The nine-fold process of devotional service is the essence of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. O brother! The topmost method to get bhakti is to always perform these nine limbs of devotional service and to not take shelter of the demigods. Txt.8
After dīkṣā, a sādhaka comes to Vaiṣṇavas, who first teach śravaṇākhya-bhakti. But where can we go and from whom to hear hari-kathā? Who is a Vaiṣṇava? Who is a real devotee? If one hears from a non-Vaiṣṇava, it will be detrimental to one’s spiritual life.
avaiṣṇava-mukhodgīrṇaṁ pūtaṁ harikathāmṛtam
śravanaṁ naiva kartavyaṁ sarpocchiṣṭaṁ yathā payaḥ
The nectarean topics of Śrī Hari are always purifying, but if they are spoken by a non-Vaiṣṇava, one should not hear them, for they become poisonous just like milk touched by the lips of a serpent.
Ordinary people, who have no relation with Hari, Śrī Guru, Vaiṣṇavas, and the holy dhāma, may speak very sweetly. But this is only to cheat and steal others’ wealth. Outwardly, they show many things, as if naturally they follow bhakti. They speak sweetly and give prasāda. They will take you on tour of the holy dhāma, act as your servant and even speak your glories. Then you will think, “Really, this person is my good friend.” But they have no relation with God. The Gosvāmīs never did anything unrelated to bhakti.
When Śukadeva Gosvāmī was speaking Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Sūta Gosvāmī was present hearing, and like him Parikṣit Mahārāja also heard attentively and as a result became detached. Sad-Vaiṣṇavas are attached to God and if you hear from them then this nectar will give you relationship with God.
Hari-kathā is first, śravaṇākhya–bhakti. Śukadeva Gosvāmī spoke hari-kathā, and Mahārāja Parikṣit listened. Śukadeva Gosvāmī was detached and had no relation with anything mundane; therefore his words could deliver the hearer from material illusion.
If sādhakas want to advance in bhajana, they should hear hari-kathā from qualified Vaiṣṇavas. The power of hari-kathā will clean and purify the sādhakas’ hearts, and will make relationship with and attachment to God. The sādhu has love for Śrī Hari, and doesn’t speak anything besides His glories. This is the first etiquette of Vaiṣṇavas. Vaiṣṇavas do not speak mundane topics; they are always related to God and commit no aparādhas. Those who do so are not real Vaiṣṇavas.
Rādhā means prīti, love. This is never lessened or lost from the hearts of Vaiṣṇavas. A real Vaiṣṇava will not insult other Vaiṣṇavas, nor think they are mundane. And he will not serve or respect the demigods as equal to Śrī Viṣṇu. He also respects śāstra—Śruti, Veda, Vedānta, and so forth. He knows the glories of harināma and explains this to all. He glorifies harināma and encourages those who have no interest in chanting.
A Vaiṣṇava will not chant harināma to cheat people, saying something and doing or feeling another. He will not say, “I am arranging a feast and giving charity,” only to collect so much for his own enjoyment. Such a person cannot be called a Vaiṣṇava. A real Vaiṣṇava will not think that distributing food, cloth, and medicine is equal to pure bhakti. Karma and God’s service is different.
Someone may say to a new person, “Oh, you are part and parcel of God, so chant harināma.”
That person may think, “I will chant harināma, and will also speak lies, cheat people, steal, and so forth. There is no problem though, harināma will forgive my wrongs.”
First, new people should get sukṛti, and develop faith and respect, then they can be given harināma. Some people hear but don’t follow, or even try or desire to follow. Such a person should be kept at a distance. He doesn’t chant or follow bhakti. He comes for selfish purposes, and will reveal his true nature in time. If anyone chants harināma, and has desire for service of Hari, Guru and Vaiṣṇavas, this is very good. He is a Vaiṣṇava and should be heard from.
The next limb of bhakti is kīrtana. One should remember hari-kathā and, when anyone comes, that hari-kathā should be given to him as prasāda: “Gurudeva spoke like this. If you hear and accept this, you will become very happy. My Guru Mahārāja is a bona fide, divine master. Please hear his glories and teachings. This is very powerful and full of nectar. It will help you so much in your life.”
This hari-kathā is food for the soul. The soul will accept that and become strong. One’s own speculation, imagination, or the bogus histories spoken by ordinary people, as well as anything written in mundane novels or newspapers, is not beneficial to anyone. It is harmful and painful.
Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī describes how smaraṇa, remembrance, is very important. Every day, for at least a few minutes, seconds, or hours, one must practice smaraṇa. Otherwise, the heart will not be cleansed, ceto darpaṇa mārjanam. What smaraṇa, remembrance, should be performed? Daily remember hari-kīrtana and hari-kathā. Remember the holy dhāma, holy rivers, and festivals of bhakti. By this practice, you will become very strong. Chant harināma and mantra while remembering the mantra’s devatā. This is not speculation. At the time of smaraṇa, slowly attraction will come from the spiritual realm, and God’s glories will manifest in the heart. This is called dhāraṇā. When one is very strong in smaraṇa, it will become dhyāna. When it is stronger, it will be dhruvana–smṛti, continuously running without any break. The mind will never go here and there in māyā.
First, hear hari-kathā from Vaiṣṇavas—sataṁ prasangam mama vīrya samvido—and power will come. Then perform kīrtana of that, speaking it to others. After, try to remember,
smaraṇa, the holy dhāma, holy rivers, the saṅkīrtana and hari-kathā of Guru and Vaiṣṇavas, one’s mantra and so forth. This will become very strong, dhruvana-smṛti, running continuously. That will be your property. When you have a large balance of that property, it will flow incessantly, like an artesian well. Where there is an artesian spring, simply by digging a little bit, a nonstop flow of water will come out without the need of a machine, electricity, power supply, or pump. Similarly, if anyone hears hari-kathā and hari-kīrtana and remembers this, and this substance is reserved within him, then he is like an artesian well. The flow of hari-kathā will always spring forth from him. Such Vaiṣṇavas are always in samādhi. Their intelligence, dhī, is sama, equipoised and fixed in transcendental service.
Ordinary people hide in the darkness of their own material bodies, and this is their samādhi. Some are residing in the samādhi of an elephant, some in that of a bird, and others in the samādhi of a human body. But this type of samādhi is not permanent and will not yield any happiness. Because it breaks, it is temporary. The bhakta’s samādhi is permanent. This means the pure bhakta will go by soul from this world and enter the association of his worshipful Deity, the Pure-soul, going above all gross and subtle samādhis.This is divya, transcendental.
Vaiṣṇavas next teach how to perform pāda-sevanam. Pāda–sevanam means to serve while following good etiquette. If one has good etiquette, he will serve respectfully without a mood of neglect, as if he is performing a duty by force. This is bhakti’s first aid. At the stage of pāda–sevanam, one has some taste. As Gaṅgā comes from the lotus feet of God, washing and purifying everyone, pāda–sevanam means one has desire for the service of Vaiṣṇavas, God, and the holy dhāma. It also means going on parikramā. Parikramā means going to serve, not to make a place dirty by spitting or passing there. One should clean, worship, and serve the holy places, not go to them for tourism. By serving Kṛṣṇa’s līlā-bhūmi, the mercy of those pastime places will come to one and one will achieve a relationship with the holy dhāma.
One should go to the holy dhāmas and serve; otherwise it is not called pāda-sevanam. If one has no service or responsibility, he is like an orphan dog. Seriously take some responsibility, vowing, “Every day I will do this service,” as Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī ordered Śyāmānanda Prabhu, “Daily sweep the pathways of Vraja.” If one has no service, he goes very far away. Pāda–sevanam means direct service of Guru, Hari, Vaiṣṇavas, dhāma, Gaṅgā, Tulasī, and so forth. To make a relationship with the divine personalities, pāda-sevanam, or service, is essential. Pāda-sevanam means one will be a servant, nearby the lotus feet of the transcendental personalities. If one does nothing, only taking care of his health and having no responsibility, with a free mind and desire, he certainly will perform some bad activities. If one serves the Deity, he is near God to a certain extent. If he serves the dhāma, he is closer still; if he serves God’s associates, he is more nearby. And if he serves the Vaiṣṇavas, he is even closer and dearer to God. By pāda-sevanam, all līlās, knowledge, and everything will manifest in the heart.
This is called śuddha-sattva-viśeṣātmā—God’s associates will bestow a ray of pure love upon you, and your heart will become very soft. Taste will come. Relation will come. And one will be close and very near. The transcendental personalities will then take care of us. By taking shelter of them, they will be our guardians and will watch over and think about us. Therefore, develop relationship with the Guru-varga. This is very sweet.
Then, arcana–aṅga–bhakti comes. If one takes dīkṣā with a viṣṇu-mantra, then he has a relation with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Without worshipping Śrī Hari and making some offering to Him, one should not eat anything. Otherwise, one will go to hell. Some think, “Now I am a brahmacārī, a tyāgī. I have nothing. How can I serve the Lord?”
