“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)
So, you’ve got an idea for a new car engine. This is unlike anything that’s on the market. The car industry has been particularly hit hard in recent times in an area of the country where it once thrived. So many classic cars used to come out, year after year. People still long for those cars. In recent times, with fuel economy standards and competition from overseas, the cars made just aren’t as good.
This new idea of yours will bring interest back. Putting your custom-designed engines in domestic cars will spark renewed interest, a revival in purchasing. Your engine is powerful; more powerful than anything out there right now. Also, it is fuel efficient. It meets every standard imposed by the government. You pitch your idea to various car manufacturers and they seem very interested. The issue, of course, is that this is only a concept. They want to see some proof. They want to see a physical object. Without something tangible in front of them, they will have a hard time believing what you are selling.
Indeed, this is the nature of sales. The demand for tangible proof is there in bhakti-yoga as well, where the practitioners hope to get everyone on board the train of devotional service, which has stops in every location and can carry an unlimited number of passengers to that great destination in the spiritual sky. The appeal of bhakti-yoga is that it is for everyone. No longer do you have to belong to a specific church or organization. No more are you immediately looked at as the worst kind of sinner who is targeted for punishment by an angry and vengeful God.
In bhakti-yoga, the people with the pure vision see you for who you really are: spirit. Spirit is great. It is small and yet can do the most amazing things. It is in fact the size of the tip of the hair divided into thousands of parts. Though spirit is impossible to perceive with the naked eye, we have evidence of it in front of us every day. Your ability to read or hear these words indicates that you are spirit. The ability of the cars travelling down the road outside shows that there is spirit. The fact that you and I can decide when, where and what to eat for dinner tonight reveals the existence of spirit.
In bhakti-yoga, the souls in the pure consciousness see the immense potential that you, as spirit, have. They know that more than anything you want to love. Love and service are synonymous in this sense. You serve because you love and you love because you want to serve. There is only one individual capable of receiving endless love. He is your ideal match, and He can accept your love in a variety of ways. If you like to glorify particularly through written word, you can write and write forever about His glories. If you like to cook, you can prepare the most amazing food dishes to be offered to Him. If you like to pontificate and study the science of science, you can philosophize endlessly about how amazing He is and how men from all walks of life are inherently seeking His company.
Though bhakti-yoga is inherent to the spirit soul, which can be found in any creature, with respect to our earthly history its origins trace back to the region today known as India. In that sacred land the ancient sages held on to the confidential information of bhakti-yoga and passed it on to their worthy disciples. There are specific areas still sacred to this day because the practice of bhakti-yoga flourishes there. But as mentioned previously, this system is not sectarian. It is not reserved for any single group of people. The concept is that everyone is meant to love God, who is a personality originally.
So these are two wonderful concepts to accept: love for God and God being a personality. But how do we prove them? Where are the tangible examples?
First the latter: The Supreme Lord has descended to earth many times in the course of our history. History itself is not limited to this single creation. The material universe, with its many planets and stars and population of creatures, goes through cycles of creation and destruction. This is not the first time the earth has been in existence, nor will it be the last. In each creation, whenever He so chooses, especially when there is a decline in religious practice and a rise in irreligion, the Supreme Lord descends to the earthly plane as Himself, though the visible manifestations may not always be identical.
He comes as a fish during a great deluge. He comes as a boar to lift up the earth. He comes as a tortoise to be used as a pivot in the churning of an ocean of nectar. He comes as a half-man/half-lion to protect a five year old prince, whose only crime is his devotion to God. He comes as a warrior prince to do away with a powerful man-eater who has immunity in fighting against most creatures of the world. He comes as His original self, the handsome youth named Shyamasundara, to protect the devoted parents Devaki and Vasudeva and deliver the Bhagavad-gita, the king of all education, to a hesitant warrior named Arjuna.
Depending on the specific tradition of the Vedas you follow, you will have different terms to describe these appearances. The appearances can be described as avataras, meaning “those who descend.” The avatara is not a concoction. It is a real personality, immune to the effects of birth and death that plague the spirit souls who are otherwise pure.
These appearances are also known as the saguna forms, which is more pertinent to our discussion. God is both nirguna and saguna. Both terms actually mean the same thing to Him, but to us in one description we can’t see God so well and in the other we can. We can think of it like the full and dark moons. The full moon shines bright in the sky, and the dark moon is difficult to see. The moon is the same in both instances; the difference is only in our perception. In the same way, the saguna forms only look like they are ordinary living entities; this is for our benefit. In the saguna forms we learn what nirguna actually means; that God is not bound by any of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance.
For proof of the former concept [love for God being meant for everyone], we need look no further than the amazing efforts of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and all those who have succeeded him. Also known as Shrila Prabhupada, the swami took the flawless concept of divine love meant for all and travelled to the Western world with it. In infusing the bhakti spirit in so many wonderful souls, he showed that devotional service to God is indeed meant for everyone. It can be practiced by any person, regardless of their background. In ages past, the same concept was proven by the supreme devotion of forest dwellers working for the Lord in His avatara as Shri Rama and by the love of village women living in Vrindavana towards Shri Krishna.
Thus there is so much shape to the concept of bhakti-yoga. By taking up devotional service in earnest, one provides further evidence to those who are skeptical. By always chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” one does the best service for their fellow man, as divine love is what every person inherently seeks. The virtues of honesty, cleanliness, austerity and compassion are a pleasant added bonus, qualities which are otherwise very difficult to maintain and exhibit. Thus in all respects everyone is benefited when further shape is given to the glorious concept of one guiding mentality for all: God consciousness.
Concept that in devotion one should live,
But need proof, shape to theory to give.
Otherwise how in words to trust?
Some evidence therefore a must.
From history to descents of the Divine look,
As fish, boar, or when flute in His hands took.
Prabhupada, gopis, and Vanaras just a sample,
Of devotional success, take faith from their example.