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Diaries by Sacinandana Swami

From My Heart - Beloved of God (November 2007)

Since suffering a breakdown in health, I have come in contact with a number of health practitioners, each of whom invariably brought our discussions to the same subject: If I want to regain my health, I have to respect my needs and give myself attention and care. I especially remember one old doctor in the hospital who shook his head in disbelief when he heard an account of my usual daily schedule. “What! No holidays? No entertainment?”

“But I love what I do,” I said, bandages covering my body and tubes emanating from two of my veins. “I lead a blissful life of sacrifice. A life of love—love for God and for my fellow human beings. I want to help others find the best life.”

The good doctor answered quickly, his eyes sparking with passion. “I’m not against all that. Why do you think I became a doctor?” Then he looked straight into my eyes. “Do you think you have to break yourself to pieces in order to help others? Charity starts at home. Monk, you had better start loving yourself before it’s too late.”

Of course, I have been hearing people speak about self-love for years. Sometimes the concept sounded right, but at other times it struck me as an empty New Age slogan, or worse, as naked selfishness.

In this article I would like to reflect on the concept of self-love from a variety of perspectives. I would like to start with a thought-provoking article written by His Holiness Bir Krishna Goswami.

Love Yourself!!!

That’s an interesting title for a Krishna conscious blog—“Love Yourself.”

Many devotees are under the impression that we should love Krishna and denigrate ourselves!

It is understandable that they think this way because there are many statements that one may misunderstand such as:

1. Thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street

2. The soul is one ten thousandth the tip of the hair in size

3. The individual soul is tiny

4. One should be selfless

5. Etc.

Also we may come in contact with people who in the name of Krishna consciousness authority denigrate us, telling us that we are useless, hopeless, fallen, degraded, in maya, sense gratifiers, bhogis, etc.

In addition we may be reminded about our past “wonderful” (vikarmic) activities in this world, and this remembrance will add to the negativity.

So, this negativity may culminate in a lack of self esteem and even self hate. This can lead to depression at worst and also deflate our enthusiasm to serve Krishna as we may be think that we are a “hopeless case.”

I am writing about this subject matter because many devotees have contacted or talked to me about this mental state. When I hear devotees talking like this it causes tears to come to my eyes because I know that all the devotees are very, very dear to Krishna.

Even though ontologically we may be small-we are important to Krishna. We are not small in Krishna’s eyes.

Take the story of Gopa Kumar in the Brhad Bhagavatamrta for example. Krishna was feeling so much love for Gopa Kumar and so much hankering for his association in the spiritual world, that Krishna personally became Gopa Kumar’s spiritual master.

You may say that Gopa Kumar is a special devotee, and that is true. But, it is a fact that Krishna personally is the Caitya Guru of all of us residing in our hearts and personally takes the trouble to direct us to our spiritual master.

Even before we take to Krishna consciousness, Krishna is residing in the heart waiting for us to realize that our real happiness is in relating to Him rather than this external energy.

So, Krishna considers us significant, important, etc.

When Gopa Kumar finally goes back to Krishnaloka, Krishna faints in ecstasy upon receiving him. Even Krishna’s associates can not understand what is going on.

Krishna feels the same way about us.

There is an interesting statement in the Isopanisad (Mantra 6):

“He who sees systematically everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who sees all living entities as His parts and parcels, and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything never hates anything or any being.”

So we are parts and parcels of Krishna. Therefore we should not hate ourselves. On the other hand since we are supposed to love Krishna we should love all his parts and parcels and that includes ourselves too!

What does that mean, to love oneself?

It means to picture or visualize or imagine how you want to be. Forget about all the negativity; whether the negativity comes from yourself or from others.

If you think negatively that is what you are meditating on and those thoughts will impede your spiritual life.

Here are some things you can think about:

1. Radha and Krishna love me and want me to be with Them in the spiritual world!

2. Taking care of my spiritual needs will not impede my spiritual progress

3. Taking care of my material needs will not impede my spiritual progress

4. I am an eternal soul, full of bliss and knowledge!

5. I have an eternal relationship with Radha and Krishna and will realize this relationship.

And don’t remain in a situation where others are denigrating you. You owe it to yourself and to Krishna to reject situations that are unfavorable for Krishna consciousness and accept favorable situations. Have positive spiritual self-esteem!

