How should we deal with phases of inner emptiness in our spiritual life?

by April 18, 2013

Question: Sometimes when we pray to Krishna or chant his holy names, we feel no fulfilling presence – just a desolate silence within. How should we deal with such phases of inner emptiness?

Answer Summary: By not mistaking the Teacher’s silence to be negligence, but by seeing it as a test meant for our spiritual growth.

Answer: When we try to practice devotional service and feel no reciprocation from Krishna, we may be tempted to equate the inner silence with divine negligence. We may assume that Krishna doesn’t care for us, for our endeavors and struggles while serving him. However, Gita wisdom assures us that Krishna does care. In fact, he cares so much that, as the Bhagavad-gita (18.61) indicates, he always remains present in our heart as our indwelling companion wherever we travel through material existence.

The notion that “Krishna doesn’t care because he doesn’t give us taste” is a temptation. Like all other temptations, this notion manipulates us through a selective and deceptive perception of reality. For example, when lust tempts us, it prods us to see only the initial pleasure and blinds us to the eventual trouble. Similarly, in the case of tastelessness, we see only a part of the reality: the part that Krishna should grant us higher taste when we try to serve him. The part we overlook is that Krishna is also a teacher who wants to help us grow and so tests us.

The same teacher who explains throughout the semester classes becomes silent at the time of the term-end written tests. Does the silence indicate that the teacher doesn’t care for the students? No. The teacher cares, but remains silent at the time of the test so to offer the student an opportunity to grow. During the test, the teacher observes, hoping and expecting and trusting that the student will draw upon the knowledge imparted earlier and thereby come up with the right answers.

The same principle applies to our relationship with Krishna. The Bhagavad-gita (15.15) indicates that Krishna as our indwelling friend guides us by giving us remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness according to what we desire.

He gives us knowledge through guru-sadhu-shastra. When we try to apply that knowledge by practicing devotional service, he gives us his remembrance, which brings with it a profound calmness and comfort and clarity.

And as a teacher, Krishna periodically tests us by giving us forgetfulness. Due to the influence of our conditions or conditionings, we may sometimes not be able to sense his guidance or presence. The result is that we start experiencing inner dryness. This doesn’t mean that Krishna doesn’t care for us, but rather that he cares so much for us as to trust us. He trusts that we will draw upon the spiritual wisdom we have learned till then and thereby come up with the right answers. He trusts that we won’t make choices based on just the feelings of that moment, but on the testimony of scriptural wisdom and of our own earlier rich devotional experiences.

How can we pass such tests?

Through prayerful perseverance.

Thankfully, most of our tests in spiritual life are not close-book, but open-book. We don’t have to decide based on just what we can recollect at the spur of the moment; we can pause and draw on the counsel of guru-sadhu-shastra. Such counsel boosts our faith that Krishna’s love for us is unfailing love, no matter what we feel at that time. This boosted faith inspires us to pray to Krishna for patience and diligence, for persevering in our practice of devotional service. By such perseverance, we pass the test and over time re-experience Krishna’s gracious presence. Over time, this presence will become richer and sweeter, for like a student who has passed a test and moved to a higher standard, we will have passed to higher level of devotion.

Thus, we can accept the phases of tastelessness as opportunities to prove ourselves worthy of Krishna’s trust and thereby grow through them with perseverance.

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