Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #12 – The Trick of Turning Weakness into Strength: Part 1

March 23rd, 2020

The Trick of Turning Weakness into Strength: Part 1 [1]

 

He was trying to be a devotee of Krishna. That didn’t mean his anger was gone. I briefly glanced his way in the hall of the Boston temple. I tried not to stare. He was just standing there, but I could sense the intense anger brewing inside. Growing up in New York, I have seen that type of silent fury before. I kept my distance. He had recently hit rock bottom in life and was desperate enough to seek help for his heroin addiction by enrolling in a twelve-step Narcotics Anonymous program on the urging of a friend. The program touched his soul. Despite his anger and pain, he was a devotee and sincere. Thus, he was soon able to leverage the program to break his habit.

 

I don’t remember exactly how, but as he kept visiting the temple, we soon became friends. That was more than thirty-five years ago. We often discussed the recovery literature he was reading. I was impressed by how much they paralleled my understanding of Krishna consciousness and yoga psychology. In our discussions, I was even able to analyze how the recovery process worked based on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. I will share that analysis here, but more importantly was an insight I got from that exploration about the path of bhakti. Our analysis begins with the first three steps.

 

  1. Admit that we are powerless over alcohol — that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. Believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. Decide to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, as we understand them.

 

Analysis of why the twelve-step program is so effective:

 

The root cause of addiction is the deep hole of pain in the heart for affection and positive affirmation that one mistakenly tries to fill with an alcohol or drug induced high. Feeling a fleeting euphoria that deadens one’s pain, one becomes addicted to a relief that, in the long run, only increases the selfishness and lack of affection that is at the root of one’s despair and consequent addiction. By admitting that addiction has made one helpless (the first step) and by seeking God’s help (the second and third step), one has embraced the humble position. Humility allows one to shed the feelings of pride that cover the soul from the feelings of love and connection with God. Pride filters feelings of love, just like the feelings of entitlement in a spoiled child prevents him from feeling the parent’s affection no matter how much they give him out of love. Anyway, these initial spiritual feelings invoked by the humble position, which begin to assuage the need in one’s heart for mercy or kindness, give one the courage and inspiration to continue the humble work of recovery outlined in the remaining steps.[2]

 

The important insight that I gleaned from the twelve-step program that I think has profound application to those on the path of bhakti is how weakness, even moral or character weakness, can lead to strength. Obviously, our moral failings do not serve our Krishna consciousness. However, we are all, even the very sincere, plagued with imperfections. If we use our imperfections, however, even our moral weaknesses, to reflect on our helplessness and humbly increase our dependence on God, then even such weaknesses can be transformed into the greatest strength, the power of humility to invoke grace.

 

Let me finish with an oft-recited verse that touches this same point; if we can use the weakness in our character to depend on God, then our weakness has found its strength. Sounds a lot like the twelve-step program.

 

“Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.” (Bhag. 11.20.27-28) [emphasis mine]

 

 


[1] In future journal entries, besides finding the strength in moral weakness, which I will discuss in this entry, I will also discuss transforming the weakness of our bad karma, the qualities we have that seemingly lack fortune, and the things that happen to us that are radically different than what we want.

[2] I am not an expert on the twelve-step program. Those who are in recovery, please forgive me if in my analysis I say something that is not completely accurate.

 

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