Krishna Loves All Souls

What a wonderful article. Relieving. Heart-warming. I heard that when Maharaja first published this article he was almost drowned in thank-you letters from around the world. Finally a Swami had made it clear: Krishna loves us no matter what.

The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved, said Victor Hugo. So true! I feel it is important to become aware of the divine love surrounding us at every step. We are beloved children of eternity, looked upon with fatherly affection by the Supreme, who yearns to hold us in His affectionate embrace. As Srila Prabhupada says, “The Lord is more anxious to take us back into His kingdom than we can desire” (SB. 1.2.17, purport). But Krishna doesn’t wait passively until we finally (and miraculously) decide to turn to Him. If He waited for us to make the first move, we would most probably never develop the good sense to start on the spiritual path in earnest; the dualities of delusion (material attachment and its opposite) have us too firmly in their grip and control each of our movements.

What does Krishna do, then, to spiritually activate us? He begins by sending us His pure devotees. As the sruti states, “The personal servants of Lord Visnu wander this world to purify the conditioned souls...” Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana comments, “Those living beings who have received the merciful glance of the topmost pure souls will have all their sinful reactions destroyed. Becoming firm in spiritual vows and gaining determination by virtue of the association of great souls, these fortunate people are freed from the delusion of duality. Coming to understand the truth about Me, they start to worship Me” (commentary on Bhagavad-gita 7.28).

Krishna sends His topmost devotees to help us start and to maintain us.

Another sign of the Lord’s love is that He appears most mercifully in the form of His holy name, which is distributed by these pure souls. The name is the form of the Lord most accessible to us. All we need to chant it is a tongue and a little faith in the heart. If we have those, Krishna will appear in this most magnificent form and purify our heart so that He can eventually sit in it in His beautiful transcendental form with His most attractive smiling face.

Yet another sign of Krishna’s love for the conditioned souls is that He personally appears in the form of Caitanya Mahaprabhu to distribute the rarest gift of pure love for Himself. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu does not consider our disqualification. Rather, He is drunk with ecstatic love of Krishna and wants to distribute that love to one and all, no questions asked. When a rich man becomes intoxicated, you can talk him into almost anything and receive it immediately.

Here is a wonderful verse about the extraordinary mercy of the golden Lord:

“He does not consider whether a person is qualified or not. He does not see who is His own and who is an outsider. He does not consider who should receive and who should not. He does not consider whether or not His giving is being done at the proper time.

“The Lord at once gives that nectar of pure devotional service that is difficult to attain even by hearing the messages of the Lord, seeing the Deity, offering obeisances, meditating, or following a host of other spiritual practices. That Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Gaurahari, is my only shelter” (Caitanya Candramrta, text 77).

Are You Able to Respond?

What is your response to this mercy? Are you able to respond?

It is said that our character can be measured by how capable we are of responding to love. In other words, how much gratitude do we feel and show?

Someone who loves without condition—a parent, for example—is called a first-class lover. Someone who responds to another’s love to the same degree he or she receives it is considered a second-class lover. Such love is merchant-love. But someone who is not able to return love at all – who cannot even show a small sign of gratitude –is a poor lover. The ungrateful have not even taken the first step in that universal dance of love that connects us to the Lord. Queen Kunti therefore said a person’s character can be measured by his or her ability to feel gratitude.

The first step

Only if we meditate deeply on the fact that we are beloved children of the Supreme are we able to love others unconditionally. Why? Because understanding that we are loved fills us with love.

The problem people who don’t feel loved have is that they wish to fill themselves with the love of the people around them, but they almost never admit their neediness. Instead, they hide their emptiness and needs from the outside world and instead project the image of the strong autonomous hero or the tireless and self-sufficient welfare worker.

However, deep inside such persons cries a neglected, love-hungry child. In order to satisfy the child’s craving they become – well, to use a dramatic word – love-vampires. Famous entertainers, but also spiritual leaders, have been seen to relate with their audiences only to obtain love, admiration, gratitude, or some other form of attention. The inspiration, entertainment, or help they offer others is, in other words, tainted by their covered selfishness and can therefore never be pure or truly inspiring.

