Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #3 – How to Get a Taste for Bhakti

January 20th, 2020

In the progressive step-by-step levels of bhakti, in order to reach the stage of ruci (taste) one first has to come to the level of niṣṭha, which means to be fixed or steady. In order to set the tone for our discussion, here’s a simple example based on the Bhagavad-gītā that illustrates the connection between fixedness and taste in bhakti.

 

Krishna says in Bhagavad-gītā that He is the taste of water. That statement always puzzled me. Isn’t water neutral? Doesn’t water only become tasty when something is added to it? I never really resolved this minor conundrum until I visited Hrishikesh, where I drank the pure Ganga coming from the mountains before it flows through the plains of India and mixes with the minerals of the ground. I had an epiphany. Ahh, so tasty! Yes, this is the taste of water, when water is just water, unmixed with anything else. In fact, when water is pure we call it “sweet water”. Similarly, when we attain niṣṭha and become fixed in devotion, when our devotion is not mixed with anything else, we come to the stage of ruci, sweet or tasty devotion. Simply put, water is tasty when water is just water, and similarly devotion is tasty when devotion is just devotion.

 

The first principle, therefore, in gaining taste for bhakti is to gain this understanding or conviction that without a concerted effort to become more concentrated and fixed in your devotion, whether it is in your practices or life, your taste for bhakti will not substantially deepen. In terms of practically doing that, or achieving any spiritual goal, the most important thing is first to have the right understanding and conviction. That is the point I am making here, and it has certainly been my experience with nurturing my taste in devotion. In that regard, I will share something somewhat personal.

 

What I write is what I am thinking at the time, so my focus lately has naturally been on how to increase taste. Every morning after breakfast I take a short walk to chant some more rounds. My practice then is much more casual than in the early morning when I sit in one place and meditate. Still, this conception, the one I am writing about, kept on coming into my mind, inspiring me to remain focused so that my devotion could become just devotion. I felt the difference. It became so clear. Without the right conception in the forefront of our minds, it is just too easy to become casual and close the door to the taste of devotion. Other thoughts about this subject kept arising throughout the week related to the subject at hand.

 

I thought a lot about the nature of the mind. As the mind always seeks distraction and change, it is the enemy of fixity and taste. We must therefore, according to our capacity for meditation, set aside an exclusive time and place for meditation unmixed with the distraction of other interests and responsibility where we can be free to observe the mind and fix it on the holy name. In terms of fixing the mind, japa is very powerful, but it takes practice. Without some concerted effort for meditation, without some practice where we keep the mind in the present and experience the company of God, it is unlikely we will ever fully enter the world of ruci, or taste.

 

Although japa is powerful, and some meditational practice is essential in fixing the mind and rising to the stage of ruci, by Śrī Caitanya’s mercy we have the dispensation of kirtan where mantra is couched in raga (melody) and tāla (rhythm). Raga and tāla naturally allow us to easily enter deep aspects of the psyche to enhance our emotion and connection with mantra that can help transport even those in passion and ignorance to a state of meditation, fixity, and taste.

 

Often when writing Monday Morning Greetings, I realize that the scope and depth of my subject is so much vaster than what I can express in just a blog. In a longer dissertation so much can be said about avoiding the various conceptions and attitudes that keep our devotion unsteady,[1] especially offenses and criticisms that readily distance the mind from our connection and fixity on Krishna, even when we set a time and place to do so, but for now I will end with perhaps the most important takeaway from this morning’s musings that I think says it all:

 

“Simply put, water is tasty when water is just water, and similarly devotion is tasty when devotion is just devotion.”

 

 

 

 


[1] Mādhurya Kaḍambinī dedicates a whole chapter to anistitha bhakti (unfixed devotional practice) and lists six attitudes that prevent steadiness in bhakti. That in-depth analysis is beyond the scope of this post, but recommended reading. They are listed briefly below:

bhajana-kriyā is of two types, aniṣṭhitā (unsteady) and niṣṭhitā (steady). niṣṭhitā means one cannot fall down or slacken anymore. aniṣṭhitā is due to immature devotion. It appears in six stages as utsāha-mayī (temporary vigour), ghana-taralā (simultaneous intense and unsteady practice), vyūḍha-vikalpā (indecision), viṣaya-saṅgarā (struggle with the senses), niyamākṣamā (inability to hold vows), and taraṅga-raṅgiṇī (delighting in the facilities offered by bhakti). In the stage of aniṣṭhitā bhajana these six weaknesses gradually appear in the heart of the devotee.”

 

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