Srila Prabhupada, sastra and the acaryas have spoken about being totally dependent on guru and Krsna. Independence, we learn, is our disease. It is what brought us to the material world and what keeps us here. Is there such a thing, however, as too much dependence and not enough independence?
Continuing the theme of balance from the previous newsletter, we explore the balance between dependence and independence.
May you always think of Krsna,
In the Gita, we find the word for balance, samah, translated as “equipoised.” The dictionary defines the word “equipoised” as a state in which various parts form a satisfying and harmonious whole and nothing is out of proportion or unduly emphasized at the expense of the rest. Arjuna is out of balance. He is the world’s finest warrior. He is being asked to protect religion and morality by going to battle. He refuses, choosing a life of renunciation and asceticism out of compassion for the opposing warriors, his kinsmen. Krsna speaks to put him back into balance.
The Gita devotes much of its dialog to help Arjuna create balance in his life.
One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equipoised in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy… is very dear to Me. (BG 12.18)
Even after Arjuna overcame his resistance to the war, he was still hesitant to personally participate in the fight. Even though Krsna told Arjuna, “They are already put to death by my arrangement,” He still wanted Arjuna to fight. To let Arjuna off the hook would keep him out of balance.
Krsna wanted Arjuna to fight with balance and without attachment, to do it because it was the right thing to do. In fact, because Arjuna’s compassion and detachment were unsuitable for the situation, Krsna spoke the Gita to get Arjuna angry enough to bring the balance back into his ksatriya nature.
When Dependence and Independence Are Out of Balance
Now that we have established that balance is a fundamental theme in the Gita, and thus fundamental to a stable material and spiritual life, let’s look at the balance between being dependent on guru and Krsna and being independently strong.
Sastraexalts the position of total dependence. Bhaktivinoda Thakur and other acaryas have written many songs in which they clearly express their complete dependence on the mercy of guru and Krsna. In the Gita, independence is described as an asuric quality.
The demoniac person thinks: “I am the lord of everything. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful and happy. I am the richest man, surrounded by aristocratic relatives. There is none so powerful and happy as I am. I shall perform sacrifices, I shall give some charity, and thus I shall rejoice.” In this way, such persons are deluded by ignorance.(BG 16.14-15)
Can this attitude of dependence, however, be misunderstood and thus cause negative results? Can we be so dependent that we can’t function well in the absence of our guru or very advanced devotees? Or can we err on the side of independence to compensate for being too dependent, and thus develop what we believe to be a “healthier” attitude when it actually isn’t? Both are possible, and both are not uncommon.
Can’t Live without My Guru
I used to live in Los Angeles and Srila Prabhupada would visit there every year. I distinctly remember the temple population increasing when Prabhupada came (in the early days he would stay for months at a time), and decreasing shortly after he left. When Prabhupada came to LA, devotees we hadn’t seen since Prabhupada’s last arrival would show up, enthusiastically participate in devotional service, and then disappear into material life a week or so after Prabhupada left.
This phenomenon is even more apparent, and understandably so, when the guru leaves his body. Some devotees are unable to maintain their Krsna consciousness well – if at all – after the departure of their guru from this world.
I have lived through another phenomenon: the falling down of several gurus I was closely working with. A very telling thing takes place when this happens: some disciples fall apart and either become very weak, or leave Krsna consciousness altogether.
Some disciples, on the other hand, become stronger.
The Disciple Always Lives with the Guru
This doesn’t mean a disciple should not be attached to his guru or advanced devotees, not want their personal association, not want to personally serve them, or not be dependent on their instructions.The problem lies in becoming so dependent on another’s mercy that one’s needs for personal association or guidance become unhealthy and disempowering.
