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Who is the better devotee?

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73.jpgShri Shrimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja
Murwillumbah, Australia
December 5, 2002

We have been discussing the gradations of bhakti. According to the devotee's stage of bhakti, he is classified as superior or inferior. All devotees are good, but we honor them according to the type of bhakti they practice. The type of bhakti they practice determines whether they are kanistha-adhikari, madhyama-adhikari, or uttama-adhikari. If we do not honor devotees according to their degree of bhakti, we cannot develop our own bhakti.

First we should know the definition of bhakti, and then we should use this definition as a barometer to easily decide the different bhakta's various stages. Bhakti has been defined in the Kapila-Devahuti samvada (discussion) in the Third Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam, wherein Kapiladeva instructed his mother. There he states:

mad-guṇa-śruti-mātreṇa
mayi sarva-guhāśaye
mano-gatir avicchinnā
yathā gaṅgāmbhaso 'mbudhau

lakṣaṇaṁ bhakti-yogasya
nirguṇasya hy udāhṛtam
ahaituky avyavahitā
yā bhaktiḥ puruṣottame

["The manifestation of unadulterated devotional service is exhibited when one's mind is at once attracted to hearing the transcendental name and qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is residing in everyone?s heart. Just as the water of the Ganges flows naturally down towards the ocean, such devotional ecstasy, uninterrupted by any material condition, flows towards the Supreme Lord." (S.B. 3.29.12)]

In Shrimad Bhagavatam there are no "skin" and no "seeds". There is only rasa (nectar) from top to bottom, in every part. Kapiladeva was the son of KardamaRsi, who was himself a manifestation of Krishna like Rsabhadeva ? a saktyavesa avatara. Kardama Rsi retired from worldly life, giving up all material possessions and considerations and thinking all material relations to be false. He went to the forest to perform worship of his Lord. He had no need to leave his home, but he did so to teach others by his example. In his laukika-lila, human-like pastimes, he acted as a father, just as Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, acted as a son with His father. In Vrindavana Krishna worshiped Radha Kunda, whereas in Dvaraka He worshiped Sankara to get the boon of a son, and there is no harm in that. Similarly, although he was a saktavesa avatara, Kardama Rsi left home to take the renounced order and live in the forest. Before doing so, however, he told Kapiladeva to help his mother.

Shrimati Devahuti inquired from Kapiladeva about the aim and objectof all souls. Kapiladeva replied tohis mother that the goal of life is to attain pure bhakti, and his instructionsare contained in several chapters in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. He taught that there should not be a prominence of grhastha-dharma, wherein householders are always entangled inthe protection, nourishment, and support of their families. One day the family person will have to give up that family, if not by his own will, then forcibly. It is imperative, therefore, that one engage in bhakti as defined above by Lord Kapiladeva.

There is another definition of bhakti given earlier in Shrimad Bhagavatam:

sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhoksaje
ahaituky apratihata
yayatma suprasidati

["The supreme occupation (dharma) for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self." (Shrimad Bhagavatam 5.7.11)]

Shrila Rupa Gosvamipada has included these previous definitions of bhakti in his own, most complete definition:

anyabhilasita sunyam jnana karma avartam
anukulyena krsnanu silanam uttama bhakti

[(word-for-word synonyms) anya-abhilasita-sunyam ? without desires other than those for the service of Lord Krishna, or without material desires (suchas those for meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling and addiction to intoxicants); jnana ? by the knowledge of the philosophy of the monist mayavadis; karma? by fruitive activities; adi ? by artificially practicing detachment, by the mechanical practice of yoga, by studying the Sankhya philosophy, and so on; anavrtam ? not covered; anukulyena ? favorable; krsna-anusilanam ? cultivation of service in relationship to Krishna; bhakti uttama ? first-class devotional service.]

