What is it? Why does it happen? What to do about it?
In Bhagavad-gita Arjuna asks Lord Krsna, "What happens if I start this practice of yoga and then later I fall down? Then I'm nowhere. I've given up my material life, and I've ruined my spiritual life. Now I don't have anything. I've lost on both sides. So what will happen to me?"
This question comes up theoretically in Bhagavad-gita and it comes up practically within our own experience. After we take to spiritual life, either we may fall down, or we may see others around us fall down. Falldown is a concern that everyone-on any spiritual path-has to deal with.
This past May, during a spiritual retreat at ISKCON's Gita Nagari farm in Pennsylvania, Back to Godhead organized an open discussion on falldown. Several dozen devotees, old and new, took part. As the editor of BTG, I served as moderator.
First we asked ourselves, What is falldown?
Concisely: When one vows to follow a spiritual path but later strays from it, one has fallen.
In Krsna consciousness, for example, at initiation one pledges before the spiritual master to chant the Hare Krsna mantra a fixed number of times each day and follow four regulations: no intoxication, no illicit sex, no gambling, and no meat-eating. To break these vows is to fall.
Beyond this, one may give up the spiritual life altogether. In 1966 Srila Prabhupada once said that one who gives up Krsna consciousness falls again into the material pool. Srila Prabhupada imitated the sound of a stone falling into water-"bloop!" That was it. "Bloop" soon became standard devotee lingo. To leave Krsna consciousness was to bloop.
In one sense, all of us in the material world have blooped. We've forgotten Krsna and fallen from the spiritual world.
Now we're trying to revive our spiritual life. And however far we've come, we ought to be moving steadily forward. Yet sometimes we stumble and slip back.
Why? What causes falldown? How do we keep from falling-and help others keep from falling too? When devotees on the path do fall, how should we treat them? And what do we do if we should fall ourselves?
Jayadvaita Swami: What can we point to as the causes of falldown?
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: I think one of the most persistent underlying causes of falldown is not merely being careless with the regulative principles or "pushing the outer edge of the envelope" but maintaining offenses-in particular, offenses against the holy name-and not engaging in an effort to clear them up.
If one is trying to clear up offenses, even though the offenses may be there, one is on the "clearing" stage and will continue to make spiritual advancement. But if one commits offenses and doesn't try to rectify them, he stops making spiritual advancement, and after a while he gradually loses interest in the path of Krsna consciousness.
That's described in The Nectar of Devotion as the "waning-moon effect." Somehow one's enthusiasm for Krsna consciousness gradually disappears, like the waning moon. Why am I losing interest? It's because of not trying to clear up offenses.
Advaita Acarya Dasa: Sometimes falldown might result from committing offenses against a devotee.
Vegavati Dasi: And pride goes before a fall.
Varuna Dasa: Not enough hearing and chanting.
Karnamrta Dasa: If you're not properly engaged according to your psychophysical nature, that can lead to falldown.
JS: Okay, if I've got the nature of a householder but I've somehow taken sannyasa, the renounced order. Or if I've got a scholar's nature but I'm stuck on the street selling things. That can lead to falldown.
Suresvara Dasa: In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna Himself pinpoints the causes, in the Second Chapter, verses 62 and 63. These are two verses every devotee should hang on the wall of his mind.
Dhyayato visayan pumsah saigas tesupajayate. "While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them. From such attachment, lust develops; from lust, anger arises; from anger, perfect delusion; and from delusion, bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost. And when intelligence is lost one falls down."
So that's it in a nutshell-the sad story of falldown. Krsna beautifully encapsulates it in the Gita.
Manohara Dasa: Prabhupada said, "Preaching is the essence." He also said, "If you don't preach, then very soon after I leave there won't be any more Hare Krsna movement. You won't be able to go on with this 'Hari bol, Hari bol.' And he said that if you preach, everything will be in perspective.
Bhaktin Teresa: I think, also, that there's a need for more instruction in the beginning. Because some people come to Krsna consciousness but they don't know deep inside what it is about. They think it's only wearing the dhoti, shaving your head, and having a good time. There's not enough training.
Asoka Dasi: We tend to preach until someone's initiated, and then we stop preaching.
Ganoiva Dasi: Another problem is lack of honesty in communication.
JS: Dishonest communication: Lying, deception, duplicity, false fronts.
Krsna Smaranam: We may fear to open our minds to other devotees because we feel that they may somehow say, "You're fallen."
JS: There's some seed of falldown in my mind, but I fear that if I say something my prestige will be damaged. So I keep quiet, and the disease grows, and I become more of a hypocrite as I dig myself deeper in.
Prasannatma Dasa: We need people to reveal our minds to. So we need to make friends among devotees. If we don't have those devotional friendships, we'll be stuck inside our own minds-and then we practically must fall down.
Krsna Smaranam Dasa: Sometimes I think these friendships are not enough encouraged in ISKCON. We're always concerned with "doing service for Krsna"-do this, do that-but sometimes the personal aspect gets lost.
Suresvara Dasa: It's ironic you say that, because in The Nectar of Instruction Srila Prabhupada says that the only reason ISKCON exists is to foster those personal loving exchanges.
JS: I think one could make a case that our relationships aren't deep enough. On the other side, we make progress because there is some depth to the relationships. If we didn't have a society of devotees who were concerned about one another's welfare, we'd all be cooked.
Karnamrta Dasa: I'm still thinking about honesty in dealings among devotees. I just think of all the struggles I've had in my life as a devotee, and there's lots of things I can talk about.
