Cultivate a tender heart, but cover it with a thick skin

The process of bhakti is meant to purify and soften our heart, to make it receptive to relish the subtle and sweet love of Krishna. Such tender-heartedness is a great virtue on the spiritual path, but it can also make us more vulnerable in the material world.

The very nature of this world is that, whatever we do, we will be criticized, sooner or later. And especially if we practice spiritual life, we will be criticized. Criticized by materialists and by other spiritualists whose conception of spirituality differs from ours. The more tender our heart, the more their critical words will hurt us.

That’s why we need to cover our tender heart with a thick skin. Being thick-skinned refers to the capacity to tolerate verbal lashes. The usage stems from times when physical lashes were used to punish, and those with thick skin would feel less pain. The Bhagavad-gita (12.19) indicates that those who stay equipoised amidst criticism and praise are enriched with devotion – they endear themselves to Krishna.

How can we thicken our skin? By taking inspiration from great saints. During their times, they were often subjected to verbal torture and sometimes even physical torture. Only because they weathered those lashes with their thick skin could they leave for us legacies of devotional compositions and contributions. Without fancying ourselves as saints in the making, we can take inspiration from them and turn our heart from the world to Krishna. The less we get our sense of self-worth vindicated by worldly praise, the less that sense will be threatened by worldly criticism.

By determined bhakti-yoga practice, we can get our sense of self-worth by meditating on and relishing Krishna’s love for us. Thus, we can cultivate the spiritually empowering combination of a tender heart and a thick skin.

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