sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 19.170
Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. One is freed from all material designations, and one’s senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord.
If the senses are engaged in the service of Kṛṣṇa, one will lose the attachment and attraction for the material energy. But sometimes this is not possible for the conditioned soul, and he shares his senses and energy to please others. This is not bhakti. Therefore, Mahāprabhu said that if it is not possible to follow to this extent, follow what you can, but do not waste your energy. Energy used for the body, mind, and relatives is wasted.
If dana, jana, and sundarī are used in Kṛṣṇa’s service, then there will never be any bad result. But if a little of this is misused, then problems come. Doing a little bhajana is enough. A child may have only one penny, but the child should, instead of misusing it, give it to his father who than deposits it in the bank.
In the same way, the sādhaka should offer whatever little thing he has for Gurudeva, who then offers it to Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. In this way, nothing will be lost. Therefore, dana, jana, sundarī, or kavitā should never be used independently, but offered to guru and Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Gurudeva told a small story of a husband and wife named Raka and Baka. Every day after performing kīrtana, bhajana, and pūjā, they used to go to the forest to collect dry wood, grasses, and leaves. Then they would sell these items in the market, and from the profit they bought some fruits, vegetables, and grains that they used to prepare bhoga for their deity. The prasāda they then distributed to guests and mendicants, and whatever was left, they took for themselves.
One day, Nārada Ṛṣi went to Lord Nārāyaṇa and said, “Your consort Lakṣmī-devī always favors rich people, not the poor. This is not fair. Raka and Baka are poverty-stricken. During the rainy season, the water drips into their straw hut and during the summer they suffer tremendously from the heat. They do not even have sufficient cloth to cover themselves. Please, give them some help.”
Lord Nārāyaṇa said, “O Nārada, what can I do? My bhaktas have no worldly desires. I try many times to give them support, but they do not accept anything. They do not like anything other than service to Me.”
Nārada Ṛṣi said, “You should give some lakṣmī to me, and I shall give it to Raka and Baka.”
Lord Nārāyaṇa said, “Why do you want to carry so much gold yourself? I shall come with you, and we will both present it to them. You can only carry as much wealth as they need for one day, but I will request Lakṣmī-devī to give them so much wealth that they can never finish it.”
The next morning, Raka and Baka left for the forest after they finished their daily pūjā. At that time, Nārada Ṛṣi put an open bag full of gold coins on their path. The husband walked in front and his wife followed behind, and both were absorbed in singing prayers to Kṛṣṇa, Rādhārānī, and Vraja-bhūmi.
All of a sudden, the husband saw the bag of gold ahead on the path, and knowing that ladies have some greed for wealth, he tried to quickly cover the bag with dirt and dry leaves as he passed. Then, the wife came behind him and asked, “What are you doing? Why are you trying to cover this golden dirt with other dirt? Do not waste our time, let us keep walking and chanting.”
Nārāyaṇa and Nārada were hiding behind a tree watching the scene.
Nārāyaṇa said, “Nārada, look how detached the bhaktas are!”
The devotees do not take anything independently from Kṛṣṇa. They know that by taking something independently, pride will come and their minds will become deviated from the path of bhakti. After Raka and Baka left, Nārada collected all the wealth and gave it back to Lakṣmī-devī.
Mahāprabhu taught the jīvas of this age of Kali that if they accept dana, jana, sundarī, and kavita, they distance themselves from the service to Kṛṣṇa and harināma, and get entangled in mahamāyā. Therefore the devotees pray, “O Lord, please do not give me anything other than bhagavād-bhakti.”
Positive Assertion and Negative Consideration
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura states in his Śrī Sanmodana–bhāṣya commentary of this verse:
The sādhaka possessed of faith should first of all hear the holy name of Śrī Hari emanating from the mouth of the spiritual master. Thereafter, being freed from all offences, he should chant harināma with great faith. By chanting the Lord’s name according to this method, the four symptoms mentioned in Verse Three will manifest in his heart. But accompanying this positive assertion (anvaya) is a negative consideration (vyatireka).
