“While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna's hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)Download this episode (right click and save)
Bhakti-yoga feels good. The experience is not what you would normally associate with religion. It is not about fearing the wrath of an almighty figure situated behind the veil of the ever-changing skies. It is not about wondering whether or not someone of whose existence you’re not entirely sure will deliver on the prayers you’ve directed His way. It is not about adhering to rules and regulations to the letter while not knowing the purpose behind everything.
Why is bhakti-yoga different? Why does it feel good? We can describe it in scientific terms. There is the soul, which is known as the atma. It lies underneath the covering known as maya. That body we see in the mirror - that’s not really us. We move our hands and the hands in the image move. We wink and the image winks. Thus we think that the various aspects of the image represent us, but they don’t really.
Those various aspects can change. They can go away completely as well. Our body is totally different today than it was when we emerged from the womb. Yet we are the same person. That means that there is an underlying force that remains constant. It cannot be the body; it must be something else.
That constant force is described as the atma in Sanskrit. In English we call it the soul. The texts of the Vedic tradition, the original scriptures of the world, the oldest works in history, say that this soul is sach-chid-ananda. It is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. Seems strange considering that we’re not that way. We know that we must die. We know that we took birth, which started the timeline of our life. We know that we had to be taught everything. Our street knowledge came from experience, also.
How is the description accurate, then? It is so because it refers to the soul. Our temporary body is not any of these things, but the soul most certainly is. It travels to the next destination at the time of death. At the time of birth it arrived from its previous location. The soul is the constant, and through the covering of maya we forget this. All that greatness belonging to the soul gets covered up in the land of birth and death.
The way the soul derives bliss is through service. This service is its dharma, or defining characteristic. As service is its dharma, it cannot be removed from the soul. If your fire is missing heat and light, you don’t have fire. If your water is missing wetness, you don’t have water. Similarly, if the soul does not derive bliss from service, the soul is not there.
Bhakti-yoga feels good because it is the service for the soul. We can take practical examples from our own lives to see how this is true. Imagine that your best friend is getting married. They’ve made you the best man at the wedding. This brings many responsibilities, including giving a speech at the wedding reception.
You’re nervous about this. You don’t know what to say. Should you be funny? Should you try to make people cry? Should you quote famous poets and writers? At the last minute, you decide to wing it. You’re going to speak from the heart. Despite being so nervous, you get through it. Afterwards, you feel amazing. Not that you’re so proud of your speaking ability. Not that you’re overly pleased about the positive reaction you got. You just feel so good from having praised your friend and his wife. Throughout the night, you continue saying nice things. You go up to the newlyweds and tell them how special they are.
Bhakti-yoga is like this but without end. It is praise offered every single day. It is good work done for someone who always appreciates it. It brings the most happiness to the soul, and so it can become an eternal occupation. It extends beyond this lifetime. It does not require much, either. We can look to the example of the fruit vendor. She lived in Vrindavana many thousands of years ago. This small farm community relied on cow protection for its maintenance. The fruit came from vendors who went door to door.
One day this vendor arrived at the home of Nanda Maharaja. Nanda’s son Krishna rushed to the vendor with some grains to be used in purchasing fruit. Unfortunately, most of the grains fell to the ground in transit, so Krishna hardly had anything to give. The vendor, fully immersed in bhakti-yoga, filled Krishna’s hands with fruit anyway. She was not attached to her possessions. She was ready to keep offering things to Krishna.
The poets of the bhakti tradition daily offer words of praise to the same son of Nanda. The spiritual masters of this tradition help others to know about Krishna so that they too can take up bhakti-yoga. Krishna is the name for God that means “all-attractive.” The individual soul can thus praise someone who has unlimited goodness. The same nice things we say about others can be said about Krishna. Even one who doesn’t know Him so well right now can praise Him for having transformed the contents of the fruit vendor’s basket into valuable jewels. From a single offering made with love and devotion, the Supreme Lord was pleased.
Bhakti-yoga is different you see,
Most pleasure to the soul could be.
From service happiness the most,
Like from making wedding’s toast.
Krishna the one to always appreciate,
So devotees with Him associate.
An occupation not requiring much,
Like vendor’s fruit His heart to touch.