The auspicious number of this post demands that I refrain from discussing mundane subjects and write something about spiritual matters instead, so here it goes.
We all want to be with Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world, we all want to develop our love of Him, or so we’ve been told. The fact is we can’t want something we have no experience of – we’ve heard it’s a good thing but without ever tasting it we have no idea what it really is. Does this fact affect us? Not so much, but we might be in for a big surprise when we get the real thing which should exceed all our expectations, or so we’ve been told, too.
Not having personal experience we just want to have what other people have, we look at them and we think that they have found a superior way and we want some of it, too. It’s not the strongest motivation but it will do, it’s all we have for now anyway. Once we get the taste of bhakti, however, all bets are off, our desire for it should increase exponentially, so that’s what we are waiting for – to get a foot in the door, to get the hook in, to get the taste of the real thing, even if preliminary.
We are not getting it yet and this should make us naturally concerned. It should also make us anxious to be ready, to prepare ourselves, to predict and anticipate Kṛṣṇa’s grand entrance. So we look around, we cleanse our hearts, we banish unwanted thoughts and we think good thoughts instead, still nothing is happening.
Where will He come from? Which direction we should be looking in? Have we done everything we can to prepare ourselves? Will bhakti enter through our minds or straight through our heart? If we are still under the influence of the false ego, will it manifest as another external phenomenon?
This is a real question, btw. In history of Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism there have been plenty of people who could communicate and express their genuine Kṛṣṇa prema while apparently in their external consciousness. Otoh, we also have plenty of examples of devotees who were Lord Caitanya’s most intimate associates but who had never expressed any external signs of pure devotion.
Our immediate ācāryas also displayed mixed behavior in this regard. Śrila Prabhupāda never publicly displayed any deep spiritual feelings but Śrila Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote some most intimate poetry and even disclosed his spiritual identity. Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī never talked about intimate things in public, just like Śrila Prabhupāda did after him, but somehow his spiritual identity had been leaked, too.
Śrila Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī would never admit to being privy to any confidential pastimes and for him it was a matter of principle – he considered himself as ineligible to even think about it, he saw himself only as a lowly servant of Lord Caitanya and the Holy Name as his only shelter. Whatever mercy Mahāprabhu would display to him in his current incarnation was all he could dare to ask for. If he ever relaxed in this, no one ever saw or heard of it.
Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura composed many devotional songs but, afaik, he sang then as an outsider, not as a participant in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. Six Gosvāmīs, however, recorded Kṛṣṇa līlā as it was unfolding in their meditation. Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī or Rāmāndanda Rāya knew all about those līlās but never talked about them as if they were insiders, they just quoted verses composed by others and relished the meanings. This is all we can do, too, minus we can’t even relish the meanings properly.
So, where and how would bhakti manifest for us? Will we perceive Kṛṣṇa with our spiritual senses so that our material minds will be totally inadequate to describe our experiences, or will we develop bhakti strictly through our external, conditioned consciousness?
Another point to ponder – is bhakti intrinsic to our hearts as spirit souls or is it an external emotion? On one hand we are all constitutionally eternal Kṛṣṇa’s servants so bhakti must be the property of our souls, too. On the other hand we don’t have it now and even when we reach the stage of liberation it will be a while before bhakti manifests its fruits. We might get to know and realize our spiritual identity and even act on it but won’t possess full Kṛṣṇa prema yet.
If bhakti is our intrinsic quality we can’t hope to see it expressed through our material mind and senses but if bhakti is something granted via outside mercy then everything becomes possible because for Kṛṣṇa it makes little difference which of His unlimited energies we engage in His service, especially when He appears here personally. Even gopīs had “material” bodies in this sense and they treated them as such, being torn between their religious obligations and their love for Kṛṣṇa.
There’s a verse in Caitanya Caritāmṛta that describes bhakti as external to the soul (CC Antya 18.18):
Ecstatic love of Kṛṣṇa makes Kṛṣṇa and His devotees dance, and it also dances personally. In this way, all three dance together in one place.
I spent nearly an hour looking for this ślok so it’s better be good. Unfortunately, it’s not as conclusive as it looks because it does not carry the same authority as similar verses from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu or works of Jīva Gosvāmī, and it’s not because they outrank Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja but because he mentioned this verse in passing, not as part of a serious philosophical discussion.
Still, so far it looks as if bhakti is external and will be granted to us from outside. It’s not just the seed that we get but we need this external help every step of the way, too. It might be gifted to us even without our asking, we might not even need to chant or follow principles or perform sadhāna – Lord Caitanya pulled quite a few of such tricks on innocent people and they had no idea what hit them.
The downside is that we might not get it at all despite all our efforts. It might grow in our hearts by generously watering them through chanting of the Holy Name but if we do it wrong, bhakti will never sprout. In fact, given our contaminated state, it should never sprout if we follow only our own course because we are bound to get it wrong.
The best and safest, and perhaps the only way is to try and catch it from other devotees through their association. We don’t need a lot of it to achieve success, even one eleventh of a second could be enough if we cultivate the seed very carefully, but constant checking with others is probably something that we better not skip just to make sure we are on the right course.
Or, perhaps, all bhakti that we can ever hope to achieve here lies in what we do with our bodies, not in anything mystical. Perhaps bhakti for us is nothing by following sadhāna. Some might say that it’s not as advanced as necessary for entering Kṛṣṇa līlā but I bet that is because these people do not see material energy as a tool for genuine Kṛṣṇa service.
Best example – book distribution. There’s no service better than that in all three worlds, there’s no substitute for this service even in the spiritual realm. It’s something Kṛṣṇa can taste and appreciate only down here and it’s performed only through the medium of our material bodies. So what if they don’t have a rasa for it? As long as it makes Kṛṣṇa happy we can’t ask for anything more, and book distribution and making new devotees for Him makes Him extremely happy. There’s nothing like that in all of Vṛndāvana, He can’t taste it there.
So, here we are, with our hidden spiritual identities, external material bodies, and elusive bhakti. How can we make it all perfect? How can we please Kṛṣṇa best? Is it by sadhāna? Is it by chanting in deep concentration, totally isolated from the outside world? Is it by serving other devotees?
I don’t know, whatever works, probably through combination of all the methods. We don’t know what will make Kṛṣṇa to turn around and grant us pure devotion, we should try everything to the best of our abilities, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst – pure devotees never see themselves as such.
Oh, and seeing bhakti as external makes it easier for us to maintain humility – we won’t be staking any claims for it. It’s a secondary consideration but I thought I should mention it anyway