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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

Service Life Balance

Saturday, 16 November 2019 / Published in Articles, Praghosa Dasa / 12,727 views

By Praghosa Dasa

There are few if any greater benedictions one can receive than devotional service, for devotees their service is their life and soul and they are eager to protect at all costs. Indeed the Bhagavad-gita essentially deals with no other subject, than the subject of bhakti-yoga;

“It is understood here that Bhagavad-gita is simply expounding the science of devotional service. Devotional service is the main and sole objective. Unintelligent commentators on the Bhagavad-gita try to divert the mind of the reader to other subjects, but there is no other subject in Bhagavad-gita than devotional service” Bg 13 8-12 purport

So the natural inclination for a devotee tends to be the more service that is available, the more service they can engage in, the better. It is hardly surprising that devotees are so eager to serve as they understand that one of Srila Prabhupada’s main purposes for establishing ISKCON was to give the opportunity for society at large to understand and hopefully engage in devotional service. So naturally they want to take full advantage of every service opportunity that Srila Prabhupada has created for them;

“To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world”

And those opportunities are unlimited because just as Krishna is unlimited so is the service we can render Him;

‘Serving Krishna is unlimited and he can accept our unlimited service’ SPL
20th February 1968

When you also add into the equation Srila Prabhupada’s eagerness and desire to push on the Hare Krishna movement, his devotees naturally feel a loving obligation to satisfy and fulfil his vision. This is of course a glorious character trait of Srila Prabhupada’s devotees but it is also an onerous one;

“And within this dangerous condition of the human society we have to push on Krsna consciousness. How difficult it is! Just imagine. But still, it is going on. But so many obstacles. So many obstacles. But we do not care for these obstacles. We must push on. This is our determination. Therefore it is called tivrena bhakti-yogena. Tivrena. There may be so many obstacles, but you must push on your movement. Tivrena bhakti-yogena. That is our duty” SBL 12th December 1974

Given all of the above is it any wonder that devotees sometimes push themselves more than they should? Of course the question can be raised, how can you do too much devotional service? Surely the more service you do the better it is for you? The answer to that question can be both yes and no.

I remember many years ago when devotees appeared on a popular TV chat show in front of a live audience, they started with some sweet bhajan and then 4 or 5 of them were interviewed. During the interview the TV host cottoned on that the devotees were seriously dedicated to their cause. As a result he asked one of the devotees the following; “What about holidays, do you take an annual vacation?” The devotee in question responded both with confidence and humour “When you are having so much fun doing what you are doing, where is the question of needing a holiday as everyday is the perfect holiday”

It was a good answer but it would have been an ever better answer if it were completely true. I say completely true because from many angles the answer he gave is true. However it is not quite as simple and straightforward as that. Incidentally, the devotee who gave that answer has long since gone on an extended holiday of maybe 20 years or more, we wish him well and look forward to welcoming him back to devotional service whenever he so desires. From another perspective though, his answer could be seen as overly idealistic as far as what we are able to manage vis a vis service load but this idealistic tendency is certainly not a rarity among devotees. And this mood has resulted in many devotees struggling with ill-health due to the stress and exhaustion that comes from pushing themselves too hard. The following words of Srila Prabhupada are interesting and surely help us to understand that we need to engage in devotional service in a measured, realistic and sustainable way;

“To surrender to Krishna all at once is not generally possible, but as we serve Krishna more and more, we gradually become more and more surrendered at His Lotus Feet” SPL 25th February 1968

The above words of Srila Prabhupada are reflected in the words of Lord Krishna Himself as He instructs us in His Bhagavad-gita;

“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough” Bg 6.16

Srila Prabhupada’s purport to this verse exclusively focuses on the problems associated with over eating and over sleeping. This is not surprising as generally when we discuss regulation we do so from the angle of eating too much or sleeping too much or spacing out and not doing enough service etc. I guess the main reason for this is because over eating and over sleeping are more common in the material world and certainly more detrimental to devotional service. Still it is also important, as far as the overall principle of regulation is concerned, to take into account the problems associated with sleeping too little, eating too little or pushing oneself too hard by taking on too much service.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that we have tended to neglect to properly consider the latter; therefore it is hardly surprising that some devotees get to a point where they either have to take an extended holiday from Krishna consciousness altogether, or they find themselves struggling on in poor health. Another aspect of pushing oneself too hard can be a breakdown of relationships, naturally for relationships to flourish they need to be given sufficient time and attention. If relationships are sidelined due to a lack of time, as a result of having too much to do, they are also going to suffer. This can be the case even if the service rendered is physically with the person we have the relationship with, it is even further exacerbated if the service we do is not performed in the association of the person we have the relationship with.

In short the service we perform should not be used as an excuse to neglect our relationships and our responsibility to those relationships. Historically one of the key relationships that has suffered in ISKCON is the relationship between husband and wife. While there have been many reasons for this, a key one is the time devoted to make sure that this relationship does not suffer;

“Just as one saves his money and places it under his own personal protection, one should similarly protect his wife by his own personal supervision. Just as intelligence is always within the heart, so a beloved chaste wife should always have her place on the chest of a good husband. This is the proper relationship between husband and wife. A wife is therefore called ardhangani, or half of the body. One cannot remain with only one leg, one hand or only one side of the body. He must have two sides. Similarly, according to nature’s way, husband and wife should live together. In the lower species of life, among birds and animals, it is seen that by nature’s arrangement the husband and wife live together. It is similarly ideal in human life for the husband and wife to live together” SB 4.26.17 purport

If either the husband or the wife find that the service they are doing compromises their ability to serve each other as indicated above, they should adjust things accordingly.

If a little bit of regulation in this area can protect devotees from leaving on extended vacations, or from having poor health, or from the pain and damage of broken relationships then surely we should enthusiastically adopt such regulation?

Controlling our urges
What if this is our last day on this planet?

38 Responses to “Service Life Balance”

  1. Akruranatha says :

    This is an important, practical subject and a great article.

    Personally I have been a kind of “bhakti yo-yo” and have never gotten the hang of steady, moderate, regulated devotional life. I still tend to think in the back of my mind that being a “real devotee” requires me to live as I did when I first joined the movement.

    [Even though I joined in 1976, it was still very much like Paratrikananda describes in his very engaging, beautiful and funny article “Srila Prabhupada is Coming”, describing ISKCON in the early ’70s: no one got enough sleep, and we all lived communally trying to practice a new, renounced lifestyle for which most of us were ill-prepared.]

    When I try to let “balance” into my life, I also end up letting in restaurants and movies and television. I just have not gotten the hang of moderation, I guess.

    The NOI lists enthusiasm, patience and determination among the six items favorable to bhakti. We used to hear that “Enthusiasm without patience is in the mode of passion, and patience without enthusiasm is in the mode of ignorance.”

    I have had my periods of passionate attempts at purity and renunciation, but mostly I have had long stretches of ignorant relaxation of spiritual life, where serious sadhana (strong morning program with good rounds) remained on the back burner, as something I will get to later, after I set other parts of my life in order. These are not exactly “extended vacations”, in the sense that I identify myself as a devotee, chant, do service, etc., but I cannot say that they are examples of regulated, “balanced” devotional life, either.

    Srila Prabhupada did say (I think) that sense gratification is like salt on your food: not enough is not nice, but too much is a disaster. I tend to go heavy on the “salt”. :-)

    Sometimes I dovetail my enjoying spirit into mundane pursuits which at least seem a little innocuous. For a long time I was addicted to chess, and then to give up chess I took up contract bridge for a short time. I still indulge from time to time in puzzles like crosswords, sudokus and word games. This is sense gratification, not devotional service, but at least it does not involve breaking regulative principles or dragging me into dangerous association.

    I think it makes sense to distinguish between

    (1) Moderation in the sense of not actually torturing the body through overwork, malnutrition, insufficient sleep (which some of our great devotees have unfortunately done), and

    (2) “Letting maya in” by neglecting japa, neglecting satsang (reading Prabhupada’s books with friendly devotees, as in Bhagavatam and Gita class), embracing asat-sanga (socializing with nondevotees, reading mundane literature, watching TV, etc.), eating unoffered food and food cooked by nondevotees, indulging in frivolous pastimes, drinking coffee, buying lottery tickets, and the whole range of forbidden, nondevotional activities.

    Moderation is something we really need to learn and embrace. “Letting maya in” is something we ought to avoid or at least minimize.

    When we talk about “balance” I think we are talking about moderation more than “letting maya in”. We should not let any maya in if we can avoid it. Getting sufficient sleep is not maya. Having a healthy diet and avoiding unhealthy levels of work and stress is not maya.

    For householders, making sure we perform our religious duties to care for our dependents and help them thrive is also part of “moderation”. It is prescribed devotional service for householders to organize their family life in such a way that the children are raised in a wholesome Krishna conscious environment. Real renunciation is doing everything nicely for Krishna, not externally giving up one’s duties in a premature stage and secretly hankering for sense gratification.

    Having strong friendships with devotees who like to hear and chant together is a most important devotional activity. We cannot go live in a cave and become Krishna conscious outside the society of devotees. Having good friendships with devotees will help us avoid “letting maya in”.

    Even “letting maya in” is something we often need to tolerate in other devotees. We do not want to chase them into “extended vacations” from devotional service by harshly judging them and driving them from the association of devotees, their true well-wishers.

    [Excessive faultfinding was another characteristic of ISKCON in the 70s and I believe it often arises when, being uncomfortably strict with ourselves, we envy the perceived “looseness” of others. As a result, devotees who couldn’t hack the austerity anymore became ashamed to be seen by the other devotees. The phenomenon is even worse for leaders who were in positions of great honor–they often are afraid to be seen in their “fallen” condition and keep themselves scarce. For one who has been honored dishonor is worse than death. Thus, devoid of devotee association, one needs to associate with nondevotees and “bloops”.]

    We need to be friendly with each other and help wean each other away from nondevotional pursuits. Quickly is best, but gradually is better than never. The important thing is devotee association.

    It is not easy to practice strict Krishna consciousness while living in the city, holding down a “karmi” job, raising a family. We should not expect everyone to come up to the very high standards immediately. We should encourage whatever Krishna consciousness they are able to accomplish.

    Who was it that said that the only misery was to remain outside the association of devotees? Whatever we do, we should be determined stay in that association and offer that association to others. Then we can work on replacing bad habits with good habits as quickly as possible.

    But even for those who are very pure and strict: please do not neglect your needs for sleep, relaxation, nutrition. Where will the rest of us be if you ruin your health or die prematurely?

