“As there are symptoms for each and every man, in terms of his particular situation, similarly one who is Krishna conscious has his particular nature—talking, walking, thinking, feeling, etc. As a rich man has his symptoms by which he is known as a rich man, as a diseased man has his symptoms, by which he is known as diseased, or as a learned man has his symptoms, so a man in transcendental consciousness of Krishna has specific symptoms in various dealings.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.54 Purport)
“I am a Christian; I am a Jew; I am a Hindu.” These identifications are inherited from the parents. That the offspring should openly admit to accepting these designations shows that there is some regard for a higher power, a system of maintenance that should bring rewards which span beyond the current lifetime. These acknowledgments indicate advancement from the foolish mentality that erroneously claims that there is no God or that religion is for the weak who can’t deal with life’s troubles. Spirituality’s main purpose is not for finding insulation from pain, gaining material success, acquiring knowledge, or achieving an end that involves no activity. Just as in any other venture, the leap into spiritual life looks to find a condition that is an improvement from the starting point. Though the acknowledgment of religion, the rubber stamping of a particular faith, at least shows there is some belief in God, a truly spiritually inclined person is identified by their attributes, the qualities they exhibit through behavior. If we have difficulty believing this, we can study how other identifications are made.
If we claim to have a particular illness but don’t have any symptoms, what effect does the illness have? I go up to my friend and say, “I have a cold.” He responds with: “Really, how bad is it? Are you coughing? Are you sneezing? Do you feel weak in the body?” I come back with: “No. I feel fine. Actually, I don’t have any symptoms of a cold at all.” The friend will certainly look at me funny. If I don’t have any of the symptoms of a cold, what good is claiming that I have one? The designation means something; it must have an effect for the claim to be valid.
A symptom of a businessman is his dedication to the particular business. He wants to earn a profit, so he has some work that he does to sell a good or service for a price that is higher than what it costs him to produce. Investments follow the same principle, for the aim is to gain a return that is higher than the amount initially put into the venture. The doctor has symptoms of being able to heal patients, knowing how to diagnose diseases, and having completed medical school. Even something as simple as an identification based on country of origin has some symptoms, like the person living in the country where they were born.
The rules apply to spiritual life as well. A spiritualist in name only is one who applies a designation to himself and then does not alter his behavior. The topmost transcendentalist is known as a bhakti-yogi, someone who follows the discipline of divine love. Is it possible to make qualitative judgments between spiritualists? Can we say that one person’s religion is better than another’s? The terms “bhakti” and “yoga” have nothing to do with country of origin, the religion of the parents, the entity identified as the most worshipable figure, or even the level of intelligence.
Bhakti and yoga come to us from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, but their definitions are presented from the scientific point of view. Science is appealing to those not spiritually inclined because there is no dogmatic insistence, or at least there isn’t supposed to be. In reality, even the field of science is riddled with politics and bias. As an example, those who claim that mankind’s behavior has an effect on weather will vilify anyone who dares refute the claim. Even if the countervailing evidence is backed up with scientific research, which is the equivalent of the scripture in the spiritual tradition, the proponents with their own agenda will not want to accept anything that refutes their claim.
For the sober person, however, the scientific basis for spirituality and its components is a refreshing departure from the “finger in your face” persuasion methods employed by some overzealous preachers. For a valid religion there must be a combination of both philosophy and sentiment, which the Vedas nicely provide. Those who are interested in this method of instruction can take the most valuable lessons from the Bhagavad-gita, a short treatise on spirituality that packs a powerful punch. Select pearls of wisdom from the Gita cannot be found anywhere else. And these truths are so profound that they will spawn endless thought and discussion, thus allowing for enlightenment to mature gradually, with knowledge increasing further with each passing day.
In scientific terms, bhakti is pure love; the desire to please another object without any personal motive. What is a personal motive? One’s satisfaction, happiness, advancement in stature, pleasure, etc. all constitute personal rewards. If they are explicitly sought through an exhibition of love, then the behavior cannot be categorized as bhakti. Yoga is the term that describes the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. The thinking person can see that there is an energy guiding behavior, instigating action across nature, within every kind of species. Even the weather is instigated by some action, for we know that matter is inanimate and thus inferior to the higher force. The Vedas define that higher force as spirit, which is localized within specific body types. This is one way we can perceive spirit in our present circumstances.
“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)
Since there is spirit within everything that has life, we know that all beings are equal in their constitution. Just because one person wears designer clothes and another rags doesn’t mean there is anything inherently different about the two people. The Vedas go one step further by applying this principle across the full spectrum of life. The cat, dog, ant, germ, plant, and human being are spiritually equal. We only perceive differences because of the outward symptoms, the behavior that is exhibited. This is where the human beings have a leg up. They can understand terms like “bhakti”, “yoga” and “dharma” and then use that understanding to alter behavior. The new outward symptoms thus lead to a future end, one that can be supremely beneficial.
Along with the individual soul, there is the Supreme Soul, who resides locally next to the individual soul within each body type. Without yoga, there is no way to recognize the superior soul’s presence. In a state of ignorance just believing that a superior force rests inside us is difficult. Through steady practice of regulative principles, however, the linking in consciousness between the individual and the Supreme can take place. Bhakti is added to the mix to ensure that the linking provides the highest pleasure, the greatest benefit.
