The process of advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and devotional service is described here. The first point is that one must seek the association of persons who are Kṛṣṇa conscious and who engage in devotional service. Without such association one cannot advance. Simply by theoretical knowledge or study one cannot make any appreciable advancement. One must give up the association of materialistic persons and seek the association of devotees because without such association one cannot understand the activities of the Lord. Generally, people are convinced of the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth. Because they do not associate with devotees, they cannot understand that the Absolute Truth can be a person and have personal activities. This is a very difficult subject matter, and unless one has personal understanding of the Absolute Truth, there is no meaning to devotion. Service or devotion cannot be offered to anything impersonal. Service must be offered to a person. Nondevotees cannot appreciate Kṛṣṇa consciousness by reading the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam or any other Vedic literature wherein the activities of the Lord are described; they think that these activities are fictional, because spiritual life is not explained to them in the proper mood. To understand the personal activities of the Lord, one has to seek the association of devotees, and by such association, when one contemplates and tries to understand the transcendental activities of the Lord, the path to liberation is open, and he is freed. One who has firm faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead becomes fixed, and his attraction for association with the Lord and the devotees increases. Association with devotees means association with the Lord. The devotee who makes this association develops the consciousness for rendering service to the Lord, and then, being situated in the transcendental position of devotional service, he gradually becomes perfect.
In all scriptures people are encouraged to act in a pious way so that they can enjoy sense gratification not only in this life but also in the next. For example, one is promised promotion to the heavenly kingdom of higher planets by pious fruitive activities. But a devotee in the association of devotees prefers to contemplate the activities of the Lord - how He has created this universe, how He is maintaining it, how the creation dissolves, and how in the spiritual kingdom the Lord's pastimes are enacted. There are full literatures describing these activities, especially Bhagavad-gītā, Brahma-saṁhitā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The sincere devotee who associates with devotees gets the opportunity to hear and contemplate these subjects, and the result is that he feels distaste for so-called happiness in this or that world, in heaven or on other planets. The devotees are simply interested in being transferred to the personal association of the Lord; they are no longer attracted to temporary so-called happiness. That is the position of one who is yoga-yukta. One who is fixed in mystic power is not disturbed by the allurement of this world or that world; he is interested in spiritual understanding. This is very easily attained by the easiest process, bhakti-yoga. Ṛjubhir yoga-mārgaiḥ (SB 3.25.26). A very suitable word used here is ṛjubhiḥ, or "very easy." There are different processes of yoga-mārga, attaining yoga perfection, but this process, devotional service to the Lord, is the easiest. Not only is it the easiest process, but the result is sublime. Everyone, therefore, should try this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and reach the highest perfection.
Sat means "existence," and asat means "that which does not exist," that which is temporary. The material world is asat; therefore the Vedas enjoin: asato mā sad gama: "Do not remain within this material world." Those who are interested in materialistic life are also called asat. When asked how a Vaiṣṇava behaves, Caitanya Mahāprabhu replied, asat-saṅga-tyāga-ei vaiṣṇava-ācāra: "A devotee first of all avoids the company of asat, those who are materially interested." (CC Madhya 22.87) We have established this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in order to avoid asat-saṅga, association with those who are interested in material things. Because we are associating with Kṛṣṇa, we do not wish to talk about anything but Kṛṣṇa. Everyone is interested in this business or that, and we are exclusively interested in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness business. Those who are asat are very much attached to sense gratification, and the culmination of sense gratification is sex.
In addition, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī in his Hari-bhakti-vilāsa recommends that one should not hear Bhagavad-gītā, the purāṇas, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam or any hari-kathā from anyone who is not a Vaiṣṇava in his actions. That means that we should not hear these Vedic literatures from the Māyāvādīs, who actually do not accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. How can one not accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Lord and yet dare to speak on Bhagavad-gītā? We will never derive any benefit from listening to the commentaries of such people. Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam should be heard from the devotees. We can hear Bhagavad-gītā from Māyāvādīs for hundreds of years and yet never understand Kṛṣṇa. It is therefore forbidden for Vaiṣṇavas to hear talks given by Māyāvādīs.
Hari-kathā, talks about Śrī Hari, or Kṛṣṇa, are amṛta, nectar. If one hears them from the right source, he attains amṛta (so 'mṛtatvāya kalpate). Mṛta means "birth and death," and amṛta means "the cessation of birth and death." Spiritual life means putting an end to birth, old age, disease and death. Getting amṛta, nectar, means getting relief from birth and death, and that is the real aim of spiritual life. Lord Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (7.16) that spiritual life begins when one is pious:
- catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
- janāḥ sukṛtino 'rjuna
- ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
- jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
"O best among the Bhāratas (Arjuna), four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me - the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute."
