Sunday, February 1, 2009

Q&A: Making up for lapses in devotional practices: What to do if one has been unable to complete his daily vows?

Q: What should one do if for some reason he's been unable to complete the daily devotional vows concerning the chanting of harinama or diksha-mantras, or puja?

A: It should be understood that there is no wonder trick by the doing of which the neglect of a previous day's devotional activities could be complemented whilst hoping to attain an equal result. One's daily devotional activities are nitya-niyamas, perpetual vows. One should not seek for ways to occasionally avoid them for the sake of one's leisure and pleasure. raghunAther niyama, yena pASANer rekha! - "The vows of Raghunath were like streaks on a stone." One should strive to embrace such firmness of practice to attain success in his devotional pursuits.

It may be that on account of some unforeseen, insurmountable obstacle one's devotional practice is compromized. If that is the case, some remedial measures have been taught in the Vaishnava-smriti and heard from the mouths of the sadhus. Yet, one should not, on their strength, neglect one's devotional vows in a calculated manner, "If I don't fulfill my vows of bhajan today, then here's what I need to do tomorrow to make up for it. Let me therefore leave it for tomorrow." No! This will imbibe the flaw of nAmno balAd yasya hi pApa-buddhiH, to assume that one may misbehave on the strength of devotional worship.

One should think, "I must complete my daily nitya-niyamas. I must." Just as one wouldn't leave a child unfed and uncared for a day, one mustn't leave one's tender bhajan unnourished, and one mustn't keep his Thakur waiting. Utsaha and dhairya, enthusiasm and fortitude, are vital in the growth of bhakti (Upadeshamrita 3); without them, devotional progress is halted.

Should a lapse occur on account of excessive and unavoidable seva or some formidable obstruction, the general principle is that one should do more than the remaining balance as a matter of devotional atonement, with a sincere feeling of unworthiness as Thakur's servant. One must understand that the daily niyamas are a part of a living personal relationship with Thakur, not a matter of ritualistic, obligatory observance. They are our expression of longing, of our heart's budding love.

The 19th chapter of Hari-bhakti-vilasa (19.1038-1039) notes, in the context of worshiping the deity:

ekAha pUjAvihitau kuryAd dvi-guNam arcanam |
tri-rAtre tu mahA-pUjAM samprokSaNam ataH param ||
mAsAd Urdhvam anekAhaM pUjA yadi vihanyate |
pratiSThaiveSyate kaizcit kaizcit samprokSaNa-kramaH ||

"If worship has been forsaken for a day, one ought to worship twice. If three days have passed, one should perform great worship with the bathing ceremony. If the worship has been repeatedly neglected for the duration of a month, some hold that installation should be done anew, while others recommend the bathing ceremony and so forth."

Such worship should be done in the spirit of apology, calling out for the Lord, begging him to again receive our worship, with firm determination that such neglect will not occur again.

Manohara-bhajan-dipika, discussing what ought to be done in the event that the chanting of the names has been halted for a day, states that one must then, on the following day, perform four-fold the daily vow. For example, if one's vow has been for 50.000 names daily, one should then chant 200.000 names, discarding all unneeded activity to arrange for time for its performance. In the event that daily vow has not been neglected but has been compromised, then doing the vow two-fold is sufficient.

For those chanting the Names in excess of one lakh, the four-fold atonement is not practicable for obvious reasons. Rarely it is seen, though, that someone with a lakh's daily vow would halt his nama-bhajan altogether for a day! Regardless, if their nama-bhajan has been compromised, they should chant a substantially increased quantity in proportion to their daily vows on the following day to atone for the neglect of Nama Prabhu's daily worship.

The above also applies for the chanting of the diksha-mantras and other quantifiable practices. If the practices neglected are not of a nature that could be quantified, one should sincerely regret having neglected the said practice and thereby a precious opportunity for acts of devotional worship, praying for a new opportunity. With that, one should make arrangements to see that the situation leading to the neglect will not occur again.

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