In the final instalment of Srila Satsvarupa Goswami's study of the spiritual needs and concerns of an ISKCON preacher, he addresses the most fundamental aspect of every devotee's life- sadhana.
I once asked Srila Prabhupada how a devotee could preach the ideals of Krsna consciousness if he had not yet perfected himself. 'If someone asks me if he can go back to Godhead in one life, I would say yes, but if he asked me if I were going back to Godhead I don't know if I could definitely say yes.' Prahpuada replied. 'No, it is not a question of you go or I go, but if anyone takes to Krsna consciousness, he will go back to Godhead. Krsna says. Of course, if we are preaching it is not that we are exporting them by consignment and we are not going,' He laughed. 'It is expected that the preacher is going also. Just like with our books, our students are very expert at selling them, but not at reading them. That is not very good. They should read the books also.'
Our own imperfection is not the main topic in our preaching. We preach on the basis of the scriptures and the previous acaryas. We preach by describing the process of Krsna consciousness, even if we ourselves are not at the highest standards. But Prabhupada always emphasised that the preacher should practise what he preaches, and Lord Caitanya himself said, 'Become perfect and then preach.' The actual Sanskrit (apani acari bhakti karila pracara) is translated in Adi-lila 4.41 as, 'One's behaviour must be exactly in accord with one's preaching.' Lord Caitanya asked the Sanodiya brahmana: 'Therefore, how do we become perfect before we preach?'
We have to at least be strictly following the four basic principles of Krsna consciousness - no illicit sex, no intoxication, no meat-eating and no gambling. And we have to be chanting our minimum quota of sixteen rounds of the maha mantra. If we are not at that standard, it would be hypocritical for us to preach. Prabhupada said, 'If you smoke cigarettes, you cannot tell others not to smoke.' Following the basic vows of initiation can be considered a type of Krsna conscious perfection. A preacher should also mention at least once that he has not perfected that which he is speaking about. This admission helps both the speaker and the listener to find a common, honest ground.
Several years ago, Jayadvaita Swami gave a talk on how to solve ISKCON's problems by applying the four 'Rs': recognition, remorse, rectification and reunion. These steps can also be used for improving individual sadhana.
First, one must recognise that his spiritual life needs to improve. Devotees in ISKCON sometimes fall victim to a myth of good japa. 'I chanted good japa today.' By that, they mean that they did not fall asleep. If this is considered good japa, then there are many more universes to go in hearing and chanting. The Srimad-Bhagavatam says that after chanting Hare Krsna, if tears don't come to the eyes, then the heart must be steel-framed. It must be recognised then, that this condition is due to committing offences in chanting.
Next, we must feel remorse. It is not possible to skip over remorse to rectification. Wanting to improve sadhana is more than just an external business. The genuine feeling of remorse for the present condition must be there. Sometimes the mood of repentance may seem to be a foreign, medieval Christian concept - guilt for sins. We may think that guilt should be entirely removed. No-one likes to feel guilty or remorseful about something in their lives. But we shouldn't confuse the issue. There is such a thing as too much guilt or excessive mortification, but the Vaisnava siddhanta teaches deep remorse in the spiritual sense.
After Ajamila is saved at the time of death by the Visnudutas, he felt deep regret for his sins. Prabhupada comments in the purport: 'Not only should one give up his past habits, but he must always regret his past sinful acts. This is the standard of pure devotion.'
It is a fact that all the drugs and illicit sex we engaged in still affect us in a subtle way. We should regret these past actions but still feel confident that our karma has been removed. Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.31.13 describes Krsna as unlimited and as perceived by a repentant heart. In his purport, Prabhupada says: 'Krsna is in everyone's heart but he can be realised only by a soul who is repentant.' The basis of repentance is that we have forgotten our constitutional position and want to become one with the Supreme Soul. When we realise our mistake and are able to trace it back to our original mistake of coming to the material world, we begin to feel remorse and we want to repent. Bhaktivinoda Thakura's purport to the Siksastaka's second sloka recommends: 'If per chance the devotee commits nama-aparadha then with an anguished heart full of contribution, he should become eager to chant continuously, for this alone will uproot his previous offences and also protect him from committing further offences.' Bhaktivinolda Thakura also discusses this matter in the essay Panca-samskara, commenting that gurus in this age do not teach their disciples atonement, and this is not good for the disciple. A disciple who does not understand that he should atone for past sins will feel no remorse and will not give up sinful life. As Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, 'These days, no one thinks about this when accepting a spiritual teacher.'
