We Shall Overcome (Our Weaknesses by Honesty and Humility)

August 1st, 2003

Recently, while visiting Towaco, Bhurijana Prabhu was asked a question on how to rid oneself of personal weaknesses. I liked his thoughtful reply. ?The first thing is to recognize them,? he said, ?and then decide which ones we can renounce. We should be humble about the weaknesses we are sincerely unable to give up and proceed in our efforts to become Krishna conscious.?

It was a simple answer, but it made me question my own approach. Do I at times inadvertently preach the ideals in a way that makes Krishna consciousness seem impractical and ridden with guilt? Are there sincere devotees who become overtly disturbed by their inability to practice Krishna consciousness strictly, even when particular injunctions may be beyond their realization to follow at this point in time? I recalled a thoughtful question asked of me at recent lecture:

?Should we judge righteousness as the impeccable practice of Krishna consciousness or the sincere endeavor to move toward that goal from our present platform of realization??

In this regard, another incident came to mind. While I was living in the Brooklyn temple in the mid-?90s, some of the asrama devotees were going across the street every Sunday morning to join a basketball game. A visiting sannyasi, who saw them playing, gave a heavy class the next morning indicating that these devotees had broken the regulative principles. After all, he reasoned, one of Srila Prabhupada?s early lists of the regulative principles associated frivolous sports with gambling. Afterward, I had to comfort one poor soul who was very shaken by the class, assuring him that their mistake was not the same as if they had eaten meat or taken intoxication. However, I was also upset that the devotees had violated the standards of asrama life.

I see things a little more liberally now. There have been too many examples of devotees prematurely renouncing aspects of their life only to be haunted by those same attachments years later.

We cannot gain deep spiritual realization, however, until our determination is unwavering. A few months ago, I had a nice talk with a ?pandit? who highlighted this point by sharing an interesting analysis on the seminal verse from the Padma Purana that states that?atah sri krsna namadi?Krishna can only be known by devotional service, not the blunt material senses. Commenting on the words ?sevon mukhe? (the term used for devotional service in that verse), he put his hands like blinders on the sides of his head and moved them back and forth. Indicating an unwavering fixedness on a goal with this hand motion, he said, ?Srila Prabhupada stressed determined service focused on the order of the spiritual master.? Therefore, ?sevon muhke? refers to service that unswervingly faces the directions of the spiritual master. (Mukhe literally means ?in the face? or ?directly.?) He stressed his point further by moving his head left and right, indicating a confused or irresolute mood, while remarking, ?Devotional service is sevon mukhe, not bahir muhke!? (Bahir means ?external? or ?turning the face away?).

The acarya must therefore set spiritual standards to help us remain fixed on the goal. They also know the nature our minds; that we want to enjoy independent of God without guilt. We thus seek justification for our lack of surrender by using concessions as sanctions to avoid renunciation. Therefore, the acaryas preach the proper standards without compromise.

Although Bhurijana?s answer was, in one sense, an allowance for certain failures, it is not a compromise. In many ways, it demands tough surrender (if we are sincere). We have to be honest enough to recognize and rid ourselves of the indulgences we can relinquish and humble enough, without cheating, to admit our helplessness to surmount those we can?t. It also offers an effective means that empowers us to not only conquer those frailties, but the root of all failings, our own pride?namely, the humble mood of a Vaisnava that enables us to depend on Krishna and beg His mercy. I liked his thoughtful reply, but in good conscience I can?t conclude my article here at its natural ending without a final word of caution.

The test for whether we may have to humbly accept a concession to the strictest standards of Krishna consciousness is whether or not one?s decision to do so is supported by a strong desire to please guru and Krishna. In other words, is it a humble step back to help us move forward with strength toward pure devotion? Or is it a selfish and lazy indulgence?

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