How can we avoid becoming lethargic in spiritual life?
Transcribed by: Rekha mataji
Edited by: Rhythm Saidha
Question: When we practice devotional service over a period of time, say several years, then afterwards we start becoming lethargic and devotional service starts becoming a burden. So why does this happen and how can we deal with it?
Answer: In general, the practice of devotional service requires us to go deeper in our relationship with Krishna and if that is not happening, then it is likely to become boring and burdensome.
Initially when we practice bhakti, often as compared to what we may have been doing, bhakti involves doing several new activities; may be waking up in the morning, may be going to temple, may be going to holy places, meeting different kinds of people. So there is, even to some extent, external newness to the activities of bhakti and that experiencing of externally new activities is what energizes us in the initial stages of our spiritual life. But over a period of time, the activities no longer remain externally new; the same mantra, same deities, same temple, same dhams, may be to large extent same devotees also. So then what happens is our material tendency is that when something new loses its newness then its charm also goes away with that. That’s why people, may be after sometime want a new cell phone, a new i-pod, a new car and new things because the charm of the newness doesn’t last at an external level.
This material mentality to change things when they don’t have the charm of newness, comes into our spiritual life also on many occasions and that’s why when we don’t see anything new in our spiritual life, then we start finding it mechanical and boring.
Now the way out of this is to recognize that at the material level the promise of newness is deceptive. There might be some things which seem to be new but they are not going to be new for very long. Even when they are new, actually they are simply the same old things and they are just going to reveal their true nature after a period of time.
Whereas, in spiritual life the activities may not be new but the experiences will be new. Why? Because Krishna is infinitely attractive and Krishna describes in 4.11 in Bhagavad-Gita that – “ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamyaham” – “As all people surrender unto me, I reward them accordingly.” So, to the extent we practice bhakti intensely, offering our heart to Krishna, to that extent Krishna reveals His all-attractiveness and He charms us and then bhakti remains fresh.
So over a period of time, if we find ourselves becoming lethargic in bhakti then we have to take inventory and find out which aspects of Krishna Consciousness attract us and intensify our focus on those aspects of Krishna Consciousness. Some devotees may feel especially inspired by deity worship, other devotees may feel especially inspired by studying the Bhagavatam and some other devotees may feel especially inspired by kirtans. So we may find that there are different things in our Krishna Consciousness that specifically inspire us and we can do those activities intensely.
However, if we try to intensify everything in our spiritual life, we will burn ourselves out in a short while. But if we find out what things we can intensify, some things which we like, some things which give us more strength and inspiration, then we can intensify those activities. Through that intense performance of devotional service we’ll get a deeper taste and over a period of time that deeper taste will spread to other activities also.
So eventually we come to a state called “sthaibhava”. Bhaktirasamrta Sindhu refers to steady emotion. We have a steady attraction towards Krishna. It may take some time but it will happen. Till then we have to find out which limb of bhakti attracts us and do that more intensely and the limb that attracts us may also change over time. Sometimes we may feel that “I find kirtans very enlivening”, and that enlivenment may go on for 3 months, 6 months and then afterwards you feel “ok kirtans are nice but I also need to study sastra.” I need to be able to understand, I need to be able to answer questions if people ask me, explain things. Therefore I need to study sastra also.
So it’s not that when we talk about specific source of inspiration, it will be only one source of inspiration all the time. It may also vary but overall the underlying principle of bhakti, at the sadhana bhakti level, which Rupa Gosvami talks about is, “ye na kena prakarena manah Krishna nivesayet” – i.e. somehow or the other fix the mind on Krishna. So that means we find out what it is about Krishna Consciousness that attracts us and enthuse ourselves through that. And over a period of time, as we become increasingly purified, that enthusiasm will spread from that activity to all the activities in Krishna Consciousness and then we will go beyond this phase of feeling spiritual life to be boredom or a burden.