What some call fanaticism might more fittingly be called single-pointed focus.
Before I began serving as the temple president of ISKCON Nasik (Maharashtra, India), I was an engineer by profession, and therefore I know the value of PL, or Preparation Leave, for engineering and polytechnic students. So I wasn’t surprised when an engineering student used PL as his reason for politely turning down my invitation to come to the temple one weekend. He had been coming on and off for about six months, but now PL was going on and he couldn’t spare the time.
Each semester, Preparation Leave before final exams – on at least five subjects for most students – varies from ten to thirty days. Students study hard during this period, so it’s an important part of the preparation for their upcoming career.
Though we’re not all engineering students, each of us is a student in life, and each of us has to face the final examination known as death. As the saying goes, “Death is the examination, and life is the preparation.”
As an exam tests our qualification for further progress, so death determines how well we have used our human life. Our last thoughts (as well as our karma) will determine our destination after death. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (8.5),
anta-kale ca mam eva
smaran muktva kalevaram
yah prayati sa mad-bhavaṁ
yati nasty atra saṁśayah
“And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.”
One should not naively say, “I will enjoy my whole life and think of Krishna at the time of death.”
That is as good as saying, “I will not practice, but I’ll get a gold medal in the Olympics.”
If even to get a gold medal in the Olympics takes rigorous practice and hard work, then just think how much practice and preparation are required to be transported to the spiritual world for eternity. Hence life is called a preparation.
The amount of hard work the student does during PL will decide how well he does on his exams. If he has studied hard he will be confident, and his confidence will fetch him good marks. Similarly, the surrendered devotee who prepares for death throughout life will be confident that Krishna will save him, and so he can face the final exam confidently. Confidence is one of the symptoms of surrender to the Lord, as mentioned in Śrila Sanatana Gosvami’s Hari-bhaktivilasa (11.676):
goptṛtve varaṇaṃ tatha
“The six divisions of surrender are the acceptance of those things favorable to devotional service, the rejection of unfavorable things, the conviction [confidence] that Krishna will give protection, the acceptance of the Lord as one’s guardian or master, full self-surrender, and humility.”
I have observed that when student friends meet in PL, they discuss only their studies, subjects, preparations, exam fears, reference books, and so on. Similarly devotees leading their lives keeping Krishna in the center and preparing for the final exam discuss only spiritual topics when they meet. In the Bhagavad-gita (10.9) Lord Krishna describes this kind of focus:
kathayantaś ca maṁ nityaṁ
tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca
“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.”
Because students during PL are concerned with using their valuable time to prepare for their exams, they refrain from idle talk and watching movies and sports. Similarly, devotees determined to pass the final exam stay away from mundane talks and mundane activities. Lord Krishna says,
bahu-śakha hy anantaś ca
“Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched.” (Gita 2.41)
In Bhakti-rasamṛta-sindhu Śrila Rūpa Gosvami lists “not wasting time” (avyartha-kalatvam) as a symptom of one who has attained the stage of bhava – devotional ecstasy.
A student determined to score good marks is regulated in his habits and eats less and sleeps only as much as necessary. Similarly, a devotee who aims to please Krishna and reach Him is regulated in his all activities:
yogo bhavati duhkha-ha
“He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation, and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” (Gita 6.17)
A student while studying in PL has a higher objective than sense gratification, and hence he will lose his taste, at least temporarily, for such things as movies and film songs. No doubt a devotee gets a higher taste by performing devotional service and can surpass the lower tastes:
rasa-varjaṁ raso ’py asya
paraṁ dṛṣṭva nivartate
“The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” (Gita 2.59)
So just as no one would call a student a fanatic because of his singlepointed focus on study during PL, no one should call devotees fanatics in their spiritual practices, because they are having PL – with a singlepointed focus to please the Lord and pass the final exam.
Krishna Dhana Dasa (BE Mech.) is the author of Student’s Success Handbook. He serves as a fulltime brahmacari at ISKCON Nasik.