Reaching the Ecstasy Within Devotional Yoga
By Stephen Knapp
While on the path of spiritual development, many paths offer the means for attaining a higher happiness than through mere materialistic pleasures. But how do we actually attain the inner bliss or ecstasy that we hear about, or for which we are hankering that can overcome all other desires for wholeness and balance within?
Yoga is known for helping us reach lofty states of mind, and elevated states of being, and thus perceiving higher levels of reality. This can be done through the means of karma yoga by directing our actions, or through jnana yoga by giving us loftier knowledge and discrimination between what is spiritual and material, or through raja or astanga yoga by preparing our bodies and minds for perceiving higher states of consciousness and spiritual dimensions, and through bhakti yoga which provides the means for attaining union with God through love and devotional activities. All of these, therefore, pave the way for a bliss that is beyond material or physical and mental stimulation. However, devotional yoga, known as bhakti, is especially known for giving the soul a higher taste in happiness and bliss by aligning our consciousness in loving attachment for the Supreme Lover, especially in the form of Lord Krishna who is known as the God of love. Why? Because that is the nature of the soul. It is the inherent characteristic of the soul to love and be loved. And the highest of all relationships are those of the spiritual dimension, or spiritual relations, beyond being dependent merely on physical expression. It goes beyond all that.
So, the way to do this is by acting in the proper mood or state of mind, which is the mood of servitude. Though some people may not agree that we should offer our service to God, the fact is that we are offering service to so many people and things around us all the time. We may be offering service to our parents, or teachers and professors in order to make progress in our education so that we can have a good career and then become good servants to our boss or to the company in order to get a good paycheck. Or we may be good servants of our wife, husband or family in providing what they need or want by earning the necessary funds to do so. Or we may be servants of the government and pay our taxes on time, or by observing the local laws properly. Or we may be slaves to the dictates of our mind and senses, which never stop telling us what they want us to do. The point is that material service is endless. And aren’t all these beings that we are serving parts of God, which means we are indirectly serving God anyway? That is why when we understand this, we may become more inclined toward our spiritual needs and learn how to engage in direct service to God.
Our servitude towards God does not mean that we become slaves to a conception of God that demands our attention or worship, but we show our humility and service attitude to God, and our hankering for an exchange with God, especially Lord Krishna who is known as the God of love. This is why Lord Krishna is bluish in color, because that is the color of pure consciousness, which is also pure unconditional love for all of the living beings. As this love between God and ourselves begins to grow, and as God recognizes our longing for offering service, at least when we are honestly sincere, the more He will reciprocate with us. Then the more we taste and recognize that exchange, the more we grow in that ecstasy that outweighs any other kind of pleasure. Thus, we find that the greatest happiness and bliss is found in that exchange of offering loving service to the Supreme who reciprocates with His love for us. Such a spiritual relationship is the highest of all relations, and invokes within us the most ecstatic joy that can be attained. The more we enter into that bliss, the sweetness of which is found in the mentality and attitude of offering service to the Divine, the more we naturally give up any interest in other relations or other kinds of happiness, like finding a diamond amongst broken pieces of glass. Then the more we long to enter ever more deeply into that ecstatic exchange.
How we should think in terms of our mood in order to enter into that spiritual ecstasy is described in many verses in the Vedic spiritual texts.
For example, it is described in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita that "The conception of servitude to Sri Krishna generates such an ocean of joy in the soul that even the joy of oneness with the Absolute, if multiplied ten million times, could not compare to a drop of it." (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila 6.44)
In this way, the position of being a devotee is higher than that of equality or oneness with Lord Krishna, for the devotees are dearer to Lord Krishna than His own self. Lord Krishna considers His devotees greater than Himself. In this connection the scriptures provide an abundance of evidence. (Adi-lila 6.100-1)
As Lord Krishna Himself says, "O Uddhava! Neither Brahma, nor Shankara, nor Sankarshana, nor Lakshmi [the Goddess of Fortune], nor even My own self is as dear to Me as you." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.15).
