Why the process of bhakti-yoga leads to the most complete answer to the question “Who am I?”


For a thoughtful person, the following question may occur: “Am I only matter, or am I something more?”

According to modern science, the answer is that each of us is a molecular machine, a three-dimensional collection of molecules, which have the properties of life owing to special three-dimensional structures (DNA, RNA, and proteins). If we pause to think about this answer, we may find it problematic.

We like to think that our experiences are real, not just molecular events, that our relationships are real, that there is such a thing as truth. Otherwise what is the meaning of words like objective or rational or right and wrong? If our experiences are just molecular events, then the printed words in front of your eyes at this moment or the mathematical formulae in Einstein’s papers have no intrinsic meaning. The obsession of scientific minds for their own ideas, the sacredness of rational analysis, the objective truth – all this is meaningless.

The atheist, the moralist, the religionist, and anyone else with an opinion assume that their opinion matters. They speak passionately about right and wrong, about progress and dogma, but they rarely ask, “Why all the fuss?” Why do electron waves need to care about the truth, about right or wrong, about faith and rationality?

Accepting the current scientific understanding of life on earth means we must also accept the pointlessness of all material things, which makes the act of living rather superfluous.

Someone may therefore ask, “Am I nonmatter?” With this question, the person expresses a desire for “self-realization.” Such a desire to inquire into the self is laudable, and people who act on this desire by taking up the Bhagavad-gita’s methods of nishkama-karma-yoga (the yoga of detached action) and, later, jnana-yoga (the yoga of knowledge) for self-realization can directly confirm the Gita’s teaching that they are spiritual beings.

The Path of Sadhana-bhakti

By some good fortune, persons interested in realizing the self may come in contact with Krishna’s devotees and start out on the path of sadhana-bhakti (sadhana means “practice”). The “self-realization” in sadhana-bhakti refers to realizing not only that we are spiritual beings (which is as far as jnana-yoga goes), but also that we are Krishna’s servants, and that we can be happy only when we achieve prema, pure love for Krishna. Therefore, for persons interested in getting a complete understanding of themselves, it is critically important to take up sadhana-bhakti.

The methods of sadhana-bhakti include five key limbs:

sadhu-sanga, nama-kirtana, bhagavata-shravana
mathura-vasa, shri-murtira shraddhaya sevana

“One should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear Srimad-Bhagavatam, reside at Mathura, and worship the deity with faith and veneration.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 22.128) These methods are so powerful that by performing them one gets promoted to the stage of bhava, the preliminary stage of prema. The word bhava (or rati) refers to a mixture of Krishna’s spiritual shaktis (potencies) – the samvit shakti (knowledge potency) and the hladini shakti (pleasure potency). At present, our perception is controlled by our mind, which is part of Krishna’s material energy and therefore incapable of perceiving Him because He is purely spiritual. When the samvit and hladini shaktis descend upon the devotee, they function in place of the material mind. The samvit shakti reveals the devotee’s form and Krishna in a form suitable to the devotee’s relationship with Him. The hladini shakti functions to confer spiritual bliss upon the devotee. Gradually, bhava becomes thickened into prema, at which point the devotee becomes a citizen of the spiritual world eternally.

Offenseless Chanting

A pre-condition for this quick promotion to bhava is the absence of offenses (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.238). Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, in his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.2.9–10, explains that chanters devoid of offenses to Krishna’s names have only two stages: (1) they chant Krishna’s names, and (2) they are quickly promoted to the spiritual world. Offenseless chanting is so spiritually effective that faith in Krishna’s names is not always necessary to attain amazing results. The Sixth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam relates the history of Ajamila, who chanted the Lord’s name Narayana only to call his own son of the same name but was delivered from the reactions of all his past sins. This claim cannot be made for the rather difficult process of nishkama-karma-yoga and then jnana-yoga described in the Gita.

The Padma Purana lists ten offenses against Krishna’s names. For example, a pious and morally upright person, nominally much superior to the sinful Ajamila, may chant Krishna’s names but commit the offense of dharma-vrata-tyaga-hutadi-sarva-shubha-kriya-samyam: considering the name equivalent to a moral, religious, or ritualistic activity. Another may chant Krishna’s names but consider the name’s glories – such as the protection of sinful Ajamila from hell by his simply chanting of the word Narayana – an exaggeration (tathartha-vado hari-namni kalpanam).

Vaishnavas are those who accept a spiritual master and take shelter of hearing and chanting Krishna’s names as their primary sadhana. Unlike offenseless chanters and their two stages – chanting, then attaining the spiritual world – other Vaishnavas can become purified of offenses in nine stages, as discussed by Rupa Goswami in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. Gradually, they reach the bhava stage, and finally prema. They then become situated in the spiritual world with Krishna, engaged in blissful service to Him eternally.

Thus, complete understanding of who we are, what our relationship is with Krishna, what will make us happy, and how we can realize these truths – all of this is available uniquely on the path of bhakti-yoga.