Yes, Prabhupada did acknowledge the value of personal association. We all benefitted tremendously from it and would go out of our way to get it. Prabhupada was generous with his association. When a senior devotee had a problem or became weak, Prabhupada would often invite the devotee to travel with him for a short time to regain his strength or suggest he spend time with a fixed-up devotee. Also, Prabhupada constantly travelled to give disciples his association. Therefore, it’s not that Prabhupada minimized the value of personal association. At the same time, (we’re talking about balance) he did say that vani (the words of the spiritual master) is more important than personal association, and that the disciple lives with the guru by following his instructions.
I had personal experience of this. When Prabhupada arrived in San Francisco for the 1970 Ratha-yatra festival, I, along with a temple room packed with shaven-headed brahmacaries, greeted him. He was so pleased to see us that he stopped at the temple room entrance for a few moments, relishing this wonderful site. He stood gazing over us with a smile that revealed the great pleasure he was feeling in seeing his movement expand. He then entered the temple, sat on his vyasasana,and began to chant Sri Guruvastakam, prayers to his spiritual master. I had never seen Prabhupada chant these prayers on his arrival to any temple, and I am not aware he ever did this again when arriving at a temple.
Why did he do this? It was a bit of a mystery. This mystery was later solved when the temple leaders revealed that Prabhupada told them how he was so pleased to see such a large number of effulgent devotees that he called for his guru maharaja to come and see. This reminds us that Prabhupada said he never felt alone in his early days in New York; he always felt he was with his guru.
While on sankirtana, those who distribute Prabhupada’s books feel a special closeness with him, a closeness his disciples would sometimes not even feel while sitting at his feet. Of course, all of Prabhupada’s disciples relished sitting at his feet and hearing from him, but when a devotee with important service would forgo the opportunity to be with Prabhupada to undertake this service, Prabhupada appreciated it.
What is healthy dependence and what is unhealthy (dysfunctional) dependence? Prabhupada used to say that every one of us must fly our own plane. We learn from our guru how to fly (dependence), and then fly our plane via his instructions (independence). As we follow his instructions, we feel even closer to him, as if he is sitting beside us. In other words, he is always our co-pilot.
In addition, flight school training never ends. The guru is continually teaching us how to improve our flying skills.
When Relationships Become Dysfunctional
The word “dysfunctional” is popularly used today with regard to relationships. When a person’s happiness, or their ability to function normally, is too dependent on another person, their relationship is considered dysfunctional. How would this apply to Krsna consciousness?
Prabhupada said we should feel like a fool before our spiritual master. This means we should not proudly sit in front of our guru thinking, “I also know many things about life. I even know some things he doesn’t know.” Rather, we should think, “I am such a fool that I wasted unlimited lives in useless material pursuits and have thus remained entangled in material life since time immemorial. By my so-called knowledge I became expert at causing myself suffering. My guru is the one who can, and is, helping me get out of this material entanglement. On my own, I could never do it.”
After telling us we should feel like a fool before our guru, Prabhupada said, “But you should not act like a fool.” In other words, the instructions are there so we can stop being foolish.
No Strength of My Own
One devotee tells of his battles in his early days of Krsna consciousness. When he was opening a new center, his enthusiasm to continue came solely from the regular letters he received from Prabhupada. Each letter gave him enough energy to continue for another week. If he didn’t receive a letter within seven days, he would end up discouraged and depressed, sleeping for most of the day. As soon as he received the next letter, he would again become enlivened for about week. He found no strength within himself to continue without the constant encouragement and pushing he received in those letters.
No doubt we need encouragement and pushing, but Krsna consciousness doesn’t mean being so dependent on one’s guru or senior association that one cannot function well without constant inspiration, supervision and guidance.
When Srila Prabhupada left us, we all had difficulty. This is to be expected; but devotees who had the most association with Prabhupada often had the most difficulty living in his absence. His personal presence had become so essential to their spiritual lives that their Krsna consciousness could not thrive without it.
