Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga are Non-different

Srimad Bhagavatam 11.12.01-02 - Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga are Non-different (download mp3)
by Shubha Vilas Prabhu at ISKCON Chowpatty

SB 11.12.1-2
sri-bhagavan uvaca
na rodhayati mam yogo
 na sankhyam dharma eva ca
na svadhyayas tapas tyago
 nesta-purtam na daksina
vratani yajñas chandamsi
 tirthani niyama yamah
yathavarundhe sat-sangah
 sarva-sangapaho hi mam

The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Uddhava, by associating with My pure devotees one can destroy one’s attachment for all objects of material sense gratification. Such purifying association brings Me under the control of My devotee. One may perform the astanga-yoga system, engage in philosophical analysis of the elements of material nature, practice nonviolence and other ordinary principles of piety, chant the Vedas, perform penances, take to the renounced order of life, execute sacrificial performances and dig wells, plant trees and perform other public welfare activities, give in charity, carry out severe vows, worship the demigods, chant confidential mantras, visit holy places or accept major and minor disciplinary injunctions, but even by performing such activities one does not bring Me under his control.

The commentary of Srila Jiva Gosvami on these two verses can be summarized as follows. One may serve the devotees of the Lord by assisting them or by having their personal association. Association with pure devotees is sufficient for self-realization because one can learn everything about spiritual advancement from such devotees. With perfect knowledge one can achieve all that one desires, for the process of devotional service immediately brings the blessings of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Pure devotional service is transcendental to the modes of nature, and therefore it appears mysterious to the souls conditioned by those modes.

In the previous chapter Lord Krsna stated, havisagnau yajeta mam: “One may worship Me in fire by offering oblations of ghee.” (Bhag. 11.11.43) Also, in verse 38 of the previous chapter it was mentioned that one should construct parks, recreational places, orchards, vegetable gardens, and so on. These serve to attract people to the temples of Krsna, where they may directly engage in chanting the holy name of the Lord. Such construction projects may be understood as purtam, or public welfare activities. Although Lord Krsna mentions in these two verses that association with His pure devotees is far more powerful than processes such as yoga, philosophical speculation, sacrifices and public welfare activities, these secondary activities also please Lord Krsna, but to a lesser extent. Specifically, they please the Lord when performed by devotees rather than by ordinary materialistic persons. Therefore the comparative term yatha (“according to proportion”) is used. In other words, such practices as sacrifice, austerity and philosophical study may help one become fit for rendering devotional service, and when such activities are performed by devotees aspiring for spiritual advancement, they become somewhat pleasing to the Lord.

One may study the example of vratani, or vows. The injunction that one should fast on Ekadasi is a permanent vow for all Vaisnavas, and one should not conclude from these verses that one may neglect the Ekadasi vow. The superiority of sat-sanga, or association with pure devotees, in awarding the fruit of love of Godhead does not mean that one should give up other processes or that these secondary processes are not permanent factors in bhakti-yoga. There are many Vedic injunctions instructing one to execute the agnihotra sacrifice, and the modern-day followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu also occasionally execute fire sacrifices. Such sacrifice is recommended by the Lord Himself in the previous chapter, and therefore it should not be given up by the devotees of the Lord. By performing Vedic ritualistic and purificatory processes, one is gradually elevated to the platform of devotional service, whereupon one is able to directly worship the Absolute Truth. One Vedic injunction states, “The result awarded for fasting continuously for one month on six different occasions can easily be achieved simply by accepting a handful of rice offered to Lord Visnu. This facility is especially offered in the Kali-yuga.” Nevertheless, regulated fasting on Ekadasi is not an impediment to spiritual advancement. Rather, it is a perpetual aspect of devotional service and can be considered an auxiliary principle supporting the main principle of worshiping Lord Krsna and His devotees. Because such secondary principles help one become fit for executing the primary processes of devotional service, they are also greatly beneficial. Therefore, such secondary principles are widely mentioned throughout Vedic literature. It may be concluded that such secondary principles are essential for advancement in Krsna consciousness, and therefore one should never give up the principle of vrata, the execution of prescribed vows.

In the previous chapter Srila Sridhara Svami mentioned that the words ajñayaivam gunan dosan (Bhag. 11.11.32) indicate that a devotee should select Vedic principles that do not conflict with his service to the Lord. Many of the elaborate Vedic ceremonies and complicated procedures for fasting, demigod worship and yoga practice cause great disturbance to the supreme process of sravanam kirtanam visnoh, hearing and chanting about the Lord; therefore they are rejected by the Vaisnavas. However, the processes helpful to devotional service should be accepted. The example can be given of Maharaja Yudhisthira, who was instructed by the dying Bhismadeva. In Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.9.27) Bhisma instructs King Yudhisthira in dana-dharma, or public acts of charity, raja-dharma, or the duties of a king, moksa-dharma, or duties for salvation, stri-dharma, or duties for women, and ultimately bhagavata-dharma, or pure devotional service to the Lord. Bhisma did not limit his discussion to bhagavata-dharma, because Lord Krsna gave Maharaja Yudhisthira the devotional service of acting as a king, and to execute his service Yudhisthira Maharaja required extensive knowledge of civic affairs. However, one who is not rendering such prescribed devotional service in society should not unnecessarily involve himself in the material world, even by practice of Vedic rituals. Nothing should distract him from the ultimate goal of satisfying Lord Krsna.

The principle of not giving up prescribed vows may be further illustrated by the example of Maharaja Ambarisa. In the Ninth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam we find that although Maharaja Ambarisa performed elaborate Vedic sacrifices, his goal was always the satisfaction of the Lord. The citizens in his kingdom did not desire to go to heaven, because they were always hearing about the glories of Vaikuntha. Ambarisa Maharaja, along with his queen, observed the vow of Ekadasi and Dvadasi for one year. Since Ambarisa Maharaja is considered to be a great jewel among Vaisnavas, and since his behavior was always exemplary, it is definitely concluded that such vows as fasting on Ekadasi are imperative for Vaisnavas. It is further stated in Vedic literature, “If due to negligence a Vaisnava does not fast on Ekadasi, then his worship of Lord Visnu is useless, and he will go to hell.” The members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness fast from grains and beans on Ekadasi, and this vow should always be observed by all of its members.

If one falsely thinks that one may obtain the association of Lord Krsna merely by great austerities, brilliant studies in Sanskrit literature, magnanimous acts of charity, etc., one’s Krsna consciousness will be distorted and weakened. One should remember the example of Lord Caitanya, who practiced Krsna consciousness by constantly hearing and chanting about Lord Krsna. If by fasting, study, austerity or sacrifice one becomes more fit to participate in the sankirtana movement of Lord Caitanya, then such activities are also pleasing to Lord Krsna. But the Lord clearly explains here that such activities can never become central in the practice of bhakti-yoga. They must remain in an auxiliary relationship to the supreme process of sat-sanga, or association with pure devotees who hear and chant the glories of the Lord. Srila Madhvacarya has quoted from Vedic literature that if one offends the Lord’s devotees and does not learn to associate with them, Lord Visnu personally places barriers in the path of such a person so that he may not enter into the Lord’s company.

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