In Krishna consciousness we can be empowered, not by demanding empowerment, but by attracting the mercy of the Supreme Lord or His representative.
By Vishakha Devi Dasi
Through our knowledge, faith, and love, we can make ourselves receptive to being empowered by Krishna and His representatives.
The word empower comes from the Old French prefix en-, meaning “in, into,” and the root “power,” meaning “ability, strength, might.” This sense of the word – “[placing] ability and strength in” – is found in an important verse in the Chaitanya-charitamrita (Antya 7.11), by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami:
krishna-shakti vina nahe tara pravartana
“The fundamental religious system in the Age of Kali is the chanting of the holy name of Krishna. Unless empowered by Krishna, one cannot propagate the sankirtana movement.” Srila Prabhupada’s explains, “Whenever we find someone extraordinary preaching the bhakti cult, we should know that he is especially empowered by Lord Vishnu, or Lord Krishna.” (Bhagavatam 4.19.37, Purport) In other words, when Krishna invests some of His divine power in a devotee, that devotee is able to influence others to take up bhakti, devotional service to the Supreme Lord. Knowing that whatever he does is due to the inspiration given by the Lord in the heart, the empowered devotee keeps his natural humility of seeing and feeling himself to be the lowest of people. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (10.10): “To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” Empowered devotees, rather than being arrogant at their good fortune, are humbled by Krishna’s trust in them and feel a strong need to reciprocate and share His kindness.
The meaning of a word may change or expand over time, and recent definitions of empower are “to give someone the authority or power to do something” and “to make someone stronger and more confident.”
In this sense, empower refers to helping someone realize his or her potential (perhaps for the first time). It means to recognize, encourage, and facilitate that person’s abilities and then create a situation in which he or she can work in a stronger and more confident way. We empower people by acknowledging their qualities, trusting and believing in them, and, if we can, offering them fresh challenges.
Srila Prabhupada was an exemplar of one who empowers others. He empowered his followers, and he wanted them to follow his example of empowering others. To one of his top managers he wrote, “Our leaders shall be careful not to kill the spirit of enthusiastic service, which is individual and spontaneous and voluntary. They should try always to generate some atmosphere of fresh challenge to the devotees, so that they will agree enthusiastically to rise and meet it. That is the art of management: to draw out spontaneous loving spirit of sacrificing some energy for Krishna.” (December 22, 1972)
Disempowerment, by contrast, means to concentrate first and too much on others’ possible limitations, without the requisite acknowledgment of their potential. Disempowerment is also known by names like sexism, racism, and bureaucracy. In fact, in spiritual life the material position of a devotee doesn’t matter, because devotional service does not depend on material considerations. The Supreme Lord can empower a sincere devotee regardless of his or her situation.
Who would not want to receive strength from a powerful person and to more fully realize their own potential? Who would not want to be empowered? Most likely everyone wants that. The question is, how can we be enabled in that way? By definition, we cannot empower ourselves; we must be empowered by another. In Krishna consciousness we can be empowered either by the Supreme Lord or by His representative. We cannot and will not become empowered by demanding it or trying to buy or plead for it; we cannot become empowered through material knowledge, speculation, or good arguments. We become empowered by the mercy of God and His devotees and by that mercy alone.
Although there is no formula by which we are guaranteed to receive mercy, at the same time we are not helpless recipients of mercy that is whimsical and capricious. We can make ourselves receptive to being empowered through our knowledge, faith, and love.
An Example of an Empowered Devotee
One empowered devotee mentioned in the pages of the Bhagavatam is Uttara. Uttara was the daughter of the great king Virata, the wife of the great hero Abhimanyu, and the daughter-in-law of the great devotee Arjuna and his wife Subhadra, the sister of Krishna and Balarama. Uttara’s own exalted birth and relatives had imbued her with knowledge of Krishna and faith in Him, as well as the strength to approach and appeal to Him. Thus, at a critical time when the child in her womb was about to be aborted, threatened by a powerful weapon directed exclusively at him, Uttara was confident of Krishna’s protection.
