Exploring Your Word of Honor Being Committed in a Non-Committal World
By Mahatma Das
Imagine this scene. After millions of lifetimes you finally make it back to the spiritual world. As you approach the gates of Goloka you are asked to wait because Krsna wants to come and personally greet you. You are getting more excited at every moment. You can hardly believe you have finally made it back to your eternal home.
In the distance you see a beautiful blue form coming towards you. Finally, after transmigrating through 8,400,000 species of life since time immemorial, you get a glimpse of your eternal Lover and Friend. His enchanting form captivates your eyes and mind. You drink in His beauty as if it were the sweetest nectar. Your heart begins to pound in anticipation of being able to talk to Krsna, to touch Him, to play and dance with Him.
You can’t stop crying as you reflect on the innumerable lifetimes you turned your back on Krsna and on the fact that you are now reuniting with Him. Finally, the supreme Lord, appearing as the most enchanting cowherd boy, approaches you. This is the greatest moment in your eternal existence. You stand anxiously waiting. You are speechless.
Krsna appears concerned about something. He is happy to see you, yet also has a serious look on His face. He remains looking at you for a few moments without speaking. As you wait you wonder what might be His first words to you. Each second feels like an eternity. You think, “Will He express His happiness in seeing that I returned to the spiritual world? Will He express His affection for me?” Yet He still looks concerned about something – and this puzzles you. Finally, looking compassionately into your eyes He tells you,
“I don’t know if I can trust you?”
You’re devastated. Your mind is reeling. You can’t stop crying. The fact that Krsna has doubts that He can trust you tears your heart apart. You want to disappear. The thought that you have let down the One who deserves all your trust is unbearable.
Krsna waits by your side as you gradually gain your composure. You want to say to Him, “No you can trust me.” Yet as you reflect on why He questions your trustworthiness, you think of promises you made to Him, your guru, your spouse, your friends – even to yourself – that you didn’t always keep. Of course, you had your reasons to not keep them. But whatever the reasons, you now know that you let Krsna down.
Can God Trust Me?
What if Krsna appeared before you today? Would He have reason to say the same thing to you? Thinking “Am I trustworthy to God and guru?” is a powerful meditation for bringing into focus our relationship with commitment. Do your activities demonstrate to Krsna that He can trust you, that you are true to the promises you have made and continue to make to Him, your guru and others? In other words, are you 100% committed to your vows? If not, you need to be or you’re asking for trouble.
Krsna tells us in the Gita to offer Him all we do, eat, offer and give away. Just as one can offer Krsna an existing thing or a present action, one can also offer Him a future action along with the perseverance to fulfill it. That offering of perseverance is characteristic of a vow. A subsequent change in one’s purpose is like taking away something that has been dedicated to Him. Think of it like taking food off Krsna’s plate as it is being carried to the altar.
Vows are Personal
When we make a vow to Krsna it helps to think of it in terms of our personal relationship with Him. For example, if you make a promise to a very dear friend and then find it difficult or inconvenient to fulfill, you’ll likely keep your promise if you know your friend will be upset if you don’t come through. We can think the same way about our promises to Krsna. When we are having trouble following our vows it’s helpful to think that we will be letting Krsna down if we break our promises. And if I let Krsna down, that damages my relationship with Him.
Steven Covey talks about the emotional bank account. Every time you do something positive in a relationship, you add deposits to your emotional bank account. And every time you do something negative, you make withdrawals. So if you find it difficult to maintain vows, it’s helpful to think in terms of your emotional bank account with Krsna. You can impersonalize your relationship with Krsna by thinking He really doesn’t feel bad when you don’t keep your spiritual vows and promises to Him. But since He wants you to love Him and come back to Him, don’t you think it hurts Him on some level every time you do something that moves you further away from Him?
How You Do Anything
Another thought to ponder is your relationship with commitment in general. Consider if not being able or willing to be trustworthy in your spiritual life also influences your trustworthiness in other relationships – and vice-versa. I think it does. As it is said, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
Vows Empower Us
Prabhupada didn’t teach that people primarily keep vows because they are sense controlled or spiritually strong. He taught that people keep vows because they value their word or honor. Because they value their word of honor they tolerate provocations that could cause them to break their vows. He knew it wasn’t easy and he knew that many of those who took initiation had a very degraded past. But he also knew we could remain steady in Krsna consciousness if we took our vows to heart. He taught that vows empower us to do what ordinarily would be difficult; they make us rise beyond our normal abilities.
