What is Bhakti Yoga?

A radio interview with Sripad Srutasrava Prabhu in Brazil, 2 August 2006.

Summary notes:

The practice of Bhakti Yoga is the progress from the beginning stages of devotion to the final stages of pure love of God. Most religious processes advise us that we should love God, which is certainly wonderful advice, but few religious processes tell us how to love God. We have lovers, we have children, we have parents, we have pets, we have friends, we have so many things with whom we exchange affection, so how do we exchange that same affection with God? Love of God is possible, and in what form it’s possible, and how that love will be exchanged, are all encompassed in the teachings of bhakti yoga.

So much more information exists about God and it’s necessary to disseminate that information for the happiness of the people. We’re familiar with the frightening aspects of the omnipotence and omniscience of God, but less with the infinite kindness, beauty, sweetness and beauty of God.

In the Eastern tradition one of God’s infinite names is Krishna. Krishna means all-attractive. Many things in this world attract us: beautiful sunsets and beautiful sunrises, beautiful scenery, beautiful objects, beautiful people. So if we accept the existence of God then he must be infinitely attractive: everything that is attractive must exist in him to an infinite degree.

The practice of Bhakti yoga is to open our heart. It is is the yoga of the heart, so the topmost requirement is to have a heart. It is not dependent on language, country, or culture. It’s for every living entity.

The advancement of bhakti yoga means advancement in the relationship with the supreme being, and someone who has a relationship with the supreme being must naturally become filled with all good qualities.

Suhrit is one Sanskrit word for friend. When someone’s heart is so filled with good feelings towards you that person is called suhrit. Krishna says, “Suhrdam-sarva-bhutanam: I have that feeling towards every living entity.” (Bhagavad-gita, 5.29) And somebody who is developed in the process of bhakti yoga naturally will share that feeling towards every living entity.

In modern society we’re bewildered by the media to believe that our quality of life will come from accumulation but the real quality of life comes from the heart.

The Bhagavat-purana says that the best process for all living entities is that process by which we can develop love for God. What makes that process extremely practical is that it is ahaituki. The meaning of ahaituki is that there is no material cause for this thing. And the other side of that is apratihata: nothing material can stop the progress of bhakti.

Many other processes require some physical, intellectual, or mental ability, but we can practise bhakti in any condition: when we’re up, when we’re down, when we’re rich, when we’re poor, when we’re sick, when we’re well, and that makes it universally applicable. We can practise at all times, in all places, under all circumstances.

Hearing and chanting are the most important practices of bhakti. If we lend a submissive ear to divine sound we will be purified. At the present time, with the use of devices such as cell phones, it is not so difficult to understand the power of sound. We see the power of mundane sound all around us. What about divine sound? Divine sound can transport us to the divine plane. The sweet name of Krishna has come into this world with its own desire to benefit us. 

God is not the cause of suffering or misery; he is akhila-rasamrta-murti, the fountainhead of all ecstasy and pleasure. Srnvantu visve amrtasya putrah: we are all children of the nectarean ocean and we are meant to dive deep into that ocean.

Without seeking something spiritual, life comes to zero. In every country there’s an expression, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Is it possible to get something from life that we can take when we go?

As we develop in consciousness we’ll see the beauty in God, we’ll see that beauty reflected in other living entities, and we’ll realise that He is not for one type of people but he is for everyone.

Hinduism & Vaisnavism

Srila Sridhar Maharaj discusses the progression from varnasram-dharma to Vaisnavism.

