“The yoga practitioner should be determined and should patiently prosecute the practice without deviation. One should be sure of success at the end and pursue this course with great perseverance, not becoming discouraged if there is any delay in the attainment of success. Success is sure for the rigid practitioner.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.24 Purport)
Question: “What if I don’t see success in practicing bhakti-yoga? Chanting the maha-mantra every day [Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare] for a fixed number of rounds is good at giving me some peace of mind, but afterwards I’m still attacked by my old nemesis: material desires. What should I do if I feel that I am not making progress?”
Those who teach bhakti-yoga, including the original preceptor Himself, Shri Krishna, say that the yogi should have determination. The idea is that if the yoga is practiced under the proper conditions, which help to eliminate desires of the material kind, then success is guaranteed. This is explained both in theory and also by example, such as with the story involving a sparrow and Garuda.
What is wrong with having material desires? Can a desire be of any other kind?
We can think of it in terms of wanting things for oneself versus seeking the happiness of someone else. The mother who works hard in the kitchen to prepare a nice meal for herself has a different desire than the mother who works just as hard to feed her child. The work is the same in both instances, but the results of that work are to be used differently.
A material desire brings work that yields something for the benefit of the material covering of the individual. The soul is what identifies us. We each survived within the womb in the beginning. We can’t fit into a tiny space like that now. We can’t even fathom living like that for upwards of nine months. But it is a fact that we survived it previously. It was made possible by the eternal existence of the soul, which remains active at all times. When we think we can no longer see it, it has simply gone somewhere else. In the womb the soul is hard to see, but we mark its presence by the development of the fetus.
Elimination of material desires means stopping work that yields a result only for the temporary body. Think of it like working for the welfare of the soul instead. It is like building a home in which the soul will remain happiest, where the changes influenced by time will not be present.
Since in yoga there are recommended practices and attainable goals, we see that desire is still present. The call for determination and perseverance immediately implies desire. So desire never gets eliminated; simply its nature changes. In spiritual desire, one’s work yields results that help the soul. When the soul is rescued, other souls can be rescued as well.
The preliminary result of real yoga practice is the gradual changing of the nature of desire from material to spiritual. But what if we don’t see a change? What if we’re not successful in concentrating on the Supersoul within, who is an expansion of the Supreme Lord? What if we can’t understand that we are different from the Supersoul, that we are meant to have union with Him in a relationship of love? What if we’re having difficulty fostering devotion to the Supersoul?
The recommendation is to continue on. Have determination. Be confident that you will see the result. Like a disease that suddenly disappears completely after a long period of treatment, the all-devouring enemy known as lust, or material desire, will vanish in a person who stays the course in yoga, whose purpose is to unite the individual with their eternal occupation, devotion to the Supreme Lord.
To help us understand that determination, there is the example of the sparrow and the ocean. Once a sparrow was laying her eggs on the banks of the ocean, when the waves suddenly rose up and took the eggs. The sparrow asked for the eggs back, but the ocean refused. The sparrow then threatened to dry up the ocean; a vow for which she was mocked. She continued anyway, pecking away at the vast ocean little by little.
What seemed like folly ended up pleasing Garuda, who is the bird-carrier of God in His personal form of Lord Vishnu. Garuda then came to the rescue of the sparrow, demanding the eggs from the ocean. Thus through strong determination, to the point of ridiculousness, the sparrow succeeded in her goal.
The person practicing bhakti-yoga will similarly seem ridiculous to others.
“How can you give up eating meat? Where will you get your protein? No drinking, either? Life will be no fun, then. You’re giving up illicit sex; whatever that means? And then no gambling also? You are taking away everything enjoyable in life. You are punishing yourself for no reason. God gave us this one human life to be enjoyed to the fullest. You’re going to regret your decision later on.”
Yet if there is the same determination as the sparrow, someone like Garuda will come to help. In his Upadeshamrita, Rupa Gosvami validates this, saying that determination while following the regulative principles is guaranteed to yield the desired result in the end for the devotee.
“The process of bhakti-yoga can be executed successfully with full-hearted enthusiasm, perseverance, and determination by following the prescribed duties in the association of devotees and by engaging completely in activities of goodness.” (Upadeshamrita, 3)
The difficulty is that the desired objective is a change in consciousness, which is impossible to see. You can’t see someone else’s mind. You can’t tell how they think by only looking at their forehead. You get some indication of consciousness through activities, but in the end it is the individual who will have to judge. Only they can tell if material desires have left and been replaced by an undying will to serve the Supreme Lord Krishna and see a bright smile on His face. The mercy of God is such that the determination alone will bring success, as there is great potency in the help provided by Garuda and others who are devoted to the same Lord in thought, word and deed.
Sparrow her eggs wanting back,
Pecking slowly at ocean her attack.
Though seemingly ridiculously fought,
Determination the attention of Garuda caught.
Yogi advised to have will the same,
To be steadfast in chanting holy name.
Success from consciousness to tell,
Transformed desire victory to spell.