  2. Suresh das says :

    Sometimes it might not be possible to not burn out from too much service. Just as one who is enlisted in the military has no ability to question orders, coming down from higher authorities, nor decide on one’s own which orders he will accept, and which he will reject, so too one who has accepted initiation can not decide on one’s own which instructions he will accept or reject from his guru, even if it means potentially detrimental consequences due to overwork or over endeavor. One can only trust that his guru is looking after his best interests, in spite of the actual outcome of events.

  3. Akruranatha says :

    Srila Prabhupada did inspire and encourage a great deal of renunciation and austerity in his disciples, which is all the more amazing when we consider that many of those disciples had a short time earlier been unregulated hippies, the antithesis of renunciation and austerity.

    Srila Prabhupada also often wrote that one can continue in his occupation and become perfect by always chanting Hare Krishna.

    Still, as H.H. Trivikrama Swami pointed out in another discussion here on Dandavats (nearly a year ago), Srila Prabhupada gave most of his personal care and attention to those disciples who were sacrificing everything and putting all their energy into pushing on the ISKCON mission as renunciates. He was encouraging us in that way.

    Sometimes he would say “no more young sannyasis” when someone who had prematurely taken up the renouced order fell down, but other times he would say “without sannyasis there is no life.” The life of devotional service is renunciation. Austerity is the wealth of brahmanas.

    We were proud that we were practicing an authentic and demanding discipline and were unlike the ordinary karmis who might do some meditation or yoga on the side but were not really transforming their whole life.

    (Please forgive my use of the past tense. I know that many, many ISKCON devotees are still very regulated, disciplined and austere. If you sense that my “nostalgic” tone reflects my own history of having become flabby and complacent, you are correct.)

    Being “proud” of our austerity could be a pitfall or weed, though. We can unconsciously start demanding similar austerity from others. That could make us mean, or affect our judgment and interaction with people in strange ways. (It has been known to happen.)

    Suresh points out that the expert spiritual master knows how to properly engage the disciple according to the disciple’s actual level of detachment, knowledge, ability and so on. If too much austerity is pushing a disciple away, the guru might be able to adjust it, like adjusting the dosage of a medicine. Disciples and their gurus should be tuned in to this to prevent “blooping”.

    (That ties into the “parallel lines of authority” discussion: ideally, the spiritual master will have enough personal knowledge of the disciple to give proper guidance. Sometimes, for example when a spiritual master has thousands of disciples in far flung places, the local authorities may be expected to know the disciple’s mentality better than the initiating guru. And there may be situations where the guru and local authorities have conflicting demands on the disciple because of their need for the disciple’s help with specific projects….but I am getting off subject)

    There was a morning walk in France when no householders had woken up early, and Srila Prabhupada said something like, “That is their position. They are in maya.”

    I was not there, and someone has suggested that Prabhupada was saying they should be excused because they are householders and it is okay for them. I thought he was saying something more along the lines of, we should not be surprised at their failure. Not that it was really okay for them to sleep in. Even as householders, we should all attend mangal arati and chant japa during brahma muhurta if at all possible. Right? If we are not doing that, isn’t it our failure? Shouldn’t we just figure out how to get to sleep earlier at night?

    It is often a challenge, though, to balance one’s occupation and household responsibilities with good sadhana.

    I hear a lot of advanced devotees talking about “balance”. I know they are right, that they are discussing something important, but I just cannot somehow get a proper and clear understanding of it. I keep feeling I cannot properly distinguish between “balance” and “maya,” between renouncing at a level I can be steady with, and engaging in conduct that will actually hinder my progress. At least, in practice, there are many “fine lines” and opportunities for rationalization.

    I want to hear the realizations of others on this important point.

    I asked Anuttama (the GBC) after a class he gave in Mayapur during the 2006 festival about what he meant by “balance”. He described that he has to read newspapers for his service, so that is not maya, but if he would start reading the funny pages that would be maya. That makes sense, I guess. I would never even have thought that reading newspapers was maya anyway. Srila Prabhupada used to look at news magazines like Time and Newsweek: a preacher has to have a sense of what is going on in the society.

    My problem is that I occasionally do read the funnies, and then do the sudoku, crossword, the “jumble”, go over the bridge column, check out the horoscope and the advice column. Can “balance” include doing some things just for fun?

    Or is the real purport that I need to cut that all that other stuff out? Am I just wasting my valuable human life in idle pursuits? Can we really have a zero tolerance policy on frivolous sports? [Srila Prabhupada did famously right that all initiated disciples must not engage in frivolous sports.]

    Still, it relaxes me sometimes, especially if I am stuck somewhere, waiting, or on a plane. It gratifies some need I have to engage my mind in a particular way. I like a good joke and sometimes the newspaper comics have good ones. I like to solve problems and test my knowledge of trivia. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

    I guess I need to find other occupations for my mind. I am not always fixed up enough to just chant japa everywhere. But will it change my personality and make me “fanatical” if I give up these minor indulgences in sense gratication? Will it make me hard-hearted and intolerant of the weaknesses of other devotees?

    One thing I have found to be helpful is practing getting whole chapters of Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam by heart. It is something useful I can do while I am alone in the car driving. It keeps me in touch with spiritual sound, increases my understanding of the philosphy (I even pick up a little Sanskrt), and it still satisfied that craving for mental exertion and accomplishment that drives me to do puzzles and games.

  4. Haribol Akruranatha prabhu,

    You ask for examples of balance. Firstly I should say that when I wrote the article I was not referring to balance regarding doing things that we shouldn’t really be doing. You have mentioned a few times that if you slacken your devotional service down a little, the danger is you might fill that time with ‘frivolous’ pursuits.

    I was more reflecting the reality in my own life where you simply take on too much service. I could be a real bore and list everything but I’ll spare the glorious dandavats readers that fate :-)

    Taking on too much has at least the following two repercussions for me;

    1) I tend to become a jack of all trades and a master of none, thus the quality of service (or at least the effect it has on the people and projects I try to serve, is compromised)

    2) Taking on too much and always having an in-tray that is bulging, and a to do list that is ever increasing, is, at least for me, agitating to the mind. This definitely has an impact on my sadhana. That impact can be twofold;

    1) While chanting japa (and even reading) it can be a constant struggle to get the mind focused on hearing the holy name or meditating on Srila Prabhupada’s words, as the mind is wanting to plan out my days service. – What is most pressing today, the college presentation at 10 is a must, then what times are all those devotees available to talk with that have requested a call, can I make the 1 o’clock Harinam?, will I catch up on those 50 or so e mails that need answering, Dandavats hasn’t been updated for a few days so that should be done today, I also need to meet with my preaching centre manager to get an update on when the renovations will be completed and I also need to meet with my restaurant managers to discuss the letter just in from the health and safety authority, my son has been waiting days for me to bring him out for a driving lesson, I really should do that today and of course I have a 7pm flight to the UK this evening in order to attend the scheduled management meeting and sankirtana festival in the UK over the next few days. (Oh dear I think I have given some of that list I promised I wouldn’t :-)

    2) This is probably obvious but number 2 is actually interrupting my morning program to start the phone calls, meetings or e mails etc….

    I am sure we are all different but if too much ‘active’ service is effecting our basic sadhana it would seem adjustments should be made, notwithstanding Srila Prabhupada’s famous quote ‘work now samadhi later’

    My apologies for being very personal with my comment but I thought that was the best way to answer your query.

    Your servant, Praghosa dasa.

  5. Akruranatha says :

    Praghosa Prabhuji:

    Thanks for your answer, and no I did not think it was too personal.

    Maybe my question was too personal. I hope I am not embarrassing anybody by discussing my own bad habits. I am probably crossing the line into “TMI.”

    Whenever we talk about “balance” though, I do have difficulty drawing the dividing line between “being moderate in recreation” and “indulging in bad habits”.

    I remember once, back in about 1979 — or maybe it was earlier because I seem to recall it being at the old Granville Street temple in Vancouver rather than the new property on Marine Drive in Burnaby — I saw one of our twice-initiated, well-respected members of our Yatra sitting in a car listening to “mundane” music on the radio. He saw me “catch” him and made a joke out of it, smiling and laughing at himself and wagging his head in time to the music.

    Nowadays, I would think nothing of it. How many times since then have I listened to mundane music, even gone to a concert, an opera or ballet? How many countless movies and TV shows have I watched? I went back to college, then law school, then worked in a big firm, attended many mundane plays, lectures and so on.

    I guess I was more or less on an “extended vacation” during some of that time, but I always tried to at least be friendly with the devotees, and (maybe because I had been a book distributor) always gave donations if I chanced upon devotees.

    But back when I was a newer devotee, the impression I had of watching a devotee happily listening to some hard rock on the radio was jarring, difficult to process. It was as if I was watching a friend smilingly drinking a glass of strychnine. It was just weird.

    Was I a “fanatic”? I guess I was. My standards today are probably way too low, though, too. At any rate, things have certainly changed, at least for me and many friends. Being a temple devotee as a teenager was a great, formative, important experience for me. I am pleased to look back on how dedicated and naive I was, and I look forward to becoming more strict and regulated now as I am getting older (nearing 50).

    It does seem to be a notable trend in ISKCON history that, as more devotees moved out of the temples and into regular jobs in the ’80s and ’90s, for many devotees our standards perceptibly decreased, at least in my own circles. Often we hear devotees talking about that as a positive thing, and probably there are some positive as well as negative aspects to it. I am interested in hearing what everyone thinks about all this.

    Frequently when devotees are defending the current state of affairs, they say that we are more “balanced,” more “mature” and so on. Maybe in some ways we are, and some of us certainly are (even those of us who maintain very strict sadhana), but I feel at least for myself that I can’t help blurring lines of distinction between “balance” and “maturity” on the one hand, and just rationalizing some of my bad habits and anarthas on the other.

    I am sorry if I hijacked your discussion because I realize you are talking about something else.

    I also have kind of bounced around and gone off onto various tangents, as is my usual, chatty habit. Maybe I am not being clear because I am a little confused about the subject. I would hope to see a big, wide-open discussion about it with lots of different perpectives and views being shared.

    I do think there is a worthwhile discussion to be had, distinguishing “balance” from “bad habits”, distinguishing “keeping body and soul together” (avoiding over-austerity) from losing the habit of austerity (how many of us still take cold showers every morning?)

    I do not want to embarrass anyone or encourage “confessions”, but part of any discussion of “balance” it seems to me should address the issue of those independent householders like myself who have allowed their former edge of regulation, austerity and sense-control lose some of its keenness over the years.

    And also can we discuss the implications of that, both negative and, possibly, positive?

    Can it be positive for devotees to be more “normal”? To go out to lunch with colleagues at work, coach a kid’s sports team at school, or even (as I saw some internet discussion about a while back), have regular golf games with groups of devotees?

