Illuminations 54 – Responsibility

In this issue of Illuminations, we talk about responsibility. Responsibility means the ability to respond to a problem with a solution rather than with blaming. Prabhupada said that when we see something wrong in a temple, we should think that it is our responsibility that the problem exists and we should therefore do what we can to remedy the situation.

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The lecture is available at the link below for download.

By taking more responsibility for our lives, we become more successful. Although taking full responsibility for everything we have done in the past, do in the present, and will do in the future might seem like a burden, it actually brings freedom and inner peace. How is this? By taking responsibility we no longer make others responsible for our happiness or success. Instead, we take responsibility for our own activities and results. We do not give reasons why we can’t do something, but instead we concentrate on what we can do.

In the past, disturbances in some places in ISKCON caused many devotees to leave the movement. Naturally, many of the devotees who remained were discouraged, and thus a lot of their energy was spent on thinking how bad things were. A more responsible attitude would have been to focus on what could be done to improve.  As one American president said, “Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.”

Recognizing the harmful effects of blaming and complaining, a church came up with a “no-complaining” campaign that transformed their community. Complaining is like digging your own grave because with each complaint you convince yourself you cannot move forward. Complaints are all habits of self-sabotage and it is in our own interest to give them up. Taking responsibility is liberating, whereas complaining is binding.

No matter how much we feel we are victims, there is always another side to the story. A devotee once told me that her husband had taken money from their joint account, ran off with it, and left her with nothing. This woman was asked by a counselor to tell the same story again, but this time to tell it from the viewpoint that she was responsible for what happened. By telling the story from this perspective, she realized that she was foolish to have trusted her husband with a joint account because past experience showed that he was not trustworthy with their money. This shows that we often believe a problem is outside us when it is really within us.

One way to switch into the responsibility mode is to ask ourselves the right questions. Instead of asking “Why did they?” ask “How can I?”

Another question we can ask when confronted by a difficult situation is, “If I was a world expert on … (fill in the subject according to the problem – anger, self-control, management, communication) and was guiding someone who had the exact same problem I faced, what would I say to him or her?” The purpose of this question is to gain objectivity in our situation and to make us aware of the options we have in responding to a specific challenge.

To practice reacting to situations from a higher perspective ask yourself, “How would someone who is stronger, or more determined, or more intelligent, or more Krsna conscious react to this situation” Sometimes we think there is only one way to react to a situation, but not everyone reacts the same way to the same situation.

responsibilitySometimes taking responsibility can be overwhelming. Occasionally, things go wrong all at once and we may not necessarily have the capabilities or qualifications to deal well with the situation. We can take this as an opportunity offered by Krsna to learn how to persevere through these difficulties. We can think that Krsna is giving us an opportunity to become stronger.

Responsibility also means that when we have little control over a situation, we should act as we would want others to act.

Again, the bottom line is that we should not look at what can’t be done, but look at what steps we can take to move forward.

May you always think of Krsna,
Mahatma Das