Furthermore, "The sweetness of Lord Krishna is not to be tasted by those who consider themselves equal to Krishna. It is to be tasted only through the sentiment of servitude. This conclusion of the revealed scriptures is also the realization of experienced devotees. Fools and rascals, however, cannot understand the opulences of devotional emotions." (Adi 6.103-4)
Other examples of the devotees finding the highest happiness in the mood of offering service to Lord Krishna are provided , such as in this next verse spoken in connection with the rasa dance of Krishna with the gopis, as is quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.31.6). When Krishna disappeared from His companions in the course of dancing, the gopis sang like this in separation from Krishna.:
"O Lord, remover of the afflictions of the inhabitants of Vrindavana! O hero of all women! O Lord who destroys the pride of Your devotees by Your sweet, gentle smile! O friend! We are Your maidservants. Please fulfill our desires and show us Your attractive lotus face."
Even the beloved girlfriends of Lord Krishna in Vrindavana, the gopis, the dust of whose feet was desired by Sri Uddhava and who are more dear to Krishna than anyone else, regard themselves as Krishna’s maidservants. The following verse also appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.47.21), in the section known as the Bhramara-gita. When Uddhava came to Vrindavana, the chief of the gopis or confidential cowherd girls, Srimati Radharani, in complete separation from Krishna, sang like this:
"O Uddhava! It is indeed regrettable that Krishna resides in Mathura. Does He remember His father’s household affairs and His friends, the cowherd boys? O great soul! Does He ever talk about us, His maidservants? When will He lay on our heads His aguru-scented hand?"
"What to speak of the other gopis, even Sri Radhika [Srimati Radharani], who in every respect is the most elevated of them all and who has bound Sri Krishna forever by Her loving attributes, serves His feet as His maidservant." (Adi-lila 6.69-70)
The following verse is quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.30.39). When the rasa dance was going on in full swing, Krishna left all the gopis and took only Srimati Radharani with Him. At that time all the gopis lamented, and Srimati Radharani, being proud of Her position, requested Krishna to carry Her wherever He liked. Then Krishna immediately disappeared from the scene, and Srimati Radharani began to lament as follows:
"O My Lord, O My husband, O most dearly beloved! O mighty-armed Lord! Where are You? Where are You? O My friend, reveal Yourself to Your maidservant, who is very much aggrieved by Your absence." This indicates the feeling of servitude in separation.
Sri Krishna explains the significance of this kind of spiritual happiness and the means to attain it to His devotee Uddhava: "O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me, giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification. One who does not desire anything within this material world, who has achieved peace by controlling his senses, whose consciousness is equal in all conditions, and whose mind is completely satisfied in Me finds only happiness wherever he goes." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.12-13)
It is this happiness and inner spiritual bliss that becomes the goal of all those who begin to have even a glimpse of that ecstasy, which is attained by full absorption in the loving mood of serving the Supreme. This means that when a person actually feels this inner ecstasy, he or she loses interest in many of the issues or attractions or temptations that used to be very important to them, whether it be sports, politics, economics, current events, etc. Such a person gives up all kinds of materialistic distractions and begins to focus more and more steadily on that bliss and whatever it takes to maintain it, which automatically outweighs all other forms of entertainment and mental preoccupations that a person had previously found of interest.
Not only was this the feeling amongst the confidential servants of Krishna, such as Srimati Radharani and the devotees in Vrindavana, but the same feeling existed in the queens that lived in Dwaraka, Krishna’s opulent and royal capital city.
As it is explained, "In Dvaraka-dhama, all the queens, headed by Rukmini, also consider themselves maidservants of Lord Krishna." (Adi-lila 6.72)
An example of this mood is provided in this verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.83.8), which was spoken by Queen Rukmini: "When Jarasandha and other kings, bows and arrows upraised, stood ready to deliver me in charity to Shishupala, He [Krishna] forcibly took me from their midst, as a lion takes its share of goats and sheep. The dust of His lotus feet is therefore the crown of unconquerable soldiers. May those lotus feet, which are the shelter of the goddess of fortune, be the object of my worship."
