Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #47 – A Bhakti-Yogi’s Guide to Enjoying the Senses

November 20th, 2017

Unlike the traditional paths of jñāna and yoga, the path of bhakti does not deny sensual experience. Pure devotees feast and have favorite foods, hear beautiful melodies and rhythms, and enjoy the flower and jewel decorations of the deity. A question is thus raised. If one of the characteristics of pure devotional service is being without any extraneous desire, as a devotee advances in devotional service should not he or she try to gradually renounce any experience of sensual relish, even of certain favorite foods and music, even when offered to Krishna for His pleasure?
 
Intuitively, the answer seems simple. Of course not! But again the conclusion is not so free of complexity when considering the definition of pure devotional service as exclusively and even militantly only for Krishna. I always wanted to clearly reconcile this quandary. Recently, a situation gave me the inspiration on how to do so.
 
A few weeks ago I took some visitors here in Vṛndāvana to a special evening kīrtana program where the line up of singers was quite extraordinaire. Unfortunately I had to leave early for another engagement and was surprised how difficult it was to walk out the door. I was especially lamenting leaving before a particularly devotional and talented singer had the stage. Then it suddenly dawned on me why: More than staying to enjoy the kīrtana myself, I wanted to see how much my guests would relish it. Here was the example I was looking for, a clear illustration of wanting to enjoy a sensual experience, but not for one self. Other practical examples came to mind:
 
When I would visit my paternal grandmother she would always make for us her specialty—angel food cake. It was spongy soft, golden, and incredibly tasty. After we finished, my grandmother would only take a very small piece. I now understand why. She only needed a taste to relish how her grandchildren had enjoyed. Her experience was thus both sensual and selfless at that same time.
 
This juncture between the sensual and spiritual reveals how the pure devotee relishes Krishna mahā-prasādam. They experience the taste in relation to how Krishna enjoyed the offering. The experience or taste thus goes beyond the sensual to the spiritual or devotional, as our enjoyment becomes the happiness of our beloved, the very definition of bhakti.
 
It’s a comforting thought for those of us immersed in matter to understand that even when one achieves perfection and is serving in Krishna-līlā one can still enjoy the senses without that experience marring the fulfillment of consciousness, which is total and selfless devotion.
 
Of course initially within Krishna consciousness we can enjoy the senses for ourselves to the extent we need to keep the mind and body together for the purpose of executing Krishna consciousness peacefully, but as one advances in spiritual life our consciousness should gradually shift. We should see, taste and hear things through purified senses—senses that register the experience in the heart for a sense of devotion rather than direct the experience to the ego for a sense of enjoyment and control. We will then consciously hear music, taste food, and look at the deities through the pleasure of Krishna rather than our own. At the least we will not buy and eat things only for ourselves without offering them first in devotion to God.
 
And that is the bhakti-yogi’s guide to enjoying the senses.
 
 

 

 

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