Five most Potent forms of Devotional Service
By Jaya Gaursundar Dasa GauraVanacari
There are two forms of bhakti: cestā-rūpa and bhāva-rūpa bhakti, as distinguished by Rūpa Gosvāmī. Cestā-rūpa -bhakti is the external form of bhakti, the activity you perform with your body and senses. These are the 64 practices of devotional service described in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. The second kind of bhakti – bhāva-rūpa bhakti – is what is going on in your heart, the feelings. Bhakti remains incomplete without these two manifestations: the efforts of the senses and a devotional feeling which arises in the heart and mind. Cestā-rūpa, external activities, is the body of bhakti, but bhāva-rūpa, the devotional sentiments, is the heart of bhakti. Thus, Srila Prabhupāda translates the word bhakti into loving devotional service. Service can be done with the body, but love and devotion come from the heart, not the body. Lord Caitanya taught sādhana-bhakti, the process of following the rules and regulations, both to Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs. Sanātana Goswāmi’s Haribhakti-vilāsa and Rūpa Goswāmi’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu present the sixty-four items of bhakti, and both of them explain that all the rules and regulations serve the primary regulation, as stated in Padma Purāṇa, smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇuḥ: we should always remember Lord Viṣṇu. vismartavyo na jātucit: we should never forget the Lord. This is an advanced stage. Usually, we are forgetful of Kṛṣṇa. We think only of ourselves; our lives are centered on what will please our senses. Bhakti-yoga can revive our remembrance of, and attraction to, our dear most friend (suhṛdaṁ), the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is present in everyone’s heart. He is our well-wisher, our real protector, and He can satisfy all our desires. Therefore, that one rule—‘always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget Him’—is supported by all our devotion¬al practices. When Lord Caitanya began to list the sixty-four items of bhakti, he stopped at number thirty-five and spoke five particular practices which He said were the most potent forms of devotional service. sādhu-sańga, nāma-kīrtana, bhāgavata-śravaṇa mathurā-vāsa, śrī-mūrtira śraddhāya sevana
“One should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, reside at Mathura, and worship the Deity with faith and veneration.
These five limbs of devotional service are best of all. Even a slight performance of these five awakens love for Kṛṣṇa. sakala-sādhana-śreṣṭha ei pañca ańga kṛṣṇa prema janmāya ei pāńcera alpa sańga
kṛṣṇa-bhakti-janma-mūla haya ‘sādhu-saṅga’
kṛṣṇa-prema janme, teṅho punaḥ mukhya aṅga (CC Madhya 22.83) The root cause of devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa is association with advanced devotees. Even when one’s dormant love for Kṛṣṇa awakens, association with devotees is still most essential.
Srila Prabhupāda says that “Unless one is associated with devotees, one’s devotional service does not mature and become distinct from material activities.” The Lord Kapiladeva states: only in the association of pure devotees can the words of Lord Kṛṣṇa be fully potent and relishable to the heart and ear. Dhruva Mahārāja explicitly wanted the association of devotees. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, 4.9.11, purport) satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati (Bhāg. 3.25.25)– “In the association of pure devo¬tees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attrac¬tion becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin.” Therefore, we should associate with devotees. If our friends are devotees, especially advanced devotees and devotees who share our mood, then we will be able to advance in spiritual life quickly. Prabhupada quoted a saying, sva-jāti-āśayā snigdhā, sādhu sanga sato-bare: “A devotee should associate with those who are of similar inclination, who are peaceful and who are spiritually advanced.” They can guide us during period of our disappointment by giving us solace and reminding us of our good fortune of Krsna’s love for us. They will remind us about Krsna’s instructions given in the Bhagavad gītā as well as in other Vedic scriptures. We can associate with great souls through their teachings and disciples, even if we are not their direct disciples. We associate with Prabhupada by reading his books, by worshipping his murti in the temple, and by practicing the devotional life he gave us to lead. We follow his teachings because doing so helps us feel his presence.
Just as crystal reflects whatever color is placed next to it we are influenced by our association. If we asso¬ciate with serious devotees, we become serious. If we associate intimately with non-devotees we will become like them. Association is so powerful that simply by association we can become either drunk¬ards or saints. Therefore, it behooves on us to seek out devotee association.