If a devotee's not introspective enough to understand what his actual standing is, if he's more concerned with what he should be than what he actually is, you can have a community of devotees relating to each other in a very superficial way. And that doesn't lead to open dealings.
There has to be someone you can go to and reveal your heart to who's not going to turn you away but is going to encourage you to purify yourself and return to the standard.
And there's a need for self-honesty. You need to be able to accept your position and work from there and not be too hard on yourself. Not that you compromise the philosophy but that you give yourself a break. Encourage yourself.
Romapada Swami: I'd like to hear something about how a situation that's risky gets worse and worse and worse. When somebody has a sniffle, why does it turn into a flu, turn into pneumonia, turn into death?
Karnamrta was speaking about being satisfied with our position. And one thing we know is that having too high a position, being proud of our position, can put us in jeopardy. When I have a big position, I may not want to open my heart to anyone, because I'm concerned that my position may be taken. So I don't want to let anyone know I've got the sniffles.
JS: "A person in my position wouldn't have the sniffles."
Romapada Swami: I suppose it comes back to what was said before. We need to know that there's at least someone I can open my heart to who's not going to turn around and use what I say against me.
We have an institution where we're not just engaging in devotional service on our own but in the company of many others. So naturally our relationships have a social standing to them. And I may hold above the real purpose of the institution, namely becoming Krsna conscious, my standing in the institution-whether it's "Will I get the green mop instead of the brown one?" or whatever. And if I'm thinking about my social status, holding more dearly to how others perceive me than to my own spiritual well-being-I can just get lost in the institution. And I'd like to hear a response to that.
JS: It seems we ought to be sending a message to ourselves that if this is what we're in the institution for, if this is what has become prominent in our spiritual life, we're letting ourselves in for trouble.
We identified pride as something that sets us up for a falldown. Now here's another classic cause-ambition. Or when we achieve our ambitions, then attachment. Pride, ambition, attachment, duplicity-that's quite a lineup Maya's got.
Krsna Smaranam Dasa: One person we're supposed to be able to confide in is the spiritual master.
Karnamrta Dasa: But the spiritual master may not be accessible to you. When you need some immediate counsel, he may be halfway around the world. Or you may not want to burden him with your problems. …
JS: Or he may have passed on.
Karnamrta Dasa: Right. So this is one of my concerns: the need to have devotees we can feel intimate and open with and reveal our minds to and feel that they'll be concerned about our best interest.
Dhanurdhara Swami: You know, in the Vedic social system this role of counselor is in many ways institutionalized, in the sense that the qualities a brahmana is trained to cultivate engender trust and confidence naturally.
When I took sannyasa from Satsvarupa Maharaja, one thing he advised was to avoid politics and business, because our Society needs people one can trust.
We need devotees who'll concentrate on developing these qualities-simplicity, honesty, self-control-so that people will trust them.
JS: Such a great responsibility rests with sannyasis, gurus, temple presidents, leaders, senior devotees.
Badarayani Dasa: Because we're human beings and we're conditioned, even though we're in Krsna consciousness, at every stage there are some difficulties. So, many devotees I've talked to feel that in the temples there should be a system where perhaps a couple of people who have had training could give counseling.
I think that if there was more of a formal system of Krsna conscious counseling within the temple, we'd be able to keep more devotees. We've had too high a percentage of "mortality," of losing devotees, of devotees losing trust and confidence. And I think that if that kind of system was looked into, it would help.
In the material world there are counselors who are aloof from a person's life, and people feel they can trust them because they are aloof.
JS: I think this movement needs grandmothers. It really does. There are times when you don't need a sannyasi, you need a grandmother.
Karnamrta: Could you clarify that?
JS: When a problem comes up in your life, sometimes the best person to go to is your grandmother or your grandfather or your uncle or someone like that.
Because we're such a young movement, those relationships haven't really developed yet. But in a fully developed Krsna conscious family, they would be. Especially in Indian culture, you've got the extended family-your father's elder brother's son and so on. You have all these people you can have a relationship with, people who've been through it, who have experience, who have affection for you and concern for you and can help you out.
What's bewildering to a batch of young turks may be old stuff for grandmothers who've seen two or three generations of it. So-grandmothers.
Arcana Siddhi Dasi: A lot of us came when we were quite young, and the initial taste of Krsna consciousness is quite strong, and just the newness of it makes it seem that we can conquer over all our material desires. There's this sense that in a couple of years I'll be a pure devotee and I'll be with Krsna, and there's some idea of the process moving much faster than the reality of it is.
But later, it seems, we come to that "vast intermediate zone," to use Satsvarupa Maharaja's phrase, and that's when devotees fall into trouble, because then it seems eternally bland, almost. For a while it seems I'm not really getting anywhere and I'm swimming upstream.
And I just wanted to say that Satsvarupa Maharaja's books have really helped me and a lot of other devotees with that struggle because he gives very honest accounts of his own struggles in devotional life and lets us see that it's okay to be feeling these things.
Sometimes we feel there's something wrong with us-"I'm having this doubt in devotional life"-and we begin to doubt ourselves. But he lets us see, "Here's an advanced devotee who's making it, and he felt this way too."
Bhaktin Karen: This might be along the same lines. When we talk of falldown, maybe we're being a little too hard on each other. Maybe you're going through some problems and you go out and have a drink or something. Maybe it's not a falldown but in a sense you're working on getting better, so everyone shouldn't be pointing-"Look what he did, look, look, look!" You know, it's just that we're human and we make mistakes, and it's not a falldown.
JS: Well, we come back to definitions here. Earlier we seemed to agree that a minimal definition of falling down would be breaking the vows one makes to the spiritual master.
