The book Srila Prabhupada called ISKCON’s lawbook will direct us on our journey to Krishna abode.
Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi
On the order of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one of His leading disciples wrote an in-depth guide for our journey back to Godhead.
Everyone likes a change of scenery. At any given moment there are tens of thousands of planes crossing the skies, carrying millions of people here and there. Many are bound for the world’s favorite destinations, such as those offering awe-inspiring scenery or other sensual pleasures. Long-distance travel has become so common that analysts say it will likely double in the next twenty years.
Meanwhile there’s a spiritual text containing singular, surprisingly tempting descriptions of a destination that may also appeal to the travel-minded. The book is Srila Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, which Srila Prabhupada presented to us as an extensive summary study called The Nectar of Devotion. It makes no mention of travel by combustion engines or of hotel reservations, and the atmosphere of the destination it offers us far exceeds the pinnacle of pleasurable conditions in the most coveted travel destinations on this planet, or even in the heaven of this material world. Truly, upon arrival at this superior destination, the traveler will never wish to return to his point of departure.
Never return? Why, even the most seasoned traveler sometimes longs for home! Rupa Goswami cautions his readers to beware the powerful allurement of the travel spot at the heart of his book. His warning: do not attempt this trip if disruption to the usual course of life constitutes problems for you. He makes his point by way of a verse of his own composition in which one of Krishna’s beloved cowherd girlfriends speaks: “My dear friend, if you still have any desire to enjoy the company of your friends within this material world, then don’t look upon the form of Krishna, who is standing on the bank of Keshi-ghata [a place for entering the Yamuna River in Vrindavana]. He is known as Govinda, and His eyes are very enchanting. He is playing upon His flute, and on His head there is a peacock feather. And His whole body is illuminated by the moonlight in the sky.” (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.239)
Hankering for Our Place of Origin
What will people not do to get to an attractive place like Paris or a white sandy beach in the Bahamas? They may save money for their whole lives for that one trip, or work extra hours to buy a choice property with the promise of paradise. It seems within our very nature to hanker for any place other than wherever we are. Fragrant forests and clear green-blue waters, high-mountain ski resorts, waterfalls, tropical flower-gardens, pyramids, cathedrals – any detour from the ordinary. Perhaps we know deep down inside that we are not meant to be bored or to suffer because of our surroundings, but to be nurtured by them. We long for that perfect place where we’ll feel validated by a plentiful natural environment and loving family and friends. Especially as we grow older, the apprehension of the end of a lifetime pushes us to search for something dear to hang on to. It must be someplace, somewhere.
Srila Prabhupada writes, “The people I have seen in America are very restless. They go from one apartment to another or from one country to another country. That restlessness is there because we are searching after our real home. To go from this place to that place will not give eternal life. Eternal life is with Krishna.” (Easy Journey to Other Planets, Chapter 2)
Ironically, placing our hopes and dreams in finding a place of pleasure or relief in the material world only further binds us to the conditions of the place, for wherever we go we are subjected to variabilities in climate, economy, status, security, and so on. Inevitably, for every one of us there is the suffering of birth, death, old age, and disease, experienced by transmigration through 8,400,000 species of life. One fine day we shall become exhausted and opt for a superior itinerary.
Reading The Nectar of Devotion surely helps us re-route our travel and eventually eliminate our worn-out network of dead-end roads in the material world. The strict practice of the rules and regulations recommended to us by the previous acharyas, all emissaries of the spiritual destination, qualifies us for the ultimate excursion. Their compassion is in liberating the spiritually comatose traveler on the bad road of material life.
Srila Rupa Goswami recommends the perfect antidote for spiritual coma. Just as a snake charmer’s chanting of a potent mantra can arouse a dying man from the poisonous effects of snakebite, the chanting of the names of God in the Hare Krishna maha-mantra can revive the wayward traveler and speed up his journey. Just as an astronaut repeatedly re-determines his trajectory in order to transition into space, we can know how clear the path to the spiritual destination is by how well we are chanting. Chanting Hare Krishna is the primary activity in what Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu calls vaidhi-sadhana-bhakti, or the regulated (vaidhi) practice (sadhana) of bhakti. Vaidhi-bhakti begins when we make the rare acquaintance of a true “Golokanaut,” a seasoned traveler on the road to the ultimate spiritual destination – Goloka Vrindavana, Lord Krishna’s eternal home in the spiritual world.
