Published on November 20th, 2017 | by Harmonist staff35
By Gaurangi-priya dasi
I am writing this while I wait for water to heat up on the stove. This morning I need to tackle days worth of dishes that have filled my counters, sinks, and dishwasher. We are going into our 5th day with no hot water. While my typical modus operandi is to completely panic and stress when things are difficult, going to be a financial burden, and generally just not going “right,” I am finding gratitude for this little bit of austerity. For one, it is summertime and cold showers are not that bad. But mainly I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on my easily stressed out nature and finding it to be an unbecoming and embarrassing quality for an aspiring saranagata bhakta.
The recession and the economic disaster of this country are words on everybody’s tongues these days. I have mostly spent my time oblivious to the country’s distress, caught up in my own daily struggle of existence, riding the ups and downs of having money and not having money. Yesterday, though, I was startled to the predicament of many when I heard that a friend was being laid off after working many years at the same school where I work. While going grocery shopping, this news prominent on my mind, I began thinking again about the path I try to daily tread toward my goal of becoming a saranagata devotee, one who understands their dependence on God for all in life. As a working person, as opposed to someone dedicating one’s life to asrama life, I find that I can get consumed in the dance of power that earning money can create. Though I am driven by my karma to act, the results of my working are very much out of my control.
Let me explain.
Have you ever been in the situation of having some “extra” money when at that exact time your car breaks down, your child gets ill, or like me, your water heater breaks? This has happened to me countless times, and what it shows me is that I have a certain standard of living that is allotted to me, and going much higher or below that standard is not really in my control. The very first verse of the ancient text Isopanisad points towards creating this attitude of accepting what one deserves and understanding that everything is controlled and owned by God.
Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should, therefore, accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
Thinking about this verse, I realize that I have always been given just what is my quota. I have always been taken care of, and have never been in destitute poverty, yet I have always had just what is my quota. But this awareness and acceptance is just one step in my progress.
The Bhagavad-gita points me further towards how I should act while being a woman of the world, enjoying and suffering the fruits of my labor. In Chapter 3, “The Yoga of Action,” Krishna clearly speaks to people like me who are bound to work. He actually encourages me by reassuring me that everyone has their own prescribed duties, and it is not by renunciation alone that one can attain perfection. Though the life of a monk can seem so much closer to achieving self-knowledge, it is not the only path offered in bhakti-yoga, and is actually discouraged if it is done artificially.
We are all forced to act and the task at hand is purifying our hearts while performing our daily activities. Krishna tells Arjuna in verse 9 of this chapter that while all action in this world is binding, by offering those acts as a sacrifice to God, without being attached to enjoying the results, will we start to become free from their binding nature. Krishna then gives practical advice for cultivating sacrifice by highlighting the most basic activity that we do every day: eating. Offering food to Krishna first before accepting it back as remnants is a simple act of acknowledging, on a daily basis, that I am dependent for my sustenance; dependent on him, dependent on the gods of the rain and sun, dependent on the earth, and so on. This feeling of dependence is purifying and humbling and is the foundation for treading the path of saranagati.
With these words of wisdom in my mind, I begin to think how I can practically offer my acts as a sacrifice and perform my work without being attached to the results. Money defines us; defines our station in society as well as our wants and likes. It is also the cause of all the commercialism and greed that drives the world. But, when offered it can be a means of spiritual progress and lasting joy.
My guru always stresses the importance of giving, guaranteeing the magic of giving to fill the hole in my soul that no material acquisitions are able to. This act of giving money, especially to a spiritual cause, gives my work and the money that I make meaning. It is also humbling, for when I turn my mindset into a giver rather than a taker, I see that what I can give is so minute and the need for giving is so great. It also forces me to continue the giving line of thinking: when I feel that the money I can contribute is so puny, I begin to think of what else I can offer. Ultimately what Krishna wants from me is complete giving—offering my very soul to him. He ends the Bhagavad-gita such, with imploring us to surrender our very selves to him, with no fear holding us back.
And what is the need for such fear? Has Krishna not shown me time and time again, through every story in our scriptures, through the songs of so many acaryas, through my own life, and through countless others, that more than anything else he treasures his devotees and takes care of them especially when they are fully dependent on him, seeing no other as their shelter? Every day I sing a song by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in which he writes, “Surrendering my soul unto you, oh Krishna, has lifted from me the burden of false pride. No longer will I try to provide for my own well-being and safety.”