"Uttama bhakti, pure devotional service, is the cultivation of activities which are meant exclusively for the pleasure of Shri Krishna, or in other words the uninterrupted flow of service to Shri Krishna, performed through all endeavorsof the body, mind, and speech, and through the _expression_ of various spiritual sentiments (bhavas). It is not covered by jnana (knowledge aimed at impersonal liberation) and karma (reward seeking activity), and it is devoid of all desires other than the aspiration to bring happiness to Shri Krishna." (Shri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.11)

Externally it seems that the words anukulyena (favorable) and anusilanam (endeavors to please Krishna) have the same meaning, but they do not. A tree may be anukula for Krishna, but it is not anusilanam. It does not consciously engage in any activity for Krishna, nor does it have any relationship with Him. The tree's bhakti is therefore not uttama, nor is it even bhakti. This of course does not apply to the trees in Vraja. They are all transcendental and they do perform uttama-bhakti. It is for this reason that the word anusilanam (continual engagement in activities performed under the guidance of the disciplic succession for the exclusive purpose of benefiting Krishna and making Him happy) has been used by Shrila Rupa Gosvami. Both words are needed and included in his complete definition.

If this definition is applied to Dhruva Maharaja, it is seen that he has some defect. His defect was his anyabilasita (desires other then to make Krishna happy), and moreover he had no anukulyena krsna anusilanam. He was a sakama-bhakta (devotee with material desires) and in some ways he was like a karmi. There are two kindsof bhakti ? pradhani-bhuta and guni-bhuta. Guni-bhuta bhakti is also called karma-misra-bhakti or jnana-misra-bhakti. When karma and jnana are serving the prominence of bhakti, that bhakti will be pradhani-bhuta, and therefore Dhruva Maharaja's bhakti was guni-bhuta. He desired fruitive gain (a kingdom greater than that of his father, and that of his grand-father, Brahma), and thus his activities could not touch Shrila Rupa Gosvami's definition. Vaisnavas do notwant to be like Dhruva Maharaja, but they can learn something from his example of determined practice.

Now let us discuss Devahuti. Kapiladeva taught her many truthsabout bhakti, but in the end she attained only nirvana-prapti. Who was her aradhadeva? Whom did she worship? It was not Krishna, Rama, or Narsimhadeva. She worshipped brahma. You must read Shrimad Bhagavatam thoroughly; otherwise you will not understand these truths.

Devahuti was taught the meaning of bhakti. The fruit of bhakti is not brahma-nirvana, but Devahuti had no special aradhadeva (worshipable deity), like Narsimha, Vamana, Kalki, Rama, or Balarama. She simply attained brahma-nirvana; that is, she saw brahma, who is in all living entities. Brahma is nirakara (formless), nirguna (without qualities), and niranjana, and therefore her attainment does not fit the definition of uttama-bhakti. A real bhakta will refuse to accept any kind of nirvana from Krishna. There are many kinds of nirvana, but pure devotees will reject them all. Some lessons are to be taken from Kapiladeva's teachings to Devahuti, but none of those lessons is brahma-nirvana.

What kind of bhakta was Bharata Rsi? What was his stage of his bhakti? In his future life, as Jada Bharata, when King Rahugana sarcastically rebuked him, chastised him, and threatened to punish him, he replied as follows:

["The great brahmana Jada Bharata said: My dear King and hero, whatever you have spoken sarcastically is certainly true. Actually these are not simply words of chastisement, for the body is the carrier. The load carried by thebody does not belong to me, for I am the spirit soul. There is no contradiction in your statements because I am different from the body. I am not the carrier of the palanquin; the body is the carrier. Certainly, as you have hinted, I have not labored carrying the palanquin, for I am detached from the body. You have said that I am not stout and strong, and these words are befitting a personwho does not know the distinction between the body and the soul. The body may be fat or thin, but no learned man would say such things of the spirit soul. As far as the spirit soul is concerned, I am neither fat nor skinny; therefore you are correct when you say that I am not very stout. Also, if the object of this journey and the path leading there were mine, there would be many troubles for me, but because they relate not to me but to my body, there is no trouble at all." (Shrimad Bhagavatam 5.10.9]

["My dear King, you have unnecessarily accused me of being dead though alive. In this regard, I can only say that this is the case everywhere because everything material has its beginning and end. As far as your thinking thatyou are the king and master and are thus trying to order me, this is also incorrect because these positions are temporary. Today you are a king and I am your servant, but tomorrow the position may be changed, and you may be my servant and I your master. These are temporary circumstances created by providence." (Shrimad Bhagavatam 5.10.11)]

