I want to tell the story of a lady Kuntidevi, also a disciple of my guru Srila Prabhupada. She was never a big leader; she was never a person that people honored and respected as being a person of high position. She was a simple mother and a very, very dedicated devotee of Lord Krishna. Those who knew her well honored her, but there weren’t so many people who knew her well. When she got cancer of the breast, that cancer spread viciously, and entered into her spine and into her organs and just crippled her. It was such a ferocious case of cancer that the doctors said, “There is absolutely nothing that anyone can do. You have six months to live, maximum.” She was practically paralyzed from the waist down. She was in a wheelchair. According to the medical analysis, she was racked with pain. Yet, she was always smiling, always encouraging and making everyone happy. It was so phenomenal. How blissful she was! How positive she was! The local television station heard about it. They met her and they had never seen anything like this in their life. I saw that television show too. It was a half hour program and it was incredible. The hostess was just praising her. Kuntidevi was talking to people and giving lectures about the beauty of life, the beauty of bhakti, and the good fortune of anyone who has Krishna. The hostess asked her, “How could you be so happy when you are in such a condition?” She replied, “Because I know I am the soul, I am eternal, this body is just a temporary situation and this situation is bringing my soul closer to God. Therefore I am rejoicing and I am happy.” According to the doctor’s diagnosis, her physical symptoms and everything else was utterly hopeless and miserable except one thing—her consciousness. I happened to have the fortune of being at her bedside when she left the world. She was surrounded by loving devotees chanting the holy names and she just lovingly gave her heart and her life to Krishna in a totally positive, grateful and happy state. Now, you cannot get that consciousness even from the best psychologist or psychiatric. They can do good to a certain extent, but a really true and deep positive attitude in life comes by knowledge and realization of the eternal blissful nature of the soul, the all attractive, all merciful, beautiful nature of God, our relationship with God and the beautiful and wonderful opportunities to serve God that we have at every moment.
While the Battle of Kurukshetra was at its peak, Arjuna and Karna were fighting each other. It was a battle to witness, a flurry of arrows was being exchanged, and even Gods were witnessing this epic battle between the 2 warriors.
Arjuna would shoot his arrows and the impact of these arrows would be so much that Karna’s chariot would go back by 25-30 feet. People who witnessed this were amazed by the skills of Arjuna.
Karna was no less. When he shot arrows, Arjuna’s chariot would also shake and go back by 3-4 feet. More than everyone, Krishna would applaud Karna every time his arrow hit Arjuna’s chariot. But not once did He applaud Arjuna’s skills!
At the end of the day, Arjuna asked Krishna: “Oh Lord, I have shot so many arrows at Karna’s chariot, it was being displaced like a feather in wind, but not once did you appreciate me. Rather, you would appreciate his skill despite his arrows just displacing my chariot a little”.
Krishna smiled and replied, “Oh, Arjuna, remember, your chariot is protected by Hanuman at the top on your flag, Me as your charioteer in the front and by Sheshnag at its wheels, yet the whole chariot would still sway and displace whenever the valiant Karna hit us with his arrows”.
Spiritual life: why it requires a practice of repetition? Spiritual training involves scrubbing out deeply ingrained habits, which takes time and reiteration. It is like trying to flatten a scroll that has been coiled for thousands of years. One pass of our hands across the surface won’t do it. We have to press it out again and again.Accomplishment in any discipline involves repetition. If we want to build muscles, we don’t lift ten thousand pounds at one time; we lift a few pounds thousands of times. Just as repetition is the source of necessary hardship for a piano student aspiring to be a concert pianist, it remains so for spiritual students aspiring to wake up. We hear the same teachings continuously, we practice the same mantras ceaselessly, incessantly. I have had selfish thoughts millions of times, bragged about myself, criticized others, gossiped, cheated, lied, and practiced self-centered actions millions upon millions of times. I have been mindless billions of time. I have forgotten the truth countless times. The numbers are astronomical, and so is the sphere of their influence.
Now when my teacher tells me I have to recite one million mantras that cultivate love, I know why. He is not torturing me, even though it sometimes feels that way. He is simply using the universal laws of reality, the same ones that I have unconsciously used to get me so stuck, to now consciously get me unstuck.
On the spiritual path we replace unconscious habits of confusion with conscious habits of wisdom. Instead of my unconscious practice of sloth, impatience, greed, anger, or any of the selfish habits that come so easily to me, I consciously practice discipline, patience, kindness, love, and many of the selfless habits that are still foreign to me. I am working to become familiar with good habits.
The spiritual path is hard because we are stopping old habits that come so easily and replacing them with difficult new ones. For example, mindlessness is natural to us. It is easy to space out and be distracted. Try to look at an object without wavering for a few seconds and you will see your talents for distraction. This is a bad habit, formulated over countless repetitions, and is a central unconscious practice on the worldly path. It is no longer even a practice, but a constant performance. We have accomplished mindlessness.
Science speaks about phase transformations, or punctuated equilibrium. A common example is a manner in which water comes to a boil. Put a pot of water on the stove, turn on the heat, and wait. Depending on the intensity of the heat and the temperature and volume of the water, it will boil slowly or quickly, but either way, there is a period when nothing seems to be happening. All the energy is going into the water with no obvious result. The phase transformation from water into steam takes time.