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Nourishment for Parents and Teachers

Once, some weeks went by when Srila Prabhupada was not writing as much as usual. When a disciple asked him if something was wrong, Prabhupada replied that every endeavor has periods of activity and relaxation.

We parents and teachers who guide and care for children in Krishna consciousness must consider our need to relax, recharge, and get spiritual nourishment. Otherwise, we’ll become exhausted.

All who work regularly with children need various types of recharging. Our body and mind need regular rest, meals, and quiet. Parents often say they can’t get proper rest and rejuvenation, especially when caring for very young children. Vedic society solves this problem with the extended family; aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers, and a network of relatives help one another. In modern society we may have to get help from a network of friends.

Another need is our spiritual nourishment. Children learn more through experience than concepts. So they’ll know more about spirituality from what we are than from what we say. To show saintly qualities, we must regularly immerse ourselves in a concentrated bath of serving Krishna through hearing about Him, chanting His names, and so on. Srila Prabhupada gave us a morning schedule of such worship. During that time, we parents and teachers should daily examine whether we are begging Krishna for mercy and guidance or simply mechanically going through the motions.

Involving our children in our morning spiritual practice will help us gain the sustenance we need. When children are very young, of course, they need some simple diversions so that we may focus on our worship. But within a short time, children included in daily morning devotions respect parents’ or teachers’ personal time with Krishna. On the other hand, when we leave children sleeping so that we can have our own devotions, not only do the children lose out on the benefit of attending, but gradually we will be tempted to stay sleeping as well.

Besides our basic morning program, we need to faithfully set aside time for study, prayer, and service. Our family once had a designated time to read about Krishna for half an hour each evening. Over a few months, I found myself finishing many books I’d only been able to gaze at with longing. Even a young child can look at pictures of Krishna during such a time.

Finally, we need the association of other devotees of Krishna. We have the general society and companionship of other devotees, of course, but certain types of association particularly help those committed to caring for children. One type of association we need are “fans”—devotees who cheer us on and enliven us. They may not know the details of toilet training or helping children memorize the Bhagavad-gita verses, but they care enough to value our service. They’re enthusiastic, they give unconditional support, and they’ll step in and cheer us on in difficult times.

We also need friends close enough to be honest with us about our faults. They too may not be familiar with our work, but they can see if we’re disturbed rather than peaceful. Receiving correction is difficult, but without having devotees who care about us enough to give needed advice, we may suffer by going far down the wrong path.

We also need devotees with whom we can “talk shop,” those who do what we do. For example, in many places ISKCON has formal seminars where principals, gurukula teachers, home-schooling parents, and Sunday school teachers can come together for support, encouragement, and problem solving. Some devotee communities have parent support groups with scheduled meetings.

Having parents or co-workers we can talk to regularly is best. We need to know how others in our position handle the pressures that come with guiding children. Those of us who serve the Lord by caring for devotees in young bodies must live in a way that helps us do our best job.

Nursery Nectar

Two years old, Lalita Madhava sits with all her concentration focused on the book our 14-year-old daughter is showing her. Lalita Madhava’s older sister has just graduated from our gurukula school, her mother is at our house to print a letter, and Lalita Madhava is thinking of Krishna’s pastimes. “Krishna,” she says and points to the picture. She carefully turns the page.

Having spent more than three years teaching a Krishna conscious nursery school, I am privy to a great secret: there is an ocean of sweet spiritual pleasure in the company of very young devotees of Krishna. They know nothing of local, national, or global politics. They hardly know if they are boys or girls. But they do know they love Krishna. In their company one can simply tell stories about the Lord, sing songs to glorify Him, and play games that absorb the mind in His service. A well-run nursery fully engages the mind of the teacher, challenging her intelligence and creativity.

The parents also will be pleased. At home, most mothers have to divide their minds between their children and their household work. So a mother is pleased to see her child in a happy spiritual place with a devotee whose sole duty is to teach the child.

Children who have taken part in a materially and spiritually lively nursery school can look back upon their early childhood with pleasure. Even as teenagers, they can still enjoy singing the simple English, Sanskrit, or Bengali songs about Krishna they learned in nursery. The joy of decorating Krishna’s picture with colored beads can broaden into a desire to dress the Deity. A child can grow up feeling that constant engagement in the Lord’s service is natural.

So what should children do at a nursery school? Here are some activities for children aged 2 to 5. Although these activities are best suited for a teacher and a group of children, any mother at home could use most of these ideas.

The key to successful activities is keep changing them before the children grow restless and wild. Vary what you do and how long you do it, according to the mood and needs of the children. For example, if many children are restless, spend more time on physically active programs. If most of the children are older, spend more time on things that call for patience. As much as possible, all the children should do the same activity together. When an activity is over, the children should put everything away, and clean the floor and tables if need be. If you don’t want to lose everything in your nursery, best to keep the things for separate activities separate.

You can engage the children three ways: in free, loosely supervised play, in all working at once on their own projects, and in all doing the same thing together.

A. Loosely supervised play:

This includes things like playing outdoors on swings and slides, looking at nature books, and playing with blocks and toys. With blocks, children can build temples, altars, and items for spreading Krishna consciousness, such as cars in which they can go to distribute books. With toys the children can play their way into Krishna’s pastimes—by cooking for Krishna, taking care of baby Krishna, or acting as cowherd boys frolicking with the cows, frogs, and birds of Vrindavana.

B. All working at once on their own projects:

All together but each on his own, children can work with clay, or play with puzzles, or make garlands, or decorate pictures of Krishna and His devotees.

With clay the children can play at cooking food for Krishna or building things for Krishna. With jigsaw puzzles children can put together Krishna’s pastimes.

