of liberation."
This sutra contains a stern order for the aspiring devotee: "If you want to progress in bhakti, you must give up sense gratification and material association." In his Bhagavad-gita purports, Shrila Prabhupada tells us how we should approach such orders: "The Lord instructs that one has to become fully Krishna conscious to discharge duties, as if in military discipline. Such an injunction may make things a little difficult; still, duties must be carried out, with dependence on Krishna, because that is the constitutional position of the living entity" (Bg. 3.30, purport). Lethargy in the face of these orders should be thrown off. The alternative is great unhappiness, more than we can imagine, as the soul falls down into lower species of life, birth after birth.
avyavrtta-uninterrupted; bhajanat-by worship.
One achieves bhakti by worshiping the Lord ceaselessly.
Narada has given a negative order-to restrain the mind and senses; he now gives the positive method for engaging the mind and senses in Krishna consciousness. Shrila Prabhupada compared Krishna conscious activity to placing an iron rod in fire. As the rod stays steadily within the flames, it becomes hotter and hotter, until eventually it becomes fiery. In the same way, the devotee who steadily engages in Krishna consciousness gradually becomes transformed, until eventually he becomes fully Krishna conscious. If one is completely absorbed in Krishna's service, there is no scope for the activities of maya.
The Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.6) also recommends uninterrupted devotional service:
sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje
ahaituky apratihata yayatma suprasidati
"The supreme occupation for all humanity is that by which one can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendental Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self."
In this sutra Narada uses the word bhajana, which also appears, in a slightly different form, in the Bhagavad-gita (6.47). In concluding His instructions on astanga-yoga in the Sixth Chapter of the Gita, Lord Krishna says that one who serves Him with devotion and faith (sraddhavan bhajate yo mam) is the highest yogi. Shrila Prabhupada explains that the word bhaj means "service":
Service with love and faith is especially meant for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One can avoid worshiping a respectable man or demigod and may be called discourteous, but one cannot avoid serving the Supreme Lord without being thoroughly condemned. [Bg. 6.47, purport]
This passage indicates that bhakti is not a spiritual recreation for a few people but is intended for all, and it cannot be avoided without dire consequences.
Narada says bhakti is attained by uninterrupted loving service. But does he mean that one must be flawless, that one must never slip? No, Lord Krishna allows for mistakes, provided one is determined to serve Him. He says in the Ninth Chapter of the Gita,
api cet su-duracaro bhajate mam ananya-bhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah samyag vyavasito hi sah
"Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination" (Bg. 9.30). Shrila Prabhupada warns us, however, not to take advantage of this statement and think we can intentionally violate the rules of devotional life and still be a devotee. The blessing from the Lord expressed here is that if we go on serving the spiritual master and Krishna with determination-especially by chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare-then Lord Krishna will accept us as His devotee, despite our imperfections.
But exactly what does one do to always keep busy in Krishna consciousness and avoid becoming bored or restless? Prahlada Maharaja taught a ninefold process of bhakti for maintaining full engagement in the Lord's service: (1) hearing about the Lord, (2) chanting His name and glories, (3) remembering Him, (4) serving His lotus feet, (5) worshiping the Deity, (6) offering prayers to the Lord, (7) becoming His servant, (8) becoming His friend, and (9) offering Him everything. While the first two of these processes are extremely important, any one of them is sufficient for achieving perfection. Shrila Prabhupada writes:
The nine different processes enunciated by Prahlada Maharaja, who learned them from Narada Muni, may not all be required for the execution of devotional service; if a devotee performs only one of these nine without deviation, he can attain the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. [Bhag. 7.5.24, purport]
In early 1968 I wrote a letter to Shrila Prabhupada saying that sometimes I couldn't decide which service I should do at a given moment. Should I wash the dishes or chant Hare Krishna? Prabhupada replied:
There isn't any difference between chanting the Holy Name [and] washing the dishes of the Temple. So do not be worried when you are attracted for doing other work in the Temple. There is variegatedness in transcendental activities. Sometimes we like to chant, sometimes we like to wash dishes. There is no difference on the Absolute plane.
loke 'pi bhagavad-guna-sravana-kirtanat
loke-in the world; api-even; bhagavat-of the Supreme Lord; guna-about the qualities; sravana-by hearing; kirtanat-and chanting.
One achieves bhakti by hearing and chanting about the Supreme Lord's special qualities, even while engaged in the ordinary activities of life in this world.
Someone might say that Narada is being unreasonable in advocating "uninterrupted loving service." How can those who are busy with duties in the world maintain constant bhajana? But Narada, like all acaryas, is well aware of the worldly situation and the jiva's predicament. Thus he recommends sravanam kirtanam, hearing and chanting about the Lord, for all persons at all times. An outstanding example of a Krishna conscious devotee who was busy in the world is Arjuna, Krishna's friend. And it was Lord Krishna Himself who insisted that Arjuna not renounce the battlefield in favor of meditation:
tasmat sarvesu kalesu mam anusmara yudhya ca
mayy arpita-mano-buddhir mam evaisyasy asamsayah
"Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt" (Bg. 8.7).
Shrila Prabhupada writes, "The Lord never suggests anything impractical.... If he [Arjuna] doesn't practice remembering Krishna while he is struggling for existence, then it will not be possible for him to remember Krishna at the time of death" (Bg. Introduction). Lord Chaitanya also advises, kirtaniyah sada harih: [Cc. adi 17.31] "One should always chant the names of the Lord."
Still the question remains, How can an active person perform double duty-work and chant at the same time? But it is possible, through love. Prabhupada gave the example of a man who goes to work in an office while his young son is very ill at home. Out of natural affection, the father is always thinking, "How is the boy?" Another example, given by the acaryas, concerns a married woman's attachment for her paramour. The wife always thinks of her lover, even while doing her household chores. In fact, she does her housework even more carefully so that her husband will not suspect her. In the same way, we should always remember the supreme lover, Shri Krishna, even while meticulously discharging our material duties. If we say, "But I lack strong love for Krishna," the only remedy is vaidhi-bhakti. The very purpose of this training stage of bhakti is to bring out our original love for God, just as striking a match brings out a flame. And among all the devotional practices, the foremost are sravanam kirtanam visnoh [SB 7.5.23], hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord.
No one can honestly say he has absolutely no time to devote to sravanam kirtanam. Even the busiest people find time daily to go through newspapers or magazines, and almost everyone finds some time for television, as well as for idle talk. Much of this time could be spared for bhakti-yoga. And even when we are working at the office or factory, if we are donating a portion of our earnings to Krishna we may think, "Krishna has assigned me this particular duty."
