Chaitanya Mahaprabhu compared a sadhaka, or a spiritual practitioner to a gardener.
Just as a gardener waters and protects the plants to ensure it grows to be a beautiful fruit and flower laden tree, the sadhaka takes care of his spiritual practises. This care guarantees the growth of his fragile Bhakti seed to a beautiful tree filled with rich fruits of love for Krishna.
There are four important steps to remember while practising our spiritual lives and this is similar to what you do to a tender seed.
First step- Hearing and chanting Krishna’s Holy Names
Daily watering is the first and basic step without which the seed would soon dry up. Similarly, daily hearing and chanting of Krishna’s Holy Names helps our relationship with Krishna blossom. Undoubtedly, this is the foundation of our spiritual lives, and Srila Prabhupada made his followers take vows of chanting during initiation. He insisted we regularly hear Srimad Bhagavatam classes and systematically study his books. Prayerful reading and contemplation of scriptures nourishes the soul, and one can easily see a person advancing in Krishna consciousness simply by disciplined hearing and chanting.
Second step- A culture of service and appreciation
You can’t hold the sapling in your hands, and water it daily. Nor can you sow the seed on the hole of your marble or cemented floor. You need a rich and fertile soil to help the seed grow fully.
Likewise when devotees cultivate a mood of service and genuine appreciation of other practitioners, the plant of Bhakti grows smoothly.
When we constantly express gratitude and sincerely serve others, our heart becomes a soft and a fertile ground for the growth of rich spiritual emotions for Krishna.
Third step- protect from pride and offenses
We need to watch out for the weeds that also get strength from daily watering. Externally the weeds appear to be part of the plant but eventually it chokes the growth of the creeper. An intelligent gardener carefully looks out for these and checks its destructive growth. A Bhakti gardener too is careful to check his own motivations. “Am I acting out of pride or do I have a sincere desire to serve”, he regularly asks himself and searches for painful, yet true answers. He is ever alert to watch out for arrogance, conceit, and desire for fame and prestige in his own heart, and wastes no time in diligently plucking them out.
One also makes a fence to protect the sprout from animals. A devotee protects his Bhakti with a boundary of do’s and don’ts. Bad association is like letting loose a cow to come and chew away the plant.
Also Lord Chaitanya compared offenses to other sincere devotees to a mad elephant that charges into a garden and destroys everything in sight. A tiny plant stands no chance against a possessed elephant. In the same manner if we offend other devotees, our Bhakti plant is smashed. Thus a devotee is ever careful to protect his devotional creeper from the dangers of pride and offensive mentality.
Fourth step-Grace of Krishna
Exposure to sunlight not only helps plants draw rich energy but also ensures its steady and balanced growth. Correspondingly receiving Krishna’s mercy helps us sustain our devotional practises. A devotee ensures he is always under the ‘sunlight’ of Krishna by doing things that Krishna recommends and makes sure his activities are favourable and not unhealthy for advancing in Krishna consciousness. This way he remains under the merciful glance of Krishna.
Of course, Krishna’s grace is causeless, and just as sunrise is not in our control, we can’t claim our right over Krishna’s mercy. Yet by our sincerity we can hope to attract His attention, and under the energizing rays of Krishna’s blessings, we can see our Bhakti creeper grow to be a luxurious tree.