“If a devotee is intelligent enough, he will make progress on the path of self-realization. If one is sincere and devoted to the activities of devotional service, the Lord gives him a chance to make progress and ultimately attain to Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita 10.10 Purport)
Many of us are born with an innate challenging spirit, arising from the mode of passion. We love to take on challenges and see if we can conquer them. Whether it is running a marathon, skiing down a mountain, competing in an office football pool, or even building something with our hands, we love taking on challenges and seeing if we can come out successful.
We are all part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, so all of our qualities originate from Him. The material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. Everything that exists here, exists in the spiritual world but in purified form. For example, sex life in the material world is a perverted reflection of the real love that is exchanged on the spiritual planets. The loving affairs of Radha and Krishna aren’t anything like the ordinary love affairs of men and women on this earth. It is completely pure in nature, representing the highest form of bliss. Love in the material world, as we think it to be, is actually a form of lust.
“…Just like Radha-Krishna love, Kishora-kishori, young Krishna, young Radharani. This love is pervertedly reflected in this material world which is in the name of love, but it is lust; therefore it is called perverted reflection. Lust because the, a young boy, a young girl mix together, they love together, but a slight disagreement, they separate. Why? Because that is not love. That is lust. The lust is going on in the name of love. But the reflection is from there. Therefore it is called maya.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 690425LE.BOS)
Krishna sometimes feels in the mood to challenge enemies and fight, so He creates situations in this world where that desire can be facilitated. The challenging spirit that exists inside of us is also a skewed reflection of the spirit that exists in the spiritual world. In the material world, we all have a desire to boost our ego and self-esteem. The material world is made up of five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego). It is referred to as false ego, because it is the nature of man to falsely think himself to be the proprietor of things. Real ego comes when realize that God is responsible for everything and that our duty is to become His servant.
We all like to think of ourselves as special and extraordinary. Taking on new challenges is our way of supporting our ego and increasing our self-respect. Exercising this challenging spirit on tasks in the material world may be very nice, but in the end it really has no lasting effects. Once we conquer a challenge, we immediately need another one to maintain our ego. The great basketball player Michael Jordan won three consecutive NBA titles and multiple Most Valuable Player awards halfway through his career. He was already considered the greatest basketball player ever, so he felt that he needed a new challenge. Retiring from basketball, he took up baseball, playing in the minor leagues for the Chicago White Sox franchise. Unable to succeed in that venture, he eventually returned to basketball where he would go on to win three more NBA titles. This shows that even when we achieve all of our goals, we are still left wanting more, for our desires never become truly satisfied. The mind is constantly working. Being in the material world means we are always hankering after something we want or lamenting over something that we don’t have.
The best use of this challenging spirit is to use it in our service to God. Serving Krishna involves following many rules and regulations in the beginning, specifically that of following the four regulative principles and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. The four regulative principles require abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. For most people, these restrictions seem very hard to follow. Those growing up in America are quite accustomed to eating meat. The beef industry runs television commercials using the slogan “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” The quintessential American meal consists of meat and potatoes. This being the case, it is very difficult for people to suddenly give up meat eating. One doesn’t have to renounce everything in the material world in order to make spiritual advancement. Instead we can spiritualize material things by using them to further develop our Krishna consciousness. We can start by using our challenging spirit to help us refrain from prohibited activities. We can dare ourselves not to eat meat for a day, or for a week. Many of us have had bad experiences from intoxication which make us we swear that we’ll never drink again. Quitting anything cold turkey is very difficult to do. Instead of completely swearing off of it, maybe we can try avoiding intoxication for a few days or weeks. We can create intoxication-free streaks and reward ourselves after we pass certain milestones. Once we pass such challenges, we can create new goals for ourselves. In this way, we make real advancement and change our habits at the same time. Once we get in the habit of living a clean lifestyle, those habits will be very hard to break. These same techniques can be used to strengthen our chanting regimen. Slowly but surely, if we develop a nice routine, we can easily give up sinful activity and instead focus our time on devotional service.
The highest goal in life is for one to always be thinking of Krishna and have his consciousness completely dovetailed with the spiritual consciousness. This is a very difficult task and many are not successful even after many many births. Lord Krishna Himself declared in the Bhagavad-gita that one who is unsuccessful in transcendental realization in this life, picks up where he left off in his next life. In this way, our efforts in serving Krishna never go to waste. If we challenge ourselves and are sincere in our devotion, then our success is guaranteed.