Lesson 15, Topic 2
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Part 2

Mahatma Das May 4, 2021
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How We Sabotage Ourselves

Taking personal responsibility for our own spiritual lives

Śrīla Prabhupāda often quoted the expression, “Man is the architect of his own fortune.” Despite all the help or good association we get, ultimately, we have to do the spiritual work of improving ourselves to avoid self-envy and its detrimental effects.

Taking Responsibility

Where you and I are today in our spiritual lives is no accident. If we want to go further, we’ll need to change or improve on something we are presently doing or not doing, and we will need to respond to some of our circumstances in different ways.

Once, in Los Angeles, Śrīla Prabhupāda said: “Ultimately, we must all fly our own airplane.” What Prabhupāda meant was that although he can teach us Kṛṣṇa consciousness, give us his mercy, and even pray to Kṛṣṇa on our behalf, he can’t force us to be Kṛṣṇa conscious. We have to do the work. In this sense, our spiritual advancement is really in our own hands.

No one can chant our rounds for us, read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam for us, or do devotional service for us. We all have access to the same knowledge and guidance, yet we utilize this bhakti process differently. How we apply the wisdom of bhakti is our choice; no one is choosing for us.

Blaming Doesn’t Help

We can’t blame anyone for our lack of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We may want to blame, or try to, but it doesn’t help us progress. Blaming is an excuse for not taking responsibility. Some blame the past, their parents, their karma, their spouse, their jobs, or their leaders. How many excuses have you made or heard? I have made and heard hundreds. Yet, with every excuse we make, we take a step away from Kṛṣṇa, a step away from taking responsibility for our own spiritual advancement.

Sometimes, we believe that anyone in our situation would act the same way, that we are simply products of circumstances. Don’t fool yourself. Some people do act differently.

Jayananda Prabhu, one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s early disciples, was hospitalized with leukemia. Although his body was falling apart, he rose every morning at 3:30a.m. to perform his devotional activities, which included a full morning program. He also arranged to have regular Bhagavad-gītā classes with other patients. Jayänanda would walk around the hospital to meet people and introduce them to Kṛṣṇa and invite them to his class.

If I had been in his shoes, I probably wouldn’t have done that. Most likely, I would have slept a lot and worried about my health. And I would have had my excuses for doing so. “After all, I have leukemia.”

When we don’t do what may be possible for us to do, we often blame someone or something for our failure. It’s best that we see blame for what it is: a rationalization for not doing as much as Kṛṣṇa is asking of us. The following conversation between Śrīla Prabhupāda and his disciples Gurukrpa and Mahamsa on a morning walk (March 14, 1976) shows how we can foolishly rationalize why we won’t surrender to Kṛṣṇa:

Gurukrpa: “They say that when Krishna desires, I will serve Him, but now He is not desiring. He is not inspiring me to do it.”

Prabhupāda: “What do you mean He is not inspiring you? He is directly saying, ‘You do that (surrender to Me). Isn’t this His instruction and isn’t it for everyone?”

Gurukrpa: “But they will say, ‘He is not inspiring me personally.’

Prabhupāda: “Just see how foolish people are. Krishna is saying directly, ‘Do this,’ and still they say, ‘He is not inspiring.’

Mahamsa: “They say, ‘Only by Krishna ’s mercy, I will be able to surrender to Him. You have His mercy, so you have surrendered. But His mercy has not come to me, so I have not surrendered.’

Prabhupāda: “And if you don’t accept the mercy, then whose fault it is? I am giving you Krishna ’s mercy. You take it. And if you do not take it, then is it my fault?”

Kṛṣṇa has eternally given us the freedom to reject Him, and if we are determined to do so, then nothing will change our resolve:

“So you voluntarily accept this cycle of birth; you don’t accept Kṛṣṇa. Then who can help you? If you have decided to cut your own throat, how can I help you? You’ll do it. Whenever you’ll get opportunity, you’ll cut your throat. How much I can give you protection? That is going on. They have no faith in the words of Kṛṣṇa.”
– Evening Darśana, May 13, 1977, Hrishikesh

Know that Change is Possible

Why Bilvamaṅgala Ṭhākura went to Vṛndāvana to worship Kṛṣṇa is one of my favorite stories, told in detail by Śrīla Prabhupāda to Allen Ginsberg (Room Conversation, May 13, 1969). This dramatic story shows how we can change our lives in an instant despite our circumstances.

