“In the course of traversing the universal creation of Brahma, some fortunate soul may receive the seed of bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotional service. This is all by the grace of guru and Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.151)
Through complacency and growing accustomed to viewing the same things over and over again, man develops the tendency to overlook the root causes to visual effects. The most obvious example of this comes with food, which we readily partake of to sustain our lives. But the different foods that we eat, including even animal flesh, share a common original source: the seed. Plant life sustains animal life, and the plant starts out as a tiny seed that needs careful attention and maintenance to grow. When there is maturity, there are resulting fruits which can then be either enjoyed or put to good use. The overlooked seed, or origin, has a vital importance not only in eating, but in so many other areas as well, including especially in spiritual life. The spirit soul residing within the body has a magnetic attraction to God, but unless the seed of devotional service is sown, tended and harvested, progression towards the ultimate destination will remain checked.
Solely studying the results of action while overlooking the root cause is very easy to do. This oversight is especially prevalent in politics. If a large corporation plans to shut down one of its manufacturing plants or if it is about to apply massive layoffs, the politicians, those seeking popularity from the electorate, will jump on the opportunity to save jobs. The rallying cry for the proponents of the government intervention is quite simple: save jobs. “If we don’t do something now, thousands of people will lose their source of income, and they will be left destitute. We should do whatever we can to save these jobs.” The intentions are certainly noble, as massive layoffs are never a good thing. But what is obviously overlooked in the whole scenario is the root cause. How were the jobs created in the first place?
With any business, the seed, the impetus for action, is the desire for profit. The founder of the business has an idea to sell a product or service for a profit. This means that whatever it costs him to produce the good or service, he will charge more than that amount from his customers. This in turn will lead to a profitable venture. In the beginning, there is no concern given to jobs or employing large sectors of a particular region. If the explicit desire to hire workers is not there, how do we get jobs? Depending on the demand for the product or service, the business will want to expand production capabilities. This is where extra manpower can help. Ideally, the more hands applied to a job, the larger the output will be. If more output always means more profit, just keep on expanding, right?
Ah, but there is a catch. The workers will not work for free; they need to be compensated for their effort. This immediately will cut into the profit margin of the business, as the cost to produce the good or service goes up. The employer must weigh the cost to hire the new employee against the increase in productivity that will result. If the profit margin is maintained, the new worker can be hired without a problem. Indeed, this is how large scale companies are able to employ thousands of people. The business owner may have been a nice person or a ruthlessly greedy mogul to start, but their personal characteristics played little to no role in the hiring of employees. Since the thousands of new workers were capable of increasing productivity and thus overall profit, they were hired.
Now let’s fast forward to when the layoffs happen. For some reason or another, either through downturns in the economy, shifts in the buying habits of the consumer, or an increase in the cost of a resource vital to the production of the business’ main selling item, the costs incurred by having so many employees becomes too much of a burden. In order to maintain their profit margins, the company owners will downsize the operation. They will either close down one or two plants, or they will lay off thousands of workers. Just as with any other aspect of the business, the decision is made entirely based on the effects on productivity and profit. Therefore when the politician intervenes to try to save jobs by offering subsidies or incentives, they are completely ignoring the seed of the company, the leading factor behind its formation and the hiring of the employees. Without an increase in profit and a tangible return on productivity from the employed workers, no amount of government intervention will do anything to stabilize the company’s health for the long term.
By only studying the results and ignoring the cause, the ability to repeatedly produce favorable outcomes becomes difficult. Spiritual life is a wonderful example of this. Many saints of the past became fully enlightened through devotional practice. In the Vedic tradition, the most exalted servants of God are known as Vaishnavas, or devotees of Vishnu, which is another name for God. The elevated Vaishnava spends his time engaged in bhakti-yoga, or the union of the individual soul with the divine consciousness through a mood of pure love. As a result of this dedication, the Vaishnava is humble, kind, sweet, benevolent, peaceful, honest, trustworthy, and fully in control of his senses. He can survive on very little food and remain completely satisfied within the mind. He can go without eating meat, drinking alcohol, engaging in illicit sex, and taking part in gambling. Indeed, simply from his religious efforts he stays happy.
Now let’s say that we want to acquire the same characteristics. We want to be always happy and not be taken off the righteous path by the maltreatment shown to us by others. Will the right way to go about achieving these goals be to simply imitate the Vaishnava saints? Can we just study the results of their action and somehow achieve an equivalent status? Just as we saw with the employees that were hired in the business and the fruits that emerged from the plants, there has to be an original cause to get results, which in this case is a seed implanted into the conditioned soul’s heart. Before there is any question of advancement in devotional life, the seed must be there.
