Bhakti-Yoga: The Supreme Yoga System
yam avocaṁ purānaghe
O most pious mother, I shall now explain unto you the ancient yoga system, which I explained formerly to the great sages. It is serviceable and practical in every way.
The Lord does not manufacture a new system of yoga. Sometimes it is claimed that someone has become an incarnation of God and is expounding a new theological aspect of the Absolute Truth. But here we find that although Kapila Muni is the Lord Himself and is capable of manufacturing a new doctrine for His mother, He nevertheless says, “I shall just explain the ancient system that I once explained to the great sages because they were also anxious to hear about it.” When we have a superexcellent process already present in Vedic scriptures, there is no need to concoct a new system, to mislead the innocent public. At present it has become a fashion to reject the standard system and present something bogus in the name of a newly invented process of yoga.
The supreme ancient system of yoga pertains to the soul. Presently, in America especially, haṭha-yoga is very popular. It appeals to fat ladies who go to the classes to reduce and keep their digestive systems regular. Many people are interested in this kind of gymnastic yoga, but real yoga is ādhyātmika. Ādhyātmika means to awaken the soul to his proper position. The soul is puruṣa, spirit, and his business is to reconnect his lost relationship with Kṛṣṇa.
Herein Kapiladeva says that He previously delivered this yoga system to the great ṛṣis, the great sages. This is the process of śravaṇa, hearing. One must be very eager to hear, for spiritual life begins with hearing.
na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau
svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
It is thus stated in the śāstras that it is not possible to appreciate or understand Kṛṣṇa with our blunt material senses. Kṛṣṇa’s name, form, qualities, pastimes, paraphernalia and abode are all part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa. However, understanding Kṛṣṇa begins with hearing and chanting His name. Then there is His form. Generally, for the neophyte, these items are essential – to hear His name and qualities and see and worship His form. That is Kṛṣṇa’s personal instruction:
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.34)
Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa is present in the temple Deity, and even if a child comes to offer his respects, he is counted as a devotee. A small child may not know anything, but simply by seeing the Deity, chanting and dancing, he is benefited. Temples are meant to give everyone a chance to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness one step at a time.
trāyate mahato bhayāt
“A little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Bhagavad-gītā 2.40) Even if we do a little on the path of bhakti, it goes to our account. For instance, if we deposit only two dollars in a savings bank, it is kept in our account, and it will increase with interest. Similarly, if one performs even a little devotional service, it is not lost. One may come and join this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, render some service and after a while fall down. However, whatever service has been rendered is to one’s permanent credit. That will never be lost. When one begins again, he begins at the point where he has left off. This is the instruction of Bhagavad-gītā (6.41):
“The unsuccessful yogī is born into a family of righteous people or into a family of rich aristocracy.” Thus if one fails to perfect his bhakti-yoga, he is given another chance in the next life. According to a Bengali poem:
muci haya śuci haya yadi kṛṣṇa-bhaje
If one takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, even if he is born in a family of a cobbler (muci), he becomes greater than a brāhmaṇa (śuci). However, if one is born in a brāhmaṇa family and gives up Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he becomes a muci, a cobbler. Thus the door of devotion is open to everyone, whoever he may be. Kṛṣṇa Himself says that regardless of one’s position, if one takes shelter of Him, one can approach the supreme destination.
ye ’pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās
te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatiṁ
“O son of Pṛthā, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth – women, vaiśyas [merchants], as well as śūdras [workers] – can approach the supreme destination.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.32) And Śukadeva Gosvāmī says:
ābhīra-śumbhā yavanāḥ khasādayaḥ
ye ’nye ca pāpā yad-apāśrayāśrayāḥ
śudhyanti tasmai prabhaviṣṇave namaḥ
“Kirāta, Hūṇa, Āndhra, Pulinda, Pulkaśa, Ābhīra, Śumbha, Yavana and the Khasa races and even others who are addicted to sinful acts can be purified by taking shelter of the devotees of the Lord, due to His being the supreme power. I beg to offer my respectful obeisances unto Him.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.4.18) Kṛṣṇa consciousness is so complete that it is all-embracing. Everyone has an occupational duty as a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra, but one does not have to give up his occupational duty to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And if one takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness but does not succeed, what has he lost? Even if he falls down, there is no loss. On the other hand, if a man perfectly performs his own duties (sva-dharma) but is not Kṛṣṇa conscious, what does he gain? There is actually no gain. Kapiladeva explains that once one takes to the path of bhakti-yoga, one never actually falls down. Once begun, bhakti-yoga continues, even if one temporarily falls down. One is given another chance by taking birth in a good family, either in a wealthy family, a learned family or a brāhmaṇa family. If one executes his duties as a brāhmaṇa, Viṣṇu will be very pleased, and if one executes his duties perfectly as a kṣatriya or śūdra, Viṣṇu will also be very pleased. One does not have to change one’s position. In Bhagavad-gītā (18.46) Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that every man can become perfect by following his qualities of work:
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
sva-karmaṇā tam abhyarcya
siddhiṁ vindati mānavaḥ
“By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty, attain perfection.” Thus if one executes his duties as a perfect kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra or whatever, Viṣṇu will be pleased. The purpose of work is to please Viṣṇu. Unfortunately, people have forgotten this. Varṇāśrama-dharma, the Vedic system of society, is therefore very important in that it is meant to give human beings a chance to perfect their lives by pleasing Kṛṣṇa. Unfortunately, the varṇāśrama-dharma has been lost in this age. Therefore Caitanya Mahāprabhu, just to give relief to the rotting, conditioned souls of this age of Kali-yuga, has given us the mahā-mantra.
harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
nāsty eva gatir anyathā
“In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is chanting of the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.” (Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa) Although we may try to revive the perfect varṇāśrama system, it is not possible in this age. People are fallen, disturbed and unfortunate:
kalāv asmin yuge janāḥ
manda-bhāgyā hy upadrutāḥ
“O learned one, in this iron age of Kali men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and, above all, always disturbed.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.1.10) In this age, there will be insufficient rainfall and food, and the government will plunder one’s income by heavy taxation. All of these characteristics of Kali-yuga are described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. People will become so disgusted that they will suddenly leave their wife and children and go to the forest. How can the peaceful varṇāśrama-dharma be revived when people are so harassed in this age? It is virtually impossible. Therefore the system of bhakti-yoga, the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, should be adopted. The whole aim of bhakti-yoga is to satisfy Viṣṇu. Yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyaiḥ: Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa, came Himself as Caitanya Mahāprabhu to teach us the way of saṅkīrtana. Presently it has become fashionable to manufacture a new system of religion, but Kapiladeva, like Kṛṣṇa, does not manufacture anything new. This system is not new, but very old (purā). Kṛṣṇa also says the same in Bhagavad-gītā (4.2), evaṁ paramparā-prāptam imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ: “This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way.” Thus Kṛṣṇa and Kapiladeva are not teaching anything new. They are simply repeating the same message because, in the course of time, the knowledge has been lost. Arjuna asks, “Why are you telling me? Why not another?” Śrī Kṛṣṇa answers, bhakto ’si me sakhā ceti: “Because you are My devotee as well as My friend.” (Bhagavad-gītā 4.3)
Thus without being a bhakta, a devotee of Kṛṣṇa’s, one cannot actually understand the science of bhakti-yoga. Understanding Bhagavad-gītā means understanding Kṛṣṇa. All this information is explained only in the bhakti-sampradāya, not in any other school. Therefore Kṛṣṇa says at the conclusion of Bhagavad-gītā (18.55), bhaktyā mām abhijānāti: if one actually wants to understand Kṛṣṇa and one’s relationship with Him, one must take to this process of bhakti-yoga. Bhakti-yoga as explained by Lord Kapiladeva is sāṅkhya-yoga.
Lord Kapiladeva states here:
yam avocaṁ purānaghe
The word anaghe refers to one without sin. The word agha refers to past sins, and an means “without.” Therefore one cannot understand Kṛṣṇa consciousness unless he is free from sin. Yeṣāṁ tv anta-gataṁ pāpam: one can stick to Kṛṣṇa consciousness only when one is completely free from all sinful reactions. One may say, “That will take some time. I cannot get free from sinful reactions overnight.” However, Kṛṣṇa says, “No, no. This can be done immediately. Simply surrender unto Me, and I will absolve you from all sin.” Thus by simply surrendering unto Kṛṣṇa, our spiritual life begins.
We have to understand that we receive different bodies due to our sinful actions. Now we are given a chance to execute our duty in the human form. Bahūnāṁ janmanām ante. We have received this body through the evolutionary processes, and this human form is a great opportunity. Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura sings: hari hari viphale janama goṅāinu: “My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, I have simply wasted my time.” Why?
jāniyā śuniyā viṣa khāinu
“Because I have received the human form of life, which is meant for understanding Kṛṣṇa, yet I have simply wasted my time by not taking advantage of this opportunity. I have done everything but worship Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Therefore I have taken poison knowingly.” When one takes poison knowingly, he commits suicide, and not taking advantage of the human form is something like that. If we do not understand Kṛṣṇa in this life, we are knowingly taking poison. This material life is just like a blazing forest fire. Eating, sleeping, enjoying sex and defending are the main material activities. When we are engaged simply in these things, our hearts are always burning as if we had taken poison. How can we be cured?
