If tended with care,
the creeper of devotional
service will one day reach
the abode of Radha-Krsna.

WHEN my mother-in-law came to visit us for the first time in our new mountain home, she noted our persimmon tree standing in its two- gallon pot, waiting to be planted. Over our heads, the tree's leaves and branches swayed in the breeze.

"This poor tree is so root-bound," she remarked, "I don't know if it'll ever recover."

Two weeks later, when my husband and I finally planted it, I saw its roots hopelessly tangled in an unnatural maze, desperately searching for new soil, for freedom.

And here I am, I thought, in this time-bound world, pointlessly searching and researching for happiness within the confines of my small pot, going round and round, seeking something new where there is only the old, ignoring the need to plant myself in my true habitat, the spiritual world, where I can spread my roots and thrive.

Fortunately, our persimmon tree did recover, and by the grace of my spiritual master I may also.

According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krsna. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service. Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 19.151

As a novice gardener one of my first lessons was on seeds: they may look insignificant, but if you treat them as such you'll get disappointing results. Broccoli seeds, for example, look like tiny black dots. Each time I tried to pick up one of them I got at least four. "And I'm supposed to plant these twelve inches apart?" I thought. In frustration I tossed the whole packet into the garden and got dozens of plants so crowded they couldn't give any broccoli. So, seeds must be respected.

Infinitely more respect is due for the seed of the creeper of devotion.

When a person receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by the process of hearing and chanting, the seed will begin to sprout. Cc. Madhya 19.152

As a gardener recognizes and responds to the needs of his seedlings, so a devotee recognizes the need to spiritualize his life and responds by hearing and chanting about the Lord, nurturing his devotional creeper. Water is free and watering is easy. All that's needed is to steadily and patiently do it.

As one waters the bhakti-lata-bija [the seed of the creeper of devotion], the seed sprouts, and the creeper gradually increases to the point where it penetrates the walls of this universe and goes beyond the Viraja River between the spiritual world and the material world. It attains brahma-loka, the Brahman effulgence, and, penetrating through that stratum, it reaches the spiritual sky and the spiritual planet Goloka Vrndavana. Cc. Madhya 19.153

Although this creeper is so powerful it can transcend the material realm, it is not without powerful enemies.

If the devotee commits an offense at the feet of a Vaisnava while cultivating the creeper of devotional service in the material world, his offense is compared to a mad elephant that uproots the creeper and breaks it. In this way the leaves of the creeper are dried up. Cc. Madhya 19.156

Around my home there are no elephants, mad or otherwise, but there are enough deer, gophers, and rabbits to cause the same amount of destruction. The safeguard is fencing, both below and above ground.

Spiritual fencing consists of following the instructions of the spiritual master and associating favorably with devotees of the Lord, giving up the company of nondevotees. ("The gardener must defend the creeper by fencing it all around so that the powerful elephant of offenses may not enter." Cc. Madhya 19.157)

But impenetrable fencing only protects; it does not ensure a plant's growth. Weeds, insects, diseases, and erratic weather make growth tricky. And when a plant stops growing, it's in trouble.

Similarly, if my spiritual growth ends, then, like a stagnant vegetable, I'm in trouble. And, unfortunately, spiritual growth can be choked:

Sometimes unwanted creepers, such as the creepers of desires for material enjoyment and liberation from the material world, grow along with the creeper of devotional service. The varieties of such unwanted creepers are unlimited. Some unnecessary creepers growing with the bhakti creeper are the creepers of behavior unacceptable for those trying to attain perfection, diplomatic behavior, animal killing, mundane profiteering, mundane adoration, and mundane importance. All these are unwanted creepers. Cc. Madhya 19.158, 159

For proper growth we need death to the weeds that sap the water and nutrients meant for the plant, to the unwanted habits, thoughts, and characteristics that keep consciousness rooted in matter.

Mysteriously, growth seems effortless for weeds. They flourish everywhere without watering, fencing, or control of disease and insects. But for my fruits and vegetables, growth is effortful. Lust, greed, anger, envy, and faultfinding thrive easily, and so do desires for profit, honor, and adoration. Uprooting these to help the devotional creeper grow takes humility and a concerted, determined, enthusiastic effort.

The best way to get rid of both material and spiritual weeds is diligent weeding. Ease off and the small, delicate plants are smothered. (If a weed is especially hard to pull, all the more need to get it up deep roots draw more strength from the plant. Hint: Weeds come out readily after thorough watering.)

Neglect weeds too long and they'll go to seed. And the problems they create then multiply geometrically just as my material desires, left uncountered by spiritual life, bring about more material desires that implicate me more in material life.

To uproot these insidious weeds, I have to bend down and grasp them by the stem at ground level a humble position. Without humility I won't be able to uproot the weeds that choke my devotional creeper.

But, novice that I am, I can't tell which seedlings are weeds and which are my plantings. So I wait and watch, and one morning after two days of rain it becomes obvious: each carefully planted seedling is unique and emerges looking fresh, in the pattern of my planting.

The bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotion, is supremely unique. Where this divine plant flourishes, material desires die out, and unmotivated, uninterrupted service to Krsna blossoms.

If one does not distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper and the other creepers, the sprinkling of water is misused because the other creepers are nourished while the bhakti-lata creeper is curtailed. As soon as an intelligent devotee sees an unwanted creeper growing beside the original creeper, he must cut it down instantly. Then the real creeper of bhakti-lata-bija grows nicely, returns home, back to Godhead, and seeks shelter under the lotus feet of Krsna. Cc. Madhya 19.160-161

A promise to Gaura Nitai
To think of Them
As the garden progresses.
A promise to thank Them
For kindly allowing it to grow.
A promise to share Their bounty
With whoever comes nearby.


Visakha Devi Dasi has been contributing articles and photographs to Back to Godhead for twenty years. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in the foothills of central California.