“My dear Arjuna, one who is engaged in My pure devotional service, free from the contaminations of previous activities and from mental speculation, who is friendly to every living entity, certainly comes to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.55)
yaḥ sa mām eti pāṇḍava
In reading books about bhakti-yoga, the term “pure devotee” comes up quite often. The word “devotee” should be sufficient to get the point across. This word references someone who has taken the incredible step of relinquishing the pressure of responsibility for their future wellbeing and placing at least some of the burden on the highest person. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that only after many births does one try to understand Him in truth and that such a soul is rare.
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“After many births and deaths, he 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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
Sincerely trying to understand God the person makes a person a devotee. What need is there for the “pure” adjective, then? What is the difference between an ordinary devotee and a pure one? As is often the case, an easy way to understand something is to look at the negation first. We can look to things that aren’t pure devotion and study to see why it is the case.
Where better to look than an area that often gets mislabeled as devotion: demigod worship. It is a false notion that Hindus believe in many gods. Sure, there are many godly personalities mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient scriptural tradition that has no known date of origin. These personalities are in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. The mode of passion dominates in the human species, and in the animal kingdom there is darkness or ignorance.
There are many “gods” in the Vedic tradition, but there are also many similar personalities found in our earthly realm. In music, a popular band is labeled as “metal gods.” In sports, the top performer is looked at as a sort of god. We have high and low in this realm, where some people are better than others in their areas of expertise.
Just as with the people of this world, with the heavenly residents there can be business transactions. Though externally the interactions look like worship, there is a reciprocal agreement binding both parties. One party does the worshiping and the other accepts. Upon acceptance of the offered items, the god in question bestows the necessary gifts. Those gifts are known beforehand. In fact, the bestowal of those gifts is the entire impetus for the worship.
In ordinary business dealings, there are sometimes loyalty discounts. For instance, if you are currently an owner of a particular make of vehicle, the company might offer you a discount if you purchase a new car of the same make. This is an incentive to get you to stick with the company. Though these discounts are available, they are not required for the interaction. Just because I buy a certain toaster today, it doesn’t mean I am obligated to buy from the same company in the future.
The same applies for demigod worship. I could have worshiped a particular divine figure my entire life, year after year. It doesn’t mean that the god will automatically help me again. The practical example of this was seen in Vrindavana some five thousand years ago. The residents had worshiped the king of heaven, Indra, every year to get good rainfall for their crops. They skipped it one year and it almost cost them their lives. Indra was not happy. He did not show any favoritism to them based on loyalty.
The distinguishing factor in pure devotion is desire. In devotion to various gods, there is a desire stipulated in the subtle reciprocal agreement. Basically, I worship a particular god to get something from them. It is the entire reason for my worship. The god in question gives a return on the investment, but the initial investment must be there. Hence the relationship is based on conditions.
Pure devotion is described as ahaituki and apratihata, unmotivated and uninterrupted. These two conditions can only be met in worship of God the person. In pure devotion you are free from the impurities arising from desire for fruitive rewards, esoteric knowledge or mystic perfection. In short, you don’t want anything out of the person you are worshiping. You love them purely; your attitude is described as prema.
In this interaction there is something much better than the loyalty discount. Whatever progress you make remains. This means that if you slip up and somehow fall back into the category of ordinary devotion, you don’t lose your place when you start back up again. Even if you go the route of atheism, where your god of choice is the personal senses or the material nature as a whole, you are not punished any more than you already are for leaving the side of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Thus it makes all the sense in the world to choose the path of pure devotion. Since there is a personality on the other side who monitors progress, the object of pure devotion has distinguishable features. Since these features are so attractive, they are the object of contemplation for the pure devotee. The personality worshiped is known by such names as Krishna, Vishnu and Rama, and He is the lone person who can accept pure devotion. Even if there are other desires in the beginning, devotion to Him is so strong that there is a purifying effect. So regardless of the state of being when entering bhakti, it is the best option to take.
How to distinguish for sure,
Between ordinary and devotion pure?
The desire of worshiper just see,
Looking for specific reward is he?
With demigods an arrangement made,
Benediction from proper offering paid.
With Krishna progress never to stop,
If even again into impure path to drop.
Categories: devotional service