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  • Writer's pictureJitendra Savanur

Where Participation is Victory

(This article was inspired by conversations with my mentor, HG Mukundanand Das)

A passionate athlete that I was during my school days, I vividly remember throwing into trash the participation certificates obtained from sports competitions. The philosophy was simple. If you do not win, it is of no use. And why not? In a world that lionizes only the successful, there is ought to be fierce competition in any field you choose. Be it sports, academics, business, or jobs, unless one reaches the summit of what one might be doing, the world does not really recognize us. The yearning for being recognized is not wrong in and of itself, yet the nature of the world is such that if one team wins, several others have to lose.

Competition in the Post Modern Era

The world today comprises of a very high degree  of competitive spirit, some times alarmingly high. Be it getting that dream job, that dream university/college, that top grade among peers, or for that matter, even getting a good school for primary and secondary education, competition has reached a level where instead of fostering productivity, it has ended up filling everyone with a high sense of insecurity and fear of failure. As an example, the fear of being a part of annual culls at many MNCs makes competition more cut throat and results in increased stress in the individual. Survival becomes a struggle and peace becomes a rare privilege. Thus, the race never ends. The nature of the race we are running might change with time, but we are still running a race after all.

The Vedic Perspective on Competition

The wisdom traditions of India are known for their higher perspective on various aspects of life. The sages of bygone ages have repeatedly emphasized the fact that winning a race in the material world is not the real victory. Because the way this world is designed, as soon as one race ends, another one begins. And with that continues the apparently endless process of crossing the hurdles or enjoying the smooths roads. The scriptures of India recommend the cessation of these races once and for all. The Bhagavatam (1.5.18) states: tasyaiva hetoḥ prayateta kovido. Just as happiness comes uninvited, so will misery. So instead of letting ourselves be tossed about by the waves of happiness and distress, the Bhagavatam raises our focus to that goal which is the most difficult to obtain. That goal is the perfection of life, to find the answers to who we really are and act in our nature accordingly. In fact, Prahlad, the devotee son of the demon Hiranyakashipu gives the best peace formula in simple but wisdom-filled words, ‘If you want happiness, stop chasing after it.’

The philosophy sounds good. And being convinced about higher truths of life, one somehow ends up into the association of devotees. However, even within the realm of spirituality, we find competition. We find that there are apparent races, to distribute as much spiritual literature as possible, to be able to present the philosophy in a convincing manner, to do herculean services for Krishna and so on. And often, when we are unable to do as much as or more than someone else, we might be overcome by an inferiority complex, which is similar to what we would face post losing a race in the material world. One might wonder if there is any difference between the struggle back in the material world and the struggle within the spiritual circles. While struggle exists at both places, the struggle in Krishna Consciousness is very different in nature. This difference comes due to the intent of the devotional practitioner, which is to please the Supreme Lord and His devotees.

Therefore, it may apparently seem that quantity of our devotional service is a metric that God observes. However, more important than the quantity is intent. This is not to undermine the importance of quantity. But the principle is that if there is quality, quantity comes as a by product, to the best of the practitioner’s abilities. And what is the finish line in this apparent spiritual race? It is the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. When Sri Krishna is pleased by our sincere efforts, he showers His grace upon us by giving us glimpses of spiritual ecstasy and when the service matures, we experience the unending bliss of serving Krishna. We all know the story of Sri Rama correcting Hanumanji when he apparently undermined the service rendered by the tiny squirrel. Although in terms of quantity, the squirrel was far behind in the race, but because his intent was pure, and his motive to assist Sri Rama in His mission, Rama was pleased by his service. Thus, if we have the right spirit, the struggle in Krishna Consciousness becomes a pathway to be sheltered in Krishna in a more intense manner, rather than making us fearful of failure.

The beauty of the spiritual path is that we just have to consistently endure to chant God’s Names and serve with a humble demeanor. With such a sublime attitude of life, anyone and everyone can reach the finish line in Krishna Consciousness, i.e. the perfection of human life. Thus, unlike in the material world, where if one wins, the others have to lose, the spiritual path is meant for everyone’s victory, even beyond the barriers of ability or skill. Thus, Krishna Consciousness is that race where if we just keep running, anyone who reaches the finish line, whenever in the timeline of the race of birth and death, is a winner. And guess what, there are no annual layoffs on the path of Krishna Consciousness!

A Race where you are not Alone

Being conditioned to the fact winning is the ultimate fulfilment, this was a significant paradigm shift for me. Whatever our shortcomings, whatever our frailties, if we keep endeavoring sincerely, we are winners in Krishna Consciousness. And this race is not something we have to run on our own. We have the holy scriptures and the saintly individuals who live those holy scriptures, to guide us on our run. The following verse vividly describes the indispensable role that our spiritual master and the scriptures play in our deliverance.

nṛ-deham ādyaṁ su-labhaṁ su-durlabhaṁ  plavaṁ su-kalpaṁ guru-karṇadhāram mayānukūlena nabhasvateritaṁ  pumān bhavābdhiṁ na taret sa ātma-hā

“The human body, which can award all benefit in life, is automatically obtained by the laws of nature, although it is a very rare achievement. This human body can be compared to a perfectly constructed boat having the spiritual master as the captain and the instructions of the Personality of Godhead as favorable winds impelling it on its course. Considering all these advantages, a human being who does not utilize his human life to cross the ocean of material existence must be considered the killer of his own soul (Bhagavatam 11.20.17)” So let us participate with enthusiasm in this mission of Lord Chaitanya, which will steadily but surely take us to life’s ultimate victory.

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