There is one śloka in the Bhagavad-gītā, which is essential in regards to understanding the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa. He says:
bhaktyā mām abhijānāti
yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jïātvā
“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Bg. 18.55)
The whole secret on going back home, back to Godhead is explained here. Lord Kṛṣṇa says in another place:
janma karma ca me divyam evaṁ yo vetti tattvata
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti so ‘rjuna
“When one understands the transcendental nature of My birth or appearance the nature of my appearance activities disappearance their transcendental nature you are eligible to enter the kingdom of God, you will come back to Me and you don’t have to take another birth in the material world.” We have to understand about Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa’s nature. And how to understand? That is explained here, in this śloka:
bhaktyā mām abhijānāti yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jïātvā viśate tad-anantaram
We can understand Kṛṣṇa only by devotional service, bhakti. Bhaktyā. Śrīla Prabhupāda translates: “by pure devotional service”. Not by karma, by activities themselves, not by tapasya, not by austerities, not by shaving the head very nicely, not by any other process. Only bhakti, pure devotional service. That pure devotional service doesn’t depend on any material circumstance, but it must be performed properly. Devotional service is the quality of work. Ultimately it is the consciousness in which we perform a particular activity. Śrīla Prabhupāda explains in his purport to Bg.3.27 that two men can be engaged in the same activity, this a paraphrase, let’s say in a factory, they work the same job, they do the same thing, but one works to get money and to acquire object of sense gratification, intoxication etc. and one works to let’s say to support the temple or he himself is a devotee and is in a situation he has to get a job. So he goes there, he doesn’t hesitate and he works for the sake of preaching, he works for the sake of Prabhupāda’s mission, he works to please the Lord. Or let’s take brahmacārīs in the temple – they go out to distribute books. Two devotees: one, so-called devotee, is distributing books and another, an actual devotee, is also distributing the same books. The first one does it for name and fame and to collect money, to be the most wonderful and he wants to be respected because book distribution is a very great service, and the other one does it because he wants Śrīla Prabhupāda’s and Kṛṣṇa’s message to be spread. He does it to serve the mission of his spiritual master without any personal consideration. The activity is the same but the consciousness is different. One is called a karmī and the other is called a bhakta. Karmī means that he works for the results and he wants to enjoy his senses, gross or subtle. The other one serves to please Kṛṣṇa.
So, we see that even in devotional life we still may not be properly situated. We may do all the activities – pūjā, worship, cleaning, there are all kinds of services in the temple or in devotional life overall, but if we do not perform them in proper consciousness – in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, prīti pūrvakam – with love and devotion, then that is not exactly what is required. It will take a long time to become an actual Vaiṣṇava.. That kind of “service” will act, of course, we become purified, but it is like sprinkling water on the fire that we want to kindle. You have wet wood, wet matches, you try to throw a spark there and at the same time you sprinkle water. That fire will take a long time to be ignited.
But if we understand this principle, that it is the Kṛṣṇa consciousness… That’s why Prabhupāda named it “Kṛṣṇa consciousness”. Not the activity, not the external features, although that is all important and we also have to follow these formalities, there is a form to the process. It is not formless, it is not impersonalism. Everything has a form; there is a relationship between devotees – between senior and junior devotees, between more advanced and less advanced. So we follow that, but they are not end in themselves. There must be pure consciousness, pure devotional service. Śrīla Prabhupāda also explains that this type of work, even a little progress on this path can save one from the greatest danger which is to degrade again into the animal species.
We have to understand Kṛṣṇa fully. Śrīla Prabhupāda says: “One who is fully conversant with the Kṛṣṇa science becomes eligible to enter into the spiritual Kingdom the abode of Kṛṣṇa.” Again, it is important to understand. The ultimate understanding is not mental or intellectual but still, there is knowledge, there is the philosophy. We have to use our brain. Ultimately, devotional service is pure sentiment. Not ANY sentiment, but pure sentiment. Every living entity is eternally in love with Kṛṣṇa but that love is now covered, so we have to dis-cover that love, and for that purpose we have to understand the process of purifying that original sentiment, now perverted into lust.
For example, there is another very important book – Nectar of Devotion – the complete science of bhakti-yoga. Prabhupāda says here that we have to be conversant with Kṛṣṇa science, and that science is completely explained in the Nectar of Devotion: all the rasas, all the offenses, all the procedures, the mahā-mantra, Kṛṣṇa’s features… If you want to know how Kṛṣṇa looks like, everything is very nicely explained there. Kṛṣṇa’s flutes, Kṛṣṇa’s different dresses, different ornaments, Kṛṣṇa’s moods, the moods of the devotees and so many other details are exposed there in a wonderful way.
