Lord Krsna encourages us on our long journey to full surrender.
As we read the scripture and hear from the spiritual master, we will hear both easy and difficult instructions. We'll naturally be attracted to those that seem easier to follow, but the two types of instruction have a unity of purpose.
One of the most encouraging verses I have found in Bhagavad-gita is 2.40: "In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear." A similar verse can be found in the ninth chapter, where Krsna describes devotional service as su-sukham kartum: "joyfully performed." Bhakti is easier to perform than other processes. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly emphasizes the ease of chanting the holy name as the sacrifice for the age. Formerly, people had to practice yoga for a hundred thousand years to become self-realized. In the present age, Lord Caitanya brought the chanting of Hare Krsna. Because He freely distributed love for Krsna, He is maha-vadanyaya, the most magnanimous avatara of Krsna.
To accept the encouragement given by Bg. 2.40, we have to understand the context in which it is given. Some difficult instructions precede this liberal statement. Krsna has just told Arjuna to fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat, "and by so doing, you shall never incur sin." Srila Prabhupada explains that Krsna is instructing Arjuna to fight simply because He desires the battle. This is difficult for Arjuna to hear.
Earlier Krsna presented a variety of reasons and philosophies to convince Arjuna to fight, including the Sankhya analysis of body and soul. But now Krsna is presenting buddhi-yoga, or the yoga of intelligence. Intelligence is not limited to the ability to intellectualize knowledge, although knowledge is important. Intelligence includes action based on understanding. We are meant to understand that whatever we do should be done not for our sense gratification but for Krsna's pleasure, and this is a difficult thing to hear.
In the conditioned state, to always want to do things according to our own desires is natural. No one wants to serve another's wishes all of the time. Or, if we are willing to serve, it is only to fulfill some subtle or gross desire of our own. But Krsna wants us to renounce that selfish motivation. He doesn't want us to act for our sense gratification but for His sense gratification. Of course, we want to enjoy eating, sleeping, and work. Offering the results to someone else seems equivalent to slavery. Materially, we find such a state obnoxious.
In the absolute sense, however, we are constitutionally eternal servants. We are not masters, no matter how much we try to enjoy the material world. Therefore, we feel no happiness when we try to pretend that we are masters. Still, it's hard to accept this fact and surrender.
What makes Bg. 2.40 so encouraging is that Krsna recognizes our difficulty. He both prescribes a gradual path and presents us with information about the tremendous benefit that can accrue to us if we simply endeavor to practice devotion. Srila Prabhupada has stated that if someone would just read one page from his books or taste even a morsel of prasadam, he could be liberated. Similarly, even a little devotion can protect you from falling down into a lower species of life. Such devotion never suffers loss or diminution. Srila Prabhupada writes:
Any work begun on the material plane has to be completed; otherwise the whole attempt becomes a failure. But any work begun in Krsna consciousness has a permanent effect, even though not finished. . . . One percent done in Krsna consciousness bears permanent results, so that the next beginning is from the point of two percent. . . . Ajamila performed his duty in some percentage of Krsna consciousness, but the result he enjoyed at the end was a hundred percent, by the grace of the Lord.
I remember how in an early Boston temple, a man used to help us with carpentry work. He wasn't at all interested in the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, but he was friendly with the devotees and liked to help them with their projects. I wrote to Prabhupada and asked whether, since the man wasn't interested in the philosophy, we should spend much time with him. Prabhupada said yes, we should encourage him. If he turns one screw in the temple, he can be liberated. Prabhupada had faith in this principle. And Prabhupada understood the teaching, which he gave us, that Krsna is more eager for the living entity to return to Him than the living entity is himself. Krsna will work for our deliverance.
Later in the Bhagavad-gita (3.31), Krsna states that those who execute their duties according to His injunctions and follow His teachings faithfully, without envy, can become free from the bondage of fruitive actions. That means that even if we can't surrender completely to doing only what Krsna desires, if we don't resent His expectations of us but instead feel humbled by our inabilities, we will be properly situated in the beginning stages of devotional life.
Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to this verse that big philosophers who write commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita but don't have faith will never achieve liberation, while "an ordinary man with firm faith in the eternal injunctions of the Lord, even though unable to execute such orders, becomes liberated from the bondage of the law of karma."
Then this: "In the beginning of Krsna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krsna consciousness."
Therefore, we should not feel resentful when we see the gap between our present position and final surrender. We should not mind that Krsna is asking of us more than we seem able to give. Neither should we feel hopeless or defeated. Our own endeavor weighs very little in our success, actually. We will be successful simply by Krsna's mercy. So when Krsna says, "In this endeavor," we should be clear what that endeavor is. Our endeavor is simply to put ourselves in line for mercy and accept it when it comes. We are wayward children, and Krsna is a loving father. His actions are always to rectify us to our original loving relationship with Him. Since Krsna will reciprocate with our desire, we have to learn to desire Him. We cannot lose in this, because if we want Krsna, He will give Himself to us.