If the sādhaka does not give up all connection with the sensual happiness of this material world, his pure spiritual form will not arise. Without the awakening of his real spiritual identity, bhakti, whose essence is the hlādinī potency, cannot be transformed into bhāva-bhakti, devotion characterized by ecstatic love.
It is in consideration of this that the pure character of sādhana-bhakti in the form of śrī-nāma-saṅkīrtana is being clearly described by negative indication in the first two lines of this verse (na dhanam na janam, etc.). The positive indication refers to svarūpa-lakṣaṇa, the intrinsic characteristic of bhakti.
In defining an object the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa refers to those characteristics which are part of its fundamental nature (svarūpa). The intrinsic characteristic of bhakti is that it involves the cultivation of activities favorable to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This is known as ānukūlyamaya kṛṣṇānuśīlana.
The negative indication refers to taṭastha-lakṣaṇa, the extrinsic characteristics of bhakti. In defining an object the taṭastha-lakṣaṇa refers either to those characteristics which are visible by-products of the inherent quality, or symptoms which are excluded from the object. In the second case they help to define the object by describing what it is not.
There are two extrinsic characteristics of bhakti:
- anyābhilāṣitā-śunya – bhakti is devoid of all desires for anything other than the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa and
- jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛta – bhakti should not be covered by fruitive activity (karma), the cultivation of impersonal knowledge (jñāna) and so on.
As long as the cultivation of activities favorable to Śrī Kṛṣṇa remains covered by anyābhilāṣa, karma, jñāna and yoga, it does not become śuddha or uttamā-bhakti; rather, it remains as a mere semblance of bhakti.
In order to dissipate the semblance (ābhāsa) referred to here, the following instruction is being given: “O Jagadīśa, I do not desire wealth, followers or beautiful poetry.” The word dhana refers to the wealth of religiosity of those who are devoutly engaged in the performance of duties in varṇāśrama.
It also refers to all varieties of desires for material enjoyment in this world and in the heavenly planets, and all paraphernalia for the enjoyment of the gross and subtle senses, such as wealth, property and so on.
The word jana refers to women, sons, servants, maidservants, subjects, friends and relatives. The word vidyā is defined in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (4.29.49): “sā vidyā tan-matir yayā – that by which the intellect remains firmly situated at the lotus feet of Bhagavān is known as real knowledge.”
But the words sundarī kavitā refer to ordinary knowledge related to mundane poetry. They do not refer to transcendental poetry related to the descriptions of Bhagavān’s pastimes, philosophical principles establishing Him as the Supreme, and glorifications of Him.
Lord Caitanya, praying in the mood of a devotee, says: “I do not pray to You for all these things. My only prayer is that birth after birth I may have unmotivated devotion (ahaitukī-bhakti) unto You, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Lord of my life.” Ahaitukī-bhakti is here defined as having the following characteristics:
- phala-anusandhāna-rahita – it is devoid of the result-seeking mentality;
- cinmaya-svabhāva-āśraya – it is fully transcendental and sentient in nature;
- kṛṣṇānanda-rūpa – it gives pleasure to Śrī Kṛṣṇa;
- śuddha – it is pure;
- kevalā – it is exclusive;
- amiśrā – it is unmixed;
- akiñcana – it is free from all material attachments.
The endeavor to remove the miseries of material existence in the form of repeated birth and death is a matter beyond the ability of the living entities, for it depends exclusively on the will of Bhagavān. One’s liberation from all miseries occurs automatically upon cessation of the cycle of birth and death, which takes place by the will of the Lord.
Therefore what is the need of praying for the removal of such miseries, when such a mentality is opposed to bhakti? Lord Caitanya thus prays: “Until the cycle of birth and death is terminated by the will of Bhagavān, let me have unmotivated devotion unto His lotus feet birth after birth, regardless of my material circumstances – this is my only prayer.”
Sevā-vṛtti Comes from Hearing Hari-kathā
(note: Bhajana-rahasya commentary is Srila Gurudeva’s…change in first three parts.)
