“Worshiping the Deity at home, serving the devotee, hearing the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, residing in a holy place and chanting the holy name of the Lord are all inexpensive items by which one can please the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.9.27 Purport)
You’ve decided to have an open mind about it. You will at least take some time to listen to what a preacher has to say. “What can it hurt?”, you think. What is the harm that can come from hearing from someone who thinks spirituality is so important that they will talk to strangers about it, sometimes for hours on end? The problem arises when there are multiple avenues, including different faiths that have their own worshipable figure. Almost like choosing which sports team to support in a big match, how do you decide which faith is for you? For the highest system of spirituality known as bhakti-yoga, there is no question of choosing sides or supporting a single team. The method of implementation is also very specific, leaving no room for misconstruing the purpose behind anything or abandoning the faith and giving the same attention elsewhere. The implementation follows very simple methods that, when enacted sincerely, pack a powerful punch.
“Isn’t bhakti-yoga about worshiping Krishna, the Hindu God? Doesn’t that make it on par with the systems that support Jesus, Allah, or some abstract concept of a supreme controller?” Bhakti is divine love, and its methods of practice are universally applicable. In addition, with that practice an awakening of the mind follows which allows the individual to view all forms of life equally. The particular form of address for the Supreme Person is not so important, as the acknowledgement of a higher power and acting off of that admittance are what really matter.
The living being is constantly tossed around by material nature, sort of like a washed piece of clothing spinning in a dryer. Because of his ability to think critically and the potential for shaping his immediate future, man tends to think that he is more powerful than he actually is. For instance, if I want to eat at a certain restaurant tonight, I can just get in my car and drive there. In this way afterwards I think that I shaped my future. I could have eaten somewhere else, but I decided at that particular time to go to this one place that I desired. I assumed going in that I would make it to the restaurant successfully, and I also took for granted that I could make it home afterwards. Take this same example and apply it to so many different aspects of life and you see how easy it is to forget the influence of the more powerful force.
How do we know that force exists? For starters, it is not guaranteed that we make it to the restaurant that night. There might be an issue with the car. Then the roads could be blocked up or some type of obstruction could get in our way. Maybe our friend wants us to deal with a life crisis or they want to meet at some other restaurant. Maybe the wife isn’t so keen on eating out that night and convinces us to instead stay home and eat. Then there is the issue of the restaurant itself. What if it is suddenly closed for the night or so booked that they can’t seat us for at least an hour?
There are so many external factors that must fall the right way in order for our desired outcomes to materialize. Because these external factors tend to operate in regularity, we take them for granted, almost as a given. The sun rises and sets at periodic intervals and the seasons come and go at just the right times. Nevertheless, we have no control over these larger forces of nature. Just because we know how to utilize them for our benefit doesn’t mean that we are responsible for their actions.
Time is nature’s strongest force, and it waits for no one. There is no way to stop the aging that occurs with time nor the impending death slated for every single living being. The wise, realizing this fact, make it their life’s mission to find out what they are doing in a material body to begin with. Why should they have to succumb to nature? If they have limited freedom in enjoyment, where should that freedom be directed? After all, crimes against humanity can only exist if there is freedom to start. Thus we know that liberty is not the most important factor; it’s what you do with it that counts.
In bhakti-yoga, the free will of the living entity is used towards finding the most lasting happiness. There is intelligence behind nature. Depending on the stage of spiritual intelligence reached, a person may only refer to that higher power as nature. Then if a little faith is adopted, nature turns into an enigmatic force referred to as God. Then there are the preachers who speak the message of God, about how man is supposed to love Him and avoid activity that makes Him angry. Then a faith develops off of that message. Slowly, little by little, more is revealed to the inquisitive soul sincerely interested in spirituality.
In bhakti-yoga, the origin of life and matter is defined as clearly as possible in the beginning. We qualify this statement because the human mind is incapable of fully understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The mind cannot grasp the concept of sanatana, or that which has no beginning and no end. For God to be who He is, He must be sanatana. This entire material creation is but one of His forms. We are amazed looking into outer space or looking down on the land when the airplane we board first ascends to the sky, but this aspect represents only one of the Supreme Lord’s forms, and it is still so amazing that the mind cannot comprehend it.
The Vedas describe God’s original feature as Krishna, or all-attractive. His features are exquisite, delicate, and humbling. His beauty is such that it will capture your mind and at the same time make you so dedicated to keeping the smile on that Supreme Lord that you will never give up His service. In material affairs, the guiding force is mother nature, who is impartial in her dealings. The sunlight is available for everyone, but someone who utilizes that energy improperly can get hurt. The material nature as a whole operates on the same principle, with the various energies open to be used both properly and improperly.
The presiding deity in the religion of love is Krishna. Since He is the foremost controller, the results of action in bhakti are influenced by Him. Someone who sincerely follows the foremost religious path need not worry over success or failure. The implementation is the success, for throughout the process the worshiper remains tied in consciousness to God. This feature is not present in any other type of system of maintenance, be it fruitive activity, philosophical study, or mysticism. Blind allegiance coupled with fruitive activity also doesn’t do much, as consciousness in these stages is limited in its growth.
