Is it a real thing? Christians seem to treat it as common enough occurrence but what does it really mean? Can Kṛṣṇa’s devotees have a crisis of faith? It not impossible but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I can’t speak for Christianity but I think the common sense of the word, especially in English, is how general society understood what was happening to believers who experienced it. Maybe there’s a deep theological explanation behind it but let’s talk about common meaning here first.
So, what actually happens is that people grow some expectations that their faith is supposed to bring to them and then it doesn’t. It could be something trivial, like daily bread, it could be something tragic, like a death of an innocent child. In these cases the expectations are based on ignorance how the world actually works – no law of karma, no reincarnation, no knowledge of the illusion, no knowledge of the soul and so on.
I don’t think that kind of crisis can affect devotees. We have plenty of room to explain these things away without undermining our doctrine, except cases when it happens to us personally.
Kṛṣṇa has promised to look after us and protect us from harm and so we might take things like broken marriages and other personal losses, well, personally. It’s sometimes hard to accept that Kṛṣṇa might actually arrange it for our spiritual benefits, which are never immediately apparent, not while we are still dealing with immediate aftermath.
Sometimes I look at my own life and I see potential need to end it all in unrecoverable failure and my mind always goes in a slight panic mode. I don’t think it can deal with it at the moment, it would probably explode if I lose many of the things I take for granted. Yet I also know that attachments need to be severed one way or another so I’m building up the confidence to accept the crush when it finally comes. I’m actually more worried if I were forced to continue this way indefinitely, until my natural death. But enough about me.
Another way to seriously shake devotees’ faith is indefensible actions by our spiritual authorities. How could Kṛṣṇa allow this to happen? He surely must have abandoned this movement, He wouldn’t be protecting rapists, child molesters and the like.
These cases are probably the hardest to recover from but, personally, I don’t know anyone who lost his faith in Kṛṣṇa Himself over that, only in the authorities. Some jump over to the next nearest branch of Lord Caitanya’s tree, some take a break, waiting for the next Śrīla Prabhupāda to come down and pick them up.
There are people who leave for Shivaism or Buddhism or Christianity, though. What drives them? Can’t speak for everybody but the ones that I know of committed various offenses against the devotees. There are some who still think fondly about “Krishnaism” so their faith hasn’t been broken, just suspended for the time being. Offenses, otoh, can kill it for good, for all foreseeable future.
Then there’s perceived lack of faith. People don’t simply say “I don’t believe this” but “I want to believe, I want to continue to believe, but it somehow eludes me.” When faced with various tests they politely decline, they just don’t feel they are up to it. They actively seek faith within their hearts, not in the outside world, and they can’t find it.
That was a fairly Christian way to put it and I don’t know what their problem is. If it happens to us we talk about devotion in separation. We absorb ourselves in Kṛṣṇa far better when we miss Him in our lives, that is a fact. Our real enemies are indifference and forgetfulness, not the lack of feedback, though it can be frustrating from time to time.
Take my last fast – I wasn’t expecting anything spiritual from it but I was surprised to find that it would affect my ability to chant and even to read. That’s not how Haridāsa Ṭhākura chanted his rounds, that’s not how Six Gosvāmīs lead their lives. Their service nourished their lives, not the other way around.
There’s, of course, a big qualitative difference between me and those truly exalted souls, and we have been warned not to imitate them, but still.
Well, I chalk it for a useful experience. It confirms my present situation and in that way confirms my belief that I’m on the right track and Kṛṣṇa consciousness WILL, in due time, solve all of my problems, which is the basic definition of faith, śraddhā.
Of course, Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not about solving our problems, it’s about pleasing the Lord, but that’s not how we see it in our conditioned state, no matter what we tell ourselves. False ego always makes it about us, one way or another, and it’s a shame, really, but what can we do? We can’t throw the baby with the bath water.
Paramahaṁsa way of dealing with this would be to embrace whatever seed of genuine desire to serve the Lord is there and kindly overlook everything else, which is a good advice for dealing with any perceived transgression by devotees in all circumstances.
Material nature sometimes forces us to act in strange ways, we have tons of accumulated karma to rule over our bodies until our death, and there’s nothing we can do about it. The fact that Kṛṣṇa takes away all our karmic reactions once we surrender unto Him doesn’t mean that our bodies stop functioning and would act outside the laws of material nature. They will not. This kind of magid might still happen if we achieve the level of Haridāsa Ṭhākura, for example, but even he couldn’t complete his rounds when he got old. He didn’t do anything strange, however.
Back to the topic – we can get legitimately frustrated if we are not engaged in service to our satisfaction. We have examples of much better devotees all around us, why can’t we be like them? Why doesn’t Kṛṣṇa listen to our prayers?
In these cases we might be simply getting ahead of ourselves. Kṛṣṇa listens, but His response might not be the one we expect. Being conditioned we assume that we know better how to run our lives but that is not actually the case. It might hurt our ego a bit when we agree that we aren’t as good devotees as we assume we are but since false ego is our biggest obstacle we should be glad that it takes a beating. Each such “loss” is actually an anartha floating away, we should be glad it happened.
The basic premise, however, is that it’s impossible to lose faith in Kṛṣṇa or He wouldn’t be God. We might create our imaginary concept of Him and that concept won’t be always supportive, but real Kṛṣṇa would. I wonder if this fact could be used as a quick test to check whether we are praying to real Kṛṣṇa as revealed to us through the ācāryas or just a figment of our imagination.
We can ascribe lots of different features to Him that we find desirable in the material world but they might not actually be there, so when they don’t work as we imagined we feel upset. It’s not crisis of faith then, it’s a crisis of ignorance.