“The perfection of human life is based on knowledge and renunciation, but it is very difficult to attempt to reach the stage of knowledge and renunciation while in family life. Krishna conscious persons therefore take shelter of the association of devotees or sanctified places of pilgrimage.” (Prayers of the personified Vedas, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)
“It’s not fair. I’m ready to take up bhakti-yoga. I feel a connection to Krishna already, just from reading about Him and chanting His names. I’m ready to take on this Krishna consciousness thing for real, but there is no one around to help me. I’m far, far away from any temple, and everyone around me eats meat, drinks beer and has no concept of religion other than the periodic visits to church. What am I to do? I’m in trouble and no one is here to rescue me.”
Bhakti-yoga, while the original occupational duty of the spirit soul, is also a scientific pursuit available to the human being capable of applying principles and shaping their lives in such a way so as to adhere to them. Material rewards can be received in an instant. Someone can come up to you and give you money. Some fortunate attendees to a taping of a famous television talk show once received cars as a gift. The bank can make an error and put more money in your account. A beautiful wife can be your gift from a father who wants to find the right match for his daughter. In times past, when it was possible to conduct intense austerity and meditation, even miscreants would receive amazing boons, such as a long duration of life and immense strength. Though such rewards can be handed to us, prema-bhakti, pure love for the Divine, is not so easily acquired.
And this isn’t a bad thing. It’s the greatest gift in the world to be able to love God with all your heart, through any and all situations. To have to work for that highest reward makes one appreciate it even more. In the relationships with loved ones, we may take their association for granted, but if there is a constant worry that the person you love so much will leave you, you will likely treat them better. You will also cherish their association that much more. In bhakti-yoga, when practiced at the highest level, there is constant worry over the inability to practice devotion. There is the fear that the Supreme Lord will remain far away, that you will never be able to properly connect with Him, no matter how strong the desire to may be.
The lament over the inability to practice bhakti due to unfavorable circumstances shows a strong desire to perform that service. Unlike in other endeavors, in bhakti sincerity in purpose is all that is required for success. This is because the beneficiary of divine love is the most powerful person. He can make anything happen, as through a single exhalation from Him this entire universe is created and through an inhalation everything returns to Him, sort of like a boomerang that takes a while to come back. If He can create and destroy on such a large scale with ease, to create favorable circumstances for His devotee is not difficult.
If you think about it, His topmost devotee is always in situations which seem unfavorable. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the detail to the abstract conception of a God. He is all-attractive, so He appeals to every single person. The devotee is attracted to His transcendental form and pastimes, and on the reverse side the atheist is attracted to His material nature, which is full of temporary enjoyments that are seemingly difficult to acquire.
Shrimati Radharani is the embodiment of Krishna’s pleasure potency. In short, she is the greatest lover of God. As she is an individual just like Krishna, she has a form as well as activities. In the divine realm, Krishna and Radha are always playing, and the scenes for their dramatic play are not ideal on the surface. For instance, though Radha loves Krishna more than anyone can love someone else, she is not always with Him. She must think of Him in separation most of the time, remembering the time they spent together in the past. This makes the pleasure of their actual meetings that much greater. Radharani also worries about getting caught with Krishna, as in Goloka Vrindavana the Lord is not her husband. She is thus prohibited from meeting with Him, which makes it seem like she will never be by His side. To truly understand the nature of their interaction one must be on a very high level of bhakti-yoga, as the dealings between the divine lovers is considered a confidential topic.
In bhakti-yoga there is always work to do, and nothing is handed to anyone right away, no matter how much they think they deserve it. This is Krishna’s favor after all, as prema-bhakti is not a cheap reward to be tossed aside after it is received. Rather, it is a gift whose value only increases with each passing day. The more one chants the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the more they are inclined to think of Krishna. They then look for more ways to practice bhakti.
Even in the beginning stages, when the seed of the creeper of devotional service within the heart has not yet started to grow, a strong desire to practice bhakti leads one to areas where they can further develop their consciousness. There are plenty of temples in the world, sacred places as well. The Supreme Lord is worshiped in these areas, but the true benefit of the visits is the chance to meet saintly people, those who practice bhakti already. And from them one can learn the art to the science of devotional service. To shape one’s activities in such a way that Krishna is worshiped and thought about throughout the day is the ideal end-result, and through trial and error in this scientific discipline the right formula can be found. And when it is, the devotee is kind enough to reveal that potion with others, should the recipients have the same sincerity of purpose. Throughout this process the benevolence of the Supreme Master shines bright.
Urge to practice bhakti I’ve got,
But in presence of devotees I’m not.
Why not someone help to give?
So that in pleasure I can live.
In devotion only requirement is sincerity,
From there Krishna to give vision’s clarity.
Then devotees to meet and temples to visit,
From association in ecstasy always sit.