rati nā janmila kene tāya
“My dear Lord, You have given us the medicine of hari-nāma-saṅkīrtana, the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa. Unfortunately, I have no attraction for Your holy names.” It is also stated:
balarāma haila nitāi
“Kṛṣṇa has now come as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the son of mother Śacī. And Balarāma has come as Lord Nityānanda.” What is Their business? They are delivering all kinds of sinful men simply by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. And what is the evidence of this? The evidence is that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Nityānanda Prabhu delivered the sinful Jagāi and Mādhāi. At the present moment everyone is like Jagāi and Mādhāi, for everyone is intoxicated and mad after sex. Now, by the grace of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, thousands of Jagāis and Mādhāis are being delivered. It is this active medicine, this Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, that is doing it. It is the perfect yoga system. This process is not manufactured, and we have not concocted anything. Our business is simply to accept the words of Kṛṣṇa as they are. Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself characterizes His devotee in this way:
yatantaś ca dṛḍha-vratāḥ
namasyantaś ca māṁ bhaktyā
“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.14)
We do not need to be very learned. Our only requirement is that we receive the blessings of the Lord. The Lord’s blessings will enable us to become learned and follow His instructions. We only need to stick to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement on the basis of Bhagavad-gītā. When we are a little further advanced, we can read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself has opened the way with this saṅkīrtana movement. The entire world is in darkness without Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and in this age people are so dull that they do not even know the difference between mukti (liberation) and bandha (bondage). If a human being does not know this difference, he is no better than an animal.
Presently we are under the sway of the three guṇas, the modes of material nature – sattva-guṇa, rajo-guṇa and tamo-guṇa. Out of these three guṇas, sattva-guṇa, the mode of goodness, is the best. A brāhmaṇa, characterized by the mode of goodness, is truthful and self-controlled. He controls his mind and senses, and he is very tolerant and simple. He has full knowledge, and he knows how to apply knowledge in life. He has full faith in the authority of the Vedas, a quality called āstikyam. Caitanya Mahāprabhu has explained the difference between nāstikyam and āstikyam. According to Vedic understanding, one who does not believe in the Vedas is called nāstika. Caitanya Mahāprabhu says: veda nā māniyā bauddha haya ta’ nāstika (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 6.168). Lord Buddha defied Vedic authority, but His mission was to stop animal killing. In the Vedas there are recommendations for animal sacrifice, and therefore to prevent the killing of animals, Lord Buddha rejected the Vedas. Such sacrifice is not possible in this age because there is no brāhmaṇa qualified to carry it out. Those who are intelligent know that such a sacrifice cannot be successful in this age because no one knows the proper mantras capable of giving an old animal the body of a new animal. When an animal sacrifice is properly conducted, an old animal is sacrificed, and it emerges from the fire in a new body. This is not possible in this age, but what is possible is saṅkīrtana-yajña, the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. This is the yajña, or sacrifice, especially intended for this age. We need only chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. By performing this yajña, the results will be ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam – the mirror of the mind will be cleansed. When the mirror of the mind is cleansed, one is automatically liberated.
Consciousness is the main principle, either for conditional life or for liberated life. We are therefore proposing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which means liberation from the repetition of birth and death. Unfortunately, people are so dull in this age that they have no idea how birth and death can be stopped. They think that birth and death cannot be stopped; even famous scientists admit this. However, in Bhagavad-gītā Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that we should always keep in mind the four miserable conditions. These are birth, old age, disease and death. When we are able to put an end to these, we are liberated. This simply requires that we clear our consciousness by thinking of Kṛṣṇa. The purpose of this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is to keep our minds constantly on Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He is a person. When He was realized by Arjuna, He was addressed as puruṣam. God is puruṣa, male, not female. Puruṣa means “the enjoyer,” and prakṛti means “the enjoyed.” Everything is enjoyed by the supreme puruṣa. It is also stated that we are actually prakṛti, not puruṣa. The human dress is simply māyā, illusion. We are thinking that we are puruṣa, the enjoyer, but actually we are the enjoyed. A man, thinking of enjoying himself, tries to imitate puruṣa, but actually he is prakṛti. As a consequence, he is cast into this material world. Because the living entity wants to enjoy the material world and is attached to the three guṇas, he receives different types of bodies. One who is in the mode of goodness receives the body of a learned brāhmaṇa. This is somewhat elevated, for he can gradually understand what is God. In the modes of passion and ignorance, no one can understand God. Also, from the material point of view, if one is situated in the mode of goodness, he can be elevated to higher planetary systems. Nonetheless, even if one goes to Brahmaloka, the highest planet in the material atmosphere, one is not actually perfectly situated. There is really no benefit because even on Brahmaloka the four miseries of material existence are found: birth, old age, disease and death. Lord Brahmā also dies and takes birth. From Vedic literatures we understand that Lord Brahmā took birth from the lotus flower generated from the navel of Viṣṇu. Thus he had his birth, and when Lord Brahmā dies, the entire material cosmic manifestation will be finished. Just as Lord Brahmā undergoes birth, old age, disease and death, so also a small ant or insect undergoes the same process. The point is that the living entity has to be free from this bondage because he is by nature eternal. According to Bhagavad-gītā, the living entity never actually takes birth, and he never actually dies. Na jāyate mriyate vā kadācit: “For the soul there is never birth nor death.” (Bhagavad-gītā 2.20)
