WHEN PEOPLE hold contests, there's always a winner. Then come a second-place winner, a third-place winner, and runners-up. The first-place winner gets the car or the trip to the Bahamas. The second- and third-place winners end up with the power-tool set and the toaster. The runners-up get the consolation prizes: "Nice try. Thanks for taking part." Do we have consolation prizes in Krsna consciousness? In the Fourth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam the sons of King Pracinabarhi, the Pracetas, were performing severe austerities while submerged in a deep lake. By chanting a song given them by Lord Siva, they satisfied Lord Visnu, after ten thousand years of severe austerities. Lord Visnu then appeared to them, riding on the shoulders of His eagle, Garuda, and looking like "a cloud resting on the summit of the mountain known as Meru." After being blessed by the Lord and given instructions, the Pracetas offered the Lord prayers. The Pracetas first glorified the Lord and then, out of humility, expressed that they didn't expect to go back to Godhead at the end of their lives. They asked, therefore, that no matter where their later births might take them they might always be in the association of Vaisnavas, pure devotees.
Dear Lord, as long as we have to remain within this material world due to our material contamination and wander from one type of body to another and from one planet to another, we pray that we may associate with those who are engaged in discussing Your pastimes. We pray for this benediction life after life, in different bodily forms and on different planets. (Bhagavatam 4.30.33)
Although this is a humble statement earlier in the chapter, Srila Prabhupada explains that the Pracetas attained perfection it expresses an ambition to reach a certain stage of Krsna consciousness before the end of their lives. That is, they want to be fully attached to the association of devotees immersed in chanting and hearing about Krsna. Are they asking for the consolation prize? Isn't the first-place prize a trip back to the spiritual world? Prabhupada says in his purport:
This is the best benediction that a devotee can ask of the Supreme Lord…. A pure devotee does not pray for liberation or for cessation of the cycle of birth and death, because he does not consider that important. The most important thing for a devotee is getting a chance to hear about the pastimes and glories of the Lord. … As long as he can hear about the pastimes of the Lord, or wherever he can chant, the Lord is personally present.
A devotee regards his material circumstances as destiny. He doesn't complain, "Why isn't this better? Why can't I have something else?" Whatever situation a devotee finds himself in, he continues to hear and chant about the activities of Krsna. This is the attitude that will carry the devotee back to the spiritual world. By his absorption here, he will be absorbed there. And his absorption here makes the material world as good as the spiritual world. Prabhupada says, "For the devotee, there is no need to pray to the Lord for transferral to the Vaikuntha world. A pure devotee can create Vaikuntha or Vrndavana anywhere simply by chanting the glories of the Lord without offense."
We should examine our days and see whether we are making arrangements for Krsna consciousness. Are we actually practicing Krsna consciousness? Are we chanting about and hearing about Krsna? Are we remembering Him throughout the day? Are we helping spread Krsna consciousness to others? Are we developing a taste for pure devotion?
The Pracetas had attained the goal of ruci (taste) for Krsna consciousness. But in bhakti, devotional service, the means to attain the goal and the goal itself are the same. Hearing and chanting, even in the stage of practice, can make us happy and bring us closer to transcendence. We should practice these as much as possible, and if at the end of life we feel we have not fully developed our devotion, we should pray as the Pracetas have prayed: Please give me the association of pure devotees in my next life so that I may always be surrounded by the chanting of Krsna's names and pastimes.
Narottama Dasa Thakura prays in a similar way in his song Nama-sankirtana: "This is my desire that birth after birth I may live with devotees who serve the lotus feet of the six Gosvamis."
If we think that the goal of associating with devotees is a consolation prize, we haven't understood the nature of bhakti-yoga. We shouldn't wait until the end of life to realize the value of Vaisnava association. Hearing, chanting, and associating with Vaisnavas are essential practices of bhakti-yoga. Srila Prabhupada assures us that if we are doing these three things with ruci, with taste, then we are already in the spiritual world. We are interested in going back to the spiritual world not to escape the miseries of the material world but to associate with the Vaisnavas and with Krsna.
We may not be fully tasting Krsna in the form of His holy name, and when we look at the Vaisnavas we may be seeing only faults. Therefore in our present state our realization may have to be bolstered by scripture. The Pracetas say:
Even a moment's association with a pure devotee cannot be compared to being transferred to the heavenly planets or even merging into the Brahman effulgence in complete liberation. For living entities who are destined to give up the body and die, association with pure devotees is the highest benediction. (Bhagavatam 4.30.34)
And they add, "Whenever pure topics of the transcendental world are discussed, the members of the audience forget all material hankerings, at least for the time being. Not only that, but they are no longer envious of one another, nor do they suffer anxiety or fear."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of more than two dozen books.