Ordinarily we would declare that devotee’s perseverance in pursuit of his service has no limits. I myself said only a couple of days ago that persistence is our greatest weapon in saṅkīrtana, which is still true, but there are also limits to it, however unspoken and undeclared.
Speaking about persistence, I remember one more story about Armenian devotees, this time about a woman who became their biggest book distributor, she isn’t with ISKCON anymore so I won’t give her name. She was a talented musician, at least by Armenian standards, and everybody in the city from those circles personally knew her. When she became a Hare Kṛṣṇa and ran into the same people with books they couldn’t refuse her authority. Still, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is of limited size and devotees felt that her saṅkīrtana skills could be better deployed in much bigger Moscow, maybe they hoped that she could break into preaching to cultural elites, I don’t know.
So she arrived in Moscow at the time when it was the saṅkīrtana capital of the world, full of hopes and expectations, and it was a disaster. She walked the streets, went into office towers, tried this and that and couldn’t sell a single book. People just ignored her, her provincial sophistication failing to make any impression on snobbish Moskowites. All the tricks, all the approaches, all the appeals – nothing worked. She wasn’t about to give up, though, and temple management was ready to give her as much time as necessary to find her stride.
Eventually she found it, I think after about two months of fruitless labor. I don’t know or don’t remember how exactly it happened but she found a key to Moscow’s psyche and from that moment on no one could refuse her and she gave a run for the book points to the best male distributors there.
I wished I knew more details about her drama but one could easily imagine how it went – a provincial girl making a name for herself in a big city. Usually it’s her talent that carries her over but in case of the devotees there aren’t any talents involved, only reliance on the grace of Lord Caitanya. She was faithful through and through, never succumbing to a doubt, and Lord Caitanya eventually blessed her with His favor. Somebody had to distribute books there, she proved herself and was finally chosen.
I guess we could discuss possible difference between relying on one’s talent, on firm knowledge that one is a good singer/actor or however people succeed in movies, and reliance on Lord’s mercy, but that’s not the point. Perhaps it’s the Supersoul’s suggestion to follow your destiny that matters most in these cases anyway. I think this should be our biggest consideration here and the one that goes to the heart of the whole “perseverance” business.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books are meant to be distributed, not just from our perspective but from the perspective of the future, too. Some might go to waste, like bits of vegetables that fail to make into a pot, but most of them have their readers waiting for them somewhere up the timeline. When we talk about success in saṅkīrtana it’s not just about our personal destiny but about fulfilling the destiny of the books. From the perspective of the future, or from the perspective of one in full knowledge, there isn’t a cause and effect relationship here in the same way we think ourselves as doers, but there’s destiny that gradually manifest itself. Those who are meant to distribute books will eventually fall into their rightful places, no matter if they started in Soviet military research institutes, hippy communities in Rocky Mountains, or classical music scene in Yerevan. It’s not like “if I do this then I’ll get there” thinking of conditioned souls. There’s no “if”, there’s only “when” – when the body is engaged in constant chanting of the holy name gradually the following symptoms will appear…
The point is, it’s not like “if I undergo two months of fruitless book distribution I will achieve the same success as that woman”. There’s no “if” here, I’m not the doer, I’m just a puppet in the hands of the material energy with the Lord occasionally pulling strings Himself. When He wants me to walk the streets like a zombie, scaring everyone I meet away, then I’ll do it, but it’s not my decision to make.
This is where we should not confuse perseverance with stubbornness. There are limits on how much we should persevere and these limits are set by the Lord. Beyond that it’s acting in our own, selfish interests and it will bring karmic reactions, not bhakti and not engagement in service.
The Lord will never force His devotees to suffer more than necessary. Impersonalists and yogīs might undergo severe penances and earn themselves some progress this way but it doesn’t work with the Lord, whose mercy is called causeless for a reason. We can’t force Him to show it to us. It is possible only in a pure state when the relationship with the Lord are firmly established – that’s why Kṛṣṇa says that He is bound by His devotees, but unless we are up there in Goloka we should be His dependents, not His controllers like Mother Yaśodā. We shouldn’t even try to compel Him to do anything for us but rather remember that He is supremely independent at all times, ie nothing we do is bound to produce any effect, which is very unlike our material lives.
Apart from the story of that woman I can’t remember a single case where perseverance of that kind bore fruit. What usually happens it that unsuccessful devotees develop resentment and start blaming everything but themselves for their failures. People they meet is their first target – they are too demoniac, too self-absorbed, preaching to them can’t be done, it’s not my fault, it’s Kali Yuga. They might also shift the blame on fellow devotees – prasādam wasn’t cooked properly and causes bodily troubles that sap their energy, someone interrupted their japa, the other dude didn’t show them proper respect, there’s always something. Ultimately, they start blaming Kṛṣṇa and their guru and let their minds to convince them that it’s all a hoax, that our entire movement is a cult where leaders live a high life on the back of lowly saṅkīrtana slaves who earn all the money.
Instead of accepting Lord’s will they push their own vision where they see themselves as great book distributors. This vision is so attractive that they are ready to accept great tapasya to achieve it. They are ready to change their ways, learn new techniques, show up first for morning programs and stay on the streets longer, read more books, hear more tapes – everything that in their mind would cause the Lord to submit to their will of becoming great saṅkīrtana devotees. The Lord doesn’t bend to our will, however, and so everything fails, and eventually they reach the point where their determination to undergo austerities for the sake of saṅkīrtana runs out, and that’s when they start blaming someone else because in their mind they themselves did everything humanly possible.
What we need instead is persevering in Lord’s genuine service, doing things He wants us to do instead of pushing for our own version of it.
There’s another angle to patience – it’s supposed to be a distinguishing quality of a brāhmaṇa but there’s a story about Karna tolerating enormous pain while his guru slept resting his head on Karna’s lap. When the guru woke up and saw how a beetle bore a hole in Karna’s thigh he immediately realized that Karna wasn’t a brāhmaṇa – this kind of tolerance was an attribute of only kṣatriyas and no one else. The possible explanation for this, however, is beyond the scope of today’s post.