By Sacinandana Swami
You must know that there is bhakti with nectar and bhakti without nectar. Bhakti without nectar means that we do not obtain a taste from our spiritual practices that is higher than the taste created by material things like smartphone apps, movies and all the other ‘maya’ our town has to offer. Thus, it is very important that we perform bhakti with taste.
In other words, we need to know how we can relish the five processes of bhakti and avoid boredom. This is much like drawing juice from sugarcane. If you do not apply the technique of professional sugarcane juice vendors, the sugar cane will only be a dry wooden stick to you. In the same way, the practices of bhakti can be only an external dry ritual if you do not know how to draw out the nectar within them.
Here I will teach a simple process for reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam (or Bhagavad-gita or any sacred bhakti text) with relish. This process of studying sacred scripture is given in the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad. It entails three elements and the Vaisnavas have added the fourth item:
1) Sravanam – collecting the information in the text, that is, hearing or reading the text, much like attentively listening to a lecture at the university.
2) Mananam – reflecting on the subject matter
3) Nididhyasan – contemplating on how I can practically apply this text in my own life
4) Vandanam – praying for realization
I think the main reason why people give up relishing the Bhagavatam is that they only know and apply the first step of this process: collecting information. Only reading or hearing the Bhagavatam in this way can be compared to just bringing food in front of the mouth, but not eating it – this will never nourish you.
Following this analogy, reflecting on what you have heard is like chewing the food. At this stage the body is already somewhat nourished through the vitamins it draws through the mouth. However, going through the third step, nididhyasan, contemplating how you can apply what you have heard and then applying it, can be compared to swallowing and digesting the food and being fully nourished by it. In other words, only hearing a sacred text is not enough engagement with it. You will remain ‘hungry’ and look for your ‘food’ somewhere else.
You may also suffer from an information overdose. I see this a lot in spiritual communities – devotees hear their 1000th lecture, and when you ask them “So, what did you hear?” they reply “Oh, I think it was about Krishna.” Therefore, you must learn to reflect on sacred texts: “What struck me? Have I heard something similar somewhere else? How could this be important for my life?” And then you must think about how you can apply it and then apply it in your life (nididhyasan).
Finally, because the subjects are sometimes a little advanced for us, you may need to do vandanam, or pray for realization. If you allow yourself to enter this four-step-process, you will allow yourself to have a spiritual experience by reading the Bhagavatam.