Inspired by the "Nectar of Devotion" lecture series given by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada from October 20-November 13, 1972 at the Radha-Damodara Temple in Vrndavana, India
All of these lectures are available for download at ISKCON Desire Tree.
The daze and haze of our material existence lend itself quite nicely to the existential disconnection that hovers at the edges of our lives and duties. When we dig deep, and for most, this digging deep is a "luxury" not easily chosen, we find a well of distress, miscommunication, and misunderstanding at the core of our existence.
No wonder everything gets bigger, brighter, flashier, and louder. Better to keep those voices in our heads from barking too loud.
There are plenty of "prescription remedies" to give us a mere semblance of relief from material distress, but if we have come into the association of the devotees, and we begin to practice devotional service, we can begin to understand it's a reality that bears no inebriation or illusion. In fact, it actually does what it advertises.
As a matter of fact, it's the real escape for all of us who have had the grace and the fortune to realize that running away from the material world is not a sign of laziness or indolence, but of enlightenment.
It's not that devotees don't work hard. Right? Devotees work very hard. I don't have to tell you that. Our own lives and the history of our society, from Prabhupada on down, are glittered with the pastimes and experiences of those who pushed well beyond their own limits and boundaries, like a Trane solo in his final years, into something more transcendent.
So we aren't lazy, and the trick to avoid this laziness is to take our vocation, take our effort, and fully link it up to the will of the Lord. This includes maybe even our temper, as Prabhupada of course relates our famous example of Hanuman burning down Lanks for the favor of Lord Rama.
So, it is our physical and mental effort, this dovetailing and engagement, which helps us to find relief from material distress, or relief from the ultimate existential angst, which is the scourge of contemporary philosophical and practical outlook.
This dovetailing cannot be left up to the whimsical dictates of our own mind alone, rotted out and molded up by the mundane conditioning of our lifetimes of wanderings. We must be guided by guru, sadhu and sastra. Prabhupada concurs:
"So by any action, if it is dovetailed for the satisfaction of Krsna, that is devotional service, and one can attract Krsna, attention of Krsna. Attention of Krsna can be attracted by pure devotional service, without any personal motive. If it is... And that motive, that order, is received through the disciplic succession of the spiritual master, how Krsna will be pleased. In the present condition, we do not know how Krsna will be pleased, but we know from the sastras... We can know also from the direction of the spiritual master how Krsna will be pleased. Yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah **. So Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says you have to follow the direction of the spiritual master. He's guiding as a leader. And if he's pleased, that means Krsna is pleased. Yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah **"
Then we will understand how to please Krsna, which is the secret of life, and we will be able to approach our lives and duties with less and less tinges of our own personal, selfish motives, which block the flow of Krsna's love in our being like a hearty beaver-built dam.
It is this flood of His love which overwhelms all of our negative propensities, and even overwhelms all the unknowing sinful reactions we take on just being in this material world.
It's not just the negative. Even the unknowing material piety we may commit isn't held against us if we are committing to the life of a bhakta. Prabhupada relates:
"So how to save? That is replied in the Bhagavad-gita: yajnarthe karma anyatra loko 'yam karma-bandhanah [Bg. 3.9]. If you do not act, or if you do not engage yourself in Krsna consciousness business, then you are becoming implicated with so many sinful activities. That is sure. Therefore one has to take to Krsna consciousness without fail. Otherwise he'll be entangled, karma-bandhanah. Even if he's doing pious activities, he's becoming entangled in karma-bandhanah, in bondage. He has to take birth. Pious activities means he has to take birth in nice family, rich family. That is also bandhana. He has to enter into the womb of the mother and live there for ten months, in compact, air-tight, compact bag. That is not very good living condition. But we forget all these things, neither we do not care for all these things. But actually fact is, knowingly or unknowingly, we are becoming implicated."
Or as he also states it very succinctly:
"Everyone is being caught up by the action and reaction of karma, but a devotee is protected from the action and reaction of karma. Karmani nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhajam [Bs. 5.54]. So a devotee, a Krsna conscious person, remains free always, provided he's fully engaged in Krsna conscious activities for pleasing the Supreme Personality of Godhead. "
It's these karmic whirlwinds which give none of us any stability in his material world. Like a relentless tornado on country plains, these winds can, in a split second, send our plans into pieces over things we have done way back even in lives previous.
