The Essential Things
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Arjuna has the painful task of delivering the message of Kṛṣṇa’s disappearance to Yudhiṣṭhira. In this conversation, Arjuna says, “O King! The Supreme Personality of Godhead Hari, who treated me exactly like an intimate friend, has left me alone. Thus my astounding power, which astonished even the demigods, is no longer with me.” (1.15.5)
Śrīla Prabhupāda comments: “The power and energy which were bestowed upon Arjuna were required for fulfillment of the mission of the Lord, but when His mission was fulfilled, the emergency powers were withdrawn from Arjuna because the astounding powers of Arjuna, which were astonishing even to the denizens of heaven, were no longer required, and they were not meant for going back home, back to Godhead.”
Arjuna’s power and energy was given to him by Kṛṣṇa, and also taken away from him by Kṛṣṇa when he didn’t require them any longer. Similarly, whatever we are able to do is given to us by Kṛṣṇa. In the Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa says He is the skill in everyone. Sometimes, Kṛṣṇa may withdraw a skill we were given. For example, I used to dance and sing for hours. I can’t do that anymore, I get out of breath and my voice cracks. A certain ability was given to me, and now it’s given to other, young devotees.
Kṛṣṇa gives skills, and He takes them away. For a materialist, this is very disturbing. Losing skills is the worst nightmare for a materialist. When my father got older and was replaced as the director of the German railway, he was totally struck down. He had nightmares of the new director meeting with his old team: when he tried to join them, everyone laughed at him and as he looked down, he saw he was naked.
How do you respond, when you see that a service you used to do is done by someone else? What if that person is perhaps even doing it better than you ever did? Is this a cause of distress for you? Should it be? Reflect on the profound point Śrīla Prabhupāda makes in his purport to the above: Arjuna had powers that were astonishing even to the demigods, but “they were not meant for going back home, back to Godhead.”
All of our abilities are given to us by Kṛṣṇa: our knowledge, our ability to sing kirtan, manage projects, distribute many books or collect a lot of money, etc. Someone may be very intelligent, someone may be very austere and sense controlled – all these skills and powers will be taken away, when they’re no longer required. BUT these abilities are not meant to take us back to Godhead.
What takes you back to Godhead is your love, not your position. What brings you back to Kṛṣṇa are the things that will never be taken away. Kṛṣṇa might take away your health or ability to remember many verses or new names, but He will never take away your bead bag or the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. These are the most important things, my dear devotees!
Remember Hanumān, a hero from the Rāmāyaṇa. He had incredible skills which enabled him to render amazing services, most importantly he rescued Sītā from Rāvaṇa. But when Kṛṣṇa came back as Kṛṣṇa to reestablish dharma, Hanumān‘s only service was to sit on Arjuna’s flag. He was a symbol! And when Bhīma became angry, Hanumān supplied the soundtrack and roared. What a small service. Was Hanumān envious? Disturbed? No, he sat on Arjuna’s flag and roared.
Service opportunities are given by Kṛṣṇa, and sometimes taken by Kṛṣṇa. It’s important to learn to hold onto the changeless items in our life. Take good care of the responsibilities you have for the time that they are entrusted to you, but know, eventually they will be taken away again. Cultivate the timeless necessities that you need to go back to Godhead.
We often get it all wrong. We prioritize our looks, achievements, positions, possessions and reputation – and Kṛṣṇa may fulfill the human needs we have in this regard – but please be aware that these are not essential for your main mission in life: to wake up from the false dream of material existence and go back home, back to Godhead.
Our main problem, my dear devotees, is that we are invested in and attached to making it work with things that aren’t required to become released from central prison, the material world of repeated birth and death. For me this is the genius and purity of Kṛṣṇa consciousness: Prabhupāda and the Bhāgavatam repeatedly point us towards the highest goal of human life. That doesn’t mean we don’t have other things to take care of; but first things need to come first.
Let us not get lost in this external world. Let us be like Arjuna who acknowledged that it was Kṛṣṇa who gave him his powers. Let us acknowledge when Kṛṣṇa takes things away from us and accept it as our situation. And remember, Kṛṣṇa will never take away your opportunity to chant, even on your death bed! Learn the art of chanting, purify your consciousness, learn about your constitutional position, and go back to Godhead. Prabhupāda says in the same purport to the verse above, “[…] no one should be puffed up for his powers borrowed from the Lord.” All energy and power come from the supreme source, Kṛṣṇa. They are available for as long as He desires, and cease to function as soon as He withdraws them.
Let us get our priorities right. Otherwise, I’m afraid that our movement will turn into a religion and lose its spiritual quality. Religious people care about holding onto a belief system, and they want to identify with a group of similar believers. This is their source of stability. Spiritual people have a different agenda. They are not so much interested in a belief system. In some ways, they are also not so interested in identifying with a group. Their main interest is to transform their heart, so they become qualified to start their real life. They are interested in things of eternal value. The value of life is going back to Godhead and learning what’s necessary for that.
Form lectures by Śacīnandana Swami at Prabhupadadesh, Italy, June 6th, 2023 and at a disciples meeting in Switzerland, June 18th, 2023.