Maintaining Steady Devotion during Unsteady Practice

Initial Enthusiasm

Stage 1: Enthusiasm in Prideful Practice – utsaha-mayi

Upon taking on a new and exciting endeavor one feels invigorated and enthused by the prospect of enhancing their life. For example, one striving for health, fitness, and that king of all modern accomplishments – weight loss, will join the gym, buy instructional videos, cd’s, books, power shakes and meals, or even fork over thousands of dollars for the latest home exercise equipment. After a few weeks, and a peek at the scale, they can be seen strutting down the street showing off their newly chiseled body, sporting a smaller wardrobe and sneering at those devouring unhealthy fast foods, as they savor their leafy green salad, with tofu and sprouts.

So it is with one just beginning in devotional service. Accustomed to speedy results based upon prior life experience, from instant pudding to instant credit, one typically thinks they have quickly attained their spiritual ideal simply by contact with a bonafide guru, authorized sastra and the community of devotees. This false confidence, while fueling initial devotional activity, also fosters unrealistic expectations. One does not comprehend the full import of cleansing the heart of millennia of accumulated mental impressions based upon fulfillment of personal material desires.

Utsaha-mayi presents itself in various ways according to our individual conditioning. Under the influence of the modes of passion and ignorance initial enthusiasm [utsaha] is colored by self-centered pride [mayi]. One tends to see themselves as worthy of everyone’s praise – having now become a learned spiritualist and preacher, exceptional kirtaneer, prestigious temple manager, purified brahmana, or realized bhajanandi. Puffed-up in their newfound spiritual position they belittle the “fallen karmis” whose association and lifestyle they abandoned just a few days before. At this stage one is more attached to their service than to the one they are serving, and any recognition of the served is limited to the deity in the temple and their personal guru.

Although the early enthusiasm of those with tender faith is commendable, giving one a foothold in devotional service, because it is short-lived and accompanied by false prestige, it pales in comparison to the enthusiasm in steadfast service of those devotees whose anarthas have been almost entirely dissipated by prolonged, sincere and serious service. Such mature devotional service in the mode of purified goodness, is characterized by the great enthusiasm [utsaha] and determination spoken of in Bhagavad-gita;

mukta-sango ’nahaṁ-vadi
siddhy-asiddhyor nirvikarah
karta sattvika ucyate

“One who performs his duty without association with the modes of material nature, without false ego, with great determination and enthusiasm, and without wavering in success or failure is said to be a worker in the mode of goodness.”(Bhagavad-gita 18.26)

Enthusiasm extolled as a favorable principles by Srila Rupa Goswami in the 3rd verse of his Upadesamrta, Nectar of Instruction;

utsahan niscayad dhairyat
sanga-tyagat sato vrtteh
sadbhir bhaktih prasidhyati

“There are six principles favorable to the execution of pure devotional service: (1) being enthusiastic, (2) endeavoring with confidence, (3) being patient, (4) acting according to regulative principles [such as sravanaṁ kirtanaṁ visnoh smaranam (SB 7.5.23)—hearing, chanting and remembering Krsna], (5) abandoning the association of nondevotees, and (6) following in the footsteps of the previous acaryas. These six principles undoubtedly assure the complete success of pure devotional service.”(Upadesamrta 3)

As explained by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in his commentary to Srila Rupa’s verse;

“One should accept this opportunity to return home, back to Godhead, very enthusiastically. Without enthusiasm, one cannot be successful.”

Recognizing the characteristics of this initial stage of anistha bhajana kriya, utsaha-mayi, will help to diminishing its potential negative influence on our devotional practice and assist in our development of enduring enthusiasm grounded in humility.

trnad api su-nicena
taror iva sahisnuna
amanina mana-dena
kirtaniyah sada harih

Articles in Series:


Stage 1: Enthusiasm in Prideful Practice – utsaha-mayi

NEXT - 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