Like this verse, this next verse appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.83.11) in connection with the meeting of the family ladies of the Kuru and Yadu dynasties at Samanta-pancaka. At the time of that meeting, the queen of Krishna named Kalindi spoke to Draupadi in this way. During the same incident, the following verse, also quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.83.39), was spoken to Draupadi by a queen of Krishna’s named Laksmana:
"Knowing me to be performing austerities with the desire to touch His feet, He came with His friend Arjuna and accepted my hand. Yet I am but a maidservant engaged in sweeping the floor of the house of Sri Krishna."
"Through austerity and through renunciation of all attachments, we have become maidservants in the home of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is satisfied in Himself."
The next verses that follow are also from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.47.66–67), spoken by the denizens of Vrindavana, headed by Krishna’s father Maharaja Nanda and his associates, to Uddhava who had come from Mathura. Maharaja Nanda explains:
"My dear Uddhava, please hear me. In truth Krishna is my son, but even if you think that He is God, I would still bear toward Him my own feelings for my son. May my mind be attached to your Lord Krishna. May our minds be attached to the lotus feet of your Lord Krishna, may our tongues chant His holy names, and may our bodies lie prostrate before Him. Wherever we wander in the material universe under the influence of karma by the will of the Lord, may our auspicious activities cause our attraction to Lord Krishna to increase."
Furthermore, "Lord Krishna’s friends in Vrindavana, headed by Sridama, have pure fraternal affection for Lord Krishna and have no idea of His opulences. Although they fight with Him and climb upon His shoulders, they worship His lotus feet in a spirit of servitude." (Adi-lila 6.62-3)
In light of this information, this next verse, quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.15.17), describes how Lord Krishna and Lord Balarama were playing with the Their friends the cowherd boys after killing the demon Dhenukasura in the forest of Talavana near Vrindavana.
"Some of the friends of Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, massaged His feet, and others whose sinful reactions had been destroyed fanned Him with hand-held fans."
"What to speak of others, even Lord Baladeva, Lord Krishna’s brother and first expansion, which is another form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is full of emotions like pure friendship and paternal love. He also considers Himself a servant of Lord Krishna. Indeed, who is there who does not have this conception of being a servant of Lord Krishna? He who is Sesa, Sankarshana, with His thousands of mouths, serves Sri Krishna by assuming ten forms. Rudra, who is an expansion of Sadashiva and who appears in unlimited universes, is also a gunavatara [qualitative incarnation] and is the ornament of all the demigods in the endless universes. (Adi-lila 6.76-78)
"This Sadashiva also desires only to be a servant of Lord Krishna. Sri Sadashiva always says, ‘I am a servant of Lord Krishna.’ Intoxicated by ecstatic love for Lord Krishna, he becomes overwhelmed and incessantly dances without clothing and sings about Lord Krishna’s qualities and pastimes. All the emotions, whether those of father, mother, teacher or friend, are full of the sentiments of servitude. That is the nature of love of Krishna. Lord Krishna, the one master and the Lord of the universe, is worthy of being served by everyone. Indeed, everyone is but a servant of His servants. That same Lord Krishna has descended as Lord Caitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Everyone, therefore, is His servant. Some accept Him whereas others do not, yet everyone is His servant. One who does not accept Him, however, will be ruined by his sinful activities." (Adi-lila, 6.80-86)
That last statement means that those who do not want to acknowledge being a servant of the Supreme will act according to their own whims, which means by the dictates of their mind and senses. Unfortunately, such dictates always lead to what becomes sinful activities that pave the way to further rounds of birth and death in this material world, continuously chasing after the happiness they long for in order to feel fulfilled.
