Five Ways To Assess Losing Your Temper While Practicing Bhakti

[Hanuman burning Lanka]“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.62)

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What a wonderful program. Rip-roaring kirtanas, soul-inspiring katha, food that tasted like it was prepared by God’s eternal consort Herself. If only every day could be like this. If only every moment of life were as blissful, in the association of the Divine.

On the way home, however, things quickly changed. While crossing the street, where the signal said it was okay to proceed, a car almost hit you. Not only was there the chance to get hurt, but the meditation was broken. Your reaction? You instantly started screaming and yelling. Anger got the best of you. You slammed your hand down on the front of the car.

“Don’t you know where you are going? Are you some kind of idiot? ‘Oh look at me, I’m a big stupid idiot, driving my big stupid car.’ You could have killed me. Learn how to drive, moron!”

[crossing the street]Where did the bad language come from? You haven’t used words like those in years. Why the intense anger? Did the engagement in bhakti-yoga, devotional service, have no positive effects? Does this fit of rage represent a fall down? Is there no progress being made in terms of purification of consciousness? There are different ways to assess the experience.

1. The material world is a dangerous place

At every step. Not just in certain areas of the city. Not only in particular neighborhoods. Not only at night, either, when there are more intoxicated people roaming the streets. There is danger at every step in the material world.

“For one who has accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Mukunda or the giver of mukti, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf’s hoofprint. Param padam, or the place where there are no material miseries, or Vaikuntha, is his goal, not the place where there is danger in every step of life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.58)

This is one of many reasons to seek the shelter of God the person, who is known as Mukunda since He can grant mukti, or liberation. The incident is a reminder that no one is truly safe, despite the best precautions taken.

[the four seasons]Also, a person should remain practical. Chanting the holy names does not suddenly change the effects of the material elements. I can still get burned by fire. The winter will still feel cold. The seasons will still come; just the ability to tolerate increases with more connection to the Divine.

2. Duality

As Shri Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita, anger is rooted in kama, or lust. The source of kama is attachment to the objects of the senses. Basically, I have a particular desire. One day it won’t be met. I could have crossed the street thousands of times successfully in the past, but one day there will be an issue. Then the previous successes won’t matter. The frustration in kama leads to krodha, which is anger.

The reason to be upset at the loss of temper is that anger arose, which means that kama was there. Bhakti is supposed to be the purification of desire. In devotional service, the kama eventually turns into bhakti, wherein the lone desire is to please the Supreme Lord, to satisfy His senses.

In the material world there is always duality to consider. In this instance, perhaps the harsh words directed at the driver will end up benefitting so many people in the future. The person will drive more carefully, preventing them from breaking the law and facing the stiff consequences. Safe driving will benefit future pedestrians crossing the street. Perhaps yelling was the only way to get through to such a person.

[Hanuman burning Lanka]Indeed, from the examples of Arjuna and Hanuman we see that there can still be anger in devotional service. A person does not suddenly turn into a robot once they are spiritually aware. The key distinction is that the anger is rooted in the desire to serve Krishna, or God. The anger does not take a person away from their eternal occupation. The emotion is an indication of their strong attachment to the Supreme Lord.

3. There is more progress to make

This is most likely the initial assessment of the incident. The change in consciousness does not happen overnight. Brahma-bhuta is the platform automatically reached through devotion. It can also be reached through mechanical means of controlling desire and living without attachment. The qualities of this platform are the lack of hankering and lamenting.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)

The brahma-bhuta person is prasanna-atma. They are fully joyful. If we are upset over the incident, it means that we wanted to be at this high stage and have failed to reach it. If that is the assessment, there is no need to worry so much. The mechanical way can fail at any time and there is no guarantee that the progress will remain. In devotion, however, the Supreme Lord ensures that every effort brings a lasting benefit. Even if there is not perfect Krishna consciousness by the time of death, a person gets to continue in the next life from where they left off.

4. How quickly things can change

The jiva is a conditioned living entity. They always have a choice. That is the meaning to independence. I can spend hours and hours engaged in hearing and saying the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. I can be so connected to God, right there, in the moment, that it seems like nothing will ever go wrong.

But in one second I can choose something else. I can go back to attachments, which make me vulnerable to anger and loss of intelligence. This feature of the material world reminds me that I should always chant the names of Hari. At every moment I have a choice, so I should make sure to choose wisely.

5. A wakeup call to prioritize

As there is danger at every step, I should take precautions to protect my devotional life. After all, there is protection for so many other things. The intrusion detection system protects valuables in the home. Health insurance protects against the mounting costs for treatment of a serious illness that appears without prior notice. Car insurance protects against loss of a valuable object.

I should act in ways that ensure I will always be able to practice bhakti, which is so dear to me. I should be mindful of what can get in the way of that, be it physical obstructions or bad association. In this way even the incident that supposedly revealed my fall-down ends up benefitting me going forward.

In Closing:

From initial assessment made,

That by anger my intelligence swayed.

Since right out of bhakti’s bliss,

Almost struck by car, a near miss.

Then immediately to lash out,

Control over emotions without.

Danger in this world every corner and time,

Best to safeguard this devotional life of mine.

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