In addition to its more widely used definition as 'voluntary suffering or trouble in Krsna consciousness', tapasya may also be defined as repentance, atonement and the permanent impression of higher sentiment on the soul. Tapasya is not comfortable, but without it the soul cannot live as a Vaisnava and the heart will remain impure. The acaryas sometimes personally express this in their own lives, especially Narottama dasa Thakura and Bhaktivinoda Thakura. In Prarthana, Narottama sings of his remorse about his lacking in sadhana: 'Although again and again I heard the sruti and srmrti scriptures' declaration that one should think of Lord Hari's lotus feet in order to become fearless, I did not chant Lord Krsna's name, I did not meditate on His transcendental lotus feet.' But with hope he concludes, 'I will now concentrate my mind on the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna and all my material desires will flee far away.'
This is a good example of how rectification follows remorse. But if we don't feel the remorse deeply, it will be difficult to change. In Bhaktivindoa Thakura's Saranagati, he paraphrases the Siksastakam verse: 'Merciful Lord, how great is my misfortune that I feel no appreciation for Your holy name. In such a lamentable state, how will I be freed committing the ten offences to the holy name.'
Becoming regretful is difficult; it cannot be imitated and must come sincerely. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura comments on a Siksatake verse ,'When will my eyes be decorated with tears of love?' by saying, 'This sloka does not refer to those who have naturally moist eyes or who suffer from affectations of artificial ecstasy.' Being free of anarthas will evoke tears of love. When shadow feelings are manifested, they must be honoured too. When devotees wrote to Prabhupada that they would cry upon seeing the Deities, he would encourage such symptoms - saying it was a good thing - even though it was not necessarily a sign of great advancement. Despite it being shadow bhava, Prabhupada honoured it.
Here is a final statement about remorse in which Prabhupada encouraged devotees to feel bad about not carrying out their service properly. A devotee once said to him, 'I feel I'm not doing my service nicely.' 'This is humbleness,' Prabhupada replied, 'If you go on thinking, "Oh, I did not perform this duty nicely, I should have done it this way", then you will improve. Our love for Krsna keeps growing as long as we think we are not doing the most for Krsna and we must do more. If you think, "Oh, I did this so wonderfully, I am such a nice, sincere devotee", then this is not good. It will be no improvement.'
Humility and tolerance can help bring one to remorse and be useful in practising and improving sadhana. Prabhupada mentions in a purport: 'A Vaisnava is always tolerant and submissive like trees and grass. He tolerates insults offered by others, for he is simply interested in chanting the holy name of the Lord without being disturbed.'
We must not be disturbed by the conditions of this world, but simply chant. We must learn to tolerate our own slow progress: if, after many years, our mind still wanders every time we chant, we must bring it back. It is also important to be humble. Prabhupada says, 'One cannot capture the blowing wind, and it is even more difficult to capture the turbulent mind. The easiest way to control the mind is by chanting Hare Krsna in all humility.'
We are often encouraged by the previous acaryas to enter into the Siksastakam prayers because they are full of humility in sadhana. One who can chant in a humble state of mind can always chant Hare Krsna. Bhaktivinoda Thakura stated that these eight slokas should be read, recited, and worshipped by sincere, fortunate souls.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati commented that the sloka 'trnad api sunicena' was spoken to help avoid nama-aparadha and namabhasa in chanting. Regarding humility he wrote: 'A true saint never thinks himself to be a Vaisnava or claims to be a guru. He regards himself as a disciple of the whole world.'
Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains how to understand Lord Caitanya's statement of thinking ourselves lower than a blade of grass. The ego of a blade of grass is proportionate to its bodily condition; it is a very humble being that is always crushed. Not having much intelligence, it possesses a consciousness close to its condition. A human being who is also in a downtrodden, suffering condition, has an ego blown way out of proportion; such is the disparity between his self-image and his actual condition he thinks he is a wonderful king. The grass thus teaches us humility and honest self-estimation.