EXAMPLES FROM THE PASTIMES OF LORD CAITANYA
Even Lord Krishna cannot taste the intense sweetness within the love for Himself except in the mood of one of His devotees. Therefore, as was just mentioned, Krishna descends to experience the sweetness in that love by assuming the form of Sri Caitanya, who is the Lord’s avatara in the disguise of His own devotee. Sri Caitanya appeared 500 years ago in the town of Mayapur in West Bengal for two reasons: to taste the nectar that exists in a devotee’s love for Himself as Lord Krishna, and to start the sankirtana movement, which is the congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names, which many people and spiritual groups continue to do. However, just as Lord Krishna descends into this world with His associates to perform His pastimes, Lord Caitanya, also known as Lord Gauranga for His golden complexion, also appeared in this world with many of His spiritual associates. Some of His associates included Sri Nityananda, who was an incarnation of Lord Balarama, Krishna’s brother. Then there was also Sri Advaita Acharya, who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and Sri Gadadhara who was an incarnation of Srimati Radharani, along with many others, some of whom will be named in the following verses. [For more information about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, click on the link to take you to the article about Him on my website.] In the following verses we will hear of the sentiment of servitude that existed within the consciousness of Sri Caitanya’s devotees, such as Sri Advaita and others.
"He [Sri Advaita Acharya] says, ‘Nityananda and I are servants of Lord Caitanya.’ Nowhere else is there such joy as that which is tasted in this emotion of servitude.
"The most beloved goddess of fortune [Lakshmi] resides on the chest of Sri Krishna, yet she too, earnestly praying, begs for the joy of service at His feet.
"All the associates of Lord Krishna, such as Brahma, Shiva, Narada, Suta and Sanatana Kumara, are very pleased in the sentiment of servitude.
"Sri Nityananda, the wandering mendicant, is the foremost of all the associates of Lord Caitanya. He became mad in the ecstasy of service to Lord Caitanya [who is the same as Lord Krishna].
"Srivasa, Haridasa, Ramadasa, Gadadhara, Murari, Mukunda, Candrashekhara and Vakreshvara are all glorious and are all learned scholars, but the sentiment of servitude to Lord Caitanya makes them mad in ecstasy.
"Thus they dance, sing and laugh like madmen, and they instruct everyone, ‘Just be loving servants of Lord Caitanya.’
"Sri Advaita Acharya thinks, ‘Lord Caitanya considers Me His spiritual master, yet I feel Myself to be only His servant.’
"Love for Krishna has this one unique effect: it imbues superiors, equals and inferiors with the spirit of service to Lord Krishna." (Adi-lila 6.34-42) This means that all differences become nullified when we become absorbed in the spiritual ecstasy of loving service to the Lord. This also means that when we are engaged in our meditation, or our japa, or other devotional activities and are still not feeling the right connection with it and the higher energy that comes from the association of Lord Krishna, we have to adjust our attitude or mindset. To make the right connection, we have to be in the mood of servitude, which means that whatever actions I’m performing, I’m doing them to serve the higher cause, the higher purpose, for the pleasure of the Supreme Being. Then we can begin to feel we are connected in the right way, like a light bulb connected in the right way through the power lines to the power house, which provides the energy the light bulb needs to give its brilliance. When we are connected in the right way, through the attitude of servitude to the Supreme Soul, then the little jiva soul also becomes energized and enlightened and enlivened with the brilliance of spiritual knowledge and perception, and the bliss that naturally comes from the proper approach to the spiritual path.
"For evidence, please listen to the examples described in the revealed scriptures, which are corroborated by the realization of great souls.
"Although no one is a more respected elder for Krishna than Nanda Maharaja in Vraja, who in transcendental paternal love has no knowledge that his son is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, still ecstatic love makes him, what to speak of others, feel himself to be a servant of Lord Krishna.
