Illuminations 29 – From the Head to the Heart

There is something that often disturbs me: the lack of congruity between the teachings of Krsna and the lives of His devotees. The current of this world naturally flows away from Krsna and one of maya’s great tricks is to allow us to engage in bhakti while keeping us well charmed by her illusions – and at the same time make us think we are ok. After all, her duty is to keep us in the material world, so if she can make us think we are actually doing a good job of getting out of it – when in fact we are not – she can keep us here birth after birth. Prabhupada said we don’t fall into maya, we are always in maya and sometimes we fall into Krsna. So we need to learn how to fall more into Krsna.

So what does maya do to make us think we are nicely advancing when in fact we are actually stumbling to be Krsna conscious? She, of course, does many things. But in this newsletter I focus on the problem caused by knowledge of Krsna consciousness remaining in our heads but not touching our hearts. This is a subtle point because intellectual realization is sometimes difficult to distinguish from actual realized knowledge. Why? Because it is also realization and the intelligence is the next door neighbor of the soul. But there is a difference. One remains only in the head while the other touches the heart and changes behavior. It’s something like the difference between knowing you can die at any moment and having a near death experience.

In this newsletter we look at why it’s important to get knowledge from the head to the heart, and how to do it.

May you always think of Krsna,

Mahatma das

  From the Head to the Heart

Armchair Philosophy

Have you ever read or heard some transcendental knowledge, particularly something you are familiar with, and thought to yourself, “I already know that,” and kind of turned your mind off to it? Saying, “I already know that,” is ultimately only true if you practice it, if your life and activities exemplify that knowledge. Otherwise, what you mean is that you are familiar with those concepts or that you have some intellectual understanding. This is what Prabhupada often refers to as armchair philosophy. Armchair philosophy is not only reserved for the academic world; it is possible we can hear and discuss spiritual topics with little concern for implementing them.

I sometimes suffer from this. My thirst for knowledge is often far greater than my thirst for surrender. And that knowledge doesn’t always inspire surrender. It can often inspire more armchair philosophy. And when it gets really bad, I can use the knowledge to rationalize lack of surrender (it’s a gradual process, we need to be real with ourselves, etc.). And I can even socialize that ignorance by hanging out with other people who also support that rationalization (which comes in the form of so-called realization).

Activation is the Key

After leaving his government post, Sanatana Goswami traveled to Varanasi to meet Lord Caitanya and question Him on the science of Krsna consciousness. He was well aware of the above mentioned problem, so after receiving instructions from the Lord he prayed as follows:

“The conclusions that You have told me are the ocean of the ambrosia of truth. My mind is unable to approach even a drop of that ocean. If You want to make a lame man like me dance, kindly bestow Your transcendental blessings by placing Your lotus feet on my head. Now, will You please tell me, ‘Let whatever I have instructed all be fully manifested unto you.’ By blessing me in this way, You will give me strength to describe all this.”

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then placed His hand on Sanatana Goswami’s head and blessed him, saying, “Let all these instructions be manifested to you.”

Sanantana Goswami wanted to fully surrender to the Lord’s mission. In order to do that he knew that whatever he had heard from Lord Caitanya would have to be realized in his heart. So he prayed that he would be the living manifestation of that knowledge.

Transcendental knowledge can take us from the lowest stages of material entanglement to the highest perfection of love of God. But only knowledge that touches our heart really changes us. Otherwise, knowledge only offers the potential to change our lives. It is said that knowledge which is not applied is like a torch for a blind man. We all face the challenge of getting the knowledge that’s in our head into our hearts.

Do What You Wish to Do

When I read scripture or hear a class I am totally free to apply whatever I hear into my life. I have heard so many wonderful classes, lectures and seminars and walked away thinking, “those were some really good points,” And then what did I do? Nothing. And nothing in my life changed except that I “learned” something new in class, something I could use if I decide to. I am sure you can relate to this. And when this happens you might wish that Krsna would just kick you into surrendering. But usually He doesn’t do that, at least not until you get really desperate. After instructing Arjuna in the Gita, Krsna said, “Do what you wish to do.” Thankfully, the guru tends to kick us a little harder, to expose our nonsense, to instruct us how to surrender. But ultimately, no one can force us against our will.

As a side point, observing the above phenomena was a strong impetus behind the development of the seminars I give and the articles I write. For example, when I teach seminars on forgiveness it is not uncommon for devotees to come up with issues of resentment that they have been carrying for twenty years or more. Why is it that despite all the teachings on forgiveness Prabhupada has given us, we still might hold a grudge, feel hurt, or want to get back at someone? Ultimately it is because those teachings did not enter deep enough into our their hearts to enable us to remove the bitterness, anger and resentment. Understanding this, I designed my seminars in a way that participants must work on their issues. Otherwise, if I give them the option, “Do as you wish to do,” many will avoid dealing with their personal problems and thus may end up carrying those problems with them for years to come, perhaps for their entire lives. I see that devotees actually appreciate being forced to improve themselves, being forced to do what they know is right. It makes them happy. But I also see again and again that if someone doesn’t really want to give up their resentment or their attachments, there is nothing I can do to help them.

Knowledge Isn’t Always Freedom

It is interesting to note that although knowledge offers enlightenment and freedom, it also has the potential to cause suffering when we don’t apply it. When we know what we should do and don’t do it, it can makes us feel guilty. The more we know what we should do, the worse we can feel (on some level) by not doing it. For example, how do you feel after chanting bad rounds, rounds in which you don’t concentrate, you don’t try to chant with a decent level of bhakti? The best way I can describe that experience is that I feel kind of “blah.” It is definitely a feeling that in some way is marked with knowing that I could have done better, that I am really hurting myself by not doing better, and that I am letting guru, Krsna and myself down. So even though I am chanting, I am feeling pretty bad.

