Srila Prabhupada once told a priest in England that although the boys and girls in ISKCON seemed to have a variety of engagements, this did not mean they did not practise inner life. Srila Prabhupada replied that inner and outer activities are all 'inner' in Krsna consciousness because they are within the realm of daivi-prakrti. If an iron rod is kept in the fire, it eventually becomes fire. Similarly, constant engagement in Krsna consciousness constitutes inner life. That said, I would still like to draw a distinction between inner life and more outgoing preaching and management. Specifically, I would like to discuss the importance of sadhana.
In Bhagavad-gita 5.16.3, Srila Prabhupada presents the difference between the 'external' duties in Krsna consciousness and strength-giving, 'internal' duties:
In our preaching work, we deal with so much property and money, so many books, bought and sold, but because these dealings all pertain to the Krsna consciousness movement, they should never be considered material. That one is absorbed in thoughts of such management does not mean that he is outside of Krsna consciousness. If one rigidly observes the regulative principles of chanting sixteen rounds of the maha-mantra every day, his dealings with the material world, for the sake of spreading the Krsna consciousness movement, are non-different from the spiritual cultivation of Krsna consciousness.
There are many ways to talk about inner life, both in terms of sadhana and in terms of self-development. But it is true that everything rests on sadhana. Properly performing our sadhana leads us to self-improvement, better relationships with other devotees, more understanding of our relationship with Krsna, and so on. Sadhana is a devotee's personal spiritual practice - chanting and hearing.
Sanatana Gosvami praises Haridasa Thakura because he is exemplary both in his behaviour (sadhana) and his preaching:
My dear sir, you are chanting the holy name three hundred thousand times daily and informing everyone of the importance of such chanting. Some behave very well but do not preach Krsna consciousness, whereas others preach but do not behave properly. You simultaneously perform both duties in relation to the holy name, by your personal behaviour and by your preaching. Therefore, you are the spiritual master of the entire world for you are the most advanced devotee in the world.' And Srila Prabhupada comments: 'Similarly, members of the Krsna consciousness movement chant a minimum of sixteen rounds a day, at the same time they must preach the cult of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. One who does so is quite fit to become a spiritual master for the entire world. (CC Antya 4.101-3).
In the Caitanya-caritamrta ('Teachings to Sanatana Gosvami'), there is a very clear description of inner and outer life as it develops from the spontaneous stage of devotional service. This implies that in the beginning, inner life is not so developed. According to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, vaidhi-bhakti means going through the motions of spiritual life because sadhana is performed out of duty devoid of spontaneous love. Inner life, therefore, develops according to the spontaneous stage. At that point, outer and inner life continue symbiotically. Lord Caitanya said to Sanatana Gosvami:
There are two processes by which one may execute this raganuga-bhakti, external and internal. When self-realised, the advanced devotee externally remains like a neophyte and executes all the sastric injunctions, especially hearing and chanting. However, in his mind, in his original, purified, self-realised position, he serves Krsna in Vrindavan in his particular way. He serves Krsna twenty-four hours a day, day and night. (CC Madhya 22.156-7).
It is therefore important for devotees to take time to perform sadhana.
Most devotees feel the need to practise good sadhana, but often, practising good sadhana seems to conflict with other duties. How should a devotee respond? How can a devotee find the balance? Just to realise that there is such a thing as an individual's way is to face responsibility. ISKCON cannot define or legislate what each of us should become or how to fulfill our deepest spiritual needs. There is an individual level of spiritual life, just as there is an institutional one for members of ISKCON. I remember reading St. Francis of Assisi's last words as they were recorded in his biography. He was surrounded by followers and disciples and had developed a movement of thousands. He said, 'I have done what I had to do in serving Christ. Now you find your way.' It is not possible for everyone to imitate a charismatic leader. We have to follow him. By seeing his enthusiasm, we can became more enthusiastic in our services. It is not that we think we have to take up the details of the leader's service; we have to develop the inner meaning of that service within ourselves. Although everyone in ISKCON practises sadhana, we all have to find our own ways to develop it and make advancement.
