Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #44 – Is Krishna Consciousness Too Much?

October 29th, 2018

People who joined Krishna consciousness at a very early age, including most of my students, usually had to struggle to put energy into attaining things that people in a normal, traditional society would be provided for almost automatically, like a stable marriage and a viable and satisfying means of employment. And even if those things were relatively settled, still, in modern life, the responsibility of raising a family are exceptionally time-consuming and straining. When you add to that the yogic commitment of near two hours of meditation daily for those initiated the question naturally arises whether at times Krishna consciousness is too much for some?

 

This realization arose at my Vyāsa-pūjā[1] this year. I was observing several students who had become somewhat distant from Krishna consciousness in their twenties and thirties and who are doing much better now having entered their forties. In fact, whether people had previously stuck to the path of Krishna consciousness strictly or not, I observed that, for the most part, people were advancing much more quickly in Krishna consciousness after finally becoming reasonably settled socially and occupationally. In my talk that day I even mentioned that one of the challenges of being their teacher when they were younger was adding to their already burdened life, often including very rocky and incompatible marriages, and the very substantial commitment of initiation in Krishna consciousness. While pondering this quandary of whether the burdens of modern life make a serious commitment to spiritual practice somewhat impractical, various random thoughts came to mind connected to this subject. I thought that it might be beneficial to list those thoughts and then try to resolve this tension between modern life and spiritual commitment.

 

 

What did Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura say?

 

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was once asked about the relationship between varṇāśrama[2] and Krishna consciousness. His answer: “Varṇāśrama provides an individual with physical, emotional, and social peace, and without physical, social, and mental peace what is the question of the higher endeavor of Krishna consciousness.” In other words, a society that guarantees a proper job according to one’s nature provides both one’s physical needs and one’s mental fulfillment in addition to a functional and peaceful society manned by well-trained people. These are all aspects of well-being and peacefulness, along with a functional marriage, which are supportive and even necessary for most people to gain the disposition required for a successful devotional practice without feeling overburdened by it.

 

Our work should be our fun.

 

The main joy in life should be a chosen occupation according to our proclivities, talents, and liking, either as intellectuals, administrators, merchants (including farming), and laborers (including craftsman). When our work itself is our joy, and we come home to a relatively peaceful family, it is so much easier to add to one’s life the austerities required for a dedicated spiritual practice. When work itself, however, is the austerity, the practices of Krishna consciousness can certainly seem like too much.

 

What did Śrīla Prabhupāda say?

 

Near the end of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, when no ordinary person in such a debilitated physical condition would dare consider travelling abroad, Śrīla Prabhupāda embarked on a journey to Gītā-nagarī farm to teach people how to live off the land. Unfortunately, by the time he reached London his condition worsened and he had to immediately return to Vṛndāvana. But his message was clear, and it was a message that he repeated throughout his teachings — that you cannot separate economics from spiritual life and thus self-sustainable communities based on simple living and high thinking is a requirement for most families to succeed in serious spiritual life. Time has arguably proven his concerns as valid. Without such support, too many families have become lax in their devotional commitments.

 

 

The sacrifice is always worth it.

 

The commitment to full Krishna consciousness is always worth it no matter how challenging, even if one can’t maintain their original commitment. Śrīla Prabhupāda makes it clear in numerous commentaries on verse 1.5.17 in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that whatever one sacrifices for a full commitment to spiritual life is well worth it, even if one later becomes lax in his commitments. His paraphrase of the translation of this verse highlights the point:

 

“If a person, out of sentiment or for some other reason, takes to the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord and in due course of time does not succeed in coming to the ultimate goal of life, or falls down due to lack of experience, there is no loss. But for a person who does not take to devotional service, yet executes his material duties very nicely, there is no gain.”

 

 

Conclusion

 

There is no loss ever in taking a risk for the sake of a sincere spiritual commitment, but it is always better to do everything one can to maintain one’s commitment, especially situating oneself the best one can according to one’s occupational and social proclivity. Obviously, a self-sustainable spiritual community, or as close a facsimile as possible, is the best way to do that. We should not underestimate its importance and thus, as far as possible, one should seek situations conducive to spiritual life so one is not feeling the pressure to choose between maintaining one’s material life and one’s spiritual commitments.

 

Saying that I also realize that for many valid reasons we are stuck in various situations not conducive or supportive of Krishna consciousness despite our best effort. Our only recourse then is to avail ourselves at every opportunity of the association of spiritually evolved devotees who certainly have the power to inspire us in the importance of spiritual life and give us a taste for the holy name. For ultimately, no matter how burdened we are with material responsibilities and karmically challenging situations, if by the mercy of a sadhu one can just understand the urgency of spiritual realization and gain a taste for the holy name, then Krishna consciousness will never be too much, and our challenges will just become opportunities to invoke Krishna’s mercy by showing Him our sincerity. And that mercy has no bounds!

 

 

 

 


[1] Vyāsa-pūjā is the appearance day of the spiritual master. Traditionally, the spiritual master shows his disciples how to honor their spiritual lineage by worshiping his own spiritual master and then, in turn, accepting homage and worship from his own disciples.

[2] Varṇāśrama was the traditional Indian social and economic structure based on situating oneself properly both occupationally and socially.

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