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A Series of Problems
Recently while I was traveling in Eastern Europe, I encountered many problems on the road. First we had engine trouble, then the petrol stations went on strike, then we had to obtain the required visas. When we reached Prague, we could not find a telephone, and after we found one, we discovered that there was no one at home at the Hare Krsna center. We waited all day in the street to see if devotees would show up at their address. When they finally arrived, I felt great relief. It seemed that all our obstacles were now removed. The devotees invited us to come with them to their farm—but then another problem arose: would our van be able to make it over the rough country roads? At this point I realized that I should stop looking for the cessation to problems but be prepared to meet them one after another. And so I wrote in my diary:
Life is a series of problems executed on behalf of Lord Krsna and Prabhupada, with nectar rest periods in between. Since our objective is to please Krsna, we will show our sincerity by being willing to work to overcome the problems.
Problem-solving in Bhakti-yoga
In devotional service the real goal of problem-solving is to please Krsna by your endeavors. If you execute duties successfully but do not succeed in pleasing Krsna, then what is the benefit? An expert karmi who claims he never has money problems and who has a healthy, aggressive mentality may think that he is an expert "trouble-shooter." And yet a simple Vaisnava, who may not have solved the problems of his material existence so well, is actually better at problem-solving because he always depends on Krsna. Krsna promises, "My devotee will never be vanquished."
A devotee does not think of obstacles that come to him as his own problems. He leaves the results up to Krsna, so if anything goes wrong, it is Krsna's problem, not the devotee's. The devotee is simply dedicated to always serving the Lord, whether in happiness or distress. Every day he faces whatever problems come his way and tries to solve them as part of his devotional service. They either get solved or not, but he does not mind, since his mission is to fully engage himself in bhakti-yoga. The devotee's mentality is quite different from the materialist's. If the karmi does not solve his problem, then he is in anxiety. For example, it a devotee has to pay rent for the temple, he makes all endeavors but leaves the result up Krsna. If he fails and has to leave the temple, he finds another place to serve and preach. He does not have to carry an undue burden of success or failure based on external events. In this way he is always successful, and there are ultimately no obstacles in the way of such a sincere servant. Even death is another opportunity to surrender to Krsna.
So a devotee should never become hopeless. Lord Caitanya, speaking in the mood of the gopis, declared, "Even if You handle me roughly in Your embrace or make me broken-hearted by not being present before me, You remain my worshipful Lord unconditionally." This surrendered attitude may also be applied to the chanting of a practicing devotee. Even if Krsna does not appear to us in His holy name, and we cannot seem to overcome our offenses, still we will go on chanting. By surrendering to Krsna, we become satisfied with the service itself. At ieast we do not become hopeless. We are thankful for the mercy of being able to always do some kind of service for Krsna and guru. This surrendered attitude prevents one from becoming hopeless.
By facing problems, we also come to appreciate the nectar of victory when it actually comes. Krsna mentions this as one of the reasons why He left the gopls during the rasa dance. He said, "If you think that I am too easily obtainable, you may take Me cheaply." Srila Prabhupada gives the example of a person who loses money, searches for it frantically, and on finding it, becomes very happy and grateful. Spiritual life is a series of problems executed on behalf of Krsna, with nectarean rest periods in between. When the difficulty is relieved by the bliss of victorious union with Krsna, then it is nicer than anything we ever imagined.
Obstacles may also be seen as auspicious. Queen Kunti said that dangers made her think more of Krsna. And by thinking of Krsna, she said, "We will no longer see repeated births and deaths." Therefore, she prayed that the calamities might continue so that she could think of Krsna more. We are not as brave as Queen Kunti, but whether we welcome troubles or not, they keep coming. Although we shudder when we see a formidable obstacle, we know that it is also good for us. We think, "This is what I wanted although it is a little painful; this will turn me more to Krsna." Problems in life are not always solvable, but at least we can take a favorable attitude toward them, and then we will be successful. If we see the obstacles as all bad, we will miss the opportunity that accompanies them. The concept of a fighting spirit will be more appealing to some than to others. Those with a pessimistic nature find it difficult to think their suffering is a cause of joy. Neither are they able to see their suffering as a service to Krsna. The invitation to take obstacles in a chivalrous ksatriya-like manner simply turns off persons of a pessimistic nature. If we cannot see the bright side of the problems in life, we should pray for strength to endure them. Pray to Krsna to get us through. Prabhupada writes, "There may be so many impediments for a person who is chanting Hare Krsna. Nonetheless, tolerating all these impediments, one should continue to chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, so that at the end of one's life one can have the full benefit of Krsna consciousness" (Bg. 8.5, purport).
A pure devotee does not like to ask Krsna to remove the external calamities, but sometimes he does so by the force of circumstances. Gajendra called out to the Lord in helplessness when he was attacked by the crocodile, but he did it with regret. At the very least, we should not make our sufferings a cause for losing faith in the Lord. We do not know Krsna's inconceivable plan. We may think, "I have got enough problems, I am not going to welcome any more." In that case, we have to hold on to Krsna's lotus feet, or to the feet of His pure devotee and think, "You're all I have to get me through. I find life to be nothing but troubles—which I do not welcome—but You're my savior, You're my one well-wisher, my light of hope in this dark life." If a person clings to Krsna in -that spirit, then he will become victorious. Facing obstacles is a learning process. We may not feel happy about it, but we can note down in our book of experience, "This world is full of suffering; it is not a fit place for a gentlemen." Problems make us more serious about working for liberation. The world is not a happy place, so why be frivolous and waste time?
We have heard that in the heavenly planets life goes on without any wrinkles or anxieties—but finally ends in death. The people on higher planets often get so absorbed in their enjoyment that they forget they are the eternal servants of God. So obstacles on the path may serve to remind us of our higher destination. Unless we remember Krsna, then the problems of life can turn into a degrading misery which makes us turn further away from Krsna. And if we turn away from Lord Krsna, we fall further and further into darkness. If we find the problems of life bitter, we may also remember that happiness in the mode of goodness begins with poison and later becomes nectar. The obstacles are poisonous because they go against our plans for happiness. Everything seems ruined when things do not turn out the way we wanted them. But if we make service to Krsna our main priority, then our unhappiness brings purification and promotion to Vaikuntha, where there is no anxiety.
When Maharaja Pariksit was cursed to die by a brahmana boy, he saw his frustration as a blessing from the Lord. By the curse he was able to disentangle himself from royal power and hear about Krsna from Sukadeva Gosvami in the last seven days of his life. This assured his entrance to the spiritual world. The merciful Lord sometimes creates such awkward positions for His pure devotees in order to drag them towards Himself from the mire of material existence. But outwardly the situations appear to be frustrating to the devotees. The devotees of the Lord are always under the protection of the Lord, and in any condition, frustration or success, the Lord is the Supreme guide for the devotees. The pure devotees, therefore, accept all conditions of frustration as blessings from the Lord. —Bhag. 1.18.28, purport