Many a young person becomes sucked up in the comfort of belonging to a religious organization or sect. They are eager to prove the degree of their surrender and conviction by quitting their profession and careers. Unfortunately, they don’t know what lies ahead, and gamble too much on too little of an education. The conversation below is something I wish I could have with such a person.
Q: Should I quit my profession for bhakti? I can dedicate myself fully to the process.
A: How do you plan to support yourself and your dependents?
Q: If I am sincere, Krsna will provide. He says, yoga ksemam vahamy aham in the Bhagavad Gita.
A: How do you know that verse applies to you?
Q: It applies to all devotees.
A: How do you know you match the definition of a devotee?
Q: If I surrender everything for Krsna, am I not a devotee?
A: How do you know you are surrendering everything for Krsna?
Q: Why else would I quit my profession?
A: You could do so for any of the following hopes you may have for yourself:
a) you will get peace and comfort by this surrender,
b) you will get close companions,
c) you can save the world by doing so,
d) you feel important and comparable to the maha-bhagavatas who have similarly done so in the past,
e) you feel emotionally coerced to do so out of duty to your guru,
f) you have a distorted understanding of bhakti,
g) you have an inflated sense of confidence in your own judgement and understanding,
h) you are eager to prove your self-worth to others who have similarly ‘surrendered’.
Q: I may also be quitting for none of these reasons, but rather for dedicating myself to Krsna’s service and to preaching His message.
A: At least you agree that none of the above reasons have anything to do with Krsna bhakti. I am going to guess that you do not even properly understand the definition of bhakti, and yet you are willing to sacrifice so much. At the very least, you should accept that you are ignorant of the scriptures. How can you ‘preach’ Krsna’s message, when you yourself have not understood it nor realized it’s truth?
Q: I know enough. Besides, the guru I am surrendering to also did so himself, and he is an expert in scripture.
A: If a guru is an expert in bhakti scriptures, he would not recommend vairagya to a disciple, particularly to someone with a modern mind who has little education about spiritual paths. Bhakti is a different path, quite different from the path of vairagya. Vairagya is a product of bhakti, not a pre-requisite for it.
Q: If I am doing this for my guru, how can you say that my vairagya is not a product of that bhakti?
A: I cannot say for sure. What I can say is that unlike in the past, modern people do not have a cultural context for ascertaining whether a given guru is authentic, and whether a given path is authentic. Most people act on their emotions rather than their rational mind. Further, you may think you are doing this for your guru, but as I pointed out, that may be far from the truth.
Understanding bhakti takes several years of education, we are talking decades, for even the brightest of people. What you are about to do is just being entrapped into the clutches of an organization, and frittering away your life and that of your dependents. What you could gain in return is a life of distorted personality and unexamined motives, because it is difficult to turn back. You will have a tough time facing the truth of your ‘surrender’ later on and become dishonest with yourself and others.
Q: I think you are over-reaching. This need not happen. Many people have followed the path I am taking.
A: Many people started out with good intentions, but what many can essentially end up doing is ‘surviving’. They can ‘survive’ in many ways. They may becoming upstanding citizens of their organization. They bring in donations, take on ambitious projects like building temples or writing books, and basically fulfill their material ambitions in the field of bhakti. All the time, they think that they are surrendered, and others secretly envy them for their accomplishments.
Q: What proof do you have of all this except insinuations?
A: There are many examples. Here is one of a well-meaning Indian young man who moved to another country a lucrative job. (This story really happened). Our friend decided to join the local temple. He started giving regular classes and rose in stature. The local devotees started prodding him for money. Eventually he gave in and began to give them most of his salary. Soon he was requested to go to another country for a big project. He quit his job, and accomplished the difficult project. That’s when he learned that his guru had quit the institution itself! He returned back, only to find that his wife had decided to divorce him because she fell in love with a ‘senior devotee’.
The devotee was now without a job and a family. He frequently considered suicide.
A charming story! I can tell you many more.
Bhakti is not another name for fanatical and impetuous action. It is a slow process that involves an inner change and takes a lifetime of introspection. There are no shortcuts for advancement. Decisions we take with a mind that lacks an education (both theoretical and experiential) are colored by motives that we are too inexperienced to analyze. Bhakti is not a path of vairagya although this false notion has been propagated by many. Vairagya is at best a by-product of bhakti.
Instead of quitting one’s profession for bhakti, one should quit fantastical thinking, and try to come down to earth. It is important to study the definitions of bhakti and come to realize how deep one’s material conditionings are, before trying to behave in ways that only externally affirm one’s status as a surrendered devotee.