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A Question Of Empowerment

Monday, 24 June 2019 / Published in Articles, Kesava Krsna Dasa / 5,354 views

By Kesava Krsna Dasa

Are our abilities and expertise valuable assistance for our devotees? Are we confident that our positive-thinking techniques and service input is pleasing to all because devotees depend on us? Is satisfaction and contentment a common feeling earned through our ‘big’ endeavours and peer acceptance? Then beware, because we could be pleased for the wrong reasons – self-empowerment can be mistaken as genuine Krishna empowerment.

One can achieve all the above successes by NOT being very Krishna conscious, or hardly Krishna conscious at all. Certainly, Krishna fulfils all noble and spiritual desires. The service attitude may be genuine, but performed from a wrong base. Or they may be dependent on ‘big’ results for the sake of bigness – we are all different. To judge one devotee’s level of advancement based on ‘bigness’ or sheer ability is a mistake.

We all know that service in Bhakti is absolute. With the proliferation of expertise and ability, we can mislead ourselves into thinking that we can control and determine results in something that is unlimited – Bhakti. Iskcon has organisational requirements that need expertise and quality. If devotees fail to distinguish between self-ability and ability bestowed by the Lord, does it really matter?

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu engaged expert vaisnavas in the spreading of Krishna consciousness. Srila Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis were examples. If any of us have the same level of material competence as they – or more – and we perform devotional service as they did, literarily and strategically, then what will the gulf of differences be between theirs and our services rendered?

One obvious difference will be the live sphurtis revealed within their hearts of Vraja-lila, recorded in their writings. Another is their level of empowerment granted by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. How does this empowerment come about? What is that base?

We all have an equal opportunity to be empowered, if that is what we want: “The Supreme personality of Godhead is not partial to some and neutral to others. One can actually draw the attention of the Supreme Personality of Godhead by service. Then one is further empowered by the Lord to act in such a way that everyone can appreciate his service. (CC Antya 1.197 purport)

One of the symptoms of self-ability service is that we expect immediate results, and dramatic ones at that. If a group of devotees put on a Ratha-Yatra festival for instance and become despondent because of low public turnout, or that nobody committed to becoming devotees, then they are relying on their own abilities and expectations instead of the Lord’s abilities and expectations.

The devotees should be thinking in terms of “planting the seeds” for future possibilities which lie in the Lord’s hands. These long-term outcomes are usually full of surprises and outfit our three dimensional schemes. Yet, someone like Srila Prabhupada did produce instantaneous results. Where does the difference in empowerment lie?

Devotees generally try their best to please and will put in many hard, long hours of service. This can earn some empowerment: “If one tries to render his best service to the Lord, the Lord gives him the power to do so.” (CC Antya 1.197 purport)

This power may carry what we lack and preserve what we have, and achieve remarkable results. But what about real empowerment that can make a dumb man speak eloquently or a lame man cross over mountains? Here we are delving into realms of impossibility, in a normal sense.

Sometimes devotees can experience this. By preaching to a very stubborn individual, we may notice a sudden change of heart in him or her that we can only attribute to Krishna’s mercy and power. In between however, we might also silently give credit to ourselves and for our own ability to make this happen. This is still far from real empowerment. We are not our abilities, Krishna is.

This is partial or mixed empowerment and it does not count as pure devotional service. It would be useful to know this difference when embarking on self-empowerment or positive thinking schemes to help us improve our Krishna consciousness. These are useful for organisational and devotee relationship help and general anartha-nivritti cleansing, where material competence can improve.

The problem is that these techniques can make us think that we are the ability, which again is off base. We all need to plan and be goal orientated in Krishna consciousness, so while we can utilise what is helpful, it would be off base to take them as the means to an end, because after a certain stage of devotional attainment, these will fall away on the inner cultivation of Bhakti.

Self-empowerment can cause us to be contented when we should not be. If devotional service is unlimited then how can we truly achieve devotional goals with self-effort? How can we ever feel contented in our chanting of Hare Krishna if the names are unlimited? Self-effort promotes the idea of achieving limited goals within an unlimited realm, which is delusional.