As a psychologist, I was astonished to read all these descriptions of different mental and emotional states of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. Śrīla Prabhupāda says that there are words in Sanskrit language describing a particular state – emotional or mental – which don’t even have an English equivalent. Such elaborate expositions are nowhere else to be found. Such elaboration exists only in our Vaiṣṇava literature. The Gosvāmīs have elaborated on Lord Caitanya’s teachings. For example Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī wrote Bhakti rasāmṛta sindhu and Śrīla Prabhupāda rendered it as the Nectar of Devotion. Also all the other books of Śrīla Prabhupāda, like the Bhāgavatam, which describes the multitude of Kṛṣṇa’s energies. For example the Bible says that the first day God created this, the second day this, the third day that and on the seventh day He had to take rest. That is a rough, a very simplistic explanations. But in the Bhāgavatam we have the knowledge about how the elements are coming one from another, how along with the elements the senses and the sense objects manifest, etc. So elaborate, very mind-blowing descriptions: time, karma, the universe, the material world, the spiritual world, everything is there.
We have to hear. Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions: “Devotional service begins by hearing about the Lord. When one hears about the Supreme Lord, automatically the brahma-bhūta stage develops and lust and desires disappear from the heart of a devotee.” That is also mentioned in the Bhāgavatam:
śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ puṇya-śravaṇa-kīrtanaḥ
hṛdy antaḥ stho hy abhadrāṇ vidhunoti suhṛt satām
By hearing simply one becomes pious. One acquires piety simply by giving aural reception to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Puṇya-śravaṇa-kīrtanaḥ – by hearing and by chanting we´ll become purified. śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ – Kṛṣṇa-kathā, topics about Kṛṣṇa. Hṛdy antaḥ stho hy abhadrāṇi – everything which is inauspicious to the heart gradually disappears almost to the point of nil and the heart of the devotee becomes purified. What Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the Gītā is of course confirmed by the Bhāgavatam, that simply by continuous hearing, by submissive hearing… Not just chanting and devotional service has to be done under the order of the spiritual master, but also hearing. To be qualified to hear we have to hear properly, that is another point. Anyone can hear, but not everyone can really hear. Prabhupāda says that an elephant also has ears. His ear is bigger than yours, but can he hear more? He cannot hear more because he is an animal. He can hear the sound and that transcendental sound will purify him, even an elephant becomes purified, but the human being has a special facility and that is that along with the jñāna, the theoretical knowledge, there is also vijñāna – applied or realized knowledge. We have to apply the knowledge. Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks about the brahma-bhūta stage:
brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāìkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
Brahma-bhūta means “I am NOT this body, I am spirit soul”. We have to develop that spiritual realization and that is done by devotional service. Kṛṣṇa says that only at the stage of brahma-bhūta one is eligible to engage in devotional service, but paradoxically, we attain to the stage of brahma-bhūta by performing devotional service. By engaging in devotional service we confirm a sort of understanding, at least theoretical, that “I am not this body”. That theoretical understanding is applied by engaging oneself in devotional service so that theoretical jñāna which we derive by reading / hearing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books becomes vijñāna – applied understanding. It may not be realized fully or actually but it is realized on that platform – by following the instructions of the guru. Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions: “Arcana means worship of the Deity in the temple. By executing this process one confirms himself to be not the body but spirit soul.” (NoD: ch.9)
Devotee´s performance of the ārati ceremony is a confirmation of his realization that “I am not his body”. That applies to other services as well. Why would one waste time by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa? Well, because we have been explained that we are not this body, we are spirit soul and we contact Kṛṣṇa, God, by chanting on his holy name, so we do it.
There are two sentences at the end of the purport to the 18.55 verse which were removed from the original transcript dictated by Śrīla Prabhupāda and are not to be found in the 1972 and 1983 editions of the Bhagavad-gītā, but you can find them in our B.L.I.S.S. edition. They are very important, I don’t know why it was left out. Śrīla Prabhupāda says: “When persons suffering from jaundice disease are cured by chewing sugar candy they can understand the taste of the sugar candy. This is the way of attaining perfection and this is the perfection itself simultaneously.”
This is very important to understand. The process of devotional service is absolute. It is not relative that there is an “A” and then some linear action and then there is a result, the “B”. Yes and no at the same time. There is a goal, a perfection to be achieved, which is pure devotional service and that is achieved by devotional service itself and nothing else. The brahma-bhūta realization is achieved by engaging in activity which is the result of understanding the brahma-bhūta concept – “I am not this body, so let me engage as a soul in devotional service and by doing that I actually realize that I am not this body”. Similarly, hearing. What is the purpose of hearing? To understand about Kṛṣṇa and then the result is then when we become purified, we will simply want to hear more. By hearing we come to the to the perfection, which is to hear constantly about Kṛṣṇa without interruption. Similarly chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. The purification process begins with chanting, just like we tell everyone “Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa!” We go through the restaurant streets, people are eating their beef steaks and they hear the holy name and sometimes they also join in and chant “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa!” What do they know about brahma-bhūta or things like that? He doesn’t know anything but he is hearing and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and he´s becoming purified.
This chanting is also the beginning, and why do we chant? We chant to come to the perfection which is to chant purely. We begin the purification process by chanting and when we purify completely we continue to chant. The process itself is the goal and the goal is the process. We perform devotional service not for any other reason but to serve Kṛṣṇa, to perform that devotional service. The means and the end are identical. It is absolute.
