When Good Fortune Arises
Srila Vishvanatha Chakrvarti Thakura
The pilgrim undertaking a journey on the path of devotion requires faith (śraddhā). This means they are endowed with the firm conviction to act on the words and the instructions of devotional scriptures. Faith is of two kinds: svabhaviki (natu¬ral) and balotpadika (inspired by an external force). Faith gives rise to the desire to surrender to a bona fide spiritual master and to learn from him the proper rules and etiquette regarding devotional science. Sincerely following the spiritual master’s instructions bestows upon a disciple the desire to associate with an elevated saint experienced and absorbed in the same devotional mood as the dis¬ciple himself aspires for. To seek out a like-minded guru to act as one’s personal instructor is the symp¬tom of immeasurable good fortune. At this point the stage of bhajana-kriya, the platform of serious devotional activities, begins.
Bhajana kriya is divided into two parts aniṣṭhitā (unsteady) and niṣṭhitā (steady). When devotional activities are performed on the aniṣṭhitā platform, there is no fear of Deviation or lethargy. Aniṣṭhitā (unsteady devotional service) is further divided into six gradations:
– utsahamayi (sudden enthusiasm)
– ghana-tarala (sometimes enthusiastic, some¬times lethargic)
– vyudha-vikalpa (a stage when doubts assail one’s resolve)
– visaya-sangara (a stage of internal tug-of-war with material sense enjoyment)
– niyamaksama (although one practises regularly, full justice is still not done to the process)
– taranga-rangini (attachment to wealth, adora¬tion, distinction, and so on).
Let us first discuss the stage of utsahamayi. When a young student begins higher education he is very proud, thinking himself to be a praiseworthy scholar. Such thoughts encourage the student to apply himself and to perform well. Similarly, when a novice commences spiritual life he takes to it so enthusiastically, thinking himself to be somebody special.
The example of the same young scholar explains the stage of ghana-tarala. At times the student concentrates deeply on his studies, but sometimes, because of his inability to understand something, he becomes apathetic. In devotional activities the neophyte goes through similar spells of fluctuation — sometimes enthusiastic, other times lethargic.
Vyudha-vikalpa is an interesting stage on the path of spiritual life. Sometimes the devotee thinks “I shall convince my wife and family to become Vaiṣṇavas and serve the Supreme Lord. I shall convert my house into a temple and remain there happily practicing devotional service.” At other times he thinks, “I shall leave my family, home, and the rest of my worries behind me and go to Vrindavan. I shall reside there, for it is the holiest of places, and I shall cultivate devotional surrender through the nine practices of devotion.” Or he will say, ‘Ultimately, I have to give up my home and all my other attachments, then should I not first plunge into the pool of sensual pleasures until I am satisfied?”
Or he may think, The scriptures speak of family and wife being like a dark and dismal well. Should I not leave home this very moment? Sometimes the scriptures encourage me to perceive that this material life, family connections, wife, children are abominable and to renounce them. Yet how can I do that? My parents are old and infirm, who will take care of them? Besides, if I should leave home prematurely, with my material desires to enjoy still unfulfilled, my mind will continue to dwell on sense pleasures until my final days. This would be a disaster! Therefore, I can understand from my own thoughts that I am too weak to follow the Lord’s instructions and renounce family life. For now I shall live simply. When the proper time comes I shall hasten to Vrindavan and spend my days and nights in deep meditation on the pastimes of the Supreme Lord.”
The scriptures (SB. 11.20.31) say that neither knowledge nor renunciation is helpful in per¬forming devotional service. Since renunciation cannot give birth to bhakti, practicing renunciation separately is unnecessary. After one is situated in devotional service, however, his experience in renunciation is an asset because it proves not only the effectiveness of bhakti but also its superiority. It is both wrong and foolish to cultivate knowledge and renunciation separately once a person enters the path of devotional service.
A famous aphorism in logic is, “When the re¬nunciate goes begging from door-to-door, he finds all the family larders full with grains because he is given charity.” Basing his argument on this logic the aspiring devotee thinks, “I must take up re¬nunciation”. At the next moment he comes across another scriptural maxim (SB.10.14.36) stating that unless one develops loving devotion to the Lord his home is a prison. So he says to himself, “Must I remain in household life and try to develop devotional surrender to the Lord? May be I should practice hearing about Krishna or chanting Krish¬na’s name and fame. Should I emulate Ambarisa Maharaja and simultaneously perform all the nine devotional activities?” When bhajana-kriya goes through this state of doubt and vacillating resolve it is known as vyudha-vikalpa.
Visaya-sangara is the stage when conflicting doubts and arguments are resolved in the devotee’s heart and he is convinced about the path of renun¬ciation. Scripture states that just as an object lost in the west cannot be found in the east, similarly, a person engrossed in materialistic activities will never become attached to Krishna. The devotee feels that his desires for sensual enjoyment are forc¬ing him towards fulfilling them, and so his attrac¬tion for chanting and devotional service remains weak. Therefore he thinks he should immediately discard those desires and wholeheartedly chant the holy name, although even in the process he may sometimes fall victim to sense gratification. The devotee still remains convinced of the scriptural truth that perfection can be achieved through de¬votional service alone. And although he may fall prey to sense enjoyment, he rebukes himself and feels remorseful, always continuing his devotional practices. Thus the devotee wages a war against his desire for sense gratification: sometimes the victor, sometimes the defeated. When he does fall victim, the devotee at this stage of unsteady devotional service still feels regret and revulsion at his weakness.
The next stage of unsteady devotional service is niyamaksama, where the devotee vows to increase his devotional activities. For example, he may resolve to chant sixty-four rounds daily, offer pros¬trated obeisance one hundred times to the Deities and the Vaiṣṇavas; serve the senior devotees; avoid talking about mundane topics; shun the company of materialistic minded people, and so on. Daily he makes these vows, but at the last moment he is unable to honour them. The difference between visaya-sangara and niyamaksama is that in the for¬mer the devotee is unable to give up material sense pleasures, and in the latter he is unable to increase and improve his devotional activities.
Now let us discuss the last stage of aniṣṭhitā de¬votional service, taranga-rangini. In describing the nature of bhakti it is said that everyone is attracted towards the reservoir of bhakti, the devotee. The devotee himself becomes a treasure-house of good qualities and mercy. These characteristics attract people who, in turn, crown the devotee with wealth, adoration, distinction and position. Although these accolades come to him as by-prod¬ucts of bhakti they nevertheless may stunt the spontaneous growth of the creeper of devotion if he uses them for his self-aggrandizement. Ta¬ranga means “waves” and rangini means “play”. Therefore, in the vast unlimited ocean of bhakti these by-products are waves that create tempests in devotional life. The devotee aspiring for pure devotion carefully sees these waves to be insignif¬icant phenomena, only gleefully playing, cresting and eventually disappearing.
– Madhurya-Kadambini – Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura Translated by Sarvabhavana dasa.
When Good Fortune Arises
When Good Fortune Arises