We generally accept that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is easy, or at least simple. We have a pretty straightforward program and great books that explain everything in detail for those who want to know more.
The first thing we learn from books is how easy devotees have it – Kṛṣṇa always protects them, always helps them overcome their obstacles, loves them more than He loves Himself, they are all perfectly adjusted and never have any problems. It’s easy to be a devotee.
When we first decide to surrender we think that we will immediately join the club and that we will immediately start reaping the benefits, too. That doesn’t happen, we get just enough to get by and that’s for those who stay, plenty more simply give up or at least postpone their serious push towards Kṛṣṇa. It’s just too much for very little return. No matter what the books say, people’s first hand experience always wins.
Our enthusiasts of “I’m alright, Jack” variety always easily dismiss their concerns because they are simply not doing it right. More hard hearted say that those who “blooped” simply don’t have enough devotion, haven’t fully surrendered, and dismiss them out of hand.
With time we, as a society, have matured and do not say such things in people’s faces anymore but that’s not much of a progress – we simply learned to be polite in our smugness. We still have no answer why Kṛṣṇa consciousness doesn’t work for so many people. We can’t just say “it’s all their fault”.
Besides looking at other people’s problems – what makes us so confident in our own situation? Do we really think that we are Kṛṣṇa’s recognized devotees? We can say that following four regs, chanting, reading books, or even residing in holy places qualifies us for the title but does it, really? Does it really makes us qualitatively different from those who “blooped”?
I would be the first to say that our stalwart, exemplary devotees should get more recognition and be treated as the core of our movement but that is a political consideration – it would give wider spectrum to our hierarchy so that we can have more rungs for the bottom dwellers such as myself.
It still does not answer the question why we do not make any visible progress. Bhakti Rasāmita Sindhu is supposed to be devotees’ guide book but it clearly wasn’t written for us, we still stand only on the shore of that ocean of devotion. We aren’t really devotees by that book standards.
It doesn’t discourage us, of course, we can easily find justifications and explanations and rationalization for our own lack of progress, humans are great at finding excuses, but it still doesn’t solve the problem. The problem that shouldn’t even be there – there are no examples of devotees in our books who struggle with their lack of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
If we forget about self-adoration for a moment and sit and think how we can make actual progress we’ll discover that it’s not easy and it’s not simple. Let’s look at the typical chain.
We obtain love of Kṛṣṇa by the mercy of Lord Caitanya. He gives it freely to everyone, right? Well, obviously not to us, so there must be conditions attached. Us being born five hundred years later probably explains it but doesn’t give much of a hope.
If we can’t get Lord Caitanya’s mercy straight from the source, we can obtain it by the mercy of Lord Nityānanda, who is super merciful, more merciful than Lord Caitanya Himself. Problem with this solution is that we are still five hundred years late to claim it.
Our next step is Śrīla Prabhupāda – we can obtain the mercy of the entire paramparā and all the Lords at the top if we please him, right? Well, he had many thousands disciples, they did everything right, distributed books, preached, saved so many souls, yet for those who are familiar with their lives they look rather ordinary, not like devotees from Caitanya Caritāmrta or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Many of them seem to be bent on destroying ISKCON for unclear reasons so instead of using them as roles models we should avoid their association instead. Great help, right?
Most of us, however, are second and third generation devotees, we don’t get to serve Śrīla Prabhupāda directly so no mercy for us. It’s fashionable now to worship Śrīla Prabhupāda and even call him one’s own guru but that’s just fooling oneself. One must accept a living spiritual master and treat him as representative of God, as good as God Himself. We don’t get to pick departed ācāryas as our gurus. Guru picks a disciple and saves him, not the other way around.
So, all we need to do is to please our guru, right? Why is not working then? First answer is that our gurus suck, they are all neophytes and kaniṣṭhas, as we’ve been told. This is not correct, of course, but they aren’t obviously mahā-bhāgavata personalities from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam either. We can argue that we can’t see mahā-bhāgavata devotees but we should be able to see a self-effulgent ācārya, on that we all agree, and that ācārya hasn’t come and saved us yet.
We look at our gurus or gurus of our fellow devotees and we don’t see them as good as God Himself. We can try, we can learn to behave accordingly, but we just don’t see it. How do we solve that problem?
We can also say that they are not very difficult to please, maybe not all the time but we have plenty of examples of great service that surely must have been pleasing to guru and Kṛṣṇa but after a while things always get back to normal again. Mercy just doesn’t stick.
Pleasing one’s guru is also tied up to one’s material abilities. It could be offering great service, it could be offering great material support. It could be offering support to guru’s disciples, which should be a super easy way to please him, it still doesn’t work, and very few people have been born to do great things.
Should we admit that devotional service is not for everyone?
Do we have any other steps? Of course we do – we should just chant and rely on the mercy of the Holy Name which heals all wounds. If we managed to offend our guru or other devotees and do not have enough humility or guts to apologize and beg forgiveness or simply do not have the opportunity – we have to seek shelter of the Holy Name.
Ultimately, our guru is an external manifestation of the Supersoul, so he IS representing the Holy Name, whatever we can’t say to him, for one reason or another, we can tell to the Holy Name and result would be the same.
So, Holy Name is really the only thing we can rely on in our lives, nobody else. It’s the Holy Name that sends us our guru, it’s the Holy Name that arranges the opportunities to serve, it’s the Holy Name that grants us our progress. Easy, right?
We’ve gone full circle, btw – we have started with seeking the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, who is the Holy Name, and ended up with seeking the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, which we found to be particularly difficult to obtain. Did this full circle solve anything? Not really, but this circle has taught us the value of all other persons in our life, the value we didn’t appreciate in full when we “surrendered” at the beginning.
Looking back at it – we didn’t even know what “surrender” meant then. And if we are smart we should realize that this isn’t the end of the road either, that we’ll have more revelations in the future and then we will have more frustrations as well. So why bother?
I don’t know, it’s the material nature, it forces us to want and do things we don’t need and often regret. Perhaps the simplicity of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is in that we can just drop all those considerations and chant the Holy Name no matter what happens. This trick won’t make our lives any easier but maybe the secret is that it’s not supposed to, it’s only chanting that matters, nothing else. Not guru, not the number of initiations, not recognition, not knowledge, not sādhana – nothing. Yes, we have to do all those things as best as we can and when guru comes into our life he should be our only shelter but most of the time it’s between us and the Holy Name, no one else.
Don’t worry, Holy Name does not exclude anyone from our relationships – all the devotees, all the gurus, all the ācāryas – everyone is present there. The more we chant, the better we understand that Kṛṣṇa is non-different from His entourage and His devotees, the Holy Name and vaiṣṇavas are never separate.
Oh, what am I saying? It just complicates things unnecessarily. We should just chant instead of trying to untangle this snarl of our lives