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You can find a complete and raw transcript of this talk here, which includes an illuminating discussion of tridanda-sannyas.
Devotee: This question of Hinduism and Muslim is coming up; we’re not Hindus but in some way we may speak on behalf of Hindus.
Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: We are not Hindus in the general sense. We are Vaiṣṇava [worshippers of Vishnu], we are Kāṛṣṇa [worshippers of Krishna]. Varṇāśram is steps to Vaiṣṇava-dharma, Vaiṣṇavism. It is a favourable step that may be utilised; we may begin from varṇāśram-dharma but we are to leave that when we enter the domain of nirguṇ. Varṇāśram is concerned with sattva-guṇa. It is up to sattva-guṇa, and then we are to leave varṇāśram when we enter into nirguṇ, Vaiṣṇavism proper.
Karma, our activities; the yoga, our attention; the jñāna, our dhyan, means our acquisition: when they leave their own colour and surrender into complete dedicated life, then it becomes Vaiṣṇavism. They have to leave their past steps. If all the karma is done only for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa then it is well and good, it is Vaiṣṇavism. And the jñāna, when it ceases all its enquiry, surrendering to the sweet will of Kṛṣṇa, then it is Vaiṣṇavism, it enters the realm of Vaiṣṇavism. And the yoga, the attention, the direction of our energy, internal, fine, subtle energy, when it stops seeking any other achievement but concentrates wholly for the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa, then it enters the area of Vaiṣṇavism.
The karma and the jñāna and the yoga cannot give their promised result without the help of bhakti, without the support of the the universal wave or force. If God withdraws all His energy from them then they are nowhere. Just as there may be so many independent companies, insurance companies, banking companies, and such, but they can work as long as the government does not withdraw from them. If the government withdraws they cannot exist. But they can thrive, they can work well with the supposed backing of the government, with the passive support of the government. If the government is withdrawn, they are nowhere. If the power, the potency of Kṛṣṇa, the sympathy, is withdrawn, then karma, yoga, and jñāna are nowhere, but on the basis of the supposed support of the government, of Kṛṣṇa’s will, they can work on independently.
[kṛṣṇa-bhakti haya abhidheya-pradhāna]
bhakti-mukha-nirīkṣaka karma-yoga-jñāna
(Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Madhya-līlā, 22.17)
[“Devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is the chief function of the living entity. There are different methods for the liberation of the conditioned soul—karma, jñāna, yoga and bhakti—but all are dependent on bhakti.”]
In Charitāmṛta, they are always looking at the face of bhakti, the service to Kṛṣṇa.
ei saba sādhanera ati tuchchha bala
[kṛṣṇa-bhakti vinā tāhā dite nāre phala]
(Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, Madhya-līlā, 22.18)
[“But for devotional service, all other methods for spiritual self-realization are weak and insignificant. Unless one comes to the devotional service of Lord Kṛṣṇa, jñāna and yoga cannot give the desired results.”]
What they give, that is a very negligible thing. Bhakti, service, does not depend on anything else. She can go independently, from any point. From any point of our life, only with the connection of a bona fide agent, we can link with bhakti and go on independently without taking any help from the energy [karma], from this fine attention [yoga], and our inquisitive spirit [jnana]. Everything may be rejected, and only through service, through a sādhu, one can go on safely towards Vaikuṇṭha.
In varṇāśram-dharma, or sanātan-dharma, there are the divisions of brāhmaṇ, kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra. The qualification of the brāhmaṇs, the highest section, is that they seek something which is not mundane, which is conscious; but they don’t have any clear conception of the conscious world, only some vague conception of the spiritual world. It is not very clear, so,
brāhmaṇānāṁ sahasrebhyaḥ satra-yājī viśiṣyate
[satra-yāji-sahasrebhyaḥ sarvva-vedānta-pāragaḥ
sarvva-vedānta-vit-koṭ yā viṣṇubhakto viśiṣyate
vaiṣṇavānāṁ sahasrebhyaḥ ekāntyeko viśiṣyate]
[“Among many thousands of brāhmaṇs, a yajñika brāhmaṇ is best. Among thousands of yajñika brāhmaṇs, one who fully knows Vedānta is best. Among millions of knowers of Vedānta, one who is a devotee of Viṣṇu is best. And among thousands of devotees of Viṣṇu, one who is an unalloyed Vaiṣṇava is best.”]
Satra-yāji means who is engaged in sacrifice which is meant to be following the model that everything should be done to satisfy Him, the central truth, Kṛṣṇa.
satra-yāji-sahasrebhyaḥ sarvva-vedānta-pāragaḥ
Then it may come to the stage of an enquirer, Vaidantic, who loves to deal with consciousness, fine things, Vedānta-pāragaḥ.
sarvva-vedānta-vit-koṭ yā viṣṇubhakto viśiṣyate
