As you know, I am developing an online course on vows. It is turning out to be much more purifying than I had ever anticipated. It has not only helped me increase my commitment to Krsna consciousness, but has helped me increase my commitment in other areas of my life. Because I am finding this work so valuable, I decided to discuss aspects of the course in the upcoming newsletters.
In this issue we focus on how our degree of commitment to our vows and promises is affected by what we believe is possible for us. And we also look at how beliefs affect us in other areas of our lives. Some of our beliefs give us strength and some make it difficult or impossible to achieve our goals. You may wonder: “Why would I have beliefs that make things difficult for me?” That’s because you don’t always know you have them. Therefore it’s important to uncover your beliefs so you can see if those beliefs are empowering you or not. If they are not, you can change them into beliefs that support your goals.
Sound intriguing. It is. And it plays out in our lives everyday.
May you always think of Krsna,
Every time I tried to make this newsletter shorter, I ended up making it longer. Since it’s not always apparent what beliefs you have and how they are acting in your life, I felt it necessary to approach this subject from many angles. It will definitely be worth taking the time to go through this newsletter (I suggest reading it more than once). Discovering negative beliefs and changing them can have an incredibly positive effect on both your spiritual and material life.
The Soul is Made of Faith
In this article I use the word belief as “a feeling of certainty about what something means.” I discuss how this feeling of certainty affects the way you look at things, and the way you look at things affects your actions. Therefore, in this sense things are less the way they are and more the way we are.
Belief is fundamental to consciousness. In Chapter 17 verse 3 of the Gita, Krsna says the atma is made of faith. So if someone doesn’t believe that the atma is made of faith, it just means they have faith (they believe) that the atma is not made of faith. Since that is also a belief, it proves that the atma is made of faith.
What Do You Believe?
If you ever find it difficult to keep your vows and promises or commit to something new, it’s possible you have beliefs that are preventing you from being more committed. The problem is that if you believe something is either difficult or possible to achieve, you are usually right, not necessarily because that’s true, but because of the way you think about it (or the way you think about yourself).
You may ask, “What if I believe I can be the president of the USA? Just because I believe it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.” That’s true. That might be totally unrealistic for you (in which case you probably wouldn’t even try for it). But the point is that if you believe you can do greater things than you are doing now, you will start working towards doing greater things. Prabhupada said if you try for first class, you’ll get second class, and if you try for second class you’ll get last class.
And why would you try for second class unless you believe that’s all you can get or that’s all you deserve?
Isn’t it true that your belief in what you can do, including how much you believe Krsna can work through you, is so powerful that it sets a governor on your activities (if you have a sense of what is possible and what is not possible for you, there is a belief governing that). For example, if an athlete thinks, “I could never make it to the Olympics,” it’s unlikely he or she will ever try for it unless someone with faith in their ability pushes them. Similarly, unless someone really pushes us, we normally only attempt to achieve a level of success that fits the image of how successful we believe we can be (which includes how much you think Krsna can do through you). Altering your beliefs about what is possible for you will have a major effect on both what you attempt and what you achieve.
What’s Your Script?
Beliefs are like internal scripts that talk to us. If you are wondering why you are having difficulty following a vow you made, you might have a script that says “I can’t follow this principle, it’s too difficult to follow that principle, I am not strong enough to follow, it won’t make me happy to follow it, it’s not possible for a young person (old person, fat person, skinny person, white person) to follow.”
If you see something continually playing out in your life, it’s likely you have a belief that’s affecting that. If you have continual difficulties in marriage (or if you can’t seem to get married), it might be because of beliefs you have about the opposite sex or marriage. If you find you don’t have enough money or can’t seem to keep money when you get it, it’s likely your beliefs about money are causing this.
Have you ever entertained beliefs like, “it’s not possible for me to be really Krsna conscious in this life,” “I could never be like such and such Prabhu,” etc? If so, these beliefs are affecting how high you set your goals in devotional service.
What are You Asking?
An easy way to understand some of your beliefs is to look at the questions you ask. If you are asking, “How can I become fully Krsna conscious in this life?” it means you believe you can do it. If you are asking, “How can I distribute 100 big books in a day?” it means you believe it’s somehow possible. If you are asking, “How can I follow the principles of sadhana bhakti and chant x number or rounds?” it means you believe you can do it. Look at your questions (or look at what questions you are not asking yourself) to determine your beliefs about what’s possible for you.
