Bhakti Worldview

The Bhakti worldview rests upon the principle that God revealed Vedic knowledge to guide human civilization, with the ultimate goal being love of God. The Vedas can clear our vision and allow us to see the things of this world from the perspective of the highest truth.

Over the centuries, great spiritual teachers have applied eternal Vedic principles to help people face the challenges of living a God-centered life in the material world. Today, we can get guidance from the books of Srila Prabhupada, a consummate practitioner of Bhakti yoga whose commentaries on Vedic texts discuss many of the issues of modern times.

Other Paths

The Vedas explain that all human endeavor, material or spiritual, falls within four categories:

  • work for personal gain in this world or the next (karma)
  • the pursuit of knowledge about ultimate reality—especially with the desire to lose one’s identity by merging into an imagined spiritual oneness (jnana)
  • attempts at spiritual awakening through physical yoga and meditation (yoga)
  • devotion to God (Bhakti)

The benefits obtained by other endeavors are inferior to love of God, because (1) the happiness we pursue in this world always eludes us, (2) unguided or misguided inquiry into the meaning or life turns out to be futile and frustrating, (3) and even mastery in yoga cannot bring us to God. He’s a person, and He responds to pure love, no other approach.

We find encouragement for each of these types of endeavors in all the religions and scriptures of the world, including the Vedas. But the highest teaching of any scripture is Bhakti, or love of God. The other paths can help elevate us, but ultimately we must attain pure love of God. Only that will fully satisfy us. And nowhere is the science of Bhakti more clearly and elaborately explained than in the scriptures of the Vedic tradition, especially Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Dharma vs. Religion

Bhakti is not the dogma or belief of a particular religion. Bhakti is more accurately defined using the Sanskrit word dharma.

Dharma means the inseparable quality that makes a thing what it is. A stone’s dharma is to be hard, water’s is to be wet, fire’s to be hot, sugar’s to be sweet.

The living being’s dharma is Bhakti. We exist to exchange in reciprocal love with God and to serve Him with devotion. Any scripture of any religion that teaches that principle is promoting Bhakti.

World Religions

At the beginning of creation, Krishna spoke the knowledge contained in the Vedas, which are meant for all humanity. The Vedas reveal the nature of reality, including both the material and the spiritual realms, and carefully guide human beings toward the goal of love of God.

Over time, Krishna’s original message tends to get lost or changed. So Krishna renews His teachings, tailored to the people and their times. He comes Himself, sends His representatives, or empowers pure souls here to speak on His behalf. We are all familiar with the powerful messages, and their impact, of great souls such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Mohammed.

According to Vedic tradition, Krishna Himself came to earth in 2977 B.C.. He stayed here for 120 years, and He spoke the Bhagavad-gita. And in A.D. 1486 He returned as Sri Chaitanya.

Unfortunately, the pure teachings of Krishna’s representatives may also get tampered with over time, and many sects built on partial truths spring up. But anyone who sincerely follows Krishna’s empowered representatives without changing their message can make steady spiritual progress.

Getting Perfect Knowledge

In trying to understand reality, we have at our disposal essentially three means of acquiring knowledge:

  1. Direct perception
  2. Analysis and hypothesis
  3. Hearing from authorities

Knowledge derived from direct perception, analysis, and hypothesis is by nature limited to what our senses or scientific instruments can perceive. But there’s ample reason to believe that reality includes something beyond the reach of our senses. How can we explore that realm? Or, to be more direct, do we really expect to find God with our microscopes and telescopes?

The Vedic tradition shows that hearing from authorities is the superior method.

The Vedic method is to learn about the spiritual realm from sources within that realm, such as God Himself, His pure devotees in touch with Him, and His words in the scriptures. Though it is natural to be skeptical of claims of spiritual revelation, students on the Bhakti path gain an ever-deepening faith in the authenticity of the scriptures and saints of the Bhakti tradition, so pure and powerful is their message.