If we actually want to become pious and develop our devotional life, we have to associate unflinchingly with a sādhu. Then we can acquire some taste for Kṛṣṇa. When we discuss Kṛṣṇa with a sādhu, the discussion becomes very pleasing, and we develop some taste, which is called rasa, or mellow. Rasa is the enjoyment we derive from drinking something very nice when we are thirsty. Kṛṣṇa has instructed us to think of Him when drinking water. This is not very difficult. Kṛṣṇa also tells us to think of Him when we see sunlight in the morning. Why do we say, "Can you show me God?" God is showing us Himself. Why do we close our eyes to try to see Him? He says, "I am this, and I am that." It is not that suddenly we can expect to see God, but we can become qualified to see God through the association of a sādhu. Presently many people are interested in receiving degrees from big universities, but education without God consciousness is simply an expansion of māyā's influence. Because knowledge is taken away by illusion, the universities are simply presenting impediments on the path of God consciousness. The living entity is already illusioned when he comes into the material world, and so-called advanced education simply increases his illusion. Trying to become happy in this temporary, material life, the living entity has forgotten that he is the eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa. Even if one becomes happy in this temporary life, his happiness is an illusion because no one is allowed to stay and enjoy his happiness. These points have to be understood in the association of devotees. A devotee knows everything because he has seen the Supreme Absolute Truth, Kṛṣṇa.
What is the goal of vedānta-darśana? Veda means "knowledge," and anta means "ultimate." What is that ultimate knowledge? In Bhagavad-gītā (15.15) Śrī Kṛṣṇa says:
- vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
- vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham
"By all the Vedas, I am to be known; indeed, I am the compiler of Vedānta, and I am the knower of the Vedas."
If we listen to Kṛṣṇa and understand what and who He is, we can actually understand Vedānta. If we do not understand Kṛṣṇa but advertise ourselves as Vedāntists, we are just being illusioned. Without understanding Kṛṣṇa, one is actually a mūḍha, a fool. People do not know it, but actually anyone in the material world is more or less a mūḍha. We are all mūḍhas, for unless we are mūḍhas, we do not come into the material world. From Brahmā down to the smallest ant, we are all mūḍhas of different degrees. In order to become really learned, we have to associate with devotees. Then we can actually relish kṛṣṇa-kathā. When discussed among devotees, kṛṣṇa-kathā is pleasing to the heart and ear. This requires a little training, and this training is given by the devotees. We should follow the devotees in their practical daily life, in their routine work and behavior. Cultivation means practice, and the great ācāryas have given a routine we can cultivate. For instance, The Nectar of Devotion by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī deals with the cultivation of devotional service, and this book, which we have translated, has been very well received in European and American universities. Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, The Nectar of Devotion, is the actual science of bhakti. Bhakti is not sentiment; it is a great science, and we have to learn it scientifically. It is not that we have to wait for another life to cultivate devotional service. We can read The Nectar of Devotion, live with devotees, rise early in the morning to attend maṅgala-ārati, study Vedic literature, take prasāda and preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Māyā is very strong, and to begin devotional service is to declare war against māyā. Some of the devotees in this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement may fall down, but whatever is done sincerely is to their permanent credit. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā. If one renders a little devotional service, he does not fall down into the lower species but again attains a human form. There are 8,400,000 species, but the fallen devotee is guaranteed a human life. If one becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious, he is assured of a good birth in the next life. However, if one completes his Kṛṣṇa consciousness in this life, he will not take birth again but will go to Kṛṣṇa. This is what is actually wanted. Why take the chance of being born into a rich family or a brāhmaṇa family? Actually, such a birth is quite risky because there is really no guarantee. Generally, those who are rich don't care at all for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and those who are born in brāhmaṇa families generally become puffed-up, thinking, "I am a brāhmaṇa. I am born in a very high family." Thinking this brings about their falldown. It is said that pride precedes a fall. A Vaiṣṇava is by nature very humble.
These are the chances one takes when one becomes a human being. Kṛṣṇa is personally advising us to take up the opportunities offered by the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. We should take them and not run the risk of committing spiritual suicide.
