Faith is seen through both firmness in intention and flexibility in execution
During a pandemic, if temples are closed to avoid infection, does that indicate a lack of faith among the devoted?
Not necessarily. The essence of faithful devotion is rendering service to God. Service needs to be done in a way that is pleasing and productive, not unproductive or worse still counterproductive.
If certain situations make certain forms of expressing devotion dangerous or impossible, then devotion is multi-faceted enough to be expressible in other ways. Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita urges us to be determined in serving Krishna (09.14) and cautions us against acting in ways that agitate people so much as to alienate them (03.26). This implies that faith has two aspects: firmness in intention and flexibility in execution.
To understand how to integrate these two principles, consider how Lord Chaitanya engaged his associates in the sixteenth century. At that time, as Bengal was ruled by an iconoclastic Muslim fanatic, Lord Chaitanya encouraged his Bengali followers to practice bhakti by chanting the holy names, without striving to build any big temples. Simultaneously, as Delhi at that time was under a relatively tolerant Mughal ruler, Lord Chaitanya asked his followers in Vrindavan to build temples there. Thus, he guided his followers to be firm in their intention to practice bhakti and be flexible about how to practice bhakti.
In today’s world amid a pandemic, we can apply the same dynamic: we can show our faith by being firm in our devotional intention — just because things get tough, we don’t give up our devotional practices. And we can use our intelligence to express our faith appropriately — by, for example, congregating digitally instead of physically.
When we thus let Gita wisdom reveal how faith is not stereotypical or frozen to certain forms alone, then we can discover how faithful devotion can be practiced in all situations.
Think it over:
- What is the essence of faithful devotion? Through what two things can this essence be expressed?
- Illustrate these two aspects of devotion through a historical example.
- How can these two aspects of devotion be applied in today’s context?
09.14: Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.
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