Always With my Spiritual Master
During the first years after Prabhupada’s departure, we struggled to realize how he was still present with us. Those that survived did so by realizing that hearing Prabhupada’s instructions and spreading his mission were how to remain most intimately connected with him. This realization still keeps Prabhupada’s disciples alive and well in Krsna consciousness today.
It has been my experience that the more responsibility I take up in Srila Prabhupada’s mission, the closer I feel to him, and the closer I feel with him. The more I try to be the devotee Prabhupada wanted me to be, the more I feel him guiding me. Association through separation is tangible, but it takes the proper consciousness to realize it.
We Are Already Blessed
The instructions of the guru are meant to make the disciple a pure devotee. A pure devotee imbibes the best of both worlds: being both self-sufficient and totally dependent. The dependence is on the instructions of the guru, while the independence is the strength and willpower to follow those instructions.
“Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action… There must be always individual striving and work and responsibility, competitive spirit, not that one shall dominate and distribute benefits to the others and they do nothing but beg from you and you provide. No. Never mind there may be botheration to register each center, take tax certificate each, and become separate corporations in each state. That will train men how to do these things, and they shall develop reliability and responsibility, that is the point.” (Letter: December 12, 1972)
The strength to follow the instructions is also the mercy of the guru, but the mercy is something that the disciple activates by his own willingness to inquire, serve and surrender. One devotee asked Prabhupada for his mercy so that he would be able to follow his instructions. Prabhupada replied, “My instructions are my mercy.” Devotees often ask for blessings from senior devotees. This is natural, and we need their blessings, but we should always remember that the real blessings are their words and service. The sadhus bless us with their instructions; we bless ourselves by following those instructions.
Don’t Be a Leaky Tire
Should we get the association of our guru(s) or advanced devotees whenever possible?
Should we always want to hear the instructions of our guru(s) and should our lives be dependent on those instructions?
The goal, however, is to become a living example of those instructions, to utilize those instructions to grow and to become stronger. In this way, we will attain the perfect balance of healthy dependence and personal initiative, fully utilizing the mercy that comes through following those instructions.
Otherwise, we can become a leaky tire that needs to be blown up constantly.
We need to:
· Intelligently understand both the instructions given to us, as well as how they apply to our lives.
· Know how to adjust two apparently contradictory instructions.
· Know when an instruction may not be applicable in a certain situation.
· Know that our guru lives in his instructions and we live with him by following those instructions.
Too Much Independence
How do we err on the side of being too independent? When disciples of Prabhupada disobeyed an instruction of his, considering it could be done in a better way, or if it was a compromise of Vaisnava principles, Prabhupada often called these disciples “over-intelligent.” When we use our intelligence in a way that is not aligned with guru, sadhu and sastra, we are being over-intelligent. This is certainly a misuse of independence. Reflecting upon my early days in Krsna consciousness, I realize I wasn’t “smart” enough to disobey Prabhupada’s instructions. As I became more “intelligent”, I found the tendency in myself to “intelligently” disobey.
We also misuse independence when we identify the abilities Krsna gives us as our own, and then become overconfident. One devotee relates that after becoming the number one book distributor in his zone, he became overly proud. Krsna then decided to humble him. As long as he remained proud, practically everyone he approached refused to take a book. Krsna clearly told him, “It’s not you who is distributing these books.”
We feel good thinking, “I did it.” Krsna feels good teaching us, “You didn’t do it.”
Arjuna Achieves Balance
Arjuna finally understood what Krsna wanted him to do. He told Krsna, “I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.” (BG 19.73). It was only when he came to a balanced state that he could do this. He was no longer attached to not fighting or attached to fighting; he was attached to what Krsna wanted. When out of balance with his attachments and aversions, he couldn’t do what Krsna wanted. Once he had attained balance, resuming his role as a ksatriya, fighting valiantly became natural.
Similarly, with a balanced relationship with our guru and advanced devotees, we have the kind of dependence that results in a healthy independence.
Feel like a fool. Just don’t act like one.