Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Goswami Maharaj is one of the foremost teachers in the tradition of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu today. Like the legendary singing saint, he is immersed in Krishna bhakti and teaches the path of transcendental love
The Vaishnava path of bhakti lays great importance on the observance of a lifestyle that weaves awareness of Krishna and his instructions in every aspect of daily living. Rather than being restrictive, these guidelines are means that enable the devotee to make life choices that are aware, compassionate and motivated by his or her devotion for Krishna.
Arca-vigraha (Krishna`s form): Vaishnavism emphasises the concept of form as being a priori. This plays a major role in the methods of worship. Inside a Vaishnava temple or home you will find deity forms of Krishna that are prayed to. Those who look with bhakti can clearly see the Supremely Spiritual Entity residing within what appears to be, to the materialist, mere stone or metal.
Prasadam: This is the offering of foodstuffs or other items to the Supreme Lord with devotion. Vaishnavas do not accept anything until it has first been offered to the Deity. Before foodstuffs are offered to the Lord, they are referred to as bhoga (enjoyment). After He has tasted them, they become prasadam or ‘mercy’. The food has become blessed or sanctified, and we can make spiritual progress by partaking of Lord Krishna’s remnants. Since everything belongs to God, our very souls belong to Him, so we should always offer the results of all endeavours to Him. In this way, our minds will become purified and Krishna will reveal Himself from within our hearts.
Ahimsa: Nonviolence is one of the qualities of a devotee of Krishna and this is why Vaishnavas are vegetarian. Krishna does not sanction eating the flesh of animals or eggs since He is the well-wisher of all living entities. Material existence implies feeding off one another in order to survive. Vegetables are certainly sentient; however, most plants are not destroyed by taking their fruit and so on.
Sadhana: Vaishnavas mark their bodies in twelve places (the most visible being the forehead and nose) with sandalwood mixed with a clay from a tirtha (holy place) associated with Krishna. These markings, collectively known as tilaka, are of a distinctive character. A ‘U’-shape descends down the forehead into a leaf shape on the bridge of the nose. The ‘U’ symbolises Vishnu, and the leaf is tulsi. Krishna is requested to enter into each of these marks by uttering His names while touching each mark. Devotees also wear tulsi malas, and tulsi leaves figure prominently in offerings.
Shaucha: Purity of both mind and body is essential. One should always be freshly bathed (Vaishnavas generally bathe two to three times daily, and then immediately apply tilaka). Vaishnavas also observe four regulative principles to develop purity: vegetarianism, no gambling, no intoxicants, and no sexual relations outside of marriage.
Japa and sankirtana (chanting names of Krishna): Sankirtana is congregational chanting of the Holy Name. Chanting is possibly the most visible activity of a bonafide Vaishnava. Repeating the mahamantra quietly, individually, on a rosary of 108 beads, is known as japa. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu prescribed a fixed number of ‘rounds’ of chanting on the rosary to be performed daily.
Festivals: There are many days throughout the year held to be special in the mind of a Vaishnava, such as the appearance and disappearance days of gurus, Janmashtami, Gaura-Purnima (Chaitanya’s appearance day), Ratha-yatra (chariot procession of Jagannath), Govardhana-puja (celebrating the lifting of a mountain by child Krishna) and Ekadasi (fasting days twice a month).
Names and dress: All Vaishnava names signify Krishna or His intimate associates. Thus when one hears the name of a Vaishnava, one knowingly or unknowingly remembers Krishna. These names are followed by the appellations dasa (masculine) or dasi (feminine), which mean ‘the servant of’. Householder male devotees wear white, while those who are leading a celibate life, either as students (brahmachari) or as sanyasis wear saffron clothing. However external appearances are secondary to that which lies within the heart. One should not imitate a bhakta by adopting outer trappings without shraddha (faith in Krishna).
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