Obsession about the future can cause unnecessary anxiety that can ruin our lives.
I am a doctor and hold an administrative position in a large hospital. One Friday evening I was about to lock my office and leave for the weekend when a young man, a medical intern at the hospital, rushed into my office. He seemed agitated, perhaps in some sort of distress. I offered him a seat, gave him a glass of water, and tried to calm him down.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Sir,’ he began, talking so excitedly that he almost tripped over his words, “I stood first in the post graduate entrance examination.” I was happy for him and told him so. “Congratulations! That is good news.”
“But sir, I have to appear for the post graduate admission interview on Tuesday, and I have not yet received the certificate of completion for my internship here. Today is Friday. If I do not receive my completion certificate by Monday, I will lose my admission in the post graduate course. Please help me, sir!”
I assured him that the Dean’s office would certainly issue the certificate the following Monday. He was not pacified. But since there was nothing I could do that day, I locked my office and left.
At home that evening I received a call from the same young man. He sounded quite agitated. “Sir, what if the Dean is on leave Monday? Then he will not be able to sign the certificate that day. I will lose my admission for the post graduate course on Tuesday. You do not know how hard I worked for the entrance exam, and how my dreams will be shattered if I don’t get this admission on Tuesday.” I reassured him as best as I could. I informed him that the Dean would most definitely be in his office on Monday and that he could receive his internship certificate then, with the Dean’s signature on it, without fail.
On Saturday he called me again. He still seemed agitated, and I got the distinct impression that, due to his anxiety, he had hardly slept the previous night. “Sir, what if the staff fails to issue the certificate before the office closes on Monday? I shall be in a soup then.” Once again, I tried to pacify him.
But the calls kept coming on Saturday, and Sunday as well. What if there is a sudden general strike? What if the particular staff member who issues the certificate is ill or is held up at home due to some circumstance or another? What if the printer in the office is broken? What if the drawer in which the certificates are kept is locked and no one can find the keys? What if the Dean is called away on some important business? There was no end to his “what if” scenarios. It was clear that this intern was in a perpetual state of nervous anxiety; he had been in distress from the time he came into my office on Friday evening and it would last until Monday morning. He was desperate for a seat in the post graduate course, as if that were his only option left in the world and without it he saw no hope for the future.
Desperation Is the Cause of Distress
Whenever we develop a desperate desire to obtain something, our mind loses its ability to rationalize and we give up on finding alternative solutions, outcomes, or options. This desperation induces in us a false conviction that the world will crumble around us if we do not obtain whatever it is we are desperate for and life will not be worth living if the object of our desire eludes us.
Pause for a moment and peek into your own past. Can you find similar situations in your own life? Maybe you once managed to obtain something that you desperately hankered for. But after obtaining it, did you get lasting satisfaction? Of course not! After a few months (or maybe years, if we’re lucky) the affection we feel for whatever was so dear to us wanes and then finally disappears. Just like a child who sheds a thousand tears for some toy; once the child has it, within a very short time he or she discards the plaything with disinterest, hardly caring if it ends up in the dustbin.
This sort of temporary infatuation can afflict anyone, and for almost any reason: a beautiful woman or a handsome man, a fast car, a big house, an important job, admission to a posh club, entry into the US with the promise of an easy life, or whatever else we can dream of. We do not stop and considerwhen caught in the throes of desirethat if we are unable to obtain the object we covet, there are probably a hundred others available, similar to or better than the one we first wanted. It makes no difference, for we are, like my friend the intern, slaves to our material ambitions, fixated on the objects of our desire. What does this cost us? Besides the endless anxiety and sleepless nights, it saps our mental and emotional energy, neutralizing our rationality and self control and rendering us puppets in the hands of fate.
We Should Learn From Our Mistakes
It is surprising that so many of us have at one time or another been burnt by having coveted something we could not attain to only later realize our folly and yet not learn from our mistakes. As we continue on in life, always growing older, many of us have the tendency to commit the same errors again and again. The objects of our longing change, but our hunger for material things never ends. We stumble from mistake to mistake, from blunder to blunder. And along the way, anyone who helps us to achieve what we desire automatically becomes a “friend,” (even though those things we desire sometimes do us more harm than good), while anyone who prevents us (either intentionally or unintentionally) from obtaining the objects of our desire is automatically an “enemy” (although the actions of such people might actually be a benefit to us).
This obsession with material things is driven by lust; indeed, this is Krishna’s verdict in the Bhagavad-gita (3.37): “It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” Each individual in this material world, in his original pure state, is a spirit soul. In that pure state, the individual soul enjoys transcendental and eternal happiness in association with the Supreme Lord, Krishna. But, wanting to enjoy separately from Krishna and being contaminated by contact with material nature, the spirit soul’s original knowledge is covered, resulting in bewilderment and confusion. Love of the Lord is transformed into lust and covetousness for mundane material pleasure, which pulls us lower and lower into a life of illusion, ruled primarily by the material modes of passion and ignorance. We are condemned never to find the sort of true and lasting happiness that can only be found in the association of the Lord or His true devotees.
Furthermore, the anxiety we feel is proof that we do not have full faith in the complete control of the Lord in all material interactions and events. Any devotee will tell you that not even a blade of grass moves without the sanction of the Supreme Lord, who is the only true master and controller of the material manifestation. In Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.6.7) Narada Muni tells Srila Vyasadeva that “the world is under the full control of the Supreme Lord; therefore everyone is like a wooden doll in the hands of a puppet master.”
By refusing to see or being unable to see the hand of the Lord in everyday occurrences, we are pushing ourselves closer and closer to the dangerous precipice of our irrational and uncontrolled desires, longings, and obsessions. If we do not listen to the wise counsel of the Bhagavad-gita and instead let ourselves fall prey to lust and greed, we let material nature (maya) take over, and our lives are driven by the base emotions that lust thrives on. We become controlled by desires and emotions rather than by our sane and rational minds. This is certainly a recipe for disaster!
True Understanding of Life’s Real Goal
We must put Krishna at the center of our lives, and consign our selves and our destiny to His capable hands, just as Arjuna did. We know that Arjuna ultimately came out victorious, having vanquished his enemies on the battlefield, even though many of those great warriors were equally as capable as he. This is because Krishna personally held the reins of Arjuna’s destiny. This situation was possible only because Arjuna wholly agreed to be guided by the Supreme Lord, Krishna. This is the central theme of the Bhagavad-gita.
We should sublimate our attachment to worldly things by trading it for attachment to Lord Krishna, becoming determined to obtain Him by pure devotional service. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.23) Krishna states, “O son of Prtha, that determination which is unbreakable, which is sustained with steadfastness by yoga practice, and thus controls the mind, life, and the acts of the senses, is in the mode of goodness.”
We cannot fully trust someone until we understand, respect, and ultimately love him or her. By the process of devotional service, bhakti-yoga, we can come to understand, respect, and love Lord Krishna and relish the transcendental flavor of that relationship, so much so that our attachment to the ordinary pleasures of this world gradually wanes and then disappears completely. “By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty, attain perfection.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.46)
Once we have understood these facts about the Lord and His eternal mission, we begin to see that our material attachments, longings, and desires are insignificant in comparison to true desire: the desire for ultimate salvation and eternal happiness in Krishna’s abode. At that point we will become desperate to achieve this ultimate destiny of the soul.
Yugavatara Dasa is an associate professor in Anatomy in a medical college in Mumbai. He is a frequent contributor to BTG.