If despite his best efforts a devotee finds his social and occupational duties overwhelming, he should consider living in a different way. One should avoid ugra-karma, work that completely saps one of all higher energy and pious inclination. In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Narada Muni advised Maharaja Yudhisthira that one should work "to earn his livelihood as much as necessary to maintain body and soul together.
... An intelligent man in human society should make his program of activities very simple" (Bhag. 7.14.5-6).
Shrila Prabhupada, who worked for many years as a Krishna conscious businessman, addressed the problem realistically. He said that there was no question of stopping all activities, just as there is no question of wiping out one's temperature altogether when trying to recover from a fever. If one has a fever of 105oF, one should carefully decrease it to the normal temperature, 98.6o, and maintain it there. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "The great sages and saints of India wanted to maintain the normal temperature by a balanced program of material and spiritual knowledge. They never allowed the misuse of human intelligence for diseased sense gratification" (Isopanisad 11, purport). Most people give the highest priority to economic development and sense gratification, relegating religion to a support activity. But actual religion-self-realization-should come first. Economic development is required only to maintain the body in a sound, healthy condition.
Understanding the awkward position of people in the Kali-yuga, the Supreme Lord has given us the chanting of the holy names as the yuga-dharma, the religion of the age:
harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
"In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way" (Brhan-naradiya Purana).
Shrila Prabhupada formed the International Society for Krishna Consciousness on the basis of the yuga-dharma and Narada Muni's instructions in this sutra. Throughout the world, many of Prabhupada's followers chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily, attend a morning and evening program of kirtana and scriptural discourse, and follow the four rules prohibiting sinful life-even while pursuing active professional careers. Lord Krishna has personally promised Narada Muni that whoever chants His glories will attain the Lord's mercy, despite social or occupational status:
naham tisthami vaikunthe yoginam hrdayesu va
yatra gayanti mad-bhaktah tatra tisthami narada
"My dear Narada, I do not dwell in Vaikuntha or in the hearts of the yogi, but wherever My devotees sing My glories" (Padma Purana).
mukhyatas tu mahat-krpayaiva bhagavat-krpa-lesad va
mukhyatah-primarily; tu-but; mahat-of great souls; krpaya-by the mercy; eva-indeed; bhagavat-of the Supreme Lord; krpa-of the mercy; lesat-by a trace; va-or.
Primarily, however, one develops bhakti by the mercy of great souls, or by a small drop of the Lord's mercy.
Narada has outlined the main practices for a devotee-in-training (sadhaka). Now he emphasizes that the devotee cannot succeed simply on the strength of his own endeavor, but only when he receives the mercy of Krishna's representative or a drop of the Lord's direct mercy.
Unless one seeks out the association of a sadhu, bhakti will remain distant. But who is a sadhu? Shrila Prabhupada explains:
A sadhu is not just an ordinary man with a saffron robe or long beard. A sadhu is described in Bhagavad-gita as one who unflinchingly engages in devotional service. Even though one is found not to be following the strict rules and regulations of devotional service, if one simply has unflinching faith in Krishna, the Supreme Person, he is understood to be a sadhu. ... If one associates with a sadhu, the result will be that the sadhu will teach him how to become a devotee, a worshiper and sincere servitor of the Lord. These are the gifts of a sadhu. [Bhag. 3.25.20, purport]
The Chaitanya-charitamrita and the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu state that the acceptance of a spiritual master is absolutely essential for advancement in devotional service. Shrila Prabhupada writes:
Without the attentive service of his parents, a child cannot grow to manhood; similarly, without the care of the spiritual master one cannot rise to the plane of transcendental service.... One should always remember that a person who is reluctant to accept a spiritual master and be initiated is sure to be baffled in his endeavor to go back to Godhead. [Cc. Adi 1.46, purport, and 1.35, purport]
And so by the grace of the spiritual masters, all the aforementioned practices taught by Narada-the chanting and hearing of the holy names, avoiding sense gratification, and so on-will come naturally to one who serves and inquires from devotees.
Conditioned souls are brought to the path of bhakti by the help of the Vaishnavas, and also by the direct guidance of the Supreme Lord. Harim vina naiva srtim taranti: "Without the blessings of Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one cannot stop the continuous chain of birth and death within this material world." Lord Krishna, as the Supersoul within everyone's heart, directly gives us guidance. When a soul cries out for spiritual guidance, the Lord as the caitya-guru, or the spiritual master in the heart, gives direct inspiration. Krishna states,
tesam evanukampartham aham ajnana-jam tamah
nasayamy atma-bhava-stho jnana-dipena bhasvata
"To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance" (Bg. 10.11).
In the purport to the previous verse (Bg. 10.10), Shrila Prabhupada explains, "A person may have a bona fide spiritual master and may be attached to a spiritual organization, but still, if he is not intelligent enough to make progress, then Krishna from within gives him instructions so that he may ultimately come to Him without difficulty."
The Lord's mercy is therefore available both in the form of the instructing spiritual masters and the Supersoul within the heart. The appearance of the spiritual master within the life of the conditioned soul is the direct mercy of the Lord. Prabhupada writes that "the great sage Sukadeva Gosvami was certainly inspired by Lord Krishna to appear voluntarily before Maharaja Pariksit, the great devotee of the Lord, just to give him the teachings of Shrimad-Bhagavatam" (Bhag. 1.19.36).
It is truly a sign of the Lord's mercy when one meets His pure representative, the bona fide spiritual master. But how effective this mercy is depends on one's sincerity. As soon as the Lord finds that a soul has developed eagerness to go back to Godhead, the Lord sends a bona fide spiritual master, and if one takes full advantage of the instructions of such a spiritual master, one is guaranteed success. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "The conclusion is that to get the... help of a bona fide spiritual master means to receive the direct help of the Lord Himself" (Bhag. 1.19.36, purport; italics in original).
mahat-sangas tu durlabho 'gamyo 'moghas ca
mahat-of great souls; sangah-the association; tu-but; durlabhah-difficult to achieve; agamyah-difficult to understand; amoghah-infallible; ca-also.
The association of great souls is rarely obtained, difficult to understand, and infallible.
In His instructions to Shrila Rupa Gosvami (Cc. Madhya 19.138-48), Lord Chaitanya graphically describes the rarity of gaining the association of a pure devotee. The Lord tells Rupa Gosvami that there are unlimited living entities among 8,400,000 species, and all these living entities are wandering from body to body, planet to planet, within this universe. The few living entities in human bodies may be divided into the uncultured and the cultured-those who are ignorant of the Vedic principles and those who know them. Among those who know the Vedic principles, roughly half simply give lip service to these principles while committing all kinds of sins in violation of these principles. Out of those who actually follow the Vedic principles, most seek material rewards like wealth, good birth, or elevation to heaven. Among millions of pious followers of the Vedic injunctions, one may be actually wise (a jnani). Out of many millions of such jnanis, Lord Chaitanya says, one may actually become liberated from birth and death, and out of many millions of such liberated persons, a devotee of the Lord is very difficult to find.
