“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
There are many ways to worship. This fact should be obvious based solely on the existence of so many religious systems. Within the Vedas themselves there are multitudes of spiritual regulations and rituals that one can follow to achieve a specific end. Yet in the highest discipline, the one that produces the best result, which leads one towards the most beneficial end, the requirements for worship are minimal. This allows for this highest discipline to be practiced without motivation and without interruption.
Motivation is dampened when the method of worship is difficult. As an example, many Vedic rituals require the feeding of brahmanas. A brahmana is a priest-like person. They are learned in the Vedas. They have realized Brahman, which is the term that describes the all-pervading spirit. We are all Brahman. The cats and dogs are also Brahman. It is very difficult to see this when we are embodied, when we are influenced by a temporary form composed of the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.
The brahmana knows Brahman both theoretically and practically. Therefore they are considered the first-class person. Because of their stature they are worthy of charity, and to help society they actually require charity from others. This is on purpose. By maintaining a meager lifestyle, there is more time for the brahmana to focus on religious activities. This also allows others to give in charity, to please the first-class citizen. In return the brahmanas dispense valuable wisdom. Each person is in a different situation, so if an outsider can judge the situations objectively, they can provide custom-tailored advice aimed at helping each individual reach the target aim of Brahman understanding.
And understanding Brahman represents a difficult hurdle on the road to the highest end of God consciousness. God is the Supreme Brahman; hence He is known as Parabrahman. The brahmanas are fed in Vedic rituals by those looking for spiritual merits. But what if there are no supplies available to worship the brahmanas? What if there are no brahmanas around at the time that you want to perform the specific ritual you heard about? Obviously you will be out of luck. It’s like wanting to go somewhere and not having a ride. It’s like being ready to eat without having any food.
The same requirement for external tools exists with all religious processes except one. Bhakti-yoga, which is also known as devotional service, aims to connect one directly with Parabrahman, the personal aspect of the all-pervasive energy. The personal is the source of the impersonal, and so the personal is superior. The superiority is proven in so many ways, with one of them being the scope of applicability of the processes aimed at recognizing the personal aspect.
What do we mean by this? To practice bhakti all you need is the holy name. One of the holy names is Krishna, and since it means all-attractive it is considered the best name for Parabrahman by those who know Him. Krishna is also a historical personality; a captivating youth with a bluish complexion, who holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Krishna is also Vishnu, who has four-hands and whose name means “all-pervading”. Krishna is also Rama, who is the prince of the Raghu dynasty and whose name means the source of all pleasure.
To practice bhakti perfectly, you can rely on only one mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. “Is it really that simple? Why wouldn’t everyone practice this then? Why isn’t everyone going around repeating this mantra day and night?” While the method of implementation is easy, the attitude required to decide in favor of implementation is difficult to adopt.
In every endeavor except bhakti the attitude is focused on the individual. With that focus, the true position of the individual, that of a spirit soul who is a lover of God due to being part and parcel of Him, is ignored. If you ignore your constitutional position, you can’t expect to get ideal results. At the same time, despite the inferior results to the many other kinds of worship, since there is no knowledge of the true position of the individual, the path of least resistance is taken. It is much easier to continue in ignorance than to acknowledge the reality that we are flawed, that we are inferior to someone else.
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that one takes up bhakti-yoga in full surrender after many, many lifetimes. That’s how long it takes to shed the flawed mentalities of “I” and “Mine”. Though letting go is hard, the results come very quickly afterwards. If only I can believe that I am not the doer of my actions. I take responsibility for the choice in action, but the results are due to the influence of the three modes of material nature. Goodness, passion and ignorance dominate the material world, and through their forces, which still originate in Parabrahman, results manifest. I make the decision to talk, but the resulting sound is out of my control. I don’t have any say in how my voice sounds, as I am not the creator of sound.
Besides the chanting of the holy name, there is also explicit worship that can be carried out to the deity, which is the non-different visible representation of the Supreme Lord. Though it is carved out of stone or wood, it is nonetheless the same Krishna, provided the procedures for its construction follow authorized guidelines, those which come from the Vedas and are validated by devotees of Krishna. Deity worship of Krishna falls into the category of bhakti, so it is not a very difficult process. The Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita that He accepts something as simple as a leaf, provided it is offered with devotion.
Thus from the properties of bhakti-yoga, we see that we can practice it anywhere. There is no excuse, as any person can say the word “Krishna”. Knowing this, the kind-hearted Vaishnavas distribute the holy names to society at large, begging everyone to say the name of their beloved. Lord Chaitanya started this tradition, and since He gave something so valuable away for free, He is considered the most munificent avatara, Krishna in His most merciful mood.
For the priestly class to feed,
Food and brahmanas I need.
For divine wisdom to get,
On meditation stay set.
Bhakti-yoga not so limited,
Ease of implementation we’re gifted.
Using something as simple as sound,
The Supreme Lord is easily found.
It’s so easy that there is no excuse,
Chant holy names and put life to good use.