What is Krishna Consciousness (Bhakti)?
Krishna Consciousness is also called bhakti, devotional service unto Lord Krishna. Bhakti means to utilize one’s energy and resources for Lord Krishna.
There are 4 elements to Krishna Consciousness.
1. Being Conscious of Krishna
Always thinking of Krishna.
“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krsna..” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 8.17)
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me..” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 9.34)
“Always think of Me..” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 18.65)
How can we think of Krishna?
There are many ways to think of Krishna and not just one way.
a. Fix the mind unto Krishna all day. This can be achieved by living a secluded life in a remote place and meditating all day on Krishna. This is most difficult and not possible for most people.
“Just ﬁx your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.” (Lord Krishna, 12.8)
b. If the above is not possible, then one can live as a single person in a Temple, doing service all day, through the principles of bhakti-yoga. These principles being to rise early in the morning, chant the Vedic mantras, do Deity service, cook foodstuffs and offer to Deity, take parsadam, distribute parsadam, read the Vedic scriptures, following principles of truthfulness, mercy, no intoxications, no meat, no relationships, no gambling, no materialistic actions, and no sense gratification.
“My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulated principles of bhakti-yoga. In this way you will develop a desire to attain to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 12.9)
c. If the principles of bhakti-yoga as described above are too difficult, then one can work for Krishna. Thus one can earn money by working in a job or engaging in business and giving donations in the service of Krishna, which can be to Temples and/or those who are engaged in preaching service.
“If you cannot practice the regulations of bhakti-yoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 12.10)
d. For various reasons a person may not be able to give his/her money in the service of Krishna. In this case the earned money can be given to hospitals, feeding the poor, and general charity. In this way one will practice giving up the results of one’s work. This will purify the mind and with a purified mind, one becomes able to understand Krishna Consciousness.
“If, however, you are unable to work in this consciousness, then try to act giving up all results of your work and try to be self-situated.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 12.11)
e. If one is not able to give up the earned money due to attachment to money or other reasons. One should acquire spiritual knowledge, because by knowledge, one will gradually be able to understand his real position (he is not the temporary body, but the eternal soul, part of the Supreme). Spiritual knowledge will eventually lead to meditation on the Supreme, and this will lead to renunciation and detachment from material objects and sense gratification.
“If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 12.12)
f. One can also think of Krishna by chanting or meditating on Him and performing Deity service.
“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 9.14)
g. One can also think of Krishna by reading and/or listening to the Bhagavad-Gita and other Vedic scriptures. This is considered doing bhakti with intelligence, because one will think of Krishna and by acquiring spiritual knowledge, one will develop more understanding of Him and increase the attachment to Him.
“And I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation worships Me by his intelligence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 18.70)
“Such a yogi, who engages in the worshipful service of the Supersoul, knowing that I and the Supersoul are one, remains always in Me in all circumstances.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 6.31)
One of the realizations from acquiring spiritual knowledge is that one will know that the Supersoul is Krishna, and this understanding is considered as worship of Krishna, bhakti.
h. Worshipping of Krishna is bhakti, and this is mentioned in many verses in the Bhagavad-Gita and other Vedic scriptures. Worshipping means service to the Deity form of Krishna.
“But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having ﬁxed their minds upon Me, O son of Pṛtha – for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 12.6-7)
Some people worship God by bowing down to Him, and they believe He has no form and/or He is not present here. This is certainly good, but this is not service to Him, because He does not personally benefit from people just bowing down to Him. This is similar to government workers just bowing down to the President. This is of no benefit to the President. The government workers have to take physical actions to maintain the country and this is of benefit to the President and the country. A King with citizens who only bow down to him, are of no value to the King. The citizens must do some physical service in order to benefit the King.
Deity service is real service to God, who is manifested in the Deity form to enable us to worship Him with direct benefit to Him. Lord Krishna is actually present in the Deity form and when He is offered water, leaf, or flower, He actually accepts it.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 9.26)
i. All of the above bhakti ways are for the benefit of the self only. The highest bhakti is to do something for the benefit of everyone.
“For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 18.68-69)
Preaching is the highest service unto Lord Krishna, because by preaching, many people will know about Krishna and how to serve Him (all the above items). Thus more souls will be saved and delivered back to Godhead, the spiritual manifestation called Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Krishna.
“Those who are beyond the dualities that arise from doubts, whose minds are engaged within, who are always busy working for the welfare of all living beings and who are free from all sins achieve liberation in the Supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 5.25)
Those who preach are doing something for the benefit of others. They are constantly thinking of Krishna, because they need to explain how and why Krishna is the Supreme and His teachings. Their minds are engaged in meditating on Krishna from within.
j. The Bhagavad-Gita was spoken to Arjuna, and he did not chant on beads, but still he is a pure devotee of Lord Krishna, because he was utilizing his energy for Krishna. This is bhakti. Maharaj Pariksit is another example of a pure devotee who even though he was given notice that he had 7 days left to his life. He was only interested in acquring spiritual knowledge, this is bhakti.
“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 4.3)
2. Developing the Consciousness of Krishna
Good behavior is bhakti. Krishna consciousness is not just thinking of Krishna, but more importantly to develop the consciousness to that of Krishna to some degree. We can never become equal to Him, but we can increase our consciousness to a much higher level.