Lord Krishna makes the same point:
manusyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye
yatatam api siddhanam kascin mam vetti tattvatah
"Out of many thousands of men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth" (Bg. 7.3). This indicates that even one who has attained Brahman realization falls far short of knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We should not be misled, therefore, about who is a "great soul" or think that any "swami" or "guru" will be able to deliver us from material entanglement. As the Shrimad-Bhagavatam says (6.14.5),
muktanam api siddhanam narayana-parayanah
su-durlabhah prasantatma kotisv api maha-mune
"O great sage, out of many millions of materially liberated people who are free from ignorance, and out of many millions of siddhas who have nearly attained perfection, there is hardly one pure devotee of Narayana. Only such a devotee is actually completely satisfied and peaceful."
Even when mahatmas do appear in human society, they are often not appreciated or understood. Shrila Prabhupada writes,
Sometimes devotees are personally attacked with violence. Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Haridasa Thakura was caned in twenty-two marketplaces, and Lord Chaitanya's principal assistant, Nityananda, was violently attacked by Jagai and Madhai.... Although a sadhu is not inimical toward anyone, the world is so ungrateful that even a sadhu has many enemies. [Bhag. 3.25.21, purport]
But if one gets the association of a mahatma and is receptive to his blessings, one will infallibly be benefited. Narada is an excellent example of a mahatma who transformed the lives of many. He once turned a hunter into a pure Vaishnava. The hunter was so cruel that he used to half kill animals because he enjoyed their pain. But as soon as he met Narada and began to hear from him, the hunter became afraid of his sins. Narada assured him, "If you follow my instructions, you can be liberated." Narada then instructed the hunter to worship Lord Krishna by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. A mahatma never says, "Surrender to me," but he advises everyone to surrender to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is his infallibility.
The power of the Vaishnavas is expressed in a Bengali song beginning gaurangera bhakta-gani jani jani sakti dhare: "The devotees of Lord Chaitanya are very powerful, and every one of them can deliver the whole world." But the disciple has to do his part also. On receiving the grace of a Vaishnava, one must agree to give up his sinful activities. Then the spiritual master can take care of him and elevate him to spiritual emancipation. Devotees who may not be on the level of a paramahamsa like Narada Muni, but who strictly follow in his disciplic succession, can also deliver infallible knowledge. Shrila Prabhupada writes:
The spiritual master, being in the disciplic succession stemming from Narada Muni, is in the same category with Narada Muni. A person can be relieved of his sinful activity if he surrenders to the lotus feet of a person who actually represents Narada Muni. [Cc. Madhya 24.258, purport]
Another proof of the power of the mahatma is his ability to convert nondevotees into saintly persons. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura stated that a Vaishnava can be tested by seeing how good a "touchstone" he is-by seeing how many Vaishnavas he has made during his life. Lord Chaitanya desired that as many persons as possible should repeat the message of Krishna and convince others to take up Krishna consciousness, following in the footsteps of Narada Muni and other great acaryas.
In conclusion, the association of a mahatma is very rare, and yet it is available to a sincere seeker. Upon contacting a great soul, one should realize one's good fortune, and with a joyful but serious attitude one should surrender unto his lotus feet. How one should regard a mahatma upon meeting him is exemplified in this quote from the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (13.2), spoken by Lord Chaitanya to Sanatana Gosvami:
My dear Vaishnava, seeing a person like you is the perfection of one's eyesight, touching your lotus feet is the perfection of the sense of touch, and glorifying your good qualities is the tongue's real activity, for in the material world it is very difficult to find a pure devotee of the Lord.
labhyate 'pi tat-krpayaiva
labhyate-it is gained; api-yet; tat-of Him (the Supreme Lord); krpaya-by the mercy; eva-only.
The association of great souls can be attained-but only by the Lord's mercy.
Although the pure devotee is rarely found in the world, the Supreme Lord directly helps a sincere seeker of the truth. As Lord Chaitanya declared to Shrila Rupa Gosvami:
brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
"According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down to the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service" (Cc. Madhya 19.151).
In His Paramatma feature, Lord Krishna is situated in everyone's heart, and He fulfills our desires in accordance with what we deserve, which is based on our previous activities. (Even sinful desires must be sanctioned by Krishna before one can fulfill them.) Shrila Prabhupada writes, "If the living entity by chance or fortune comes in contact with the Krishna consciousness movement and wishes to associate with that movement, Krishna, who is situated in everyone's heart, gives him the chance to meet a bona fide spiritual master" (Cc. Madhya 19.151, purport). If one doesn't know exactly what or who he is looking for, but he calls out to God and asks to be delivered, the Lord will bestow His mercy-the chance to surrender to a great soul.
Narada's disciple Dhruva Maharaja is an example of one who was helped by God. Dhruva was insulted by his stepmother, and on the advice of his mother he went to seek God in the forest. Although the boy desired an exalted position and revenge, his determination appealed to the Supreme Lord. Dhruva wandered in the forest asking the animals, "Where is God? Are you God?"-and suddenly the great sage Narada appeared before him. Shrila Prabhupada explains,
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is present in everyone's heart, and as soon as He understands that the living entity is serious about entering devotional service, He sends His representative. In this way Narada was sent to Dhruva Maharaja. [Bhag. 4.8.25, purport]
tasmims taj-jane bhedabhavat
tasmin-in Him; tat-His; jane-in the people; bheda-of difference; abhavat-because of the absence.
[One can attain bhakti either by the association of the Lord's pure devotees or directly by the Lord's mercy because] the Lord and His pure devotees are nondifferent.
The mercy of the Lord and that of His pure devotees are equally potent because the devotee and the Supreme Lord impart the same teachings. Shri Krishna says, "Surrender to Me," and the pure devotee says, "Yes, I surrender to You," and tells others, "Surrender to Krishna." Thus the mercy of the Lord and that of His loving servants have the same effect: the seed of devotion is planted in the hearts of receptive conditioned souls.
The Mayavadis are always seeking an opportunity to annihilate God's personal identity, and so they interpret this sutra in the following way: "Just as a river loses its name and form after it enters the ocean, so a devotee loses his individuality when he merges himself in the Lord." Impersonalists consider annihilation of the self and merging with the Lord as the last word in divine love. As for the meaning intended by Narada and the scriptures, the Mayavadis say that this is a concession "for the ordinary devotees."