Writing can also be used as a tool to improve sadhana. Prabhupada always encouraged devotees to write: 'Realisation means you should write, every one of you. What is your realisation? You write your realisation, what you have realised about Krsna. That is required. It is not passive, always you should be active. Whenever you find time, write. Never mind two lines, four lines, but you write your realisations, sravanam-kirtanam . Writing or offering prayers, glories, this is one of the functions of a Vaisnava. You are hearing, but you have to write also. Then writing becomes sravanam, remembering what you have heard from your spiritual master.'
Prabhupada talks about writing to remember and worship Krsna. For example, we can keep a diary, not for writing what we had for lunch but for recording our Krsna conscious realisations. The value of this exercise is illustrated by John Howard Griffin, a biographer of Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, who says of Merton: 'His most vital writing is private, what he did for himself, because he made constant notes to help clarify things for himself. He thought and sought to express experience on paper as a self-guide rather than to reveal anything. He sought to get rid of the role, to flee the "role" of the monk in order to become the monk. To be and not merely to appear to be. These are great and profound differences which few perceive, even in the religious life.'
Writing helps get beneath the exterior appearance; it helps us to see ourselves honestly and pierce through deceptions so that we can remain steady. We can also use it when we feel that there is some yet unidentifiable problem in our spiritual lives. Unless we start to write, we may never know what this problem is.
The essence of sadhana instrruction is given by Srila Rupa Goswami in text eight of Nectar of Instruction (upadesa-saram). In the previous verse, he compassionately analyses the difficulty we experience when chanting Hare Krsna offensively by comparing it to a man who has jaundice and cannot taste sweetness. By taking the sweetest candy, his tongue eventually tastes this sweetness. In the same way, the sweetness of the holy name is realised if we regularly chant. 'It is wonderful that by simply chanting the sweet names every day, a natural relish awakens within the tongue and the disease is gradually destroyed at the root.' This gives us confidence to go on, even though there is imperfection. In his purport to this verse, Prabhupada comments: 'The Krsna Consciousness Movement is especially meant for creating an atmosphere in which people can take to the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.'
In verse eight, Srila Rupa Goswami continues: 'The essence of all advice is that one should utilise one's full time, twenty-four hours a day, in nicely chanting and remembering the Lord's divine name, transcendental form, qualities and eternal pastimes, thereby gradually engaging one's tongue and mind. In this way, one should reside in Vraja or Goloka Vrndavana-dhama and serve Krsna under the guidance of devotees. One should follow in the footsteps of the Lord's beloved devotees, who are deeply attached to His devotional service.'
Full-time bhajana is not possible for most of us because, as Prabhupada remarked, 'You Westerners are too restless'. The early hours of the morning is the best time for sadhana and bhajana , but remedial work can also be done on sadhana at that time; 'remedial' means to correct a deficiency. Even if we have been devotees for a long time or are in an advanced position in the institution, we have to recognise that we all need remedial work. We have to be our own teacher and take special, intensive care to improve.
How do we do this? Plan ahead and take time for a retreat, even if it is in your attic. It should be a place where there are no disturbances and where personal improvements can be made. Pilgrimage to India can be done alone or with a few other devotees and will bring wonderful results - bad habits will be recognised and remorse felt. Sometimes devotees waste their time in India shopping and gossiping, but we should use this time to do this remedial work on our sadhana. Thinking ahead and even using writing can make a pilgrimage spiritually fruitful. Visiting the dhama is also a good time to chant more than sixteen rounds a day. The Padma Purana mentions that the remedy for offensive chanting is to chant constantly. This is not always possible, but during remedial work we can increase our quotas.
The next point in Rupa Goswami's verse is that we should chant with the tongue. Prabhupada often told us not to chant in our minds but to vibrate the Hare Krsna mantra aloud. Sometimes devotees asked Prabhupada for more instruction on how to control the mind in chanting. He would never go into much detail but would merely say, 'Hear. You should just hear.' The devotees would reply, 'But Prabhupada, how do we control the mind?' He would answer, 'Chanting controls the mind. Just hear.' Although simple, this is a deep preliminary instruction. If we just hear - meaning, we stop the mind's noise and listen with the ears to the sounds being vibrated by the tongue - the further stages will come. Conversely, if we don't hear we will not be able to progress. Rupa Goswami tells us to chant with the tongue and then we will remember with the mind. The tongue enables us to go to the mental stage in chanting - thinking of Krsna's lila.
