Spiritual Self Confidence

Illumination Newsletter 53

The following is a summary of the issues raised in the discussion on spiritual self-confidence contained in this audio newsletter. This is an important topic and I think you will find this discussion not only instructive but also inspiring.

I wish you always think of Krishna,

Mahatma das.

A seeming paradox: self-confidence and humility

How can we maintain self-confidence but feel foolish in the presence of our spiritual master? How can we be confident and at the same time feel unqualified to serve Krishna? Aren’t confident people proud or arrogant?

We are ordinary people engaged in an extraordinary process, a process that makes us extraordinary. Thus, our confidence lies not in ourselves, but in the strength of the process of bhakti.

We are guided by the divine power and intelligence of Krishna, so we know that we will succeed. In the Chaitanya-charitamrita, the Avantidesha brahmin confidently declares, “I will be able to cross the ocean of ignorance. Why is he so sure? He is sure of success because those who have already gone through the path of bhakti have achieved success. He is sure: “I am following the same path, so I will succeed too!”

I can feel unremarkable, even useless, and yet be sure that Krishna can use me to do wonderful service. By the grace of the guru, it is possible that a disciple can do more than his spiritual master, even if he feels completely unqualified to serve (in fact, he does so much just because he feels unqualified to serve). Externally, Prabhupada achieved more than his guru. However, he always gave credit to his spiritual master.

It is interesting to note that Prabhupada writes in the Bhagavatam that he hopes that one of his disciples will become pure enough to return him to Godhead.

We are not taught to be overly confident in our intelligence or other qualities. Prabhupada writes that Krishna is the supreme cause. We understand that because Krishna is extremely wise and powerful, we can do anything. Because we have this understanding, we are confident that we can achieve success that is beyond our ability.

Ordinary and extraordinary self-confidence

Usually, self-confidence is limited by how much you believe in yourself and your abilities. So, when you find that you are missing something, it is very easy to be disappointed. So it is better to pay attention to what Krishna can do through you than to what you can do by yourself.

I am not a business person, but I have a small business that helps me support myself. When I run a business, I always feel a little helpless, so I often pray, “Krishna, please help me, because I’m not very good at business.” But I am confident in Krishna’s guidance, that He can use me, the wrong person for this person, to do things that are beyond my normal capacity. I believe that Krishna will help me. And He helps.

Willingness to do it

When I was a novice devotee, I asked my father, an artist, to paint Krishna. I sent him a poster of Krishna standing by the Yamuna and playing the flute. Seeing the poster, he thought that he would not be able to paint such a picture, since his main focus was still life. I told him, “Just try. Krishna will help you.” He replied: “Good. Let’s see what I can do.” He painted the picture and was surprised at how well it came out. After that, whenever I visited him, the conversation inevitably turned to this painting. “You said that Krishna would help me, and He helped!”

He almost became an atheist after my mother died a painful death. Yet he always remembered the picture and how Krishna had helped him. He understood this simply because he was willing to try to do what he thought he was incapable of doing.

Negative creates positive

One day I wrote to Srila Prabhupada that I was very busy running the temple and that I was not Krishna conscious when I was so busy. So I asked which is better: less service and more thought of Krishna, or more service and less thought of Krishna?

Prabhupada replied that I could always think of Krishna if I depended more on Him. To encourage me to recognize my addiction, he advised me to think that I was not qualified to serve (I was then the temple president). It may seem that the statement “you are not qualified” undermines a person’s self-confidence. However, by helping me see my lack of qualifications, Prabhupada empowered me.

The more I think I am unqualified, the more I am dependent on Krishna. The more I am dependent on Krishna, the more I become Krishna conscious. The more I become Krsna conscious, the more I become inspired to serve. Thus, the so-called negative (lack of self-confidence) leads to positive. Such is the paradox of spiritual self-confidence.

Connection with Krishna

In the Bhagavad-gita (6.40), Krishna says, ” na hi kalyana-krit kascid durgatim tata gacchati ” – evil will never overcome one who does good. This means that one who is sincere will never be overcome by evil. Our sincerity in Krishna’s service is the bond that originally connected us to Him, and this is the channel that will help us keep in touch. It is through this sincerity that we gain access to the great wisdom and abilities that Krishna so generously bestows on His devotees so that they can better serve and draw closer to Him.

Krishna may not produce results

Krishna does not empower us if He knows that we will not be able to deal with the consequences of it. A devotee once asked Prabhupada, “Why doesn’t Krishna give the whole world to the devotees?” Prabhupada replied, “What would you do with him? You would just sleep.” To be rewarded with more success than we are capable of putting to good use is not a gift, it is a curse.

By becoming Krishna conscious too easily and too quickly, we probably won’t be able to properly manage the results of success that come to a mature devotee (honor, followers, wealth, etc.). Therefore, this kind of “advancement” becomes an obstacle.

Krishna will give it when you are ready

Six years ago, I was preparing to conduct seminars for a wide audience. I thought that I was well prepared and therefore ready to conduct seminars for thousands of people. But at that time, only twenty people or so came to my seminars. I would get frustrated and ask Krishna in my heart (actually I was a little resentful of Him) why He did not allow me to be more successful. He answered loud and clear, “When you become more experienced, I will send more people.” Apparently, I wasn’t ready to handle big results.

Confidence in guidance from above

Faith is another aspect of self-confidence. The Krishna consciousness movement will spread all over the world if we strictly follow the principles given to us. We do not know exactly how this will happen, but nevertheless, it is possible by the grace of Guru and Gauranga. Thus, our faith in the success of the mission gives rise to confidence in the success of our own service (“They are all already condemned to death, just be an instrument in this battle” (“Bhagavad-gita”)).

Recognize your success

You should humbly acknowledge your own successes, realizing that you are successful because Krishna is on your team. By celebrating Krishna’s successes in your life, you gain confidence that by Krishna’s grace you can continue to achieve more and more results. In this way, you increase your spiritual self-confidence.

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