Feeling the fiery heat of the weapon (a brahmastra), she approached Krishna, who was present at the time, and fervently prayed: “O Lord of lords, Lord of the universe! You are the greatest of mystics. Please protect me, protect me, for there is no one else who can save me from the clutches of death in this world of duality.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.9)
Although her father-in-law, the mighty Arjuna, and his heroic brothers were present when Uttara addressed Krishna in this way, Uttara did not appeal to them, but directly to the source of all strength, Sri Krishna Himself. Uttara knew that whatever protection her great relatives could offer ultimately came from Krishna and by His grace. In the ordinary sense of being empowered, it may not seem that praying to Krishna for protection is an example of being endowed with a power. One may think that if Krishna had given Uttara the power to deflect the brahmastra, that would be empowerment. But if we understand that empowerment can mean “to make a person stronger and more confident,” then Uttara’s having the strength and confidence to pray to Krishna to be saved at this calamitous time is indeed an example of empowerment.
A devotee wants Krishna’s protection always and prays for it always. When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was on His walking tour of South India, He also prayed for Krishna’s protection as He went. He sang:
krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! he [pronounced “hay”]
krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! he
krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! raksha mam
krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! pahi mam
“O Lord Krishna, please protect Me, please maintain Me.” In her dire situation, Uttara’s prayer was especially intense. She did not, however, pray for her own safety and well-being. On the contrary, she said to Krishna, “Let me be killed, but please protect my child.” She was feeling her responsibility as a mother and her helplessness at being unable to fulfill that responsibility. With full assurance, she turned to Krishna, knowing He would be able to save her child. Similarly, we are all helplessly destined to suffer our lot in this world; we are helplessly buffeted about by natural and unnatural calamities, by unpleasant turns in relationships, by our own mental and physical demise. But in our helplessness we can turn to Krishna and pray to Him. Praying in this way indicates our confidence in the Lord, as Uttara’s prayer reveals her confidence.
In fact, the Lord protects everyone, but He especially looks after one who depends completely upon Him. Uttara and all the members of the Pandava family were completely dependent on the Lord’s protection, and therefore the Lord protected all of them in all circumstances.
On hearing her heartfelt prayer, Sri Krishna at once took up His disc weapon, Sudarshana, to protect His devotee, the child within Uttara’s womb, and in this way fulfilled His promise that His devotees are never to be vanquished. (Although in this case the Lord protected His devotee’s physical body, this does not mean that He always does that. But He does always protect His devotees’ spiritual advancement. In the Gita He clearly declares that in the process of devotional service there is no loss or diminution. Whatever spiritual progress we make is ours eternally. Thus Krishna’s declaration that His devotees will never be vanquished is always true.)
Krishna behaves according to the quality or degree of the devotional service rendered by the devotees. Uttara was fully dependent on the protection of the Lord, so He entered her womb and covered the embryo to protect it. Although the weapon directed at Uttara’s womb was irresistible, it was neutralized and foiled when confronted by Krishna’s strength.
All Krishna’s actions are wonderful for us, for He is always beyond the limits of our conception. Nothing is impossible for Him, for He is the all-powerful, all-perfect Personality of Godhead. He is without rival; no one is equal to or greater than Him. By His power of omnipresence He made Himself present both inside and outside Uttara and other members of her family.
In her heartfelt prayer to Krishna – “O Lord of lords, Lord of the universe! You are the greatest of mystics. Please protect me, protect me, for there is no one else who can save me from the clutches of death in this world of duality” – Uttara reveals both her knowledge of Krishna and her faith in Him.
Knowledge in this context does not refer to anything mundane but to an awareness of Krishna’s greatness. Such transcendental knowledge doesn’t come from a mundane source, but from Krishna Himself, and it’s delivered through the spiritual master. Krishna clearly exalts and empowers the spiritual master, His representative. He says: “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Gita 4.34)
Krishna goes on to explain that those who obtain such extraordinary knowledge from such an extraordinary source will never again fall into illusion, for by this knowledge they will see that all living beings are but part of Him, or in other words that they are His. Even if we had been ungodly, once in the boat of transcendental knowledge we’ll be able to cross the ocean of miseries, and the karma from our past material activities will be eradicated. “In this world,” Krishna says, “there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism.” (Gita 4.38)
While favorable for achieving a footing in Krishna consciousness, the cultivation of knowledge is not the ultimate goal of a devotee. Srila Prabhupada writes, “The fact is that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Supersoul, cannot be attained simply by explanations, logic and erudite scholarship. One cannot understand Him simply by one’s brain substance.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 6.87, Purport) The ultimate goal of transcendental knowledge is to perform sincere devotional service, in other words, to perform devotional service that is unmotivated and uninterrupted, that’s done simply for the pleasure of Krishna and His devotees. Such service depends on nothing other than our sentiment or desire for it.