I pray to imbibe this mood daily, to give up the false pride of feeling that I am maintaining myself and that the money I make is mine. When I pray with the Thakura’s poignant words in my heart, knowing that Krishna is taking care of me like one of his treasured calves, I find immense peace. What do you do on a daily practical level to encourage your feeling of dependence on the Lord? Though the philosophy of bhakti-yoga takes much intelligence and use of one’s head, the process itself is a very user-friendly method and an affair of the heart. What user-friendly applications do you apply to your life? Association of like-minded Vaishnavas is a necessity while treading this path, and hearing your thoughts would be most beneficial for this struggling devotee, who’s only hope is to attach myself to those saranagata Vaishanavas who are my life and soul.
Thank you for sharing this powerful post, Gaurangi. You have described a mood that was taught to me at a young age by way of Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6. I’ve wrestled with it too–just as you have so vulnerably offered here. Thank you for reminding us who we are and whose we are.
Matthew 6:25-32 (NRSV)
Do Not Worry
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”
Your biblical reference reminds me of the following from Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 2, Chapter 2:
Thank you Dana, for sharing those beautiful words from the Bible. Trust in our Lords is the task on hand, isn’t it!
Thanks for your comments Gaurangi and Dana, but I have to pick up my faith in the opposite direction (maybe a sign of weak faith). I go with the idea that Krsna is svarat, so he may/may not take care of my material maintenance etc (I may not find extra money when I need it). After all he himself says The Personality of Godhead said 10.88.8: “If I especially favor someone, I gradually deprive him of his wealth. Then the relatives and friends of such a poverty-stricken man abandon him. In this way he suffers one distress after another.” So if I feel that I will be maintained by Krsna and he actually does the opposite, I will feel confused. Therefore, I try to just focus on the little service I can do and focus on devotional activities knowing that things are not under my control. Maybe some day I will come up to the level of more faith in Krsna that he will take care of my basic needs, but right now I try to endeavor to maintain myself (though I know that the plugged can be put off by Krsna at any instant).
Hey Gaura Vijay, Krishna taking something away is his way of maintaining and protecting… In hindsight, being 20/20 as it is, we can see it was a disguised blessing.. It may not have been our preferred way of having things happen, but what the hell do we know. We are not all knowing, but the Master is. The core faith is Krishna will not let his devotee perish, and our duty is to declare it boldly, and very soon we will become righteous..
I talked about maintainence and protection in the simple sense of the word, not thinking that taking away means maintaining and getting you killed physically is still protecting. I mean the soul never dies anyway for even a non-devotee. Only thing is devotional progress is never lost and that is the only guarantee Krsna gives. Anyway, I don’t have strong faith like you. So I have to serve not knowing the response of Krsna. Let him decide what to do.
Dana, I really like your comment, too. I’ve been working on a long-term project writing about saranagati, and I’ve also thought of the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the 23rd Psalm. Your comment, and Gauravani’s, have me thinking about including something about them, especially when I address goptrve-varanam, accepting the Lord as our exclusive maintainer and shelter, which is the core aspect of surrender in Gaudiya vaishnavism.
I tend to agree with Gaura-Vijay Prabhu. Shri Krishna may or may not take care of us, but one should always try ones best to serve/worship Him, because there is no other option. Although personally for me I must say, I need a certain environment to render devotional service and Shri Krishna is providing that currently and I am grateful to Him, and I pray that He does so in the future.
I mean, if tomorrow I am put in some hell or heaven, I don’t think I will be able to do any devotional service.
Conditioned souls living in this world are walking on a thin sheet of ice, never know when it will collapse. Shri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita acting like a true friend points that out, and gives a way to get some solid spiritual footing.
I remember the story of the Avanti Bramhana from 11th Canto of SB. That poor guy lost everything(wealth, home, family) but gained something extremely valuable(self realization and Krishna bhakti) because of which adverse material circumstances did not have any effect on him. That is the ideal.
This ideal I guess is possible to attain some day, even some Romans became good at such stuff.
Stilbo was a Roman General, who said ‘nihil perditi’ – “I have lost nothing” when his wife and children were killed. And Seneca who killed himself in an exemplary way on the order of Nero.
