Maintaining Steady Devotion during Unsteady Practice

Broken Promises

Stage 5: Unfulfilled commitment – niyamaksamah

Broken vows [niyamaksamah] as presented in the section of Madhurya Kadambini dealing with anistha bhajana kriya refers to the recurring unfulfilled desire on the part of the sadhaka to enhance their devotional practice. The distinction between the 4th stage, battling the senses [visaya sangara], and the 5th, unfulfilled commitments [niyama] due to spiritual weakness [ksama], is that in the former the devotee is helpless to give up material sense pleasures and in the latter he is unable to increase and improve his devotional activities.

Increasing awareness of the benefits derived from attainment of pure bhakti daily inspires one to increase their practices of hearing, chanting and all the other angas of pure devotion. As every new day dawns, the sadhaka resolves – “Today I will chant more and with greater attention; offering obeisances to both Krsna and his devotees by harboring no ill-will and expressing only heartfelt appreciation; listen attentively to my guru’s lectures; work selflessly to share with others the gift of devotional service. Thus enthused by these and other related desires to increase pure devotion, and eliminate any lingering material tendencies in daily activity, one’s day unfolds. But alas, as night arrives one again recognizes their inadequacies in fulfillment of the spiritual objectives of their day.

Although one may not be able to daily realize the spiritual objectives they aspire to attain in their practice, concentrated effort while observing specific spiritual occasions [vratas] to increase service and follow vows strengthens ones sincerity and resolve. The days of Ekadasi, Dvadasi, Vyasa Puja, Gaura Purnima, Janmastami, and the entire month of Karttika afford special opportunities to fast, feast and increase devotional service. The positive effects of these vratas naturally carry forward and enhance daily practice.

Not maintaing vows due to spiritual weakness can result in anxiety and despondency, therefore great care must be taken to maintain one’s devotional enthusiasm. Realistic expectations based upon a common sense approach to accepting devotional service according to one’s capacity is absolutely necessary during this stage, otherwise one may become so battle weary that they forsake the fight altogether and retreat to a conditioned mentality that seeks pleasure in mundane engagements. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s Nectar of Devotion gives us firm direction regarding this in the section entitled Evidence Regarding Devotional Principles, Accepting Only What Is Necessary;

“In the Naradiya Purāṇa it is directed, “One should not accept more than necessary if he is serious about discharging devotional service.” … It is better if one fixes up a regulative principle according to his own ability and then follows that vow without fail.”

Similarly, in the thirteenth chapter of the 3rd Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam Syambhuva Manu requests Lord Brahma, “O worshipful one, please give us your direction for the execution of duty within our working capacity so that we can follow it for fame in this life and progress in the next.” The exact Sanskrit term used is atma-saktisu meaning “within our working capacity.”

At these stages of unsteady devotional practice one realizes beyond any doubt that further progress in fully dependent upon the complete shelter and mercy of guru and Krsna. The foolish notions, bore from the materialistic idea of being the doer, are abandoned and such realization leads to sincere adoption of the angas of surrender [saranagati]:

anukulyasya sankalpah
pratikulyasya varjanam…

Hari-bhakti-vilasa (11.676)

The resulting sweet taste of full surrender to Krsna and everything related to him, his devotees and their service will daily enliven increasingly spiritualized senses as materially motivated enjoyments recede.

Articles in Series:


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

NEXT - Stage 6: Exploiting bhakti’s benedictions – taranga rangiṇi