As for garlands, children can make them from wooden or plastic beads you can get at a hobby or craft store. The children can sit before a picture or Deity of Krishna, and each child can make a nice garland for Him. The children can offer their garlands with the teacher’s help, and all the children can see and admire the garlands of the others. Through garlands, also, the children can learn about colors, patterns, and counting.

Children can enjoy decorating pictures of Krishna and His devotees. The pictures can come from old calendars or extra copies of Back to Godhead, or the children can use pictures they have painted or colored themselves. With the teacher’s help, the children can adorn the pictures with stars, jewels, glitter, and paper flowers.

C. All doing the same thing:

Together, children can learn simple songs, and they can chant Hare Krishna and dance. The children who are able can take turns leading.

The children can also take turns fanning Krishna and offering Him incense and flowers, as adults do in the ceremony of arati.

Children can also do something else together that is very important in devotional life: take prasadam, food first offered to Krishna. They can learn how to say their prayers, respect prasadam, think of Krishna, and enjoy. And they can learn how to be clean.

Children can also put on plays about Krishna. The teacher gives a child one line to say and one thing to do at a time. Keep things simple and active and the children can do three plays or more without boredom.

You can delight your children with Krishna conscious storytelling. More than just reading a story, you can sing a song about the story, show pictures, and act out the story. There are many tapes of Krishna conscious story songs.

Children enjoy movies showing plays and stories and festivals. But go easy on video during the child’s early years. It can hamper a child’s natural development. A total of one hour a week is a good limit.

An entire community benefits from the nursery school. It gives mothers more time to help in a local temple or project. And even when there isn’t a school, a mother at home will find that an hour or two spent creating a nursery-school atmosphere will make her children so happy she can devote more time to other service.

If we treat our children with care from the very beginning, they’ll feel encouraged as souls. They’ll give spiritual pleasure to everyone and give hope for the future. And by their behavior and enthusiasm they may sometimes melt the heart of even the most hardened atheist.

Observing Secular Holidays

The year is full of holidays and special events unrelated to spiritual life. Even in India, where Janmashtami, the anniversary of Krishna’s divine birth, is a general festival, many other days are dedicated to the country or some ordinary, materialistic person. Outside of India, festival days sometimes even focus on demonic beings such as witches. National holidays, and even religious festivals such as Christmas, are often occasions for diving into intoxication, illicit sex, and materialistic life in general.

If we wish to raise our children to be absorbed only in thoughts of Lord Krishna, how should we treat these secular holidays? One approach is, as far as possible, to ignore them. We can tell our children that although the preparations they see around them—sometimes for weeks before the holiday—are certainly attractive, we are interested only in celebrating the Lord’s glories. Children can be satisfied and happy without getting into mundane festivities, especially if their year is full with one exciting devotional festival after another.

Adults often think, however, that because their children will hanker for what glitters all around them, the children must have at least a little of the outside celebration in order not to feel resentful or deprived. Perhaps the adults themselves feel there is something worthwhile in mundane events, or aren’t fully satisfied in spiritual life. But sometimes even when a child’s parents are fully convinced that observing devotional holidays is sufficient, avoiding materialistic celebrations is difficult. Nondevotee relatives, or even other devotees of Krishna, may want to pull one into the celebrations, and that influence may be hard to avoid.

A second approach, therefore, is to find a way of relating nondevotional celebrations to Krishna. For an originally religious holiday such as Christmas, it is relatively easy to have programs about the life and teachings of Lord Jesus. On Mother’s Day, we can have our children honor their mothers, grandmothers, mother cow, and mother earth. Sometimes a policy of making special days Krishna conscious can lead to creative results. For example, one year on Halloween some of my high school girls dressed up as male devotees and went door to door selling Srila Prabhupada’s books. We can take our children out to sing the Lord’s names through the crowds that gather for national independence day and other such holidays. On one U.S. holiday (Thanksgiving), we used to take our students in Detroit to the local Hare Krishna Food for Life center to distribute free prasadam, food offered to Lord Krishna.

On Halloween night in the United States, children dress in costumes and go from house to house collecting candy and other treats.

If we decide to have our children celebrate mundane occasions in the same way as the materialists, we greatly risk raising children whose idea of happiness is materialistic. Holidays are the highlights of life, especially for children, who even at a young age note the number of weeks or days until their favorite festival. When these days involve simply sense enjoyment—which for a child can mean games, presents, fireworks, and special food—we indirectly teach that we are living for material pleasure.

Observing our children’s birthdays poses a special problem. In the early days of the Hare Krishna movement, when Srila Prabhupada was present with us, we rarely, if ever, noted the birthdays of our members, including children. Gradually, however, birthday parties, especially for children, have become more and more common. Once I calculated that every year in the community where I lived we had three times as many birthday parties as devotional festivals. I noted that the children often had “birthday parties” as part of their play.

Should we eliminate birthday parties? That’s probably impossible. We can, however, follow Srila Prabhupada’s direction that a birthday is a time for charity and austerity. Our children can give gifts on their birthday, rather than receive them. Gatherings can be small and simple so as not to appear to compete with spiritual festivals. And when we invite a few friends for cake and ice cream, we can also read from scripture and chant together.

Our children should grow up convinced that the happiness of Krishna’s devotees surpasses all the happiness of the material world—even a party.

Teens and Celibacy

Celibacy is such an important part of Vedic education that the Sanskrit word for student is brahmacari (“celibate”). The pressure to give up celibacy begins, of course, in adolescence, the most dangerous age and often the turning point of one’s life. Young adults need guidance before and during the teenage years to recognize and follow the right path.

Celibacy trains adolescents for self-restraint, whether they stay single or get married. It develops their inner strength, self-control, and good character. It also fosters good health and a fine memory.

