Aspiring devotees may experience traffic congestion of a different kind – traffic congestion within the heart.
By Tirumala Devi Dasi
Something to think about the next time you’re stuck in traffic.
Slow-moving traffic – any motorist’s nightmare. Johannesburg, where I live, is notorious for being one of the most traffic-congested cities in Africa. And slow-moving automobile traffic isn’t the only kind of traffic congestion we face in life. There’s traffic to get to the cashier at the grocery store, traffic to get prasadam at the Sunday Feast, and at festival times, traffic to get a clear view of the deities in the temple.
On a more subtle level, we aspiring devotees may experience traffic congestion of a different kind – traffic congestion within the heart. The dynamics of day-to-day traffic can reveal much about the highway of spiritual life.
When we’re sitting in traffic, it’s easy to look in the rear-view mirror at all the cars lined up behind and appreciate the progress we’ve made. Similarly, a devotee may introspect to review his or her progress or look into the “rearview mirror” to the material world and wonder how to change things to make the stay here more comfortable. Don’t we all sometimes do this, whether in a small situation or in a more serious life-changing one?
Perhaps our looking backwards is not always just about material desires. Sometimes we’re faced with a difficult situation, a challenging set of karma, and we think a change would be good, so we look at the “cars” around us. Sometimes the people in other “lanes” seem to be moving much faster than we are, and we may think that other people are better off and that a change in circumstances sounds rather appealing. Then somehow our situation may change. We “change lanes,” and then see that the lane we were just in has started moving faster and the lane we just got into has slowed to the pace of our previous lane.
How many times has that happened to you? In these times we may sometimes question what really is in our best interest. We may wonder how to identify what really is best for us and what to do to be in that ideal situation. But the bad news is that there isn’t an angelic harp that mysteriously plays when we make a life-changing decision that’s the right choice. The good news, however, is that the Bhagavad-gita teaches us that Krishna already knows what is in our best interest and affectionately places us in the right situation whether we realize it or not.
A story highlights this point well. The residents of a small town constantly complained to the mayor about their problems.
Eventually the mayor said, “I have a brilliant idea. We’re going to have an exhibition of problems. Everyone can bring their problems, we’ll put them on display in the townhall, and everyone can come and see them.”
So everyone playfully had a look at everyone else’s problems. Eventually it was time to leave, but then the mayor said that no one could leave without taking a problem with them. So when they had to choose a problem, they thought very seriously about which problem to take. Guess what problems everyone ended up taking? Their own! It was easier to take back their own problems than anyone else’s.
We often cling to things to give us some sense of security and comfort. This is explained very nicely in the purport (by Srila Prabhupada disciples) to Mukunda-mala-stotra, verse 13:
It is not an easy thing to wake up from the complacency of ordinary life. Everyone knows that life is full of difficulties, but we tend to think that our family members and friends are our only solace. . . . Several times in the Mukunda-mala-stotra, the poet compares the material world to the sea, and the Lord (or His lotus feet) to a boat that can rescue us. The metaphor is excellent, for no matter how expert a swimmer a person may be, he cannot survive on his own in the rough and vast expanses of the ocean. So our attempt to swim the ocean of material life on our own strength, encouraged by our family and friends, is as futile as the attempt of the lone swimmer at sea.
We should gradually give up our false sense of security, which we look for in “fallible soldiers” (the term that Srimad-Bhagavatam uses to refer to our family and friends in this world). Sometimes we want to change our situation, thinking that by doing so we will be better off. We are like a chess player who can see one or two moves ahead, but Krishna can see all the moves across the whole chessboard. Krishna knows what situation is best for our purification.
Appreciating the Mercy
We all have challenges, and we may think that our difficulties are worse than the next person’s. But we should not use our challenges to rationalize why it is difficult for us to be devotees. We have been given great mercy and must take full advantage of it. The mercy we have received is no small thing at all.
You might think there is a “broken vehicle” in your path, stopping you from progressing any further. If so, then you need to rely on the mercy of those in the next lane to allow you space to get into the free-flowing lane. We became frustrated in material life and searched for something greater, and then by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy we came to Krishna consciousness somehow or other. The Nectar of Devotion explains that one comes to devotional service if one has some attraction to it or has executed it previously. But for one to have executed devotional service previously means that one must have had some attraction to it previously. So, then, how does one come to devotional service? Only by the mercy of a pure devotee.
Srila Prabhupada was so kind that he gave us his mercy freely. When someone gives you a gift, a good feeling comes to you. But an even more wonderful feeling comes when you share that gift with others. In traffic, when we finally get into the free-flowing lane and are grateful to the driver who let us through, then don’t we want to let the person we see stuck behind the broken-down vehicle through as well?
Similarly, we should share this priceless mercy we have been given. We should not be distracted by temporary, material problems, looking back at what we should have done differently to change our material position. We should not place too much emphasis on how we should change our material situation. There is a place for material changes, but our consciousness must be trained to be on Krishna and His pure devotees and serving their lotus feet. We should focus on our real mission – to surrender as instruments in Srila Prabhupada’s mission to spread the glories of the holy name.
While the highway of the material world may sometimes be frustrating, when we look at the bigger network of the spiritual highway, we can realize that there is no bad traffic, just traffic to purify our hearts on the journey back home, back to Godhead.