*This article is taken from two lessons in the Bhakti Yoga Program corrrespondence course taught by Srutadeva das for the ISKCON Prison Ministry.
Being Open & Frank
I feel that this problem must be approached from two perspectives – one psychological / emotional and the other spiritual / devotional. If one practices Krishna consciousness sincerely then gradually all good qualities develop. So in one sense, that is all that is necessary. However, just like you go to a doctor if you break your leg, you don’t just chant Hare Krishna. So similarly, for those of us who have more severe mental / emotional limitations there are many avenues of help in the secular world. Going to therapy, attending workshops and seminars, reading books – things of this nature can be very helpful. I like to think that my 15 years of therapy, workshops and reading were very helpful in my development both as a devotee and a human being. But we should always remember, that just like anything else, we must be reading Srila Prabhupada’s books and chanting Hare Krishna so that we are able to integrate all those secular tools into a Krishna conscious perspective and lifestyle. Otherwise it is simply so many zeros with no #1 (Krishna) in front of them. Worthless.
I had a very interesting exchange with another prisoner that I feel is very important for prison bhaktas to think about. You may not relate to everything in it exactly, but hopefully you will find some points that are helpful:
<<< One prison bhakta who keeps getting sent back to jail asked me in a letter recently: “I never understood why I make such a good devotee in prison and such a terrible devotee out there.” My answer to him was:
“A devotee once asked Srila Prabhupada why maya was so strong. He answered: “Because your purpose is not strong!” Of course, it is much better to get out of jail and be able to go to a temple, offer nice prasadam, chant loudly etc. etc. But if you get out of jail and then become overwhelmed with material life and sinful activities then you are like the wedding party. Do you know that story? They were rowing all night but they didn’t get anywhere because the anchor was still in! That is exactly what happened to me for 35 years. I never fully pulled up the anchor! Therefore it is very important to have the proper attitude in struggling to become more Krishna conscious. Maya is so strong, we should be afraid that we might fall back into maya at any time. This is a very important point. We should always remember that we are very weak and small and that maya is very strong, but Krsna is much stronger than maya because He is the creator and the controller of maya. daivi hy esa guna-mayi, mama maya duratyaya / mam eva ye prapadyante, mayam etam taranti te. “This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Bg. 7.14) Srila Prabhupada once said that he was always praying to Krishna to please protect him from falling down.
Writing a letter is difficult because you can’t see my face and hear the tone of my voice. I am not trying to give you a hard time in any way. I am just trying to make a very important point. Just like you say that cigarettes are your main problem. And that was what “always” drove you away from the temples. I am very happy to hear that you haven’t had a cigarette since the end of December. But I’ll be real honest with you and tell you that it wasn’t cigarettes that pushed you out of the temple. There is something underneath that. Spiritually and emotionally. I am a sex addict. Well, a recovering one. So I know about addictions. It’s not the sex. It’s not the drugs. It’s not the cigarettes. And if you don’t deal with what’s really going on, you are going to have the exact same thing happen to you again and again. You will start smoking again and you will have the same problems with Krishna consciousness. Personally, I was in therapy for 15 years dealing with my “stuff.” And at the same time I was trying to improve my Krishna consciousness. Therapy without Krishna – anything without Krishna – is not going to get you very far. So you must deal with both – your spiritual life and your body, mind, and emotions. In the neophyte stage we have to deal with our own particular “psycho-physical” nature. If we get sick we may have to go to a doctor. If we have psychological problems we may need to see a therapist. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Srila Prabhupada said: “Keep your health in good condition and work very hard for Krsna. That is our motto of life.” So that includes mental health. In general Prabhupada recommended chanting and reading as the cure for all our mental ills. But if one has a particular problem (like I have and I am assuming you do also or you wouldn’t keep winding up in prison) then there is no harm to try to get some specific help. Don’t let your pride or whatever keep you from getting help.”
Then he replied telling me about a program he had participated in (federal prison):
“ The CODE program is a one year residential program designed to help a person deal with their criminal behavior, learn correct cognitive thinking skills, break the chains that bound us to the past etc. It was a very good program. It made me finally understand a lot of things in my life and stupid things that I was doing. It also helped me to understand how I was not only destroying my life, but how I was also destroying the ones I love as well. I had never looked at things from that perspective before.
Sometime this summer (hopefully) I’ll participate in the Life Connections Program (LCP). LCP builds on what I learned in CODE, but it addresses issues from a spiritual perspective. It is an 18 month residential re-entry program. The LCP program is unique in that it encourages a person to address major life issues from the perspective of a person’s own religious tradition. They give full facility to every spiritual tradition and they go out of their way to get mentors, volunteers etc. from each faith group. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the LCP staff believe (as I do), that change is possible and that a person is worthy to receive help.
