Is putting faith in Krishna consciousness like leaping across a chasm with nothing more than the hope that we will make it to the other side?
With reference to your lecture “Tap the power of faith,” some of the examples you mention about faith in our daily tasks appear to me to be calculated risks rather than a true act of faith. We know that the building we sit in can collapse, but that has very low probability- so low that it is not worth thinking about. This is a calculated risk- the calculation is sub-conscious so we are not aware of it but it is based on our own everyday experience and observation of the building. The same logic can be applied to travelers a week after 9/11; they take a calculated risk that an attack like 9/11 is a low probability event; the officers are well aware now and security is tight and one has to get on with one’s life.
Faith is like the act of leaping across a chasm with the hope that we will make it safely to the other side. We have not tried it before, we have no experiences that allow us to calculate the probability of making it to the other side. We only have others’ testimonies for it.
For a beginner, Krsna consciousness is like that. We have no idea who God is or if he even exists; we take up the process in faith that it will lead us where we need to go. I expect this is not a calculated decision for most people. (For me it was a calculated move in a different sense- I reasoned that if God doesn’t exist, ok at least I tried and I don’t have better ideas to live life anyway- if he does exist, not taking up the process is foolish).
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The article about a devotee departing from the world in extraordinary devotional consciousness is here:
Thank you for this intelligent question. I will answer it in three main parts.
Thank you for this intelligent question. I’ll answer it in three main parts. First part is that even within the faith which is required in Krishna Consciousness; there are various aspects to it. The faith is not just in the existence of God, and that particular God is Krishna and he loves us. Rather for many of us the faith in Krishna Consciousness comes from seeing the practical transformation it brings in our own lives and in lives of others. That’s why sometimes correspondingly, on the negative side, the greatest challenge to our faith comes when we see that the transformation that we had hoped in ourselves or others has not happened. The best example to understand this is that of a doctor and a patient. When a patient goes to a doctor, as I had mentioned in the lecture, he tries to establish some credentials. The patient verifies the credentials of the doctor by checking his track record and everything else essential to prove doctor’s authenticity. Now, what gives the patient faith in the doctor is not the patient’s exhaustive study of allopath, nor the patient’s exhaustive knowledge of the symptoms that he is suffering from, and the possible likely causes of the disease and then comparing this knowledge with the diagnosis that the doctor gives. Instead the patient’s primary faith comes by seeing whether the other patients, who took this doctor’s opinion, are cured from the disease or not and also by observing that whether by applying the treatment plan of the doctor, following the prohibitions and the prescriptions, I get relief or not. For many people, the idea of religious belief is quite vague, or nebulous. But in Krishna Consciousness, we all are taught by Srila Prabhupada, and other acharyas, that primarily the trans-formative aspect of Krishna Consciousness is what authenticates this process. In fact Krishna Consciousness demands the transformation of the heart, or in another sense Krishna Consciousness just provides the necessary transformation. We are expected to follow the four regulative principals as soon as we start practicing Krishna consciousness. For many people it may seem to be too strict of a demand. But as soon as we start practicing Krishna Consciousness , we surely experience some sort of deeper happiness. And it is this happiness only which enables us to give up the lower pleasures in life. Hence, we may or may not have complete faith in the existence of God or in the existence of Krishna as God and his loving nature, but Krishna Consciousness surely offers us tangible landmarks along the way. For example, after we do engage in bhajan kriya, or in other words after we start practicing the process of devotional service, then the stage of anartha nivratti will come, where all the anarthas ,lust, anger greed, pride and illusion, start going out of our hearts. And what comes after that is nishtha, the stage of firm faith.
