This article is from volume 2 of the Krishna conscious magazine, Matchless Gift: a beautiful, original e-magazine designed, written and created by Expand the Bliss devotees. To purchase a copy, click here.
How I Came to Krishna Consciousness
by Bhaktin Love
In this thought piece, Love explores why it is so hard for humans to change for the better, and how Krishna consciousness is offering a simple and sustainable way out of deeply ingrained habitual behaviours.
Ask anyone – humans find it hard to change. To ask someone to give up an ingrained habit is like asking them to jump in front of a train. Especially when it comes to addictions to sense gratification. We like our vices, it seems, and we attach to them so that when someone utters a mere suggestion of our being without said vice, we go into attack mode. 'I like my vices,' some freely admit. No amount of documentaries about the dangers of meat eating for humans and the planet, nor graphic images on cigarette packs, nor warnings about gambling are strong enough deterrents to make one change for the better. The cognitive dissonance is too strong. An intelligent part of us can know this all to be true, that what we are doing is wrong, that we are under the spell of an addictive tendency; one may, at best, be able to admit that one is struggling to change; and yet, the practical agreement to conclusively stop for the better can rarely be found. Even so, admitting, as they say, is the first step. What happens afterwards? The innocent addict is then bombarded with numerous 'hacks' for instant addiction cures. A whole lot of noise in the form of self-help books, articles and millions of 30-second videos claiming success (success that is relative to them, I might add) that someone struggling has to sift through in the hopes of finding their next quick fix in the form of a miracle, instantaneous cure, without any healing work whatsoever, no acknowledgement of the core wound from which addiction stems. There's a storm of information out there. What we all need, is an absolute Truth. A one-size-fits all approach to curing addiction, to being unresistant to positive personal change. If the struggle for change is a collective issue, surely we can agree upon a collective cure? Enter, Krishna consciousness.
The root cause
What is the first teaching of Krishna consciousness? Say it with me now: I AM NOT MY BODY. Let that settle for a moment. Consider it, speak it out loud if you will: 'I am not this body.' Huh. What's that you feel? A certain spaciousness? If you are not this body, then what are you? The one observing the movements of the body, mind, ego, intelligence? The quietly smiling internal observer? As Purujit Prabhu puts it, “you are a part of the whole, of something beautiful and Divine.” Yes indeed, you are a spark of the eternal life force energy source that powers all. You are a child of God, a part and parcel of Krishna, the Supreme Creator, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that we at BLISS are loving getting to know through our spiritual study. This understanding elevates you, the real, eternal you, above the temporary you that is addicted to something. With this understanding, suddenly there is a gap – a space between the eternally fulfilled part of you (the Soul) that requires no such temporary vices to fill a void - and the temporary you (the material body, mind, ego etc). With this understanding, can't you see that the root cause of all addiction is the craving to be fulfilled? And can you let it relieve you for just this moment, that there is a part of you, the real, eternal you, that is eternally fulfilled when in connection with God? So in fact, all these material addictions are giving you minute experiences of what fulfillment looks like. But in the end, nothing material can fulfill, because our true selves are not material, not even a little bit. We are spirit souls. This is the real identity. The real identity is like the root of the tree, and the temporary dresses that we wear (man, woman, black, white, fat, thin, european, asian etc) are like leaves. When the leaf is ready to fall away, it will, and a new one will grow. Such is the lifecycle. The answer to fulfillment then, clearly lies in the watering of the root, the choice to satisfy the feeling of separation from source. How do we do this? By connecting directly to the source using the directions given by the representative of God. That is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He teaches us how to connect with Krishna directly, thus all feeble attempts to fill the void of disconnect from our source drop away. Being conscious in this way, being Krishna conscious (God conscious, conscious of Truth and not being entangled in the illusion that you are this body and everything that goes with it) is a beeline to fulfillment, and no such temporary highs, so-called pleasures, will even come close to being satisfactory, after you experience the exquisite, long lasting high of being conscious of what we are all here to learn – being conscious of our true identity and Universal purpose in life – being conscious of (and thus being in service to) God, who is Krishna.
Make it simple: we are eternal spirit souls moving around in physical bodies. The purpose of human life is to realise this fact, and to work towards reconnecting with our source. That source is God. The Supreme Personality of God, God Himself, and all His aspects (including Brahman (impersonal) and Paramatma (Supersoul/intuition within the heart)), is Krishna. Krishna is not a sectarian God. Krishna means all-attractive (read Bhagavad Gita for more on the identity of God).