Thus, the LCP program is an intense residential program which includes opportunities for spiritual growth; deepening of religious roots; values and social responsibility training; personal mentoring; and developing victim impact understanding. ”
So if we are going to make spiritual advancement we have to be very honest about our problems and our weaknesses and discuss them with our spiritual master or another devotee. We have to reveal our hearts and minds to the devotees. Otherwise it is like going to a doctor and not telling him what is wrong. We need help and we have to be very open and honest about it. We need to open up about our problems and what are the triggers and the situations that get us to act out again. What are the chain of events that lead up to our falling down? These are the kinds of things that need to be worked on with the proper therapist who knows how to deal with addictive behavior.
Then another bhakta wrote: “I still have left out a lot of the parts that are hard for me to deal with. Eventually I will force myself to face my past and just get it out. It might take some time before I can actually do this but I know that facing my past is something which I must do.”
“I was so happy to hear you say this. I must tell you that this is extremely important for your spiritual advancement. I have found that most prisoners who get into Krishna consciousness become very sentimental about it in prison but as soon as they get out they go right back to their old ways. Why? Because they never let Krishna enter into the dark part of their lives, their past, their sinful habits etc. They were not honest with themselves, with the devotees they were writing to, and ultimately with Krishna. They would write “Jaya Prabhupada” and “May the love of Krsna bloom in your heart with all the mercy ….etc. etc. etc. “ They would write very flowery words. Of course, that is nice. It is okay. But I got the feeling that for some of them, Krishna consciousness was just like a hobby that took care of some emotional needs while they were in prison. But as soon as they got out. Wham!! Back to the old ways. So if we want to make advancement on the path of Krishna consciousness we have to reveal our hearts and minds to the spiritual master and to Krishna.”
As Srila Prabhupada says in the Srimad Bhagavatam:
“Anyone can become successful in devotional service provided he displays no duplicity. It is explained here that one must be very frank and open-minded (amayinah). To be situated in a lower status of life is not a disqualification for success in devotional service. The only qualification is that whether one is a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya or shudra, he must be open, frank and free from reservations.” SB 4.21.33
The word “frank” is described in the dictionary: “free and direct in expressing oneself; honest, open.” Srila Prabhupada explained further: Learning to love Krishna is something like developing love in our ordinary affairs. If I love a girl, I will give her a flower or other present. This is one of the six exchanges of love: you have to give a gift to your beloved. You also have to accept gifts from him (dadati, pratigrhnati). Then guhyam akhyati prcchati: opening one’s mind to the beloved. Guhyam means “very confidential things,” and akhyati means “disclosing.” You must disclose your innermost thoughts to your beloved, and he’ll disclose his innermost thoughts to you. Then bhunkte bhojayate caiva—giving the lover something to eat and accepting food from him. These are the six ways of increasing love. If you act in these ways with Krishna, you will develop love for Him.
So alongside of the chanting Hare Krsna and performing devotional service we must deal with our material problems as well. Krishna consciousness is a gradual process for cleansing the heart. If you did nothing else, eventually all the dirty things in your heart would be cleansed. However, it has been my experience, that persons that have problems with drugs etc. need extra help to keep them from falling back to sinful activities. There is a saying: “You are only as sick as your secrets.” We all have a dark side. Discussing these things with devotees is one part. But they are not trained counselors. Those of us who have deep attachments can use professional help as well. By doing this we are showing Krishna our sincerity. That is important.
To further discuss this important topic I thought that the following Vyasa Puja offering from Brahmananda das, one of Srila Prabhupada’s first disciples who was there in New York back in 1966 would be helpful:
“Recently on a tape, we heard you describing the nature of the soul with an analogy to sex. You explained that a covering, a condom, is used during sex. The condom is not much enjoyed, however, because it reduces pleasure. So scientists invented the pill. Now without the need of the covering, enjoyment is greater, and people are more happy. Again, you elucidated the analogy of sex, by pointing out that during sex, the partners’ clothes are always removed. No one has sex while clothed; enjoyment increases by removing the garments, or the covering.
Then you revealed the purport – that the covering of the body (clothes and condom) is just like the body covering the soul. As the body relishes without any covering, so does the soul enjoy without the body. Pure soul, the spiritual form, is the greatest delight. By associating with Lord Krishna via devotional service, we can acquire our spiritual form.
When we hear that sex, the greatest pleasure of the body, is merely an analogy for the ecstasy of the soul, it makes us reflect upon what we have done with our lives. Your description of spiritual pleasure fascinates us, our perpetual absorption in the body wanes, and we want to know what it is you are teaching and what you must be experiencing. You have made us want to be something of what you are. You have woken us up from the slumber of maya. You have inspired us to crawl out of this horrible material world to come and serve you on the sublime spiritual platform, where you associate and sing and dance with Krsna and His divine pleasure potencies.
