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Staying the course of Bhakti despite obstacles and trials

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On any path there will always be ups and downs, and we have to remain steady in difficulties, reverses and success—any of which could deviate us. Krishna consciousness is all about developing and deepening of faith—from beginning to end—and we have to do what is favorable to have and improve our faith. Though we will repeatedly stumble, we have to keep picking our self up, dusting our clothes, and keep on keeping on. I have stumbled many times in the past, yet even in the worst of times I continued to practice Krishna consciousness.

I received an email from someone on Krishna.com who wanted to hear about my struggles as a devotee and how I have gotten through them, since he finds himself struggling with his chanting and feeling allured by the material world. Though I don’t know if what I will share will help, I thought I would share this for all of you in the hope that some may find it useful. I am going out of town for a week so I hope this will suffice for my weekly blogs until I return.

Any physical life is a long journey, and so is cultivating a life of devotion. Lord Chaitanya has compared Krishna consciousness to the planting, cultivating, and care of a plant or creeper. A creeper is dependent on a tree to grow upward just like we are dependent on the association of advanced devotees and our sadhana to make spiritual advancement. In their association and under their recommendations we engage in the 9 processes of devotional service (hearing, chanting and remembering Krishna etc.).

On any path there will always be ups and downs, and we have to remain steady in difficulties, reverses and success—any of which could deviate us. Krishna consciousness is all about developing and deepening of faith—from beginning to end—and we have to do what is favorable to have and improve our faith. Though we will repeatedly stumble, we have to keep picking our self up, dusting our clothes, and keep on keeping on. I have stumbled many times in the past, yet even in the worst of times I continued to practice Krishna consciousness. Though I might like to pretend otherwise, I still don’t always choose the most Krishna conscious thing to do. We always have to choose, and our choice will be determined by our desires which may be more or less Krishna conscious.

We don’t have to give up everything to become a devotee, though that was and is one path some of us must embark on. Never the less, a person pursuing an education, occupation and/or family can still practice KC while living and working “in the world”. Though some persons like me began Krishna consciousness by leaving their former life and living as a monk in the ashram, many of those same devotees have married, earned degrees, and work and live in the world. I thought it wise to share this before speaking of my spiritual life which began by giving up all my possessions (few as they were) and living as a brahmacari (celibate student) in Temples throughout the world.

Becoming a devotee was the culmination of years of spiritual searching for a path to foster my growth as a soul. I knew I was not the body, and I knew from living in nature that there must be a reason for the regulated laws of the Universe that I observed. Gradually in my quest for spiritual life, I lost all interest in material education, love of the world, and earning money. My quest become my magnificent obsession. I quit college, my job, and split up with my girl friend. I gradually became an austere vegetarian (eating only brown rise and soaked soybeans), gave away most of my possessions, and began sleeping on the floor. I was attracted to Chinese philosophy which spoke of sages and superior men who were wise in real knowledge and could see life from an insightful platform. I wanted to be like them, and I read as many books as possible and considered adopting the life of a monk in some tradition.

When I first ran into devotees in Berkeley, California, I was very attracted to them, though I didn’t have the words to conceptualize what it was in the beginning. Later I identified that they seemed genuinely—unusually---very happy, peaceful, convinced, and otherworldly—all of which I loved! I remember one time speaking to a devotee and saying that I might become one of them. I was surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth because until that moment I hadn’t really considered that option. As it turns out they were prophetic words that were inspired by Krishna.

I soon visited the Temple with my roommate (who was to become Jagajivan Prabhu). Being in the Temple felt like deja vu—I knew being in this environment was familiar and a continuation from a previous life. I felt so at home and relieved to be in this supportive spiritual atmosphere, that it would only take a short time for me to move into the Temple. Studying the Gita only increased my determination to make this my spiritual path. I read in the sixth chapter that the unsuccessful yogi takes birth in a family to foster his unfinished spiritual development. Although my family was anything but spiritual, I did become so miserable in it, that I was propelled to seek relief from other than conventional means.

I was convinced that there was no material remedy to my dilemmas. Gradually my material suffering turned into an existential search for spiritual meaning to life. I knew that I could only be happy by going deeper into reality which I knew was beyond the physical plane. In this type of intensity, giving up my possessions and living situation was completely natural and easy. Thus my roommate and I gave up whatever possessions we had and moved into the Berkeley Temple. Now my real life was beginning, and unknown to me at the time, there would be many trials and tests in this new direction—though in the beginning years they were not severe at all.