If everyone just aims to serve Krishna, then there is no consideration for how we behave among ourselves. We would be fighting and arguing over who can serve Him in Temples and there will be ego, pride, and envy between us. Krishna consciousness also involves developing our consciousness so we are well behaved with each other.
The Consciousness of Krishna that we must strive to develop are:
a. Krishna is kind to all living beings, we should also become kind to all living beings
b. Krishna shares all His belongings (the entire creation) with us, we can at least share some of our belongings with others who need them
c. Krishna is the Supreme controller and owner of millions of universes, but still He is completely free from ego. We should minimize our ego and pride
d. Krishna is equal to everyone in all situations. We should accept that there will be ups and downs in life and learn to be equal in all situations with others
e. Krishna is completely self-satisfied with everything, we should be satisfied with what we have now and not be greedy for more
f. Krishna is most humble, we should also become humble
g. Krishna is non-violent, we must also become non-violent by not killing animals, not taking intoxications as this leads to hurting others, not gambling as this causes suffering for women and children, and no relationship outside marriage as this causes suffering to women and children
h. Krishna is most tolerant, He gives us unlimited chances to get it right via reincarnation. We should also become tolerant with others
i. Krishna is most simple, His occupation is simply to take care of the cows. We should live a simple life and not make demands on others
j. Krishna is most clean, we must take bath at least once a day, brush teeth at least twice a day, and keep our work area, home, rivers, and public places clean
k. Krishna is very well organized, He maintains millions of universes with precision accuracy. We must also develop the skills and the attitude needed to be well organized, getting things done on time, quality, proper planning, accountability, and responsiveness
“One who is not envious but is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor and is free from false ego, who is equal in both happiness and distress, who is tolerant, always satisﬁed, self-controlled, and engaged in devotional service with determination, his mind and intelligence ﬁxed on Me – such a devotee of Mine is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 12.13-14)
“Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona ﬁde spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratiﬁcation; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth – all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 13.8-12)
“A learned devotee who worships Me through yoga meditation certainly obtains in all respects the mystic perfections that I have described. ” (Lord Krishna, Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.15.31)
A pure devotee of Lord Krishna, can attain the 18 mystic perfections that He has, to some degree.
3. Following the Instructions of Krishna
Following the instructions of Lord Krishna is bhakti. There are 700 verses in the Bhagavad-Gita, and out of these 573 were spoken by Lord Krishna. The aim of these instructions is not just so that people serve Him and that’s all. If this were the case, then there is no need for 700 verses, just a few is enough. He actually wants us to follow His instructions for our consciousness development for our own benefit.
The below is a summary of the main instructions that He wants us to follow:
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Fearlessness; puriﬁcation of one’s existence; cultivation of spiritual knowledge; charity; self-control; performance of sacriﬁce; study of the Vedas; austerity; simplicity; nonviolence; truthfulness; freedom from anger; renunciation; tranquility; aversion to faultﬁnding; compassion for all living entities; freedom from covetousness; gentleness; modesty; steady determination; vigor; forgiveness; fortitude; cleanliness; and freedom from envy and from the passion for honor – these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 16.1-3)
4. Service to others
Service to others is bhakti. It is very clearly stated in the Vedic scriptures that service to devotees of Lord Krishna is also considered service unto Lord Krishna. Even service to non-devotees is important, because a devotee must be humble and tolerant. By serving others, one will gradually become humble and learn to tolerate. Good behavior from devotees will inspire others to become like them, thus become devotees. This is the ultimate aim of Krishna consciousness, to make everyone Krishna Conscious and fit for going back to Godhead, the original homeland for all living entities.
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 9.29)
A pure devotee of Lord Krishna will not make any distinction between other devotees, regardless of the Guru or group they follow. Lord Krishna does not state that only followers of one group will go to Him and all others are destined for hell. No. There is no mention of any Guru or group in the Bhagavad-Gita, and thus in the eyes of Lord Krishna, all devotees from all groups and all Gurus who follow one or more of the above bhakti items are bonafide and their service is fully accepted by Him.
“He is a perfect yogī who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna!” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 6.32)
Naturally one may choose only to listen to Katha or serve Gurus from one group, and ignore others, because it’s not practical to run around and listen to all Kathas and serve everyone. This is fine, the point is that we have to respect all and disrespect none. Lord Krishna Himself appears many times in disguise to taste the service and love of His devotees. He may appear in any group at any time.
“The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 5.18)
Those who look down on devotees from other groups or refuse to serve devotees from other groups simply because they are from different groups, are committing offences. Offending a devotee of Lord Krishna intentionally is most sinful, because every devotee is very precious to Lord Krishna. Actually every living being is precious to Lord Krishna, but just like in a family, the children who serve the father are dearer to him than those who don’t. In a similar way, those who serve the Supreme father, Lord Krishna, are recognized by Him.
It is very clear that based on the Bhagavad-Gita and thus Lord Krishna Himself, there are many ways to perform bhakti (devotional service) unto Him, and not just one way.
People have different inclinations, abilities, resources, and are situated in different circumstances. But everyone can serve Lord Krishna in one or more of the above ways, as prescribed by Him directly.
“Always think of Me, 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. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 18.65-66)