Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 27

īśvarasyāpy abhimāni-dveṣitvād dainya-priyatvāc ca


īśvarasya — of the Supreme Lord; api — also; abhimāni — of those who are proud; dveṣitvāt — because of being one who dislikes; dainya — of humility; priyatvāt — because of being fond; ca — and.


Furthermore, the Lord dislikes the proud but is pleased with the humble.


The humility Nārada praises here is not ordinary modesty but is in relationship to the Supreme Lord. The whole point is that the bhakta does what Kṛṣṇa likes. In the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (11.417), Sanātana Gosvāmī describes six symptoms of a surrendered soul, and each of them involves humility before the Lord:

ānukūlyasya sańkalpaḥ prātikūlyasya varjanam

rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāso goptṛtve varaṇaḿ tathā

ātma-nikṣepa-kārpaṇye ṣaḍ-vidhā śaraṇāgatiḥ

"The six aspects of full surrender to Kṛṣṇa are (1) accepting things favorable for devotional service, (2) rejecting things unfavorable for devotional service, (3) believing firmly in the Lord's protection, (4) feeling exclusively dependent on the mercy of the Lord for one's maintenance, (5) having no interest separate from that of the Lord, and (6) always feeling meek and humble before the Lord."

Humility is pleasing to Kṛṣṇa, and therefore the devotee is humble. If Lord Kṛṣṇa had said He preferred pride, the devotee would be proud. In fact, sometimes the Lord likes His intimate friends to show a kind of transcendental pride and reprimand Him. By the influence of the Lord's yogamāyā potency, Kṛṣṇa's cowherd boyfriends think themselves His equals and sometimes challenge Him. A boy will climb on His back and say, "What kind of a big man are You?" Similarly, when mother Yaśodā or Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī chides Kṛṣṇa, He likes it. These are examples of proud behavior in prema-bhakti, but Nārada is discussing a more basic instruction — that pride in one's self and one's activities is not pleasing to the Lord.

Everyone should acknowledge that the Supreme Lord has given him whatever opulence he has. Whatever prowess, wealth, beauty, fame, or learning we possess is nothing to be proud of because it is all "borrowed plumes." Even when we receive Kṛṣṇa's favor in devotional service, we should know that it is due to His mercy and not our own greatness. Sometimes when a devotee displays pride, Kṛṣṇa personally crushes it, as at the beginning of the rāsa dance:

The gopīs. .. soon began to feel very proud, thinking themselves to be the most fortunate women in the universe by being favored by the company of Kṛṣṇa. Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is known as Keśava, could immediately understand their pride caused by their fortune of enjoying Him personally, and in order to show them His causeless mercy and to curb their false pride, He immediately disappeared from the scene, exhibiting His opulence of renunciation. [Kṛṣṇa, p. 253]

The more power one has, the more one is liable to become puffed up. Demigods like Brahmā and Indra sometimes become proud and forget Kṛṣṇa's supreme position. Once when Indra became envious of Kṛṣṇa, he tried to punish the residents of Vṛndāvana by sending torrential rainfall, but Kṛṣṇa protected the Vraja-vāsīs by lifting Govardhana Hill. Indra then approached Kṛṣṇa and sought forgiveness:

[Indra said,] "Within this material world there are many fools like myself who consider themselves to be the Supreme Lord or the all-in-all within the universe. You are so merciful that without punishing their offenses, You devise means so that their false prestige is subdued and they can know that You, and no one else, are the Supreme Personality of Godhead." [Kṛṣṇa, p. 226]

Lord Caitanya considered humility essential for one who is aspiring to chant the holy names of God. He wrote in His Śikṣāṣṭaka (3),

tṛṇād api su-nīcena taror iva sahiṣṇunā

amāninā māna-dena kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ

[Cc. adi 17.31]

"One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord." Vaiṣṇavas offer respect not only to the Supreme Lord and His direct representatives, but to all living beings. The more one advances spiritually, the more humble one becomes. The greatest devotee, the mahā-bhāgavata, sees everyone except himself as a servant of Lord Kṛṣṇa. As said in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 20.25), "Although a Vaiṣṇava is the most exalted person, he is prideless and gives all respect to everyone, knowing everyone to be the resting place of Kṛṣṇa."

If at any point a devotee becomes proud of being a distinguished Vaiṣṇava, then he has developed an anartha (unwanted thing). This is confirmed in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 20.28): "Wherever there is a relationship of love of Godhead, its natural symptom is that the devotee does not think himself a devotee. Instead, he always thinks that he has not even a drop of love for Kṛṣṇa" (Cc. Antya 20.28).

Although all transcendentalists may aspire to humility, bhakti-yoga is the best way to cultivate it. In bhakti-yoga one cannot advance without pleasing Lord Kṛṣṇa by acts of humility, whereas karma, jñāna, and yoga do not directly culture humility. Therefore a person who follows these other processes is more likely to think he is advancing by his own effort. The karmī may think he is accumulating wealth by his hard endeavor, the jñānī that he is gaining knowledge by his tedious study, and the yogī that he has attained mystic powers by long years of austerity. By contrast, the pure bhakta knows that the bliss he feels in the course of his devotional service is due simply to the mercy of the Supreme Lord. Thus the devotee alone is always aware that his advancement depends on his humility before Kṛṣṇa. One cannot be puffed up and at the same time be a devotee.

Lord Kṛṣṇa is attracted to the humble. For example, He was very pleased by the unpretentious behavior of Sudāmā Vipra, and He blessed him in many ways. Similarly, Lord Caitanya showed special mercy to a devotee named Kālidāsa, who worshiped all Vaiṣṇavas with great respect and love. But Lord Caitanya was not pleased by the proud scholarship of Vallabha Bhaṭṭa.

Nārada's statement here — that the Supreme Lord is pleased with the humble and displeased with the proud — does not mean Kṛṣṇa is partial. Lord Kṛṣṇa does not withhold His love from anyone; rather, it is we who withhold our love from Him out of pride and ignorance and thus become unqualified to experience His presence and reciprocate His love. The sun shines for the benefit of all living beings, but creatures like owls hide themselves from its rays. The great devotee Prahlāda Mahārāja puts it this way in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (7.9.27):

Unlike an ordinary living entity, my Lord, You do not discriminate between friends and enemies, the favorable and the unfavorable, because for You there is no conception of higher and lower. Nonetheless, You offer Your benedictions according to the level of one's service, exactly as a desire tree delivers fruits according to one's desires and makes no distinction between lower and higher.

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His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder Ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
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