tasmād yogāya yujyasva
yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam
A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad reactions even in this life. Therefore strive for yoga, which is the art of all work. Bhagavad Gita, verse 2.50
Impressions on our consciousness that we’ve collected over millions of past lives steer our karmas. We spend our limited breaths reacting to stimuli rather than responding to events. Every action has a consequence. Actions of greed, anger, and lust create lower experiences and contaminate our consciousness. While philanthropic actions make us eligible for higher material worlds, they can’t liberate us from our dress changes and wandering trips. We’re bound by our karmas—both good and bad. As long as our desires are centered on ourselves, we’ll remain in the kaleidoscope of karmas . As soon as the center of our desires shifts to Krishna, both good and bad karmas start to burn up. So, in this verse, Krishna says rise about both bad and good karmas and unite with Him in love. Krishna prema or divine love is the key that opens the doors to ultimate freedom; to the world where there are no polar karmas.
Only a human being who devotes his thoughts, words, actions to Krishna can become free from karmic reactions. In chapter 9, verse 34, Krishna tells Arjuna, “Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” Krishna tells us that union with Him in devotion sets us free. Union or yoga means union with the Absolute Truth, Krishna. Krishna’s repeated advice to us is to unite with Him through devotional service. In chapter 18, verse 65, Krishna concludes with the same advice and adds “because you’re My dear friend.” “Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.”
How does one always think of Krishna? How is Krishna to be worshipped? In Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 7, chapter 5, verse 23-24, Prahlad Maharaj gives us nine processes to unite with Krishna in devotion.
sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam
pada-sevanam arcanam vandanam
dasyam sakhyam atma-nivedanam
- Hearing about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Vishnu or Krishna.
- Chanting the holy name.
- Remembering the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Vishnu or Krishna.
- Serving the lotus feet of the Lord.
- Offering the Lord respectful worship.
- Offering prayers to the Lord.
- Becoming His servant.
- Considering the Lord one’s best friend.
- Surrendering everything unto Him.
The first and most crucial step is to hear about Krishna or hear from Krishna. In Srimad Bhagavatam, devotees glorify Krishna by reciting His pastimes. Krishna speaks directly to us through the Bhagavad Gita. Hearing or studying the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam not only purifies our consciousness; these scriptures perfuse the consciousness with love for Krishna, His creation, and His part and parcels, that is, living beings. In true love, we don’t exploit things and people but care for them selflessly. Continuous Sravanam or hearing is an important step in the yoga of devotion. In the preface of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada says, “These nine processes, of which the easiest is śravaṇam, hearing the Bhagavad-gītā from the realized person, will turn one to the thought of the Supreme Being. This will lead to remembering the Supreme Lord and will enable one, upon leaving the body, to attain a spiritual body which is just fit for association with the Supreme Lord.”
Kirtanam means chanting the holy name of Krishna loudly. From Srimad Bhagavatam we learn that Narada muni went about traveling across the world chanting the Holy name shamelessly. Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says in the 3rd verse of Shishashtakam that one should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking himself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than the tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others.
Smaranam means remembering the lord 24×7. Regular Sravanam and Kirtanam cleanse our hearts and prepare it to remember the Lord with love. We can’t remember Krishna unless we hear about him and chant His Holy name.
Pada-sevanam can be practiced when a devotee has developed taste and strength in hearing, chanting, and remembrance. Thinking of the Lord’s lotus feet with intense attachment is called pada-sevanam. Adherently following the process of pada-sevanam involves following other processes, such as seeing the form of the Lord, touching the form, circumambulating the form or temple of the Lord, visiting such places as Jagannātha Purī, Dvārakā and Mathurā to see the Lord’s form, and bathing in the Ganges or Yamunā.
Archanam is the worship of the Deity. Devotees who follow this process first take the shelter of a bonafide spiritual master. Two systems of archanam are the Bhagvata system and Panchratriki system. In this Kali-yuga, hearing, chanting, remembering, and worshipping the lotus feet of the Lord are sufficient. Srimad Bhagavatam doesn’t discuss deity worship.
Vandanam means offering prayers to the Lord. While prayers are a part of deity worship, they may be considered separate items, such as hearing and chanting.
Dasyam means serving the Lord in the mood of a servant. Constant realization of servitude to Krishna makes one eligible for pure devotion even without performing other processes.
Sakhyam means worshipping the Lord as a friend in intense love. Friendship, therefore, is better than servitude.
Atma-nivedanam is the stage at which one’s sole motive is to surrender to Krishna and do only that which pleases Krishna. Some devotees surrender their bodies and some their souls.
Following even one of these processes with sincerity can unite us with Krishna.