Everything is Out of (Our) Control

By Bhakti Pranaya Padmanabha Swami

Beyond being human and pragmatically cautious, as spiritual aspirants we must be philosophically sober in the face of the coronavirus. Moments like these should cause us to turn inward. Yesterday, I came across an interesting quote from the Mahabharata (12.330.15), about how to deal with catastrophes:

As for those calamities that have manifested themselves in entire states and provinces, no one should resort to anxiety. Free of anxiety, one should implement any solution that is available at that time.

Thus, we see how sastra is both practical and wise: we must do what we can do, but not worry unnecessarily about those things that lie outside the range of our control. Unchecked, this generates anxiety beyond our control, or panic. So the real problem is not so much what happens or does not happen, but how much we insist on solving something far outside of our control. Instead we should dedicate ourselves to accepting the plan of the Supreme in our lives.

I do not wish to invoke passive resignation in anyone but I encourage the sober capacity to accept what is happening around us. As aspirants to devotion, our focus should be on the Supreme Being and his will—and on increasingly accepting his agenda in our lives, rather than trying to forcefully impose our own agenda. In this way, increased anxiety should be redirected by reflecting on the fact that we have not yet given up enough to the Supreme, to the point of accepting, willingly and cheerfully, Krishna’s plan in our lives. In this regard, yesterday I also came across an interesting comment by Vallabhacarya:1

Praying to the Lord in situations of calamity (for him to modify them) only demonstrates how little faith we have in the arrangements he is making in our lives. The Lord arranges everything in the life of his devotee by his own desire, without being influenced by any other factor. Why should a devotee then unnecessarily ruin his attitude of service, by praying in this direction and thus try to modify the mind of the Supreme Being?

This statement is intense, but challenging and necessary for most. We are encouraged to become more and more interested in divine desire, rather than imposing our own judgment on a situation. For example, when Krishna Himself was on this Earth 5,000 years ago, millions and millions of people died in Kurukshetra, the Pandavas went through countless calamities, the sons of Arjuna were killed by Asvatthama, Vidura was thrown out of the kingdom of Hastinapura, and other similar events. But no one at that time even thought to blame Krishna, let alone ask him to do something about it. So, instead of wishing someone “the best” (without a clear idea of what is best for each specific case), we could wish “that you are able to accept whatever God considers best for you in this particular moment.” This is the true meaning of “I wish you the best.”

Saranagati (surrender) represents the very foundation of the temple of bhakti that we wish to build in our hearts. And among its six central expressions, the most important of them involves accepting that I am being maintained by Sri Hari (goptritve varana). This anga of saranagati comes after raksisyati visvaso, or trusting in the protection of the Supreme, all of which is an absolutely necessary parameter to engage in bhakti properly. This trust should be absent of the thought that non-practitioners are guilty people or that the world is unjust.

We are encouraged to contemplate “the bigger picture,” or a broader and deeper perspective of reality. Especially in difficult times, our surrender and faith will be tested. We need to be tested to find out where we really stand in our lives, beyond what we can imagine when we are not being constructively challenged.

“The bigger picture” includes the fact that there is far more beyond our control than we can put under our control. This reality is presented by the coronavirus and viscerally demonstrates our vulnerability. And although it may seem somewhat tragic, the moments in which when we feel weaker and more fragile are those moments we can receive more empowerment in our lives. That empowerment comes by reposing ourselves unto that person who has and will always remain in control. This is actually where we belong—in a position of dependency in relation to the Absolute. Ultimately that is bhakti. Not trying to enjoy or control, but recognizing the supreme enjoyer and controller, and passionately loving him.

In this way, the coronavirus can be seen as a great blessing. It generates a whole situation of extreme lack of control and vulnerability. We are therefore invited to recalibrate our priorities, reorganize our orientation towards all life, and finally turn our gaze in the direction of our only and permanent refuge.

  1. This quote is a mixture of Vallabhacarya’s Sodasa-grantha, Viveka-dhairya-asraya verse 2, combined with the commentary of Sri Gopisvara. Vallabhacarya’s verse: prarthite va tatah kim syat svamy-abhipraya-samsayat: “What is the use of praying to the Lord in such situations? His desire is never known to anyone in any situation.” Sri Gopisvara’s comment: bhagavan svecchayaiva dasyati, nanyatheti. kim artham sva-dharma-hanih kartavya: “The Lord arranges everything by his desire, being uninfluenced by any other factor. Why should a devotee unnecessarily spoil his service attitude by praying and trying to change the mind of the Lord?” []


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7 Responses to Everything is Out of (Our) Control

  1. This thought-provoking article doesn’t have the feeling of so much I have read by Swami Tripurari. The author has captured the intellectual side of the equation with great wisdom and precision, and for this we should be grateful.