Vaishnavas, however, do not tolerate such blasphemous word jugglery. The oneness of God and guru (or God and all living beings) is a oneness in quality. The living entities are small samples of the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is full, powerful, and opulent. The living beings tend to forget their qualitative oneness with the Lord, and so He appears in the form of scriptures, great souls, and the caitya-guru (Supersoul) to remind us of our spiritual identity. The Supersoul doesn't have to be reminded of His own divinity, because He is never designated by a material body. This is another difference between the jivas and the Lord: The Lord is always self-enlightened in His spiritual form, while the jivas are always prone to come under the influence of maya. Another difference between the two is that the Supersoul is present in everyone's body, whereas the individual conditioned soul is present in one particular body.
The sac-cid-ananda form of Godhead is different from that of the living entity in both his conditioned and liberated states. Although the Mayavadis will continue to misunderstand the philosophy of spiritual oneness, a kavi, or learned person, doesn't commit such mistakes. Shrila Prabhupada describes the position of the Mayavadis and those they influence:
Only atheists consider the living entity and the Personality of Godhead equal in all respects. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu therefore says, mayavadi-bhasya sunile haya sarva-nasa: "If one follows the instructions of Mayavadi philosophers and believes that the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the individual soul are one, his understanding of real philosophy is forever doomed." [Bhag. 4.28.63, purport]
tad eva sadhyatam tad eva sadhyatam
tat-that; eva-only; sadhyatam-should be strived for; tat-that; eva-only; sadhyatam-should be strived for.
Strive, strive only for the association of pure devotees.
Naradadeva blesses the hearers of the Narada-bhakti-sutra with his advice, repeated twice here for emphasis-strive, strive for attaining the lotus feet of guru and Krishna via the association of pure devotees. When the Lord and His devotees see our sincere efforts, they will give us all required assistance.
The best expression of single-minded devotion to Krishna was given by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Let us strive to follow in His footsteps, always asking for direction from His well-wishing followers and always praying as He showed us in His Siksastaka (4):
na dhanam na janam na sundarim
kavitam va jagad-isa kamaye
mama janmani janmanisvare
bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki tvayi
"O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want Your causeless devotional service, birth after birth."
duhsangam sarvathaiva tyajyah
duhsangam-bad association; sarvatha-in all its aspects; eva-indeed; tyajyah-to be given up.
One should give up all kinds of degrading association.
After stating that the association of pure devotees is as good as being with the Supreme Lord, Narada informs us of the destructive effects of bad company. As we mentioned previously, Lord Chaitanya once defined a Vaishnava as one who gives up the association of worldly people and nondevotees: asat-sanga-tyaga-ei vaishnava acara. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu specifically enumerated different types of asat-sanga: stri-sangi, eka asadhu krishnabhakta ara (Cc. Madhya 22.87). A Vaishnava should avoid stri-sangi, those who associate loosely with women, and he should also shun the krishna-abhaktas, those who are not devotees of Krishna. This especially refers to Mayavadis.
Lord Kapila states, "The infatuation and bondage that accrue to a man from attachment to any other object is not as complete as that resulting from an attachment to a woman or to the fellowship of men who are fond of women" (Bhag. 3.31.35). In the Kali-yuga, we are constantly invited to partake in illicit sex through advertising and television. Unrestricted social mixing between men and women is a major distraction from the spiritual path.
The statements about women should not be taken as a criticism of women as a class. Just as woman is often the symbol of maya for a man, so attachment to men is also the main entanglement for a woman. As Lord Kapila states, "A woman, therefore, should consider her husband, her house, and her children to be the arrangement of the external energy of the Lord for her death, just as the sweet singing of the hunter is death for the deer" (Bhag. 3.31.42). Of course, it is not possible to completely restrict the sexes from associating with each other, and so the positive approach is to put Krishna in the center of one's life. If a man and a woman live in a Krishna conscious marriage, transferring their main attachment to Krishna, then their relationship may become a source of spiritual rejuvenation.
When Lord Chaitanya says that one should avoid the non-sadhus, he means persons who don't follow basic principles of religious life. For example, every Krishna conscious devotee follows the four rules, but the non-sadhus always indulge in illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication, and gambling. If a devotee begins to intensively associate with non-sadhus, he will eventually pick up their habits, despite all his knowledge and training. As stated in the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya, "Association is very important. It acts just like a crystal stone, which will reflect anything put before it" (The Nectar of Devotion, p. 106). And as Lord Chaitanya taught Sanatana Gosvami, "One should not even see those who are bereft of devotional service in Krishna consciousness and who are therefore devoid of pious activities" (Cc. Madhya 22.92).
When the demon Hiranyakasipu sarcastically inquired from his son about Krishna consciousness, Prahlada explained why the demons cannot possibly know about Krishna:
matir na krsne paratah svato va
mitho 'bhipadyeta grha-vratanam
adanta-gobhir visatam tamisram
"[Prahlada Maharaja said:] Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both" (Bhag. 7.5.30).
Those with uncontrolled senses can never know Krishna themselves, and if an aspiring devotee associates with them, he will also lose his ability to know Krishna.
Association with nondevotees takes place in many ways, aside from face-to-face encounters. Through books, movies, gathering places-the possibilities of contact are unlimited. Especially nowadays, a person may apparently live alone in a city apartment and yet be completely immersed in bad association through mass media and technological entertainment. It takes deliberate cultivation, and a fight, to remove oneself from bad influences.
One may object to these injunctions and claim, "God is everywhere! Why say that certain people are bad?" The topmost devotee, the maha-bhagavata, can see all persons as perfect servants of God. He humbly thinks that everyone is a servant of the Lord except himself. But another qualification of a maha-bhagavata is that he always thinks of Krishna and never forgets Him for a moment. One should not imitate one aspect of the maha-bhagavata's activities while lacking his qualifications. In other words, on the plea of following the example of the great devotees, one should not indulge in bad association and claim, "It's all Krishna."
The great majority of devotees have to make an effort to come up from the lower (kanistha) stage of devotion, where one sees God only in the temple. They have to strive to reach the second stage (madhyama), where one acknowledges that God is in everyone's heart and yet discriminates in his relationships. The madhyama-bhakta saves his love for the Supreme Lord, makes friendships with like-minded devotees, shows compassion to innocent persons, and avoids the demons. He takes seriously the following injunction from the Katyayana-samhita: "It is better to accept the miseries of being encaged within bars and surrounded by burning flames than to associate with those bereft of Krishna consciousness. Such association is a very great hardship" (Cc. Madhya 22.91).
kama-of lust; krodha-anger; moha-bewilderment; smrti-bhramsa-failure of memory; buddhi-nasa-loss of intelligence; sarva-nasa-and total loss; karanatvat-because of being the cause.