Chanting the holy name, either in sankīrtana or japa, is the best form of God realization in this age. Therefore, Lord Caitanya says: harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam, kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā. In this age, no other process is as effective as chanting the holy names of God. Kṛṣṇa is present in His name. Nāma cintāmanih Kṛṣṇas’… the holy name of Kṛṣṇa is transcendentally blissful and it bestows all spiritual benedictions and the name of Krishna and Krishna Himself are identical –’abhinnatvān nāma-nāminoh – (Padma Purana)
Although there are no hard and fast rules for chanting the holy name but there is one main rule. That is “smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit
sarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥto (Padma Purāṇa.) – ‘Kṛṣṇa is the origin of Lord Viṣṇu. He should always be remembered and never forgotten at any time. All the rules and prohibitions mentioned in the śāstras should be the servants of these two principles: always remember Kṛṣṇa and to never forget Him. Srila Rūpa Gosvāmī recited the following verse to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu ‘I do not know how much nectar the two syllables “Kṛṣ-ṇa” have produced. When the holy name of Kṛṣṇa is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.’ (Cc. Antya 1.120). The holy name of Lord Kṛṣṇa is the best medicine for our material disease- bhavauṣadhi–nivṛtta-tarṣair upagīyamānād bhavauṣadhāc chrotra-mano-’bhirāmāt – glorification of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and hearing the descriptions of the Lord are the right medicine for the conditioned soul undergoing repeated birth and death.
Therefore we should chant our prescribed sixteen rounds with concentration. But rest of the time we should chant constantly as we perform our other daily routine activi¬ties. Constant chanting ‘is a potent method of devotional service’ because by practicing it, our forgetfulness of Kṛṣṇa is replaced with remembrance. Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura concludes: nāma binā kichu nāhiko āro,
caudda-bhuvana-mājhe : There is nothing but the Holy Name within all fourteen worlds. If the Holy Name is Krishna, and Krishna is everything, then the Holy Name is everything. And therefore there is nothing but the Holy Name within all the fourteen worlds. Besides the Holy name is sweetest.
madhuraḿ madhurebhyo ‘pi mańgalebhyo ‘pi mańgalam pāvanaḿ pāvanebhyo ‘pi harer nāmaiva kevalam
Of sweet things, it’s the sweetest you will taste at any time; Of things that bring good fortune, it’s the perfect paradigm; Of things that purify, it purifies most powerfully; The Holy Name of Sri Hari is surely all that be.
Holy name of Kṛṣṇa is as powerful as Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself. It is so powerful that the name of Kṛṣṇa is feared even by fear personified because the name of Kṛṣṇa is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa. Anyone, therefore, can take advantage of the holy names of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa even in the midst of the greatest dangers.
āpannaḥ saṁsṛtiṁ ghorāṁ yan-nāma vivaśo gṛṇan
tataḥ sadyo vimucyeta yad bibheti svayaṁ bhayam (SB 1.1.14) — Living beings who are entangled in the complicated meshes of birth and death can be freed immediately by even unconsciously chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa, which is feared by fear personified. The transcendental name of Kṛṣṇa, even though uttered unconsciously or by force of circumstances, can help one obtain freedom from the hurdle of birth and death. The act of chanting the mantra is in end of itself everything that perfect service must be. 100% engagement in that hearing and chanting of the dear, beloved name and that is “pure devotional service.” “One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of un¬limited sins, even if he chants indirectly (to indicate something else), jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. This is accepted by all the learned scholars of the scriptures.
“sāṅketyaṁ pārihāsyaṁ vā stobhaṁ helanam eva vā
vaikuṇṭha-nāma-grahaṇam aśeṣāgha-haraṁ viduḥ (SB 6.2.14) We should not consider that such statements are exaggerations. Such statements are true. Srila Prabhupada said that they may not be true for everyone, but we should not doubt the holy name’s potency. Chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa is the yuga-dharma. There is no other way in this age to attain love of God.
Lord Caitanya recommended the Bhāgavatam as the spotless Purāṇa. We should hear Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam because we need knowledge in order to continue practicing devotional service. Srila Prabhupada said that religion without philosophy becomes sentimental or even fanatical. We practice both bhakti and Vedānta. Srila Prabhupāda embodied the perfect combination of those two qualities. We can become a follower of bhaktivedānta, a real devotee and scholar, by reading this one book, the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, with the Bhaktivedanta Purports.
