The happiness of bhakti is very hard to understand. Generally in the world we take “happiness” as being satisfaction for our body, mind, or both: pleasure of the senses, pleasing thoughts, pleasing emotions, pleasing relationships. Those who are intelligent enough to understand that we are different from body and mind seek a very different kind of happiness: liberation. In the happiness of liberation, peace and freedom are key. There is a sense of balance, detachment, and expansive bliss beyond anything the body and mind have to offer. But the great teachers of bhakti–divine loving service–tell us not to seek either of those two types of happiness. They say that desires for those types of happinesses are like witches or ghosts who make us forget the real essence of life.
For a long time I thought simply of degrees of happiness–sense and mental pleasures are a very small degree, liberation a greater degree, and service out of love for God (bhakti) an unlimited degree. But, happiness isn’t just a matter of degree–it’s also a matter of kind.
BRS 1:1:30:sukhapradatvam: sukhaṃ vaiṣayikaṃ brāhmam aiśvaraṃ ceti tat tridhā
Translation: “Bhakti bestows happiness. There are three types of happiness: from material things, from brahman realization, and from the Lord.”
So, three kinds. And the type of happiness from matter, and from liberation, are at odds with the type of happiness from love.
BRS 1:2:22 (also quoted in CC Mad 19:176): bhukti-mukti-spṛhā yāvat piśācī hṛdi vartate, tāvad bhakti-sukhasyātra katham abhyudayo bhavet
“How can the happiness of bhakti arise in the heart when the witch of desire for enjoyment and liberation remains there?”
NoD 3: Eligibility of the Candidate for Accepting Devotional Service: “This evidence from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives assurance to the pure devotee of being elevated to association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī remarks in this connection that one who is actually attracted by the beauty of the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa or His service, and whose heart, by such attraction, is always full with transcendental bliss, will naturally never aspire after the liberation which is so valuable to the impersonalists.
“A similar passage is also there in the Third Canto, Fourth Chapter, verse 15, of the same book, wherein Uddhava addresses Lord Kṛṣṇa and says, “My dear Lord, for persons who are engaged in Your transcendental loving service there is nothing worth obtaining from religiousness, economic development, sense gratification or liberation—although happiness from these different sources can be very easily had by them. In spite of such facilities, my dear Lord, I do not aspire to achieve any such results. My only prayer is that I may have unflinching faith and devotion unto Your lotus feet.”
“A similar passage appears in the Third Canto, Twenty-fifth Chapter, verse 34, wherein Kapiladeva instructs His mother and says, “My dear mother, devotees whose hearts are always filled in the service of My lotus feet and who are prepared to do anything for My satisfaction, especially those fortunate devotees who assemble together to understand My qualities, pastimes and form and thus glorify Me congregationally and derive transcendental pleasure therefrom, never desire to become one with Me. And what to speak of becoming one with Me, if they are offered a post like Mine in My abode, or opulence like Mine, or even personal association with Me with similar bodily features, they refuse to accept, because they are satisfied simply by being engaged in My devotional service.”
“In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Fourth Canto, Ninth Chapter, verse 10, King Dhruva says, “My dear Lord, the transcendental pleasure derived by meditation upon Your lotus feet, which is enjoyed by the pure devotees, cannot be approached by the transcendental pleasure derived by the impersonalists through self-realization. So how can the fruitive workers, who at most can aspire to promotion to the higher heavenly planets, understand You, and how can they be described as enjoying a happiness similar to the devotees’ happiness?””
Indeed, the flavors are incompatible. Why are they incompatible? We can argue that loving service (bhakti) really begins at liberation.
Bhagavad-gita 18.54: brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā, na śocati na kāṅkṣati, samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu, mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
TRANSLATION: “One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me [Krishna].”
If bhakti begins at liberation, wouldn’t the happiness of liberation be a prerequisite? However, in Bhagavad-gita 12.5 Krishna does not recommend achieving liberation through some means other than bhakti and then taking up bhakti. Rather, he suggests engaging only in bhakti right from the beginning of spiritual life. In fact, one who does only bhakti naturally achieves liberation as a byproduct:
Bg 14.26: māṁ ca yo ‘vyabhicāreṇa, bhakti-yogena sevate, sa guṇān samatītyaitān, brahma-bhūyāya kalpate
Why is a desire for sense pleasure incompatible with bhakti? Why is a desire for liberation incompatible with bhakti?
Why is a desire for sense pleasure incompatible with bhakti?
The answer to the first question is fairly simple. The desire for sense pleasure, and the flavor of happiness derived from it, is opposed to bhakti because sense pleasure is self-centered and bhakti is Krishna centered. Sense pleasure means taking Krishna’s energy separate from him; love means using his energy for his pleasure. That’s a fairly simple concept, although a conditioned soul’s attachment to sense pleasure may take a very long time to subside even after understanding the concept.
