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How Pain Can Motivate

Wednesday, 21 November 2012 / Published in Articles / 2,427 views

Submitted by Mahatma Das

In this issue we discuss how associating pain to your obstacles to bhakti (anarthas) makes it easier and more natural to overcome them.

May you always think of Krsna,

Mahatma Das


Pain is a Stronger Motivator Than Pleasure

In the seminar I give on prayer, devotees look at their obstacles to bhakti and consider why it is important to overcome them. Then I ask devotees to focus on the pain they feel when they allow these obstacles to impede their spiritual progress. I ask this because if we do not associate significant pain to our anarthas, we may not be motivated to give them up. It is said that people don’t change when they see the light; they change when they feel the heat.

We have all heard a great class or read something that really motivated us to change. But why do we often fall back to our old ways within a few days or weeks? It can be because we have not associated significant amounts of pain to holding on to some anartha(s). Unless something disgusts you, unless you feel you can’t take it anymore, it’s unlikely you will change.

In the prayer seminar I ask devotees to consider what their spiritual life would look like if they overcame their obstacles. I ask this to help devotees see what these obstacles are costing them in their spiritual life. When you see what your anarthas are costing you – what your Krsna consciousness would look like if you overcame your biggest anarthas - it will likely give you an impetus to take control of them for you see more clearly how they take you away from Krsna.

The idea is to link enough pain to maintaining anarthas that you deeply feel that holding onto them is more painful than letting them go. If you are not making a strong effort to overcome your anarthas you probably attach more pain to letting them go than to holding onto them. And as Prahlada Maharaja said – matir na krsne parata svato – if you don’t want to be Krsna conscious, no one can help you.

Think about something you have put off for a long time – years perhaps – that you could have easily done by now. Why haven’t you done it? It is because you feel it will be more painful to do it than to not do it? Fear is defined as an anticipation of future suffering. We are afraid to give up our anarthas because we think we’ll suffer.

Srila Prabhupada often describes the foolish materialist saying he would die without meat eating, gambling, illicit sex and intoxication. Maybe you also think you cannot live without holding onto some of your anarthas. But our real life in bhakti begins when these anarthas are removed, anatha nivrtti syat. At this stage real taste and attraction for bhakti develop (ruci and asakti).

Anarthas prevent you from getting this taste. Are they worth it?


Write down two or three of your biggest anarthas, or obstacles to bhakti. Then write down why it is important for you to give them up. Include what it is costing you spiritually to maintain them (what your spiritual life would look like if you didn’t have these anarthas), and how carrying them in your heart makes you feel. Then write down how you will feel twenty years from now if you are still holding onto them.

If it helps you, use analogies. You can compare obstacles to painful diseases, vicious animals eating your bhakti creeper, poison destroying your heart, etc. You want to come to the point where these anarthas disgust you. Then when they surface you will have attached so much pain to them that you naturally turn away from them.

You can also do this with a partner, if talking about it is better for you. But after you do that, make sure to write it down so in the future you can refer to what you’ve written.

Once you have done this, compose prayers that will help you overcome these obstacles. *For example, in the Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada refers to a prayer in which the devotee reveals to Krsna how he has faithfully served his masters (lust, anger and greed) but they have not given him any rest or peace. So he is revealing his heart to Krsna – how he is suffering by his attachment to these anarthas - and praying so that he can overcome them.

In the same way, we may pray to Krsna that, “My dear Lord, for so many years I have been controlled by (put your anartha here) and it has only caused me pain. It makes me feel like……… It takes me away from You, causes me to forget You, and makes me suffer. I no longer want to serve this cruel master who is preventing me from coming closer to You. Please help me give this up. Please always reveal to me the price I am paying by my attachment to this obstacle.”

*This verse is from Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila 22.16.

This is a poetic translation by Dravida Das

In how many ways have I sought to obey

The seductive demands of my wicked desires?

They’ve shown me no mercy, yet on I’ve gone, shamelessly

Trying to quench lust’s unquenchable fires.

But now I’m rejecting those hellish desires, for my

Higher intelligence now has awoken;

O Krsna, O shelter of fearlessness, please let me

Serve You with faith that will never be broken.

This article is taken from a monthly newsletter by Mahatma Das called Illuminations. If you would like to read previous issues, or get on his mailing list, please visit

7 Responses to “How Pain Can Motivate”

  1. Puskaraksa das says :

    Here are some excerpts from a poetical book of wisdom called “The Prophet”, written by Khalil Gibran who was a Maronite Christian from Lebanon:

    And a woman spoke, saying, “Tell us of Pain.”

    And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief. Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity: For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen, And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

    Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”

    And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that hold this nectar, the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

    se-saba sańgīra sańge je koilo bilās
    se-sańga nā pāiyā kānde narottama dās

    … Narottama Dasa simply weeps.

  2. pustakrishna says :

    Knowledge without religion is dry, and religion without knowledge is sentimental. The seekers of Krishna feels that the material world is a desert, and that enjoyment here is like drinking hot sand. Sri Gurudeva, Srila Prabhupad, is given to us by Krishna so that we can be awakened to our true self-interest. His Divine Grace tried at every step to convince his early disciples of this. ISKCON has become, in many places, much more congregational. We need to assure that serious seekers have facility to enter into the heart of bhakti yoga.

    We cannot save ourselves by pravritti or nivritti, acceptance and rejectance. The path of devotional service is transcendental. Thus it has been recommended that whether one is sa kama, akama, or moksha kama (full of material desires, without desires, or desirous of liberation) on must approach Krishna. In western culture, we are confused and think that we can accomplish our goals independently. The vedic culture recognizes that there is higher control, and so they are taught to approach higher authorities for that which they want, such as wealth, a husband, or even protection from disease. This ideal characterizes the Indian/Vedic way. Ultimately, one realizes that Krishna is behind all the demigods, and that only less intelligent persons worship demigods.

    When I first met Srila Prabhupad in 1971, he advised me: Trust Krishna, He will never let you down. That is the advice we all need to follow. Even to become extricated from the entanglements we find ourselves in within our lives, we must depend upon Krishna, also known as Hari (Who takes away the obstacles to devotional service). Krishna is the the means and the goal, everything. Hare Krishna. Pusta Krishna das

  3. Thank you for your responses.

    “We don’t change when we see the light, but we change when we feel the heat.”

    Prabhupada endlessly tries to convince us of the futility of material existence and Krsna mercifully puts difficulties to allow us to experience what Prabhupada teaches us.

    Here is a nice quote I came across today – I believe by Emerson.

    “When the sky darkens the stars come out.”

    Often specific realizations can only be had through the trial of ordeal.

  4. dukhalaym asavatam

    Krsna made this world of pain so we would want to get out.

    Many cancer patients say it was the best thing that happened to them. They began to appreciate life.

    Thank you Mahatma Prabhu for this essay.

  5. It is also interesting how we sometimes think Krsna creates pain, when factually, we create pain for ourselves.

  6. Paramananda das says :

    Bhagavad Gita 13.8-12 comes to mind:

    Humility, pridelessness, nonviolence, tolerance, simplicity, approaching a bona fide spiritual master, cleanliness, steadiness and self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification, absence of false ego, the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; nonattachment to children, wife, home and the rest, and even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me, resorting to solitary places, detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization, and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth–all these I thus declare to be knowledge, and what is contrary to these is ignorance.

  7. pustakrishna says :

    Comment #5 by Mahatma Prabhu is spot on:

    Bhagavad GIta 13:21

    Nature is said to be the cause of all material causes and effects, whereas the living entity is the cause of the various sufferings and enjoyments in this world.

    Pusta Krishna das

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