After having spoken the message of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is now offering a choice to Arjuna; the choice of not following His teachings. Arjuna could either accept or reject the knowledge as he chooses to. It’s a ‘choice’, not a ‘command’; it’s about wanting to do and not should be doing!
Devotional service is sustainable only if ‘I want to do’ not if ‘I should do’
We heard the ‘should’ language the moment we came out of the womb; “you should not annoy your parents”; “you should excel in your studies”, “you should be a good boy or a girl”… Some pull through their entire life hearing this language and they also quickly learn to speak this language; when they are old enough to exercise authority over someone else, they successfully pass the legacy that they inherited from their seniors. Now their equals and dependents hear from them the same ‘should’… it’s not surprising that individuals living a life of ‘should’ are some of the most unhappy people in this world.
Many of them seek relief from their miseries, and some chance to come to ISKCON. Here the wonderful philosophy, prasad and kirtans give them joy. But soon we start to hear the ‘should’ language again. “You should chant 16 rounds daily”; “You should follow the four regulative principles”; “you should not to do this” or “you should do this”…the list is endless. Initially the other happy things in our Krishna consciousness help us tolerate the ‘should’ language that we hear from all other devotees.
As we grow older in the path of Bhakti, the ‘newness’ phase is over; we have gone to all the holy places of pilgrimage; we have heard all ‘exciting’ classes and danced in kirtans, and feasted on a rich cuisine of Prasad. When the honeymoon is over, the challenge begins; ‘why should I chant my rounds?” “Oh I have taken a vow” “I better do this and don’t do that or I’ll go to hell”
Then the drudgery sets in; the mind thinks, “I’d rather not do this, but I should do because I am a devotee, and what will others think of me” and “Oh, I can’t tell them I won’t chant because I have preached about this so much myself. How can I be a hypocrite; let me chant although I wish could do better things”
How long does this go on? Life after life, till we learn to offer our hearts to Krishna with love; till we learn to speak the language “I want to chant my rounds” “I love to render devotional service” “I am happy to be a servant of devotees”.
It’s only then that devotional service becomes my ‘choice’; otherwise it’s simply a ‘burden’. And if we don’t make the change now, it’s a matter of time before we either abandon our avowed spiritual practises or continue the sham of Bhakti, living in hypocrisy or guilt. Or terrible still make others’ life miserable by insisting that they ‘should’ do all the things we are doing. Our preaching is then aggressive, the driving force being to add more members to our misery camp.
How do we begin to learn the new language of ‘I want to’? Try two things: first take some time off every week and reflect on what you are doing in life and why are you doing them? Ask the painful question: “am I doing this because of some fear” or “what if I don’t do this what will happen” “What is the price I have to pay for doing this or not doing that and am I ready and willing to pay the price”….
As we seek answers to these questions we’d feel empowered and strong in our Krishna conscious convictions. The need for approval and acceptance from others will be gone. I’ll do things because I really want to do them, and will be confident to say ‘no’ to that I don’t’ want to do.
Secondly take responsibility for everything that you do and for all that happens in your life. This you do by stopping the blame game. A friend once said “I can’t come for your weekly programme because I have to attend the counselee meeting”. Remembering a similar situation I read about in Steven Covey’s seven habits, I decided to replay the ‘accepting responsibility’ game. I humbly said “I think the reality is you choose not to come for our programme because you want to attend the meeting”. “No, I want to come here, but I have to be there”, he insisted. Again I asserted, “My friend, you want to be there” He repeated his assertion. I then asked him what would happen if he didn’t go for the meeting there. “Well, I’d be ostracized by the group and would lose good friends” Then I completed the sentence for him, “I choose to attend the meeting because I want to keep old friends and need acceptance from my community”. He could now see the difference between the first sentence he spoke to me and now the one that truly reflected his mental state. He confessed this made him uncomfortable because suddenly he felt he was now responsible for his misery. It was easier earlier because he could easily blame others for his distress.
The more we learn the language of choice- “I am responsible for my life and I do things because I want to do them”-the more honest we’d become and we’d also be more naturally situated in Bhakti. And yes, of course, we’d also be happier.