Why is a desire for liberation incompatible with bhakti?
What appears much harder to understand is how the desire for liberation and the type of happiness of liberation, is diametrically opposed to bhakti. If we think of bhakti as love, and use even mundane affection as an example, the contrary nature of liberation and love gets clearer. When we love someone we don’t want freedom–rather we want to be bound to them. Humans have all sorts of binding mechanisms, ceremonies, and contracts to solidify tying themselves to someone they love. When they break those bonds to become “free” they feel much suffering.
The concept of the happiness of love being the opposite of the happiness of liberation is demonstrated in this quote from Jiva Goswami’s Madhava Mahotsava, chapter 8: “”Rādhā, please enjoy this kingdom of Vṛndāvana which is served by Paurnamasi.” Directed by Paurnamasi, the chief elders gave their blessings to Rādhā. While giving blessings, their own prosperity increased. After the abhiśeka, Rādhā gave the order, “Let all prisoners (bound creatures) be liberated!” When Rādhā said this, an astounding event occurred: Kṛṣṇa became bound up. Upon hearing this blessing of liberation for all creatures, the sakhis, bound by love to Rādhā, shook in fear. As there were no bound up creatures, the birds and beasts assisting in the pastimes were liberated, but even they could not give up their internal bondage of prema.”
As we can understand from the quote, above, for those who are in love, the happiness of liberation destroys love. Therefore, if someone on the path of bhakti aspires for the happiness of liberation, such a person cannot achieve love. Love will always remain at a distance.
God in the mood of Krishna and in the mood of Narayana
In Raghunatha Dasa Goswami’s Manah siksa verse 4, he tells us that if we want the most intense and intimate relationship with the Lord, a relationship with Krishna of Vrindavana, then we must give up feelings of attachment for the husband of Laksmi–in other words, Narayana. We may understand the concept that an attachment to the feelings of detachment and being unaffected by anything are at odds with the great attachment and caring that love requires. Yet, Narayana and Krishna are the same person. Why would love for Krishna involve detachment from Narayana?
The answer lies in understanding that those who are attached to Narayana have that attachment precisely because they have some interest–more or less–in God’s opulences. Even when a service mood predominates, the devotees of Narayana also relish the grandeur, the splendor, the power, and the majesty of living in Vaikuntha. They are filled with another variety of pleasure of liberation beyond just detachment and equanimity. While they certainly love Narayana, they also love that feeling of being powerful and opulent–having all their desires instantly fulfilled. Love of the form of the Lord who is Krishna in Vrindavana has no such mixing of pleasure. The devotees in Vrindavana only and solely enjoy Krishna’s happiness through Krishna. They use all the rural beauty of Vrindavana for Krishna’s pleasure and do not relish anything separately from his pleasure.
Ultimate love in bhakti
So, what is the flavor, or kind, of happiness of love that is categorically different from sense pleasure and liberation? It is a happiness of “I am Krishna’s and Krishna is mine.” It’s a happiness of union, of belonging, of being a part of a greater whole. It’s a happiness where one moment of so-called “freedom” from the beloved feels like a great age of time in suffering. The world without one’s beloved seems empty of anything of value or interest. Only the beloved is fascinating, and the beloved is fascinating eternally and unlimitedly.
Does the contradictory nature of liberation and love mean a devotees who is pure in bhakti is missing some sort of happiness? Not at all. One who has love also feels fully satisfied in terms of other kinds of happiness. As it is said:
Śrī Śaṅkara, quoted in Padyāvalī, 45: yā bhukti-lakṣmīr bhuvi kāmukānāṁ, yā mukti-lakṣmīr hṛdi yoga-bhājām, yānanda-lakṣmī rasikendra-mauleḥ, sā kāpi līlāvatu mādhavasya
Translation: “Whatever is the sense-enjoyment experienced on earth by materialists; whatever is the enjoyment of liberation experienced in the heart by followers of Yoga; whatever is the joy of poetry experienced by the topmost kavis in this world — may all those joys [and even more] combined in the form of Krishna-līlā protect you all.”
BRS 1:1:31: yathā tantre: siddhayaḥ paramāścaryā bhuktir muktiś ca śāśvatī, nityaṃ ca paramānando bhaved govinda-bhaktitaḥ
Translation: “Thus it is said in a tantra: Astounding mystic powers, material enjoyment, eternal happiness in the realization of brahman, and eternal bliss from service to the Lord all appear from bhakti to Govinda.”
The reason that the happiness of liberation is included in bhakti is that spiritual love is fully voluntary and predicated on freedom. The reason that the happiness of sense pleasure is included in bhakti is that, as part of Krishna, when his senses are satisfied, our are also. However, one who wants to taste the flavor of sense pleasure or liberation can never touch the flavor of the happiness of love. Even if the happiness of love is all around such a person, it cannot be perceived or experienced.
Let us pray and strive, therefore, only for love.