So there may be an a occasional falldown or an accidental falldown, which may be less grievous than obstinate perpetual falldown. But there's also the danger of writing off one's mistakes as being less serious than they are. And that's another kind of maya. Maya gets us coming and going.
Bhaktin Lael: One of the worst pitfalls seems to be rationalization. We rationalize: "It's not so bad" or "My guru wouldn't mind."
JS: Another tool of maya-rationalization. "Well, you know. I'm a ksatriya, you know."
Manohara Dasa: Getting back to the point about formalizing some kind of counseling, I think that it could be helpful.
Prema Bhakti Marga Dasi: Dhanurdhara Maharaja was saying that Prabhupada desired that there be a class of brahmanas and they could provide counseling. But who would decide who those people would be?
JS: I have an answer to that. You decide. If you're having difficulty, then you're going to decide. I may be appointed the Minister of Counseling for Distressed Souls, but if the distressed souls decide they don't like me anyway, they're going to approach someone else. Ultimately, each person's going to decide whom he or she has faith in.
But getting back to what Dhanurdhara Maharaja said-
Dhanurdhara Swami: I was just saying that if people become qualified, people in need of help will take shelter of them. We have to offer training. Those who have the inclination will take it up, and then people will seek them out.
It wouldn't do any good to designate-"This is the person." When a person's spiritual qualities become evident in his dealings with others, people will seek him out.
Jean Lee: I'm only a visitor. I'm not new to devotion, although I'm new to the community of Krsna. But I'd like to make a point. As I understand it, God is everywhere. So sometimes the answer comes not from institutional experience but, for example, from the purity of a child. And so in looking for help one becomes purified by the chanting and by contemplating the qualities of God and by prayer.
JS: Krsna can help us.
Badarayani: We've been conditioned for millions of lifetimes, and on our own we have no power, because the material energy is insurmountable. But Krsna declares emphatically in the Bhagavad-gita that one can get free from this if we surrender unto Him. And part of this surrendering process is prayer. So when a devotee has difficulty, that can be an impetus for really taking shelter of one's guru and Krsna and praying for the strength and intelligence to overcome the difficulty he's been caught in.
JS: I'll tell you a story. One time, maybe in the early 1970's, when the movement was starting to spread a bit, Prabhupada was with some disciples in his room in Los Angeles. The temple was big and opulent, for those days. And Govinda Dasi had made Prabhupada a coat with peackock feather tassles to tighten its hood, and someone had given Prabhupada a gold lame bead bag.
Prabhupada said, "Now we are getting so many things. So I'm just praying to Krsna that I may not fall down."
Seeing Others Fall
JS: Sometimes we see that even big devotees fall down, devotees we look up to or admire, devotees who are considered advanced. When that happens, how do we see it, and how should we see it?
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Well, when someone who's well known or elevated or respected falls down, we tend to think, "Here was such an advanced devotee, and he fell down. So what chance is there for me?" It's discouraging. And we say, "What's wrong with Krsna consciousness that this person fell down?"
Prasannatma Dasa: When a person you respect deviates, naturally you doubt not only that person but the whole thing.
Saikarsana Dasa: We shouldn't think that if someone falls there's something wrong with the process. The process is perfect, but one's application of it may have some defect. Spiritual life is like a razor's edge-it shaves us clean, but if we're not careful we can get cut.
JS: When a person falls, I'd look upon it not as a problem with our philosophy but a confirmation of it. The philosophy predicts that if a person does certain things he'll fall down. So when a person does those things and falls, that confirms it.
Rukmavati Dasi: Sometimes I feel that I want to blame other people, not the one who fell. In this world, there is always danger from maya. So how is it that his intimate associates didn't see it coming? Was there no sign? All of a sudden, there it was? Didn't anyone know it was coming? Didn't anyone try to help him avoid it?
JS: Good point. Do we ask ourselves not only what was wrong with him but what was wrong with us that he wasn't helped?
Vegavati Dasi: If we're really personalists, it seems like when we see a person having difficulty we should say something and try to help him, even if he's in a higher position.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Well, sometimes what you see, especially when prominent people fall down, is that they had managed to get themselves into an official position where there was nobody who could say anything. They had worked themselves into a situation where to say anything would be an official offense.
So one of the first causes of falldown can be a lack of fraternal relationships with your Godbrothers or Godsisters.
Govinda Vallabha Dasi: Please forgive me if I'm being paranoid, but I've been yearning to hear this topic of falldown discussed, but so far I've been a little disappointed. I've heard so much discussion of the scriptural principles and definitions, and yet I feel like … I mean, I'm fallen-and I feel like there's so little of what Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu was referring to in the way of relationships. And I have a lot of emotions about that.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: You're saying that there's not enough association among devotees for discussing these things. People can't reveal their minds without feeling judged, condemned, or whatever. Is that what you're talking about?
Govinda Vallabha Dasi: Yes. I want to stay in the association of devotees. And I have been, in some capacity, for twenty years now. I've gone through my personal changes, and I don't want to leave.
Yet when I come to the temple, sometimes I feel … intimidated. By only hearing such an emphasis on … And yet Prabhupada's my guru and-what can I say?-those words are coming from him. And the scriptures are there, and I can't deny them. But I feel like something is kind of missing-or maybe that's what we're here for.
JS: How do we regard those who have fallen? Does someone want to speak to this point?
In Or Out?
Haryasva Dasa: Sometimes that something we feel missing is personal reciprocation. When you develop relationships, then you can actually feel that someone cares when you're in difficulty. And the Vaisnavas do care-but when you're in difficulty you have to know that.