The point which you have made here that the faith may not seem very reasonable is indicated by using two different words for faith, adau-shardha and later nishtha. Shradha is standard faith and nishtha is strong faith, unshakable faith. The faith of shradha is like a banana tree and at the stage of nishtha, it is like a banyan tree. Banana tree can be very easily shaken whereas the banyan tree can practically be never shaken by even the strongest of elephants. Now, one may ask, what is that which has led to the increase of faith from shradha to nishtha? It is the transformation experienced in anartha nivratti. When one actually sees his/her anarthas going down, then one starts experiencing the veracity, and starts realizing the authenticity of this process. That’s why we need to have a solid philosophical understanding to stay grounded in the process. The philosophical understanding acts like a compass which tells us where we should go. If we come to Krishna Consciousness and expect to be more comfortable and peaceful in our material lives then we may be in here for a rude shock. This is because the nature of the material world does not change even for the devotees. Rather it is the nature of our consciousness which changes by the process of Krishna consciousness due to which our attachments toward worldly things go down. As a result worldly ups and downs will never disturb us too much and that’s how a devotee experiences peace in life. Not that suddenly Krishna will make some magical arrangement by which everything in the devotee’s life becomes peaceful. Rather Krishna will provide inner connection of consciousness with Himself which will ultimately bring peace to the devotee. That’s why if we see some advanced devotees apparently having material attachments and struggling with some practical problem in practicing Krishna Consciousness, it causes great crises to our faith. Although in a sense that does not affect the existence or non-existence of Krishna, but for many people the faith is based on the potency of the practice of Krishna Consciousness, and the examples of those who seem to demonstrate that potency at work. Hence, we have to understand that Krishna Consciousness is like a science, and even if somebody is taking the medicines that person may not get cured if he/she does not avoid the prohibited items. If somebody contemplates on sense gratification and tries to indulge in it or does not have adequate caution in protecting oneself from lust or pride or offends other devotees or succumbs to all these things, then one may fall down. Which indicates, in one sense, the validity of Krishna Consciousness, that ultimately nobody no matter how great that person may seem to be, is greater than the process of Krishna Consciousness.
What made that person great? It is the process. Krishna Consciousness in one sense is like a lift, if somebody stays in the lift that person will go higher, higher and higher, but if he comes out of the lift, no matter how high the person may be, the law of gravity will act and the person will fall. Similarly, as long as people take shelter of the process of Krishna Consciousness they will, like in the lift, be elevated higher and higher. But if at a very high altitude, somebody stops being Krishna Conscious and becomes lust consciousness or ego consciousness, then that’s like coming out of the lift which guarantees a fall. Therefore, the serious devotees who have understood the philosophy, even the problems like some senior devotees may face, will not disturb their faith in the process rather it will strengthen their faith. Only if our faith in the person is independent of the process, rather than thinking that it is the process which is glorious or it is the bhakti which is glorious, we start thinking that this person is glorious. If our faith is more in the person than in the process, then to some extent we are going towards what is called as a personality cult. Srila Prabhupada emphasized that “I may not be perfect, but the message I am giving is perfect, because the message is coming from Krishna”. So certainly the spiritual masters or spiritual teachers can and should play an inspirational role for all of us, but one of the primary inspirations they should offer is to inspire us to practice the process and not just stay focused on them. This is the first point that our faith in Krishna Consciousness is also reasonable and is also calculated because we see that there are people who are practicing and those who are practicing, are getting transformed. Like, if we look at the cross-section of the devotees who are seriously practicing, we will see that many of them will have genuine level of spiritual advancement. They have a deep understanding of material and spiritual subjects, in an analytical and often profound sense. They have a greater attachment towards Krishna and they have higher detachment from matter. Even when they had the opportunities to enjoy material things but often they turn away from those opportunities so that they can engage in devotional service. That’s why the intermediate landmarks on the pathways of Krishna Consciousness play a significant role for all of us, sadhakas, in solidifying our faith. And having faith in the intermediate landmarks is not very difficult because these landmarks are not like flowers in the sky that after you die you will go back to Goloka. This is, when we chant Hare Krishna right now and after we chant we see the difference immediately. Hence the probability is realistically high. If we follow the process of Krishna Consciousness properly then the probability is that 100% we will make spiritual advancement. yatr natreya sanssheya (spelling !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that “there is no doubt”. In general we see that the serious devotees around us who are practicing this process of Krishna Consciousness properly are joyful. They are actually happy and are completely in Krishna Consciousness. So, in this sense, it is also calculated risk.
