When we start our devotional practices it is possible to keep them up for a while out of a sense of duty. For a while it is possible to practice devotional service mechanically out of a sense of “I have to do this.” But in the end we are not machines! We cannot practice for a long time, if we only do it mechanically, and not experience the taste of it. We can only continue steadily if we get a genuine taste for it – the sweet and relishable taste of bhakti.
You must know that there are two forms of bhakti: ceñöä-rüpa and bhäva-rüpa bhakti, as distinguished by Rupa Gosvami. Cesta-rupa-bhakti is the external form of bhakti, the activity you perform with your body and senses. These are the 64 practices of devotional service described in the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. The second kind of bhakti – bhava-rupa bhakti – is what is going on in your heart, the feelings.
Bhakti remains incomplete without these two manifestations: the efforts of the senses and a devotional feeling which arises in the heart and mind. Cesta-rupa, external activities, are the body of bhakti, but bhava-rupa, the devotional sentiments, are the heart of bhakti. Thus, Srila Prabhupada translates the word bhakti into loving devotional service. Service can be done with the body, but love and devotion come from the heart, not the body.
My dear devotees, I have seen many devotees starting the process of devotional service with great enthusiasm, but then eventually slowing down and even leaving. The reason for this is that they did not develop the heart of bhakti and therefore didn’t relish the sweet taste of it. How can we develop the heart of bhakti? By associating with devotees!
Of course, it is possible to practice bhakti alone. You can hear and chant alone in your apartment, you can perform the activities of devotional service on your own, however, our process only becomes sweet when you associate with devotees. The same thing – hearing about Kåñëa and chanting about Him – becomes sweet and relishable in the association of devotees! Do you understand?
Everything in bhakti can be done alone: chanting, reading, worshiping your deities; it is possible. But it only becomes sweet and relishable when you do these things in the association of devotees. And unless your bhakti becomes relishable, tasty, infused with bhava, it will not distinguish itself from material activities. And we already know that material activities don’t give us any substantial taste – that’s why we joined Iskcon. Srila Prabhupada says that “Unless one is associated with devotees, one’s devotional service does not mature and become distinct from material activities.” (Srimad Bhagavatam, 4.9.11, purport) Now you may say: “Thank you Maharaja for discouraging me. I’ve given my heart to material activities and I don’t have any devotional feelings. My heart is cold.” Yes, that is the unfortunate situation of all conditioned souls – we have dedicated our affection and service to matter. How can we change this? The Srimad-Bhagavatam informs us of the remedy: “It is by being in the association of Your devotees and hearing Your transcendental pastimes, O Krishna.”
Every imaginable kind of success or asset of this world can never replace the taste of such feelings in the heart. Let us not forget the main point: Kåñëa wants your love – this is the heart of bhakti.