    However, Gaudiya Vaishnavas are personalists. If it is the Lord’s will that Swami Tripurari die soon, it is perfectly legitimate for Swami’s disciples and friends to petition the Lord to change His mind. As devotees we cannot control Krishna, but Krishna is nevertheless controlled by the love of His pure devotees.

    Should Swami Bhaktivedanta’s first followers in 1967 have chosen to surrender to the Lord’s will instead of praying with deep emotion to Lord Narasimhadeva for the recovery and health of their gurudeva? Should those followers in 1977 have said, “We don’t care whether or not you get on that bullock cart; do what you want and we will trust that the Lord’s will is done.” Of course not! In the latter case, those followers in their love actually disagreed about whether or not he should have taken the bullock cart ride he requested, but in either case their mood was not one of resigned acceptance of divine will.

    In one sense, perhaps we should rightly welcome the coronavirus as a purifying force that will bring the necessary karmic retribution to a society in which the cow-eaters haughtily look down on the eaters of bats and pangolins. Perhaps we should accept that if devotees die they will be reborn in better circumstances, and that if demons die they will have the opportunity to atone and eventually get a fresh start. Perhaps we should in any case be free from anxiety, trusting that the Lord’s will is supreme.

    But that’s not the whole story. By itself, this is not a sentiment typical of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Yes, we should have no illusion of controlling the virus, and we should trust that it is not something to fear in the ultimate sense. We know that as Vaishnavas we are called to “die to live” and that it is foolish to maintain attachments to a flickering, fleeting world of phantasmagoria. No material circumstance can vanquish the Lord’s will.

    However, we are personalists. If Gurudeva can be protected from the virus better if we change some of our habits, we embrace those changes. If our spouse, parent, child, or friend can be better protected by our own inconvenience, we welcome that inconvenience. And, though we accept the overall weight of divine justice, we are sufficiently personalist as to cry out for mercy on behalf of our loved ones, whether our love is yet divine love or whether it remains tinged with material attachment.

    This is Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Articles like this one by Swami Padmanabha are necessary and wonderful as they illustrate an important aspect of our considerations as devotees. Alone, however, without “the bigger picture” of Krishna conscious personalism, we should be careful to ensure that an article like this does not create a dangerous misconception of our faith and our conduct and our aspiration as devotees.

    My dandavats to Swami Padmanabha for illustrating this one vital aspect of Gaudiya Vaishnava thought. Let us hope for and look forward to future articles sharing other considerations from other angles of vision.

  2. Swami B. P. Padmanabha

    Pranama ……….. Das, and thanks for your comments.

    Actually the article is written with a general idea in mind, and not referring specifically to how a disciple will pray for his Guru in certain specific conditions.

    And I was about my point that if we can do something to protect ourselves (or Sri Guru for that matter) from the virus or whatever, we should do that. But if something goes beyond our control, we should also learn to accept Bhagavan´s will. It´s easy to speak about trying to change Krishna´s mind in the strength of bhakti and make that an excuse for not being full surrendered to his will. Those who are fully surrendered, that´s another case and they will indeed change Krishna´s mind. But again, this article is for a general public mainly.

    And anyway, regarding the example you gave (Guru leaving this world) there are different possible stances and conceptions of that, and this is not a black and white panorama. For example, a kanistha disciple of Prabhupada may have wanted to take Prabhupada to Govardhana on bullock cart due to a literal understanding of his will, a madhyama-bhakta may have considered Prabhupada´s health and thus avoiding such risky parikrama, and maybe an uttama disciple (which I doubt they were at that moment) may have again thought to take Prabhupada to Govardhana, relating to his inner svarupa from his own (disciple´s) inner svarupa. So many possibilities are there.

