Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #13 – How Bhakti Works

March 30th, 2020

I had a few thoughts about how bhakti works based on what is arguably the most important verse in bhakti-yoga:

 

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (Śikṣāṣṭaka 3)

 

I argue that it is the most important verse because among the eight verses Śrī Caitanya personally wrote to codify His mission, it is this verse that He singled out when instructing Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī about the goal of life (prema-bhakti), whom the tradition honors as the prayojana ācārya, the main teacher to exemplify and espouse the intricacies of this goal. In this regard, it is also significant that Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, the main biographer of Śrī Caitanya, elevates this verse to a special status seemingly reserved for no other verse. After describing Śrī Caitanya’s explanation of this verse to Śuklāmbara Brahmacārī, he spontaneously declared:

“Raising my hands, I declare, ‘Everyone please hear me! String this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear it on your neck for continuous remembrance.’” (Cc. Ādi-līlā 17.31)

 

Before explaining how this verse reveals the essence of how bhakti works, we first need to understand further the nature of two things: prema (pure love of god) and the main obstacle to achieving it. First, a short explanation of the basic nature of prema.

 

Love is the natural energy of affection between two beings who have a relationship. Whether it’s a mother and a child, two siblings, or even a calf and a cow — any beings naturally related to one another spontaneously feel an energy of love between them. When this energy is transcendental and felt between the soul and God it is called the pinnacle of love, or prema-bhakti.

 

On face value attaining this shouldn’t seem difficult. After all, nothing is outside of God, and He is immediately accessible in His direct manifestations, like the holy name. Should we not, therefore, feel that all-powerful energy of our eternal relationship with God when in contact with Him, especially when we chant His names?

 

Unfortunately, no matter how powerful something is, its effect can be blocked from influencing something even insignificant if that thing is shielded or covered, just as the powerful energy of the sun can be thwarted in its influence on us by a small umbrella. Similarly, the powerful energy of our relationship with Krishna can be obscured from our hearts by the obstacle or cloud of the false ego, which more than anything else is the desire for superiority and control. Now back to our original thesis on how the third verse of the Śikṣāṣṭakam reveals the essence of how bhakti works.

 

The third verse makes a very noteworthy claim that one in a humble state of mind can chant always. There is an interesting connection between the two. As just mentioned, the cloud that covers the soul and blocks the feelings of our relationship with Krishna is pride or false ego. As humility is directly antithetical to the false ego, a person with a humble mind, and therefore uncovered by false ego, can directly experience the energy of prema between the soul and God while chanting His names. As that experience of prema is the topmost love and the highest pleasure, one chanting in a truly humble state of mind never wants to stop. More specifically, the verse outlines the three qualities of a humble mind that open the heart to this direct communion with Krishna in the form of the holy name: deep modesty, tolerance, and respect.

 

So how does bhakti work? The goal of bhakti is the experience of communion with Krishna. Śrī Caitanya clearly outlined the four-fold process of achieving that: humility, tolerance, respect, and chanting the holy name always. That’s how bhakti works.

 

“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”

 

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