“The Lord, Hari, whose bodily hue is like the indranila jewel, whose smiling is as beautiful as the kunda flower, whose silk dress is as yellow as golden autumn foliage, whose chest is beautified with garlands of flowers and who is always playing upon His flute - this enemy of the Agha demon is always attracting our hearts by wandering about Vrindavana.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 41)Download this episode (right click and save)
How to describe bhakti-yoga to the uninitiated? Is it a religion? Is it a pursuit towards perfection? The people teaching it regularly speak of advancement, of purifying consciousness. Doesn’t that imply a discipline that has goals and objectives? In the purest form bhakti-yoga is ahaituki and apratihata: unmotivated and uninterrupted. There is nothing that compares in material life, so the best way to understand is to take existing interactions and analyze what happens when certain components change.
One example is the gift of flowers. Around the time of Valentine’s Day, there are many advertisements on radio and television from flower vendors:
“Get this bouquet for your loved one. Don’t get caught empty-handed this Valentine’s Day. Show her how much you care. Get her this bouquet.”
The rule of thumb is that you can’t go wrong with flowers. It’s not like your wife or girlfriend is going to be upset if you get them flowers every year. It’s the ideal gift for birthdays and anniversaries as well. The higher quality the flower, the more sentiment you convey. Roses are the popular flower for Valentine’s Day, symbolizing love.
Worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead also features the offering of flowers. It is specifically mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita as one of the items that will be accepted. The idea is that a flower is something simple and not very costly. There is no stipulation on how many flowers should be included in the offering. In temples that worship God’s personal form of the deity, the flowers are often arranged as garlands and placed around the neck of the worshipable figure.
patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ
yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtam
“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)
The verse in the Bhagavad-gita has a significant word included: bhakti. The offering of a fruit, flower or water should be made with love and devotion. Then God will accept it. Typically, a person approaches God because they want something. It’s only natural. He has everything. He is the origin of the material and spiritual worlds. He can manifest anything in a second. Through His all-devouring time, the manifestation of the material nature continues to change. It is because of time that we look different today than we did ten years ago. It is because of time that we took birth and it is why we will eventually die.
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino 'rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“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)
Even if a person gives bhakti-yoga a chance and approaches God in earnest, in the beginning they typically do so with motives. Perhaps they want wealth. Life in the material world is difficult. Money would solve a lot of problems; at least that is the thought. Perhaps they are in distress. “God, please save me. I have nowhere else to turn.” They may be inquisitive or they may already have knowledge of the Absolute and want to know more.
What if you give roses to someone without a reason? Instead of waiting for a special occasion, buy that bouquet today and present it. Bhakti-yoga is like this. The person who is pure in their motives does not want anything from God. Rather, they wish only for His happiness. He is already self-satisfied, atmarama. He already has attendants serving Him with love and devotion. He already has friends, lovers, parents, pets and so many other kinds of associates. He is constantly enjoying and He has nothing to do. In His original home, Goloka Vrindavana, He is playing His flute and roaming the pristine fields.
He is so kind that He doesn’t cap the number of devotees. He continues to make room, expanding infinitely. Knowing this, the pure devotee is even more attached to Him. They understand that He is all-attractive, and so they love repeating His name of Krishna. That name is prominently featured in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
When giving a gift to someone, there is some expectation of appreciation. If I get reciprocation, I feel appreciated. The same works for the recipient. If they get a gift when they are not expecting one, it means all that much more. To give body, mind and speech to the Supreme Lord is the nicest thing anyone could do. No matter what appearance the externals may give, Krishna does appreciate every gesture. Unlike the fallible human being, who forgets things quickly after they occur, God remembers. He accepts the offerings of the devotees, and He reciprocates by continuing to remain in their consciousness.
For Valentine’s Day not to get caught,
Beautiful bouquet of roses bought.
To beloved so kindly brought,
To appreciate your work and thought.
Bhakti like that with no reason giving,
Only for Lord’s happiness living.
With thought, word and deed done,
Appreciation through consciousness to come.