    I imagine it could, but I am still unsure about the boundaries of where the positive ends and the negative begins. I think that might also be included under the general heading of “balance,” at least the way many devotees talk about it. I admit to some confusion in this area.

    I mean, let’s face it. ISKCON really was very different in the ’70s. I remember some devotees in L.A. had started a devotee bowling group (or so we heard in Vancouver) in order to try to foster friendly, personal relations amongst themselves. In Vancouver we were scandalized by the idea. Satsvarupa Maharaja criticized it in class (along with other bad L.A. habits like the regular drinking of 7-Up.)

    Nowadays, at least among my circle of householder friends, a friendly “bowling” session among devotees would hardly raise anyone’s eyebrow (except maybe some people would be grossed out at the thought of using rented bowling shoes).

    Drinking 7-Up or even (inamgine!) going to a Thai restaurant seem like pretty innocent activities (but watch out for the fish sauce and shrimp paste that the Thais seem to put in practically everything)

    I am not trying to get overly confessional here (I am really shameless, actually), but I do drink gallons of soda. I usually opt for the decaffeinated kind, but for the most part I drink the “diet” kind that has aspertame, and I must have consumed tons of that stuff in the past 25 years. I am sure it is not particularly healthy, and my life would be better if I could do without it (maybe I should give it up for Kartik), but it is not really high on my list of things I need to work on. Should it be?

    [TV really *is* high on that list and we really *are* going to give it up for Kartik, BTW]

    Could “balance” involve going easy on ourselves about having a diet soda every once in a while? Does part of “balance” also involve going easy on other devotees when they do things like that?

    I hope you do not mind my trying to smuggle these other sorts of questions into the discussion. It is a good topic that I hope generates a big, multifaceted response.

  6. Pandu das says :

    Dear Akruranatha Prabhu,

    Hare Krishna!
    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila prabhupada!

    Seeing your remark about drinking a lot of soda containing aspartame, I feel compelled to express my concern. First let me beg you forgiveness in advance for daring to advise someone so senior to me; I can only do it with faith that you will feel compassion upon seeing my materialistic conceptions and that perhaps I can get your merciful blessings to be relieved of my foolishness.

    When I was a teenager, about 20 years ago, I was addicted to aspartame. In my case it was Diet Pepsi, often caffeine-free. I used to drink about three liters a day. Eventually someone informed me that aspartame contains methanol and that research had suggested that long-term use of significant amounts such as I was consuming can cause chronic methanol intoxication. Consequently, I gave it up except for on very infrequent occasions, and I haven’t paid much attention to it since. However, your remark about it brought back that memory.

    I don’t know what’s been revealed by research since that time, but a Google search of the terms (aspartame methanol structure chemical) revealed some interesting pages. Perhaps you would want to take a look. Hare Krishna.

    sincerely, your servant,
    Pandu das

  7. Akruranatha prabhu continuosly comes up with all these ‘exposes’ – he could put any public confessor to shame. But then, good on you for being so open, even if jokingly. I am sure many would cringe to give even a hint of some hidden ‘balance’ routine. But being honest and down to earth is a freindly trait which makes other devotees less sispicious.

    Praghosa prabhu apologized for being personal. As a GBC member you gave the readers a glimpse into what appears to be a downright hectic lifestyle. The description of that ‘inbox’ always filling up summed it up. Furthermore, a little open-ness goes a long way in revealing the human touch, which may elude some in a similar position.

    As for myself and Radhastami devi dasi, my wife,, we run a catering business (prasadam distribution) It is a physically demanding occupation, especially for Radha who does the cooking. Six days a week the prasadam is displayed and sold from our premises at the SABC (South African broadcasting company) an equivalent of the BBC. Except for public holidays, Sundays are free days.

    Working together as husband and wife already lends some balance. With a son who is also about to take driving lessons, giving balance to a teenager is part of life’s education. Balancing his Krsna consciousness with forays into the workings of the world can be done in moderation. Although my wife calls me a fanatic sometimes, and I never eat out or anything like that, but as a duty to pacify my son’s curiosity to wonder what a certain movie may be like, I’ll take him along once in a while. I think the last movie I saw was Lord of the rings. But now these dvd’s mean more home entertainment.

    Then there is the sporty side, as my son plays school rugby. Yes, I’ll go and watch him play. I cannot get myself to go wild like the other parents do – how embarrasing. With the world cup rugby tournament on the go in France, I cannot but keep informed. Come on England! Who said I was a fanatic?

    As a fanatic I do tend to be extra scathing of things non Krsna conscious – within the family that is. But quality family time becomes successful if and when situations arise when sports, entertainment and other events are viewed from a Krsna conscious perspective, and our son passes comments like ‘that was maya,’ then we know some headway is being made.

    I can well imagine being a grhastha fully, if not, too fully engaged in Iskcon duties, sometimes at the expense of spending quality time with growing children, some toll will be exacted. Those promises made to them, but never fulfilled due to being busy are remembered by the kids. I sometimes wonder how the most powerful politician in the world – George Bush – would fare in similar circumstances. Yet his normal days work entails moreless a 9 to 5 routine at the oval office.

    To have such service time consraints like that in Iskcon may be an optimistic hope for a family man. But I do know from experience that giving quality time to one’s children with a moderate dose of balanced material exposure will endear them to the parents. Did not Srila Prabhupada so fondly remember his own father? What with the toy guns, getting fresh hot kacoris in the middle of the night and so on, the loving bond never faded.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  8. Akruranatha says :

    Dear Pandu Prabhu:

    Thank you for your advice and concern. I do not know much about the research, but I am sure that aspertame stuff must be terrible for me.

    I know I must sound like an idiot. I am saying that I am acting against the true priciples of bhakti yoga (devotees only eat prasadam), and even against ordinary common sense, by eating stuff (aspertame) that can cause brain lesions, chronic headaches, and God knows what else.

    I do not mean to sidetrack the conversation about “balance” into a discussion of me and my habits. Sorry if I have inartfully done that.

    I do think that a lot of devotees do act the same way. Narottama dasa, taking the position of a common person, sings “I have knowingly drunk poison” by not serving Radha-Krishna. With the aspertame example I am showing that this is not only metaphorically true but also literally true. Why do we knowingly do things that aren’t good for us?

    I may be peculiar in feeling compelled to discuss these things. Many older, independent householders have let their standards slacken as I have, but are reluctant talk about it. (Talk is cheap. What is the point of talking without action?) I respect that. I just have this curious, overly talkative nature.

    And the advanced, strict devotees — whether brahmacaris, householders or sannyasis — generally do not chastise us about it because they are too intelligent to waste their advice where it will not be effective or, worse, will only cause friction and discomfort. So there is a kind of “consipracy of silence” about the weakening of some of our standards of sense control over the past few decades.

    I cannot help thinking that somehow it could be a fruitful topic for discussion. I am embarrassed. You call me “senior”, but what kind of senior am I actually? I do not want to be like the crazy old uncle that embarrasses the rest of the family. I want to straighten up and be a well-behaved devotee that follows all the prescribed rules and regulations.

    In the “old days” of the ’70s, strict devotees would get mad at you if you had been loose. We were more “all in it together” then, and any weakness on the part of one was seen to be dragging down the whole temple.

    And there was truth to that. Initiated disciples take solemn vows and when they do not follow those vows very strictly and properly represent their gurus, then they are troubling their gurus. (They are like “black sheep” children who always get in trouble and the parents have to come bail them out of jail and ask, “Why can’t you be more like your brother the doctor?”)

    Maybe for some of us it is just a phase we are going through and we will snap out of it and become more renounced in old age. Householder life is a “license for sense gratification”, within certain regulated bounds.

    Or is that just a seductive excuse? Don’t I catch myself saying to myself: “Go ahead and drink the Diet Pepsi now to help you get through this day, this month, this year. Someday you will return to a more strict devotional lifestyle, before you die?”

    Ajamil did not go straight to Vaikuntha when he saw the Yamadutas. He went up to Haridvar and got “fixed up”, until he was ready for the Vishnudutas to come down in a spiritual vimana and take him to Vaikuntha.

    The last thing I want to do by raising these points is to defend being lax in sense control or the regulative principles. I certainly do not want to encourage laxity in others. Nor do I want to invite a lot of angy accusations and defensive counteraccusations.

    So what do I want? Maybe I am being irresponsible, but I just have this kind of compulsion to talk about our actual experiences in ISKCON and what it all means.

    I hear people talking about “balance” alot, and I know mostly they must mean something more along the lines of what Praghosa is saying about how serious devotees should not kill themselves with too much stress and work, that it is okay to turn down some service opportunities so as to properly manage one’s time.

    But sometimes I do hear it (maybe just my wishful thinking?) as meaning, “Don’t be a fanatic. It is not going to kill you to see a good movie or read some artistic ‘mundane’ literature now and then.” And if you can relate to other people who read Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky and relate your reading experience to Krishna consciousness, maybe it is just an instance of having more zeros after your “one”.

    Is that “balance” or is it just a rationalization? In the ’70s we were told not to go back to school (except maybe for some rare individuals). Whatever education we had before we joined ISKCON was supposed to be enough. Attitudes like that, which have (thankfully, I think) changed, are sometimes seen as examples of how we lacked “balance” or “maturity”.

    But sometimes when devotees talk about “balance” and “maturity” they are talking about how they are still chanting and serving in spite of sometimes going to restaurants, movies, living more normal, less monastic lives.

    I do think “balance” includes the idea of knowing how much austerity we can really take. We have to gradually make steady improvements and be in it for the long haul, instead of trying to imitate the Six Goswamis or Haridas Thakur for a short while and then just turning our backs on Krishna consciousness altogether as an unrealistic impossibility.

    My experience in the ’70s was I would sometimes leave the temple, all the while knowing that I should “surrender” (which used to mean living in the temple). If by chance I saw a devotee who told me, “Move back into the temple,” I could not argue with him and would move back. But in the mean time I could wander around like a homeless person for a few weeks, knowing that I belonged in the temple but living in a kind of limbo, during which I would often voraciously read famous classic mundane novels.

    I am fuzzy about where the borders are, and what “balance” really means. Honestly, it is not that I have a position to advocate on this. I am confused.