In his early life, Bilvamaṅgala Ṭhākura was an elevated devotee, but later on he became completely bewildered by the material energy. One of the activities he regularly engaged in was visiting a prostitute named Cintāmaṇi. One day, he arrived at her house during the height of a fierce storm after undergoing an arduous journey. That was also the night of his father’s funeral, which he had left early in order to meet Cintāmaṇi. When she saw him, she was totally amazed that he would go through so much trouble to meet her, even at the risk of his own safety.

She knew he had been a great devotee of Kṛṣṇa when he was younger, so she spontaneously said, “Look at what you did to get here! Look at all the trouble you took, practically risking your life to enjoy with me. Just think what a great devotee you would be and how glorious your life could be if you had that much devotion for Kṛṣṇa!”

Bilvamaṅgala Ṭhākura’s extreme endeavors to enjoy the pleasures of the material world exemplify a verse in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (4.23.28) on self-envy

“Any person who engages himself within this material world in performing activities that necessitate great struggle, and who, after obtaining a human form of life — which is a chance to attain liberation from miseries — undertakes the difficult tasks of fruitive activities, must be considered to be cheated and envious of his own self.”

Self-envy was also the weakness that the prostitute identified in Bilvamaṅgala Ṭhākura. Her words resonated so deeply within his being that it changed his life on the spot. He immediately decided to go to Vṛndāvana and dedicate his life to Kṛṣṇa.

Would everyone have reacted in the same way? Most men would likely think, “There’s no way in the world I’m going to miss out on enjoying with this woman after taking so much trouble to get here.” Bilvamaṅgala could have said what any normal ‘lusty old man’ would have said: “What? You expect me to give up everything for Kṛṣṇa and go to Vṛndāvana? You must be crazy! Everyone knows that’s impossible!”

The reality is that everyone doesn’t know that it is impossible. Some people do actually give up their bad habits and surrender to Kṛṣṇa, and some do it immediately after reading the Bhagavad-gītā.

Along with dropping the “Everyone knows that…” mentality, I suggest you also drop the “Anyone in my situation would do that” frame of mind. What you are really saying when you generalize like this is, “It is my belief that…”, and you are convincing yourself that you can’t do something you really need to do, or that you can’t serve Kṛṣṇa the way you’d like to.

Envious of Our Own Selves

Śrīla Prabhupāda was once asked the following question:

“Śrīla Prabhupāda, in this purport you mention that not knowing that this life is a preparation for the next life, that one actually becomes envious of his own self.
Prabhupāda: Yes. If he’s going to become a dog next life and if he does not take precaution, then he is not envying himself?”
– Garden Conversation June 28, 1976, New Vrindaban

If we do anything that hurts ourselves, on some level we are acting out of self-envy. If we are truly interested in our own welfare, we will be careful to only do things to benefit ourselves (which also means doing things that are beneficial to others). The problem is that we are conditioned to act in ways that are not always in our highest interest; ways that unfortunately often harm our spiritual lives. Worse, we are conditioned to find excuses for these failings.

In a room conversation (June 15, 1975) couldn’t find quote, Śrīla Prabhupāda uses the term ātma-hā to explain self-envy as the condition of not taking advantage of our lives to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness:

“So anyone who does not take to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, he is most unfortunate. ātma-hā: he is killing himself. Just see. If one kills himself, who can save him? You keep your knife within the pocket, and as soon as there is nobody, you kill yourself, then who can save you? So anyone who is not taking to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is killing himself, that’s all. And we are canvassing, “Please take to this. Free yourself.” That is our duty as servants of Kṛṣṇa. He may take or not take; it doesn’t matter. It is our duty as Kṛṣṇa’s servant to speak.”

Prabhupāda further elucidates his point on ātma-hā in two lectures:

“So this, this process has to be adopted. If you’re actually serious to understand Kṛṣṇa. And if you do not try to understand Kṛṣṇa, then you are making suicide. Ātma-han. They have been described in the śāstra: ātma-han. If I cut my throat, my self, then who can save me? So people do not understand it. And Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, who understands, he has sung, hari hari biphale janama goṅāinu, manuṣya-janama pāiyā, rādhā-kṛṣṇa nā bhajiyā, jāniyā śuniyā biṣa khāinu. So it is our duty, of course, as servant of Kṛṣṇa, to awaken everyone to Kṛṣṇa consciousness by this process of saṅkīrtana movement, but people should take it very seriously, that without taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, one is making suicide, he’s cutting his own throat, or drinking poison. If you like to drink poison, no can, nobody can check you. That’s a fact. If you want to cut your throat, your own self, nobody can check you.