Facing the shadow

A number of humankind’s spiritual traditions detail the obstacles we encounter on the spiritual path. Most list lust, greed, anger, envy, and many, many other embarrassing forms of selfishness as the formidable enemies that plague an aspiring transcendentalist.

I have met many people who are tortured by their weaknesses and even more so by that inner voice that constantly criticizes them for all their big and small blunders. In some people this voice has become so insistent that it has driven them to the abyss of fear, guilt, and anger—or worse, to hopelessness, sadness, and even desperation. These people believe the nagging voice and have created a personal mantra: “I’m not good enough. I will never do anything right. I have no chance. I’m certainly not lovable. Rather, I’m worthy only of being hated.”

What happened to these people, who started so confidently on their journey toward the kingdom of God? Well, they saw their shadow – and they identified with it.

Have you heard the story of the man who saw his shadow and started to fear it because it followed him everywhere, even into the bathroom? He ran and ran and ran to rid himself of it, but he could never leave it behind. Finally, in desperation he killed himself.

I feel the scriptures teach us to confront our shadow with maturity and at the same time to avoid identifying with it. Sometimes, for instance, the scriptures advise us how to transform obstacles such as lust and greed by bringing them into contact with Krishna. Bringing lust into contact with Krishna means to use its tremendous emotional energy to spiritually reconnect. Practically, this may become a hankering for good association, for new information about Krishna, or a seeking of circumstances in which we can release our energy in Krishna’s service. Isn’t lust all about hankering and using energy? And if we bring the light of Krishna’s divine presence toward the shadow, the shadow will dissolve.

First become aware

But before we can engage the shadow we have to first become aware of its presence. The Vaishnava tradition compares the heart to a garden where the most desirable plant of Krishna consciousness grows. We are told to enter the garden of the heart and to become a spiritual gardener there—one who can distinguish between the divine plant and the weeds that will naturally grow up around it. If we have strong affection for our divine plant, we will find it easy to remove the weeds. Becoming aware means learning to concentrate on what’s important – and to gain the strength to uproot what’s unimportant.

Similarly, we can learn to confront the shadow. We will be able to face its darkness without fear after we have seen light. Light refers to the deep understanding that we are loved by the Lord. Contemplation and awareness of this fact will give us the strength to weed our garden. After all, by clearing the weeds we do not lose anything. Rather, we free the divine plant to grow and produce its tasty, ecstatic fruits.

You can’t face the dark until you have seen the light

Actual spiritual life provides us with a higher connection – a living connection with the Lord in which you feel His presence, His loving care, and His full support. This connection gives us a feeling of unconditional acceptance, a universal sense of belonging. Without it, one simply lacks the courage to face the shadow. Facing the shadow might bring us into the presence of all our unacknowledged “Draculas” and “Frankensteins.” Such a meeting can be intense! Therefore we cannot face the dark until we have seen the light.

People who are not on a spiritual path will continue by and large to either live a life of unconsciousness or to identify totally with their “shady” guests, who sometimes don’t know to behave. Lacking a spiritual perspective they sometimes mistake the shadow for themselves. Shine the light of pure consciousness on them and the shadow-guests – envy, material vision, lusty emotions, etc. – will either reform or we will learn to simply observe them without feeling compelled by their antics.

The repressed shadow

I would like to emphasize again how necessary it is to become aware of the shadow. People with a repressed shadow – people who have a heavy iron lid covering an unlived emotional life – have various symptoms by which others can discern their demons. Remember, such people must look good in their own eyes and in the eyes of likeminded people.

The first symptoms of persons with a repressed shadow is that they will always be very, very hard on themselves ‑ and on others as well. They will try to hide their personal dissatisfaction by dressing themselves in weighty iron armor, an armor usually constructed of rigid morality. Then they will find fault with anyone in their environment who doesn’t conform to their standards. These people are so tense that they find it hard to lighten up under any circumstances; and they are often quite bitter. Oh, yes, and they are super heavy – or to put it in more psychological terms – super angry. Anger and fear are just the opposite of what we want to attain: love!

It’s better to acknowledge our weaknesses and to deal with them from a position of strength. Sometimes we may even choose to laugh at our weaknesses.

