How to Balance Feelings of Unworthiness?

Illuminations Newsletter 64

Devotees usually feel unqualified or unworthy to serve guru and Krishna. This is useful when it is a natural sign of spiritual development. But it can also be harmful if, due to an unhealthy psyche, we either feel unworthy of receiving Krishna’s mercy or feel unworthy of Krishna’s love. The spiritual sense of unworthiness and the material sense of unworthiness are not the same things. One is a by-product of a high level of Krsna consciousness, and the other is a sign of an unhealthy mental or emotional state.

Can conditioned souls develop a healthy sense of unworthiness? If yes, what will it look like? And how do we know that these feelings are not related to Krishna consciousness, but are signs of emotional weakness or problems? We will address these and similar questions in this newsletter.

(This newsletter is based on a lecture I gave in Israel in June 2012.)

I wish you always think of Krishna.

Mahatma das.

Isn’t it artificial?

 The elementary understanding of Krishna consciousness is based on the fact that this world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world. We know that undesirable qualities (such as jealousy, anger, resentment, envy, etc.) have their pure “all-good” spiritual counterparts. What looks like a material deficiency or even a mental or emotional illness may be a sign of an elevated state of Krishna consciousness. Thus, sometimes we see mature devotees displaying extreme lamentation, self-denigration, or despair as aspects of their Krishna consciousness.

How should we feel about this? Can we follow in their footsteps? Is there such lamentation, self-denigration, and despair that is appropriate for our level of Krishna consciousness? If there is, then how can we not lose heart from such emotions?

Feelings of unworthiness have their place in our lives and can inspire us if these feelings are genuine and match our level of Krishna consciousness. To reach a level where we experience a genuine sense of spiritual unworthiness, we first need to overcome our material feelings of unworthiness. Why? Because these material senses are not useful for our bhakti.

Let’s first look at feelings of unworthiness that are detrimental to our progress.


Who is qualified to get Krishna?

Devotees often feel unworthy to receive Krishna’s mercy, kindness, and love, feeling that Krishna will simply “throw pearls before swine.” Most often, these feelings are mixed or result from a material feeling of unworthiness (I am bad, I am dirty, I am stupid, I…).

So let’s first understand that the Lord does not see us as we can see ourselves.

Everyone, by the grace of Mahaprabhu, is worthy of Krishna’s love and therefore is worthy of becoming Krishna conscious. How did we all become worthy? What have we done?

In fact, we didn’t do anything. All we did was just exist. As a spirit soul (which obviously requires no action on our part), we are entitled to the mercy of the Lord. Mahaprabhu’s love is so great that every living being is the object of His love. In fact, He cannot but love us.

 Now you may be asking, “Why would Krishna take care of me? I am insignificant. Besides, I don’t even like Krishna very much. I try to imitate Him, I neglect Him, I take something from Him, I criticize His devotees and always think of my own enjoyment.”

Despite all this, Krishna always takes care of us. How can we understand this? If He did not take care of us, then why did He endow His holy name with the power of prema (i.e., why does He dispense prema through His Holy Name)? If Krishna did not want a relationship with us, why did He send so many of His eternal associates to this world to bring us back to Himself despite our mistakes and inability to participate in His service? If Krishna does not love us, why did He send Srila Prabhupada who tried his best to save us from our material life and offer a ticket to the spiritual world?  

This is just a small indication of how Krishna cares for each of us. To become unworthy of Krishna’s love, there is nothing we can do except continue to blaspheme or disobey the pure devotees of Krishna. However, even if we think we are truly unworthy, it makes us even more worthy to receive His mercy. Just as poverty makes you eligible for government benefits, it is disqualification that causes you to be worthy of God’s grace. If Mahaprabhu had been distributing love for Krishna at the price of a qualification, He would have closed his shop long ago, ceasing business due to a lack of customers.

 Krishna takes care of every soul

Inadequate feelings of unworthiness can be caused by the fact that other people do not like or underestimate you (or so you think) or personal failures in life. In such an unhealthy state, we may feel so low, unclean, unintelligent, or unworthy that even God will not look for a reason to love us.