The yogī and the jñānī are stayed there; they are not dealing with gross things like karmīs but they are busy in their dealing with the very subtle things of consciousness. But mere consciousness does not mean God consciousness; there is consciousness of the self, consciousness of the cause of this material world, and so many things. Brāhmaṇs, who are the head of the varṇāśram-dharma, are more addicted to spirit than to matter, but they have not got the real and cosmic idea in the complete idea of this spiritual world, the purely spiritual world of Vaikuṇṭha or Goloka.
So the Vaiṣṇava,
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante, jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
[vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti, sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ]
(Bhagavad-gītā, 7.19)
[“After many, many births and deaths, one who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.”]
When the jñānī surrenders to the feet of Vāsudeva then he becomes a Vaiṣṇava. The Vaiṣṇava is there. And when the karmī,
yajñārthāt karmaṇo ‘nyatra, loko ‘yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
[tad-artham karma kaunteya, mukta-saṅgaḥ samāchara]
(Bhagavad-gītā, 3.9)
[“Selfless duty performed as an offering to the Supreme Lord is called yajña, or sacrifice. O Arjuna, all action performed for any other purpose is the cause of bondage in this world of repeated birth and death. Therefore, remaining unattached to the fruits of action, perform all your duties in the spirit of such sacrifice. Such action is the means of entering the path of devotion, and with the awakening of true perception of the Lord, it will enable you to attain to pure, unalloyed devotion, free from all material qualities (nirguṇa-bhakti).”]
When he can come to understand that any work which is not for Viṣṇu will bind him with matter, with a reaction, then he comes to be Vaiṣṇava.
And the yogīs,
yoginām api sarveṣāṁ, mad-gatenāntarātmanā
śraddhāvān bhajate yo māṁ, sa me yuktatamo mataḥ
(Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā, 6.47)
[“In My opinion, of all types of yogīs, the most elevated of all is he who surrenders his heart to Me and serves Me in devotion with sincere, internal faith.”]
He is following so many mystic practices in body or mind and trying to raise his consciousness into the higher, subtle sphere of the world. But when leaving all those things he comes to make contact with the devotee and begins his bhajan then he is all right. He becomes Vaiṣṇava.
Varṇāśram has been accepted as so many steps: that śūdra mentality, vaiśya mentality, kṣatriya mentality, brāhmaṇ mentality, and then Vaiṣṇava mentality. When they accept Vaiṣṇava mentality, that Viṣṇu is all in all, and our real position is only that of a servant of Him, and he begins that life, dismissing all his ambitions in this mundane world whether gross or subtle, then he becomes Vaiṣṇava.
The Vaiṣṇava will preach Hinduism to a certain extent, with the centre as Kṛṣṇa. That can be couched in this way: “You may earn money, like a vaiśya, but spend at least a greater portion for the service of Kṛṣṇa, for the propaganda of His name.” The kṣatriya: “You organise the force and try to help Vaiṣṇavism, the service of Kṛṣṇa.” If the organising capacity and the fighting capacity will be utilised for that, then you will be fully accepted, whoever you are. And the brāhmaṇs, “You explain the Vedic scriptures and Purāṇa, etc. but connect that with Kṛṣṇa as all in all. No other gods are equal to or more than Him. So in that way you connect, and we shall accept you.” And the śūdra, “You can devote some energy, so try to utilise your energy for the service of Kṛṣṇa. Then we shall have some relation with you. Whoever you are, if you come to utilise yourself in the service of Kṛṣṇa we are in your favour. We have got recognition for you.”
chāri varṇāśramī yadi kṛṣṇa nāhi bhaje
svakarma karite se raurave paḍi’ maje
(Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: 2.22.26)
[“The followers of the varṇāśram institution accept the regulative principles of the four social orders (brāhmaṇ, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra) and four spiritual orders (brahmacharya, gṛhastha, vānaprastha and sannyās). However, if one carries out the regulative principles of these orders but does not render transcendental service to Kṛṣṇa, he falls into a hellish condition of material life.”]
But if you do not connect with the service of Kṛṣṇa, then doing your own respective duty you will have to be the prey of that reaction, that is, to go down. Up and down, up and down: you can’t get out of this vicious circle. Only with the connection of Kṛṣṇa, the autocrat, the great repository of love and beauty, will you be saved. Otherwise in whatever position you are, if you are apathetic to that, you are doomed. That is our position. The Kṛṣṇa conception is the real purpose of the varṇāśram but they cannot ascertain that, mostly, and they wander up and down. That is our creed. That is nirguṇ and this is all saguṇ, going up and down.
ābrahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ, punar āvartino ‘rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya, punar janma na vidyate
(Bhagavad-gītā, 8.16)
[“O Arjuna, from the planet of Lord Brahmā downwards, the residents of all planets are naturally subjected to repeated birth and death. But, O Kaunteya, upon reaching Me, there is no rebirth.”]