Your analogy is readily understandable by us Westerners, and also by newly westernized Easterners, who are deeply encumbered by sex. Although previous acaryas have used the analogy of sex, none have used it in this unique way to teach Krsna consciousness. Here is another proof of your genius. We could cite scores of other examples of your brilliant preaching. Your books and lectures are an unlimited treasure house of spiritual gems.
We are proud to have you as our spiritual master and to be your followers. We can only hope that everyone else in the world will discover what we have. You are the greatest spiritual master to have ever appeared on this Earth and you are worthy of being followed by all – with life, soul, and love.
You once wrote to me that it is not enough to only glorify you; it is more important to try to do as you are doing, delivering the fallen souls; and try to be as you are, a pure devotee of the Lord. However, although it is not pleasant, we must admit our hypocrisy publicly. We fantasize about one day going back to Godhead, yet we are not liberated from the chief attraction of the material world. Help us to be free. We want to be fully absorbed in the loving service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Only you can help us.
May we be humble, as you always are. You told us that arrogance is the characteristic of those who have not realized themselves to be the one-ten-thousandth tip-of-the-hair soul but rather their body. This is a cardinal instruction, because only the humble can effectively chant the name of the Lord constantly. There is no other way. This is what you have graciously and selflessly taught.”
Giving Up Addictions – Getting a Higher Taste
“Dear Bhakta Benjamin, I can relate to your struggle with taking drugs as I have quite an addictive personality myself and have struggled with different kinds of addictions for most of my life. That is why I ended up in jail. I have never taken heroin but I have heard as you say that it is very much available in prison. And now there is a huge problem in the United States with prescription pain medication. People are dying every day from overdoses and the addiction rates are over the top all around the US. So the only solution is to become very serious and sincere about our Krishna consciousness. The more we can read and chant and engage in devotional service the more we can develop a genuine taste for Krishna and loose our taste for everything non-Krishna. Here are some quotes from Srila Prabhupada that I hope you find helpful. They do not deal with substance abuse directly but the idea of getting a higher taste is applicable to all attachments in this material world. And please don’t hesitate to share with me more about your feelings and problems. It is very important to open up about our problems and talk about things with someone. And I will try to give you some helpful feedback. Hare Krishna.”
Though the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.
Unless one is transcendentally situated, it is not possible to cease from sense enjoyment. The process of restriction from sense enjoyment by rules and regulations is something like restricting a diseased person from certain types of eatables. The patient, however, neither likes such restrictions nor loses his taste for eatables. Similarly, sense restriction by some spiritual process like ashtanga-yoga, in the matter of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, etc., is recommended for less intelligent persons who have no better knowledge. But one who has tasted the beauty of the Supreme Lord Krishna, in the course of his advancement in Krishna consciousness, no longer has a taste for dead, material things. Therefore, restrictions are there for the less intelligent neophytes in the spiritual advancement of life, but such restrictions are only good until one actually has a taste for Krishna consciousness. When one is actually Krishna conscious, he automatically loses his taste for pale things. (Bg 2.59)
An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunté, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.
Material sense pleasures are due to the contact of the material senses, which are all temporary because the body itself is temporary. A liberated soul is not interested in anything which is temporary. Knowing well the joys of transcendental pleasures, how can a liberated soul agree to enjoy false pleasure? ”
Therefore, those who are true yogis or learned transcendentalists are not attracted by sense pleasures, which are the causes of continuous material existence. The more one is addicted to material pleasures, the more he is entrapped by material miseries. (Bg 5.22)
Just try to understand the mighty strength of My maya in the shape of woman, who by the mere movement of her eyebrows can keep even the greatest conquerors of the world under her grip.
There are many instances in the history of the world of a great conqueror’s being captivated by the charms of a Cleopatra. One has to study the captivating potency of woman, and man’s attraction for that potency. From what source was this generated? According to Vedanta-sutra, we can understand that everything is generated from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is enunciated there, janmady asya yatah [SB 1.1.1]. This means that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or the Supreme Person, Brahman, the Absolute Truth, is the source from whom everything emanates. The captivating power of woman, and man’s susceptibility to such attraction, must also exist in the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the spiritual world and must be represented in the transcendental pastimes of the Lord.