A Path with Nine Landmarks
Sraddha, or initial faith in the value of bhakti, is the first of nine major landmarks on the road to the goal of love of God. Sraddha is the first discovery. The dawning of shraddha is something like stumbling upon an old and vaguely familiar trailhead in the fresh illumination of the sunrise. That discovery leads to sadhu-sanga, association with devotees – merciful wish-fulfilling trees who offer their shade on the path. The next major landmark is bhajana-kriya, the discovery of devotional service; the candidate attends devotional programs and learns the philosophy and practices of bhakti-yoga, including songs of glorification of the spiritual master and the Supreme Lord. He takes up the process of rendering service to Krishna.
As a result of sincere bhajana-kriya, a special milestone rises high: anartha-nivritti, the decreasing of material burdens, internal and external, that impede one’s progress. From here forward, the burdens fall away, one after another, just as when a hiker discards unnecessary items from a weighty backpack.
The next marker – nishtha, or steady, firm faith – shows that one has made significant progress on the path. Further along, the prospect of pleasing Krishna develops to the point of ruci, a great relish or taste for devotional service. Then the traveler becomes so attached to the journey back to Godhead that it becomes his very life. This is called asakti, or strong attachment. When asakti is prominent, the scenery is always filled with ecstatic opportunities for devotional service. The candidate may start to think of many ways and means to best serve the spiritual master. This surrender of the inner heart melts into pure, unadulterated affection for Krishna, or bhava, the eighth landmark and the beginning of prema, which is the destination: pure love of God. The traveler has arrived; his destiny is manifest. He is imbued with the joy of the ecstasy of a humble service attitude in the transcendental realm of the Godhead.
Six Symptoms of Progress
Material travel is a kind of movement, or motion, but as Srila Prabhupada said in a March 1, 1974, lecture, “Real movement means to go forward to reach the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
Prabhupada often used the term “the Hare Krishna movement” to refer to his organization or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission in general. While “movement” in this sense means “a group of people tending toward a common goal,” ISKCON is surely a movement in another sense: It is meant for moving people from one place to another – from the material world to Goloka Vrindavana.
Besides the markers on the journey already mentioned, the author of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu lists six results obtained through devotional service. The spiritual traveler can also refer to these to determine whether or not there has been any authentic movement of the soul toward the Godhead.
Here is the list as Srila Prabhupada presents it in his Nectar of Devotion:
(1) Pure devotional service brings immediate relief from all kinds of material distress.
(2) Pure devotional service is the beginning of all auspiciousness.
(3) Pure devotional service automatically puts one in transcendental pleasure.
(4) Pure devotional service is rarely achieved.
(5) Those in pure devotional service deride even the conception of liberation.
(6) Pure devotional service is the only means to attract Krishna.
In summary, through bhakti the distresses of material life, including those caused by mundane travel, become null and void in anticipation of the svartha-gati, or superior destination; one’s life becomes auspicious, or favorable to success; the beginning of the soul’s progress produces transcendental pleasure (Our happiness will know no limit, and even just hearing the descriptions of the destination will fill us with satisfying bliss); we’ll attain something extremely rare, and thus of the highest value; the hankering to become free from suffering in the realm of material existence will lose its grip; and the very personality who is the leader and maintainer of the spiritual realm of Goloka will become attracted to us.
This brings us to the unique accessibility to Goloka offered by Rupa Goswami. He declares that the origin or nationality of the aspirant is of no consequence. Moving all souls toward the Godhead requires no bondage to the designations that only cause suffering in the hearts of people everywhere.