“Time I am the destroyer of the great worlds and I have come here to destroy all people” – Who can defeat kala(time), better is to accept our fate and worship the Lord of Time.
Is there a distinction to be made between the saranagati of a kanistha, madhyama and uttama bhakta?
For example, a kanistha might approach Krishna based on a desire for wealth (artharthi) and knowledge of the Lord’s opulence. That seems to be much different than the uttama bhakta who dismisses material comfort while focusing on sadhana and seva, as Srila Prabhupada did when he came to America.
I guess another question is: does the Lord reciprocate with the saranagata according to his/her level of faith and realization? The obvious answers appears to be “yes” but, again, what would be the distinctions in terms of “dependence” on Krishna?
To put it crudely, is it reasonable to expect Krishna to maintain our material life if that’s all we want from him or will our material life be maintained when we all we want is seva?
Just a few thoughts.
My understanding would be that faith may be defined according to these categories of kanistha, madhyama, etc., and thus one is generally capable of surrender according to the particular level of faith they have.
A saranagata, is a surrendered soul in the purest sense. One may aspire for that and thus make efforts as Gaurangi has described in her article to move towards that ideal. The need to or lack thereof for striving materially coincides with one’s realization. A saranagata, will need very little because his motivation is completely god centered.
Prema’s last comments raise a question in my mind. Is a saranagata actually a “surrendered soul in the purest sense,” which I take to mean the fullest sense, or is it someone undertaking the angas of saranagati. In other words, perhaps, does the term saranagata apply only to those who have trodden the path, or may it apply to those who tread it today?
I think the term saranagata applies to both practitioners of the path of saranagati, as well as those who’ve achieved success and model the path for us. I may be amalgamating ideas, but Swami Tripurari pointed out two approaches to saranagati during a series of classes not so long ago; the kitten approach and the monkey approach. Interpreting those ideas for this question, I think the kitten approach is like the realized saranagata. That saranagata doesn’t endeavor for surrender, but rather is by nature of surrender, completely carried by, protected by the Lord. The kittens being is humility, goptrtve varana, etc. The monkey on the other hand could be thought of like the “practicing” saranagata; he/she endeavors to hold on through effortful humility, cultivating anukula/pratikula bhakti, etc.
Thakur Bhaktivinoda speaks of saranagati as a practice, as something to be taught, and yet by his example shows us he is a teacher as well – both types of saranagata:
I was basically going with the definition I felt Gaurangi seemed to imply in her article, “But mainly I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on my easily stressed out nature and finding it to be an unbecoming and embarrassing quality for an aspiring saranagata bhakta.”
Here’s a another perspective from a Sanga by Swami Tripurari:
Saranagati and Sadhana
“The basic idea of surrender in the Gita—sarva dharman parityaja—is to give up on religious pursuit (dharma)—the worship of any other god or goddess—and serve only Krsna. Krsna calls upon us to serve him alone. Faith that by doing so one is relieved of any other debt amounts to eligibility for treading the path of bhakti. In this sense, bhakti proceeds from saranagati. As we engage in hearing, chanting rembering, etc. under the care of a guardian, gradually as our taste for hearing and chanting increases and sambadha jnana both theoretical and practical is acquired, saranagati intensifies. So our concern should be towfold:
1. Take exclusive shelter of Krsna, forgoing other spiritual practices, etc.
2. Begin a guru-guided life of hearing and chanting, and evaluate your progress by the extent to which your interest in hearing and chanting is increasing. A saranagata will feel himself making progress daily. If you do not feel like this, you have to do whatever it takes to focus your mind (give your heart) to your nama japa, mantra and kirtana. Nama and mantra are the real gifts of Sri Guru. Use them wisely, they are your real wealth.”
Saranagati is sometimes defined as the doorway to bhakti. One can attain Vaikuntha through Saranagati alone. For Vraja-bhakti to develop, one needs to go further and under the guidance of a raga marga guru.
So a suddha bhakta is always a saranagata but a saranagata is not always a suddha bhakta?
Very nice editorial Gaurangi. Thank you for sharing your devotional life with us.