The easiest thing

Krishna consciousness is a very easy thing because it is everybody’s religion. It is not the religion of Hindus, it is not the religion of Muslims, or Christians, or Buddhists, or followers of the Shankar sampradāya. They have some sampradāya [group], but we do not really have a sampradāya. Krishna consciousness is the religion of the jīva-soul.
jīvera ‘svarūpa haya—kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’
kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’, ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 20.108)
[“The soul is by nature an eternal servant of Krishna. The soul is Krishna’s tatastha-sakti (marginal potency); a manifestation both distinct and non-distinct from Krishna.”]
kṛṣṇa bhuli’ sei jīva anādi-bahirmukha
ataeva māyā tāre deya saṁsāra-duḥkha
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 20.117)
[“When souls outside the realm of time and space turn away from Krishna and forget Him, Maya subjects them to the various miseries of worldly existence.”]
And how can we get relief from this environment? That has also been given by Kavirāj Goswāmī very clearly and in a very simple way:
brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 19.151)
[“While wandering throughout the world, a fortunate soul obtains the seed of the creeper of devotion (faith) by the mercy of Guru and Krishna.”]
mālī hañā kare sei bīja āropaṇa
śravaṇa-kīrtana-jale karaye sechana
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 19.152)
[“When a person receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by the process of śravaṇ and kīrtan [hearing and chanting], the seed will begin to sprout.”]
upajiyā bāḍe latā ‘brahmāṇḍa’ bhedi’ yāya
‘virajā’, ‘brahmaloka’ bhedi’ ‘paravyoma’ pāya
tabe yāya tad upari ‘goloka-vṛndavāna’
‘kṛṣṇa-charaṇa’-kalpa-vṛkṣe kare ārohaṇa
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 19.153–4)
[“As one waters the bhakti-latā-bīja, the seed sprouts, and the creeper gradually grows to the point where it penetrates the walls of this universe and goes beyond the Virajā River, lying between the spiritual world and the material world. It attains brahma-loka, the Brahman effulgence, and penetrating through that stratum, it reaches the spiritual sky and the spiritual planet Goloka Vṛndāvan.
“Being situated in one’s heart and being watered by śravaṇ-kīrtan, the bhakti creeper grows more and more. In this way it attains the shelter of the desire tree of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, who is eternally situated in the planet known as Goloka Vṛndāvan, in the topmost region of the spiritual sky.”]

We must search for Śrī Krishna, and it will easily come to us. And who is Krishna? If we go to the sādhu, they will say and show us Reality the Beautiful.

