Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #11 – Bead Bags and Bhakti

March 16th, 2020

I don’t know if it was the effect of sitting quietly in a peaceful holy place or just the result of a spiritually inspiring time of life, which counter-intuitively often means a time when things are not particularly going your way, but my japa here at Surya Kuṇḍa, my place of pilgrimage today, was deeper than usual. There was a type of yearning where there seemed to be not much of a filter between my heart and Krishna. I thought about what had just transpired, a call for Krishna so much richer than usual, and thought about why. I had a realization:


Pure bhakti is done from the platform of the soul unfettered by the various external identities that bind one to the body and ego, like caste, ethnicity, gender, and so on. To the extent that your spiritual practices are mired by such material designation is the extent to which you have placed a filter between your soul and the energy of God. What does that mean? If our chanting is careless and inattentive and diverted to thoughts based on our material identities, to that extent our chanting will be somewhat anchored by those designations and will not spontaneously flow from the heart. If somehow or other, however, we ground ourselves in the soul, our temporary designations will recede. Our heart then will flow to the holy name without obstruction.


This concept of beginning our spiritual practice from a place beyond material identification is the basis of all meditative items of devotional service. For example, before worshipping the deity bhūta-śuddhi is performed, which literally means to purify the elements of our physical and mental body. At the minimum it entails that we at least intellectually rise above, if not actually transcend, the bodily concept of life, by meditating on the following prayer from the Padyāvalī:


“I am not a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra. I am not a brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha or sannyāsī. What am I? I am the eternal servant of the servant of the servant of Śrī Krishna, the master of the gopīs.” (Padyāvalī 63)


In a similar way, one should begin japa meditation with a firm resolve to resist the lethargy and distraction that mires us in the material thoughts that reinforce the bodily concept of life. Serious sādhakas, therefore, usually begin their practices with a few minutes of selected prayer to inspire full concentration on the meaning of the mantra and to help their meditation touch their heart.


I felt especially empowered today to chant in this way. What struck me most, and what I wanted to share, is that it felt free from designations. Of course, still it is our responsibility to act in this world through those many designations—from gender, family, institutional, and varṇāśrama roles—to perform our duties properly. Chanting, however, should be done from the platform of the soul by petitioning the mood of humility and service that attempt to reflect our eternal nature. Now to bead bags and bhakti.


Traditionally, no matter what ashram or gender one belonged to, bead bags were always white in color, which indicated purity or beyond the material body (paramahaṁsa). In other words, when we sit down to chant, we don’t chant as a sannyāsī in varṇāśrama with a saffron bead bag to fortify the conception of a renunciate, or a woman with a designer bead bag matching her sari to fortify the “I am fashionable” conception. Again, the same point is that chanting should be done strictly from the platform of the soul.


Of course, dress is external and not the main point. The greatest paramahaṁsa can have any colored bead bag they want. The greatest fool can imitate the dress of a paramahaṁsa. I am just explaining this tradition to fortify my original realization—we should always chant the names of our beloved Lord without attachment and with freedom from material designation.


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