Material association is the cause of lust, anger, confusion, forgetfulness, loss of intelligence, and total calamity.
One may wonder why Narada is dwelling on the effects of bad association after having discussed advanced subjects in bhakti-yoga. But who else will heed the warnings except those who are serious about crossing the ocean of birth and death? Even one who is practicing devotional service in the renounced order can fall down. As stated in Chaitanya-candrodaya-nataka (8.23),
param param jigamisor bhava-sagarasya
sandarsanam visayinam atha yositam ca
ha hanta hanta visa-bhaksanato 'py asadhu
"Alas, for a person who is seriously desiring to cross the material ocean and engage in the transcendental loving service without material motives, seeing a materialist engaged in sense gratification and seeing a woman who is similarly interested are more abominable than drinking poison willingly." And so the advice against bad association is intended for all, including those transcendentalists who wish to progress without impediment.
In the Bhagavad-gita (2.62-63), Lord Krishna analyzes the soul's downfall due to bad association:
dhyayato visayan pumsah sangas tesupajayate
sangat sanjayate kamah kamat krodho 'bhijayate
krodhad bhavati sammohah sammohat smrti-vibhramah
smrti-bhramsad buddhi-naso buddhi-nasat pranasyati
"While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises. From anger complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool."
Bad association (duhsanga) brings out the stored karmic tendencies for sin, thus activating one's lower propensities. If an aspiring devotee hears the hedonists talk of lusty enjoyments, he may easily become agitated, since until he becomes pure he has many tendencies to enjoy worldly pleasures. As soon as he begins to think about the objects of pleasure, he will begin to desire them. Then he will attempt to fulfill his desires, and on being frustrated he will become angry. Thereafter he will lose his discrimination, become deluded, and so on. By keeping company with nondevotees, therefore, bad habits crop up one after another, and good qualities become ruined. As Lord Kapiladeva states (Bhag. 3.31.32-33):
If, therefore, the living entity again associates with the path of unrighteousness, influenced by sensually-minded people engaged in the pursuit of sexual enjoyment and the gratification of the palate, he again goes to hell as before. He becomes devoid of truthfulness, cleanliness, mercy, gravity, spiritual intelligence, shyness, austerity, fame, forgiveness, control of the mind, control of the senses, fortune, and all such opportunities.
Not only "coarse fools" but even austere ascetics-if they are not devotees-are considered duhsanga. Mental speculators, impersonal yogis, jnanis, and voidists may all adversely influence a devotee and turn him toward nondevotional paths. Bhagavan Acarya, a follower of Lord Chaitanya's, insisted that he was immune to contamination because he was a fixed-up devotee of the Lord. But Svarupa Damodara Gosvami replied that hearing talks on Mayavada philosophy "breaks the heart and life of a devotee" and should not be indulged in. Shrila Prabhupada writes:
The Mayavadi philosophers have presented their arguments in such attractive, flowery language that hearing Mayavada philosophy may sometimes change the mind of even a maha-bhagavata, or very advanced devotee. An actual Vaishnava cannot tolerate any philosophy that claims God and the living being to be one and the same. [Cc. Adi 7.110, purport]
Considering the dangers of duhsanga, even for a fully engaged sadhaka, we can see that Narada has not exaggerated these dangers or given a warning only for neophytes.
tarangita apime sangat samudrayanti
tarangitah-forming waves; api-indeed; ime-these; sangat-from material association; samudrayanti-create an ocean.
Rising like waves from material association, these bad effects mass into a great ocean of misery.
The deluding potency, maya, is the Lord's own energy and can thus overcome even a powerful sage. As Lord Kapila declares, "Among all kinds of living entities begotten by Brahma, namely men, demigods, and animals, none but the sage Narayana is immune to the attraction of maya in the form of a woman" (Bhag. 3.31.37). One should not flirt with maya, thinking that one can transgress a little and then pull back later if it gets too rough. Until we are completely liberated we maintain seeds of destruction within us, and we should not allow them to grow by bad association.
Once Shrila Prabhupada learned that some of his initiated disciples had indulged in their former habits of smoking marijuana. Prabhupada said that this was due to bad association, and he gave the example of bedbugs. During winter, bedbugs seem to disappear from your bed, but in due time they emerge and again bite you and grow fat on your blood. Similarly, a transcendentalist's kama may seem to be entirely subdued, but it is actually present in a very reduced state. If given a fresh opportunity, his material desires will strike again. On another occasion, Shrila Prabhupada referred to "hippy seeds." Having noticed one of his brahmacari disciples with long hair, he said the disciple's old hippy tendencies were now sprouting in the form of long hair.
So it is good to be afraid of even a little bad association and avoid it at all costs. But one may question whether this attitude is at odds with the compassionate mood of the preacher. If the preacher associates with materialists, won't he become like them? The answer is that a preacher must be strong in his Krishna consciousness to prevent becoming contaminated. If he follows the rules and regulations of bhakti-yoga-including association with devotees, chanting and hearing the Lord's glories, avoiding sense gratification, and so on-then he will be able to preach without falling down. Acting as the spiritual master of Lord Chaitanya, Isvara Puri gave him instructions that in truth are directed at us: "My dear child, continue dancing, chanting, and performing sankirtana in association with devotees. Furthermore, go out and preach the value of chanting krishna-nama, for by this process You will be able to deliver all fallen souls" (Cc. Adi 7.92). Similarly, Shrila Prabhupada instructed his disciples to be compassionate preachers:
One who is not very expert in preaching may chant in a secluded place, avoiding bad association, but for one who is actually advanced, preaching and meeting people who are not engaged in devotional service are not disadvantages. A devotee gives the nondevotees his association but is not affected by their misbehavior. Thus by the activities of a pure devotee even those who are bereft of love of Godhead get a chance to become devotees of the Lord one day. [Cc. Adi 7.92, purport]
Shrila Prabhupada sometimes told the following story to illustrate how one may mix with nondevotees and yet keep one's devotional integrity:
Once a crocodile invited a monkey in a tree to come and ride on his back. The foolish monkey jumped down from the tree and soon found himself clinging to the crocodile's back in the middle of the river.
The monkey asked the crocodile, "Where are we going?"
The crocodile replied, "I'm going to take you home, where my wife will cut out your heart and we will eat you for lunch!"
The monkey replied, "But I left my heart back on shore in the tree. Will you please let me get it?"
