Sri Caitanya-caritamrta metaphorically describes love of God as a creeper, or vine. The following story is based on that metaphor. [See the sidebar “The Creeper of Devotion.”]
I reared my head like a cobra, not to strike at someone but to catch the sun. Holding a jumbo glowing flower at the top of my green leaves, I dominated the garden with my presence.
My name is False Prestige, and I call myself an Extra Plant (which sounds more flattering than Weed).
I never wanted to be extra, or unwanted. How could I, False Prestige, not deserve the space I took in the garden? My roots dug down to grip the earth that bore my weight. Each root I sent into the soil contended with many others. Still I retained my big red bloom.
There was always good drink. From the moment I sprouted I had all of the fine, rich things of this world, such as good drink and fertilizer. The gardener identified me as quite worthy of his garden.
I stood among the strongest of the Extra Plants. First there was Lust, the Pioneer of Extra Plants. He was a great guy. The gardener was just delighted with him; he was so fresh and bright green. The more the gardener watered him, the more he expanded. He was the most demanding fellow. The gardener was always compelled to water Lust.
A plant named Greed arrived, and the only way he could get his watering was to root himself right next to Lust. You’ve never seen such a pair! Then came Anger. Oh, how the gardener got carried away when Anger pushed his reddish wrinkled leaves up out of the dirt!
Now, as False Prestige these other plants began to worry me. How would it look in the neighborhood? These rough plants shot up uninvited. Oh, to see the gardener with his face all twisted and confused— I cannot forget that look. He was so unhappy, so full of worry.
Did I mention Happiness and Distress? Twins, though not identical. The same leaves, branches, and twigs. You couldn’t tell them apart, until they became florid. The flowers of Happiness were so sweet we could scarcely breathe in her presence without floating in a delirium of pleasure. Distress had his own terrible flowers, sometimes so garish and putrid they are best forgotten.
Yet the twins bloomed in turns and distracted us to no end. In his anxiety the gardener wondered who they were and how they got there. Times were tough, but through utter pretension I kept my red blossom held high.
Enter the Expert Gardener
The gardener brought in an expert, who was surprised by how unruly everything was. But he had seen chaos in other gardens and knew what to do. He said there was nothing wrong with the soil; it just needed the right cultivating. And he told the gardener to be much more selective about which plants to grow.
The expert gave the gardener a specific select seed, along with what he said was his most important instruction: Correct the watering method. That, he said, would take care of everything.
The gardener invited the expert to sit down in the tangled garden, however contaminated it was by Extra Plants. Looking humble, the expert gardener took a seat. As False Prestige, I didn’t like that look. It was as if the expert was moved by a deep compassion, a quality that has no appeal for me. For a plant of my status, humility and compassion are caustic.
The expert gardener then let out a sound that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside. It drew the gardener close. The expert sang a lovely, flowing song, his attention focused on its sweetness. It was a mantra addressed to God, the Lord of the forests of the spiritual world.
I had heard of Him. His name is Krsna. In His world, plants are full of loving sentiments in devotional service to Him, and trees are wishfulfilling beings who desire only the welfare of all who pass near them. The plants show tender flowers for Krsna’s divine pleasure as He moves in the forest while tending cows. The plants are scented with the ecstasy of His presence, and they always grow with joy and increasing desire to serve Him. They are joyful! It’s natural for plants to be like that, so I’ve heard.
Along with the special seed, the expert gave the gardener the mantra and some devotional songs. As the expert got up to leave, the gardener wept, afraid to make more mistakes with the garden. To show honor, he gratefully touched the master’s feet and asked him for his blessings to be able to grow the special seed.
Like me, the other Extra Plants, such as Lust, Greed, and Anger, disliked the expert’s presence. They laughed at the gardener for thinking one seed and some chants could fix the garden.
Death for the Extra Plants
The gardener began singing, begging the mantra to help him. He felt helpless from the turmoil in his garden. He earnestly wanted to understand the sincerity and humility he saw in the master gardener.
Where would I, his old friend False Prestige, fit into all of this? As he chanted, I felt dismantled, leaf by leaf. Weakened at my roots, I hung on, only to witness a complete cleansing of the garden. Lust, Greed, and Anger were destroyed.
The mantra he chanted is a repetition of the names of that Lord of the spiritual forest: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. It is a request to feel His presence and become His servant in pure love.
As the days went by and the gardener chanted and chanted, feelings of modesty, gratitude, regret, happiness, and devotion ebbed within him. The new seed from the expert-gardener spiritual master bore a sprout, which expanded into a vine of beautiful, sweet, soft leaves.
The creeper of devotion grew gracefully with tender foliage. The gardener was pleased to chant steadily. He was relieved to see the death of Lust, Anger, and Greed, and he forgot about Happiness and Distress. He maintained me, but only at the far edge of his landscape bent over, ready to drop.
Then I got a big idea: I became enthusiastic to act as a support stake for the new creeper of Bhakti. I wanted to be useful again, so I thought she might lean on me in order to grow tall. Yet without my aid, she grew very well with myriad tender green leaves and branches. I was surprised. Why didn’t she need me? She seemed supported and nurtured by unknown power. What was going on? In my old helpless condition, I felt desperate.
