Members of the Krsna consciousness movement are sometimes criticized as being too committed, even fanatical. Aside from narrow-minded persons who think that anyone outside their own sect is "of the devil," even persons with a curiosity in Krsna consciousness, who admire the movement's vegetarianism or who appreciate the Vedic literature's profound philosophy on subjects like reincarnation and karma even they may wonder whether a devotee's commitment to regulative principles and his concentration on Krsna might be too extreme. But a thorough examination of the life of a sincere Krsna conscious devotee will reveal a commitment to spiritual wholeness that, far from being destructive, is in fact praiseworthy.
Among the most prominent critics of the phenomenon of total commitment to a cause are writers Robert Lifton and Eric Hoffer. Lifton, for example, in his book Thought Reform, criticizes "totalism" as stifling to human potential. He prefers nontotalism, which he sees as leaving the individual more "open to the world." In The True Believer Hoffer claims that people who are inwardly deficient tend to commit themselves to causes. "Craving, not having," writes Hoffer, "is the mother of a reckless giving of oneself."
Yet despite such negative analyses of total commitment to a cause, we find that in every field of human endeavor those who excel are the intensely committed. Consider sports. "First you've got to love running," says Bill Rogers, champion marathon runner, then you've got to love the competition. It is an obsession." And Pete Rose of the Montreal Expos says, "I want to play all the time. I think the mark of a good player is his consistency. And the only way a guy can be consistent is to play all the time."
The field of business is no exception. Armand Hammer, chairman of the Occidental Petroleum Company, states, "When people tell me I'm lucky, I like to tell them, 'I am lucky because I work seven days a week, fourteen hours a day.' You have to have that level of commitment to do what you do." Similarly, in the cause of patriotism, commitment is praiseworthy, and schoolchildren memorize Nathan Hale's last words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
Commitment to Krsna consciousness is commitment to the highest cause service to the Supreme, the ultimate truth. Throughout the ages, philosophers and poets have praised that human life spent in seeking the truth. As Henrik Ibsen wrote, "Bidding adieu to love's soft promptings, to solve the mystery of truth! That is the test of a real enquirer!"
In Krsna consciousness, "ultimate truth" is far more than a theoretical concept. Vedic knowledge analyzes that most living beings are in ignorance (maya), because they take the body to be the self and temporary existence to be all-in-all. The first goal of human knowledge, however, should be self-realization, awareness of life beyond the designations of the material body. The Vedic scripture Bhagavad-gita teaches that the self is the eternal spirit soul. Failure to understand this forces the living being to take another birth and to again suffer the miseries of disease, old age, and death. But self-realization knowledge of the individual soul and his relationship with the Supreme Soul elevates the self from ignorance and suffering to the eternal happiness of love of God.
Criticism that Krsna consciousness requires too much commitment, therefore, belies ignorance of what a devotee is actually committed to. The charge is made without understanding what is meant by Krsna. Krsna is a name for God, the Supreme Being. Krsna, therefore, is everything, and nothing is apart from Krsna. As the Vedic literature describes, everything in the universe is but an emanation from the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Krsna consciousness, therefore, is not a partisan, narrow-minded cause. It is "open to the world" and much more. It is, for example, beyond humanism, in that it respects not only human life, but all forms of life. This universal vision comes not through sentimental fervor but through studying and applying the complete science of God, which logically explains how each living entity is a part of the Supreme. Just as the hand is part of the body, committed to fulfilling the desires of the body, so the soul is constitutionally part and parcel of the Supreme, Krsna, intended for serving in complete, loving commitment to Him.
Full commitment to Krsna consciousness, however, doesn't require irrationality or extreme difficulty or austerity. The compilers of the Vedic scriptures were aware that most people, especially in the present age, lack sufficient interest, stamina, and even the required longevity to undertake strenuous spiritual activities. They have therefore given us simple procedures that we can practice alongside our day-to-day activities. We needn't abandon our family, society, and occupation to meditate, as some sages andyogis did formerly and still do today. Rather, Krsna conscious devotees can live within our urbanized society, keep their occupation, and still, by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, perform the highest meditation for reaching the Absolute Truth.
By reading Krsna conscious literature and chanting God's holy names, anyone can acquire the knowledge necessary for breaking free from material illusion and can enter into the reality of eternally serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For those who want to pursue Krsna consciousness more seriously, the scriptures recommend avoiding impure activities like illicit sex, intoxication, gambling, and meat-eating. But even these austerities are not difficult for one relishing the higher taste of spiritual pleasure.
For example, although a strict Krsna conscious devotee gives up eating meat, this austerity is not really hard to follow, since vegetarian foods are plentiful, palatable, nutritious, and easy to prepare. And in general the Krsna conscious manner of life can be pursued in a happy, healthy way, even while refraining from impure acts. A practitioner of Krsna consciousness is not obliged to shave his head, wear robes, or live within a temple. The main practices for spiritual advancement chanting the Hare Krsnamantra and refraining from impure acts can be adopted within almost any social context, without drastic changes. Of course, guidance from advanced devotees is natural and crucial for shaping one's own commitment.
The charge that Krsna consciousness is fanatical and requires too much commitment, therefore, is unfair and unfounded. If a person doesn't want to make such a commitment, that is his own choice, but those who see that real happiness cannot be found in temporary pursuits should not be dissuaded from the path of truth. Certainly there are causes in this world that are unworthy of complete commitment, and there are also unbalanced persons who commit themselves to such causes. But criticism of the counterfeit does not discredit the genuine. It is never wrong to crave higher virtues, to seek freedom from suffering, or to desire eternity, bliss, and knowledge. SDG