How can I protect my bhakti from bad association in college?
From Jayashree Mataji:
I was brought up in a devotee family and I find the association of nondevotees in college disturbing. How can I deal with it.
Transcription (edited) by- Keshavgopal Das
Question- I was born and brought up in a devotee family and now I am studying in college. I feel that the association of non-devotees in the college disturbs me very much in my bhakti. How should I manage my college education and at the same time protect my bhakti?
- Our growth in bhakti not only happens in a protective environment (e.g. among devotees) but also in a challenging environment (e.g. materialistic environment of a college).
- We should learn to live the truths in a challenging environment as this will purify us.
- Four practical suggestions on how to deal with life in college are: (i) Make friends with those who are in mode of goodness (ii) learn to tolerate criticism and neglect that may initially come from non-devotees (iii) stick to your purpose of going to college i.e. studies (iv) avoid confrontations with people who do not share your ideals and be humble with them.
Answer (long)- The growth happens not just by protection but by purification. Purification often requires to live the truths that we have learnt not just in a protected environment but also sometimes in a challenging environment. When a bird is small it is sheltered in its nest, but when the bird grows it develops wings and it flies in the sky. The bird may be safer in its nest but when it flies around it may be exposed to more dangers, but by flying around the bird grows.
Similarly in our bhakti, when we are in the association of devotees, for example in a devotee family, we feel protected. When we go out into college, there is mostly a materialistic environment, we will naturally feel agitated. But this is the same process as growing our wings. It is not that we fly away from Krishna, but we learn to use the skills, our devotional values, to live in the world. The principle of bhakti is to live in the world but do not become of the world.
How can we do that? Here are some practical ways:
- Find non-devotee students in mode of goodness: Rather than thinking of simplistic “we vs. they” or “devotees vs. non-devotees”, we should understand that there are gradations among non-devotees also. As per Gita, people can be in three modes – goodness, passion, and ignorance. In a college environment, those who are in passion and sometimes those who are in ignorance, they are often the most glamorized, visible, and aggressive. Similarly activities in passion and ignorance are more prominent. Even in colleges, one can certainly find students who are relatively in mode of goodness. Such students would generally be coming for the purpose of studies and will not be interested in various forms of enjoyment that will be harming their studies. For us, rather than considering everyone to be a non-devotee and a threat to our devotion, we can try to find out within the college environment those students who are in mode of goodness and living a life of principles. From devotional perspective, we may find faults even with such students, but such attitude will not help if we want some community and belongingness. By developing friendship with such non-devotee students in mode of goodness, you will not feel college environment to be as much foreign or hostile. Even if you have one or two such friends that would be enough. We do not necessarily need to live with the way everyone else is living in the college. We can live in our own way and even if we have a small circle that is good enough.
- Do not be afraid of criticism and neglect: Generally speaking when somebody lives life of principles, people’s response towards such people goes through various phases. Initially, you may be criticized for being old fashioned, orthodox etc. Once you tolerate such criticism and they find that their criticism is not having effect on you then they will start to neglect. They will start understanding that this person is not going to change. However, once they see you leading life of principles day after day, week after week, month after month, gradually that neglect will change into respect. People may make a show of leading life of enjoyment but in their heart a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness gnaws at them and it does not go away so easily. When they see somebody leading a life of principles, they feel that this person has something to live for, what I am living for. They will not admit that they respect you, but they will respect secretly. And over a period of time, they may even come to the level of following. Once we are determined to face the initial phases of criticism and neglect, their hostility will change to amicability and admiration, and we will be able to make our own circle.
- Go to college for a purpose: Of course, we are going to spend significant amount of time in the college we need some community and belonging there, but we should remember that we are going to college for the purpose of studies and if on the way we are able to make some friends that’s fine. But our need for community or relationship does not necessarily be fulfilled only in the college itself. If we can get good friends in the college with whom we can get along, who respect our values, that’s good, but if we make friendship alone our primary purpose for going to college then we will be distracted and dissatisfied. In order to make more and more friends, we may start feeling that my devotional values are incompatible with the materialistic values of my friends, and since they will not give up their materialistic values, better I give up my bhakti and gel with them. It does not need to be like that. If we are devotionally purposeful knowing why we are going there i.e. for studies, then we can keep ourselves limited to that only. Our need for society, friendship, can be fulfilled in devotee community as well. If such need is fulfilled outside the college environment, it will not matter much to us.
Do not be confrontationist, be strategic: We do not have to be confrontationist in college, we can be strategic. Sometimes we may rub-off against people in a very negative way and if we look down upon others, be value judgmental etc., then people will start thinking that we have a very superior attitude towards them then often they become very hostile. If we find some people behave in a very different way, we do not have to be value judgmental towards them. We should not come upon them as superior to them. We should remember that we are not superior over anyone, but we are more fortunate. If we are living life of principles and they are not, that is not because that we are better but more fortunate. Somehow by Krishna’s mercy, we were born and brought up in contact of devotees and that is how we are able to live life of principles. If we can be principled and still be humble (vidya vinaya sampanne) then we will not rub-off people in wrong way and will still live according to our values. Rather people will gradually come to appreciate our values.