Devotee in meditation

Approaches to Bhakti and Levels of Bhakti

Question: I have a question about ego and spirituality. As we can see, especially in the West, most people approach religion, yoga, or philosophy in general, looking for personal gain. Most people think: “Only God can save me.” Therefore, they go into religious environments for the sake of their own selves. Even in bhakti, it seems that some people use the process to achieve relief from the suffering of material existence. So my question is: “How can we be sure that our path towards Bhagavān is sincere and not a trick of the mind to satisfy our selfish desires?”

Answer: In our conditioned state, our inner being, the ātmā, identifies with the mind-body complex. This gives rise to two basic tendencies—to avoid pain and to get pleasure. Whatever action a person performs, it is motivated by these two drives. When people take to a spiritual process, generally the driving force is coming from these two basic tendencies.

To rise above these two tendencies is true spirituality. We need the guidance of a teacher because our material minds and egos cannot go beyond themselves by themselves. The mind and ego will play tricks and make you believe that you are not selfish. Yet to come to bhakti, even with material desires, is also good. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that four types of people approach him (BG 7.16). Out of the four, two—the distressed, and those looking for some material gain, are certainly not spiritually inclined. Still, Kṛṣṇa praises them (BG 7.18). Gradually they will take to pure devotion.


Question: As a devotee of Bhagavān, is it a good practice to influence people to take up bhakti? I have started reading Śrī Guru Darśanam, and your Guru Mahārāja stated that only through the grace of Īśvara can one attain Kṛṣṇa. Based on this, I believe it is not proper for one to push people to take up bhakti. Please let me know if my understanding is correct.

Answer: You should not push but you can enlighten people about God. There is no harm in this. If someone is inquisitive about God and willing to hear, then we should help such a person.


Question: Do bhāva-bhaktas and prema-bhaktas exist in real life now? 

Answer: Yes. Why do you think that they existed only in the past? If the process of bhakti is genuine, it should work at any age. It is not said anywhere that perfection in bhakti cannot be attained in the present time.

Question: Is it possible for a beginner practitioner to understand the levels of bhakti in others? 

Answer: No. There is a saying that it takes one to know one. In other words, first one must have a good theoretical understanding of the various levels of bhakti. Then one must also have some experience of bhakti. Then it may be possible to gauze others’ levels. A beginner may not be able to know even his or her own level, what to speak of others.

Question: How does one understand the levels of bhakti in others? How do I identify my level honestly?

Answer: Study bhakti-śāstra deeply and practice bhakti sincerely. Then it may be possible.



One thought on “Approaches to Bhakti and Levels of Bhakti”

  1. regarding the 1st question I would like to quote, “Na te vidum svārtha gatiṁ hi viṣṇum.” – (“They don’t know that Viṣṇu is their real self-interest.”)

    I always found this a very valuable statement to think about. Prahlad didn’t say, “Their problem is that they are selfish.” He said, “their problem is they don’t understand true selfishness.”

    There is a reason why identity with viṣṇu is important even in, especially in, bhakti.

    If selfishness were evil it would be a pretty foolish design to have generated infinite selves.

    I think selfishness is a natural dharma of any self. The problem is that without vidya, I don’t comprehend my true self. The better I comprehend my true self, the less ignorant my selfishness is, and the more it incorperates other selves. Ultimately it perceives the paramatma as the most important aspect of self.

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