You have given some other examples like, if we sit in a building, the probability of the building to fall is low, but still when we went first inside the building, it was an act of faith. Of course, you may not even know that it was an act of faith because as we were a small child then, we may not have even considered or thought of the possibility that the building might collapse. At that time the thinking power was not so developed enough to consider such possibilities. But still the point is that the faith of those who took us inside the building, and our faith in them, became the basis of our faith. The same principle can be applied to Krishna Consciousness. For those who are born in the devotees families, those children may go to the temple, not because they have done any calculated analysis of “whether God existed or whether serving Him is good or not?” But because they are happy with their parents or elders. When the parents or elders go to the temple they tell them, “Please come to the temple with us.”, and the children go along with them. So again in all these examples, it was ultimately a matter of faith, not our faith, but the faith of somebody in whom we have faith. Therefore, the underlying principle is, faith is not something which we can avoid at all. In all fields we need faith. If we look at the intermediate landmarks in Krishna Consciousness, then we also ourselves feel that it is a calculated risk and not an unreasonable one.
Second point is related to what you have mentioned at the end of your question, that for you, it was a sort of calculated risk because you felt that if God existed, then it is foolish not to take up the process, and if God doesn’t exist, still there is no loss because you did not have any better ideas to life. In one sense, what you calculated is no investment for loss of fees as Pascal’s wager. As we know Blaise Pascal was a famous scientist. Along with it he was a great philosopher also. He once proposed a wager “does God exists? Does God not exist? And what will be the consequence of my choice of life style accordingly?” So basically there are four possibilities: (1) God exists and I worship Him (2) God doesn’t exist and I worship Him (3) God exists and I do not worship Him and (4) God doesn’t exists and I do not worship Him. Basically two possibilities are there whether I worship him or not, and two possibilities are there whether God exists or not. This permutation leads to four possibilities. His analysis was “God does not exist and I do not worship him” then the whole thing does not matter at all. But if God doesn’t exist and I worship him- to see that I have wasted my life. Third is “God exists and I don’t worship him, then I will be ruined. Not because of abrahamical religious conception that God is vengeful and God will cast us into hell for not worshiping him. But from the Vedic point of view that our innate nature is, we will get the highest happiness when we love and serve God. And if we don’t do that we will not be happy. Surely, there are some subtle differences between the details of the bases of Pascal’s logic and Gaudia Vaishnava understanding of similar logic. Lastly” God exists and I worship him”, then I will be entitled to eternal life.
Hence for those who want to worship God, the alternatives are (1) if God does not exist and I worship him (2) if God exists and I worship him, then the gains are immense, but if God doesn’t exist and I worship him, then what are the losses? In general all the religions require us to follow some sort of principles that regulate our material pleasures. Giving up these material pleasures would be a great loss if one finds out that God doesn’t exists. Pascal deeply thought about it and he concluded that, actually what are these pleasures that the various religions are asking us to give up. He concluded, these pleasures, on a long run, are unhealthy for our body, unhealthy for our minds and are harmful for the social and the environmental aspects also, as we are discovering now a days. He basically concluded that by regulating sexual pleasures, by regulating activities such as gambling, drinking, or as we have in Krishna Consciousness, meat eating, we will find out that we are saved from many troubles. Gambling generally leads to so much loss of money.. You can have a look at the article on our website “eat to help the world, four reasons to be vegetarian”, how our health, our environment, live stock and poor, all can be helped with, if we choose a vegetarian diet. As far as illicit sex is concerned, there are so many diseases like AIDS which can come up and if the affairs are extra marital then the divorces and heart breaks too are involved. Needless to mention about premarital affairs which may even involve abortion, and is actually a form of murder. Hence, there are so many complications which can result even in this life what to mention of the next. Similarly intoxication leads to variety of diseases. If we think objectively, the pleasures that we lose by regulating our lives as per God’s words in the scriptures are too temporary and fleeting. Actually we do not lose anything because these pleasures in reality lead one to a lot of troubles in life, in a long run. At the same time we will get a more peaceful, and in its own different way, a joyful life. We will have a sense of community with a number of good people. Who are good in terms of virtues, kind heartedness, compassion etc. due to which we will have a sense of values to live by. We actually will experience a higher level of satisfaction and joy. In that sense, there is not much loss. Pascal felt that, even if God does not exist and still I worship him, my life will be saved from troubles and I will experience higher pleasures. Of course, nowadays the atheists criticize Pascal’s theory strongly because their crux is that pleasures that we have to give up are too much. This sort of perception is because different people are in different modes of material nature. In the seventeenth chapter of Bhagavad Gita it is mentioned Shradha trya vibhaga yog, there are three divisions