That is all. It is a very easy thing: it is only necessary to have mercy from Sādhu, Guru, and Vaiṣṇava. Through that we will get some sukṛti, and sukṛti means our fortune-maker. We must search for Śrī Krishna, and it will easily come to us. And who is Krishna? If we go to the sādhu, they will say and show us Reality the Beautiful.
You will see God consciousness all over the world, everywhere, under different names. But who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead? That is found in Krishna consciousness. Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and why? That explanation is very simply given in the scriptures. Then we can understand easily that Krishna-bhajan, worship of Krishna, and practising Krishna consciousness is our life’s goal. That has been given by Śrīla Swāmī Mahārāj and Śrīla Guru Mahārāj, and now the day has come when it is continuing [in this world] in a non-stopping way. Maybe somewhere some disturbance comes, and it will come, because that is the nature of this mundane world.  We are always living within a disturbing environment, and so it must be with us, but we shall cross over all  disturbance and proceed to our destiny, and that destiny is, Kṛṣṇa-charaṇa’-kalpa-vṛkṣe kare ārohaṇa, service to Krishna.

Leaving the plane of exploitation, and leaving the plane of renunciation, we must try to establish ourselves in the plane of dedication.

Leaving the plane of exploitation, and leaving the plane of renunciation, we must try to establish ourselves in the plane of dedication. And dedication to whom? We shall surrender to whom? That is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that is Krishna. Śrīmad Bhāgavat said clearly, Kṛṣṇas tu Bhagavān Svayam. In Brahma-saṁhitā it is told,
īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sachchidānanda-vigrahaḥ
anādir ādir govindaḥ sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam
(Śrī Brahma-saṁhitā: 5.1)
We must worship Krishna, because Krishna is Īśvar [the Lord], and He is Parameśvar [the Supreme Lord], and He is sach-chid-ānanda-vigraha, the eternal form of consciousness and bliss. Anādir ādiḥ: He is the beginning and beginningless. His name is Govinda, and sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam, He is the cause of all causes. We can see this very clearly in Brahma-saṁhitā.
With the mood of devotion that is within us and within everybody’s heart we can worship Kṛṣṇa very easily. We have affection, love, and beauty, and through that we can worship Him. Krishna is the ocean of nectar and when we come in touch with Him we will get everything. This is Mahāprabhu’s conception and Śrīla Swāmī Mahārāj and Śrīla Guru Mahārāj, both world Gurus, preached this conception in this world.
Mahāprabhu Chaitanyadev appeared in this world five hundred years ago with His paraphernalia and associates, and through Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s associates the six goswāmīs we have got that Krishna conception, and that is the supreme conception of our lives. Everywhere there is some fearful environment, but in Krishna consciousness the  environment always gives us ecstasy, hope, and happiness. That is the wealth of Krishna consciousness.
krīyatām yadi kuto ‘pi labhyate
tatra laulyam api mūlyam ekalaṁ
janma-koṭi-sukṛtair na labhyate
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 8.70)
[“Pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activity in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be attained only by paying one price — that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.”]

The Vedic knowledge differentiates in many ways, but in Krishna consciousness everybody has the same position

Everywhere there are some rules, regulations, and restrictions, many things which discourage us. In the Vedic knowledge also we can see many things to discourage us: ladies cannot worship the deity, and there are many different types of positions for gents: brāhmaṇ [priestly class], kṣatriya [warrior class], vaiśya [agricultural/trading class], śūdra [worker class], and also brahmachārī [celibate students], vānaprastha [persons retired from worldly work], sannyasī [renunciants], gṛhastha [a person who engages in the duties of family and worldly work]. The Vedic knowledge differentiates in many ways, but in Krishna consciousness everybody has the same position: if they have attraction and hankering for Krishna consciousness then they can enter into that world. There is love, beauty, ecstasy, charm, and laulyam, hankering, is the only wealth. You can buy that only through your hankering.
This is Mahāprabhu’s conception, and we have got that through our Guru Mahārāj and Śrīla Swāmī Mahārāj, and now all over the world people are chanting the Hare Krishna mahāmantra. The Hare Krishna mahāmantra is nondifferent with Krishna, and if we can chant the Hare Krishna mahāmantra, we will get everything that we need and that we want in our lives. We will get everything.
Spoken by Srila Gurudev on 16 July 1992, in Miami, USA