By Sacinandana Swami
My life in our little ashram by the lake is as peaceful as you can imagine. Thinking, writing, chanting, reading, praying, worshiping and hosting the many guests who come by, including the swans. But from time to time my peace gets unsettled when I have to think about an answer to a difficult question. A few days ago such a question was found inside my inbox. Here it is for you:
“My question is, how can I bridge the gap between the deep faith I feel for Krishna who is so mercifully affording me in mounting installments as the years go by and the frequent inaccessibility to it on a moment to moment basis?”
This is what I wrote back:
Let me thank you from the deepest corner of my heart for your wonderful question which I have thought about over the last few days. I have found deep inspiration in exploring it but needed time to formulate my answer.
This maybe is the central question for all practitioners. It has to do with living one’s faith.
I believe that your overarching faith has been given to you by Krishna. It is a divine investment from above. Now, it is necessary for you to learn step by step - how to realize what you believe in. In other words after Krishna has moved into your life, He wishes to see that you are moving into His. You will now have to close that gap between what you believe in and your actual experience. Experience is the best proof that something is true.
In my mind there are three steps you need to take in the journey of faith: Improve your practice, pray for divine empowerment, take a risk.
IMPROVE YOUR PRACTICE
I would really like to help you understand this essential point with the help of a little story, which will both inspire and make you think:
Once there was a well-known saint. He lived by the side of a mountain in a little straw hut. Because he was old, he could no longer travel, so he stayed mostly by himself, absorbed in the Lord. Some considered him a guru who had answers to their questions and therefore he was occasionally visited by people but on the whole he stayed on his own.
Once, a hermit came down from his cave in the mountains. He had heard about the saint and hoped to get an answer to an inner dilemma he was facing. After he sat down, the saint nodded silently indicating that he should speak. “I know very well what is the purpose of life, I have faith in the scriptures and in the practice”, said the hermit. “And yet, I often find myself unable to live according to my knowledge and am often overcome with clouds of dullness and a painful emptiness within the heart. What should I do?”
The old saint sighed and remained silent for a long time. Then he said: “Please, come back tomorrow. I myself am interested in the answer. Let me stay up and pray.”
When the hermit returned the next morning, the holy man had the answer: “There is a big ocean with currents and waves. It is almost insurmountable. On the other shore there is a crystal white beach. A little further you will find a city with golden roofs, a market place where you can get everything for free and temples where the Lord personally talks to His devotees.”
Then the old saint again became silent. After some time he stared intensely into the eyes of his visitor and decisively said: “Brother, let us stop talking for now about that place. You first need to find a boat, a boatman, some oars and a compass. Then he became silent again.
The visitor understood. Instead of meditating on his spiritual ideal (the golden city) he needed to turn his attention onto the process of how to get there.
In the same way, I think you need to concentrate on your practice the boat, so to speak - put everything you got into it, consult an experienced seaman and use the oars. There is an ancient song which talks about this:
WHO WILL GO OH WHO WILL GO, BROTHERS?
hari-nama naukakhani om guru-khandari
sankirtana koroyala dubahu pasari
The holy name of Hari is the boat,
Sri Guru is the captain, and the singers of kirtan, moving with upraised arms, are the oars.
(By Locana Dasa Thakura)
The author of this song gives further encouragement; all souls can cross over the ocean of birth and death with the favorable winds of prema by the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
But, what is the compass, you might ask. In my humble understanding, the compass is the Scripture, Srimad Bhagavatam. By regularly reading this purest of all scriptures, one can get all the light which one requires to walk one’s path even in this darkness of Kali-yuga.
PRAY FOR BHAKTI WITH TASTE
Most probably you are already practicing this but is it alive within you? Do you experience deep taste? The acaryas talk about bhakti with nectar and bhakti without nectar. Pray for that bhakti with taste like a drowning man for a boat, a man dying of thirst for water, a lover for the long absent beloved. Only bhakti with taste will take you beyond where you are already.
But please know that you cannot force your way into the kingdom of God. It is not by your own strength that the door which leads you further opens. That door can only be opened from the inside by the hand of the Lord. However, our efforts can show the Lord that we are not indifferent to receiving His gifts. Diligent practice puts us into a position whereby we can receive. Thus, they are important, but it is always up to Him to answer in exactly the way He chooses. Maybe He has already done so but because you expected something else and looked out of the back window, you might not have recognized the gifts already laid before your door.
START NOW, TAKE THE RISK
I have always said that the whole path only shows itself when we start walking it. Have we not all stood at some time before a path going into the forest and did not know where it would bring us? And have we not struggled with the question: Should I stay or should I go? Then, when we took the risk of stepping into the unknown, we were actually most of the time pleasantly surprised by what we had found.
There is a secret: When you go forward in your spiritual life you are never alone. According to how much you wish to know, the Lord will reveal accordingly. To the degree we make spiritual progress the priority in our life, to that degree we will actually realize and move forward it works immediately. If we make it our first priority in life then we will make rapid progress. Our faith comes alive with the nourishment of realization. However, if we make it a second or third priority, reaching our ideal becomes progressively slower and the gap between what we believe in and what we actually experience remains open.
So, please, do start enthusiastically and know that you are not alone: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
At your service always.
Thanks and best regards,