How did you evolve on the path of Bhakti?

Sadhana-bhakti, or the practice of devotion to God, is a science in which the practitioner evolves through different stages of awareness. The goal of bhakti is to fix the mind on Krishna. In Bhagavad GIta Krishna says, that control of the mind is possible by practice and detachment.

By practice of bhakti one becomes gradually detached from matter. Most devotees I know, including myself, are on the level of anartha-nirvriti - clearing material contamination from the heart.

Krishna Consciousness is the highest level of awareness to be obtained. It means to be aware of God, gradually getting to know Him, in order to love Him exclusively.

The next higher level is to be aware of the difference between matter and spirit, to be aware of oneself as a spiritual soul, different from matter. Tat tvam asi - I am that, I am Brahman.

Lower than that is to be aware of right and wrong, to be aware of dharma. That’s civilized mentality and includes atheism.

On the lowest platform of awareness, the animal platform, one is aware only of eating, sleeping, mating and defending.

The Vedas mention an evolution of consciousness.

The consciousness of the soul evolves through a progression of species of life.

This evolution of consciousness progresses gradually from fish, plants, insects, reptiles, birds, animals and then to humans (including demigods, Kinnaras, Rakshasas, Gandharvas etc).

There are 900,000 species of aquatic life; 2,000,000 species of plants and trees; 1,100,000 species of insects; 1,000,000 species of bird life; 3,000,000 species of beasts, and 400,000 species of human life. —Padma Purana

And then, finally, after having attained the human form of life, the soul is given the opportunity of the consciousness to evolve from Sraddha to Prema, meaning an evolution from faith in God to love of God. Obviously, to love God, one needs to know God.

In the science of bhakti, or devotion to God, the consciousness evolves through 9 stages:

1. sraddha - faith

2. sadhu-sanga - association with saintly people

3. bhajana kriya - following and practicing devotional principles

4. anartha nivritti - purifying the mind from material contamination

5. nistha - becoming steady in one’s practice, sadhana

6. ruchi - taste for Krishna

7. asakti - attachment to Krishna

8. bhava - the dawning of pure love of God

9. prema - pure, unalloyed love for Krishna

Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur explains that the 4th step, purifying material contamination from the heart, is the hardest stage to go through; he describes anartha nivritti as an ocean of contamination accumulated over countless of life-times, and it can take many life-times to traverse that great ocean. Visvanath says that anartha-nivritti, is a bumpy ride, up and down. In other words, one will fall constantly.

That’s why Rupa Goswami says - utsahan nischayad dhairyat - enthusiasm, perseverance and determination are necessary ingredients to advance in sadhana.

One has to be patient and enthusiastic to continue on the path of bhakti even when the process of becoming purified in most cases is very gradual. Even though one stumbles on the path, one must be determined to pick oneself up and continue.

The result of becoming free from suffering and developing some little taste for devotional service is immediate, but to attain to the final goal, prema, can take many life-times… except Srila Prabhupada said it can be done in this one life-time, by his mercy. If we surrender to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions we can make this our last life.

Lord Brahma says:

One attains the human form of life after transmigrating through 8,400,000 species by the process of gradual evolution. That human life is spoiled for those conceited fools who do not take shelter of the lotus feet of Govinda. --Brahma-vaivarta Purana

Krishna says:

After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare. (Bg 7.19)

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