Devotion, the Means

Devotion “cannot, strictly speaking, be defined because it is transcendental.” Sages and scriptures variously described it as: “exclusive and intense loving attachment to” God-dess; “the highest and the most satisfying function of the soul;” “the highest end;” “indescribable love…and the grandest and sublimest of all human experiences”; and “the only means for the attainment of” God-dess. (176)

Realization of the supreme end as the personal God-dess is present where devotion is present and absent where devotion is absent. Devotion “is possible for everyone…and can be practiced at all times and under all circumstances.” (178) Devotion may be practiced in the conditioned and liberated states. Devotion “is the eternal and the supreme function of the soul…It is both the means and the end.” (178) Devotion is a potency of God-dess which brings the grace of God-dess.

Knowledge and detachment are natural concomitants of devotion. The more intense the love for God-dess, the less the attachment for worldly things. One learns to see worldly things in the light of God-dess and engage them in God-dess’ service. Thus, everything may be spiritualized and used without attachment of the false ego. It is much better to sublimate desires than repress them, which can lead to unhealthy complexes. Asceticism is detrimental to devotion because it hardens the heart.

As a result of devotion, the soul realizes its true nature as an “infinitesimal part of divine consciousness.” (180) Pure devotion is without selfish desire or cause. The devotee serves God-dess solely for God-dess’ pleasure. This is the natural function of the soul and therefore pleasant and satisfying. Though the devotee serves God-dess for God-dess’ pleasure, pleasure comes to the devotee automatically. This is the nature of devotion.

In the spiritual world, where love reigns supreme, to serve is to love. Love is reciprocal. “Each member of the loving relation depends on the other; each feels deficient without the other; each wants to draw close to the other and to win the other by love and service.” (181) God-dess is the other member of this loving relationship. God-dess realizes him-herself through loving service to the devotees. God-dess derives greater pleasure in being controlled by the devotees than in controlling them.

Devotion implies renunciation, “not in the sense of renunciation of the objects of the world, but in the sense of their dedication to the service of” God-dess. “It does not imply complete eradication of cravings and impulses, but complete transformation or purification of them under the subordination of the central impulse of service to” God-dess. In devotion, “the natural conflict between life and spirit is sought to be resolved not by denying life but by making it conform to spirit. The infusion of spirit into life changes the very character of our instincts. The instincts are nature’s urges. The infusion of spirit turns them into spiritual urges.” (181) Universalist Radha Krishnaism “promises a new joy by rejuvenating and reforming life on a spiritual pattern.” (182)

True renunciation “is that in which the worldly objects are enjoyed without any attachment…and with the ultimate aim of realizing” God-dess. (182) One should practice devotion with faith in God-dess and not be too attached nor too indifferent to the world. The spiritual living being should gain conscious control of his or her life and enjoy the gifts of life in moderation and detachment while serving God-dess with full devotion.

Devotion involves our whole personality in a life enhancing way. It takes different forms in knowledge, adoration and service. “In knowledge it is the divine curiosity; in” adoration “it is the integrating force; in service it is the will taking the shape of a cosmic force and fulfilling the divine ends in creation…Devotion presupposes a certain knowledge of the object of devotion…as an integrating force it brings us closer to the object of devotion and leads to greater intimacy with it. Greater intimacy results in higher knowledge, which again is followed by active expression in love and service.” (182)

Devotion is connected to life. Devotees are actively engaged in life, not passive onlookers. “To know is to act. Every fresh acquisition of knowledge makes the movement of life more graceful, for it reveals the love that is at the heart of existence; and the two axes of love are knowledge and service.” (182)

Realization of God-dess is dependent on grace. Devotion is the means by which we open ourselves to grace. Devotion “is a spiritually gravitating force that takes us to the centre. It is a force that works at two ends. In our own hearts it roots out all egoistic impulses that carry us away from the centre and releases the integrating forces leading to complete surrender of all our faculties, so that knowledge love and will may act in complete harmony with the divine rhythm.” In God-dess, it energizes grace “and releases the forces of redemption, which lead to the final integration of our being with Divine Will.” (183)

Devotion is a function of the blissful energy of God-dess (Radha), which energizes both God-dess and devotee. God-dess, the supreme enjoyer of bliss, enjoys the bliss flowing from the devotee’s heart more than the bliss of God-dess’ inherent nature. The gravitational force of bliss draws the devotee to God-dess and God-dess to the devotee.