You might have heard the instructive story about how Lord Krishna dealt with anger and taught us an important lesson through His devotee, Satyaki.

Laugh at your anger

Once, Krishna went on a long journey with Satyaki. Because they failed to reach their destination by sunset, they were forced to sleep in the forest. Krishna asked Satyaki to keep watch for the first half of the night, and then He would watch for the second half. After making this request, Krishna went to rest on a bed of twigs, which was covered with a chadar (light blanket).

As Satyaki kept watch he suddenly saw a belligerent demon approaching. The demon addressed him in a hoarse voice. “Listen. I’m very hungry. If you allow me to overwhelm your sleeping friend and eat Him, I will spare your life. Otherwise, I will first kill you, and then afterwards fill my belly with both of you.”

Satyaki was angered at this unethical proposal, drew his sword, and began to fight the demon. But the demon was stronger. As the night progressed, and as is the way with these types of demons, he became larger and more powerful. Finally, the demon pushed Satyaki to the ground. As Satyaki waited for the death blow, he closed his eyes in naked terror.

But nothing happened. After some time he opened his eyes only to find that the demon had mysteriously disappeared.

“Maybe the demon was only an illusion,” Satyaki thought. “In this part of the forest such illusions are common.” After some time he woke Krishna as they had agreed, and without mentioning the demon, went to sleep.

The next morning, when Satyaki awoke and the sun was shining, he remembered what he thought was a nightmare and told Lord Krishna about His dream. “Oh,” said Krishna, “you saw a demon and then he disappeared? Is it this one?” With these words Lord Krishna pulled out a small demon from His waist-cloth that looked exactly like the demon Satyaki had fought during his watch in the night. Then Krishna became grave. “Listen carefully, Satyaki. – This is your anger. The moment you gave it attention, it grew stronger. Never identify with it. Just look at it, understanding that you are not identical with it, and eventually it will disappear.”

A strange encounter with the white wolf

I met him for the first time two weeks ago. He noticed me then too, and then quickly disappeared back into the forest. Two days later I met him again. This time he came closer. When I was only ten steps away from him, both of us stopped and looked at one another. I felt slightly uncomfortable at my proximity to him. He must have felt the same, because a deep, warning rumble came from deep inside his chest. Then “Rooaaaaaaaarrrr!” I lifted my two walking sticks. If he wanted a fight, he could have it. But then I smiled.

It was clear he was alternately between fight or flight. Fortunately, he chose neither, but stayed near me a little longer, peacefully! He is a beautiful white wolf.

I could see in this wolf my shadow, my own wolf. I have learned that like my shadow, I don’t have to be afraid of him. I do have to be respectful, however. In nature, animals smell your fear and may attack. The same is true of the shadow. If we give them too much emotional attention either in the form of fear or guilt or some other kind of identification, we empower them. If instead we can feel how we belong to Krishna and how we are always connected to Him, we empower ourselves to break all our unhealthy dependencies, including our dependence on any unacknowledged parts of ourselves. From there we can grow by learning to let go.

My encounter with the white wolf was interesting. First, white wolves are extremely rare, and, second, I found how he dealt with me meaningful.

In the sixteenth century one duke caught a pregnant she-wolf and kept her in a cage of iron inside his castle grounds at the Rhine River near Mainz. After she delivered her twin pups she disappeared. One morning, the people found the man who had cared for her next to the empty cage, his throat ripped open. The wolf mama had escaped to freedom with her little ones.

The three levels of loving yourself

On the first level, the immature level, persons practice loving themselves selfishly, although they tend to disguise their selfishness. As members of a group or in any relationship they try their best to please others. Often they are motivated by a desire to be recognized, to gain attention and love from others. But they are not open about their needs, which is why I say they tend to disguise their attempts to be loved. They work on a principle of “I serve you, so you should love me.” Much of what goes on in the name of loyalty to a person or group is really based on our fear of not being loved when we disappoint others, fear of going on our own spiritual journey, fear of asking questions that matter, and fear of honesty.

Yes, behind these fears is a purely self-serving, love-hungry child who tries to get love by immature means.

