Bhakti Rasa

Hanuman with Sita and Rama in his heart“For those who have merged in the transcendental mellow of devotion to Shri Rama, being free of all material desires, their minds are like fish that swim in the nectar made of supreme love for the holy name that rests within the heart.” (Dohavali, 30)

sakala kāmanā hīna je rāma bhagati rasa līna |
nāma suprema piyuṣa hada tinhahum̐ kie mana mina||

Though aham brahmasmi is a profound realization for those previously limited by blanket sentimentalism dedicated to a particular spiritual figure or from allegiance to the demands of the senses, this understanding is only the beginning, a starting point for those who are serious about following the path of self-realization to the finish. Aham brahmasmi says that “I am Brahman”, or that which is the Absolute Truth. The positions of good and bad, favorable and unfavorable, are not absolute, as the resulting conditions do not apply equally in every circumstance. For instance, in a sporting event, one team has a particular set of rules and regulations to follow which will ideally lead them to the favorable condition of victory. But another team has their own set of guidelines intended to bring about the victorious situation at the culmination of play. Since in either case the system of guidance aimed at maintaining an essential characteristic, or dharma, is only beneficial to one group of individuals, the truths espoused cannot be considered universally applicable or even beyond duality. What is victory for one person is defeat for another. The Absolute Truth is that which transcends every duality found in the phenomenal world, with the most obvious one being birth and death.

changing bodiesBirth is considered the beginning and death the end, but neither event has any bearing on the identifiable aspect within the life form: the soul. The soul is thus considered Brahman, beyond the influences of birth, old age, disease and death. The only reason birth and death are viewed the way they are is because of ignorance. As soon as there is contact with material nature, the mind deludes the soul into forming attachments which keep the person further and further away from the aham brahmasmi realization. Therefore, understanding that we are Brahman, which is the opposite of material nature in quality, is the first instruction provided to students of the Vedic tradition, a system of spirituality which does not rely on allegiances to specific historical personalities or dogmas. Though it may seem otherwise to the ignorant, the Vedas are a scientific discipline aimed at granting its participants release from the doldrums of material existence, which are fueled by further ignorance and attachment.

After understanding that we are Brahman, or Truth, we must know how to make use of this information. Just knowing that we are spirit soul is not enough to bring about a better future condition, because the nature of the soul is to be active. Without a fulltime occupation, one that keeps eagerness, anticipation, excitement and thrill alive at every turn, the individual residing within a temporary dwelling will be left no choice but to remain attached to maya, or the illusory material nature. After understanding Brahman, the next step is to abandon kama, or attachment for material enjoyment. Kama can also mean lust or sense gratification, both of which are rooted in desire.

Why is desire bad? How does it hurt us? To understand this concept we can again use the analogy to sports. Let’s say that we have a favorite team in a particular sport. They have not won the championship in many years, so we feel bad for them; we want them to desperately win to regain their prestige. Every year ends in failure, as either the team doesn’t make it to the playoff tournament or they lose before the championship round. With each new failure comes renewed heartbreak and questions as to when the big day will happen, if ever.

Stanley CupThe underlying assumption with this mindset is that once our team wins, everything will be good. “If they win, then all the years of heartache will have been worth it. We can relax and know that our team has regained the glory it deserves.” Yet in reality, once the elation of the cherished victory wears off, new desires spring up, which are rooted solely in the new attachment created. The victorious team now has a stature, an aura if you will, that follows them around in the subsequent season. The team also now has to prove that they weren’t one year wonders, that they can back up their championship with another. And what should happen if the team loses? They miss their opportunity to go down as one of the greatest teams in history, those who won repeat championships.

This same example can be expanded out in so many other areas. It is said that the man who isn’t married is always unhappy and so is the man who is married. The unmarried man wants to start a family, have a stable and secure home life, and not be viewed as an oddball by his friends and members of his family. Yet once he does get married, the attachments relating to family and spouse become a great burden, one so heavy that the same man desperately seeks some type of escape, even if it’s a temporary one.

“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.6)

Lord KrishnaThe better option is to remove all desire in the beginning. Completely rooting out desire is actually impossible, however, for it is the nature of the soul to crave activity. Even if one lives completely renounced and sits in meditation, if there is still contemplation on objects of the senses, the renunciation is imperfect. The better option is to find those engagements which don’t deal with maya and which further solidify the aham brahmasmi understanding. By experiencing a higher taste and removing attachment and desires for material advancement, the mind can find the most blissful state.

At the rudimentary level, Brahman is taken to be the soul’s constitutional position. Since material nature, or maya, is the opposite of Brahman, the goal is to find an escape, a release from the clutches of material existence. Therefore controlling desire becomes very important. An even better option is to find a way to use the same elements of material nature to create a condition where the aham brahmasmi mindset doesn’t flee. There is only one process that attains this goal, and not surprisingly, it is also an engagement that corresponds directly with the soul’s constitutional position.

The soul has a desire to love, a penchant which manifests in service. In the conditioned state, the loving propensity is directed at maya, which is like a section of earth that continues to spit out new seeds the more we tend to it. Material nature brings temporary rewards through hard work, or karma, but the reactions only sprout new desires, thus leading to a repetition of the same work, all the while keeping the knowledgeable spirit soul in the dark about its constitutional position. But in activities of bhakti, or devotional service, desires become purified, a higher taste is found, and gaining release from the clutches of material existence is no longer an issue.

