“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me - the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino 'rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
Question: “Why all the analysis in bhakti-yoga? Why do you have to know that Bhagavan means one who possesses six opulences simultaneously and to the fullest degree? Why can’t you just worship God? The majority of the world knows of the man upstairs in this light. They aren’t so interested in the detail. They’re not concerned with the various rasas, like shanta, vatsalya and madhurya. Don’t you think it would be better to simplify things and just worship God in general?”
Bhakti-yoga is the constitutional engagement. You don’t have to acquire it from some outside place. It belongs to you always. Just as the soul remains in existence through the time continuum, so the engagement of bhakti-yoga remains constitutional. Since it is so intrinsic to the living entity’s existence, when accepted it is joyfully performed.
pavitram idam uttamam
su-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
If you’re happy, you can’t help but want to see others happy in the same way. If you’re finding happiness through something that lacks a perceivable form, you have no way to give that happiness to others besides explaining to them. Therefore in the bhakti-yoga tradition there is seemingly endless explanation. God Himself is infinite, so you will never finish in the task of trying to explain Him to others.
Devotion is equal to Him, and those who practice devotion actually ascend to a higher position. So to describe that devotion and the devotees is to explain on and on, all the while remaining in joy. Part of the explanation involves the nuance and detail of devotion itself. We learn that there are different moods in which the person who loves God connects with Him.
The introductory mood is shanta-rasa. This is neutrality. Think of being stunned by the vision of something beautiful. Think of being so respectful that you will not utter a word, fearing that you might offend. In shanta-rasa, there is awe and appreciation for the Supreme Lord. To appreciate means to know that He is God. It means understanding that as the Supreme Lord of all the planets and the demigods, He is capable of doing anything.
jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati
“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.29)
Those who know of God only in the generic sense are in shanta-rasa. They acknowledge that He exists, and through the tradition of spirituality they inherited from their parents they try their best to follow guidelines. They try not to sin, and they try to live up to the self-anointed title of “God-fearing person.”
Shanta-rasa, without any motives, qualifies as bhakti-yoga. Of course to maintain the purity is difficult. In fact, as long as you know that God is the Supreme Being, you will not taste all that bhakti-yoga has to offer. The reason is that if you know someone is so great, the first inclination will be to ask them for things. And why wouldn’t you petition the highest being when you are in trouble? You know that He can deliver. You know that He has yet to fail; hence His name of Achyuta. You know that He can create innumerable planets with a single exhalation. You know that whatever He does is effortless.
“If I narrate about Rama, her dear husband whose actions are effortless, she will not be frightened, as her mind will be absorbed in thoughts of her husband.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 30.41)
In the other rasas of devotional service, the inclination to offer dominates. You’re giving to God instead of taking from Him. Shri Hanuman follows dasya-rasa, where he acts as a servant. He knows very well that the incarnation of Shri Rama is God, but Hanuman does not ask anything. In a higher rasa, his desire for Rama’s welfare suppresses his knowledge of Rama’s divine nature. He knows that Rama is so wonderful, and so to keep Rama happy he does brave things like search for Rama’s wife Sita with great swiftness.
Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja are in vatsalya-rasa, offering love in the mood of a parent. Krishna’s friends are in sakhya-rasa and the gopis in Vrindavana are in madhurya-rasa. In these rasas there is no conscious awareness of what amazing things Krishna can do. Though He swallows forest fires for them and battles poisonous snakes, the devotees here still think that He is at risk. They think that without their affection, Krishna will not survive.
One can only enter the higher rasas if they first know that God is a personality with distinguishable features. So essentially you must know God in order to later forget that He is so great. The worship of the generic God is thus limiting. When limited, you are susceptible to returning to the ocean of material existence, where you look for the same service to perform joyfully, only to find misery at every step since the consciousness of God is lacking. Therefore the vast description of bhakti-yoga provided for the benefit of all fallen souls is integral to finding increased happiness and regaining the constitutional engagement in the mature stages.
Though knowing God as Supreme Being,
Bhaktas this aspect not constantly seeing.
Instead thinking that on them dependent,
Not concerned with His power resplendent.
Like Hanuman to search for Sita going,
And as her darling son Yashoda knowing.
Knowledge of God first, then to set aside,
Pathway for in bhakti’s rasas to reside.