But still, while the inner cultivation goes on, there is much to do for Iskcon in organisational purposes. The word ‘empowerment’ can be used loosely and cheaply or out of place. It can cause us to equate empowerment with empowerment of a genuinely different nature, which is why it does matter to distinguish pure from mixed empowerment. Otherwise, raja or passionate devotion predominates, or we can gradually get infected with an impersonalist mayavadi concept that anyone and everyone is empowered.

Srila Prabhupada says this of those great souls who actually cause genuine transformation of the heart: “The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is spreading to enlighten people about their real position, their original relationship with Kṛṣṇa. One requires Kṛṣṇa’s special power in order to be able to do this.” (CC Madhya 19.114 purport)

By analysing the difference between mixed or self-empowerment and genuine empowerment, we can understand that real empowerment is not so cheap. What is that base of empowerment? Here is a clue: “An empowered devotee sees and feels himself to be the lowest of men, for he knows that whatever he does is due to the inspiration given by the Lord in the heart.” (CC Madhya 19.135 purport)

The power to achieve comes from ‘down there,’ as it were. How far down? Yes, lower than even a straw on the street. Is this so obvious? No, not if we consider that way down there is where Krishna actually is. How so?

This is where the humility of helplessness, total dependence, servitude and surrender takes place. Under those circumstances a genuine devotional mood attracts the Lord who inspires from within and empowers a sincere devotee. Such helplessness, dependence and surrender are true acquisitions of wealth.

If Krishna Himself cannot fully understand the length and breadth of His own holy names, of His form, of devotion unto Himself, and of Srimati Radharani’s love for Him, then how can we? But with the wealth of zero base, we can somehow be a part of serving the Lord in devotion.

When Srila Krishna Dasa Kaviraja laments that he is lower than a worm in stool, he is speaking from an unlimitedly powerful and wealthy base. It is unlimited down there, which is actually being way up there among the rare greats of devotion. Srila Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis had straw between their teeth upon meeting Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, which earned them the ultimate in Bhakti and knowledge empowerment wealth.

If we read Srila Prabhupada’s poems that he composed before setting foot ashore America, the same utterly helpless mood prevailed in him, that he was invested with all wealth of empowerment. Incidentally, some say that Srila Prabhupada was empowered by Sri Nityananda at that time.

Being lower than the straw in the street, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and offering all respect to others enables empowerment to be able to chant Hare Krishna constantly, and this is from nishta onwards. Isn’t the chanting of Hare Krishna the basis of all of our services rendered? This zero base is the highest base from where to serve.

Self-empowerment does not fit in to this wealthy and powerful zero base because self effort cannot compete in strength and purity of purpose. Self-empowerment belongs more to the “unfortunate” feeling that Lord Chaitanya has about not having a taste for chanting Hare Krishna, in verse two of Sri Siksastakam, which represents anarthas-nivritti. This is where some self-empowerment and effort is useful.

Having understood the differences, we can better perform our services in a healthy mood of being perennial under-achievers in devotion. This is the mystery of having got it, yet not ever getting enough of it, and hence always feeling devoid of it. If we cannot grasp the unlimited then neither can we ever do enough in devotion to reach perfection, although perfection may already be attained. This induces our dependence and helplessness, which in turn makes us beg for spiritual strength to serve onwards. This is real goal setting and empowerment.

It is all due to Sri Guru, Srila Prabhupada and all previous acaryas that all their inspired realisations and revelations can be pieced together in an attempt to serve.

Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa – GRS

ISKCON In Macedonia (Album of photos)
Lost Soul and the GPBs, part two

7 Responses to “A Question Of Empowerment”

  1. Kesava Krsna prabhu wrote:

    “One of the symptoms of self-ability service is that we expect immediate results, and dramatic ones at that. If a group of devotees put on a Ratha-Yatra festival for instance and become despondent because of low public turnout, or that nobody committed to becoming devotees”

    I’ve often thought that the following reference while logical, understandable and an important yardstick, could lead to devotees feeling a certain pressure to produce the results you refer too:

    “Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura said that the position of a Vaisnava can be tested by seeing how good a touchstone he is—that is, by seeing how many Vaisnavas he has made during his life”

  2. Yes Praghosa Prabhu, call it pressure or raja-passionate expectations, there are idyllic beacons for the false ego, that is, if we enact devotion from a self-empowerment base. This is where we can get lost and have no real sense of direction, as Mahatma Prabhu described in another article.

    BG 18.58: If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act through false ego, not hearing Me, you will be lost.

    We’ll have the best aims to become pure devotees, or empowered pure devotees, with proven results to show for it. But those results do not always prove purity. Srila Gaura Kishora Das Babaji would not register the way we perceive results. Our standard of advancement according to measurable results would have him being considered not very advanced at all.

    Our organisational needs of expertise and quality, and having certain criterion based on ‘touchstone’ measures does not reflect the diversity of devotee empowerment, if it is leadership credentials we are seeking. Leadership comes in different forms. Again, wasn’t Srila Gaura Kishor Dasa Babaji a real leader?

    What are those beacons? Whether ‘we’ make many devotees or are expert in various fields, a sure sign we are tottering on the false ego level is that the ego may like to hear or read of certain buzz words pertaining to us, like empowered, advanced, pure and so on (We may not use the word ‘touchstone’ very much). These acknowledgements can lend comfort to us, even if externally we show indifference to such claims or glorification.

    Often, what is taken as advanced or empowered devotional service is far short of the real thing. For instance, devotees may refer to another as being an Avadhuta, not knowing the utter rarity and uniqueness of such a position.

    Still, devotees are kind-hearted and generous with their glorification. There were lots of jayas and glorification during Lord Chaitanya’s time and there is lots of it during our times. Then, practically everyone in Lord Chaitanya’s circle was eternally liberated, so should that effect the way we glorify other devotees?

    If Manadena means to give respect to all, including none-devotees, then it is natural to glorify all those uniquely engaged in Bhakti. Amanina is the opposite. But, over-glorification may occur as well as under-glorification. The correct education and training should help us distinguish.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  3. pustakrishna says :

    This is a very thought provoking article. On the one hand, the ideal of shuddha bhakti is most desirable, but on the other hand, we lack the quality and qualification to practice bhakti with such purity. What must we do, then? We might become so morose that we give up altogether. However, we are reminded of the expression…..to hope against hope. Despite the fact that it seems always just out of reach at best, we still must try our best to serve Sri Sri Guru Gauranga. Hope against hope…we cannot give up in despair. Hope against hope…even though impure, we can proceed knowing that Krishna is pavitram paramam bhavam…Krishna is the Supreme Pure. We cannot purify ourselves, but Krishna can purify us. Hope against hope….Krishna centricity will overcome ego centricity. Hope against hope…even though I cannot presently chant the Holy Name without offense, I must try to remember Him, in all circumstances, and at all times. He must be merciful to us, for without His mercy, we have no chance, no hope. So we hope against hope.

    We hear above of the extraordinary humility and feelings of lowliness of the great souls. We might consider an analogy. As a negative pole of a magnet can attract the positive side of another magnet, so too by diminishing ourselves for the sake of approaching Krishna, we might be able to attract Krishna. It is wishful thinking, no doubt. Krishna is fully independent and all-knowing. So, in the ultimate analysis, we cannot contrive any manner to attract Krishna. We can only hope for His mercy. He Krishna Karuna Sindhu…and that is our hope.