The second level is a step up from this. Persons on the first level often become bitter with life or disappointed with those they try to “love-bribe.” They are disappointed by the fact that other people don’t seem to satisfy their huge need for attention. At that time they leave both relationships and groups and feel they should now “love themselves.” They define such love as caring only about their own needs. They lead a “just me” life, which is a totally small and limited existence. They begin to search for their own significance by cultivating things that provide prestige ‑ possessions, for example – and they seek entertainment. Over time they develop a hard shell around themselves and suffer like dogs.

On the third level people learn to love maturely. They know that they are part of the bigger picture called “life.” They care for their needs while also caring for the needs of others whenever possible.

They are not disturbed by their own humanness. No, they know they are spiritually a part of God with human needs. A friend expressed it this way. “We are all parts of God who also need to go to the toilet.” Such persons can live with the fact that they are small yet simultaneously uniquely wonderful in the eyes of God. They can move freely between their humanness and their divinity, knowing that the Lord understands and loves them in both modes. They try their best to please the Lord and His devotees and don’t become disturbed by the inevitable mistakes they commit in life. They understand that the qualities that drive them to commit these mistakes are temporary foreigners who are currently occupying space in the house of their life. Such persons don’t feel the need to suppress their human weaknesses with the heavy iron lid of repression. They deal with their shadow from a position of strength because they know what is what. And by nourishing their spiritual side daily, they increase the light of their Krishna consciousness.

Persons on the third level are prepared to leave the narrow world of immature self-love. They know whatever good is in this universe has come from a genuine desire to work for the benefit of others, and that whatever bad exists comes from selfishness. Knowing this they do not repeat the mistakes that bring about the consciousness of levels one and two. While living a life of deeply fulfilling divine connection, with a heart overflowing with gratitude and love, they will wisely care for their own needs, knowing well that they are beloved children of God.

A lover of God loves himself

Loving ourselves may sometimes need to be precisely expressed as giving attention to our needs and feelings so that we can make spiritual progress without disturbance. Loving ourselves may also sometimes mean becoming grateful for the unique gift of the human form of life, which is, after all, a wonderful boat with which to cross the ocean of birth and death and to reach our eternal spiritual home. Loving ourselves can mean respecting all aspects of our being as God’s gift. Would you belittle a present someone you love has given you? Loving ourselves can mean paying necessary attention to our physical health and mental and emotional stability. And loving ourselves can also entail that we stop ignoring the shadow and deal with our problems maturely.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has composed an interesting prayer, called “Prayer of a Lover of God.” After praying to have daily-increasing love for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Krishna’s service, the service of the Vaisnavas, the chanting of Krishna’s holy names, and those who have taken shelter of the Lord and who are inclined to worship Him, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura turns directly to himself and prays for self-love:

“Let me also love myself, who am inclined toward Krishna, so that I may attain devotion to Him.” (commentary on Bhajanamrtam, quoted in Bhaktivinoda Vani Vaibhava, volumes 2 and 3, p. 408).

When I first read this “Prayer of a Lover of God” I was surprised, but as I read the text again and again it became clear to me that it cannot be in any other way. Yes, I am inclined to Krishna just like many others who have taken shelter of the Lord. And yes, I have experienced that Krishna is very much inclined toward those who turn to Him.

In The Nectar of Devotion we hear that Krishna feels an increasing depth of gratitude toward Draupadi, who turned to Him in her hour of need by chanting His holy name. He can never forget such a call for help. The Nectar of Devotion tells us that Krishna is grateful to Draupadi for her faith in Him. Srila Prabhupada points out that if Krishna becomes unlimitedly grateful just because someone has turned to Him once, how grateful must He feel toward a devotee who chants His holy name daily? The answer is He is unlimitedly grateful.

Respect the journey

It’s important to respect ourselves as travelers. Yes, we may still have problems, but we’re on the way, and as we approach the Lord more and more, His light will chase away whatever dark shadows remain. Let me give my full attention to the journey and not the shadows. The only possible mistake we can make is to forget that we are a work in progress or to begin to play God in our own lives, imagining ourselves in control. Spiritual travelers need to remain always in “beginner’s mind” so that they can look forward to every day of the journey with a feeling of deep appreciation and gratitude to the Personality of Godhead, who makes everything possible. He has offered us the road, the signposts along the way, our food, the strength of our legs to walk, and all the wonderful opportunities we have. Avoid mindless routine when walking the path.

