Planning my spiritual practice
Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Unexpectedly, I met the devotees through my workplace. While working as a Property Manager, I came across one of my tenants, who is also an amazing devotee and manager of the Bhakti Centre, Madhavananda. I had been searching for some time and met the devotees before, but now I actually felt that I was ready to go further. I asked for some guidance and was introduced to Yamalarjuna and Suvarna Radhe.
Yamalarjuna is a Prabhupada disciple and the temple president. He along with his wife Suvarna Radhe opened the preaching center on the Gold Coast in 2008. They were very welcoming and took me under their collective wings. I had lots of questions before going too far and they were very happy to help. We decided that we would meet each ekadasi to discuss my spiritual progress and plan.
Our first meeting was at their home, which is close to the Bhakti Centre. Everything in their homemade me think of Krishna, it was inspiring. But for today, we were discussing the levels of bhakti.
The neophyte or third-class devotee is one who has faith, but not so strong, and it could be changed by someone who puts forward a strong argument. These devotees come to devotional service in the hope of relief or self-satisfaction.
The second-class devotee is not so expert in the scriptures but has faith and knows the process of devotional service is the right path. He knows that Krishna is the Supreme and to serve Him is his purpose.
The first class I learned, is the uppermost class. He is very expert in studying the scriptures, putting forth arguments for these scriptures and he understands that the ultimate goal of life is to obtain transcendental loving service of Krishna. They very strictly follow the rules and regulations under his spiritual master’s guidance.
While we discussed a lot more, I came to see just how incredible these devotees are. This really gave me something to think about and to aim for. Now I wanted to know the next step.
The next ekadasi we again met at their home and this time they had a beautiful prasadam for us to share after our meeting. As I had been thinking of last week’s topic and devotional service, they decided it would be time to tell me the definition of pure bhakti. Yamalarjuna knew this by heart:
śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
“When first-class devotional service develops, one must be devoid of all material desires, knowledge obtained by monistic philosophy, and fruitive action. The devotee must constantly serve Kṛṣṇa favorably, as Kṛṣṇa desires.”
If I am being totally honest, as I promised to be, I did not feel that I was without all material desires at all. I could now understand a bit more clearly, the levels or classes of devotees. While this is something to aspire to, I was quite sure I was nowhere near this level. After we had finished prasadam, Suvarna Radhe offered me some service. I was told I could choose something that I would like to do and was good at, or I could be given service to see what suited me. I was gifted the service of making garlands for the deities, and I loved it. I watched videos to learn more, asked for tips from others, and searched endlessly for the most perfect flowers for Krishna. I truly felt, that my path had begun with their patience and generosity.
While making garlands, Sita told me of her inspiration. When she was newly initiated, she took orders from her spiritual master, who also follows the scriptures, to make garlands as she made the most amazing arrangements. She was so inspired, that she also teaches others to make the most impressive garlands and loves to share this with everyone. This she said is vaidhi-sadhana or regulated practice.
Sita explained that Radhe Radhe is a great devotee and she believes her practice of devotional service comes from a natural desire to please Krishna. One who engages in this spontaneous practice is engaging in raganuga-sadhana.
Bhava-bhakti is so wonderful, it is the dawn of perfection, is considered happiness in bhakti, and derides liberation, but it is very difficult to attain. We touched on this only briefly, as Sita explained she was not even close, but sees the wonder. Then she told me of prema-bhakti, which she told me was like nothing she could describe. It is all-auspicious, attracting Krishna and incalculable bliss, but alas also difficult and rare to attain.
I also learned that no practice in devotional service is wasted, as it will not be lost. In our next lives, we will begin again from the point where we have stopped in this life. The main lesson she explained, is to always remember Krishna and never forget Him which we can do through our service.
Hearing of these wonderful devotees was very moving and I was encouraged to learn more and to see what I could do to improve. I did not expect overnight success as they say, but I did want to know that I was working in the right direction.
I asked Suvarna Radhe to tell me what characteristics a devotee has. What may seem obvious to one who is advanced, is hidden to those who are new to the movement, neophytes like myself. She explained that Bhisma, a great authority, told us that love means resting our affection on one person, forgoing all others and this can be transferred to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
We can show this love through devotional service, and this is called bhava or ecstasy. There are nine symptoms of this.
1. To never waste time and spend every moment in devotional service. I could see this very clearly in Suvarna Radhe and Yamalarjuna.