Krsna Smaranam Dasa: Very often the problem is not simply that the organization is failing to help. The individual has an important role in revealing his mind, coming forward to someone he can trust.
Arcana Siddhi Dasi: I've had a lot of dialogue with Govinda Vallabha about this. We have some close devotee friends in Baltimore who have left, and they said that the reason they left is that they'd rather be good Christians than bad devotees. And there doesn't seem to be a place for devotees who aren't up to par. Once you've been initiated, either you're following the four regulative principles, chanting sixteen rounds, or if you're not doing that or can't do that then there's really no place for you.
Devotees who feel that they just can't come up to the standard feel like they have to choose-either all or nothing. And I think that's an issue we really haven't so much confronted.
JS: I suppose that this is a classic problem, not unique to our organization. When you have high-commitment groups with high standards, you get this sort of polarization. You're either in or you're out.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: In commenting on the twelfth chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada makes it really clear that the Hare Krsna movement is in principle made up of three groups of people.
Krsna says, "Surrender to Me." So first are those who are spontaneously attracted to surrender to Krsna.
Then Krsna says, "If you can't do that, follow the regulative principles of devotional service." And in the purport Srila Prabhupada makes it clear what this means: rising early, taking a shower, going to the morning program, and so on, under the supervision of the spiritual master. So those who do this are in the second group.
Then Krsna says, "If you can't do that, then work for Me." And Srila Prabhupada says that this means that at least one should be sympathetic to the propagation of Krsna consciousness. Every organization requires land, capital, labor, and organization, so you can contribute one of these things. Those who do this are in the third group.
These three groups make up the Hare Krsna movement. So there's absolutely nothing wrong with the movement's having all kinds of people who aren't following the strict regulative principle. Where we have a problem is with people who at one time or another have taken formal vows to follow the principles of the second group and then found themselves unable to keep to them.
When I was a new devotee and people blooped, we were really surprised when they kept coming back to the Sunday Feast. We wished they would just go away. You couldn't preach to them. They'd already heard everything, and now they were blooped. And it took us a long time before we finally noticed that these people, no matter what we did, no matter how rude we were, still kept coming around. And eventually we realized, "Hey, these are our people! They're part of our movement!"
I think one obvious lesson from this is that people should be more careful about taking vows. And when you take vows you should be into it for the long run. When Prabhupada spoke of vows, he meant vows.
But apart from these lessons, my feeling is that many people who took those vows and broke them will again one day be following them, and until then we should help them stay in as much association with Krsna consciousness and get as much benefit from being devotees as they can.
To say, "You're so fallen, you can't even come to the temple," or to give out vibes that say, "You're just outside the pale," is just very uncharitable and inhumane. And one should feel that one could any day be in that position oneself.
I've been a devotee now for twenty years, and I've seen people come and go and come back again, and my conviction is that the material nature is so arranged that eventually everyone will learn the lesson of renunciation. Sooner or later-it may take a while-people will learn. Growing old teaches us things we couldn't understand when we were twenty about the nature of the material world. So we just have to be tolerant and give people as much association and help as we can.
Varsana Swami: Krsna places so many obstacles, so many tests. So even if we might see some fault in a devotee for some time, especially if he's a senior devotee we have to be very careful not to criticize and not to judge, because he's Krsna's devotee and therefore it's up to Krsna to purify him. And sometimes Krsna will let some fault linger for some reason that's beyond our ability to comprehend. So we have to learn not to be judgmental, because that makes it more difficult for someone who's having a hard time.
JS: Prabhupada said our devotees are like bomber pilots. During the war the Air Force would be careful not to lose its bomber pilots. The country had put so much energy into training each one of those pilots that to lose one was a great loss-they were practically irreplaceable.
Our trained devotees are like bomber pilots: so much experience in devotional service, so many skills, so much devotion cultivated.
So we should be so concerned for the welfare of our devotees: if someone is having difficulty, how to hold on to him, and if someone has left, how to bring him back. Such valuable devotees.
And Krsna says that whatever devotional service a person has performed is permanently recorded. So that devotional asset can be magnified. If there's something left of that spark of devotional service, it can be enlarged. Then again he comes into the fire of Krsna consciousness.
Making Things Worse
Muralivadaka Dasa: I've been struck by the way Srila Prabhupada worded the conclusion of his purport on the api cet su-duracaro verse. There he excuses accidental falldown, but says that if a fallen devotee doesn't improve his character by devotional service he is not a high devotee. In other words, he is a devotee. So Prabhupada indicates that someone having difficulty as a devotee should still be recognized as a devotee.
Vegavati Dasi: Srila Prabhupada also says that no one should deride a devotee for an accidental falldown. But then there are those who continue in their fallen position but invent new philosophies. They seem to say, "Why are you trying to tell me anything? I'm a devotee. I have a right to an equal vote and an equal say in what's going on." And I find this puzzling.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Well, if I fall down, there are a few things I can do that really make it worse. Because if I'm fallen, then I'm a divided person. I've got an internalized set of ideals-the voice of the spiritual master, the voice of the community, the voice of Krsna-saying to me, "This is the way you ought to be." And my own perception is, "I'm not that way."
So one develops an acute sense of being ill at ease. And there are a few really unhealthy reactions.
One is to indulge in bluffing, hypocrisy, which we've seen a lot of in our time. Another is simply to propagate a different standard. People start to try to change the philosophy around to accommodate their actual practices. Or they join some other group, in which other people will validate their behavior. "Better to be a good Christian than a bad Hare Krsna."