The first year I was just getting used to the devotee life, and learning to trust my perceptions of the world after so many mind blowing drug experiences had made me doubt my senses and question what was real. That doubt was useful in the beginning to enable me to accept and hear the philosophy (see Bhagavad-gita as it is, 7.1 and 13.26), and engage in sankirtana (congregational chanting of the holy name) and other services. As I matured as a devotee and person, I would have to get beyond black and white, limited thinking in order to use my intelligence, and become as fully present and awake in my life as possible. A symbol of that was at first I didn't care that I broke my glasses (they were material after all), but later I wanted a new pair so I could see the Deities and the world around me more clearly! Spiritual life I discovered was not life denying, but life affirming, giving us a real life to enthusiastically live. We can become "all that we can be", living life to the fullest, but now for service to Krishna, his devotees, and to help others.

My first years as a devotee were a long time ago and it is difficult to remember what I struggled with in exact detail. That is likely because I know my struggles were really minor things relating to what service I would do, and as a result they didn’t make much of an impression on me. To my great good fortune, I didn’t really face any doubts about Krishna or his name and service. That would come years later after Prabhupada’s physical departure and the difficulties which were created in trying to carry on his movement in his absence.

In addition to that turmoil, I realized I needed to marry and earn a living, which turned out to be quite difficult and challenging. At that time I had to re-access everything I had accepted about Krishna consciousness. What did I really believe anyway? I had to internalize what I had learned and make it my own (similar to what our devotee children must do). I also had much to sort out regarding who I was and what I had to do. I was no longer carried along by the Temple schedule and devotee association. Now I had to do everything because I chose and wanted to do it. If I didn’t chant, no one but me, Prabhupada and Krishna would know about it.

I joined the movement at 19 and lived in ISKCON Temples for 14 years, so when I moved away from the Temple, it was a quite an adjustment. I survived and very gradually got back on my spiritual feet, though my first marriage failed due to our very different natures and desires. Spiritual advancement involves acceptance and elimination, so some things were constant in my life, and others were added or left behind. Progressive spiritual life is progressive, not stagnant.

What saved me in addition to the obvious mercy of Prabhupada and Lord Gaura-Nitai (Chaitanya and Nityananda), was that I always continued to chant my rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra, however bad or inattentive they were. (That is a testament to the power of even poor chanting---just imagine the power of pure chanting!) In addition, my years of dedicated service to Krishna Deities all over the world, and whatever spiritual advancement I brought with me from my last life also kept me on the path of Bhakti, feeble as my practice sometimes was. I continue to draw on those things to this day. I still have my mental and physical struggles with facing material desires that still remain, and I have to choose whether to act on them or not. (see the Gita 2.70)

For those of you who are new, you have to develop enough spiritual strength and standing that you will have the spiritual stamina to stay the course of Krishna consciousness—that requires good spiritual association and strong sadhana or spiritual practice (like chanting Hare Krishna, hearing Prabhupada’s books, and engaging in devotional service). At 19, in my intense distress and desire for spirituality I was extremely hungry for finding my spiritual path. You have to ask yourself (we all do continually) how committed you are, and what you can do to increase it? What are you hungry for? Coming to the point where we will do whatever is require to foster our love and service to Krishna is an ideal to strive for.

I suggest that you read the 12 chapter of the Gita where Krishna recommends the worship of the personal form of God (himself as he stood before Arjuna) over meditating on his impersonal, all-pervading Brahman (White Light) feature. Fixing our mind on him is the ideal way to come to him, and if we do so, he becomes our swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death. However, Krishna knows that not everyone can immediately do this, so then he suggests other possibilities which may be easier to practice depending on our life situation. We can summarize those options by saying that real life is about giving, and gradually learning the highest type of giving which is natural for the soul.