How can we back up the claims about bhakti? An easier way to understand philosophical concepts is to take real life examples. The understanding is made easier when those examples can be created at the local level. The formula for bhakti-yoga is actually quite easy to follow, thus allowing any person to see for themselves whether or not Krishna is God. One of the simplest methods is worshiping the deity at home. Krishna’s complete material nature is His virat-rupa, or universal form. We cannot worship this form because not everyone is eligible to see it. Think of looking at the world’s largest number without any commas inside of it. Obviously you will go crazy trying to figure out the value of that number, as nothing will aid you in your discernment. The universal form is a similarly complex manifestation which has only been seen a few times in history.
“Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths and unlimited eyes. It was all wondrous. The form was decorated with divine, dazzling ornaments and arrayed in many garbs. He was garlanded gloriously, and there were many scents smeared over His body. All was magnificent, all-expanding, unlimited. This was seen by Arjuna.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.10-11)
On the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago, Arjuna, a hesitant warrior preparing for a great battle, got to see that virat-rupa from Krishna Himself. This universal form was unique and had never been shown to anyone before. Previously, Krishna’s foster mother in Vrindavana, Yashoda, saw a version of the universal form when the Lord opened His mouth after having been accused of eating dirt. Prior to that a bird named Kakabhushundi saw the universal form when he was playfully swallowed by Krishna in His form of Lord Rama. Shri Ramachandra, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, playing as a child in Ayodhya knew that the bird was a devotee, which made him eligible to see the universal form. At a time even prior to that, the venerable Markandeya Rishi saw the universal form in the stomach of Lord Narayana, after the end of a specific creation. Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead, but through His expansion of Lord Narayana, He exhales to generate the creation and then inhales to annihilate it. Markandeya was granted special favor on this occasion to remain alive during the dissolution, which enabled him to understand that Krishna was Narayana and that the Lord never takes birth or dies.
Seeing the universal form is a rarity, but this doesn’t mean that the average person is prohibited from seeing God or worshiping Him. Through the proxy of the deity, or archa-vigraha, any person can worship the Lord in their home. Krishna created matter after all, so if it is shaped properly and under authorized guidelines to display a replica of His spiritual attributes, the matter can become worshipable. An example often cited by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to explain this concept is the mailbox. If you have an important letter to send, you’ll drop it in a mailbox, which is specially marked. At its core, the mailbox is not different from any other box. It is composed of the same elements, but since it is authorized by the post office, you assume that your letter will be picked up and delivered to the proper destination.
The deity operates in a similar manner, as it is authorized to accept the obeisances of the sincere souls given to worshiping it. With the deity in the home, the devotee essentially invites God to live with them. The most honorable guest is then regularly worshiped with offerings of flowers, food, water, and incense. Just from a simple practice like this the consciousness of the worshiper can ascend to new heights previously considered unimaginable. If you think about it, the benefit of this method should be easy to understand. If going to church once a week is good for you, how can replicating that environment in the home be a bad thing? If worshiping God once a week is beneficial, imagine how many spiritual merits you can accumulate by worshiping Him every single day in your home.
Another inexpensive way to serve God is to serve His devotee. The servant takes the time to regularly worship the Lord and praise Him. Thus anyone who serves that servant is playing a role in a very important activity. It has been said many times in the past by the Lord Himself that He feels the greatest satisfaction when one of His servants is honored. This pleases Him more than receiving direct honor. This explains why worshipable figures like Shri Hanuman and Tulasi Devi are honored so regularly. They are God’s exalted servants, and anyone who serves them with a pure heart will receive their blessings in their march towards final emancipation.
Another option in bhakti-yoga is to reside in a sacred place. Based on surroundings you are almost forced to act a certain way. For instance, if you live in a place where there is no animal flesh available for purchase, the vegetarian diet is a must. If no alcohol is around, you will be compelled to give up drinking. These are just the rejections of the negative, but imagine if you lived somewhere that had regular worship of Krishna going on in both public houses and residential quarters. If you lived there, you couldn’t help but be infused by the spiritual culture. In this way just spending a little time residing in a holy land can grant so much spiritual progress, without any difficult effort expended. The association does the trick.
The least expensive method of all, the one that is available to the most number of people, is also the most effective. Chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is open to every single person, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or level of intelligence. It is not a sectarian practice, nor is it dependent on one’s acknowledgement of a higher power. Even if you are the biggest sinner, the person who hates religion the most, chanting the holy names can do wonders for you. The environments of the temple, the holy place of pilgrimage and the association of the devotee can be replicated in an instant with a pure utterance of the name of Krishna. As saying this once without tainted motivations is quite difficult, the devotees try to recite the holy name as often as possible. It becomes their most important activity, showing that bhakti-yoga changes the way people live their lives.
The specific methods of bhakti-yoga are easy to implement and the results come very quickly as well. At the same time, whatever one thinks they might be missing out on from the other methods of spiritual practice is available too. If you support one team in sports, you are automatically not supporting another. Since Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure, the fountainhead of all energies, supporting Him in earnest through dedicated practice means automatically paying homage to His component parts. The resulting intelligence will allow the sincere soul to learn the true purpose behind the many different systems of maintenance. It will also firmly convince them of the superiority of the religion of love, the only system worth accepting.
Implementing a few items that are simple,
Gives one spiritual merits that are ample.
Install deity in home in which you live,
Offerings to it daily do you give.
Spend time in company of Lord’s servant,
From them hear message of love so pleasant.
Take up residence in a famous holy place,
Witness devotion on each smiling face.
There is one method that is best of all,
Holy name of Krishna do regularly call.