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Maintaining Steady Devotion during Unsteady Practice, Intro

While treading the path of sadhana-bhakti, scorching rays of contrary mentalities burn in our head; our feet stumble on pebbles of misconception; thorny bushes of material desire obstruct our passage. Although our mind screams with good reason to retreat, we somehow push on. Stumbling to the ground we notice something shimmering on the roadway. Reaching out we grasp a polished gemstone – Is this meant for me? Suddenly the entire pathway is paved with such gemstones, fragrant flowers line our path and a cloud bank of amazing sweetness shades us. How magical. How has this happened? Who has manifested this mystical oasis? 

We journey on. Rounding a corner we see a self-effulgent sadhu. Immediately we know, “Here is the architect of my good fortune” and we fall to the ground in prostrate obeisances. No sooner does this thought cross our mind than we are lifted up and lovingly embraced. All fear and anxiety dissipates as the hairs on our body stand on end and we are overwhelmed with a flood of tears. Feeling undeserving of such unimaginable compassion and mercy we try to return to the ground for one particle of dust from his lotus feet. His natural humility overpowers our desire as he takes our hands and leads us to sit in his kalpa-vrksa garden. Gently removing the perspiration of our unsteady devotional effort with his lotus hands, he speaks in the most poetic verse “Come near as I reveal that knowledge which will assure that your future travels on this path of pure devotion will be swift and sure, unobstructed by mental anguish.”  

Introduction

Those who have attained the favor of Krsna’s devotee and are engaged in progressive devotional life under the shelter of the Madhva-Gaudiya-sampradaya are provided with clear guidance to successfully tread the spiritual path. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Ṭhakura has presented the characteristics of the mental stages that aspiring devotees encounter as they progress from unsteady to steady devotional practice. Seeking the blessings of my glorious masters, I pray that this presentation will be successful in assisting  the Vaisnava community in its spiritual understanding, advancement and service to Sri Guru and Gauranga.

The architects of our spiritual tradition have, through concerted teachings, carefully shown the roadmap we traverse on the journey to spiritual perfection.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is attributed with penning only eight verses. These verses of his Siksastakam define the characteristics, qualities and progressive consciousness of those engaged in his sankirtan movement. Srila Bhaktivinode Ṭhakura then correlated those Siksastakam verses with the advancing stages of devotional practice. For example the third Siksastakam verse extolling humility represents the stage of nistha, steadiness; the fourth, exclusive desire for devotional service, corresponds to ruci, taste; etc.

Suta Goswami originally outlined this progressive spiritual consciousness in the second chapter of the first canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, the hub around which all Gaudiya revelation evolves. Therein, in verses sixteen through twenty, the developmental stages that the practitioner experiences are described from initial tender faith through prema-bhakti – ecstatic love for the Supreme Lord.

Srila Rupa Goswami elaborated upon this explanation of spiritual progress in two verses of his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu,

adau sraddha tatah sadhu-
sango ’tha bhajana-kriya
tato ’nartha-nivrttih syat
tato nistha rucis tatah

athasaktis tato bhavas
tatah premabhyudañcati
sadhakanam ayaṁ premnah
pradurbhave bhavet kramah

“In the beginning there must be faith. Then one becomes interested in associating with pure devotees. Thereafter one is initiated by the spiritual master and executes the regulative principles under his orders. Thus one is freed from all unwanted habits and becomes firmly fixed in devotional service. Thereafter, one develops taste and attachment. This is the way of sadhana-bhakti, the execution of devotional service according to the regulative principles. Gradually emotions intensify, and finally there is an awakening of love. This is the gradual development of love of Godhead for the devotee interested in Krsna consciousness.”

 (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.4.15-16)

Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has further deciphered and unpacked these valuable instructions in his Madhurya Kadambini. Taking an infinitesimal particle of a drop from this monsoon of nectar, we will now discuss the characteristics of the stages of consciousness from one’s unsteady beginning practice to steady devotion:

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)

What is truly amazing about the Ṭhakura’s revelations is how easily we can identify with the psychology being presented. We feel comfortable and relaxed on the couch of such an experienced spiritual health practitioner, one fully aware of both our mental conditions and the emotional circumstances they foster. Let us now drink through our ears this wonderful elixir which will magically remove the misfortune [durdaivam] that impedes full absorption and taste for offenseless chanting of

Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

The six psychological roadblocks of anistha-bhajana-kriya are extensions of our enjoying ego, strongly influenced by passion and ignorance, carried forward into our spiritual practice. The realignment of our desires and values, from served to servant, foster the stages that present themselves as early obstacles to pure bhakti.  Comprehensive knowledge and thoughtful contemplation on these mentalities and their potential negative influence on our devotional service will result in steady progress based upon realistic expectations.

 

Articles in Series:

NEXT – Stage 1: Enthusiasm in Prideful Practice – utsaha-mayi

Stage 2: Productive and inattentive service – ghana-tarala

Stage 3: Parading possibilities – vyudha vikalpa

Stage 4: A battle with the senses – viṣaya sangaraḥ

Stage 5: Unfulfilled commitment – niyamakṣamaḥ

Stage 6: Exploiting bhakti’s benedictions – taranga rangiṇi

Conclusion

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