The Bhāgavatam itself states: “Simply by giving aural reception to this Vedic literature, the feeling for loving devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, sprouts up at once to extinguish the fire of lamentation, illusion and fearfulness.”– yasyāṁ vai śrūyamāṇāyāṁ kṛṣṇe parama-pūruṣe bhaktir utpadyate puṁsaḥ śoka-moha-bhayāpahā (SB 1.7.7) Simply by hearing the message of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam one gets attachment for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and as soon as this is effected the symptoms of the material disease disappear… The conclusion is that simply by hearing the Vedic literature Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, one can have direct connection with the Supreme Personality of Godhead Śri Kṛṣṇa, and thereby one can attain the highest perfection of life by transcending worldly miseries, illusion and fearfulness. These are practical tests for one who has actually given a submissive hearing to the readings of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. (Srila Prabhupada’s Purport).
The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam also tells us “whatever occupation we perform whatever spiritual activities we do if in the end it does not awaken within us a deep attraction to hear about to chant about, to serve and to love God than we miss the point. We have wasted our time.” — dharmaḥ svanuṣṭhitaḥ puṁsāṁ viṣvaksena-kathāsu yaḥ notpādayed yadi ratiṁ śrama eva hi kevalam”.
Mathurā-vāsa means to reside in Mathura. In The Nectar of Devo¬tion, Prabhupada adds that if we are unable to reside in Mathurā (Vṛndāvana) physically, we should reside there in our minds. “Residing in Vṛndāvana” includes living in remem¬brance of Krsna’s pastimes performed there. When we hear about Vṛndāvana and visualize Krsna’s pastimes we can associate with the dhāma. Actually, Prabhupāda brought Vṛndāvana to the West. Therefore, by serving Kṛṣṇa in Prabhupada’s temples and by living in remembrance of Vraja-Kṛṣṇa, we can practice mathurā-vāsa. We can make our home Vṛndāvana. Going to Vṛndāvana is a matter of consciousness. That consciousness can develop in any part of the world. “Wherever you are, that is Vṛndāvana,” Advaita Acarya told Lord Caitanya. Vṛndāvana is where the devotee is present, where the Deity is present, and where there is talk of Vṛndāvana. We should be careful not to go to Vṛndāvana to carry out our material desires. If we do this, we will offend the dhāma. Glory of Dhāma: May the abode of Vṛndāvana be glorified! The transcendental glories of a single particle of its dust minimize the glories of innumerable kāmadhenu of Surabhi cows, desire trees and touchstones. Even the best of the demigods like Brahma, Siva, and Lakṣmī never know the glories of such a particle of dust. (Sri Vṛndāvana Mahimāmrita 1.36.) When we are in Vṛndāvana we should remain aware of the power of the dust of Vṛndāvana. It has been touched by the lotus feet of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa and is a powerful medicine to cure the disease of material life. You want to roll in it and cover your body with it!
Śrīmurtaya sevana: Devotees should worship the Deity. All Visṇu-tattva expansions emanate from Kṛṣṇa’s spiritual body. Kṛṣṇa also appears in this world as the Deity. All the ācāryas recognize the Deity as directly Kṛṣṇa. Srila Rūpa Gosvāmī states: “My dear friend, if you still have any desire to enjoy the company of your friends within this material world, then don’t look upon the form of Kṛṣṇa, who is standing on the bank of Kesi-ghāta. He is known as Govinda, and His eyes are very enchanting. He is playing upon His flute, and on His head there is a peacock feather. And His whole body is illuminated by the moonlight in the sky.” (NOD, p. 109) Prabhupada comments, “The purport of this verse is that if someone becomes attached to the Śrī-murti, or Deity of Kṛṣṇa, by worshiping at home, then he will forget his relationships of so-called friendship, love and society. Thus it is the duty of every householder to install Deities of the Lord at home and to begin the process of worshiping along with all of his family members. When the Deity is worshipped in home, the home becomes a place of meditation and spiritual culture. Everyone in the home is purified. Krishna consciousness is very simple – sixteen rounds and four regulated principles – but in order to maintain them we need to be with devotees, we need to be in a place where there are things that remind us of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, it is recommended that householders have deities at home, so when they can’t go to the temple, they can do some worship at home and so on because we need to do many things to keep these vows.
Note: Some of the passages are excerptions taken from Satsvarupa dasa Goswāmi’s writings.