Nine Stages of Divine Love

This is an excerpt from the first draft of the third chapter of my manuscript summary study of Madhurya Kadambini by Srila Vishnvanatha Chakravarti Thakur.

There are nine steps of recovery from the sickness of material desires to the full health of absolute divine love.

  1. Conviction, śraddhā
  2. Saintly Association, sādhu-saṅga
  3. Devotional Practices, bhajana-kriyā
  4. Discarding Garbage, anartha-nivṛtti
  5. Fixation, niṣthā
  6. Taste, ruci
  7. Addiction, āsakti
  8. Internal Dawn, bhāva
  9. Divine Love, prema

When dealing with stages or steps, there are different ways things can progress. In one scenario I have to fully complete step one before I can move on to step two. In another scenario I can begin taking step two before I complete step one.

A mom tells her son, “Finish your dinner, then you can have ice cream.” This is an example where the first step (dinner) must be completed before the second step (dessert) can begin.

“Go running and then you will sweat.” This is an example where the second step can begin without the first step having to be complete. I can begin sweating (step two) anytime after I start running (step one).

The stages of bhakti progress in the later, second manner.

Only bhakti can cause bhakti. Therefore no step towards bhakti will ever be “completed” or surpassed and discarded for something “higher.” Rather each previous stage continues eternally developing, providing the footing and foundation required for subsequent steps to be built upon it.

Conviction (śraddhā), for example, is the “first” step because it is foundation upon which every other step is built. “Pleasing Krsna is the most desirable thing to do with my energy.” Once I get a bit of this conviction, I  start to want to associate with and learn from with some better knowledge than I about how to please Krsna. This is the second step, saintly association (sādhu-saṅga).

Learning from the saintly deepens and strengthens my conviction in the value of pleasing Krsna. This grants me the footing to take the third step,  devotional practices (bhajana-kriyā). Now I put into practice what I am learning from the saintly about how to please Krsna.

Devotional practices are the antimatter to the matter of my materialistic false-ego and the selfish desires rooted therein. That’s why, almost as soon as my very first devotional practice, I begin the fourth step, discarding garbage (anartha-nivṛtti). The willingness to endure the difficult explosions of devotional “antimatter” destroying the “matter” of my selfish false-ego requires that the previous steps I have successfully made become stronger and deeper. I must acquire still deeper conviction in the value of becoming selfless, for which I will require more intimate association with saints of who will help me engage in my devotional practices more effectively.

When the fourth step has substantially reduced the material desires of my false-ego, I become ready to take the fifth: fixation (niṣthā). Now I concentrate on my devotional practices without any significant distraction or laziness. This very soon grants me a firm foundation for making the sixth step: taste (ruci). I develop a real, natural “taste” – an appreciation for the beauty, wonder and attractiveness within the devotional activities I am practicing.

Gaining a natural taste for devotional activities allows me to make the seventh step: Addiction (āsakti), which matures my taste for devotional practice into a zealous, passionate, addiction towards the object of my devotions: Krsna. At this stage, my heart begins to “wrap around” Krsna and become addicted to the hope of pleasing him.

This all-absorbing addiction is the passionate spark which can ignite the very important and difficult eighth step: Internal Dawn (bhāva). At this stage my true spiritual identity as a divine lover of Krsna begins to awaken from ageless slumber. This awakening makes it possible to take the coveted ninth step: Divine Love (prema) by which my divine self fully awakens and I attain a real, tangible, face-to-face relationship with my object of devotion: Sri Krsna.

Upon taking the ninth step successfully, my conviction has fully developed; my saintly association has become absolute (being now in the direct company of the divine Godhead and his eternal associates); my devotional activities are perfected; all trash within my being is irrevocably discarded forever; I have absolute fixation – there is no moment of fluctuation in my love for Krsna; my appreciation for the beauty of devotional activities is overwhelming; my addiction to hopes of pleasing Krsna is all-devouring; the awakening of my true being is complete; and I thus attain a tangible divine loving relationship with Krsna.

After the ninth step I will enter spiritual reality fully and begin to climb further levels of perfection which are beyond our current scope of discussion.

– Vraja Kishor das

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