Diving in the Ocean of Devotion
Carefully guiding all kinds of travelers to the Goloka destination, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu gives some playful analogies to identify the exact route. In the Introduction to The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada refers to an ocean of bliss that contains a variety of aquatics. Bhakti-yoga practitioners are fish swiming down the rivers to the ocean of dedication and love for the service of Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Upon arrival, they dive and surface in that vast ocean, knowing no end to it, because the pleasure they experience in devotional service is so delectable it can only be compared to the pleasure of an extremely thirsty man diving into a fully satisfying ocean of delicious nectar.
Meanwhile, others approach the ocean of transcendence from a less advantaged direction. They also wish to taste the bliss of the nectar ocean, but they do not follow the map left by the bhakti-yoga acharyas. Srila Rupa Goswami recommends that one need only play in the ocean of opportunity for service to the Godhead, yet these others experiment with merging their very existence into spiritual waters in an attempt to dissolve all attributes of the self. They are under the impression that they must surrender themselves to becoming devoid of the characteristics of personality. They want to become indiscernible from the spiritual vastness and lost forever in it. Their concocted travel plans are their temporary solution to personal suffering. These materially conceived plans are unfulfilled as surely as are the travel plans of unfortunate travelers who lose their passport, photo ID, or suitcase, mumbling, “It wouldn’t have been a good trip anyway.”
The frustrated traveler who desired to merge must surely return to his place of departure to sort out the details of a trip embarked upon without the guidance of a pure devotee of Krishna. Rupa Goswami warns that no one can attain any perfect stage in devotional service without first bowing down before a pure devotee of the Lord and fully accepting his guidance. A pure devotee of Krishna always represents the topmost reality, the transcendent personal service relationship with Krishna on His planet, where pure-devotee cowherd men, women, cows, tulasi plants, wish-fulfilling trees, flowering creepers, chintamani stones, forest animals, and clear rivers and lakes full with love of God represent the Godhead’s full variegated splendor. In Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Srila Rupa Goswami quotes the Varaha Purana: “Any person who becomes attracted to places other than Mathura [Lord Krishna’s abode on earth] will certainly be captivated by the illusory energy.”
Arriving on the Path
Bhakti-yogis make plans to go back to Godhead, and as they progress, they tolerate the turbulence of material atmospheric conditions. They remain enthusiastic and blissful while taking an uncommon journey that may require lifetimes of attempts to reach its destination. Just as a certain taste may inspire a politician, philanthropist, or family man to sacrifice for society or family, the taste of service to Krishna inspires the devotee to serve Him despite all obstacles. The materialists’ sacrifice in service is so appealing that it drives people on and on every waking hour, day after day, month after month, year after year. However, unlike any materially motivated service, which ends with one’s lifetime, true bhakti-yoga produces a pure taste of unique and eternal spiritual emotions.
Eventually one may acquire laulyam, which is greed and crying for the goal of love of God. Srila Prabhupada writes, “One should learn this small technique.” A devotee who becomes greedy for Krishna consciousness becomes so filled with purpose that he will never trade his begging to attain Krishna’s lotus feet for the meager goal of a mundane destination, no matter its opulence. While the mundane traveler comes under the influences of this planet, the devotional traveler is impelled by bhakti to leave the material world and go back home, back to Godhead.
The later part of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu describes a great variety of transcendental emotional experiences as well as the attributes of the sublime atmosphere of the transcendental destination. All happy, successful travelers who enter it have developed uninterrupted attraction and love for Lord Sri Krishna. Their hearts are melted in humble service to Him. This pure loving service is categorized in five primary relationships, along with many ecstatic subdivisions. The rare, brilliant soul who arrives at the simple cowherder’s village described with many tender details in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu will never leave it. He has arrived at his primordial favorite place.
The whereabouts of this most favorite, blissful place is revealed in Srila Rupa Goswami’s quintessential bhakti classic, which he wrote on the order of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and after thorough study of all Vedic literatures. Only eternally liberated souls in an authorized chain of disciplic succession of spiritual masters are the authentic Goloka travel agents, deputed to write transcendental travel guides. They are as genuinely liberated as anyone who lives in the ultimate destination. By taking shelter of Srila Rupa Goswami’s instructions, we become his followers – Rupanugas – on the path to the most beloved home.