“When love of God deteriorates into lust, it is very difficult to return to the normal condition. Nonetheless, Krishna consciousness is so powerful that even a late beginner can become a lover of God by following the regulative principles of devotional service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 3.41 Purport)
You show up to the class late. Everyone else already heard the instruction for the day. Teams have broken out to work on the exercises assigned, so you really have no idea what is going on. You approach the teacher to see if you can join in, but they tell you that it’s too late. “You should have been here on time. I don’t even know what team to place you in. You’ll be lost. You’ll be as valuable to any team by just sitting on the sidelines and watching what they are doing.” The critical components necessary for carrying forward in a particular discipline indicate that the education must start from a beginning point. In the human being’s progression in consciousness, the proper restraints in the beginning of life are necessary; otherwise the tendency towards activities driven by illusion will strengthen. Nevertheless, the constitutional engagement is so strong that the latecomers can still save themselves, learning what they need to in order to find the right condition.
Is there something specific to be learned for the constitutional engagement to be successfully found? The Bhagavad-gita sums up the basic plight of the living entity. Through some sort of delusion the mature human mind thinks that one particular loss will greatly affect them when it actually won’t. From that fear there is hesitation over the proper course, a nagging itch to deviate from the righteous path in hopes that the future outcome can be affected. Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to find a positive condition, but when one knows what they have to do and then doesn’t do it based on the thought that they can control events that are out of their control, they fall from the righteous path.
What is the big deal in falling off of the train of righteousness? Piety exists for a reason. Honesty, cleanliness, austerity and mercy provide benefits to the living entity who practices them. Typically, we’d view these characteristics as benefitting others. If we are truthful in our dealings, others can rely on us. If we are clean both inside and out, others will want to associate with us. Through austerity, others can have ample resources to use to sustain the vital force within their body. Through mercy, we offer compassion to our fellow man, forgiving his mistakes and at the same time protecting his right to live.
But these principles are more helpful to the individual who practices them. They are the beginning steps in the purification of consciousness, which is the birthright of every living entity. The human species is the most auspicious because it carries the highest potential for achieving that goal. In a purified consciousness you can get through pretty much any situation. A righteously situated consciousness is similar to having no feelings at all through numbness, except the immunity is real and beneficial versus fake and harmful.
As an example, an alcoholic gets drunk to temporarily escape the influence of the senses. In the inebriated state, one is less likely to suppress their emotions. A negative reaction, either physical or emotional, may not have an immediate effect either. On the surface this appears to be a good thing. “Get drunk so that you won’t feel the pain, so that you can survive through a tough situation.” But in reality, the inebriation only presents a false sense of escape, as the crash back down to reality will be hard. Moreover, the next time there is a reach towards intoxication, the effect won’t be as strong, and you’ll need more consumption to find a state devoid of feeling.
With a properly situated consciousness, you get the benefit of immunity from the reactions to work along with the added bonus of knowing how to act righteously. If you have the choice to act in the right way or the wrong way, and you don’t really care either way because your mind is fixed on the Absolute Truth, the better option is to act the right way. With this path, at least others get an example to follow, and at the same time the responsibility for the results gets shifted to someone else.
The lessons of the Bhagavad-gita prove this fact. The hesitant warrior Arjuna was taught about the meaning of life and how the soul is transcendental to matter. Reincarnation is like a machine that operates at every second, and it is especially noticed at the time of death, when the entire body is replaced in favor of another one. To lament over one’s personal bodily condition or the condition of others is not very wise. Arjuna was wrong to avoid fighting out of fear for the welfare of the fighters on the opposing side.
“The Supreme Person [Bhagavan] said: My dear Arjuna, how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the progressive values of life. They do not lead to higher planets, but to infamy.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.2)
Through the discussion on Vedanta presented by Arjuna’s teacher, Lord Krishna, the warrior was able to become immune to the influence of profit and loss, victory and defeat. Did this mean that he would just give up and go home? On the contrary, as a warrior, it was Arjuna’s occupational duty to fight to protect the innocent. With a properly situated consciousness, however, the burden for the outcome rested with Krishna, who is the origin of life and matter. The Supreme Lord created righteousness for the mature human beings to follow, and one who does abide by these principles does not have to worry about the outcome to events. If, on the other hand, you take matters into your own hands, you become responsible for whatever comes next. The human being, who is limited in abilities, is not capable of handling this responsibility because they can never mentally concoct a system of righteousness that rivals what is presented by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India first instituted by Krishna.
The principles of religion are best learned at a young age because it is during this time that habits are formed. If you can practice austerity as a habit, you will have a much easier time coping with changes to financial conditions in adult life. If you can practice mercy by avoiding meat eating at a young age, you will not be tempted to eat animal flesh when you get older. Practicing the principles of religion from the start of life gives you a better opportunity to purify consciousness and follow the path laid down by Arjuna with full confidence.
A nice feature of the highest system of religion is that it is not exclusive to a specific type of person or age group. At the heart of the spirit soul’s qualities is a deep love and affection for the Supreme Spirit, who is the same Krishna. Love is the universal language, and it can thus be spoken by any person, regardless of their prior training or lack thereof. Surely it is more difficult to accept the need to love God when you have developed so many bad habits, but if the motivation is sincere, the ignorance strengthened through years of impiety can be dispelled in an instant.
So what is the latecomer to do? How can they catch up? What is the crash course for divine love, bhakti-yoga? The best method is to simply hear the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. To hear these sacred sounds anywhere, produce them regularly by chanting. Follow the recommendation of chanting this mantra as often as possible, keeping in mind the ideal daily routine of sixteen rounds per day on a set of japa beads. If you like, pay no concern at the beginning to right and wrong, life and death, reincarnation and heaven. Austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness are built into this sacred mantra, empowered by the most merciful preacher, Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
God consciousness is the normal condition. Every other condition represents some sort of disease, which is triggered by contact with material nature. The all-devouring enemy of the person lacking God consciousness is lust, which drives them to covet things that won’t provide any lasting happiness. The cure for lust is a purification of desire. Use the same spirit of competition and desire for victory to try to please the Supreme Lord Krishna in every way possible. Use whatever tools you have at your disposal, whatever natural talents you possess, to offer service to the smiling youth of Vrindavana, who holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. This spirit benefitted the powerful warrior Arjuna and it can save the latecomer to devotional service as well.
In old age to find salvation you’re in a hurry,
Latecomer to devotional service is no worry.
Show up late to class and lesson you’ll miss,
Have to sit in ignorance until class dismissed.
But unmotivated love for God at the soul’s core,
Ecstasy in divine love destiny is your.
To get up to speed fast you need to hear,
Chant the holy names always without fear.
Like Arjuna become immune to ups and downs,
With Krishna’s company pure consciousness found.