Depression and feelings of unworthiness are usually associated with failures and setbacks in life. An unsuccessful person, struggling to survive in a competitive world, feels doubtful about his or her competence and may feel depressed and unworthy. In fast-paced cities like Mumbai, work pressure and the race to the top are making people a clinically depressed lot, say psychiatrists. The increase of mental disorders and suicide is testimony to this phenomena.
However, feelings of unworthiness, when manifest as humility, are a positive spiritual asset. Humility is one of the qualifications of a transcendentally situated person. In fact Lord Krishna considers humility the most important item of knowledge, because only a humble person can approach a superior and receive spiritual knowledge. A heart overloaded with pride and egotism can never submissively inquire about the knowledge of transcendence.
From the Bhagavad-Gita we understand that the material world is like a reflection of the spiritual world, where everything mundane exists in its pure spiritual form. We learn that qualities and characteristics that are undesirable (such as jealousy, anger, sulking, envy, etc.) have their pure "all-good" spiritual counterparts. What may look like a material defect, or even a mental or emotional illness, can be a symptom of an elevated state of Krishna consciousness. Thus we sometimes see advanced devotees exhibiting extreme lamentation or hopelessness as aspects of their Krishna consciousness.
How are we to relate to this? Is there a kind of lamentation, self-denigration, and hopelessness that's suitable to our level of Krishna consciousness? If there is, how can we not become discouraged by such feelings? Let us first look at feelings of unworthiness that are detrimental to our advancement.
Overcome Undesirable Feelings
Devotees often feel unworthy to receive Krishna' s mercy, kindness, and love, feeling that Krishna is throwing pearls to a swine. More often than not, such feelings are mixed with, or result from, a material sense of unworthiness (I am bad, I am dirty, I am foolish, I am … ). So let's first understand that the Lord doesn't exactly see us as we may see ourselves.
Everybody is worthy of Krishna' s love and thus worthy to become Krishna conscious. How did we all become worthy? What did we do? All we did was exist.
Now, you might say, "Why would Krishna care about me? I am insignificant. Besides, I don't even like Krishna that much. I try to imitate him, I neglect him, I take things from him, I criticize his devotees, and I always think about my own enjoyment."
Despite all this, Krishna always cares about us. If he didn't care about us, he wouldn't have become accessible in so many forms: the Deity, the scriptures, and especially his holy name. If Krishna didn't want a relationship with us, why did he send so many of his eternal associates to come to this world to bring us back to him, despite our faults and dis-qualifications to engage in his service?
This is just a fragment of the evidence that shows how much Krishna cares for every one of us. There is nothing we can do, aside from continued blasphemy of, or willing disobedience to Krishna' s pure devotees, that would make us unworthy of Krishna' s love. Still, even if we believe we are truly unworthy, this makes us even more qualified to receive his mercy. Just as being poor qualifies one to receive welfare from the government, disqualification is the very cause of being worthy of the Lord's mercy. If Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu were selling love of Krishna for the price of qualification, he would have closed his shop long ago owing to a lack of customers.
Krishna Cares For Every Soul
Abnormal feelings of unworthiness can be caused by being (or feeling) unloved or denigrated by others, or by personal failures in life. In this unhealthy state, we can feel ourselves so low, impure, unintelligent, or unqualified, that even God couldn't find a reason to love us.
A devotee once asked Srila Prabhupada, "Why would Krishna care about me? He has so many devotees. He has the gopis, the cowherd boys, his mother and father and so many servants. He doesn't need me." Prabhupada explained that if you cut your finger, you try to save it. You don't say to the doctor, "Just let my finger fall off; after all, I have nine other fingers." Similarly, Krishna doesn't think, "I have so many other devotees. Who cares about you?"
Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura describes that every living entity has a unique relationship with Krishna, and thus Krishna experiences unique pleasure from every individual relationship. This means Krishna is anxious to taste that specific relationship (rasa) with each of us. Not only that, he offers a unique taste of himself in every relationship.
Krishna is called Rasaraja, the king of relationships. Krishna thrives on relationships, and if Krishna wants a relationship with us, we shouldn't deny him. Are we so foolish to say to Krishna, "I am unavailable to you because I don't feel worthy"?
Stop Putzing Around
There is an expression in Yiddish: "putzing around." If someone is putzing around, it means they are busy doing a lot of useless things that amount to practically nothing. Putzing around basically means, as the famous American musician Bob Dylan sang, "Being busy doing nothing."
We are all very busy in the material world, doing millions of things that ultimately amount to nothing more than preparing our next birth. Have you ever been in a rush and you call for one of your family members to get in the car, but they are holding you up by being busy doing nothing of much consequence? In the same way, Krishna is calling us to leave this world, and yet we remain, doing a million unimportant things that amount only to holding him up.
Krishna is saying, "I've got a place for you in my home. Your spiritual body is ready for you; your service is ready for you; all arrangements are there for your eternal stay. Come back home!"
Krishna Is Waiting For Us
One of my god brothers said in a class that it seems awkward that Madhava (the Krishna Deity of ISKCON Mayapur) is playing his flute, because Krishna plays his flute to call Radharani and the gopis. Since Radharani and the gopis are already there (on the altar in Mayapur), Krishna doesn't need to play the flute. So why is he playing it? He's playing his flute to call us. His flute sings a song that goes something like this: "Come home. I am waiting for you. Stop putzing around. What are you doing that's so important?"