"He too prays for attachment and devotion to the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, as the words from his own mouth give evidence." (Adi-lila 6.43-46)
Even Sri Advaita loudly proclaims his servitude to Lord Caitanya, which gives Him the highest bliss, "'I am a servant of Lord Caitanya, a servant of Lord Caitanya. I am a servant of Lord Caitanya, and a servant of His servants.' Saying this, Advaita Prabhu dances and loudly sings. Then at the next moment He quietly sits down." (Adi-lila 6.86-87)
What this means is that Advaita Prabhu was not able to control his ecstasy. It made Him jump up in bliss, crying out His feelings, and then realizing that others were watching Him and not understanding His ecstasy, he suddenly sat down in a quiet mood.
"The source of the sentiment of servitude is indeed Lord Balarama. The plenary expansions who follow Him are all influenced by that ecstasy.
"Lord Sankarshana, who is one of His incarnations, always considers Himself a devotee." (Adi-lila 6.88-89)
"Another of His [Lord Balarama’s] incarnations, Lakshmana, who is very beautiful and opulent, always serves Lord Rama [another expansion or avatar of Lord Krishna].
"The Vishnu who lies on the Causal Ocean is an incarnation of Lord Sankarshana, and, accordingly, the emotion of being a devotee is always present in His heart.
"Advaita Acarya is a separate expansion of Him. He always engages in devotional service with His thoughts, words and actions.
"By His words He declares, ‘I am a servant of Lord Caitanya.’ Thus with His mind He always thinks, ‘I am His devotee.’
"With His body He worshiped the Lord by offering Ganges water and tulasi leaves, and by preaching devotional service He delivered the entire universe.
"Sesa Sankarsana, who holds all the planets on His heads, expands Himself in different bodies to render service to Lord Krishna.
"These are all incarnations of Lord Krishna, yet we always find that they act as devotees.
"The scriptures call them incarnations as devotees [bhakta-avataras]. The position of being such an incarnation is above all others." (Adi-lila 6.90-97) So in this way, all of the expansions and avataras of God also act as Lord Krishna’s devotees to taste the sweetness of that mentality of servitude, and to give the example of how all other living beings can also taste that natural spiritual ecstasy of love for God.
"Baladeva, Laksmana, Advaita Acharya, Lord Nityananda, Lord Sesa and Lord Sankarshana taste the nectarean mellows of the transcendental bliss of Lord Krishna by recognizing Themselves as being His devotees and servants. They are all mad with that happiness, and they know nothing else.
"What to speak of others, even Lord Krishna Himself becomes thirsty to taste His own sweetness.
"He tries to taste His own sweetness, but He cannot do so without accepting the emotions of a devotee.
"Therefore, Lord Krishna accepted the position of a devotee and descended in the form of Lord Caitanya, who is complete in every respect.
"He tastes His own sweetness through the various emotions of a devotee. I have formerly explained this conclusion.
"All the incarnations are entitled to the emotions of devotees. There is no higher bliss than this." (Adi-lila 6.105-111)
Therefore, we can see that amongst all souls, amongst all great sages, demigods, and even forms of the Divine, the greatest happiness and bliss for which we are always hankering stems from the inner nature of the soul to be connected with the Supreme Soul, God, Lord Krishna, through the mentality of offering our loving devotional service to Him. Thus, by natural spiritual activities performed by the soul, we regain our real identity as a spiritual part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit, connected through an ever-increasing exchange of love, which is the highest and deepest form of connection between two beings. This indeed is the perfection of any path of self-realization. Furthermore, it is the epitome and the secret of bhakti-yoga, which provides the most constant or continuous form of meditation on the Divine, and the means for the strongest union between the soul and the Supreme, which thus leads to the complete absorption in the ecstasy in that devotional exchange between the Infinite and the infinitesimal. For it is by this devotional mood wherein the Infinite becomes attracted and even submissive to the infinitesimal jiva soul, which is the relationship that provides for the highest happiness and ecstasy for the individual soul. This, therefore, is the perfection of all spiritual pursuits, indeed, the perfection of all life, and the easiest way to enter back into the highest levels of the spiritual dimension.
You may also like to read the article "The Secret of Bhakti Yoga," another article along the same line of thought on my website.
[This article and more information at www.stephen-knapp.com]