Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport to 8.28:
“Study of the Vedas is not meant for the recreation of armchair speculators, but for the formation of character.”
What is character? Good character can be seen as the mature quality of a person who endeavors to act based on the understanding of principles rather than reactively and according to circumstance. This can have both a positive and negative context. In the negative sense a devotee may be presented with an opportunity to enjoy unrestricted sense gratification but due to having an understanding of sastric principles he restrains himself. In the positive instance there might be an opportunity to serve devotees by distributing prasadam at a feast. He understands the principle behind serving Vaisnavas therefore he acts accordingly and further reinforces his good character. Because the sastra emphasizes such principles, when someone studies the scriptures under the guidance of the spiritual master with the proper sense of urgency and submission their character will, by the grace of the Lord, improve.
Having given such an analysis – now comes the very painful and purifying step of applying this to myself. Part of my motivation behind taking the bhakti-sastri course is that I feel as if I need to be grounded properly in the philosophy. The teachings that Srila Prabhupada has given us are so broad and encompassing that I am starting to understand the importance of guidance even within the safety of the Bhaktivedanta Purports. This is important for personal application because it helps me to have the discrimination to determine the proper emphasis and balance applicable to my own particular situation. For instance, even within the scope of the eleven verses of The Nectar of Instruction there are many different stages of bhakti-yoga described. To quickly skim through the first ten verses and to try to literally apply the import of the last verse to my life by immediately taking up residence at Radha-kunda would be premature and probably detrimental to my spiritual development. Srila Prabhupada himself corrected this tendency towards neophyte enthusiasm in a lecture given in New York, 1966:
“Nobody can be accepted as a qualified man if he has not developed his character through the scripture under the instruction of guru.”
A verse that contains a considerable import for personal growth is found in Bhagavad-Gita chapter four, text ten:
man-maya mam upasritah
puta mad-bhavam agatah
“Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me – and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me.”
This verse is significant to me because it contains aspects of both the goal (prayogana) and the process to obtain the goal (abhideya). The entire purpose of our existence is to achieve transcendental love for Krishna as revealed in this verse. The process of developing that is outlined here as well in two aspects (again positive and negative) namely: detachment from material absorption and its effects such as fear and anger. In the positive sense we need purification of our desires by taking refuge by cultivating knowledge of Krishna.
I have noticed within myself a tendency to oscillate between intense self-abnegation to almost complete languor in regards to monitoring my attachment to material sense pleasure. I never noticed this until I started to write this paper so I think that perhaps I am being shown an area I need to improve in based on the impetus of this essay. Upon some incident of overindulgence I have in the past completely abused myself to the point of shame and considered that the guilt feelings I gave myself would be the means of my own purification. Sometimes I feel quite the opposite about some excess and completely let myself off the hook without giving it much thought. I can honestly say that neither method has produced much good result in terms of helping me to give up my stupid fascination and attachment to sensory pleasure.
At this point, it is important to have a good understanding of the philosophy and attempt to apply it in my life. There is another concept given in this verse that could alleviate me from the mental happiness and distress I wrote about in the last paragraph.
“ … being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me …”
The key here is absorption. Srila Prabhupada discusses this in his brilliant purport to 3.37:
“If, therefore, the mode of passion, instead of being degraded into the mode of ignorance, is elevated to the mode of goodness by the prescribed method of living and acting, then one can be saved from the degradation of wrath by spiritual attachment.”
So it seems as if more spiritual attachment is needed. Rather than simply beating myself over the head or being completely nonchalant about sensual attachment, I should try to elevate my passionate desires to the mode of goodness by the prescribed method of living and acting in terms of hearing and chanting, etc. This will increase my spiritual attachment and thereby increase my absorption in Krishna and His service. In all truth I have to be honest with my inability to completely control my senses by my own efforts and instead of lamenting or becoming frustrated I should engage them in the service of Hrsikesa – the master of the senses. In chapter one it is stated:
“The Lord, situated in the hearts of all living entities, directs their senses. But He directs in terms of the surrender of the living entity, and in the case of a pure devotee He directly controls the senses. Here on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra the Lord directly controls the transcendental senses of Arjuna, and thus His particular name of Hrsikesa.”
So this understanding will help me to ‘take refuge in Me’ as Krishna recommends here. From this will come purification by knowledge of Krishna as the verse continues to recommend. As far as my understanding goes, this cultivation of knowledge of Krishna does not come solely by rote memorization of any set of facts and figures in relation to Krishna. It does, however, come quite readily to a person who hears and chants in the association of devotees.
In the purport to 7.1, Srila Prabhupada describes this process as given in the first Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam:
“To hear about Krsna from Vedic literatures, or to hear from Him directly through the Bhagavad-gita, is itself righteous activity. And for one who hears about Krsna, Lord Krsna, who is dwelling in everyone’s heart, acts as a best-wishing friend and purifies the devotee who constantly engages in hearing of Him. In this way, a devotee naturally develops his dormant transcendental knowledge. As he hears more about Krsna from the Bhagavatam and from the devotees, he becomes fixed in the devotional service of the Lord. By development of devotional service one becomes freed from the modes of passion and ignorance, and thus material lusts and avarice are diminished. When these impurities are wiped away, the candidate remains steady in his position of pure goodness, becomes enlivened by devotional service and understands the science of God perfectly. Thus bhakti-yoga severs the hard knot of material affection and enables one to come at once to the stage of asamsayam-samagram, understanding of the Supreme Absolute Truth Personality of Godhead.”
So to summarize, the simple solution to my dilemma with material attraction is not to try by my own efforts to deal with it on the mental platform. If I take the recommendation of this verse and follow the process of cultivating knowledge of Krishna I can overcome my delusion by His help. Naturally I might doubt this due to not having sufficient experience or faith, and as if in anticipation Krishna enourages me “many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me”. So now to work on increasing my hearing and chanting.
NOI 12: “Of the many objects of favored delight and of all the lovable damsels of Vrajabhumi, Srimati Radharani is certainly the most treasured object of Krsna’s love. And, in every respect, Her divine kunda is described by great sages as similarly dear to Him. Undoubtedly Radha-kunda is very rarely attained even by the great devotees; therefore it is even more difficult for ordinary devotees to attain. If one simply bathes once within those holy waters, one’s pure love of Krsna is fully aroused.”
Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport, “Living entities who are eager to return home to the transcendental kingdom of God, Goloka Vrndavana, by means of attaining their spiritual bodies (siddha-deha) should live at Radha-kunda, take shelter of the confidential serving maids of Sri Radha and under their direction engage constantly in Her service.”