Krishna didn't have to come to the material world. Yet he came and performed his mas to attract us back to him. In fact, everything that Krishna does is ultimately done for this purpose. In other words, he only acts to help us reestablish our relationship with him. He creates the material world to give us a chance to reform ourselves, and he performs his pastimes to attract our mind and heart to him. This means he performs his pas-times to awaken our love for him. Try to feel this affection when you hear his mas; try to feel him calling you into a relationship with him. When you read between the lines of the Srimad-Bhagavatam you can hear Krishna saying, "Please accept my love. Please join me in my eternal Lila."
Similarly, when reading Srila Prabhupada's purports, behind the words you can feel Prabhupada showering love and compassion. Of course, the messages of the purports are there, but behind those messages allow yourself to feel the love that Srila Prabhupada has for you – and for all conditioned souls.
Srila Prabhupada's love for us is further evidence of Krishna' s love for us. Srila Prabhupada is a messenger of Krishna's love, and thus he loves us all without discrimination. Prabhupada loves everyone to such a degree that he never rejects anyone – no matter how fallen he or she may be – who is willing to serve Krishna,
Still, as stated earlier, there are proper feelings of unworthiness appropriate to our level of advancement. These feelings are both natural and helpful for bhakti.
Feelings of unworthiness mani-fest in two prominent ways in the stage of vaidhi-sadhana-bhakti, or regulated devotional service: appreciation and humility. Appreciation manifests in gratitude that Krishna accepts us and our service despite our past sins and present faults as long as we simply make a sincere effort to serve him and Srila Prabhupada, Even though unqualified, Krishna mercifully gives us lots of service. As we meditate on how Krishna allows us, even though un-qualified, to be engaged in his service, our appreciation for him and the service he gives us grows. Thus, feelings of unworthiness help us see our service as a precious gift that we are blessed to have.
Feeling unworthy also makes us feel helpless. Taken in the correct way, helplessness is a manifestation of humility in accordance with our present level of Krishna consciousness. It manifests as a total dependence on Krishna for guidance, intelligence, and ability to do our service well – or sometimes even to do our service at all. It is through this kind of humility that we advance rapidly in Krishna consciousness. Thus, feelings of unworthiness, when exhibited in a Krishna conscious sense, become one of our greatest allies in sadhana-bhakti, because humility is integral to advancing in Krishna consciousness.
Symptoms of Advanced Devotion
As love for Krishna matures in a devotee, he or she becomes more and more humble and feels totally unworthy to receive Krishna's mercy. Such an uttama-adhikari; or the most advanced devotee, feels bereft of devotion and considers everyone else to be richer in devotion. In one conversation, Srila Prabhupada explains the thoughts of an uttama Adhikari: "Yes, he sees no more non-devotees – all devotees. He is called an uttama adhikari … Just like Radharani – she does not see anyone as a non-devotee. Therefore we try to approach Radharani." (PQPA 6: The Perfect Devotee)
Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, a Vaishnava saint of medieval India, presents a rare example of extreme unworthiness. He says, "I am lower than the worms in the stool.Anyone who hears my name loses the results of his pious activities. Anyone who utters my name becomes sinful." But such humility did not cause him suicidal depression. In fact, he was the author of the Bengali classic, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, in which he writes,"1 have now become too old and disturbed by invalidity. While writing, my hands tremble. I cannot remember any-thing, nor can I see or hear properly. Still I write, and this is a great wonder." That he completed the greatest literary gem of medieval India under such debilitating conditions is surely one of the wonders of literary history.
Srila Prabhupada too expressed his deep humility in his poem Markine Bhagavata-dharma, which he wrote upon reaching Boston harbor during his first visit to America. These are the last few lines from this poem: "0 Lord, I am just like a puppet in your hands. So if you have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance, 0 Lord, make me dance as you like. I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge, but I have strong faith in the holy name of Krishna, I have been designated as Bhaktivedanta, and now, if you like, you can fulfill the real purport of Bhaktivedanta."
The Bottom Line
So yes, we should feel unworthy. We don't deserve Krishna's love. We are not qualified to even be devotees. We have turned our back on Krishna, we have competed with him, we have disobeyed him, and we have even tried to become like him.
Still, Krishna overlooks all of this and forgives us. His desire for a relationship with us is so strong that he will not allow any of this to get in the way. As Krishna will not allow our own disqualifications to get in the way, we should also never allow our own disqualifications to get in our way. Rather, we should allow our feelings of unwor-thiness to bring us closer and closer to Krishna,
In the Brihad-bhagavatamrta, when Gopa-kumara arrives in the spiritual world and first meets Krishna, the Lord tells him, "Why did you take so long? I missed you so much."
Yes, Krishna does miss us. Let's stop putzing around. Krishna is waiting for us.
Mahatma Dasa joined ISKCON in 1969 and has served as temple president, book distributor, sankirtana leader, college preacher, membership director, and VIHE teacher and co-director. He is well known in ISKCON for his recorded music and his seminars.