This is the process for understanding the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Person, the Supreme Being. In the Absolute, there are no contradictions. Kṛṣṇa's name, form, activities, paraphernalia and attributes are identical with Kṛṣṇa. This is the meaning of absolute. There is no difference between Kṛṣṇa's form and Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa's hands and Kṛṣṇa's legs are nondifferent. In the material world, there is a difference between our left hand and our right hand, between the nose and the ear, but these dualities do not exist in Kṛṣṇa. This is the meaning of absolute. As stated in Brahma-saṁhitā (5.32):
- aṅgāni yasya sakalendriya-vṛttimanti
- paśyanti pānti kalayanti ciraṁ jaganti
- govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
"I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, whose transcendental form is full of bliss, truth and substantiality, and is thus full of the most dazzling splendor. Each of the limbs of that transcendental figure possesses, in Himself, the full-fledged functions of all the organs, and eternally sees, maintains and manifests the infinite universes, both spiritual and mundane." The different parts of our bodies serve different purposes, but any limb of Kṛṣṇa's body can serve any purpose. Kṛṣṇa can eat through His eyes, or Kṛṣṇa can go somewhere simply by thinking. The Absolute is advaita. There is no duality in the Absolute. Everything is one.
Our material disease lies in wanting to satisfy our senses. We have stated before that advancement of civilization means advancement of sense gratification, but bhakti means just the opposite. As long as we are interested in sense gratification, there is no question of bhakti. We have to reduce our tendency for sense gratification and increase our devotional activities. We have also stated that material bondage means accepting one body and creating another. Kṛṣṇa, through nature, will give us full facility to enjoy our senses. Presently in the Western countries it has become fashionable to run around naked. Therefore nature will give these people an opportunity to stand naked like trees for many years. Why are we receiving different bodies? Because we have different tendencies for sense gratification. We actually have to come to detest sense gratification before our spiritual life begins. This is made possible through bhakti. Although Kṛṣṇa is beyond our vision, He has agreed to be seen by us through the arcā-vigraha, the Deity. We should not think that the Deity is made of stone. Even if it is stone, we should think that Kṛṣṇa has made Himself visible before us like a stone because we cannot see beyond stone. That is Kṛṣṇa's mercy. Because our eyes and other senses are imperfect, we cannot see Kṛṣṇa present everywhere in His original spiritual form. Because we are imperfect, we see the difference between things spiritual and material, but Kṛṣṇa, being absolute, knows no such distinctions. He can become spiritual or material, however He likes, and it does not make any difference to Him. Being almighty and omnipotent, Kṛṣṇa can change matter into spirit and spirit into matter. Therefore we should not think, as the atheists do, that we are worshiping idols. Even if it is an idol, it is still Kṛṣṇa. That is the absolute nature of Kṛṣṇa. Even if we think that the Deity is a stone, or a piece of metal or some wood, He is still Kṛṣṇa. The understanding of this requires bhakti on our part. If we are a little thoughtful and philosophical, and if we are at all inclined toward bhakti, we can understand that Kṛṣṇa is present in stone.
Actually, nothing is different from Kṛṣṇa because everything is Kṛṣṇa's energy. The Māyāvādī philosophers say that since everything is God, the personality of Kṛṣṇa is finished. But actually Kṛṣṇa is Kṛṣṇa, and at the same time He is everything. We can understand this by bhakti, but not by any other process. When a bhakta sees a tree, he sees Kṛṣṇa. As explained in Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC Madhya 8.274):
- sthāvara jaṅgama dekhe, nā dekhe tāra mūrti
- sarvatra haya nija iṣṭa-deva-sphūrti
The advanced devotee does not see living entities as moving and not moving. He sees Kṛṣṇa. This is also stated in the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.38):
- santaḥ sadaiva hṛdayeṣu vilokayanti
Because his eyes are always smeared with the ointment of devotion, the devotee always sees Kṛṣṇa and nothing else. He sees Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa's energy everywhere. For instance, if you love your child, when you see your child's shoe, you immediately see your child. Or if you see your child's toy, you immediately see your child and hear his voice. Similarly, if we have actually developed love of Kṛṣṇa, nothing exists but Kṛṣṇa. When our love for Kṛṣṇa is actually developed, whatever we see, we will see Kṛṣṇa.
Unless one is advanced in kṛṣṇa-premā, love of Kṛṣṇa, he cannot see or understand. By the blunt material senses, we cannot even understand the name of Kṛṣṇa. People are always asking, "Why are these people chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa?" They cannot understand, although Kṛṣṇa realization begins with the name. The name of Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa are nondifferent, but we cannot realize this intellectually. We have to practice chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa to realize it. When we actually advance in devotional service and chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra offenselessly, we will realize that Kṛṣṇa and His name are nondifferent. Thus kṛṣṇa-bhakti begins with the tongue, for we can utilize the tongue to chant, and to taste kṛṣṇa-prasāda. In this way we can become a Kṛṣṇa bhakta.
