„I am an impious sinner and have caused others great anxiety and trouble. I have never hesitated to perform sinful act for my own enjoyment. Devoid of all compassion, concerned only with my own selfish interests, I am remorseful seeing others happy. I am a perpetual liar, and the misery of others is a source of great pleasure for me…“ - Bhaktivonda Thakur.
Upon hearing such statements by the pure devotees, have you ever wondered if they actually feel like that? Or is it just poetry, just a song to teach the conditioned souls? And if they actually feel like that, how can they be so blissful and enthusiastic at the same time?
At our annual Bhakti Retreat in the Swiss Mountains, H.H. Svayam Bhagavan Keshava Swami Maharaja beautifully addressed this point in one of his lectures. As I felt great inspiration from his brilliant presentation (1), I thought I should share it in this form with all of you. Maharaja introduced the topic by telling a story of a person coming across a wall. On that wall, there was something written:
Art is pointless
You have to go out
Have an actual job
And make a living
You can’t just let the rest of your life
Be a joke, a failure
You will end up
A starving artist
Contribute to society
Instead of wasting time
How does that message make one feel? Not so nice, right? But then, when the person just moved his position a little bit, he realised that there was more to the writing (around the corner):
Art is pointless without passion.
You have to go out and create art.
Have an actual job doing what you love
And make a living by being yourself.
You can’t just other people define
The rest of your life and say you will
Be a joke, a failure. Follow your heart.
You end up happy and free, not
A starving artist. Love your art and
Contribute to society by inspiring people.
Instead of wasting time letting others tell you
You’re worthless. You can change the world. (2)
A completely different message.
But what does this have to do with humility?
If the first part of the narrative is the only part of the narrative, it feels very limiting; it feels very depressing; it feels very demoralising.
But when you move your vision and see that along with that narrative, there is another narrative that goes with it, then that same narrative which seemed to be demoralising and depressing becomes embowering, enthusing, enlivening and uplifting.
This is basically Vaishnava-Humility. Because what the Vaishnavas are doing is, in their heart, they are thinking all these things and actually think it. It's not that Bhaktivinoda Thakur is just singing this as a form of poetry. He actually feels it:
I have so far to go.
I don't have the strength.
I feel very weak.
I have many problems within me.
But along with that narrative, what is the other narrative that is in their mind?
I also have made progress.
I have many opportunities to serve.
I do not have strength, but I also have access to mercy.
I made so many mistakes, but ist ok; Krishna likes to help the fallen.
I feel very weak, but the Vaishnavas are always there as the stick of support.
My path is very, very difficult, but yes, many have come before me and have walked this path.
I have many problems in me, but Krishna gave us the scripture to solve all the problems.
So in the heart of the pure devotee, what’s happening is that these emotions are coming very strongly. On one hand, they feel fallen, but on the other hand, they also feel very hopeful!
Bhaktivinoda Thakur is feeling fallen, but he also knows the power of the process of Krishna Consciousness and has incredibly deep realisations. Bhaktivionda Thakur expresses in one song that his life is useless because he has wasted his time, and in another song, he says that the whole spiritual world is manifesting in his home. That's the mysterious nature of Vaishnava-Humility. In their loneliness, they see the greatness of Krishna.
If you see a mountain from very far, it looks big. But what happens when you get closer to the mountain? The mountain feels bigger and bigger, and in comparison to the mountain, you feel yourself smaller and smaller. This is basic Vaishnava humility. If one gets closer to Krishna, one feels the greatness of Krishna more and more. And in relation to the greatness of Krishna, the greatness of the process, and the greatness of the Vaishnavas, one feels oneself smaller and smaller. But the irony is that the more you actually get closer to the object of love, the more you feel small because the appreciation of the goal is bigger and bigger!
H.H. S.B. Keshva Maharaja then ends his presentation with a couple of verses from the Caitanya Caritamrita that illustrates the principle of feeling fallen and hopeful at the same time.
Hearing such wonderful classes and associating with so many sadhus in the last couple of weeks (we had seven Sannyasis visiting ISKCON Zurich within the last four weeks!) was very inspiring and nourishing. But of course, also purifying. Seeing the greatness of these advanced souls makes me feel very small. At the same time, it also makes me very hopeful. By their mercy, I might also be able to advance more. If the process has worked for them, it might also work for me! Or, as Krishna das Kaviraja Goswami has put it:
durgame pathi me ’ndhasya / skhalat-pāda-gater
muhuḥsva-kṛpā-yaṣṭi-dānena / santaḥ santv avalambanam
„My path is very difficult. I am blind, and my feet are slipping again and again. Therefore, may the saints help me by granting me the stick of their mercy as my support.“ (3)
Yes, I feel fallen but hopefully!
2 - This ‘Art is Pointless’ wall / sculpture was created by Jasmine Kay Uy, a student at the Austin Department of Art and History at the University of Texas.
3 - Caitanya Caritamrita Antya Lila 1.2