If it is, is it worth the trouble?
By Rukmini Vallabha Dasa
It may be, but that’s no reason not to take it up.
Instant gratification is the norm in this day and age. We look for great results with little and painless effort. We want the prize without paying the price. We want a shortcut to success. Therefore some people dismiss bhakti-yoga as taking too much patience and perseverance without tangible results. Even beginners may question, “How long will it take?” “Why is the practice so austere?” “Is it really going to work?”
Let’s discuss whether bhakti-yoga is worth the trouble, whether there’s something wrong with bhakti-yoga’s being difficult, and how we can make our bhakti-yoga journey easy and enlivening.
Why Work Hard
Any endeavor has two components: effort and outcome. In general, we think that exerting the least effort for the highest gain will make us most happy. In actuality, if we gain something valuable with little effort, we often don’t appreciate the gain and will not take proper advantage of it. According to Roy Williams, president of The Williams Group, a wealth consultancy, nearly sixty percent of the time, a family’s money is exhausted by the children of the person who created the wealth. They do not understand the value of their estate because they have not worked hard for it. As a consequence they squander it away.
Life generally shows us that the higher the gain, higher the price that needs to be paid. For instance, consider education. We know that education is required to make a living, so we pay the price by becoming educated. Though the outcome is to come after a long time, we invest our time and money because we value the result. Besides, the hard work may reward us with other benefits, such as knowledge, experience, and new acquaintances.
Some of us may be born rich, some with a high IQ, some strong, etc., but that doesn’t mean we will get everything with ease. We need to work hard to make it in life. Lord Krishna say in the Bhagavad-gita (3.8) that we need to work to acquire at least our life’s necessities. Even if we are not ready to take up challenges in life, life forces us to do so. Life throws various problems at us – health problems, relationship problems, natural disasters. So we need to learn to work hard in life. As the saying goes, there’s no substitute for hard work.
We are active by nature. If we don’t work hard for a constructive purpose with focus, we will be forced to act in ways detrimental to us and society.
Despite our hard efforts, sometimes we may not achieve the expected outcome. Even then we are not at a loss. As Thomas Edison put it, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
Therefore, expecting to do great things in the world with ease is utopian. Trying for cheap success may lead only to frustration and lamentation.
Is Bhakti-yoga Worth the Effort?
If life is meant for working hard, why don’t we just accept that fact by working hard, getting what we want, and becoming happy? That seems like an intelligent proposition. But we see that our life and the world around us are beset with limitations. Everything we see has a beginning and an end. Even billionaires get old and die. No one is spared. Everything in this world is temporary and potentially pain-producing. Hard work helps us earn our basic needs and gives us contentment to some extent, but it cannot take us beyond the inevitable distresses.
What we earn by our hard work – wealth, power, fame – is bound to be washed away by time. Yet we have an innate craving for unending and ever-increasing happiness. How do we cater to this craving?
Our craving implies that we are meant to experience real happiness. Bhakti-yoga offers that happiness. It can help us transcend the limitations and pains of this world by awakening us to our spiritual identity, beyond our physical, mental, and social designations. It can help us reconnect with our spiritual existence and experience unending spiritual joy, beyond the reach of the wealth, technology, or any other means of this world. Uncovering our spiritual existence is what every one of us is looking for. Only it can make us happy in the truest sense.
We spend our time and resources searching for pleasure in this world. Therefore bhakti-yoga is worth prioritizing in life because it can give us real happiness. Practicing bhakti-yoga is the special prerogative of the human species. It is impossible for other species. Therefore it is worth all the effort we can give.
Still, bhakti-yoga may seem too demanding. We souls have developed certain conceptions about finding happiness in this world. As a result, worldly designations and identities enter our consciousness and cover our spiritual essence, which is like a most valuable diamond buried deep inside. We need considerable patience and perseverance to dig deep into our consciousness and remove the unwanted material.
Since in ordinary mining the minerals found underground are greatly valuable, huge amounts of capital and energy are invested in the painstaking work of extracting them. Compared to mining, bhakti-yoga offers us some good news. Mining is a well-established science, but so is bhakti-yoga, and it doesn’t require dangerous exploration and financial risk. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna elucidates the science of bhakti-yoga for our benefit. He delineates the obstacles one encounters in the process, the methods to overcome them, and the symptoms of progress. All we need to do is to understand these principles and apply them diligently in our life. We are not the first to try this. Many have traveled this path and achieved perfection, in both the past and the present.
Since bhakti-yoga is executed on the spiritual platform, the progress we achieve on this path is never lost. It is beyond the influence of time. Even if we are not completely successful in this lifetime, our progress is permanent and can be continued at a later stage. Therefore bhakti-yoga is worth the effort and without risk.
Bhakti-yoga is the perfect science of reconnecting to our spiritual essence, but we may be lacking in our understanding or application of the process. As a result, we don’t get the benefit we expect. This can impel us to consider the process too difficult and ineffective. Let us look at a few keys to making our practice effective.
When we entered school, we did not go straight to the science lab; we went to sit in the classroom. While it is exciting to do something practical and get a new and thrilling experience, we first need to learn such things as what to do, why to do it, when to do it, and how to do it. Bhakti-yoga is valuable; therefore we need to learn it meticulously. Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam provide us the intellectual conviction, confidence, and inspiration to practice bhakti-yoga. Without this proper education, our endeavors may not go in the right direction, and we may be unable to appreciate the newness and variety of our experiences.
Many people go to school for at least twenty years. They go almost daily, as a regulation. As a result, they can make it in life and make a meaningful contribution to society. Our spiritual practice also needs regularity. We have to prioritize our practice. The more consistent it is, the more effective it will be, and the faster will be the pace of our learning and realization. In bhakti-yoga, the benefits are realized continuously and not only at the end. Because this spiritual practice deals mainly with our consciousness, which is more subtle than the body and mind, it requires consistent, concentrated, conscientious effort to monitor and regulate.
At school, children are often distracted by play, recreation, and mischief. These must be regulated so that the students can focus on their studies. Focus is also the key to success in our spiritual life, as we will naturally have to confront distractions, including various conceptions, ideas, plans for finding happiness in worldly ways, and the expectation that our spiritual practice should be easy and bestow instant results. Understanding the limitations of worldly pleasures and progressively realizing the benefits of bhakti-yoga will go a long way in protecting us from distractions.
In the company of serious students, it becomes easy to focus on studies and keep us aloof from distractions. In a world full of distractions, it is almost impossible to practice bhakti-yoga in isolation. Association with serious practitioners of bhakti-yoga is the most important factor determining our progress because it facilitates our spiritual education and provides us with the required inspiration, encouragement, and guidance. Because we all have to interact with the world and can be affected by it, association with other bhakti-yogis can help us rejuvenate spiritually and focus again on our spiritual practice.
We are not alone in our practice of bhakti-yoga. Krishna, the most loving and lovable person, is always with us. He is eagerly waiting for us to turn to Him. He is always there to attract us with His all-attractive personality and all-encompassing compassion. As we approach Him, He reciprocates accordingly. As we advance in bhakti-yoga, we get more and more attracted to the all-attractive Lord. The more we get attracted, the faster and easier will be our spiritual advancement. Our attraction to Krishna makes it easy to cross over obstacles that seemed insurmountable. He is not just all-loving, but He is all-powerful, capable of helping us overcome any obstacle. Bhakti-yoga is the process of reconnecting to all-loving and all-powerful Krishna, who is ever patient and possesses full power to help us.