The crocodile thought this was a good proposal and allowed the monkey to touch shore. But the monkey jumped into his tree and refused to accept further invitations from the crocodile.
The moral of this story: You may associate with the nondevotee, but don't give him your heart.
Preachers living in ISKCON temples follow this advice daily. They rise early and gather for mangala-arati before the temple Deities, chant kirtana and japa, hear Shrimad-Bhagavatam class, and honor prasadam in the association of devotees. Strengthened by this morning program, they go out to preach in the most materialistic places in the world, offering people a chance to receive Krishna's mercy in the form of literature, prasadam, or hari-nama. In the early evening the preachers return to the temple for more chanting and hearing. While they are with the nondevotees, they do not compromise their devotional principles, and thus they keep their hearts aloof from the modes of material nature and bad association.
Of course, if a preacher finds himself being overwhelmed by the material energy, he should save himself instead of allowing maya to swallow him up while he's trying to save others. But Narada's advice against bad association does not mean that those who are strong enough to preach should not approach the Jagais and Madhais of this world and humbly offer them the holy name and transcendental literature. If devotees don't approach them, how will the fools and rascals be saved?
kas tarati kas tarati mayam yah sangam tyajati yo mahanubhavam sevate nirmamo bhavati
kah-who; tarati-crosses beyond; kah-who; tarati-crosses beyond; mayam-illusion; yah-he who; sangam-material association; tyajati-abandons; yah-who; maha-anubhavam-the wise person; sevate-serves; nirmamah-free from false proprietorship; bhavati-becomes.
Who can cross beyond illusion? One who abandons material association, serves the sages, and becomes selfless.
Crossing over maya is sometimes compared to crossing an ocean. At the time of death the conditioned soul has to transmigrate to another material body, and even if he is born in a higher planet, he still has to suffer repeated birth and death. To cross the limits of this ocean of samsara, he has to go back to Godhead. But this is very difficult, because any material desires, whether sinful or pious, will plunge the conditioned soul back into samsara.
However, Lord Krishna makes the process easy. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.14) He states,
daivi hy esa guna-mayi mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te
"This divine energy of mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it."
Narada is now giving detailed information on how to surrender to Krishna and cross over the powerful ocean of illusion. In this sutra he mentions renouncing attachment, associating with great souls, and becoming free of possessiveness. One has to attempt all these and other favorable methods, but at the same time one must understand that he cannot swim across the ocean on his own. By one's sincere acts of devotion, Krishna is moved to come to the rescue. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, "But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service-for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death" (Bg. 12.6-7). In his purport Shrila Prabhupada states, "Simply by chanting the holy name of Krishna-Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare-a devotee of the Lord can approach the supreme destination easily and happily, but this destination cannot be approached by any other process of religion."
As already stated, the mercy of the Lord is best obtained from His pure devotees. They enable one to take shelter of the Lord's lotus feet, which act like a boat to carry one across the vast ocean of maya:
O lotus-eyed Lord, by concentrating one's meditation on Your lotus feet, which are the reservoir of all existence, and by accepting those lotus feet as the boat by which to cross the ocean of nescience, one follows in the footsteps of maha-janas [great saints, sages, and devotees]. By this simple process, one can cross the ocean of nescience as easily as one steps over the hoofprint of a calf. [Bhag. 10.2.30]
yo vivikta-sthanam sevate yo loka-bandham unmulayati nistraigunyo bhavati yo yoga-ksemam tyajati
yah-who; vivikta-secluded; sthanam-a place; sevate-serves; yah-who; loka-of mundane society; bandham-the bondage; unmulayati-uproots; nistrai-gunyah-free from the influence of the three modes of material nature; bhavati-becomes; yah-who; yoga-(desire for) gain; ksemam-and security; tyajati-gives up.
[Who can cross beyond illusion?] That person who stays in a secluded place, cuts off at the root his attachment to mundane society, becomes free from the influence of the three modes of nature, and gives up hankering for material gain and security.
Narada is giving more ways to cross beyond maya. The first is solitude (vivikta-sthanam sevate). Several times in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna advises that one practice spiritual life alone. Solitude is particularly stressed in meditative yoga, which requires that one live alone in a secluded place (rahasi sthitah ekaki) (Bg. 6.10). And in the Thirteenth Chapter, when listing the items of knowledge, Lord Krishna includes vivikta-desa-sevitvam, "aspiring to live in a solitary place" (Bg. 13.11). Again, in the Eighteenth Chapter, when describing a person who has been elevated to the position of self-realization, Lord Krishna says that he "lives in a solitary place" (vivikta-sevi) (Bg. 18.52).
Neophyte devotees, however, are not advised to live alone. Although solitary bhajana was practiced by Namacarya Haridasa Thakura, and sometimes by Lord Chaitanya, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura criticized devotees who prematurely wanted to chant in a solitary place. He wrote, "My dear mind, why are you so proud of being a Vaishnava? Your solitary worship and chanting of the holy name of the Lord are based on a desire for cheap popularity, and therefore your chanting of the holy name is only a pretension" (quoted in Krishna, p. 882).
A sacred and solitary place, as mentioned in the Gita, also refers to a place of pilgrimage. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "In India the yogis-the transcendentalists or the devotees-all leave home and reside in sacred places such as Prayaga, Mathura, Vrndavana, Hrsikesa, and Hardwar and in solitude practice yoga where the sacred rivers like the Yamuna and Ganges flow" (Bg. 6.11-12, purport). For devotees of Krishna, the most sacred place of pilgrimage is Mathura-mandala, the district that includes Mathura and Vrndavana. Rupa Gosvami recommends living in Mathura-mandala as one of the five main principles of bhakti-yoga, and Shrila Prabhupada praises Mathura-mandala as follows in his summary study of Rupa Gosvami's Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu:
A pure devotee of Lord Krishna resides in the district of Mathura or Vrndavana and visits all the places where Krishna's pastimes were performed.... Actually, if someone goes to Vrndavana, he will immediately feel separation from Krishna, who performed such nice activities when He was present there. [The Nectar of Devotion, p. 139]
Shrila Prabhupada worked hard for many years to establish temples in Vrndavana and in Mayapura, the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya, so that Westerners could come and be purified by living in the dhama. Of Vrndavana Shrila Prabhupada states, "The places in the eighty-four-square-mile district of Mathura are so beautifully situated on the banks of the river Yamuna that anyone who goes there will never want to return to this material world.... Transcendental feelings are aroused immediately without fail after one arrives in Mathura or Vrndavana" (The Nectar of Devotion, p. 111). The essential benefit of a solitary place is that it provides freedom from worldly people and passions. For devotees, this can best be attained in the dhama, in the association of like-minded souls.