Just like Kṛṣṇa is not different from his name, from his form, He is also not different from devotional service. If pure devotional service is executed under the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master, that will bring the devotee to the platform of perfection. Kṛṣṇa also helps. He says:
teṣāṁ satata-yuktānāṁ bhajatāṁ prīti-pūrvakam
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ yena mām upayānti te
If one serves Me with love and devotion – prīti, satata – constantly without interruption bhajatām – worships Me, prīti-pūrvakam – with love, I give the intelligence by which he can come to Me.
To come to the spiritual world is not a joke exactly. You can’t kick out the gate in Goloka Vṛndāvana: “Yo, I’m back, back home!” No. One has to develop a spiritual intelligence to discriminate: “This is māyā, in this world and this is devotional service. This is illusion, this is reality.” That is the intelligence that Kṛṣṇa will give you – to understand properly what is what in order to progress without any hindrance in the process of devotional service.
In his purport Śrīla Prabhupāda also mentions the māyāvādīs, the impersonalists. They interpret these words of Kṛṣṇa, viśate – “enters into Me” in their own way. But that is wrong, as the individuality of the soul is never lost. In another place Kṛṣṇa says:
mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ
manaḥ-ṣaṣṭhānīndriyāṇi prakṛti-sthāni karṣati
Mama means “My”, eva – certainly, aṁśa – part, jīva – the living entity, sanātana – eternally. Kṛṣṇa says that. How can anyone interpret this as merging of individual soul with the Supreme Soul, when Kṛṣṇa says that the living entity is eternally His part and parcel. This merging, or entering is not merging together but it is, as Śrīla Prabhupāda says, like when the green bird enters the green tree so it seems there is no difference; they’re both green you can see the bird there, but he is there individually and he enjoys the fruits in the tree. Similarly the jīva, the living entity, re-enters the spiritual world, where the quality of everything is the same. Everything in the spiritual world is sac-cid-ānanda-vigraha. The spirit soul is sat-cit-ānanda-vigraha, Kṛṣṇa is sat-cit-ānanda–vigraha, everything there sat-cit-ānanda-vigraha and this is the merging. Qualitatively they merge. Everything is one there, spiritual but quantitatively the everyone retains his individuality. Just like Kṛṣṇa’s flute is also a living entity, Kṛṣṇa’s ankle bells, Kṛṣṇa’s dress, Kṛṣṇa’s everything is a living entity; the trees there, the cows, calfs, cowherd boys, everyone. Every stone in Goloka Vṛndāvana, every piece of fruit is a living entity in his own svarūpa, serving Kṛṣṇa is on own way – śānta, dāsya, sakhya, vātsalya, mādhurya – five types of relationships.
We have to understand what is the spiritual world, what is Kṛṣṇa’s nature, that it is transcendental, what does it mean, how Kṛṣṇa appears, disappears, how He performs His pastimes, what is the purpose of all that and combined with our sincere efforts to please Kṛṣṇa through pleasing the spiritual master – yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādo yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ‘pi – we cannot jump over, access Kṛṣṇa directly. We have to serve the lotus feet of the spiritual master. Śrīla Prabhupāda has a mission, he has a particular desire to be fulfilled and that is that everyone in this world hears the holy name, hears about Kṛṣṇa.
There are many services one can render to Śrīla Prabhupāda: you can massage his feet, you can massage his back, you can hang a garland on him, you can drive him in a car, you can cook for him, you can bow down, everything you can do. But what he really appreciates is the preaching – distributing his books and performing harinām-saṅkīrtan – that is the heart and soul of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission. Kīrtan, book distribution and prasādam distribution. This must go on under any circumstance. Either there is a temple or there is no temple, there are many devotees or there is just one warrior, it doesn’t matter, these things must go on. Śrīla Prabhupāda is very pleased by them. Devotees who are engaged in this way, are very, very fortunate. Of course everyone can be engaged in devotional service: give support, everyone can give a donation. Many times devotees struggle. Everyone has some means to engage himself in devotional service; if you cannot preach directly, then you support the preachers. Give your money, work and give money to the temple so the temple can be maintained and you come to the temple. Don’t go on holiday to the beach! If you want to go to the beach come to Fuengirola we have a beach here for you as well, but we have a temple here, so you can go to the beach if you like. But come to the temple. Why not? Support the temple and then come when you have time. Why do you go anywhere else? One should not travel anywhere if there is no temple, if there is no friend, if there is no sādhu…
Everyone can be engaged very nicely. It is not that “oh I’m too old, oh, there is no temple, ISKCON is gone oh this, oh that”… No material circumstance can hamper you. You have to understand where is a bona fide saṅga, where devotees follow properly and then support that or join. Don’t be aloof. “Oh, I have my own temple, my own alter I also offer prasādam.” You offer prasādam and then? You eat and distribute to no one? That is not devotional service, that is sense gratification: “Kṛṣṇa bless my sense gratification, make it make my food taste better.” That is not exactly what is required. Devotional service must be pure, unmotivated and under the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master. Then there is success.