I would also like to add to Gaura Vijaya’s comments. It is a very slippery slope for most to cultivate the mentality that God will provide protection and maintenance. The book, “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” was a national best seller for that very reason. I have known many Krsna bhaktas over the past 2 decades that when tested by tragic events (and maybe not even such tragic events) have lost their faith. Krsna may present so many dilemmas in our lives and sometimes they are inexplicable. Devotees may get cancer, their children may die, they may lose everything gradually or all at once. Srila Sridhara Maharaja describes nicely in his commentary on Upadesamrta, that when one starts to progress from a kanistha orientation to a madhyama conception, there is much struggle. It may get mighty uncomfortable before we see light at the end of the tunnel. Many times we may only be left with our faith. It is a scary proposition but it is the reality of developing substantial standing in bhakti. I found this nice quote in Harinama Cintamani which describes the mood of a saranagata very nicely,
“If one does not culture these attitudes while chanting, one will simply accumulate material in life. Those things which always help increase devotion should be accepted in one’s life with relish; those things which impede devotion should be rejected in disgust. One should believe that other than Krishna, there is no one on whom to depend and that Krishna alone is one’s maintainer. One should think that one is very low and unqualified, with no possessions. As an eternal servant of Krishna, one will be willing to do anything that Krishna desires. To believe that one is the doer, the giver, the protector, that one owns this body, house, wife and offspring, to think oneself to be a brahmana or sudra, husband or wife, king or citizen—this should all be rejected. Instead, centering one’s thoughts on Krishna, one should think of Krishna as the controller and doer and that Krishna’s desire is the main thing. One will do as Krishna desires, not as one independently wants to do. ‘By Krishna’s wish I will stay in this world, and by Krishna’s wish I will cross over it. If there is pain, if there is rejoicing, still I am Krishna’s servant. By His will He will give mercy to the jivas. My material enjoyment and renunciation are all dependent on Krishna.’ When this attitude is present it is called atma-nivedana, or self-surrender.
Ooops. The book is actually called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner.
I’m enjoying these comments. Thanks for getting this discussion started, Gaurangi! You all are teaching me so much from the Gaudiya Vaishnav perspective–prompting me to consider angles I had never thought of before. I am grateful for the association. It helps me in my own faith journey, which happens to be Christian. 🙂
Here’s where I continue to struggle with this topic-–and maybe you do, too:
What about those who have nothing? And by nothing, I mean children and adults whose (very) basic needs are not met. I’m referring to those in our hometowns and around our globe who are starving and dying. What would they have to say about “consider the lilies”? Perhaps you (or they) may say that their hunger is a temporary condition, marked by being trapped in bodies that are merely shells for our souls. Or perhaps you (or they) would say that God has abandoned them. Or, maybe you (or they) would attest that their hunger is an indication of their lack of faith or dependence upon God? What do you think?
Just wanted to say that I’m proud of you for raising these questions on the Harmonist!
After reading the others’ comments I think it would be accurate to say that it is difficult to determine why someone may be suffering as you have described.
From a Hindu perspective, people who have not embraced a life of devotion to God are under the influence of their karma accumulated from innumerable lives. For those who are treading the path of bhakti, the influence of karma on their lives is lessened by Krishna. This lessening of karma is a byproduct of engaging in a life of devotion to Krishna. Another byproduct is the elimination of the tendency to sin.
And even while a bhakta may feel some of the effects of karma, he/she considers it a nudge from Krishna in the right direction; towards a fuller life of surrender, as Gaurangi has so eloquently described.
Here are some references from scripture that support these points:
vipadah santu tah sasvat tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darsanam yat syad apunar bhava-darsanam
“Let there be calamities, again and again, O Lord, [for by such calamities] we see you and never again see birth and death (karma).” –Srimad Bhagavatan 1.8.25
tat te ‘nukampam su-samikshamano bhunjana evatma-kritam vipakam
hrid-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te jiveta yo mukti-pade sa daya-bhak
“One who earnestly hopes for Your compassion, while enduring the karma created by past misdeeds and offering obeisances with his heart, words and body, is eligible for eternal service to You, for it has become his rightful claim.” –Srimad Bhagavatan 10.14.8
karmani nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhajam
“The Lord destroys the karma of those who are engaged in bhakti. –Sri Brahma-samhita 5.54
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah
“Forgoing all religious injunctions, take exclusive refuge in me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” –Bhagavad-gita 18.66
This is a karma buster!! We have a choice in life to consider things good or bad that happen to us as either karma or Krishna’s mercy. If we have faith that there is a God and She is friendly, then we can let go of fear.. Queen Kunti goes one step further and invites all calamities into her life, because she has seen practically, that her genuine happiness is dependent not on whatever good or bad is happening in life, but on her proximity to Krishna. Not many of us can make that prayer, but we can know that God is friendly, and is arranging everything perfectly for our ultimate welfare. This trust we are developing will one day fructify into our willingness to fully surrender. There is that saying, ‘when God closes one door, He opens up another’. So when bad things happen we can have faith and look for what good this is bringing about..
