Because of their unusual dress, the men's shaved heads, the behavior of chanting and dancing, and the preaching of a philosophy little known to most, devotees of the Hare Krsna movement appear strange to many Westerners. Yet if a person is somewhat broad-minded, he'll see that in many ways Krsna conscious people are like other people.
In certain important ways, however, a devotee does see things differently from other people, and this unique difference is the most valuable thing a devotee has to share with the rest of the world. To live in Krsna consciousness is to live in continuous awareness of God certainly something worth sharing.
According to the Vedic scriptures and the realizations of saints throughout history, everyone is originally God conscious, or Krsna conscious, but in this material world most of us are forgetful of this consciousness. A devotee is much like anyone else except that, having dedicated his body, mind, and words to God, he now experiences transcendental awareness.
When I think back to my life before I met my spiritual master, before I learned about devotional service from him, I think my past would have been better, happier, had I then had the benefit of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and engaging in devotional service. So many anxieties could have been relieved. Wasted years could have been spent with real purpose and hope. Acts I now understand to be harmful to myself and others could have been avoided. Comparing my life then with my life now, I want to testify that my new life is immeasurably better. The missionary desire I now feel to tell this to others is a result not only of the written order of the scriptures but also of my personal experience of the benefits of spiritual life.
Here are some examples of what it's like to live in God consciousness:
1. When a devotee does even ordinary things, like drinking water or seeing the sun, he's aware of the presence of God. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna states, "I am the taste of water. I am the light of the sun." When a devotee drinks water, therefore, he is aware that the water is the energy of Lord Krsna, and the original pure taste of water reminds him of Krsna. Because the devotee's conception of God is personal, he thanks the Lord for quenching his thirst. And when he perceives the sun in the sky, he remembers the source, understanding that only the Supreme Being can create such a mighty powerhouse of energy. These are simple practices for remaining God conscious, but if one adopts them they can have profound effects.
2. A devotee has a vision of equality, based on spiritual awareness. When he perceives human beings in different social classes rich or poor, educated or uneducated he sees them equally, because he sees within each human being (and even within the lower forms of life) the eternal spiritual soul. Mundane philosophers have tried to reach equal vision by relative means, but unless one understands equality on the basis of spiritual vision, there will always be conflicts of interest. Attempts at equality among the sexes or among the races and attempts to extend humane feelings even to the animals are best practiced not as ends in themselves but as by-products of self-realization and God consciousness.
3. A devotee sees his life as temporary. He knows that his body, his family, his worldly pursuits, and even the world itself are impermanent; therefore he avoids the frustration of trying to enjoy that which is temporary and miserable. While living peacefully in this world, he makes his material life moderate in its aims, concentrating his energy on attaining awareness of God and self-realization.
"I'm glad to hear it works that way for you," a nondevotee may say, "but that doesn't mean it will work for me. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't assume that yours is the only path to happiness. Let everyone find his or her own path."
To this statement I would reply by first acknowledging that each one of us is a person with free will and individual choice; therefore, we may or may not adopt the life of Krsna consciousness. But ultimately all paths must be judged by the standard of God consciousness, which devotees of Lord Krsna understand to be the prime necessity for everyone. One cannot even begin the life of God consciousness without recognizing the direction of a supreme intelligent being, that Supreme Controller who is the source of everything and the director of all destinies. We can either follow the directions of the Supreme or disobey Him, but in either case we are under His control. A devotee in God consciousness is one who acknowledges God's laws and obeys them.
As for how one should serve God, that may be expressed in as many different ways as there are different lives. One can serve Krsna as a professional, as a shaven-headed monk, as a businessman, as a laborer, or in whatever state one finds himself and through whatever tendency one develops for self-expression. But one must understand that, regardless of his occupation, only through knowing, serving, and loving God can one realize his full human potential.
In trying to describe what it's like to be a devotee, I know I haven't fully conveyed the unique experience. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gives a full description of Krsna consciousness in his extensive writings, yet he also concludes that Krsna consciousness has to be experienced to be truly understood. We therefore invite people to chant the holy names of God, to hear the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, and to associate with devotees. If instead a person tries to judge or analyze Krsna consciousness from a distance, his attempt will be like trying to taste honey by licking the outside of the jar. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." And in examining different qualities of life one should certainly give some serious attention to the experience and the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. SDG