At times, our spiritual journey can feel like an internal struggle. Various forces pull us in different directions, and we confront various temptations. This phase in spiritual life is referred to as 'anisthita-bhajan-kriya' or unsteady practice of devotional service. (1)
In essence, at this stage, we imitate devotional service. We engage in activities that resemble bhakti, but in our hearts there are still many 'anarthas' or unwanted things. This is confirmed in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, which states, “For persons absorbed in material enjoyment, absorption in Viṣṇu is most difficult. A person going east cannot catch an object going west.“
In other words, we understand that the purpose of life is to develop love for Krishna. However, powerful past impressions, or 'samskaras,' often lead us in a different direction, away from pure devotion. Sometimes, we diligently practice various devotional activities, and at other times, we neglect them. This inconsistent effort is referred to as 'ghana-taralā' or condensed-dilute practice. Additionally, there's the ongoing struggle with the senses (viṣaya-saṅgarā). We acknowledge that we can't attain steadiness in serving Kṛṣṇa while attached to material enjoyment, so we strive to control our senses. This endeavor sometimes leads to victory, while other times, we find ourselves enslaved by our senses again.
These reflections on unsteady practice are part of the Madhurya Kadambini Course I recently completed teaching. After reading, studying, and teaching the book's conclusions multiple times, I am continually fascinated by its profound wisdom. Upon finishing the course, I reflected, “I have shared this knowledge about the stages of advancement, but what about its application? What about my own progress? Where do I stand?“.
It's clear that I am still on an unsteady bhakti platform. I very well know that inner struggle! Certainly, some 'anartha nivriti,' or the cleansing of the heart, is going on; the process is working, and I have no doubt about it. However, attaining the platform of 'nistha' or steadiness is not an easy thing to achieve (2). It requires a significant amount of purification and a good deal of patience.
Patience is of utmost importance. Srila Rupa Goswami teaches: 'utsāhān niścayād dhairyāt.' Enthusiasm, determination, and patience are among the most crucial qualities for a devotee. In his purport, Srila Prabhupada references his own experience: “this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement was started single-handedly, and in the beginning there was no response, but because we continued to execute our devotional activities with patience, people gradually began to understand the importance of this movement, and now they are eagerly participating. One should not be impatient in discharging devotional service but should take instructions from the spiritual master and execute them with patience, depending on the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa.“ (3)
Srila Prabhupada further refers to a newly married girl, who naturally expects offspring from her husband, but she cannot expect to have them immediately after marriage. It will take nine months before a child is born. In devotional service surrender means that one has to become confident and patient.
Breakthrough moments often follow a series of earlier actions that accumulate the necessary potential for a change to happen. We observe this pattern in various aspects of life. For example, cancer may go unnoticed for a long time, but then quickly overwhelms the body within a few months. Similarly, bamboo may appear unremarkable in its first five years, silently developing a strong underground root system before suddenly shooting up ninety feet within a short time of six weeks.
Everything has its proper timing, just as a fruit tree bears fruit only in the appropriate season. Everything unfolds in due time according to Krishna's divine will. But one must sincerely make an effort, and spiritual advancement will undoubtedly follow.
So, despite the internal struggle that many of us may go through, there is ample reason for hope. We should patiently continue our spiritual practices, knowing that progress is only a matter of time if we sincerely persevere. The Lord and Vaishnavas are highly compassionate, and the process of bhakti is exceptionally powerful, as emphasized by Srila Prabhupada: “Devotional service is so pure and perfect that once having begun, one is forcibly dragged to ultimate success!“ (4)
1 - A-nistha-Bhajana-kriya — Bhajana-kriya, the practice of different devotional items, is of two kinds: unsteady, anistha, and steady, nistha. Unsteady devotional practice, anistha-bhajana-kriya, is characterised by six mentalities experienced in stages. (Madhurya Kadambini 2.7)
Overview of the 6 Symptoms of Instability:
Utsaha-mayi - Enthusiasm in Prideful Practice
Ghana-taralā - Thick and Productive vs Thin and Wavering
Vyūḍha-vikalpā - Broad Range of Possibilities
Viṣaya-saṅgarā A Battle with the Senses
Niyama Akṣama - Unfulfilled commitments due to spiritual weakness
Taraṅga Raṅginī - Exploiting Bhaktis Benedictions
2 - Nistha, steady practice of devotional service is described as being free from the following five obstacles:
laya - the tendency to sleep during kīrtana, śravaṇam, and smaraṇam, japa
vikṣepa - distraction toward mundane topics while doing devotional service
apratipatti - indifference or disinterest in spiritual topics
kaṣāya - a tendency toward bad habits
rasāsvāda - the inability to absorb the mind in kīrtana and other services if one gets the opportunity for material sense pleasure
3-4 — Purport, Vers 3, Nectar of Instruction