“This boy Prahlada is the killer of my brother, for he has given up his family to engage in the devotional service of the enemy, Lord Vishnu, like a menial servant.” (Hiranyakashipu, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.35)Download this episode (right click and save)
“I really like chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. I take great joy in reading books like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and Ramayana. I don’t mind avoiding intoxication, gambling, meat eating, and illicit sex. Those things are easy to give up once you have a higher taste.
“Nevertheless, practicing bhakti-yoga is not easy. There are a lot of sacrifices I have to make. In the larger scheme, I know that I am okay, that in time everything will work itself out. At the moment, however, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that there are many things common to a human existence that I cannot enjoy.”
Indeed, these sentiments are not out of the ordinary. There is a difference between material life and spiritual life, after all. Bhakti-yoga is unique because at the highest level, there is no personal desire. Everything is dovetailed with service to the Divine, who is originally a person. Therefore certain sacrifices are only inevitable.
1. Taking insults
The path of least resistance is to follow what everyone else is doing. If they are engaged in eating meat and drinking alcohol, an easy way to get unwanted attention is to avoid those things. Even if you are not vocal about your choice, eventually others will figure it out. Then they will ask you why. They will want to know why you are different.
The questions are not easy to answer quickly, so in many circumstances it is best to not say too much. That means the insults will keep coming. Not only in the area of food preference, but in lifestyle in general, there are key distinctions that make you stand out. You become a ripe target for ridicule if you are not consumed by thoughts of money, power, and advancement twenty-four hours a day. One of the most famous examples from history is Prahlada Maharaja, who was only five years old when his father Hiranyakashipu turned belligerent, violently protesting the boy’s devotion.
2. Living modestly
Since you are connected to Shri Krishna in yoga, you may not be so concerned with your living arrangements. Wearing old and simple clothes is just fine for you. You don’t need a big house. In fact, the less there is to maintain materially, the happier you are. There is a true spirit of renunciation within, which Krishna declares to be the actual sannyasa-ashrama.
“The Supreme Lord said, To give up the results of all activities is called renunciation [tyaga] by the wise. And that state is called the renounced order of life [sannyasa] by great learned men.” (Bhagavad-gita, 18.2)
Since you live modestly by choice, it is a sacrifice of sorts. Others will not understand why you are not interested in getting a bigger home, a better paying job, or a newer car. They might not understand how you are much happier avoiding the chase for temporary things.
3. Upsetting people
If you take great joy in chanting the holy names and associating with others who follow the same, then naturally you will avoid the association of the non-devoted. Though there is a teaching along these lines, the decision takes place automatically through progression in the purification of consciousness.
The non-devoted greatly outnumber the devoted in this world, which means that you will likely get invited to so many things. The devotee has all good qualities, after all. They don’t need to strive for them separately. Therefore it’s understandable if others desire the association.
One sacrifice you’re bound to make is disappointing others. You will have to decline their invitations for engagement in sense gratification. You’d rather do something else. It’s as simple as that. You risk being rude in order to maintain happiness.
4. Not having people understand you
How do you explain to someone that the height of living is surrendering everything in devotion, sharanagati? How do you explain that the high of intoxication can’t compete with the exhilaration from the daily renewing opportunity to bring a smile to the face of the all-attractive one? How do you explain that there is more joy in quiet contemplation of the Divine and His features than in talking endlessly about nonsense topics?
It is said that the mind of the sadhu is difficult to comprehend. They are on another level. Someone who is not on that level can never understand them completely. Therefore the general etiquette is to simply hear from the spiritual master, not challenging too much. One day you will be able to understand their teachings better. The sadhu should be respected because they have made this sacrifice for the benefit of others.
5. Keeping quiet about accomplishments
Friends and family are there to share in our experiences. If we’re in bad sorts, we can discuss our troubles with them and hopefully find a way back up. If something good happens to us, it’s nice to let others know.
Yet in bhakti the latter is difficult to do. The reason is that what you consider an accomplishment may not be well received by someone else. They may view you as a threat.
“What, you think you’re more religious than me? Big deal that you’ve written a book. I know about God, too. Why are you cooking so much, all of a sudden? Are you trying to be a better cook than me? I go to the temple, too. I have one in my home. Don’t think you are better than me because you visit more often. I’m just as religious as you.”
One famous person who has made many of these sacrifices is Shri Hanuman. He is known from the Ramayana, a Sanskrit work of epic length describing the life and activities of Shri Rama, an incarnation of God. Hanuman gives the external vision of a monkey. Therefore it is easy to make fun of him. Indeed, even in his own service to Rama, which was difficult and full of risks, there is reference made to his monkey nature. One time he got so excited that he kissed his tail and jumped up and down, thinking he had found Rama’s wife, when in fact it was the wife of Ravana he had spotted.
As far as keeping quiet about accomplishments, Hanuman once voluntarily got rid of some evidence showing his tremendous writing ability. After Rama had triumphed in war over the evil Ravana, the Supreme Lord returned to the spiritual world with His associates. Hanuman asked to stay on earth for as long as Rama’s glories continued to be told.
Hanuman wrote his own version of the events, many of which he was directly a part. The book is informally known as the Hanumad Ramayana. One time Valmiki visited Hanuman and was shown this book. Valmiki was so blown away that he felt defeated. This was not Hanuman’s intention. He was simply joyous about sharing his work of devotion. Seeing that Valmiki felt like his own Ramayana was inferior, Hanuman took the Hanumad Ramayana and threw it in the ocean.
Imagine that! A work whose glory was certified by a great poet such as Valmiki was destroyed, voluntarily by the author in order to maintain someone else’s enthusiasm in devotion. Who besides Hanuman could make such a sacrifice and for such a reason? Many years later a piece of stone with one of the verses written on it came to the shore. The poet Kalidasa was able to identify the writing as coming from the Hanumad Ramayana. Such devotees are so dear to the Supreme Lord, and one reason is the sacrifices they make for His pleasure.
Alone without friends to be,
Since of sinful life remaining free.
Scorn from others for difference to reap,
Accomplishments to oneself to keep.
Not wanting others to offend,
Like Hanuman his book to ocean to send.
Still, worth every sacrifice and more,
Since bhakti life a treasure’s store.