The following is an excerpt from Purnacandra Goswami’s “Unspoken Obstacles on the Path to Bhakti”
Thrown from the Horse
Have you ever experienced an emotion rearing its head and throwing you? I was thrown off a horse at the age of twelve. I was winded and desperately gasped for air.
My riding teacher told me, “Get back on and try again.”
I could hardly breathe and thought, “No way!”
He continued with firm conviction, “If you don’t get back on now, you’ll never ride a horse again.”
Sensing the wisdom of his statement, I gathered courage, climbed back up and rode the horse without a problem. The same principle applies to dealing with emotions—guilt, anger, envy, lamentation, fear or depression. If we are thrown for a loop, we must get up and try again. It may be difficult at the time, but it gets easier as you do it—and almost impossible if you don’t.
Let’s consider what happens when devotees sometimes fall from grace and become guilt ridden. They may self-flagellate, thinking this a necessary ritual to get back in good graces with the Lord. They may wallow in lamentation, taking shelter of tamo-guna. Or they may become defensive and try to passionately bolster their self-worth with a brazen front, which leads to self-deception.
I have been with devotees in such states, and often their problem is insecurity. Strengthening a devotee’s feeling of self-worth is important in bringing him back to a position where he can try again. Acceptance plays a major role in this endeavor although it is the subtlest element involved. The devotee must feel accepted and not in a condescending way. Since the material energy is so strong, many sadhakas will slip on the path and need friendship, understanding and encouragement to continue.
There are additional points about falling from grace and a devotee’s response to it. yadi kuryat pramadena yogi karma vigarhitam yogenaiva dahed amho nanyat tatra kadacana
“If, because of momentary inattention, a yogi accidentally commits an abominable activity, then by the very practice of yoga he should burn to ashes the sinful reaction, without at any time employing any other procedure.” (Bhag. 11.20.25)
The word yogena here refers to jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga, since they both have the power to burn karma to ashes. The word amhas or “sin” refers to an accidental falldown against one’s desire. Premeditated misuse of the Lord’s mercy is much more serious. The Lord prohibits any extraneous purificatory rituals, since the yoga systems are themselves the most purifying processes, especially bhakti-yoga. If one gives up one’s regular devotional practices to perform a special ritual or penance, trying to purify a sinful reaction, one may become guilty of the additional fault of considering karma superior to bhakti. One should pick oneself up from an accidental falldown and go on enthusiastically with one’s devotional duties without being discouraged. Still, one should regret; otherwise, there will be no purification. If, however, one becomes overly depressed about an accidental falldown, one will not have the enthusiasm to continue on the devotional path.
We have explored some forms of misguided ethos or dysfunctional dynamics in our Society. Over many years, these dynamics have been ushered in by past leaders, although the leaders were well- intentioned and faithful to Srila Prabhupada. An ethos that hampers the free flow of devotion has crept in. We cannot blame one person nor can we consider such leaders condemned by the Lord since He accepts only a devotee’s sincerity and positive contributions. Still, the mistaken moods, ideas and dealings must be clearly understood and rooted out, at least within oneself. One could also avoid persons who espouse or exhibit such unhealthy, obstructive ideas. There is no need to go on a witch-hunt or become angry or bitter. Such strong negative emotions would needlessly damage one. What’s done is done. If we consider deeply, it is quite possible that you or I could have done the same or worse.
Here is an interesting statement by Srila Prabhupada’s Godbrother, Sripada B.R. Sridhara Maharaja on this theme; it is philosophically deep and also healing for those who have been jostled and bruised while trying to surrender to Mahaprabhu’s mission within any organization. “On the whole, we must think that no blame is to be put on others, and it is actually true. We are responsible for our disgrace, our fallen condition. And the path to self-improvement is also similar: we must learn to critique ourselves and appreciate the environment. Our appreciation should especially be for Krsna and His devotees, and then gradually everyone else. He has not given anyone the authority to harm us. If it appears that way, it is only superficial and misleading. That anyone can do harm to anyone else is misleading. It is only true on the superficial plane. Of course, this does not condone harming others or ignoring oppression, but from the absolute standpoint there is no harm. When we reach the highest stage of devotion, we shall see that everything is friendly and that our apprehension was wrong. It was a misconception.” (Loving Search for the Lost Servant pp. 21–22)
Srila Prabhupada had to face many problems in the beginning while establishing ISKCON. He began with nothing and had to deal with all the immaturity, madness and fighting of thousands of neophyte devotees. His tolerance was incredible. Here is an important explanation, taken from a letter he wrote to Atreya Rsi Dasa back in February 1972:
“It is not so much that because there may be some faults in our godbrothers and godsisters, or because there may be some mismanagement or lack of cooperation, that this is due to being impersonalists, no. It is the nature of the living condition to always have some fault. Even in the Spiritual World there is some fault and envy—sometimes the Gopis will quarrel over Krishna’s favor, and once Krishna was so much attracted to Radharani that by mistake he tried to milk the bull instead of the cow. And sometimes when the Gopis used to put on their dress and make-up for seeing Krishna, they would be too much hasty and smear kumkum and mascara in the wrong places and their ornaments and dresses would appear as if small children had been trying to dress themselves.
“There are so many examples. But it is not the same as material fault or material envy, it is transcendental because it is all based on Krishna. Sometimes when one Gopi would serve Krishna very nicely, the others would say, ‘Oh, she has done so nicely, now let me do better for pleasing Krishna.’ That is envy, but it is transcendental, without malice. So we shall not expect that anywhere there is any Utopia. Rather, that is impersonalism. People should not expect that even in the Krishna Consciousness Society there will be Utopia. Because devotees are persons, therefore there will always be some lacking. But the difference is that their lacking, because they have given up everything to serve Krishna—money, jobs, reputation, wealth, big educations, everything—their lackings have become transcendental because, despite everything they may do, their topmost intention is to serve Krishna. ‘One who is engaged in devotional service, despite the most abominable action, is to be considered saintly because he is rightly situated.’
“The devotees of Krishna are the most exalted persons on this planet, better than kings, all of them, so we should always remember that and, like the bumblebee, always look for the nectar or the best qualities of a person. Not like the utopians, who are like the flies who always go to the open sores or find the faults in a person, and because they cannot find any utopia, or because they cannot find anyone without faults, they want to become void, merge, nothing—they think that is utopia, to become void of personality. So if there is sometimes slight disagreements between devotees, it is not due to impersonalism, but it is because they are persons, and such disagreements should not be taken very seriously. The devotee is always pessimistic about the material world, but he is very optimistic about spiritual life; so in this way, you should consider that anyone engaged in Krishna’s service is always the best person.”
Srila Prabhupada once said that spiritual life is difficult, but material life is impossible. Therefore, a devotee must always be tolerant and look on the bright side. If one expects too much from any spiritual organization, seeking perfection in all dealings, one will be disappointed. If one then wants to become void, or lose oneself, that is impersonalism, the other side of what we discussed earlier in this chapter. In other words, impersonalism lurks in all corners—either blindly covering oneself over, avoiding the variety of personal dealings, including faults, or always seeing faults and focusing on them excessively—both indicate and spawn impersonalism. Healing comes, however, by practicing being personal, and that practice naturally brings one to the point of being personal. Thus, being personal is both the means and the end.