The first verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka describes the sequence of bhajana. First the mirror-like heart is cleansed by the chanting of the holy name:
ānandāmbudhi-vardhanaṁ prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanaṁ
sarvātma-snapanaṁ paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam
Let there be supreme victory for the chanting of the holy name of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, which cleanses the mirror of the heart and completely extinguishes the blazing forest fire of material existence. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana diffuses the moon rays of bhāva, which cause the white lotus of good fortune for the jīvas to bloom. The holy name is the life and soul of transcendental knowledge, which is herein compared to a wife. It continuously expands the ocean of transcendental bliss, enabling one to taste complete nectar at every step, and thoroughly cleanses and cools everything, both internally and externally, including one’s body, heart, self (ātmā) and nature.
saṅkīrtana haite pāpa-saṁsāra nāśana
citta śuddhi sarva-bhakti-sādhana udgama
kṛṣṇa premodgama premāmṛta-āsvādana
kṛṣṇa prāpti-sevāmṛta-samudre majjana
The glory of śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana is mentioned first in the teachings of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Because śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana is all-auspicious, the word param (supreme) is used in the fourth line of this verse. This word indicates pure saṅkīrtana, which is obtained in progressive stages beginning with śraddhā and followed by sādhu-saṅga and bhajana-kriyā. Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the ocean of mercy and compassion, Himself appeared as a sādhaka-bhakta. He sang the glories of śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana, which is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself, in order to enlighten the living entities with the fundamental truths of sambandha (relationship), abhidheya (the process) and prayojana (the goal). For the benefit of the jīvas, Śrī Bhagavān Himself appears in the material world in the form of His name, which is the transcendental, inconceivable, non-dual truth (aprākṛta-acintya-advaya-tattva).
Our tattva-ācārya, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, says that the one Absolute Truth (parama-tattva) eternally exists in four features by the influence of His inherent inconceivable potency (svabhāvikī acintya-śakti). These four features are:
- (1) svarūpa (His original form),
- (2) tad-rūpa-vaibhava (His personal splendour),
- (3) jīva (the living entity) and
- (4) pradhāna (the unmanifest state of material nature).
They can be compared to the four aspects of the sun:
- (1) the effulgence situated in the interior of the sun planet;
- (2) the sun globe; (3) the atomic particles of light emanating from the sun globe; and
- (4) the reflected rays of the sun. Although the sun has four aspects, it is one.
Bhagavān’s parā-śakti (superior potency, also known as svarūpa-śakti) is manifest in three forms:
- antaraṅga-śakti (internal potency),
- taṭastha-śakti (marginal potency) and
- bahiraṅga-śakti (external potency).
By the antaraṅga-śakti, the Absolute Truth in His complete and original feature eternally exists as Bhagavān, devoid of all faults, supremely auspicious and the basis of all transcendental qualities. Moreover, for the accomplishment of His transcendental pastimes, tad-rūpa-vaibhava (the Lord’s personal splendour, specifically Vaikuṇṭha and other dhāmas, His associates, and His forms such as Nārāyaṇa) is eternally established by this same svarūpa-śakti.
This same Absolute Truth, when endowed only with the marginal potency (taṭastha-śakti), exists as His separate expansion (vibhinnāṁśa-svarūpa), which consists of the innumerable infinitesimal conscious jīvas. Although the infinitesimal conscious living entities have no separate existence from Bhagavān, they cannot be said to be Bhagavān, nor do they ever become Bhagavān.
Further, parama-tattva Bhagavān, by His external potency (bahiraṅga-śakti), manifests this entire material world, which is His external splendour. This material world is a transformation of māyā-śakti, here meaning pradhāna, the unmanifest material elements. In this way it is proved that the living entities (jīvas), the material world (jaḍa-jagat) and Bhagavān’s personal splendour that is manifest as His Vaikuṇṭha existence (tad-rūpa-vaibhava), are inconceivably one with and different from (acintya-bhedābheda) Bhagavān’s original form.
The living entity’s eternal identity is understood by the words ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam. In this regard Jīva Gosvāmī has concluded that the individual jīva is one minute part of the Supreme Absolute Truth, who is endowed with the marginal potency represented by the sum total of all jīvas. The Supreme Lord is all-pervading consciousness (vibhu-caitanya) and the living entity is infinitesimal consciousness (aṇu-caitanya). The jīvas are innumerable and are either conditioned (baddha) or liberated (mukta). When the jīvas are vimukha, indifferent to the Lord, they become conditioned. They become liberated when they are unmukha, turned towards Him, and the covering of māyā over the pure identity and qualities of the jīva is removed.