    I recall a number of times when I was working closely with Srila Prabhupad, after a lecture when we arrived back at the temple or residence where we were staying, Srila Prabhupad would ask me, genuinely, “was the lecture alright?” Naturally, being attentive and moved by his words, I would say “yes”. It was genuine humility on the part of His Divine Grace that he would ask like that. As a surrendered soul, Srila Prabhupad’s words were directly inspired by Krishna. Still, we hear him inquiring from us with humility. I place this out there as a recollection which came to me in the course of this brief writing for this line of thinking. Sincerely, Pusta Krishna das

  4. Srila Prabhupada encouraged not only to chant minimum 16 rounds but chant 64 rounds as well avoiding the 10 offences to the holy name this empower all devotees:

    Morning Walk, May 14, 1975, Perth:

    Devotee (1): Shrila Prabhupada, how can the position be reconciled if in Krishna consciousness one of the two, the husband or the wife, wants to enjoy sense gratification, but the other does not? Should there be separation then?

    Prabhupada: No… They should be trained up. Sense enjoyment means not advanced in Krishna consciousness. As soon as one is advancing in Krishna consciousness, his sense enjoyment spirit will be reduced. That is the test. Bhaktih pareshanubhavo viraktir anyatra ca [SB 11.2.42]. The test is, how you are advancing in Krishna consciousness is the proportionate diminishing of sense enjoyment. That is the test. Just like cure of the disease means diminishing the fever, temperature. This is the test.

    Devotee (1): What if that (material) fever is not being diminished?

    Prabhupada: Then he should try to chant Hare Krishna mantra, instead of sixteen rounds, sixty-four rounds. That is the way. Sixteen round is the minimum. Otherwise Haridasa Thakura was 300,000. So you have to increase. That is the only remedy. If one has got determination, he will make progress without any trouble. That determination is very difficult, that determination, “I must be Krishna conscious fully.” That determination. Dridha-vratah.

    Letter to: Indira (Iris Mendoza), Ekayani (Esther Mendoza), San Francisco, 17 December, 1967:
    “I am very glad to learn you are chanting 48 rounds. Actually it is all right that one should chant 64 rounds, even 16 rounds, so if one is able to chant more than 16 rounds up to 64, it is very good. You fix up your rounds. Try to increase it but never decrease it.”

    Letter to: Hamsaduta, Hawaii, 23 March, 1969

    “Yes, it is very good if you can chant 64 rounds; this is very nice if you can do it.”

    Letter to: Bhaktijana, Los Angeles, 12/2/1968:

    “I shall advise you again to chant always, increasing the counting, namely, 16 rounds is generally prescribed, but for the time being you can stop all other activities and increase the chanting to 64 rounds.”

    Srila Prabhupada has stated in order to be a real member of ISKCON one must strictly chant minimum 16 rounds and follow all 4 regulative principles

  5. I neglected to mention that, if while trying to achieve ‘touchstone’ results under pressure – which means passion – then these endeavours belong to sub-nistha activities.

    If these same endeavours are done with the aim of being selected as a guru or sannyasa, while still under sub-nistha conditions – anartha-nivritti – then it does not bode well for the candidate, or for possible future disciples of such a candidate.

    Though it may be difficult to determine for selectors, but the platform of nishta should be a minimum requirement before taking on responsible role model positions.

    I like Pusta Krishna Prabhu’s allusion to not being able to “contrive” with the Lord of the heart, that knows all of our innermost desires. This may depend upon our perception of humility.

    For instance, others might deem an outgoing, gregarious individual who appears always to be in the forefront of things, as a puffed up person. If that extroverted individual were told to be humble in the eyes of others, and he behaves in a low profile and feels miserable while doing so, then he could be acting against his true nature to be outgoing.

    In fact, that extroverted individual would be more true to himself – with honesty and humility – as an extrovert, rather than falsely being lower profile humble, against his nature. The point being that an honest humility is advantageous. But still, how can such behaviour compare in the realm of “causeless” Bhakti?

    Behaviour aside, we can reasonably try to please with our body, mind and words, and there is an allowance to expect the Lord’s protection, but as far as being filled with literal Divine Causeless Grace that ‘causes’ dramatic spiritual transformations, who can say?

    The most unlikely candidates in our estimation can receive causeless perfection. The process of devotion has been set out for us. We can follow and try to please, but that “hope against hope” is really something beyond us, being the Lord’s prerogative. Yet we have to do that, hoping that Causeless Grace can favour us.

