Bhakti yoga is a very ancient philosophy: so old, in fact, that it is often referred to as "sanatana dharma", or eternal law. Until the 20th century, however, it was relatively unknown outside the Indian subcontinent; the eternal, universal truths- or tattvas- it contains having been systematically "forgotten" by most peoples of the world. (Although many religions do contain elements of the philosophy; for example, the Christian tenet that the nature of the soul is eternal, the Buddhist belief in reincarnation and the Hindu and Buddhist concept of nonviolence, "Ahimsa".)
|Sri Sri Radha-Krishna, the Divine Couple|
Some basic terminology: Bhakti: Devotion (to God). Krishna (Krsna): The Supreme personality of Godhead; His original form being that of a young and beautiful cowherd boy who plays the flute, although He has other forms in other expansions, such as Vishnu. Krishna appears with His female counterpart/ expansion, His "Hladini Sakti" or pleasure potency, Sri Radha. Vaisnava: one who worships Vishnu (Krishna) as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Gaudiya Vaisnavas: Practitioners of Bhakti Yoga who acknowledge Caitanya Mahaprabu to be the Yuga-Avatara. They give special emphasis to the service of Radha both in order to please Krishna, and for Her own sake, as the Mistress of devotion to Krishna. Yuga Avatara: Avatar (incarnation) of God who appears on Earth in a particular age (yuga) in order to promote a particular way of performing bhakti that is appropriate to the time. Guru: the spiritual master. A real guru is one who has realised Krishna by the process of Bhakti Yoga and can show others the way. It is nothing to do with money or prestige, only love and trust. In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells us to seek out and take instruction from a genuine guru, serving him/her and treating him/her with respect. Of course, there are many bogus gurus in this world who may cheat us... Devotee: Someone who is practising Bhakti Yoga. Even someone who has just chanted "Krishna" once. Sannyasi: Someone who is in the renounced stage of life, and has formally taken a vow to give up everything not directly connected to bhakti, even home and family. A sannyasi has very few if any personal possessions, and traditionally relies on the charity of others for his bodily survival. In modern times, our Krishna Consciousness Movement sannyasis wear saffron robes and travel the world preaching. The Gaudiya Vaisnava sannyasis wear saffron cloth and carry a danda, which is a staff made from 3 sticks bound together- hence they are sometimes known as "Tridandi Sannyasis". Mantra: A repeated phrase used in prayer and meditation. The greatest of these is the Mahamantra: hare krsna hare krsna krsna krsna hare hare hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare, which should be chanted as many times as possible on a daily basis, as the main practice of Bhakti Yoga for this current yuga. Lila: A pastime, or account of the divine activities of Radha and Krshna. Reading and reflecting on these pastimes forms an important part of awakening one's devotion to Radha-Krishna. Saddhana: One's daily practice of Bhakti Yoga, involving amogst other things) chanting Mahamantra and any other mantras given by the guru, hearing about Krishna from the scriptures, remembering Krishna's pastimes, prayer and serving Krishna in deity form at home or in a temple. Sanskrit: Ancient language using Deva Nagari script (like modern-day Hindi) in which the Vedas were written, and which is the original language of the demigods; these beings, (for example, Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva) are devotees of the Lord, who inhabit a higher realm but can - and do- visit Earth. Many Indo-European languages have vocabulary in common with Sanskrit. Sampradaya: lineage or disciplic succession of spiritual masters; there are 4 main Vaisnava sampradayas; Sri (founded by Ramanujacarya), Brahma (founded by Madhvacarya), Nimbarka (founded by the Four Kumaras with Nimbarka as acarya) and Rudra (founded by Vishnuswami) . Gaudiya Vaisnavas belong to the Brahma-Madhava sampradaya. Mayavada philosophy and Bhakti Yoga- differences: Promoted by Sankaracarya, Mayavada is probably the antithesis of Bhakti Yoga, as it propounds that God is formless effulgence, and that the ultimate aim is to merge with that light. In Bhakti Yoga, however, one's devotion to Krishna via spiritual practice leads ultimately to the discovery of one's soul's inherent "rasa" towards Krishna. (This will fall into one of five categories; neutrality, servitude, friendship, parental or loving sweetness.) On the death of the physical body, the soul will then no longer need to incarnate on Earth and will take on a form appropriate to its rasa to serve Krishna eternally in the spiritual world. A soul usually transmigrates millions of times through different life-forms until a human birth is achieved in which the process of Bhakti Yoga can begin.
|Japa mala, the beads on which to chant Mahamantra daily|
Who is Krishna?
