The Creeper of Devotion by Thakur Bhaktivinoda
The successive generations of devotees are standing on the pioneer work of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, so ISKCON is really an offshoot of his work. He was the first Gaudiya to preach outside of India. His son and the spiritual master of Prabhupada, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Thakur, and our Prabhupada, further developed his vision by putting it into a practical shape. Therefore reading his books are important, though one should have a good understanding of Prahupada's books to benefit (and/or a senior devotee to inquire from). Then the different acharyas which include Bhaktivinoda Thakur will help one go deeper into understanding the tradition Shrila Prabhupada represents. It is sort of like cross fertilization.
In honor of the appearance day of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur I thought I would post some of his immortal words. In reading them we can better appreciate how much Prabhupada both followed the lead of the previous acharya (teachers) and added his own realizations and flavor to the philosophy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism to which we belong.
The following excerpt is from Shri Chaitanya-shiksamrita, Sixth Rainfall, The Fifth Shower, speaking about the creeper of devotion:
"When devotees, by the mercy of guru and Krishna, obtain the seed of the devotional creeper, which is faith in the principles of bhakti, with great care they should see that the creeper of bhakti bears fruit. Mahaprabhu [Lord Chaitanya] used on simile to teach the process to Rupa Goswami [one of his principle disciples] at Prayaga. The devotees performing sadhana [rules of practice for bhakti-yoga] plant the seed of bhakti in their own hearts. Their hearts are described as the field. Before planting a seed in the field, it is necessary to first plough the field to make it suitable for sowing and raising the plant.
The fortunate soul receives from the true guru instructions to give up the quest for bhukti (material enjoyment), mukti (liberation), and yoga-siddhi (yogic perfection). By following such instructions carefully, devotees cleanse the field. This cleansing will result from the association of devotees. The aspirants will consider themselves lower than a blade of grass and become more tolerant than a tree. Without pride, they will give respect to all living entities. Having developed this nature, they are qualified for the name [of Krishna]. Such practice is preparing the field for planting. As if subduing a wild horse, the devotees must trick the mind into submission. This is called yukta-vairagya [using everything in Krishna's service], which is helpful in gaining advancement in chanting---dry renunciation is not useful.
The creeper of devotion gradually grows by the watering process of hearing, chanting, remembering [Krishna] and other devotional activities. The spiritual nature of the creeper is such that it cannot be limited to the material world. In an instant [from the view of eternity], the creeper transcends the fourteen material realms, crosses the Viraja [river which divides the material and spiritual dimensions], pierces the effulgence of Brahman and arrives in the spiritual world. The nature of a spiritual substance is that it transcends the material realm.
When the devotee achieves real knowledge of the spiritual world and their own spiritual identity by their overall effort and eagerness, that knowledge leads the soul and the devotional creeper to the spiritual realm beyond matter, and then to Goloka Vrindavana [Krishna's abode], in the upper portion of the spiritual sky. Attaining the desire tree of Krishna's lotus feet, the creeper spreads out and bears the fruits of Prema. In this place, the gardener continually waters the plant with hearing and chanting.
Once the creeper has crossed over the Viraja, there is no fear of it decaying. As long as the creeper is bound in the material world made of prakriti, maha-tattva, ahankara[ego], form, taste, smell, touch, sound, the five knowledge gathering senses, the five senses of action, the mind, earth, water, air, either, goodness, passion, and ignorance, there are obstacles to its growth. When it attains the spiritual world, by the strength of its own nature, it cannot be broken or cut, and ascends higher.
When in the material realm, the gardener must be careful of two things. First, offenses to the Vaishnavas [those on the path of service to Krishna]must be avoided, for like an elephant in the garden, such offenses will squash the creeper. To prevent this, the gardener must first build a wall made of strong chanting apart from the worldly people and in the shelter of pure devotees, because the menace of offenses will be prevented by association with such devotees. [associating with materials means for one thing, taking up their habits]
Secondly, the bigger the plant grows, more is the likelihood that by bad association weeds will spring up alongside the creeper. Desire for material enjoyment, desire for liberation, committal of sinful activities, duplicity, deceit, cheating, violence, self-acquisition, desire for respect, desire for position, and many other weeds that may grow in the garden. By the water of hearing and chanting, these weeds may grow in size and stunt the growth of the creeper of devotion. All these weeds start from association with people inclined to material enjoyment and liberation.
It is commonly seen that the devotee falls from his position because of bad association. Therefore, the gardener, according to the instructions of the guru, must cut down all such weeds as soon as they grow up. By doing this the main plant, the creeper of bhakti, will quickly grow and enter the spiritual world, Vrindavana. There the fruit of Prema ripens, and there the gardener relishes the fruit. Taking support of this creeper, the particle spirit soul gardener attains the desire tree of the lotus feet of Krishna. Serving that desire tree, the gardener tastes the fruit of Prema, the goal of human life.
The successive generations of devotees are standing on the pioneer work of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, so ISKCON is really an offshoot of his work. He was the first Gaudiya to preach outside of India. His son and the spiritual master of Prabhupada, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Thakur, and our Prabhupada, further developed his vision by putting it into a practical shape. Therefore reading his books are important, though one should have a good understanding of Prahupada's books to benefit (and or a senior devotee to inquire from). Then the different acharyas which include Bhaktivinoda Thakur will help one go deeper into understanding the tradition Shrila Prabhupada represents. It is sort of like cross fertilization.
I hope no one is discouraged from reading Bhaktivinoda's words. It is a high goal and standard for those at the highest level. However, wherever we are in our life we can take up some of the practices of Krishna consciousness and receive benefit. It is not all or nothing. If you are attracted to the KC philosophy and are attracted to Krishna--even to the idea of Krishna, you can make spiritual progress. Krishna will help you, and you can also connect to those who are living a life of devotion. You just have to take a chance or make an experiment to chant the holy name of Krishna, read books about him or spoken by him, and pray for guidance, etc. God helps those who help themselves.