As the story goes, the Polish-born American pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once approached in New York City by a man who asked, “Pardon me, sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
To which he replied, “Practice, practice, practice!”
Rubinste in was undoubtedly aware that few people are willing to practice enough to reach the stage at Carnegie Hall. His jest contained advice that the master of any craft might give to an apprentice: there’s no substitute for practice.
For those of us aspiring for full success in bhakti-yoga, our goal is rarer than playing Carnegie Hall or any other human achievement. After all, we want to meet God in person.
If the comparison to playing Carnegie Hall has you thinking, “Well, that makes seeing God sound impossible; I’ll never be able to do it,” remember what Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita: ma sucah, “Don’t worry.”
Why shouldn’t we worry? Because seeing Krishna ultimately depends on His mercy and not our abilities. We could never get to Krishna on our own power, but He wants to see some effort on our part, and He’ll make up for what we lack.
The effort He asks for is loyalty to the regulated practices given to us by the spiritual master, His representative. Srila Prabhupada, for example, was constantly urging the devotees in charge of his temples to see that the devotees under their care followed the basic daily program he prescribed. Practice under the guidance of the guru can awaken our pure love for Krishna, the price to see Him face to face.
The power of the practices Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors gave us lies in their being spiritual right from the beginning. There’s nothing artificial about them. Just as a child learns to walk by walking, we learn to love Krishna by practicing acts of love for Him. We’ll be doing the same things when our natural, pure love for Him awakens.
Our practice should be both consistent and persistent. That is, we have to do things the way Krishna’s representative tells us to do them, and we can’t give up.
When I think about the phrase “Practice makes perfect,” an idea Prabhupada often emphasized, I sometimes find myself objecting: “But doesn’t talent have anything to do with it?” For example, no matter how much I might have practiced a particular sport when I was younger, I just didn’t have the natural ability required to be a professional athlete. That principle seems to apply in many fields.
Does perfection in Krishna consciousness require natural talent?
The first answer, implied above, is that because love for Krishna lies dormant within us, we all have equal potential to love, and thus see, Krishna.
We find, though, that practicing bhakti-yoga seems easier for some people than others. How do we account for that?
One answer is that success in Krishna consciousness can take many lifetimes of practice, and the further along we are in our practice, the easier and more natural Krishna consciousness becomes.
That’s not to say we can’t move ahead quickly, even if we’re late starters. In Kaliyuga, the current age, Krishna in His form as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is especially liberal in responding to our efforts. Understanding the challenges we face in this spiritually degraded age, He rewards a steady, sincere routine of practice with as a learn-to-play-the-piano book might promise amazing results.