What seem like obstacles on our spiritual path are all part of Krishna’s merciful plan for our progress.

By Mahatma Dasa

Maya’s tests are a blessing to bring us closer to Krishna.

[Excerpted from Living the Wisdom of Bhakti: Life As a Spiritual Practice, Volume One, by Mahatma Das. Copyright 2019 by Martin Hausner. This excerpt retains the book’s style for Sanskrit and other considerations.]

Section One: Obstacles to Cultivating Bhakti

Chapter 1

Whenever we try to achieve something great, there will be obstacles and tests on our path. Devotional service is no exception. No matter who we are, we all get tested. And Maya will hit us where we are the weakest.

So what do we do, lie down and roll over? We might feel like it sometimes, especially when overcoming obstacles on the path of bhakti feels like a never-ending battle. The previous faith that “Krishna consciousness works – I’m going to get purified in this lifetime” can turn into “I hope I become purified in this life.” And for some, it even becomes “Maybe in another life I’ll become Krishna conscious.”

In this chapter, we discuss how to deal with our obstacles in a way that moves us closer to Krishna.

Declaring War on Maya

We should expect that overcoming anarthas (unwanted material desires and conditioning) will be difficult. This is because becoming a devotee means we have declared war on Maya, the presiding deity of the material world. When we tell Maya, “I have decided to give my life to Krishna and leave your clutches,” we have to be ready for a fight.

Srila Prabhupada writes in The Real Peace Formula: “Maya will try to defeat us as soon as she sees that a living soul is leaving her grip.” How? She does so by crowding our road to Goloka Vrindavan with obstacles. What are obstacles?

Obstacles are those things we focus on when we lose sight of our goals.

Maya hits the hardest where we are the weakest, where she finds our strongest material tendencies; we are only as strong as our weakest link – and she knows exactly where that is.

So what’s the best way to fight Maya?

Actually, there’s no way we can directly win a fight with Maya. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita 7.14, mama maya duratyaya: “My material energy is insurmountable.” She has a million tricks up her sleeve to illusion us and keep us away from Krishna. She can even convince us that we are conquering her while we are fully in her clutches.

Krishna Tests Us

But don’t get discouraged; Maya’s simply doing her job. This is all part of Krishna’s plan. The battles we have with Maya are for our own spiritual benefit. If taken in this way, Maya shows us where we are weak and where we need to work, and thus she can act as a force for our becoming more serious and determined in Krishna consciousness.

It also is important to realize that Maya is just responding to our material tendencies.

After all, she is not tempting us with anything that we don’t have an attraction to. We are the ones who give her space to come into our lives. But by frustrating our attempts at enjoyment, she can teach us great lessons – if we care to learn.

We all need struggles to keep us on our toes and strengthen us. If Maya doesn’t kick us from time to time, the process of surrender can be slow. We need to be pushed by obstacles. It is Krishna’s kindness that He tests us in this way. And it is also Krishna’s kindness that He helps us get through the tests. Srila Prabhupada sheds light on this:

“The Lord is so kind to His devotee that when severely testing him, the Lord gives him the necessary strength to be tolerant and to continue to remain a glorious devotee.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.22.29–30, Purport)

Look at it this way: if anyone forces us to take more shelter of Krishna, that person is our best friend. So it is important to understand that Maya is not actually our enemy. She is on our heels to challenge our Krishna consciousness, and if Maya kicks us in a way that pushes us towards Krishna, she is doing us a great service. When we pass her test, she herself will help us go to Krishna.

Do I Really Want Krishna?

Developing transcendental laulyam, or an intense longing for Krishna, despite whatever obstacles or personal shortcomings on our spiritual path, is how, ultimately, we will pass Maya’s test. Although it sounds contradictory to develop a strong desire to be Krishna conscious while being challenged by many anarthas, it is actually possible.

Rupa Goswami shows us how we should be thinking in The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 18:

“I have no love for Krishna, nor for the causes of developing love of Krishna – namely, hearing and chanting. And the process of bhakti yoga, by which one is always thinking of Krishna and fixing His lotus feet in the heart, is also lacking in me. As far as philosophical knowledge or pious works are concerned, I don’t see any opportunity for me to execute such activities. But above all, I am not even born of a nice family. Therefore I must simply pray to You, Gopijana-vallabha [Krishna, maintainer and beloved of the gopis]. I simply wish and hope that some way or other I may be able to approach Your lotus feet, and this hope is giving me pain, because I think myself quite incompetent to approach that transcendental goal of life.”

In his prayer, Rupa Goswami, playing the part of a conditioned soul, focuses on his unrelenting desire and hope to be Krishna conscious although he lists many reasons why he feels unqualified to be Krishna conscious.

What you focus on is more important than where you are at.

Echoing Sri Ramananda Raya in the Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 8.70, Rupa Goswami further explains in his Padyavali, 13–14, this time more directly:

“Pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activity in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be attained only by paying one price – that is, intense longing to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.”

There are many stories in which people with handicaps, either physical or circumstantial, achieved great things despite the odds against them. What happens when a child really wants something and the parents refuse to give it? The child wants it even more. And the same process works for us: the more difficult it is to become Krishna conscious, the more we should want it. Thus obstacles can inspire us. This is the essence of how one becomes Krishna conscious.