Without celibacy we can never realize that we are spirit soul, distinct from the body. Sex reinforces the illusion that we are these bodies. Sexual attraction and its extensions in family and society are the main knots that bind us to material identification. Vedic education aims to free the child from these knots so the adolescent can act on the spiritual plane.

Children, of course, have no knowledge of sex. How do we train them to value celibacy before they reach puberty? By association and environment.

Modern educators know well how children’s early impressions influence their later moral behavior. And these educators are passing on their decadent moral values to our children. For example, the New York City public school board recently introduced textbooks in the first grade that show families with two “mommies” or two “daddies,” to get children used to homosexuality.

And schools aren’t the only place kids learn to think well of illicit sex. Role models such as those on television, on radio, and in politics keep reinforcing the message. Parents add to the negative influence by using contraceptives or cheating on their marriage vows.

The result, of course, is that children enter adolescence with attitudes that lead them away from self-realization, or even civilized life. The illicit sex that results from years of indoctrination leads to chaos. Yet the very educators and politicians who promote illicit sex to children talk on about fatherless families and unwanted kids who turn to crime and drugs.

To be trained in celibacy, our young students should live with people who take pleasure in Krishna consciousness. Our first task is to shield our children from materialistic influences and surround them with positive, transcendental life. That’s the only way to get them ready to face their transition into adulthood.

But childhood training isn’t enough. Prabhupada told us we must carefully guide our children during their teens. Then surely they will come out first-class Krishna conscious devotees. We should be like a commanding officer who not only trains his solders but also serves with them on the battlefield.

Traditionally, a spiritually guided society helped young people with good association, vocational training, and marriage. Our teenagers need to train and study with Krishna conscious friends and teachers. Otherwise, Prabhupada once said, if from twelve to fifteen years of age they go to an ordinary school, by bad company they become rotten. It is sad to see this happen to a child who had strong childhood training and could have become a first-class human being.

Despite the best training and the best company, most teenagers want to associate with the opposite sex. Therefore, Vedic culture prescribes early marriage, on religious principles. That kind of marriage makes the mind peaceful and receptive to spiritual instruction.

Parents must help their sons and daughters find suitable marriage partners, except for children who are going to stay happy in lifelong celibacy. Parents should understand that adolescents have only three choices in sexual morality: celibacy, marriage, or immorality. Because of the danger in a society where boys and girls mix freely, marriage should be encouraged.

We sometimes mistakenly think that an “arranged” marriage means that the parents force a twelve-year-old girl to marry a thirty-year-old man—and they meet for the first time at the wedding. Prabhupada gives us a different picture. He tells us of a gradual process, usually spanning several years. The parents look for a suitable partner for their child, taking into account that the boy and girl should be equal in character, qualities, social position, and renunciation.

The parents judge the match through their own observations, by asking others, and through astrology. The wishes of the boy and girl are also important. Once the families and the boy and girl agree, a period of occasional, supervised association begins. It’s as if the parents introduce their child to a suitable mate and then chaperone formal “dates” to prepare the children for marriage. When the children are old enough to marry, the girl may still spend long regular visits at her parents’ home so she may gradually get used to being a wife. An extended family makes this easier by helping the new couple in their duties and relationship.

This time-tested process can be easily followed today. The girl engaged to a suitable boy doesn’t have to advertise herself to find a man. And the boy knows he can’t marry until he becomes responsible. He is therefore motivated to mature into a conscientious man of good character.

Built on the early training in renunciation, their marriage will be dedicated to Krishna, fulfilling our hope for their future.

The Company We Keep

Can we make our children turn out the way we want?

Srila Prabhupada once said, “If you place a child in good association, he will act properly, and if you place him in bad association, he will act improperly. A child has no independence in that sense.… According to Vedic civilization, as soon as a child is four or five years old, he is sent to a gurukula, where he is disciplined.”

Anyone who has worked with children knows they are vulnerable to their environment. Yet children also carry from their previous lives a complex burden of good and bad karma and a particular tendency of character. In fact, the mentality of the parents during conception attracts a particular soul—with particular inclinations—to become their child. Because of this, enlightened parents prepare themselves so that they can be in spiritual consciousness during conception. Thus their child will be receptive to the training they will give him. Srila Prabhupada says, “You can mold the children in any way. They are like soft dough.” So the mold is essential when considering the shape of the final piece of sculpture. But the quality of the material one puts into the mold is also important.

On the other hand, our children’s tendencies from their previous lives and present conceptions can change. Their real personality is spiritual, filled with love for Krishna at every moment. Their natural position is that of eternal knowledge and bliss. Therefore it is entirely reasonable and possible to transcendentally mold anyone, of any previous disposition. After all, the spiritual “mold” is the shape of the real self.

The principle of such molding is quite simple. We need to surround the child with saintly association, eliminating all false and negative concepts. To do so is difficult not because it is unnatural or burdensome, but be-cause modern Western society, saturated with materialism, discourages spiritual growth.

We might feel, though, that we should not “isolate” our child. We might be afraid that our child won’t be able to cope with society if raised in a spiritual atmosphere. Yet we teach our children to eat properly by feeding them healthy food; we don’t give them a taste for junk food to help them cope with supermarket aisles. Nor do we give them small doses of beer or marijuana to help them conquer the urge for intoxication.

So rather than expose our children to materialism, we should train them to become saintly. Then as masters of their mind and senses, they will be happy in all circumstances. And rather than becoming allured by material life, they will create a spiritual atmosphere around themselves that will attract others.

Vedic education’s most important feature is to surround children with teachers and other students who want to know their true self. Such persons live free from lust, greed, and envy and therefore do not eat meat, fish, or eggs, take intoxication, gamble, or have illicit sex. And the true teacher, according to Vedic standards, is one who is absorbed in Krishna, the Absolute Truth. The true teacher does everything for Krishna, doesn’t hanker or lament for material things, and is always in a state of spiritual happiness.

