When we began our study of Bhakti yoga in the early 70s, nearly every aspiring Bhakta lived in one of our spiritual master’s ashrams. Living in the ashram was a bit like a spiritual boot camp. We awakened very early (around 3:00 am), showered with cold water, attended a morning worship program and classes that lasted until around 8 am,
and then worked hard all day at whatever service we’d been assigned. In the evening there was another kirtan and class, and after it was all over, we dropped onto our sleeping mats exhausted. It was austere but blissful, and it was easy to see our life as service and as a celebration of our growing relationship with the Supreme, Krishna.
But not everyone can live in an ashram these days, nor does everyone want to. And while living in an ashram is very, very good training, it’s not absolutely necessary. Learning how to dovetail our activities into service, and making a shift from material to spiritual consciousness is an art. Our students at the Bhaktivedanta Center sometimes ask us, “How can I make my day filled with Bhakti?”
So to help, we have compiled ten suggestions of how you might bring Krishna into your daily life. You may not be able to do all of these 10 suggestions every day, but if you add several to each day and increase as you can, a relationship with The Supreme Personality, Krishna, will begin to grow. Since nice relationships are pleasing and make life fuller, imagine how full life becomes when we cultivate a relationship with the Supreme!
1. Find a jar and put your change in it at the end of each day. Whenever your friends come to visit, ask them to add to your jar. Explain how you will use the money and they will happily help. When you have enough saved, donate the money to a charity such as Food For Life Global. Here you can see wonderful work done in places where there is a dire need, such as in Haiti and all over the world. Food For Life Global is the largest vegan relief organization in the world. Look at the site. It’s awesome. Or go to Food for Life Vrindavan and read about the wonderful school and other programs these Bhaktas manage. We have visited the Sandipani Muni School and sponsored a little’s girl’s education. Food for Life Vrindavan educates the poorest little girls, reforests Vrindavan, digs wells for fresh water in villages, and cares for the cows that wander Vrindavan’s dusty streets. We have so much to be grateful for, let’s spread the mercy!
2. Load some kirtan on your ipod and listen to it instead of your usual fare of rock, or rap. Think about the lyrics and music you feed through those earbuds directly to your brain. What’s in your (you are the atma/soul) best interest? Good kirtan is all over the web. On iTunes you can find the music of Dasi (Karamrita dasi), Havi dasa, Agnideva dasa, Aindra dasa and others. The lyrics will elevate your consciousness, and the music is beautiful.
3.Take time to sit quietly and chant the Maha Mantra on japa beads. Life is hectic and complicated, and so you might be thinking, “I’m already busy, and you want me to set time aside to just sit and chant a mantra?” Yes, that’s right. Sometimes what starts out seeming like an additional complication to life, can actually simplify it. Try rising earlier in the morning to chant before your hectic day begins. Time set aside regularly for chanting has so many benefits. First, as our teacher would say, when you chant, you are directly associating with the Supreme. If you chant my name, unless you are in the same room with me, I won’t respond. But the Supreme is present in His name. By associating with the Holy Names, we slowly, over time, become holy too. It’s true. It cleanses the mind, intelligence, and consciousness. And then there is the peaceful feeling we get when we clear out all the static and noise in our heads, and chant, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. We sell japa beads at our center, or you can get some from the devotional paraphernalia purveyors on the internet. Start with one round (108 beads) and work your way up to 16. Each round takes only a few minutes.
4. Sing kirtan, or chant—as you walk, wash dishes, or do the laundry. Srila Prabhupada said that we don’t have to change our situation in life, we just have to change our consciousness. We can bring ourselves close to Krishna (Krishna means “One who is attractive in every way”—as God should be!) by finding every opportunity to remember Him through song or mantra—even while performing the simple tasks that we need to accomplish during the day.
5. Put the Bhagavad-gita or another transcendental literature (email us if you want some suggestions) next to your bed and read before taking rest. The Bhakti tradition is rich in literatures of all types. The Gita, the Srimad-Bhagavatam, books by Jiva, Rupa or Sanatana Goswamis, and over 80 books by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, etc. Start by reading one of them. If you read right before going to sleep, Krishna and Bhakti yoga will be the last thought in your day. That’s a good thing.
6. Before you take rest each night, offer the activities of your day to Krishna. It’s a grateful person who thanks those who give them a gift. Krishna gave us the gift of life, and most of us have much to be grateful for. We may not be able to think of Krishna BEFORE we act, in the early stages of Bhakti, but we can offer the results up after the fact, as an offering of gratitude. Gratitude is powerful and it breeds sincerity and humility. “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform—do that as an offering to Me” (Krishna speaking in Bhagavad-gita 9.27)
7. Make an effort to become friends with people who will pull you toward spiritual life—not pull you down. Srila Prabhupada told us that whom we keep company with is terribly important. That is why he established ashrams all over the world where we could learn, and make friends with peers who also wanted to advance spiritually. At the Bhaktivedanta Center the Bhakti Yoga Club members become friends and encourage each other in their spiritual aspirations. You should seek out those who encourage conversations about spiritual life, and most particularly those who are ahead of you on the path, as they can answer your questions and help you over the rough spots. Such association is called “Sadhu sanga” (community with sadhus, or those attempting to live a saintly life). When you associate with sadhus, find ways to help them. Seva (service) to those who are serving Krishna helps us advance. Srila Prabhupada said that Krishna looks more favorably on service to His devotee than on service directly to Him.
8. Whatever you cook, whatever you eat, first offer it to the Krishna. A Bhakti yogi cooks for the Supreme. Everything we cook, we do so with Krishna in mind. We don’t taste the preparation as we cook, and we keep ourselves and the kitchen we cook in very clean. After we are finished cooking a meal, we make a plate (it is nice to keep a special plate and silverware just for this purpose) and we offer it first to Him. After it has been offered, it is considered to be “prasadam” (mercy) that is spiritually surcharged, for Krishna says, “If one offers me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Krishna speaking in Bhagavad-gita 9.26)
9. Look around you and appreciate the artistry of Krishna’s Creation. There is a masterpiece in every direction, we just require the eyes to see. A flock of birds flying in formation, a beautiful sunset, a fawn at the edge of the woods at dusk, the laughter of a child, the smell of a flower, the sound of the wind—everywhere we can experience the artistry of the Supreme. Take the time to stop and appreciate it and to acknowledge the Mastermind behind it all. “Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.” (Krishna in Bhagavad-gita 10.41)
10. Talk to someone about something you’ve learned in your reading or study of Bhakti literatures, or from your association with other Bhaktas. Bhakti is a compassionate philosophy. If you saw that a house was on fire and there were people asleep inside, wouldn’t you try to awaken them to prevent them from suffering? This world is difficult and full of suffering. Bhakti philosophy helps people make sense of the world, while they advance spiritually. Share what you have learned. If you are interested in Bhakti, expect that others might also be interested, and give them a chance to learn by talking about it when the opportunity arises. When you teach what you have learned from those who have mentored you—you complete the circle.