  9. Suresh das says :

    Back in the early 1970’s, when I was an active book distributor and Brahmacari, we worked really hard, all the time. We not only rose early, before 4:00am, and followed the Morning Program, chanted 16 rounds and more per day, but we also distributed books, running around parking lots 10-12 hours a day, into the night, and more. Then we would come back to the temple (chanting japa constantly from and to the distribution site), and wash pots, clean bathrooms, scrub floors, etc., then take some Prasad and go to bed, and rise again the next morning to start the process all over again. I remember following this routine 7 days a week, week-after-week, and month-after-month. There was never any leisure time allowed. In order to survive, if I needed a break, I would go a few blocks away from the temple, and read Prabhupada’s books or take a japa walk. Sometimes I would think of ways to escape, but not having anywhere to go, I would just stay, and keep going. There was never any fun allowed, or time off, what to speak of a vacation or any kind of break. I tolerated what was happening to me, but inside I was building deep resentment, although I was suppressing it at the time. I was economically disadvantaged at the time. I was turning in all the money I collected on sankirtan, although the amounts each day were rather small. I didn’t own anything, so escaping temple life was impossible for me. I wanted Krishna Consciousness to work, and I believed in it, but at the same time I was often taken advantage of and worked like a slave.

    I don’t have many good memories of my ISKCON experience. It should have been joyfull. That’s our philosophy after all. But the reality of the time was, the temples were understaffed. There was more work than there were devotees to do it, so those who were there were always overburdened.

    It is very difficult for me to go to the temple today as well. I haven’t been to a Sunday Feast now in several months. As each Sunday rolls around, I always ask myself if I want to go to the Temple, but my previous memories of Temple life is like a loveless penitentiary for me, so I can’t go. I aspire to go to the Sunday Feast, chant in the artik, play my kartals, give a small donation, take some prasadam and go home. The other guests at feast get to do this, so I figure I should be allowed to do it too. Unfortunately though, I took initiation, so more demands and expectations are put on me whenever I show my face, and I am not allowed to be just an ordinary guest, which is what I really need to be right now.

    I often feel like you are only as good as your last donation. Often when I give donations, before the ink is even dry on my check, I am immediately hit upon for more money. If I give a small amount, or a big amount, or no amount, I usually feel I am treated in the same way. So often when I have gone to the temple, I get pressured or leaned on to give money, lots of money, like I haven’t already given enough. They tell me stories like they can’t pay their bills and they need more money. I just want to be left alone at this time, so I don’t go.

  10. Prabhus, great discussion!

    Akruranatha prabhu: as Srila Prabhupada said, Krishna Consciousness is 90% common sense – I reckon you should go with kicking the sodas for Kartik (as well as the TV). It’s death in a can.

    Remember, our goal is to go live in farming communities as an example of simple living and high thinking, and how are we going to do that if we have to deal with a soda habit when we get there? Of course you or I may not go there personally or in this life, but others rely on our example and encouragement to work up to it, so do your part for the team from where you are at, and help us all make Srila Prabhupada’s vision and priorities a reality!

    You’ll do your health a huge favor at the same time and save a lot of money on medical bills that are otherwise coming your way. That’s the beauty of Krishna Consciousness – it’s 90% common sense.

    (btw: I got over my chocolate dependency through confessing on Dandavats)

  11. Dear Suresh prabhu,

    While temples and projects are always under pressure and naturally like and welcome donations, the way you describe your experiences is horrible. I don’t doubt that this mood has been prevalent in the past but it is not a mood that I have experienced in recent years, devotees have come to understand that they have to treat their congregation with respect and proper etiquette. As ISKCON is now 90% congregation based, those congregational members are naturally very influential. Please write to me and give me the details of your local temple and who is in charge there, I will contact them and encourage them to treat you as a regular guest and not put all this pressure on you.

    Your servant, Praghosa dasa.

  12. Akruranatha says :

    Why do we knowingly do things that aren’t good for us?

    I guess one very famous answer is, “It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.”

    “When love of God deteriorates into lust, it is very difficult to return to the normal condition. Nonetheless, Krishna consciousness is so powerful that even a late beginner can become a lover of God by following the regulative principles of devotional service. So, from any stage of life, or from the time of understanding its urgency, one can begin regulating the senses in Krishna consciosness, devotional service of the Lord, and turn the lust into love of Godhead — the highest perfectional stage of human life.” (B.G. 3.41 Purport)

    And if one cannot even practice the regulative principles?

    “One should be sympathetic to the propagation of Krishna consciousness. There are many devotees who are engaged in the propagation of Krishna consciousness, and they require help. So, even if one cannot directly practice the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga, he can try to help such work. . . . If one cannot sacrifice the results of his activities, the same person can still sacrifice some percentage to propagate Krishna consciousness. This voluntary service to the cause of Krishna consciousness will help one rise to a higher state of love for God, whereupon one becomes perfect.” (B.G. 12.10 Puport)

    There is one place in the Caitanya Caritamrta where Lord Caitanya points out that a certain devotee was actually senior in devotional service to his father, who was also a devotee.

    So, even if external etiquette demands we always respect the older devotees, we can really understand that those who are able to steadily practice all the regulative principles are in a sense “senior” to those who are still in a stage of contributing some percentage of the results of their activities.

    Purity is the force. We cannot afford to be a movement that winks at hypocrisy.

    On the other hand, love of Krishna is the goal, preaching is the essence and utility is the principle. We have to be genuine, kind, tolerant of the slower pace of some devotees (who may remain “beginners” for many years or lifetimes), and truly wise enough to be able to assess how advanced we really are.

    Srila Prabhupada sometimes writes that we can tell how we are advancing by seeing how free or detached we are becoming from material enjoyment. We have to be a little introspective to understand our own situation and also a little sensitive about the situation of other devotees in the society of devotees.

    Sensitive, not overly judgmental. Being “mean” to someone because he or she is having difficulty makes no sense. Being a true friend may sometimes require giving stern advice, but it won’t have any effect if there is not a basis of strong trust based upon real affection and mutual understanding.

    “Balance” and “maturity” involve being able to situate ourselves properly so we can be useful, steady members of the devotee society, and to be wise or sensitive enough to interact properly with the other devotees and not “burn them out.”

    Gurus and other authorities need the knack of inspiring sacrifice and fanning the enthusiasm of devotees, and for engaging them according to their proper level of advancement and their actual capacity for surrender, austerity and sense control.

    Krishna consciousness is amazingly powerful. It can turn hippies into happies and monkeys into pure devotees. “Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary” and “Can’t means won’t.” Still, even in the Krishna consciouness movement sometimes we need to gauge where our heart is really at, and get a sense of what we “can” (i.e., “will”) do.

  13. Akruranatha says :

    Suresh it sounds like living in the temple for you was difficult because you were not given enough time to study or rest, but living outside the temple was economically difficult, too.

    If we were “independently wealthy”, we could arrange living quarters near the temple and attend the programs as we wished and find a level of commitment that suited us. If the authorities asked us to make greater sacrifices, we could tell them “Sorry, but I have to determine for myself (with the help of my guru) how to properly ‘balance’ the demands of the temple with my other needs.”

    Living in the temple involves having some commitment to satisfying the temple authorities that we are contributing sufficiently according to our means to the activities of the temple.

    It also means, ideally, being engaged in service 24 hours a day (even during sleep!) However, getting sufficient regulated sleep, prasadam and peaceful time for study are also part of “service”.

    The economic relations of ashram life are such that we have to satisfy our “bosses” in the ashram with the quantity of service we are doing. Some temple “bosses” are going to be better than others. ISKCON has to always work on keeping a good standard of management as well as a high standards of menial service.

    Temple authorities should ideally arrange things so that the temple devotees have sufficient time for private study and a healthy if simple standard of living. It may become difficult if the temple takes on financial commitments or other commitments that are unrealistically ambitious.

    Somehow or another we should maintain faith that everything is being controlled directly and indirectly by Krishna and that our material circumstances are all part of the “test” of how we are going to be able to allign ourselves in Krishna’s service.

    Sometimes we may feel we have to move to another temple or move out of temple life altogether. Often we find, though, as the saying goes, that wherever we go, our forehead (i.e. or fate, which is supposed to be written in the lines on our forehead) goes with us.

    It does help to grow a thick skin and to learn how to politely say “no” when someone asks you to make sacrifices that may be too demanding. “Balance” involves knowing how to avoid getting in over your head.

  14. Suresh das says :

    Dear Praghosa Prabhu,

    Sorry to hear you are overburdened and perhaps overwhelmed by work at this time. It is sometimes difficult to decide which fire to put out first, especially when there are so many people depending on you and leaning on you as a leader for direction. I am sincerely grateful to you for the creation of Dandavats. I come to daily, sometimes many times a day, to associate with devotees, and try to understand what Krishna Consciousness is, and how to practically apply it to my life today. You deserve many thanks from all the devotees for your efforts.

    Have you ever tried Gingko Biloba? This herb, available at the health food store, has the uncanny ability to make you fall in love with paperwork. Take one, and see how you almost instantly clear your desk off of projects, and beg for more. Hope this helps.

  15. Akruranatha says :

    For a brahmacari living in a temple, the “service-life balance” question is really only a matter of making sure we can get enough prasadam and sleep (but not too much), and insisting on enough time for study and some uninterrupted time in the early morning for good japa.

    In an understaffed, overburdened temple this may sometimes involve taking a firm stand against temple authorities who want to extract as much work as they can from each man they have, but we should remember that good japa and good study is also service (most important service), and the fact is that if a brahmacari is participating in morning and evening program and also doing a solid, steady 8 to 10 hours of valuable work 6 days a week, he has a strong negotiating position. Say what they might, the temple authorities cannot afford to lose such a man.

    For most brahmacari book distributors, the service-life balance question hardly arises. Keeping body and soul together does not require much. Few devotees are inspired to push themselves so hard that they actually injure themselves.

    Devotee managers can have a harder time. They are “on call” 24 hours to handle problems, and it may be difficult to get uninterrupted time for japa and study. Management reposibilities can take on a life of their own and start demanding more and more time. There is not always a qualified, trustworthy person available to delegate to. Care must be taken to avoid getting in over one’s head, and we have lost many managers in the past to the same syndrome: more and more management being done during japa period until rounds start going unchanted.

    For the householders living outside the temple, “maintaining the body” often becomes an elaborate affair. One has to earn sufficient money to pay for rent (or a mortgage), home maintenance, taxes, medical and dental bills, car payments, car maintenance, gas, insurance (car, homeowners, health, life insurance to protect dependents), children’s education, phone bills, cell phone bills, DSL bills, bhoga, utilities, home furnishings, “karmi clothes”, jewelry and fashionable clothing for the better half, “beauty parlor” (hair dye and cut, facials, spa treatments), travel, sports, entertainment (cable or satellite TV, movies, restaurants, plays and concerts, sporting events, trips to museums, zoos, planetariums), and the list goes on and on. Advertisers are constantly convincing us of more and more things we have to buy.

    Vamana Deva told Bali Maharaja that if one was not satisfied with three steps of land he would not be satisfied with the whole universe. We can see practically how this is true.

