For the advanced devotee of Lord Krishna, nothing surpasses the opportunity to serve and please Him.
By Jagannatha Gopala Dasa
The highest goal of spiritual practices far surpasses simply freedom from the suffering of material existence.

Having been born and raised in an Indian brahmana family, I have often heard from elder family members and friends about their aspiration for moksha, or mukti – that is, liberation from material existence. People who have lived tough lives filled with ups and downs often aspire to be rid of all the encumbrances of a life of struggle in this world. “Enough is enough,” they say. “Now I want liberation from all this suffering.” Life in the material world is indeed a hard struggle for existence. Krishna confirms this in the Gita (8.15), where He describes the material world as duhkhalayam (full of miseries) and ashashvatam (temporary). Naturally, then, Krishna considers that recognizing birth, old age, disease, and death as the real problems of life is one of the aspects of true knowledge. Consequently, the perfection of many spiritual paths in the typical Vedic context is the attainment of a state of equanimity, free from the miseries of the material world. Thus, I grew up with the idea that the attainment of a peaceful state of existence, devoid of any miseries or problems in life, is indeed the objective of spiritual practice.

Being fortunate enough to be introduced to the path of bhakti, or devotional service, I came to understand that mere cessation of misery, though an exalted state of spiritual realization not easily reached, is not the highest point of spiritual attainment. Right at the outset, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings regarding the path of devotional service raise our understanding of liberation. One of the six characteristics of bhakti mentioned in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.1.17), Srila Rupa Goswami’s magnum opus, is moksha-laghuta-krit, or disregard for liberation:

klesha-ghni shubhada moksha-
laghuta-krit sudurlabha
sandrananda-visheshatma
shri-krishnakarshini cha sa

 

“The unique characteristics of bhakti are its ability to destroy suffering, its bestowal of auspiciousness, its disregard for liberation, its rarity of attainment, its manifestation of concentrated bliss, and its ability to attract Krishna.”

The Aspirations of Satyavrata Muni

In the Damodarashtakam prayers composed by Satyavrata Muni and sung every day during the sacred month of Kartika, moksha is rejected twice. He prays in verse 4, “O Lord, although You are able to give all kinds of benedictions, I do not pray to You for the boon of impersonal liberation, or the highest liberation of eternal life in Vaikuntha, or any other boon.” (varam deva moksham na mokshavadhim va, na canyam vrine ’ham vareshad apiha) And (verse 7): “I only long for this [prema-bhakti, or loving devotional service to You] and have no desire for any kind of liberation.” (na mokshe graho me ’sti damodareha)

In addition to rejecting moksha twice, Satyavrata Muni prays thrice to be bestowed with bhakti:

idam te vapur natha gopala-balam
sada me manasy avirastam kim anyaih

 

“O Lord, I simply wish that this form of Yours as Bala Gopala in Vrindavana may ever be manifest in my heart, for what is the use to me of any other boon besides this?” (verse 4) And in verse 5 he prays, “May this beautiful vision of Your lotus face be ever manifest in my heart. Thousands and thousands of other benedictions are of no use to me.” (manasy avirastam alam laksha-labhaih). Finally, in verse 7: “O Lord Damodara, please give me Your own prema-bhakti.” (tatha prema-bhaktim svakam me prayachcha)

The following questions may then arise: Why do great souls like Satyavrata Muni disregard such an exalted spiritual attainment as liberation? Is there something even higher? Yes. The scriptures explain that love for God, or bhakti, is the highest attainment of spiritual life (prema pumartho mahan). Selfless love for God is the essence of spiritual life. Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.6) explains that the bliss we experience in any of our actions is proportional to the selflessness (ahaituki) with which we perform them as service to God. Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu echoes this principle when it defines uttama bhakti, the topmost devotional service, as anyabhilashita-shunyam, without any other motives than to serve and please the Supreme person. Furthermore, in advanced stages of bhakti, the love the devotee feels for Krishna is so intense that anything other than the opportunity to serve and please Him, including liberation devoid of devotional service, is unacceptable.

Sarvabhauma’s Transformation

This characteristic of a devotee was elucidated through a sweet exchange in the life of Lord Chaitanya and mentioned in the Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 6.259–285). One of His close associates in Jagannath Puri, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, had been an impersonalist (Mayavadi), or one who considers mukti the highest spiritual goal. Later, however, when he met Lord Chaitanya and had the fortune to receive the correct purport of Vedanta from Him, he became an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna.