“Spiritual life is governed by the Law of Harmony. Love is the Law of Harmony in its highest form. Self-surrender on our part and” grace on God-dess’ part “are the manifestations of the Law of Harmony.” In the union “of self-surrender the soul strikes a divine chord and realizes an inner harmony, which is of the highest order, and a poise and equilibrium, which is much more than intellectual.” (184)

The devotee feels the protection of God-dess and can fearlessly push forward, overcoming all obstacles. Devotion to God-dess “counteracts sinful acts…, whether they have begun to produce effects or not.” Devotion “is not dependent even on the rules and regulations…of devotional practices like” hearing and chanting. “If there be lapses in observing these rules, they do not prevent” devotion “from yielding results quickly.” (185)

Devotion to God-dess severs “the knot of ignorance, which arises from the ‘I’ and ‘My’ consciousness…Just as by watering the roots of a tree we feed its branches and leaves, by practicing devotion to” God-dess, “we satisfy the whole of creation.” (186) Devotion develops all good qualities. Actions performed in the service of God-dess, like hearing or singing the praises of God-dess are transcendental. Devotion is self-manifest and not subject to material conditions. “It is identical with supreme bliss.” (186) It is most enjoyable as an end and a means. Therefore, devotees are often indifferent toward liberation since devotion subjugates God-dess.

Devotion is either developing or perfect. Developing devotion is the means; perfect devotion is the end. Perfect devotion “is the eternally realized but non-manifest function of the soul.” Developing devotion “is the attempt to make this function manifest. Any method or means by which a person can successfully divert” (187) the mind toward God-dess is considered developing devotion.

Some of the main elements of developing devotion are as follows:

Accepting what is congenial and rejecting what is not congenial to devotion.

Choosing God-dess as protector.

The conviction that the devotee is not the actual doer but is moved by God-dess’ will.

To be humble and free of self-conceit. Developing the qualities of humility and forbearance opens one to grace and the full effect of devotional practices.

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To reverentially learn from a spiritual teacher and hold him or her in high regard as a representative of God-dess.

Hearing about the name, form, qualities and sports of Radha Krishna. There are no rules or particular order for hearing these topics, but it is generally considered good to hear the name first since it purifies the heart before hearing the rest.

Chanting the names, singing God-dess’ praises and relating what one has learned about God-dess to others. Chanting the names is considered most efficacious, and they may be chanted aloud or mentally. Chanting a certain number of names, or mantras, on prayer beads is a common practice. “No restrictions of time, place, person, or states of body and mind apply to it. It can be chanted by any one, in any condition, and at any time or place.” (189) The holy name is inconceivably identical and different from God-dess, “who graciously appears on the tongue of the devotee in the form of the Name…constant repetition of the Name purifies” the heart. Then the pure name manifests fully, and one is able to enter the divine love sports of Radha Krishna because merciful God-dess is committed to respond to us in the manner we approach. All names of God-dess are powerful, but the names of Radha Krishna are most powerful. Congregational chanting of the name or singing the praises of Radha Krishna is especially potent.

Remembrance “is fixing the mind on the name, form, or sports” (192) of God-dess. One should progressively learn to focus the mind until one becomes totally absorbed in remembrance of Radha Krishna and their pastimes. One also assumes an identity as a participant in those pastimes and enters into them. Remembrance of Radha Krishna is the purpose of all devotional practices.

“Ceremonial worship of the deity…is not idolatry or the worship of the image, but the worship of” (192) God-dess who out of grace assumes that form. This provides an objective basis for the spiritual orientation of the devotee’s life. Such worship enables one to detach the mind and senses from material objects and engage them in service of Radha Krishna. Sensates may enjoy having statues which can be bathed, dressed and offered formal worship. Intuitives may prefer a simpler altar with pictures, flowers, candles and incense to serve as a focus for meditation. One may even focus on a mental image. The point is to fix the mind on God-dess. Even if these forms are considered material representations, or symbols of God-dess, they are inconceivably identical and different from God-dess. What better way to portray God-dess than to employ the highest aesthetic ideas of beauty, truth and love. As above, so below.

Self surrender is complete dedication of the self, including body, mind, senses and soul to the service of God-dess. God-dess cannot help but be attracted to a surrendered soul.