2. To be patient and tolerant – something I will need to work on!
3. To always be detached from material attraction – another thing to work on for all.
4. Pridelessness or no longing for respect, something most devotees show without fail.
5. The knowledge that Krishna will deliver us to perfection, although I am far from qualified.
6. Being always very eager to serve Krishna.
7. Attraction to chanting the names of Krishna
8. Eagerness to describe the qualities of the Lord, which as transcendental.
9. Attachment for living where the Lord spent his pastimes.
I couldn’t help but be moved by the list, to learn more about Krishna, how to serve Him, and to develop my spiritual life. It also helped me to see these qualities in others, which was beautiful to finally see.
I really felt that I wanted to focus most on my devotional service. To me, this seemed like the answer that I was looking for. This also made me wonder if there were things I should or should not be doing in life, to be favorable for bhakti. As we had such a big night, Yamalarjuna suggested that it would be best to discuss it at our next ekadasi meeting. I had a lot to think about, so this was sound advice.
I arrived to a notebook that was made for me. I was so moved. Each time we had a meeting and discussed my progress, Yamalarjuna, and Suvarna Radhe had been making note so that I could continue on my progress when they were not right there with me.
There was a bookmark that was on a page that told of what is favorable and unfavorable for bhakti. On the do’s list were to accept the shelter of the lotus feet of a spiritual master, who is bona fide, becoming initiated and receiving devotional service from him, and to obey orders, with faith. My concern here was that I did not have a spiritual master that I was ready to aspire to take initiation from. Yamalarjuna told me that I was not expected to be ready yet. While I am learning, I can certainly take instructions from Srila Prabhupada.
I was not able to inquire from Srila Prabhupada directly on how to advance, but we do have his teachings, and great devotees, such as Yamalarjuna and Suvarna are there to help me when I don’t understand or need more guidance. Maybe these teachings and guidance could help me to understand how to give up material things for Krishna’s satisfaction. To accept only what is necessary and only deal with this material world where I must really be a step to learning how to let go.
Suvarna then recommended that I reside in a sacred place. She said that even if I was not able to move there forever, to stay for some time, even for six months, or one month, would be amazing for my spiritual progress. We have even discussed going together to explore sacred places of pilgrimage such as Vrndavana, where she had her daughter. There, she told me are there sacred trees, such as the banyan tree. And while at home, we can worship the Tulasi plant. I was given a small Tulasi by them as a gift so that I could offer her water and offer my obeisances. This will help me to diminish the reactions from past activities of sin.
I was promised that we would continue our ekadasi meetings and we are thinking of expanding this to make a group of other devotees who would like to do the same. The next week we had a new devotee who joined us. We reviewed our discussion last week of the do’s and then we discussed the don’ts or what is unfavorable for bhakti. The first of this I found both easy to want to do, and difficult to do in practice. One should rigidly give up the company of non-devotees. I found the more time I spent with devotees, the less I wanted to spend with those who were non-devotees. I do work in a regular job, so I must spend some time without the devotees, however, I am learning to do my work, spend that time thinking of Krishna, and devoting everything to Him and this has helped.
Next, we learned that we should not instruct one who is not wanting to accept devotional service, which made sense. We should also not make trouble for any living entity unnecessarily, my thought is that if we could spread this message alone, it could greatly impact the way that we interact with everyone from every species.
We asked about studying and learned that we should not try to read too many books, and should never earn a living by lecturing on the scriptures. I think this is especially important, as this allows all to learn of Krishna, regardless of their financial position. We should always think of Krishna and sharing His love, rather than worrying about financial loss or gain.
I appreciated that knowing what not to do, was just as helpful as guiding us as to what we should do. To conquer these lists may be a lengthy task, but it would help us on our path.
We always have time to think, no matter how busy we think we are and while pondering what we had discussed over our ekadasi spiritual planning sessions, I came to the decision that I should give up everything for Lord Krishna. I wanted to serve Him and forget about the material world. Yamalarjuna smiled at me sweetly and explained that this was not the path to take. Instead, I should not give up things that can be utilized in serving Krishna, which was a very different way of thinking of the material world. Did I have the secret to devotional service? Just utilize everything and that will help me to advance in Krishna consciousness, and continue my loving devotional service?
Yamalarjuna told me of the shops that he and Suvarna Radhe run. They are material on the outside, selling clothing and knick-knacks. But when we look further, they are utilizing these stores to fund the Bhakti Centre, so really, they are using all that they have in Krishna’s service.
While I truly believe this is a lifelong commitment to learning and serving, I now understand how to progress in my spiritual life, where to go next and I look forward to continuing our ekadasi spiritual planning sessions.