    For example, you say that Krishna is controlled by the love of his devotees so we can try to change his mind by the force of our love and, if Krishna is calling his pure devotee to join him in nitya-lila, we should try to change his mind because we know Krishna responds to the force of love. But that force of love may be the one that is already influencing Krishna to call his pure devotee to his realm! And most probably such bhakti-sakti (the guru´s) may be more powerful than the prayers of the guru´s disciples. So which bhakti will have more influence on Krishna? We should open ourselves to the bigger picture, because if we are lamenting because Sri Guru is leaving US and being called for the nitya-lila, some considerations:

    -Krishna wants that and for sure the Guru also will want that, so should we interfere with such two powerful desires?

    -The guru is not leaving us at all. By his so-called “leaving us”, he is actually inviting us to further join him in that higher realm. But many disciples prefer to keep Sri Guru here so they don´t have to make the necessary efforts to go there. 🙂

    Just some thoughts on your thought-provoking comment, so thanks for that and hopefully this ensures our broadening and nuanced conception of the Gaudiya horizon and prospect.

  3. Kishore Krsna Das

    Thank you for this article Maharaja, I very much appreciate the emphasis, as the notion of a ‘devotee’s desire influencing krishna’ can be easily abused. As for prayer, is it proper to pray for those things we have some control over – those things of our inner world? “Krishna, please bestow some humility, tolerance, taste… Etc”

    Also, in the CC we often see devotees petitioning Mahaprabhu to stay with them, or they may use Kirtan to wake him from a trance they fear he might not come back from. How are we to understand these instances? Would these be instances of Prema in which a sense of mamata has awoken? Still, Gaura Lila is an instructing Lila, so is there some place to petition for a sadhu’s association for one’s own spiritual benefit?

  4. Swami B. P. Padmanabha

    Pranama Kishore Krishna Dasa, thanks for your comments and questions.

    Again, regarding “which is the best form to pray”, that will depend on the devotee´s adhikara. For example, as you may know prayers in sadhana-bhakti are mainly characterized by submission while prayers in bhava are characterized by longing. Of course, both things are there but in different degrees.

    The examples you give are from those on the other side of the fence :), and not necessarily applicable 108% to every sadhaka. But overall yes, at the same time gaura-lila is mainly characterized for instructing the practitioners, so in that connection one may petition a sadhu for one´s benefit, but of course being open to the sadhu´s own idea about what´s our actual benefit, since he/she may know about it better than us. And needless to say, we should be open for such an opinion to be established above ours.

  5. Thank you very much Svami BP Padmanabha for this article that covers and integrates different perspectives according to the current situation and understanding of each one in the material, material-spiritual and spiritual… Also when reading, I call me atention the part that the prabhu Pranama Kishore mentioned. Krishna Dasa “the desire of a devotee who influences Krsna”, in the case of abuse as he says, would it be taranga rangini?… It reminded me of the term satya sankalpa, does it have something to do with what you answer him? because if Krsna pleases so to speak, He knows what He does it for, maybe within some pleasure for someone there will be a part or parts not completely pleased, but finally it will always be for Him, how then is the pleasure of Krsna depends on Him or of wanting to please his devotees who give him more pleasure? How does Krsna harmonize between two requests that give you or will give you pleasure? This is very general but in case specifics must also apply. =)

  6. Swami Padmanabha

    Besides the main point of the article and in connection to the guru´s departure and some of the points mentioned in this thread, here I share an interesting excerpt where Srila B. V. Tripurari Maharaja speaks about his experience in connection to Srila Prabhupada´s tirobhava:

    https://www.mediafire.com/file/vcq2nvfobn765ur/TM_history_of_iskcon.mp3/file

  7. Swami Padmanabha

    In the context of the present thread here I also share an interesting verse from Bhagavata, where Uddhava prays knowing that Krishna is withdrawing his pastimes from from this world:

    ŚB 11.6.43

    नाहं तवाङ्‍‍घ्रिकमलं क्षणार्धमपि केशव ।
    त्यक्तुं समुत्सहे नाथ स्वधाम नय मामपि ॥ ४३ ॥

    nāhaṁ tavāṅghri-kamalaṁ
    kṣaṇārdham api keśava
    tyaktuṁ samutsahe nātha
    sva-dhāma naya mām api

    “O Lord Keśava, my dear master, I cannot tolerate giving up Your lotus feet even for a fraction of a moment. I urge You to take me along with You to Your own abode.”

    Instead of asking Krishna “Please don´t go!” he is praying to him, “Please take me with you!”.

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