We can easily get this formula backwards. If we think we need spiritual strength to follow our vows it’s natural to blame a fall on spiritual weakness. But it is being committed to the promises we make to guru and Krsna that give us the power to be self-controlled. It’s just like fasting. Once you make the determination to fast on a particular day you get the strength to do it. If you think, “maybe I will fast the whole day,” the chances are you won’t make it. Would you loan money to a friend who brings in a contract that says, “Maybe I will pay you back?”
Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t have the energy to exercise?” It seems logical to them that energy is needed to exercise. But we know that the reason they don’t have energy is that they don’t exercise. Saying, “I don’t have the spiritual strength to follow my vows,” is exactly like saying, “I don’t have the energy to exercise.
When Prabhupada was asked how we become determined, he said we become determined by following the regulative principles. The devotee asking the question was confused because he really meant, “How do we get the determination to follow the principles?” Prabhupada said that it is not your business how to get the determination; it is Krsna’s business to give you the determination. Again, what he meant was that if we just commit to our vows Krsna will give us the strength and determination to follow them. Why? Because it is Krsna’s business to give us the strength. Prabhupada was pointing out that we can’t fight with maya but we can stand behind Krsna who dispels maya’s darkness. When you keep your vows and you are standing in Krsna’s light.
Getting a Perspective on the Four Regulative Principles
It seems impossible for most people in Kali-yuga to follow the four regulative principles. Because of this it can be easy to think that I am only human and it is “normal” that I can’t follow. Yes, it’s true that it is normal not to follow; but as devotees we are not meant to be “normal.” Normal in Kali-yuga means sex, drugs, meat and gambling. “Normal” means living under the influence of Kali, or as Prabhupada said, being a victim of Kali-yuga. Although following the four rules seems to be an elevated thing to do, Prabhupada’s take on it was different – these are simply the activities of pious human beings
Thinking this way about the regulative principles brings them down to earth. They are not a set of rules that only special souls can follow. Prabhupada even felt that through the establishment of varnasrama dharma, everyone could follow these principles. So it’s important not to put the four rules on such a high pedestal that following them seems like some super human task reserved for special devotees.
How Does it Make You Feel
Right now, think of all the promises you haven’t kept – the little and the big ones. Maybe you haven’t returned something you borrowed. Maybe someone is expecting you to call them or answer an email and you’ve been putting it off. It could be that you promised a friend or your spouse that you’d do them a favor, but haven’t found the time to do it. What’s on your list? And, of course, there are the obvious bigger promises and vows you may not have kept: chanting a fixed number of rounds, chanting your gayatri, following the regulative principles, chastity to your spouse, etc.
Take a minute to do this before reading on. You can do it in your mind if you wish.
This exercise will really help you. Can I trust you to do it before you go on?
Now, write down or think of the reasons you haven’t followed through on these promises and vows. These are the reasons you tell yourself you haven’t yet done them. Here are some of the reasons people give in my workshop for not keeping the little promises they make:
“I forgot,” “I am too busy,” I am lazy,” “I’m overwhelmed,” “it’s not important,” “I can’t find the time,” “it’s okay if I don’t do it,” “I don’t feel like doing it,” “it doesn’t matter,” “I’ll do it someday,” “I have more important things to do,” “I don’t know why I forgot.”
For the more serious promises or vows, participants have given these reasons:
“I just can’t do it,” “I am not that tolerant,” “it’s too difficult, “I am too weak,” “Krsna understands,” “I was young when I promised,” “I didn’t know what I was doing when I promised,” “I didn’t really mean it when I promised,” “I have enough trouble just keeping my material life together,” “I didn’t learn responsibility when I was growing up,” “I don’t know why I made that promise,” “I shouldn’t have made that promise,” “The person is not worthy of my former commitment.”
So make your list before you read on.
Now imagine this scene. Your best friend, someone you have known your entire life, is starting a business. And this is not just any business; it is a business in an emerging industry that has huge potential for growth. If your friend can get in on it now, it is certain that he will make a huge amount of money. He needs $100,000 to invest in the business. It just so happens that you have managed to save $10 a day over the last 20 years, and with the compounded interest you now have amassed a savings of $100,000. You plan to retire in two years and move to Vrndavana. You will be able to do this by living off the interest of this $100,000.
Your best friend approaches you with the idea for his business and asks you for a loan of $100,000. He promises he will pay you back within two years. The prospects of the business are so good that he offers to pay you 18% interest on the loan. Since you don’t plan to move to Vrndavana for another two years and you want to help him, you are happy to loan him the money. Plus, with the 18% interest you’ll be getting, it’s a win-win situation.
The agreement is that he will begin paying you $8500 a month in six months. By the time you are ready to retire you will have been paid back your $100,000 plus interest.