But this is not very good business. We have got this human form of life to understand Kṛṣṇa. That is the, our only business. That is Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s teaching. And Kṛṣṇa is teaching personally in the Bhagavad-gītā. Why should we not take advantage of these things and make our life successful? Why we should be so much foolish? But they are. I do not why they are not taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They’ll take to so many other bogus things, but they will not take Kṛṣṇa.”
– Lecture on Bhagavad-gītā 4.10, Bombay, March 30, 1974

“Ātma-han means suicide. If you cut your throat yourself, who can save you? So we should not become ātma-han and spoil this life. Durlabhaṁ mānuṣaṁ janma tad apy adhruvam arthadam. This human form life, durlabham. After many, many millions of evolution, we have got it. So it is very durlabha. Jalajā nava-lakṣāṇi sthāvarā lakṣa-viṁśati. We have got this opportunity by the grace of God, or the material nature has given us this opportunity. Now we should utilize it properly. This is Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. Don’t spoil it.”
– Lecture on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.26.44, Bombay, January 19, 1975

Do you do anything, consciously or unconsciously that hurts yourself materially or spiritually?

I do it when I don’t chant my rounds attentively, when I don’t give myself quality time for my spiritual practice, when I neglect my health, when I overwork, and waste time in idle talk and frivolous activities.

I have seen that some devotees are so conditioned to doing the wrong things that they cannot sustain the devotional practices that would keep them happy in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Thus, they allow old habits to dominate their lives, causing them to do things that are self-destructive.

One of these is harming others, which is also a characteristic of self-envy according to the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (6.16.42):

“A person who commits murder is envious of himself and also the person he has killed, for the result of committing murder is that he will be arrested and hanged.”

Thus, we cannot harm another being without harming ourselves.

Self-destructive habits can be due to low self-esteem. Devotees tend to struggle more with sādhana because they don’t love themselves or value themselves enough to take care of their spiritual lives well.

Also, a person taking care of themselves materially but neglecting their spiritual lives, is neglecting themselves in the highest and deepest sense. Self-envy thus comes camouflaged in various ways, even as so-called self-care.

Let’s Be Honest

If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that sometimes we even willingly embrace spiritually destructive activities. Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has written a song (hari hari bifale) describing this:

“I have wasted my life. Although I have taken this rare human birth, I have not served Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, and thus I have knowingly drunk poison.”

Śrīla Prabhupāda mentioned in a lecture I attended in Los Angeles in 1972 that those who come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness are the most fortunate, and those who leave are the most unfortunate. He went on to explain that those who leave are the most unfortunate because they give up their rare opportunity to engage in devotional service. Thus, they are even more unfortunate than those who never had the opportunity to engage in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

In the Śrī Īśopaniṣad, the word ātma-hā is used in mantra three. Prabhupāda translates ātma-hā as “the killer of the soul,” and he writes in the purport:

“The Vedic scriptures and the ācāryas, or saintly teachers, are compared to expert boatmen, and the facilities of the human body are compared to favorable breezes that help the boat ply smoothly to its desired destination. If, with all these facilities, a human being does not fully utilize his life for self-realization, he must be considered ātma-hā, a killer of the soul.”

Of course, we are practicing self-realization. Still, it is helpful to consider that when we are not doing as much as we could to advance in devotional service, we are harming ourselves to some degree. Improving our devotional service is as much an act of self-love as it is an offering of love to Kṛṣṇa. Thus, advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness certainly involves being kind, compassionate, and loving to ourselves, and choosing to act in ways that reflect this.

Are you taking as much responsibility for your spiritual life as you could have, or are you blaming other people, your past, or external circumstances for your shortcomings? Are you using blame to your own detriment, using it to sabotage yourself?


  1. Make a list of whom and what you blame.
  2. Ask yourself, “In what ways am I sabotaging myself?”
  3. Look at situations in which you can take more responsibility for your spiritual life.
  4. Ask yourself, “What would a more spiritually advanced person do if he or she were in my situation?”
  5. Rather than focus on what is stopping you from advancing or doing more service, make a list of things you can do right now to improve your spiritual life and service.
  6. Identify what you can do now to take responsibility for your spiritual life?
  7. What have you done in the past that has helped you take responsibility?
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