    As preachers we encourage people to leave behind the “rat race” of struggling for so many so-called “necessities” and adopt a simple lifestyle in which we can spend more energy on self-realization. “Plain living and high thinking.”

    In the 1970s, the simple formula was to encourage people to quit their karmi jobs (if they even had jobs), move into the ashram, donate most if not all of their property, and become full-time devotees.

    Today ISKCON may be “90% congregation based.” That has its upsides and its downsides.

    When you are demanding that people quit their jobs and become full-time monks and nuns, you are always going to be a marginal, fringe group in society. Most people are not going to show that kind of dedication. If we tell them, explicitly or implicitly, that we disapprove of their choice not to live in the ashram, we will make them uncomfortable and chase them away.

    [We should “encourage” renunciation and glorify the renounced lifestyle and those who accept it, but in the past we used to put pressure on people to renounce and sometimes were intolerant of those who didn’t and made them uncomfortable. Maybe creating that larger boundary between “them” and “us”, the “temple devotees” and the “karmis” (or even the “fringies”) was something we needed to do to fortify our own renunciation.]

    Another problem is, to a large extent, the people who will be most receptive to the message of “give up everything and move into the ashram” will be people who already do not have much to give up.

    (Remember the “rich man” in the New Testament? Even though he was a pious Jew, following all the rules, he could not follow Jesus, who instructed him to give up his property. Jesus said something like, a camel can go through the eye of a needle easier than a rich man can enter the kingdom of God.)

    So, aside from a few exceptional souls, we can catch people when they are bright and young and have not acquired many material qualifications and attachments yet, or we catch society’s failures, rejects, 3-time losers, the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, the emotionally and mentally troubled.

    (Well, Krishna is “akincana gocara” and “patita pavana”. Among the pious who surrender to Krishna are the distressed and those seeking wealth. Those who have nothing can feelingly pray to the Lord. But if we are going to ask people to live in ashrams we should keep the ashrams relatively free of dangerous or troubled types. An ashram should be full of wise, saintly, truthful and nonenvious devotees. Too many crazy folk in a commune makes life intolerable. Maybe you “can’t blame a dirty man if he’s in the shower”, but I still do not want to hop into a bathtub with him.)

    One upside of being congregationally based is that we can reach more mainstream people and ISKCON itself can be more influential and have a broader impact in society than if we demanded that being a “real devotee” requires total committment.

    Besides, it really is part of our philosophy, that by worshipping the Lord with the fruits of our occupational duties, everyone can become perfect. Not everyone has to be a brahmacari or sannyasi or vaishnava-brahmana. People can run grocery stores and drive buses and be firemen and policemen and builders and veterinarians and computer programmers, and still be devotees.

    A downside may be that, as members of the congregation living independently with our own jobs, households and bank accounts, it is easier to become seduced by the opulent, modern consumer lifestyle.

    It used to be a mainstay of our preaching to criticize this lifestyle, and it still is an important part of our message. However, when it is up to us to draw the line of “balance” between “bodily maintenance” (i.e., sense gratification) and devotional service, it is easy for many of us to accept way more sense gratification than we really need. This will not be good for us.

    Speaking for myself, I have become what we used to call a “fringie,” at least in terms of the standards of renunciation we expect of initiated devotees. I think the confusion I have when we talk about “balance” is that I have tipped my see-saw way over into the side of sense gratification and I am unwilling to face that fact. I want to rationalize as “balance” lots of stuff that really is not healthy for me or in my ultimate best interest.

    We all have to “fly our own airplane”. Mine is spiraling down into way too much energy spent on mundane pursuits. I have to somehow pull back on the controls and get it to level off or there will be a crash in my future.

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  17. Akruranatha says :

    I suppose part of “balance” is coming to understand ourselves enough to know what level we are on and how we can remain steady and gradually improve.

    On the other hand, at least for me, if I took such things into consideration I might never have had the opportunity to be a “full-time” devotee (at least for some rocky, unsteady years) and I might never have gotten initiated.

    It is Srila Prabhupada’s mercy that he is giving us orders that are probably beyond our level of advancement. If he gives us the order, he also empowers us to carry it out. Even if we try and fail and have to keep picking ourselves up over and over, aren’t we more fortunate than those who just reasoned, “I cannot do that” and never tried to fully immerse themselves in 24-hour bhakti yoga?

    I still remain confused on this point. Isn’t it better to have loved and lost? Shouldn’t we “go for the gusto” even if we later makes fools of ourselves? Wasn’t it worth it to achieve some level, some taste, that will never be lost to us, even at the risk of being a disturbance to society due to our unsteadiness?

    Or is it that finding some steady level at which we can responsibly contribute to the society on a lifelong basis is actually a sign of even more “love”, more “gusto”, nore worth the risk?

  18. Akruranatha says :

    Something about the phrase “balance” really triggers for me the intersection of all kinds of ideas and topical controversies. Some of these are ideas about:

    * external renunciation versus responsible householder life;
    * congregational versus ashram-centered development (not that they are mutually exclusive);
    * when (if ever) it is okay to acknowledge inability to follow all the rules and regulations of bhakti yoga (abhyase ‘pyasamartho ‘si mat-karma-paramo bhava. . . B.G. 12.10);
    * fanaticism and deformation of personality caused by premature renunciation disproportionate to actual advancement in detachment and spiritual knowledge;
    * preaching strategies — maintaining purity “selling diamonds” versus accommodating a broader audience with potentially more “zeros” to put the one of Krishna in front of.

    Many of these “balance” questions seem to hit at the heart of some of the “conservative” versus “liberal” divides among ISKCON’s ideological leadership.

    I do not know if I am making myself clear. Maybing I am taking certain assumptions for granted and I should try to make my assumptions more explicit.

    The thing is, I was expecting (hoping) to see a bigger, broader response to the topic of “service life balance”. We should have 100 comments by now (less than 50 of which are from me). :-)

    When Krishna talks of regulated eating, sleeping, work and recreation (B.G. 6.17), He seems to be discussing yogis who are already advanced transcendentalists in the renounced order. Srila Prabhupada’s Purport talks about Krishna conscious persons not being able to pass a minute of their lives without being engaged in devotional service. Thus the advanced bhakti yogis compare favorably to (surpass) the serious practitioner of asthanga yoga who goes to a secluded place and meditates.

    Is there (isn’t there?) another kind of “balance” worth discussing relevant to the neophyte bhaktas who may just be on (or not quite on) the threshhold of being able to take up the practice of vaidhi bhakti? Isn’t that discussion very relevant to ISKCON?

  19. Akruranatha says :

    “You can’t sit on the fence.” That was an expression I used to hear in the late seventies, which was part of our preaching and was the way some senior devotees preached to me when I was having trouble staying in the temple.

    The idea was that to be a “real devotee” required a total commitment, and it really meant being a full-time “temple devotee”. There was no question of “balance” between maintaining our bodies and performing our service.

    I mean, of course we were always doing a balancing act (how could we not be?), but we were not talking about “balance”. It was not in our vocabulary. We would read about how Lord Caitanya in ecstasy compared Himself to a fly, stating that if He had any love for Krishna He could not go on maintaining His life, and we would (foolishly?) think that such breathtaking love and ecstasy might soon become manifested in us.

    The anti-cult movement referred to a phenomenon of rapid personality change which they called “snapping.” The “deprogrammers” thought they could “snap” us back. We also feared that too much contact with maya would “snap” us out of being devotees. Being a devotee was an extraordinary thing. We were declaring war on all nondevotional activities.

    The devotees were kind to me when I was having problems remaining in the temple. I especially would like to thank the late Bahudak Prabhu, our temple president, and Gopal Krishna Maharaja, who was our recently appointed GBC for Canada.

    They wanted to save me. They wanted to keep me in the temple because they honestly thought that was the only way I could remain faithful in Krishna consciousness, and I honestly thought that too.

    Bahudak asked me, would I like to get married. I told him, “I am 19 years old, I have no college degree, no way of earning a living, how will I care for a wife and children?” He said I was right. He had to admit I was not mature enough to get married. (Many other ISKCON leaders of the time mighth not have been so wise or sensitive).

    Of course the direct manifestation of my problem was inability to practice celibacy. Yogesvara Prabhu’s very nice recent article about “losing heart” discussed how this ubiquitous problem may also be a symptom of other needs going unmet, such as needs for personal intimacy.

    In my case, in addition to lack of sense control and mental control, I felt a very strong need to get an education. I believe in my heart I half-suspected and deeply feared that going to university would destroy my faith in Krishna consciousness, that I would learn things and be exposed to ideas that would make it impossible for me to accept the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. I sincerely prayed to Krishna that even if I became illusioned in the world of mundane education I would somehow be allowed to come back to my senses and be a devotee again.

    [I was happy to find that, even though I did slip into many bad habits and became a little dull through nondevotee association, Krishna consciousness philosophy was second to none. I found that, with a little effort at adjusting and accommodating, what I learned during my time at college and law school only strengthened and supported what I read in Srila Prabhupada’s books, once I finally got back around to reading them.]

    Was I on an “extended vacation”? Am I really a “devotee” again? Have I learned to “balance” spiritual commitments with other of life’s demands? Have I really discovered a way to straddle the proverbial fence?

    I don’t know. I still have the sense that I am letting life’s other demands interfere far too much in the standard sadhana bhakti program that will be my only salvation.

    ISKCON has decidedly changed in 30 years. One of the major changes, it seems to me, has been in accepting different levels of commitment and acknowledging different degrees of “balance” between direct devotional service activities and taking care of other demands of living, particularly in the householder stage of life. We no longer tell people they have to choose which side of the fence they are on. More often we advise them to just to do as much as they can. We do not shame and humiliate each other for lacking total commitment.

    I think the changes are mostly positive. Our leaders have learned a lot. I just have not got a firm grasp on exactly what has changed and how. There may be something we have lost in the change, or something we should make sure we conserve. The new talk about “balance” and “maturity” seems right to me, but I do not have a deep philosophical understanding of it. It is a subject I need to hear more about.

  20. Dear Akruranath Prabhu,
    I am sorry to hear the you have suffered so much.

    I hope that you can get a water purifier from Vaisekhika. You will find the water much more satisfying than sodas.

    If you convert all costs of sodas to books you can be a very big distributor.

  21. Akruranatha says :

    Thanks Maharaja Kavicandra,

    Dandavats. Too true. It is not just sodas, but when I look at my monthly expenses to run my household, I am sure many temples can run for a year on the same amount. It is obscene, really, how much money I have to make just to pay the bills each month, and what I have to do to get it (and lately, try as I might, I am struggling to keep up).

