“According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.151)
You want to be a good person. You’ve been troubled by what you see on the news. Lying, cheating, stealing. And that’s just the politicians. You read stories that are so obviously biased it’s sickening. It seems like there is no honor anymore in journalism. People do not want to be straightforward, lest they lose the advantage they seek.
How to go about acquiring good qualities? Should a chart be made, tracking progress, such as a young Benjamin Franklin did? Should each week be dedicated to a specific virtue, hoping for a cumulative effect as time goes by?
In shastra from the Vedic tradition it is said that all good qualities come to a person through directly approaching the Supreme Personality of Godhead and serving Him. That service is known as bhakti-yoga, and it is compared to a blossoming desire tree. For that tree to exist, the seed of the creeper must first be given. The spiritual master is the distributor, and from the properly nourished seed so many good things can come.
The seed of the creeper is a metaphor. The spiritual master, or guru, gives something tangible. In the Bhagavad-gita, the advice is to approach such a person in a humble way. Don’t simply challenge everything they say. Inquire submissively.
“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)
Question and answer. The answers represent knowledge, jnana. The first piece of information given to the aspiring transcendentalist relates to identity. Who am I? The answer is, “Spirit soul, part and parcel of God.” From there even more knowledge is revealed. There are many leaves on the blossom tree of bhakti that relate to different departments of knowledge, such as time, karma, birth and death, and the three modes of material nature.
It’s difficult for the knowledge to have an impact unless there is renunciation. Someone gives me the knowledge that eating too much sugar is harmful. It spikes the blood sugar level too quickly, and too much fluctuation is not good for the health.
Unless I put the principle into effect, the knowledge has little value. In this case the result should be voluntarily accepted renunciation, known as vairagya in Sanskrit. Renunciation is one of the more difficult opulences to acquire, as we are surrounded by objects with the potential for attachment. One need look no further than the online retail outlet. They sell millions of items, meant to bring enjoyment of some sort. What is easily forgotten is the joy that can come from having very little, as the simple life affords better concentration on things that matter.
The practice of bhakti automatically brings renunciation. This is because the sole objective is to please the Supreme Lord. Not that there is only one way to bring a smile to the beautiful face of the Almighty, but when there is such focus, things that were previously important no longer have the same priority. So many leaves on the desire tree sprouted from the seed relate to renunciation of different things.
3. Remembrance of God
Knowledge is not limited to the phenomenal world. I am spirit soul, at present encased inside a covering composed of different gross and subtle material elements. God is also spirit soul, except there is no difference between body and spirit for Him. All dualities, all dichotomies, all contradictory principles – they are part of the material world only.
There are so many leaves on the bhakti tree that are about remembrance of God. He has many pastimes. He has many aspects to His transcendental body. He has said so many things. If you pluck one leaf off the tree, it is not like debiting from a bank account. Remembrance of God continues to expand, as He is infinite.
4. Love for the guru
The spiritual master is responsible for the tree. There is no other way to get it. In special circumstances, the Supreme Lord gives knowledge directly, such as with Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Even then a spiritual master was present. Krishna was the guru. The idea is that through mental speculation alone we can never know someone who is beyond the limits of infinite time and space. We cannot understand what a spiritual form is while we are embodied, either mentally or physically.
The more we remember God, the more we appreciate the person who facilitated that remembrance. We honor the guru by passing on the transcendental wisdom to others. Not everyone has the qualities to be a strong leader, a teacher of many students. Yet just by following the regulative principles of bhakti life a person teaches others. Through their good qualities they give a glimpse of what is in store for the person who carefully nurtures the creeper of devotional service.
5. Endless opportunities for service
Traverse the tree. Go down one branch. Follow another one upwards. You’ll find limitless opportunities for service. Any single leaf is sufficient for bringing eternal happiness. If you find one leaf that says to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” you can do that for this life and many others and not be lacking anything.
Another leaf says to offer flowers to God. Another says to serve others who are trying to nurture their own creeper of devotional service. Another leaf recommends writing down your realizations about God, to help you to justify the practice to yourself. In the material world the gift of a tree is temporary. In the autumn the leaves change color and fall off. There is the winter known as death, where the living entity has to change bodies completely.
The blossom tree of bhakti stands for as long as the individual desires it to be there. Bhakti-yoga is the eternal engagement of the soul, its dharma. It is the true promise land, and a person doesn’t have to wait until the next life to reach it.
Fortunate when guru this life to save,
Creeper of seed of bhakti to me gave.
Nurtured by practices following through,
So many leaves, knowledge and renunciation too.
Not like material tree dying in December,
Eternal, many chances for God to remember.
Serve by chanting, cooking, this way and that,
Happily traversing leaves, up down and back.
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