Just as one’s face cannot be seen in a mirror that is covered with dust, the jīva cannot perceive his actual svarūpa in a heart that is covered by the dirt of ignorance. When the practice of pure bhakti, which is the essential function of the hlādinī-śakti, begins, one engages in the process of śravaṇam, hearing. Thereafter, śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana manifests automatically and thoroughly cleanses the dirt of ignorance. When the mirror of the heart is cleansed, it is possible to truly have vision of one’s own svarūpa. The jīva’s constitutional occupation (svadharma) is to serve Bhagavān.
Bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇam – The purport of the word bhava, mundane existence, is that the living entity has to repeatedly take birth in this material world. This bhava-mahā-dāvāgni, blazing forest fire of material existence, cannot be extinguished by any means other than śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana. Here a question may be raised. Upon attaining knowledge of one’s svadharma, does one cease to perform śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana? No, this never happens. Hari-saṅkīrtana is the eternal occupation of the living entity, and it is both the process (sādhana) and the goal (sādhya).
Śreyaḥ-kairava-candrikā-vitaraṇam – For the living entities ensnared by māyā, material enjoyment alone is desirable and because of this they inevitably suffer the threefold miseries. In complete opposition to this, it is auspicious (śreyaḥ) to always be engaged in serving Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This śreyaḥ is compared to the white water lotus, which opens at night by the influence of the moon. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana diffuses its moon rays of bhāva and causes the white water lotus of auspiciousness for the living entities to bloom.
Vidyā-vadhū-jīvanam – The power of śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana removes the ignorance of the jīva, and then knowledge of one’s relationship with Śrī Kṛṣṇa arises. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana is therefore the life of all transcendental knowledge, which has here been compared to a wife (vadhū). Through saṅkīrtana the inherent identity of the jīva manifests, and if by qualification one is fit to taste mādhurya-rasa, he receives the pure spiritual form of a gopī. Thus Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti, which is the embodiment of that transcendental knowledge, is compared to a wife or consort.
Ānandāmbudhi-vardhanam – Here another doubt may arise. Since the inherent nature of the jīva is infinitesimal, it may be assumed that his constitutional happiness is also infinitesimal; but factually it is not. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana unlimitedly expands the inherent transcendental pleasure of the living entity by virtue of the hlādinī-śakti. In other words, when the living entity attains his purely spiritual form (śuddha-svarūpa), he will gain boundless, transcendental happiness.
Prati-padaṁ pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanam – Upon attaining his śuddha-svarūpa and being eternally situated in one of the transcendental rasas (dāsya, sakhya, vātsalya or mādhurya), the jīva relishes the sweetness of Bhagavān’s form and pastimes in an ever-new way at every moment. In other words, he relishes the nectar of service to Nanda-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa in His two-armed form, holding a flute and dressed as a cowherd boy.
Sarvātma-snapanam – At this stage, when the jīva’s heart is completely pure and devoid of any selfish motive for personal enjoyment, he naturally enjoys the transcendental bliss of the loving pastimes of the Divine Couple. In his internally contemplated spiritual form he serves Them as a maidservant of Śrīmatī Rādhikā, who is the embodiment of mahābhāva, the very essence of hlādinī. The two words sarvātma-snapanam have been used here to indicate supreme purity, completely devoid of the faults of the desire to merge into Brahman and the desire for selfish sense enjoyment.
The seventh verse of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Nāmāṣṭaka describes the holy name as the embodiment of concentrated transcendental bliss and knowledge:
nāma gokula-mahotsavāya te kṛṣṇa
pūrṇa-vapuṣe namo namaḥ
O destroyer of the numerous sufferings of those who have taken shelter of You! O embodiment of delightful transcendental bliss! O great festival for the residents of Gokula! O all-pervading one! O Kṛṣṇa-nāma, time and again I offer respects to You, who are replete with these qualities.
āśrita janera saba ārtināśa kari
atiramya cidghana svarūpe vihari
gokulera mahotsava kṛṣṇa pūrna-rūpa
hena nāme nami prema pāī aparūpa
nāma kīrtane haya sarvānartha nāśa
sarva śubhodaya kṛṣṇe premera ullāsa
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu says, “The name of Kṛṣṇa removes all kinds of distress and sorrow for those who have taken shelter of Him. He especially removes the Vrajavāsīs’ extreme pain of separation. Kṛṣṇa-nāma sports as Nanda-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the personification of supremely delightful, condensed, transcendental happiness. The holy name is the great festival of Nanda-Gokula and the very embodiment of Kṛṣṇa Himself. Please let Me attain undivided love for śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāma. Aho! All anarthas will be completely destroyed through nāma-saṅkīrtana, and all varieties of auspiciousness, as well as joyful love for Kṛṣṇa, will arise.”
