I’m not sure I’ve talked about this before but it’s an observable phenomenon – on some days universe is extremely cooperative in my efforts to chant. Usually I deny existence of such help coming on special occasions but I would be lying if I insisted it never happens at all.
It usually works on ekādaśī, for example, practically without fail. If I had to chant twenty five rounds on a normal day my mind would have become exhausted after the first hour and would have been completely out of control after that. On ekādaśī, however, it’s not unusual to maintain a steady level of concentration for the entire two and a half hours, holy names just rolling of the tongue and mind being unusually attentive.
Today wasn’t the best example of such days but this invisible help was nevertheless obvious, or at least conspicuous by its absence. It also works on big holidays like Janmāṣṭamī but it’s hard to say what other days should be considered important enough to feel this help from the universe, ekādaśī is a better subject for a “scientific study” here – they happen at regular intervals and they do not carry unpredictable emotional baggage that comes with big festivals.
So, the first question is – is this help real? Is it observable? Could it be just the product of my imagination? Well, the feeling of help might be imaginary but my state of mind is not. Mind is definitely more docile on ekādaśīs, enough to single out these days from the rest. Occasionally, there are better days for mind control but on average ekādaśis are still ahead, by the mile, I would say.
If this effect on the mind is real, what causes it? So far I have been attributing it to the universe but could it be Kṛṣṇa? This needs detailed consideration.
Kṛṣṇa is not the one in control of my mind, material nature is. If Kṛṣṇa, or rather the Supersoul, decided to help me His influence would have manifested on the spiritual, not material level. I mean I would have had greater determination to serve, greater determination to chant regardless of the obstacles.
In this model there are two competing forces, one is desire to chant and the other is distractions of the mind. Kṛṣṇa controls the first one and māyā controls the second. Being a conditioned living entity I can vouch only for my interactions with māyā, ie mind control, but I can only speculate about my greater determination to chant, ie help from Kṛṣṇa.
I think it would never hurt to remind that it’s only desire to chant that ultimately matters, not the amount of obstacles. At the entrance to the spiritual world we do not get judged by the amount of obstacles we had, only by our devotion. There’s correlation between the two but it’s not direct. Sometimes overcoming obstacles IS a test of our devotion, other times it’s just karma and we do not get any bonus points.
This means we should not expect fairness in this matter – if one devotee struggles more it doesn’t automatically mean he is more advanced, nor does it mean that he is less advanced than a devotee who doesn’t seem to have any problems.
A struggling devotee might develop the ability to constantly remember Kṛṣṇa under all circumstances and it will be very useful in the future while a devotee having a peaceful life might not be ready to face his demons when they eventually come. Or it might be that he defeated his demons already, there’s no way to tell without knowing specifics. What we do know is that Kṛṣṇa appreciates only devotion within our hearts, not sacrifices of our material resources.
As neophytes we might feel we deserve a reward for exerting great efforts but these “great efforts” are only a relative material estimate. For Kṛṣṇa they will always be infinitesimally small and unimpressive, and even in this world we can easily find somebody who made greater efforts than us. In any case, bhakti is not a result of interactions of material elements, which is what all our struggles are.
What I’m driving at is that the day when it’s easier to chant is not inherently better than the day when it’s extremely hard. Whatever happens in our minds stays in our minds – from Kṛṣṇa POV. Even we ourselves, when looking back, quickly forget our sacrifices. With time all past struggles become insignificant.
So, on ekādaśīs, is Kṛṣṇa helping by infusing our hearts with devotion or is material nature cooperating by relaxing lower gunas grip on our minds? I would tend to go with the second. Ekādaśī is the day for service to Viṣṇu, it happens within the material universe according to material calendar so it must be driven by material forces. If it makes service easier it only proves its material origins.
That’s why I say that it’s the bonus from the universe. Māyā cooperates, she wants us to become better devotees on ekādaśīs as part of the universal design. Universal design would imply a collusion for some special occasion, though, here we are talking about routine, scheduled events.
There are other time periods when the universe is helpful – Satya yuga, for example. Ekādaśīs might not be as powerful but they come a lot more often, too. It’s a day of reprieve for the suffering souls of Kali yuga, a welcomed reprieve, I might add.
However helpful, this assistance from the universe raises additional questions, too. Why can’t the universe do it more often or in a more pronounced way? Why can’t it do it daily so that we can schedule our chanting accordingly. Or wait, it does – it gives us brāhma muhūrta. Okay, but why should this assistance come on māyā’s schedule, not on ours?
We aren’t free to schedule our days, they are controlled by the material energy and karma, too – our work, our family obligations, our interests that might clash with prescribed duties. I mean we can’t all lead ideal lives, we need help with lives given, yet effects of brāhma muhūrta cannot be moved to a more convenient part of the day.
This also rises a question of how much we depend on the material energy in our devotion and how much we should depend on it. As I said earlier, bhakti is not a result of interactions of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Even if we manage to get the cocktail just right it won’t guarantee devotion, only relative material comfort, be it physical or psychological – same thing, nothing to do with Kṛṣṇa.
When we don’t have bhakti, however, like right now, help from the universe is the only thing that matters. It could be scheduled one, like ekādaśīs, or it could be arranged by the society, like various ISKCON programs which help us to become better devotees. Whatever works, all is welcome.
What we shouldn’t do, I think, is to confuse the ease of our service with success of our service. These two are different and largely unrelated things. Real devotion is transcendental to difficulties. Whether it’s hard to control the mind while chanting or it’s super easy, ultimately it doesn’t matter either way. What matters is the desire to chant. We can’t magically induce it but at least we can stop whining about things being tough, it adds absolutely nothing to our devotion.
So, on one hand I’m extremely grateful to the universe for giving me this free pass on ekādaśīs, on the other hand it also means that tomorrow this help will be taken away. An Indian gift, as they say…
Or I might just be imagining things here and it all exists only in my mind, my own wishful thinking and self-confirming bias. I hope it is not, the ideas above are good in their own right anyway.