How Pain Can Motivate
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,
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 www.mahatmadas.com.