Psyche Yourself Out
Prabhupada tells the following story of the man whose friends decide to bewilder him. “So there was a circle of friends. So all the friends conspired to make another friend bewildered. So they conspired that “As soon as you meet that gentleman you cry, ‘Oh, here is a ghost! Here is a ghost! Here is a ghost!’ “So all the friends, they come, “Oh! You are dead, you are ghost, you are ghost!” So after ten times like that, he thought, “Have I become a ghost?” Then he became bewildered, “Whether really I have become ghost, I am dead?”
What if a group of us decided to do a similar trick on one healthy devotee? Let’s say we decide that whenever we see this devotee, we will say, “Prabhu, are you feeling ok? You don’t look well. Are you sick? You look really tired. It looks like something is seriously wrong with you. You should definitely go to the doctor. I’m worried about you.”
How do you think she is going to feel? She’s probably going to start feeling tired and weak. And she’ll probably be really worried about her health and think that something is seriously wrong with her. And she might even get really sick, all from believing that she is sick.
So it’s obvious what negative beliefs can do to us. You might have all kinds of negative beliefs that are affecting your devotional service, beliefs that are saying you are not good enough, strong enough, smart, enough, qualified enough, etc. to be a good devotee, to practice good sadhana, to follow vows.
So it’s of utmost importance that you explore what negative beliefs you might have about becoming advanced in Krsna consciousness. I want you to make a list of your negative beliefs. Before you start I’ll give you a few more ideas to help you with this exercise.
1) I committed so many sinful activities in my past that it’s sooooooooooooo difficult to be very Krsna conscious now.
2) My bad upbringing is preventing me from being very Krsna conscious now.
3) Although I keep trying, I don’t make any advancement.
4) I don’t have a strong spiritual inclination.
5) My material desires and attachments are especially bad. Other devotees are not as bad off as me (you’d be surprised how many devotees think like this).
6) I could never be a spiritually advanced person.
7) I don’t deserve it.
8) It’s not possible to balance my material and spiritual life
9) I have some heavy karma
10) I can’t be Krsna conscious if I am married.
All these and other similar beliefs hold you back from making a greater effort to be Krsna conscious?
So make your list. It is important to uncover these beliefs because you need to acknowledge anything that may be making it difficult for you to go forward.
Once you’ve made your list, please repeat the following mantra over and over as loud as you can:
“This list is killing me.”
Let me show you why it’s killing you. How would you feel if everyone you met told you what’s on that list? Not too good, right? Well, your beliefs speak to you 24/7. So to be Krsna conscious we need beliefs that foster our spiritual lives rather than undermine them. Having this list resonating inside of you is like attempting to climb to the top of a mountain while chanting the mantra, “I’ll never reach the top of this mountain.”
But what if we turned this list around? How would you feel if everyone you met told you that you are a spiritual person, an insightful person, someone with potential to make spiritual advancement, a person who is different from the masses? Wouldn’t that have a positive effect on you? And to be a devotee, you obviously have those qualities – and probably a lot more. So let’s look at your qualifications.
Contemplate what advantages you have that aid you in becoming Krsna conscious. Maybe it’s your natural attraction to God and spiritual activities, you natural attraction to devotees, your natural faith in the importance of spiritual life. It could be that you are a seeker of truth, one who lives for truth and understanding. Perhaps you have a strong desire to see others become Krsna conscious. Maybe you have always felt close to God and trusted Him. Could it be that you have natural qualities that make it easier to be Krsna conscious, qualities like determination, enthusiasm, patience, humility, gentleness, etc? Or perhaps you have a natural service attitude, which is, of course, a great asset for spiritual advancement.
Maybe you’ve seen the ugliness of material life and fully believe that real happiness doesn’t exist in this material world. Have you ever tasted the nectar of Krsna consciousness in such a way that you believe that it’s the only thing that can make you really happy? Do you have faith that the holy name can bring you to Krsna’s lotus feet if chanted properly? Whatever it is, make a note of it and write it down.
The point is that you have a choice of what to believe about yourself and how the process of bhakti works in your life. If you believe you can become Krsna conscious in this life (Prabhupada believed you could), it will give you more energy, enthusiasm and determination to advance. If you believe it’s going to be a problem for you to commit, a problem to make much advancement, a problem to overcome your anarthas, a problem to increase your service in bigger and novel ways, a problem to have a good marriage, a problem to ……………, isn’t it obvious it will have a negative effect on you?
