“Arjuna was perplexed. He could not understand whether he should fight or not. Similarly, everyone in the material world is perplexed. So we require guidance from Krishna or his bona fide representative. Then we can become enlightened.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, Ch 6.1)
“He who hesitates is lost” is a proverb that describes what happens to someone who is unsure about what to do in a particular situation. Hesitation involves not knowing the proper course of action. In many cases, we have a yes/no response to questions; fight or flight, go or no go, etc. We can either choose to do something or choose not to do something. These predicaments are tough enough, but then there are also conundrums. A conundrum is a situation where there is more than one course of action available. When faced with a conundrum, it is quite natural for a person to hesitate, but if they do, there could be dire consequences. What if they make the wrong move? The other negative aspect to hesitation is that it can take away valuable time. Our choices become that much more difficult when faced with time constraints. Therefore hesitation is not something we want to encounter, but how do we avoid it? The best way is to be armed with knowledge, information which comes from authority. One who is knowledgeable will be confident enough to make the right decisions without hesitating. This knowledge takes on an even greater importance in spiritual life.
To help us better understand the concept of hesitation and its negative consequences, let’s look at some real life examples of people who hesitated under pressure. The world of professional sports is always packed with pressure. In the pros, the players are paid the big bucks so that they can bring home the championship for their home cities. In the four major American team sports [basketball, football, baseball, hockey], each team plays for a home city. Sometimes the team will be affiliated with a state or region, but they still play all their home games in a venue of a particular city. These sports all have a regular season, where teams play a series of games to determine their standings. Based on the win-loss records of the teams at the end of the season, there is a playoff round, a sort of tournament, to determine the champion of the season. It is during this tournament that the pressure really gets applied. A team is playing for all the marbles, the big prize of the season, so every move counts and every mistake is amplified.
Each sport has its particular pressures, especially as it relates to time. In the sport of basketball, the pressure really heightens towards the end of the game. Basketball is a timed sport, so whichever team has the most points at the end of regulation time wins the game. Therefore the last few minutes of a game are usually pretty hectic, with frequent timeouts called by the coaches to go over specific plays. Fans often joke that the last two minutes of a basketball game can take longer than the rest of the game due to all the timeouts. Each team gets a specific number of timeouts they can call in a given game. These timeouts are essentially breaks which allow the coaches to huddle their players together and go over strategy and the future course of action. Since timeouts are so important, coaches like to save them until the end of the game. In some professional leagues, the coaches can call a timeout from the sideline, but usually it is a player on the court who asks the referee for a timeout. But what happens if the team doesn’t have any timeouts left? One famous incident tells us all we need to know about the importance of knowing how many timeouts remain.
In college basketball, the champion each year is determined by a single-elimination tournament consisting of sixty-four schools from around the country. This tournament is often referred to as March Madness, and it is widely followed by fans around the country, due especially to its being conducive to gambling. Before the tournament, fans fill out brackets, where they try to guess which teams will advance in each round, all the way up until the finals. These brackets are then grouped together into pools, with winners determined by the number of successful outcomes accurately predicted. For the players participating in the tournament, the pressures are especially heightened. College players are looking to make it to the professional ranks, the NBA, so the tournament is their time to shine. Since there is a high turnover of players each year, the teams that make it to the final rounds also vary from year to year. If a team makes it to the final game of the championship round, it is certainly a unique opportunity; something which doesn’t come along every day.
During the early 1990s, the University of Michigan had an especially strong basketball team. Their five starting players were known as the Fab 5 since they were all highly skilled and destined for the NBA. In 1993, they made it to the championship game of the NCAA tournament and faced the University of North Carolina. With North Carolina leading by two points late in the game, Michigan’s Chris Webber brought the ball forward for his team. This was a huge moment in the game; Michigan could tie it with a basket. Usually with so little time left in the game, players immediately call timeout once they get the ball back on offense. Webber wasn’t sure what to do. He dribbled the ball forward a little bit, stopped, hesitated, and then decided to call timeout. There was only one problem though: the team had no timeouts left. Webber was called for a technical foul, giving North Carolina free throws that allowed them to clinch the game. In this most critical of moments, on national television, one of Michigan’s star players hesitated and essentially cost his team a chance at winning the biggest game of the season.
This sort of thing happens all the time in sports, so it was unfortunate that it happened to this specific player in such a meaningful game. A player is certainly culpable for such a blunder, but one must examine the root cause of the hesitation. As mentioned before, knowledge proves to be the most effective at disarming hesitation. If one is armed with knowledge, they will know what to do in the proper situation, when the chips are down and time is short. In basketball and other sports, it is the coach who is responsible for imparting this knowledge to their players. Before crucial plays, a coach takes the responsibility of letting his players know what the situation is in the game and what to do when such and such event happens. In sports, it is often seen that a good coach can make the difference between winning and losing. If players are prepared, they will play without hesitation and thus increase their chances of victory.
This same concept holds true in spiritual life. We are all born into ignorance. As infants, we don’t know how to read, write, walk, or talk. We need others to help us along in this process. While most of us eventually learn how to do these things, spiritual life is a different issue. Where do we go to learn about God and our purpose in life? Many of us achieve all of our material hopes and aspirations and still feel empty afterwards. If life is not all about landing a good job and having a secure lifestyle, then what is it about? If we are faced with a life or death situation, how will we know what to do when we don’t even know what our purpose in life is? Luckily for us, one great historical personality was faced with these very troubling questions and had the good fortune of going to the right person for the answers.
