Bhakti Begets Bhakti
Posted March 5, 2008
As stated in my previous article, bhakti is revealed truth:
yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah
"Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed." [Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.23]
'Revelation' implies that bhakti is both confidential and concomitantly empirical. 'Confidential' conveys the idea of entrusting something secret by one agent (guru and Krsna) to someone else (the bhakta or devotee). 'Empirical' here means that, because yoga is a process of realization, theoretical principles must be verified by personal experience in order to be known as truth subjectively (jnana-vijnana-samanvitam, SB 2.9.31). Krsna consciousness is therefore not dogmatic - rotely conforming to religious or institutional doctrine - but dynamic, "characterized by continuous change or advance." (American Heritage Dict.) Advancement in bhakti thus involves a synthetic process of acceptance or rejection, reconciliation and revision. This is what our acaryas mean when they use the term siddhanta: bhakti unfolds as the result of a deliberate and often painstaking dialectic (i.e., thesis + antithesis = synthesis). Before delving into the reasons why this is so, we need to first grasp this simple dynamic: how devotional service develops and expands, which is to say, bhakti engenders bhakti - bhaktya sanjatayah bhaktya (Bhagavatam 11.3.33). Just as Srila Prabhupada has repeatedly insisted, "Life comes from life"; similarly, bhakti comes from bhakti.
In spite of this being the case, we still observe that a living being requires specific material conditions to take birth and remain embodied, and these material preconditions will also vary according to the particular form that the living being assumes (animal, bird, fish, insect, plant, etc.). However, we should not make the mistake of judging from appearances and conclude life is derived from matter. In a similar way, pure bhakti does not arise merely as a result of adhering to rules and regulations. While strictures may act as an expedient in initial stages, bhakti is not dependent upon rule-bound behavior for its ultimate fruition. "Devotional service is dependent on nothing other than the sentiment or desire for such service." (NOD, Chapt. 14, p.113)
In his commentaries on Rupa Goswami's work, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has explained that bhakti is a sublime, transcendental power, a force sui generis ("of its own kind") which exists by its unique dynamics and has no cause other than itself (bhaktis tad hetur irita, B.r.s 1.2.249). Bhakti is a manifestation of hladini-sakti - Krsna's pleasure-giving potency or His internal energy, Srimati Radharani - appearing in the heart of a fortunate jiva soul by the grace of unalloyed, pure devotees. As such, bhakti is not a phenomenon of this material world but emanates directly from the spiritual strata.
By examining this single dynamic, bhakti begets bhakti, we can deduce four basic truths about how devotional service proliferates:
- We have to receive the seed of bhakti from those who already possess it. To be most efficacious, truths about bhakti must be heard from a self-realized authority (guru): impeccable, pure lovers of Krsna; maha-bhagavata teachers (acaryas) in the line of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Rupa Goswami (rupanugas).
- To the degree we are connected with the pure current of bhakti, to that extent we can cultivate it. A nitya-baddha jiva cannot become Krsna conscious by his own unaided effort. As conditioned souls (tatastha-sakti) we are ignorant, prone to deviate and be misled. We therefore require guidance, and "the association and service of [an uttama-adhikari or] perfect Vaisnava is most desirable." Otherwise, accepting a lesser qualified spiritual master involves a certain degree of risk, and we "cannot advance very well toward the ultimate goal [krsna-prema]." (cited Nectar of Instruction 5 purpt.)
- When we speak of bhakti, we are specifically
referring to the development of pure (suddha) bhakti,
not about its many variants or permutations. For the
sake of our own soul, we want to develop (practice)
and for the benefit of others, we want to promote
(preach) pure devotion (suddha-bhakti).
"Purity" also encompasses two aspects:
a) Bhakti involves coming to a higher standard. In any intimate relationship, no one will tolerate being exploited or utilized instrumentally by their partner. If we discover a lover or friend cheating or taking unfair advantage of us, we will feel violated and at once reject such a deceitful person. We take it as axiomatic, that for love or friendship to be true and mutual, personal motivation must be kept to a minimum; both partners must endeavor to become free from ulterior motives and unfavorable desires, habits and activities (anyabhilasita-sunyam, jnana-karmady-anavrtam). On the positive side, a fulfilling relationship should be replete with reciprocal services and exchanges which are affectionate, pleasing and beneficial (anukulyena). Living with another person also demands practical day-to-day sacrifices, exercising self-restraint, along with an accommodating mood of submission, cooperation and compromise. (Sanskrit, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.11, Nature of Bhakti) The same criteria we presume so essential for a loving relationship are also analogous to the conditions necessary for the development of bhakti. If worldly relationships are perverted reflections of the eternal, why should such conscientiousness not be applicable to guru and Radha-Krsna, our Supreme Beloveds? If we are serious about advancing our Krsna consciousness, we will adopt those practices and processes that favor the development of pure bhakti. Bhakti is not devoid of emotion; but at the same time, it cannot remain sentimental either. Bhakti presupposes a process of cultivation (anusilanam, B.r.s. 1.1.11). Bhakti can culminate in Krsna-prema only after careful and unremitting practice.
b) Bhakti should be pure (uttama bhakti, B.r.s 1.1.11). When we ask for water, we implicitly mean pure and clean drinking water - not sewer water, water from a pond or river, or even tap water, which may also be polluted. Otherwise, we may contract some disease, the water will have some unpleasant taste or just be undrinkable. Therefore, inasmuch as we naturally assume water must be clear and free from impurities, or demand that love be loyal and true, so too we should aspire for a bhakti that is sublime and pure. Why? Because only pure bhakti will lead to Krsna prema.
- In order to cultivate such bhakti, we will have to ascertain our present level of eligibility (adhikara) and not imitate those on a higher stage (NOI, 5). Imitation or sahajiya (taking things cheaply) is a formula that invites failure. Sincerity (one's fundamental sraddha) is only the beginning. Success in bhakti requires superior guidance (sadhu-sanga), devoted practice (bhajana-kriya), conscientious introspection (anartha-nivrtti), and periodic readjustment - nistha, ruci, asakti, bhava, prema... (B.r.s, 1.4.15-16)
To conclude, bhakti is a progression. Progress - as a purposeful succession of actions - implies a goal: 1) We determine what is our goal (sadhya) according to what we have heard from guru, sastra and sadhu; 2) we adopt a recommended means to that goal (sadhana) that reflects our individual eligibility, and 3) we continue to readjust in a positive feedback cycle that is uniquely personal (sadhaka). Thus bhakti engenders more bhakti (bhaktya sanjatayah bhaktya), gradually and progressively.
Otherwise, anyone can say anything or do anything and call it "bhakti" - and to a certain degree, there may be some truth to this. But unless we establish a definitive standard for what constitutes bhakti, how it should progress, and what adulterated or aberrant forms it may assume, then anybody can say or do anything and think it is all the same: "I'm okay, you're okay." Yato mat, tato pat. "Whatever you do leads to the same goal..." And thus we walk away with a watered down version of mayavada and so many distorted forms of bhakti, i.e., sahajiya, kartabhaja, ecclesiolatry, society for rules and regulations, and so many other asampradayic interpretations. Meanwhile, the rest of us will remain confused, angry or otherwise unhappy and dissatisfied at heart. Discussions about bhakti should be informative, increase our determination to follow the bona fide process, and be pleasing to the soul.
Therefore, we should carefully study the teachings of
Srila Rupa Goswami from Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu - under
the guidance of those who are actually following in
his footsteps (rupanuga) - in order to be sure and
certain we are progressively advancing towards our
ultimate goal, Krsna prema. Hare Krsna.