One thing to consider in Kunti’s prayer is that this is her exclamation as Krishna leaves the Pandavas. As he leaves, she reflects that every time one of those calamities visited the Pandavas, Krishna was there. Whenever things got bad, she got to see Krishna. Now they’re apparently well situated, and Krishna is leaving; she will not get to see him as before. So she’d prefer the disasters that brought Krishna into her family’s daily life to a comfortable life without him.
I remember that, as a boy, I belonged to an international young men’s organization for which I spent two years as Virginia’s state chaplain. So whenever there was a statewide meeting, I had to write prayers for opening and closing the meetings. It was something that made me really go into my soul, to the extent that a 15- or 16-year-old American kid could. And it really shook me. Some years later, after serving in the Navy during the Vietnam war, my despair yielded only one prayer: ‘God, if you’re there, please give me a clue.” That’s when my defenses against associating too closely with devotees dissolved and I was able to begin to understand Bhagavad-gita. Then, early in 1970, I started reading the Bhagavatam’s first canto. When I came to this chapter I realized, “Oh–this is real prayer, optimal prayer. I wish I had known this when I was a teenager.”
Man, this is a good essay, as evidenced from the amazing discussion it has generated. And I still have a lot of comments to read. Thanks again, Gaurangi.
Thanks for your contributions Dana!
I think one of the habits of our human condition is to try to “have it all figured out” or to be able to mentally resolve everything we experience in the world. I don’t know why we do this, but it could be that we tend to fear things less if we feel like we can wrap our brains around it and solve the mysteries.
Karma is a very general way of observing the world, explaining the inequalities of life and the underlying laws of the world as we know it. It is a very useful concept, sensible and observable to a small degree. However, it also requires the embrace of a longer (eternal!) view of the existence of the individual soul and there may not be much concrete evidence in the short term view of one life where we can observe 1+1=2; why people are suffering in the ways they are. The theory of karma also necessitates a viewpoint on God’s participation (or lack thereof) in this world and in the life of individual.
Sometimes the term “karma” can get thrown around too easily in regards to suffering and it can come across as a simplistic view and invalidation of real suffering. While the concept of karma seeks to explain much of the nature of this world and can be the source of a disposition of detachment in those who embrace its theory, it does not necessitate a corrosion of compassion. As Swami often points out, detachment brings one closer to a person through deeper understanding of the meaning of their existence and of their relationships.
In short, I think that viewing the world and the various sufferings of people less fortunate than ourselves through a “karmic lens” bestows upon us a profound compassion because we see a bigger picture, that of the individual soul caught in an eternal cycle of suffering, with dedication and service to God as the only escape. I feel that person’s viewing the world through this lens should assist in relieving the present suffering to the degree they are able/knowledgeable, while holding a foundational knowledge of the root of suffering, and action to relieve that predicament where possible. Similar to the idea “teach a man to fish” (or to grow veggies), if we can teach a man to escape ALL suffering we have dealt with the immediate suffering automatically.
You brought up a very important point: karma is a concept often quite misunderstood among the devotees. If everything good and bad in this world was merely the result of past karma, nobody would be creating any NEW karma, and there would be no need for the concept of ‘injustice’ which needs punishment, or good action that needs to be rewarded. But in actuality it is all a mix of reactions for old karma and our actions creating new karma, good and bad.
If we merely dismiss someone’s suffering as ‘his karma’ we often become quite heartless and selfish – I have seen it often in devotees, and I have seen it in myself.
