A reader recently argued that if one works to earn a livelihood, then their bhakti is a type of mixed bhakti which cannot be classified as uttamā bhakti. The argument is two fold: 1) harboring ‘faith’ independently in one’s livelihood means bhakti becomes covered, 2) one is not surrendered to Bhagavān, because one does not depend on Him for one’s needs. It follows that only those who give up their livelihood and live by begging (madhukari) alone are uttama bhaktas.
The problem with such strange notions about uttamā bhakti- and many, many people believe in such ideas – is that either they tend to be incoherent without much meaning, or they are not consistent with the definition of uttamā bhakti. Śrī Babaji often says that people talk about uttamā bhakti, and debate and argue about it, but the vast majority of people have not understood the definition, and never will. I can see the truth of his statement more and more. And such misconceptions are also dangerous, because eventually, people become brain-washed enough to quit their jobs, drop out of society, put their dependents into financial misery, and move into temples in the name of becoming uttama bhaktas.
It is crucial to thoroughly learn the definition of uttamā bhakti from a teacher (and not by self-study). I have written three articles on the definition starting with this one based on Babaji’s lectures. Defining uttamā bhakti as living by begging would immediately exclude the topmost devotees in all of existence- the gopīs – resulting in the fault of avyāpti. If one insists that uttama bhakti begins only after one quits one’s job, then such a definition will exclude great bhaktas like Śrī Vidura from being uttama bhaktas. Is Śrī Vidura’s bhakti covered because he is in the employment of a king?
People have romanticized ideas of uttama bhakti, stirred up by stories of the renunciation of the Goswamis. The story goes that they slept under a different tree every night. If that were literally true, they would not have been able to accomplish anything substantial – like writing books or building temples. Did the Goswamis have nothing better to do than find a new tree to sleep under?
Renunciation, in fact, is excluded from uttamā bhakti explicitly by Śrī Rūpa. This is what Śrī Arjuna had set out to do in the battle of the Mahabharata, thinking that renunciation was the greatest thing. But Arjuna got zero sympathy from Śrī Kṛṣṇa for choosing this course of action. His renunciation did not fit the definition of uttamā bhakti – it was not service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
There is a reason that Śrī Rūpa Goswami devoted so much effort to defining uttamā bhakti – it is so we guard against misconceptions. One’s whole practice becomes messed up if one does not fully grasp the definition. Laukika karma, like one’s livelihood or taking medicine for sickness, is not mentioned anywhere in the definition. Bhakti becomes covered when one simultaneously has faith in other paths like karma yoga or jñāna yoga. Why? Because these are separate paths from bhakti with separate results. The result of karma yoga is jñāna yoga. The result of jñāna yoga, the path of renunciation, is mukti.
Surrender is another word that people romanticize. The argument goes that surrender implies full faith that Śrī Kṛṣṇa will protect and provide for oneself. After all, He Himself states, “yoga-kṣemam vahāmy aham” in the Gītā. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that he likes to serve his bhaktas, but does that now mean that bhaktas should look for or take such service? How does giving up one’s job and letting Śrī Kṛṣṇa provide one’s food, fit into the definition of uttamā bhakti, whose very essence is service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa? Such misconceptions lead to nonsensical conclusions like not taking medicine when one is sick. After all, if an uttama bhakta takes medicine to cure illness, the bhakta has faith in the medicine and not in Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
People argue that the words ‘sarva dharmān partiyajya’ implies renouncing one’s livelihood. Did Arjuna quit his dharma as a warrior after hearing this order from Śrī Kṛṣṇa? Such misuse of verses by giving them meanings not explained by our ācāryas can result in all kinds of misinterpretations, but that gets one nowhere. Ths is why it is crucial to learn these concepts from a teacher. Self-taught pundits wreak havoc in their own lives, and worse, in others’ lives by influencing them.
The word ‘surrender’ does not imply that one should depend on Śrī Kṛṣṇa to provide one’s needs. Surrender for an uttama bhakta means that one resolves to serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa always, and has firm faith that He will protect one’s ability to perform service under all circumstances. Śrī Kṛṣṇa protects one’s bhakti, not necessarily one’s self. Is Abhimanyu not an uttama bhakta? Why did Śrī Kṛṣṇa allow him to die? Was Kṛṣṇa’s own nephew not surrendered enough? And why did Kṛṣṇa not protect His beloved Yādavas when they were killing each other? They must not have been surrendered enough.
It is important to guard against the tendency to concoct ideas that go against the definition of uttamā bhakti. For that, one must first thoroughly understand the definition by learning it humbly from a teacher. Otherwise one’s practices will forever remain mixed and ineffective, and one will take extreme steps like quitting one’s occupation and destabilizing one self totally in the name of uttamā bhakti.
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