A question may arise here. The holy name is able to destroy the thirty-two kinds of seva-aparādha, but how can criticism of devotees and saintly persons (sādhu-nindā) and the other nine kinds of nāma-aparādha be destroyed? The answer is that they can also be destroyed by chanting harināma. Mahāprabhu is speaking with this mood.
The path of aṣṭāṅga-yoga is always full of fear. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.6.35) states:
tathātmāddhā na śāmyati
The mind that is disturbed by the enemies of lust, anger, greed and so forth does not become subdued or peaceful by practising yama and niyama on the path of aṣṭāṅga-yoga, as it does by performing service to Śrī Mukunda, which completely controls it.
yoge śuddha kari’ citte ekāgraha kare
bahusthale e kathāra vyatikrama kare
In Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.29) it is stated:
jñānī jīvan-mukta-daśā pāinu kari’ mane
vastutaḥ buddhi ‘śuddha’ nahe kṛṣṇa-bhakti bine
This verse describes how yogīs observe the practices of aṣṭāṅga-yoga6, such as yama and niyama, in order to restrain the senses. They use processes like prāṇāyāma to pacify the restless mind, and they use pratyāhāra to keep the objects of sense enjoyment far away. By remembering their object of meditation, by repeated dhāraṇā, and finally by samādhi, they become absorbed in Brahman, which is devoid of transcendental pastimes. Although they go through many difficulties and they practise so much self-control, even if they become successful they only attain a degraded state. The heart of the jīva cannot become completely pure by doing yoga and so forth, for upon seeing the forms and tasting the objects that attract his senses, he again becomes agitated to attain them. It is because of that desire that he falls down. Examples of this are Maharṣi Viśvāmitra and Saubhari Muni.
The purity desired by the practitioner of aṣṭāṅga-yoga is automatically manifest in the devotee who performs bhakti-yoga; it naturally comes to the devotee on the strength of bhakti. In bhakti-yoga the devotees, who are fearless, free from care and sorrow, and without worldly desires, are engaged in the service of Mukunda. Śrī Mukunda, being pleased by their unalloyed devotion, protects and maintains them under all circumstances.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.5.12) jñāna and karma are condemned:
naiṣkarmyam apy acyuta-bhāva-varjitaṁ
na śobhate jñānam alaṁ nirañjanam
kutaḥ punaḥ śaśvad abhadram īśvare
na cārpitaṁ karma yad apy akāraṇam
Even pure knowledge (jñāna), which is the direct sādhana to obtain liberation, has no beauty if it is devoid of bhakti to Bhagavān. How then can selfless action (niṣkāma-karma), which is not offered to Bhagavān, and fruitive action (kāmya-karma), which is always inauspicious in both its practice and perfection, be beautiful?
nirañjana karmātīta, kabhu jñāna suśobhita,
śuddha bhakti vinā nāhi haya
svabhāva abhadra karma, haleo niṣkāma dharma,
kṛṣṇārpita naile śubha naya
The word naiṣkarmya in this Text refers to niṣkāma-karma, selfless action. Although such selfless action does not have the variegated nature of karma-kāṇḍa, devotees do not accept it because it is devoid of worship of Bhagavān. Devotees also have no connection with nirañjana-jñāna (knowledge freed from nescience) if it is not dedicated to Bhagavān. Vairāgya (renunciation) that does not lead to attachment for the lotus feet of Bhagavān is also useless. The ācāryas have ascertained that the jīva who leaves the eternal service of Hari and runs towards inauspicious karma or contemptuous mokṣa becomes bereft of his own supreme auspiciousness forever.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.4) condemns the path of non-devotion:
śreyaḥ-sṛtiṁ bhaktim udasya te vibho
kliśyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye
teṣām asau kleśala eva śiṣyate
nānyad yathā sthūla-tuṣāvaghātinām
O Lord, devotional service unto You is the main source of all kinds of auspiciousness. Those who give up this path only to cultivate jñāna will simply undergo hard work, suffer pain and achieve difficulty, just as the only gain of a person who beats empty husks is hard work, not rice.
bhakti-patha chāḍi’ kare jñānera prayāsa
miche kaṣṭa pāya tāra haya sarva-nāśa
ati kaṣṭe tuṣa kuṭi’ taṇḍūla nā pāya
bhakti-śūnya jñāne tathā vṛthā dina yāya
Brahmājī says, “O Lord, the hard work of those who disrespect the path of all-auspicious bhakti and strive to attain nirviśeṣa-brahma-jñāna (knowledge aimed at impersonal liberation) will only result in trouble. The path of bhakti is extremely straightforward, simple and easily attained without any effort. Bhagavān is pleased merely with a leaf or flower if it is offered with a heart full of love. But someone who leaves the service of Bhagavān and endeavours to merge into Brahman will only obtain misery.”