Such a teacher, however, need not neglect the material, academic side of education. We require practical knowledge in this world. Yet we should not want to acquire knowledge simply to build up another false material identity that will disappear in the next death and rebirth. Nor should we want academic knowledge for its own sake, which will also be lost when we change bodies. But when academic knowledge and practical skills are learned in the service of the higher self, the benefit is eternal.

Throughout the world, societies train children to be economically and socially productive members of their culture. They may also learn a religious faith, with its doctrine and rituals. But imagine if some children, even a small group, were molded to be above all material designations, all influences of the material atmosphere. These children could lead mankind into an era of righteousness and harmony.

Why Children Misbehave

Why do children disobey or get into mischief? We might assume they’re simply rebellious, but that’s rarely the case. Let’s discuss some possible causes of misbehavior.

The Lower Modes

Lord Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita that material nature is composed of three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Everything is in one of these modes or a combination of them—food, work, games, books, clothing, knowledge, relationships, time of day, and so forth. Children whose environment is mostly in goodness will be generally good, whereas those whose environment is mostly in passion and ignorance will be full of those qualities. For example, an environment in ignorance would be one in which children go to bed and awaken late, watch violent and sexual movies, are served meat and intoxicants (such as caffeine-laden sodas), and are surrounded by insults and fighting. Goodness supports spiritual development; the two lower modes obstruct it.


Children living in a spiritually enlivening atmosphere will rarely rebel. Sometimes children rebel because they see hypocrisy, such as non-spiritual behavior in a parent, teacher, or leader instructing them in Krishna consciousness. Such rebellion comes typically in early adolescence, when a child’s intelligence expands to understand the nature of adult society. All adults can’t be perfect, but we can strive for the ideal, while honestly admitting our mistakes.

Wrong Reaction

Sometimes a child who’s rarely treated with affection will act out of line just to get noticed. I’ve seen children say nasty or disgusting things to make adults angry. The adult’s reaction may be negative, but for a love- starved child any emotion may be better than nothing. These children need unemotional instruction when they’re unruly, and plenty of love and affection the rest of the time.

Unregulated Life

When children are sick, tired, or hungry, they often don’t show their needs like adults and may become rude and uncooperative. Children chronically late to bed are often chronically disobedient as well. Children who eat and sleep irregularly can be difficult because they are always tired and hungry. Regulated eating and sleeping, which Krishna recommends in the Gita, is often a simple key to good behavior in a child.

Poor Training

It may seem unbelievable, but some parents and teachers actually train children to disobey, be rude, have tantrums, and so forth. Children learn to act in ways that earn them some kind of “reward.” For example, if when a child insults or threatens the parents they give in to the child’s demands, the child is being trained to be nasty, as much as an animal is trained to roll over and jump to get food.

Misunderstood Natures

Sometimes what seems to be misbehavior in a child isn’t so at all. Adults with little knowledge of the normal behavior of children at different ages may mislabel a child’s actions. In addition, every child has an inborn psychology. We commonly think that our particular way of perceiving and relating to the world is ideal, but our child may have a different, equally valid way of doing so. For example, a parent may be reserved, deliberate, and task- oriented, and the child may be lively, outgoing, and people- oriented. To the parent, the child may seem scattered, frivolous, irresponsible, and uncooperative. The parent must learn that every nature can be directed to the Lord’s service. A mother satisfied to sit and sew quietly for the Deity might find that her daughter is happier planning a festival.

Bad Examples

One of the most serious mistakes an adult can make is to cut down a child’s other adult authorities. If a parent criticizes a child’s teacher, the child will think, “Why do I have to do my work or show respect? My parents will take my side.” And in families where one parent frequently comes between the child and the other parent, children never learn to cooperate.

We must also be careful not to project our own problems onto children when we are sick, tired, hungry, or uninspired.

When we address the underlying causes of difficulty for our children, we will find that our usual relationship with them is one of peaceful cooperation, helping us and them to advance more easily in Krishna consciousness.

Purely Devotees

Srila Prabhupada would sometimes refer to his disciples as pure devotees. Anyone who has read his books or been in the company of his followers for any length of time knows that the term “pure devotee” generally refers to someone who loves Krishna fully and is free of all material desires. It’s who we want to become. So we ordinary mortals who are surely still works in progress wonder, “Why would Prabhupada call us pure devotees? ”

It seems to me that Prabhupada is implying that anyone who has accepted pure love for Krishna as the goal of life and is pursuing it under the direction of a bona fide guru can be considered a pure devote. Prabhupada’s followers have rejected all other ultimate goals, as well as the means for attaining them. We know that as spirit souls we will not find fulfillment in any way except by awakening our love for Krishna. That’s our conviction.

That conviction distinguishes us from almost everyone else, and it shows in the spiritual practices we perform under Prabhupada’s guidance. When Prabhupada’s followers go to his temples, we do things meant for only one purpose: becoming Krishna consciousness. Our endeavors for perfection don’t include things done by karmis, jnanis, or yogis.

The Vedic literature tell us that all human beings can be classified into four groups according to their goals and activities: karmis, jnanis, yogis, and Bhaktas. Most people are karmis. Their only goal is happiness in the material world, either here on earth or in the heavenly planets after death. That’s what they work for. Better than karmis, from the spiritual point of view, are jnanis, or philosophers. The highest aim of jnanis is to merge into spiritual oneness, in effect annihilating themselves to avoid the inevitable suffering of material existence. The yogis, at best, try to find something spiritual through sitting postures, controlled breathing, meditation, and so on. They sometimes get sidetracked by powers achieved through yoga. In any case, they generally have only a vague idea of what they hope to accomplish, and in essence theirs is a selfish quest.