To illustrate this point, I would like to quote from my book, Chota's Way. Although it is not scripture, it is relevant to this discussion. Chota's Way is a fictional account of a devotee finding his own way to serve guru and Krsna. Chota, the main character, experiences both internal and external obstacles as he tries to both increase and refine his sadhana while serving in the Krsna consciousness movement. Chota is one of the first devotees to preach in Guyana. He is a pioneer, and because he has been steady over the years, he has become a spiritual leader for the younger devotees. The book opens with Chota being honoured as a spiritual master. The other character (Yamala) is his foil, although they are godbrothers and friends. Yamala was also a pioneer in the Guyanese preaching, and he is also respected by the younger devotees. But Yamala has developed his service more as a manager. A third character, Arjuna, is mentioned briefly. Arjuna is Chota's brother. He has become embittered and is making propaganda against both the movement and Chota. Arjuna says that Chota is not a bona fide spiritual leader because he has faults, and he says that the movement is not bona fide because it is based on concocted principles. In this way, he is stirring up trouble among the devotees at the various centres in Guyana.
The first glimpse we get of Chota is when he is sitting on the vyasasana listening to the praises of his followers. Chota is dissatisfied. As soon as he gets the chance, he tries to convey to the audience that although they are praising him as a great devotee, he lacks taste for the basic practices of chanting and hearing. He ask them to help him, to bless him or to somehow facilitate him:
I have a personal request. If I am actually to serve you and other living beings, then I have to be a fit devotee, but at present, I am not fit. I do not have a taste for the most basic practices of chanting and hearing, so I humbly request you to please allow me to pursue the basic sadhana of Vaishavism, of which I have so far not realised even a drop. Without this higher taste, all my activities are actually trivial and farcical. Please give me your mercy in this very tangible and practical way so that one day, I can actually become a genuine chanter and reader of Prabhupada's books. Only then can I convince others to do the same.'
The assembled devotees thought that Chota's speech was very nice. They held a big kirtan when he was finished speaking, then a feast. They were happy that Chota was so humble.
After the feast, Chota goes to his room. Yamala is waiting for him, pacing back and forth and filled with the news of the success Arjuna's propaganda is having. He pushes Chota to do something in response. Chota agrees to 'do the needful'. He adds:
'Yamala, listen. Here's what I think. Our response to these criticisms should be to improve our spiritual lives. I want to take more time for chanting and reading. This is the leadership which is required, not just to spread counter-propaganda. I would like to work full-time on my chanting and my study of Praphupada's books.'
'What?!' Yamala's mouth fell open in disbelief, 'This is not time for weakness, Prabhu.'
'You call a desire to hear and chant a weakness?'
'Yes,' Yamala said. 'Remember in Bhagavad-gita, how when Arjuna wanted to retire from the battle, what did Krsna do? He chastised him .Chanting and reading is babaji stuff. We are preachers and you're the leader. You can't retire. We've got to confront this menace. Call meetings, make a tour, go to Arjuna and tell him he has to stop or else. Don't allow him even to visit the temples. He has to leave Guyana. Many devotees are already bewildered by him and you've got to tell them to do their regular work.'
'I agree,' said Chota in a subdued voice, 'but there has to be a time . '
'This isn't a time for chanting and hearing,' said Yamala. 'Listen, I'd like to take time for that myself. I'm about a hundred rounds behind in my quota and I haven't read a page in weeks. I'm not proud of that, but I know I have to fight so that our spiritual movement can be protected . As far as I'm concerned, chanting and introspection are luxuries, although I know they're the goal of life. There is no time for them now. We have to get out and fight. We're declaring war on maya.'
Chota resigns himself, and he paces the floor to finish his last few rounds before going to sleep. 'This is a mess,' he thinks as he grinds out the last round, 'but tomorrow I am going to get up early, and before anything happens, I am going to read Krsna book.' When he does read Krsna book early the next morning, Chota experiences the taste he is hankering for and he immediately becomes convinced that sadhana is important to him.