Some devotees say that we are not supposed to think of Krsna's pastimes when we chant, but that is not what Prabhupada said: 'I think you should know that it is not offensive (to think of Krsna's pastimes while chanting) but rather, it is required. One must try for the point where he simply hears Krsna, and immediately all of Krsna, His pastimes, His form, His quality, are in his thoughts of Krsna. One who cannot always think of Krsna, let him hear always "Hare Krsna", and when he has perfected this art, then always he will remember Krsna, His activities, His qualities, etc.'
Bhaktivinode Thakura says in Harinama-cintamani: 'From the holy name, gradually the Lord's form, qualities and pastimes blossom. The entire panorama of Lord Krsna's pastimes is present in the holy name. This is an advanced stage in chanting.' He further explains: 'The introspective devotee must at first discard the ten offences and simply meditate on the holy name, trying to chant constantly. He should distinctly pronounce the holy name and meditate upon the transcendental sound vibration. When his chanting is steady, clear and blissful, he should try to meditate on the Syamasundara form of the Lord. With chanting beads in hand, his chanting and meditation should seek out the form of the holy name. He will indeed see with spiritual vision what the real meaning represents ..' He even recommends sitting in front of the Deity to see the form while chanting.
The verse also recommends residing in Vraja. If we cannot go there we should learn to think of Vrndavana by reading books and meditating on the impressions we gathered when we went there, remembering the parikama sights and sounds and praying to the devotees of Vrndavana. This is a stage that we eventually have to practise if we want to go to Goloka-Vrndavana. This should be done under the guidance of an expert Vaisnava, and eventually we should follow a particular devotee in Krsna- lila, such as Mother Yasoda, a cowherd boy, a particular gopi or a manjari. Chanting, pronouncing, hearing in the mind and thinking of the form and pastimes of Krsna, leads to the ideal bhajana by which one can go back to Godhead.
Reading is as important as chanting. Rupa Goswami says that we should think about Krsna's pastimes, but how can we think about them unless we regularly hear them? Prabhupada stated, 'Whenever you get time, you should read my books.' There is no limit to how much we should read if we can use that in Krsna's service.
One way to read is to study, of which there are many different paths. One is to give lectures: if we are fortunate enough to give lectures in the temple, then we have to prepare by reading Prabhupada's books. Writing - especially essays, for Back to Godhead and other Krsna conscious newsletters - requires that we read and prepare our topic. Taking VIHE courses also forces us to study. Aside from studying, reading, can, of course, be something that is simply done for enjoyment; sadhu-sanga, reading with others, can be a pleasant social act or an exchange of love. Reading every day with one or two friends or between husband and wife, is necessary on many levels. It is a nectarean activity which draws us away from pressing matters into transcendence; it strengthens relationships among devotees. We can also practise prayerful reading, praying and meditating on a small amount of material; thinking about how Krsna is speaking directly to us and praying that He will please reveal the meaning of the passage. Prabhupada encouraged variety; if reading is tedious, other methods should be tried to spark interest -anything that results in rapt attention is considered good.
Sadhana can be defined in a wider sense: spiritual advancement doesn't only mean more chanting and reading, and less of other types of service. This may not be the right way for some devotees. We should think of the ideal state we want to achieve and how we will reach it. We can look forward to the time when we will not be so passionate and be able to read and chant more - but we shouldn't wait too long. Prabhupada held morning and evening classes, but during the day he wanted his devotees to be active preachers.
The more we work at sadhana and improve our service attitude, the greater the reward. However, sadhana also requires austerity; Prabhupada made the point that the chanting of the maha-mantra must be accompanied by strict following of the four regulative principles. In this way, chanting would be effective immediately.
Remorse leads to rectification and by working at this - through sadhana and rendering service to the guru and ISKCON - we may receive Krsna's mercy. This stage is known as vaidhi-bhakti, the clearing of anarthas from the heart. Rectification leads to reunion, the spontaneous stage which relishes Krsna's service through His qualities, pastimes, form and name on the liberated platform. Reunion can mean a return to our original relationship with Krsna as His eternal servant.
This article is based on a lecture given at the Third European Communications Seminar in Radhadesh, Belgium, in July 1992.