Whenever we try to achieve something great, there will be obstacles and tests on our path. Devotional service is no exception. We all get tested, and as we all know, maya hits us where we are the weakest.
So what do we do, lay down and roll over? You might feel like it sometimes. In this newsletter we look at the how to understand and deal with the tests and obstacles that fall on our path to pure devotional service.
May you always think of Krsna,
Maya Will Test You – Illuminations Newsletter 23
Overcoming the obstacles on the path of bhakti sometimes feel like a never ending battle. With faith we plug on and say, “Krsna consciousness works and I will become purified in this life.” But after many battles with maya, “I will” can turn to a, “I hope I become purified in this life.” And for some it’s, “maybe in another life I’ll become Krsna conscious.”
Declare War on Maya
To be successful in overcoming anarthas (unwanted material desires and conditioning), you should expect it to be difficult because becoming a devotee means you have declared war on maya. When you tell maya, “I have decided to give my life to Krsna and leave your clutches,” you have to be ready for a fight. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Maya will try to defeat us as soon as she sees, ‘Oh, here is a living soul going out of my grip’.”
And you know how well maya fights. She hits the hardest where you are weakest, where she finds your strongest material tendencies. We are only as strong as our weakest link – and she knows well where that is.
So what’s the best way to fight with maya? Actually there’s no way we can directly win a fight with maya. Krnsa says, mama maya duratyaya, My material energy is insurmountable. She has a million tricks up her sleeve to illusion us and keep us away from Krsna. She can convince us we are conquering her while we are fully in her clutches.
But don’t get discouraged; she’s simply doing her job. This is all part of Krsna’s plan. Therefore it’s good. He wants us to suffer and struggle a bit because He knows it’s good for us spiritually lazy bums who want everything easy.
Look at it this way: if anyone makes you take more shelter of Krsna, that person is your best friend. So if maya kicks you in such a way that it pushes you towards Krsna, she is doing you a great service.
Maya is not your enemy. She is on your side.
Krsna Tests Us
We all need struggles to keep us on our toes and strengthen us. Do you think you’d actually surrender much – or even at all – if maya didn’t kick you in the you know what from time to time? We need this. This is Krsna’s kindness on us.
And another aspect of His kindness is that He helps us get through the tests.
The Lord is so kind to His devotee that when severely testing him the Lord gives him the necessary strength to be tolerant and to continue to remain a glorious devotee’. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.22.29–30)
Do I Really Want Krsna?
What are obstacles? Obstacles are things we focus on when we lose sight of our goals.
Rupa Goswami, playing the part of a conditioned soul, shows us how we should be thinking.
“I have no love for Krsna, nor for the causes of developing love of Krsna—namely, hearing and chanting. And the process of bhakti-yoga, by which one is always thinking of Krsna and fixing His lotus feet in the heart, is also lacking in me. As far as philosophical knowledge or pious works are concerned, I don’t see any opportunity for me to execute such activities. But above all, I am not even born of a nice family. Therefore I must simply pray to You, Gopijana-vallabha [Krsna, maintainer and beloved of the gopis]. I simply wish and hope that some way or other I may be able to approach Your lotus feet, and this hope is giving me pain, because I think myself quite incompetent to approach that transcendental goal of life.”
Rupa Goswami is saying I have no qualification to be Krsna conscious and thus it doesn’t seem possible that I’ll achieve my goal. And he even lists the reasons he is not qualified. But his prayer doesn’t focus on those reasons; it focuses on his unrelenting desire to be Krsna conscious.
There are so many stories in which people with handicaps, either physical or circumstantial, achieved great things despite all odds against them. Have you ever noticed that when you really want something bad enough, the obstacles just make you want it more. This is the essence of how one becomes Krsna conscious. Rupa Goswami explains:
“‘Pure devotional service in Krsna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activity in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be attained only by paying one price—that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.’”
Stairway to Vaikuntha
Krsna wants to help us increase that intense greed. What happens when a child really wants something and the parents refuse to give it? Usually this just makes the child want it more. The tests Krsna places before you and me are meant to increase our determination. Prabhupada once said that Krsna will test you to see if you have come to serve Him or disturb Him. So as you confront difficult challenges, challenges in which you may be faltering, try seeing them as opportunities Krsna places before you. See Krsna behind these obstacles asking, “What’s important to you? Do you want Me or do you want something else?” See it as a chance to increase your determination and take another step towards Krsna.