It’s now a year later and his business is not going as planned. Your friend has only paid you $8,500. You are becoming concerned, but since he is such a close friend you trust that he will stick to his word, you are not overly concerned. It is now 18 months later and he hasn’t paid you any more money. You have a serious talk with him and find that he isn’t going to be paying you any more money. You’re shocked. You can’t believe a friend would do that to you.
Now go back to your list of reasons for not always keeping your promises. Imagine that this friend is giving you those very same reasons to explain (or justify) why he won’t be paying you back.
How does that make you feel?
Vows, commitments and promises are about relationships. If you really value a person and the relationship you have with them, wouldn’t that be shown in how you value the commitments you make to them? Isn’t it a contradiction to some degree to say, “I value our relationship and I really love you,” yet at the same time not keep your word of honor to that person?
Acknowledging the truth in those questions (i.e. answering yes to them) has done amazing things to strengthen my commitment to the vows I made to Srila Prabhupada, as well as strengthen the commitments I make to others, especially those dear to me. In my exploration of my word of honor I have discovered that the reason I may not follow my vows perfectly (this includes thinking about not following them while I externally follow them) is because I am not 100% committed to the vows I made. If you can imagine a situation that would make it virtually impossible for you to keep your vows, then you too can acknowledge you are not yet 100% committed (if you had a zillion dollars, all the fame in the world, easy opportunities to enjoy the opposite sex, lived in the heavenly planets, etc.).
But if we are not committed 100% to guru and Krsna, maya will find that one tiny space to enter, that 1% percent of non commitment, that weak link, and that’s where she’ll enter. You know where your weak link lies. It’s where maya continually works on you. It is said you are only as healthy as your weakest organ. Similarly, we are only as strong as our weakest commitment to guru and Krsna.
Meditating on these questions has been helping me close those spaces in powerful ways. It’s almost mystical. Contemplate those questions. Take them with you. Ask them a hundred times a day. If you get nothing else from this newsletter but this, you have really gotten everything.
So ask yourself, “How much do I value my relationship with Krsna, my guru, my spouse, my friends, my business partners?” Do I value those relationships enough to keep all the promises I make to them?
Festival of Inspiration
If you are coming to New Vrndavana for the Festival of Inspiration May 11-13, I want to invite you to a couple of workshops I am doing. On Friday, May 11 at 11:45 I am giving a workshop on vows. The workshop is designed to help you explore your personal relationship with vows and with your word of honor. The workshop will help you become a more committed person, both in your spiritual life and in your personal relationships.
I was motivated to develop this workshop because I saw that our society needed structured systems that offer support for those who have taken vows (which is all of us because we either take formal initiation vows, vow to voluntarily follow some principles and chant a fixed number of rounds, or we make commitments within an asrama). The more I thought about it the more it seemed a paradox to encourage devotees to take vows that are difficult to follow, yet at the same time offer no structured support system to maximize the potential for their success.
This workshop is my personal attempt to offer that kind of support.
This workshop will help you:
1) understand what is preventing you from being 100% committed to others – and to yourself.
2) effectively deal with the guilt and feelings of failure that result from not following your vows.
3) see why you may be reluctant to take vows or make commitments.
4) explore new vows you may wish to make and how to understand when you are ready to make them
5) strengthen you resolve to continue following the vows you have made
If you can’t make it to the Festival of Inspiration this year, we plan to offer this workshop as an online course. I will keep you posted on its development but if this sounds like something you will be interested in, please email me and I will send you more details.
Education, Guidance and Support
I will also be assisting a workshop on the topic of spiritual support and personal growth in Krsna consciousness. This will take place on Friday, May 11 at 4:45 pm. As you may know, I have been working with a group of devotees to develop online courses in conjunction with live presentations. In this seminar we explain the educational philosophy and how it is used to create a supportive network and community of practice. We will give a brief description of the kinds of courses we intend to offer. And you will have a chance to participate in discussions about your own educational needs and suggest courses you think are important for us to offer.
Seminar Package for Temples
I have developed a two day seminar package for temples. It consists of one introductory session online, a Friday evening workshop on self development, a Saturday seminar on forgiveness, a Sunday seminar on Prayer (approximately 9 to 5 each day) and then two online follow up courses over the next few weeks where we deal with the real life challenges of integrating the knowledge and techniques we gained in the seminar into our lives.
If you feel that your temple or community would benefit from this, please contact me and I will give you more information and details about this program. Note that openings for this seminar package this summer are limited, so if you are interested in doing something this summer, please contact me soon.