Chapter 18: Devotional Service: The Final Perfection
kṣemāya pāda-mūlaṁ me
The yogīs, equipped with transcendental knowledge and renunciation and engaged in devotional service for their eternal beneﬁt, take shelter at My lotus feet, and since I am the Lord, they are thus eligible to enter into the kingdom of Godhead without fear.
One who wants to be liberated from the entanglement of this material world and go back home, back to Godhead, is actually a mystic yogī. The words explicitly used here are yuktena bhakti-yogena. Those yogīs, or mystics, who engage in devotional service are ﬁrst-class yogīs. They are described in Bhagavad-gītā as constantly thinking of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. These yogīs are not without knowledge and renunciation. To become a bhakti-yogī means to automatically attain knowledge and renunciation. That is the consequent result of bhakti-yoga. In the Bhāgavatam, First Canto, second chapter, it is also conﬁrmed that one who engages in devotional service of Vāsudeva, Kṛṣṇa, has complete transcendental knowledge and renunciation, and there is no further explanation for these attainments. Ahaitukī – without reason, they come. Even if a person is completely illiterate, the transcendental knowledge of the scriptures is revealed unto him because of his devotion. To anyone who has full faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the spiritual master, all the import of the Vedic literatures is revealed. One doesn’t have to seek separately; the yogīs who engage in devotional service are full in knowledge and renunciation. If there is a lack of knowledge and renunciation, it is to be understood that one is not engaged in full devotional service. The conclusion is that one cannot be sure of entrance into the spiritual realm – in either the impersonal brahma-jyotir effulgence of the Lord or the Vaikuṇṭha planets within that Brahman effulgence – unless he is surrendered unto the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. The surrendered souls are called akuto-bhaya. They are doubtless and fearless, and their entrance into the spiritual kingdom is guaranteed.
Devotional service is most important because there is danger in every step in this material world. At any moment our life can be ﬁnished. We may be walking along very nicely, but at some moment we may slip and break our neck; therefore this planet is called Martyaloka, the planet of death, the place where death is a certainty. Regardless of how strong or healthy one may be, one cannot avoid death. One may exercise on the beach daily, but one may die at any moment. There is no guarantee. Everyone wants health and security, but actually there is no security. There is simply a struggle for existence. People are struggling for security, but in reality this is all foolishness. People are always fearful because they have forgotten or rejected Kṛṣṇa. We have forgotten that we are Kṛṣṇa’s eternal servants, His eternal parts and parcels, and that we have a most intimate relationship with Him. In the material world we are situated in asat, a nonpermanent situation. When a child has lost his father and mother, he is always in a fearful condition. He cries in the street, “Where is my father? Where is my mother?” If we no longer want to be in such a fearful condition, we have to take shelter at the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is begging us to come to Him because we are all His sons. He says, “You are rotting here by repeatedly committing sins. You are changing from one body to another, and you are thinking that you are a human being, an American, this or that. The next moment you may become a dog or an insect.” People are always thinking that they are secure, and this is called māyā, illusion.
Knowledge, jñāna, means understanding our relationship with Kṛṣṇa. A wise man asks, “What is my duty to Kṛṣṇa?” Once we understand our relationship with Kṛṣṇa and our duty to Him, we naturally become reluctant to engage in material activities. This is called vairāgya, detachment from material activities. Jñāna and vairāgya can be awakened by bhakti-yoga. Bhakti means surrender unto Kṛṣṇa. Without surrendering to Kṛṣṇa, we cannot understand our situation. Kṛṣṇa reserves the right of not being exposed to fools and rascals. He is simply meant for the devotees. We cannot understand Kṛṣṇa without becoming devotees.
Material life means sex. People work hard all day in order to have a little sex at night. In the material world everyone is suffering from the sharp arrow of Cupid. Madana, Cupid, shoots his arrow into men and women to make them mad after one another; however, when one actually sees Kṛṣṇa, he sees Madana-mohana, the charmer of Cupid. Then one is no longer pierced by Cupid’s arrow. This means that one actually becomes fearless. One can then enter into bhakti-yoga and renounce this material world. According to the śāstras, there is śreyas and preyas. Śreyas is the ultimate goal. We should act in such a way that ultimately we will become happy. However, if we want immediate happiness and disregard the future, we want preyas. Preyas is for unintelligent people and children. A child enjoys playing all day; he does not want to be sent to school to be educated. Education is śreyas, the ultimate goal. No one is interested in this. The śāstras instruct us to aim for śreyas and not be captivated by preyas. The supreme śreyas is bhakti-yoga.
