Devotion is supposed to be spontaneous and causeless and as such I’m afraid we are approaching it with the wrong attitude.
That is not to say that our program is defective, not at all, and so our attitudes that arise from following our program are not wrong, what I am saying is that they will not morph into real devotion unless we change tack.
That is not to say that we should stop following our program as somehow inferior and disregard instructions of our authorities on how to develop bhakti, not at all. What I mean to say is that we should be aware of natural limits to following sādhana and do not take ourselves too seriously.
What I mean to say that rules are rules and that they are there to follow without fail but rules do not catch Kṛṣṇa, we cannot think of Him as a catch. We cannot think that if we do this and then that, and then Kṛṣṇa will be ours, that He will be forced to reveal Himself or that we could start interacting with Him.
This last point is probably the most often missed one. We know that Kṛṣṇa will reveal Himself due to His causeless mercy but we don’t comprehend the extent of this principle. This actually means that He will not be forced to interact with us in any way simply due to our efforts.
What we think instead is that He accepts our offerings of food and He listens to us chanting His name and He appreciates our service and therefore it’s only a matter of time before He starts reciprocating with us on the spiritual platform.
We think that if He is obliged to accept food when we put it in front of the deities He will be equally obliged to bestow all other spiritual benefits, too. Well, maybe not all at once, but maybe starting with some spiritual emotions that we have never experienced before that promise to be better than anything else in this world.
Basically, we make a projection of our current relationships with Him on this gross material level onto subtle realms of existence. Hoping that He would put words into our mouths when we give Bhāgavatam classes is one example, or that He would help us find the missing keys, or that He would bring tears to our eyes when we sing govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ, or a million of other small things that we would take as signs of His direct involvement and that we would treat as sings of our own progress.
This is the attitude that I think is wrong.
The projection itself appears to be solid – there’s no reason to believe that our relationships with Kṛṣṇa follow fundamentally different principles depending on what kind of energy we engage in His service. If it works with prasādam it should work with sweets made by gopīs in Vraja – Kṛṣṇa would accept and appreciate it just the same. Well, depending on level of devotion He’d probably prefer some offerings over the others but He’d accept all of them anyway.
I think that our conviction that Kṛṣṇa is obliged to accept our offerings here, on the material platform, is fundamentally wrong. We’ve been assured of this by our gurus and we have no reason to fear that the Lord wouldn’t accept our food but we should probably look at a bigger picture here – whatever we do here with our material bodies has absolutely no effect on Kṛṣṇa’s reaction. He might reciprocate or He might not.
Think of it this way – we do not create prasādam by offering food. Kṛṣṇa does it, or He does not, it’s entirely up to Him, not to us.
The bigger picture is also this – Kṛṣṇa does not accept any of our offerings at all. We are not qualified to offer anything to Him directly, only through our gurus. The promise that our food will be accepted comes from our guru but not on the strength of His devotion either but on the strength of the entire paramparā. Somewhere up there there is someone who CAN offer food to Krṣṇa directly and once our offering reaches that devotee Kṛṣṇa takes it and makes it into prasādam.
So it is not correct to think that Kṛṣṇa accepts our offerings or any other our service just because we do something here. Not at all, there’s no cause-effect relationship here, and yet properly offered food always reaches Him and turns into prasādam.
Actually, not always, only when it passes the inspection of our guru. If we did not follow guru’s instructions on how to prepare food then it will not be accepted. This inspection doesn’t have to be done personally, of course, the Supersoul within our hearts, the caitya guru, knows everything already, we can’t fool Him even if we manage to hide something from walking talking gurus approved by GBC.
So, what I am driving at today is that we cannot treat attaining devotion like we treat attaining any other goal we know of in the material world.
Devotion is causeless, it does not follow rules even if our bodies must. Therefore we cannot make plans on how to develop our devotion. We can, of course, and we should, but our plans do not guarantee anything which is the difference from material plans that I’m trying to stress.
Let me try it another way – we cannot expect anything from our plans and from our attempts at service. We should snap out of this deal making mentality – I do this and Kṛṣṇa will do that in return. He won’t, or at least He doesn’t have to.
This means that our attempts to make sense of bhakti are pointless and will eventually prove futile. We don’t know when it happens and why devotion manifests itself in any particular way. Everything people do in the material world follows logic because that’s how laws of nature work but we cannot apply this attitude to attaining Kṛṣṇa. Therefore logic is useless and so instead of trying to make sense of Śrimad Bhāgavatam we should expect to make nonsense.
There are plenty of devotees trying to make sense of how universe works according to Bhāgavatam model or how to lead a proper married life according to Bhāgavatam or how to interpret history and archeology according to Bhāgavatam, or how to practice renunciation, or how to do millions of other things according to Bhāgavatam but that is not what Bhāgavatam was spoken for.
Instead we should try to make nonsense – complete, absolute surrender that does not depend on any rule or custom of this world. Surrender that does not follow laws of karma or laws of cause and effect. Surrender that does not follow laws of thermodynamics, surrender that can very well travel faster than the speed of light, surrender that takes no scheduling, no sequencing, and does not depend on time in any way.
When we chant the mahāmantra we say “Hare” first, followed by “Kṛṣṇa” but real devotion does not know such differences, it’s beyond the reach of time, things do not progress there from one state to another in any rigid manner. To a devotee Kṛṣṇa might as well be the first Name in the mantra and Hare would make a group of last eight Names. More likely there’d be no concept of first and last at all.
So, we shouldn’t try to rationalize and organize our devotion. Devotional activities on the material platform – yes, devotion as a state of our consciousness – no. Remembering Kṛṣṇa should be done at any time regardless of the circumstances or any “natural” order of things. We should not postpone it until after we finish brushing teeth, for example, or until we finish chanting, or reading, or offering obeisances to guru and devotees.
Remembering Kṛṣṇa is transcendental to any of those things and, observing the state and directions of our minds, would make no sense at all. No need to justify it either, like we sometimes explain how being a devotee is better for our health and well-being.
It cannot be rationalized, we should stop making sense of it and start making nonsense.