Growth and Enrichment of Devotion
[Summary of the talk delivered on 29th December 2005 in the 4th Śreemad Bhāgavata Tattva Samīkṣā Satram held at Naimishāraṇyam, Thrissur. Even though many were attending the satram regularly with devotion to the Lord, a few questions they all wanted to ask: “What is real devotion? How do I nurture it? Why is it that my devotion is not yielding the panacea that it promises? What is it that I’m missing, and where?” With love and affection, Maa gave the necessary guidance. – Ed.]
Jai Guru, Jai Guru, Jai Guru!
I offer my praṇāms at the feet of my Sri Guru and seek his blessings so that whatever I want to share with you today, I may be able to express it well. I offer my praṇāms to Sri Krishna who is manifest in my Guru. I offer my praṇāms to all of you devotees who have assembled here and are listening to the glories of the Lord with attention, devotion and love.
I was thinking what I would talk about. I did not have any particular topic as such. So, I turned the pages of Śreemad Bhāgavatam, trying to focus on some subject to speak on. Whichever portion I read I got lost in that. I was immersed in the contemplation of the Lord. What is this feeling that we have when we read such accounts of the glories of the Lord, His leelā, His exploits? Why does the mind melt? Why at times do tears roll down the cheeks? Why does the mind become oblivious of the surroundings and experience a nectarine joy, a love, which we do not find in our worldly life?
I remembered — when I first started reading Bhāgavatam, I used to think: Why again and again, the same things are written? Again and again the Lord is described — the beauty of the Lord, His eyes, nose and feet, His garland. One day I came across one line: दर्शनीयतमं शान्तं मनोनयनवर्धनम् — darśanīyatamaṃ śāntaṃ mano-nayana-vardhanam (Of all the visions His is the best — calm and uplifting the mind and the eyes. 3.28.16). It struck me very much. I was not aware of the meaning of this line then, but it was very sweet to read, very pleasing to the mind.
Then as days went by, I understood why the descriptions of the Lord’s glories and features are given repeatedly by various people — the kings, rishis, the devas. When we hear about somebody again and again, the mind starts thinking about that person, starts loving that person. It is like a mother having a child. When the child goes out to play or goes to school or goes to some other friend’s house, the mother thinks about him. Always, the mother’s mind is on the child. And how much love the mother grows for the child!
So, when I started turning the pages of Bhāgavatam, I thought: May be I will speak on the growth and enrichment of devotion in a devotee’s life, in a seeker’s life. But what can I speak of bhakti (devotion)? I can only share my experiences.
How does devotion grow?
How does devotion grow? All of us are experiencing devotion. But why is it that we are not able to retain it? When the mind becomes afflicted, we fall from the devotional feelings. It is because devotion has not deepened. How can it be deepened? How can it be strengthened? How can the love for Lord become wholesome?
We have assembled here to listen to the glories of the Lord because we are devoted to Him. But that devotion is not wholesome. We love many other things; and along with that we love Lord also. When will the love become such that we will want only Him, we will cry for Him, we will want to feel His presence always inside our heart and everywhere else? When will that day be? Can we grow to that pinnacle of devotion?
Bhāgavatam says, “The supreme duty in human life is to grow love for the Lord. When love for Lord is generated in the heart, then man attains freedom. He loses his ‘I’ness. He becomes expanded; he sees the Lord everywhere and understands that the Lord alone is; He alone is the refuge.” It says, “Only that moment is lived properly, when the thought of the Lord alone is in our heart. All other moments are useless.”
Our focus is always outward. Our desires are many. Our possessions are many. If we have one thing, we want ten other items. So our love for the Lord remains where it is. We try to go ahead, keeping our two feet on two boats — one on the Lord’s and the other on the world’s. We never try to take the feet away from the boat of the worldly affairs and embrace the Lord alone.
