Illuminations 7 – Failing to Succeed

Have you ever set a goal and then done nothing about it – or not even set a goal because you were afraid you would fail? I have.

Let’s look at why this happens and how we can deal with it.

May you always think of Krsna.

Mahatma Das



There is No Failure on the Spiritual Platform

Spiritual success means to please Krsna and guru, and can sometimes have nothing to do with measurable external results. Since devotional service is absolute, you can even successfully serve Krsna in your mind. In the Nectar of Devotion there is a story of a devotee who wanted to offer sweet rice (khir) to his Deities, but couldn’t afford the ingredients. So he cooked the sweet rice in his mind. While in this meditation he touched the sweet rice and actually burnt his finger. Even though he only offered it in his mind, Krsna appreciated and accepted that offering.

In a previous newsletter I suggested that you visualize what kind of devotee you would like to be and what kind of service you would like to render. That is also devotional service. Don’t you think Krsna will be pleased if you think how you can be a better devotee and offer Him better service – even if you can’t realize those goals right away?

Just the fact that you make a goal to be a better devotee or do a particular service is itself devotional service. And, if we always think about doing something there’s a good chance we will do it someday. Prabhupada thought about preaching in the west for 42 years before he was able and ready to do it.

Show Your Heart to Krsna

Making goals reveals your heart and desires to Krsna. The acaryas pray, “When oh when will that day be mine…” in the mood of hankering for a level of Krsna consciousness they presently don’t have. So having clear devotional goals expresses the hankering of your heart to Krsna.

And since we are not pure devotees, we can express simple desires, like praying “when oh when will that day be mine when I think of Krsna once and awhile at work.” Later on you can worry about praying for the day when you will be running along the Yamuna half mad in ecstatic love.

Also, research has shown that you are more likely to follow through on a goal if you write it down. Try it. Even if you think you can’t achieve the goal or won’t follow through, write it down anyway. You’ll be surprised at what happens. I once wrote down some goals and then forgot about them. But a week or so later I found myself pursuing some of those goals even though I hadn’t reviewed my list. So, for example, if you want to wake up an hour earlier every day, just write that goal on a piece of paper and see what happens. Often, the process of writing down a goal puts that goal into your subconscious and then you start acting on it.

A Devotee Can’t Fail

Because devotional service is absolute, the effort is spiritual and perfect despite the outcome. Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master would appreciate a devotee if he sold even one magazine for a few paisa (cents). Prabhupada said there is no question of success or failure in devotional service because our position is like a soldier who has a duty to fight. We simple do our duty.

Therefore, the only failure is to not make the effort.

(You might want to print that statement out and hang it on your wall so you see it everyday).

I Went to New York to Fail

Failing to Succeed Mahatma DasSrila Prabhupada didn’t exactly understand how Krsna consciousness could be spread in the West, but because his spiritual master ordered him to do it he felt he must try. He knew that anything is possible by the mercy of guru and Krsna, but externally it was not obvious how it would happen – or even if it would happen at all. When asked why he chose to go to New York instead of London, he said, “My godbrothers went to London and failed, so I thought I would go to New York and fail.”

Although he said this jokingly, he was well aware that he might fail. But since his guru maharaja asked him to spread Krsna consciousness in the West, it would have obviously been a much bigger failure to not try. Prabhupada’s real success was that he got on the boat to America. He wasn’t thinking, “What if I don’t succeed, what will everyone in India think of me?”

Some times we are afraid to fail because our egos can’t take it – we are afraid to fail because we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we are not as competent as we think we are.

Blessings for Real Success

Prabhupada was a surrendered servant of Krsna and worked tirelessly to establish the Hare Krsna movement. Even when there was no apparent success in his first year in America, he was never discouraged. He was ordered to preach in the West and he was doing his best to fulfill that order. Therefore he was a success long before the external results came.

And when those external results came, Prabhupada recognized that his success was due to the blessings of guru and Krsna. Prabhupada said those blessings came simply because he tried to execute the order of his spiritual master. If guru and Krsna help us, the impossible can become possible – even for us. We do our duty and leave the results to Krsna.

Don’t Fail to Fail to Succeed

Self help gurus teach that we shouldn’t be afraid to fail; rather we should fail soon and often because this is how we learn. Those who are afraid to fail rarely do anything great. Aren’t you glad you weren’t afraid to fail when you first attempted to walk? As long as we learn by our so-called failures, those failures become the pillars of our success.

So when you think you have failed, just ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” and then you can give your failure a new name. You can call it a “learning experience.”

Since our effort to serve Krsna is our success, and since the reality is that we often need to fail to improve, we can’t loose by making the effort. But if we fail to fail, then we fail to succeed.


Try to do something for Krsna you are reluctant to do because you think you will fail. Don’t worry about succeeding, just do it. Then if you like, write me and let me know what happened and what you learned.