I recently received a letter from a man in India who likes to read the biography of Srila Prabhupada, as well as "the history, and if I may say so, the romance of ISKCON [the International Society for Krishna Consciousness]." His use of the word romance was interesting. It made me think of ISKCON as an indomitable spirit, despite its ups and downs, and that those who are sincerely participating in ISKCON are high-spirited knights of faith.
There is an undeniable urge for spiritual life in the heart of every human being. When we respond to this call, it is our best love story, our most heroic and mysterious adventure. Some say that an organized religious movement cannot embody the purity and liveliness of the spiritual quest. But as spiritual romance is possible individually, it is also possible in communities and internationally.
To protect the true spirit of a religious institution, its members must struggle to reform its imperfections, and they must never forget that they are responding to the sublime call to the higher nature. Spiritual life calls one to give up the temporary material world and to live an entirely different way. As Bhagavad-gita (8.20) states, "Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter."
Every one of us has sometimes felt the urge to quit the oppressive world of material reality and seek something better. Maybe we thought of going to live as a recluse in the mountains, as expressed victoriously in the poems of many hermits:
In solitude by the brushwood gate
where no one else arrives,
in an empty grove
I meet alone with the white clouds.
To think we could become a North American hermit or Himalayan yogi covered with deerskin was fictional romance. But Srila Prabhupada has given us Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement. Now a devotee can pursue spiritual life to his heart's content, even while living in a city, with a family and a job. Spiritual life is as down-to-earth as the everyday practice of chanting Hare Krsna according to quota and avoiding the four pillars of sinful life meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling.
Still, although spiritual life is readily available, there will no doubt be obstacles. For example, when persons, even spiritually minded ones, try to work together, there may be disagreements. And there will be disagreements between sects, and especially between spiritually minded persons and the materially minded. One may also be faced with corruption in the name of religion, and even slander against one's own sincere efforts. But the jewel mine of spiritual truth remains inexhaustible, always open for those who seek freedom from birth and death.
True spiritual life is the greatest adventure. By comparison, external adventures-such as sky-diving, running for political office, making war-seem childish or insane. Satisfied in the pursuit of the higher goal, even the neophyte transcendentalist is sure he will never go back to his old ways.
Giving up the world, becoming enlightened and free of anxieties, seeking and finding God-these are the goals for the high-spirited human beings. Literatures such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam encourage us to try for this with all our hearts, and never again remain stuck in the blind well of materialistic life.
A poem by Mirabhai, "Why Mira Can't Go Back to Her Old House," states, "Approve me or disapprove me; I praise the lifter of Govardhana Hill day and night. I take the path that ecstatic human beings have taken for centuries."
Madhavendra Puri, a fifteenth-century spiritual master, also took this path, even though his friends and relatives didn't approve:
Let the sharp moralist accuse me of being illusioned; I do not mind. Experts in Vedic activities may slander me as being misled, friends and relatives may call me frustrated, my brothers may call me a fool, wealthy mammonites may point me out as mad, and the learned philosophers may assert that I am much too proud; still my mind does not budge an inch from the determination to serve the lotus feet of Govinda, though I am unable to do it
And when five-year-old Prahlada was asked by his demoniac father, "What is the best thing you have learned in school?" Prahlada replied:
O best of the asuras, king of the demons, as far as I have learned from my spiritual master, any person who has accepted a temporary body and temporary household life is certainly embarrassed by anxiety because of having fallen into a dark well where there is no water but only suffering. One should give up this position and go to the forest. More clearly, one should go to Vrndavana, where only Krsna consciousness is prevalent, and one should take shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhag. 7.5.5
The romance of spiritual life is not all celebration and praise. There is a bitter-sweetness to renunciation, to the degree of one's attachment to the false, material forms. The relatives of a latter-day Madhavendra Puri may resort to "deprogramming." Latter-day Mirabhais are sometimes dragged back to their houses, and their love for Krsna is severely tested. When this happens, the exasperated devotee may think, "How can Krsna expect me to give up the whole world?" But these obstacles are also part of the romance. How else can we prove to the Supreme Lord that we want to go back to Godhead, except when we resist the opposition in whatever form it takes?
I was thankful to be reminded that ISKCON is a romantic adventure. But whether it be considered romantic or realistic, Krsna consciousness is the absolute truth, and we must pursue it.
This sense of an imperative is mentioned by Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita (6.47) when He describes the yogi as bhajate yo mam, "rendering transcendental service to Me." In his commentary to this verse Srila Prabhupada writes:
The English word "worship" cannot be used in the same sense as bhaja. To worship means to adore, or to show respect and honor to the worthy one. But service with love and faith is especially meant for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. . . . Every living entity is part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and thus every living entity is intended to serve the Supreme Lord by his own constitution. Failing to do this, he falls down.
When we deny the inner call to render transcendental loving service, we deny the voice of God, and that is the greatest loss. To remain mundane is to undergo repeated miseries of transmigration through the species. Missing out on love of God is the ultimate failure. Reflecting on these matters, I wrote this prayer: "May Lord Krsna, who is in our hearts, bless us with the yearning to assist Him in the perfection of His loving affairs. And may we do this by assisting Srila Prabhupada in his mission of worldwide sankirtana." – SDG