I was checking for a document on my computer and came across a letter I wrote to a devotee who had recently come back to devotional service. Over the years he had his ups and downs and wrote me because he was concerned this pattern might continue.
I thought it would be useful to make this letter (with some additions) an issue of Illuminations. I have never chosen a letter before, so I was a little hesitant. But when I asked him if I could use it, I received an encouraging reply: “It was one of the best preaching letters I ever received and I read it many times. It helped me to stay on course.” So this removed my doubts.
You might say, “Well I haven’t fallen away from Krishna consciousness, so how does this letter relate to me?” I think we all battle internally with falling away from Krishna consciousness. That’s why I think this letter is relevant.
I think you will find this letter very helpful. You might even find it a bit life changing.
May you always think of Krishna,
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You can become Krishna conscious despite what happened in the past or whatever obstacles you face at present. The key is your belief that this is possible, your intention to succeed, and your dependence on Krishna’s mercy. I see that you want this, but you are concerned, based on past history and your nature, that it might not be possible or that you may fall away from Krishna consciousness again. You can do it, but without that belief when you have difficulty, you could easily think, “See, I really do have insurmountable problems.” In this way you’ll be the one keeping yourself from achieving your goals. As it is said, “Those who think they will fail are always the ones who do.”
Embrace a negative thought right now. Really get into it. For example, think of someone who did something to hurt you or think of something else that really bothers you. How do you feel? Thoughts carry energy. Do you feel the weight of those negative thoughts? Climbing the stairway to Krishna consciousness is certainly difficult when carrying this extra weight. The truth is: climbing the stairway to anywhere carrying this weight is difficult.
Now think of something positive. You might think of something in Krishna consciousness that enlivens you – a service you love to do, a nectar verse, a sweet kirtan, a devotee you love. How do you feel now? Don’t you feel energized, enthused, even lighter? Positive thoughts are like a turbo engine under your feet pushing you towards Krishna. This is the kind of support you need to complete your journey back to Godhead.
So you can either support yourself or make it difficult on yourself . But you must be conscious of your thoughts to do this. The problem is that there is a subtle aspect to the thought process that we are not always aware of. These are our beliefs, and like conscious thoughts, they also empower us or weight us down.
We all have some beliefs we are not aware of. So how can you identify them? One way is to look at your activities and ask, “What would someone have to believe to act this way?” Since it’s difficult to be objective with ourselves, you might want to start by identifying beliefs of others by asking, “What would he or she have to believe to be doing this?” For example, what belief would cause a family man to be gone from home so much that he is no longer an integral part of his family? It could be the belief that his business is more important than his family, making money is more important than his family, or that you have to accomplish a lot to be fulfilled or to be successful. But if you talk to him he’ll likely say the reason he is working this hard is for his family.
If he just changed his belief to, “My family is more important than my work,” what would happen? He would do everything in his power to make sure he is home as much as possible. Maybe he’d take another job, or maybe he would take another position in the company. Whatever it might be, if his beliefs about the importance of spending time with his family change, he will be home more.
When something keeps repeating itself in your life, it’s usually because of a belief or internal problem you have either not acknowledged or have not dealt with. For example, if you continually see others’ faults, it’s usually not because of their faults but because of your need to find fault. If you fail, it could be because of a belief that you are not good enough or smart enough to succeed. It could even mean you are afraid of success. If you act and think as you always have, you’ll get the same results. So if you are aware of these habits, beliefs, anarthas, etc., you can work on them, change them, and replace them with empowering beliefs. Everything changes when you change yourself. Thus most of our external problems are not really where the problem lies; they are only symptoms (external manifestations) of internal problems.
So it’s important for you to identify any beliefs you have that might be undermining your very attempts to be Krishna consciousness. Again, ask yourself, “What would someone have to believe to act as I am acting?”
Beliefs are like people telling you something. If devotees kept telling you that you really can’t be Krishna conscious because you are weak, highly conditioned, too attracted to maya, bound to fall again sooner or later, etc., you’d obviously have a difficult, if not impossible time, becoming a good devotee. And this is exactly what beliefs do; they speak to us. (This is, of course, good news if the beliefs are positive and empowering.) So it’s easy to see how beliefs are self-fulfilling.
Past sins and material activities, although exerting an influence on you, are not the supreme indicators of how Krishna conscious you can be. It is ultimately your intention, eagerness, and hope, backed with an equal amount of devotional practices (and perhaps some other practical steps) that is pivotal. Of course, always be conscious that success is never attained by your efforts alone. Still, if you show Krishna you want Him above everything else, He’ll be there to help you. And if He helps you, success is guaranteed.
The belief that you can become Krishna conscious despite whatever has happened to you in the past is validated by our philosophy. But unless you believe this, you won’t give 100% to your sadhana. It is said that if you think you’ll succeed, or if you think you’ll fail, you are probably right. Since you just won’t try that hard to be Krishna consciousness if you have doubts you can achieve it, the answer to your dilemma lies in your faith that you can become Krishna conscious despite your faults, past conditioning, and past mistakes.
In other words, the process works if you work the process.
It is best to look at what you need to do to be Krishna conscious, not look at the reasons you think you can’t be Krishna conscious. It is better to look at where you want to go rather than the problems that are holding you back. Those problems become validated the more you focus on them. I don’t believe any of the reasons you expressed will prevent you from moving ahead and becoming steady if that is what you really want and you focus on and work to achieve this. Sincerely regret your mistakes, rectify yourself, and ask for mercy. The past doesn’t equal the future, but it can overpower you if you allow yourself to be controlled by it.
