The stages within bhakti-yoga

  • Sraddha:

Sraddha, or faith, ist the first step of the aspirant of bhakti on his or her journey. Sraddha means to have firm faith in the revealed scriptures, which deal with the subject of bhakti. Sraddha also means the joyful endeavour to very carefully and attentively follow the process of bhakti like it is documented in the scriptures. Sraddha can be caused by natural and spontaneous attraction or by forceful imposition of the written word. Sraddha of the spontaneous and natural kind is born in the association of sadhus. Forcefully imposed faith is caused by blindly following and imitating.

  • Sadhu-Sanga:

‘Sanga’ means serving the sadhus, hearing Sri Krishna-katha from them, behaving as they behave, glorifying them – and be engrossed in serving them with body, speech and mind – this is sadhu-sanga. Then amongst these sadhus we may meet someone whose shelter we sincerely desire; he becomes our Sri Gurudeva. We should take diksha (mantra-initiation) and shiksha (spiritual advices) from him.

  • Bhajana-kriya:

Now we start hearing, glorifying, arcanam, vandandam etc.

Bhajan-kriya is of two types –

  1.  - not firm
  2.  - firm

In the beginning stages our bhajan (worship) is not firm.

We have to cross a few hurdles before our bhajan becomes firm.

When a devotee who has sraddha takes initiation from a real Sri Gurudeva, and by his mercy starts bhajan, he is highly enthusiastic. He is always eager to practice devotional actions. So we call this stage as utsahamayi or ‘enthusiastic’. However this state does not remain long.

Within a short time we find our eagerness webbing. We feel bored and our worship suffers a ‘low tide’. Sometimes our bhakti is intense and at other times it is slack. Therefore the wise call this state an ‘intense-slack’ period. During this time we get many ideas, such as – I shall leave my family and practice bhakti in seclusion or I will practice bhakti as a householder or out of hearing, glorifying etc.

I will practice only one item of bhakti or I will practice all of them etc. etc. Therefore we also call this state as vyudha-vikalpa or ‘alternate ideas’. In this stage we have to literally fight with our materialistic tendencies. Sometimes we win and at other times material desires get the better of us. Since this continues, we call it the vishay-sangara or ‘material association’ state. Devotional practice should force our material desires to wane and increase our love.

However if it does not happen we should realize that it is because we are not following the advices of bhakti properly (as given by Srila Rupa Goswami). Therefore we also call this state as niyamakshama – ‘unable to follow rules’.

When we practice bhakti, sometimes people are drawn to us; then temptations such as monetary gain, power and position appear on our path. These are the parasitic creepers growing on the Bhakti-kalpa-lata (bhakti is like a divine creeper that can fulfill all the wishes of a devotee). Therefore it is our duty to sever them first and become steady in our loving service..

  • Anartha-nivritti: 

Anartha-nivritti means „getting rid of bad qualities“

When we are not firm in bhajan, our anarthas (unwanted material obstacles) force us to slip down the ladder of bhakti. Unwanted things are of four types -

  1. Those arising from bad actions – these unfavourable things arise from past and recent bad activities.
  2. Those arising of pious actions – the pious activities we have performed in the past grant us a rich lifestyle. This absorbs us in sense-gratification and causes anarthas.
  3. Those arising from aparadhas – Offenses against the Holy Name and against spiritual souls
  4.  Those arising from bhakti – When we advance in bhakti we may get money, fame and power. This gives rise to anarthas. Thus bhakti too can cause bad qualities if we are not careful.

What are the external symptoms that tell us we have got rid of all unwanted things?

When we lack the following –

  1. Laya – we feel sleepy while chanting the Mahamantra, while hearing and while meditating.
  2. Vikshepa – when we conduct worldly matters during hearing, glorifying etc. we call it ‘vikshepa’.
  3. Apratipatti – even though we may lack laya and vikshepa, sometimes we do not feel like hearing or glorifying – this is ‘apratipatti’.
  4. Kashaya – While doing bhakti such as hearing etc. if we get negative feelings such as anger, greed, pride – it is called ‘kashaya’.
  5. Rasaswada – if we are unable to concentrate on hearing etc. because our mind is dwelling on material pleasures or attachments, it is called ‘rasaswada’.
  • Nistha:

 This is the stage of firm bhajan.

“How do we decide whether our bhajan is ‘not firm’ or ‘firm’?

  1. When we are lax in hearing, glorifying etc. we are not firm, and when we are strong in these activities we are ‘firm’.”
  2. When we become devoid of the five symptoms of anarthas as mentioned above, then we can say we have become ‘firm in bhajan’ or we have gained ‘nishtha’.
  • Ruci:

When we relish the sweetness of Sri Krishna’s name, beauty, qualities , pastimes and associates we have reached the state of ‘ruci’.

  • Asakti:

“When our ruci (interest) in bhakti-actions becomes extremely intense and our thoughts keep roaming around Sri Krishna alone, then this stage is called ‘asakti’. The process of bhakti-yoga is like a gracious wish-fulfilling creeper on which asakti blooms like a cluster of buds that burst into the colorful flowers of bhava (asakti gives rise to bhava) that finally turns into prema (the fruit).” (Madhurya Kadambini, 6th shower)

  • Bhava oder rati:

We have glimpses into the Divine Play and we are filled with Divine Love. Srila Rupa Goswami describes nine symptoms of this stage –

  1. We are not disturbed by anything.
  2. No second we want to live without bhakti.
  3. No interest in things not related to Krishna.
  4. Free from the false ego.
  5. Unshakable firm faith in the mercy of Krishna.
  6. Great longing to be with Krishna.
  7. Always eager to chant the Holy Name.
  8. Always eager to glorify Krishna.
  9. Extremely eager to live in Vrindavana.
  • Prema:

Pure love to the Divine Couple, Sri Sri Radha Krishna; this pure love has the power to conquer Their hearts. It is like gold molten a million times.