“One who is, however, taking pleasure in the self, who is illumined in the self, who rejoices in and is satisfied with the self only, fully satiated - for him there is no duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.17)
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ātmany eva ca santuṣṭas
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Friend1: Bhakti-yoga is about changing consciousness.
Friend2: Right. That’s why His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates it as “Krishna consciousness.” It’s all about advancing in how you think. Your mindset determines the nature of action. It’s like how if you kill on the battlefield it’s okay, but if you kill an innocent person on the street it’s a crime.
Friend1: That’s an interesting comparison. I guess the idea is that you work in order to purify yourself. You work so that one day you no longer have to?
Friend2: Something like that. In the Bhagavad-gita Shri Krishna says that the advanced transcendentalist doesn’t have any work to do. They are no longer obligated to follow rituals and the like. It’s sort of like with Lord Shiva and King Daksha.
Friend1: What happened there?
Friend2: Daksha gave away his daughter Sati in marriage to Shiva, though reluctantly so. He didn’t like Shiva very much. He made fun of the fact that Mahadeva doesn’t necessarily follow all the rituals and regulations.
Friend2: Correct. He plays different roles in the material world. Though he is the deity in charge of the material mode of ignorance, he is not affected by the mode. He is known as the greatest Vaishnava, or devotee of God the person. He is not affected by anything. There is no work for him to do.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: Sati chastised her father for this one time. She remarked that the father followed all these rules and regulations only because he was not yet pure. Daksha was not on the same level as Shiva, her husband.
Friend1: Okay, so getting back to that. Advancing in consciousness is key. And there are so many rules to follow, ways to facilitate the advancement.
Friend2: Chief among them being the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Friend1: There’s the four regulative principles, too. No meat eating, no gambling, no intoxication, and no illicit sex.
Friend1: What I’m wondering about is what to do if I screw up?
Friend2: What’s your definition of screwing up?
Friend1: Say that I fail to chant the holy names enough on a given day. I’ve made the vow to chant the maha-mantra on a set of japa beads for a set number of rounds each day. What if I fail to meet my vow on a given day?
Friend2: And what if you slip up and take some intoxicants? What if you’re not feeling up to the whole bhakti-yoga thing for a period of time?
Friend1: Exactly. In frustration, let’s say that I lose hope because I feel I’m not making progress. I want to quit. Is it better to just give it up for a while?
Friend1: If I continue on, aren’t I kidding myself? Why go through the motions if my heart is not in it? If I feel like I’m a failure, how can moving forward bring any progress?
Friend2: These are great questions. Everyone feels this way at times. If you’re trying to dig a hole and after an entire day the hole is not any bigger than when you started, it’s basically a wasted effort.
Friend1: A complete waste of time. I haven’t gotten anywhere.
Friend2: The same doesn’t apply to bhakti-yoga, though. Any progress you’ve made stays with you. There’s a more important question to answer, however.
Friend1: What’s that?
Friend2: Let’s say you give up in bhakti-yoga due to the reasons mentioned. You don’t think you can do it anymore.
Friend2: What’s the alternative?
Friend1: I don’t know. Wait until I am ready again?
Friend2: That’s not what will happen. You will have to work. If it’s not in bhakti, it’s in something else. In frustration you’ve decided that material life is better for you. That will never be the case; material life will always be worse.
Friend1: If I go back to material life, I’ll get sick of it again and then really be motivated for bhakti-yoga.
Friend2: That’s a great risk to take. If you know pain will come, why even go down that route? The better option is to continue in bhakti-yoga. No matter how many times you fall, just keep going. Impure devotional service is better than no devotional service. Approaching God with some motives is better than approaching the material nature. Shri Krishna is the supreme purifier. Through enough of His association, gradually things will turn the right way.
When attempt in material life to make,
Against bhakti, great risk to take.
To turn back not guaranteed then,
Unknown when to feel inspired again.
Better to continue forward even though,
Impurities or weakness of heart so.
With attention to duty progress to come,
In the highest stage having duties none.