I think these are unhealthy reactions. Better to be-
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Better to be honestly fallen. That's great progress!
What bluffing and hypocrisy do is make one a fault-finder. Or one substitutes other things for actual devotion, things like ritualistic correctness. Or one says, "If you're really serving Krsna, pleasing Krsna, then you'll make a lot of money. And I make a lot of money, so it proves I'm a solid or advanced devotee."
JS: And when you do that, you cut yourself off from the mercy of the devotees. Pretty soon, you're seen as a bluffer, you're seen perhaps as a dangerous person with a competing philosophy or standard, and then you're shunned. So you've cut yourself off.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: If and when we do fall down, humility is really going to be needed. We've seen several times that when big devotees have fallen down they've been given some prescription by the Governing Body, setting forth what they should do. Maybe sometimes what they were told wasn't fair. But sometimes it seemed fair-to go to Vrndavana for six months and chant Hare Krsna or something of that sort. But in most cases they didn't have the humility to do it.
But in other cases, when people did do it, very quickly everyone was admiring them, talking about them, saying "He's a good devotee." We almost try to push past one another to show that we're enough of a devotee to recognize him and give him some substantial service again.
Govinda Vallabha Dasi: Well, I think that we as a Society, and especially our leaders, have to take on more responsibility for promoting that mood of compassion.
I would like to think that I could accept a position on a lower rung, or however you want to see it, if I could see that it's still within devotional service. I can derive happiness from serving other devotees, doing something to help them in their service. But if I'm made to feel that it's not legitimate or not okay, then that's where I think there's a tendency to try and find shelter somewhere else. Because you still may really sincerely be aspiring for spiritual life, and we all have different karma, different situations, and …
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: I think she's referring to a practical fault in our movement: When we're not able to give devotees sufficient engagement and compassion when they fall down, that drives them away.
JS: Srila Prabhupada was so extremely compassionate and extended such great mercy to the devotees. But we may not be so generously endowed with compassion and mercy and understanding.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Well, there are some reasons for that. For example, if my hold on Krsna consciousness is somewhat precarious, then when somebody falls down that's a big threat to me.
When I was a new devotee and there were six of us in the temple and somebody left, it became a community crisis, because we ourselves were all nearly on the verge of leaving. And to psych ourselves up to stay, we had to get together-those of us who are old devotees may recognize this behavior-and condemn the person who'd left. We had to show systematically how he was off, he was wrong, he was bad …
JS: He was insincere.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Yes, insincere. But somewhow we were still okay.
You see, something inside us was thinking, "Boy, I'd like to bloop, at least for a little while." So when a person left, we were almost envious of his opportunities for material enjoyment.
So a lot of times what happens when we condemn other people is that we're condemning precisely what's wrong with ourselves. That's why it's said that when you point your finger at someone, three fingers of your hand are pointing right back at you.
It's unintentionally very revealing. If somebody's going around condemning, "This person's having illicit sex, he's having illicit sex, he's having illicit sex," you can suspect that the person speaking has sexual problems he's not going to honestly deal with. He notices the problem in other people because he's worried about himself but doesn't have the courage to confront it.
I hope that now in our movement we've become a little more secure in our Krsna consciousness, so we don't have to feel like it's such a threat when somebody goes away. And we can afford to be a little more compassionate.
Dhanurdhara Swami: I don't want to change the subject. But how do we reconcile compassion with the need to set standards? For example, if someone threatens the welfare of children or runs off with someone else's wife, how are our leaders supposed to react? In a Vedic society, these things are punishable. I'm not sure we can attribute everything to just feeling envious or seeing our own problems in others.
JS: We've seen Srila Prabhupada be very compassionate, but he could also deal really hard with someone.
Dhanurdhara Swami: Punishment has value.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: I think that if a person is not only fallen but also a threat, a danger, to other devotees-either to their physical, mental, or spiritual welfare-then it's the duty of the Society to protect the rest of the devotees from him.
Krsna Smaranam Dasa: Prabhupada said that our movement is like a diamond merchant. We're not interested in collecting a lot of people who want to buy glass. So we definitely have to maintain our principles. And especially we should require that those involved in important services stick to the standards of the Society.
Prabhanu Dasa: I wanted to bring up another aspect of falldown. We've been talking about blooped devotees, big devotees. But we've experienced in our movement that a lot of devotees have had to move out of the temple due to economic circumstances-generally householders.
We had been devotees for many years-some of us for fifteen or twenty years. And none of us had spent much of that time preparing ourselves to deal with the material energy to support a family.
So when all of a sudden the Society could no longer support us, many householders found themselves in a situation of bewilderment. You're no longer within that protective structure of the temple and the close association with devotees, and you find yourself with all this material energy you have to deal with.
My personal experience has been a very slow process of trying to understand how to deal with that and put it into perspective and try to be a devotee again and render some kind of devotional service that would help Prabhupada. And I've talked to many householders who are experiencing the same thing for many years, trying to deal with this.
JS: Traditionally it's an assumption that those who are involved in family life are going to be pulled at by the illusory energy. So one of the traditional duties of the sannyasis or preachers is to go from house to house and not necessarily spread the word-because these people already have the word-but just to encourage and inspire.
Prabhanu Dasa: To encourage that sympathetic feeling, because they're devotees and they still have that sympathy. So, to keep that spark alive.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: This brings up the possibility of calling people fallen who are not fallen. There's sometimes the idea that if you move outside the temple then you're fallen. In the history of ISKCON that has definitely sometimes been the case, and in some parts of the world in ISKCON it's still like that.