Maybe you feel that’s too simple an explanation for where you are at in Krsna consciousness. Maybe you are thinking it’s not right to say that I am not as advanced as I could be simply because I don’t believe I can be that advanced. I have my past lives of conditioning – whatever bhakti I may have performed, my samskaras, my past pious and sinful acts – and they are all affecting me.
- But you don’t even know exactly what those past activities were. If you believe you can’t be that Krsna conscious because you were very sinful in your past life, the story of the deliverance of Jagai and Madhai proves you wrong. They got the gold medal for sin. They were way more sinful than you ever were or ever could be. In any case, if you believe you are especially (or uniquely) fallen and sinful, wouldn’t it be wiser to adopt an empowering belief like, “I need to try harder than the other devotees?”
The point is to look at your beliefs and ask, “Is this belief helping me or hurting me?” If it isn’t helping, why not change it or get rid of it? Negative beliefs limit what you believe is possible for you in Krsna consciousness (and also in everything you do). And the reality is that sooner or later you will get what you expect.
USUALLY THE PEOPLE WHO KEEP FAILING ARE THE ONES WHO EXPECT TO.
A mind saturated with fear of failure or images of unwanted results, can no more accomplish anything great than a stone can violate the law of gravity by flying upwards. Krsna does not alter the law of gravity to accommodate a person who walks off the roof of a house. Similarly, you will achieve what you work towards, focus on, desire, and believe you can achieve. Great devotees have great hope. They know Krsna will fulfill their hopes and dreams for pure devotional service.
Changing Your Beliefs
Let’s look at the beliefs that are hurting you and see how you can change them into beliefs that will help you. In this way you can start getting 24/7 encouragement from yourself for your commitment to Krsna consciousness (if you ever feel a strong need for or dependence on encouragement from your guru or others, it’s could be because your own beliefs are discouraging you).
As referred to above, maybe you think you can’t be very Krsna conscious because you did many horrible sinful things before you were a devotee. That belief could easily be changed into a belief that the holy name is so powerful that it can purify persons who are more sinful than you (the sastra is full of such references). Plus, Lord Caitanya is especially merciful to the fallen. Isn’t it interesting how we can somehow end up having a belief that we aren’t capable of making a lot of spiritual advancement even though we are inherently Krsna conscious and Krsna is ready, willing and able to help us in all ways? Just the fact that we are (always have and always will be) spirit souls, and that we contacted Lord Caitanya, makes us pre-qualified to become Krsna conscious (congratulations, you are pre-approved to become fully Krsna conscious!). If you have even one negative belief about something as positive as Lord Caitanya’s mercy, that belief needs to be changed.
Here’s another common belief: “It’s difficult to control the mind?” Yes, it’s difficult, but not for those who are Krsna conscious. We have the maha-mantra which is the ultimate process for controlling the mind. Therefore shouldn’t we really have the belief that it’s not difficult to control the mind for one who daily chants the maha-mantra sincerely?
Caught In Your Own Web
Of course, if you don’t chant much or don’t chant well, it will be natural to develop a negative belief about controlling the mind. Krsna says in the Gita that the modes of nature you cultivate dictate the kind of faith you develop. For example, if you live predominately in passion and ignorance, you will believe Krsna consciousness is difficult to follow (I can’t control my mind, I can’t control my desires, etc). And believing that it’s difficult reinforces the difficulty you have following Krsna consciousness. So if you don’t practice good sadhana and cultivate more activities in goodness, your beliefs remain tinted by passion and ignorance (things are not the way they are, they are the way you are). In this way you get caught in your own web. The point is that beliefs change when certain actions change. For example, if someone stops eating meat for a short time, it’s likely their belief that some animals are meant for food and some animals are meant to be pets will change to the belief that no animals are meant to be food.
There’s No Time to Chant My Rounds
Let’s look at a popular belief, the belief that there’s not enough time in my day to chant my rounds. If you have this belief, it makes it more difficult for you to find time to chant your rounds. And when you do chant all your rounds, this belief will often cause you to get them done as quickly as possible (“it’s time to play ‘beat the clock japa’). Am I saying that more time will manifest if you believe there is enough time? Not exactly. I am saying that the time to chant japa will manifest because you’ll find the time for japa (and you’ll do this by choosing not to do the things that take away time from your japa). If you still think that there just isn’t time to chant no matter what I believe, let me ask you if you have you ever on any regular basis not found the time to eat. How many meals have you missed in your life (you can live for 40 days on water)? I guess you don’t believe there’s not enough time to eat (and do other things) only not enough time to chant.