Chota paused and looked up thoughtfully from the page. Unless one regularly heard these narrations, how would it be possible to remember the form and activities of the Supreme Lord? And without remembering Krsna, how is it possible to be a devotee? It was not enough just to belong to a movement or to wear a team jacket.
Chota allowed his greed to read Prabhupada's books fill him without guilt. He felt a conviction that Prabhupada was pleased with him and that he should not squelch his growing desires. Chota thought, 'Hearing about Krsna is the most important thing. Unfortunately, although the devotees are enthusiastic, they do not know yet of the importance of reading. They praise me for reading, yet they don't seek to do it for themselves.'
This was the predicament: Chota was being praised as a great leader among the devotees, but he knew he did not deeply appreciate reading or chanting. And if the leader has no taste, what can he expect from his followers? It is a subtle form of hypocrisy if a leader tries to enthuse others to practise sadhana without practising it wholeheartedly himself. That hypocrisy should pinch us as it pinched Chota. And we should recognise that subtle hypocrisy can often lead to gross hypocrisy. 'Even if no one else encourages me,' Chota thought, 'I must find a means to concentrate on hearing and chanting.'
So Chota goes on tour. Halfway through the tour, he decides to take a three-day retreat to work on sadhana. The devotees in the temple he is visiting provide him with a secluded house and a brahmacari assistant, and Chota begins to chant. He chants through a whole day, although he experiences dryness. He dedicates the second day to reading. His assistant becomes bored and leaves, and eventually Chota, feeling alone, ends his retreat early and returns to the temple. As soon as he arrives, Yamala is on the phone with the latest crisis: a scandal in the south. Chota is sent to sort it out. In the course of these events, Chota is diagnosed with an ulcer. In a sudden move, he decides to take a sabbatical, mailing a note to Yamala:
'I'm going to take a sabbatical for increasing chanting and hearing. I will do it for a year. I will keep in touch. Please don't be angry with me. I'm trying to improve myself to be a better servant. I'm sure you'll be able to handle things in my absence.'
I'm not offering Chota's behaviour as ideal. He was under stress and this is how he responded. Even though he found a solitary beach to live on, he quickly realised that even this apparently remote place was still filled with distractions and interruptions to his chanting. But he also noticed that he was starting to break through the mechanical practice of chanting and hearing. He began to feel that his sadhana was developing substance. At that point, Yamala and another devotee, Pandita Dasa arrive:
'The jig is up, Chota,' said Yamala in a loud voice. 'I've come to bring you back to your duties.' Yamala was wearing his team jacket and sweating. He carried a heavy-looking suitcase. 'You really picked an outpost. I had to walk the last mile. Got anything to drink?'
'Please sit down,' said Chota.
'No thanks,' said Yamala. 'Maybe you'd better sit down.' Yamala looked around, displeased. 'I can see,' he said, 'that you have deviated from Prabhupada.'
'Don't talk like that,' said Chota, 'or I'll ask you to leave. Why can't you accept that I'm different from you and not be so judgmental? Accept me as I am.'
'Why should I accept you as you are?' asked Yamala. 'That's bogus. There is such a thing as right and wrong, you know. It's not that everything is one.'
Pandita Dasa has been brought along to provide scriptural statements against what Chota is doing, and they argue back and forth. Pandita reads: 'This is from Prabhupada's purport in the Caitanya-caritamrta: "At the present moment, we see that some of the members of ISKCON are intending to leave their preaching activities in order to sit in a solitary place. This is not a very good sign. It's a fact that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura has condemned this practice for neophytes." He then says that only after one is very mature could he sit in a solitary place.'
When Chota tries to present another side of the issue from Prabhupada's books, Yamala cuts him off. Then Chota explains that he isn't giving up his duties permanently, but just taking a year's absence to do remedial work on his sadhana.
