Illuminations 65 – Balancing Taste And Sense Gratification

Is it wrong to want to taste Krsna? Wouldn’t that desire be sense gratification? Shouldn’t we just serve without any personal desire? These are important questions to address.

There is a difference between taste in Krsna consciousness and sense gratification, although they can seem similar, and thus difficult to distinguish. We discuss this difference, as well as the necessity of developing the proper taste for Krsna consciousness.

(This newsletter is an edited transcription of a lecture I gave on Krsna.com).

May you always think of Krsna,

Mahatma Das


The Goal is to Gratify Krsna’s Senses

What is the motive behind sense gratification? It is simply to squeeze the maximum amount of pleasure out of our senses. This is the sum and substance of material life. It is also the sum and substance of animal life.

Our senses are also gratified in Krsna consciousness, but there’s a huge difference in the motive with which we engage our senses.

When a devotee reaches higher levels of Krsna consciousness, he is not focused on what will or will not make him happy. His only thoughts are how to make Krsna, his gurus, and the devotees happy, and how to give Krsna consciousness to others. In this way, a devotee never considers his personal happiness.

There Must Be Anxiety for Krsna

Non-devotees are often in a state of anxiety thinking, “Will this work out, will that work out?” These anxieties are, of course, related to personal well-being. A devotee however, is never in a state of anxiety about his personal life. Rather, his only anxiety is whether things will work out for Krsna’s service. This is the real stress relief formula. Once you stop worrying about yourself and start worry about making guru, Krsna, and others happy, your material anxieties will be gone.

Devotees once wanted to buy a huge church in Toronto to convert to a temple. Since it was very expensive, Srila Prabhupada told them not to get it because, “You’ll be buying anxiety.” When Prabhupada later returned to Toronto, he asked the temple president if he purchased the temple. The temple president said, “No, since it is so expensive we would be buying anxiety.” Amazingly, Prabhupada strongly replied, “There must be anxiety for Krsna. Otherwise, there will simply be anxiety for sense gratification.” So all of our anxiety should be in relation to how we can best serve Krsna and help others come to Krsna consciousness.

Hanker After Pleasing Guru and Krsna

When we get a taste for Krsna, we no longer hanker for material tastes, and thus we stop being self-centered. Therefore, the intelligent question is, “How can we get a taste for Krsna?” We get a taste for Krsna by not trying to taste maya. It is only when we are hankering to please guru and Krsna, and not calculating what will or will not make us happy, that we become happy in Krsna consciousness. (This is different from considering basic needs that must be fulfilled.)

“The wonderful characteristics of the gopés are beyond imagination. They have no desire for personal satisfaction, yet when Krsna is happy by seeing them, that happiness of Krsna makes the gopis a million times more happy than Krsna Himself.” (Adi 4.187)

Sense Gratification – An Addiction

Taste is a by-product of pleasing Krsna’s senses. Therefore, we should never run away from trying to gain a genuine taste in Krsna consciousness, thinking it to be sense gratification. Taste in Krsna consciousness is very different from the taste of sense gratification. One comes as a by-product of purified senses and the other as a by-product of lust.

“This taste is the seed of devotional service, and one who is fortunate enough to have received such a seed is advised to sow it in the core of his heart.” (SB 3.2.6)

“I see that you have acquired a taste for hearing talks regarding Krsna. Therefore, you are extremely fortunate. Not only you but anyone who has awakened such a taste is considered most fortunate.” (Antya 5.9)

Tasting is the Secret of Success

taste for krsnaTaste for Krsna is juxtaposed to sense gratification. When we are hankering after sensual pleasure, or particularly when we are engaged in it, the so-called pleasure we get nullifies our senses’ ability to perceive, or desire, pleasure in Krsna consciousness. Conversely, a higher taste in Krsna consciousness nullifies the taste for sense gratification. When our taste for Krsna is strong, we will be disgusted to even think about past sense gratification. The very things that we used to hanker for, the things we used to love to do, eat, hear, talk about, see, etc., will become distasteful.

Devotees often ask me, “How will I know if I am making advancement?” You know you are advancing when material life becomes distasteful. Taste counteracts the desire for sense gratification. Thus, Srila Prabhupada tells us that taste is the “secret of success.”

Maya – The Attractive Energy of the All-Attractive

The problem is that since Krsna is all-attractive, His external energy maya, is also attractive (after all, it is His energy). Srila Prabhupada said maya means that other things become more attractive than Krsna.

I was listening to a conversation in which a devotee was telling Srila Prabhupada how some priests have girlfriends, get married, or become homosexuals. It was even common for some priests to become alcoholics. Prabhupada replied, “Yes, they must fall down because they are not getting a taste.” So without Krsna we are guaranteed to be attracted by maya, even if we don’t want to be, and even if we try hard not to be. We do not “fight maya” simply with discipline. We fight maya through the taste that engagement  in Krsna consciousness gives us.