    Of course, drinking diet sodas must be considered great suffering for those who know the real standard of enjoyment. The wise do not take part in sense pleasure knowing it to be the cause of misery, and taking pleasure from within they enjoy unlimited happiness. Diet soda cannot be prasadam and if we stop to think about it is hardly high-quality sense pleasure, either.

    I do not want to sound like I am whining, though. (I hope I do not come across like that). I am intrigued by the issue of “balance”: how do we know how much energy to spend on maintaining our bodies and our personal family affairs as opposed to serving Krishna directly?

    One answer, which I know Dayananda will remind us of, is “50% of your income”. I am far from that ideal.

    Maharaja, I am glad you joined the discussion. Welcome. I am hoping to hear more leaders and GBC and sannyasis “weigh in” on the balance issue.

    While I am strolling down memory lane, writing my memoirs here (heh heh heh), I do want to apologize for leaving your preaching center in Louisville, Kentucky, back in May, 1977. I never talked to you about it.

    I was just out on book distribution, working streetlights (I think), and I had collected about $35, and I decided to hitchhike to Vancouver to see my old girlfriend who lived in Deroche, near Mission City, about 50 miles up the Loughheed Hwy from Vancouver. So, I basically stole $35 in sankirtan collections that day. Sorry.

    It took me only 3 days and nights to hitchhike to Vancouver, with a lot of strange adventures on the way. (I’ll spare the Dandavats audience, but I suppose some people would find it interesting reading.) When I got near Mission City, I learned that my old girlfriend had disappeared, probably killed, never to be heard from again.

    I visited with some old friends, got very sick, rode some freight trains around B.C. reading whatever I could get my hands on. I remember reading some WWII submarine stories in a homeless shelter in Kamloops, and some C.S. Forrester (I guess I was contemplating all things naval), and within a couple of weeks I was living in the Vancouver temple at 16th and Granville.

    I went “on the bump” from the temple about 3 times in 3 years. I had previously left the Radha-Damodar bus to wind up in St. Louis temple. And later I left Vancouver to go to L.A. Then, by later in 1979, I was just going AWOL from Vancouver temple every couple of weeks, and it was clear I should not live in the temple anymore. I really needed to go to college, but some difficult adjustments were required.

    In the “in between times” when I had left the temple, there was a certain kind of bittersweet thrill, to be back in the world of uncertainty, not having to follow any rules and not having to profess my faith in Krishna consciousness. Of course, I still did tell whomever I met about Krishna and how I felt a fool for not staying in the temple, and how I would be going back soon, but it was different: It was really me disclosing my own bewildered mind rather than controling it by repeating the authorized formulas.

    Was it because I had not found my “balance” between service and the right amount of sensual and mental gratification?

    Being a temple brahmacari (not very successfully) for me was like having a kind of divided personality in those days. I was acting and speaking like a devotee in the hopes that someday my mind would catch up (isn’t that the process?)

    There really did seem to be a kind of “fence” to “snap” back and forth over, then. Somehow now, even though I drink all that soda (and even expensive bottled water) I feel like a more integrated personality.

    There may be another difficult period of adjustment in my future as I have to simplify my life and head into the “retired” stage.

    Anyway, please do not take it that I am complaining and seeking sympathy. I know I am a shameless scoundrel who stole $35 from your Louisville preaching center and have “stolen” a lot more than that over the years to support my aspertame habit and many other bad habits. I will try to do better. I always crave the association of serious devotees like yourself, in the company of whom all my bad habits disappear.

  22. Suresh das says :

    It’s hard to go cold turkey from soda to straight water, good luck on that.

    Have you ever tried the “Emergen-C” packets, available at Trader Joes or any health food store? I put 2 in a liter of Fiji Water. Shake it up, and you have a nice tasting drink, with 2000 mg of Vitamin C, and all the minerals and vitamins you need in a day. Be sure to drink a few ounces first, or you will have an overflow when the packet hits the water and reacts. Since drinking my concoction, I find I am down to one can of soda a day and sometimes none, plus I feel healthier, and don’t have as much stress, headaches, or colds, as I have had in the past. One packet mixed with a bottle of Glaceau Vitamin Water works good too, as a soda replacement.

    Check it out, Akruranatha Prabhu, it might help you.

    Besides, think of it this way, when you drink soda you are putting “gas” in your body. Does anybody really need more gas?

  23. Devak Ananda Das says :

    Dear Godbrothers:

    Please don’t suffer and look down upon yourselves. Try to do the best you can and let it go at that. Each one of us sits and the very center of Krsna’s divine sight. The little sins we commit in Time are forgotten by Krsna in Eternity.

    Devak Ananda Das

  24. things are different today
    i hear devotees say
    chanting in streets is just a drag
    looking for some other thrills
    just trying to pay the bills
    and running from the shelter
    of krsna’s special helper

  25. Akruranatha says :

    So, Kavichandra Maharaja it sounds like you are still saying we “can’t sit on the fence”?

    I mean, to be fair, nobody is saying chanting on the streets is a drag. I do go chanting on the streets (not as often as I would like), but I also own a house and have to dedicate time (too much time) to paying the bills. I have a temple in my house where we have programs from time to time (it would be nice if you come visit someday), but I have to admit my standard of home worship is very low.

    Are you saying that unless we *only* chant on the street all day every day we are running from Srila Prabhupada’s shelter? I cannot accept that. Srila Prabhupada encouraged renunciation but acknowledged that most of his disciples would become householders (and sometimes regretted having initiated young sannyasis who were falling down).

    You mentioned Vaisesika and his water purifier marketing business. He and his wife Nirakula are excellent examples of “balanced” householders who take care of their bills but also have an extremely high standard of preaching and home deity worship and first-class interaction with thousands of devotees. You should see how they inspire the local community. Someone who can live like that is as good as a sannyasi, without a doubt.

    Maybe I am reading too much into your parody of “Mother’s Little Helper.” Please, if you do not mind, could you leave aside the sarcasm and give a “straight” reaction to the issue of congregational householder devotees and how they should think about “balance” between direct spiritual activities and material commitments?

    It just seems to me like an important topic.

    Devaka Anand is certainly right that we should not look down upon ourselves, wasting energy in feeling guilty over our failure to live up to an ideal that is probably unrealistic for us. Somehow or another we must find out how to make steady, tangible progress from whatever situation we are really in. (Isn’t that what we sometimes mean by “balance”?)

    On the other hand, we should be grateful that Srila Prabhupada has called upon us to dedicate ourselves at a high level of commitment to spiritual life. If he gives the order, he must see we are capable of carrying it out, even if we have to extend ourselves a bit.

    But, if in fact we are not living up to those high ideals, in spite of repeated efforts, what should we do? Try, try again? Or find a more suitable level from which we can be steady?

    Sometimes I am inclined to think we should just “try, try again”. If we can exert ourselves and get a glimpse of what pure spiritual life is like, that glimpse will stay with us and always call us back to remembering Krishna in any condition.

    I fear that we might easily misuse the idea of “balance” to justify laziness, complacency, weakness of heart. Then we will not make any progress at all.

    On the other hand, fanatics and fakers can cause trouble, disturbing other devotees and embarrassing the preaching mission, so “balance” is necessary to prevent such abuses. Devotees have to remain kind and compassionate and personal and not callous to the trouble they might cause others.

    It seems that we always need a core of very dedicated, renounced preachers. Srila Prabhupada said (didn’t he?) that without sannyasis there is no life.

    The life of devotional service is there in our becoming indifferent to material engagements and fully dedicating ourselves to devotional service. But as long as we have material bodies some sense gratification is necessary and each devotee must find out what level of commitment he or she can sustain.

    The fact is, at the present moment, ISKCON is being sustained by many congregational devotees and is giving great inspiration and benefit to congregational devotees. We cannot say Srila Prabhupada is only offering shelter to full-time temple devotees. It would be irresponsible to suggest that. Surely Maharaja that is not what you mean, is it?

    “Balance” is an issue I remain confused about. Please, all you assembled devotees, enlighten me.

  26. Dear prabhus,

    Throughout this discussion I haven’t seen the word ‘moderation’ used in the proper context. In his Perfection Of Yoga and other books, Srila Prabhupada stresses moderation in spiritual practice, at least to begin with. If Lord Krishna speaks of the need for moderation in eating, sleeping, recreation and the rest, then surely this harmonizing or balancing of bhoga and tyaga is the method of preventing us from being either lazy slouches or self righteous fanatics.

    A balanced person in Krishna consciousness can be ‘together’ so to speak, but not neccessarily fully Krishna conscious. Although the universal sannyasa mode is required of all members of Iskcon, it has no bearing on the colour of cloth one wears, or whether in or out of the temple. In fact, the devotee who is moderate in his various spiritual habits stands a better chance of lasting on the path of Bhakti than an unbalanced person.

    However, when a devotee develops genuine taste his habits will change accordingly, but he will not downplay other’s efforts to reach his platform. Much more can be said of the effects of balance in spiritual life, but is moderation the key word for those aspiring to reach a desired level of Bhakti? And furthermore is a good basis from which to ascend the spiritual heights. Moderation and a sensible workload can and do prevent unneccessary burn-outs which happen too frequently.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  27. Akruranatha says :

    Thank you Kesava Krishna Prabhu. Your posts #7 and #26 hit right on the point I am inquiring about.

    Your latest post inspired me to go back and reread “The Perfection of Yoga”. However, I am working on a rush assignment and I have a very hectic week, so rereading even such a small book will take me some time at the moment.

    In POY, Srila Prabhupada does tell us that Krishna did not tell Arjuna to stop working as a fighter in a ghastly civil war, but at the same time taught him to be a perfect yogi and (inward) sannyasi in Krishna consciousness.

    I especially like your statement that a devotee can be “together”. Sometimes it is frustrating to see other churches and even other yoga groups and Vedic societies seemingly wealthier and better organized than ISKCON is.

    (Of course, whoever can capture Krishna through pure devotional service is most wealthy, but Prabhupada wanted us to be very effective, organized, “together” people. He did not want spaced-out, so-called meditators who are ineffective in the world.)

    When Prabhupada says in POY that we can start in yoga by working, always engaging our senses in some activity, though, I cannot help but think he means working as we were trained when we were full-time temple devotees: always looking for some engagement in making garlands, washing the floor, selling books, performing arati. It doesn’t sound like he means selling insurance or working as an accountant at Microsoft with a picture of Krishna on our desks.

    Well, I guess he does also accept that, but he wants the accountants at Microsoft to give 50% of their income to support ISKCON/BBT projects.

    Can there be any “balancing” between 5% and 50% for those who struggle but cannot manage 50%? Or does my even asking the question sound like an attempt to sanction a lower standard than what Srila Prabhupada approved?