Śrīla Gurudeva writes in his commentary on Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Bhajana-rahasya:
Misusing material wealth, and so forth, is opposed to bhakti. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.9.6) states:
tāvad bhayaṁ draviṇa-deha-suhṛn-nimittaṁ
śokaḥ spṛhā paribhavo vipulaś ca lobhaḥ
tāvan mamety asad-avagraha ārti-mūlaṁ
yāvan na te ’ṅghrim abhayaṁ pravṛṇīta lokaḥ
As long as a person does not take shelter of Your lotus feet, which remove all kinds of fear, he will be tormented by anxiety, sorrow, hankering, wretchedness, extreme greed and so forth caused by wealth, home, friends and relatives. He will maintain the misconception of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, which is the sole cause of unhappiness.
Persons who have never heard hari-kathā are not inclined to serve Śrī Hari. They use their time, wealth and energy in mundane activities and maintain the misconception that “I am the enjoyer”. They will suffer due to their inclination to enjoy. In other words, although they are in distress, they still endeavor to obtain that which is unrelated to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The sole cause of this is illusion.
Forgetting that Kṛṣṇa is their only near and dear friend, they establish friendship with persons averse to Śrī Kṛṣṇa and remain fearful of the devotees. It is only by the merciful disposition of Hari, Guru and Vaiṣṇavas that the living entity can be delivered from these sufferings and the desire to serve the Supreme Lord can arise in his heart. In other words, the inclination to serve Śrī Bhagavān will manifest in his heart.
The living entity then realizes his own intrinsic nature, as well as the intrinsic natures of the Supreme Lord and the illusory energ y, and engages all his senses in serving Hari, Guru and Vaiṣṇavas. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sings in Śaraṇāgati (Ātma-nivedana, Song 8):
ātma-nivedana tuyā pade kari hainu parama sukhī
duḥkha dūre gela cintā nā rahila caudike ānanda dekhī
By surrendering myself to Your lotus feet I have become supremely happy. All suffering has gone far away and I have no more worries. Now I see happiness in all directions.
The glory of hearing the holy name from the mouth of a sādhu is described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (4.20.24):
na kāmaye nātha tad apy ahaṁ kvacin
na yatra yuṣmac-caraṇāmbujāsavaḥ
vidhatsva karṇāyutam eṣa me varaḥ
O Lord, I do not want liberation. I receive no pleasure in hearing any topic other than the glorious narrations of the nectar of Your lotus feet. This nectar emanates from the mouths of saintly persons from deep within their hearts. I beg only for the boon that You will give me ten thousand ears with which I can always hear the sweetness of Your pastimes.
yāhāte tomāra pada-sevā-sukha nāi
sei rūpa vara āmi nātha kabhu nāhi cāi
bhaktera hṛdaya haite tava guṇa-gāna
śunite ayuta karṇa karaha vidhāna
Pṛthu Mahārāja prays to the lotus feet of Śrī Bhagavān to be able to hear and glorify the auspicious narrations of His pastimes, only in the association of devotees. He says, “I offer my obeisances from far away to the topics of liberation and any other kind of talk that does not proclaim the glories of the nectar of Your lotus feet.
My only treasured wish is to drink the nectar of Your līlā-kathā, which is f illed with prema and which f lows from the mouth of devotees. I do not even desire to hear about Your sweet pastimes from the mouth of non-devotees. Even fragrant water mixed with honey should be abandoned if it is salty.
“O Lord, I pray to You to please give me tens of thousands of ears to hear the sweet narrations of Your pastimes from the lotus mouths of devotees who are adept at relishing vraja-rasa. In other words, I pray that I may hear descriptions of Your pastimes with intense eagerness, and that the desire for impersonal liberation never arises in my heart. Drops of nectar from Your lotus feet in the form of pollen are carried by the breeze emanating from the mouths of great personalities, thus transmitting the potency of bhakti to us and making our lives successful. I am always ready to do anything to hear this kathā. May a spark of the mood of such personalities enter my heart and submerge me in an ocean of prema.”
[CC-by-NDNC Bhakta Bandhav]