of faith. Hence, different people will have faith in different things based on the modes that are affecting them. To some extent to have faith, in ideas which are based on concepts, logic and analysis, is in the mode of goodness. To have faith in things of this world is the faith in the mode of passion. This is very broad and general understanding. And to have faith in illusions, which have no connection with reality, is in the mode of ignorance. Many people watch serials like ‘batman’ or ‘spider man’, and many other cartoon shows. They often imagine that one day I will be walking along the street and will see spider man climbing up on the wall, or I will meet batman or superman. Many a times, people take this up very seriously, in the sense that they have very deep emotions about these characters and their actions. Even their dreams are weeded to these characters and their activities. For them these imaginary characters hold a far greater emotional reality than from many aspects of real world around them. Therefore when there is faith in illusion it has no rational logical basis and there is no transformating process to bring what is in the realm of illusion to the realm of reality which is characteristic of the mode of ignorance. For example a person may drink, and after the drink he may think as if he is the president of America. He has no idea at this stage, that it is complete illusion and there is not much possibility of his illusion becoming a reality. When people are in the mode of passion, their faith primarily comes from things. When they see a big company complex they wonder, “Oh ! this must be a really big company”, and this happens even in the religious and spiritual field. When people see ”Oh ! there are thousands of people practicing this” they consider it very valuable. Here we are talking of ‘things’, in terms of ‘things’ which we can see and feel, and it may not be just regular things. People see a huge temple, a huge church, and get impressed. They like the things which are very impressive materialistically, and think “oh, there must be something behind this’. On the other hand, faith in the mode of passion also means, when people see that man and woman are embracing and kissing, they imagine ‘Ok this must be enjoyed’, and no matter how much philosophical analysis you tell them to make them understand that in reality the pleasure there is insignificant, but for such people seeing is far more important than thinking or analyzing. That’s why they just cannot understand that the pleasure which they can see with their eyes, are not what it actually is, it is much more insignificant than what is portrayed in the world. For them the pleasure comes from the things itself, from tangible objects that can be seen and observed. On the other hand when we are in the mode of goodness, the faith stands on logic, analysis, and inter-congruence of concepts and thought systems. If we are in the mode of goodness, then the sort of analysis that Pascal did, will seem logical and appealing to us. “Yes it makes sense, I will not lose much but I will gain much”, such feelings arises because we are in goodness. Then we will have natural attraction towards the life style in goodness, where we will be away from indiscriminate flagrant sexuality, and all sorts of unrestricted pleasures. We already have a unique distaste for them, but primarily if we are in the mode of passion, then the logic Pascal has given will not make much sense to us, rather the pleasures of this world will have the greatest emotional reality. Similarly, in ignorance it is difficult to even understand logic and philosophy. But then even if somebody is in the mode of passion or ignorance, or whatever the modes a person is in, he/she can still enjoy the joy of Krishna Consciousness to some extent when the kirtan is going on and the devotees are dancing and singing. Still after experiencing the joy, a person needs to have at least some level of goodness to ponder ”ok I have experienced this joy, it was wonderful, what can I do to experience it again? What can I do to make it a regular and constant experience? ” And for that some lifestyle change is required, some sacrifice of worldly pleasures is required. Those in the modes of passion and ignorance, unless they are guided by a caring, wise and inspiring devotee, it will be difficult for them to sustain the process. Any one from any mode can start the process of Krishna consciousness, but to sustain the process needs a guide. It’s not that we experience some high in the kirtans and now we will always remain Krishna Conscious, as those highs will not stay with us for long. These highs are glimpses of what is available when we actually rise to that height of God consciousness. But rising to that height require following the process, and following that process steadily requires us not just to live in the memory of those highs, but to understand that there is a profound philosophy and there is a systematic pathway that takes us from this low to that we are in, to the high we aspire for. Therefore, understanding this philosophy and applying the practices will require some extent of mode of goodness. That’s why if someone in not living a lifestyle in the mode of goodness then the doubts in the process of Krishna Consciousness will come up and the temptations will start distracting more and more. Even the process of Krishna Consciousness in itself can help us to come to the mode of goodness, because it gives us the pleasures which are higher than the pleasures in the modes of passion or ignorance. At the same time it also requires us to cultivate the mode of goodness so that we can sustain the process to achieve ultimate goal of human life i.e. to go back home back to Godhead. If we are in the mode of goodness, the process of Krishna Consciousness will seem like a calculated risk. It will be like a very reasonable thing to do, because we will understand the temporariness of everything material and we will implicitly feel “Yes there has to be a higher spiritual reality to life, and I want to connect with that.”
