Karnamrita Das

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Part 1 FINDING OUR MATERIAL SELVES TO HELP US FIND OUR SPIRITUAL SELF: I have thought and written much about what it takes to stay the course in bhakti for our whole life, as well as to how not to settle into a comfortable religious life not intensely focused on making spiritual advancement. They are related subjects though usually spoken of separately. I am thinking mostly about what kind of unique guidance should be provided devotees of different ages, needs, and personality types.

Everyone is best served by tailor-made guidance which takes into consideration a person’s age, years of spiritual practice, material necessity and nature, and all-around maturity. I bring up the topic because most of us didn’t receive this type of guidance and suffered accordingly. I am challenged to succinctly present this in the bite size form of a blog, as there are so many aspects to consider, so please take this as food for thought to be expanded upon.

When I and those of my generation lived in ashrams during our young and inexperienced years some of us just plugged into the bhakti process without really understanding our nature and if we could live primarily spiritually focused for the long haul. To learn how to center our lives totally on active seva is valuable, though it’s often unsustainable due to our surfacing desires and conditioning. This should be made clear to every new devotee, so they don’t feel guilty if they have to leave the ashram, or need to address some pressing concern in their marriage.

We may receive spiritual guidance which points out what is theoretically best for our spiritual progress, and yet be unable or uninterested in following it. If there seem like few options in the midst of such guidance this is often a time when devotees leave their spiritual practice to pursue material wholeness and what I call their “karmic mission.”

Never the less I do recommend living in an ashram for some time, or even short periods to gain an “immersion experience” to learn the basics of spiritual practice, but with the right understanding that one must be called to be a monk. Ideally devotees will be taught introspection to understand their nature and what they require for the long-haul of a lifetime of spiritual practice.
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Every devotee has to learn to be responsible for their own spiritual progress and how to serve the guru and the mission of Lord Chaitanya in a way that works for their psychology. To do this properly the needs of the mission have to be balanced with the requirements of the individual devotees. Experience has shown that this can be a difficult balance since temples and ashrams are often are understaffed.

Devotees often feel the “surrendered” position is the best, and if they can’t maintain this, it creates a conflict. However, honesty is always best if we are to remain on the path. As the Gita teaches us, “What can repression accomplish?”

Everything is about balance and taking care to consider how the various levels our existence, body, mind, emotions, and soul, can work together for our ultimate spiritual good. We have to take into consideration the proper balance according to our stage of life, our nature and desires, and how much we want the spiritual goal. As we change we have to make adjustments accordingly.

Spiritual progress is assisted by acceptance of the favorable and elimination of the unfavorable. Sometimes we have to take a few steps back in order to regroup and go forward. Although I know that everything can be used or abused, we still have to consider the ideal. Think healthy sustainability in bhakti for the long haul.
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Part 2
FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT: Adding to the idea that our practice and service must be sustainable is the necessity to feel we are flourishing and enthused for the long haul in bhakti. This may require both internal and external adjustments—that is, personal growth work, change of service or ashram, or occupational development. In a perfect world the temple and congregation could provide training and facilities for this beyond only temple maintenance.

As in any organization much time and effort goes into training people in its day to day requirements. We have to anticipate devotees changing needs especially when they are in their twenties or late teens and develop facilities to address them, or we risk losing devotees. I first left living in the temple at 34, or 15 years of service, and I was completely on my own with no support or guidance.

I have often reflected, that had I had guidance of mature and balanced devotees, my struggle would have been much less, and I could have gained from their experience. When I see devotees still leaving temples (or KC altogether) and having to fend for themselves, it saddens me, so I am writing this to address the problem.

I focused in Part 1 on being a balanced human being in term of understanding one’s nature, life issues, and unique calling, which takes considerable maturity and focus. Additionally, if one is to remain on the path for one’s whole life, whether as a monk or householder, there must be some life uplifting and faith giving internal fruits of practice, where one feels, “I’m a devotee of Krishna” (or Lord Chaitanya, etc.). Basically this is a foundation for life—however it develops through its ups and downs, and whatever tests and difficulties we have to pass through we have our Gaudiya Vaishnava identity.
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To not be a shooting star in bhakti or experience burn out, we will be benefited greatly to have a sense of the sublimity of the Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or Krishna conscious philosophy, and to have a personal buy-in in terms of it becoming one’s life goal from personal experience. This means having a sense of Krishna, and the overall teaching of Shri Chaitanya, as well as a taste for chanting and devotional activities through study of the sastra (bhakti scriptures), the holy name in both japa and kirtan, and in sharing the faith with others. When we see pictures of the previous acharya that ideally invokes a sense of our spiritual family. We are part of a long standing tradition, the goal of which we pray for, and have at least some experience that keeps us going forward.

Most devotees won’t be enlivened for the long haul only doing temple maintenance, whether Deity seva, cleaning, or the routine work of keeping the doors open and the services covered. The truth of this statement is borne out by my personal experience and the revolving door of temple devotees with the necessity in some temples to hire foreign devotees to do service. The face is the index of the mind, and when I used to visit temples, I could tell very quickly which devotees were overtaxed and in burnout mode.

I was a head cook and pujari for many years in various temples around the world. I was a very bad manager in terms of asking for help, and also was very introverted. Thus I also didn’t ask the temple president for help. Neither did they check in with me, as I know now they should have, to see how I was doing. This resulted in my doing practically every service in cooking and doing the Deity worship. Thus I ended up moving every six months to a year for many years.

Unless devotees are very advanced and know who truly they are serving, in my experience, they need a balanced use of their time and energies. The requirements of a devotee’s unique body, mind, and intelligence must be taken into consideration, if they are to remain engaged in valuable service for the temple.
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From my perspective, there must be time for study, preparing for and giving classes, personal growth work, quiet time in nature, kirtan, and sharing the faith, in addition to whatever is our main service. These activities are meant to help us value our relationship with our guru and Krishna, making them a reality in our life mission, and giving us a feeling that our good qualities developing.

Temple’s have traditionally been set up to facilitate new people coming to the temple, and devotees considere it “nectar” to share Krishna consciousness and seeing people return regularly and become devotees. That also keeps the feeling of the temple as dynamic and expansive, whether one lives in the temple or lives with family in their own home.

Although we can’t sacrifice our own spiritual practices to help others, by helping others in a balanced way, we also grow as persons and have our faith rejuvenated by seeing the powerful effects on others taking up the path. A huge plus from outreach is that the services are covered instead of only two or three devotees doing everything.
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