Devotion is the purest expression of love; it is love in its absolute purity. While a romance happens between people, devotion is love for existence. In the deepest intimacy, all the limits that separate us from life evaporate. The boundaries that make us feel someone different from the Whole disappear. In this divine love story, any sensation of “me” and “mine” vanishes, and we fuse with life itself.
Devotion is love: not solely physical, mental, or romantic, but spiritual. It is expressed not through the body, mind, or feelings, but arises from the depths of the soul. As we experience devotion, any difference between the one who loves and the beloved, between the subject and the object, disappears.
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo ‘si me
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. (Bhagavad Gita, 18.65)
Like in a mundane romance, your heart responds to a glance, a touch, or a kiss. In devotion, your heart vibrates with the breeze caressing the trees, with the reflection of the moon in a lake, or with the scent of flowers. Your soul dances with the chant of birds or the silence of the forest. Wherever you look, you recognize the magic, the mystery, the divine secret. You hear it in the rustle of the wind, the sound of waves, and the echo of rivers. You feel it in the fragrance of earth after the rain and in the salty air by the ocean.
Devotion develops gradually from tamasic to rajasic, from rajasic to sattvic, and finally, from sattvic to transcendental. Krishna says:
sattvikam nirmalam phalam
rajasas tu phalam duhkham
ajnanam tamasah phalam
By acting in the mode of goodness (sattva) one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion (rajas) result in distress, and actions done in the mode of ignorance (tamas) result in foolishness. (Bhagavad Gita, 14.16)
Tamasic devotion is mere sentimentalism that creates confusion. Rajasic devotion is passionate and restless, and leads to religious fanaticism. Sattvic devotion is peaceful, mature, and serene; its meditative nature encourages introspection. For its part, the devotion that transcends the gunas is a gift of existence that reflects the bliss and clarity of the Self. In the same way, devotees can be tamasic, rajasic, sattvic, and transcendental. Transcendental devotees are not interested even in liberation. Having renounced enlightenment completely, they always enjoy the nectar of devotion.
Transcendental devotion cannot be reduced to a belief system. It is not born out of a theology, but from our innermost depths. It is expressed in different languages and traditions, yet is not the exclusive patrimony of any institutionalized religion. Devotion is mentioned in one of the most famous verses of the Bible: Ve ahavta et Ha Shem elohecha bechol levavecha uvechol nafshecha u ve chol meodecha: “You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy, 6.5). Also the Koran tells us: “Say: ‘If you indeed love God, then follow me, so that God will love you and forgive you your sins’” (Koran, 3.31). Through devotion, we access God. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is said:
bhaktyā mām abhijānāti
yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā
One can understand Me as I am, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of me by such devotion, he can enter into the Kingdom of God. (Bhagavad Gita, 18.55)
Love exposes us to the divine; devotion shows us God. A devotee’s heart knows the ultimate truth of life. It is important to understand the difference between “knowing” and “knowing about.” Knowing about is related to mastered skills or memorized information: sports, mathematics, languages, and so on. On the other hand, knowing expresses a familiarity with someone or something. Knowing God is very different from knowing about anything else in life. For example, your dentist knows about your teeth; your mailman, about your address; your mechanic, about your car. They can recognize your face, but none of them really knows you. Similarly, many religious people claim to know God because they know about his address, his language, and his desires and inclinations, but you can only know someone you love.
“And the man knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, I have acquired a man with the help of the Lord” (Genesis, 4.1). The Bible uses the Hebrew term iada, or “knew,” to refer to a very intimate relationship. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah, 1.5).
Devotees do not know about God; rather, they know God, and their love allows them to develop a familiarity with him. Similarly, feelings of respect and surrender help disciples to develop an intimate relationship with their spiritual masters; however, only devotion will lead to a perfect communion. The devotee is the pinnacle of the disciple. Just as those who love know their beloved, only a heart brimming with devotion truly knows God’s presence. Their familiarity with the Divine does not stem from information but from wisdom. Devotion is one of those inexplicable mysteries that transcend logic. Therefore, the nectarous bliss of the devotees does not come from what they know about the Lord, but from what they do not know about him. Like the gopis, who do not know about the identity of Krishna as God but know him as the soul of their lives.
Devotees die to both suffering and pleasure, to pain and to happiness. They eliminate all their preferences, likings, inclinations, and conditioning, as well as any idea, concept, or conclusion that can threaten love. Insofar as their devotion increases, they diminish as “someone,” just as the drop vanishes into the sea.
Devotion is to die to the apparent and awaken to the real; it is to perish to the ephemeral and be reborn in the true. It is the termination of the personal and the evaporation of the temporal, the apparent, the transient, and the perishable that gives way to the universal. It is the recognition of the eternal, the permanent, the immortal, the real, and the true. Devotion is to forget the past and the future in order to observe the fresh dawn of the present. It is to leave behind what was and what should be in order to discover what is. Devotion is to die in time and space to be reborn in the eternal and infinite.
Just as the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, if you love intensely, your love will become devotion. Once your heart is flooded with devotion, you will be moved to worship the stars, the ocean, the trees, and the flowers. Every living being will inspire your reverence. Your entire life will be transformed into a prayer, and each exhalation into only one hymn: “Thank you”. When this divine phenomenon occurs, you become a door into existence, a bridge toward the Whole.
To conclude, I would like to share with you what I consider as one of the most beautiful devotional monuments: Siksastakam, the eight verses of Caitanya:
anandambudhi-vardhanam prati-padam purnamritaswadanam
sarvatma-snapanam param vijayate sri-krishna-sankirtanam
Glory to the Sri Krishna Sankirtana, which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death. This sankirtana movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious.
namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-shaktis
tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah
etadrishi tava kripa bhagavan mamapi
durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragaha
O my Lord, your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus you have hundreds and millions of names like Krishna and Govinda. In these transcendental names you have invested all your transcendental energies. There are not
even hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness you enable us to easily approach you by your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.
trinad api sunichena
taror api sahishnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.
na dhanam na janam na sundarim
kavitam va jagad-isha kamaye
mama janmani janmanishvare
bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki twayi
O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want your causeless devotional service birth after birth.
ayi nanda-tanuja kinkaram
patitam mam vishame bhavambudhau
kripaya tava pada-pankaja-
O son of Maharaja Nanda [Krishna], I am your eternal servitor, yet somehow or other I have fallen into the ocean of birth and death. Please pick me up from this ocean of death and place me as one of the atoms at your lotus feet.
vadanam gadgada-ruddhaya gira
pulakair nichitam vapuh kada
tava nama-grahane bhavishyati
O my Lord, when will my eyes be decorated with tears of love flowing constantly when I chant your holy name? When will my voice choke up, and when will the hairs of my body stand on end at the recitation of your name?
shunyayitam jagat sarvam
O Govinda! Feeling your separation, I am considering a moment to be like twelve years or more. Tears are flowing from my eyes like torrents of rain, and I am feeling all vacant in the world in your absence.
ashlishya va pada-ratam pinashtu mam
adarshanan marma-hatam karotu va
yatha tatha va vidadhatu lampato
mat-prana-nathas tu sa eva naparah
I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful