By Vishakha Devi Dasi
A daughter’s final exam inspires a mother’s thoughts on life’s tests.
Like academic tests, spiritual tests require careful preparation to ensure a successful result.
When the younger of my two daughters recently passed her final college exam, she was, as she said, “Ecstatic!” To reach the number of credits required to graduate, she had to pass that test, and all the preparation, tension, and drama surrounding it made me think of how tests and spiritual life are intertwined.
Test the Guru
According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other scriptures, the human form of life is meant for becoming God conscious and to become God conscious we must accept the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. But how do we know who is a bona fide spiritual master? For any serious spiritual candidate, that’s a crucial question.
When an interviewer asked Srila Prabhupada that question, he replied, “Just like when you go to the market to purchase something, you test it whether it is genuine or not. Similarly, you have to test who is genuine.” (Press Conference, August 5, 1971, London)
At another time, Prabhupada said that before accepting a spiritual master, we must test that person for at least one year. In that year, it’s our responsibility to learn about the qualities and qualifications of a bona fide guru. In Srila Prabhupada’s words, the guru must “know the science of Krishna. . . . This is the test. To become guru it doesn’t matter that one has to come out from a brahmana family or high family or Hindu family or this family or that family. No. Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says, yei krishna-tattva. Never mind what he is. He may be European, he may be American, he may be shudra, he may be whatever. That is past. That is his past life. Now, when one has become krishna-tattva-vetta, really Krishna conscious, he comes to the transcendental position.” (Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 9.2, March 7, 1972, Calcutta)
In other words, before one accepts initiation from a guru, one should be confident that the guru knows the science of Krishna consciousness (krishna-tattva). One also wants to see that the guru is in a bona fide disciplic succession, that there’s no difference between the instructions of the guru and those of the Lord, and that the guru always engages in unalloyed devotional service to the Lord and never says, “I am God” or “I will make you God.” Rather, the real guru says, “I am a faithful servant of God, and I will make you a faithful servant of God as well.” And, as we hear from the prospective guru and begin to follow that person’s directives, another test of the bona fide guru is that we will find our anxiety and confusion decreasing.
We need to be confident that we can surrender to and be guided by that guru. If we think, “No, I know better; I am more learned and more advanced,” then we shouldn’t accept a guru, for a disciple does not argue with or challenge the guru. So once we’re initiated, we focus on submissive inquiries and on applying what we’ve learned; our testing stops. “If somebody goes to challenge the guru,” Prabhupada said, “the real guru will say, ‘What is the use of talking with this nonsense? Better say that ‘You know better than me.’ That’s all. ‘Go away.’ . . . Neglect him, because he has no intention to learn. He has come to simply waste time.” (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.22, May 22, 1976, Honolulu)
The Guru Tests Us
Just as a disciple does not blindly accept a guru, so the guru does not blindly accept a disciple. Rather, the guru tests the prospective disciple to ensure that he or she is qualified and has a genuine desire for spiritual life. “It is the duty of the spiritual master to test the disciple to see how seriously he desires to execute devotional service. Then he may be initiated.” (Bhagavatam 4.8.32, Purport) “One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding.” (Gita 4.34, Purport)
Srila Prabhupada didn’t want us to accept as God someone who wasn’t. To prevent such a travesty, he gave simple tests to find God. “Don’t accept any bogus, so-called God. Just try to put him to the test whether he is actually God. This is the test, that nobody should be greater than Him; nobody shall be equal to Him. Then He is God.” (Sunday Feast Lecture, January 19, 1969, Los Angeles)
He gave other tests as well: If a person is controlled by somebody else, he is not God, for God is the supreme controller. God’s characteristics are mentioned in the scriptures and confirmed by genuine sadhus and gurus. No living being can perform God’s extraordinary feats. God possesses complete wealth, strength, reputation, wisdom, beauty, and renunciation.
There is, however, an inherent problem in testing who God is, namely that God is adhokshaja, beyond the perception of our mind and senses. God is transcendental and not subject to our examination or test. Responding to this challenge, Prabhupada says, “We accept God, not by blind faith, but by testing. Although we cannot test, but shastra gives us the chance of testing. (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.15, August 18, 1972, Los Angeles) Despite our imperfect senses and mind, we can understand who is and who is not God based on the words of the scriptures (shastra), the genuine saintly persons, and the bona fide gurus.
Once we come to love God, Krishna, we stop testing Him. Pure love for Krishna means that whatever He may be, He is our lovable object and He alone, no one else, is the worshipable Lord of our hearts. Our only business is to love Him.
There are myriad ways in which we can test our own progress in Krishna consciousness. Those who are advancing in spiritual life become detached from material enjoyment and give up bad habits such as illicit sex, intoxication, gambling, and meat-eating. They also give up their erroneous concepts of life. Prabhupada says, “By chanting we shall see how much we are making progress, how much I am free from these two concepts of life, that ‘I am this body, and anything belonging to this body is mine.’ This is the test – how we are becoming free from these two concepts of life. If there is still the concept that ‘I am this body, and anything belonging to this body is mine,’ then you have to chant very cautiously to make progress.” (Initiation Lecture, December 1, 1968, Los Angeles)
When we actually realize that we are spirit soul, then the symptoms will be that we are free of lamentation and hankering and are happy. Prabhupada says, “If I am not jolly, if I am not prasanna-manasa, that means maya has attacked me. A bhagavad-bhakta [devotee of God] shall never be aprasanna, not joyful. Always joyful. If he is actually in contact with Krishna, how he can become morose? No. If he is morose, if he is unhappy, that means maya has attacked him. This is the test.” (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.20, October 31, 1972, Vrindavan)
Not only is the devotee joyful, but he or she wants to see others joyful: “Sarve sukhino bhavantu. This is the test. A devotee wants to see that everyone is happy. It doesn’t matter whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian. It doesn’t matter. We want to see that everyone is happy.” (Ceremony Speech, August 18, 1974, Vrindavan)
As we give up our bodily concept of life, all material activities, both impious and pious, automatically become distasteful to us for we have no aspirations to achieve material happiness. Even if put into very trying circumstances, we are not troubled. We do not want to mix with materialistic persons, and we have no taste for unnecessary sporting or cinema because we understand that these are simply a waste of time. Our misgivings dissipate, and we feel some satisfaction in spiritual activities. At that time we are no longer servants of our senses and thus no longer directed by the dictation of the senses; we control the senses according to our plan.
Other tests of self-realization are that we don’t become angry even when attacked for no apparent reason, we don’t become enlivened when glorified or worshiped, the process of devotional service becomes progressively clearer and more encouraging, and our faith doesn’t waver.
Srila Prabhupada gives still other ways in which we can test our spiritual progress:
Those who are jealous and envious are within this material world, and those who are not are in the spiritual world. Therefore, we can test ourselves. If we are jealous or envious of our friends or other associates, we are in the material world, and if we are not jealous we are in the spiritual world. There need be no doubt of whether we are spiritually advanced or not. We can test ourselves. Bhaktih pareshanubhavo viraktir anyatra cha [Bhagavatam 11.2.42]. When we eat, we can understand for ourselves whether our hunger is satisfied; we don’t have to take a certificate from others. Similarly, we can test for ourselves whether we are in the material world or the spiritual world. If we are jealous or envious, we are in the material world, and if we are not we are in the spiritual world. Then you can serve Krishna very nicely if you are not jealous. (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.23, April 15, 1973, Los Angeles)
Similarly, if we are lusty or greedy we are in the material world. Prabhupada explains: “To become Krishna conscious means immediately – that is the test – immediately he will become free from lust and greediness. If he’s not free from lust and greediness, he is making a show; he’s not Krishna conscious. This is the test.” (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.19, August 22, 1972, Los Angeles)
On the positive side, devotees develop a taste for executing the instructions of the spiritual master and by doing so feel their devotion to the Lord grow and their love broaden. “On the spiritual platform, the learned person not only gives up the duality of man and woman, but also gives up the duality of man and animal. This is the test of self-realization. One must realize perfectly that the living being is spirit soul but is tasting various types of material bodies. One may theoretically understand this, but when one has practical realization, then he actually becomes a pandita, one who knows.” (Bhagavatam 7.12.10, Purport)
Those who have developed Krishna consciousness see Govinda everywhere, even in every atomic particle, and out of love for Him they are eager to serve Him. Such devotees, even while in this material world, manifest godly qualities. This is not some inaccessible ideal, but a tangible fact.
Devotees have an intense desire to hear about Krishna, and, after hearing, they naturally want to speak to others about Him. The Lord reciprocates with such devotees, showing them special favor by enlightening them from within so they can defend themselves from opposing arguments.
Those who are engaged in Krishna’s service feel enlivened and do not want anything in exchange. Rather, they want to encourage others. Prabhupada writes, “One test is that all the devotees should be satisfied. They have given their lives to Krishna, so we should see they are always happy. Their service is voluntary. It is not that we can force anyone to do anything. If we do they will go away and that is a great loss. Everyone must be encouraged to do what he likes to do for Krishna.” (Letter, November 20, 1971)
Another test is that a devotee doesn’t stop trying:
Sometimes there may be disagreement and quarrel but we should not go away. These inebrieties can be adjusted by the cooperative spirit, tolerance and maturity, so I request you to kindly remain in the association of our devotees and work together. The test of our actual dedication and sincerity to serve the spiritual master will be in this mutual cooperative spirit to push on this movement and not make factions and deviate. (Letter, December 9, 1973)
You are doing solid work, even alone, and I am very pleased. This is the test for a sincere devotee. Simply by depending on the mercy of the Lord and carrying out the order of the spiritual master, one’s success in spiritual life is guaranteed. I thank you for your endeavor. (Letter, November 4, 1975)
Besides our own tests for ourselves, there are God’s tests for us.
Because we are weak and maya, God’s material energy, is strong, when we try to get out of maya’s clutches by advancing spiritually, maya becomes more stringent and tests our sincerity by sending allurements. In Prabhupada’s words:
Maya will test us to see how firmly we are fixed in Krishna consciousness. Because she is also an agent of Krishna, she does not allow anyone the freedom to disturb Krishna. Therefore she tests very rigidly to see whether we have taken to Krishna consciousness to disturb Krishna or are actually serious. . . . But if we follow the rules and regulations and chant regularly as prescribed, then we shall remain steady. If we neglect these principles, maya will capture us immediately. Maya is always ready.” (Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.20, April 12, 1973, New York)
At first we may be tested by maya, Krishna’s external energy, and later we may be tested by Krishna directly. Prabhupada gives many examples of such testing. “For devotees there is test. We see from the devotee’s life, Prahlada Maharaja, how much severe test he had to pass through. Bali Maharaja, Narada Muni. After you pass the examination, there is no more test. But before coming to the post of recognized devotee, Krishna tests very severely. That one has to pass.” (Morning Walk, August 11, 1976, Tehran)
In a purport of the Eighth Canto, Prabhupada writes about one such test:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead sometimes puts a devotee to severe tests that are almost unbearable. One could hardly even live under the conditions forced upon Bali Maharaja. That Bali Maharaja endured all these severe tests and austerities is the mercy of the Supreme Lord. The Lord certainly appreciates the devotee’s forbearance, and it is recorded for the future glorification of the devotee. . . . The Supreme Personality of Godhead not only tested him [Bali Maharaja] but also gave him the strength to tolerate such adversity. The Lord is so kind to His devotee that when severely testing him the Lord gives him the necessary strength to be tolerant and continue to remain a glorious devotee. (Bhagavatam 8.22.29–30, Purport)
By being fixed in our determination we can pass Krishna’s tests. Prabhupada explains:
Faith means that you are meant for giving some service to Krishna. You should stick to that service, that path, in spite of all impediments. That is the passing of the test. . . . Just like we are meant for preaching Krishna consciousness. So there may be severe test, but still we shall remain determined. That is wanted. There may be so many impediments, punishment; still you should do that. That is wanted. That is the test. Not that as soon as there is some difficulty I give it up. There may be severe test, but still we shall not give it up. We must go on. That is determination. . . . One has to take the order from the spiritual master and execute it, despite all impediments.” (Morning Walk, August 11, 1976, Tehran)
Our Final Test
After four years of study, my daughter passed her final exam. But for her, for me, and for all of us there’s another final exam coming at the end of our lives. “In the subject of life, if we prepare for the examination at the time of death and pass it, then we are transferred to the spiritual world. Everything is examined at the time of death.” (Easy Journey to Other Planets, Chapter 2) We prepare for that final exam by following Prabhupada’s and Krishna’s instructions now, in our everyday lives.