of ourselves is unbelievably easy in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We want to progress, we want to become better devotees, we have high standards set by our ācāryas to raise ourselves up to, it’s all within our reach, so it’s easy for us to think that we are almost there ourselves.
There’s a couple of verses in Uddhava Gīta that might give us even more encouragement (SB.11.20.27-28):
Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.
There’s a very long purport here, too (by Eleventh’ Canto standards) that elaborates on the position of such devotees and their attitude towards their remaining material desires. It appears that residual attachments don’t matter, they are just leftovers no one is interested in but got stuck with anyway.
A devotee keeps on practicing his devotional service despite such desires still being present. He insulates himself from these desires and from lamentation that arises from occasionally giving in. He knows that there’s no better way of purifying himself than keeping up with his service so sitting there and sulking is not an option.
A devotee also knows that stopping these material reactions is beyond his powers and it can only be done by the grace of the Lord. He keeps firm faith in the Lord and accepts the possibility that the Lord might take His sweet time removing them.
None of it affects his service and so we can say that he achieved the stage of niṣṭhā. We can say that his devotion is pure and his external, material behavior doesn’t really matter.
We have a million devotees like that.
What’s more – these devotees clearly have a great taste for their service. They follow sādhana, they carry out the orders of their gurus, they associate with other vaiṣṇavas, and they LIKE it. It’s almost like rati or ruci – preliminary stages of bhāva. They are practically pure. They are constantly engaged in Lord’s service, they are legit.
If one looks at Sanskrit terms, they are engaged in sādhu saṅga, they are engaged in bhajana kriya, they actively work on their anartha nivṛtti – by all symptoms, they are on the platform of niṣṭhā.
Isn’t it just great? Ruci follows right behind, and that is practically bhāva, they have nearly made it.
What’s most encouraging about it is that they haven’t done anything unusual – just followed the program set for us by Śrila Prabhupāda, everyone can do it.
They might not look like much by Vṛṇdāvana standards – they are not bābājīs, they do not engage in incessant rasa kathā, they are not particularly renounced, they do not wail during their kīrtans and they generally not famous as great devotees, but that is even better. They are humble servants of the Supreme Lord and His devotees, they do not want any recognition for themselves, their hearts are pure, and because they do not boast about their spiritual achievements we can suspect that they have a fair share of spiritual happiness to keep them going in such a detached manner.
It’s a path open to all of us and it’s a path successfully traversed by many many devotees right before our eyes. We are nearly there, too.
Except we all are getting ahead of ourselves.
These devotees, who I just proved are on the level of niṣṭha, are actually total beginners.
It’s not niṣṭha, it’s simply śraddhā, preliminary faith required to start the process of devotional service. It has nothing to do with ruci and anartha nivṛṭti is still miles ahead, as well as sādhu saṅga and bhajana kriyā. It’s nothing.
Presence of the material desires that I mentioned at the start is the proof that they are nowhere near those exalted stages. Pure devotees do not have any material desires, and the ones described in the Bhāgavatam verse I quoted earlier are not pure yet, they are only beginners, it says so in the purport, it’s what it starts with:
The beginning stage of pure devotional service is described here by the Lord.
What I described earlier as niṣṭhā is only a firm faith that by following this process they will eventually achieve success. That by following sādhana and associating with devotees they will make progress, in the future.
The progress hasn’t happened yet. When we say that they do no mind waiting until the Lord cleanses their hearts and relieves them from effects of material desires we say that they have faith that it will eventually happen, yet until the desires are there they cannot be accepted as pure, which niṣṭhā is practically is.
It might sound disappointing – decades of service, millions if not billions of names chanted, at the ripe stage of their lives, and they are only the beginners. What hope is there for us? Most of us can’t even do that – rise of maṅgala-ārati, listen to Bhagavatam classes, engage in deity service or preaching, being totally dependent on the Lord in the form of our society.What hope is there for us?
And what of our taste in devotional service? Is it real? Is their taste real? Or is it just a material compatibility with all things Indian – food, music, culture, colors or clothes? Some are natural at it, others were simply not born to like Indian culture. If this attraction is spiritual, everyone can develop it. If it’s material, there’s no point in making ourselves like Indians.
Another downside of this realization is that if we are only the beginners we don’t really have to judge ourselves by advanced standards. What is considered a big fail for niṣṭha is nothing for kaniṣṭha.
That’s another thing we’ll have to get used to – being called kaniṣṭhas. We don’t like it, we defend fellow devotees labeled like that with vigor and all kinds of arguments. What if they really are? What if we really are nothing but kaniṣṭhas?
It’s perfectly okay to accept ourselves as being so lowly but if we say that our ISKCON gurus are on that level, too, it would be suicidal for our society.
Or maybe it won’t.
However low level we have achieved, it’s real and it’s ours. There’s no better way and those who claim to be higher or strive to be higher are only fooling themselves because by all objective criteria they are no better than our “kaniṣṭhas”. They can claim anything they want, the results are here for all to see – they never walk their talk. Same as us, really, but while we excuse our material desires by verses from Bhāgavatam, they say that their material desires are not even material and they have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
Another upside of this realization is that we don’t have to worry about our lack of taste and suspect that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not exactly what was promised – we haven’t even approached Kṛṣṇa consciousness yet, we are still licking the bottle from the outside. Real bhakti will come in due course of time and it will be nothing like shadows of emotions we experience now.
Sex, for one thing, will not even dare to enter our minds then. Now it’s so brazen that it allows itself to occasionally leave because it knows we will welcome it back with both arms when it returns.
It’s not so bad to be lowly and “unadvanced”, and because it’s the reality we’d be better off accepting our position and learning to deal with it rather than try to maintain the appearance of maturity. Lying never helps anyone, especially lying to oneself