In this issue we discuss the importance of taking personal responsibility for our spiritual lives. Prabhupada often quoted the saying, “Man is the architect of his own destiny.” Despite all the help or good association we get, ultimately we have to do the spiritual work of improving ourselves.
May you always think of Krsna,
Killer of the Soul – Take Responsibility – Illuminations Newsletter 8
Where you and I are today in our spiritual lives is no accident. So if we want to go further in our spiritual lives, we’ll need to change or improve on something we are presently doing – and we will need to respond to some of our circumstances in different ways.
Once in his quarters in New Dwaraka, (Los Angeles) Srila Prabhupada said, “Ultimately, we must all fly our own airplane.” What Prabhupada meant was that although he can teach us Krsna consciousness, give us his mercy, and even pray to Krsna on our behalf, he can’t force us to be Krsna conscious. Our spiritual advancement is in our own hands. No one can chant our rounds for us, read Srimad Bhagavatam for us, or do devotional service for us. We all have access to the same knowledge and help, but we deal with it differently. How we deal with it is our choice; no one is choosing for us.
Blaming Doesn’t Help
We can’t blame anyone for our lack of Krsna consciousness. We may want to or try to, but it doesn’t help us advance. Blaming is an excuse for not taking responsibility. Some blame the past, their parents, their karma, the stars, their spouse, their jobs, 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 Krsna, a step away from taking the responsibility we need to take for our own spiritual advancement.
One common excuse we make when we compromise our spiritual lives is that we believe that anyone in our situation would act in the same way. The truth is that not everyone in that same situation will deal with it in the way.
Jayananda Prabhu, one of the early disciples of Srila Prabhupada, was hospitalized with leukemia. Although his body was falling apart and he was weak, he rose every day at 3:30 am to perform his devotional activities. This included a full morning program. He arranged to have regular Gita classes with other patients and also would walk around the hospital to meet people and introduce them to Krsna. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t be doing that. I’d be sleeping more and worrying a lot about my health. I don’t even do what Jayananda did and I am healthy.
So when we don’t do what is possible for us, we often use blame to deny that it is our fault. It is best that we see blame for what it is: a rationalization for not doing what Krsna asks of us. The following conversation illustrates this point.
Gurukripa: They say “that when Krsna desires I will serve Him. But now He is not desiring. He is not inspiring me to do it.”
Prabhupada: 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?”
Gurukripa: But they will say “He is not inspiring me personally.”
Prabhupada: Just see how foolish people are. Krsna is saying directly, “Do this”, and still they say “He is not inspiring.”
Mahamsa: They say, “Only by Krsna’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.”
Prabhupada: And if you don’t accept the mercy, then whose fault it is? I am giving you Krsna’s mercy: You take it. And if you do not take it, then is it my fault?
The story of how Bilvamangala Thakura went to Vrndavana to worship Krsna is one of my favorites because it shows how it is possible to change our lives in an instant despite our circumstances. In his early life Bilvamangala Thakura was an elevated devotee but later in life he became degraded. One of the things he did was to regularly visit a prostitute. One day he arrived during the height of a fierce storm after undergoing an arduous journey and the prostitute was totally amazed that he would come in such weather. She knew that in his early life he was a devotee so she spontaneously said, “Look at what you did to get here. Look at all the trouble you took, practically risking your life to get here just to enjoy with me. Just think what a great devotee you would be and how glorious your life would be if you had that much devotion to Krsna.”
The words of the prostitute resonated so deeply within Bilvamangala Thakura’s being that it changed his life on the spot. He immediately decided to go to Vrndavana and dedicate his life to Krsna. Would everyone have reacted in the same way? No way. Probably most would think “there is no way in the world I am going to miss this opportunity to enjoy with this woman after having taken so much trouble to get here”. And Bilvamangala could have said what any normal ‘lusty old man’ would have said: “What? You expect me to give up everything for Krsna and go to Vrndavana? You must be nuts. Everyone knows that’s impossible.”
Everyone Knows That…….
Along with dropping from you vocabulary the saying, “Anyone in my situation would ………….,” I suggest you also drop the saying, “Everyone knows that…….” Saying this just convinces you that you can’t do something you need to do; that you can’t do something that you really want to do to serve Krsna. The reality is that everyone doesn’t know that. And how would you know anyway until you talk to everyone in the world. What you are really saying is, “It is my belief that ………” And that is the belief that is crippling you.
Let’s Be Honest
If we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge that our lack of spirituality is due to our desire to be independent of God, to embrace spiritually destructive activities. Narottama Das Thakura has written a song describing this.
Although I’ve taken human birth finally
Oh Lord I drunk poison willingly
I have not worshipped Your lotus feet
Thus I’ve drunk poison as if it were sweet.
So in a sense, by not taking responsibility for our spiritual lives we are killing ourselves. The word atma-ha is used in the Isopanisad and is translated as “the killer of the soul.” Prabhuapda writes in the Srimad Bhagavatam that the human body is like a boat, Sri Gurudeva is the helmsman, and the mercy of the Supreme Lord is the favorable breeze. If the person who has attained such a rare boat in the form of the human body does not desire to cross over the ocean of material existence, he is in fact the killer of the soul.
We are the only ones who can kill our soul. No one else can do it.
Well, no one else can do it unless we allow them.
Of course the soul cannot actually be killed, but we kill the soul in the sense that we neglect our spiritual lives. Prabhupada gives the example that if a man goes to a secluded place and decides to take his life by cutting his throat, no one can stop him. As the saying goes, “Give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself.” Spiritually we often cut our own throats. So atma-ha can also be translated as spiritual suicide.
Envious of Our Own Self
Now if you were to kill yourself or harm yourself, you could be said to be envious of yourself. If you actually love yourself, if you are interested in your own welfare, then obviously you will do things to benefit yourself.
Have you ever done anything to hurt yourself either materially or spiritually? I do it when I don’t chant my rounds well, don’t give myself enough time for my spiritual practice, when I neglect to take care of my health or when I overwork. When I neglect my spiritual life I am acting out of self-envy.
Srila Prabhupada was asked the following question “In your books you mention that if one does not take the time to understand how his activities are producing his next life, then one actually becomes envious of his own self. Can you further explain that?”
Prabhupada replied, “Yes. If he’s going to become a dog next life and if he does not take precaution (he could instead elevate himself to the eternal spiritual world), then is he not envying himself?“
Are you taking as much responsibility for your spiritual life as you should or are you blaming other people, your past, this or that for your shortcomings? Are you using blame to your own detriment? Are you using blame to kill your soul?
- Make a list of whom and what you blame.
- Ask yourself, “In what ways am I killing my soul?”
- Look at situations in which you can take more responsibility for your spiritual life.
- Ask yourself, “What would a more spiritually advanced person do if he or she were in my situation?” (or as the Christians ask, “What would Jesus do?”)
- After answering the above questions, make a list of things you will do to improve your spiritual life.