I have read Madhurya-kadambini so many times, but still been unable to resolve where I was on the actual spiritual ladder. First I thought I was in bhajana-kriya, then I realized I was still in sraddha. Now – I see I got it right the first time. I’m in bhajana-kriya, in the stage of Visaya-sangara.
varuna dig gatam vastu
vraj annaindram kim apnuyat
One whose heart is absorbed in materialism is far from obtaining devotion to Vishnu. Can a man by going east obtain something which is in the west?
Understanding that material enjoyment is forcibly carrying him away and impairing his steadiness in serving Krishna, the devotee resolves to renounce his addictions and take shelter of the Holy Name. But many times, his attempts at
renunciation often end in enjoying what he is trying to renounce. Such a person is exemplified in the Bhagavatam:
Knowing that sense gratification leads to misery, though he tries to give up his material desires, still he is unable. (SB 11.20.27-28)
This on going battle with his previously acquired desires
for sense pleasure, in which he sometimes meets with
victory and sometimes with defeat is called vishaya sangara or struggle with sense pleasure.
Madurya-Kadambini by Srila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura
I have read that passage so many times, but it never translated itself to me. I never really understood how it reflected on me. That was until I read The Reflections on Madhurya-kadambini by Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja:
Visaya-Sangara is the stage of internal tug-of-war with material sense enjoyment.
Visaya-sangara is the stage when conflicting doubts and arguments are resolved in the devotee’s heart and he is convinced about the path of renunciation
Bhakti Triology, 18
…although there is still flickering back and forth, the understanding is stronger but one does not yet have the strength to act on the understanding. We may see different points in our own lives in which we had more doubts than faith. Then we reach the point of having more faith, but we lack strong determination, and so our senses still pull us excessively. Although we know the proper actions, we fail to carry them out.
…We may know what is proper, but the senses and mind still pull us. Even though we may deviate or feel bewildered, our intelligence knows that we have to get out of the slump and continue moving towards the goal. We keep picking ourselves up. This is a level of conscious unfoldment.
My immediate reaction when reading this was: This is me !!! Finally, I found me !! What a relief ! It’s like I’m unable to move forward, it feels like my karma/past actions stops me from moving forward. In one way, I’m content with where I am, I see how I’m unable to move forward and that’s just fine. It feels like I have a block, a wall I need to breach. But to get over that block takes time, I have to continue until I wear and tear the block down.
For example, I was so happy when I could offer my food – even if it wasn’t up to quality. Do you know what happened? Nothing… I would remember it long after the meal was eaten. But slowly, I begun to offer more. Slowly, it’s growing into my consciousness. At least I offer more now than I used to. At least I offer one meal a day, versus none. That is progress in my book. Slow progress is still progress, and any progress is to be celebrated.
The next stage in bahajana-kriya is niyamaksama:
The next stage of unsteady devotional service is niyamaksama, where the devotee vows to increase his devtional activities. He resolves to chant sixty-four rounds daily; offer one hundred prostrated obeisances to the Deities and the Vaishnavas; serve the senior devotees; avoid talking about mundane topics; shun the company of materialistic minded people, and so on. Daily he makes these vows, but at the last moment he is unable to honor them. The difference between visaya-sangara and niyamaksama is that in the former the devotee is helpless to give up his material sense pleasures, and in the latter he is unable to increase and improve his devotional activities.
Bhakti triology 18-19
So how to go from visaya-sangara to niyamaksama?
I purchased a weekly diary and begun to keep track of my chanting, gayatri and prasadam. If I was to progress spiritually, I needed something to tell me how I was doing. It also gave me inspiration to do a little bit better than the last week.
But a long time ago I decided to never force myself to do Japa again. I wanted Japa to be a pleasent experience, not something I loathed. But I didn’t apply my understanding of discipline. To make these ridiculous vows, to progress to the next stage; it requires discipline. It requires showing up every day and doing what is needed. More than that, I need to chant at least 16 rounds each day using concentration and being within the chanting.
So I realized the importance of discipline and for a couple of days I chanted 16 rounds – and then it happened. I got sick. Fever and pain. Lying in bed, overindulging on pain meds. I’m still not healthy, and I have not picked up my chanting.
But that is fine. It just means I couldn’t do it that day. I will do it the next day.
Even though we may deviate or feel bewildered, our intelligence knows that we have to get out of the slump and continue moving towards the goal. We keep picking ourselves up. This is a level of conscious unfoldment.