Unless we strive to grow spiritually, we cannot expect to make advancement automatically
Where you and I are today in our spiritual lives is no accident. After wandering through millions of species through various planetary systems and universes, we have finally received, by the grace of Krishna and His representatives, the seed of devotion. If we lose this seed due to lack of discrimination or out of oversight, there can be no greater misfortune.
Although our ultimate success in spiritual life depends on Krishna ’s mercy, there is a lot of effort that we need to put up individually that will help us attract Krishna ’s mercy. Let us discuss here the importance of taking personal responsibility for our own spiritual lives.
Srila Prabhupada sometimes quoted the expression, “Man is the architect of his own fortune.” Despite all the help or good association we get, ultimately we have to do the spiritual work of improving ourselves. If we want to go further, we’ll need to change or improve on something we are presently doing and we will need to respond to some of our circumstances in different ways.
Once in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada said: “Ultimately, we must all fly our own airplane.” What Prabhupada meant was that although he can teach us Krishna consciousness, give us his mercy, and even pray to Krishna on our behalf, he can’t force us to be Krishna conscious. We have to do the work. In this sense our spiritual advancement is really in our own hands.
No one can chant our rounds for us, read Srimad-Bhagavatam for us, or do devotional service for us. We all have access to the same knowledge and guidance, yet we utilize this bhakti process differently. How we apply the wisdom of bhakti is our choice; no one is choosing for us.
Blaming Doesn’t Help
We can’t blame anyone for our lack of Krishna consciousness. We may want to or try to, but it doesn’t help us progress. Blaming is an excuse for not taking responsibility. Some blame the past, their parents, their karma, their spouse, their jobs, their leaders. How many excuses have you made or heard? I have made and heard hundreds. Yet, with every excuse we make, we take a step away from Krishna , a step away from taking responsibility for our own spiritual advancement.
Sometimes, we believe that anyone in our situation would act the same way, that we are simply products of circumstances. Don’t fool yourself. Some people do act differently.
Jayananda Prabhu, one of Srila Prabhupada’s early disciples, was hospitalized with leukemia. Although his body was falling apart, he rose every morning at 3:30 am to perform his devotional activities, which included a full morning program. He also arranged to have regular Gita classes with other patients. Jayananda would walk around the hospital to meet people and introduce them to Krishna and invite them to his class.
If I had been in his shoes, I probably wouldn’t have done that. Most likely, I would’ve slept a lot and worried about my health. And I would have had my excuses for doing so: “After all, I have leukemia.”
When we don’t do what may be possible for us to do, we often use blame to deny and run away from our responsibility in particular situations. It’s best that we see blame for what it is: a rationalization for not doing as much as Krishna is asking of us. The following conversation between Srila Prabhupada and his disciples Gurukrpa and Mahamsa once took place:
Gurukrpa: “They say that when Krishna desires, I will serve Him, but now He is not desiring. He is not inspiring me to do it.”
Prabhupada: “What do you mean He is not inspiring you? He is directly saying, ‘You do that (surrender to Me). Isn’t this His instruction and isn’t it for everyone?”
Gurukrpa: “But they will say, ‘He is not inspiring me personally.’
Prabhupada: “Just see how foolish people are. Krishna is saying directly, ‘Do this,’ and still they say, ‘He is not inspiring.’
Mahamsa: “They say, ‘Only by Krishna ’s mercy, I will be able to surrender to Him. You have His mercy, so you have surrendered. But His mercy has not come to me, so I have not surrendered.’
Prabhupada: “And if you don’t accept the mercy, then whose fault it is? I am giving you Krishna ’s mercy. You take it. And if you do not take it, then is it my fault?”
This exchange illustrates and confirms the extent to which we are actually in charge of our own destinies and cannot lay blame for things that go wrong in our lives on others – especially not Krishna Himself.
Why Bilvamangala Thakura went to Vrndavana to worship Krishna is one of my favorite stories. This dramatic story shows how we can change our lives in an instant despite our circumstances.
In his earlier life, Bilvamangala Thakura was an elevated devotee, but later on he became completely bewildered by the material energy. One of the activities he regularly engaged in was visiting a prostitute named Chintamani. One day, he arrived at her house during the height of a fierce storm after undergoing an arduous journey. That was also the night of his father’s funeral, which he had left early in order to meet Chintamani. When she saw him, she was totally amazed that he would go through so much trouble to meet her, even at the risk of his own safety.
