Illuminations 4 – What Do You Want?

We have already looked at some of our main obstacles to bhakti and recognized what they are costing us. But some attachments are so deep that we’re tempted to act on them even though we know they will harm us. “The senses are so strong and impetuous, O Arjuna, that they forcibly carry away the mind even of a man of discrimination who is endeavoring to control them.” (BG 2.60)

In this issue we discuss how to deal with this problem.

May you always think of Krsna.

Mahatma Das


 What Do You Want?

What do you want Mahatma DasA devotee was once confused by an apparent contradiction in sastra and went to his spiritual master for clarification. “Guru Maharaj, by following the principles of bhakti we become pure. But it seems like we have to be pure to follow the principles.” His guru remained silent in thought for a moment and then only gave this short reply, “What do you want?” At first the devotee didn’t quite understand. As he reflected on the answer the meaning became clear: if we really wants Krsna we will be able to follow the principles of devotional service in our conditioned state. Ultimately, our destiny rests on what we want.

Prabhupada was once asked why maya is so strong and he replied, “Because your purpose is not strong.” He likened this to a man embracing a tree and yelling at the tree to let him go. How many times have we tightly clung to maya and thought, “Wow, maya is so strong?

Easy to Cross Over

In the Gita Krsna says material energy is very difficult to overcome. But He also says that “those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (BG 7.14) We all have ample experience of the “difficult to overcome” part of this verse. But as devotees shouldn’t our lives be a manifestation of the “easily cross beyond it” part of the verse?

Prabhupada was once asked how long it takes to surrender and he said, “One moment. As soon as you accept Krsna’s instructions you are surrendered.” So is it really that difficult to surrender? Is it really that difficult to overcome maya ? Well that all depends on the answer to the question, “What do you want?”

Imagine you have a disease and your doctor forbids you from eating any sweets. So one day you come home and find your spouse or roommate is cooking your favorite sweet. You think, “Oh that smells good, let me go over and look at it for a minute. So you go over and check it out and relish the flavor. It smells so good and you love this sweet so much that you are dying to taste it. So you come up with the brilliant idea that, “I’ll just chew it but I won’t swallow it. After I chew it I’ll spit it out.” And then you complain all night to your roommate about how difficult it is to fast from sweets.

Playing With Maya

We often play with maya in the same way. We follow devotional principles but look at maya, smell maya, contemplate maya, even sometimes go so far as to chew maya, foolishly thinking we won’t swallow. Maybe we get away with it sometimes, but eventually we get swallowed up.

 “One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (BG 3.6)

We delude ourselves by thinking we can play with maya because we are mature devotees. But if we were mature devotees we would be restraining ourselves in the first place.

Cheat the System

We can’t cheat the system. We cannot continually contemplate attractive sense objects without becoming attached. “While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops…..” (BG 2.62) The critical point in overcoming attachments is to not indulge in thoughts of enjoying them in the first place.

For example, Prabhupada said that every man has a propensity to enjoy many women. Since man’s attraction to woman is primarily visual (even when a man is with his wife or girlfriend, a beautiful women will often capture his attention), the best way a man can control himself is simply not to look at other women or contemplate enjoying them. He shouldn’t even stare at the beautiful women on magazine covers, billboards, etc. This is why Krsna gives the example of the tortoise. When the tortoise sees danger he withdraws his limbs within his shell. But our problem, as Prabhupada said, is that we are not afraid of maya. Sometimes when we see danger we take our limbs out of the shell and embrace it!

We can’t want maya and get Krsna. What do you want?

When I first began to seriously practice not contemplating the objects of the senses that I am most attracted to, I immediately noticed how habituated I was to think of the very obstacle I was trying to overcome. I also became aware that I had been thinking about this obstacle much more than I realized. By not dealing with the obstacle at the source (contemplation), I would have to continually battle with the second and third stages (lust and attachment). I can testify that the battle at the contemplation stage is ultimately a much easier fight because if you win there you won’t even have to deal with the attachment and lust stages (they are more forceful enemies to deal with). I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to understand.

One of the obstacles I was working on overcoming had been so troubling to me that I was resigned to accept that I will probably never fully overcome it in this life. I thought that it was just my nature to be attached to certain things. How wrong I was. Krsna’s instructions in the Gita were the perfect tools to uproot my attachments. I just hadn’t been using them properly – or using some of them at all. Can you relate to this?


Attachments come from conditioning (habit) and the best way to break a bad habit is to stop indulging in it. Once an alcoholic gets off alcohol, he is told to never take one drop of alcohol again for the rest of his life. He shouldn’t get near alcohol, look at it, think about it, etc. Why? Because if he does there is every chance he’ll become an alcoholic again. If he thinks there’s no harm in tasting a tiny a drop of wine, he is making a big mistake.

I want to ask you to just go “cold turkey” with an attachment. Cold turkey is a term used when drug addicts are totally denied drugs (as opposed to gradually weaning them off drugs or alcohol). Going “cold turkey” doesn’t only refer to giving up something that you are doing now; it also means that you may be following vows and principles, but internally not be fully committed to them. You may still be attached to thinking of enjoying the very things you have given up. So going cold turkey in this situation would mean to stop entertaining any contrary thoughts.

Is this going to be easy? Again, that depends on what you want. You are attempting to build a new habit and you will likely fail from time to time. That’s OK. The more you practice, the more that new habit and new way of thinking becomes natural. The more you want it, the easier it will be to stick with it.

For example, let’s say pride is a big problem for you. Maybe you always want to be appreciated for your service; for how well you cook, how well you dress the Deities, how much money you give the temple, the nice service you do, or how well you lecture or manage. Some of us cannot even be enlivened unless we are appreciated. So to break this attachment you have to stop searching for appreciation, stop thinking about what others think of you, how they will like your service, etc. You’ll have to stop doing things to attract attention to you. And you’ll need to put more energy into appreciating others. In other words, you’ll have to serve Krsna for the right reasons. Of course, that will take time. But as you practice thinking in the right way – not looking for recognition – it will gradually become more natural to think in a humble way.

So pick something that you need to deal with in devotional service and practice cutting it out at the root.

Also, I’d love to hear about your experiences with this practice.