We sometimes think of ourselves as being good adjudicators of who is serious in Krishna consciousness, and who is not. Who is pure, or not. Expecting that “More people will leave Krishna consciousness than stay,” we easily become proud of being one of the “privileged few” to remain.
Being of the surprising few and rationalising this way is certainly premature, and signals immediate complacency. The adage, “It is how you finish that counts; not how you start,” usually escapes our attention when we think of how and why so many devotees leave Krishna consciousness. Are all of those who left insincere? Is sincerity easily measured?
Though many of us are active in service now, how many of us think of the combined sacrifices of the thousands of devotees in the past that somehow helped shape the Iskcon we know today, but who are presently inactive? Many fell from high positions, and others left through weakness, and yet more are presently experiencing Krishna’s testing kindness.
Do we think again about how many of those thousands who left, would sincerely love to come back, but are unable to, due to shame, embarrassment, inadequacy, and general anarthas. How many of them can redeem themselves to become pure devotees even in this lifetime? Is a fall from grace an impediment for pure devotion?
While so many devotees are being tested on the “outside,” the relatively advantaged few on the “inside,” can be less fortunate than they. For instance, when a devotee becomes senior, many preaching opportunities await him or her. Wherever they go they will be honoured and feted. This is a very comfortable situation to be in.
This comfort can be mistaken for devotional happiness. If this is the case, then one is remaining in Krishna consciousness, or giving the appearance of being happy for the wrong reasons. If ever we think we have reached a contented milestone in our devotional progress it is a sure sign we have stopped. Why? Because a sincere devotee knows that he or she can do better, always.
Sailing on this boat of miscalculated happiness can cause one to lose sense of reality on the subject of sincerity with all of its facets. A simple, “You are either in, or out of it,” might be the common denominator. With such a prevailing stance as this, think of how numerous service opportunities go amiss when those who would like to help our temples and festivals feel stigmatised by the “out of it” label. We are not discussing philosophical deviations here.
This is an area that requires expanded awareness. Why did Srila Prabhupada himself sometimes re-engage certain of his disciples after they left Iskcon, even though they appeared to be in a fallen state? Why does Lord Krishna say, “There is no loss or diminution…” on this path of devotion? Why does the Lord also say that His devotees “shall never perish?”
It means that in the vast expanse of material time and eternity, whatever may be preventing or helping our active progress in Krishna consciousness, they are mere tiny blips. Small minds magnify such temporary holdups as major topics for chatter and ridicule. Expansive minds see the same as a continuation of spiritual progress.
And how can we know? How many of those thousands silently and secretly cry tears of remorse, in the solitude of their own prayerful time with Krishna? How many of them pray to the Lord to help make them better devotees, or at least come up to acceptable standards? Aren’t these the sort of prayers that even advanced devotees do as well?
We could well ask, that what is the difference between the, “in” and “out” devotees in their shared desire to improve themselves? They both aspire for spiritual progress. It is fair to say that if devotees do not feel any contrition, and similar private moods, then one’s sincerity must be questioned, for these feelings are natural parts of always trying to do better.
If the “inactive out” devotees are praying like this, then they must also be sincere. We may not see it, but Lord Chaitanya does, from the vantage point of eternity. “But they are doing nonsense!” says our antagonistic side. This is exactly what Arjuna was saying to Krishna in the Gitamrta. “But if those devotees are doing nonsense, then how can they be considered sadhus?” he enquired.
Lord Krishna replied by saying that in spite of their “nonsense,” their sincerity can be shown in how remorseful they are. What does Srila Prabhupada say about repentance? Here is something about Maharaja Pariksit after he flung a dead snake around a sage who appeared to ignore him.
“Such repentance is natural for a good man like the King, and such repentance delivers a devotee from all kinds of sins accidently committed. The devotees are naturally faultless. Accidental sins committed by a devotee are sincerely regretted, and by the grace of the Lord all sins unwillingly committed by a devotee are burned in the fire of repentance.” (SB 1.9.1 purport)
What are accidental sins? These are usually sins committed, even out of habit, that bring strong feelings of remorse each time. The sins may be committed again and again, but repeatedly the burning effects of repentance, along with sincere prayer and mercy seeking, gradually cleanse the desire for sinfulness, and gives strength to overcome them more easily. This is different from committing sins without any contrition. In either case, sincere chanting of Hare Krishna will solve the problem.
Whether we are gleefully engaged in active service, or are confined to the womb of a mother awaiting birth, or persistently struggling with our lower natures, and irrespective of our present position within the community of devotees, our on-going aspiration is to become an earnest vaisnava or vaisnavi, as a servant of the servant of the servant, which by any standard is a rare thing worth praying for.
Your servant, Kesava Krsna Dasa