“Although there may be many obstacles on the path of the sincere devotee who is preaching the glories of the Lord, such obstacles increase the determination of the devotee. Therefore, according to Srila Jiva Goswami, the continuous obstacles presented by the demigods form a kind of ladder or stairway upon which the devotee steadily progresses back to the kingdom of God.” – SB 11.4.10 Purport
But I’m Not Pure
So you say, “OK, this all sounds good. But I have been working on overcoming the same anarthas for years and although I have made progress, some anarthas are seemingly super-glued to my heart. So why should I continually struggle to get rid of them? They are there, they have their effect on me, and I just have to live with that reality.”
It can seem like a contradiction – both practically and philosophically – to be able to be fully enthusiastic and determined in devotional service while many anarthas remain in your heart. The Srimad Bhagavatam and Nectar of Devotion state that we become steady after most of these anarthas are removed from our hearts. So you might think that as long as these anarthas remain you can’t be steady. And you might even think you have a right to be unsteady – a right to be discouraged. And if desires are very strong and your struggles very difficult, you could even think, “I am so fallen that I have ‘good’ reason to not strictly follow.”
Well, if you asked Krsna what He had to say about that, He’d probably say, “Be like an ocean. The river of desires will enter, but the ocean is still. Be still My child.” The point is that a devotee who really wants to be Krsna conscious can live with obstacles and anarthas in his or her heart, not give into them, and be enthusiastic and determined in his or her service.
“But I have a heavy mind. Prabhu, you don’t know how fallen I am, how conditioned I am. I have so many bad habits.” The devotee who wrote the following prayer also expresses a similar problem. But he deals with it in a wonderfully positive way.
“By my previous shameful life my heart is polluted with many illusory attachments. Personally I have no power to stop them. Only Lord Krsna within my heart can remove such inauspicious contamination. But whether the Lord removes such attachments immediately or lets me go on being afflicted by them, I will never give up my devotional service to Him. Even if the Lord places millions of obstacles in my path, and even if because of my offenses I go to hell, I will never for a moment stop serving Lord Krsna. I am not interested in mental speculation and fruitive activities; even if Lord Brahma personally comes before me offering such engagements, I will not be even slightly interested. Although I am attached to material things I can see very clearly that they lead to no good because they simply give me trouble and disturb my devotional service to the Lord. Therefore, I sincerely repent my foolish attachments to so many material things, and I am patiently awaiting Lord Krsna’s mercy.”
Of course we try our best to remove the weeds in our heart, but ultimately we are dependent on Krsna to purify us of those illicit desires. If you’ve ever lost your enthusiasm for devotional service because of the presence of unwanted desires that repeatedly surface in your heart, I suggest you copy the above prayer and keep it where you can regularly see it.
This prayer offers us such a wonderful and liberating attitude: you can be enthusiastic despite your anarthas. You can be hopeful of being Krsna conscious despite your shortcomings. You can remain fully determined despite the many obstacles you face.
Well, you can, unless you listen to those little voices in your head telling you, “No you can’t.” Have those little voices ever made excuses for you not being Krsna conscious and then blamed them on your anarthas? If so, those little voices need to study that prayer over and over.
How Do You See It?
Srila Prabhupada taught that we can act in a Krsna conscious way despite our heart’s contrary desires. Maya tells us the exact opposite. She wants us to believe that we have to give into our strong conditioning, that we are so fallen that even Krsna can’t help us overcome all of our conditioning.
I suggest that you look at steadiness, enthusiasm, and determination to be Krsna conscious as an indication of your desire to be Krsna conscious, not necessarily as an indication of how pure you are. You might have to carry many anarthas with you throughout your life, but if you want to be Krsna conscious more than anything, those anarthas cannot and will not deter you.
They will just make you more determined to be Krsna conscious.
What are some things that are detrimental to your spiritual life that you give in to?
What is giving in costing you materially and spiritually?
What is the belief behind giving in?
(To uncover those beliefs, look at the activities in your life that are detrimental to bhakti and ask, “What would one have to believe to do these things?”)
What would you have to believe to not give in?
If you find that your desire to be Krsna conscious is not strong enough to enable you to not give in all the time, what could you do to make it stronger?