All these devotional elements are interrelated. “One may practice one or more of these exclusively, or one may practice all…because persons differ in their aptitudes and capacities and the particular element that suits a particular individual is best” for them. There is no one way that is right for everyone.

There are two stages of developing devotion–regulative and spontaneous. Regulative devotion is injunctory and ritualistic, consisting of observing scriptural rules, regulations and rituals. Conditioned by fear of breaking the rules, it is formal and mechanical, thus not very effective or highly recommended.

Spontaneous devotion is not conditioned by fear of breaking rules or scriptural injunctions. There is a continuous flow of attachment to God-dess, which makes it impossible to follow rules and regulations. It is the life of love, and love is blind. “It seeks the object of love regardless of the norms that usually guide the conduct of an individual in society.” (194) Devotees practicing spontaneous devotion have a deep, natural feeling of attachment to God-dess, and the current of devotion flows from their heart spontaneously and ceaselessly overflowing all limitations.

Devotion is intrinsically different from ordinary religion. It is spontaneous and free of scriptural injunctions. “It springs directly from the intrinsic potency of the name and attributes of the divine being. The devotee is drawn towards” (194) God-dess automatically like the senses are drawn toward their objects.

“Once this spark is lighted the necessity of external observances ceases. For devotion is the function of the soul, not of the body to which the external observances relate. When the function of the soul is roused, the activities of the body and its senses are regulated by the spontaneous activity of the soul.” (195)

In spontaneous devotion, “the hazards and conflicts of moral life and the strain and stress caused by the imperatives of moral sense are completely overcome. It is a life complete in spirit. It enjoys complete freedom from the sense of ‘ought,’ which has necessary reference to an unaccomplished process and calls for striving and accomplishing. It is life fulfilled in love–love, that is released from all fetters and sanctions. Sanctioned love is not true love. It is only training in love. It is love that is conditioned by will and intellect. It is love without the zest of love.” (195)

Spontaneous devotion “is emotional sublimation of intimate human sentiments.” (195) A parent’s love for their children or a person’s love for their spouse or lover is natural and intense. In spontaneous devotion, the same love in all its intensity and spontaneity, is directed toward God-dess. It is supremely effective, but it is still a means of developing devotion and not the end.

Spontaneous devotion follows the line of devotion and attachment of Radha Krishna’s eternal associates described in the devotional writings as paradigmatic individuals. While there are associates in several different broad categories of devotional relationship, we, and most of Chaitanya’s followers, focus on the sweet sentiment of pure love as between lover and beloved. We follow the ideal of Radha’s confidential female associates. We realize these are dated Indian role models, so, we freely improvise a more contemporary adaptation. Radha Krishna are ever fresh and new, expanding their pastimes unlimitedly and responding according to the devotee’s approach.

Spontaneous devotion is only an imitation of perfect devotion. It is not possible for an ordinary person in a physical body to attain the perfect devotion of the eternal associates, whose bodies are made of divine bliss. Spontaneous devotion prepares one for attaining it ultimately in a transcendental body. As long as one is still in the physical body, one goes on hearing, chanting and performing other devotional practices outwardly, while inwardly imagining oneself to be in the transcendental body serving Radha Krishna constantly. By constant meditation or remembrance, one makes the transcendental love sports come alive. One enters those sports in the imagination, and by serving Radha Krishna in that devotional mode, experiences the ecstasy of vicarious enjoyment.

“The imaginary transcendental body…, however, is not wholly imaginary. It is a mental reflection of the transcendental body,” (196-7) God-dess imparts to the devotee out of infinite grace. God-dess imparts to the devotee a transcendental body exactly like the one which is imagined and is essential for the particular mode of devotion practiced. God-dess is bound to do so as a result of always being subservient to the devotees. The imaginary spiritual body which the devotee contemplates, is an imperfect replica of the spiritual body one attains on the fruition of devotion. “The imaginary or contemplated transcendental body, therefore, is just the transcendental body proper in the making.” (197)

One cannot become Radha, Krishna or one of their eternal associates like Lalita or Bishaka, but one can attain a unique, eter
nal relationship with them similar to that of the eternal associate one emulates. We are eternally our own individual spiritual self and do not become someone else, except in the sense of changing from a material to a spiritual body. Remembrance, or contemplation, and service of Radha Krishna through the medium of the imaginary transcendental body is the very essence of spontaneous devotion.


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