There’s a story from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes that illustrates how devotees live through their groundhog day life after life after life. Well, not exactly, of course – there was certainly no groundhogs there, but close enough to give me reasons to speculate.
To remind – as devotees of Lord Caitanya we need to obtain His mercy before we can approach Kṛṣṇa which means we have to achieve perfection in our service to Him, in His saṇkīrtana mission, which means under the guidance of our guru and as followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda. That might not happen within one lifetime and so we could be made to try again and again until our service is deemed satisfactory.
It’s not how our future is usually presented to us by the devotees but it’s a fairly reasonable assumption. First – we ARE servants of Lord Caitanya, nothing will even change that. When the Lord descended He came across devotees who had eternal relationships with other forms of Kṛṣṇa, notably Murāri Gupta, sometimes He infused them with love of Kṛṣṇa instead but with Murāri Gupta He left him to worship his beloved Lord Rāmacandra.
We aren’t anything like that. We do not have any relationship with Kṛṣṇa outside of Lord Caitanya, we have nothing else to cherish but Lord Caitanya’s mercy. We can’t become devotees of Lord Rāma or Lord Nṛsiṃha, our souls are eternally spoken for even though we might worship other forms of the Lord on our altars.
I mean to say that we got to go with Lord Caitanya life after life until we receive His mercy, for us there’s no other way. Nor can we expect to reach Kṛṣṇa without going through Lord Caitanya, that would be even more foolish.
Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gīta that if we remember Him at the time of death we will reach His abode but we shouldn’t understand it as a shortcut bypassing Lord Caitanya or our guru. For one thing, without their mercy we won’t be able to remember Kṛṣṇa, and the whole thing about going to Kṛṣṇaloka without satisfying our guru first is just stupid.
Some devotees think they don’t need gurus anymore (they mean our second and third rate ISKCON gurus, of course), that simply reading books and praying to Śrīla Prabhupāda is enough. That’s like learning the price of a thing and instead of paying for it and settling it with the store owner we try to obtain it through a back door, maybe getting a knock off for a fraction of the price on a street corner, maybe trying to steal it when no one is looking, maybe trying to pay off an employee to steal it for us. It might work with fancy purses but not with Kṛṣṇa consciousness and bhakti.
Anyway, where was I?
So, if we fail to achieve perfection in this lifetime we get to try again and pick up from where we left off, which is also said in Bhagavad Gīta. For us it means continuing our service in Lord Caitanya’s saṇkīrtana and nothing else. Right now we might try some other methods – reading up on philosophy, living in Holy dhāma, absorbing ourselves in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, chanting our own mantras etc etc, but the only way for us to please Lord Caitanya is through saṇkīrtana, through preaching and congregational chanting. Nothing else will work.
The only way to succeed in saṇkīrtana is to serve under directions of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his followers, there’s no other way,too – Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t give us any other methods. We got to do what he told us – preach, distribute books, organize programs, prasādam distribution and so on.
You probably see where it’s all going – whatever we fail at in this life needs to be perfected in the next. If it’s book distribution that is bothering us we’ll have to learn to appreciate it. If we were given Deity service and we dropped it because we though learning Sanskrit would be better we’ll have to learn to serve the Deities again.
In the material world we can always change our occupation, especially in the western part of the world. Traditionally, if you were born a son of a cobbler that’s what you are expected to do when you grow up, too. With progress of civilization, however, we are free to pursue any career we fancy and we are free to change our careers, too.
That won’t work with bhakti. It won’t work with our material dharmas, too – as Kṛṣṇa said it’s better to fail in doing your own duty than become perfect in doing someone else’s. It all boils down to doing things we are told regardless of whether we like them or not, regardless of whether we can rationalize them or not, regardless of what everybody says about it, regardless of how we feel about it – service is precious, if we were given it we ought to carry it, we can’t be choosers.
“But but but – that order is so stupid, it surely came from a conditioned mind. Śrīla Prabhupāda would have never given it. He told us to exercise our intelligence, he told us …” – those are just excuses. If a person in authority tells us to do something we must remember that his authority comes from Kṛṣṇa. We can’t refuse it without simultaneously offending the Lord and His representative.
But what if we were told to do something really unacceptable, like serving seafood to the deities (which has happened)? Well, in these cases, and pretty much in all other cases, we got to know what it is that Kṛṣṇa really wants from us. Sometimes He might want us to follow the order unquestionably, sometimes He might want us to exercise discretion, sometime He might want us to offer advice to our superiors, too.
This leaves a lot of room for abuse, there’s no denying it, but if we do whatever it is we do with full trust in Kṛṣṇa we will be spared and protected from all bad reactions – that’s a fact, too. And if we act with full faith in the Lord and are about to do something stupid He will also find a way to stop us before we do irreparable damage.
This also means that even if we abuse our discretion we get to replay same situations again and again until we get them right. So what if we made a mistake? It will either be forgiven or we will be given a chance to correct it ourselves. As long as we sincerely want to act in Kṛṣṇa’s interests we will be taken care of one way or another.
So, groundhog day must be a reality for us. Life after life we get to perfect our service, correcting ourselves on each go, putting more and more trust in Kṛṣṇa, seeing things from increasingly Kṛṣṇa conscious perspective instead of materially motivated one, understanding His wishes and desires better and better and so on.
I’m afraid there’s no other way.
As for that devotee I wanted to write about today – it’s too late now, maybe next time.