In Śreemad Bhāgavatam, Śaunaka says in this context:
भारः परं पट्टकिरीटजुष्टमप्युत्तमाङ्गं न नमेन्मुकुन्दम् ।
शावौ करौ नो कुरुतः सपर्यां हरेर्लसत्काञ्चनकङ्कणौ वा ।।
“One might be a king wearing a kirīṭa (crown) decked with jewels; but it is a burden to the head if the head that wears the kirīṭa does not bow in humility before the Lord. The hands wearing beautiful golden bangles are like those of a corpse, if those hands have not joined together in surrender at the feet of the Lord.”
So, to grow in devotion, we should embrace the Lord in our heart. We should always listen to His glory, His accounts — how He acted, how He played — and make our mind full with devotion.
But my question is: We keep on listening. We keep on reading. Why then the devotion doesn’t grow in us? This bhakti, Bhāgavatam says, is like taking a morsel of food. When we take food our hunger is appeased; we feel satisfied and strong. Similarly when the love for Lord grows in our mind, we should feel: Bhaktiḥ viraktiḥ bhagavatprabhodhaḥ.
If we think of the Lord, our devotion (bhakti) grows. Along with the devotion, virakti also will be generated. What is virakti? Dispassion for the world. Also, these two will lead to viraktibhagavat-prabhodhaḥ — realizing the Lord in oneself. So, if we want to grow in our bhakti, what should increase along with that? Dispassion for the world. But alas, we hold on to all kinds of worldly desires, interests and activities.
Bhāgavatam says: “Man is getting involved in action after action. One action brings suffering. Still he will go on doing other actions which will again give him suffering.” He wants only to possess and acquire things. And most of the life is spent in protecting those articles of possession. He feels that the near and dear ones will protect him — husband, wife, children, relatives, friends. He thinks wealth and property will protect him. He doesn’t see the transitoriness of the world — paśyāniśaṃ jagad-idaṃ kṣaṇa-bha´ganiṣ ṭham. This world is transitory, perishable. Man doesn’t understand that. Or even if he understands, he does the same thing over and over again and becomes fearful, worried, anxious and what not.
आयुर्नश्यति पश्यतां प्रतिदिनं याति क्षयं यौवनं
प्रत्यायान्ति गताः पुनर्न दिवसाः कालो जगद्भक्षकः ।
लक्ष्मीस्तोयतरङ्गभङ्गचपला विद्युच्चलं जीवितं
तस्मान्मां शरणागतं शरणद त्वं रक्ष रक्षाधुना ।।
(Śivāparādha-kṣamāpana Stotram of Sri Śankarācārya)
A devotee is saying: “Āyur-naśyati paśyatāṃ prati-dinam”. O, man! Look! Everyday our lifespan is decreasing; we are going towards death. Yāti kṣayaṃ yauvanam — youthfulness is decaying. When we are young we think we are the king of the world. We can do everything. But, when youth goes, we have to depend on others. We are not able to protect ourselves — let alone the possessions that we have. Pratyāyānti gatāḥ punar-na divasāḥ kālo jagad-bhakṣakaḥ — the day which has gone by will not come back — time will swallow everything. Everybody has to die.
Lakṣmīs-toya-tara´ga-bha´ga-capalā vidyuccalaṃ jīvitam — Wealth is as momentary as the ever breaking waves. We may have wealth now and at another time we may not have. And this life is as momentary as lightning. So, what should we do? Tasmān-māṃ śaraṇāgataṃ śaraṇada tvaṃ rakṣa rakṣādhunā — “Therefore, O Lord, I have taken refuge in You. You are the protector. Protect me! Protect me now!”
Along with bhakti, we must grow dispassion towards the world. Everyday, we should understand that this world is perishable; impermanent. So let me seek something which is permanent; which will remain with me forever, even when I am old.
Bhaktiḥ viraktiḥ bhagavat-prabhodhaḥ — To develop these, it is not enough that we listen to Bhāgavata Satrams. It is not enough that we read Bhāgavatam or other scriptures like Bhagavadgītā or Upanishads everyday. Then, what are we supposed to do? What is the way to develop them?
(to be continued)