Inner and outer integrity are essential to our individual practice of bhakti-yoga and to our devotional communities as well.


Integrity is defined as (1) honesty and fairness, (2) adhering to moral principles and values, and (3) being whole. It also means (4) being sound and unimpaired, as in “the structural integrity of a building.” Here I focus on the third meaning of integrity, one that’s integral to the root of the word, namely, the state of being complete or whole, of being unified and undivided.

The word integrity comes from the Latin root integer, meaning “whole.” Words with the same root as integrity are integer (a whole number as opposed to a fraction), integrate (to combine one thing with another so they become whole), and integralIntegral, interestingly, means “necessary to make a whole complete.” Look at how Srila Prabhupada uses integral in his introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is:

Sanatana-dharma refers to that activity which cannot be changed. For instance, liquidity cannot be taken from water, nor can heat be taken from fire. Similarly, the eternal function of the eternal living entity cannot be taken from the living entity. Sanatana-dharma is eternally integral with the living entity.

As spiritual beings, part of Krishna, we are perfect and complete. This is established in the Invocation to the Ishopanishad:

The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself.

Since we, as spiritual sparks, come from the complete person, Krishna, we are also complete in ourselves. But when we’re separated from Him we feel incomplete; when we’re not separated from Him, complete. Not being separated from Krishna means always serving Him with devotion. This service is called sanatana-dharma and is our eternal occupation. Thus, Prabhupada writes, “Sanatana-dharma is eternally integral with the living entity.” Devotional service, or sanatana-dharma, is the eternal function of the soul, and when we spirit souls perform sanatana-dharma we experience our innate wholeness. So, sanatana-dharma is necessary to make a whole complete; it’s necessary for us to feel our completeness. Sanatana-dharma is integral to us.

In other words, we, as jivas, are already complete and whole, but in the absence of sanatana-dharma we’re unable to feel that completeness and wholeness. And this is the unfortunate situation with the vast majority of the billions of people who inhabit this planet. This is why there’s rampant dissatisfaction and emptiness among people, dissatisfaction and emptiness that is unsuccessfully countered with material agendas, sometimes with violence, and is too often accompanied by boredom. People are bored by their work or studies and counter that boredom with entertainment that soon also becomes boring. What’s actually missing is the ultimate adventure: an exploration of devotional service to Krishna, God. Srila Prabhupada writes,

Seekers of the Absolute Truth are never allured by unnecessary engagements in sense gratification because the serious students seeking the Absolute Truth are always overwhelmed with the work of researching the Truth. In every sphere of life, therefore, the ultimate end must be seeking after the Absolute Truth, and that sort of engagement will make one happy because he will be less engaged in varieties of sense gratification. (Bhagavatam 1.2.10, Purport)

So inner integrity means understanding that I am a spiritual being and that I can experience my wholeness, my integrity, by making Krishna’s and his representative’s teachings one with my heart, that is, by engaging in serving Krishna, by engaging in devotional service (bhakti).

The Path to Inner Integrity

chittete koriya aikya
ar na koriho mane asha

guru-mukha-padma – from the lotus mouth of the spiritual master; vakya – the words; chittete – with your heart; koriya aikya – making one; ar – anything else; na – do not; koriho mane – consider in the mind; asha – desires.

“Make the teachings emanating from the lotus mouth of our spiritual master one with your heart, and do not desire anything else.” (From Sri Guru-vandana, by Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura)

If I don’t sway from this place of devotional service to guru and Krishna, I can begin to feel some inner integrity, some inner completeness, and feel a unique and deep satisfaction. This feeling is my birthright, as I am – each one of us is – a spiritual being with this sort of inner integrity. We evoke our organic and ecstatic feeling of integrity by uniting our hearts and minds with the heart and mind of our acharya, Srila Prabhupada.

And this, indeed, is what Prabhupada himself did – he united his heart and mind with the heart and mind of his preceptor, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Verse 41 of chapter two in the Bhagavad-gita says in part,

vyavasayatmika buddhir ekeha

vyavasaya-atmika – resolute in Krishna consciousness; buddhih – intelligence; eka – only one; iha – in this world.

“Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one.”

Srila Prabhupada said that before he came to America to fulfill the desire of his spiritual master to spread Krishna consciousness to the people in the Western world, he had read the commentary on this verse written by Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura. Prabhupada said he was so moved by this commentary that it further fixed him in his resolve to follow Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s order.

Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura writes,

Of all kinds of intelligence, the best is intelligence focused on bhakti-yoga. In bhakti-yoga, one’s intelligence becomes single-pointed, or fixed in determination. One thinks, “The instructions of my spiritual master to worship the Personality of Godhead by chanting, remembering, serving His feet and so on are my only sadhana [practice, means], my only sadhya [perfection, end], my only livelihood. I am incapable of giving up these instructions either in the stage of practice or in the stage of perfection. They alone are my object of desire and my only responsibility. Besides them I can desire no other responsibility, not even in my dreams. It is all the same to me whether I feel happy or unhappy, or whether my material existence is eradicated or not.”

