“The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust, which veils the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.40)
indriyāṇi mano buddhir
etair vimohayaty eṣa
jñānam āvṛtya dehinam
“I get what you’re saying with the whole bhakti-yoga thing. I like that it is about meditation, focusing your mind on something. I like that it’s helped people kick their drug habits; that’s always a good thing. But still, it seems a little out there for me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole ‘God is a person’ thing. Bhakti-yoga appeals to the logical side of me, but the impulsive side of me is pulling me in a different direction.”
The living entities fall from the spiritual world. They were once in the friendliest of confines, enjoying the company of the person who is the beloved of everyone. Even if the person who has good fortune is your best friend, you might be a little envious. You want what they have, be it a beautiful spouse, a satisfying career, or peace of mind. With Krishna, there is no jealousy. His happiness is yours. That is the meaning to living in the spiritual world. As soon as there is a hint of envy, the fall to the material world takes place.
A material existence is defined by this envy. Indeed, as soon as the envy vanishes, the spiritual world is home again. The previously miserable material existence turns into a haven featuring endless love, compassion, and service, and the previously dreaded end known as death simply brings a change of scenery for the service to flourish even more.
Since envy is what brings us to this world, to get rid of it is very difficult. If we hear of something that will permanently remove that envy, it makes sense that we would be a little skeptical initially. The default position is service to anything and anyone except Krishna, who is God. The skepticism is so great that we can’t fathom that God can be a person. “How can He be bluish in complexion and play a flute,” we ask ourselves.
To help make the decision easier, there is a preponderance of evidence pointing to the validity of the bhakti-yoga path. The other paths are easier to discount, even if they are viewed as religious. If a supposedly spiritual person prays to God to grant their wishes, another person who succeeds without praying can shine the spotlight of doubt. The person who got all that they prayed for and then still found misery can question whether their time spent in prayer helped them. “What good did prayer do for me,” they will ask.
Bhakti-yoga does not promise that your loved one who is battling cancer will survive. It does not promise to make you rich. It does not promise to take away pain, clear your reputation, or make you large in stature. What it promises is endless love. That pure affection you have been searching for since before you can remember is finally found in devotional service. It cannot exist in any other way.
There is the historical evidence to study. You have many saints of the past who gave up everything to devote themselves to service to Krishna. Some of them were previously wealthy ministers. Some had beautiful wives. Some had no problems whatsoever, but on the inside they felt a void. They were lacking something, and through the combined good fortune of the guru and Krishna, they found the real gem in life.
brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja
“According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.151)
Though they all found bhakti-yoga, they did not all behave the same way. Some served Krishna by writing books. Others practiced devotion through elaborate worship conducted in a formal establishment. Others simply chanted the holy names day and night: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
It is this chanting which is most effective in the present time period. With the number of distractions growing by the day, the envy of God multiplies and expands to include other living entities. This makes understanding the spiritual nature of the living entity very difficult. Without understanding who we are, how can we know our relationship to God? How can we know that service to Him is our real mission in life?
The philosophical and historical evidence should be enough to at least give the bhakti path a try, but there is experiential evidence as well. We know that our judgment has failed us before. Have we ever tried something that we regretted later on? Have we ever made a decision that turned out to harm us in the end? This means that our senses are not perfect. The mind is a subtle sense, and it constantly fools us. Our intelligence doesn’t always guide us in the right direction, even if we think otherwise.
This means that perhaps our skepticism of the validity of bhakti-yoga is wrong as well. Maybe we really are meant to serve God in lifetime after lifetime. Maybe that service can be defined in specific ways instead of just by personal whims. Maybe the volumes of Vedic literature have had it right all along. Sense gratification has failed everyone, from the highest to the lowest. It has not brought lasting peace and happiness. Since it is not the constitutional path, how can it? Only pure love for the person who is most worth loving can bring that satisfaction.
On my senses and judgment relied,
So for happiness so many things tried.
But have any proved to succeed?
So why not advice of bhaktas heed?
Give service to the Divine a chance,
And see if consciousness to enhance.
Evidence of past saints take,
And with confidence this decision make.