Firmly rooted in philosophy, bhakti-yoga aims at the pinnacle of spiritual emotions.
By Vishakha Devi Dasi
Our emotions, which may sometimes override our intellect, can be directed toward the highest goal of life.

The Consumer Confidence Index is a measure of the optimism or pessimism buyers feel regarding the general state of their country’s economy, as well as their personal financial circumstances. Before a country’s economy shows any signs of change, consumer confidence indices are a leading indicator of a broad economic shift, such as resumed or slowed spending and growth. In short, throughout the world, feelings – although not always rational – play an outsized role in economies.

Feelings play an outsized role in politics and governing as well. As Angela Merkel left office after sixteen years as Chancellor of Germany, she noted that the pandemic had been a demonstration of how important trust (a feeling) is to politics – “and how fragile it can be.” She also indicated how important feelings were to her on a personal level: she said that her approach in life had always been to work with “a cheerful heart.”

Although we humans pride ourselves on being well-reasoned, in fact much of our lives is governed by largely ungovernable feelings. We all know that feelings like disappointment, discouragement, dissatisfaction, and depression can ruin an otherwise normal day – or week, or year, or even lifetime. And optimism can turn a bleak situation into a stimulating one. Boethius, a Roman statesman and theologian of the early sixth century, noted, “Nothing is wretched, but thinking makes it so, and conversely every lot is happy if borne with equanimity.”

Not surprisingly, in spiritual life also, feelings surpass the influence of logic and intellectual acumen. Srila Rupa Goswami writes,

Some scholars recommend that knowledge and renunciation are important factors for elevating oneself to devotional service. But actually that is not a fact. Actually, the cultivation of knowledge or renunciation, which are favorable for achieving a footing in Krishna consciousness, may be accepted in the beginning, but ultimately they may also come to be rejected, for devotional service is dependent on nothing other than the sentiment or desire for such service. It requires nothing more than sincerity. (The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 14)

The difference between material and spiritual feelings is that material feelings are centered on Krishna’s external, material energy, while spiritual feelings are directly Krishna-centric. Just as we are not our body or mind, we are also not our material feelings. Srila Prabhupada explains:

One can perceive one’s self-identification and feel positively that he exists. He may not feel it very abruptly, but by using a little intelligence, he can feel that he is not the body. He can feel that the hand, the leg, the head, the hair and the limbs are all his bodily parts and parcels, but as such the hand, the leg, the head, etc., cannot be identified with his self. Therefore just by using intelligence he can distinguish and separate his self from other things that he sees. So the natural conclusion is that the living being, either man or beast, is the seer, and he sees besides himself all other things. So there is a difference between the seer and the seen. (Bhagavatam 2.2.35, Purport)

My Feelings Are Not Me

The seer is the atma, or spirit soul, an integral part of Krishna, the supreme soul, and conscious. The seen is the material body and material energy generally. As Srila Prabhupada explains, my hand is not conscious of itself, but I, as an atma, am conscious of it. I am similarly conscious of the state of my mind and feelings; my mind and feelings are not me – they are felt by me, the feeler, the atma.

In the opinion of great spiritual teachers, the material dualities of happiness and distress, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, and so forth that we feel in this world are our mind’s concoctions. Srila Prabhupada writes,

When one is absorbed in the illusory energy of Krishna and cannot understand Krishna, one cannot ascertain what is good for him and what is bad. Conceptions of good and bad are all imaginations or mental speculations. When one forgets that he is an eternal servant of Krishna, he wants to enjoy the material world through different plans. At that time he distinguishes between material plans that are good and those that are bad. Actually, however, they are all false. (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Antya 4.176, Purport)

As we strive to become increasingly conscious of Krishna, the basis of our feelings gradually shifts. Rather than being based on bodily and mental sensations and concoctions, our feeling are more and more based on the pleasure of guru and Krishna. A devotee of Krishna feels happy when Krishna and His representatives are happy. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura says that a devotee does not care about his own happiness and distress; he is simply interested in seeing that Krishna is happy, and for that purpose he engages in various activities. A pure devotee has no way of sensing happiness except by seeing that Krishna is happy in every respect.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Antya 20.52, Purport) As devotees want to please Krishna, similarly He is keen to please His devotees; as His devotees want Him to be happy, Krishna wants His devotees to be happy, and to that end He assures them that service offered to Him with devotion is “joyfully performed.” (Gita 9.2)

Srila Prabhupada said,

Even if you are in these bodies, material body, if you advance yourself in spiritual consciousness or Krishna consciousness, you will be spiritualized. Your body will be spiritualized. You’ll no more be affected by this material contamination. The more you make advance, you’ll feel it. Pratyakshavagamam dharmyam [understanding the principle of religion by direct experience]. It is not for future tasting, but you’ll understand it. Understand it. So we have to make our progress in that way. (Lecture, July 13, 1966, New York)

However, the ultimate feeling all devotees aspire for, namely krishna-prema – loving Krishna without a tinge of material motivation, uninterruptedly, and with complete abandon – is far away for some of us (like me). As I flounder along the spiritual path, my more practical and immediate goals are, How can I feel Krishna’s presence in my life? How do I increase my affection for Him? And how do I show Krishna that I’m sincere in my desire for spiritual progress?

