Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu, by Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī, is the cornerstone textbook for the practice of bhakti-yoga among those who follow Śrīman Mahāprabhu. In ISKCON, a very prominent branch of such practitioners, the founding Guru, Śrīla Prabhupāda presented this book very, very early on; calling it The Nectar of Devotion.
The second section of the first division of Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu deals with sādhana-bhakti – the practice of cultivating divine love. There, Śrī Rūpa enumerates 64 important practices. He concludes the list, the 60-64th practices, with the most important practices. About these five he says [1.2.238]:
durūhādbhuta vīrye ‘smin śraddhā ‘stu pancake |
yatra svalpo ‘pi sambandhaḥ sad-dhiyāṁ bhāva-janmane ||
“These five are so amazingly powerful
That they bring about the dawning of perfection
In any well-intentioned person who even slightly takes to them,
Even without very firm faith.”
The five practices are, stated in an unsophisticated, unspecific way:
- Worshipping the Deity of Krishna
- Discussing Krishna
- Associating with Devotees of Krishna
- Living in a sacred place
The exact words Śrī Rūpa uses to describe each of these are very important to really understanding what is powerful about the five practices.
He describes this as [1.2.225]:
“Caring for the feet of the beautiful form, with great affection”
The quote he gives to illustrate the power of this practice, from Ādi Purāṇa, shows that we should affectionately care for the beautiful form of Krishna while singing Krishna’s name.
He describes this as [1.2.226]
“Relishing the meanings of the beautiful Bhāgavatam”
All our discussion of Krishna should be rooted in discussing Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. That Purāṇa is full of the nectar of bhakti-rasa in a format that is easily accessible and understandable. Other books elaborating on the Bhāgavatam are non-different from Bhāgavatam, but still the Bhāgavatam itself must always hold the place of paramount importance. We should relish hearing and discussing such things.
Associating with Devotees of Krishna
He describes this as [1.2.228]:
“Becoming close with those who have affection for the Beautiful All-Attractive,
and who are naturally affectionate and of similar mood”
It is not that hanging out with anyone who wears neck beads is one of the five most powerful devotional practices. We must find person who we can easily identify with, both in a mundane sense (we have a similar or compatible background as we) and in a spiritual sense (they conceive of Godhead in a similar or compatible manner as we, and have specific spiritual aspirations that are compatible with our own). Finding such person, we don’t just hang around together, but we become close and seek to emulate their good qualities and appreciate their spiritual devotion.
He describes this as [1.2.230]:
“Fully glorifying the beautiful name”
The qualifier fully means two things: it means to glorify the name from your heart, with sincere emotions; and it also means to decorate the name with melody, rhythm, emotion, and dance – especially (but not exclusively) in congregational groups. The words śrī-nāma specify that he is talking specifically about glorifying Krishna’s name – not simply chanting devotional songs. That is wonderful, but it is not this particular practice (perhaps it can be inclusively counted as a type of “hearing about Krishna” discussed earlier). One can compose songs made of Krishna’s names – such as jaya-rādhā-mādhava and vibhāvari-śeṣa – but the most potent of all is to do Hare Krishna mahā-mantra nāma saṁkīrtan.
This is the most powerful of all the five processes – the other four are meant to enrich and support this. Evidence of the eminence nāma-saṁkīrtan among the five most powerful practices is the fact that Śrī Rūpa quoted four verses illustrating the power of nāma-saṁkīrtan whereas the other four practices he only illustrated with one or two verses. Additionally, Śrī Rūpa composed an original verse for clarifying the topic of nāma-saṁkīrtan and did not do so for any of the other four.
Living in a Sacred Place
He describes this as [1.2.235]:
śrī mathurā maṇḍale sthitiḥ
“Be situated in the circumference of beautiful Mathurā”
Although we can extrapolate that it is very advantageous to make a sacred space within our room, or a sacred room within our house, or even to live in a temple of Krishna, or to live in some holy place such as India, or Purī, or perhaps even Śrīdhāma Māyāpura… still Śrī Rūpa specifically says that we must reside within Mathurā, the greater district of Vṛṇdāvana, if we are to perform this fifth of the five most powerful sādhanas.
Śrī Rūpa concludes his description of the five most powerful practices of bhakti-yoga by composing a beautiful original poem for each. I would like to share those five poems with you.
Caring for the Beautiful Form
Smiling, in his amazing triple-bending posture, with his expanding sidelong glance
With newly blossomed lips set upon his flute, that shines so brightly in the moonlight.
This form of Hari called “Govinda” awaits you near the riverbank at Keśi-ghāṭ
My friend, don’t go there! You will give up your love for everything else if you do!
Hearing the Bhāgavatam
The sounds of the letters of the poems of the tenth canto
Seem to have traveled the pathways to your ears.
Oh what a fool you are, child!
Now you will abandon the most auspicious goals:
Pleasure, prestige, and morality…
You will even discard the bliss of liberation!
Bathed in the tears of his own eyes
Decorated by blossoms of goose-bumps, shivering
Stumbling under the weight of his fully-blossomed, overflowing heart…
Since I have seen that person, my mind no longer finds delight in ordinary things.
I don’t know why.
When the cooling sound of that musician’s song graced the path of my ears
Glorifying the Name and destroying all misfortune,
Oh, my child, at that instant the Name overwhelmed my inner mind
And erased all its previous desires and attractions.
The Area of Mathurā
That splendid, golden place
On the bank of the blue-black river
Where bees hum sonorously around trees
Heavy with Kadamba flowers…
Why does this heavenly forest decorate my mind
with such inexpressible sweetness?