Thank you for your comment. I agree with your conclusion that someones suffering should not be dismissed as karma. Here is an alternative rendering of karma.
Seeing duality (good/bad) based on bodily concept of life, generates reaction(karma). The person reacts to the reaction due to seeing duality and that generates re-reaction( more karma) and so on.
Thus a person suffers due to avidya/kleshas/conditioning not due to karma. Hence for those who are in ignorance, life is full of suffering. And avidya/conditioning has no beginning, but an end.
So spirituality is not eliminating karma, but getting out of the duality, removing the kleshas/ignorance. And the so called punishment and reward are nothing but varieties of suffering.
The desire to alleviate others suffering does not come merely by understanding the law of karma correctly. It comes by purification of heart. When one starts seeing the one spiritual nature in all, and how each one is precious to Shri Krishna.
I think the notion that animals etc have everything provided for and don’t have to worry broke down for Darwin and that made him an agnostic. Animals keep on struggling all day for finding food and many times die because of starvation. Unlimited animal population cannot survive even in places where humans did not intervene. Those who adapt best to the environment survive. Yes with the uttama adhikari vision, we can see God everywhere, but I don’t see how animals are having an easy life finding food. Any long video on discovery will show how much animal life is in fact centered around finding food. So God does make it hard many times :). He has good sense of humor though 🙂 He has to.
Yes, faith in that kind of maintenance from god can easily break down. It reminds me of what Srila Prabhupada said about communism. How they would break people’s faith easily by their propaganda that although they pray to god, “Give us our daily bread”, it was actually the gov’t that was providing the starving masses with food.
Here are some of my thoughts, forgive me that they are not well organized:
I think there can be different ways of looking at this subject that can be more or less useful at different times and for different people. For myself, thus far I have found it beneficial (at least conceptually, and I hope spiritually, as well) to not focus on Krishna’s intervening capability in my life beyond that of bhakti-sadhana and Sri Guru themselves. Meaning that bhakti is categorically different than everything else in my life and is independent, so its presence is inherently an intervention of sorts, or mercy. But when it comes to my material circumstances I have always shied away from inserting God’s spontaneous will into the equation. Nothing happens without God’s sanction, but karma, in conjuction with our free will is a self-sustaining, closed system, a wheel, if you will. 🙂 It is sanctioned by him in a fundamental sense; he arranged the system. In later stages it is said that bhakti can change the present karma in our lives, but that is later.
But I think the crux of much of this is our conception of what constitutes “maintenance.” If a child wants junk food and the parent, out of love and knowledge, refuses such, the child may see the parent as cruel because their criterion is rooted in ignorance. If that is the only criterion the child accepts, nothing but allowing the junk food will change his/her judgment. Similarly, our ability to ascertain right and wrong, good and bad tends to be shortsighted and provincial. At the same time, it is easy to say this, especially if the “bad” is simply not eating junk food. In cases of not having enough necessities to live these ideas are still true, but much harder to embrace. And they of course should not negate compassion for those in such situations.
I personally relate to this kind of emphasis more because Krishna never tells us he will make us wealthy, keep us healthy, or so forth. So emphasizing in this way teaches us not to expect those things and then when bad things undoubtedly occur, they hopefully will not threaten our faith. The only real freedom from suffering (klesagni, which is said to be the first of 6 characteristics of sadhana-bhakti) is the erosion of bodily identification, from which suffering (as distinct from pain) arises. Klesa (suffering) is of four types:
Asmita—false ego; the bodily identification of I and mine; and to accept only direct sense perception as real.
Raga—attachment; the desire for material happiness and those means which will give it.
Dvesa—hatred; the repulsion to unhappiness or the causes of unhappiness.
Abhinivesa—absorption in the body as the basis for sense gratification and fear of death.
So there really seems to be no basis to expect that our material predicaments will cease to exist even when we have attained freedom from suffering. Their destruction lies in the principle of detachment that is lacking in all of the 4 klesas listed above.
Here is an excerpt from a Sanga that addresses a lot of this subject:
“…In his book Madhurya Kadambini, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura also describes how prarabdha karma is eradicated through the perfection of sadhana bhakti. This is in keeping with the idea that one’s karma is destroyed at the time of initiation, in as much as initiation, being part of sambandha-jnana, is completed when one graduates from sadhana bhakti. According to Sri Jiva Goswami, prarabdha karma is the last vestige of karmic bondage that a devotee must undergo. In other words, the unmanifest stages of a devotee’s karmic bondage are destroyed first, and the prarabdha karma is the last to be removed by the grace of Bhakti devi.
