Attitude in Devotional Service
One of the most important statements about Krishna consciousness is in Shrila Prabhupada’s Preface to the Nectar of Instruction: “Advancement in Krishna consciousness depends on the attitude of the follower.” Shrila Prabhupada has stated that anyone can become a pure devotee of Krishna immediately, if he simply desires to. Advancement in devotional service means to purify our desires, and pure devotional service means to be fully absorbed in serving Krishna without even the subtlest desire for any personal sense gratification.
Only the most fortunate people can come to Krishna consciousness. People come to devotional service for a variety of reasons. Some are seeking shelter from intense distress, others are looking for a simple, alternative lifestyle, some come out of curiosity, to see what it is all about, some because they want a cleaner, better life for themselves and their families. Some are directly searching for God and the meaning of life.
Of course, real devotional service is completely unmotivated, even by desires for peace and holistic well-being. Only such a surrendered attitude can bring complete satisfaction to the self. Those who are most intelligent will, from the beginning of their practice of Krishna consciousness, sincerely endeavor to be pure devotees of Krishna. Such an attitude is always to be encouraged, for it is the essence of our movement.
Others, however, may consider such an outlook to be utopian. How is it possible, they will postulate, for those coming from such sinful backgrounds to consider seriously the prospect of becoming pure devotees, completely free from all material desires? “Better be realistic,” they say, “make some compromise with maya, and continue at some level of Krishna consciousness.” Of course, everyone is encouraged to begin devotional service at whatever level he finds convenient, and it is not expected that all will take to it fully from the very beginning. Indeed, the whole system of varnashrama-dharma (which forms the basis of Vedic culture) is meant for the gradual elevation of materially contaminated persons who are willing to adopt some measure of Krishna consciousness into their lives but are not yet prepared for full surrender to Krishna.
However, Shrila Prabhupada’s whole mood (and that of Lord Chaitanya and of our entire sampradaya) is that Krishna consciousness is so easily available in this Kali-yuga by the easy process of chanting Hare Krishna, so why not take full advantage of it, perfect our lives, and go back home, back to Godhead? Shrila Prabhupada: “Don’t think that this chanting and dancing will not lead to the desired goal. It will. It is the assurance of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu that one will get all perfection by this process.” (-Purport to the song Parama-karuna)
It is with this faith that brahmacaris engage in devotional activities. True brahmacaris strive for the mood of ahaituky-apratihata-bhakti—constant engagement in devotional service without any personal motive. (SB 1.2.6) They are always eager for service and do not expect any special facilities or respect in return. Such pure devotional service is the ideal and essence of brahmacari life.
Devotees who are not thus striving for perfection, who are executing mixed devotional service, may consider the prospect of becoming a pure devotee in this life to be impossible. Especially those who were once thus endeavoring, but who have fallen away from the strict standard of devotional service, may even be cynical about the efforts of those devotees who continue to perform devotional service with enthusiasm. But we should know this for what it is: maya.
Just because someone has fallen away doesn’t mean that everybody will fall away. The process of Krishna consciousness is perfect. If anybody follows it with sincerity and vigor and refuses to leave the path under any circumstances, his success is guaranteed. If anybody leaves this movement it is not the fault of the process. It is the failure of the individual to surrender to it.
We should be careful to avoid developing negative attitudes in our devotional life. After all, whatever difficulties the material energy throws at us (as she undoubtedly will, to test our sincerity and fortitude), we always have cause for optimism because we are on the path back to Godhead. Shrila Prabhupada: “As long as a person is fully in cooperation with the wishes of the Lord, guided by the bona fide brahmanas and Vaishnavas and strictly following regulative principles, one has no cause for despondency, however trying the circumstances of life.” (SB 1.9.12) So it is better to avoid the company of doubters and groaners and make our lifetime plans for serving Krishna within this movement. Why not?
We have already come so far. We have turned our backs on materialistic values, shaved our heads, donned dhotis and tilaka—so why not go the whole way and surrender fully to Krishna? At least we should try for that. Shrila Prabhupada gave the example that if a student makes the effort to pass an exam in the top grade he will at least get a passing grade; but if he simply aims for a pass, he is likely to fail. (Lecture, 17/01/71) So we should think, “In this life I will end all association with this material world forever. I will attain Krishna consciousness.”
Often young brahmacaris, fresh from the grind of material life, are bursting with enthusiasm; but after some time they may lose that freshness. Shrila Prabhupada noted that, “Beginners in Krishna consciousness have a tendency to relax their efforts in a short time, but to advance spiritually you must resist this temptation and continually increase your efforts and devotion.” (SPL Ch. 19)
Young brahmacaris are usually trained strictly in the beginning. But after being in the movement a few years, when they become a little mature in devotional service, the pressure is often relaxed. It may be that no one is pushing them to surrender or to follow the temple programs diligently. At that time the devotee’s spiritual advancement will depend to a much greater extent on his own determination to apply himself to the process of Krishna consciousness. It is required that devotees become spiritually grown-up. Make a commitment to stay in this movement and go on practicing Krishna consciousness no matter what. And always endeavor to become an advanced devotee. “Without sincere endeavor in devotional service one cannot obtain love of Godhead.” (Cc. Madhya 24.171) “An easygoing life and attainment of perfection in transcendental realization cannot go together.” (SB 2.9.24)