“Everyone is engaged in material sense gratification, but people have no plan for making an ultimate solution to their real problems, namely, birth, disease, old age and death. These four material miseries are called bhava-roga, or material diseases. They can be cured only by Krishna consciousness. Therefore Krishna consciousness is the greatest benediction for human society.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 3.97 Purport)
The principles of bhakti-yoga cut so to the core of the individual that they satisfy the worker in whatever condition they may be. Young or old, wealthy or impoverished, content or hankering, married or unmarried - these opposites are of no concern when trying to connect with the reservoir of pleasure. In any other area of endeavor the benefit is checked based on the condition of the living entity, thereby proving its inferiority and also its irrelevance.
“But how is it irrelevant? If I follow a system that works for me, is not that applicability at least relevant to me? For instance, if I eat on time, consuming small meals throughout the day, that helps to maintain my weight. I steer clear of the bloated feeling that accompanies too much eating. No more am I lethargic after a heavy meal and no more do I feel weighed down by what I’m eating. Therefore there is a practical relevance for me.”
The irrelevance comes into play based on the temporary condition achieved. A fit external body is but only a single component of a much higher ideal goal. The thief can have a fit body, but does that do anything to really benefit them or anyone else? If my aim is to take property that belongs to others without them knowing about it, is the system of eating that works for me important in the larger scheme?
The limitation exists in the opposite direction as well. Even if I am not a thief, the reward of a temporary condition that is pleasurable has no bearing in the long run if other aspects are not taken care of. It’s something like washing the car that has no gasoline in it. Without fuel in the gas tank, the car cannot be driven. This means that no matter how clean the exterior is, the car’s true value is not utilized.
Bhakti-yoga reaches into the depths of the soul and extracts the true potential for action. Within that enlivened state, the ancillary concerns are accounted for automatically. To use the previous example again, with an identified objective of a fit body, I automatically tweak my daily routine. I may or may not know how to eat properly in the beginning, but with trial and error and an evaluation of the results with respect to the final goal, I can decide which procedures work and which ones don’t.
If my goal is not worthwhile to every single person, there is a limiting factor to the procedures that I adopt. Bhakti addresses the needs of the spirit soul, which represents the identity of every individual. Without the soul’s satisfaction, no system of maintenance can be universally applicable. Take the issue of sense gratification. For someone who is attached only to the temporary body, the desire is to have as much fun as possible. Without knowledge of the soul, “fun” is defined as anything that will satisfy the senses. Therefore the natural result is to eat, sleep, and drink as much as possible. Eat meat, gamble, drink alcohol, and try to find sexual connections that are illicit to derive happiness.
We know from the conditions of modern society that these pursuits don’t bring lasting happiness. These four behaviors are rampant and even encouraged in a godless civilization, yet everyone remains unhappy. There is constant worry over the future, over what will become of the temporary body. There is also excessive lamentation for others, even though every one of us is in the same condition. It is easy for a human being to pity others, but each person is worthy of lamentation due to the fragile nature of the body.
“Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
We must also incorporate the fact that the life of hedonism is not appealing to someone who knows the nature of the soul and how to connect with the reservoir of pleasure. From this fact alone we get a limitation to the atheist’s motto of “do whatever you want, whenever you want.” But when you flip things around, you see that bhakti-yoga brings happiness even to the atheist, in spite of their initial reluctance to practice it.
So what are the principles of bhakti? At its core bhakti-yoga is about love established in an unbreakable link to the divine. Yoga is the connection of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, and when you throw bhakti into the mix, you’re basically connecting your consciousness to God. There is no selfish motive in pure bhakti, as desire is made pure. To desire is to live, so in this sense hankerings never cease. When the worries relate to the Supreme Lord’s interests and the ability to serve them, however, the mood is considered truly unselfish.
The atheist is obviously looking for happiness. If they take to the foundational principles of bhakti, which involve chanting and hearing, there is automatic renunciation from behavior that is not worthwhile. We know that we should fall asleep at a certain time at night in order to be fully rested for the next day, but the tendency is to stay up late and not worry about restricting deadlines. But if we can force ourselves into a worthwhile habit, we find happiness anyway, despite our urge in the opposite direction. In a similar manner, if one dedicates some time to regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and hearing from sacred texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, at least that portion of their day is spent in a localized transcendental realm, with the positive and away from the negative.
For the serious yogi in bhakti, the chanting routine is extended to a fixed minimum number of daily recitations of the maha-mantra on a set of japa beads. There is also a prohibition on meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. What is considered bitter in the beginning turns into sweet nectar, whereas with sense gratification in ignorance the situation is reversed. The person in bhakti feels the pleasure of connecting with God, which in turn makes them more anxious to continue that service going forward. The person who despises God or ignores His existence at least with bhakti finds a peaceful routine and a way to steer clear of activities that are so harmful. In this way both sets of participants benefit. As the devotee and staunch atheist represent the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, every type of condition in between is accounted for as well.
As bhakti-yoga is the superior discipline, its proponents and original teacher must be given proper credit. The staunchest advocates are the spiritual masters of the Vaishnava tradition, and the original teacher is their object of worship, Lord Krishna. His direct instructions are provided in the Bhagavad-gita, and the saintly class which follows bhakti knows how to explain those instructions to the society of the time. Thus humbly approaching such kind-hearted souls proves to be auspicious, a meeting to change one’s life for the better. The eligibility for that fortunate meeting is not limited to any section of society, and the spark of life can be invigorated in any condition, even seconds before one quits their body, showing once again that Krishna’s discipline of bhakti is the sweetest of them all.
Dharma is followed by even a thief,
Though their theft causes others grief.
Atheists at all costs senses to satisfy,
Rules of propriety they willfully defy.
But this won’t bring pleasure to those who are pure,
Of the divine principles’ effectiveness they are sure.
Bhakti in any condition benefits to bring.
Sweetness after regulation’s initial sting.
Both devotee and atheist from bhakti do gain,
Of no other process can we say the same.