Where do we get this seed from? Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead who famously travelled throughout India some five hundred years ago, said that a truly fortunate individual is able to take up the most sublime engagement after receiving the seed of devotional service from a guru, or spiritual master. This should make sense. If we want to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, there must be a source to the initial spark of desire. That source will likely be someone who is already practicing in the field that we come to admire so much. Similarly, to attain true enlightenment, to make the most of the human form of body, one must have the benefit of receiving the seed of the creeper of devotional service, bhakti-lata-bija, from a spiritual master.
What will the spiritual master teach? What will be the benefit of connecting with him? The seed of devotional service starts off as something not very powerful, but it has the ability to turn into the most potent force. Just as food serves as our source of energy, allowing us to accomplish our tasks for the day, the seed of devotional service gives us the energy, enthusiasm and fortitude to continue in our march towards eternal freedom. The spirit soul remains in various body types for as long as this seed is either absent or not fully developed. Once the seed turns into a creeper and then ultimately into a full blown tree, the conditioned soul becomes liberated and free from the effects of the senses. Thenceforth all the results that were previously sought, such as peace of mind, calmness, and control over the senses, are achieved very easily.
The seed of devotional service is initially tended to by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The guru advises the disciple to chant this mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. The chanting routine is the water, soil and sunlight for the seed of devotional service. Chanting alone provides the nourishment required for the seed to bloom into a creeper and then eventually into a beautiful tree. The secret to devotion through transcendental chanting is that the consciousness is altered. Through fruitive activity, the pursuit for profit, or the desire for the removal of distress, the consciousness remains steadily focused on the body. The service propensity of the soul, which is its most dominant feature, remains dormant in the absence of divine contact. If there is a God, why shouldn’t we love Him? If we love Him, why wouldn’t we chant His names all the time?
God is certainly without a name, but since He performs so many glorious activities, the devotees like to affectionately address Him with different titles. Since God is the most attractive, Vaishnavas refer to Him as Krishna. Since the Lord can provide immense transcendental pleasure to anyone connected with Him, He is also known as Rama. Since Krishna has full possession of the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom, He is often addressed as Bhagavan. There are so many names the devotees have applied to Krishna because of His qualities, forms and pastimes. Reciting these names over and over again keeps the consciousness purified.
From the seeds distributed to the disciples by the spiritual master, trees of devotion get planted everywhere. But what’s even more remarkable is that the guru teaches his spiritual descendants how to distribute seeds themselves. This was especially the mission of Lord Chaitanya, who cut through the barriers erected by sectarian traditions and ignorance by traveling from town to town and inducing others to chant the names of Hari [Krishna]. Without the seed, there cannot be any fruit, so without the holy name being freely distributed to everyone, the ancient art of bhakti remains a secret known only to a select few. Since bhakti is the constitutional position of the soul, it should not remain hidden from anyone. All living entities are lovers of God; they just may not know it. Even the atheists worship the Lord; they just refer to Him as “death” or “nature”. The impersonalist philosophers see the Lord as a giant energy of spiritual light, while the yogis see Him as the sound vibration “om” that will grant them tremendous abilities.
But only through the seed of devotional service can God’s true nature be revealed. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna is the very object of service that everyone is looking for. When the loving propensity is matched with a worthy beneficiary, the energy and enthusiasm for service never wane. Imagine waking up every day and working on things that you love to do. This is how the devotees feel when they get to chant, when their seed of devotional service has matured to the point that the tree of devotion blooms abundantly beautiful flowers throughout every season. The lotus flower sprouts open when the sun shines and then shrinks back at night, but the spiritually infused transcendentalist connected with Krishna remains always in bloom, ready to accept the rays of spiritual sunshine that come from Krishna and the sound vibrations describing His pastimes, names and forms.
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
In the Bhagavad-gita, the treatise on Vedic philosophy given by Lord Krishna Himself, it is advised to Arjuna, the Lord’s cousin and dear friend, that he should approach a spiritual master, one who has seen the truth, and then learn the art of devotional service from him. If there is to be progress made in the development of consciousness, the seed of devotional service must be acquired through contact with a guru. Those who are fortunate enough to receive the seed and care for it properly then go one step further by distributing as many of the same seeds to others. If the world turns into a garden filled with plants of devotion, which are regularly watered by the chanting of the holy names, there will be no scarcity of anything, save maybe ignorance and pain.