Happy New Year.
Since I am sending this newsletter at the New Year, and this being the time when we all think about making resolutions, I felt inspired to present something on the topic of vows. So I collected and reorganized my notes and writings on this topic and I thought to share some of my reflections with you on this topic.
You may be wondering why I chose “No One Can Help You Like You Can” as the title for this newsletter. This statement comes from a conversation in which a devotee asked Prabhupada for help, saying that he was not able to follow the four rules. Prabhupada looked sternly at him and said, “If you do not follow the regulative principles, then no one can help you’.”
Following the practices of Krsna consciousness is the platform from which help comes. It is not that we attract mercy by virtue of the fact that we are so fallen that we can’t follow or don’t try to follow. To think this way only perpetuates the problem. Devotees feel in great need of mercy, not because they are having difficulty following principles or vows, but because they don’t feel they are spiritually advanced and thus need help.
Prabhupada put great stock in the power of making vows, teaching that taking one’s vows seriously was foundational to spiritual progress. Of course, we can pray to Krsna that we keep our vows, but the point is to keep them no matter what, and to not expect that by some magical stroke of mercy, we will be able to do it. The mercy and magic is in the instructions of the spiritual master and we get this mercy by following those instructions.
I pray that the thoughts, ideas and suggestions in this newsletter will help make 2015 your most Krsna conscious year ever.
May you always think of Krsna,
“Backwards Thinking” means to think that “I need to be spiritually strong in order to follow my vows,” when in fact our strength and determination come as a by-product of our commitment to the promises we make. It is the same as saying “I need to have energy before I can exercise” when the fact is that energy comes as a by-product of exercise.
When Prabhupada was asked how we become determined to follow the regulative principles, he saw in that question a major defect. Asking how to keep a promise – which is what asking how to get the determination to follow our vows means – indicated to Prabhupada a lack of commitment because one who is committed wouldn’t ask this question.
The above situation is synonymous to the following scenario. I borrow money from you and pay you back monthly. But, then I stop paying you and call you and ask, “How can I become more determined to pay you back?” If someone said that to you, you would reply exactly as Prabhupada did by saying, “You promised. A gentleman keeps his promise. Why did you promise if you didn’t plan to pay me back?”
Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (18.35): “And that determination which cannot go beyond dreaming, fearfulness, lamentation, moroseness and illusion – such unintelligent determination, O son of Prtha, is in the mode of darkness.” One in the mode of ignorance has virtually no choice. Their will is totally asleep. Don’t allow your will to go to sleep. And if it’s gone to sleep, wake it up. Remember, if you make no choice, that’s also a choice.
“99% a Problem, 100% a Breeze”
99% a problem, 100% a Breeze” means that if you are not 100% committed, even 1% doubt about following your vow leaves you open to not committing and thus makes it that much more difficult to keep your promise. Prabhupada explains that when you make a commitment to fast, you can fast without much difficulty. That’s because you have not allowed yourself a way out. But if you leave yourself open to the slight possibility that you won’t fast, then you make it difficult on yourself to keep the fast.
Would you have open heart surgery if the surgeon said he or she is 99% committed? Would you marry if your spouse were less than 100% committed to the marriage?
There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient or easy. When you are committed, you accept no excuses, only results.
In life, it’s the people who are 100% committed to their outcomes who are really successful. It’s such a simple concept but so many people wake up every day and fight with themselves over whether or not to keep their commitments, stick to their disciplines, or carry out their plans.
The “No Exceptions” Rule
Successful people make a “No Exceptions” rule. Once you make a 100% commitment to something, there are no exceptions. Once you commit 100% to your spouse – that’s it. You don’t have to think about it again. You don’t have to wrestle with the decision every day. You burn the bridges, and this makes life simpler. For example, if you don’t feel like finishing your rounds, not finishing your rounds is no longer an alternative if you follow the “No Exceptions” rule. So that solves the problem. The bridges are burned. You are going to finish your rounds. You already decided long ago that there would be no excuses for not finishing your rounds.
The number one thing that is holding us down in anything we attempt is the lack of belief in ourselves. One of the reasons we find it difficult to commit is because we think we can’t do what we committed to do. If you don’t think you can do it, you are right – you can’t do it. The phrase “I can’t” is the most powerful force of negation in the human psyche. Tell a child they are not good at something long enough and even if they are good at it, they will never succeed because they have been convinced otherwise. That is because the image of ourselves is so powerful that we can’t do anything that goes against that image.
