Which way does one go in moments of despair?
LORD KRSNA HAS TWO ENERGIES, material and spiritual, but they can be used interchangeably if one knows how. Just as the same electricity can be used to heat or cool a building, so Krsna's energies can be used for different purposes according to the living entity's desire.
That doesn't mean that the living entity can control Krsna's energies, only that he can use them. When a conditioned soul wishes to exploit the material nature, he contacts the material energy. When he no longer wishes to dominate or enjoy the material energy and instead uses it in Krsna's service, he contacts the spiritual energy. The living entity is called the "marginal potency" of God-he can go either way. The Bhagavad-gita (9.13) states: "Being marginal potency, as soon as the living entity is freed from the control of material nature he is put under the guidance of the spiritual nature." There are only two choices.
In the Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada speaks of penance and repentance as our means to begin the switch from material to spiritual. If we regret our association with the material energy, we will no longer feel dependent upon its dualities and we will turn to Krsna. Repentance burns away our sins and pushes us toward surrender.
Lord Krsna states, "The material energy is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it." (Bg. 7.14) Srila Prabhupada adds, "Krsna, being the Lord of the illusory energy, can order His insurmountable energy to release the conditioned soul."
Repentance is followed by penance or austerity. We begin our austerity by trying to stop exploiting material resources as if we own them. That means we have to learn tolerance, because the material energy rarely acts for our comfort. Numberless little things in life irritate us. The more attached we are to physical ease, the more troublesome these things become. Therefore, we have to tolerate.
Those who tolerate are neither culprits who cause pain to other living entities to ensure their own comfort nor helpless victims living only for relief nor fools trying to enjoy. Our senses become subdued and our hearts purified.
Repentance and penance are nothing more than attitude. An episode in t he Bhagavatam shows how our attitude determines whether we live in the spiritual or the material energy. When Vidura tried to convince Dhrtarastra to return the throne to the Pandavas, its rightful heirs, Dhrtarastra threw Vidura out of the palace, which had been his home. So Vidura decided to go on pilgrimage. Because of his love for Krsna, he accepted his new situation as the Lord's will. Srila Prabhupada states that in this instance the Lord's material energy acted as the internal , spiritual energy. Although Vidura could see that he had been mistreated, he also saw Krsna's blessing. Suddenly he was free of political entanglement and could seek out pure Krsna consciousness in a life of renunciation and devotion.
When we stop blaming others for the pain they seem to cause us, and understand our role in causing our own karma, and when we see our powerlessness against the material energy, we will become more dependent on Krsna. Then the material energy will become spiritual in our hands. Instead of dragging us further into material life, our happiness and distress will elevate us in Krsna consciousness. Rather than causing us pain, our predicaments and perplexities will provide us another chance to meditate on Krsna. And that will make us happy.
Of course, the atheists consider this mad, irresponsible. You should not tolerate your suffering but strive to overcome it. But is it possible? No matter how hard we work to get ahead in life, we never seem to become happy. That's because everything we do must be done at the expense of others, who are seeking gratification at our expense. If we manage to climb to the top of the pile, then Providence slaps us-a family member dies, the fortune dwindles, the spouse is unfaithful, we contract a debilitating disease, and in the end we die. To pursue such a blind path is the ultimate in irresponsibility.
The Bhagavatam (1.3.34) states: "If the illusory energy subsides and the living entity becomes fully enriched with knowledge by the grace of the Lord, then he becomes at once enlightened with selfrealization and thus becomes situated in his own glory." We are the marginal potency of God. We can go either way. We can go either way. We can respond to whatever life deals us by glorifying God, or we can make that other choice.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada's first disciples, is a former editor of Back to Godhead and the author of many books on Krsna consciousness, including a sixvolume biography of Srila Prabhupada.