Let go and let God
Why is it so hard to change? Ask anyone who has faced addictive behaviours, who has struggled to leave a toxic relationship, be that friend, family or lover, to change jobs even though they were unhappy, or even give up clothes that have many tears and rips in, and they will most likely shrug in contempt of this seemingly demonic aspect of human nature, the one which makes it so hard for us to change. What’s even harder is sustainable change. On our recent BLISS retreat in Portugal (check out the Matchless Gift 3 for the whole story), I heard of Kambo, a plant medicine made of the poison of a certain frog which, when injected via burn through human skin, 'eradicates addictions completely.' As someone who spends two hours every day chanting the Holy names as their medicine, I felt an immediate contraction, a wave of cynical disbelief wash over me at the idea of such a simple quick fix. As someone who has worked very hard to remove layers of the onion that is my ego, my false self, to try and understand why I have addictive tendencies, why I must be subjected to this imperfection even though I have long known deep down that I am a pure and perfect part and parcel of God, hearing of this froggy method was quite agitating. I then relaxed when I realised that my version of frog poison is a simple three word mantra which is completely free and is available to everyone. So I don't have to burn myself and be injected with frog poison? Phew!
The inability to change against our own will to good is something common to all humans. Granted, there are some 'lucky' ones who do not have addictive personalities, but they have their own demons to conquer. For those of us who have taken our sweet time to give up an addiction that feels good in the moment but not good afterwards, who have lusted to hold onto that particular vice for fear of boredom and even greater fear of what might lie in wait underneath the suppression of Self, there are many books to read, hypnosis to meditate on, patches to stick, diets to follow, therapies to be had and enquiries to explore with oneself. Though each self-help vice has its quality, none can identify the root of the problem, nor can they explain it in clear, non-speculative ways. None can answer with pure authority the deeply philosophical questions an intelligent human may pose, all are passing on incomplete knowledge, evading the seeker (and they themselves are evaded) from the source of absolute and universal knowledge. I got a lot of doors in the face in the form of the disappointing, “you have to find the answer for yourself, I can't tell you the answer.” It was only until I started chanting Hare Krishna that I found a sustainable, by which I mean long-term, deeply excavating solution to the part of myself that would take over and exhibit the addictive behaviours against my own well-wishes, against what the more pure or innocent part of myself would want.
"I need not agree with myself that on this day I’m not going to smoke, I’m not going to drink, I’m not going to cheat, etc. The change simply happens. Ask any of the devotees. The chanting, paired with reading and hearing from the spiritual master, adds up to spontaneous change."
To crisp, or not to crisp
Two weeks after chanting 16 rounds of the maha mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, addictions that I had struggled to loosen myself from the tentacle-like grip of for over a decade, simply left. It continues to amaze me how this works, even to this day. Just the other day, I experienced very invasive thoughts of a need to consume crisps. In that moment, I was able to identify a part of me that was having these thoughts that I would like a bag of crisps. As soon as I had this thought, other parts of me came in to assess the situation. One part said, okay, if the bus is more than five minutes away, I can get some crisps. Another part said, that’s fine, I can still offer them to Prabhupada. They’re just potatoes. And, (this train of thought smugly continued), I remember that one time he was on an airplane and drunk Sprite, the karmi-made drink. So clearly he is not a fanatic. Other parts, other thought processes more logical and less passionate, noted then that it’s past nine at night, and there is no need for food. That actually, these crisps have been prepared without love for Krishna, and therefore I cannot. It’s plastic, it’s wasted Lakshmi, it’s not right. All this was going on. When I arrived at the bus stop and saw that my ride was just two minutes away, I experienced, one of many times, the magic of the mantra in practical day-to-day issues; how it can facilitate the total removal of personality defects without much more effort required than a simple sincere intention to chant attentively. Even if I had wanted to go to get the crisps, I found that my feet were planted firmly on the ground. Filled with uncertainty about why my usual addictive nature was not automatically taking over my body and already buying the crisps, I simply started to chant. All uncertainty then went away. What then came in was a deep appreciation for the long-awaited internal changes that Krishna consciousness has allowed me. Suffice to say, I did not get the crisps, and I went to bed feeling completely grateful and excited to continue chanting my rounds the next day, as well as I could.
Saying goodbye to my favourite high
A similar realisation came to me in a similar situation, months before, when usually, I would have gone straight to the kitchen having arrived back home late, to make something nice to eat. Even I might have offered it to Prabhupada. But for some reason, unknown to me and completely unplanned and uncontrolled, I just went up to bed. Reading in disbelief? I was too. What you have to understand about the maha mantra is that, when you're chanting the prescribed 16 rounds, you are praying, chanting, affirming: 'Dear Lord, dear energy of the Lord, please kindly engage me in your service'. Prabhupada called this movement the 'Science of Self-Realization' for a reason. Science means tried and tested with a Universal outcome. Make it simple. If you say, thousands of times a day, 'I am thirsty,' you will manifest that affirmation. Similarly, if someone tells you as a young child that you are unworthy, a neural pathway will be formed and that negative belief will manifest into being your own belief, and you will perceive that belief, manifesting, unbeknown to you, situations that affirm the reality of that thought, to match the initial thought that is etched into the brain. This is a Universal law. What we think, we believe, therefore we perceive it, it becomes our reality. So, this chanting works. Without my deciding to change, I have changed. This is the answer to all addictions! No mental exertion is required. I need not agree with myself that on this day I’m not going to smoke, I’m not going to drink, I’m not going to cheat, etc. The change simply happens. Ask any of the devotees. The chanting, paired with reading and hearing from the spiritual master, adds up to spontaneous change.