Bhaktas, or devotees, just want to love Krishna. They know that’s all they need. Through devotion to Krishna one can achieve anything that can be gained through any other process—karma, jnana, or yoga. But devotees are indifferent to those rewards.

The spiritual practices Prabhupada gave us don’t include karma, jnana, or yoga devoid of a Bhakti connection. In his temples we don’t pray to devas for wealth or material happiness, we don’t guess about philosophical topics, and we don’t practice yoga asanas for enlightenment. We chant Hare Krishna, worship the deity of Krishna, hear about Krishna and pure devotion to Him, honor Krishna’s greatest devotees, like Srila Prabhupada, and strive to be like them.

Our heroes love Krishna without personal motive. We may have residual material attraction, but we know better. We’re convinced that pure love for Krishna is ultimately the only desirable thing. Despite our shortcomings, if we hold on to our conviction and adhere to spiritual practices of pure Bhakti, we are, in Prabhupada’s view, pure devotees—or, to put it another way, purely devotees.

Compassion Without Limits

A mile or so from my house, beside a country road that curves gently through pine forests and hay fields, sits a haven of abject cruelty. On a concrete slab under a shiny metal roof, a few dozen calves endure what will be short lives in cages they barely fit in. Someone is—to say it euphemistically—raising veal.

I don’t usually drive that road, so when I noticed the calves one day I started to tell my wife about them.

“Don’t say any more,” she said. “I can’t even bear to hear it.”

Compassion comes naturally for people pursuing real spiritual goals. Hare Krishna devotees are often dismayed to see otherwise gentle people, even religious people, so callous about the suffering of animals. Why would anyone who knows that animals are God’s creatures needlessly harm them?

I often notice inconsistencies in people’s compassion. A person whose heart breaks at the thought of abortion feels no sympathy for the victims of the slaughterhouse. A vegetarian champions a woman’s right to kill her own child. A philanthropist for suffering humanity finds no pity for the plight of animals or the unborn.

Unless we take lessons from Krishna, our compassion will fall short. In Krishna consciousness we learn why our compassion should go out to every living being: Like us, each is a soul encased in a body; each is an eternal servant of Krishna.

Devotees of Krishna show compassion by trying to awaken everyone to their original, pure consciousness, or Krishna consciousness. We suffer because we’ve turned away from Krishna. When we go back to Him, our suffering dissolves. It is said that when we take full shelter of Krishna, our ocean of suffering will shrink down to the amount of water that fills a calf’s hoofprint. We’ll easily step over it.

Compassion requires humility, an essential quality for anyone trying for spiritual progress. I might become proud of my compassion when I see the lack of it in others. But when I remember saints who showed full compassion, I’m quickly humbled. The greatest devotees sacrifice their lives to give Krishna consciousness to others. They feel the suffering of others as their own and spontaneously work to apply the balm of Krishna consciousness.

Vasudeva Datta, a follower of Lord Caitanya, was unequaled in his display of compassion. He begged the Lord to allow him to suffer everyone else’s karma so that everyone in the world could return to Krishna.

Lord Siva drank an ocean of poison to save the world. While relating that history, the Srimad-Bhagavatam declares, “It is said that great personalities almost always accept voluntary suffering because of the suffering of people in general. This is considered the highest method of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is present in everyone’s heart.”

To stop the suffering of the animals, the unborn, the poor, the sick, the distressed, we all must do whatever we can to draw out—from ourselves and others—pure love for Krishna.

Holding Fast In Times Of Stress

There's a lot of talk these days about how to relieve stress. We often feel stress because of change, and change comes under the larger headings of fate and time, and of Krishna’s will. How does a devotee of Krishna handle the stress of feeling his life suddenly subject to upheaval?

A devotee turns to the scriptures for shelter. The Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam are full of advice about how to think and act in times of difficulty, and they are also filled with descriptions of the inevitability of change in the material world.

In the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna speaks a series of verses to answer Arjuna’s question about the nature of the transcendentalist. I remember reading in Gandhi’s autobiography that he used to read daily that particular section (from verse Bg 2.55 to the end of the chapter). The instructions contained in those verses are universally applicable for those wishing to stay fixed in transcendence while living in the material world.

Verse Bg 2.57 is particularly relevant: “In the material world, one who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain, neither praising it nor despising it, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge.”

Srila Prabhupada’s purport begins, “There is always some upheaval in the material world which may be good or evil.” This is a classic statement by Srila Prabhupada. I have had this line reverberating in my mind ever since I first read it, and it seemed to address my life at different times when there were upheavals. Upheavals can be anything from government collapse to tidal waves and earthquakes to losing our job or our particular service to Lord Krishna. Here Srila Prabhupada calls such unfortunate occurrences “normal.”

Prabhupada told us, “Don’t expect smooth sailing in this world.” He meant that being devotees of Krishna doesn’t protect us from rough seas. Arjuna certainly didn’t enjoy smooth sailing as he fought against friends and family in the Battle of Kurukshetra. Krishna’s only promise was that He had already accomplished what He wanted Arjuna to do; Arjuna should act as His instrument, and Krishna would stand before him on the chariot.

Srila Prabhupada continues: “One who is not agitated by such material upheavals, who is unaffected by good and evil, is to be understood to be fixed in Krishna consciousness.”

There it is, how we should respond to inevitable change: When, after years of peace, we or someone we know is suddenly afflicted with disease or loss of income or some other drastic change, we should remain unaffected.

“As long as one is in the material world there is always the possibility of good and evil because this world is full of duality. But one who is fixed in Krishna consciousness is not affected by good and evil, because he is simply concerned with Krishna, who is all-good absolute. Such consciousness situates one in a perfect transcendental position, called, technically, samadhi.”