Stairway to Vaikuntha

Krishna wants to help us increase that intense greed, so He tests us to see, as Srila Prabhupada once said, “if we have come to serve Him or disturb Him” (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam, New York, April 12, 1973).

These tests are opportunities meant to increase our determination in spiritual life and to help us take another step towards Krishna:

“Although there may be many obstacles on the path of the sincere devotee who is preaching the glories of the Lord, such obstacles increase the determination of the devotee. Therefore, according to Srila Jiva Goswami, the continuous obstacles presented by the demigods form a kind of ladder or stairway upon which the devotee steadily progresses back to the kingdom of God.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.4.10, Purport)

So as you confront difficult challenges, challenges in which you may be faltering, try seeing Krishna standing behind these obstacles asking you, “What’s important to you? Do you want Me, or do you want something else?”

But I’m Not Pure

You might think, “OK, this all sounds good, but I’ve been working on overcoming the same anarthas for years. Although I’ve made progress, some anarthas seem strongly glued to my heart. It’s discouraging that they have remained with me despite my attempts to overcome them.”

To justify our discouragement, we could quote the Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.18 and The Nectar of Devotion (Chapter 16), which state that we will only become steady (the stage of nishtha) after most anarthas are removed (anartha-nivritti). We could think that having these anarthas actually gives us a right to be unsteady – and thus a right to also be discouraged.

In the long run, if it gets very difficult to cope with our desires and struggles, our thought processes might even develop into: “My anarthas are there, they will have their effect on me, and I just have to accept this fact.

“So why should I continually struggle to get rid of them? I’m so fallen that I have ‘good’ reason to not strictly follow.”

This kind of mentality can lead us to relax our spiritual practices or engage in activities which, instead of rooting out our anarthas, make them more prominent in our lives.

Enthusiasm Despite Anarthas

Anarthas exist on lower stages of bhakti. It is a fact we must accept. The question is can we really remain enthusiastic and determined in devotional service while these persistent anarthas remain in our hearts?

Although it seems like a contradiction, the answer is yes.

If you asked Krishna what He had to say on this subject, He would repeat what He says in the Gita (2.70): “Be like an ocean. The river of desires will enter, but the ocean is still.”

The point is that devotees who really want to be Krishna conscious can tolerate the obstacles and anarthas in their lives, not give in to them, and thus remain enthusiastically determined in their service. The goal of Krishna consciousness is what makes us enthusiastic. Anarthas are just bumps in the road that we must deal with.

“But I have a heavy mind. You don’t know how fallen I am, how conditioned I am. I have so many bad habits.”

The following prayer, composed by Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti as part of his commentary to the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.20.27–28), expresses a similar mood, yet deals with it in a wonderful and positive way:

“By my previous shameful life, my heart is polluted with many illusory attachments. Personally, I have no power to stop them. Only Lord Krishna within my heart can remove such inauspicious contamination. Whether the Lord removes such attachments immediately or lets me go on being afflicted by them, I will never give up my devotional service to Him. Even if the Lord places millions of obstacles in my path, and even if because of my offenses I go to hell, I will never for a moment stop serving Lord Krishna. I am not interested in mental speculation and fruitive activities; even if Lord Brahma personally comes before me offering such engagements, I will not be even slightly interested. Although I am attached to material things, I can see very clearly that they lead to no good because they simply give me trouble and disturb my devotional service to the Lord. Therefore, I sincerely repent my foolish attachments to so many material things, and I am patiently awaiting Lord Krishna’s mercy.”

This prayer tells us that despite having material desires, a devotee is not interested in pursuing them or even enjoying them if they come to him automatically, but that he is only interested in serving Krishna. It is a prayer that offers us a reassuring and liberating attitude: we can be enthusiastic despite our anarthas. We can be hopeful of being Krishna conscious despite our shortcomings. We can remain determined even in the face of many obstacles.

We can – unless we listen to those little voices in our head telling us, “No you can’t.” Have those little voices ever made excuses for you not being Krishna conscious, and then blamed them on your anarthas?

If so, and if you’ve ever lost your enthusiasm for devotional service because of unwanted desires that repeatedly surface in your heart, I suggest you copy the above prayer, keep it where you can regularly see it, and study it over and over again. The power of Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti’s prayer will silence those little voices.

How Do We See It?

Srila Prabhupada also taught that we can act in a Krishna conscious way despite our heart’s contrary desires. Maya tells us the exact opposite: She wants us to believe that we have to give in to our conditioning – that we are so fallen that even Krishna can’t help us overcome our strong conditioning.

I suggest that we look at steadiness, enthusiasm, and determination to be Krishna conscious as an indication of a pure desire to be Krishna conscious. We might have to carry many anarthas throughout our life, but if we want to be Krishna conscious more than anything else, these anarthas cannot and will not deter us.

Let our difficult challenges just make us more determined to be Krishna conscious.


Make a list of some of the things that are detrimental to your spiritual life that you nevertheless give in to.

Now ask yourself: why do you do so?

What is giving in to these things costing you, materially and spiritually?

What is/are the belief(s) behind giving in? To uncover those beliefs, look at the activities in your life that are detrimental to your bhakti and ask, “What would one have to believe in to do these things?”

And now, flip the question around: what would you have to believe in to not give in?

If you find that your desire to be Krishna conscious is not strong enough to enable you to not give in, then what could you do to make your spiritual desires stronger?