As my bare feet hit the cold marble floor of the altar during the early morning service hours I whispered, ‘Oh, so cold!’. My fellow pujari turned and smilingly whispered back, ‘Austerity!’
It wasn’t the first time I was reminded that there is a sweetness to doing something difficult for Krishna. Actually, it’s only by intentional practices that we can begin to access spiritual tastes and emotions that are less obvious and more refined.
My recent experience of avoiding sugar in my diet brought that home to me. I was preparing for a Kartik challenge of no sugar (Kartik is a month of special prayers and meditations which has just started, Oct. 24 - Nov 23). The idea is we practice giving something up or adding more spiritual activities to our life to experience a deeper awareness of Krishna.
The idea of no sugar terrified me so I began early to see if I could actually do it. Over the last few weeks I have been amazed. Besides reading all the labels and seeing how much sugar I was dumping in my system daily, I had more energy, less cravings, and slept better at night! But what really became obvious was the sharpness in my sense of taste. Not only did I find sweetness in things I wouldn’t have considered sweet before, but I was able to experience other tastes and flavors better. It was like a blurry image of tastes becoming clearer.
This then led me to reflect on the importance of the 4 regulative principles we follow in the practice of bhakti yoga. Often called the 4 principles of freedom, they are the first level of commitment needed to set a sustainable foundation for further practice. They are the no no’s. No eating meat, fish or eggs. No intoxication. No gambling. No illicit sex.
When we make a commitment to honor the ‘no’s’, like my no sugar practice, it can have a profound effect on our life. Not only are we healthier on all different levels, but especially clearer, more conscious, more aware and ultimately more satisfied on the inside. By controlling our response to the pushings of the mind and senses, by ignoring them, we begin the journey within to reconnect with our spirit self. We begin to taste the sweetness of spiritual life. And this gives us practical and tangible experiences of progress in our search for the truth and reawakening our relationship with Krishna. The spiritual sweetness is there - we just have to give ourselves a chance to taste it.