    And what do we do about those who, whether sanctioned or not, whether asking or not, are just not destined to give more than 5% or 10%? Surely we welcome, as Devak Ananda says, that they are doing the “best they can and let it go at that.” Even a little advancement on this path saves one from the most dangerous type of fear.

  28. The 50% topic has been discussed before, though with different viewpoints. I always look at it like this: when Srila Rupa Goswami made his 50% pledge, he was after all a rich man by material estimation. Even after giving another 25% for relatives, he still had a fabulous amount left over.

    On the other hand we have Kolaveca Sridhara, who in spite of his, you could say, poverty stricken material condition would not flinch from his 50% dedication.

    In modern times it seems that Srila Rupa Goswami’s example is the easier one to follow if one has the means. But then, both he and Kolaveca Sridhara are confidential associates of the Lord. To mimic Kolaveca Sridhara’s example here in the west would be tantamount to family neglect, and may get the social workers to seek custody of the dependants.

    Realistically speaking the 50% pledge seems more easy for those who have the means at their disposal. So if one can manage with a lesser percentage which still appears a lot, then one should do that. But then we have to consider how one practices Krishna consciousness at home too. What one gives to the temple can be balanced with expenses incurred for home worship or whatever. Krishna is not exactly looking at percentages, but the way we spend our hard earned money for His pleasure.

    As for myself, I used to give a set amount every month to the local temple. Nowadays I set aside the same amount in readiness for what may be required, ie: to sponsor a feast, help pay for a dignitaries trip and so on. But for me, what really counts above all is how I practice my Krishna consciousness at work and home – anywhere. This takes first priority. The rest is a reflection of that.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  29. Akruranatha says :

    I am really relishing reading “Perfection of Yoga.” It has been a long time since I read it. It is a remarkable little book, and an excellent introduction to Krishna consciousness. Thank you very much, Kesava Krishna Prabhu, for inspiring me to reread it.

    I have distributed thousands of copies, in both English and Spanish, and it is amazing how little I know about the book now that I am reading it with attention. I might have been thinking, “Oh, this is a very preliminary book” (so I don’t need to read it), but it is very relishable reading and nice to see how Srila Prabhupada introduces the public to the essence of Bhagavad Gita in this way, designed to catch the interest of someone who has some at least passing interest in yoga.

    When I first started distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, I would encounter many people who had never heard of Krishna or Bhagavad Gita. Now, many people (but by no means all) have, and I usually meet a few people each day I go out in Santa Cruz who say they have read it.

    It is important to get them to know that Krishna is the master of all yogis, the greatest authority, and that Bhagavad Gita is the discourse “par excellence” on yoga, and it undoubtedly teaches that the perfection of yoga is devotional service to Krishna (bhakti yoga). For many people who have learned this and are interested in the Gita, but do not have time or inclination to read the whole Bhagavad Gita, “Perfection of Yoga” is a great synopsis and introduction which will likely inspire them to read further later.

    I came accross this passage, in the chapter entitled “Yoga As Body and Mind Control”, which may be something Kesava Krishna was referring to:

    “If one wants to engage in yoga at home, then he has to make certain that his other engagements are moderate. He cannot spend long hours of the day working hard to simply earn a livelihood. One should work very moderately, eat very moderately, gratify the senses very moderately and keep his life as free of anxiety as possible. In this way practice of yoga may be successful.”

    The passage above suggests to me that for the congregational householder living outside the temple, it is best to remain peaceful by not overextending the budget on big house, expensive cars, and elaborate entertainment. If somehow one is not taxed by too much stress and anxiety from overwork, or from overindulgence in eating and sense gratification, one can chant nice rounds of japa and also concentrate well during private study without being distracted by anxiety, stress, disease, interruptions of “pressing business”, or urges for sensual indulgence.

    Another passage in an earlier chapter entitled “Yoga As Work In Devotion”, says:

    “When one actually becomes advanced through such engagements, then he may not work physically, but he is always engaged within by constantly thinking of Krishna. In the preliminary stage, however, one is always advised to engage one’s senses in the service of Krishna. There are a variety of activities one can perform in serving Krishna. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is intended to help direct aspirant devotees in these activities. For those working in Krishna consciousness, there are simply not enough hours in the day to serve Krishna. There are always activities, engagements both day and night, which the student of Krishna consciousness performs joyfully.”

    It seems that this second passage can be directed at full-time temple devotees who can spend all their time in direct temple service or preaching work, whereas the first passage was directed at those who practice Krishna consciousness as householders living outside the temple. For those practicing at home, moderation is very important. For those in the temple, they can work pretty much all the time, because their work is directly connected to Krishna consciousness.

    It is easy for householders to fall prey to heavy economic commitments. On the other hand, temple life is generally not for married couples with children, and not many people will remain unmarried all their lives. Srila Prabhupada made a point to discuss how to practice yoga at home.

  30. Akruranatha says :

    Being moderate in sleep is a big challenge for many of us.

    Eating, sleeping and sex are bodily demands that have to be regulated and controlled. Sex can be controlled in sanctified marriage, and eating can be controlled by taking prasadam, but what do we have in the arsenal of our Krishna conscious lifestyle to control sleeping?

    I suppose going to the morning program beginning with mangal arati is a big part of it.

    “What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self controlled. . . ” (B.G. 2.69)

    In his Purport, Srila Prabhupada explains this verse metaphorically, that the cultivation of self realization is like night for materialistic persons who are absorbed simply in material happiness and distress, whereas the introspective man remains always indifferent to materialistic happiness and distress.

    When you think about it, a literal explanation hardly makes sense, because we all know there are both nocturnal and diurnal “beings”. Owls and their prey, bats and the insects they eat, lemurs and many other animals who cannot be said to be engaged in yoga are active at 4 a.m. Also, we know that yogis and materialistic men are both awake — not literally sleeping — during most of the daylight hours.

    But on one occasion Harivilas Prabhu asked Srila Prabhupada about B.G. 2.69, and Srila Prabhupada bluntly said it means a devotee must rise at 4:00 a.m. Sometimes the direct meaning has its own power and charm. :-)

    Srila Prabhupada has written in the Bhagavad Gita that six hours of sleep should be sufficient. In Perfection of Yoga he writes “One should not sleep more than six hours daily.”

    On the other hand, those who are too much in the mode of ignorance sleep 10 hours or more per day.

    For me, I don’t seem to function well without about eight hours of sleep. It may be that the mode of ignorance is just that strong in my body.

    A lot of my work involves close reading of statutes and legal decisions, analysing them, and writing arguments about them to persuade judges to rule in my clients’ favor. To do it well, I need my nervous system to be refreshed. I need a certain mental acuity that I lack after only 6 or 7 hours of sleep.

    Sometimes I do have to stay up all night to meet deadlines, and the adrenaline kicks in. As Govinda Das sings in “Bhaja Hun Re Mana”: “Day and night I suffer, working hard to serve miserly and wicked masters”. (Well, I should not be too hard on my clients, some of whom are very nice devotees who I am proud to serve.) :-)

    But generally if I do not get eight hours I am not functioning on all cylinders. I remember times when I lived in the ashram that I would find myself trying to catch short naps waiting at red lights while driving a car! Driving and sleep deprivation do not mix.

    At least anecdotally, it seems to me that many devotees who no longer live in the temple have difficulty sleeping. (I cannot say whether this phenomenon is disproportionate among devotees: it is pretty obvious that insomnia and various sleep disorders afflict millions of nondevotees, too. There is a major industry supplying drugs for the multitudes who have such problems.)

    Many devotees I know, including me, have a tendency to wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. no matter how late we get to bed at night. It can be a problem if we go to sleep at midnight and have to be alert and sharp at work the next day.

    I think part of our “problem” is that Supersoul is mercifully getting us up so we can go to the morning program and glorify the Lord. That is, rather than look at it as a sleep “disorder”, we should recognize it as a special gift that somehow, even against our own misguided determination, Krishna does not want us to miss the opportunity to make spiritual advancement during brahma muhurta.

    For those devotees like me, who may need a little extra sleep due to our dull, tamasic bodies, the best solution should be to somehow or another, whenever possible, try to take rest very early, around 8 p.m. if possible.

    Rather than spend money and pollute our bodies taking prescription soporifics like Ambien and Lunesta, over-the-counter remedies like Sominex and Unisom, or “natural” remedies like melatonin and valerian root, we should follow Ben Franklin’s advice and arrange our lives in such a way that we can get “early to bed.”

  31. Akruranatha says :

    This “service-life balance” question may be related to our perrenial discussions of Varnasrama dharma.

    Those who find that the strict sadhana expected of brahmanas in ISKCON is unattainable for them, who may need to strike a “balance” more on the side of taking care of the material side of life, getting jobs for reliable income, getting more sleep, being less regulated in eating, being unable to maintain a very clean, pure and regulated standard of deity worship . . . maybe they belong to a different varna?

    They are still devotees. They still chant, come to classes and kirtans, and do not want to make friends with those who have no faith in Krishna. They still read Srila Prabhupada’s books and revere Srila Prabhupada’s instructions as their sole access to spiritual wisdom.

    As they find their place in ISKCON society, which is growing in size and organization, could it help in any way for them to recognize themselves as devotees who are not brahmanas, or who are specifically identified in other varnas?

    Another, somewhat different question: Many ISKCON centers are finding that instead of providing bare minimum “devotee maintenance” to full-time householders as was done in the past, they must now offer regular salaries to devotees in exchange for responsible service.

    Can devotees who negotiate salaries for their service in ISKCON — trying to find the right “balance” between completely depending on Krishna and having a secure, decent (if simple) standard of living — be brahmanas? Or is it up to the other devotees, with outside jobs, to figure out how to give enough charity to the full-time, brahminical devotees so they do not have to bargain with the temple for the right level of compensation?

    [I got a direct-mail solicitation recently from a devotee whose “contract” as a temple membership director was not renewed, appealing for donations to his independent preaching program as a means of supporting himself. I have no knowledge of the details and take no sides on the question of whether the temple should have offered more money or the director should have expected less, or whether, having reached an impasse, it was right or wrong for him to basically “compete” with the temple in this way.

    It just seemed strange to me: I joined in an era where we were supposed to do everything for the temple and the temple took care of everyone’s simple needs. Now, in many places, that theoretical model no longer describes what is actually happening in practice, and new dynamics are emerging. What adjustments, if any, do we need to make in the face of these actual developments?]