A devotee once asked Srila Prabhupada, “Why would Krishna take care of me? He has so many devotees. He has gopis, cowherd boys, his mother and father, many servants.”

We may feel the same way. After all, we know that we are not perfect and are not always Krishna conscious. So we can easily think, “Why would Krishna take care of me? Krishna has so many loving devotees and I don’t have a drop of love for Him. Would He want to associate with such an inconspicuous person as me?

Prabhupada explained that if you hurt your finger, you will try to save it. You don’t say to the doctor, “Let this finger fall off, I have nine other fingers.” Similarly, Krishna does not think, “I have got many other devotees, so what do I care about you?” He doesn’t think so, because Krishna cares about everything!

We give Krishna a unique pleasure

Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakur describes that every living being has his own unique relationship with Krishna, and thus Krishna experiences unique pleasure in relationship with everyone. In other words, with each of us, Krishna enjoys his own, unique taste of relationship. This means that He is eager to experience this or that rasa with each of us. Moreover, he has a unique way of reciprocating to everyone – this is a unique taste that He offers to everyone and everyone.

But that does not mean that Krishna is ambivalent towards us. He really wants a relationship with us, so much so that he is actively trying to get us back into that relationship. The problem is not that Krishna doesn’t care about relationships. The difficulty comes only when we don’t care enough about the relationship ourselves. This means that the problem is not that Krishna feels we are unworthy of a relationship; the problem is that we don’t feel worthy of a relationship.

(It can also mean that feelings of unworthiness sometimes serve as an excuse for not making the right effort in our relationship with Krishna.)

 We misunderstand Krishna’s love

If someone gives us a gift, we may feel unworthy to accept it, but out of respect and mutual love, we accept this gift anyway. After all, it would be unethical not to accept someone’s expression of love because we feel unworthy of it. In the same way, Krishna gives Himself to us through the Holy Name, the spiritual master, the sangha of the devotees, His temples, through the archa murti .– in many ways – and we will reject His love if we say, “No, I’m not going to accept these gifts because I’m not worthy of them.” If we had said this, Krishna would have said, “It doesn’t matter that you are unworthy. I give myself to you. My criterion is not whether you are worthy. I give myself to you, not because you are worthy, but because I love you.” So the question is not whether we are worthy or not. It all comes down to getting the love of Krishna.

Krishna’s name is Rasaraja, the king of relationships. Krishna is very successful in this, and if He wants a relationship with us, we cannot reject Him by saying, “No, don’t expect much reciprocity from me, because I am not worthy of a relationship with You.” Are we so foolish as to say to Krishna, “I am not available to You!”

Stop fooling around

In Yiddish, there is an expression “putzing” (“play the fool”). If someone is “fooling around”, it means that he is busy with a lot of useless things that lead to nothing. “Goofing around” basically means, as Bob Dylan sang, “to be busy doing nothing.”

We are all very busy in the material world, doing millions of things, which in the end is nothing but preparing for our next birth. In other words, we tend to be experts at fooling around. Has it ever happened to you that you are in a hurry to a meeting and ask one of the family members to get into the car, but they are in no hurry to do this because they are busy with something unimportant?

In the same way, Krishna calls us to leave this world because we are “loitering around” doing millions of unimportant things.

Krishna says, “I have a place for you in My house. Your spiritual body is ready; your ministry is ready; there are all conditions for your eternal stay. Stop fooling around, come home!”

 Krishna is waiting for us

In a lecture in Mayapur, Jananivasa Prabhu said, “It seems strange that Madhava (Mayapura Deity) plays his flute because Krishna plays his flute to call Radharani and the gopis. Since Radharani and the gopis are already there (on the altar in Mayapur), Krishna does not need to play the flute. So why is he playing? He plays his flute to call us! His flute sings a song that goes something like this: “Come home. I’m waiting for you. Stop fooling around. Is what you’re doing really that important?”

At the end of a lecture I gave at a college in India earlier this year, the dean expressed his feelings thus: “What is the problem if I remain life afterlife in the material world, and yet I am happy? I create good karma, serve others, and do no harm to anyone.”