For one, I understand that a sincere devotee will make time for Krishna. In any relationship, we want to spend time with the person we value. When we value Krishna’s presence in our lives, we make time for activities like chanting His names and reading about and discussing His character, activities, and teachings. We may or may not understand and remember what we’ve read and discussed, but the simple act of trying to understand and remember, of using our time in that way, is noted and appreciated by Krishna. Srila Prabhupada recalled that his spiritual master spoke in such an esoteric way that Srila Prabhupada didn’t always understand what he was saying, but still he patiently heard, and his spiritual master noted and appreciated his effort.

Similarly, once when Srila Prabhupada met some of his disciples in New Vrindaban, the first Hare Krishna farming community, he asked them, “So, are you trying to understand my books?” These young and newly initiated disciples especially relished that Prabhupada said “trying to understand.” Krishna in our heart takes note of our sincere efforts. Those efforts are more important than their results, for ultimately the results are up to Him, while the effort is up to us.

Remembrance and Active Service

Besides spending time with Krishna, to develop our affection for Him we can also actively serve Him in some capacity. And while offering physical service to Krishna, we try to remember Him. In the Gita (8.7) Krishna says, “Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty.” In other words, we’re supposed to be conscious of Krishna while we act, and if we are, then those activities will be transcendentally sweet.

In a lecture to his early followers, Srila Prabhupada explained,

One is engaged in the service of Krishna not officially or to make a show; he feels enlivened in rendering such transcendental service. Some of you must be feeling like that, I am sure; otherwise you cannot take so much responsibility, working all day, unless you feel. You see? So that is the test. Krishna-madhurya. There is some transcendental ecstasy, feeling, in the service of the Lord. So in the beginning we may not relish that transcendental feeling, but as we go on, increasing, we’ll feel it. Krishna-seva kare, krishna-rasa-asvadana. This is called krishna-rasa. Just like anything we do, there is some humor, there is some taste. Suppose a person writes poetry. In writing that poetry he feels some taste; therefore he writes. Somebody plays on a flute. Somebody drinks. So there is some particular taste. Similarly, transcendentally, you will have a taste for Krishna’s service. That is Krishna consciousness, a taste of mellow – mellow, or, what is called, a humor. You’ll like. You’ll like to serve more and more. The more you serve, you’ll like to serve more and more. That is transcendental service. (Lecture, December 5, 1966, New York)

As we engage in this transcendental service that Srila Prabhupada kindly offers us, it’s important to recognize and honor our fellow devotees who are similarly engaged; in fact, we should respect all beings, knowing that Krishna is our common father and that our heartfelt respect for all beings pleases Him. A dominating and controlling mentality, a superiority complex, a suspicious, skeptical, or condescending attitude will block the sweet taste of devotional service.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami tells us, “Lord Krishna’s mercy is dependent only on affection. Being obliged only by affection, Lord Krishna acts very independently.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 10.139) By His independent action, Krishna guarantees that His devotee is never vanquished. He may or may not show this by materially protecting His devotees, but He most certainly does it by spiritually protecting them. If they so desire, Krishna ensures that His sincere devotees progress spiritually. And that progress is something devotees will feel; no one will have to inform them of it. To illustrate this point, the Bhagavatam (11.2.42) offers an analogy: “Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things – these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the same way that pleasure, nourishment and relief from hunger come simultaneously and increasingly, with each bite, for a person engaged in eating.”

In the final analysis we will evoke our genuine feeling for Krishna by His mercy. And there’s no formula for mercy. We can simply pray for it and hope against hope that, undeserving as we may be, Krishna will kindly allow us to feel abiding affection and love for Him. Until then, we simply keep trying.

Vishakha Devi Dasi has been writing for BTG since 1973. The author of six books, she is the temple president at Bhaktivedanta Manor in the UK. She and her husband, Yadubara Dasa, produce and direct films, most recently the biopic on the life of Srila Prabhupada Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement, and the Swami Who Started It All. Visit her website at OurSpiritualJourney.com.