If you feel that you have obstacles that will prevent you from being Krishna conscious, it’s best not to look at them as obstacles, but see them as excuses. I am not saying you don’t have obstacles; I am saying you shouldn’t use them as excuses for not being Krishna conscious. Your nature might pose particular challenges, but it doesn’t mean that has to stop you. It only can stop you when you use it as an excuse. If some past anarthas assert especially negative influences on you, you just need to develop better strategies to deal with them. If you really want to be Krishna conscious, you will somehow find a way to get around, over or under your obstacles. But you will never allow them to act as your excuses.
You want results, not excuses why you don’t get results.
I see that you are dealing with another potentially negative force, guilt. Too much guilt can be debilitating. When someone did something wrong, Srila Prabhupada didn’t only expect them to feel bad and apologize, he wanted them to take action to correct their mistake. There is a difference between guilt and regret. Regret leads to rectification whereas too much guilt normally causes people to beat themselves up, which in turn just keeps them down.
What’s most important here is to acknowledge that you chose to fall down (no one makes that choice for you no matter who you want to blame), and you choose to stand up. And this choice is going on at every moment on the most subtle level.
Forgiving yourself is obviously an issue for you. Look at it this way: Krishna wants you to come back to Him, and if you don’t forgive yourself, you’re making that trip back to Him a more difficult – and thus slower – journey. Krishna is waiting for you to come back, so don’t make Him wait longer than necessary. Krishna forgives you, and if He forgives you, certainly you can forgive yourself. (If it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for you.) In addition, if you are thinking, “I am so low and so bad, I don’t deserve Krishna’s mercy,” when the mercy comes you won’t take it because, after all, you don’t deserve it. But mercy wouldn’t be mercy if you fully deserved it. You may not deserve it, but you need it. And Mahaprabhu shows His mercy to those who need it most. Let Him know how much you need it.
It’s also possible that a lack of self forgiveness stems from a kind of self sabotaging, a self-hatred mechanism within. To me this equates to the idea of being envious of one’s self as taught in the Bhagavad-gita and Isopansisad. Why would we do anything to hurt ourselves unless we lack self respect and self love? If you love yourself, forgive yourself. Prabhupada said the highest service is to save yourself. But why would you try for that if you have little respect or love for yourself?
We all want respect, but we often don’t even give it to ourselves. If you want respect, respect yourself. If you want love, love yourself. Don’t depend on others to give it to you. It’s the same with encouragement. If you want encouragement, encourage yourself. Otherwise you could become a respect and encouragement junkie, seeking this everywhere but from yourself. The problem this causes is obvious.
Also, celebrate your successes, both from the past and present. You became a devotee, you chanted Hare Krishna, you did service. That is a success. The fact that you came back to Krishna consciousness despite your fallen condition is a success. If you focus on your failures, you’ll feel like a failure. And if you feel like a failure, you’ll simply be expecting the day to come when you again fail in Krishna consciousness.
Focus on your goals. Focus on where you want to go, not on the places you fear you might go. Then make a plan to get there? And here’s a bit of advice that seems almost counterintuitive, but it can help you tremendously: shoot for goals you think are impossible to achieve. Don’t just shoot for chanting sixteen rounds; make an effort to chant better rounds than you could ever imagine. Don’t just do service; think of how to do it better than you ever thought possible. Then mercy will pour down on you, and you will experience the affection of guru and Krishna and the power of bhakti. And that will give you great hope that you are going to make it. Actually, it will show you that you are making it right now.
You mention you doubt your sincerity. When Prabhupada was asked how to be sincere, he simply said, “By being sincere.” Your current level of sincerity is dependent on only one thing: being sincere. And who’s in charge of the amount of sincerity you manifest? You are. So your concern should be to become sincere, not whether or not you are sincere. The latter concern is not productive.
You say sensuality can be problematic for you. What situations or environments do you put yourself in that make you more prone to fall into your particular mode of sense gratification? It’s best to arrange your life to avoid these situations as far as possible. Environment is often more powerful than willpower. Don’t make things difficult on yourself.
I have given you a lot of food for thought. As you apply these principles you will see positive changes. The bottom line is this: our minds are like a field, and whatever we plant in that field will grow. Plant negative discouraging thoughts, and you will most certainly be a negative and discouraged person; and that is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps you think the mind has a mind of its own, so to speak, and you can’t just plant the right thought seeds. But Srila Prabhupada teaches us that the central point of any yoga practice is to control the mind. So if you don’t plant positive thoughts, who will?
Your past can’t be changed. But you can change your thoughts right now, and that will change your future.
I would like you to create a new empowering habit. For thirty days only think positive thoughts. If, for example, you think, “Oh I can’t do that” or “That’s going to be horrible,” change your thoughts to something like, “I can do that by Krishna’s mercy” or “That’s going to be a wonderful challenge for me from which I will learn and grow.”
If you do this, you will have the force of the engine of positive thoughts under your feet instead of the burdensome (and sometimes overwhelming) weight of negative thoughts on your head.
If you do this for thirty days, you will become incredibly positive and will accomplish much more in Krishna consciousness. If you blow it, start over because you have to do it for thirty days in a row to develop the positive mind set that will make positive thinking habitual.
In addition, isolate actions you would like to change and ask, “What belief causes me to act this way?” Once you isolate the belief, ask, “What would be a better, more empowering belief, a belief that would change this behavior?.”
As mentioned in the letter, the mind is like a field. It will grow whatever seed you place in it. You can plant a fruit tree or a poisonous bush, and the earth will grow either of them. So you might as well plant the right thoughts in your mind and reap the positive results they produce.