I Can Never Be Fully Krsna Conscious
What else do you believe about being Krsna conscious? How about, “I am not planning to become fully Krsna conscious in this life.” So what are you planning? Are you planning to be 44/100ths Krsna conscious in this life because that’s all you believe you can get? Well, if you plan for 44/100ths Krsna consciousness in this life, I bet you’ll only be trying to be 44/100ths Krsna conscious in your devotional practices. I don’t imagine that you’d be calling out to Krsna and practicing sadhana with the same intensity as if you were trying for 100% Krsna conscious. The more Krsna consciousness you plan for (the more you believe you can get), the more your life adjusts to that plan.
Why not do an experiment and just for this week raise the bar and plan to be really Krsna consciousness (rising earlier, getting your rounds done early, reading a lot, no TV, no internet surfing, some more service, etc.).
“Oh I could never do that.”
Oh, there you go again with those beliefs. Let me ask you, “Is it absolutely true that you really couldn’t be a lot more Krsna conscious this week?
Cause and Effect
Let’s look at the effect of this and other disempowering beliefs. One way to fully understand their effect is to imagine what it would be like to repeat them over and over again. Obviously it would be stupid to repeat over and over again, “I could never be a lot more Krsna conscious this week.” And wouldn’t that be an especially dumb thing to say before you chant japa or in between each round? How about repeating it when you arrive at work? What about when you get home? And let’s try that mantra ten times before going to bed and see how you feel when you wake up tomorrow?
Sound like a good idea? Sounds like the worst idea I’ve ever heard. But our beliefs operate exactly like this. They continually replay themselves on our sub-conscious. So if you actually believe you can’t be more Krsna consciousness this week, that song will be playing for you all week (or maybe it’s been already playing for a long time), and then that’s what you’ll get (or should I say that’s what you won’t get).
Of course, no one in their right mind wants disempowering thoughts to be repeated? The good news is that if we change disempowering beliefs into empowering beliefs, they’ll always be there helping us, feeding us encouraging and positive thoughts.
Change Your Beliefs
So go back to your list of disempowering beliefs and see how you can turn them into empowering beliefs. If needed, use the list of positive traits and beliefs you have to help you. Every negative belief you change into an empowering belief will have a dramatically positive effect on your life. I can’t over emphasize the power of this one little exercise.
And if you don’t have time to do these exercises now, I beg at the dust of your lotus feet to make the time to do them later. Yes, it might be difficult to face those beliefs, and that might be why you don’t want to do this. But those beliefs might be exactly what are getting in the way of achieving your goals. So to use a famous Iskcon expression, “Just surrender Prabhu.”
Lack of Belief in Oneself
So where do these negative beliefs come from? Some of them come from a lack of belief in yourself – and we should also add, “a lack of belief in your Self.” Krsna can work through you to do what you now think is impossible for you. To encourage us, the scriptures are full of stories of fallen people who became great devotees and accomplished great things. Still, the problem is that we set our goals based on our beliefs about what is possible for us, not what is possible through us.
“A man is not defeated by his opponents but by himself.”
Ok, we are all fallen and we have our faults. The problem is thinking that’s what’s holding you back from being more Krsna conscious or achieving success in your endeavors. Believe you can do more than what you think is possible for you and you will start to do more.
“Try for things I think are impossible? That sounds totally impractical.” At first it does, but the more you think about this the more you will see the power in it. Most people are not where they want to be in their lives – and they never will be. Why? Because they don’t think they can get there (they’ll say the reason is because they don’t know how, but that’s not the real reason). When you start to plan for things far greater than what you think are possible, something magical happens. You start to think and act in new and empowering ways. Ideas and possibilities open up. Things mystically start falling into place. Srila Prabhupda’s spreading of Krsna consciousness was this way of thinking in action.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and we miss it, but we aim too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo
Look at what you are aiming for. If it’s all in your comfort zone you are aiming too low.
It’s About Attitude
Krsna responds to our attitude. If our attitude is to see all the reasons we can’t follow, Krsna will help us see all kinds of “good” reasons. But no one ever becomes successful meditating on all the reasons they can’t be successful. They became successful by meditating on how to be successful – and then acting on those ideas.
So if you think you can be more Krsna conscious, more committed and can do bigger and better service – or if you think you can’t – you will fortunately or unfortunately find out you are right.