Such a person tries to cheat God. He has a body and worships his body day and night, doing abhiṣeka by bathing it, worshipping it by giving food, cleaning it and so forth; so, why doesn’t he worship the Deities of God or the Vaiṣṇavas? The servant of his body becomes mad. Because of over-attachment to his body, when leaving his body, he will suffer very much, thinking, “I am losing everything.” If the body has the slightest pain or discomfort, he becomes very sad. If one worships Śrī Vigraha, the Deity of God, attachment for the body will be less and less and then, finally, completely finished. Every fifteen days, one will fast; when the body says, “Give me food or water,” if one says, “No! I won’t give,” the body thinks, “Now he is very strong and is not giving me food. If I act against him, he will not give me anything and will give me up completely.” Then the body will never argue.
The sādhaka should worship the Deity with faith that the Lord is directly present before him. Mahāprabhu said, “Pratimā nahe tumi sākṣāt vrajendra-nandana (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 5.96) “You are not an image; You are directly Vrajendra-nandana.”
One should worship the Deity of Kṛṣṇa as God Himself. The Deity is transcendental. Serve the Lord in His form as a Deity with deep love and faith.
When it is Janmāṣṭamī, one should think, “Today is Kṛṣṇa’s birthday! I will arrange a wonderful festival!” When it is Kārtika, one should think, “Oh! It is Rādhārānī’s month! Urjā-vrata! All power comes this month from svarūpa-śakti. Kṛṣṇa distributes the ūrjā, power of Urjeśvarī Śrīmatī Rādhārānī. Kṛṣṇa promises to give anyone who comes to the holy dhāma in this month the power of svarūpa-śakti, whether they are qualified or not, a businessman or madman, old or young. He promises to accept all and give them the power of svarūpa-śakti.”
One should think, “It is Ekādaśī. I will worship Kṛṣṇa and invite many people.”
Śrīla Gurudeva started this in Mathurā. He invited many people from all over Mathurā to come and perform nāma-saṅkīrtana on every Ekādaśī, in different groups.
Then, Vaiṣṇavas teach vandana. How should one pray? Śrīla Gurudeva would instruct his followers to pray with the verse:
tat te ‘nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo
bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
hṛd-vāg vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk
He who accepts as Your mercy the reactions of his own deeds as well as the happiness and distress of his previous activities, who tolerates them with an unperturbed mind, and who sustains his life by surrendering himself unto You by body, mind, and words, is eligible to achieve Your lotus feet, which are the shelter of liberation.
Vandanāṅga-bhakti is described like this in Śrīmad-bhāgavatam.
Arcana and vandana are closely related. When one performs arcana, the glories, beauty, and qualities of God appear in the heart, and one then deeply prays, “O Prabhu, I am unqualified and very fallen.”
mat-samo nāsti pāpātmā nāparādhī ca kaścana
parihāre ‘pi lajjā me kiṁ bruve puruṣottama
Arcana-dīpikā, vijñapti-pañcaka 1
O Lord, there is no greater sinner and offender than me. How can I describe myself? I am embarrassed to confess my sins, and I am hesitant to give them up.
yuvatīnāṁ yathā yūni yūnāṁ ca yuvatau yathā
mano ‘bhiramate tadvan mano me ramatāṁ tvayi
Arcana-dīpikā, vijñapti-pañcaka 2
Just as the minds of young women take pleasure in thinking of young men, and the minds of young men take pleasure in thinking of young girls, please let my mind take pleasure in You alone.
Feeling very fallen and insignificant, one should pray with these verses. Pray, “O Lord, I am very small and useless. I have no power, capacity, or good qualities.”
Pray with the words of our ācāryas:
gopīnātha, mama nivedana śuno, viṣayī durjana,
sadā kāma-rata, kichu nāhi mora guṇa
O Gopīnātha, please listen to my prayer. I am a foul materialist, always addicted to worldly pursuits, and I do not possess any good qualities.
Pray, “Dear Gopīnātha, You know I am very lusty, angry, useless, and fallen. How can I serve You? Without Your service, I have no chance to purify myself. O Lord, O beloved, please accept me.”
By serving the Deity of Kṛṣṇa with a loving mood, His glories appear in one’s heart. One then offers prayers to the Lord, “Make me a small servant of Your servants. I am Yours, I have no one else. I can never give You up. Whether You like me or not, I am Yours alone.”
While performing arcana, these prayers should come naturally. Vandana is the sixth limb of navadhā-bhakti. By performing the first six limbs of devotion properly, the final three, dāsyam, sakhyam, and ātma-nivedanam, easily follow.
