“Is my Krishna consciousness completely dependent on the mercy of the spiritual master and Krishna, or do Ihave something to do with it?”
By Atmananda dasa, ACBSP 2017
Krishna says, “Surrender unto Me…”, and that may sound very simple and clear. However, there are many possible layers of realization of that instruction, as well as various possible applications.
Some say that our surrender, and advancement in Krishna consciousness, depend wholly on the mercy of the spiritual master and Krishna. At the same time, Srila Prabhupada teaches that surrender – Krishna consciousness – is not giving up one’s individuality.
On the one hand, we are instructed to be sold-out servants, and, on the other hand, to come to the stage of “flying our own airplane”. How do we reconcile 1. that “Without the mercy of the spiritual master no one can make any spiritual advancement” and 2. that I should become “independently thoughtful“?
“…Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action, not for making bureaucracy…” S.P. letter 12/22/72
We are instructed to “surrender”; and at the same time, Srila Prabhupada encourages us to achieve apparently impossible tasks, like “Krishna-izing” the whole world, becoming pure devotees, and unalloyed, fully qualified spiritual masters in our own right.
Are these ideas contradictory? Can we be fully-expressed and self-determining individuals, andfully surrendered at the same time? Is my Krishna consciousness completely dependent on the mercy of the spiritual master and Krishna, or do Ihave something to do with it?
Krishna instructs that we should inquire submissively from a tatva-darshi, one who has seen the Truth, in order to understand that Truth. (B.g. 4.34) Unless I am mistaken, nowhere in the scriptures are we instructed that the guru or Krishna do the work – surrendering – for us.
Rather, we take guidance, encouragement, inspiration and empowerment from realised souls – qualified authorities – and Krishna, in order to advance in Krishna consciousness ourselves. If, with that support, we do the austerity of surrendering ourselves – that is, that we do it, not someone else – then there must be independent deliberation, choice and action, albeit in a submissive spirit of inquiry and service.
In the purport of the Bhagavad-gita, 18.63, Prabhupada states, “…God does not interfere with the little independence of the living entity…” This may be in regard to choosing to surrender or not, but what happens to that minute independence, in our ongoing, progressive surrender?
About helplessness, Prabhupada says “…Unless you think yourself helpless, you cannot surrender. Surrender is complete when you think yourself that you are helpless…that “Although I am helpless… Not although I am factually helpless but because I am surrendered to Kṛṣṇa, I have no danger. He’ll help me, protect me.”
S.P. Morning walk 6/11/74
Who does Srila Prabhupada refer to when he says “independently thoughtful”? Is he talking about materialists, or does he mean devotees? Krishna is the supreme Independent, and we are the subordinate “independents”. We are thus simultaneously dependent and independent: independent in quality but not in quantity: at once the same and different.
We are already individuals, with eternally separate – though not disconnected – identities. Perhaps the term independent is itself problematic. That is, on the one hand, independent can indicate separate individuality; but it may also imply complete disconnection from God, which, of course, is impossible. Krishna is completely independent, and because we are His parts and parcels, we also have that same quality of independence, although in minute quantity.
“So He has given us little independence because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is fully independent. He does not depend on anyone. But although we have got independence to a certain extent, but under the control of māyā. In the spiritual life there is also māyā. That is called yoga-māyā … although we have got all the ingredients of Kṛṣṇa, still, we require protection.” S.P. Lecture, SB 3.26.4, 1/16/75
One result of our advancement in Krsna consciousness is that we become able to engage the “nothing is impossible” potencies of our own spiritual selves, fully. Self-realisation, sometimes called “actualisation”, means that by surrendering to guru and Krishna, we become aware of our spiritual nature and the qualities thereof, in all their “5 dimensional” breadth and brilliance. We then gradually purify and hone them, practicing to become expert in engaging them, increasingly, in devotional service.
Consciousness, realisation, indicates an awareness beyond just philosophical, or academic knowledge (‘jnana’). It means I have achieved realised knowledge, ‘vijnana’; wisdom. That is, it is in my grasp; it is available to me, and I am using it, here and now. It is manifest in my character, my words, and my behaviour.
Of course, realisation is not independent: it is revelation. We are dependent on sadhu, guru, scripture, and Krishna, for all the awareness, encouragement, strength, and love required to be our best for Them.
So, it seems there is no contradiction between the two ideas, i.e. being fully surrendered; and,at the same time, being fully-expressed individuals in our own right. The surrendered, advanced, soul will be both. He is uninhibited – though not undisciplined – in his thoughts, words, and actions; all directed at pleasing guru and Krishna. He observes tradition, etiquette and culture, as far as is conducive for his service to the Lord. Concurrently, he will use every faculty and facility to powerfully and effectively spread His glories and mission, according to time, place, and circumstances.
The apparent contradiction may be in our conception of what independence means. Materially, independence implies a mundane pride and arrogance: no need for anyone or anything else, what to speak of a guru or God. However, only Krishna has that position, power, and freedom.
Regarding Prabhupada’s phrase “minute independence,” in relation to Krishna, it may be minute. However, in terms of what you and I can achieve in this world for Him, it may be far, far from minute. Just consider what Srila Prabhupada did, and continues to do. From our vantage point, it is almost unimaginable, superhuman.
With our limited, conditioned vision, it may be difficult to understand how Srila Prabhupada was both most humble, and yet sometimes apparently “aggressive”. Arjuna was also “aggressive”, to the point of killing, yet that was the symptom of his perfect surrender to the Lord.