Lastly I would like to say that, for us, our faith increases, when we see the dignified and glorious way in which devotees depart from this world. Many of the devotees, since our movement has started, had followed in the footsteps of Srila Prabhupada by living in an exemplary way despite suffering from terrible cancers and other terrible diseases. The way they transcended the pain by practicing Krishna Consciousness is extraordinary. So along with this answer I have uploaded an article for which I have put a link of an ordinary housewife whose two sons became devotees and how she, when she got cancer, left her body in an exemplary way. These are just a few stories. HH Giriraj Maharaj is writing a full book on death and dying in the Vedic tradition, and also another book about how devotees have left their bodies in very devotional and in extraordinary consciousness despite the suffering from terrible pain. The fact that there is a higher realm of bodily consciousness and that realm of consciousness is achievable for us by our life long practice, something which we can see, can be indicated through the example of devotee’s lives, and it is something which we can also experience if we take the shelter of Krishna. This is the basis of our faith. Some of the devotees have even said that they have actually seen Krishna. There is a mataji in Ireland who left her body in complete Krishna Consciousness. A book has also been written about her, a simple but a beautiful book. Towards the final days in her disease, she was practically lying in bed, but she was, a sort of, in a deeper vision describing the deities of the temple and the way they were dressed, and she was even describing visions of Goloka vridavan. On the other hand our skeptical mind may or may not believe these things. But if we look at the lives of these devotees, they are on the verge of death and have nothing to gain in this world. There are not many reasons why they would lie. Considering the fact that we believe in Krishna, and believe that Krishna is watching everything, at the time of death for devotees to fabricate something seems very inappropriate. Because they know that Krishna will see through the lies. Even if we can’t believe what these devotees are saying about the super natural visions they are having, still there is nothing which denies the fact that they have actually transcended the pains of the body by their absorption in Krishna, which alone is remarkable.
To summarize, I discussed the three aspects of the faith. First are the intermediate landmarks, the transformations that happen in our own lives by the practice of Krishna Consciousness just like I may not have full faith in the science of allopath and may not know or believe everything that allopath talks about, but for me the doctor’s medicine works and I have faith in the doctor and his process. Same way you may not believe in all the details of Goloka Vrindavan and Krishna, his nature and his existence. But if chanting Hare Krishna brings transformation in our lives for the better, then that becomes the basis of our faith. Second thing we discussed was, how, what is reasonable depends on which modes we are in. Then we discussed elaborately on Pascal’s wager and how for a person in a mode of goodness the loss of material pleasure will be seen more as a loss of material trouble rather than material pleasures. And the gain which we see even in material terms while practicing Krishna consciousness, in terms of the overall orderliness, calmness and sense of belonging to a community of loving people, a sense of harmony that comes by living a principle centered life. All these are the gains that we will see even in this life. Lastly we discussed about how devotees have transcended bodily consciousness, especially in the approach to their departures from this world due to painful terminal diseases. And at the least this indicates the accuracy in the potency in Krishna consciousness to take us beyond body consciousness, and beyond which indicates the reality of consciousness, higher than the bodily consciousness. To some extent it can also give us faith that whatever the scriptures are telling exists in that realm, is also real. For us, to truly understand the reality of what is there in the higher realms, we have to raise our consciousness to that higher realm and then we will experience that reality. But the fact that people do exist at a higher realm of consciousness than in the material terms, Krishna Consciousness has given us repeated and abundant demonstration of.