I told him, “Krishna wants you to return to Him. He is waiting for you.” And I felt that he appreciated this answer. That same evening he enthusiastically told me, “You made me understand that Krishna is waiting for me.”

This is how we should think. Thinking about whether you are worthy or not simply prevents you from understanding the fact that Krishna is waiting for us.

Do you want to dance with Krishna?

Srila Prabhupada often ended his lectures with encouraging words. Sometimes he said that one day you will see Krishna face to face just like we see each other. Sometimes he said that someday you will be dancing with Krishna. When Srila Prabhupada makes such promises, we should not say, “Yes, but not me. I’m too useless. I’m not worthy or qualified.” It means, “No, I’m just going to stay here to keep on fooling around. That’s all I’m good for.”

Krishna is waiting to dance with us. What kind of fools are we if we make excuses not to join the dance?

The all-attractive is trying to attract us

Krishna did not have to come to the material world. However, He came and performed His pastimes to draw us back to Himself. In fact, whatever Krishna does is ultimately done for this purpose. In other words, He only works to help us restore our relationship with Him. He creates the material world to enable us to change ourselves, and He reveals His pastimes to attract our minds and hearts to Him. This means that He plays His pastimes to awaken our love for Him. Try to feel this affection when you hear about His pastimes .and feel how He draws you into a relationship with Himself. When you read Srimad-Bhagavatam, between the lines you can hear Krishna say, “Please accept My love. Kindly join Me in My eternal lila.”

 Krishna attracts us through His devotees

Similarly, when reading Srila Prabhupada’s commentary, behind his words you can feel how Prabhupada expresses love and compassion. Of course, the essence of the message is also there, but behind the lines of the message, allow yourself to feel the love that Srila Prabhupada has for you and for me and for all conditioned souls.

Prabhupada’s love for us is another proof of Krishna’s love for us. Prabhupada is the messenger of Krishna’s love, so he loves us all equally. Prabhupada loves everyone to such an extent that he never rejects a person if he is ready to serve Krishna, no matter how fallen a person may be.

 Positive feeling of unworthiness

However, as pointed out earlier, there are genuine feelings of unworthiness that correspond to our level of development. These feelings are natural and beneficial for bhakti. What are these real feelings for neophyte devotees and how do they manifest?

At the stage of vaidhisadhana bhakti, the feeling of unworthiness manifests itself in two ways: gratitude and humility. Appreciation expresses gratitude that Krishna accepts us and our service, despite our past sins and current mistakes, if we just sincerely try to serve Him and Srila Prabhupada. Despite our lack of qualifications, Krishna graciously gives us much service. When we think about how Krishna allows us to engage in His service despite being disqualified, our gratitude to Him for the service He gives us grows. Thus, feeling unworthy helps us view our ministry as a precious gift and blessing.

 Feeling unworthy also makes us feel helpless. Rightly perceived helplessness is an expression of humility according to our present level of Krishna consciousness. This is expressed in our complete dependence on Krishna for guidance, intelligence, and ability to do our service well, and sometimes even just for the opportunity to serve. It is by this kind of humility that we advance rapidly in Krsna consciousness. Thus feelings of unworthiness, when manifested in Krishna consciousness, become one of our greatest allies in the sadhana of bhakti, because humility is an essential condition for advancing in Krishna consciousness.


Therefore, we must feel unworthy. We don’t deserve Krishna’s love. We don’t even deserve to be betrayed. We turned our backs on Krishna, we challenged Him, we disobeyed Him, and even tried to take His position.

However, Krishna ignores all this and forgives us. His desire for a relationship with us is so strong that He will not let it get in the way. Since Krishna will not let our own shortcomings get in our way, we should also never let them get in our way. Rather, we should allow our sense of unworthiness to bring us closer to Krishna. This is what Krishna expects from us.

In Brihad-bhagavatamrta, when Gopa-kumara comes to the spiritual world and meets Krishna for the first time, the Lord says to him, “Why have you been gone so long? Why did you make you wait so long? I missed you so much!”

Yes, Krishna really misses us. Let’s stop fooling around because Krishna is waiting for us!

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