The highest giving is to give by being absorbed in chanting and remembering Krishna in love, and by sharing that love with others. (Chanting is praising and glorifying God, surrendering our total being to his will; it is prayer and giving thanks for our life; and seeing our self as his servant, among other things) Not being able to do that we can practice loving Krishna by living the ideals of Bhakti-yoga, which include giving by doing Krishnas and his devotees work, which ISKCON is based on. If we can’t do that we may help the devotees in their service to their Guru and Krishna by giving money or our expertise. If we can’t do that we can do what we want to do and offer the results of that to Krishna. Or we can give in any way to some materially good cause like charities, hospitals etc.

The whole point is to understand that we are meant to give to live.(see my blog of that title: http://connect.krishna.com/node/327) We are servants not masters, and we begin to understand this by giving. So find a way to begin your giving---somewhere, somehow, to someone or something and you will gradually make spiritual advancement. And attach yourself to a devotee who inspires you and can capture your faith. That is most important, though you may not be able to do this without sufficient purification and realization. Everything depends on our sincerity and our intensely calling out to Krishna and his devotees for their help. We have to learn to listen and to be open to Krishna working in ways we may not expect.

Combined comments from old site

Sun, 08/03/2008 - 14:47 — salvanos
Thank you it was a great

Thank you it was a great read, with a fantastic message. Your always seem relevant to what I am going through\thinking about at the time.
yhs
sn


*Reply*

Sat, 08/09/2008 - 12:47 — Karnamrita.das
Mysteries

The Lord works in mysterious ways. If we are open minded we can learn a valuable lesson from anyone.

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


Sun, 08/03/2008 - 11:18 — jivatattva
brilliant prabhu

Please speak more on the past lives and how it has cultivated the nature of our current embodiment.

And what are the probable past life experiences that a good many of us here have had, in order to bring us together here today, in search of the supreme being?

And do we all need to be the butter thief here and now in this dark age?

Hari Bol


*Reply*

Sat, 08/09/2008 - 12:44 — Karnamrita.das
Our bodies are consequences of our previous life

Without being a psychic you can know much about your previous life by looking at your body, your parents, gender, nationality, religion, and understanding your mind, etc. Those things are all an effect from our previous life's pious and impious actions, and our faith and attachments.

How easy or difficult it is for you to practice Krishna consciousness will tell you how far you progressed in your last life. Jiva Gosvami---one of Lord Chaitanya's principle disciples has informed us that generally when we come to the path of KC, we will advance very fast until we reach the level of our past life, and then things will settle down and the real hard work begins. Some devotees have referred to this as the "vast intermediate zone", like a huge plateau.

Some devotees struggle their whole life, others feel completely at home and are firmly situated on their spiritual path. In any case we have to understand the value of bhakti, the shortcomings of material life, and pray for a taste for associating with saints and hearing from them about Krishna. We make more advancement by associating with saints than by any other practice---especially in the beginning. We can all be delivered by pure chanting, but that is not easy to do without years of practice and saintly association.

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


Sun, 08/03/2008 - 10:20 — Go-Seva
So interesting!

Hare Krsna, prabhu, PAMHO~ I enjoy hearing everyone's story of how they came to Krsna, and this extra expounding in addition to your profile is very enlightening. To know that an advanced devotee like yourself has battled so many trials and tribulations along the way gives me (and others, I am sure) hope.

I think everyone has little "fall downs" along the way, as any typical jiva would, but those of us who are determined, sincere, and steady can overcome those. The Lord is so merciful, I think he knows that although we are trying so hard to overcome Maya's influence, He is our target. He knows our heart (At least I hope He does!)

Thanks again.... Haribol!


*Reply*

Sat, 08/09/2008 - 12:29 — Karnamrita.das
Everyone's story should be told

In one of the "Chick[pea] soup for the Soul" books the introduction speaks beautifully about how everyone's life story is important and valuable. And the older we get the more there is to tell.

So today I shared some of my life experiences. I would hope that what I have gone through, the many mistakes I have made, misconceptions I believed, fanaticism given out, and my slips and falls, could be of some benefit to others, and help them to avoid some of that in their life.

Of course hearing about getting hit by a 2X4 and actually getting hit by one will have a different effect on most of us. Although Prabhupada said that if we gain experience by hearing from the Vedas that is best, though for most of us, we have to experience it, which is 2nd class. The important thing is to learn, and some never do.

So somehow to go through this life, endeavoring to use it as an offering to Krishna and remember him. Somehow to appreciate the value of Krishna consciousness, and understand the shortcomings of material life!

