He discovered he'd never find security in a world he'd one day have to leave behind.
FOR MY FIRST twelve years, my mother's love and protection were freely available to me. Then she became ill and within a few months passed away. Dealing with her death was the most traumatic experience of my life. After my mother died I endured repeated nightmares, psychic disturbances, and a general feeling of emotional chaos.
During the first three weeks of this turmoil, I slept downstairs because I was afraid to go upstairs after dark. Then one day I suddenly felt it was safe to return to my bedroom to sleep. A few hours later, in the dead of night I woke to see a figure sitting at the end of my bed. It was my mother.
"Everything is okay now, Paul," she said. "I've sorted it all out for you."
While this event solved my immediate emotional crisis, before long I again felt the need for love and protection. During my teenage years I tried to satisfy that need with sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. As I entered my early twenties, that approach to life grew dry. I could see that real happiness, love, and protection can't be achieved by such a fly-by-night approach. I would have to seek out a less shallow method.
My first instinct was to find a girl I could settle down with, raise a family, and see if that would bring me the satisfaction and stability I craved. That proved a more difficult task than I'd thought. I found myself in a steady relationship, but after three years or so I discovered I wasn't the only one in my partner's life. My avenue to wedded bliss quickly turned into a cul-de-sac.
During this period of my life I worked as a reporter on a local newspaper. I began to take an interest in what could be loosely termed alternative living. I gave up eating meat. I figured that my quest for happiness had a better chance of success if I were to show more consideration to others, including animals. I visited many vegetarian restaurants, one of which was run by devotees of Krsna. It became a regular haunt of mine, primarily because the food there was far and away better than any other vegetarian restaurant I had come across.
Gradually I got to know some of the people at the restaurant and read a few books about Krsna philosophy. I was struck to learn that no matter how hard we try, or how successful we are, we can find only limited happiness and security in this world. The reason for this is logical: eventually we have to leave it all behind. Unlimited and continuous happiness cannot be found here. As spiritual beings in the material world, we are like fish out of water. As long as we stay here, we'll continue to suffer the pain and ignominy of having to leave our bodies.
This was all quite a revelation for me. All my life I had been searching for happiness and security, and now I was reading how my search was futile as long as it was taking place in the material world. But Krsna consciousness was showing me where I could achieve my lifelong goal. While the break-up of my relationship was painful, it gave me the impetus to try to reach for the goal of developing myself spiritually and securing lasting happiness.
I read in the Bhagavad-gita about the different categories of people who seek out a more spiritual way of life. One such category is the distressed. I identified at once with this description and thought of all the times in my life when distress or anxiety had become prominent. These difficult times would inevitably evoke a real soul-searching mood. During these times I would beg for relief, without knowing from whom I was begging or how to practically achieve that relief. Like most people, the only solution I could rely on was time. But that meant a prolonged period of suffering.
And so it was that I started on my spiritual sojourn. My first step was to find some guidance. I decided to ask the Krsna people who had introduced me to the Bhagavad-gita and given me the taste for spiritual subjects. I was impressed that the Krsna conscious literature has a storied history and has guided sages for thousands of years.
What the Hare Krsna devotees told me was consistent with what I had read in Bhagavad-gita. First, one in search of spiritual enlightenment should, as far as possible, desist from activities that reinforce material concepts. Chief among these is our erroneous understanding that we are the body, the outward material covering, as opposed to the spirit soul dwelling within. Second, besides getting rid of that negative concept and its attendant activities we should add positive spiritual activities to our daily lives, such as calling on the names of the Absolute Truth. This process is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Many spiritual traditions recommend calling on God's names. According to Bhagavad-gita and the Vedic understanding, sincerely calling on the names of God allows one to transcend the material atmosphere and enter the spiritual realm. God, the Supreme Person, being absolute is present in His name. Through any of His unlimited names we directly associate with Him.
I decided I'd be foolish not to give this process a go, and so I began chanting the names of Krsna. Krsna is the all-attractive, most beautiful person, the topmost form of the Supreme. The next two years or so was the most blissful period of my life. Peace, happiness, fulfillment, and security were present in abundance. With this sunshine inside and its warmth flowing through me, I knew I had found something priceless. Without a doubt that initial experience will always live with me, continually reinforcing my belief that this process is genuine and a guaranteed path to eternal happiness.
The Quest Goes On
Sixteen years later, my lifelong search is over, but I have to be honest and say that I still haven't achieved my goal. I found Krsna consciousness priceless, but you don't get priceless items on the cheap. My reluctance to pay means I still have a long way to go. My initial burst of two-year bliss was akin to a special free offer that has long since run out. Now I find that I must be even more sincere in my spiritual practices to avoid diversions to short-term material attractions.
When I first got the intense sweet taste of Krsna consciousness, I expected it to carry me all the way back to Godhead. My life, I thought, would be a single, uninterrupted flow of devotion to Krsna. Now, after more pauses than I care to remember, things are different.
One change from my early days is that I'm married now. But marriage isn't the distraction I once expected it to be. Goloka, my wife, is a constant source of inspiration to me as she quietly goes about developing her own spiritual life. Her dedication and determination make me feel like an obstacle in her spiritual life, as opposed to the other way around.
We also have two sons, Sankarsana (12) and Pancajanya (9). Now, they are a distraction! Boys will be boys, and our two can compete with the best of them. Yet when I remember my life at their age, and I see how much they know and how comfortable they are with Krsna consciousness, I feel so happy to see them benefit from spiritual life. I realize that they are indeed special souls.
I was just a little older than my boys when I lost my mother and felt so much insecurity. Now in my wife and children I have found a new security. While I understand that ultimate security lies in my relationship with Lord Krsna, my present family provide me with more stability than I have ever experienced, because they all share my devotion to Krsna. At the same time I don't expect them to carry me; I must do my part, both spiritually and materially.
Today Goloka and I run a restaurant in Dublin serving Krsna-prasadam tasty vegetarian dishes offered first to Krsna. I love running the restaurant, perhaps because I first encountered Krsna consciousness through such a restaurant. I feel blessed in my spiritual life. Yet I still find myself attracted to such completely non-spiritual things as sport, especially cricket. One can employ some attractions in Lord Krsna's service, but so far I haven't figured out how to play cricket for Krsna. Yet because sport is still an attraction for me, it helps me remember that I'm still a novice devotee.
My deep-rooted conviction that I have found a route to eternal happiness can potentially be a disadvantage. While one is still on the chase, still seeking, there is a certain hunger. Once you know you've found what you're looking for, it's easy to grow complacent and falsely secure. Do I now need some pain of another kind to ensure I keep seeking the Lord? Great devotees of Krsna sometimes pray that way.
A relationship with the Supreme cannot be stagnant. Shall I one day declare, "I'm saved," and that's that? No, I will always need to progress. At least now I'm operating from a platform of knowledge. Yet knowing the right path is just the beginning. To think myself saved and hope someone else will arrange for my salvation is yet another illusion. I know what I must do, and I must do it! I must learn to love Krsna. Security comes from actively applying absolute knowledge, not burying one's head in the sand of blind faith and hoping for the best.
Perfect Krsna consciousness may take a few years or even a few lifetimes. But, I hope, nothing will cause me to lose sight of the spiritual process I have been so fortunate to find. As long as I continue to call on the name of Krsna, I am secure and confident of Krsna's helping hand.