  32. Suresh das says :

    I have been contemplating lately that a good deal of my stress level and anxiety might be coming from ill health. I experience chronic stress, fatigue, and headaches, as an example, at all times. When you are in pain and discomfort continually, that seems to have an affect on how one thinks and views the world. I am in my mid-50s, so more than ever, health is of very high importance right now. Adequate rest, going to bed on time, living a regulated life, proper nutrition, regular exercise, and taking supplements, are more important than ever. If I skip anything, I get the immediate effect. It isn’t like when I was young, when I could do pretty much whatever I wanted without as much chance of paying the price, for example overeating. Of course, the reality is, I have always struggled with regulating my senses, so even after many decades of effort, many of the things I have set as high goals for myself are still unachievable. As an example, I really need to loose 15 lbs of weight, to avoid a looming heart attack and stroke. At the same time, I suffer from deep depression and anxiety. Eating, I have found, is a great way to cover up problems. I am always struggling with weight, and overeating. I exercise ever day, but old age is unkind. For me, I am more of a theoretical devotee, rather than a practical one. The Rules, to quote the Pirates, are more-or-less guidelines.

  33. Devak Ananda Das says :

    Dear Suresh:
    Your symtoms are the same ones I had when I was diaognosed by my doctor as having high blood pressure (it runs in families). It might be a good idea for you to have a medical check-up. At least then you’ll know what might be the problem. Yes, gettting older is not for wimps. Even saints can fall ill. All the best. Hare Krishna…….Devak Das

  34. Suresh das says :

    The difficulty for me has always been lack of real spiritual realization. Brow beating to bring myself into line doesn’t usually work in my case. I can use all the negative reasons of why I should surrender deeper and deeper into the aspects of renunciation, and yet I am unable to do very much. I find whenever I try to restrict myself; I often end up with a total rebellion of the senses.

    Take as an example, fasting on Ekadasi day. I have accepted that it is impossible to completely fast even from water for me at this time. Before I joined the movement, I used to fast for days without even water. But then I tasted Krishna prasadam, and it became quite impossible to do the heavy fasting program again. It was easier to fast, when my big enjoyment that I had to look forward to was a bowl of brown rice, and salted plums. Krishna Prasadam became a monkey wrench in my fasting plans.

    What I have tried to do is observe a fast of fruit juice the day of Ekadasi. My plan is to fast until noon, and then drink as much fruit juice as I need to fast the entire day and night. I was reflecting that if I could observe a fast like that for one complete year, on all the Ekadasi days, then the next year I could try to restrict myself more. The difficulty for me though is, as I mentioned before, I am really just a theoretical devotee, with a lot of doubts, and poor faith. So when the day of Ekadasi actually comes, it usually puts me in a tremendous amount of anxiety. Actually sticking to my principles many times falls apart, and I end up eating more on Ekadasi day (non grains), then on regular days, when I am not restricting myself as much.

    Even though I keep failing at my attempt there is no use going back to eating food on Ekadasi, because I am determined to fast, so no matter how many times I fail, I will never be satisfied until I complete my task. Ekadasi day is a day of compassion on all the living entities we have to kill and eat, even as vegetarians, to live on this earth. Even though we eat Krishna Prasadam, the Lord desires that we fast on that day, so there must be some very good reason to do it, even though in my ignorant condition I might not understand what it is, in spite of all the scriptural benefits offered. The problem for me is believing what I hear, because I don’t possess actual self-realization – just book knowledge.

    The only time I was able to completely fast on Ekadasi day, with no food or water, I remember I said a prayer first to Lord Krishna: “please give me nothing (no benefits from following Ekadasi), just allow me to completely fast on Ekadasi day and night, that is my only desire.” I was able to do it that one time, but since that time, it has been impossible.

  35. Akruranatha says :

    I can relate to what Suresh is aying about Ekadasi. For me it is often a day of indulgence, with mixed nuts, baked potatoes swimming in butter, potato chips (salt attack), good fresh fruit, and some Breyers ice cream to round out the day. (Suresh may need to lose 15 lbs. I need to lose over 100!)

    [Bummer: I recently found out that the “Minute Tapioca” I have relied on all these years has soya lecithin.] :-(

    What I need to work on most, though, is really entering into the spirit of the Lord’s day by extra chanting and hearing. Fasting from grains and beans is simple, with buckwheat and potatoes in abundance down at my local Whole Foods store. Eating less and taking care of the body less is helpful, but more important is to nourish the spirit with extra Krishna katha on the holy Ekadasi day.

    Those advanced, austere devotees like Mahanidhi Swami who go without even water every ekadasi are going beyond the call of duty. It is nice to see we have some special devotees who can maintain such high standards, and it is nice to try it out once an awhile (like on Pandava ekadasi once a year), but we should not feel guilty if we don’t.

    Srila Prabhupada’s standard for us was “no grains and beans”. He really did not emphasize fasting; he emphasized “prasadam.”

    I love Govardhan Puja. It is the one holy day with lots of feasting and no fasting. :-)

    “Balance” might mean not becoming ascetics who strive too much to minimize our bodily functions, but to learn instead to do whatever we need to do to optimize our hearing and chanting (and active service).

    Of course, for most of us, reducing eating and sleeping will help maximize hearing and chanting. Overeating leads to oversleeping and a host of other problems.

    Good quality hearing and chanting will also have the effect of automatically producing detachment from bodily concerns. It will make austerity and simplicity easier. But that is a by-product of bhakti, it is not the goal.

    On the whole, our goal is to maximize Krishna consciousness. The purpose of sense control is to assist Krishna consciousness, not the other way around. Bhakti yoga is so strong and pure that it can be practiced even by householders and city-dwellers. It is not only for the ascetic yogis living in isolation in the forest.

    That is one of our great selling points. Some rare people may be attracted to severe austerities and a life of abnegation, but most people have ordinary, modern lives with jobs and PTA meetings and annual family reunions down by the lake. By chanting Hare Krishna and reading Prabhupada’s books, even ordinary people can live very holy, blessed lives and can favorably influence those around them.

    Krishna consciousness is both simple and sublime. It is simple enough to be practiced by ordinary modern people, and yet its effects are more sublime than those achieved by advanced ascetics and philosophers.

    Krishna kirtan is supremely pure. Wherever it goes it purifies everything.

    For those devotees having trouble “balancing” Krishna conscious regulation with sense gratification, we offer this advice: whatever you do, go on chanting Hare Krishna, associating with devotees, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, and donating some of your hard-earned money to help push on this movement. Eventually this will lead to the perfectional stage, without doubt.

    Of course the mood of chanting should be one of surrender. We cannot commit sinful activities on the strength of chanting, which is offensive to the Holy Name. Nevertheless we must keep chanting no mater what.

    Don’t let anyone “guilt trip” you into staying away from the devotees, the kirtans, the classes, the Deities. You are always welcome to participate in this Krishna consciousness movement at whatever level you can muster.

    We demonstrate our love by following the rules and by serving faithfully, but it is the love which is all important. The love we take will greatly exceed (but will be proportional to) the love (of Krishna) we make. ;-)

  36. Suresh das says :

    We have a friend from yoga who fasts regularly. She fasts on Ekadasi day, because I turned her on to the concept of fasting for a purpose. Since I have asked her to fast on Ekadasi, and she does, I feel obligated to practice what I preach, and do it too, as an example, even though it is not exactly what Srila Prabhupada required us to do.

    Srila Prabhupada stated that if we wish to know the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we must engage in austerity. It is not that big of a deal to fast on fruit juice a couple days a month. You are not going to starve to death. It just takes some practice to form the habit. Once you try it, you might find as I have, that you don’t need as much food as you might think you do, or your mind, tongue, and stomach tells you that you need.

    I know it will be easier for me, to fast on Ekadasi day, if I eat lightly all month long, so I am working on that as well. When I was a Brahmacari, in the early ISKCON days, we had only three taped lectures by Srila Prabhupada to listen to, while we worked in the kitchen of one small temple. I remember hearing Srila Prabhupada’s words over and over: “don’t eat at night”. I have never been able to consistantly follow that advice, but I can’t get any peace not following it.

    I sense that if I eat lightly all month long, fasting on Ekadasi day, and on other holy days as well, will not be so hard.

  37. Akruranatha says :

    “An easygoing life and attainment of perfection in transcendental realization cannot go together.” S.B. 2.9.24, Purport

    I keep trying for the easy life. I keep wanting the doctor just to blow on the boil. “No! Not the knife!” :-)

    In one recorded class a lady asks Srila Prabhupada something like, “If our problem is misuse of our independence, can we pray to Krishna to take away our independence and force us to surrender to Him?”

    What do you think Srila Prabhupada replied? That if we have no independence we will be like stones and cannot love? Not this time, at least not at first…

    He chuckled wistfully and said something like, “You can pray, but you might not like it if He takes away your independence. Just like I did not want to take sannyasa. I wanted to be very successful in business. But Krishna forced me.” (It is years since I heard that tape and I might not have it 100% correct, but the gist is there.)

    Of course, Srila Prabhupada was always a pure devotee, but the lesson is clear. If the easygoing life I am hoping for is eluding me, maybe it is really the answer to a prayer. Maybe in spite of my lack of qualifications Krishna will somehow bring me to His lotus feet.

    I might not like it, but hopefully I will come to appreciate it, following Srila Prabhupada’s example.

    Being materialistic and foolish, though, I am feeling frightened. The scalpel looks scary. Can’t we just blow on the boil? :-)

  38. One valuable lesson can be learned regarding programs like “weekend warriors” book distribution.

    The whole process of bhakti yoga aims at uninterrupted service. The example of Haridas Thakur shows how someone can chant Hare Krishna practically without stopping to even eat or sleep.

    For most of us that is not possible, but if we do service in a regular, scheduled way, that is another way to be “uninterrupted”.

    For example, “nityam bhagavata sevaya” can be taken to mean literally attending Srimad Bhagavatam class 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But if we attend for an hour each day, then in another sense it is “nityam”. There is an unbroken class going on in all the temples because it is a daily function.

    Obviously it would be nice to be able to go on book distribution six or seven days a week, but if we can regularly go once a week, or once a month, or even once a year on World Enlightenment Day (mark your calendars folks, its this coming Saturday), it becomes “nityam” in one sense.

    By doing an act regularly, on schedule, it becomes in a sense constant. It is what we do. It may not be full time, but at all times we are still preparing for the next installment, the next scheduled engagement.

    The sun is not in the sky all the time, but because it always rises every day, its occupation is eternal in that sense. Thats what it does. It shines each day, without fail.

    So by taking on some service that we do in a regularly scheduled way, it becomes part of what we do. Gradually we may expand, but if we become steady at some fixed schedule, we are incorporating that service into what we do, what we are (in one sense, we are what we do).

    [And whatever we can do is always better than nothing]

    I may go out only once a year, 12 times, or 52 times a year, but I am still a “book distributor.” Everything else is some temporary designation, but such regular, Krishna conscious activities are eternal.

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