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5 .Obstacles Presented by the Nondevotee World
According to the Vedic scriptures, three-fourths of all spirit souls are liberated and living in the eternal spiritual world. But on the earth planet, it is very rare to find a spirit soul who is aspiring for pure devotional service. Lord Krsna gives the statistics: "Out of many thousands, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth" (Bo. 7.3). Devotees should not feel sorry that they are such a small minority. Srila Prabhupada has encouraged us not to seek the endorsement of the vox populi, and he also said that we should be callous toward the scorn of the nondevotees. But it is natural that a practicing devotee sometimes feels sensitive if he or she is laughed at for wearing Vaisnava dress, or if one is seen as a weird cult member. These inimical attitudes create an obstacle on the path of devotional service.
Worldly pressures may be especially difficult in the beginning, when one is trying to decide if he or she wants to join the Krsna consciousness movement. One has to break away from friends and sometimes even family members. When George Harrison was very interested in practicing Krsna consciousness, he admitted to Srila Prabhupada that his interest in Krsna was causing him to lose friends. Prabhupada encouraged him to continue in Krsna consciousness, but social pressure was at least part of the reason why George found it impossible to commit himself to Krsna consciousness. Even those who become initiated continue to see worldly opposition as an obstacle to their devotional service. There are so many prejudices against devotees, especially in Western countries. You may not be able to buy a house if the owners know that you are a practicing Vaisnava, and you may not be able to get a job unless you conceal your religion. A predisposed enmity against "Hare Krsnas" has been discovered by courts of justice when they attempt to select a jury in cases involving members of the Krsna consciousness movement. The anti-cult movement continues its war of propaganda, in which devotees of Krsna are characterized as pathological, anti-social and dangerous. Devotees may do their best to offset these images, but who can say that he is completely undisturbed in the face of opposition?
In the case of the preacher, he stirs up opposition when he attempts to impress upon people the importance of devotional service. Srila Prabhupada writes, "While engaged in preaching work, he has to meet with so many opposing elements, and therefore the sadhu, or devotee of the Lord, has to be very tolerant" (Bhag. 3.25.21, purport). Going against popular opinion is particularly difficult for children growing up in a Krsna conscious environment. The devotee children are usually happy in early childhood as they worship Krsna with their parents, but once they begin to mix with nondevotee peers, the pressure for conformity threatens their devotional life. One boy named Haridasa became very unhappy as he began to associate with children at the local public school. He started to resent his odd Sanskrit name and the fact that he was a vegetarian, as well as many other things connected with devotional service. The situation became so tense that the parents decided to seek help from a psychologist who specialized in family counseling. The psychologist suggested to Haridasa, who was ten years old, that it was not so bad to be different from other people. He pointed out that some of us are different, and we do not have to be ashamed of it. The positive suggestion worked, and Haridasa took courage in accepting the fact that he was different from the average American boy. But many devotee children find it extremely difficult and will do anything they can not to be seen as strange. This problem presents itself as one of the great challenges to raising children in Krsna consciousness.
At least adults should not be oversensitive to the Obstacles on the Path of Devotional Service fact that not everyone likes a Vaisnava. When the Krsna consciousness movement won its first anti-cult case in New York, Time reported it with the heading, "The Right To Be Strange." Whether we like it or not, devotees are considered strange in most Western countries, and it is something that should not trouble us.
A devotee is deeply convinced of Vedic teachings. If an ignorant person criticizes the life of devotional service, a devotee knows this is ignorance that is based on the bodily conception of life. He is not swayed. Maharaja Rahugana insulted the great brdhmana Jada Bharata with many words of sarcasm, but Jada Bharata smiled and spoke the following words:
You have said that I am not stout and strong, and these words are befitting a person who does not know the distinction between the body and the soul. The body may be fat or thin, but no learned man would say such a thing of the spirit soul. As far as the spirit soul is concerned, 1 am neither fat nor skinny; therefore you are correct when you say that I am not very stout. Also, if the object of this journey and the path leading there were mine, there would be many troubles for me, but because they relate not to me but to my body, there is no trouble at all. As far as your thinking that you are the king and master and thus trying to order me, this is also incorrect because these positions are temporary. Today you are a king and I am your servant, but tomorrow the position may be changed, and you may be my servant and 1 your master. My dear king, you have said, "You rascal, you dull, crazy fellow! 1 am going to chastise you, and then you will come to your senses." In this regard, let me say that although I live like a dull, deaf and dumb man, I am actually a self-realized person. What will you gain by punishing me? —Bhag. 5/10.9,11,13
I shaved my head as a devotee in 1966 because I thought it would please Srila Prabhupada. But when I went out into the streets of the Lower East Side and a few people hooted at me, I was surprised and hurt. The ridicule felt like a push from behind. And yet it made me conscious of Krsna and Prabhupada; I had lost my anonymity! When I went back to the storefront and presented myself before Srila Prabhupada, he said, "Thank you very much." During the same year Srila Prabhupada gave us japa beads, he said that we should always carry them with us, "If you're not ashamed." We should not be ashamed that we are followers of Lord Krsna who wear Vaisnava tilaka, A few people may think we are crazy, but many others will ask us out of curiosity, "What is the marking on your forehead? Is this some kind of religion?" Such questions are glorious because they are about Krsna and therefore they are of benefit to the whole world.