But it's coming to pass that living outside the temple is not going to be seen as in any way a sign that one is fallen. One can be equally a devotee outside the temple or inside.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: It used to be that nearly anybody who moved outside of the temple did in fact fall down. In the temple the devotees were like bees in winter-you know, they form a tight ball and beat their wings nonstop-just really huddled in against the material energy. And as soon as somebody left that little conclave, they'd pretty much be swept away. And it's because there was no support-living in the temple was the only way you got association with other devotees.
So it's perfectly fine for somebody to live outside the temple, and it's entirely possible not to be fallen. But if someone lives outside without the association of devotees, he starts to get into a risky situation.
And so what has to happen is that social structures have to develop for association with devotees outside the temple, or the temple has to be able to interact with those outside to provide opportunities for association. As long as there's association with devotees. . .
JS: Association with devotees who are strong.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Well, association with devotees, I think, doesn't mean hanging out. I think there must be a certain quality of spiritual content to it. Otherwise it's association with each other's mundane mentalities.
Karnamrta: It's been my observation that many devotees who've moved out and are beginning to get their economic structure together are looking for opportunities to band together. There seems to be a growing desire and need among these devotees to again huddle together. They miss the association they had when they were working together for a common goal. So they start looking for ways to work together again.
JS: Devotees start going into business together and so on.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Prabhupada did say that it was bad for a devotee to be employed by a nondevotee. That's a classic case of bad association. So that's another thing that has to develop: devotees' being able to organize businesses that can hire other devotees so they can work together on common economic enterprises. And then you can also have those enterprises doing purely uncompensated, nonfruitive spiritual activity for spreading Krsna consciousness, not just for family maintenance.
Govinda Vallabha Dasi: I did saikirtana, collecting funds and distributing books, for eight to ten years, and I never kept any of the money I collected. And then I had children. I was still living in the temple, and trying to collect money to support the temple, but it just got impractical: I wasn't able to really take care of my children properly. So I just sort of reluctantly moved out. And I think a lot of us have gone through that.
Friends In Different Orbits
Mahendrani Dasi: On the point of making devotees who are living a less strict lifestyle feel welcome and making them feel they belong, I have a problem of not knowing how to relate properly. For example, there's a person I was extremely good friends with. We had real rapport. And then when she started to live a less strict lifestyle, in fact a different lifestyle, she still felt that I was her dear friend, and every time we met we'd say "Haribol" and hug and everything, but there couldn't be any deep exchanges, because we weren't like-minded anymore. And I don't know how to relate to someone in a situation like that. They don't really want to talk about Krsna consciousness anymore, and I don't really want to chat about the movies. So I don't really know what the solution is.
Rukmavati Dasi: The way you deal with it is that you have to see that there's some good quality in every living entity, and that represents Krsna. And somehow, whatever that quality is that's godly or goodly or saintly in them, even if they're not on the platform of Krsna consciousness, you have to search that out and fan that flame. There's something in everyone that's inherently good, and we have to keep trying to help them uncover it.
Dhanurdhara Swami: Of course, we should be sympathetic, but we still have to be careful about our association.
Varuna Dasa: Our philosophy is that we should associate with like-minded people.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: Just to speak about Mother Mahendrani's problem: This is a social situation that's common all over. You know, you're a college student, and you have a friend who drops out and gets a job-you're still close friends, but there's not a whole lot to talk about, because you're moving in different orbits. Or two kids-one of them goes to a different high school, and they no longer have that much in common.
Still, the minimum we can do is still maintain a friendly attitude and friendly relationships. An occasional visit, a phone call, prasadam and things like that, so that the avenues are open and if that person wants to start to get a little more serious about Krsna consciousness they don't feel they've been cut off. We can't take bad association. But if nothing else, at least one should be friendly. That's one of the qualities of a devotee-maitra, friendliness.
JS: I think you have to selectively decide what you're going to validate. I don't know that I'd say, "Well, I really understand that from where you're coming from you may really be getting something spiritual from the cinema, and that's okay-I respect that." But if you're chanting one round a day again, great!
Coming Back To Krsna
Malini Devi Dasi: There is a way, instead of preaching to these people, to show them the nectar of Krsna consciousness. By the example of our happiness, they may come back. I say this because I've seen the example of devotees who've come back to Krsna consciousness that way to do service for Srila Prabhupada.
JS: That a person stays away may be an index to the extent to which those of us still here are fallen. If we're absorbed in chanting Hare Krsna, taking prasadam, distributing prasadam, and spreading the message of Bhagavad-gita-if we're really in the fire of Krsna consciousness, as it were-then anyone who comes in touch with us is going to feel that. And if we're involved in something less, then people who come around again are going to feel that too.
Jagadisvari Devi Dasi: Could you speak about how a devotee should feel if they have broken their vows?
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa: He will feel bad. I don't think you have to say he should.
JS: If he's genuinely a devotee, he'll feel bad-and he'll want to rectify it. Srila Prabhupada one time explained that because devotional service is pure, falling from devotional service is something like falling on the ground. A child who falls on the ground picks himself up by pushing on the same ground.
So a devotee who falls will naturally feel some discouragement, but he shouldn't overindulge in discouragement. He should feel, "Somehow or other I've fallen," and quickly pick himself up again.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Öhakura says that sometimes the material energy and spiritual energy cross and cause an accidental falldown. So the devotee sees, "Somehow or other I've fallen, but let me go on serving in Krsna consciousness." Then he quickly comes back to his real life, and the falldown is forgotten.
