Many people want things easy in life; “if I could get a jackpot lottery, I’d be a billionaire overnight” or “How I wish I had a beautiful wife and a luxurious house by the beach”. Wishful thinking does little to bring us happiness in life.
And ironically this world is designed in such a way that even if you get what you want, you can’t escape the pain associated with enjoyment. And for spiritual advancement, we have to voluntarily accept some inconveniences, ‘no pain no gain’.
For some this could come as a challenge to get up early in the morning, for others it’s to chant a fixed number of rounds, and for many it’s saying ‘no’ to illicit association or immoral sex. It seems painful to give up certain habits or conditionings that we have been used to for years before coming to the path of Krishna consciousness. But if we can somehow tolerate that pain, and gratefully remember Krishna during these tests, we’d blossom as beautiful devotees, dear to Krishna. Then the spiritual happiness of Krishna consciousness makes one feel it was worth the pain we went through to come this long on the path of Bhakti.
I remember when I joined the temple I struggled to get up early in the morning. At 4.15 am, devotees would switch on all the lights of our temple hall that served as a bedroom for the resident monks. The sharp chandelier lights would pierce the eyes and wrench my heart. I just wanted to sleep more but there was no place available in the temple to sleep at that time of the day. The shooting pain of the heart that hankered to sleep is difficult for me to describe. I’d literally cry, “Why do I have to go through this misery?” Later after bath as we participated in the morning prayers, I’d feel happy and forget the pain until the lights switched on again next morning. But today seventeen years later I am glad I went through that and now even if I sleep after midnight in my own cosy room, my eyes open at 4.15 am and even if I miss the morning prayers session, my heart hankers to rush to the temple hall. The pain then has now given me the gain of a desire to be with Krishna in the early hours.
A butterfly has to struggle to get out of the cocoon, and that adds juice to its wings and helps fly gracefully. If someone out of compassion removes the cocoon and helps the butterfly come out easily, it wouldn’t be able to fly, and quickly collapse. The struggle it endures helps it fly. Similarly our struggles help us grow in life. To build muscles one has to push himself against weights. Just as going against resistance helps us develop good physical health, even spiritually saying ‘no’ to factors unfavourable and saying ‘yes’ to things conducive to our spiritual life, although our minds may protest, helps us in the long run. Our spiritual muscles grow and we get taste in Bhakti. Only when gold goes through fire, does it illuminate and become pure. Only the fire of adversities helps us shine and grow to help others.
Instead of artificially avoiding struggles, let’s welcome challenges, for the tests offered by Maya, the power of illusion would not only be there always, but it would also be proportionate to our advancement. Srila Prabhupada writes this beautifully in Teachings of Queen Kunti,
“If one takes to Krishna consciousness, in the beginning there will be many disturbances caused by Maya, the material energy of illusion. Maya will test us to see how firmly we are fixed in Krishna consciousness. Because she is also an agent of Krishna, she does not allow anyone the freedom to disturb Krishna. Therefore she tests very rigidly to see whether we have taken to Krishna consciousness to disturb Krishna or are actually serious. That is Maya’s business. So in the beginning there will be tests by Maya, and we shall feel so many disturbances while making progress in Krishna consciousness. But if we follow the rules and regulations and chant regularly as prescribed, then we shall remain steady. If we neglect these principles, Maya will capture us immediately. Maya is always ready. We are in the ocean, and at any moment we may be disturbed.”
Therefore let’s choose to serve Krishna and that choice may appear a little painful in the immediate, but would surely reward us abundantly later. And even now, if we are attentive and alert in our spiritual practises, we’d be as joyful even in the present. Then it’s no longer pain, rather an invaluable gain all the way!