For a long time I was smoking marijuana. It allowed me to feel, for an hour or so, how my soul feels in the spiritual world: sac-cid-ananda-vigraha: eternal, full of knowledge, full of bliss. When the question of how long it had been since I had last smoked came up in conversation the other day, I could not give a clear answer. I realised that I didn’t know. Because, I never made the decision to stop smoking. It simply happened. The urge, modestly and straightforwardly, just went away. The appetite to put myself in situations where there would be temptation, weaned. All this chanting, for Krishna to kindly engage me in His service, rather than in the service of my imperfect senses, imperfect self and fragile ego, is working. I am being engaged in a different way of life, and though there remain parts of me that rebel against this, the eternal part, which is substantially stronger in its foundation rooted in God's superior (personal, transcendental) energy, seems to be very pleased.
"The chanting, the devotee association, the kirtan, the books, the prasadam, the whole way of life that is Krishna consciousness, is uprooting those parts of me that find it hard to change, without me even asking it to. All I do is chant, and it works. "
Long term change
The body keeps the score, the body holds the memories. When I first came to the BLISS temple, there was a particular kirtan that I very much did not enjoy, which now happens to be my favourite. But I have noticed that even though I now agree that it is my favourite prayer, I still observe some resistance. Because the first few times I felt so out of place during this purifying kirtan, my body experienced that trauma of feeling scared and alone, etc, and held onto that. Like a line etched into rock, the negative association stuck. Even now at the time of writing, when I finish my japa in the morning, I sometimes experience mental dread towards this kirtan. However, when I enter the temple room and it starts, I’m completely excited. Such a curious phenomenon to notice and regard. So it is clear to me that every action we do creates some sort of imprint on our psyches, on our consciousness. Action enacted many times ends up making very deep imprints, very strong habitual thoughts and behaviours, hard to undo or override. But there is a way to smooth over these harsh imprints – sticking to the path of Krishna consciousness. Perseverance and patience is needed. Srila Prabhupada says in a class on the Srimad-Bhāgavatam 1.8.44, “Just like in jaundice disease, if you... Because the doctors, the medical practitioners, they give sugar candy. The physician gives sugar candy. The sugar candy, to the person suffering from jaundice, tastes bitter = "Oh, it is bitter." But actually sugar candy is not bitter. Similarly, to the sinful man the krsna-katha, discussion about Krsna, does not appear to be very palatable. They do not like to hear. They think it is waste of time. But that, as the sugar candy is the only medicine for jaundice disease, similarly, the hari-katha, or krsna-katha, is the only medicine for our material disease. If we take it... Just like the jaundiced patient = if he takes sugar candy, then gradually he becomes free from the diseased condition, and at that time, the same sugar candy which he tasted in the beginning as bitter, it appears to be very, very sweet. Then he cannot live without. This is the process.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.44)
When I first came to the temple and stayed overnight, the next day I told the monks, “thank you, but temple life is not for me!” Now, I find myself again and again, despite the voice that says not to, making my way to the temple any time I’m away from it. It is no longer a conscious choice. The chanting, the devotee association, the kirtan, the books, the prasadam, the whole way of life that is Krishna consciousness, is uprooting those parts of me that find it hard to change, without me even asking it to. All I do is chant, and it works.
Sometimes, when I’m doing something healthy, selfless and good, like being extra mindful when mopping the temple or taking less milk for myself so other devotees can have, I observe a sensation of watching myself do it. Whenever I check in with these parts of me, these voices, these mind patterns that err on the negative side, all are, generally and genuinely, really happy to surrender. All parts of the self want to heal, to become whole, to reunite with Krishna. No single aspect of self is truly resisting it. Because this reunion is natural. It is the goal of life for all humans. Of all the things I tried before meeting the devotees, none offered such a sustainable, natural change of incentive, change of habit, I say again, without me even trying, than engaging in Krishna consciousness has. This Hare Krishna mantra is the mantra that contains all mantras, it is the affirmation that contains all affirmations, it is the multivitamin to cure all diseases and re-write all personality defects. I invite those reading who have suffered or do suffer from addictive tendencies to take up this very simple method of chanting this very simple mantra, whenever you’re waiting for a bus, whenever you find yourself lusting after some sense object, whenever you’re unsure about whether you should eat that fast food or smoke that dope, just try chanting and see what happens. Please, engage in your spiritual life: all problems melt away in the presence of perfection.