Although Chota and Yamala are expressing different extremes on these issues, there is also a synthesis which each of us has to find for ourselves: what is preaching? The six Goswamis were great preachers. They distributed Krsna consciousness all over India. How did they do it? They practised bhajana and wrote books. Chota says:
'I think that our whole movement needs more examples of devotees who go back to the basics. We're too much caught up in solving problems and worrying about money and public relations. At least I was too caught up. If you had given me time to practise my sadhana, I wouldn't have had to act in this extreme way to get what you should have given me gladly.'
Still, Yamala and Pandita Dasa gradually erode Chota's conviction and he agrees to return with them the next day. Later, Yamala approaches Chota in a different mood and confesses that he has had trouble following the principles and has even seen a prostitute a few times. Yamala says:
'Another reason I have become so weak is that I've been working too hard. I think it was good for me to come here and see how you're living with so much attention to your spiritual needs. I couldn't do it myself. I see your point, but I have to do the needful for the movement. I'll die fighting on the battlefield of sankirtan rather than become a babaji. What if we all left like you did? Won't you please come back?'
Devotees often quote this statement that they would rather die on the battlefield than retire. It reminds me of the time Jagadisa Maharaja asked, 'What shall we do to stop this person?' Prabhupada answered in a philosophical way. He said that in a war, some soldiers will fall. There will be casualties. But we should try not to become casualties. If devotees are fixed up by reading my books, then even if this person tries to convince them, they will not give it up.' Jagadisa Maharaja uses that incident to advocate the importance of reading Prabhupada's books. The spirit of wanting to die on the battlefield is nice, but why unnecessarily become a casualty? Discretion is the better part of valour.
Yamala doesn't really seem to have understood what he can do to help himself. He finally says to Chota:
'I think your spiritual advancement is a luxury at this stage.'
Although Chota decides not to go back to Guyana after all, he wonders whether what he is doing is actually pleasing to his spiritual master. Eventually, he decides to go and find his spiritual master and ends up in New York, preaching at 26 Second Avenue about the subject closest to his heart: 'Let's talk about this problem,' said Chota, 'of not having taste and of neglecting sadhana.' The devotees knew that this was Chota's specialty and when he spoke about it, it aroused their own desires for sadhana. Some devotees admitted their lackings. Other's became defensive. A few weren't sure whether Chota himself knew how to keep the balance between work and sadhana. But all devotees respected him for his dedication to hearing and chanting. This leaves Chota in the same dilemma again, that since coming to New York, although he was preaching about improved sadhana, his own attempts to improve were a fond memory. He felt he was talking about a yearning he used to have.
Finally, his spiritual master arrives in New York and Chota is able to confide in him. In the final scene of the book, Chota's guru advises him: 'Don't be afraid to be yourself. If you are feeling strong desires to intensify your sadhana, don't suppress them, they are good desires. One may have to wait many, many lifetimes to have such desires. So don't let your Godbrothers intimidate you by calling you a babaji or whatever. You may not be exactly like them. I was trying to make this point last night in the lecture. Each individual, even in the liberated stage, has a very particular rasa with Krsna. So even now, your rasa should be respected. But you have to start by respecting it yourself. Don't be guilty or wishy-washy.'
Chota's guru assures Chota that his way is very individual and personal and that he shouldn't doubt himself. Then he explains the principle of prabhu-datta-desa. Chota has such a nice preaching field in Guyana. He shouldn't give it up. But in returning there, he doesn't have to stop being himself: 'You can chant and hear in your prabhu-datta-desa. The other devotees will learn to accept you. They will see, even if they don't follow your example, 'That's Chota's way. That's how he is serving Krsna."'
And Chota was encouraged to help others find their ways. 'Do both. Be well-behaved and preach.'
So that's the lesson from our story. When the synthesis is realised between outer responsibilities and inner life, then we discover the depth and excitement of Krsna consciousness. Lord Caitanya is the best example. 'To deliver all fallen souls, the Lord travelled from country to country and personally tasted the transcendental pleasure of devotional service and He simultaneously spread the cult of devotion everywhere'. (CC Madhya 25.64). Purport: 'By His personal behaviour, He has given an example for devotees to follow.' Prabhupada also said that if only one person becomes a pure devotee of the Lord by reading his Bhagavad-gita,, he would consider his attempt a success.