Narada also says that one who wants to overcome maya must break the bonds of material attachment and live above the modes of nature. These are some of the natural results of Krishna conscious life. In the Fourteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna describes how the three modes of nature-goodness, passion, and ignorance-bind the living entity in samsara. To become free of the modes, one has to hear the truth from the spiritual master. Then one will gradually understand his original spiritual nature and how one is entrapped by the modes. If one lives in the association of transcendentalists and serves Lord Krishna along with them, one will not be controlled by the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance. The acaryas tell us that living in the forest is in the mode of goodness, living in a town is in the mode of passion, and living in a brothel is in the mode of ignorance-but to live in a temple of Vishnu, in the society of devotees, is Vaikuntha. Indeed, another meaning of "secluded and sacred place" is the temple of the Lord. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "In this bhakti-yoga system, the temple is considered the sacred place. The temple is nirguna, transcendental" (The Path of Perfection, p. 38).
Narada also recommends renouncing anxieties for acquisition and maintenance: yoga-ksemam tyajati. Lord Krishna also mentions yoga-ksema in the Bhagavad-gita (9.22):
ananyas cintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate
tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham
"But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form-to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have."
Dependence on the Lord for maintenance is an advanced stage of spiritual life, but it is not based on imagination. The principle is that one should not want more than what is absolutely necessary. Wanting anything beyond that will simply cause anxiety. In any case, whether one is a poor brahmana, a mendicant sannyasi, a businessman, or an administrator in a religious institution, he or she should realize that the Supreme Lord is the actual maintainer. If we live simply, engaging in Krishna's service and not creating unnecessary demands, we will be able to reduce concerns for maintenance and enter the spirit of yoga-ksemam tyajati, as recommended by Narada Muni.
yah karma-phalam karmani sanyasyati tato nirdvandvo bhavati
yah-who; karma-phalam-the fruit of material work; karmani-his material activities; sanyasati-resigns; tatah-thus; nirdvandvah-un-affected by dualities; bhavati-becomes.
[Who can cross beyond illusion?] That person who renounces material duties and their profits, thus transcending duality.
A devotee has faith that Lord Krishna will supply his needs. But this does not mean that he becomes lazy or inactive. He works for Krishna. By dedicating all acts to the Lord, the devotee becomes free from karmic reactions. As long as one continues to work under the influence of the modes of nature, one must experience duality-good and bad, hot and cold, rich and poor, pleasure and pain, and so on. As Lord Krishna states in Bhagavad-gita (7.27),
iccha-dvesa-samutthena dvandva-mohena bharata
sarva-bhutani sammoham sarge yanti parantapa
"O scion of Bharata, O conqueror of foes, all living entities are born into delusion, bewildered by dualities arisen from desire and hate." And in his purport, Prabhupada explains,
Deluded persons, symptomatically, dwell in dualities of dishonor and honor, misery and happiness, woman and man, good and bad, pleasure and pain, etc., thinking, "This is my wife; this is my house; I am the master of this house; I am the husband of this wife." These are the dualities of delusion. Those who are so deluded by dualities are completely foolish and therefore cannot understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The delusion of duality stems from identifying the self with the body. When a person understands that he is not the body but an eternal servant of Krishna, the delusion of duality ceases for him. A devotee can break the bonds of duality even while living in the material world. When a devotee feels bodily heat or cold, pleasure or pain, he sees it in terms of the body, and he continues to perform his service without distraction. Early in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna to remain equipoised in both happiness and distress. Later, Krishna expresses His pleasure with the devotee who transcends duality: "One who neither rejoices nor grieves, who neither laments nor desires, and who renounces both auspicious and inauspicious things-such a devotee is very dear to Me" (Bg. 12.17).
It should be obvious by now that bhakti is not merely pious thoughts of "love" but rather fearless action. Narada asks nothing less of the bhakta than complete surrender and complete dedication unto the will of Bhagavan. But if at any point one feels himself unable to reach the ideals taught by Narada, he is not condemned. Lord Krishna also says that if we cannot achieve the topmost surrender, then we should do what we can and try to progress gradually (see Bhagavad-gita 12.8-12). But we should be humble about our inability to fully surrender to Lord Krishna. We should not attempt to change the uncompromising teachings in order to justify our weakness. Narada and the Vaishnava acaryas are asking us to change our lives in order to become bhaktas, because that alone will make us eternally happy. The difficulties we feel in making these changes are due to our material attachments.
Lord Krishna gives a stern order in Bhagavad-gita (3.30):
mayi sarvani karmani sannyasyadhyatma-cetasa
nirasir nirmamo bhutva yudhyasva vigata-jvarah
"O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with full knowledge of Me, without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy, fight." And Shrila Prabhupada was also stern, cautioning his followers, "An easy-going life and Krishna consciousness go ill together." Maya dictates to us to take it easy and stay in the material world, but her suggestions are only a deception. She will tell us not to perform austerities in devotional service, but if we fall under her influence, we will be forced to labor and suffer in lower species of life, birth after birth. Narada is asking us to undergo a little trouble now in order to cross over the ocean of maya and be free of all suffering forever.
yo vedan api sanyasyati kevalam avicchinnanuragam labhate
yah-who; vedan-the Vedas; api-even; sanyasyati-renounces; kevalam-exclusive; avicchinna-uninterrupted; anuragam-loving attraction; labhate-obtains.
That person who renounces even the Vedas obtains exclusive and uninterrupted attraction for God.
By "renouncing the Vedas" Narada means renouncing the fruitive sacrifices recommended in the Vedas' karma-kandiya portions, which are for those pursuing fruitive results. Lord Krishna advises Arjuna, "The Vedas deal mainly with the subject of the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become transcendental to these three modes.... All purposes served by a small well can at once be served by a great reservoir of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them" (Bg. 2.45-46). The karma-kandiya instructions are for gradual development, but the ultimate goal is to know Lord Krishna, the cause of all causes (see Bhagavad-gita 15.15). If one is attached only to the rituals and not the goal, then he cannot rise to the transcendental stage.
Similarly, the study of the Vedanta-sutra is meant for understanding Lord Krishna. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "Vedanta is the last word in Vedic wisdom, and the author and knower of the Vedanta philosophy is Lord Krishna; and the highest Vedantist is the great soul who takes pleasure in chanting the holy name of the Lord" (Bg. 2.46, purport).