If the heart doesn’t become clean after śravaṇa and kīrtana, it is not possible to follow dāsyam, sakhyam, and ātma-nivedanam. Śravaṇa, kīrtana, and smaraṇa are our sādhana, and they bestow sambandha-jñāna. After smaraṇa, arcanam, vandanam, and pāda-sevanam are abhidheya bhakti. Then, dāsyam, sakhyam and ātma-nivedanam are prayojana.
How can all living entities be God’s servants and follow dāsyam–bhakti? People serve so many, but not God. They say, “I am God’s servant,” but have no relation with God.
How can we follow dāsya–bhakti? One should give up all pride, sentimentality, and material designations, like, “I am a prestigious officer,” “I am a great scholar and am very senior.” If you do not serve God, how can you be senior? You are junior and have no relation with service. If you do not serve or offer yourself, then you are not dāsa, God’s servant. By hearing and chanting God’s holy names, one’s heart becomes clean and one will be active in God’s service. Like Hanumān. Hanumān fanned Lord Rāma with his tail and massaged Lord Rāma’s feet with his hands. With his shoulders he carried the Lord, and with his mouth he always sang, “Rāma, Rāma, Sītā-Rāma,” day and night. He experienced symptoms of ecstasy, like shaking, shivering, hairs standing on end, voice choking up, and so forth.
Durvāsā Ṛṣi told Ambarīṣa Mahārāja, “I heard the names of the devotees before, but I had no idea of their glories.”
yan-nāma-śruti-mātreṇa pumān bhavati nirmalaḥ
tasya tīrtha-padaḥ kiṁ vā dāsānām avaśiṣyate
Śrī Durvāsā Ṛṣi said to Mahārāja Ambarīṣa, ‘Simply by listening to the all-auspicious names of the Lord, the living beings become pure, so for those who are the servants of the lotus feet of Bhagavān, whose feet are the abode of all purity, what desirable object remains to be still achieved?’
By hearing the holy name of God, the heart becomes clean. The Lord’s servants are very glorious and powerful. Unfortunately, people think, “They are ordinary.” The servants of God have all special power and qualities, such as patience and tolerance. They are very sweet and soft. They are Hari-dāsa, not māyā–dāsa. They have affection for and attachment to God. They only desire more and more service. If, after service, God offers them many things, the devotees will not accept them, for these would push them away from Him. The Lord’s devotees say, “I don’t need these things. I desire only Your service.”
Next, sakhyam is described. The meaning of sakhyam is that one is very close to the Lord, as if equal to Him. He has the same mood, heart, and desire. Many devotees serve Deities. At night, after offering bhoga, they fan the Lord by hand, like Hanumān would massage Lord Rāma and fan Him. Kṛṣṇa’s sakhās have a very close mood. They feel, “If I am not with Kṛṣṇa, He is unhappy and will not be able to sleep well.” With a mood of friendship, the devotees continuously serve the Lord. They do not think, “I am very small, and the Lord is very great.” They have faith, “I am Kṛṣṇa’s friend. Kṛṣṇa doesn’t hide anything from me, and I don’t hide anything from Him.”
Then ātma–nivedanam is possible. There are two types of ātma–nivedanam. One thing is offering the body. This is like one’s property that should be completely used in the service of Hari. After sometime, one will understand the nature of his soul, and also offer the soul. First, one should do everything for God with the body, and use one’s speech only for God. God doesn’t neglect those who surrender themselves to Him. No cause of distress can disturb the devotees solely surrendered to God.
ātma nivedana, tuyā pade kari hainu parama sukhī
duḥkha dūre gela, cintā nā rahila caudike ānanda dekhī
By surrendering myself unto Your lotus feet, I have become completely blissful. All miseries have gone far away, and I have no more concerns. Now I see happiness in all directions.
When you offer yourself to God and continuously serve Him, He will fully take care of you, providing all necessities. When the devotee does everything for the pleasure of God, this is called ātma-nivedanam. If one uses everything, all one’s love and energy, and every moment for God, then really he has performed ātma-nivedanam.
Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura says, “Anya devāśraya tomare kahila bhāi ei bhakti parama-bhajana – Dear brother mind, do not take shelter of any demigods. Exclusively serve the lotus feet of Śrī Govinda through the performance of the nine limbs of devotion.”
Srila Narottama das Thakur ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhaktabandhav book publication, “Sri Sri Prema-Bhakti Candrika”. Available from: [email protected] )