Prabhupada tells the story of the man who is walking down a road and his friends decide to bewilder him. “So there was a circle of friends. So all the friends conspired to make another friend bewildered. So they conspired that “As soon as you meet that gentleman you cry, ‘Oh, here is a ghost! Here is a ghost! Here is a ghost!’ So all the friends, they come, ‘Oh! You are dead, you are ghost, you are ghost!’ So after ten times like that, he thought, “Have I become a ghost?” Then he became bewildered, “Whether really I have become ghost, I am dead?”
What if we all picked a devotee and played this trick on them. Let’s say we made a plan that whenever we see her, we would say, “Mataji, are you feeling ok? You don’t look well. Are you sick? You look really tired. Are you sure you are ok? Maybe you should go to the doctor. I think something is wrong with you.” What if everywhere she goes she hears the same thing. How do you think she is going to feel? She’s probably going to feel sick, tired and weak. And she is going to be very worried that something is wrong with her.
How many times a week do you tell yourself, “I can’t follow that principle because I am too weak”? Or “it’s really difficult for me to follow this practice because I am not a disciplined person”? Or worse, “I don’t think it’s possible for me to be Krsna conscious in this life”? And then you blame your inability to not follow on being weak, undisciplined, or even on the process of Krsna consciousness itself (by telling yourself it is a difficult process).
We understand that Krsna can work through us to do the impossible. Do you think that if every person that you met told you that you are a spiritual person, that you are a person of integrity, that you have great potential to make spiritual advancement, it would influence the way you follow your devotional practices? You can also tell yourself those same things. Or you can tell yourself the opposite. But whatever you tell yourself, that is what is most likely to happen because your mind doesn’t distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. So you could be well equipped to be Krsna conscious, but if you constantly tell yourself you are not, you make it difficult for yourself to be Krsna conscious. If we view ourselves as a failure, we tend to fail.
Look at your excuses and you’ll find your beliefs. Also, look at how you behave and you’ll find your beliefs. Ask yourself, “what would someone who is doing what I do, thinking what I think, or saying what I say believe?” Any beliefs you discover that go against your ideals are obstacles to your success.
Most people think too small, aim too low and quit too soon. Why? They don’t believe in themselves. I am sure you know someone who is qualified to be successful but isn’t because they think they are not qualified. And those who think this way become so insecure that they will only do things that they are sure will succeed; otherwise they would be crushed by failure. So isn’t it true that we are made more by the choices that we make than by our personal qualifications?
Without belief in ourselves, we’ll always aim lower than what’s possible for us. We’ll be frightened to move out of our comfort zones. And unfortunately, for some of us, being very Krsna conscious is out of our comfort zone. It’s not that we can’t be Krsna conscious; it’s that we think we can’t be.
Rupa Goswami prays to the Lord: “I have no qualifications to be Krsna conscious but I have great hope that I will become Krsna conscious because you are the friend of the most fallen.” Rupa Goswami was looking at his hope, not his disqualification. You never see that disqualification holds the pure devotee down. That’s because Krsna is more interested in our hopes than our disqualifications. Krsna will empower us to achieve what we want, despite all our disqualification. In fact, the disqualifications actually bring more of His compassion upon us because the more disqualified we are, the more we need His mercy. Knowing this, we can set our aspirations high: “I am so fallen that Krsna will help me more.”
The key to following our vows is to set our aspirations much higher than the vows. For example, if a couple’s primary aspiration is to remain married, it may end up becoming difficult to stay together, what to speak of having a good marriage. Rather, if their goal is to have a wonderful Krsna conscious marriage and relationship, staying together is simply a natural by-product of this goal.
Prabhupada said that if you try for first class, you’ll get second class. And if you try for second class, you’ll get last class. In Krsna consciousness our goal is not to chant 16 rounds a day and follow our vows. Our goal is to become completely Krsna conscious. We want to enter into an eternal loving relationship with Krsna, to be reinstated in our eternal rasa. We all have a place waiting for us with Krsna. Our service, our name, what we look like, how we dress, our age, our family – that is already waiting for us. That is meant to be our highest aspiration. And simultaneously, we aspire to bring everyone else there with us. If that’s what we aspire for, then chanting 16 rounds and following the principles will not be very difficult.
Sooner or later, we will get what we expect. Usually, the people who keep failing are the ones who expect to. If you ask a devotee who is doing well in their spiritual lives what their aspirations are, you will generally find that their aspirations are much higher than just being a strict follower of principles.
