More About Advancing in Bhakti-Yoga
This continues my previous article.
Utsāha-mayī, the very first stage of practicing bhakti, is a state completely made of enthusiasm, with very very little real substance besides the enthusiasm of being involved in something new and exciting and attractive.
The rest of Unsteady practice (aniṣṭhitā-bhajan) boils down to not really having a clear picture what “devotion” really is, and not really bing particularly convinced (therefore) that its really worth the effort to pursue . The four phases of unsteady practice after the initial excitement wears off, are all about developing the determination to pursue bhakti, and the stage that follows that is all about getting a clear picture of what devotion really is. Specifically, this final stage of unsteady practice is about being able to differentiate genuine devotion to Krishna, from “devotion” employed as a device to get three-meals and a cot in an āśrama, or better (to get disciples, admirers, fans, etc.).
Once we are (a) fairly convinced that bhakti is worth the effort, and (b) can really distinguish sincere from insincere devotion – the next stage focuses on the effort to rid ourselves of insincere devotion and become fully sincere.
This stage is called anartha-nivṛtti – purification (“getting rid of unwanted things,” you could say).
Sri Viśvanātha points out four categories of impurities, and puts them in a certain order, the order in which they naturally become our main focus.
The First Group of Anarthas: Negative Things
The first category is duskṛtyuttara-anartha — impurities arising from “bad deeds.” Thankfully, he also defines what he means by this term. He says it refers to the five ”kleśa (calamities):
1) avidyā — “Ignorance”
2) asmitā — “Selfish worries”
3) rāga — “favoritism”
4) dveśa — the opposite of favoritism, maybe we call it “partiality.”
5) abhiniveśa — being “wrapped up” in the external world.
All five are consequential. In other words, the later results from the former, and the first is the root of them all. So, it would seem clear that a key trait of attaining the stage of anartha-nivṛtti (which I would make, by the way, as the point at which we pass beyond being a “beginner”), is that we start to work hard to get vidyā.
This means we start to work hard to clearly understand Śrī Bhāgavata, and the explanations and elaborations of Śrī Bhāgavata given by Śrī Caitanya’s followers, especially the six Gosvāmī of Vṛndāvana. So, a real key to digging into anartha-nivṛtti is study.
Not everyone is a bookworm, so study isn’t always about books. But somehow or other, we need to really get clear about what Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇava siddhānta is, and what it’s not.
Clarity about the philosophical essentials will deflate the other four kleśa (always being worried about oneself, showing favoritism and partiality, and being so wrapped up in nonessentials and externals.
The Second Group: “Positive” Things
The second group of anartha is sukṛtyuttara — its the stuff that comes as a result of “good deeds.” This means all the wealth and beauty and power and good fortune that we have.
Why is this ”anartha”? It brings a sense of importance and prestige which is antithetical to the fundamental mood of bhakti.
Even if we are wealthy, we should live simply, like an ordinary person, and use our money charitably.
Even if we are beautiful, we shouldn’t flaunt it. We should dress and ornament ourselves modestly and help others feel beautiful.
Even if we are powerful, we should only use power when our responsibilities require us to do so. We should in all other circumstances give space for other people to freely express their will and intention.
By (a) not over-indulging in our good fortune, and (b) sharing our good fortune with others, we become purified from the second group of anartha.
The Third Group: Offenses
Mainly we have to concentrate, Śrī Viśvanātha explains, on offenses regarding Krishna’s names. Other kinds of offenses are also to be considered, but the main thing is far and away offenses to Krishna’s name.
He gives an elaborate explanation of the offenses and how to avoid them. I’ve tried to represent his advice in my book, To Dance in the Downpour of Devotion.
The primary offense is offenses towards people who chant Krishna’s name. The primary remedy is the attempt to chant sincerely and attentively.
The Fourth Group: “Perks”
The fourth group is quite similar to the last stage of aniṣṭhitā-bhajan — trying to use bhakti as a means for earning a livelihood, keeping a roof over our head, filling our bellies, getting respect, etc.
The cure here is not to accept remuneration for devotional service. We should not accept salary for our bhakti seva. Remuneration is not limited to finance. We should not accept praise, we should divert praise to its rightful sources. We should not accept special accommodations, meals, seats, garlands, etc in Krishna’s temples and in āśrama’s of devotees.
Some degree of preferential treatment can be accepted in lieu of social standards (like being an older person) or practical matters (like being ill). But these should always be reduced to bare minimum.
For example, we may be older, more advanced and more learned than the rest of the devotees in an āśrama or temple, but this doesn’t mean we deserve our own apartment in the ashram with a french maid, and a royal throne. It is enough to accept a special blanket or cot that is slightly more than what the others use. It is enough to sit on a slightly more decorated mat.
In this way, we destroy the fourth category of unearth.
When we have made significant progress uprooting the four types of impurities, we naturally begin to concentrate on our devotional practice itself. (which by the way is remembrance,smaraṇ, as a result of hearing, śravaṇa, affectionate glorification of Śrī Krishna’s name-form-qualities-pastimes, kīrtan.)
Here Śrī Viśvanātha says that there are five things that prevent steady kīrtan-śravaṇa-smaraṇa:
1) Sleepiness — this is very blatant and only happens when we are just barely beginning to aspire for steady bhajan (or in very extremely challenging circumstances).
2) Distraction — we aren’t concentrating on the kīrtan (etc), we’re just going through the motions, but thinking about (and even doing) other things.
3) Apathy — though we’re not distracted, we’re also not particularly paying much attention to the kīrtan, not feeling much for it.
4) Faults — being apathetic, our focus is quickly overthrown by our faults. What faults? Śrī Viśvanātha says “anger, greed, pride, etc.” In other words, we focus on chanting for a moment, but then start thinking about something that makes us angry, or something we really want to accomplish, or something that would enhance our pride, etc.
5) Tasting Pleasure — This is the last vestige of unsteady bhajan. Surpassing this one is rightfully called fully situated in niṣṭhā. Here, our focus is able to remain for some time away from being diverted into anger, greed, pride, etc. — but when some opportunity comes to enjoy something, we lose focus and even stop the chanting to enjoy it. When this tendency is surpassed, one is truly at the stage of niṣṭhitā-bhajan.
There is a secret embedded in the way Śrī Viśvanātha terms “Tasting Pleasure”. He calls it rasāsvāda. The secret is that all five faults remain because we as yet have no ruci – no actual ability to taste the joy of devotion of Krishna, therefore we are distracted and so on.
The next stage after niṣṭhā is titled ruci — and is all about developing a taste of the actual beauty and bliss in bhakti-yoga. Hopefully that can be a topic of a post in the near future.