When we see the Deity of Kṛṣṇa in the temple, we should think that the Deity is Kṛṣṇa. In this way Kṛṣṇa has agreed to be seen by us and even dressed by us. However, if we think of Kṛṣṇa's virāṭ-rūpa, His universal form, what can we do? How can we dress the virāṭ-rūpa? His many heads cover the sky, and we cannot even conceive of Him. Kṛṣṇa can become bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest. Therefore this verse states: bhaktyā pumāñ jāta-virāga aindriyāt. The more we serve Kṛṣṇa, give Him things to eat and dress Him nicely, the less we become interested in our own bodies. In the material world everyone is very busy dressing himself very nicely in order to be sexually attractive, but if we try to dress Kṛṣṇa nicely, we will forget our own material dress. If we feed Kṛṣṇa nice food, we will forget to satisfy our own tongue by going to this or that restaurant.
Kṛṣṇa was teaching Bhagavad-gītā, and Arjuna was seeing Him face to face, but seeing Kṛṣṇa and reading Bhagavad-gītā are the same. Some people say that Arjuna was fortunate to have seen Kṛṣṇa face to face and take instructions from Him, but Kṛṣṇa can be seen immediately, provided one has the eyes to see. There is the example in Caitanya-caritāmṛta of a brāhmaṇa in South India who was reading Bhagavad-gītā, although he was illiterate. The people in the neighborhood knew that he was illiterate, and they made jokes, asking him, "Well, how is it you are reading Bhagavad-gītā?" One day Caitanya Mahāprabhu happened to be in a temple nearby, and He could understand that this man was a devotee. He therefore approached him and asked, "My dear brāhmaṇa, what are you reading?" The brāhmaṇa replied, "I am reading Bhagavad-gītā, or, rather, I am trying to read Bhagavad-gītā. I happen to be illiterate, but my guru-mahārāja has said that I must read the eighteen chapters of Bhagavad-gītā daily. I am simply trying to carry out his order, and therefore I am opening and closing the pages." Caitanya Mahāprabhu then said, "I see that you are crying sometimes. Why is this?" The brāhmaṇa replied, "Yes, I am crying because when I take up this book, I see a picture of Kṛṣṇa driving Arjuna's chariot. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is so kind that He has accepted the position of a servant to His devotee. Therefore when I see this picture, I weep." Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu then immediately embraced the brāhmaṇa and said, "You have actually read Bhagavad-gītā."
It is not that a wealth of education is required. One does not even have to understand the language. The only ingredient needed is bhakti, love. If one becomes a pure bhakta, he will forget all material sense enjoyment. Being a bhakta doesn't simply mean wearing tilaka and robes. One is not a bhakta if he has a taste for material sense enjoyment. A true bhakta wants to satisfy not his senses but the senses of Kṛṣṇa. That is the spiritual world. In the spiritual world, Vṛndāvana, everyone - Mother Yaśodā, Nanda Mahārāja, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the gopīs, the cowherd boys, Śrīdāmā, Sudāmā, the land, the water, the trees, the birds - all are trying to satisfy Kṛṣṇa. That is the real meaning of Vṛndāvana. When Kṛṣṇa left Vṛndāvana for Mathurā, everyone in Vṛndāvana fell dead out of separation from Him. Similarly, we can always live in Vṛndāvana, in Vaikuṇṭha, if we are mad after Kṛṣṇa. This is the teaching of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and He illustrated this by His very life. When He was in Jagannātha Purī, He was always mad after Kṛṣṇa day and night. The last twelve years of His life were passed in madness. Sometimes He threw Himself into the ocean, and He wandered about like a madman. Of course, this is not possible for ordinary living entities. However, if we become bhaktas, we will find intelligence behind everything in the creation. If we take a flower and see its constitution, how it is made and how its colors are displayed and how it comes into existence, we can see Kṛṣṇa. We can see how Kṛṣṇa has created such a beautiful thing so intelligently. We should not consider like rascals that such a thing has come into being automatically. Fools cannot see, but those who are intelligent can see that the hand of the Supreme Lord is in everything within the creation. Īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam (ISO 1).
Actually, nothing comes about automatically. Everything comes about through the intelligence of Kṛṣṇa, through His fine and accurate powers. If we paint a picture of a flower, we have to arrange many facets, and still the picture will not be absolutely perfect. Yet the flower created by Kṛṣṇa has come out perfectly. What rascal can say that there is no brain behind it? Kṛṣṇa specifically says that we should not think that prakṛti, nature, is working automatically. He says, "Nature is working under My direction." One simply has to develop the eyes to see how these things are going on. This is possible if we engage the senses in the service of Kṛṣṇa. We first of all must engage the tongue in chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and in eating bhagavat-prasāda. Nothing else is required. Therefore the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is distributing prasāda and engaging people in chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra.