ONE WET EVENING in 1972, when I was first learning about Krsna consciousness, I sat in a tent leafing through Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Occasionally I looked out gloomily through the rain to see the dim outline of the Pyrenees Mountains surrounding the little green valley in which I was marooned. The rain had fallen steadily for two days without sign of letting up. Even my sleeping bag was wet.
My romantic idea of practicing yoga in the mountains was fast proving to be a dream only. All I could think of was dry clothes and a hot meal. Still, I had my Bhagavad-gita, and I continued turning the pages.
Something caught my attention: "The culmination of all kinds of yoga practices lies in bhakti-yoga. All other yogas are but means to come to the point of bhakti-yoga. Yoga actually means bhakti-yoga, and all other yogas are progressions toward the destination of bhakti-yoga." (Bg. 6.47, purport).
"Of course," I thought. "Since the word yoga means to connect with the Supreme, the binding link of that connection must be bhakti."
Following Srila Prabhupada's line of thought, I understood that when a jnani absorbed in empirically contemplating the distinction between truth and illusion comes to the point of understanding and accepting that the Supreme Truth is Krsna, he then becomes a yogi. Similarly, when a karmi busy working for material rewards comes to the point of feelingly offering the results of his work to Krsna, he also becomes a yogi.
Prabhupada made it all so simple: karma + bhakti = karma-yoga; jnana + bhakti = jnana-yoga.
I finally understood that yoga simply means to act for Krsna's pleasure. Either I could sit in my cold tent thinking, "I have no desires, I own nothing, I am nothing," while secretly clinging to my world, in which I was the central character, or else I could agree, "Yes, Krsna is the enjoyer, the Lord, and my dear friend." I felt a surge of happiness to think that perhaps I was not alone. With a light heart I lay down in my sleeping bag listening to the steady downpour pelting against the canvas and further soaking the sodden valley.
Dawn came slowly and miserably. I was cold. I was so conscious of my painful body that a long time passed before I could bring myself to continue my reading and contemplation. I could see no end to the rain, which after three days seemed to seep into my bones. There was no question of packing up and trudging off. All I could feel enthusiastic about was cooking a hot meal with my diminishing supplies.
As the pan heated on the camping stove ("Krsna's stove," I remembered), with numb fingers I again opened up the Gita. This time it was Chapter Nine, text twenty-six: "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it."
In the purport Srila Prabhupada explains that there is a very simple process for achieving perfection: offering Lord Krsna our loving service and "nothing more."
"This is wonderful!" I thought. "But wait a minute. Although Prabhupada says 'the process is very easy,' he also says that the only qualification required is to be a pure devotee who loves Krsna. But I don't love Krsna. I barely know anything about Him. Basically I just love myself (and I'm not even sure about that), so how can I reach the highest perfection of life in this way? Maybe I should meditate instead."
I had tried meditating, withdrawing my mind from external stimuli. True, I had temporarily felt some peace by my efforts, but I was always faced with the fact that I had to live in a busy world. To go off and live in a cave in the Himalayas, or even a secluded wood nearer home, was beyond me. And even if I could, I might find myself in the same situation cold, hungry, and staring bleakly at the rain and meditating "Rain, rain, go away,"
I read on: "But preparing nice, simple vegetable dishes, offering them before the picture or Deity of Lord Krsna, and bowing down and praying for Him to accept such an offering enables one to advance steadily in life, to purify the body, and to create fine brain tissues which lead to clear thinking. Above all, the offering should be made with an attitude of love. Krsna has no need of food, since He already possesses everything that be, yet He will accept the offering of one who desires to please Him in that way. The important element, in preparation, in serving, and in offering, is to act with love for Krsna."
"Perhaps I could try it with the soup," I thought. "But still, it's the love bit that stumps me. Surely Krsna won't accept my offering, devoid of love."
But Prabhupada made it sound easy. "Prepare a simple vegetable dish." I could do that. "Bow down and pray to Krsna to accept such a humble offering." I could do that too. Certainly my offering would be humble, even if I wasn't.
"Besides, I've got to start somewhere. Prabhupada's right the process is easy. Learning the right attitude is the hard part. That might take a long time. Still, with Krsna's help anything's possible."
I followed Srila Prabhupada's directions and bowed down. "Krsna, please accept this. Hare Krsna." I felt foolish, not knowing what to say, but deeper than my sense of foolishness was a laughing happiness rising within my heart. Yes, I had done the right thing. Lord Krsna and Prabhupada told me to do it, and I'd done it.
I looked at the soup and began to serve it out. Prabhupada had said serving was also important. I felt he was directing my every move. I was already familiar with the idea of eating in a mood of gratitude to God. But this was different. I had just offered something to the Lord, and now it looked as though He was offering it back. I sipped at the soup.
I knew what taste to expect, because it was a simple vegetable soup. But besides the expected taste, a wonderful thrill began from my mouth down to my stomach and beyond. My whole being felt electrified. My heart felt it would burst. Something more was going on than a hungry man having breakfast.
I had a sense of what bhakti is about. I was detached from the uncomfortable conditions (I had forgotten all about them), I knew (at least a little) what I was doing and who I was doing if for, and I was absorbed in transcendental thought. Bhakti, the yoga of love, did seem to include all to be gained from other yogas, and much more, because by linking with the Lord and serving Him I could feel His helping hand.
A solitary mystic may gain mastery over some time and space, but unless he awakens love for Krsna, what has he ultimately gained? A little fame, power, or influence. Only bhakti is absolute, because only bhakti links us in a firm embrace with the Absolute Lord.
I gazed at the rain, cheered by the warm sunlight of Krsna consciousness. I no longer felt alone.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. Write to him in care of Back to Godhead.