There’s more to devotion than rules, not less

Some people claim, “There’s more to bhakti than rules – it’s a matter of the heart.”

Yes, it is. But presently our heart is much more attracted to worldly things than to Krishna. The rules of bhakti-yoga help us to correct this. Its proscriptions decrease our worldly attachments by minimizing our contact with entangling material things. And its prescriptions stimulate our attraction for Krishna by ensuring our regular engagement in devotional activities that connect us with him. The Bhagavad-gita (12.09) indicates that the practice of bhakti-yoga will increase our attraction to him.

To understand bhakti dynamics better, let’s compare the rules of bhakti-yoga to a road for traveling. Traveling involves more than just moving along a road – it requires moving purposefully towards a destination. Similarly, devotion involves more than just following rules for the sake of following them – it involves following them with the desire to love Krishna. But just as those who give up the road and go cross-country make their journey tougher, similarly, those who give up the rules of bhakti make their devotional journey tougher. In fact, as compared to a cross-country outer journey, a rule-less inner journey is more obstacle-filled. Why? Because whereas outer places are inert, inner attachments are active – they repeatedly allure us back to worldly objects. To resist those lures, we need the periodic purification coming from disciplined devotional practice.

Thankfuly, the importance of rules in bhakti doesn’t mean that those who can’t follow rules are disqualified from practicing it – the next verse (12.10) indicates that they can work for Krishna till they become purified enough to follow rules and eventually attain perfection. Bhakti accommodates those who humbly acknowledge their inability to follow rules. But those who presumptuously reject the need for rules and imagine that they are already devotees unfortunately place themselves outside bhakti’s accommodativeness.

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