Illuminations Newsletter 44
The ramification of samskaras and the environment on our vows.
Analyze your daily activities in relation to vows you have taken by determining if the way you live supports or undermines your vow. For example, do you ever feel that the way you live, act or think makes it difficult to keep some of your vows? If so, these are red flags you need to heed.
Prabhupada describes a mahatma as one who will not allow himself to be in a situation that doesn’t support the realizations he needs to remain in Krsna consciousness.
Now, in the conditioned state, sometimes devotional service and the conditional service in relation to the body will parallel one another. But then again, sometimes these activities become opposed to one another. As far as possible, a devotee is very cautious so that he does not do anything that could disrupt his wholesome condition. He knows that perfection in his activities depends on his progressive realization of Krsna consciousness – Bhagavad Gita 9.30
Prabhupada tells us that to properly follow our vows we must live a lifestyle that gives us the realization and strength needed to continue following those vows. So to strengthen your ability to follow your vows, you must focus on all the activities you need to do (or avoid) and the environment you need to create that will support your vows. And if we are not doing this it likely indicates that we are not taking our vows seriously enough (or that we don’t realize how much our environment affects us).
All your actions create samskaras, mental impressions or mental dispositions. Thus whatever you do, say, see, eat, etc. affects your consciousness. As you ponder this, you become more aware of the correlation between what you are doing and how you are thinking and feeling. You may have sometimes experienced a lack of interest or taste for chanting or sadhana. If so, it’s likely related to what you have been recently doing (or not doing) saying, eating, hearing, eating, etc.
How can you alter behavior that is difficult to change, such as habitual behavior? Samskaras are powerfully created by what we see. So when you see someone with qualities you would like to possess, or when you see someone acting in a way you would like to act, it creates mental impressions on you, and you begin to desire to be or act like that person. Even hearing about being or acting in a particular way is also powerful.
When an impression is made in your consciousness, it tends to produce an inclination to think in a certain way and thus act in a certain way. As those thoughts and actions are repeated (we tend to have the same thoughts daily), it makes a deeper impression, thus causing further repetition of that action. Of course, if the action is desirable, that is good. If it’s not desirable, it forms an unwanted addiction.
Consider the vows you wish to better follow or wish to make and then determine how your life would need to change in order to support those vows. Can you make those changes? Can you maintain those changes? Answering these questions will better help you determine how ready you are to follow those vows.
So two questions bear considering – why make vows to begin with, and what about yourself prevents you from fully embracing the vows you have taken? In Buddhist philosophy for example, vows are taken to create merit that isn’t present without taking a vow to engage or refrain from a certain behavior. Not killing is the right thing to do, but taking a vow not to kill and enthusiastically holding that vow creates a karmic impetus that elevates the consciousness of the practitioner in a way that simply refraining from the behavior alone cannot accomplish. Similarly, in Twelve Step programs, the decision made in step three is to wholeheartedly engage in working steps four through twelve in order to have a spiritual awakening. As step twelve states, “Having had a spiritual awakening as THE RESULT of these steps, we tried to carry this message to (alcoholics) and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
So to create positive karmic results, there has to be a tangible form of commitment that goes beyond mere sentiment. Step Four in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step Five continues “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Finally Step Ten declares “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” So how does all of this apply to strengthening broken or degraded vows or taking new vows in Krsna Consciousness? By integrating the scriptural yet oftentimes ignored tradition of confession into our lives, we can become renewed and restored vow holders and vow keepers.
Let’s examine how this process can be put into practice for those of you who are having a tough time maintaining your vows. First, be honest with yourself about your condition. This is the hardest step for most people. The reason for this is usually guilt and shame. Guilt, if it takes on the quality of remorse, will be a motivating factor to be honest with your situation. However, taking on the quality of shame, guilt becomes both a hindrance and an excuse to continue in the mode of ignorance due to the pain of facing the reality of what you have let yourself become. Remember that everything that is done in the dark will eventually come to the light. Fear is another stumbling block for most people – fear of failing ourselves, failing our Guru, failing Krsna. The third and maybe most detrimental defect preventing honesty is false pride. Remember that pride comes before a fall and we must humble ourselves before Lord Krsna, who is the only true controller. Don’t allow ego to keep you from Krsna!
The next step is to seek out an experienced devotee to whom you can confess your shortcomings, one who can help you see the reality of your situation while at the same time offering compassion and assuring you of forgiveness and the chance for a return to the high road of keeping your vows and commitments. The things this devotee should be alert for is the presence of self-centered and self-seeking behavior on your part that you may not be clearly seeing, and should be firm and strict in their own commitments so that you may be helped rather than enabled. The important thing to remember is that when you fall down from a higher consciousness, it is the same pitfalls that have been experienced by others in your situation that are responsible, so by owning up to them and listening to the feedback of an experienced senior devotee, you are taking a major step toward being proactive in your own return to the value system you freely chose when you took your vows. Be humble, open, honest, and receptive, and allow Lord Krsna Caitanya’s infinite mercy to pour into your heart and elevate you back into a position of true bhakti. Recall that you took those vows so your inside values could match up with your external actions, and rejoice that there is a mercy from the Lord that is as vast as an ocean.
Srila Prabhupada said this about confession:
Because we have lived so many years without being Krsna conscious, we have lived only a sinful life, but Krsna assures us that as soon as one surrenders to Him He immediately squares all accounts and puts an end to all one’s sinful activities so that one may begin a new life. When we initiate disciples we therefore tell them, “Now the account is squared. Now don’t commit sinful activities any more.”
One should not think that because the holy name of Krsna can nullify sinful activities, one may commit a little sinful activity and chant Hare Krsna to nullify it. That is the greatest offense (nämno baläd yasya hi päpa-buddhiù). The members of some religious orders go to church and confess their sins, but then they again commit the same sinful activities. What then is the value of their confession? One may confess, “My Lord, out of my ignorance I committed this sin,” but one should not plan, “I shall commit sinful activities and then go to church and confess them, and then the sins will be nullified, and I can begin a new chapter of sinful life.” Similarly, one should not knowingly take advantage of the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra to nullify sinful activities so that one may then begin sinful acts again. We should be very careful. Before taking initiation, one promises to have no illicit sex, no intoxicants, no gambling, and no meat-eating, and this vow one should strictly follow. Then one will be clean. If one keeps oneself clean in this way and always engages in devotional service, his life will be a success, and there will be no scarcity of anything he wants.