Light and Darkness on the Path of Krishna Bhakti
On the path of knowing and loving Krishna ( Bhakti-yoga) there is great Light, love, knowledge, spiritual power, incredible beauty, wonder, sublimity and everything desirable and ideal. Then there is the opposite, which can be seen as the back or dark side brought about by material imperfections practitioners bring to the path. In effect this is a great covering or veil which has to be overcome to keep us on the path for the long haul.
Those of us who are coming to Krishna have to separate the two sides in a way which increases our faith and standing in Bhakti. In the beginning we have tender faith. To mature in our faith we have to build a solid foundation through our practical experience and positive taste from devotional activities, especially chanting the holy name and hearing the philosophy of Krishna consciousness in good spiritual company. Those who have developed faith and realization share that with us. It is possible to understand the positive and negative aspects of the Bhakti path and put them into proper perspective with the right association of mature practitioners. We have to be sincere, blessed, patient, and inquisitive to go beyond appearances.
On the Universal form of Krishna which is the sum total of everything in the material world (as described in the 2nd Canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam), religion is the breast of this form of the Lord, and irreligion [or darkness] is His back. Such is the nature of anything which is manifested in the world—even in a spiritual or pure teaching there is in addition to the ideal, the opposite. There is Light, Darkness and much in between.
We are advised in Shri Isopanisad Mantra 11 that: “Only one who can learn the process of nescience and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death and enjoy the full blessings of immortality.” We must understand the beauty and benefits of our chosen path, and also possible pitfalls, and how it can be misused or misunderstood. Then we are better equipped to avoid them, and to see imperfect expressions of bhakti with the proper vision. Our faith will not be threatened due to our positive, realized standing in Bhakti.
According to Rupa Goswami no one can seriously practice devotional service (Bhakti) without some previous connection with it. One may come temporarily by the mercy of a pure devotee or by force of circumstances, but unless one becomes purified one will fall away. In the Gitas 7th chapter, verse 16, Shri Krishna says that “.....four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” These four classes of persons come to the Supreme Lord with material aspirations to fulfill. They are not pure devotees but they are accepted by the Lord because they have come to him for help, and will eventually be purified of their selfish desires by the power of service to him. We all have to begin somewhere, so whatever motivation we initially have can be a road to pure Bhakti. If we stay on the path we will become purified as our soul awakens.
Prabhupada sums it up in the end of the purport to that cited Gita verse: “On the whole, when the distressed, the inquisitive, the seekers of knowledge, and those who are in need of money are free from all material desires, and when they fully understand that material remuneration has nothing to do with spiritual improvement, they become pure devotees. As long as such a purified stage is not attained, devotees in transcendental service to the Lord are tainted with fruitive activities, the search for mundane knowledge, etc. So one has to transcend all this before one can come to the stage of pure devotional service.” Progress must be made from theory to realization or from beginning faith to mature internalized faith.
Krishna speaks of those who don’t mature in faith in the Gita 9th chapter verse 2: “Those who are not faithful in this devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of enemies. Therefore they return to the path of birth and death in this material world.” Here is part of Prabhupada’s illuminating purport:
“The faithless cannot accomplish this process of devotional service; that is the purport of this verse. Faith is created by association with devotees. Unfortunate people, even after hearing all the evidence of Vedic literature from great personalities, still have no faith in God. They are hesitant and cannot stay fixed in the devotional service of the Lord. Thus faith is a most important factor for progress in Krsna consciousness. In the Caitanya-caritamrita it is said that faith is the complete conviction that simply by serving the Supreme Lord, Shri Krsna, one can achieve all perfection. That is called real faith.”
“Now, the development of that faith is the process of Krsna consciousness. There are three divisions of Krsna conscious men. In the third class are those who have no faith. Even if they are officially engaged in devotional service, they cannot achieve the highest perfectional stage. Most probably they will slip, after some time. They may become engaged, but because they haven't complete conviction and faith, it is very difficult for them to continue in Krsna consciousness.
“We have practical experience in discharging our missionary activity that some people come and apply themselves to Krsna consciousness with some hidden motive, and as soon as they are economically a little well situated they give up this process and take to their old ways again. It is only by faith that one can advance in Krsna consciousness.
“As far as the development of faith is concerned, one who is well versed in the literatures of devotional service and has attained the stage of firm faith is called a first-class person in Krsna consciousness. And in the second class are those who are not very advanced in understanding the devotional scriptures but who automatically have firm faith that krsna-bhakti, or service to Krsna, is the best course and so in good faith have taken it up. Thus they are superior to the third class, who have neither perfect knowledge of the scriptures nor good faith but by association and simplicity are trying to follow.
“The third-class person in Krishna consciousness may fall down, but when one is in the second class he does not fall down, and for the first-class person in Krishna consciousness there is no chance of falling down.....“Those who have no faith even after hearing about Krishna and the excellence of devotional service, who think that it is simply eulogy, find the path very difficult, even if they are supposedly engaged in devotional service. For them there is very little hope of gaining perfection. Thus faith is very important in the discharge of devotional service.”
The Internet can be a great tool to find out more about Krishna and bhakti, yet as Dulal pointed out in his blog, there are also many places where one may become bewildered at what they find. I know in this day and age it is difficult to take up Krishna Consciousness or Bhakti yoga, especially if you don’t live near a Temple and have mature devotees to hear from and observe how they live in Krishna consciousness. As Prabhupada said in his purport, faith is created in the association of devotees.
Myself and other devotees on Krishna.com are here to share our realizations and experience and to field your questions and doubts. We hope to inform, inspire and support you on your exploration of the path of Bhakti. From my perspective I am not a very high devotee, though I have been on the Bhakti path in this life for 38 years That gives me a lot of experience, which means I have seen it all—so to speak—the best and worst, and I have faced my “dark night of the soul”.
By Krishna’s grace I am still a devotee, though you might think I should be way more advanced than I am. It is not just the years we put in, but what we put into the years that counts most. Actually this is the best part of my life. I have some realizations and positive taste for Krishna consciousness, and I am inspired to share that. I try to acknowledge difficult history of Prabhupada’s movement--the spreading of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the West and back to India--but through a positive lens that sees the bigger picture.
If you want answers you have to ask the right questions to the right persons. Krishna says in the 3rd chapter of the Gita: "As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Partha." And the Bible tells us to: "Seek and you shall find; Ask and it will be given;Knock and it will be answered."
I sincerely hope and pray that you will find the help and support you require on your exciting spiritual journey. To be successful in any endeavor requires dedication, perseverance and grace. On this site we are doing our best to make resources available to you to encourage, inspire and inform you about the beauty and love of Krishna. He is our dear-most friend and well-wisher, the true love of our soul, and Krishna consciousness is the process of realizing this truth.