Are there other kinds of yoga? As most people today are familiar with, yoga is popular as an exercise discipline. This shouldn’t be misunderstood to mean that the yoga involving sitting postures and breathing exercises has any purpose outside spirituality. The term is still the same, and so is the ideal goal. The senses are the force that most strongly inhibits the realization of the Supreme Soul. Therefore through meditational yoga, which can involve the gymnastics we are accustomed to seeing, the influence of the senses can be mitigated to the point that the Supreme Soul can be better realized.
Of course with the reduction in the influence of the senses come tremendous health benefits. With the passage of time, those not interested in spirituality took the ancillary benefit of improved health to be the superior reward. Therefore yoga morphed into what it is today, where the delineation between the two souls and the need for connecting them are not touched upon at all. In addition to meditation, one can perform yoga through sacrificing fruits of work [karma] and through studying the differences between matter and spirit and finding enlightenment [jnana].
Bhakti-yoga is considered the topmost discipline because it connects with the Supreme Soul in His original form. That person the world refers to as God actually has spiritual attributes, features which are complete and inexhaustible. The more the features are defined, the more the abstract vision clears up, the greater the benefit received by the yogi. In other kinds of yoga, God in His personal form of Bhagavan cannot be understood. Perhaps in meditation there is the realization of this form of God residing within the heart, but the pleasurable interaction of emotion is absent.
Bhakti-yoga operates on love, so every activity within the discipline is an offering of love made to Bhagavan. The quintessential act of bhakti-yoga is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Again, these names can be understood from the scientific point of view. God is the most attractive; therefore we can call Him Krishna. He provides transcendental pleasure to those who directly interact with Him; therefore we can call Him Rama. He has an energy that pleases Him known as Hara; therefore we can make the call “Hare” to ask for help in serving Krishna.
A person who follows bhakti-yoga is known to be Krishna conscious, which means that their individual soul remains linked with God. More than just a title, there are symptoms that result. We may claim to be following a certain religion based on the word of our parents or the perfunctory rituals we follow reluctantly in our own lives, but the real mark of a spiritually inclined person is the behavior they show from their characteristics. Consciousness - where it is situated and what it feels is most important in life - is the foundation of the behavior. A Krishna conscious person feels that devotion to Krishna is the ultimate objective, the height of activity, either spiritual or material.
Service to Krishna follows authorized methods, recommendations from those who follow bhakti-yoga themselves. It is not that one can just make up a type of behavior and then say they are serving Krishna. Service to man is not service to God because man has no idea how to serve anyone else if they don’t know how to serve God. On the other hand, service to Krishna automatically does the best service to man. How does this work exactly? For starters, bhakti-yoga sets the best example for others to follow. Pure sentiment can be matched by another person’s sentiment, which introduces competing beneficiaries. Denial of God’s existence is an even worse example because it is based on utter foolishness. The dedication that is shown in bhakti-yoga allows others to see that religion can be fun, that it can occupy one’s time, and that it can be done without motivation and without interruption. In no other sphere of activity is this seemingly paradoxical combination present.
Bhakti-yoga, being a scientific discipline, applies to every single person. This means that regardless of one’s religious persuasion, bhakti is something that will benefit them. The more that bhakti is practiced, the more it can be distributed to others. If I distribute something that is beneficial to every single person, then naturally I am performing the best service for man. On the other hand, if I have no idea what will benefit someone else, my service can actually turn out to be harmful to others. If a patient is suffering from some disease and is forbidden from eating certain kinds of food, one who thinks they are serving that person by giving them the restricted food is actually causing great harm.
Bhakti-yoga can never do harm in this way because every person is benefited from thinking about Krishna, or God. Therefore the symptoms exhibited by the Krishna conscious person tell us that they follow a system of spirituality that is free of sectarian boundaries, dogmatic insistence, and irrational fear mongering. The Krishna conscious person’s primary trait is that they are always talking about God. Either they are glorifying His features and pastimes, or they are talking about how devotion to Him can change lives. Through dedication in bhakti the devotee acquires all praiseworthy attributes, such as kindness, peacefulness, humility, intelligence and strength of conviction. The Krishna conscious person also knows that they are not their body, that they are spirit soul. This allows them to tolerate the pains inflicted by material nature better than the non-devoted soul can. Time and space are put into the proper perspective when the fountainhead of all energies, Shri Krishna, is known and worshiped.
The symptoms of the bhakti-yogi can also help us weed out the pretenders, the spiritualists in name only who put on the dress of a mendicant but then lead their followers astray. We can also better spot out those who cheat people by claiming that they are God or that they have become God through their meditation. By following bhakti-yoga - whose guiding principle is that one constantly chant the holy names, think about God, offer service to Him through worshiping in a formal way at regular times, and refrain from the activities that are most inhibiting to yoga practice: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex - those of us who claim to be following a particular religion can have our statements actually mean something. When the right symptoms are present, titles and designations relating to God gain their teeth. On the other hand, without full allegiance to bhakti, the exercise of religion will never bring the true fruit of our existence, the transcendental taste of God’s association.
For selling products businessman has the feel,
Doctor his patients knows how to heal.
Spiritualist also needs symptoms to be legit,
Not just religion from the parents inherit.
Bhakti-yoga gives religion its teeth,
Allows sincere soul God’s form to greet.
Service to Krishna is best way to serve man,
Shows that acquire divine features he can.
Always chant the holy names, dance and sing,
To others science of spiritual life bring.