[My dear King, if you still think that you are the King and that Iam your servant, you should order me, and I should follow your order. I can then say that this differentiation is temporary, and it expands only from usage or convention. I do not see any other cause. In that case, who is the master, and who is the servant? Everyone is being forced by the laws of material nature; therefore no one is master, and no one is servant. Nonetheless, if you think that you are the master and that I am the servant, I shall accept this. Please order me. What can I do for you?" (Shrimad Bhagavatam 5.10.12)]

["In a previous birth I was known as Maharaja Bharata. I attained perfection by becoming completely detached from material activities through direct experience, and through indirect experience I received understanding from the Vedas. I was fully engaged in the service of the Lord, but due to my misfortune, I became very affectionate to a small deer, so much so that I neglected my spiritual duties. Due to my deep affection for the deer, in my next life I had to accept the body of a deer." (5.12.14)]

In his previous life Bharata Maharaja was not a siddha-bhakta; he was a sadhaka and he had reached the stage of bhava. However, although he was not a prema-bhakta, his was a bhava-bhakta. There only was one loophole in his bhakti, and that is that it was not uninterrupted (the prefix "anu" in the word anusilinam means uninterrupted) He never lost his bhakti. Bhakti can only be lost if we commit aparadha, offenses, and Bharata Maharaja did not do that.

It has been written in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam that if karmis followtheir varnasrama dharma, their duties to their family and society, they will achieve no gain at all. Rather, theywill have to go to hell. What, then, is the harm if anyone leaves his varnasrama-dharma, accepts the path of chanting and remembering the Supreme Lord, and then leaves that path in an immature stage?

tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam harer
bhajann apakvo 'tha patet tato yadi
yatra kva vabhadram abhud amusya kim
ko vartha apto 'bhajatam sva-dharmatah

["One who has forsaken his material occupations to engage in the devotional service of the Lord may sometimes fall down while in an immature stage, yet there is no danger of his being unsuccessful. On the other hand,a non-devotee, though fully engaged in occupational duties, does not gain anything." (Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.5.17)]

If the practitioner dies before perfecting his bhakti, or if any obstacles come and he stops his practice for some time, there is no great harm unless he is committing offenses. Bharata Maharaja did not commit any aparadha, and therefore his bhakti did not reduce. It seems as though he lost his bhakti, but this was not the case. His bhakti simply became stagnant or checked forsome time.

Why was his bhakti interrupted? Shrila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has explained that this was simply a lesson for others. In his next life, when he took birth as a deer, his bhakti was still at the stage of rati, bhava, and he realized his mistake. Then, in his third birth he always engaged in the service of the Lord and he attained prema-bhakti.

Anukulyena krsna anusilanam. Anu means without interruption ? like the uninterrupted flow of honey from a jar. Bharata Maharaja's bhakti was checked because he gave his heart to a deer. This was not an aparadha; rather it was an obstacle. His bhakti stopped for some time because he did something wrong.

Actually, it was the wish of Krishna that we should learn something from Bharata Maharaja. He himself did not actually fall down. When the stage of ruci manifests in ones heart he has no opportunity to commit any aparadha, what to speak of one who has rati. He was only teaching us that we ourselves should be careful. In his next birth he became a deer, he remembered his mistake, and he repented; in his third birth he became a pure brahmana. At that time he began from rati, where he had previously left off, and then attained Vaikuntha-prema.

Still, his bhakti was not uttama-bhakti in the strict sense of the term. He was worshiping Narayana, not Krishna. In the verse definition of uttama-bhakti, Shrila Rupa Gosvami uses the words Krishna anu-silanam. Uttama-bhakti especially means to worship Krishna Himself. Bhakti is pure uttama-bhakti if it is performed in relation to Brajendra-nandana Krishna. It does not actually refer even to Dvarakadhisa-Krishna or Vasudeva-Krishna.

In this third birth Bharata Maharaja became a pure bhakta. His bhakti was mixed with some jnana (knowledge of the Lord?s opulence), and this is understood by what he taught to King Rahugana. He stressed the importance of tattva-jnana, not nirvisesa-jnana. However, until a devotee crosses the level of aisvarya-jnana and forgets that Krishna is the Supreme Lord, uttama-bhakti cannot manifest in reality.

Gaura Premanande

Editor: Shyamarani dasi
Assistant editor, transcriber: Vasanti dasi Typist: Anita dasi

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