Sometimes you come across a verse that strikes a special cord with you though it doesn’t say anything unusual and ordinarily you’d just go over it without a pause.
I’ve seen three such verses in the past couple of days and they left quite opposite impressions.
The first two are from the eleventh canto of Srimad Bhagavatam and there they appear one after another. I saw them on different days, though, and I saw them quoted in Chaitanya Charitamrita where one translation is slightly different. When I looked at the original in the Bhagavatam today it looked ordinary, maybe it was my mindset three days ago or maybe it’s Prabhupada’s translation in Chaitanya Charitamrita that got its hooks in my mind.
Anyway, it’s the “good” verse and this is Prabhupada’s version (CC Madhya.22.50)
“‘Somehow or other, if one is attracted to talks about Me and has faith in the instructions I have set forth in the Bhagavad-gītā, and if one is neither falsely detached from material things nor very much attracted to material existence, his dormant love for Me will be awakened by devotional service.’
I like the two conditions given here – neither falsely detached nor very much attached to material existence. Just think of it – give up your false detachments, stop pretending that you are more advanced than you really are, don’t lie to yourself about your attachments, don’t lie about yourself to others either.
Isn’t it a wonderful instruction? How many devotees do not follow it for one reason or another? It’s not the lust and greed that is stopping their advancement, it’s the pretense they don’t have it. It’s not the fact that they don’t want to wake up for mangala arati that is their problem, it’s the fact that they are hiding this laziness from everyone including themselves.
Quite a turn, huh?
Second condition is nice, too – do not be very much attached. How much is very much? I’d say that if you commit yourself to surrendering to Krishna and if you honestly wish na dhanam na janam na sundarim-kavitam you are good to go. Naturally, material desires will come into your mind and divert your attention but if you realize, when you get your footing back, that it isn’t what you really want, you are good to go.
Problems begin when you cannot set yourself on surrendering even in your clearest moments and if you start molding your life in such a way that you get to keep and entertain your attachments. If you tell yourself – this ISKCON thing is not for me, they are too this and too that, and there’s no nectar and no love here, better I go to Gaudiya Math or to some babaji in Vrindavan, get the real thing, you know. Btw, is anyone still going from ISKCON to GM these days, now that all their superstar devotees have left this world?
Another trap is to think that sex is okay, got the marriage right, got the girl, now I can have a little quality time for myself. Well, if you commit yourself like this then you are becoming very much attached. But if you remember that this is wrong then you are still okay.
Anyway, I guess it varies from person to person and there are no hard rules. There are rules to get initiated but people can make progress in any stage of their lives – before, during, and after initiation. Krishna talks about eternal rules here, and as per first rule – if you can’t follow the regs, don’t pretend you are ready for diksha.
The second verse (SB 11.20.9) is not so encouraging:
As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaḿ kīrtanaḿ viṣṇoḥ one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.
What does it mean? The first verse was promising devotional service and made it look so easy to obtain but this one postpones it until you become “satiated by fruitive activity”. When that’s going to happen? How does one speed it up – the satiation? Sounds like one has to give his senses a full workout first.
This is not what we normally tell the new devotees. We don’t tell them to go home and let it out of their system first, then come back and try again. We expect them to follow regs pretty fast, in fact we take pride in how chanting Hare Krishna makes one give up meat, drinking, and sex in a matter of days.
How do you know when you are satiated by fruitive activity? When you don’t want to go to work anymore, alcohol does not give you a buzz and women look annoying? That happens once in a while to everyone. Some call it middle life crisis, some call it a depression, and usually there are pills for that.
What if I don’t feel that way at all? What if my greed and everything else is perfectly normal?
It’s no bid deal – “act according to regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions”, it’s not the end of the world, but it means you should put your devotional career on hold. You can’t push yourself to chant sixteen rounds or read two hours a day. We don’t have any Vedic principles to guide our mleccha lives but we know what is expected of us according to our situation – work, family support, study etc and it does not include chanting or worshiping in a temple.
Unless we are “satiated” we do not have the permission to change our lives and turn into full time devotees.
Actually, it’s a very good rule – we need to maintain certain standards in our society. Everybody’s welcome but to become a full time devotee one must be on a level of a full time devotee, ditto for initiation.
Finally, there’s another, encouraging verse on this topic (SB 5.19.27)
The Supreme Personality of Godhead fulfills the material desires of a devotee who approaches Him with such motives, but He does not bestow benedictions upon the devotee that will cause him to demand more benedictions again. However, the Lord willingly gives the devotee shelter at His own lotus feet, even though such a person does not aspire for it, and that shelter satisfies all his desires. That is the Supreme Personality’s special mercy.
This kind of overrides the previous warnings. If we approach Krishna with material motives He’ll find a clever way to fulfill our desires without deepening our attachment. Akamah sarva kamo va – everyone, whether he is full of material desires or completely free from them, should worship the Lord.
Even if we cannot dedicate our lives to His service on account of not being satiated yet, we should still worship the Lord as He is our only shelter and only goal. Even if we are not accepted as devotees and we don’t have any prospects at becoming a fully fledged members of devotional community, we should still worship Krishna because that is our only real occupation, no matter what our bodies are obliged to do according to external rules.