What happens to a devotee who has become free from the fetters of karma but has not yet developed pure love of Krsna (prema)? The Lord takes over the devotee’s body and sustains it himself so that the devotee can further cultivate prema. This, however, does not mean that such a devotee will be free from sickness, calamity, or distress. It means that none of these are due to prarabdha karma. They are the special arrangement of the Lord to make his devotee more dependent on him, to increase the devotee’s eagerness and love.
Therefore, a fully qualified Vaisnava guru does not suffer from karma. If the guru has attained the stage of nistha (fixed devotion), hindrances resulting from good and bad karma are completely eradicated (purna-nivrtti), although there is still the minute possibility that anarthas arising from karma may reemerge. When he or she attains asakti, the last stage of sadhana bhakti wherein the mind is completely attached to Krsna, karmic impediments are absolutely eradicated (atyantiki-nivrtti). This is the terminology of Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. Sri Rupa Goswami has also explained that sadhana bhakti frees one from all distress (klesaghni) appearing in the form of karma, the root of which is ignorance (avidya). How so? Bhakti is the highest knowledge (raja vidya).”
A few more thoughts:
So then I would think when we say “Krishna is my maintainer” it does not mean Krishna will provide for me that level of material sustenance that I consider to be “maintenance”, but rather, whatever degree to which I find myself being maintained (*or a lack thereof*), I consider that to be Krishna’s (direct or indirect via karma) wish for me.
On the other hand of all of this, keeping Krishna in our lives by considering him to have a hand in this or that occurrence is not a bad thing, but would seem to me like a relatively less-refined conception, although perhaps it may be necessary for the process of refinement, too? I just tend to lean toward the dry theoretical side of things and I can see it does not always serve me best.
From Srila Sridhara Swami, Upadesamrta commentary:
“The attitude should be this-whatever comes, this is earned by my previous karma. My previous karma has earned such an environment and it is necessary to teach me. And whenever my teaching will finish, the environment will change. Whatever the circumstance, the environment may be undesirable but if we are sincere we must take it with a good motive because the Lord has sent it. Without his sanction nothing can happen. Not even a straw can move. I am put in such an unfavorable environment-He is seeing this thing and as soon as this necessity ends it will be removed and I shall be placed in another environment. There is no error in His decision. In the divine decision there cannot be any error. We have to face all circumstances with such an attitude.”
Great quote Prema! I was thinking along the same lines, and tend to follow the understanding Nitaisundara has expressed of maintenance, protection of the Lord, etc.
Here is a nice quote on the psychology of love, which I find pertinent to discussion of love of god.
In the Bhagvatam story of Pralhad Maharaj, when Pralhada Maharaj was severely tormented by Hiranyakashipu, he was not affected. Was this because he believed that Shri Krishna will protect him or was it because he understood the nature of the self and his mind was completely absorbed in remembrance of Shri Krishna ?
There is an interesting narrative in Mahabharata which kind of illustrates difficulty in surrendering when one is faced with lack of necessities like food and water.
After the war when Shri Krishna was returning back to Dwarka, he met an ascetic Utanka in the desert. The ascetic asked Shri Krishna about the news in Hastinapur, and Shri Krishna told him the outcome. The ascetic became angry that Kauravas were destroyed and Shri Krishna did nothing, so he was just about to curse Shri Krishna. Shri Krishna smiled and basically told him,” I am the Supreme Personality of Godhead, your cursing will do nothing to me, but it will undo the spiritual advancement which you have attained”. The Shri Krishna instructed him on spiritual topics and thus instructed by Shri Krishna the ascetic came to his senses and worshiped Shri Krishna. Shri Krishna was pleased and He showed him His universal form and requested the ascetic to ask for a boon. The ascetic replied that he was satisfied and did not need anything, but since Shri Krishna insisted he asked that he would get some water whenever he was thirty as there isnt much in the desert.
