Akrura Katha 3 – Understanding cultural bhakti, philosophical bhakti, spiritual bhakti and Vraja bhakti
[Krishna Katha for youth retreat at ISKCON, Juhu, Mumbai, India]
Transcription of summary :
So, I spoke today about how Krishna when He came to Uddhava and …00.07-00.09(inaudible) to Krishna and he left Krishna. So, left with Krishna the gopis were so terribly devastated by the separation from Krishna… and when talking about Vraja Bhakti, I talked about various levels of bhakti. So, Vraja Bhakti is at such a high level that at that level they are in illusion. Normal Maya is that which disconnects us from Krishna, but the Vraja vasis are in Yoga Maya. It is an illusion that intensifies the connection with Krishna.
Yogamaya is like an oxymoron, like a ‘courageous coward or a brilliant fool’. So, I talked about suicide as being an act of ‘courageous cowardice’, and then what is this Vraja bhakti actually that Akrura was so astonished by… that everybody in the Bhagavatam admires the bhakti. Vraja bhakti is the mood where, because of their devotion to God they know that Krishna is God but that goes to the background. So, they know that Krishna is present as the supersoul in their heart, Krishna is the Lord Visnu whom Brahma had prayed to, that Krishna is the person who was born in the Yadu dynasty, but they think, ‘He is our sakha.’ So, that love is in the forefront of their consciousness.’ Our view is shaped by our worldview, our consciousness exists at multiple levels and we can be aware of many different things. So, Bhakti is not just about changing our view…. ‘Oh, don’t look at the sense objects, look at Krishna.’ Yes, that is true, but Bhakti is more about changing our world view, and when that happens then automatically our view will change. Even when we look at the world, we look at the world spiritually. If our world view doesn’t change, even if we look at Krishna we look at Krishna materially. In that connection I talked about four levels.
The four levels of cultural bhakti are: Philosophical bhakti, spiritual bhakti, and then Vraja bhakti.
Cultural bhakti means that everybody goes to a temple, so I am going to a temple. Like on Janmasthami’s people come to temple. The problem with that is that, when the cultural changes we stop doing it. That’s why people who think of God simply as a provider and it is our culture to go and ask Him for help, we don’t even see who is the worship able deity, just we pray, and if the culture becomes to worship some semi-god…some person who claims to be God, then people start worshipping them also.
So, normally our actions are determined by four factors. One is culture. The other is tradition…. ‘Now we have always done it, so we are doing it.’ Now the tradition can sometimes guide us properly and sometimes it can misguide us. I gave the example of the caste system. How the caste system is discriminatory, and although it comes from the tradition, it is a deviation within the tradition, and within that same tradition there is the tradition of reform also… that is bhakti.
Many of the bhakti saints were persecuted by the upper caste people, and the bhakti saints worked against the persecution and they made the spiritual wisdom available to everyone irrespective of whatever caste they belong to. That is the university of bhakti. Krishna says that, ‘Everybody can come to Me, and they can attain the pure supreme destination. Then I talked about… third is mood…. ‘I feel like it, so I will do it.’, and our mood and our mind are notoriously fickle.
I talked about how people want to marry based on initial attraction and they call it love marriage, but often what they call as love is simply infatuation. Initially to the same person they say, ‘I cannot live without you.’… but in a few years what happens… ‘I can’t live with you.’ They fight and they just can’t sit together. So, what happens at first sight is not as important as what happens after many sights. So, for a loving relationship to be there, we need not just sentimental, but we need commitment… and our mind’s moodiness can make us toss here and there.
I talked about how in India we may feel that things are very restrictive… we cannot have free mixing of boys and girls, but the flip side of that is that there are so much anxiety, there are so much break ups, so much turbulence that happens. So, I talked about how this boy was suicidal because of a break up but when he somehow came to Krishna, then again when there was a break up he took shelter of Krishna, and that which could have been the most shattering experience of his life became the most sublimating experience of his life, because he is absorbed in Krishna.
I talked about how… problems when they come… if we have proper philosophical understanding, then problems will help us rise upwards towards spiritual level, otherwise when problems come and it seems that Krishna is not solving the problems, we go down to the mundane level of reality. So, logical is good. If we use our logic to understand the basic principles of bhakti and practice bhakti, we can come to the level of philosophy, and philosophy helps us to understand that we are not practicing bhakti just because many other people are doing it or because it is our culture or because it is our tradition. It is because that’s who we really are. Why do we have a longing to live forever? That’s because the soul is meant to live forever.
