In the book My Glorious Master, Bhurijan Prabhu writes, “A devotee asked Prabhupada for help, saying that he was not able to follow the four rules. Prabhupada looked sternly at him, ‘If you do not follow the regulative principles, then no one can help you’.”
The platform from which help comes is following the principles and practices of Krsna consciousness, not that we attract mercy by virtue of the fact that we are so fallen we can’t follow. To think this way only perpetuates the problem of not following. When the devotee prays, “I am so fallen that I deserve Your mercy,” it doesn’t mean they are so fallen that they are not following Krsna consciousness strictly. They feel in great need of mercy, not because they are not following, but because they don’t feel they are spiritually advanced. That is much different than not following well and begging for mercy to get the strength to follow.
Of course, we should always beg for mercy, but we should acquire the right to beg for mercy. What right do we have to ask for mercy if deep in our heart we are not committed to follow the basic initiation vows we made to our spiritual master? When we do this, in effect we are saying, “I am not committed, so I am praying that you give me the commitment.” This is a mistake. Commitment comes from ourselves, not from outside of us.
Prabhupada was asked by a devotee how to get the determination to follow one’s vows. He didn’t like the question because he said you promised to follow, so where is the question of “how to?” Since you promised, you do it. When you borrow money you promise to pay it back. There is no question of calling the bank for advice on how to get the determination to pay off your loan. If you didn’t have the determination to pay it back in the first place, you shouldn’t have borrowed the money. Once a gentleman agrees to pay off the loan, he pays it off.
But perhaps we now realize that we really didn’t have the determination to pay off the loan. How did Prabhupada deal with this reality? He always answered with the idea that you promised. If you are a gentleman, you will keep your promise. Therefore, our duty is to somehow or other figure out how to keep our promise.
Prabhupada put great stock in the power of making a vow. He believed in the power that comes through commitment, and he believed that taking one’s initiation vows seriously was foundational to further progress. (“If you do not follow regulative principles, then no one can help you.”) Indeed, following one’s vows was how he defined love.
Prabhupada was asked, “What does it mean to love the guru? He replied, “To love the guru means to follow your initiation vows.”
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, beginning with following the four principles and chanting at least 16 rounds a day.