What if there was a progress bar for our spiritual advancement showing our current position, how far we have come and how far we are to go to reach our destination? Well, we want to serve you just that with this article.
At some point in our lives, by circumstantial coercion, many of us might realize that we have to make progress towards God. But the path to that end is almost never clear to many. So in this article, our attempt is to clarify the stages one passes through and the practical steps that one can take irrespective of one’s social or spiritual status so that one can progress on the path back to Godhead unimpeded.
THE ENEMY IS COMPLACENCY
Let’s face it — human life is extremely rare and extremely short. There is a lot of ground to cover and we have no time to lose to perfect our life. But we often get distracted by the innumerable allurements that Māyā has to offer, either in the way of happiness and distress, or hankerings and lamentations, etc.
Often, we think ourselves to be doing alright by comparing ourselves to others who are either in the same status as us or who are not as advanced as us. For example, vegetarians are ususally proud of their superiority of values over those who consume meat. Although being a vegetarian is better, if that does not ultimately lead to loving God, one is as good as a goat because a goat is also vegetarian after all.
By these comparisons, one becomes complacent about life’s ultimate journey and wastes his human life in materialistic pursuits and show-bottle religiousness without any depth of understanding of real religious principles.
THE STEPS TO PROGRESS
We should actively pursue perfection. For that, we should know what perfection is and should have clarity on the path that leads there so that we can measure our progress. Let us now look at the broad view of stages one has to pass through to achieve perfection. After that we can get more granular with each of those stages.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam [3.23.56] states:
neha yat karma dharmāya
na virāgāya kalpate
jīvann api mṛto hi saḥ
“Anyone whose work is not meant to elevate him to religious life, anyone whose religious ritualistic performances do not raise him to renunciation, and anyone situated in renunciation that does not lead him to devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, must be considered dead, although he is breathing.”
A primary student, say in the 9th grade, is doing his regular homework, studying for tests and exams, participating in group projects, etc. but all that hustle is meant for elevating him to the 10th grade. And then in the 10th grade, all the similar hustle is meant to elevate him to the tertiary education. But if he engaged in all the hustle and still remained in the same grade, what was the hustle for? It would be a pure waste of time. Similarly the stages mentioned in the verse above are progressive stages towards perfection of human life.
As only a dead man is still and nonmoving, similarly, a person who is stagnant in his spiritual advacement is considered dead, despite his breathing. In fact, in another part of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, they are compared to the bellows of a blacksmith which inhales and exhales air but is not a living being. People may be in one or two of these categories — (1) working to earn their livelihood, (2) religiously inclined but are unclear about the real religious path, or (3) renouncing the world knowing it as unreal but being unaware of the eternal reality. The perfection however is to reach the stage of devotional service to the Lord.
At least 99.9% of the people are in the stage of working to earn their livelihood. Sometimes, pseudo-spiritual leaders come up with slogans like “work is worship.” But the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or any other Vedic literature does not support that idea. If one worships his work, he stagnates himself at that level and is not making progress towards the next step, which is religious life.
The religious life is a spectrum of its own. According to the Vedic conception, there are so many rituals and ceremonies to be performed for elevating oneself to the heavenly planets but ultimately all such rituals only propel the performer up and down in the cycle of birth and death in the material world, in various divisions of planetary systems.
The only religious system that is worth pursuing is to surrender to the lotus feet of Lord Kṛṣṇa as advised by Kṛṣṇa Himself in the Bhagavad-gītā [18.66]:
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” In fact, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam picks up this last instruction of Bhagavad-gītā and takes the matter on ward. In the very beginning, the great scripture condemns those religious systems which promote elevation within this material world by promising greater facility for sense gratification. Those are merely enticements for worshiping Lord Viṣṇu in an official manner. But worshiping Lord Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa unconditionally, out of pure devotion, is real religiosity and is the eternal function of the living entity.
THE LIFE-FORCE OF ADVANCEMENT
How to make progress from work life to this real religious life without disturbing one’s social status quo? Whichever status one is in — working, religiosity, renunciation or devotional service — one need not change his position immediately and abruptly. Lord Brahmā advises in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam [10.14.3] that the only thing that one has to do first is to find an association of bona fide devotees and submissively hear from them the topics of the Supreme Lord and His devotees as delineated in Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. In this way, one can eventually conquer the otherwise unconquerable Lord.
At Sri Krishna Mandir, we offer this facility by:
Distributing authentic Vedic knowledge in the form of books authored by Śrīla Prabhupāda who is a bona fide, empowered ācārya in the disciplic succession.Conducting daily lectures on the Vedic scriptures at the temple premises.Broadcasting our temple lectures on Facebook Live at least 5 times a week so that people who are busy can still catch up on the important function of śravaṇaṁ, hearing, as advised by Lord Brahmā above.Micro bits of spiritual wisdom via Daily WhatsApp Broadcasts.Courses for children and adults for spiritual and moral growth (in the pipeline at the time of writing this article.)
As one begins to give submissive aural reception to the transcendental message of Kṛṣṇa through the channel of disciplic succession, one’s heart becomes purified. The symptoms of advancement are described as follows in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam [3.25.25]:
satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati
“In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin.”
Hearing, or śravaṇaṁ, is the life-force of spiritual advancement. One has to continue it even after having become advanced. Hearing about Kṛṣṇa creates genuine faith and that is the first step in devotional service.With knowledge, one is empowered for progress. Such hearing will make one inclined towards the religious way of life.
