“In the Hari-bhakti-vilasa there is the following statement about self-surrender: ‘My dear Lord, a person who has surrendered himself unto You, and is in firm conviction that he is Yours, and actually acts in that way by his body, mind and words, can actually relish transcendental bliss.’” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 11)
Friend1: Can someone be a devotee in theory?
Friend2: What do you mean?
Friend1: A theoretical devotee.
Friend2: I still don’t understand. What is the opposite? Is there an analogous category?
Friend1: A practicing devotee. Someone who is actually engaged in the work.
Friend2: What identifies such a person?
Friend1: The tilaka on the forehead. Tulasi beads around the neck. Visiting places of pilgrimage, tirtha; maybe even living there. Associating with other devotees. Hearing hari-katha. Chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend2: What identifies the theoretical devotee? They don’t follow any of the behaviors you just listed?
Friend1: They might desperately want to. They make lofty plans; they promise to one day follow. They are just devoted in theory; at least from an external viewpoint. They have so much love for God in their heart. They always think about Him. They are always remembering His pastimes, such as with Shri Rama and Shri Krishna.
Friend2: That is very nice.
Friend1: They don’t necessarily chant the holy names. The daily responsibilities take up the majority of the time. But they never stop thinking; they relate their experiences to something spiritual.
Friend2: In what way?
Friend1: For instance, on a morning where they feel extremely tired, even after having slept for a sufficient amount of time, they can’t help but remember Lakshmana.
Friend2: The younger brother of Rama.
Friend1: They appreciate Lakshmana’s sacrifice in the forest period, as described in the Ramayana. He would go without sleep so as to keep a careful watch on Rama and His wife Sita.
Friend2: The best brother you could ever hope to find.
Friend1: This person applies butter to their bread for the morning meal. They immediately think of young Krishna and how much He loves butter. They wonder if what they are eating at the moment would be up to Krishna’s preferred standard.
Friend2: The person you are describing is not a theoretical devotee. They are dear to Krishna, in truth.
Friend1: Okay, but no one would ever identify them as such. They are not following the principles for practical realization.
Friend2: Does it matter?
Friend1: I am asking you. What is the purpose to the rules and regulations, then? Why are people living in the temples? Why even have a specific house of worship? If you can succeed in theory, why do you need reality?
Friend2: It is not easy to reach the standard you described. In Bhagavad-gita Krishna advises to always think of Him, to become His devotee, and to be saved in that manner. But who can actually carry out that recommendation? We need help. We require assistance. The practical life of a devotee, in terms of following the recommendations of the spiritual master, facilitate elevation to the highest platform of consciousness.
Friend1: Let’s say that I am at the platform of understanding. Does this mean I should abandon the rules and regulations?
Friend2: You can, but more often than not someone like that takes the rules even more seriously.
Friend1: Why is that?
Friend2: Several reasons. They are afraid of falling into the illusion of maya. They don’t want to take the chance. They might also wish to help others by giving an example to follow. This is the easiest way to teach children. Example is better than precept. Countless people have been liberated through simply desiring to imitate the devotional activities of their parents.
Friend1: That makes sense. If a child can imitate his father shaving a beard, why not also in offering worship to the Supreme Personality of Godhead?
Friend2: The living example is vital. It proves that the theoretical can manifest into reality. It is a way to prove that the principles of sanatana-dharma can make a lasting impact.
Not with tilaka known,
Keeping to themselves alone.
Not with standard dress,
How God then to bless?
Though in theory considered,
By consciousness delivered.
Since mattering most the connection,
Perhaps not by outward detection.