From Back to Godhead
Not getting what you want? Perhaps that’s good for you.
“Please cancel my tickets,” I said to my friend on the phone. “I won’t be able to go.”
I hung up the phone and sank down onto my bed, my head in my hands. My friend had arranged my tickets for the trip to Jagannatha Puri and Mayapur I had been so eagerly looking forward to, and now I had to cancel. The past few weeks in my life had been very turbulent, so when my friends proposed a spiritual retreat to these two holy places so dear to the followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, I jumped at the offer, hoping for a welcome break. But it couldn’t happen now. My stringent schedule was not loosening its grip on me.
“Damn it!” I cried out.
I shot from the bed, threw my pillow to the ground, and pulled out the bed sheet. I lifted the mattress and wanted to fling it too, but it was too heavy. I dropped it half on the floor, stomped out of the room, went into the bathroom, and stood with my arms bent over the sink. Breathing heavily, I stared down at the dark drain and dripped tears into it.
Unable to drive my life according to my desires, I was frustrated, angry, and helpless. My mind swirled like a dry leaf caught in a hurricane. I had no one to talk to, no way to sort things out.
Light in the Abyss
I had to come out of this mental mess, so I turned to my old and tested remedy for finding solutions to life’s incessant problems: scriptures and devotional talks. As always, I found direction. Teachings from the scriptures gave me a perspective to understand my situation and make peace with it.
Inevitably, all of us will sometimes find ourselves face to face with frustration. Some people advocate venting frustration by going to an empty field and shouting curses or visiting a dump-yard to break the windows of rejected vehicles. You can do that. Or you can choose to ponder over some jewels from the timeless Vedic teachings that may help during turbulent times. Here are my lifelines:
Don’t brood: Stop meditating on the problem over and over again.
Unfulfilled desires have a strange habit. Unlike most of the thousand other thoughts that arise in our mind and then vaporize in thin air, unfulfilled desires hover around the mind like a hot-air balloon anchored to the earth. The more we think about them, the more strongly they stay tethered to our consciousness, refusing to leave and creating a vicious cycle. And when you can’t satisfy their demands, they bring their buddies-anger and frustration-who are so expert in making you miserable. The Gita (2.62) warns us against such moody musings: “While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.”
So the first solution is to think of something else. Get busy. Don’t keep an idol mind ransacked by devilish thoughts.
Wait for the good times: The Eighth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam relates an incident in which the demons (asuras) attacked the demigods (suras). Although the demigods are the good guys in the cosmic hierarchy and one would expect them to win against the evil forces, in this instance they find themselves no match for the vastly superior demoniac army. Helpless, they approach the Supreme Lord. But instead of helping them win the war, He advises them to declare a truce until time favors them.
Sometimes anything we touch turns to dust. Our projects fail, people misunderstand us, we don’t get credit for the good things we do, we get blamed for wrongs others do, our relationships sour, our academic performance plummets, our career crashes. Nothing works. Instead of getting restless during these times, we should remember the Lord’s instruction to the demigods and declare a truce with life until time favors us.
In the Bhagavad-gita (2.14) Lord Krishna points out the impermanence of good and bad times and emphasizes the quality of tolerance: “O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”
As the proverb says, “This too shall pass.”
Persevere: Patiently tolerating adverse times does not mean we should give up our efforts. Srila Prabhupada brilliantly exemplifies the quality of perseverance in times of frustration. Desiring to build the first Radha-Krishna temple in New York City, he solicited help from influential godbrothers, pious Indian business magnates, and the government of India, but no one helped him. He was seventy, with modest means, few contacts in America, and only a handful of followers, yet he did not give up. Within a decade, his perseverance saw the emergence of not just one Krishna temple, but more than a hundred temples worldwide.
Remember that Krishna might have a higher plan: Sometimes the efforts we put into a project might not fetch us the expected returns. But then Lord Krishna may reward us somewhere else. A few years back I was part of a group of devotees distributing sets of Srila Prabhupada’s books in factories. We were working hard in the capital of an Indian state, trying to meet VIPs, political leaders, police chiefs, and so on, with the hope of getting large orders of books. But nothing seemed to work out. I remember walking into eighteen companies in a day and getting no’s everywhere.
Later, I stayed in the area to coordinate book distribution while my senior colleague went to another area. And-whoa! The new area turned out to be a goldmine. He met a highly placed person who arranged for us to visit many top companies, and we distributed hundreds of book sets.
Be detached: While randomly opening the pages of Bhagavad-gita, I came across text 9.7, where the Lord says, “O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium all material manifestations enter into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency, I create them again.”
I pondered, “Within this unlimitedly vast creation and unlimited stretch of time, where do I and my tiny problem stand?”
I heaved a sigh of relief.
Be assured that Krishna knows best: Lord Krishna is like the affectionate father who gives us what we need, not what we want. Often something we ask for could be harmful for us, so God does not give it. Or by denying us what we want, He may be giving us a chance to grow internally. He knows what is best for us. And He is the controller, not us. It’s prudent to be patient and keep faith in His good judgment.
Accept the situation with humility: In a lecture, my spiritual master, His Holiness Radhanatha Swami Maharaja, explained how to accept frustrating situations with humility:
One of the greatest illusions is the pride that we deserve what we want. Humility means thinking, “I deserve nothing. I deserve the worst. Whatever I get is better than what I deserve.” A humble person is grateful for whatever he gets. If good comes, with folded palms we say, “Thank You, Krishna; You are so kind. You are a loving father.” If suffering comes into our lives, with tears in the heart we will say, “Krishna, You are so kind; I deserve so much worse. This is just what I require for my purification.”
The egoistic person always thinks, “I deserve better.” But the humble person thinks everything is the causeless mercy of the Lord. If you are grateful to Krishna and you are reciprocating with loving feeling with Krishna in every circumstance of your life, you will never be disturbed. That is humility. The one qualification that makes us eligible for joy and peace in the state of liberation is to expect nothing, knowing we deserve nothing. Therefore with gracious heart we thank Lord Krishna for everything that comes. Lord Chaitanya prays in the Sikshashtakam, “My Lord, if You want You can embrace me; if You want You can make me brokenhearted by not being present before me; if You want You can trample upon me. I am Your servant, and You have every right to deal with me in any way You please.”
If you can become humble, you will be peaceful; you will be joyful and full of bliss twenty-four hours of the day, because happiness is not what we have or get-happiness is the disposition of the heart.
A Continuous Challenge
Although I have compiled this list, I must say I still find keeping sane in the face of frustration a continuous challenge. But the foundation of spiritual teachings in my life helps me face the hurricanes. In this regard, Srimad-Bhagavatam teaches us a wonderful lesson through the life of a brahmana from Avanti. Formerly a multi-millionaire, he lost all his wealth and was subsequently shunned by his family and friends. People treated him brutally, yet he found solace in taking shelter of God. In a stanza of a song he composed, he spoke about his realizations: “These people are not the cause of my happiness and distress. Neither are the demigods, my own body, the planets, my past work, or time. Rather, it is the mind alone that causes happiness and distress and perpetuates the rotation of material life.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.23.42)
A materially attached mind is a source of suffering, but a mind focused on transcendence, fixed on Krishna, is always in a state of happiness ( anandambudhi-vardhanam). Happiness comes as a by-product of love of Krishna. The prime benediction for all humanity is the chanting of the Lord’s holy names. There is no other way in this age to purify our mind, to make it our best friend. When the mind is purified, then the heart blossoms like a lotus. We see Lord Krishna everywhere, and we see His love in everything and everyone. We should aspire to be in such a spiritual state of consciousness.