Transforming the World, into a World of Service--Part 3
The concept of service is an important one since it involves the true constitution of souls in relationship to God. It is the natural religion of the soul, so to speak, and as I have mentioned previously, it is observable in every person to varying degrees. This topic needs to be thought about from many angles of vision, and thus yet another blog. As so often happens, the last part in this series on service, is what first inspired me to write about it, namely some of my early misconceptions about service, and relating to the world and other people. Having taken up the path of bhakti at the young age of 19, I had many misunderstandings, as did many of my spiritual brothers and sisters. Some of our ideas at that time, though well intended, were quite one-sided, and are not very flattering when looked at today. However, my hope and prayer is that my mistakes and immaturity may help you understand Krishna consciousness in a deeper and more nuanced way than some of us. If we don't admit our mistakes, how can future generations learn to avoid repeating them?
Prabhupada was pure and expert and lit up our life spiritually, yet he relied on his leaders (who were also very young and inexperienced) to manage his mission, and there were many learning curves and hard lessons for everyone as we came of age, and deepened in practical knowledge, maturity, and experience—both materially and spiritually. One lesson for everyone is that that even good principles (and sincere devotees), can get things very wrong, or at least only partially correct, without expert guidance to implement. As I have also shared, in the early days of the movement, we had no elders who could share wise guidance in our everyday life.
Those who have come to the path of bhakti are very fortunate. However, it is a lifelong process (or many lifetimes) to revive our true serving nature, so we have to be diligent to engage in the nine primary processes of sadhana bhakti, headed by hearing, chanting, and remembering Krishna’s name, fame, form, and pastimes. Otherwise, we run the risk of remaining a beginner in devotion, or a kanistha bhakta, or even leaving the path all together. The Shrimad Bhagavatam describes the kanistha devotee as one who worships the Lord in the Temple, but doesn’t have scriptural knowledge, and thus can’t recognize advanced devotees, or differentiate between different kinds of people. Additionally neophytes tend to be extremely sectarian, and this can become an obstacle for our progress if we attack other persons or groups (even Vaishnava groups) in the name of the superiority of our path or group. This is often a result of our weak faith.
A classic example of the lower end of this kanistha tendency is a family who comes to the temple and disrupts a scripture class to make a donation before the Deity, and then leaves without hearing any of the talk. Giving in charity at a temple is recommended, yet one is advised to go to a holy place not to take a bath, or only give money, but to associate with saintly devotees whose instructions can help increase one’s serving nature. The real offering is ourselves, not only our things. A more advanced kanistha can be a new devotee, even an initiated devotee, who may have a very black and white, one-dimensional view of Krishna consciousness, without understanding basic human kindness as used in Krishna service.
In that stage we may be averse to ordinary people and avoid simple courtesies like giving directions or the time of day when asked. Although in theory well-intentioned, we miss out on softening our heart by practicing simple human kindness and respecting all, which should be a result of our Krishna consciousness. As it is said, “example is better than precept.” Our character and actions speak more strongly than merely our philosophical acumen. We can’t tell everyone about Krishna, yet we can at least be kind and giving in our attitude.
Opening the door for someone, offering a pleasant word, or a sincere smile, is not outside of devotional life, and in fact can greatly enhance it. What we do throughout the day becomes our habit. Life is an opportunity to practice seeing everyone as a soul who is part of God. The active principle in everything is Krishna and life is an opportunity to look for, and find Krishna within everyone and everything thing! Since Krishna is within everyone they can help us practice the qualities of a devotee, and out of the 26 qualities of a devotee, kindness is the first one! We can really see who we are by how we respond to those who push our emotional buttons and treat us poorly!
Our nature is to serve Krishna, but as souls illusioned by our false ego, and thus identifying our self with material body and mind, we apply our eternal serving nature to matter alone. Krishna consciousness is the process of converting the material world into the spiritual world by changing the influences acting upon us, as Prabhupada insightfully outlines in his purport to Bhagavad-gita 4.24. We souls are a certain energy or potency of Krishna, described as “tatasta shakti” or marginal energy. This means we are a product of our environment. This is why who we associate with and what we do with our time as so very important.
By primarily associating with people, things, and media focused on the body and promoting material acquisition as a key to happiness, we remain illusioned and conditioned souls. Such a soul is absorbed in the enjoyment of the senses, and can only conceive of service on the physical plane. However, even ordinary service to others can be transformed into spiritual service by offering such service to Krishna with the desire to help them spiritually. Our intentions and prayers to benefit others are powerful. In general, we awaken our eternal serving nature by spiritual service derived from association with God in his holy name, His Deity, reading pure devotional scriptures, and hearing from and serving saintly devotees. Gradually all the good qualities of the soul manifest within us, and we will be thoroughly convinced that although we are tiny, we have eternal worth due to being part of the Supreme pure, Shri Krishna.
Recalling our spiritual nature and connection with Krishna we can engage in any activity and spiritualize it by the power of bhakti, or constant remembrance of Krishna in love. Practice makes perfect, and by the grace of Shri Guru and Gauranga, the more we practice serving others in the mode of pleasing Krishna, the more our soul comes out. Service is the solace—and all there is!
"Simply by chanting the holy name of Lord Krsna, one can be freed from all undesirable habits. This is the means of awakening all good fortune and initiating the flow of waves of love for Krsna." Chaitanya Charitamirita Antya-lila 20.11
"I am not in Vaikuntha nor in the hearts of the yogis. I remain where My devotees engage in glorifying My activities." It is to be understood that the Supreme Personality of Godhead does not leave the company of His devotees." Padma Purana
"Anyone who is engaged in chanting My transcendental name must be considered to be always associating with Me. And I may tell you frankly that for such a devotee I become easily purchased."Adi Purana as quoted in NOD