When we are new in Krishna consciousness we are encouraged to somehow connect to Krishna. “You don’t have to give up anything, just add Krishna to your life” implore our seniors, and we do that. We don’t give up our late night jobs but now do it for Krishna. We eat at odd times, but offer it to Krishna. We sing and dance in kirtans; and also watch our favorite movies. We add the Krishna prasadam to our lives but may not give up our occasional drinks and Macdonalds. Our seniors hope that by allowing Krishna to enter our lives, we may get purified and then eventually give up things unfavorable for our spiritual life.
Why Bhakti Yoga isn’t easy?
But things aren’t so easy. Some do easily give up material life of sense gratification because the taste of Krishna conscious activities fills their hearts with a higher taste. Most others struggle to give up old habits, and find Krishna consciousness a challenge. They do light the fire of Bhakti by sincere spiritual practices but then douse it with sense gratification. And for those who easily give up material pleasures in favor of the spiritual taste of Krishna consciousness the struggle is not yet over. It’s only covered temporarily, and in time, the old habits strike back. What’s gone wrong?
The basic principle of any Yoga practice, including the Bhakti Yoga path is to restrain our senses from materialistic activities. Yoga means to connect to God and also to disconnect from matter. We presume that if we simply connect to God, Krishna, the disconnect would automatically happen. No! One has to choose to control his senses and mind by saying ‘no’ to the urges for sense gratification. Initially Krishna may give a free sample in terms of a higher taste but eventually we have to consciously choose Krishna in favor of illusion. To be certified by Krishna as a genuine Bhakti Yoga practitioner, we’d have to happily say ‘No’ to certain activities that are unfavorable for remembering Krishna. We do this by leading a regulated lifestyle.
Regulation- a life beyond ‘feeling’
Regulation means discipline. We need to determinedly follow a schedule of rising, chanting, hearing, attending spiritual classes, study, etc where whether we like it or not, we’d have to do things out of a sense of duty. One may protest that Bhakti means love for Krishna and strictures inhibit spontaneous love. True, but presently our love for Krishna is covered by our material mind and senses. Our love is filtered through our mind just as pure white light if filtered through a colored glass gives that color to the light. Therefore we first need to purify our mind and senses by regulated activities.
Practically speaking this means we don’t do things simply because we ‘feel’. Whether we like to get up in the morning or not, we do get up early. And this requires discipline because we are habituated to seek relief in sleeping and eating. Often we think how some chore would end so that I could soon eat or sleep. This means we are subconsciously seeking shelter of sense gratification. It’s not that we shouldn’t take rest or eat good food, but when that becomes more important than our spiritual purpose, we need to regulate our senses. Eventually we’d not be satisfied by simply eating and sleeping. We would want more; beautiful forms, melodious music, fragrant scents and succulent tastes would pull us further away from spiritual discipline, and our senses would keep demanding more and more. Then our lives would be no different from the animals, and just as a bull is pulled along by the rope bound to its nose, we would be helplessly dragged by our senses. But in a human body we have the rare opportunity to reconnect to Krishna through Bhakti Yoga and yoga begins with regulation of senses.
Making Bhakti Yoga practical
How do we practically follow regulation? Earlier we would eat when we are hungry and maybe even offer that food to Krishna first. But if we are not hungry we wouldn’t cook. But now a regulated life means we offer food to Krishna at a regulated time and honor the remnants as Prasad. Now the focus shifts from my likes and dislikes to Krishna’s service. This means I cook and eat not according to my whims but according to a predetermined schedule. Also we give up meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and gambling and add the positive chanting of Hare Krishna a fixed number of times daily.
Of course that’s only half the work. The other half is to be present and attentive to the positive activities in Krishna consciousness. And to the extent we are attentive and absorbed in hearing, chanting and in our various services to that extent we would be able to easily say ‘no’ to the pulling of senses towards sense gratification.
Therefore before we develop spontaneous attraction to Krishna we have to avoid unfavorable things and accept things favorable for devotional service. And while the principle of determination is crucial to avoid the unfavorable factors, the principle of attention is fundamental for the practice of positive things.
Then surely we can be happy in our spiritual lives, and also sustain our Krishna conscious practices for years.