In the material world we are struggling for existence with the hope that someday in the future we will be happy. Yet we are bewildered. An animal in the desert sees a mirage, a shadow of water, and he runs after this shadow again and again. He runs further and further, and in this way, as he crosses the hot sands, he becomes more and more thirsty and he ﬁnally dies. Our struggle for existence is like this. We are thinking, “Let me go a little further. There will be water eventually. There will eventually be happiness.” Yet there is no water in the desert. Those who are unintelligent, who are like animals, seek happiness in the desert of the material world. This false attachment has to be given up by the process of bhakti-yoga. This must be taken up very seriously, not artiﬁcially. Kṛṣṇa in all seriousness wants to see whether one has ﬁnished all his material desires. When Kṛṣṇa sees this, He is very pleased. We are actually busy with dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa, but when we transcend these, bhakti begins.
If we study the history of the world, we see that it is simply a history of struggle. Mankind attempts to relieve its miserable condition, but it simply brings about another miserable condition. As we try to overcome one problem, another problem arises. Our determination to renounce our association with this material world is called mukti. Mukti means coming to the spiritual platform. Since we belong to the spiritual atmosphere, it is impossible for us to be happy in the material atmosphere. If a land animal is placed in water, he will simply struggle for existence, despite being an expert swimmer. We have come into this material world to gratify our senses, but our attempts will never be successful. If we actually want to attain a state beyond fear, we have to accept this bhakti-yoga process enunciated by Lord Kapiladeva.
etāvān eva loke ’smin
mano mayy arpitaṁ sthiram
Therefore persons whose minds are ﬁxed on the Lord engage in the intensive practice of devotional service. That is the only means to attain the ﬁnal perfection of life.
Here the words mano mayy arpitam, which mean “the mind being ﬁxed on Me,” are signiﬁcant. One should ﬁx his mind on the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa or His incarnation. To be ﬁxed steadily in that freedom is the way of liberation. Ambarīṣa Mahārāja is an example. He ﬁxed his mind on the lotus feet of the Lord, he spoke only on the pastimes of the Lord, he smelled only the ﬂowers and tulasī offered to the Lord, he walked only to the temple of the Lord, he engaged his hands in cleansing the temple, he engaged his tongue in tasting the foodstuff offered to the Lord, and he engaged his ears in hearing the great pastimes of the Lord. In this way all his senses were engaged. First of all, the mind should be engaged at the lotus feet of the Lord, very steadily and naturally. Because the mind is the master of the senses, when the mind is engaged, all the senses are engaged. That is bhakti-yoga. Yoga means controlling the senses. The senses cannot be controlled in the proper sense of the term; they are always agitated. This is true also with a child – how long can he be forced to sit down silently? It is not possible. Even Arjuna said, cañcalaṁ hi manaḥ kṛṣṇa: “The mind is always agitated.” The best course is to ﬁx the mind on the lotus feet of the Lord. Mano mayy arpitaṁ sthiram. If one seriously engages in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, that is the highest perfectional stage. All Kṛṣṇa conscious activities are on the highest perfectional level of human life.
This verse marks the conclusion of bhakti-yoga, as described by Lord Kapiladeva to His mother. Bhakti-yoga is the business of one advanced in jñāna-vairāgya, knowledge and renunciation. Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya has explained bhakti-yoga as vairāgya-vidyā-nija-bhakti-yoga. Bhakti-yoga begins when we accept Kṛṣṇa’s instructions:
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me.” (Bhagavad-gītā 18.66)
We have to renounce all material engagements and accept the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. We are making one plan after another to be happy in this material world, but this place is certiﬁed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead as duḥkhālayam aśāśvatam, a place of misery. This material world is actually meant for misery, just as a prison house is meant for punishment. Once we attain our constitutional position of brahma-bhūta, we can enter the kingdom of God, the spiritual world. By karma-yoga we attempt to get out of the gross body, and by jñāna-yoga we attempt to get out of the subtle body, but by bhakti-yoga we can directly transcend both the subtle body (mind, intelligence and ego) and the gross material body. Then we can be situated on the spiritual platform in our original, spiritual body. As long as we are in the subtle and gross bodies, we are suffering under the three modes of material nature. Once we enter into the devotional service of the Lord, we are immediately situated on the platform of brahma-bhūta. Ahaṁ brahmāsmi (“I am Brahman”) is simply theoretical knowledge, but when one actually renders devotional service, one is situated in practical knowledge. Then one is no longer on the material platform but on the Brahman platform.