Intense prayer.
Intense longing.
Good association.
Our minds absorbed in chanting
the holy name, hearing the philosophy,
and pastimes of Krishna.
Working (and farming ;-)) ) for Krishna,
seeing everything and everyone as his.
Raising our children as his.

That endeavor is a life well lived!

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


Sun, 08/03/2008 - 07:56 — Aruna Locana
The highest giving

Thank you for so good writing. I liked the part you mentioned about being grateful while praying, putting ourselves in a servant position. This is really the highest thinking. I myself do it everyday before chanting, it helps me a lot.

Hare Krsna

Aruna dd


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Sat, 08/09/2008 - 12:09 — Karnamrita.das
Giving is the getting

Although talking about giving is attractive to me, really practicing the attitude and actually giving is a whole life practice. Some forms of giving are easy, others challenging! And ultimately we want to give our whole life in love to Krishna. So we are practicing that with baby steps in our life, giving as we can and stretching our self to do more.

May we all keep giving, and appreciating the Lord's kindness upon us, praying to be a total giver!

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


Sun, 08/03/2008 - 07:39 — Wanda
Just what I needed ...

Hare Krishna Karnamrita.das. Your words were EXACTLY what I needed to read today. I have been feeling unworthy. Thank you!


*Reply*

Sat, 08/09/2008 - 10:49 — Karnamrita.das
Different perspectives at different times

Hi Wanda. It is an interesting discussion about levels of humility and feelings of self worth. I spoke something about how we have to apply the KC philosophy differently as we advance in today's blog.

In the beginning if we don't feel worthy we may not accept Krishna's mercy, disqualifying our self with low self-esteem, or false humility. Like many subjects this one has polar opposite views and middle ground. We have to be thoughtful, level headed, and pragmatic seeing what works for our advancement. The humility of great devotees is our ideal, yet we can't imitate it.

Personally, when I was a new devotee, I was very beaten down by the material energy, and didn't have faith in myself or my abilities. Now I acknowledge that whatever skills I have are Krishna's blessings. If others praise me I acknowledge their gift and do my best to see it as praise for Krishna who is using me for some good purpose. Everything takes practice.

Real humility comes from the realization of the wonder and beauty of Krishna, and we are enlivened---not depressed at our lowly position. Even if a great devotee laments his or her position they still relish serving Krishna and hearing and chanting about his glories.

Real self worth or esteem comes from the soul---we are part and parcel of the most glorious Lord Shri Krishna!! This is an important subject. You are a blessed part of Krishna! Rejoice, and cultivate gratitude and wonder! Pray to see your spiritual worth, and the more you share the glories of Krishna and his pure devotees with others, the more you will be happy and transcend your material identity! What we don't like about our self is our story or life drama, but that is not us!

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita


Sat, 08/02/2008 - 23:42 — rasa108
Our Personal Struggles

I appreciate the honesty in your writing....I also had a similar experience to yours...travelling for 9 years preaching on the road and then suddenly leaving the brahmachari asrama and adjusting to the world outside of ISKCON. I too continued to chant through the rough times and at one stage my chanting became very inattentive (driving and chanting on the way to work was a low point) and I suffered because of this - the material energy becomes powerful once again. I think these frank and open articles will be inspiring for those who read them....please keep them coming.


*Reply*

Sat, 08/09/2008 - 10:15 — Karnamrita.das
Honesty about struggles

Hari Bol Rasa. Thanks for stopping by. I just returned from the ocean and am just now getting to commenting.

We devotees, and in fact many religionists, know how to "look good" so to speak. Christians sometime talk about people who put on a "church face", or all smiles and piety, which is not really who they are but is socially acceptable, even praiseworthy. However, such persons only tread water, unable to really share their struggles, and they go nowhere.

For me being real is one of the most important--though often difficult--qualities, both personally and with friends. Such friends are rare, and treasured. If we can't be painfully honest with our self and at least some friend or advanced devotee, we are not likely to advance very far.

Of course, struggling implies having a standard of morality, as well as an ultimate goal, and sometimes people are unclear of any transcendent goal, wanting only to be happy in the present. Sharing our struggles helps everyone, ---both new and old, and if we are really having trouble we can find a confidential devotee who can empathize with our difficulties and offer friendship and help.

Your friend in Krishna,

Karnamrita