If we try to serve Krishna and His devotees in this way, we increase our eligibility to be empowered by Him or His devotee.
Faith is a broad term meaning “complete confidence or trust in someone or something.” It can be divided into two categories: material and spiritual. Of material faith, Srila Prabhupada writes:
Faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change this faith and adopt another . . . . Yet man professes to belong to a particular type of faith with reference to a particular time and circumstance and thus claims to be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or an adherent of any other sect. . . . A Hindu may change his faith to become a Muslim, or a Muslim may change his faith to become a Hindu, or a Christian may change his faith and so on. (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Introduction)
Thus there are different types of religions due to different types of material faith.
Spiritual faith, however, is qualitatively different. Krishnadasa Kaviraja describes this faith:
‘shraddha’-shabde—vishvasa kahe sudridha nishcaya
krishne bhakti kaile sarva-karma krita haya
“Sraddha is confident, firm faith that by rendering transcendental loving service to Krishna one automatically performs all subsidiary activities. Such faith is favorable to the discharge of devotional service.” (Chaitanya Caritamrita, Madhya 22.62)
In Srila Prabhupada’s words, “One is called a faithful man who thinks that simply by acting in Krishna consciousness he can attain the highest perfection. This faith is attained by the discharge of devotional service, and by chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, which cleanses one’s heart of all material dirt.” (Gita 4.39, Purport) Srimad-Bhagavatam is full of activities of devotees who turn to Krishna with complete faith that He will carry what they lack and preserve what they have, as He Himself declares in the Gita (9.22): “Those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.” Uttara’s words inform us of her implicit faith in Krishna: “There is no one else who can save me from the clutches of death in this world of duality.”
The beginning of bhakti-yoga, or transcendental loving service, is the faith that by directly engaging ourselves in activities of Krishna consciousness, all our objectives will be fulfilled. We will eventually attain our constitutional position as an eternal servitor of Lord Krishna, and we’ll take pleasure in hearing and glorifying Him in pure devotional service. As Uttara has complete faith in Krishna, so can we.
A little later in Srimad-Bhagavatam we learn of Uttara’s deep love for Krishna. After Krishna saved her unborn child and saw that the Pandavas were properly instructed and installed as the rulers of the kingdom, He requested and received permission to return to His own city of Dwaraka. Thus He bid farewell to His devotees in Hastinapur and got onto His chariot. At that time, Uttara felt so attracted to Sri Krishna that it was impossible for her to tolerate His separation, and she nearly fainted. Her feeling for the Lord and the feelings of others who knew Him or knew of Him are impossible to describe; we can simply imagine them. Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.10.11–13) explains:
An intelligent person who has understood the Supreme Lord in association with pure devotees and has become freed from bad, materialistic association can never avoid hearing the glories of the Lord, even though he has heard them only once. How, then, could the Pandavas tolerate His separation, for they had been intimately associated with His person by seeing Him face to face, touching Him, conversing with Him, and sleeping, sitting and dining with Him? All their hearts were melting for Him on the pot of attraction. They looked at Him without blinking their eyes, and they moved hither and thither in perplexity.
Uttara had similar feelings toward Krishna’s devotees. When Vidura, a great devotee, returned to her palace after a long separation, Uttara hurried to him in great delight. She was so enlivened to see him again that it seemed she had regained her consciousness after a long period.
Srila Prabhupada’s disciples write in their purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.13.18: “Although one may be elevated to an exalted position in the Lord’s transcendental service, at any moment there is danger of false pride polluting one’s devotional mentality.”
No one can do anything without the Lord’s sanction, and the Lord awards one ability according to one’s willingness to render service to Him. A person willing to render service unto the Lord may be empowered in proportion to his or her surrender unto the Lord’s lotus feet. Even simply approaching the path of devotion can empower someone captivated by the materialistic enjoying mentality to throw off his or her infatuation with this illusory world. But at the same time, we are enjoined to always remember the source of any ability we possess and to never become proud of it, erroneously thinking it to be ours.