Prahlāda Mahārāja rendered the best service to his father, Hiraṇyakaśipu, by having him killed by Lord Nṛsiṁha-deva. Superﬁcially it appeared that Prahlāda Mahārāja did not help his father, but this was not the case. In the śāstras it is said that if a person, even though a demon, is killed by God, he is immediately liberated. Prahlāda Mahārāja was thinking, “My father is so sinful and so much opposed to God consciousness that he might not be liberated.” After Lord Nṛsiṁha killed Hiraṇyakaśipu, Prahlāda Mahārāja told the Lord, “My dear Lord, may I ask one thing from You? My father was a great atheist, and he committed many offenses at Your lotus feet. Now You have killed him. I request that he be excused and be given liberation.” Actually Hiraṇyakaśipu was already liberated, yet his affectionate son was anxious to know whether he was liberated or not. It is conﬁrmed by the Lord that not only a Vaiṣṇava’s father, but everyone for twenty-one generations before a Vaiṣṇava receives liberation. Thus by serving the Lord, one renders the best service to his family, because twenty-one generations are liberated if one becomes a pure Vaiṣṇava.
The yogī’s real business is to focus his mind on Kṛṣṇa. That is the real yoga system. There are many gymnastics performed by yogīs, but all this is recommended for those who are overly concerned with the body. Rendering service to Kṛṣṇa twenty-four hours daily is called bhakti-yoga, and that is real samādhi. People are working hard day and night to enjoy some results. A person in bhakti-yoga works hard day and night but offers the results to Kṛṣṇa. There is a great difference between a bhakti-yogī and an ordinary karmī. Ordinary karmīs cannot understand that the bhaktas are on the transcendental platform.
As we have stated before, there are innumerable forms of God – Rāma, Nṛsiṁha, Varāha, Kṛṣṇa, Kapiladeva, Balarāma and so on. Sometimes foolish people ask, “You are worshiping Kṛṣṇa. Why don’t you worship Rāma?” Actually there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and Rāma, but everyone has his preference. For instance, Hanumān was particularly devoted to Lord Rāmacandra. The gopīs are exclusively devoted to Lord Kṛṣṇa. This does not make any real difference. The Lord appears in different forms, but in all cases He is the Lord. Once Kṛṣṇa left the gopīs and changed into His four-handed Viṣṇu form. The gopīs went out searching for Kṛṣṇa, and when they saw the four-handed Viṣṇu form, they did not offer much respect. They simply wanted to see Kṛṣṇa. Actually there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and Viṣṇu, but every devotee has a particular inclination. In the Vaiṣṇava-sampradāya, some devotees worship Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, and others worship Sītā-Rāma and Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa. Some also worship Rukmiṇī-Kṛṣṇa. All of these are the same, and all of the devotees are Vaiṣṇavas. Whether one chants Hare Kṛṣṇa or Hare Rāma, it is not very important. Worship of the demigods, however, is not recommended. In any case, bhakti-yoga begins with hearing – śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam. After one has heard from the right source and is convinced, one will automatically perform kīrtana. Kīrtana means gloriﬁcation. Kīrtana is preaching, glorifying and speaking about the Lord. Parīkṣit Mahārāja attained perfection simply by listening to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. This is śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam. Parīkṣit Mahārāja was listening, and Śukadeva Gosvāmī was performing kīrtana by describing the glories of the Lord. Pṛthu Mahārāja simply worshiped the Lord, and Lakṣmīdevī massaged Viṣṇu’s lotus feet. Arjuna made friends with the Lord, and Hanumān carried out the orders of Lord Rāmacandra. Bali Mahārāja offered everything he had to the Lord in the form of Vāmanadeva, and after he had offered all his possessions, he offered his body. There are many examples, but at the present moment, if we simply hear about Kṛṣṇa, that is sufﬁcient. God has given us ears, and we need only go to a realized soul and hear about Kṛṣṇa from him. This is the process recommended for this age because people are very fallen and are uneducated.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu recommends that we search out a devotee regardless of our position. There is no need to change our position; it is better to remain where we are and simply hear about Kṛṣṇa. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is meant to give everybody an opportunity to hear about Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is within everyone’s heart, and as soon as He sees that one is interested in Him, He helps. This is the beginning of bhakti.
Even if we do not understand this philosophy, we will be puriﬁed if we hear what Kṛṣṇa says. This is the whole process of hari-saṅkīrtana. One doesn’t even have to understand what this Hare Kṛṣṇa is. One only has to hear to be puriﬁed. Unless one is puriﬁed, one cannot understand God. There are many contaminations within the heart, and the people in this age are engaged in many sinful activities – illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication and gambling. The whole world is revolving about these things, yet despite this we have to spread this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. There may be many obstacles, but they can all be transcended by Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. We only have to be determined in our devotion. The rest will follow. This is the essence of Lord Kapila’s instructions to His mother.