Maintaining Steady Devotion during Unsteady Practice: Part 3

1132376_19726247By Dulal Chandra dasa

The article is part of a series. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

My sweet lord
Hm, my lord
Hm, my lord

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you lord
But it takes so long, my lord

… Really want to show you lord
That it wont take long, my lord

George Harrison’s lyrics to “My Sweet Lord” drew many to the path of Krsna Consciousness and also provide insight regarding states of mind conducive to steady advancement – patience and confidence. The advancing bhakta (sadhaka) must remain equipoised when confronted with the realization that meaningful spiritual advancement “takes so long” on the one hand, and fully confident that mercy is forthcoming through Krsna’s pure devotees, “it wont take long” on the other. Thus fortified with realistic expectations one can enthusiastically dance with both hands raised, calling their progress without becoming overwhelmed by the mental stages of unsteady devotional practice, anistha bhajana kriya.

Bhajana-kriya, the practice of different devotional items, is of two kinds: unsteady, anistha, and steady, nistha. Unsteady devotional practice, anistha-bhajana-kriya, is characterized by six mentalities experienced in stages. (Madhurya Kadambini 2.7)

Stage 4: A battle with the senses – visaya sangarah

With an objective of clearing the consciousness of his disciple, the guru often gives both broad and specific regulations of sense restraint in order to diminish the influence of the modes of passion and ignorance. This provides a sound footing in goodness (truthfulness, cleanliness, austerity and mercy) from which his disciple can easily and steadily practice sadhana bhakti. These specific remedies will vary, as they should, according to the time, circumstance and capacity of the disciple. Despite the specific directions given by guru for clearing bad habits of self-gratifying enjoyment, they must be practically adopted with a mature understanding and reasonable expectation, otherwise the desired objective for our employing them in the first place, spiritual advancement, may itself be obscured.

Having a clear understanding of how to successfully incorporate the rules and regulations often escapes the western practitioner, steeped as they are in Judeo-Christian religious mentalities. Misconceptions abound as the line between principle and detail becomes blurred by institutional, sectarian and traditional religious values. Viewing regulations as absolute determiners of spiritual advancement and standing, one often becomes despondent, depressed, and overcome by anxiety, sometimes to the point of neurosis, when not able to totally follow prescribed regulative principles.

On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjuna questioned Lord Krsna regarding the symptoms of one whose consciousness is steady in transcendence, sthita-dhi.1 In responding to this question, Krsna spoke of the detached mentality of one free from the dictates of the material senses. Further qualifying the nature of such detachment Krsna says,

visaya vinivartante
niraharasya dehinaḥ
rasa-varjam raso ’py asya
param drstva nivartate

(Bhagavad-gita 2.59)

Although one may refrain from material enjoyment by following scriptural dictates or in pursuit of yogic regulation, desire for sensual pleasure will not abate. But upon experiencing the extreme bliss of association with the Supreme, attraction to mundane enjoyment will dissipate and one will become firmly fixed in spiritual consciousness. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura comments on this verse are quite profound, “The idea of remaining aloof from sense gratification by means of fasting and other austerities, as is found in the scriptures, is a foolish proposal.” He goes on to denounce the strict regulations of the yogi as intended for the less-intelligent, declaring boldly that only the bhakta who has cultivated attachment to the Lord realizes true pleasures that supplant all mundane sensual desire.

The beginning sadhaka’s battle (sangarah) with material sense enjoyment (visayah) differs considerably from that undertaken by the religionist, jnani or yogi. The bhakta’s practice has a positive orientation of engagement in the activities of pure devotion – sravanam, kirtanam, smaranam…, with control of the senses being supportive of those actions. This does not mean that deeply rooted propensities for sense gratification are not a major obstacle in one’s spiritual advancement, but their control is not the bhakta’s objective. For even when defeated repeatedly in skirmishes with the senses, the devotee’s loving mentality persists. This was taught personally to Uddhava by Lord Krsna:

“Having developed faith in topics about me and being disgusted with all karmas, a devotee knows that all enjoyments are filled with misery. But he is unable to give them up. Still, with affection for me, with faith and determination, he will continue worshipping me, while at the same time partaking of those enjoyments which give rise to suffering and yet condemning them.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20.27-28)

Visvanatha’s commentary on this verse speaks to the devotees resolve, “Let my attachment for family be destroyed or increased! Let there be millions of obstacles to my worship, or let the obstacles be destroyed! Let me go to hell if I have committed offenses by keeping those desires. But I will not give up bhakti. I will not accept karma or jnana even if Brahma personally comes and orders me.”