One day soon after, Sarvabhauma quoted a verse to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Lord Brahma’s prayers to Krishna in the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.14.8):

tat te ’nukampam su-samikshamano
bhunjana evatma-kritam vipakam
hrid-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak

 

“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” But Sarvabhauma changed the word mukti in the last line to bhakti.

When Lord Chaitanya heard that, He said, “In that verse the word is mukti-pade, but you have changed it to bhakti-pade. What is your intention?” (Madhya 6.262)

Sarvabhauma replied:

The awakening of pure love of Godhead, which is the result of devotional service, far surpasses liberation from material bondage. The impersonalists, who do not accept the transcendental form of Lord Sri Krishna, and the demons, who are always engaged in blaspheming and fighting with Him, are kept away from service to Krishna by being merged into the Brahman effulgence. But that does not happen to the person engaged in the devotional service of the Lord. There are five kinds of liberation: salokya, samipya, sarupya, sarshti and sayujya. If there is a chance to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a pure devotee sometimes accepts the salokya, sarupya, samipya or sarshti forms of liberation, but never sayujya. (Madhya 2.263–67)

Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu replied:

The word mukti-pade has another meaning. Mukti-pada directly refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. All kinds of liberation exist under the feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; therefore He is known as mukti-pada. According to another meaning, mukti is the ninth subject, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the shelter of liberation. Since I can understand Krishna according to these two meanings, what point is there in changing the verse? (Madhya 6.271–73)

In this way Lord Chaitanya exhibited His supreme brilliance in devotion to Krishna. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, the author of Chaitanya-charitamrita, comments on this incident with reference to Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya: “Indeed, that very person who had been accustomed to reading and teaching Mayavada philosophy was now averse to the word mukti. This was possible only by the mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.” (Madhya 6.278)

Mukti as a Servant

Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.33:

Bhakti is in a far higher position than mukti because a person’s endeavor to get liberation from the material encagement is automatically served in devotional service. The example is given here that the fire in the stomach can digest whatever we eat. If the digestive power is sufficient, then whatever we can eat will be digested by the fire in the stomach. Similarly, a devotee does not have to try separately to attain liberation. That very service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the process of his liberation because to engage oneself in the service of the Lord is to liberate oneself from material entanglement.

Sri Bilvamangala Thakura has written in Krishna-karnamrita (107), “If I have unflinching devotion unto the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, then mukti, or liberation, serves me as my maidservant. Mukti, the maidservant, is always ready to do whatever I ask.” (muktih svayam mukulitanjali sevate ’sman)

Lord Chaitanya in His Sikshashtakam prays for bhakti life after life (mama janmani janmanishvare bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki tvayi), as opposed to asking for any other benediction, such as wealth, followers, conjugal associations, and so on (na dhanam na janam na sundarim kavitam va jagad-isha kamaye).

A further consideration on the relationship between mukti and bhakti is that even though bhakti is clearly the highest goal, mukti can be used in the service of Krishna. For instance, the four types of mukti that Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya listed above can encourage and facilitate our service to the Lord. So what exactly is the culprit here? The answer: not mukti itself, but the desire for it. In Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.22), Srila Rupa Goswami writes,

bhukti-mukti-spriha yavat
pishachi hridi vartate
tavad bhakti-sukhasyatra
katham abhyudayo bhavet

 

“The material desire to enjoy the material world and the desire to become liberated from material bondage are considered to be two witches, and they haunt one like ghosts. As long as these witches remain within the heart, how can one feel transcendental bliss? As long as these two witches remain in the heart, there is no possibility of enjoying the transcendental bliss of devotional service.”

Pure devotees who live every moment of their lives in pure love for Krishna do not have even the desire to go back to Godhead (living on the same planet as the Lord, salokya), to attain the same bodily features as the Lord (sarupya), to get the direct association of the Lord (samipya), or to get the same opulences as the Lord (sarshti). All they want is to serve the Lord birth after birth, wherever they may be. To facilitate their service, Krishna may award them one or more of the four kinds of mukti, but that is not their primary aspiration in spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.6.17: “For a devotee, mukti is not a very great achievement. Mukti means being situated in one’s constitutional position. The constitutional position of every living being is that of the Lord’s servant; therefore when a living entity is engaged in the Lord’s loving service, he has already attained mukti. Consequently a devotee does not aspire for mukti, even if it is offered by the Supreme Lord Himself.”

Jagannatha Gopala Dasa (Jitendra Savanur) got connected to Krishna consciousness through ISKCON Pune’s youth forum. He holds a master’s degree in computer science. He lives in New Jersey and works in the technology division of Goldman Sachs.