Lord RamaThese are the points conveyed by Goswami Tulsidas in the above referenced verse from his Dohavali. The poet first mentions the process that brings the higher taste: devotion to Lord Rama, or Rama bhakti-rasa. The person unfamiliar with the Vedic tradition may take Shri Rama to be a historical personality, a Hindu god, a myth, or just some idol that is worshiped out of ignorance, but Rama’s real position is that of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is too generic a term to describe Parabrahman, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the entity from whom Brahman emanates. As a Supreme Person, God can come to earth whenever He chooses and also be worshiped in a variety of ways. The deity is not an idol but rather a representation of the Supreme Truth that becomes worshipable through the authorized methods used in its construction. The deities of Shri Rama are statues and paintings depicting the transcendental features of the prince of the Raghu dynasty, a seemingly ordinary man with extraordinary capabilities who was in fact an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. Through the deity, God can be worshiped every day, and the worshiper’s consciousness can be changed for the better.

Consciousness is the key element in finding happiness, as the mind is very powerful. Even in the most comfortable material situation, the individual can find himself in perpetual misery due to the mind’s influence. On the other hand, if the proper object of contemplation is found, the mind can become the greatest friend. Through devotional service to Rama free of any material desires, a supremely high taste, or rasa, is found. Is there a way to practice bhakti with material desires? If we worship Shri Rama for the express purpose of receiving some benefit, such as a fortune in terms of money, alleviation of distress, or some other gift not related to the soul, then the devotional efforts are not considered pure. Not only is the worship in this mood tainted, but the transcendental taste relished is also diminished in potency. It is akin to tasting a delicious, sweet cake after placing ketchup on top of it. Obviously the two tastes don’t mix, so the primary object being enjoyed, the cake, will not be fully relished because of the mixture with an unwanted element.

Lord RamaBhakti is best practiced when material desire, or kama, is removed. This isn’t that difficult, as bhakti is about divine love. In any other mood of service, the main objective is to see to the object of pleasure’s pleasure. The same holds true with bhakti, where the aim is to maintain the smile on the beautiful face of Shri Rama, who is non-different from God Himself. Surely Rama always smiles, but when the devotee’s mind is focused on ancillary concerns, the benefit of that smile is not received, nor is the smile readily recognized. When the mood of devotion follows the goal of always seeking Rama’s pleasure and having His association, the taste relished is unmatched.

Ah, but the action doesn’t stop just with tasting devotion to Rama. After the removal of desire and the wonderful transcendental taste comes a pulp, a nectar if you will. This nectar grows in volume through a simple, yet wonderful process, the chanting of the holy name with love. By regularly reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, pure nectar comes out in such abundance that it forms a pond within the heart. The holy name is the magical link to the spiritual world, as it is a transcendental sound vibration that directly represents the Supreme Lord. The holy name is more powerful than the concept of Brahman and even the deity representation. The holy name is the crown jewel of religious objects and paraphernalia, as it can deliver any mind when utilized properly.

Is there a way to use the name improperly? From the wonderful doha given by Tulsidas, we see that being free from desire is the first step. Chanting the name of Rama, Krishna, or any other non-different representation of the Supreme Truth for a personal benefit does not create sweet nectar within the heart. There is certainly a benefit received, as the holy name is supremely powerful, but the churning of the nectar takes much longer and the sweetness of its taste is lessened. But if the individual maintains the bhakti mindset, being merged in bhakti-rasa, the heart will create a pool of nectar through regular recitation of the name done with love.

Hanuman chanting glories of Sita and RamaAnd what do we do with this newfound pool of sweet bliss? The mind, which can make or break our happiness, can then swim in this pond like a fish that is supremely happy. The fish’s attachment to water serves as a wonderful comparison for devotees who want to explain devotional service and the love they feel for God. When taken out of its natural habitat, the fish will die within a few short moments; such is their attachment to their home. No one loves their home more than the fish does, for they will die upon separation. So, when a fish does find a nice pond to swim in, it is understood that it has no desire to leave.

Similarly, once the mind swims in the pond of sweet nectar generated by devotional service to Rama and chanting His name, there will be no need for any other process of religion. Even the desire for salvation gets tossed aside, as the mind has no need to leave its newfound home. The pool gets filled up and maintained through constant recitation of Rama’s name, a process which is the life and soul of the devotee. Those who fail to reach the bhakti platform will always toggle between bhoga and tyaga, enjoyment and renunciation. The ignorant are looking for even more enjoyment in a miserable world, while those stuck on the Brahman platform will always desperately seek escape from a world they view as false. But the devotee will use whatever is around them to further their devotional efforts and thus maintain their newfound transcendental home within the heart. The mind that always swims in the ocean of nectar that is the name of Shri Rama and His holy pastimes will never have to fear birth, death, old age, disease, or the threefold miseries of life again. This transcendental pool remains alive even after the devotee’s departure from the material realm, as the spiritual sky is inundated with the transcendental nectar that is bhakti.

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