The Lord is the Supreme Person, the supreme male. As a common male wants to be attracted by a female, that propensity similarly exists in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He also wants to be attracted by the beautiful features of a woman. Now the question is, if He wants to be captivated by such womanly attraction, would He be attracted by any material woman? It is not possible. Even persons who are in this material existence can give up womanly attraction if they are attracted by the Supreme Brahman. Such was the case with Haridasa Thakura. A beautiful prostitute tried to attract him in the dead of night, but since he was situated in devotional service, in transcendental love of Godhead, Haridasa Thakura was not captivated. Rather, he turned the prostitute into a great devotee by his transcendental association. This material attraction, therefore, certainly cannot attract the Supreme Lord. When He wants to be attracted by a woman, He has to create such a woman from His own energy. That woman is Radharani. It is explained by the Goswami’s that Radharani is the manifestation of the pleasure potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When the Supreme Lord wants to derive transcendental pleasure, He has to create a woman from His internal potency. Thus the tendency to be attracted by womanly beauty is natural because it exists in the spiritual world. In the material world it is reflected pervertedly, and therefore there are so many inebrieties.
Instead of being attracted by material beauty, if one is accustomed to be attracted by the beauty of Radharani and Krishna, then the statement of Bhagavad-gita, param drshtva nivartate [Bg. 2.59], holds true. When one is attracted by the transcendental beauty of Radha and Krishna, he is no longer attracted by material feminine beauty. That is the special significance of Radha-Krishna worship. That is testified to by Yamunacharya. He says, “Since I have become attracted by the beauty of Radha and Krishna, when there is attraction for a woman or a memory of sex life with a woman, I at once spit on it, and my face turns in disgust.” When we are attracted by Madana-mohana and the beauty of Krishna and His consorts, then the shackles of conditioned life, namely the beauty of a material woman, cannot attract us. (SB 3.31.38)
That Is the Only Remedy
Prabhupada: Sense enjoyment means not advanced in Krishna consciousness. As soon as one is advancing in Krishnaconsciousness, his sense enjoyment spirit will be reduced. That is the test. Bhaktih pareshanubhavo viraktir anyatra ca. The test of how you are advancing in Krishna consciousness is the proportionate diminishing of sense enjoyment. That is the test. Just like cure of the disease means diminishing the fever, temperature. This is the test.
Devotee: What if that fever is not being diminished?
Prabhupada: Then he should try to chant Hare Krishna mantra, instead of sixteen rounds, sixty-four rounds. That is the way. Sixteen round is the minimum. Otherwise, Haridasa Thakura was 300,000. So you have to increase. That is the only remedy. If one has got determination, he will make progress without any trouble. That determination is very difficult, that determination, “I must be Krishna conscious fully.” That determination. Drdha-vratah.
(Morning Walk / Perth, Australia / May 14, 1975)
So we must always be trying to increase our reading and chanting and devotional activities. That is determination. Of course, Srila Prabhupada didn’t actually expect us to chant 64 rounds every day but by saying that he was stressing and encouraging the importance of chanting more and more. That is very difficult, but we must pray with our heart and soul for the strength.
Finally, in conclusion, here are three very nice prayers:
visaya garala-maya tāhe māna sukha-caya se nā sukha duhkha kari māna
gobinda-biñaya-rasa sanga kara tāna dāsa prema-bhakti satya kari jāna
Material enjoyments are full of poison, but you consider them pleasing. Do not think of them as a source of happiness, but understand them as distress. Be absorbed in full thought of Govinda, associate with His devotees and conclude that loving devotional service is the goal of life.
Yuvatīnām yathā yuni yunām ca yuvatau yathā
mano ‘bhiramate tadvan mano me ramatām tvayi
My Lord, I know that young girls have natural affection for young boys, and that young boys have natural affection for young girls. I am praying at Your lotus feet that my mind may become attracted unto You in the same spontaneous way. Just as the minds of young girls take pleasure in young boys, and young boys take pleasure in young girls, kindly allow my mind to take pleasure in You alone.
oṁ namo bhagavate narasimhāya namas tejas-tejase āvir-āvirbhava
vajra-nakha vajra-damstra karmāśayān randhaya randhaya tamo grasa
grasa om svāhā; abhayam abhayam ātmani bhūyiṣṭhā om kṣraum
I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Nrshringhadeva, the source of all power. O my Lord who possesses nails and teeth just like thunderbolts, kindly vanquish our demonlike desires for fruitive activity in this material world. Please appear in our hearts and drive away our ignorance so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this material world.
Unless one is completely freed of all material desires, which are caused by the dense darkness of ignorance, one cannot fully engage in the devotional service of the Lord. Therefore we should always offer our prayers to Lord Nrshringhadeva, who killed Hiranyakashipu, the personification of material desire. He was therefore the cause of great disturbance to the topmost devotee, Prahlada Maharaja, until Lord Nrshringhadeva killed him. Any devotee aspiring to be free of material desires should offer his respectful prayers to Nrshringhadeva as Prahlada Maharaja did in this verse.