    In other words, while we perform our devotional activities, there is much that we do not know, and that is how the Lord graces us with causeless grace.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  6. I have just read Payonidhi Prabhu’s comment. For quite some time he has advocated the 64 rounds mantra.

    One would be more able to chant 64 rounds a day if one has steadiness or nishta – kirtaniya sada hari. Plus, with the backing of Srila Prabhupada’s original desire to have us all chant 64 rounds a day, this should help in the ‘pleasing’ department.

    Many devotees reason with this necessity and say that the fact that Srila Prabhupada reduced the minimum number of rounds to 16, means that we are pleasing him by chanting 16 rounds a day. “My devotee never perishes…” is often the reasoning.

    This is where the conventional can differ from the inner cultivation of Bhakti. It is natural for devotees who are serious about reaching Krishna Prema and Vraja Bhakti, to chant more rounds.

    Without mentioning names, I have come across very senior devotees – including Prabhupada disciples – who have said that they performed much service for Iskcon and stayed focused, but neglected their inner cultivation.

    That inner cultivation is more in line with the essence of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s teachings. As mentioned in the main article, we may know that performing service for Iskcon is absolute. But is there also a danger of doing too much service at the cost of neglecting one’s sadhana or inner cultivation? And it happens…

    Another argument against the 64 rounds need is that our Iskcon service-loads and projections will not be met, and so on. The way we plan and expand does not fit a 64 rounds ethic. At the same time, doing lots of service can compensate for a lack of genuine nishta chanting. Yet some devotees do balance service needs with increased chanting.

    As I mentioned before while commenting on this topic on another’s article, I do think that a time will come in Iskcon where this 64 rounds standard will be standardised, but not for all, perhaps for sannyasis and gurus to begin with.

    As we are barely into this 10,000 year golden epoch, it is conceivable that future generations will more naturally take to a minimum of 64 rounds. By this time VAD might be in place. With a structured society functioning, no doubt there will be the ‘sadhu’ section where inclined devotees can focus on Hari-Nama chanting, just as renunciates were given facility to meditate in forests in former times.

    Ys Kesava Krsna Dasa.

  7. pustakrishna says :

    I am a little concerned personally about the direction that this discussion is taking. Lord Chaitanyadeva advised the goal is “kirtanayah sada hari”, remembrance of the Holy Names constantly. We are reminded of the gentle examples that Srila Prabhupad used for us: just as a woman might balance a basket or a water lota on her head, with child in hand as well, as she goes about her duties in the marketplace and the like…the balance of the weight upon the head while doing other activities externally reminds us that we try to balance out lives while internally remembering the Holy Names. The gopis are brought to mind. I cannot criticize, of course, anyone who wishes to chant 64 or more rounds of japa daily. But, I do recall that Srila Prabhupad warned one of his disciples from America not to go off into the field in Mayapur and build a lean to to live in, in sight of the Mayapur guesthouse, in order to chant like a babaji. The year was about 1974-5. The aspiring bhakta went out into the field and attempted to do this, nonetheless, and within 24 hours, he was gone, never to be seen again. I think that the lesson is that all sadhana is best, and perhaps only genuinely, performed…when done under the order of the spiritual master. We run the risk of pride and pratishtha seeking when we follow the orders of the mind.

    These are difficult issues to digest. We all want to hopefully increase our attachment and taste for Sri Krishna’s Holy Names. In a parallel way, we want to avoid the witches of pride (pratishtha), lust, anger, greed. We are cautioned, repeat, CAUTIONED, not to try to become our own spiritual master. And, so far as becoming a diksha guru, it should be undertaken under the order of Sri Sri Guru Gauranga, and not for accumulation of wealth, following, adoration, or intellectual recognition. If one is ever placed in the position of becoming engaged as a spiritual teacher with duties of accepting disciples, one must always try to be transparently a servant of one’s own vaishnava-acharya, avoiding a blockage to the mercy of Sri Krishna through the parampara. Encourage remembrance of Krishna, hopefully out of an evolving love for Krishna. Pusta Krishna das

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