When we decide to surrender to Kṛṣṇa we make, perhaps, the hardest and the most important decision of our lives. Actually, it’s not that hard to make but it’s very hard to follow because Kṛṣṇa just wouldn’t let us forget Him.
If we knew what we were getting ourselves into many of us would have probably asked for a deferral. Just a few more years of sense enjoyment, please. What seems easy and inspiring at first turns into a real struggle with our loyalties. Sex life is the obvious example but, actually, any materialistic activity, careers, health, family, the very desire to live itself – all these things need to be abandoned and we just don’t want to let them go yet.
More like we can’t even imagine how we could let it all go, we have no perception of life without those things, that’s what makes us into how we are – our desires. We can say that we also want to serve Kṛṣṇa but actually we don’t, we just think that serving Kṛṣṇa would be the best way to serve ourselves. It’s a legitimate justification for the neophytes but we if ever decide to become real devotees it has to be abandoned.
So, surrendering to Kṛṣṇa is a very hard choice, it’s also a choice that we have to make every day, every moment of our lives. Even if in reality we have to surrender only once and then wait for devotion to gradually grow, we haven’t got patience for it and if we want progress we need to consciously push ourselves every waking moment of our lives – that’s what sādhana bhakti is all about.
I don’t know which is ultimately faster – to simply chant and go on about our service or to push ourselves to the limits, wake up early, visit the temple as often as possible, travel to meet with our guru when he is visiting, distribute books, try to preach etc.
Second option sounds unquestionably better but it relies on a materialistic assumption that we are in control in this world and that things happen because we do something here. Bhakti isn’t like that, it cannot be earned the way we earn our karma. Doing more stuff does not mean we’ll get more bhakti.
We need to work on quality of our service, on purity of our hearts. It doesn’t matter how much or how little service we “produce”, what matters is whether we’ve done it in proper consciousness and with proper motivation.
The first option might not appear as a fast track way to devotion but it relies on faith and patience, two crucial qualities for success in devotional life. No matter how much we serve, it will always be less than we could and less than someone else does, so at one point we’ll end up feeling frustrated because we just can’t match neither ours nor Kṛṣṇa’s expectations. For some it might not be “one point” but an everyday state of their consciousness.
Without constant validation result driven activities eventually subside and we, as humans, decide to engage in something we feel we are more successful at. “I’ve tried that bhakti thing, it doesn’t work, the process is unsuitable for modern times, the leaders are below standards, have you heard the truth about ISKCON?” – that’s how it ends for many of us.
Slow and steady wins the race, apparently works in bhakti, too.
Of course we can’t be slow and steady right from the start, we are not tortoises, we are boastful hares, even if we know this is the correct way we just can’t follow it, and so throwing ourselves as sādhana is almost always the only real choice we have, which isn’t a choice at all – it’s all we can possibly do.
I was actually thinking about even softer choices – now that we know we need to engage material nature in service of Kṛṣṇa we need to do it skillfully, we can’t save them all and we can’t abstain from associating with materialistic attitudes altogether. How do you choose your career? How do you choose your job? How do you choose your husband or wife? Which ones are better, more suitable for our purpose?
With wives and husbands it’s not really a choice, we just fall in love and then manage the consequences. Only in the past few years our devotees have learned to prepare themselves for gṛhstha life from the very beginning, for the first two-three decades it was brahmacharya or bust.
When “bust” came there was nothing to be selective about anymore even if we pretended to go through the motions of following the rituals. In general society some marry because they get the girl pregnant and everybody understands the “real” reasons for this kind of marriage, in our society we marry because we get lusty and something needs to be done even though it’s too late. We lie to ourselves if we pretend that our subsequent courting, matching horoscopes, seeking blessings of our guru, organizing a vivāha makes it all into a proper Vedic custom.
In Vedic times girls were married off *before* they knew what lust was and the boys were trained to avoid falling victim to lust, too, they were married off *before* lust would become a problem, not after.
So, without proper training we are never really put in a position where we can make choices about these matters, we always react to the circumstances. It doesn’t mean we should not try to make the best of what we’ve got to deal with but there should be some aspects of our lives where we can prepare ourselves long before offers we can’t refuse put us into inescapable situations.
This requires wisdom and foresight, something we usually lack ourselves or acquire plenty when it doesn’t matter anymore. That’s why we need varṇāśrama in our society – not so much to organize ourselves but to give us a code of conduct that we can implement even when we don’t fully understand it. It should be more or less fool proof so it works for nearly everybody and it should be comprehensive so that it covers relationships with every other member, too.
If we decide to marry someone off we should have reasonable confidence that whoever we choose for this person will be trained in the similar way, too. If we decide to take a job we should be reasonably confident that our employer will be trained in Vedic style of management and we have similar understanding our mutual rights and responsibilities.
If we are blessed with better than average intelligence we can figure out best options for ourselves and they might turn out to be varṇāśrama compliant and it would be good for us but as a society we can’t count on everybody being better than average. Some say that society’s success should be judged by its weaker, most vulnerable members and I see no reason it shouldn’t apply to managing ISKCON, too.
So, we need varṇāśrama, right? Not so fast, we need a code of conduct and uniform training but that is not the same thing. We can get all those things without ever dividing people into brahmaṇas or śūdras. We need to figure out what to do with real people that we have rather than try to fit them into ideal but unattainable categories.
We tend to think like this: “This person should be a brāhmaṇa and as a brāhmaṇa he should do this and that – easy.” What if he, due to his conditioning, will never become a brāhmaṇa? Practically none of us will even become a brāhmaṇa and it’s probably even more difficult to get real kṣatriyas, considering the sacrifices kṣatriyas should be ready to make. Training real kṣatriyas would probably be even illegal in most states.
I think it would be better for us to adapt Vedic varṇāśrama regulations to the modern life than to try to force modern people into Vedic roles. Problem is – who is going to make these choices? Where will we find an ācārya everyone else will follow in these matters? It’s fine to wait for a “self-effulgent” ācārya but think of how many thousands of devotees will screw their lives because we are sitting on our hands and waiting?
I don’t have answers to these questions but posing them is at least a start