2006 Crucifixion of the Heart
Dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to you.
Sitting down to write your Vyāsa-pūjā offering means sitting down to think about you; thinking about you means understanding how you always thought about preaching, how you always preached; of how you wanted us to always think of preaching and to always preach.
Preaching, you said, is the best way to be recognized by Kṛṣṇa, the secret to getting His mercy. But preaching is also not without risk, for it means money, followers, and position — serious allurements for aspiring transcendentalists; it means making enemies of materialists, religionists and governments — serious obstacles to a successful movement.
And if those were not hazards enough, preaching means a very personal kind of inconvenience, something beyond the risk of fall-down or persecution, a kind of difficulty most beautifully spoken of in relation to Lord Śiva’s drinking the ocean of poison.
sādhavaḥ prāyaso janāḥ
paramārādhanaṁ tad dhi
“It is said that great personalities almost always accept voluntary suffering because of the suffering of people in general. This is considered the highest method of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is present in everyone’s heart.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 8.7.44)
When as a brahmacārī I first read this verse I envisaged that for Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s cause I would be either crucified like Jesus Christ, or tortured Like Prahlāda Mahārāja. “OK,” I thought. “I’ll bear the cross.” However as years of preaching revealed, the “voluntary suffering” Śukadeva Gosvāmī speaks of is more a crucifixion of the heart than one of the body. This crucifixion of the heart — a suffering as painful as nails in the hand or a spear in the ribs — is caused by seeing devotees turn back from the doorstep of Vaikuṇṭha.
Preaching means not only pointing the way to Godhead but patiently guiding devotees along the path that leads there. In giving such guidance I often find myself in the role of a spiritual father, a person closely connected with the evolving lives of his spiritual children. And that path is not without its share of dangers and obstacles. Sometimes devotees lose heart at waging war with Māyā-devī, an enemy who never tires. Sometimes they succumb to the urges of the senses and call a truce, only to perish. Sometimes they lose faith in the institution, in its leadership, in me, even in you. Sometimes they stray to practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness their own way, only to deviate.
When these things happen devotees often give up their vows, their services, their practices; they lose spiritual self-confidence, become critical, sometimes acrimonious, devoid of spiritual radiance. At these times I feel like a parent who laments the rebelliousness of his children. This was the ungratefulness my parents spoke of when I acted contrary to their wisdom. This was the sorrow they felt. The foolishness, stubbornness, breach of trust, and harsh words of devotees are heart wrenching — in Jīva Gosvami’s words, “as painful as a lance in the heart.” But a lance plunged into the heart causes pain only once, in the instant before death. However, the sight and sound of dispirited Vaiṣṇavas causes pain repeatedly, for after witnessing them I continue to live. That pain brings forth warm tears, deep sighs, and the perennial question, “How can I continue like this?”
And invariably I remember your order to preach till the last; your personal example in this regard; your reassurance that this voluntary suffering will please the Lord. Then I take heart, though my heart appears increasingly scarred.
I thus turn to you who are always thinking of preaching. Śrīla Prabhupāda, please sometimes think of me, your insignificant servant, one who tries his best to preach. When you do, please shower some mercy my way, some special salve that quickly mends broken hearts, that gives determination to preachers, that soothes the pain of voluntary suffering.