Krishna is the anchor in any storm. He will never change. Therefore, if we are fixed on Krishna, then we will remain fixed in the face of any calamity. Otherwise, if our attachment and fixity are on matter, and our faith was based on the idea that matter won’t change in our particular situation, then when our small world dissolves and our plans go spinning off into meaninglessness, our complete sense of identity will also spin off. A devotee is fixed on Krishna, not on matter. And Krishna doesn’t change.

Of course, saving ourselves from unnecessary stress is not the main reason to become Krishna conscious, but a rewarding dividend of practicing devotional service is to be able to hold on to the one trustworthy person, and to a realized sense of identity. Thus whatever faith we have invested in matter we should invest in Krishna so that we can develop the ability to turn to Krishna always, and to live in remembrance of Him. Krishna finishes His answer to Arjuna’s question by saying, “This is the way of the spiritual and godly life, after attaining which a man is not bewildered. If one is thus situated even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God.” (2.72)

Sticking to Our Practices

It’s a shame, therefore, that we see devotees undergoing change who give up their sadhana, their daily spiritual practices. Often the stress doesn’t have to be so calamitous. It can simply be a new, more hectic schedule or a temporary illness. In one sense, it’s not so unusual to neglect sadhana at such times because sadhana is based on regulation. When regulation is disturbed, sadhana seems more difficult to perform. Still, it’s a shame. Krishna is the anchor in our lives. If during a storm we let go of our anchor, what shelter do we have? Of course, it’s not that we really let go of Krishna, but we abandon our method of connecting with Him. When things change, we suddenly give up the shelter we need most.

Perhaps we each need to examine whether giving up sadhana, or even reducing sadhana, is really required. Another way to see our lives is to say, “If I do anything during this difficult time, let it be chanting Hare Krishna.” Everything else can come after. Chanting is not a luxury for a devotee; neither is hearing about Krishna. Hearing and chanting are how we sustain our spiritual lives.

The Greatest Gain

Since Srila Prabhupada mentioned samadhi, let’s examine another reference to that state. In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (6.20-23), Krishna explains:

In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.

Samadhi is the greatest gain because it rests on the real happiness of the self living in the truth of Krishna consciousness. Having attained samadhi, a person is not shaken by difficulty. In the last paragraph of his purport, Prabhupada writes, “As long as the material body exists, one has to meet the demands of the body.… But a person who is in pure bhakti-yoga … does not arouse the senses while meeting the demands of the body. Rather, he accepts the bare necessities of life, making the best use of a bad bargain, and enjoys transcendental happiness in Krishna consciousness. He is callous toward incidental occurrences—such as accidents, disease, scarcity, and even the death of a most dear relative—but he is always alert to execute his duties in Krishna consciousness.”

Our sadhana is not a selfish act. I remember that when I was in charge of ISKCON’s first temple in Boston, I sometimes had to counsel devotees who had had some calamity in their families. I often referred to this purport. A relative’s death is not a signal that we should abandon our spiritual lives. Our obligation is different. Prabhupada says that a devotee is callous toward incidental occurrences, and he lists all the typical sources of misery—accidents, disease, scarcity, and the death of a relative. “He endures all such incidental occurrences because he knows that they come and go and do not affect his duties. In this way he achieves the highest perfection in yoga practice.”

Callous means tough. We should be tough, not shaken by every whimsical wind passing through the material world. Our hearts should not feel tugged at by every grief and happiness. Matter changes; that is its nature. A transcendentalist does not become affected by it.

How do we come to the platform of samadhi? It takes knowledge. Prabhupada has made that knowledge accessible to us in his books. Here he states that not only do we need knowledge, we need to stay fixed in our duty. That is the key. If we are fixed in Krishna consciousness, then we will stick to our Krishna conscious duty.

Devotees may then ask, “What about when our duty changes because of some upheaval in the material world?”

Then we may have to examine what really constitutes our duty. The basis of our duty is our sadhana and the understanding that we are the eternal servant of Krishna. We tend to allow ourselves to identify with what has become the status quo for us, the work for which we are often appreciated. We think of ourselves as writers or managers or cooks or mothers. Krishna may, at any time, change that designation, however. Therefore, we must see our ultimate duty as taking shelter of the holy names and following the four regulative principles according to our vows, and we should embrace this duty no matter in what condition of life we find ourselves. We must also regularly hear about Krishna. These activities constitute a devotee’s unchanging duty. If our service to Krishna is changed, we can take up a new service. After all, we are servants. Such dutifulness will provide real shelter. It is a tangible way in which to connect with Krishna.

The upheavals: scarcity (of money or food); disease (which comes in so many varieties); accidents (to the body, to our property); and death. A devotee continues to do his service.

Ultimately, Krishna is behind whatever changes take place in this world. We can remember that and quicken our philosophical perception of life by carrying through with all the items of sadhana. By associating with devotees, taking shelter of the holy name, and hearing the voice of God as He presents it in scripture, we can develop the understanding and steadiness required.

Not Emotionless

Of course, we are not stone, and we have not achieved samadhi. We will feel emotion about the things happening around us. I have felt assured that Krishna did not condemn Arjuna for crying or shaking before the battle, nor for his fears or attachments. Rather, Krishna condemned Arjuna for not acting on His order despite those obstacles. To grieve and feel afraid or insecure in the midst of upheaval is human. We don’t have to pretend to be unmoved if we are quaking inwardly. Neither should we pretend we are callous if we’re actually upset. What is required of us is not pretense but steadiness. We should not give up our duty under any condition.

There is real shelter in Krishna consciousness. As Gandhi said about his own turning to scripture, “When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad- gita and find a verse to comfort me. I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.”

We have that access to Krishna and to solace. By opening the scriptures and reading something, we come in touch with something sublime, with the voice of God.