A Favorable Birth
But it may take time. Prabhupada writes that even if we fail to go back to Godhead at the end of this life, we can be born in a family that will awaken our Krsna consciousness early. Krsna speaks about this elaborately at the end of the sixth chapter when Arjuna asks Krsna what happens to a man who achieves success in neither the material nor the spiritual sphere. Again Krsna assures Arjuna that one who does good is never overcome by evil. Our devotion will always be protected.
While our devotion will be protected, our mundane activities will not. Therefore, we find in the material world that more money, more enjoyment, more anything is always lost at death, and at death we will face the greatest loss that we wasted our time on matter and did not develop our spiritual lives. We will never be able to make up that time. It will be a total loss, just as a beautiful car becomes worthless in seconds during a bad accident.
If we don't achieve full success at the end of this life, then we have to face the fear of death and the afterlife. Where will we go? Prabhupada has explained that while death is a great fear, falling into the lower species, where there is no chance to act for self-realization, is a greater fear.
Death is never fearful for those who practice Krsna consciousness. Krsna personally carries the soul forward either to the spiritual world or to the next life where the soul can again continue his activities in spiritual life. A devotee who takes shelter of this merciful Krsna has nothing to fear.
Prabhupada gave as an example of this principle the method of licensing doctors in India. Those who went to medical school had to attend for a certain number of years before they were eligible for the final exams. All those who managed to arrive at the exams were eligible to become doctors, but only those who passed the exams received full government recognition. The others could also practice, but not with the same licensing by the government. Prabhupada said, "Even a failure succeeds."
Because a devotee is humble, he never really imagines that he will ever achieve the final success. A devotee maintains an attitude of willingness to be reborn in the material world, but he prays to be allowed to remember the Lord from birth to birth. If we can only remember Krsna, and if, with the help of the encouragement Krsna gives in Bg. 2.40, we work to complete our Krsna consciousness, we at least know that we will have that much surrender to build on in the next life.
In many prayers in the Bhagavatam pure devotees contemplate their return to the material world and speak of the way they would like to live in their next life. Maharaja Pariksit prays, "Again, offering obeisances unto all you brahmanas, I pray that if I should again take my birth in the material world I will have complete attachment to the unlimited Lord Krsna, association with His devotees, and friendly relations with all living beings." Similarly, Narottama Dasa Thakura prays to always be able to associate with and serve the Vaisnavas.
Whatever liberal verses we draw on for our encouragement, we should not use them as an excuse for laziness in our practices. Rather, such verses should fill us with gratitude because despite our mistakes, Krsna is willing to allow us to continue in this powerful devotional process. If such a little bit of devotional service is powerful enough to carry us forward into our next life, then we should try to develop as much devotion as possible. And of course, we shouldn't dilute devotional service with other practices or desires. This process is easy, and it can save us. We should take as much as we can. Doing so will be our real solace when we find ourselves not as advanced in surrender as we would like to be.
The Measure of Success
If we want to take as much as we can, then we have to intensify our hearing and chanting. The real measure of our success in service is whether Krsna (or Krsna's pure devotee) is pleased. To say that we should act to satisfy Krsna's senses means Krsna should derive pleasure from our activities. Therefore, we have to invest the qualities of heart and attentiveness in our service, and the motivation for offering the service has to be pure and focused solely on Krsna's pleasure.
Bhagavad-gita explains this point in later chapters where Krsna describes how things can be done according to the different modes of nature. Performing our service with neglect is not the same as performing it with love. To help us, the acaryas have prescribed the path of regulated devotion (vaidhi-bhakti) until we find our own heartfelt Krsna conscious expression. If we follow their instructions, we will be able to please Krsna by our enthusiasm and faithfulness and thus make advancement toward Him. If we are whimsical or lazy, we may find ourselves outside the realm of devotion.
The Gaudiya Vaisnava path, the line of Lord Caitanya, teaches its followers to perform the best quality of service. Prabhupada explains how in most religious movements God is seen as the father. This usually translates as order-supplier. After all, God has everything and we have nothing. Therefore, religionists often harass God to receive the things they want for their sense pleasure. Sometimes, there is an exchange of service for the goods.
Better than that, however, is the Gaudiya Vaisnava conception that God is the dependent son. Krsna likes to be known as Nanda-suta (the son of Nanda) or Yasoda-nandana (the son of Yasoda). He likes His intimate devotees to treat Him as if His Godhood were inconsequential. He considers this more loving than the reverential approach.
This understanding gives the inner meaning to the quality of service. We are interested simply in Krsna's pleasure. If we cannot yet love fully, if we cannot yet give up all our interests for Krsna's interests, then we should be humble enough to cry over our failure. We should cry to receive prema, pure love for Krsna. We are so fallen that all we can do is beg to be engaged in Krsna's service. If with so many disqualifications we remain proud, however, then how can we hope to achieve Krsna's mercy? Proud religionists don't please Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada writes, "Activity in Krsna consciousness, or acting for the benefit of Krsna without expectation of sense gratification, is the highest transcendental quality of work. Even a small beginning of such activity finds no impediment, nor can that small beginning be lost at any stage." Krsna asks for the most difficult thing we have to give: He wants us to surrender in love. He promises to protect our attempt. We should not hold back.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada's first disciples, is a former editor of BTG and the author of many books on Krsna consciousness, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.