Faith

“Confident, firm faith that by rendering transcendental loving service to Krishna one automatically performs all subsidiary activities is favorable to the discharge of devotional service.”—Sri Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya, 22.62

Atheists and agnostics denigrate religion by saying that it is based on faith, implying that their own positions are not. But faith doesn’t belong solely to the domain of religion. Atheists have faith that there is no God. Agnostics have faith that God’s existence can never be proven.

Why do different people believe in different concepts of reality? Our faith is not entirely our choice. Many factors affect our beliefs, especially our actions in past lives (our current beliefs are part of our karma) and various influences in this life (our family, friends, school, what we read, and so on).

Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that the overriding influence on our faith is the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. For example, good people tend to be favorably disposed toward God. In other words, their connection with the mode of goodness inspires belief in God.

Persons on the Bhakti path nurture their faith in God by keeping company with His devotees, reading scriptures that emphasize devotion to Him, leading pure lives, and so on. From that faith grows spiritual attachment to Krishna and finally pure love for Him, the goal of life.

Social System

On the premise that human life is meant for spiritual progress, the Vedic literature presents as the ideal social system one that trains people, materially and spiritually, in four occupational groups and four stages of life. These occur naturally throughout the world and are not based on the family one is born into. The four occupational groups are the intellectuals, the governing/martial class, the mercantile/productive class, and the working class. And the four stages of life are the student life, married/working life, retired life, and the renounced stage of life for full spiritual dedication.

When everyone is situated comfortably according to his or her unique nature, there is smooth social interaction. Members of a peaceful society can concentrate on spiritual topics, and everyone should be encouraged to perform his or her duties as an offering to God. At the heart of the Vedic social system is the principle that a peaceful, prosperous society results when people put God in the center of their lives.

The Vedic system stresses simple, thoughtful living, which includes respect and protection for each person, the environment, and all living things, in line with Krishna’s natural laws.

Sex and Sexuality

The material energy degrades the wonderful qualities we souls possess in our pure state. Our greatest quality is our natural love for Krishna. In touch with the material energy, that love turns into lust, especially in the form of sexual attraction.

The Vedas explain that sexual desire is a powerful rope that binds us to the material world, life after life. And since human life is meant for freeing ourselves from this world and returning to Krishna, dealing with sexual desire is a crucial part of any spiritual path.

Sex diffuses human energy and distracts the mind like no other activity. People striving for excellence in many walks of life often find sexual abstinence essential. This is especially true of those striving for spiritual perfection since sex rivets one to bodily consciousness.

Healthy sexuality means satisfying one’s needs in a regulated way, with a plan to transcend and give up the need and desire for sex. The best regulation is to use sex in marriage only for procreation, with the intention of bringing children into the world and raising them in Krishna consciousness.

Morality

“By his work, thoughts, and words, an intelligent man must perform actions which will be beneficial for all living entities in this life and the next.”—Sri Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 9.43

How do we know what’s right or wrong? Is there an absolute standard of morality?

The Vedic teaching, like that of other religious traditions, is that God determines what’s right or wrong. His absolute word sets the standards for morality. Without God in the picture, invented morality has no ultimate value.

The Vedic rules governing behavior take into consideration such variables as time, place, and circumstance—and even one’s spiritual standing. For example, a person advanced on the spiritual path is held to a higher standard of compassion, self-control, charity, and similar qualities.

The highest moral principle is to act toward God and all living beings in ways favorable to our spiritual progress. Everything belongs to God and is to be used in His service. As we progress in love for God, we will love all of God’s creatures and respect the rights of others, including animals.

In thanks, a person on the Bhakti path gives back to God and the world, knowing full well that the best way to help others is to elevate them spiritually. Moral behavior includes material welfare work, but it is ultimately fruitless if devoid of spiritual knowledge.

Life Events

Because life is meant for elevating our consciousness and gaining release from the cycle of birth and death, the Vedas sanctify major life events with religious ceremonies. These ceremonies serve to remind us of life’s spiritual purpose.

The Vedas specify functions to perform at these major life events: conception, birth, when the child receives a name, when the child takes its first solid food, the start of education, spiritual initiation, marriage, and death.

The rituals described are quite elaborate, yet the Vedas say that the powerful chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra is sufficient to purify any event, anything, and anyone.

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