Should Devotees Use Positive Thinking Techniques?
By Kesava Krsna Dasa
Most of us are aware of the benefits of being positive in Krishna consciousness, and so do those who seek material success. Does our power of visualisation enable us to earn success and wealth for Lord Chaitanya’s preaching mission, and help us progress on the path of Bhakti?
All success and wealth are properties of the Lord, so if we encourage people to engage their wealth and resources in Krishna’s service, as if offering Ganges water back to Sri Ganga Mata, it is yukta-vairagya in action. But sometimes, the will to act upon larger than average visualisations, can get tainted with impersonalism, and mistaken for the creeper of devotion.
Most if not all success and motivational procedures acknowledge the sub-consciousness as the awarder of positive efforts – the Supersoul. It has no name or personality attached, and to give in order to get, identifies such activities as belonging to the mode of passion. This widespread practice of positivism is much like a westernised version of karma-kanda motivation, minus all the elaborate rituals. It is essentially a form of piety.
So, do piety and Bhakti mix well together? Perhaps this is an unfair question to ask, because positive advice given by positive devotees has helped many of us. If the very performance of devotional service itself is a positive action however, then where is the need for added positivism on top of that? And besides, shouldn’t this positive advice be called mercy instead?
There are both positive and negative injunctions – the dos and don’ts – given to us in the eastern side of the Nectar of Devotion, and all can be made positive by remembering Krishna. If this remembrance of Krishna entails a deep visualisation of His form and other qualities, then what can normal positive thinking techniques hope to achieve? Clearly there are limitations to self propelled acts of positivism, and they can only superficially help us in genuine spiritual life.
For instance, if I am feeling under the weather, but I go around with an unreal portrayal of undying optimism and positivism masking my true feelings, would this be an honest assessment of myself? Then suppose I maintain an unnatural high of always being in winning mode, then Krishna wishes to give a measure of humble pie causing low disappointment, this also reveals the surface value of mundane positive thinking.
In reality, the culture of earning success and wealth through our own positive thinking, and planning with organisation and intelligence for the benefit of the devotee community has nothing whatsoever to do with Bhakti, for she is supremely independent. In other words, positive thinking does not equate with Bhakti. Simply by acting in devotional service is unlimitedly more positive than any endeavour made based on our own visualisations, which are visuals of our optimistic expectations.
These visuals may have some material substantiality or semi-spiritual half reality which has their rightful place in service of the Lord, but when compared to the real vision of pure devotees there is little comparison. Did not Sri Nrsimhananda in Chaitanya lila, visualise a royal road filled with flower petals, fit for Lord Chaitanya to walk upon as He went towards Vrndavana? The moment Lord Chaitanya changed direction Sri Nrsimhananda’s visual or meditation broke. That visualisation was reality.
Once Srila Prabhupada told another man sitting on a park bench how he had many opulent temples all over, but they had not yet manifested. This reality vision was shared with Lord Chaitanya’s reality of desire that His holy names be spread throughout the world. And Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur shared in this same reality as he saw from his house a wonderful vision of an international mix of vaisnavas singing and dancing to Harinama sankirtana in a glowing city called Mayapura.
For followers of these confidential vaisnavas who had expansive lotus-like hearts, our hope is to be a part of this shared vision by helping this mission we belong to. Any type of sincere service will add substance and structure to the manifestation of this vision. We may theoretically know that the holy names are destined to spread to every town and village, but our own visuals may not be fully in tune.
What we take to be positive thinking should be translated into mercy. Only the mercy flowing from the vaisnavas has the power to turn our visuals into reality, then we shall realise the incomparable differences between positive thinking, and real devotion. It is true that by following the regulated principles of freedom, and controlling the senses, and being freed from attachment and aversion, mercy can come. (BG 2.64)
But this endeavour, although seemingly self-propelled is done in devotion. If we do not feel like performing a particular devotional activity, just by doing it anyway, it is a positive action. This is different from the type of technique tinged with selfish motives. If we think we can determine certain outcomes in devotion through our own power of optimism and visual strength, then we are ill-informed.
If however, the same efforts are aligned with the flow of mercy required to advance in Krishna consciousness, a vision develops and we hanker for further progress. Having said this, we still cannot really visualise ourselves attaining the Bhava platform for instance, because we have no recollection what happens there accept in theory. If we try to visualise it, it may just stay as imagination.
Still, we must have a goal to attain, even in Bhakti. So we all want Krishna Prema which is at present beyond any normal or even fortunate visualisation capacity. When Sri Madhavendra Puri in his last days appeared to be in a state of negative melancholy, as his disciple Ramacandra Puri saw it, Ramacandra dared give his guru some “positive” impersonal pep talk, which infuriated the guru.
The transcendental lamentation displayed by Sri Madhavendra Puri was a supreme form of visualisation and positivism, for on this level, both happiness and apparent lamentation caused by being separated from Krishna are equally relishable. Such a high goal as this has no relationship with material or semi-spiritual positivism.
We strive to attain organisational goals within our devotee community, often with an unpaid devotee force, and no matter how refined or adept we are with corporate structural planning, aided by positive winning formulas, Krishna still has to fill in the sustainability gaps for us. In spite of all our positive efforts to succeed individually or collectively, an absolute positive intervention is required.
Then we could go to the other extreme and just completely depend on Krishna without making much effort to substantiate the shared vision of the Lord and His dear devotees. But if, “Man proposes, and God disposes,” is true, it is the culmination of positive thinking to be fully under the shelter of the Lord.
Whereas positive thinking techniques focus more on one-side emotional values of always winning, being upbeat, and not being down, and so on, which is really a way to overcome material obstacles and individual negative karma, dependence on the Lord allows the full spectrum of emotions to be used. Even if sometimes on the verge of disaster or defeat, a genuine cry to the Lord for protection means much more than our positive vibes. Besides, earning success and wealth without mirroring the Love the Lord has for His devotees is also one-sided. Love equals positivism.
Your servant Kesava Krsna Dasa – GRS.
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