And for those not aware of this essential law of the material universe, it is not that ignorance is bliss. Karma is fundamental. It is the engine of the endless chains of actions and reactions. It is the snake eating its own tail, the wheel of samsara.
We want off this ride, and by learning to love and please Krsna through His devotees, we get the ticket out, or we get the monkey off of our back, for lack of a better term.
Because, as Prabhupada relates, Krsna Himself takes charge of us:
"If you take to Krsna consciousness without any motive, sincerely, then your position is secured. Krsna takes charge of you. Kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranasyati [Bg. 9.31]. His devotee will never be vanquished. Just like Arjuna. Arjuna was considering how he could kill his kinsmen, his familymen, his nephew, his brother, his grandfather, on the other side. Actually, this killing business is not very good. It is sinful. But the same thing he committed after understanding Bhagavad-gita. He agreed: karisye vacanam tava [Bg. 18.73]. "Yes, I shall fight."
Our own sincere effort, and the shelter of determination that are the devotees, are also our "safety position":
"We should be very careful that we may not create another material body. And what is that safety position? Krsna says, janma karma me divyam yo janati tattvatah [Bg. 4.9]. If you simply try to understand Krsna, how Krsna takes His birth, how He becomes the son of Devaki, son of Nanda Maharaja, how He becomes the son of Yasoda, these things, if we study, if we try to understand Krsna, if we don't accept Krsna as ordinary man -- avajanati mam mudha -- then, in this way, if we understand the science of Krsna, yei krsna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya [Cc. Madhya 8.128], if one understands the science of Krsna, he is spiritual master."
Prabhupada's points here are powerful and profound. He commands us not to shape another body to take birth in by our misguided actions, and he tells us to avoid a relapse into the material "disease" we are trying to leave behind.
"If you do not relapse the disease, then you are nice. Similarly, to keep in Krsna consciousness means you are not diseased condition, but do not allow the disease to relapse. That means do not deviate from the devotional service. Mam ca avyabhicarena bhakti-yogena yah sevate. Avyabhicarini. Don't misuse the devotional service. Then you are all right. Sa gunan samatityaitan brahma-bhuyaya kalpate [Bg. 14.26]. Then you keep yourself always in transcendental position, brahma-bhutah position. And then from brahma-bhutah position, you can elevate yourself to the para bhakti, spontaneous. Para bhakti means spontaneously, spontaneous devotional service. Automatically, you will be loving Krsna."
As well, Prabhupada implores us to try and move beyond the platform of kanistha realization, which to me, as I see this specific struggle in my own life, means to learn and love and communicate with others in our lives, developing our relationships with actual, personal devotees who are pushing and prodding us to something more, to something higher. Prabhupada says:
"We can expect after executing devotional service as a madhyama- adhikari. Then we can be promoted. But if we keep ourself simply on the lower stage of devotional service, then there is chance of falling down. Sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah. Simply... Just like, generally, they keep in the kanistha-adhikari stage. Of course, there is no loss. In any adhikara, in any position, you are benefited because you have taken to devotional service. But our attempt should be from kanistha- adhikara to madhyama-adhikara. Madhyama-adhikara means preacher. Unless one comes to the madhyama-adhikara, he cannot preach."
To get real relief from our material distress means so many things, but we can distill to one nectarine simplicity: we have to open our heart (in our relationships with each other as devotees) to allow Krsna to take charge of our lives, and then we will have no fear and no doubt about who we are and what we must do. Prabhupada concludes:
"So we have to take to devotional service. Then we shall understand Krsna. Krsna will reveal. If you are engaged in Krsna's service constantly, tesam satata-yuktanam bhajatam priti-purvakam [Bg. 10.10]. If you have devoted, heart and soul, for service of Krsna, then Krsna is within your self. He'll give you intelligence. Buddhi-yogam dadami tam. He'll give you intelligence. He'll purify your heart. He'll purify your position. "