Each day we should set a little time aside to celebrate our progress. We can review the day and remember what went right. Today we served with intelligence, words, and deeds. Today we helped another devotee and influenced another life in a positive way. As we celebrate such small victories and successes, we should be mindful that all that happened was possible only because we received an investment of mercy from above.

Travelers to the kingdom of God learn to show themselves compassion. They may have committed mistakes – unintentional blunders that happened due to their past habits. What can they do? Failures are the pillar of success if we have learned something from them.

Travelers to the kingdom of God know they need body, mind, and other companions to succeed; therefore they regularly nurture their relationships with these three being – especially their relationships with others. They know that such persons are the gifts of the Lord.

How I am personally learning to love myself

As a sannyasi monk tradition encourages me to dwell always in the understanding that I am an eternal soul with an eternal home in the spiritual world. In the past, I must admit that this purely spiritual orientation made me sometimes impatient when my body and mind knocked at the door of my awareness and explained that they had certain needs. I often ignored their requests – even the sensible ones. Nowadays – after having been given a few hard lessons – I am slowly learning to see the body and mind differently. I would like to share my changed vision with you.

Western society sees the body and mind in a completely wrong way. It sees them as parts of a machine intended for sense gratification (bhoga-sarira). But is the body really a machine for enjoyment? Has anyone ever found lasting enjoyment through the body?

Actually, the body is a vehicle for spiritual practice and worship (a sadhana- and bhajan-sarira). When seen in this light, the body and mind become lovable.

Concluding words

As I close this article I would like to inspire all of you, my dear readers, to sit down for a minute or two and start to develop your self-care programs. Draw a circle and divide it into four quarters. These are the four departments of self-care – body, mind, social contacts, and spiritual development. Each day we can visit each of these departments or the circle as a whole with two questions:

1. How can I nurture this aspect of my existence today and bring it to its best use?

2. How can I use these four unique gifts today to make this the best day of my life?

In my forthcoming book, Pillars of Success, I have written an exciting chapter about seven types of spiritual self-care, but for now I encourage you to start with this simple and highly effective method of spiritual and material self-care.

I wish you all the best with this amazing project. By no means do I consider myself an expert on self-care. However, since I have been applying the simple guidelines and inspirations mentioned in this article, my life has changed significantly. I seem to connect to a deeper place within myself, a powerhouse of energy and positive thought. Therefore I have been enthusiastic to share my discoveries with you. In my darkest hour while I was in the hospital, Krishna sent me many messages and helpful persons. One was that good old doctor with his provoking statement. “Monk – you’d better start loving yourself – before it’s too late.”


Epilogue – A Healthy Balance

In my article “Beloved of God” I intended to write about the importance of self-care, self-respect, and self-love. One of the main points was this: Unless we gratefully acknowledge and care for the unique gift of the material body and mind, we might neglect them to the point where they deteriorate and become unable to serve us as our sadhana-, bhajana-, and seva-sariras (instruments for spiritual practice, worship, and service).

As an unwanted by-product of such neglect we might develop unhealthy moods, such as low self-esteem, various forms of paranoia, or even hopelessness.

Another main point I wanted to make is that to love ourselves means to take care of all our genuine needs – the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual.

In the Bhagavatam it is said that only those who are constantly engaged in welfare activities for other living entities can reach the spiritual world (SB 4.12.36). But how can we love others if we do not love ourselves? How can we give something to others that we don’t have ourselves? Can a baker supply bread to others if his store is empty of bread?

We usually think that self-love is synonymous with having self-esteem or providing ourselves with emotional rewards and goodies to compensate for our feelings of deficiency. But this is not our definition.

Sometimes it is necessary to feed an emotionally starved patient first. It’s true that if we abandon ourselves, we cannot be fully present to our personal needs and therefore cannot respond to them. If we are constantly immersed in self-criticism, anxiety, distraction, and the like, we are liable to become disconnected from both body and emotions. This disconnectedness will ultimately separate us from our true nature.

But I feel mature self-love means that we care enough about our own growth that we can then begin to care for others. We must love ourselves enough to not abandon ourselves. Only then can we give something of ourselves to others. Human beings have been given the unique gift of being able to overcome their self-centeredness and to be able to give love. Only when we live for a mission that extends beyond our own survival can we experience our full humanness and free ourselves from a restricted and narrow life.

