Waiting to Inhale
Posted March 11, 2005
Staying enthusiastic in devotional service is certainly one of the greatest challenges any devotee must face. The inevitable difficulties of performing Bhakti-yoga in a materialistic society dedicated to sense enjoyment are one side of the dilemma; the other being troubles within the movement itself. Either of these causes can lead to losing enthusiasm if not handled properly by the aspiring devotee. In struggling with this problem in my own life, I have developed some insights that could be helpful to other devotees. In both cases, the cure is to reconnect with the reason we became devotees in the first place: love of Godhead.
Every so often we read or hear about a devotee leaving ISKCON because of some problem. Usually the reason involves some falldown or a conflict with some authority. We all know that Srila Prabhupada instructed us to remain within the society. My interpretation of what these devotees are saying is that despite Srila Prabhupada's instruction, they are running away from the problems because they do not know how to deal with them, and this is simply too painful to bear. The ostensible reason is just a face-saving excuse.
That was certainly my excuse for leaving ISKCON back in the 90s. I could not maintain my enthusiasm in the face of the internal and external problems, and I thought that blaming the authorities and independently performing my devotional service elsewhere was the solution. Recently, by Srila Prabhupada's and Krsna's grace, this was revealed to be an illusion, and I returned to ISKCON in a spirit of reconciliation to perform my duty to my eternal savior and spiritual father, Srila Prabhupada.
Though many of the problems I blamed for my departure from ISKCON have been resolved, there are still problems; ISKCON is not perfect. And although my Godbrothers have certainly matured and advanced spiritually in the time I was gone, guess what: they aren't perfect either. (I have to give them credit for being in the process, though.)
ISKCON and its devotees are dedicated to the highest purpose of spreading love of Godhead, therefore despite their faults, both are ideal. Nevertheless, as His Holiness Hrdayananda das Gosvami pointed out in a recent article on Chakra, there will always be a certain tension between the ideal and the real. Despite any problems or imperfections, ISKCON and the devotees of Lord Caitanya are still the best association one can find on this planet.
We all became devotees because we wanted to be included in this association, which is ultimately based on the experience of pure love of Godhead. Even the shadow of this transcendental experience is reflected in our hearts as bliss beyond anything we have ever known in material existence.
I have asked many devotees, "How and why did you become a devotee?" Every devotee I have ever asked this question replied in such a way that I could understand that it was due to this same transcendental experience. How can this experience of devotional ecstasy become covered, leading to exiting ISKCON and leaving the association of devotees, or even becoming inimical?
There are many passages in the scriptures dealing with offenses and their results. We have all heard them so many times, it is not necessary to recap here. What I want to highlight is how to avoid these offenses by staying so enthusiastic and blissful that there is no question of creating offense.
The key to avoiding offenses is cultivating and maintaining a taste for devotional service in love of Godhead. This "nectar for which we are all aspiring," and the reason we became devotees in the first place, is also the means to remaining so enthusiastic that we can tolerate the inevitable problems and stay in association with ISKCON.
First we have to be alert and aware when we have lost the nectar. Some of the most obvious symptoms are seva burnout, becoming tired of doing one's assigned devotional service; lack of austerity, or difficulty in attending the morning program, fasting etc.; mechanical chanting, when japa or kirtan becomes devoid of heart; and that good old favorite, fault-finding--when we become obsessed with the bad qualities in our environment and associates, and blind to their good qualities. Another serious, though subtle, symptom is loss of confidence in the future of ISKCON and the purifying power of the Holy Name.
It would be a mistake to become preoccupied with the symptoms, when all of them have a common cause: loss of our loving connection with Krsna. Whether due to an offense against the Holy Name, our service or a devotee, once we have lost the sweet taste of bhakti, it is often difficult to recover. However, there is a reliable and effective way to get our taste back--the same way we acquired it in the first place. It may not be easy, but it is simple, at least if we are simple.
Become humble, and letting go of blame and fault-finding, pray to Krsna to help us: "Dear Krsna, I am such a rascal that I have offended You--or worse, offended Your dear devotee. Therefore I have lost my taste for devotional service. I am such a rascal, I have no good qualities. I am simply searching for You, O Krsna, Krsna. Please help me."
When the gopis became proud during Rasa-Lila, Krsna disappeared from their vision. He even disappeared from Srimati Radharani. In the absence of Krsna, all the gopis could do was lament: "Where is Krsna, where is my dear Syamasundara?" Similarly, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu used to tearfully grieve, "Where is Krsna? Where has the Lord of My heart gone?"
When we lose our taste for devotional service, we have to grieve and lament, begging Krsna tearfully to come back within our hearts. If we proudly think that we can sustain our enthusiasm for bhakti by our own efforts, we eventually become stale and dried-up, leading to a descending spiral of offenses and falldowns.
Our external engagement in devotional service is the symptom of an internal connection with Krsna. Without this internal connection of ecstatic love, we cannot artificially sustain the activities of seva or vaidhi-bhakti for very long. Devotional love is a benediction from the Personality of Godhead upon the surrendered soul. It is a rare privilege that can easily be lost through ingratitude.
The self-centered devotee is like a proud neophyte who tries to chant japa faster, louder and longer than anyone else, until he runs out of breath and becoming dizzy, has to stop. Without a good supply of air in the lungs, no one can chant. Therefore to maintain our chanting nicely, periodically we have to take a nice deep breath.
Similarly, to maintain our enthusiasm in devotional service, we should
periodically take stock of our degree of affection for the Lord, and
renew our deep, personal connection with Krsna. This is a sincere
prayer to the Lord from within the heart of the devotee: "Lord of my
heart, I have no love for You. My heart is broken by Your separation.
Please bless me with Your devotional service." Without this genuine
link of love with the Lord, our devotional service is like someone
trying hard to impress us with their loud chanting--but inside, they
are just waiting to inhale.