(the Brahma Samhita)
aradhyo bhagavan brajesa-tanayas-tad-dhama vrndavanam
ramya kacid-upasana vraja-vadhu-vargena ya kalpita
srimad-bhagavatam pramanam-amalam prema pumartho mahan
sri caitanya mahaprabhor-matam-idam tatradaro nam param
It is the conclusive opinion of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu that:
- Sri Krsna, who is Vrajendra-nandana, the son of the king of Vraja, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, the topmost worshipable Deity;
- Vrndavan-dhama which is an expansion of Sri Krsna and is nondifferent from Him is the highest worshipable abode
- The gopis of Vrndavana are the highest example of the worship of Sri Krsna.
- Srimad-Bhagavatam is the spotless evidence for knowing the Absolute Truth;
- Krsna-prema is the fifth and highest goal of life.
Scriptures: Bhakti Yoga is based on revealed scripture, or sastra; the actual word of God. These are the ancient Indian Vedas, also revered in Hinduism, such as Srimad Bhagavad Gita (part of Mahabharata), Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Puranas. Only the Vedic scriptures referring to personalist philosophy (as opposed to Brahma-Vadi/ Mayavadi ie: impersonalism, which states that we are all God and that God is formless) are considered sastra by devotees of Bhakti Yoga. The Vedas represent oral teachings from ages past which were written by incarnations of the Lord himself, such as Sri Vyasadeva, in order to remind people of their eternal duty. I can guarantee you that whatever difficult questions you may have about life, the universe and everything, there will be an answer in sastra. Everything is there, from how to conduct oneself in day-to-day life to technical explanations of how creation takes place. It will blow your mind! As well as the Vedas, there are more modern scriptures such as "Sri Caitanya Caritamrta" from the 17th century AD, concerning Caitanya Mahaprabhu, a relatively recent avatar of the Lord, and books written by elevated Vaisnavas such as the works of the Six Goswamis of Vrndavana or Bhaktivinode Thakura's "Jaiva Dharma" from the turn of the 20th century. These Vaisnavas are considered to be eternally liberated souls who manifested themselves upon the Earth only to help humankind.
The Modern Movement of "Krishna Consciousness" A popular misconception is that the practice of Bhakti Yoga is a recent "invention"; a 1960s cult that arose in the US in the era of "Flower-Power". Those who know a very little more would say that it was "invented" by Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. You may have seen his picture in the books the devotees give out in towns and cities across the world. While it is true that in New York and San Fransisco in the 60s many so-called "hippies" who were feeling very disenfranchised from Western values and the "American Dream" were atttracted to the teachings of "The Swami" (as Prabhpada was often referred to), doing Bhakti Yoga required that they should clean up their act, give up smoking, drugs and alcohol, become vegetarian, cut their hair and follow a strict regime of personal hygiene. In fact, Prabhpada once said that he was turning "Hippies into Happies"! Prabhupada did found the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which gave people in Western countries temples and an institution to belong to, but he was actually only repeating the same message that comes down to us via revealed scripture. At first there were some minor concessions to help people adjust to the different way of life, but what Prabhupada preached was in essence no different from that which many people in the Indian subcontinent have been practising since time immemorial. "Krishna consciousness" means Bhakti Yoga. Prabhupada was already approaching old age when he arrived in New York in the late summer of 1965. He had come from Vrndavana, India, where as a member of the Gaudiya Math he had taken sannyasa (the renounced order) some years before and had been engaged in translating scriptures into English. It was the wish of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabupada, that he should spread the message of Krishna consciousness all over the world, and he was helped by his dear godbrother Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, both initially (he sent Prabhupada some Indian musical instruments) and after Prabhupada's departure from this world, by offering shelter and guidance to his disciples. Today, both ISKCON and the International Pure Bhakti Yoga Society number millions of devotees around the world.