Just as a child in an African tribal family wanting pizza… that desire doesn’t come from the circumstance. The desire that you can live forever cannot come from our circumstance, because nothing in our circumstance lasts forever. So, we have to desire to live for a ..5.50… and we have to love forever. The romance movies, the romance novels talk about happily ever after, although there is no ever after. We are all going to die. So, why do we have this desire to love forever? Because the soul is a part of Krishna whom we are meant to love for ever, and yes in this world there may be some people who may attract us… we should see that their attractiveness is a spark of Krishna’s attractiveness, and some horizontal relation may work out by our past karma, and sometimes they may not work out, but whatever love, whatever joy we may get in any horizontal relationship that and much more we will get in our vertical relationship with Krishna. So, we focus on that vertical relationship, and rather than demanding that Krishna solve our problems; instead of expecting release from problems, bhakti gives us relief amidst problems.
So, with that release amidst problems we can gain conviction that there is a higher level of reality. Say in the ground floor there is flood, but in the first floor there is no flood… So, like that there will be problems in our life but if we can become absorbed in Krishna we feel relief amid the problems also. I give the example, when I had a fracture how by reciting verses I felt myself protected. So, we all can have this experiences and rather than being problem conscious…. now often we may say, ‘I have practical problems, I have to deal with it practically…’ ; ‘Yes, but if you just keep thinking about the problem the problem keeps becoming bigger and bigger, and as a resentment of reality how it is more than reality… ‘I have a flue and I cannot go for a picnic..’ … ‘Yes, the flue is there, it is difficult thing, but it is not constantly painful, but my mind is dwelling.. ‘Why can’t I go to the picnic…’ , then I will become constantly miserable. So, the best way to solve your problem… the first step to solving any problem is to stop thinking about the problem, and to stop thinking about the problem… the problem comes with a mental glue, and it is not so easy to stop thinking about it… like a boy who kept thinking about India losing with Pakistan for three days.
So, we need to change our attachment. What we are attached to we think about. So, the process of bhakti is meant to make us attached to Krishna. So, by regular practice of Sadhana bhakti as we become attached to Krishna, then even when problems come rather than thinking about the problems, we will be able to direct our thoughts towards Krishna… and relief from problems is Krishna’s blessings, but problems will come and problems will go, but a far greater blessing is – relief amidst problems; to convince that spiritual level of reality is for real, and that conviction is what will help us to practice wholeheartedly.
Spiritual bhakti means the bhakti which is based on spiritual understandings, which is based on spiritual experiences, and we talked about Vraja bhakti which is… normally people go to God to get release from problems or relief amidst problems, but the Vrajavasis… they are ready to take up problems for Krishna’s sake. So, the Gopi’s… to relieve Krishna’s headache they are ready to go to hell. In fact just the information that Krishna has headache is like hell for them, and that is the exalted level of their love for Krishna, and it is just that Krishna… He also offers that love to the Gopi’s, and so when Krishna is going back to Akrura, He has given Him the glimpse of His sweetness in Vrindavan, and then He gives a glimpse of His greatness when He shows Himself as Visnu or Seshnag.
So, knowing God’s greatness brings submission, knowing God’s sweetness brings affection, and the combination of affection and submission brings dedication. So, Prabhupada… he demonstrated this kind of dedication. So many problems; normally problems cause a decline in our ambitions, but Prabhupada no matter how many problems he faced his ambitions for Krishna got bigger and bigger because he was not functioning at this level of reality. He was in spiritual reality and he was serving Krishna in this world.
So, Prabhupada…. just as the Gopi’s left everything when Krishna left the flute and called. So, Prabhupada left Vrindavan to go to the West because he wanted to fulfil Krishna’s mission of sharing spiritual wisdom with the world. So, need to be aware of how much Krishna loves us… as Christianity often talks about, but…so, there is nothing that we can ever do to stop Krishna from loving us. At the same time we also need to love Krishna and dedicate everything. That is the process of Sadhana bhakti. Whether I feel like it or not, I do the activities of bhakti diligently, and Krishna consciousness is… when we go in front of Krishna, Krishna is asking, ‘What are you doing from Me?’
So, that means that our direct devotional activities and whatever rules we have in our life, we do them in a mood of service. We study but we don’t identify ourselves as students. If we identify ourselves as students and we get bad marks, we will feel so shattered that we may become depressed, we may become suicidal, but if we identify ourselves as the servant of Krishna… ‘It is my service; I will do it well.’… but even if that doesn’t work out, I am still a servant of Krishna and I will find some other way to keep serving Krishna.
So, we can have commitment without entanglement by our connection with Krishna, and thus… on Janmasthami day as Prabhupada said, ‘We can pray to Krishna… that Krishna please let my life become an offering of service to you, let me serve you with the best of my capacity.’ … and when we have this mood of service, we will find that Krishna is always there with us, to help us go through whatever life sends our way.
Thank you very much.
(Transcribed by : Sadananada Krishnaprem Das)