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.
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.