Service to Krishna as the Goal

Srila Prabhupada titled this magazine Back to Godhead because, as he made clear in the first issue, he wanted to help people reorient their lives toward God (turn “back to God”) and become qualified to return to Him in the spiritual world. The idea of “back to Godhead” in the sense of entering Lord Krishna’s eternal home is an appealing one. It can motivate us to strictly follow the practices of bhakti-yoga to achieve the reward of unbounded happiness in that incomparably blissful place.

I wonder sometimes, though, if this motivation is too close to desiring liberation, usually considered a selfish goal. Am I motivated to strive to go back to Godhead mainly because I’ll be happy there, having escaped the miseries of material existence? Should my motive be of a purer kind?

Srila Prabhupada would often cite a verse quoted by Sri Ramananda Raya, one of Lord Chaitanya’s most intimate associates, that appears in Srila Rupa Goswami’s Padyavali, a collection of verses by various devotees:

krishna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita matih
kriyatam yadi kuto ’pi labhyate
tatra laulyam api mulyam ekalam
janma-koti-sukritair na labhyate

“Pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activity in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be attained only by paying one price – that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.”

According to this verse, the highest thing to aspire for is “pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness.” Srila Prabhupada often pointed out that the term “Krishna consciousness” is his translation of the opening phrase of this verse, krishna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita, which he also translated as “absorbed in the mellows of executing devotional service to Krishna.”

Srila Prabhupada’s movement might fittingly be called “The Back to Godhead Movement” because he so often entreated us to use our lives to become eligible to go to Krishna’s abode. But he also taught that while it’s natural to want to gain the bliss of Krishna’s association, our motive should ideally be to gain service to Him, and that can be achieved only by an intense longing for it.

Our disqualification is lack of desire to become Krishna’s servant. To go back to Godhead means to go the place where everyone and everything serves Krishna. Am I ready for that? Would I be comfortable in that environment?

Bhakti-yoga gradually prepares us for Krishna’s world by clearing our deluded thinking that being a servant is undesirable. Contrary to our experience in this world, being the servant of Krishna is the most desirable thing. There’s nothing higher. That was shown by Krishna Himself when He descended as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to experience being His own servant.

Krishna responds to our desires. If we want only to serve Him in pure love, He will invite us into His company. Attaining that position requires more than just following rules; it requires a change of heart. It requires intense eagerness or, as Prabhupada put it, greed. As the verse I quoted says, that greed can take many lifetimes to attain.

That our aspiration should be for the privilege of serving Krishna – or Radha-Krishna – is evident from Prabhupada’s “translation” of the maha-mantra: “O Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service.” Pure chanting, effective chanting, requires intense longing – not for escape from our suffering, but, like that of Krishna’s eternal associates, for service to His lotus feet. Srila Prabhupada gave us all we need to come to that level of spontaneous devotion. If we take full advantage, we don’t need many future lifetimes to achieve it.

– Nagaraja Dasa