We can become Krishna conscious. That means we can see Krishna’s hand in every situation. If we see Krishna’s hand, we won’t be bewildered into laying blame on others for our misfortune. We can achieve that freedom, but we have to practice Krishna consciousness to achieve it. All the items of sadhana will give us the strength and knowledge to function as devotees.

Seeing Krishna’s hand doesn’t mean that we can or even need to always understand the reasons behind His actions. We simply accept that His plans are inconceivable to us. We don’t even need to inquire into them. Our faith is that Krishna is our well-wishing friend; everything is happening by His arrangement for our own good.

Of course, that requires faith, and times of difficulty must especially become times of faith. Faith means to place our trust in something sublime. It means we cannot always see the way; it’s too dark ahead. It means that even though Krishna is not always showing us the goal and the solution to the obstacles we will encounter on our way to the goal at every instance, we follow Him anyway. It means following Him even when He is not revealing Himself to us. If we go before the deity and don’t see Krishna, if we chant the holy name and don’t hear “Krishna,” and in the absence of any other form of revelation, we continue to follow, then that is faith.

Somehow, therefore, serve Krishna with body, mind, and words. Our duty is Krishna consciousness. Although practicing our sadhana and performing our service may sometimes take creativity, we should never lose sight of our real position as Krishna’s eternal servants.

No Fear!

As we read the scripture and hear from the spiritual master, we will hear both easy and difficult instructions. We’ll naturally be attracted to those that seem easier to follow, but the two types of instruction have a unity of purpose.

One of the most encouraging verses I have found in Bhagavad-gita is 2.40: “In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” A similar verse can be found in the ninth chapter, where Krishna describes devotional service as su- sukham kartum: “joyfully performed.” Bhakti is easier to perform than other processes. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly emphasizes the ease of chanting the holy name as the sacrifice for the age. Formerly, people had to practice yoga for a hundred thousand years to become self-realized. In the present age, Lord Caitanya brought the chanting of Hare Krishna. Because He freely distributed love for Krishna, He is maha-vadanyaya, the most magnanimous avatara of Krishna.

To accept the encouragement given by Bg. 2.40, we have to understand the context in which it is given. Some difficult instructions precede this liberal statement. Krishna has just told Arjuna to fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat, “and by so doing, you shall never incur sin.” Srila Prabhupada explains that Krishna is instructing Arjuna to fight simply because He desires the battle. This is difficult for Arjuna to hear.

Earlier Krishna presented a variety of reasons and philosophies to convince Arjuna to fight, including the Sankhya analysis of body and soul. But now Krishna is presenting buddhi-yoga, or the yoga of intelligence. Intelligence is not limited to the ability to intellectualize knowledge, although knowledge is important. Intelligence includes action based on understanding. We are meant to understand that whatever we do should be done not for our sense gratification but for Krishna’s pleasure, and this is a difficult thing to hear.

In the conditioned state, to always want to do things according to our own desires is natural. No one wants to serve another’s wishes all of the time. Or, if we are willing to serve, it is only to fulfill some subtle or gross desire of our own. But Krishna wants us to renounce that selfish motivation. He doesn’t want us to act for our sense gratification but for His sense gratification. Of course, we want to enjoy eating, sleeping, and work. Offering the results to someone else seems equivalent to slavery. Materially, we find such a state obnoxious.

In the absolute sense, however, we are constitutionally eternal servants. We are not masters, no matter how much we try to enjoy the material world. Therefore, we feel no happiness when we try to pretend that we are masters. Still, it’s hard to accept this fact and surrender.

Krishna’s Sympathy

What makes Bg. 2.40 so encouraging is that Krishna recognizes our difficulty. He both prescribes a gradual path and presents us with information about the tremendous benefit that can accrue to us if we simply endeavor to practice devotion. Srila Prabhupada has stated that if someone would just read one page from his books or taste even a morsel of prasadam, he could be liberated. Similarly, even a little devotion can protect you from falling down into a lower species of life. Such devotion never suffers loss or diminution. Srila Prabhupada writes:

Any work begun on the material plane has to be completed; otherwise the whole attempt becomes a failure. But any work begun in Krishna consciousness has a permanent effect, even though not finished… . One percent done in Krishna consciousness bears permanent results, so that the next beginning is from the point of two percent… . Ajamila performed his duty in some percentage of Krishna consciousness, but the result he enjoyed at the end was a hundred percent, by the grace of the Lord.

I remember how in an early Boston temple, a man used to help us with carpentry work. He wasn’t at all interested in the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, but he was friendly with the devotees and liked to help them with their projects. I wrote to Prabhupada and asked whether, since the man wasn’t interested in the philosophy, we should spend much time with him. Prabhupada said yes, we should encourage him. If he turns one screw in the temple, he can be liberated. Prabhupada had faith in this principle. And Prabhupada understood the teaching, which he gave us, that Krishna is more eager for the living entity to return to Him than the living entity is himself. Krishna will work for our deliverance.

Later in the Bhagavad-gita (3.31), Krishna states that those who execute their duties according to His injunctions and follow His teachings faithfully, without envy, can become free from the bondage of fruitive actions. That means that even if we can’t surrender completely to doing only what Krishna desires, if we don’t resent His expectations of us but instead feel humbled by our inabilities, we will be properly situated in the beginning stages of devotional life.

Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to this verse that big philosophers who write commentaries on the Bhagavad- gita but don’t have faith will never achieve liberation, while “an ordinary man with firm faith in the eternal injunctions of the Lord, even though unable to execute such orders, becomes liberated from the bondage of the law of karma.”

Then this: “In the beginning of Krishna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krishna consciousness.”