Dangers on the path

While cultivating self-love, spiritually inexperienced devotees might make the mistake of losing their spiritual orientation and eventually accepting the temporary body and mind as if they were the real self. This is a realistic danger, and we have unfortunately observed it even in apparently more experienced practitioners.

But this mistake brings with it another danger: the loss of humility. All spiritual traditions accept that unless we are meek and humble we will find it very, very difficult to make genuine spiritual progress.

Genuine humility, which is based on the realization that we are eternal parts of God, is wonderful. Humility means living genuinely in the higher connection and receiving spiritual help at virtually every step. Pride separates the spiritual practitioner from God´s mercy. It breaks the connection!

Real humility is based on spiritual realization. Sometimes people equate humility with a kind of low self-esteem. But low self-esteem is a material experience. Such so-called humility is really based on the false ego and is often the birthplace of nothing more than further inferiority complexes and deep frustration. Only with genuine spiritual understanding can we resolve the apparent paradox between our incompleteness on one side and our divinity on the other.

And only with genuine spiritual understanding can we cry out to the Lord, “Please save me!” with a heart full of His divine presence.

Only with genuine spiritual understanding can we reconcile feelings of utter worthlessness with healthy self-confidence, patience, and enthusiasm.

And only with genuine spiritual understanding can we live a life of self-love and self-care juxtaposed with a life of self-sacrifice and selfless giving to others. Srila Prabhupada was expert at living such a life. He knew how to eat well, relax, joke, and care for his health through exercise and massage, and yet live a life dedicated to helping others. He traveled long hours, slept little, and selflessly sacrificed his time both for his writing and his preaching. In other words, genuine spiritualists often operate in seeming contradictions. Or, as a friend often tells me, Reversal [1] is how real progress is made. People without such genuine spiritual understanding often live without balance, either because they think themselves completely useless or because they are convinced that they are the supreme and independent masters of their own destiny. But spiritual life is beyond all such material dualities.

Let us look at a spiritual treasure that cannot be understood by the material mind since it appears almost as contradictory as bright nights or dark days. Through this treasure we can learn more about living in balance.

I am referring to the experience great devotees report of finding separation from Krishna to be their highest bliss.

When people in this world are separated from their beloved, they feel miserable and forsaken. However, when devotees are separated from Krishna, inconceivably, they feel His blissful presence in their hearts. By a devotee’s intense meditation on Him during His absence, a devotee feels that Krishna is somehow fully present in his heart. And Krishna is present, being attracted by His devotee’s devotional feelings.

Srimati Radharani, who sets the highest example for all devotees, says: “If I should choose between being with Krishna or being separated from Him, I would choose to be separated, because when I´m with Him I see Him in only one form whereas when I am separated from Him I see Him coming toward Me from all sides.” In Vrndavana the devotees like to depict this theme in their plays by having Srimati Radharani walk the stage in a state of deep separation from Krishna. She calls out to a tree, “O My beloved, where are You? Are You here?” At that time one Krishna appears from behind the tree. Then Radha approaches a cloud in the madness of Her love: “O My Lord, are You in the cloud?” And lo and behold, another Krishna appears from behind the cloud. Then She moves to a bush, the creepers, a pond, a peacock – and everywhere Krishna appears, until the stage is filled with Krishnas. Intense feelings for Krishna make us feel and perceive His divine presence everywhere. We cannot conceive of this, really. We need to experience it to truly understand it.

We might next ask what we should do if we are not yet on such a high level of spiritual realization that we can practice deep humility yet not develop unhealthy psychological patterns. The answer is simple: We should always operate on whatever platform is real for us at any given time. Bhakti is not pretense; it is not about pretending to be someone we are not. At the same time we should look respectfully up toward the ideals we have been given and do whatever brings us closer to them. This will help us to move forward and shift our limitations outward in a healthy direction.

If we move forward too far too fast, we will become pretenders. And if we refuse to move forward at all, if we refuse to endeavor toward our goal, we will become materialists. We must maintain a healthy balance. Isn’t that what life is all about? A healthy balance!

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