Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #18 – The Trick of Turning Weaknesses into Strengths

April 30th, 2018

It’s Monday. Time again to start my next article. I have nothing to write. What to do? I will try a trick that I learned in public speaking, and see if it that helps to inspire me.  When for some reason you really have nothing to say, just be honest and share why. Connecting to the audience with conviction, even by sharing one’s shortcomings, empowers one to continue to speak with conviction. In fact, from the occasional feedback I get from Monday Morning Greetings, the articles that are most appreciated are those where I bare my faults. Anyway, I am being honest here. Usually by Monday I have already been mulling over something in my mind to write for the next week’s Greetings. I am little bit concerned today because I have a deadline and it’s the second time this year that I have no clue what to write about.

 

Although I would rather have some realization to share, I also see a benefit from not.  It forces me to search for my failings, which I see as the reason why I have nothing to share this week. In terms of my writing, it inevitably comes down to the fact that my level of meditation and study has slackened due to traveling and a consequent lack of regularity in my schedule. I always meet my vows, but to keep an edge for writing, I need to do much more, not just in quantity, but also in concentration. Without a fresh well of ideas and a clear lens to see the world, it is very difficult to see life in a way worth writing about. Well, my exercise worked. I feel some inspiration. I will speak about how to turn weakness into strength in the world, in bhakti, and in chanting.

 

In the World

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda was once asked what the difference is between a human being and an animal. He responded that a human being could ask the question “Why am I suffering?”  I loved his answer and especially its implications. If you ask the question “Why am I suffering”, the next question, “What did I do wrong”, inherently follows, as suffering is just a symptom of going against nature or doing something wrong. That naturally leads to the inquiry “What should I be doing”, which culminates in the most crucial question of all: “Who am I?” Without understanding what we are made of and what we are made for, or in other words who we are, how can we lead a life aligned with our nature, the prerequisite for harmony or happiness?

 

In this way the mistakes we make and their consequent suffering become our strength if we have the sincerity to inquire about the source of our suffering. In other words, our weakness becomes our strength if used properly.

 

In Devotion

 

Devotion often begins by a humble response to one’s lack of qualification, a reaction that inspires devotion. In contrast, pride in one’s qualifications ruins devotion:

 

“If a brāhmaa has all twelve of the brāhminical qualifications but is not a devotee and is averse to the lotus feet of the Lord, he is certainly lower than a devotee who is a dog-eater but who has dedicated everything—mind, words, activities, wealth and life—to the Supreme Lord. Such a devotee is better than such a brāhmabecause the devotee can purify his whole family, whereas the so-called brāhmaa in a position of false prestige cannot purify even himself.” (Bhāg. 7.9.10)

 

Why is the devotee, even one born in a family of dog-eaters, more exalted than a brāhmaṇa who is decorated with such qualities as self control, religiousness, and austerity?  The low-born devotee, meaning one fully surrendered to God, becomes humble or spiritual by his bad qualities, where the high class brāhmaṇa, becomes proud by his good qualities.

 

In writing this I am thinking of one striking example I knew quite well one very mentally challenged devotee. To just function in the world he would need to be heavily medicated. I am aware of the pitfalls of psychotropic treatments, but in this case he couldn’t function sanely without them. I saw that personally. Still, every day without fail for almost thirty years he would walk to the temple from his government subsidized apartment and then clean the whole four-story building from top to bottom with the greatest attention. He certainly lacked brāhmanical qualities such as peacefulness, self-control, and austerity, but his challenges made him humble, a clear example of how our karmic lacking can become our strength.

 

In Chanting

 

In previous ages like Satya-yuga, people lived very long lives and also had great strength for meditation and arduous penances, but because of such prowess they also had a difficult time developing faith in the simple and more powerful process of chanting the Lord’s name. In contrast, although today’s people lack the strength for such discipline and meditation, it is precisely because of this lack of qualification that they can more easily develop faith in the glories of the holy name.

 

“Devotion in the form of kīrtana is unlimitedly merciful to those devoid of false prestige. […] Such humility is natural in Kali-yuga because people generally lack the qualifications of those in previous ages […] therefore saṅkīrtana appearing in the midst of the people in Kali-yuga who are naturally meek, easily confers upon them all the results derived from the practices prominent in other yugas and this makes them perfect.” [1]

 

The pressure is on. How many times can I use this trick to write an article? But it did demonstrate an important principle for cultivating spiritual life: If in the natural course of any sincere endeavor you falter, make your weakness your strength by bowing your head and taking shelter of God.

 


[1] Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 273, translation by Satyanarayana dasa

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