Devotees sometimes ask how we can verify our 'way' with Srila Prabhupada after his disappearance. But this need to implore Prabhupada has been arranged for us by Krsna. We now have to learn to serve Prabhupada according to our heart's desire. In the beginning stages, the father tells the child what to do. When the child becomes bewildered, he can always go to his father for instruction. But now we have to find Prabhupada in his books and in our hearts. We have to pray to him; we have to make more of an endeavour, even though it's difficult. Prabhupada can also speak through his followers. We have to take counsel from all those sources - Prabhupada's books, other devotees, and our own hearts - and serve in whatever way enhances our surrender to Prabhupada. Prabhupada sometimes spoke like this. When a devotee in Bombay asked Prabhupada how he should serve, Prabhupada responded by saying, 'No, I want to know what you want to do.' We are supposed to offer our whole lives to Prabhupada; therefore, we have to work from a platform where we can naturally give our love. Soul-searching is not easy but we have to do it anyway. There are even some advantages to doing it now, challenged by Prabhupada's disappearance. He is there, he is guiding us, but now we have to be more mature and show him how we want to serve him.
Another question that arises is how householders can find the balance. They may want to practise serious sadhana, but they may be entangled in so many family matters and business. A devotee should be living every day as if it is his last, and yet he cannot neglect his day-to-day responsibilities. But sadhana will yield everything we can desire from spiritual life. Prabhupada gave us a framework to practise hearing and chanting regardless of our asramas. In describing how Narada Muni travelled as parivrajikacarya, Prabhupada said, 'It is not that we have to be like Narada Muni, but one can stay in any place and by chanting the holy names, even in family life, very easily one can do it.' Our problem is that we neglect what we can do. Sadhana is available even within a life of stress. We don't have to wait until all the children are grown or until we develop more spontaneous taste. We may not live that long. We have to begin now.
On the practical side, whether for grhasthas or busy temple managers, preachers or mothers, we have to examine our schedules and cut out those things that are not urgent. We don't need to be driven to extreme behaviour like Chota. Whatever we can do, we should do it immediately. There is nothing more important in this life than attending to sadhana. We have to find the means. Srila Prabhupada was exemplary in this way. Even in his day as a householder businessman, Prabhupada always meditated on how to serve his spiritual master's mission. Krsna is known as bhava-grahi-janardana. He knows the essence of a devotee's desires. Our eligibility to choose our own way is attained in a very personal way. It comes with age and some advancement and some time spent 'doing the needful'. When a devotee continually sacrifices his personal interest in the name of the greater interest, he or she may find that they keep coming up with a sense of rightness about how they should be engaging in service. It can actually be a form of taking responsibility for one's own spiritual life to recognise that 'rightness'. Prabhupada built a house for everyone. But by training ourselves in surrender first, when it is time to find our own way in spiritual life, we will be less tempted by whimsy.
But what if our sadhana is actually distracted? There should be no question of putting sadhana aside even for a few years. Lost time is lost time in this life of measured breaths. If our sadhana is distracted, we can take that distraction and turn it into spiritual anxiety. Those so-called distracted rounds can actually become very dear to us and be the key to our learning how to call to Krsna.
It is not just by working hard in this movement that we will go back to Goloka Vrindavan. We have to develop a specific attraction, a personal relationship with Krsna. That relationship will be manifest to us through sadhana as we move from 'going through the motions' to spontaneous love.
One last purport from Prabhupada: 'It is therefore requested that all our devotees in the ISKCON community become pure Vaishnavas so that by their mercy, all the people of the world will be transferred to Vaikunthaloka even without their knowledge'. (CC Antya-lila 1.32). Therefore, when devotees become pure, real preaching can take place and we can convince others. Then we will have achieved the synthesis between 'outer' and 'inner'.