By Sivarama Swami
Devotees often ask what the meaning of steadiness is: some consider that chanting sixteen rounds a day and following the four regulative principles means that one is steady, while others say it is steadiness in one’s service; yet others give different variations of what they consider steadiness to mean. But these things mentioned—regularly chanting and regularity in serving—are physical symptoms that may or may not indicate real steadiness.
Suddha-bhakti-cintamani deals with the subject of steadiness from several different perspectives. What does real steadiness mean? nasta-prayesv abhadresu nityam bhagavata-sevaya: “nasta-prayesu,” when almost all the inauspicious things in the heart, which are of so many variations, when they are more or less eradicated then there is steadiness. And this “more or less,” Srila Prabhupada said “75%,” so when 75% of impurities in the heart are eradicated, then the devotee achieves a certain level of spiritual steadiness that enables him to think about Krishna, to chant Krishna’s names, because his mind and senses are no longer distracted from chanting, serving, and thinking of Krishna. Why? Because the effect of the anarthas still remaining in the heart is minimal when compared to the storehouse of devotional energy that the devotee has acquired.
So when we speak of steadiness we speak of a certain degree of purification of the heart which has its threefold symptoms, according to Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura: steadiness of mind, speech, and physical activities. These are listed in increasing order of grossness; the most subtle form of unsteadiness is in the mind. A devotee can determine how steady their mind is by how easy it is for them to think about Krishna, to chant Hare Krishna and not allow their mind to wander and be distracted. That may happen once in a while, but overall they are able to focus on the holy name. With steadiness of speech, one is able to avoid prajalpa, unnecessary and foolish talks. And steadiness in bodily activities, this means sensual steadiness.
So these are the symptoms of steadiness, but real steadiness is that 75% purification of the heart. It is technically called nisthita bhajana-kriya, when the kriya, the activities, of one’s bhajana are unwavering, then that is steadiness, or, as Srila Prabhupada said, “fixed up” in devotional activities. And by definition of the word itself, bhajana kriya, the activities of bhajana will really indicate how steadily one is situated in Krishna consciousness. For instance, we will often see how someone is so fixed up in their service they don’t even have time to chant sixteen rounds a day, and this is no good. When that devotee is asked to just sit and chant and make up their missing rounds, then we see that they cannot do so, their mind is distracted.
Therefore, even though someone may appear very steady in terms of their activities, it simply means they have some other qualification: it may be that by nature they’re very dutiful persons. That someone is dutiful does not necessarily indicate that they are steady in devotional service. If someone is steady in devotional service, then they will be dutiful, but the converse does not automatically apply. As a good friend used to say, “I judge a man by his japa!”
So this is nistha bhajana kriya: chanting Hare Krishna, hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam associating with Vaisnavas, worshipping the deity. And when devotees have fixed attention to the performance of these activities, a natural, observable taste for these activities of pure devotion exists in the devotee. Even if it may appear that they are not so steady in their duties, still this kind of devotee is superior to those who may appear to be steady in their duties but who are not steady in devotion. Because ultimately, even if one can imitate the external activities, or if one has a particular karma or qualification and therefore has the external symptoms of nistha, still if the concomitant purification of the heart is not there, then one will not advance to the next stage of devotional service, which is rucih.
The spiritual benefit of being steady in devotional activities means that one actually focuses on the acts of sravanam kirtanam, when one is not distracted. Therefore by being offenseless in those activities, one achieves the full benefit. And that is rucih: param drstva nivartate, one attains a higher taste, and when that happens one becomes attached to Krishna Himself. This higher taste is attachment to the acts of devotion, and those acts mature into an attachment to Krishna, His form, His pastimes. That ultimately becomes the doorway to transcendence.
So Vaisnavas really strive to achieve this purity of heart called steadiness, because from that stage devotional service progresses rapidly. There are no significant obstructions to one’s advancement in Krishna consciousness and the devotee can really shoot forward, back home, back to Godhead, without delay.
So let’s be conscientious in our bhajana kriya, even if we are not nisthita, even if we are anisthita, unsteady, then by effort and good association with devotees who are fixed, by avoiding bad habits, by avoiding carelessness in devotional activities, by avoiding offenses, then very quickly the process of chanting and hearing fructifies, and one of the primary benefits of that maturing creeper of devotional service is that it becomes steady. Just like a tree at a certain point is no longer a sapling, it isn’t green and tender, prone to being easily toppled, but it starts to develop a bark, it becomes brown and strong and can stand on its own without any kind of support, so it is with the creeper of devotional service when the stage of steadiness is achieved. And this is, as Srila Prabhupada says, the stage of 75% purification of the heart, purification from these unwanted habits.