“The more the taste grows, the more one desires to render service to the Lord.” (Madhya Lila  23.12)

Anarthas Won’t Make Us Happy

We are unfortunate if we believe anything outside of Krsna consciousness will give us a taste in life. The irony is that the stage of ruci (or taste for Krsna), which gives us real happiness and pleasure, comes after material desires are given up. In other words, the material things we think will make us happy are actually the very things that prevent us from being happy.

Planting the Seed of Bhakti in Others

Srila Prabhupada once said in a letter written in January 10, 1972, “Our business is simply to plant the seed of devotional service wherever we go, and to give everyone a taste of this transcendental experience.” If people get a transcendental experience, or taste, it will be a huge faith builder for them because they will experience pleasure beyond the senses. And when people get a taste for Krsna, they will want more.

In the Caitanya Caritamrta it is said that Mahaprabhu tasted the fruits of love of God, and then distributed those fruits. “He taught everyone how to taste the transcendental mellow ecstasy of love of Krsna by tasting it Himself.” (Adi 13.39)

Purification for Taste

Taste comes by purification of the senses. Krsna is tasteful, and only purified senses can taste Krsna. In the Harinama Cintamani it is said, “When one’s heart is purified, one’s interest and taste for culturing bhakti begins.”

It is essential that we understand taste as an experience that results from relishing Krsna consciousness with purified senses, and that taste has nothing to do with material motivation. Taste is something all great devotees hanker for. Even the Lord Himself hankers for it.

“What to speak of others, even Krsna, the son of Nanda Maharaja, personally descends to taste the nectar of love of Godhead in the form of the chanting of Hare Krsna.” (Antya 3.265)

Monitoring the Taste-O-Meter

In one lecture Srila Prabhupada asked, “How do you monitor whether or not  you’re becoming Krsna conscious?” His response was, “By your detachment. By your freedom from sex desire.” Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, “How do you know an advanced devotee? You know by his taste for the holy name.”

If we see ourselves becoming more inclined and attracted to Krsna, we are on the right track. However, if we see ourselves becoming more attracted to mundane things, we should understand something is wrong. So taste is a useful meter with which to monitor our advancement.

“Therefore, one’s development of a taste for executing these instructions is the test of one’s devotional service.” (Adi 1.60)

And what is the result of chanting without taste? Bhaktivinoda Thakura answers this question in the Harinama Cintamani.

“Though chanting japa daily, if his taste is elsewhere, he will show indifference to the name. His heart will not be absorbed in chanting the name but in some material object. How can that benefit him? He may chant 64 rounds counting strictly on his japa beads, but in his heart he has not received one drop of the taste of the name. This indifference or apathy towards the name is one type of inattention. In the heart of a materialist it is unavoidable.”

Riding Downhill

Ruci is compared to riding downhill because in this stage of Krsna consciousness we are motivated by a taste to serve, not by rules and regulations. Before we have a taste, we must make a constant effort to control ourselves. At the stage of ruci, such efforts are not required since our taste for Krsna is the motivating factor. As the saying goes, “It is all downhill from there.”

Don’t Run Away From Taste

If you have the idea in your mind that, “I shouldn’t want taste,” understand that we’ll always be motivated by taste. So it’s just a question of what kind of taste will motivate us. Just as material taste is drawing us closer to maya, spiritual taste is drawing us closer to Krsna.

“To taste the fruit of devotional service in Goloka Vrindavana is the highest perfection of life, and in the presence of such perfection, the four material perfections — religion, economic development, sense gratification and liberation — are very insignificant achievements.” (Madhya 19.164)

We should want taste, pray for taste, and hanker for taste. We need taste.

“When one is so situated that he can taste the association of Lord Krsna, material existence, the repetition of birth and death, comes to an end.” (Madhya 20.121)

What Are You Afraid Of?

Don’t be afraid of tasting Krsna consciousness. Be afraid of enjoying Krsna consciousness. We want to serve Krsna, not enjoy Krsna. The paradox is that if we serve, we end up enjoying Krsna consciousness. Krsna consciousness is not derived from the desire to enjoy. Indeed, it is pleasure that removes the desire to enjoy.

We Are Ordered to Relish Krsna Consciousness

Perfection is to taste the nectar of Krsna consciousness.

“The nectar from the lips of Lord Krsna and His transcendental qualities and characteristics surpass the taste of the essence of all nectar, and there is no fault in tasting such nectar. If one does not taste it, he should die immediately after birth, and his tongue is to be considered no better than the tongue of a frog.” (Madhya 2.32)