Maintaining Steady Devotion during Unsteady Practice

Parading Possibilities

Stage 3: Parading possibilities – vyudha vikalpa

Having developed enough detachment from the mind’s constant vacillations to maintain a somewhat steady practice, one is then confronted with the next stage of mental agitation, vyudha vikalpa. During this stage doubts and wild speculations assail one’s resolve by presentation of various prospects of accelerated advancement through a major adjustment of lifestyle or service. The householder may think of renouncing his family responsibilities; the brahmacari contemplates family life; one engaged in temple worship considers teaching classes on scripture; the fickle mind may even entertain the prospect of enhanced service opportunities elsewhere, uprooting themselves entirely and moving to a distant land. As the mind dictates “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” the sadhaka’s broad range [vyūḍha] of service possibilities [vikalpa] seems endless.

Throughout scripture the recurring themes of spiritual benefit offered by austerity, renunciation and celibacy lead most new sadhakas to seriously contemplate both minor and major lifestyle changes. In Madhurya Kadambani Visvanatha provides examples of the various underlying mentalities that foster such changes:

“It would be better first to realize the miseries of sense enjoyment by experiencing a sensual life. Otherwise I may prematurely renounce externally, but internally I will constantly think of sense enjoyment. Therefore it would be better to renounce at a mature stage, rather than in youth.”“Death may come at any time, I must renounce now!”“Krsna says to Uddhava ‘for a devotee engaged in bhakti, with mind fixed on me, the cultivation of knowledge and renunciation is generally not beneficial for bhakti.’ Devotion should not be caused by renunciation, but renunciation should be caused by devotion.”

Of course, these contemplations play out differently in modernity than they did in ancient times. Today young devotees vacillate between joining the ashram of their guru or finishing their studies; marrying and raising children now or later; advancing in their profession to monetarily support the outreach of their guru or accepting minimal employment, earning just enough for support and taking excess time for personal spiritual advancement.

The mind thus presents a seemingly unending series of deliberations on what would be best for spiritual advancement. Acting on this endless parade of possibilities presented by the mind will generally not produce the desired benefit in one’s devotional life. However, if one takes guidance from their preeminent siksa guru such changes in ashram, specific service or location can be beneficial. Of particular significance is any change of location that facilitates personally sitting at the feet of the siksa guru who most enthuses one’s devotion. If practically possible this should always be undertaken despite any associated sacrifices in lifestyle.

Realizing that imposed externals like ashram, specific service and location have little to do with factual cleansing of the heart that naturally results from pure offenseless chanting, one cries daily –

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare HareHare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare

begging for the spiritual strength to overcome the mental agitation created by vyudha vikalpa and progress to the platform of steady devotional practice.

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

NEXT - Stage 4: A battle with the senses – viṣaya sangaraḥ

Stage 5: Unfulfilled commitment – niyamakṣamaḥ

Stage 6: Exploiting bhakti’s benedictions – taranga rangiṇi