If we apply this idiom to our lives as devotees our answer should be “half full” because our faith makes us confident and optimistic that we are firmly on the way to achieve our goal.
If, however, we ask that question in certain circles their answer would be “half empty” because of all the alleged failings of our leadership and our alleged lack of progress. In those circles they won’t give us any credit for following Srila Prabhupada and they spend a lot of time discussing our imperfections, they see us as eternal neophytes who haven’t figured anything and remain as naive as ever.
Without giving any credit to ISKCON devotees they gleefully see us as full of faults and so technically their answer should be “half full”, too, except that we assume totally opposite qualities as “water”.
If we look at ourselves we’d also call our lives as full of imperfections and so agree with our critics. We are born and bred materialists, it’s our base quality, and service to the Lord is something that pushes our materialism out.
Actually, devotional service would be like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water that slowly spreads to the bottom of our hearts. It is not displacing our lives, it’s transforming them. As Srila Prabhupada would say that one can dig a hole in the ground and think of it as a service to the Lord and that would make him Krishna conscious, or he can dig the same hole and think of cool bottle of beer expecting him at the end of the day and that would make him a doomed sense-enjoyer.
This transformation of consciousness is important but I think it doesn’t do justice to our sadhana. By becoming devotees we make some real changes to our lives. We start to get up earlier, for example. We also change our diet, reading our books is incomparable to reading for pleasure, for most of us worshiping Deities has no material equivalent, and chanting our rounds is also totally alien to anything a materialist would do in his life.
So devotional service doesn’t simply change our consciousness, it changes our life itself, too. This difference is important because these changes come not from our hearts, as surrender to Krishna does, they are imposed on us by the modes of nature. They follow unbreakable laws of karma, they have causes and they have results and they can be quantified and predicted just like any other activity.
This also helps to explain how sankirtana words as the prescribed method of worship in the age of Kali, and the action of this medicine is similarly two-fold. On one hand it works on the transcendental level as the Holy Name itself. This mechanism does not lead to changes in our external conditions.
If we chant Hare Krishna it doesn’t ease our arthritis, for example, and chanting doesn’t cure hunger or make our bosses any more pleasant, but it helps us to see ourselves as separate from mental anguish of our minds or physical pain of our bodies. In this sense chanting doesn’t alleviate the effects of Kali Yuga, it takes us around them, so to speak.
The other action of sankirtana is that it engages us in sattvic activities – rising early, eating healthy, staying away from polluting influences etc. In this sense it actually displaces Kali from our lives and it makes our temples literally into Vaikunthas. If we take full shelter of this process we will be genuinely happy and trouble free.
There are ways to subvert even the best process, of course, if that’s what we want, but if we restrict our interests and aspirations to simply following the program we’ll be immune. Simple living should be accompanied by simple thinking, too, ie we shouldn’t try to over complicate our lives and step outside our boundaries, then high thinking will be able to take place, but I digress here.
The important part is that if we are suffering from the effects of the Kali Yuga we can alleviate our pain in two ways – by becoming transcendental to it and by being engaged in the process of sadhana bhakti under the guidance of guru and shastra.
First one is kind of raganuga based, for it doesn’t impose any external rules and is completely imperceptible to outsiders, and it depends entirely on our spiritual relations with Krishna. The second one depends on material nature cooperation – whether we have bodies suitable for temple living, whether we have suitable skills to survive as proper grihasthas, whether we get suitable partners etc. It’s all out of our control.
One could say that sadhana bhakti is inferior to raganuga but that is only half the truth because it also requires a higher level of devotion. It’s not just about trusting our lives to Krishna, it requires us to entrust our lives to the material nature and to other devotees, too. It requires us to see the world as uttama adhikaris do – fully under control of the Lord, in each and every respect fully connected to Krishna, and all the dazzling or fearsome manifestations of it as nothing but plays of Krishna’s energies.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. In the olden times it could have been considered relatively easy but now, in Kali Yuga, trusting our lives to material energy is an act of utmost faith and surrender.
Or let’s put it another way – raganuga bhaktas see this world as dull and irrelevant while our Kali Yuga sadhakas see it as Krishna’s playground and accept their assignment to the Earth and not to Vrindavana as Krishna’s direct order.
Serving Krishna on Goloka is definitely sweeter but if He wants us to serve Him here, we don’t mind, our guru told us to wake up for mangala arati, chant, listen to Bhagavatam and so on, we are more than happy to oblige. If there was a chance to jump off the train of sankirtana mission and onto Vaikuntha – we won’t take it. We won’t exchange all the treasures of all the material and spiritual universes for following the order of our guru, whatever it might be.
Or, if our consciousness it not yet pure enough, following sadhana is more pleasant than sweating from fear in the clutches of Kali Yuga – whatever works.