Lonely and neglected, I decided to recruit some new friends: Fame, Adoration, and Distinction. The gardener didn’t even take notice when I brought them in.
Fame grew very tall, and the effect was just fabulous. The gardener became famous for being a great saint, and along with Fame came his comforting comrades: Adoration and Distinction.
I was useful again, and I grew luxuriantly. The gardener strutted about like he used to when I first began to grow. To tend to me, he put aside his chanting of Hare Krsna.
Corollary plants quickly joined us. There was a wandering royalblue creeper named Politics. He was my kind of a plant and kept us going. What energy he had! And I did so much enjoy his friend, a succulent with thorns who went by the name of Faultfinding. Just forget about Bhakti.
Then one day we noticed a tree that began to cast cold shade on the entire garden. He had been growing among us as a small sapling since our earliest days, but unnoticed. Now his trunk was the size of a house. His wide dark-green leaves spread everywhere and blocked the sun.
Meet Fear. The gardener had been inadvertently cultivating him all along. On his branches ugly and cumbersome growths called Old Age and Disease gradually became apparent. I began to droop again and dry up.
Greatly disturbed, the gardener felt foolish and humiliated to see most of his plants dying. All that was left was an endless tangle of the dried branches of the latest generation of extra plants. The remains of Fame, Adoration, Distinction, Politics, and Faultfinding surrounded the creeper of Bhakti. She grasped life with one little fragile leaf that had turned a pale yellow.
At long last the gardener wished for the sweet days when Bhakti had grown steadily. How could he ever revive her? Bhakti does not appear on demand. Ever independent, she is not easily awarded to anyone. The beautiful feelings of love she bestows are available only to those who follow the instructions of the master. Even then, she is never obliged to appear. But if the spiritual master petitions Krsna on someone’s behalf, Bhakti may respond to his plea most graciously.
The Master Gardener Returns
One day the master gardener came to visit the garden.
“Do you want to maintain these Extra Plants when you have Bhakti here?” he asked. “Have I given you this seed so you could grow it and then let it die?”
Because of Fear, I could no longer expand my leaves. I stood rooted there, listening to the master gardener talking to the gardener. It was autumn, when plants tremble at the thought of winter.
“Why not surrender myself to this expert?” I thought. “What have I got to lose? He is such a kind gentleman and a true lover of the famed Vrndavana forest. Even if I lose my position as False Prestige, he won’t hurt me.”
With the master gardener’s encouragement, the gardener began to dote on the tender, gentle Bhakti plant again. Although hesitant, he tried his best to sing and play musical instruments. He offered her the sounds of beautiful songs describing tolerance, purity, humility, and selfsurrender. He sang about austerity, cleanliness, gravity, and simplicity. He prepared a feast of delicious select food for the master, who was satisfied by the gardener’s affectionate service. He sang of fearlessness, detachment, and the association of pure devotees. He stood up in the garden with arms raised high and danced, abandoning all his fear and trouble.
The master gardener joined him, and they shouted together, “Chant the holy names! Chant the holy names!”
Discovering Real Prestige
Then I finally noticed something so essential that I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before. It entered into me to trigger my complete transformation: I noticed Real Prestige in the character of the spiritual master. I understood that it comes from knowing who you are: the servant of Krsna.
In that pure atmosphere the Bhakti plant began to grow very, very high. Soaring, she pierced the coverings of the material universe. Because of the gardener’s steady chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, her leaves multiplied just as hundreds of soft petals unfold from a flower bud. She expanded without limit toward the Godhead. She eventually made her way to entwine herself at the beautiful feet of that Lord of the cows and creepers of the spiritual sky.
I was fascinated by the way the soft, sweet praises of the Supreme Lord had transformed the garden. The gardener was filled with satisfaction. He would remain in a peaceful, blissful state of mind.
I realized that I should never have tried to maintain my life as an Extra Plant, an enemy of the gardener. His renewed love for the Lord through the successful germination of Bhakti overwhelmed me with spiritual emotion. I began to feel the exhilaration of Real Prestige, which can only be known by one who understands his real, spiritual identity.
I followed Bhakti’s path to the Lord’s eternal home. Now known as Real Prestige, I am proud to be the humble servant of the servant of the spiritual master and Krsna.
The Creeper of Love
The followi ng was spoken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: “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.
“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 Ωravana and kirtana [hearing and chanting], the seed will begin to sprout.
“Being situated in one’s heart and being watered by Ωravana-kirtana, the bhakti creeper grows more and more. In this way it attains the shelter of the desire tree of the lotus feet of Krsna, who is eternally situated in the planet known as Goloka Vrndavana, in the topmost region of the spiritual sky.
“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.” – Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 19.151, 152, 154, 158
Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi, a disciple of His Grace Virabahu Dasa, serves the deities at New Dwaraka (ISKCON Los Angeles), where she joined ISKCON in 1979. She lives with her husband and daughter.