Shrila Vyasadeva begins the Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.2) with the declaration that no lesser forms of religion will be taught: dharmah projjhita-kaitavah. Only pure devotional service is taught in the Bhagavata Purana. Lord Krishna also concludes His instructions to Arjuna by advising him, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." (Bg. 18.66)
Still, although a pure devotee ignores the karma-kandiya portion of the Vedas and gives up all forms of dharma save bhakti, he never defies the bhakti-sastras or gives up following their injunctions. In fact, liberated souls always relish hearing the pastimes of the Personality of Godhead from transcendental books like the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the Chaitanya-charitamrita, and the works of the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "The Shrimad-Bhagavatam. .. is purely transcendental literature which can be understood only by the pure devotees of the Lord who are transcendental to competitive sense gratification" (Bhag. 1.1.2, purport). Shrila Vyasadeva says, "O thoughtful devotees, as long as you are not absorbed in transcendental bliss, you should continue tasting the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, and when you are fully absorbed in bliss you should go on tasting its mellows forever" (Bhag. 1.1.3). The sages at Naimisaranya declare, "We never tire of hearing the transcendental pastimes of the Personality of Godhead, who is glorified by hymns and prayers. Those who enjoy association with Him relish hearing His pastimes at every moment" (Bhag. 1.1.19).
Even great souls who were liberated in Brahman realization became attracted to the narrations of Krishna in Shrimad-Bhagavatam. As Sukadeva Gosvami told Maharaja Pariksit, "My dear King, although I was fully situated in the transcendental position, I was nonetheless attracted to the pastimes of Lord Krishna. Therefore I studied Shrimad-Bhagavatam from my father." (Bhag. 2.1.9) And Lord Chaitanya, though God Himself, constantly relished hearing the Bhagavatam and other Vaishnava literatures, as well as the poetry of Vaishnava saints, which He discussed among His intimate devotees. So renouncing the karma-kandiya rituals of the Vedas does not mean giving up the eternal pastimes of Lord Krishna.
For those who are striving for perfection, certainly the relevant part of the Vedas is not to be rejected. But sometimes devotees in the spontaneous stage appear to come into conflict with Vedic customs. Once Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya had to explain this stage of spontaneous love to King Prataparudra. The king had observed the devotees of Lord Chaitanya arriving in Puri without following some of the customary rules. The king asked Sarvabhauma, "Why have they not observed the regulations for visiting the pilgrimage place, such as fasting and shaving the head? Why have they first eaten prasadam?" Sarvabhauma replied to the king, "What you have said is right according to the regulative principles governing the visiting of holy places, but there is another path, which is the path of spontaneous love. According to those principles, there are subtle intricacies involved in the execution of religious principles" (Cc. Madhya 11.111-12). Because Lord Chaitanya was personally present and distributing prasadam from His own hand, His intimate devotees neglected the regulative principle of fasting.
Narada uses the word kevalam, which indicates that one's love for Krishna must be undivided and unalloyed. Bhakti as taught by Narada is not part-time service, or devotion only up to a certain point. In the spontaneous stage, all considerations except bhakti are unimportant, as in the gopis' rejection of family and social considerations. The gopis did not disregard their duties consciously, but they were simply unable to think of anything but going to Krishna.
When a devotee reaches the stage Narada describes here, his devotional service flows uninterruptedly. Queen Kunti aspired for that stage: "O Lord of Madhu," she prayed, "as the Ganges ever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn unto You without being diverted to anyone else" (Bhag. 1.8.42). Shrila Prabhupada describes Narada Muni's own flow of devotional service:
Such a flow of devotional service cannot stop. On the contrary, it increases more and more without limitation. The flow of devotional service is so potent that any onlooker also becomes liberated from the influence of the modes of passion and ignorance. [Bhag. 1.5.28, purport]
Neophyte devotees complain of sporadic enthusiasm. They are sometimes eager to chant and hear of Krishna, but at other times they are troubled by thoughts of sense pleasure and a lack of taste for Krishna consciousness. This up-and-down syndrome is not unusual for beginners. Every soul's original state is to experience a spontaneous flow of love of God, but this love has been covered by countless millions of years of conditioning in the material world. This conditioning is not easy to overcome. In the early stages of bhakti, therefore, determination is of the utmost importance. At the same time, we may be inspired by the reality of spontaneous love as described by Narada and exhibited by devotees who serve the Lord in prema-bhakti.
sa tarati sa tarati lokams tarayati
sah-he; tarati-crosses beyond; sah-he; tarati-crosses beyond; lokan-the people of this world; tarayati-he makes cross beyond.
Such a person, indeed, is delivered, and he also delivers the rest of the world.
Narada repeats "He crosses maya" so that there will be no doubt. The skeptic questions, "Has anyone really crossed over maya?" Don't doubt, Narada says: The pure devotee crosses maya, and he can deliver you, too.
Many disciples of Shrila Prabhupada attest to the fact that he personally picked them up from maya. When I first met Shrila Prabhupada, I asked him, "Is there a stage in spiritual advancement from which one won't fall back?" Prabhupada replied, "Yes." And his answer convinced me. The perfect answer in a book would not have been enough for me. Although great souls are not self-assertive, they personally demonstrate that liberated persons do exist, and that they can help us. As the demigods stated in their prayers to Krishna as He lay in the womb of Devaki, "When acaryas completely take shelter under Your lotus feet in order to cross the fierce ocean of nescience, they leave behind on earth the method by which they cross, and because You are very merciful to Your other devotees, You accept this method to help them" (Bhag. 10.2.31). Shrila Prabhupada writes,
If things are made easy, this affords facility for the person who has made them easy and also for others who follow the same principles. The process recommended for crossing the ocean of nescience is easy not only for the devotee but for common persons who follow the devotee (maha-jano yena gatah sa panthah). [Bhag. 10.2.30, purport]
Pure devotees help others in many ways. Sometimes they give lectures, and at other times they meet with both devotees and nondevotees. When persons come forward for more serious instruction, the pure devotee acts as spiritual master and trains disciples to render service to the Personality of Godhead. Sometimes pure devotees become authors. Shrila Prabhupada writes, "It is the duty of the acarya to publish books that will help future candidates take up the method of service and become eligible to return home, back to Godhead, by the mercy of the Lord." Sometimes the liberated souls recruit disciples who then go out and preach, following the example of their spiritual master. Great souls sometimes begin movements or societies in which devotees can live and practice bhakti. And sometimes they construct temples where the public can come to see the Deity form of Lord Krishna and taste His prasadam, the remnants of food offered to Him. Thus both by personal example and by precept, and even after their disappearance from the mortal world, the great souls help the conditioned souls who have forgotten their love for Krishna. As Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura so eloquently put it:
He reasons ill who says that Vaishnavas die,
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaishnavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around.