Nine Limbs of Bhakti

In the Vedic scriptures devotional service unto Sri Krishna is described as joyfully performed and ever lasting. This service is divided into nine processes:

1. Hearing the name and glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead;
2. Chanting His glories
3. Remembering the Lord
4. Serving the Lord’s feet
5. Worshiping the Deity
6. Offering prayers unto the Lord
7. Acting as the Lord’s servant
8. Making friends with the Lord and
9. Surrendering oneself fully to the Lord.

1. Sravanam: Hearing of the holy name of the Lord is the beginning of devotional service. Although any one of the nine processes is sufficient, in chronological order the hearing of the holy name of the Lord is the beginning. Indeed, it is essential. As enunciated by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, by chanting the holy name of the Lord, one is cleansed of the material conception of life, which is due to the dirty modes of material nature. When the contamination is cleansed from the core of one’s heart, one can realize the form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Maharaja Pariksit became perfect by hearing about Krishna .

2. Kirtanam: A devotee can very peacefully chant the holy name of the Lord by behaving humbler than a blade of grass, being tolerant like a tree and offering respects to everyone, without expecting honor from anyone else. Such qualifications make it easier to chant the holy names. The process of transcendental chanting can be easily performed by anyone. Even if one is physically unfit, classified lower than others, devoid of material qualifications or not at all elevated in terms of pious activities, the chanting of the holy name is beneficial. An aristocratic birth, an advanced education, beautiful bodily features, wealth and similar results of pious activities are all unnecessary for advancement in spiritual life, for one can very easily advance simply by chanting the holy name. Sukadeva Gosvami became perfect by speaking the glories of the Lord.

3. Smaraman: After one regularly performs the processes of hearing and chanting and after the core of one’s heart is cleansed, smaraëam, or remembering, is recommended. In Sri mad-Bhagavatam (2.1.11) Sukadeva Gosvami tells King Pariksit: “O King, for great yogis who have completely renounced all material connections, for those who desire all material enjoyment and for those who are self-satisfied by dint of transcendental knowledge, constant chanting of the holy name of the Lord is recommended.” According to different relationships with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there are varieties of namanukirtanam, chanting of the holy name, and thus according to different relationships and mellows there are five kinds of remembering. These are as follows: (a) conducting research into the worship of a particular form of the Lord, (b) concentrating the mind on one subject and withdrawing the mind’s activities of thinking, feeling and willing from all other subjects, (c) concentrating upon a particular form of the Lord (this is called meditation), (d) concentrating one’s mind continuously on the form of the Lord (this is called dhruvanusmati, or perfect meditation), and (e) awakening a likening for concentration upon a particular form (this is called samadhi, or trance). Prahlada Maharaja became perfect by remembering the Lord.

4. Pada-sevanam: According to one’s taste and strength, hearing, chanting and remembrance may be followed by padasevanam. One obtains the perfection of remembering when one constantly thinks of the lotus feet of the Lord. Being intensely attached to thinking of the Lord’s lotus feet is called pada-sevanam. When one is particularly adherent to the process of padasevanam, this process gradually includes other processes, such as seeing the form of the Lord, touching the form of the Lord, circumambulating the form or temple of the Lord, visiting such places as Jagannatha Puri, Dvaraka and Mathura to see the Lord’s form, and bathing in the Ganga or Yamuna. Lakshmidevi became perfect by serving the lotus feet of the Lord.

5. Arcanam: After padasevanam comes the process of arcanam, worship of the Deity. If one is interested in the process of arcanam, one must positively take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master and learn the process from him. There are many books for arcana, especially Naradapancaratra. In this age, the pancaratriki system is particularly recommended for Deity worship. Maharaja Prthu became perfect by worshiping the Lord.

6. Vandanam: Although offering prayers (vandanam) are a part of Deity worship, they may be considered separately like the other items, such as hearing and chanting, and therefore separate statements are given herewith. The Lord has unlimited transcendental qualities and opulences, and one who feels influenced by the Lord’s qualities in various activities offers prayers to the Lord. In this way he becomes successful. Akrura became perfect by offering prayers to the Lord.

7. Dasyam: There is the following statement in regard to assisting the Lord as a servant: “After many, many thousands of births, when one comes to understand that he is an eternal servant of Krishna , one can deliver others from this universe. If one simply continues to think that he is an eternal servant of Krishna , even without performing any other process of devotional service, he can attain full success, for simply by this feeling one can perform all nine processes of devotional service. Hanuman became perfect by serving the Lord.

8. Sakhyam: In regard to worshiping the Lord as a friend, the Agastya-samhita states that a devotee engaged in performing devotional service by sravanam and kirtanam sometimes wants to see the Lord personally, and for this purpose he resides in the temple. Elsewhere there is this statement: “O my Lord, Supreme Personality and eternal friend, although You are full of bliss and knowledge, You have become the friend of the residents of Vrndavana. How fortunate are these devotees!” In this statement the word “friend” is specifically used to indicate intense love. Friendship, therefore, is better than servitude. In the stage above dasya-rasa, the devotee accepts the Supreme Personality of Godhead as a friend. This is not at all astonishing, for when a devotee is pure in heart the opulence of his worship of the Deity diminishes as spontaneous love for the Personality of Godhead is manifested. Arjuna became perfect by befriending the Lord.

9. Atma-nivedanam: The word atma-nivedanam refers to the stage at which one who has no motive other than to serve the Lord surrenders everything to the Lord and performs his activities only to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bali Maharaja became perfect by offering everything to the Lord.

It is very interesting to note that even in the case of devotees of Lord Rama these nine processes are applicable. Hanuman performed sravanam, Valmiki performed kirtanam, Sitadevi performed smaranam, Bharata performed padasevanam, Sabari performed arcanam, Vibhinana performed vandanam, Lakshmana performed dasyam, Sugriva acted in sakhyam, and Jatayu perfected atma-nivedanam.