One day the ascetic could not find any water and was extremely thirsty, so he remembered Shri Krishna. Suddenly he saw a butcher coming with a leather bag full of some liquid. The butcher said, this bag contains my urinal, and it is the only water I have and you should drink it. Hearing this the ascetic started cursing Krishna in his mind. The butcher left and Shri Krishna appeared and gave him water and told him ” The butcher was Indra and the bag contained amrita ( nectar). I wanted you to drink nectar so I sent Indra but you sent him away, but anyways here is some water.”
This is from Mahabharata Ashvamedha Parva, just after the Anugita.
Faith and surrender is tested when necessities like food and water are scarce.
It is very clear from the rendering of Prahlad’s story in Visnu Purana that many devotees who worshiped Visnu were tormented brutally by Hiranyakasyapa and Visnu did not come personally to protect them from physical anxieties or physical death like he did for Prahlad. On another level, everyone is protected because the soul never dies. I personally feel for me the faith is that Krsna is the cause of all causes and I will accept any eventuality, knowing that he is behind it. Now where that will mean protection for myself or not, I don’t know. That is the reason Yudhistara said that Pandavas should not be role models for devotees because the amount of misery they suffered will dissuade people from worshiping Krsna.
And at the same time, this is precisely why the Pandava’s (think Kunti, Draupadi) are such role models for saranagatas. The Pandava’s may not be role models for those whose devotion is mixed, but the refinement of their love and dependence upon their friend/relative Krsna throughout their suffering is an inspiration. After all, who avoids suffering in this world? Not a one!
From Srila Sridhara Swami, Upadesamrta Commentary:
“Confidence means raksisyati-visvaso. That is a particular stage of saranagati. I will have so much confidence that He will protect me from any danger. One may run to protect oneself knowing there is danger, but still he is thinking, “My guardian will save me. Whom do I care for? I don’t care for anyone. He is my master and He is there on my head, He will protect me.” There is no necessity of any apprehension from any quarter at all. Saranagati reaches such a zenith, to such a height that not only will He save me if I go on in a right way, I shall risk everything for the Lord, and if necessary, He may come to my relief. Such audacious aggression is there.”
“That particular mentality is there in the ordinary soldier-he has got confidence in his general. It may be found in many places, many stages of life. But here, that confidence is not found in this world, but in the highest quarter.”
” The question will remain whether I have surrendered totally or not. My ego-it has allowed me to surrender to His holy feet fully or is it self deception? The question is there. There is no doubt if anyone surrenders to Him totally , He will protect him- that is unquestionable. But the question remains here whether I have successfully surrendered myself to Him or not. Self analysis. That is the truth.”
Lord Vishnu created this world to supply us with our needs, and He created the varnashrama system for those in human form of life so that we may live nicely. This is the basic framework of His care.
If you ask the tyagis, their answer is most likely just applicable to those like them. But let’s face it, they are all still dependent on the rest of the society to satisfy their needs.
And sometimes I also see personal irresponsibility masquerading as surrender to Krishna.
I pray to Krishna for help after I have done everything I can to take care of the problem and the solution is out of my hands. This system seems fair and reasonable to me.
A nice post full of wisdom. Sometimes, crisis brings out the best wisdom that surprisingly, is innate to us. Thanks for the post!
Cool story Bhushan, about finding nectar in the worst of situations. Or not accepting what is happening as the will or the Lord, and getting only water. Water is what we are normally trying to get, survival, a few chapatis, and our plea to Krishna is for a few more of our daily bread.. And Krishna, being quite generous, doesn’t grudge us that for sure, but has other things we he’d like to bequeath us that we can’t even quite imagine we might deserve as yet in this hard struggle world. Strangely, they come in the guise of troubles and distresses, when we are thrown off our usual way of working in the world, and our usual assumptions about life, how we are its victim, and the randomness and uncaring nature of the universe that we have to struggle hard to protect ourselves from, are temporarily devastated too. When life has dealt the hardest blow we can imagine, and in our total helplessness we find that kernel of faith and call out to anyone who might be listening for help, and experience the miracle, the cessation of suffering which is the smaller part of miracle, and the blessed assurance that Krishna is mine, that the environment is indeed friendly, that we are not alone in a lonely universe… Oh what a foretaste of glory divine! And so those devotees tell us that that kind of pleasure is indeed worth whatever little bump in the road we went through..