Here’s a little story to illustrate this point. I once attended a Bhagavatam class in which the purport explained how being fat is detrimental to spiritual advancement. Prabhupada said that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was very anxious when he saw his disciples becoming fat because he feared they were becoming sense enjoyers. The problem was that the class was being given by a very overweight sannyasi. He was a bit of a comedian, so his comment on that purport was, “No comment.” Everyone burst into laughter. But what could he say? He was the living example of the very problem the purport described. You can image the kind of internal pain he must have felt.

Get Off Your Buts

Do somethingOften a learned and respected devotee falls away from Krsna consciousness and we wonder how could a devotee with so many realizations have problems in Krsna consciousness? Ultimately intellectual realization can’t save one. For example, I can speak till I am blue in the face about humility, and I can impress you with my so-called deep realizations. But does this necessarily mean I won’t seek honor for myself? Not at all. I will not seek honor only if I feel the need to be humble and truly desire it. If we don’t really have a strong urge to be humble, if we don’t feel a strong need to find our own faults and seek out the good in others, we can read every scriptural quotation every written on humility and we still may not develop any real humility. If the knowledge doesn’t enter the heart, then we will simply say, “I know I should ___________________ (fill in the blanks) but ___________________(fill in the blanks).”

It’s time to get off our buts.

Do You Want Realized Knowledge?

Wouldn’t it be best to take the mood on Sanatana Goswami and pray to the Lord that what we hear can be manifest in our hearts? After all, it is ultimately only by the mercy and blessings of guru, Krsna and the vaisnavas that we can realize anything. When was the last time you prayed to the Lord for realized knowledge after hearing a class or reading sastra? If you don’t do this enough – or have never prayed this way – I recommend you adopt this practice. Krsna gives realization in proportion to our desire for it.

Apathy contributes to a lack of this prayerful mood and we all must fight apathy on a daily basis. Unfortunately, sometimes we are apathetic to our apathy (kind of like a double-decker mode of ignorance sandwich). So if you suffer from this, what should you do? Associate with those who care about their spiritual advancement more than you do. Desire develops by association. Never underestimate the power of good association.

If you are not praying to the guru and Krsna that what you learn from them becomes activated in your life, it should be a signal to you that there is some apathy in your spiritual life.

Do You Fear Too Much Krsna Consciousness?

Fear may also contribute to a lack of prayer for realization. Perhaps we don’t pray that we can realize what we learn from guru and Krsna because we fear the consequences of those realizations. We may have a difficult time envisioning a happy life without the things we are presently attached to, the things that we would naturally find distasteful or distracting if we had more realized knowledge. As long as we are conditioned, we lack faith that we will be totally happy only with Krsna consciousness? The degree to which we look for happiness elsewhere is the degree to which we lack this faith.

The Nectar For Which We Are All Anxious

Prabhupada was once asked if it is material to pray to Lord Jagannatha to reveal Himself to us, as in the prayer jagannatha svami nayana patha gami bhava tu me. Prabhupada replied that unless He reveals Himself to us, how can we go on in devotional service? This realization (taste) is so important that Bhaktivinoda Thakura implores us in one of his songs to taste the nectar of the Name just once. If we could deeply taste the nectar of Krsna consciousness only for one moment, it would give us deep faith that every “pleasure” in this world can be happily sacrificed for Krsna.

Recently I was in Mayapura and was asked to join a harinama party going to Nabadvipa. It was a wonderfully blissful experience chanting the holy names in the very places that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu walked. However, the real nectar took place when I returned to Mayapura. After the harinama party ended I somehow couldn’t stop chanting, and I was feeling that Mahaprabhu was showering special mercy on me for going on harimana. I was tasting the name in a special way, a way in which I have never experienced before. Then I began to feel emotions connecting to the Holy Name that I have never felt. It didn’t last long, maybe ten or fifteen minutes, but during that time I deeply felt in my heart that everything else in this world was totally insignificant compared to the taste of Krsna consciousness. In that moment of special mercy I naturally and spontaneously related to the mood of the great devotees who give up everything for Krsna because of the unlimited sweetness they derive from their relationship with Him.

All I can say is that was Krsna’s special mercy on me.

“By the grace of Krsna a devotee gets realized knowledge. So we have to acquire the grace of Krsna. Then we can understand Krsna, then we can see Krsna, then we can talk with Krsna—then we can do everything.”

-Srila Prabhupada

You Are Very Advanced

That special gift that Krsna gave me slipped right by maya’s glance. She wants me to think I need something other than Krsna to give me that taste. She wants me to think I need to acquire nicer material things, that I need respect, that I need material enjoyment. And while I remain attached to material life she will tell me, “You are advancing well in Krsna consciousness, you have so many realizations, you do nice service, you understand so much about Krsna, you are……….” In this way I go on keeping knowledge in my head and think, “I have so many realizations.”

But the realization most needed is, “I only really know it if I act on it.”


  • Look at what is out of sync between what guru and Krsna teaches and what you do, think and feel in your life. Write this down and note how this makes you feel.
  • What are practical things you can do to change that, i.e. how would your life be if you did more of what you know you should be doing? If you did make those changes, how would you feel?