RISING FROM WORK TO WORSHIP
So even if one is embroiled with materialistic life, he can make progress by first of all hearing and then applying those principles in his daily life by dovetailing his assets or talents in the service of Kṛṣṇa. Lord Kṛṣṇa recommends in the Bhagavad-gītā [9.27] as follows:
yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
“O son of Kuntī, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” What happens if we offer the results of our work to Kṛṣṇa? The Lord Himself explains the bright consequences of such action in Bhagavad-gītā [3.9]:
yajñārthāt karmaṇo ‘nyatra
loko ‘yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya
“Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.”
The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam [1.5.22] advises on a similar note:
idaṁ hi puṁsas tapasaḥ śrutasya vā
sviṣṭasya sūktasya ca buddhi-dattayoḥ
avicyuto ‘rthaḥ kavibhir nirūpito
“Learned circles have positively concluded that the infallible purpose of the advancement of knowledge, namely austerities, study of the Vedas, sacrifice, chanting of hymns and charity, culminates in the transcendental descriptions of the Lord, who is defined in choice poetry.” In fact, even the research of the scientists, or poetry, or art, or anything else can be used to glorify Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.22.35) also enjoins:
dehinām iha dehiṣu
prāṇair arthair dhiyā vācā
“It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence and words.” The greatest welfare activity is to extricate the soul from the encagement of the material existence, which in turn, is only possible by devotional service.
The next thing that is core to the work life, of course, is the wealth that one earns from that work. That wealth must be dovetailed in Kṛṣṇa’s service. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, the great ācārya and personal associate of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, set the benchmark for the utilization of one’s funds by his personal example. 50% of one’s funds should be given to support the propagation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. One should find a community of bona fide devotees of Kṛṣṇa who are actively preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness for the benefit of the entire humankind and contribute 50% of his wealth to them. 25% should be utilized to maintain family members and the remaining 25% should be kept for personal emergencies. Even if one may not immediately be able to follow such a rigid principle, one must try as much as possible towards this standard. In that way, whatever one earns becomes purified. Otherwise, one’s wealth is tainted by sin for which one has to suffer. The laws of karma are very stringent. Innocence is no excuse.
RISING TO RENUNCIATION
If one follows the above injunctions, constantly accompanying them with hearing and chanting about Kṛṣṇa, one is sure to make progress in one’s devotional life. Of this there is no doubt. And as one makes natural progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, one proportionately develops a distaste for material enjoyment. Renunciation is a byproduct of devotional service. It is the effect of superior attachment to Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam [1.2.7] explains the effect of rendering devotional service to the Supreme Lord:
janayaty āśu vairāgyaṁ
jñānaṁ ca yad ahaitukam
“By rendering devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge and detachment from the world.”
Therefore, Kṛṣṇa does not demand renunication first. He advises in Bhagavad-gītā [7.1] that we get thoroughly attached to Him having taken shelter of Him through the transparent via medium of the bona fide spiritual master. Renunciation of material life will be a natural consequence owing to the superior experience of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
rasa-varjaṁ raso ‘py asya
paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate
“The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” [Bhagavad-gītā 2.59]
STAGES OF DEVOTION
As one’s attachment to Kṛṣṇa increases, one’s devotion begins to sprout. This is the beginning of perfection but the journey is not finished. One has to become perfect in rendering devotional service to the Lord. There are various stages one has to pass before one attains actual perfection. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has listed in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, the progressive stages through which a devotee will pass before attaining love of Godhead.
ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-
saṅgo ’tha bhajana-kriyā
tato ’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt
tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas
sādhakānām ayaṁ premṇaḥ
prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ
“In the beginning one must have a preliminary desire for self-realization. This will bring one to the stage of trying to associate with persons who are spiritually elevated. In next stage one becomes initiated by an elevated spiritual master, and under his instruction the neophyte devotee begins the process of devotional service. By execution of devotional service under the guidance of the spiritual master, one becomes free from all material attachment, attains steadiness in self-realization, and acquires a taste for hearing about the Absolute Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This taste leads one further forward to attachment for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which is matured in bhāva, or the preliminary stage of transcendental love of God. Real love for God is called premā, the highest perfectional stage of life.” In the premā stage there is constant engagement in the transcendental loving service of the Lord.
THE CATAPULT TO PERFECTION
The beauty of the Saṅkīrtana movement inaugurated by Lord Caitanya 530 years ago is that in one stroke, by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, a person who is in the abyss of sinful life can at once rise to the stage of devotional service automatically passing through all the intermediary stages of advancement without difficulty.
In many instances in the Vedic literature, this truth is confirmed. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam [3.33.7] is one of the best evidences:
aho bata śva-paco ’to garīyān
yaj-jihvāgre vartate nāma tubhyam
tepus tapas te juhuvuḥ sasnur āryā
brahmānūcur nāma gṛṇanti ye te
“Oh, how glorious are they whose tongues are chanting Your holy name! Even if born in the families of dog-eaters, such persons are worshipable. Persons who chant the holy name of Your Lordship must have executed all kinds of austerities and fire sacrifices and achieved all the good manners of the Āryans. To be chanting the holy name of Your Lordship, they must have bathed at holy places of pilgrimage, studied the Vedas and fulfilled everything required.”
DON’T BREED MĀYĀ
Therefore in one’s best interests, one has to take to this process of chanting the most complete mantra, the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, and hearing/reading the transcendental, spiritually-infused books of Śrīla Prabhupāda as a daily function to make swift progress towards Goloka Vṛndāvana, the supreme abode of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
Just as stagnant water breeds mosquitoes and hence diseases, a stagnant spiritualist breeds the infection of Māyā and again suffers the relapse of material suffering in the cycle of birth and death. So one must be very vigilant by keeping oneself tightly in the association of saintly Vaiṣṇavas, always chanting and hearing about Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is the only effective antiseptic.