This is the very definition of bhakti as Lord Caitanya taught Rūpa Gosvāmī. Originally from Nārada-pañcarātra, it appeared in Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-Rasāmṛita-Sindhu and then Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī included it in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (CC Madhya.19.170):
sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
‘Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. One is freed from all material designations, and one’s senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord.’
It’s the first part that interests me today – engaging senses in the service of the master of the senses, Kṛṣṇa. How do we go about it?
For so many years I didn’t give it a second thought. Take your senses and engage them in service. Want to dance? Dance in front of the Lord. Want to sing? Sing Hare Kṛṣṇa. Hungry? Eat prasādam. Want to hear something interesting? Sit in Bhāgavatam classes. Want to control people? Go out and preach. Want to make tons of money? Go and do it for Kṛṣṇa. Want to raise family? Marry a devotee.
Or reflect on the śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ verse (SB 7.5.23-24), it lists nine ways we should engage our bodies in service of the Lord. Or dive into sixty four limbs of devotional service from Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu. Easy, right?
Take it one step further – do all those things even if you don’t want to. Force the senses into Lord’s service, slowly and steadily they’ll develop the taste and it will become easier.
So, what’s there to think about?
The basics, actually.
When I think of doing these things I approach them as if I was a master of my senses. I have a tongue and I want to voluntarily engage it in Lord’s service. The problem is that it’s not my tongue to begin with, it belongs to the Lord, always had, always will. It’s not mine to sacrifice.
This is not my body and these are not my senses why am I laying claim to Lord’s property? How gracious of me to offer it back to Him! Like a thief who wants to sell you things he stole from you. What nerve!
I don’t think I will stop identifying with my body and my senses any time soon so this exercise is largely theoretical but all our Kṛṣṇa consciousness starts from theory, starts from faith. I might just as well start contemplating what to do with Lord’s senses once I see them as such, and I can start small, no problem.
When I chant, how to make it pleasing to the Lord? How to make sounds produced by “my” body appealing to Him? How can I see lungs, voice cords, tongue, and lips as His? How can I see them acting under His control for His pleasure? What is my contribution there?
I am not a doer, I am not the one who makes “my” heart pump blood, my lungs pump air, and my voice cords move. Usually I “control” my tongue and lips, I can also turn my voice on and off, maybe stop breathing, but generally these actions are done subconsciously, and I have zero control over my heart and other vital organs without which chanting would be impossible.
If we think about it we should clearly see that we are not in control of our bodies, it’s only an illusion. At first we see senses following mind and intelligence, we don’t identify ourselves with our mouths or hands. It takes a little more intelligence to understand that mind doesn’t act on its own, and yet a little more to realize that intelligence also depends on memory and instructions, and eventually we should see that we are not our mind and intelligence, so that’s gross and subtle bodies out, save for the little problem of the false ego that we can’t even see.
We still feel that we make choices and act on them but if we consider it carefully, all our choices are dictated externally and all our actions are carried out by external agents. It only FEELS that we are in charge.
So, can we engage our senses in Kṛṣṇa’s service? What is this “we” I’m talking about? Mind? Intelligence? False ego? Spirit soul itself?
When we develop material taste for things like kīrtana and prasāda there are no negative reactions in our minds and everything feels smooth but that’s only OUR perception, not Kṛṣṇa’s. If we learn to tolerate urges of our minds we won’t pay attention to how it feels anyway and we’ll understand that service is beneficial whether we like it or not. That would be satisfying to our intelligence but it would still be OUR intelligence, not Kṛṣṇa’s. How to please Kṛṣṇa?
Perhaps we should learn to look at our senses as external, as if we were decorating a Deity – take this flower and put it there, take this crown and put on Deity’s head and so on. We would see how Lord’s paraphernalia is being engaged in His service, except instead of dresses and garlands it would be tongues and minds.
Hopefully, we don’t try Lord’s ornaments on ourselves, this is what we should stop doing with “our” senses, too. It’s a lot more difficult but we should remember it in rare moments when we are aware of the situation – these are not our senses, they are Kṛṣṇa’s, they are meant for His pleasure, not ours.
There’s still a question of doing things, though. Seeing senses as Lord’s paraphernalia still assumes that we are free to do with them whatever we want. The next step should be admitting that we are not doing anything at all, we are just observers. By Lord’s mercy this tiny area of material creation is somehow engaged in chanting and dancing, we can only appreciate this engagement, not claim it as our own achievement.
Then there’s a question of our senses doing stupid things. When we chant it’s easy to be grateful but what about sleeping, when we are quiet, or arguing with our wives? Why would the Lord make us do all the things that do not bring Him any pleasure? Karma, we say, but karma works only for us, conditioned living beings, it doesn’t do anything for the Lord. We can tolerate it, fine, but what’s the value of it from Kṛṣṇa’s POV? What does it do for Him?
Perhaps the answer is that on paramahaṃsa level everything looks as perpetually connected to the Lord. Due to immaturity we make distinctions between service and non-service, distinctions which do not exist for pure devotees. They literally see Govinda Himself everywhere they look. We see heretics and infidels, demons disguised as vaiṣṇavas and what not but they see only the Lord and His various energies. Everything is perfectly engaged every second of the day.
We can’t imitate this vision and so we should start somewhere closer to us. Everyone is different, there’s no single prescription suitable for all cases, so we should be honest and sincere and try to do what we can.
Actually, there are instructions suitable for all people at all times – śravaṇaṃ kīrtanam Viṣṇoḥ! Can’t go wrong with that. The difference I’m talking about is in local application, in developing better attitudes when we do exactly same things as every other devotee. Right now for me it’s about trying to see “my” chanting as Lord’s energies doing all the actual work. I’m not very successful at it and I don’t understand why “my” mind needs to wander all over the universe while “I” am chanting but I’ll keep trying, maybe the Lord will give me enough intelligence to understand His plan here. Next week it might be something else.