Temptations will come, we don’t have to welcome
Seekers sometimes ask, “I am practicing bhakti-yoga seriously, yet I feel tempted by worldly desires. Why is bhakti not working?”
Bhakti is definitely working. The problem is not with bhakti, but with our expectation from it. While intense spiritual practice does indeed eradicate temptations, such eradication often takes time. Why? Because firstly, some worldly impressions may be deep-rooted due to our prolonged past indulgences in those temptations. Secondly, we live in a culture that often exposes us, even against our will, to temptations, thereby re-triggering them. Thirdly, just being in an embodied state usually entails a certain level of bodily interactions and concomitant temptations. So, our expectation that temptations should entirely disappear is often unrealistic.
The realistic spiritual expectation is not the eradication of temptations, but a transformation in our attitude towards them.
Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (05.23) asks us to tolerate temptations lifelong. This injunction points to a realistic spiritual expectation – not the eradication of temptations, but a transformation in our attitude towards them. In the past, we often welcomed temptations, viewing them as gateways to pleasure. But serious scriptural study convinces us that worldly indulgences are gateways to not pleasure, but misery (05.22). Further, steady bhakti practice gives us experience of higher spiritual happiness and exposes the hollowness of worldly pleasures. With this conviction and realization, we no longer look forward to temptations. Instead, we look forward to relishing Krishna’s glories: his beautiful Deities, his absorbing kirtans, his charming pastimes – essentially, his sweet remembrance. If we thus cultivate devotional anticipation, we can resist temptations whenever they come.
However, if we let the presence of temptations make us doubt bhakti’s potency, then we slacken our devotional connection with Krishna. Such laxity deprives us of higher wisdom and taste, and makes us more vulnerable to temptations. That’s why we need to follow the Gita’s direction (05.23) to tolerate temptation and stay spiritually connected (yuktah), thereby becoming firmly situated in spiritual happiness (sukhi).
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