Coming to Krishna—and Staying with Krishna (Through Tests, Challenges, or Growing Pains)
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
After the last two blogs, while further thinking about the topic of associating with advanced devotees, I also thought about other ways we can make connection to spirituality, since even those who are blessed to hear from and serve devotees of high spiritual standing don’t usually have that opportunity perpetually. In their absence, we can also serve the instructions of our guru, or someone who inspires us spiritually (a sadhu), and in that way feel their presence and blessings. On a regular basis we can adopt other devotional actions to keep the flame of spirituality alive within that first came to us by the grace of a devotee, either from their personal company, or through their recorded talks or books.
Such spiritual practices, or sadhana, include reciting scriptural prayers, or making our own unique outpourings. We are recommended to also regularly chant the holy name in meditative japa, or musically in kirtan, read the scriptures, give in charity or help spiritual people, prepare food for offering and then eating (honoring) prasadam (blessed vegetarian food). Additionally, we can visit holy places and temples, offer respects, glorification, and service to Deities at an established Temple (or our own, or a friends), and sow and serve the tulasi plant (so dear to Krishna), from whose branches our chanting and neck beads are made. This list gives ways highlighted in the scriptures for spiritual advancement. They are all methods of remembering Krishna, purifying our consciousness, and creating a fertile ground in our heart to desire saintly association, and taking advantage of it when available. We have to keep in mind that a harshly critical attitude toward other devotees, or focusing, or looking for the negative qualities, will greatly stall our spiritual progress by creating offences to the holy name.
Some disciples, such as me, didn't properly take advantage of Prabhupada's association because of our immaturity and lack of spiritual development. One can make more advancement by diligently applying oneself with faith to one considered by others to be a less advanced guru, than to not apply oneself with a celebrated, superlative one. Initiation by a guru means, as the word suggests, the beginning, when we formally initiate our spiritual practice under proper guidance.
What we receive from our guru is our personal perception. Those without faith in him or her, won’t understand our experience, and regrettably, may even criticize us for our faith in a particular agent of divinity. The Bhagavad Gita 4.11 teaches us that Krishna reciprocates with our level of interest and necessity, or in other words, He gives us what and who we need at every stage of our spiritual journey. This is why there is no limit to the number of shiksha (instructing) gurus one may have. Guru is one in principle and purpose. Initiating (diksha) and shiksha gurus are considered equal manifestations of Krishna, though this point isn’t always understood.
While some talk of wanting or having a great guru, they may not be serious, or advanced enough to recognize one. Humility, by an honest assessment of our material needs and spiritual standing, is essential. We should ask ourselves what our interests are—in other words, how much do we really want to be Krishna conscious, and how much are we attached to material facilities and enjoyment? In considering the answers, it is helpful to study what it means to be a good disciple and the nature of commitment to our spiritual path. After being on the path for some time we will discover that we need to continually recommit to our spiritual practices, while never being complacent, or thinking we have everything figured out (keeping a beginner's mind). One of our tasks is continually find ways to keep enlivened to go forward.
Thinking of this fact, I came to an obvious, though I think rarely discussed topic, that in beginning our walk toward Krishna we have simpler needs for association, and as we mature, we require more personalized and knowledgeable association for remaining on the path for a lifetime. A Krishna conscious book or Back to Godhead magazine, or anyone who is slightly Krishna conscious may be all we need initially.
I came to Krishna as a very simple, yet materially dull youth— open to the transcendent, yet quite immature and apparently unstable, but I feel Krishna made amazing arrangements for me by opening internal and external doors. This made taking up bhakti seem like the most natural choice. After I stabilized and matured, and felt Krishna consciousness was my path, I began to better understand my conditioned nature, with the necessity to use it in relationship to my devotional practice. As much as this is a big part of applying Krishna consciousness, in those days of glorified external surrender, and “doing the needful” to meet the needs of the temples, this was news to me to apply it personally.
Call them tests, challenges, fine tuning, or growing pains, we all have to make adjustments within and externally, according to changes in our circumstances, desires, and our spiritual progress or regression. We have to be committed to doing what is required to remain on the path of bhakti for the long haul of a lifetime of devotion. My main tests came when my guru, Shrila Prabhupada, left the planet, when some, who attempted to act as gurus failed in their attempt, when I realized I need to be married, finding my occupational identity, sorting through my childhood liabilities and adapted strategies, the shortcomings of spiritual institutions along with immature practitioners, and having to rediscover Krishna consciousness in a way that worked for me after all I had been through.
I should also say that my own shortcomings, or my conditioned nature, as well as my lack of spiritual interest and taste, has been a struggle throughout my devotional life. It is much easier to blame circumstances or people for our problems, and much more difficult to take personal responsibility for our lives, seeing everything as favorable for our bhakti. As I have mentioned before, success in life doesn’t come from what happens to us, but we do with what happens to us—which means who we are as a person.
Due to any of these factors I could have gone away from Krishna, yet somehow I have kept on the Krishna Mountain, through many ups, downs, roadblocks, dead ends, deserts, and valleys. The road to Krishna can sometimes be a rocky or narrow one, sometimes seeming to disappear, and there are many surprises in store for us. However, I have found much sweetness and reciprocation from Krishna, despite my shortcomings. I can tell you that if you always prayerfully keep Krishna in mind while avoiding a critical mentality, you will become convinced that any difficulty is temporary, can be surmounted by the mercy of guru, Krishna, and other bhakti practitioners, and will be spiritually helpful in the long run.
Understanding that there are stages of development in our material and spiritual lives can encourage us to persevere through the ebb and flow of the current of bhakti. As we traverse a lifetime of devotion, we have to find those means of support and association that are relevant to where we are on our exciting journey toward Krishna.
"There are six principles favorable to the execution of pure devotional service: (1) being enthusiastic, (2) endeavoring with confidence, (3) being patient, (4) acting according to regulative principles [such as sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam [SB 7.5.23] -- hearing, chanting and remembering Krsna], (5) abandoning the association of nondevotees, and (6) following in the footsteps of the previous acaryas. These six principles undoubtedly assure the complete success of pure devotional service." Rupa Gosvami's Nectar of Instruction verse 3