When Devotees Leave Krishna

Karnamrita Das - August 1, 2015 6:04 pm

This is my latest offering, recently completed, that I have been thinking of, even as I posted the other blogs from the past about staying the course in bhakti. This was one was specifically in response to the recent exit from our sanga of two devotees we knew. In any case, my hope and prayer is that you will find this useful on your life journey in bhakti, and that you can also refer other devotees here if they're struggling with their faith or are having some other difficulty, help them yourselves, or refer them to someone you think can "minister" to them. I appreciate the idea of ministering to the congregation and we can include the monks in that as well. I am trying to do more in that regard, even as I realize my limitations of time and energy. That is one reason I write. I also hope you will think of ways to give support and encouragement to others and reflect on how you have stayed the course in bhakti, and what you think needs to be improved.



Sometimes we experience great surprise and intense sadness at the unexpected departure from the bhakti path of a devotee we may have been inspired by or respected. Or even if the devotee struggled to follow the basic devotional practices and disciplines, we can still be unnerved when they leave, and then denounce and attack what is still our faith, reinterpreting their stay in an ashram in terms of cultic manipulation and brainwashing. “What really happened?” me may wonder, and how could I have helped prevent this? Sometimes in the aftermath of such a sudden departure, some devotees worry and wonder if it could happen to them, as it brings up their own doubts. This scenario recently happened in a circle of devotees I know, and it caused me to reflect on what it takes to stay on the path, and the various reasons people leave.


When I was a new devotee I experienced one of my friends leave the temple. I didn’t see him again for three weeks until he came to the Sunday feast. Though I recognized him, I was startled to see his expression. He looked like a shadow of his former self when he had a bright faced countenance. Now he had a dark gloomy appearance and seemed unfocused and dazed. I wondered what had brought this about, as if he had just entered a self-created prison.


We sat down to honor prasadam together, and he told me his story. When he had been out buying some film for his camera he ran into a beautiful young woman he had seen before. They began to talk and there was mutual attraction that was compelling. He lost track of time and forgot himself. She told him that she never thought she would be attracted to a shaven headed man, and he ended up going home with her. He went back to his former ways and gave up his spiritual practices to have a relationship with this girl. After our conversation I never saw him again.


This experience left an indelible impression on me, since his before and after face was so dramatic, which I often recalled. It was like day and night, and I didn’t want to lose my connection to Krishna and the life of dedication and purification. I have often remembered how cold, dark, and impersonal the world seemed before I came to Krishna. That is something to motivate one negatively, but we also require deep positive experiences if are to remain a devotee of Krishna, or a Gaudiya Vaishnava.



I have 45 years of spiritual practice to reflect on with many stages, blissful times and deep spiritual experiences and doubts and delusions; ups and downs through the years; new starts, temptations, being in the “flow,” reverses, slow times, questions, shaken faith, new insights, material attractions, and dark nights of the soul that laid me low with discouragement and depression and sorrow. At my darkest and most difficult times, I felt Krishna bring me out of it, and I felt blessed and peaceful. Perhaps it was the level of my crying out for help, or just that I couldn’t go any lower. Regardless of the cause, I have the faith from my experience that Krishna will always save me and give me a helping hand from distress or from the egoic pride of achievement.


Philosophically, we can understand that those who seriously take to the path of bhakti have some background in it from previous lives, called bhakti-sukriti. This also explains why some devotees have a more difficult time with the spiritual practices than others. A few devotees very quickly come to a very high standard, where others fall away, or stay connected to Krishna with only weak faith and little sadhana. It is said that when we begin bhakti in this lifetime we quickly come to the level of our former lives and then we begin the difficult work when our spiritual progress slows and the newness of our path leaves us.


We have to stand on our faith and realization and go forward to keep doing those activities that call our spiritual progress, such as hearing and chanting about Krishna, while keeping the good company of advanced practitioners. We also need to avoid offences to great souls and the holy name. Sometimes offenses from previous lifetimes stall our progress and we can’t overcome our doubts and material perspective. This basic theory has to be practically translated into the actions of our lives so we can stay the course of a lifetime in bhakti. If we don’t have spiritual experiences and realizations from the practices of bhakti, we may be overcome with doubts and material attractions and suspicions. Suspicion can lead to the suspension of our spiritual practices and feeling disconnected from Krishna and the path to attain him. Every person and group has a shadow side, and sometimes, those who leave the path see the shadow as all there is—they miss, or forget, the light, or it becomes obscured by the cloud of their one-sided perception.



Every path has its own logic, whether religious, spiritual, secular, scientific, or atheistic, and certain persons will have a karmic predisposition to one type of logic. We may feel we have perfect logic, but not everyone will agree, and any type of logic can be defeated by another. The Vedic scriptures remind us that spiritual life, although it can be logically explained, is beyond logic, and is trans-rational. When we have experiences that confirm the theory of bhakti, we feel it as truth and have deep faith. This is a type of faith that creates its own logic to explain itself.


Simultaneously as we keep connected to Krishna through the holy name and by understanding the philosophy of devotion, we have to find our place materially, in terms of work or service. Not just devotees, but every person has to do this. In a sense this is our interface with the material world that if we don’t follow, we won’t feel satisfied. We often feel impelled to live a particular lifestyle or make a unique contribution to our life or family. A few can do that by remaining directly in a full time life of devotion in an ashram or monastery, while most practitioners will feel called to do some type of work according to their nature, and enter into married life. I like to call this our “karmic mission” that is required to be addressed in relationship to our spiritual practices, or, as I have seen too often, it may pull one away from the path.




I have thought about what has kept me involved in the endeavor to be Krishna conscious, and the first thing that comes to mind is the mercy of the Lord and his devotees. I live by grace and I find regular confirmation of this! We could say that in general it is due to my practice of bhakti in my previous lives—in other words I came in with enough faith to remain in spite of reverses. Specifically, what has helped me remain connected to bhakti is that I have many devotional activities that I both like and have had spiritual experiences from such as japa, kirtan, preaching, studying scripture, and Deity worship. And, in all humility, I have a natural affinity for devotion. That is to say that I understand it beyond my mind, and I resonate with worship—even though I still have the enjoying conventional ego, I know what I want spiritually, and pray for the serving ego where I can totally give myself.


And finally, I have always chanted japa and felt connected to Krishna. I also spent years in personal growth work, in which I uncovered life issues and blinds spots. I have learned to see my past as a blessing meant for my good. I experienced the power of forgiveness of myself and others, and the benefit of looking for the blessing in all situations. I believe in the possible, and understand that life reflects back to us according to our attitude, whether positive or negative—we find what we are looking for. This has helped me be a more positive, accepting, and loving person. In my most difficult times I never blamed others for my plight, but looked for ways I could improve myself. We are all students forever, and we are also students and teachers of one another. Marrying a very positive, intelligent and devoted person--my wife--has also been a huge uplifting influence in my life. And, most importantly I see giving, and serving others, as the purpose of life. This has all come to me by the grace of my gurus and those who exemplify them, those saintly persons who have shown me the way of devotion, to live the life of prayer, appreciation, and service.