It is important to abandon one’s traditional religious mentalities for the enduring spiritual practice of pure unalloyed devotion. Equally important is that one follow the regulative principles of sense restraint according to their capacity with reasonable expectations. Although regulative principles are prescribed at the time of initiation, one may be helpless in the full and immediate incorporation of such principals into their lifestyle. It may sometimes take years to acquire the requisite eligibility (adhikara) to fully control the senses as prescribed by one’s spiritual master.

Great care must also be taken not to judge our or other’s advancement entirely upon the ability to strictly follow detailed sense regulations. Sincerity of purpose, devotional intent, is not measured by a moral compass, but rather by one’s ability to fully dedicate oneself to the angas of pure devotional practice and please one’s spiritual master through such service. This selfless service is sufficient in and of itself to attract the illuminating mercy of guru and Krsna which easily dissipate the darkness of lifetimes of accumulated sinful desires and their reactions.

Stage 5: Unfulfilled commitment – niyamaksamah

Broken vows (niyamaksamah) as presented in the section of Madhurya Kadambini dealing with anistha bhajana kriya refers to the recurring unfulfilled desire on the part of the sadhaka to enhance their devotional practice. The distinction between the 4th stage, battling the senses (visaya sangara), and the 5th, unfulfilled commitments (niyama) due to spiritual weakness (ksama), is that in the former the devotee is helpless to give up material sense pleasures and in the latter he is unable to increase and improve his devotional activities.

Increasing awareness of the benefits derived from attainment of pure bhakti daily inspires one to increase their practices of hearing, chanting and all the other angas of pure devotion. As every new day dawns, the sadhaka resolves – “Today I will chant more and with greater attention; offering obeisances to both Krsna and his devotees by harboring no ill-will and expressing only heartfelt appreciation; listen attentively to my guru’s lectures; work selflessly to share with others the gift of devotional service.” Thus enthused by these and other related desires to increase pure devotion, and eliminate any lingering material tendencies in daily activity, one’s day unfolds. But alas, as night arrives one again recognizes their inadequacies in fulfillment of the spiritual objectives of their day.

Although one may not be able to daily realize the spiritual objectives they aspire to attain in their practice, concentrated effort while observing specific spiritual occasions (vratas) to increase service and follow vows strengthens ones sincerity and resolve. The days of Ekadasi, Dvadasi, Vyasa Puja, Gaura Purnima, Janmastami, and the entire month of Karttika afford special opportunities to fast, feast and increase devotional service. The positive effects of these vratas naturally carry forward and enhance daily practice.

Not maintaining vows due to spiritual weakness can result in anxiety and despondency, therefore great care must be taken to maintain one’s devotional enthusiasm. Realistic expectations based upon a common sense approach to accepting devotional service according to one’s capacity is absolutely necessary during this stage, otherwise one may become so battle weary that they forsake the fight altogether and retreat to a conditioned mentality that seeks pleasure in mundane engagements. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s Nectar of Devotion gives us firm direction regarding this in the section entitled Evidence Regarding Devotional Principles, Accepting Only What Is Necessary:

“In the Naradiya Purana it is directed, ‘One should not accept more than necessary if he is serious about discharging devotional service.’ … It is better if one fixes up a regulative principle according to his own ability and then follows that vow without fail.”

Similarly, in the thirteenth chapter of the 3rd Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam Syambhuva Manu requests Lord Brahma, “O worshipful one, please give us your direction for the execution of duty within our working capacity so that we can follow it for fame in this life and progress in the next.” The exact Sanskrit term used is atma-saktisu meaning “within our working capacity.”

At these stages of unsteady devotional practice one realizes beyond any doubt that further progress is fully dependent upon the complete shelter and mercy of guru and Krsna. The foolish notions, bore from the materialistic idea of being the doer, are abandoned and such realization leads to sincere adoption of the angas of surrender (saranagati):

anukulyasya sankalpah
pratikulyasya varjanam…

Hari-bhakti-vilasa (11.676)

The resulting sweet taste of full surrender to Krsna and everything related to him, his devotees and their service will daily enliven increasingly spiritualized senses as materially motivated enjoyments recede.

  1. Bg 2.54 Arjuna asked: What, O Kesava, are the characteristics of one who is accomplished in meditation and steady in intelligence? How does such a steady person speak? How does he sit? How does he move? []

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3 Responses to Maintaining Steady Devotion during Unsteady Practice: Part 3

  1. Since this is derived from Madhurya Kadambini want to sing the glories of this most practical and profound text! For those of us that are somewhere on the sadhaka map, sometimes a detailed map of the lower levels helps finding our way to the higher floors. This is the kind of detail that is so encouraging….. Thank you for your wonderful commentary Dulal Prabhu!

  2. Very clear and updated explanation Dulal!

  3. Fantastic series of articles! Very helpful. Thank you Dulal prabhu.

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