Around five thousand years ago, there was a great world war, far greater than anything seen in recent times. This war involved millions of soldiers taking up arms for one cause: the right to rule over a kingdom. According to the rules of propriety as enjoined by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the Pandava family was entitled to rule over this particular kingdom. Their father, King Pandu, was the ruler of the kingdom. Pandu had five sons to whom he could pass the throne down to. At the time of his death, the sons of Pandu, the Pandavas, were quite young, so Pandu’s brother Dhritarashtra decided to take the reins of the kingdom. Dhritarashtra was blind, so he wasn’t fit to be a king. He had one hundred sons of his own, so through backhanded means, he allowed his children to take over the government, while shunning the Pandavas at the same time. When all the children grew up, the Pandavas wanted their kingdom back. This eventually led to a great war which was set to take place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
Arjuna, one of Pandu’s sons and lead warrior for his side, was all set to begin fighting. At the time, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had advented on earth to enact wonderful pastimes and annihilate the miscreant forces. In fact, this great war was the Lord’s way of ridding the earth of sinful elements. Since Krishna was Arjuna’s cousin and dear friend, He decided to act as Arjuna’s charioteer during the war. This way, Krishna remained neutral yet partial to Arjuna at the same time. Right before the war was set to begin, Arjuna asked Krishna to take the chariot to the middle of the field so that Arjuna could survey the situation. Arjuna was feeling weak-hearted. The opposing side, the Kauravas, consisted of many respectable personalities, including Arjuna’s spiritual master and grand-father. Arjuna, being a devotee at heart, didn’t want to kill his kinsmen just to gain a kingdom. He was ready to drop his weapons and surrender, all out of soft-heartedness. But before surrendering, Arjuna decided to put the matter to Krishna. Arjuna was hesitant, and not knowing what to do, he kindly approached his coach, his mentor.
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Arjuna speaking to Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.7)
Luckily for Arjuna, his coach also happened to be God. The Lord kindly pointed Arjuna in the right direction, giving him a lecture on the meaning of life and the constitutional position of the soul at the same time. This wonderful discourse was chronicled in a very small chapter of the epic Mahabharata, compiled by Vyasadeva. Later on, this small chapter turned into its own book known as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God. This book is famous throughout the world, having been studied by great scholars, theologians, philosophers, and religionists for the past five thousand years.
While Krishna is specifically addressing Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, the intended audience is all of mankind. Everyone has a relationship with Krishna, or God, and the point to our existence is to rekindle that relationship. We can go about doing precisely that by following the principles found in the Lord’s teachings. The ultimate conclusion of the Gita is that we should abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender unto Krishna. Put the burden on Him and let Him take care of all the details. Just simply act according to His directions and you’ll never have to worry about hesitation again.
But what if we can’t understand the Bhagavad-gita? After all, the song itself is composed in Sanskrit, an ancient language which is very difficult to understand. How can we know the true import of the verses? The key is to learn the Bhagavad-gita, and Vedic wisdom in general, from a person who knows Krishna. The person in the know is the devotee of Krishna, or the spiritual master. Deciphering whether a person is a bona fide spiritual master is actually quite easy. We simply have to ask ourselves if they view Krishna the same way that Arjuna did. Eventually Arjuna surrendered everything unto the Lord, offering Him kind praises in the process. Since they were friends beforehand, Arjuna often addressed the Lord in casual terms, joking with Him, and treating Him like an equal. After all, that’s how we act with our friends; we make fun of them, call them names, and take them to be on the same level as ourselves. Yet after hearing Krishna’s instructions, Arjuna repented for his previous behavior. He was sorry that he hadn’t shown Krishna the respect that He deserved. In reality, Krishna was not offended by Arjuna’s past behavior at all. The Lord prefers to be worshiped in a loving attitude verses a reverential one.
The way to tell if a spiritual teacher is bona fide or not is to see if they are acting in Krishna’s interests. The Bhagavad-gita is so rich with knowledge that many people often use it to advance their own mentally concocted theories. They study the Gita, but try to take Krishna out of as many verses as possible. The devotee, however, understands that Krishna can never be separated from His words or teachings. If any discussions and topics in the Gita seem abstract, they appear so on purpose, serving as a way to lure in those who have a hard time conceiving of Krishna as God. Nevertheless, the ultimate conclusion of the Gita never changes: become a devotee and act according to Krishna’s directions. This is a simple enough formula that we can all abide by.
What if we can’t find a bona fide spiritual master? What if everyone we meet has their own personal agenda? Luckily for us, one of the greatest devotees of Krishna wrote his own translation and commentary of the Bhagavad-gita. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the author of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the most authorized translation and commentary of this famous work. He also wrote countless other books which expound on the same teachings of the Gita. Therefore anyone can consult these books or the swami’s recorded lectures and be eternally benefitted.
Coming from a line of great spiritual masters started by Lord Chaitanya, who was an incarnation of Krishna, Shrila Prabhupada’s foremost recommendation was that we all chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible, while abstaining from illicit sex, meat eating, intoxication, and gambling. These two recommendations form the bedrock of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Those who follow this highest form of yoga quickly acquire all the knowledge required to act with confidence even under the most stressful of situations.