Even if bhakti is not joyful, it is still fruitful
When we hear scriptural descriptions about the immense, intense bliss of bhakti, we may get the question, “Is this for real?” This question may become all the more acute when our bhakti practice doesn’t yield similar bliss.
To understand how bhakti is really joyful, we need to first appreciate that it acts in two ways: as nectar and as medicine. How it appears to us depends on how pure our consciousness is. The Bhagavad-gita (10.18) reports the pure devotee Arjuna’s experience: the bhakti activity of hearing Krishna’s glories is like an unendingly relishable flow of nectar.
However, when we are materially attached, as most of us presently are, our consciousness gets distracted from Krishna even during our bhakti practices. Because of such a distracted consciousness, we can’t focus on Krishna. So, we stay deprived of the joy that comes from connecting with the supreme reservoir of all joy.
Significantly though, Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.1.4) indicates that bhakti benefits even the materially attached. How? By acting like a medicine. Some medicines taste bitter, but if they make us better, we gird ourselves to take them – not for their taste but for their effect.
A similar no-nonsense approach towards bhakti can stabilize and strengthen our devotional practices. Every moment that we focus our mind on Krishna, that contact with the all-pure supreme purifies us. Even if we can’t focus, if we just sincerely strive to focus, that endeavor pleases Krishna, thereby attracting his potent and purifying mercy. Purification essentially implies the subordination or elimination of distractions. Freed from distractions, we can increasingly access the joyfulness of absorption in Krishna. Pertinently, the Gita (18.37) assures that even if elevating activities taste like poison initially, they will taste like nectar eventually.
So, whenever bhakti’s joyfulness doesn’t seem evident, we can persevere by meditating on its fruitfulness.