She knew he had been a great devotee of Krishna when he was younger, so she spontaneously said, “Look at what you did to get here! Look at all the trouble you took, practically risking your life to enjoy with me. Just think what a great devotee you would be and how glorious your life could be, if you had that much devotion for Krishna !”
The words of the prostitute resonated so deeply within Bilvamangala Thakura’s being that it changed his life on the spot. He immediately decided to go to Vrndavana and dedicate his life to Krishna .
Would everyone have reacted in the same way? Most men would likely think, “There’s no way in the world I’m going to miss out on enjoying with this woman after taking so much trouble to get here.” Bilvamangala could have said what any normal ‘lusty old man’ would have said: “What? You expect me to give up everything for Krishna and go to Vrndavana? You must be crazy! Everyone knows that’s impossible!”
Along with dropping the “Anyone in my situation would do that” frame of mind, I suggest you also drop the “Everyone knows that…” mentality. By saying these words, you convince yourself that you can’t do something you need to do, that you can’t do something you really want to do (i.e. you can’t serve Krsna the way you’d like to).
The reality is that everyone doesn’t know that. What you are really saying is, “It is my belief that.” And that is probably the very belief that is holding you down.
Envious of Our Own Selves
Srila Prabhupada was asked the following question: “In your books, you mention that if one does not take the time to understand how his activities are producing his next life, then one actually becomes envious of his own self. Can you further explain that?”
Prabhupada replied, “Yes. If he’s going to become a dog next life and if he does not take precaution, then is he not envying himself?”
If we do anything that hurts ourselves, on some level we are acting out of self-envy. If we are truly interested in our own welfare, we will be careful to only do things to benefit ourselves. The problem is that we are conditioned to act in ways that are not always in our highest interest. In addition, we are conditioned to find excuses for these failings.
Do you do anything, consciously or unconsciously that hurts yourself materially or spiritually?
I do it when I don’t chant my rounds attentively, when I don’t give myself quality time for my spiritual practice, when I neglect my health, when I overwork, and waste time in idle talk and frivolous activities.
Let’s Be Honest
If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that sometimes we even willingly embrace spiritually destructive activities. Narottama dasa Thakura has written a song, Hari Hari Bifale, describing this:
Although I’ve taken human birth finally,
Oh Lord, I’ve drunk poison willingly.
I have not worshipped Your lotus feet,
Thus, I’ve drunk poison as if it were sweet.
Srila Prabhupada mentions in a lecture that those who come to Krishna consciousness are the most fortunate and those who leave are the most unfortunate. He goes on to explain that those who leave are the most unfortunate because they give up their rare opportunity to engage in devotional service. Thus, they are even more unfortunate than those who never had the opportunity to engage in Krishna consciousness.
In the Sri isopanisad, the word atma-ha is used in mantra three. It is translated as “the killer of the soul.” Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport to this mantra: “The Vedic scriptures and the acaryas, or saintly teachers, are compared to expert boatmen, and the facilities of the human body are compared to favorable breezes that help the boat ply smoothly to its desired destination. If, with all these facilities, a human being does not fully utilize his life for self-realization, he must be considered atma-ha, a killer of the soul.”
Of course, we are practicing self-realization. Still, it is helpful to consider that when we are not doing as much as we can to advance in devotional service, we are harming ourselves to some degree. Improving our devotional service is definitely an act of self-love, as well as being an offering of love to Krishna . Thus, advancing in Krishna consciousness certainly involves saving ourselves from ourselves.
Srila Prabhupada writes in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, “Any person who engages himself within this material world in performing activities that necessitate great struggle, and who, after obtaining a human form of life – which is a chance to attain liberation from miseries – undertakes the difficult tasks of fruitive activities, must be considered to be cheated and envious of his own self.” (Bhagavatam 4.23.28)
Are you taking as much responsibility for your spiritual life as you can, or are you blaming other people, your past or external circumstances for your shortcomings? Are you using blame to your own detriment, using it to sabotage yourself?
1. Make a list of whom and what you blame.
2. Ask yourself, “In what ways am I sabotaging myself?”
3. Look at situations in which you can take more responsibility for your spiritual life.
4. Ask yourself, “What would a more spiritually advanced person do if he or she were in my situation?”
5. Rather than focus on what is stopping you from advancing or doing more service, make a list of things you can do right now to improve your spiritual life and service.
Mahatma Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, joined ISKCON in 1969. He is well known in ISKCON for his music and seminars. Visit his website: www.mahatmawisdom.com