Dealing with unexpected reversals in life
Answers by HH Romapada Swami
Question: Prabhupada told us to “Chant Hare Krishna and Be Happy”. I have been chanting the maha mantra since two years and I am following the rules and regulations but I am still very unhappy. I guess that there is a problem somewhere with me. My life is a mess. Krishna gives me too many tests which I can’t handle. I have been struggling with my spiritual life and I am tired now. I am helpless.
I was engaged with a devotee for 1 year and we were planning to get married after our studies. Recently, his Guru Maharaj told him that, being so young (he is 21 and I am 18), he should remain brahmacari for the time being. So he has left me. I know that his Guru is pure and is directly guided by Krishna and his decision is most appropriate but being such a fallen human being, I am suffering a lot because being engaged for me was very important as it stabilized my mind. I am trying my best but I am unable to forget him and to get over it. Please tell me what I should do to become stronger and to stop suffering from it.
Answer: Part of your struggle is clearly connected to the situation re. your engagement. The feelings you have described are natural; although you have correctly accepted the course of events as being inspired by Krishna for some reason and are not begrudging or holding anyone at fault, it is nevertheless difficult for you to remain unaffected by the turn of events, and this is but natural.
When faced with such unexpected reversals in life, Krishna advises us to learn to tolerate. (See Bg 2.14) It is not easy, but this tolerance is a very important quality a devotee needs to cultivate in order to successfully chant the Holy names. (Siksastaka 3)
The ability to tolerate comes from the internal faith in Krishna’s shelter, even if we don’t yet have a strong realization of it. A devotee can always remain happy because of this shelter they feel. Knowing Krishna to be the Supreme Controller and my dearest well-wishing friend, the devotee is confident that Krishna will surely protect me and is orchestrating my life for the best. This trust that if I faithfully follow Krishna’s instructions, He will surely protect me (avashya rakibe Krishna) is an important limb of the process of surrender. In addition, a devotee always feels deeply grateful for the numerous blessings Krishna has already provided in their life and is thus not too disturbed by apparent reversals or by what is seemingly lacking.
There is a beautiful verse in the Bhagavatam, Prayers offered by Lord Brahma (SB 10.14.8) which states that when a devotee faces a condition of so-called distress or reversal, rather than seeing it as a stringent punishment or unsurpassable test, he considers it a gift or benediction from the Lord. A devotee thinks: “Thanks to my past misdeeds I should suffer far, far greater than I am suffering now. So it is by the mercy of the Supreme Lord that I am not getting all the punishment I am due. I am just getting a little token, which is also for my purification.” Therefore he is always calm, quiet and patient, despite many distressful conditions, and continues to serve the Lord with greater enthusiasm. Such a person is eligible to go back to godhead.
Krishna is not promising His devotee an idyllic life in the material world. Rather He warns us that this is a place of temporality and suffering, where there is danger at every step. And yet a devotee is always happy and satisfied because of the above-mentioned qualities viz, tolerance, gratefulness and faith in Krishna’s shelter. These are not artificial adjustments of the mind but factually feelings of a pure devotee and by progressively cultivating these qualities, we can also be happy even amidst struggles.
Of course it is easier said than done, especially when the mind is disturbed and agitated. But it is possible to turn this into a wonderful opportunity for you to take deeper shelter and become further attached to Krishna. It becomes especially easy if you can have the association of devotees who carry such deep faith. Try to seek such association and hear and chant in their company. You could also associate with Srila Prabhupada through reading his biography and derive great strength from seeing how he persevered through all kinds of trials and reversals. Another powerful process is to cultivate the habit of offering heartfelt prayers to the Lord for His mercy and help.
So have faith and persevere. Please do not feel defeated, helpless or frustrated. Krishna consciousness is full of hope. In the ultimate picture of our eternal relationship with Krishna, even the most trivial of our services and attempts to connect to Him will be remembered and rewarded by Him abundantly, so your efforts in Krishna consciousness are not in vain. The present circumstance itself may be such reciprocation from Krishna to facilitate your advancement, and by continuing patiently with your devotional service, one day you may look back and appreciate how it was so.
One concluding thought: Consider what your reaction would be if you were to receive notice that you would die in 7 days, as was the case with Pariksit Maharaja. How would you respond?
Here is what Srila Prabhupada writes in SB 1.18.3 on the topic of meeting drastic reversals in life:
“Knowing the transcendental position of the Lord and the transcendental method by which one can approach that transcendental dhama, the King was confident about his ultimate destination, and by knowing this he could leave aside everything material, even his own body, without any difficulty of attachment. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is stated, param drstva nivartate: [Bg. 2.59] one can give up all connection with material attachment when one is able to see the param, or the superior quality of things…. Unless one thoroughly understands this superior or eternal energy of the Lord, it is not possible to leave the material energy, however one may theoretically speculate on the true nature of the Absolute Truth.”
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