Dhanurdhara Swami: And therefore when devotees leave and then come back to the temple, generally they don't want to talk about movies-they want to talk about Krsna.
JS: There's a real thirst out there among many of those who have left. They're not getting what they used to be getting. So after some time, after the first thrill of falldown wears off and it just becomes what it used to be before they became devotees, they may start getting really thirsty and want to get back into association and get some Krsna consciousness.
Indulekha Dasi: As their friends, we can pray for them-pray to Krsna for their spiritual well-being.
JS: The ultimate person in all of these dealings is Krsna. One who falls can pray to Krsna. Or one who sees others falling can pray to Krsna, "You please intervene."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: And the same holds true for one who doesn't want to fall.
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Technically, a devotee falls from Krsna consciousness when he breaks the rules against illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, or gambling. We all try to avoid falling. But when a devotee does fall, how can we help him?
In The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada states that if one regularly discharges devotional service, one won't fall down. "But even if circumstantially there is some falldown, the Vaisnava [devotee] need have nothing to do with prayascitta, the ritualistic ceremony for purification. If someone falls down from the principles of devotional service, he simply has to execute the rules and regulations of discharging devotional service, and that is sufficient for his reinstatement."
Our main service to a person who has fallen, then, should be to convince him or her not to despair but to resume Krsna conscious activities.
When devotees fall, we shouldn't discourage them by treating them like outcasts. No matter how serious their offenses or mistakes, Krsna can forgive them. Therefore, devotees too should be forgiving and helpful. Otherwise, if a fallen person thinks he must stay fallen, his sins may become habits, and his chanting and fellowship with devotees may stop.
Devotees should help other devotees who have slipped on the path. Lord Krsna Himself advises that no one deride a devotee for some mistake. "Even if one commits the most abominable action," the Lord says in the Gita (9.30), "if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination." Srila Prabhupada comments that this is a warning that a devotee should not be derided for an accidental falldown. "He should still be considered saintly even if he has accidentally fallen down."
An advanced devotee is sometimes like a thunderbolt and sometimes like a rose. Spiritual masters sometimes enforce strict discipline, as when Lord Caitanya banished Junior Haridasa for a slight mistake. This was in fact a spiritual pastime between Lord Caitanya and His liberated devotee. In this instance, Lord Caitanya wanted to set a strong example for others. But Lord Caitanya and His devotees were often lenient towards those who fell. Prabhupada once said that he himself, Bhaktivinoda Öhakura, and all the other Krsna conscious spiritual masters were "eighty percent lenient" toward their followers. This leniency grows from faith that the best remedy is not to push fallen devotees away but to encourage them to continue their devotional service.
On this point, Lord Caitanya's dealings with His servant Kalakrsna are instructive. Kalakrsna was the only person to travel with Lord Caitanya on His tour of South India, but unfortunately a woman allured Kalakrsna to join a band of nomads (Bhattatharis). Lord Caitanya went personally to the nomads and risked violence to save him, but when Lord Caitanya returned to Jagannatha Puri, He told Kalakrsna He wanted nothing more to do with him.
Yet although Lord Caitanya rejected Kalakrsna, Lord Caitanya's devotees, led by Lord Nityananda, did not. They devised a plan by which Kalakrsna could serve as a messenger to Lord Caitanya's devotees in Bengal. This was certainly the best medicine for the fallen Kalakrsna. It made him blissful and grateful and kept him in the association of devotees. "Therefore," Srila Prabhupada writes, "the Lord's devotees are more merciful than the Lord Himself. . . the Lord Himself may sometimes be very hard, but the devotees are always kind."
With a devotee named Subuddhi Raya, it was Lord Caitanya Himself who showed the forgiving and purifying power of bhakti-yoga. Subuddhi Raya's falldown was mostly circumstantial. In his early life he had once beaten a Muslim servant. By fate that servant eventually became a politician and was appointed governor, and that governor, instigated by his wife, took away Subuddhi Raya's caste status. He did this simply by sprinkling on Subuddhi Raya's head a little water from a pitcher used by a Muslim. By the Hindu customs in those days, that was enough to get one cast out from the Hindu community.
When Subuddhi Raya went to consult learned brahmanas at Benares, asking them how this shame could be counteracted, they advised him, "Drink hot ghee and give up your life." But other brahmanas gave him different advice, so he was doubtful about what to do. In perplexity, he met Lord Caitanya at Benares and explained his position. Lord Caitanya advised him, "Go to Vrndavana and chant the Hare Krsna mantra constantly."
This advice from Lord Caitanya certainly stands in contrast to the harsh advice of the caste-conscious brahmanas. Lord Caitanya said, "Begin chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, and when your chanting is almost pure, all the sinful reactions will go away."
Srila Prabhupada comments that according to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's instructions one should not wait to purify himself before chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. Whatever our condition, we should start chanting right away. The power of the Hare Krsna mantra will gradually relieve us of all material contamination, and thus we will find shelter at the lotus feet of Krsna, the ultimate goal of life.
So a genuine spiritual movement should forgive and encourage. Sometimes devotees, because of their own mistakes or events beyond their control, may leave the association of the other devotees and the ISKCON temples. If devotees who have left are treated at this crucial time as "outcasts" or "fringies" and not treated with kindness, they may become bitter or disgruntled and lose faith. One devotee complained that after he made a mistake, no devotees visited him or spoke to him. He then grew disillusioned and said, "I want to see good, moral and happy examples of people in daily life, with their friends, families, and disciples. Not just so-called good classes from high seats."