It is the body that is destined to die, whether the body be that of Lord Brahmā or of a small ant. One should not think that one is liberated because one can live millions and millions of years. The life of Lord Brahmā covers millions of earth years, yet he is also subjected to birth and death. That is the way of conditional life. We should take advantage of the perfect knowledge given by Vedic literatures, by the great ṛṣis and Bhagavān Kapiladeva, as well as by Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, in order to attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Receiving Kṛṣṇa consciousness means receiving light. People are exhausted with the materialistic way of life, especially in the West. Now the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is giving new life to Western society. By nature, we living entities are liberated. There is actually no question of birth, death, old age and disease. Since we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord, how can there be a question of these things? Kṛṣṇa is sac-cid-ānanda-vigraha, and being part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, we are also of the same nature. We are equal in quality, although not in quantity. Why, then, should we suffer the pangs of death? Therefore in the previous verse Kapiladeva instructed: yoga ādhyātmikaḥ puṁsāṁ mato niḥśreyasāya. The soul is entrapped in the body, and the process of perfect yoga is the process of saving the soul from bodily confinement and the four miseries that plague the body. How can this perfect yoga be attained? That is explained by Lord Kapila in the next verse: rataṁ vā puṁsi muktaye. If our consciousness is simply attached to Kṛṣṇa, we will be liberated.
The great souls are always chanting about Kṛṣṇa. Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. They are also endeavoring with great determination in their devotional service. For instance, in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness temples the devotees rise early in the morning, at 4:00 A.M., and they immediately bathe. Then they go to maṅgala-ārati at 4:30, and after maṅgala-ārati they study the Vedic literatures. These are the processes by which we can awaken our dormant love for Kṛṣṇa. Because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa – just as a son is part and parcel of his father – there is a natural love between us. However, somehow or other the son leaves home and forgets his father. The father, of course, never forgets his son. He thinks, “Oh, my son has left. If he would only come back!” Kṛṣṇa thinks in this way. We are all sons of Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa is more anxious to get us back home, back to Godhead, than we are to go. Therefore Kṛṣṇa comes and says, “You rascal! Give up all this nonsensical material engagement. You have manufactured so many religions and dharmas. Just give them all up and simply surrender unto Me.” Kṛṣṇa comes Himself and leaves behind His words. His words are also Himself because His words are absolute. Presently we do not see Kṛṣṇa, but if we actually advance, we will see Him. When we see the Deity in the temple, we think, “Oh, this is an idol. It is not Kṛṣṇa.” If we think in this way, we have not seen Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is also present in His words, in Bhagavad-gītā. That is kṛṣṇa-vāṇī, the message of Kṛṣṇa. The stage of awareness of Kṛṣṇa can be attained when one is advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then one can understand that Kṛṣṇa is present in the Deity, in Bhagavad-gītā, in the taste of water, in the sunshine, in the moonshine and in all sound. Kṛṣṇa is present everywhere, but one has to acquire knowledge in order to know how to see Kṛṣṇa. That is mukti, liberation. That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That is also the process of bhakti-yoga – śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇam. Deity worship is arcanam, chanting is vandanam, and dāsyam is working for Kṛṣṇa and spreading this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.
Generally we experience that people are primarily interested in seeing Kṛṣṇa, but why is the emphasis on seeing? Let us hear about Him. We must come with a little faith, and as we hear, that faith will increase. One should come to the temple, listen to talks about Kṛṣṇa, and then, after some time, officially take initiation into the service of the Lord. That is called bhajana-kriyā. At that time one has to abandon illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling. If one is still attached to all these habits, he should know that he is not making progress. When one is actually advanced in bhajana-kriyā, all these anarthas (unwanted things) will be finished. Paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate. When one appreciates something better, he rejects all kinds of nonsense. Once one gets a taste of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he cannot remain without it. A drunkard cannot remain without a drink, but a devotee is drunk with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The immunization against all material diseases is this Kṛṣṇa consciousness. To be immune to the infection of the guṇas, we have to engage in bhakti-yoga. Once we attain the perfectional stage, we attain ecstatic love of Godhead. In that state we cannot remain without Kṛṣṇa for a moment. That is called bhāva, and that bhāva may increase to mahā-bhāva. This is not possible for ordinary human beings, but it was possible for the gopīs and Rādhārāṇī. Indeed, they could not live without Kṛṣṇa. This is the highest stage of liberation.