Commenting further on this verse, Srila Prabhupada says that accepting transcendental loving service to the Lord is our prime duty. (Bhagavatam 2.4.3–4, Purport) He also writes that, as souls who are not yet integral with the Lord (i.e., conditioned souls), we do not know “what is to be done and what is not to be done, but a person who acts in Krishna consciousness is free to act because everything is prompted by Krishna from within and confirmed by the spiritual master.” (Gita 18.58, Purport)

By acting freely in this way, in a way that’s confirmed by God and guru, one develops unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and then all exalted qualities such as religion, knowledge, and renunciation become manifest in that person. In this way, by performing sanatana-dharma – the practice of becoming whole or complete persons through inner integrity (using the third definition of integrity) – we also become honest and moral persons (the first definition). A person with inner integrity has certain symptoms, like the twenty-six qualities of a devotee listed in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 22.78–80). Among other qualities, that person is self-disciplined, responsible, friendly, courageous, perseverant, honest, loyal, and faithful to guru, God, and their servants.

Developing this inner integrity also means that our external lives become sound – we develop outer integrity (its second definition).

Outer Integrity

Each one of us is a spiritual being who’s temporarily living in a particular body with a particular mind. At some point along the road to complete integrity, we must become rigorously honest with ourselves. And then we must embrace all parts of ourselves with forgiveness and compassion (two attributes of one who has inner integrity). Srila Prabhupada writes, “Everyone has to cleanse his heart by a gradual process, not abruptly.” (Gita 3.35, Purport)

This is corroborated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.20.27–28):

Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.

To put it differently, real beauty is in understanding one’s material position and acting accordingly for the pleasure of Krishna, or in the words of the Bhagavatam (11.21.2), “Steadiness in one’s own position is declared to be actual piety, whereas deviation from one’s position is considered impiety. In this way the two are definitely ascertained.”

As inner integrity has its symptoms, so does outer integrity, such as: one feels peaceful, content and satisfied with one’s position in life; one is interested in others and respectful and tolerant of them; one is cooperative and eager to share with others; and one has a feeling of belonging. This sort of integrity leads gradually to authenticity, or a oneness between one’s values and actions.

Communal Integrity

Going from inner to outer integrity, one naturally wants to progress to communal integrity, or unity in community. That, however, is not easy. Prabhupada explains, “The whole atmosphere of the Age of Kali is magnified by the deluding energy, and the proportion of measurement is inexplicable.” (Bhagavatam 1.17.23, Purport) These are difficult times for promoting harmony in society.

Yet there is cause for hope: “When there is sufficient austerity, cleanliness, mercy, and truthfulness, naturally mother earth is completely satisfied, and there is very little chance for Kali to infiltrate the structure of human society.” (Bhagavatam 1.17.42, Purport) Prabhupada says that these four – austerity, cleanliness, mercy, and truthfulness – are the basic principles of religion and they prepare the ground for advancement in spiritual life. These principles develop from following the regulations that Prabhupada requested all his followers to accept at the time of their initiation: no eating meat, fish, or eggs; no illicit sex life; no intoxication; and no gambling. With such a foundation, and with the purifying effects of chanting the holy names of God, there is hope for a unified community.

These are some of the symptoms of integrity in a community:

* Problems are acknowledged and dealt with.

* All can express their feelings and thoughts.

* Each person is valued.

* Communication is direct, concrete, and specific.

* Members get most of their needs met.

* Members are free to be different.

* Members do what they say they will do.

* Rules require accountability and consequences.

* Violation of others’ values leads to repentance.

* Mistakes are forgiven and are learning tools.

* The group exists for Krishna’s pleasure.

* All know they make mistakes and so are humble.

* Fun and spontaneity abound.

Such a community of devotees is pleasing to Krishna, for He says, “My dear sons of the King, 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.” (Bhagavatam 4.30.8)

Sources of Guidance

People who lack inner integrity also lack humility and are fragile. Their pride is bloated and sensitive. Others are never treating them as respectfully as they think they deserve. They become consumed with resentments. They treat life as a battle and wall themselves off to information and feedback. In the words of the Bhagavatam (3.29.8): “Devotional service executed by a person who is envious, proud, violent, and angry, and who is a separatist, is considered to be in the mode of darkness.”

Devotees with inner and outer integrity, however, build trust and enduring personal relationships with others. That means they themselves are fair, empathetic, honest, and trustworthy. They listen well. And it means they turn to Srila Prabhupada and Krishna for guidance and mercy. The Bhagavatam (4.11.13) tells us, “The Lord is very satisfied with His devotee when the devotee greets other people with tolerance, mercy, friendship, and equality.”

The best way to learn how to have inner, outer, and communal integrity is emulate a person who truly has those qualities.


yad yad acharati shreshthas
tat tad evetaro janah
sa yat pramanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate


“Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Gita 3.21)