By Revati Vallabha Dasa
How to turn obstacles on the spiritual path into steppingstones.
Making steady progress in Krishna consciousness takes effort, but Krishna is always ready to help.

The word sincere is derived from the Latin sincerus (sin – “one”; and crescere – “to grow”) and means “one growth” (not mixed, hence pure, clean). Double growth would be duplicity – different inside and outside. Sincerity is the virtue of one who desires, speaks, and acts in a manner that is honest and genuine.

Nirvyalikam, a Sanskrit word similar in meaning to sincere, also has an interesting etymology. Made up of two words, nir (negation) and vyalikam (to cover), it means to not cover up things, i.e., to be without duplicity. Nirvyalikam, along with its synonym avyalikam, appears several times in Srimad-Bhagavatam, each time praising the quality of a person or an act as being sincere.

Sincere Versus Charlatan

In the Bhagavad-gita’s third chapter, Lord Krishna explains that honestly working in a detached and spiritual consciousness is better than renouncing work, a practice adopted by some spiritual aspirants. Srila Prabhupada’s concluding remark in his purport to Bhagavad-gita 3.7 is striking: “A sincere sweeper in the street is far better than the charlatan meditator who meditates only for the sake of making a living.” Similarly, Srila Prabhupada explains in Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.20 that the Lord knows our sincerity of purpose: “This simplicity in the form of acceptance of the Lord’s authority is more effective than showy insincere religious fervor.”

A prominent feature of the current degraded Age of Kali is hypocrisy. There’s a marked difference between what people are in public and what they are in private. A person on the spiritual path has to carefully remain honest and earnest – fearing nothing except his or her own insincerity. A sleeping person can be easily awakened, but one pretending to be cannot be awakened at all. This kapatya, crookedness, is a great hindrance on the spiritual path. The New Testament (Titus 2:7–8) explains, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati ?hakura, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, clarifies this point: “Cheating and weakness are two separate things. Persons devoid of a cheating propensity achieve perfection in life, but a cheater is never successful. Vaishnavism is another name for simplicity. Sincere persons can be weak, but they are not cheaters. Cheaters say something but do something else. Weak people are embarrassed by their defects, whereas cheaters are maddened by their achievements.” (From Amrita Vani)

Stumbling Block or Steppingstone

Whether one is sincere or a charlatan, difficulties in life are inevitable. For an aspiring devotee of Lord Krishna, they are sometimes even necessary, because otherwise our tendency is to become complacent. Difficulties keep us on guard and help us practice and internalize what we have read and heard (and maybe even taught to others).

Srila Prabhupada explains: “An easygoing life and attainment of perfection in transcendental realization cannot go together. The Lord is more clever than any living entity; therefore He wants to see how painstaking the devotee is in devotional service.” (Bhagavatam 2.9.24, Purport)

Just as exams reveal the difference between the good students and the others, difficulties on the spiritual path distinguish the sincere practitioners from the others. If we are sincere, then the obstacles are not stumbling blocks but rather steppingstones. Obstacles accelerate our progress because if we act in a Krishna conscious way when tested, then we make more spiritual advancement than at any other time. Success is not how things turn out; success is how we turn to Krishna.

Srila Prabhupada explains: “For a pious person, if there is some calamity there is no other alternative than to take shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord. Constantly remembering the lotus feet of the Lord means preparing for liberation from birth and death. Therefore, even though there are so-called calamities, they are welcome because they give us an opportunity to remember the Lord, which means liberation.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.25, Purport)

Attracting the Lord’s Grace

It is wise not to assume oneself as being someone who is always sincere. We should assess our own sincerity by monitoring how strictly we are endeavoring to accept only things favorable for devotional service and rejecting those that are unfavorable. Some more parameters are our diligence, hard work, not giving up, not being distracted, and doing the right things – in accordance with guru-sadhu-shastra – and doing them with the right intentions. It is also helpful to take honest feedback from our mentors, seniors, and friends.

And ultimately it’s the Paramatma, the Lord as the Supersoul in our heart, who knows best whether we are sincere or not. A lot of our spiritual progress depends on the Lord’s grace, which He bestows on us in proportion to our genuine endeavors.

The Eighth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam narrates how Lord Vamanadeva took the heavenly kingdom from the great devotee Bali Maharaja, who happened to be the king of the demons, to return it to the demigods. For me, Srila Prabhupada’s words inspire hope:

When Vamanadeva appeared before Bali Maharaja, Bali Maharaja immediately wanted to offer Him respectful obeisances, but he was unable to do so because of the presence of Sukracharya and other demoniac associates. The Lord is so merciful, however, that although Bali Maharaja did not actually offer obeisances but only endeavored to do so within his mind, the Supreme Personality of Godhead blessed him with more mercy than even the demigods could ever expect. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is known as bhava-grahi janardana because He takes only the essence of a devotee’s attitude. If a devotee sincerely surrenders, the Lord, as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, immediately understands this. Thus even though, externally, a devotee may not render full service, if he is internally sincere and serious the Lord welcomes his service nonetheless.” (Bhagavatam 8.23.2, Purport)

When we face stumbling blocks and remain faithful to Krishna, we access the profuse mercy of His heart. Seeing our sincere determination, Krishna gives us the intelligence to make the right choices. He carries what we have and provides what we lack. God helps those who help themselves. We have to take our sincere baby steps towards Krishna; Krishna, for sure, reciprocates by taking His many big steps towards us.

Revati Vallabha Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, came to Krishna consciousness in 2001, the year he earned a degree in engineering. In 2005 he joined ISKCON’s Radha-Gopinatha temple, Chowpatty, full-time. He teaches Bhakti-shastri and Bhakti-vaibhava courses.