“That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.37)
yat tad agre viṣam iva
tat sukhaṁ sāttvikaṁ proktam
The literal translation of bhakti-yoga is “uniting with the Divine through love and devotion.” We go on a diet to lose weight. We work hard in school to perform well on the exam. We put in a good effort at the office to advance in our career. Yet in each case the real objective is to increase pleasure. They say that misery loves company, but no one intentionally seeks out misery. Happiness is the goal, and so it is the same way for a person practicing bhakti-yoga.
What to do if there is less happiness in the beginning? In the Bhagavad-gita Shri Krishna describes happiness in the mode of goodness to be like poison in the beginning. The mode of goodness is work, charity, sacrifice, and the like that increases knowledge. We can think of it as the right way to do something, and sometimes the righteous path is not always pleasant in the beginning. The reward is worth the effort, however, and in bhakti-yoga the light at the end of the tunnel is the source of all light, Krishna Himself.
pavitram idam uttamam
su-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
As the poison should eventually turn into nectar, there are ways to help the process along. Bhakti-yoga does not have to be a difficult practice, performed reluctantly each day. It can be joyfully performed, as Krishna Himself describes in the Bhagavad-gita.
1. Remove distractions
Got a big exam in a week? Need to clean out your room but haven’t gotten around to it? A great way to get something important done is to first remove distractions. Turn off the television. Put your smartphone into airplane mode. Find a place where you know you can’t talk to people. Change venues if possible, to a place where you’re not accustomed to lounging.
Collectively these hindrances to success in bhakti-yoga are known as maya. The literal definition is “that which is not.” It is illusion. We procrastinate because we think that avoiding the task at hand will bring us some pleasure, but all this does is delay the inevitable. Some focus goes a long way towards helping to recreate the link between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul.
2. Chant the holy names
The japa beads are the backbone of bhakti-yoga practice in the modern age. They create discipline. There is the saying that he who hesitates is lost. If I know that I should connect with God in this life but don’t know how, knowledge of the fact won’t get me very far. The japa mala is a string with 108 individual beads connected. The process is to chant the mantra of bhakti one time on each bead, then going around in a circle. Chanting 108 times is one round, and the serious student of bhakti-yoga chants at least sixteen rounds a day.
3. Follow the four regulative principles
No meat eating, no gambling, no intoxication, and no illicit sex. Collectively these are known as the four regulative principles. To the outsider this seems like a torturous restriction. How can there be any fun in life if there is no drinking? Again, the rules are there to enhance pleasure. The more one adheres to the restrictions while following bhakti-yoga, the faster their advancement will be. Revisiting the previous recommendation of removing distractions, these four sinful activities can be considered the greatest distractions. They are maya’s strongest weapons against the sincere seeker of the truth.
4. Hear about Krishna regularly
Chanting the maha-mantra on the japa beads creates a routine of hearing. The name Krishna and the person Krishna are identical. By chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” just loud enough to hear, Krishna arrives at the scene. Advancement continues through hearing about Krishna the person. This is accomplished through reading books such as the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Through the mercy of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples, these works are now available in many different languages, with appropriate commentaries to explain key concepts in ways the modern reader can understand.
5. Associate with other devotees
You don’t have to go it alone. Others are practicing bhakti-yoga as well. Chanting the maha-mantra lets you hear Krishna the person. The books let you hear about Krishna. If there are no books around, then the devotees will create the same atmosphere of hearing, since they are always talking about Krishna. Indeed, with three things combined it is almost impossible to not progress in bhakti-yoga: chanting the holy names regularly, reading books about the Lord, and associating with other devotees.
The result of implementing such enhancement techniques is that the pleasure increases, even in routine processes. You may have attended an arati ceremony many times before, and labored through singing along to the different verses. Suddenly, the ceremony means so much more to you. This is because you understand more about the person being worshiped. You are so happy to be glorifying someone you know to be great, the Supreme Lord. You appreciate the spiritual master, through whose mercy the increased pleasure has come. You marvel at the dedication of fellow devotees, who have made bhakti-yoga their way of life.
In goodness poisonous taste at the start,
Then with time gradually to depart.
Can make better time in middle to spend,
To bring more quickly nectar awaiting at end.
Follow the regulative principles four,
And associate with devotees more.
Then appreciation of Krishna to increase,
Loving sentiments in chanting to release.
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