Srila Prabhupada told his disciples that they would not become contaminated by extending themselves to nondevotees. So we should extend ourselves even more to followers of Krsna consciousness who have temporarily fallen away. As we offer Krsna consciousness to newcomers by giving them Srila Prabhupada's books and inviting them to Hare Krsna temples, restaurants, and festivals, how much more we should befriend those who have already served Krsna but been tricked by Maya. This may be the best way to fulfill one of Srila Prabhupada's last requests: "Your love for me will be shown by how you cooperate among yourselves."
by Visakha-devi dasi
I thought for many years that from my single-minded attempt to serve Lord Krsna everything else would come. But what finally came was a stark realization: my service mood was incomplete; I was missing something.
It's difficult to say when I realized this, but it was long after 1977, when Srila Prabhupada passed away. During the trying years following his passing, all his devotees, me included, were seeking solace. And solace was available-in Srila Prabhupada's books, in his remembrance, in our service, and in chanting the holy names of the Lord. Yet, I found out, when such solace is shared with a friend, its sweetness and strength increase dramatically. That's what had been missing.
Srila Prabhupada created devotees all over the planet from all economic, emotional, political, intellectual and personality strata. Devotees are inextricably linked, for Srila Prabhupada reunited us with our Father, Sri Krsna, and in so doing made us a family of Godbrothers and Godsisters. We share the home he built for us, and we share the same library, the words of Krsna and His devotees. We share the same moral standards, philosophy, habits, diet, values, and goals, and the same process for reaching them. Automatically, we share a bond with all Vaisnavas. Brothers and sisters by birth often have less in common than we do. (While respectful and friendly toward nondevotees, devotees generally cannot share with them the same friendship as with other devotees, simply because nondevotees base their lives on different principles.)
There are different grades of devotees (Srila Prabhupada warns that there are even some who dress as devotees but are not), and a devotee behaves toward them differently. With some he'll sincerely offer his respect. With others, he'll engage in pleasant and enlivening conversation. And with a few, he'll reveal his mind in confidence and inquire confidentially.
Intimacies in friendship between like-minded Vaisnavas begin when there is mutual trust, as well as mutual respect for and faith in each other's Krsna consciousness. When, over time, such trust, respect, and faith become firm and unwavering, one has support for the bhakti-lata, one's climbing plant or creeper of devotion. With this unique and invaluable support, one's creeper may flourish beyond expectation. And one deeply loves the friend responsible.
It is the intimacy of love between devotees that makes life in the material world bearable. And it is that love and its unusual divine products that make life celestial. One such product is Krsna's blessing. Addressing some friendly devotees, the Lord said, "I am very much pleased by the friendly relationships among you. All of you are engaged in one occupation-devotional service. I am so pleased with your mutual friendship that I wish you all good fortune. Now you may ask a benediction of Me" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.30.8).
Another product of loving intimacy between devotees is friendly admiration. As explained by Srila Prabhupada, "Everyone should be friendly for the service of the Lord. Everyone should praise another's service to the Lord and not be proud of his own service. This is the way of Vaisnava thinking, Vaikuntha thinking" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.5.12, purport). In this mood, a devotee will not judge a Vaisnava friend, but appreciate him.
Krsna, our supreme friend, is waiting in our hearts for us to turn to Him, and He is the supreme judge of our response to His friendship. And as Srila Prabhupada says, "If we are following the rules and regulations given by God, then the judgment will be better. And if we are not following the laws, the judgment will not be in favor. This is natural to conclude." We, as Krsna's servants, are dutybound to judge, to discern, that which brings us closer to Him from that which removes us; to discern piety from impiety.
But while one may need to judge oneself, one may be better off resisting the urge to judge another devotee. This is not because devotees are beyond judgment (although Krsna and His unalloyed devotees are); it's because each devotee who has accepted the supreme goal and the means to attain it will in due time arrive. Such a devotee has a special place in the Lord's heart. Lord Krsna boldly declares that His devotee "will never perish," and Krsna promises to "carry what he lacks and preserve what he has" (Bhagavad-gita 9.31, 9.22). Even more, the Lord says, "Whoever renders service to Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him" (9.29). "Who am I," a devotee thinks, "to judge one who is dear to the Lord?"
Even if a devotee peer falls down-and in this difficult age, falldowns along the spiritual path can easily happen-still one can think, "Given the temptations that that person faced, how much better would I have fared?" And one can be confident that a devotee is never forsaken by the Lord. As Srila Prabhupada explains, "Even though he falls down, a devotee is never to be considered the same as a fallen karmi (fruitive worker). A karmi suffers the result of his own fruitive reactions, whereas a devotee is reformed by chastisement directed by the Lord Himself" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.19, purport). If the Lord doesn't leave His friend, why should we? Best to be strict with oneself, following Krsna's instructions, and patient with others, knowing that they're in Krsna's all-competent hands.
And if even a fallen devotee remains in Krsna's care, what can be said of a devotee who hasn't fallen? There are riches to be mined in such a person's company.
"How can I become a better person?" I asked a devotee I'd known for years but only recently become close with. She didn't answer. I repeated the question a few days later, and a third time a few days after that.
Finally, she was about to answer. I expected her to say, "Become softer, more open; get in touch with your emotions more and express them," and so forth. Instead she said, "How's your concentration?"
"Well, when I do my artwork, it's good-the day passes in a flash."
"What about when you chant Hare Krsna?"
"Oh, well, I chant sixteen rounds every day, but my concentration is so bad I've given up on concentrating."
"I'm a firm believer in the effects of chanting with concentration," she said, and proceeded to glorify the holy names of Lord Krsna.
Such is an uncommon friend.