Therefore, we should not feel resentful when we see the gap between our present position and final surrender. We should not mind that Krishna is asking of us more than we seem able to give. Neither should we feel hopeless or defeated. Our own endeavor weighs very little in our success, actually. We will be successful simply by Krishna’s mercy. So when Krishna says, “In this endeavor,” we should be clear what that endeavor is. Our endeavor is simply to put ourselves in line for mercy and accept it when it comes. We are wayward children, and Krishna is a loving father. His actions are always to rectify us to our original loving relationship with Him. Since Krishna will reciprocate with our desire, we have to learn to desire Him. We cannot lose in this, because if we want Krishna, He will give Himself to us.

A Favorable Birth

But it may take time. Prabhupada writes that even if we fail to go back to Godhead at the end of this life, we can be born in a family that will awaken our Krishna consciousness early. Krishna speaks about this elaborately at the end of the sixth chapter when Arjuna asks Krishna what happens to a man who achieves success in neither the material nor the spiritual sphere. Again Krishna assures Arjuna that one who does good is never overcome by evil. Our devotion will always be protected.

While our devotion will be protected, our mundane activities will not. Therefore, we find in the material world that more money, more enjoyment, more anything is always lost at death, and at death we will face the greatest loss—that we wasted our time on matter and did not develop our spiritual lives. We will never be able to make up that time. It will be a total loss, just as a beautiful car becomes worthless in seconds during a bad accident.

If we don’t achieve full success at the end of this life, then we have to face the fear of death and the afterlife. Where will we go? Prabhupada has explained that while death is a great fear, falling into the lower species, where there is no chance to act for self-realization, is a greater fear.

Death is never fearful for those who practice Krishna consciousness. Krishna personally carries the soul forward either to the spiritual world or to the next life where the soul can again continue his activities in spiritual life. A devotee who takes shelter of this merciful Krishna has nothing to fear.

Prabhupada gave as an example of this principle the method of licensing doctors in India. Those who went to medical school had to attend for a certain number of years before they were eligible for the final exams. All those who managed to arrive at the exams were eligible to become doctors, but only those who passed the exams received full government recognition. The others could also practice, but not with the same licensing by the government. Prabhupada said, “Even a failure succeeds.”

Because a devotee is humble, he never really imagines that he will ever achieve the final success. A devotee maintains an attitude of willingness to be reborn in the material world, but he prays to be allowed to remember the Lord from birth to birth. If we can only remember Krishna, and if, with the help of the encouragement Krishna gives in Bg. 2.40, we work to complete our Krishna consciousness, we at least know that we will have that much surrender to build on in the next life.

In many prayers in the Bhagavatam pure devotees contemplate their return to the material world and speak of the way they would like to live in their next life. Maharaja Parikshit prays, “Again, offering obeisances unto all you brahmanas, I pray that if I should again take my birth in the material world I will have complete attachment to the unlimited Lord Krishna, association with His devotees, and friendly relations with all living beings.”Similarly, Narottama Dasa Thakura prays to always be able to associate with and serve the Vaishnavas.

Whatever liberal verses we draw on for our encouragement, we should not use them as an excuse for laziness in our practices. Rather, such verses should fill us with gratitude because despite our mistakes, Krishna is willing to allow us to continue in this powerful devotional process. If such a little bit of devotional service is powerful enough to carry us forward into our next life, then we should try to develop as much devotion as possible. And of course, we shouldn’t dilute devotional service with other practices or desires. This process is easy, and it can save us. We should take as much as we can. Doing so will be our real solace when we find ourselves not as advanced in surrender as we would like to be.

The Measure of Success

If we want to take as much as we can, then we have to intensify our hearing and chanting. The real measure of our success in service is whether Krishna (or Krishna’s pure devotee) is pleased. To say that we should act to satisfy Krishna’s senses means Krishna should derive pleasure from our activities. Therefore, we have to invest the qualities of heart and attentiveness in our service, and the motivation for offering the service has to be pure and focused solely on Krishna’s pleasure.

Bhagavad-gita explains this point in later chapters where Krishna describes how things can be done according to the different modes of nature. Performing our service with neglect is not the same as performing it with love. To help us, the acaryas have prescribed the path of regulated devotion (vaidhi-bhakti) until we find our own heartfelt Krishna conscious expression. If we follow their instructions, we will be able to please Krishna by our enthusiasm and faithfulness and thus make advancement toward Him. If we are whimsical or lazy, we may find ourselves outside the realm of devotion.

The Gaudiya Vaishnava path, the line of Lord Chaitanya, teaches its followers to perform the best quality of service. Prabhupada explains how in most religious movements God is seen as the father. This usually translates as order-supplier. After all, God has everything and we have nothing. Therefore, religionists often harass God to receive the things they want for their sense pleasure. Sometimes, there is an exchange of service for the goods.

Better than that, however, is the Gaudiya Vaishnava conception that God is the dependent son. Krishna likes to be known as Nanda-suta (the son of Nanda) or Yashoda-nandana (the son of Yashoda). He likes His intimate devotees to treat Him as if His Godhood were inconsequential. He considers this more loving than the reverential approach.

This understanding gives the inner meaning to the quality of service. We are interested simply in Krishna’s pleasure. If we cannot yet love fully, if we cannot yet give up all our interests for Krishna’s interests, then we should be humble enough to cry over our failure. We should cry to receive prema, pure love for Krishna. We are so fallen that all we can do is beg to be engaged in Krishna’s service. If with so many disqualifications we remain proud, however, then how can we hope to achieve Krishna’s mercy? Proud religionists don’t please Krishna.

Srila Prabhupada writes, “Activity in Krishna consciousness, or acting for the benefit of Krishna without expectation of sense gratification, is the highest transcendental quality of work. Even a small beginning of such activity finds no impediment, nor can that small beginning be lost at any stage.” Krishna asks for the most difficult thing we have to give: He wants us to surrender in love. He promises to protect our attempt. We should not hold back.