How is it possible that killing can be pure, loving, and humble devotional service – surrender – to God? It seems counter-intuitive; and probably far outside of our conditioned paradigm. Maybe our own misconceptions about Krishna consciousness affect our understanding, like coloured filters, or “rose-coloured glasses”. We may think aggression, or killing, is always unacceptable.
However, according to Srimad Bhagavatam, a purified, detached, and surrendered servant of the Lord, like Arjuna or Srila Prabhupada, embodies all good qualities, which automatically result from his active surrender. He independently chooses to let Krishna take over, and the result, although sometimes apparently selfish or destructive, is that he acts only for the highest welfare of all … even while killing.
Because he becomes the master, the controller, of his own mind and senses, and uses them only in the Lord’s service, everything he does is glorious. Like the tortoise, which can extend or withdraw its limbs at will, he becomes a controller – a little Krishna – manifesting Krishna’s qualities and will.
“…Therefore real liberation entails surrender by the living entities to Your control, and that surrender will make them happy. In that constitutional position only can they be controllers…” B.g. 7.5, purport
As quoted above, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “…There must be always individual striving and work and responsibility, competitive spirit …That will train men how to do these things, and they shall develop reliability and responsibility, that is the point…” S.P. letter 12/22/72
Consider all of our most recent acharyas. Every one of them was outwardly independent – often considered revolutionary – in their activities.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura risked his life to punish the King of Puri, who had misappropriated a huge sum of money from the Jagannatha Temple. The Thakura stood up to, exposed, and defeated the powerful and fearsome Bishakisen, the imposter Maha-Vishnu. He also wrote prolifically to defy, and turn the tide of the polluted, deviant, and pretentious version of Gaudiya-Vaishnavism of his time.
Srila Gaura Kishore was socially defiant, practically an ‘avadhuta’, unconcerned with, and unaffected by, social custom or public opinion.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was known as the Singha-guru, who stood immovably, and successfully, against the well-entrenched ‘smarta brahmanas’, and ‘apa-sampradayas’; also risking his own life.
Our own Srila Prabhupada ostensibly deserted the institution of his own spiritual master, and spoke out boldly about many of his peers, who disobeyed Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. For the sake of spreading Lord Chaitanya’s samkirtan, he established practices that, to conventional or conservative Vaishnava standards, were considered unorthodox or deviant.
He was both wholly surrendered to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, and an assertive, dynamic risk-taker; a transcendentally powerful, “outside-of-the-box” thinker, and pioneer. He is the epitome of the apparent contradiction: unashamedly humble and self-effacing, and yet sometimes bold and brazen, even apparently harsh, or fanatic. Another example of this latter quality can be found in his Vyasa–puja offering of 1961. Vaishishyashtaka, found in A Shower of Divine Compassion
Bali Maharaja was also like that. He was independently thoughtful, but fully surrendered to Krishna. And, accordingly, he did something – rejecting his guru – that seems to fly in the face of all acceptable tradition and spiritual standards. And yet, his assertive action was based on his clear realization, conviction, and the “independent” use of his spiritual intelligence, in discerning how best to surrender to Lord Vishnu, Krishna.
“A devotee should have intelligence to know who is deviating. Surrender by your intelligence, but don’t surrender your intelligence.” Letter to Bali Mardana, 1974
“Discrimination is the best part of valour.” S. P. Lecture, 12/24/69
This is very different from the concept of a timid, hesitant, and unexpressed minion, who neither thinks for himself, nor takes bold action according to time, place, and circumstance. Any interpretation of Prabhupada’s teachings that disempowers us, and encourages an unhealthy dependence, or sycophantism, may perpetuate psychological weakness, and an avoidance of responsibility and bold risk-taking for spreading his mission.
As we mature and take more responsibility for engaging with spiritual intelligence and discrimination, we understand ourselves more deeply, and become more clear and confident about what is best. We are thus empowered to be able to serve better. We develop more of an adult relationship with the spiritual master; less than that of a child who is dependent and demanding. We become more able to give back, to please and assist him, instead of taking or draining.
Srila Prabhupada teaches us that humility means to preach Krishna consciousness boldly. So, one manifestation of genuine humility, surrender, is courageous, selfless action for achieving spiritual results. If we apply Srila Prabhupada’s instructions properly, then we will gradually develop the courage and potency to cooperatively transform this world into Vaikuntha.
We will not only be happy in Krishna consciousness, but we will be enthused and inspired; and empowered to help others in their spiritual advancement. We will bring many more intelligent and dynamic people, “change agents”, into active Krishna consciousness. That result must be there; otherwise, we are not yet being fully, authentically both humble and bold, following in Prabhupada’s footsteps.
Consequently, not only are the two ideas – surrender and independence – not contradictory, but they must be concomitant factors. Krishna states, “As they surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly.” The more one surrenders, especially through the challenging stage of ‘anartha-nivrtti’ – pulling the weeds of offenses – the more Krishna helps us manifest our inherent spiritual qualities.
C.C Madhya-lila 12
In conclusion, there is no contradiction. Rather, we become both: simultaneously dependent and independent: independent for Krishna; both surrendered – thinking ourselves fully dependent – and autonomous. By becoming instruments, we act as little Krishnas, manifesting His brilliant and magnetic qualities, as Srila Prabhupada does. He instructs and guides us to become fully qualified – like touchstones – to transform others also, into pure servants of the servants of the Lord. Surrender means that we are willing and able to carry out the apparently impossible mission, the desire of guru and Lord Chaitanya, just as we see Arjuna doing on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.