Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #26 – Who is Advanced on the Path of Bhakti?

June 24th, 2024

I wake up in the morning and chant for several hours and then chant more during the day. Does that make one advanced on the path of bhakti? It is certainly good to chant more, and it could reflect some internal devotion, but not necessarily. Could it also reflect that one has little else to do, or is lazy and shirking responsibilities or pretending to be an advanced devotee? In fact, Krishna warns in the Gītā of prematurely becoming renounced with the motive of seeking adulation:


One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Bg 3.6)


Śrīla Prabhupāda also makes clear that what makes one advanced is one’s inner mood and not necessarily what one is doing externally:


The Supreme Personality of Godhead is known as bhāva-grāhī janārdana because He takes only the essence of a devotee’s attitude. If a devotee sincerely surrenders, the Lord, as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, immediately understands this. Thus even though, externally, a devotee may not render full service, if he is internally sincere and serious the Lord welcomes his service nonetheless. Thus the Lord is known as bhāva-grāhī janārdana because He takes the essence of one’s devotional mentality.” (Bhag. 8.23.2, purport)


When I read the above, I thought of a devotee, a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, who seemed to me spiritually evolved in many ways although he had very little sādhana. I don’t know why, but early in his devotional career he came down with a severe mental disability. For him to function his doctors were forced to prescribe lithium. It is a very high-risk toxic drug which now is only given in the most serious cases, if at all. As a result, when I met him years ago he lived in government housing and rose from bed around 4:00 pm. When visiting the Boston temple and exchanging with him, however, I was always impressed with the depth of his humility and his dedication to service. Without fail for hours and hours every evening he would clean every nook and corner of the four-story ISKCON Boston temple with the utmost devotion and use whatever extra money he got from the government to serve the devotees.


But how can we say he was advanced in spiritual life when he woke up so late and probably rarely chanted? I composed an analogy that I hope helps resolve this quandary.


In Olympic diving a participant is not just judged by his score on a particular dive, but by multiplying that score by its degree of difficulty. Similarly, a devotee’s advancement is gauged not just by the amount of spiritual practice performed, but also by the degree of difficulty—the challenges they face in its execution.


In other words, my god-brother was extremely limited karmically in the amount of basic sādhana he could do, but the great effort he gave to overcome his challenges demonstrated a very sincere desire to serve Śrīla Prabhupāda. I don’t think it would be too much to claim that that he scored higher on the platform of devotion in the eyes of Krishna than many who were more accomplished on the level of sādhana, but not as deep in humility and devotion.


Of course, this doesn’t diminish the status of those with strict devotional practices which usually reflect a deep devotional mentality, nor does it indicate that those wasting time on social media are not plagued with weak faith and devotion. I am only stating that what’s ultimately important in devotional life, and what is the truest indicator of spiritual advancement, is “the essence of our devotional mentality.”


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