Manage Your Decisions Daily
Many of us run into difficulty when we think, “I’ve made a commitment and that’s all there is to do about it.” But the choices we make don’t stay chosen by themselves. The key is to manage our decisions and choices daily. For example, since we are meant to follow Krsna conscious principles daily, every day we have to arrange our lives in such a way that we can do that. It’s not enough to have made the commitment a year ago; we have to make that commitment daily – and practically manage that decision.
Good decisions, good commitments, and good choices don’t automatically stay good. What if we are having a bad day? Do we write it off and say, “Well, I didn’t chant well today, or I didn’t chant all my rounds because I was having a really bad day?” No. We deal with the bad day so we can still follow our commitments and chant good rounds.
“A man is not defeated by his opponents but by himself.” (Jan Smuts)
What are the chances of making a commitment and at some point failing to keep it for some time? If you take a vow and follow it throughout your life without fail, in today’s world you will be quite special. I don’t want you to think that it’s ok to fail, that you should expect to fail, or that you should expect to break a promise. but my point is that if it does happen, the most important thing for you is to know is what to do after you fall so that you continue to make spiritual advancement without letting the fall deter your enthusiasm and determination.
There’s a big difference between failing and being a failure. We are conditioned. Prabhupda said it’s not unusual for one practicing spiritual life to fall victim to the allurements of wealth, women and money. And he said Krsna would forgive us for accidental fall-downs. So an accidental fall-down is sometimes unavoidable. But after a fall, staying down is not unavoidable. In fact, when you have the right attitude, you can actually use failure to your advantage.
When devotees fall, they often become discouraged and depressed. When someone in this condition comes to me, I ask the devotee, “What’s good about your fall?” Their normal response is nothing is good about this. But I keep asking and the devotee realizes all the mistakes he made that lead to that fall. Then I ask, “So what did you learn from this?” And we try to review the lessons in a way that ensures, as far as possible, that it won’t happen again. And usually the devotee realizes that he would never have learned the lessons he needed without the fall (part of the lesson they learn is that they are not as Krsna conscious as they thought they were.)
Then I ask, “If the result of this fall is that you have understood enough about yourself and falling down so that it’s less likely to happen again and so that you may be able to maintain your vows for life from this point on, then was falling a good thing? Was falling necessary for you?” And they see the sense in that and their entire attitude changes.
The truth is that sometimes the only way to learn something is to fail. Maybe we think we can play with Maya. If we do, we will have to get burnt a little to learn the lesson that we can’t mess around with her. Sometimes we learn much more from our failures than from our successes, hence the saying, “sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.” The reality is that we will make mistakes on our way to success. Once we accept this, we can remain positive despite our failures.
The alternative to this is to feel guilty and discouraged. And this leads to more guilt, which leads to more discouragement, which leads to more guilt, which leads to – you guessed it – more discouragement. It becomes a vicious cycle. The point is that if I fall, I can get up with even greater determination and enthusiasm. What holds us down is when we say, “if only I had not done this or that.” Then we just live in the past and lament, which are all signs of ignorance. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future by the way you act and react in the present.
What we should say is, “next time I will do this or that.” That is determination in goodness. And if you do better next time, then the past wasn’t a failure. It was just a learning experience, and this is how you should refer to it.
Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (18.33): “O son of Prtha, that determination which is unbreakable, which is sustained with steadfastness by yoga practice, and which thus controls the activities of the mind, life and senses is determination in the mode of goodness.”
This verse should be cited to describe a determined person after they fall, not only one who never falls. Maybe we can’t immediately climb back to the same heights we were at before, but we should at least be standing and moving upwards. And some will aspire for even greater heights after a fall. We are not finished when we are defeated. Failure doesn’t mean you’ll never succeed; it just means it will take a little longer.
It’s interesting to note how guilty we can make ourselves feel when we fail. But Prabhupada encouraged every devotee, no matter how fallen, to come back to devotional service. He never made them feel guilty. He always welcomed them with open arms. Devotional service is the solution to the problem. We can’t solve the problem by running away from service.
Laziness can hold us down after a fall. It is said that laziness is the secret ingredient of failure but it’s only kept a secret from the person who fails. To be Krsna conscious, we must refuse to quit. Whenever I’ve had difficulty, I always understood that this was the optimum time for Maya to discourage me. So I would usually react by becoming twice as enthusiastic. You may wonder how I could do so after failing. The truth is that you can become twice as enthusiastic any time you want. It doesn’t matter what happened a minute ago.
Thanks for reading these principles and I hope they will help you better follow your vows and resolutions.