Desire for Recognition is a Beautiful Witch
As a devotee, no matter what stage of life you're at, self-analysis is always needed so that you can grow in your practice. Even though I do this every day by setting myself self-improvement guidelines, sometimes Shriji himself teaches me directly.
It takes a lot of courage to be a guru. I can recall a time just before I started preaching, when many good gurus used to tell me confidentially, “The day you become a guru, you start to fall in your spiritual life and you forget the right purpose of this path and preaching.” For some reason, I never believed them; I felt they were not telling me the truth. I mean, it was hard to digest that a guru, a role model who was being worshipped everywhere, was telling me that in secret he was falling down. After some time, my guru appointed me as a guru. I gave my first initiation when I was only sixteen. At 35 I am technically still quite young in this field, but to date I shoulder 19 years of good and bad experiences.
Sometimes I spend time in Radhakund, meditating, to give my spiritual life a boost. Recently on one of those evenings I bumped into Madangopal Baba (Mahanidhi Swami) on the bank of Radhakund. This was the first chance we got to discuss Gaudiya tattva and Bhagwatam verses, though we had already met a few times before.
While talking about the ego, he made a point which struck a chord with me. He said, “Goswamiji, ego is very bad. Even when two people are sick, they try to boast about their illness in such a way that they want to be recognised as the most ill person just to feed their ego. Oh I’m sick. Oh no no no, I'm more ill than you”, and he laughed. His observation has stayed in my mind ever since.
Baba’s take on our ego reminded me of a time in my life when this applied to me. Though I was essentially cured from a serious illness in 2012, I am still carrying the after-effects of that illness. It has somehow made me like an old man. Whenever anyone used to talk to me about illness, I used to boast about my illness too in order to gain sympathy.
To be a good devotee you impose some rules on yourself. But these rules change from time to time because you learn more from mahatmas. So I meditated on Baba’s words to bring a change in myself for the better.
In the end, it is Radharaman ji who is the doer, and he creates a chain of events that evolve our rules, so that we can become better devotees. Baba was the first event and the next one was a sudden strong desire to study Manah Shiksha by Shri Raghunath Das Goswami. As I was learning about how to instruct my mind, it focused on verse seven:
"How can love for Krishn enter my heart when the beautiful witch named pratishtha (desire for recognition) is always dancing there? I must serve Shri Krishn’s dear ones, the great devotees! Only they can chase that nasty woman out, so that love can come in."
This verse started to remind me of the words of those gurus who used to tell me how difficult it is to become a spiritual guide. It made me realise that the desire for recognition is the root of all problems. Narottam Das Thakur says that ego and everything else can be diverted towards Krishn’s service:
“I am unable to control my senses and my enemies live inside my own body. Although I keep hearing about the right path, my stubborn ears refuse to listen and my heart refuses to understand. These enemies - lust, anger, delusion, pride and envy – I will make them serve Shri Krishn. Then my heart will be filled with bliss, the enemies will be defeated, and I shall easily worship him. Kaam (lust or desire) shall serve Krishn, and anger will work against the enemies of the devotees. Greed will be for sadhu sang and Hari katha. Delusion will be there only in my Beloved’s separation, and with pride I shall sing Shri Krishn’s glories.” ( Prem Bhakti Chandrika 8-10)
But Ragunath Das Goswami says that this desire for recognition is the mother of all problems. I started to remember some examples from my own experiences. I will share them here.
There was a guru from Vrindavan who used to send his servant to buy a 10-rupee rose garland so that he could wear it around his neck before stepping out of his room. He wanted to show everyone that he was an important guru. Some other gurus often recite a string of Sanskrit verses whilst giving katha, in order to impress people with their knowledge. I myself used to get upset when my introduction was not given in the proper way. And I have often seen how people donate money to temples and organisations in order to get some recognition in return.
Sometimes even your own disciples want recognition and they try to persuade you to appreciate them. I recall once I was confronted by one of my disciples because I was not praising her the way she wanted me to. She said, “Gurudev, I know you don't like me, because you are always correcting me. You are never happy with my service.” And there’s me thinking, “If you were that bad, I wouldn't have allowed you to serve me at all. I'm correcting you because I feel you can do better.” I didn't say anything at that moment, because when a desire is not fulfilled, people tend to become either sad or angry. And in her, I could see both of those emotions.
In my mind, I started going through all the instances where we desperately seek recognition. We want to be recognised for wearing something new, and after getting a haircut, we want compliments. Even after cooking a meal for someone we expect a few words of appreciation. When we are singing, we want appreciation. If we are wearing perfume, we want to hear a compliment. In India, there is a craze for taking selfies. Devotees take selfies and upload them on social media so they can get so many likes and comments. Some devotees go all out and tag as many people as possible, whether they want to be tagged or not, just so their posts can get more likes. I even started noticing that some devotees take their guru’s name, so they themselves can get respect and recognition. And if we are dressing our Thakurji, we want appreciation for that too, when we should be doing it for his pleasure alone. It is a never-ending list.
Usually after becoming a guru, your preaching makes you spend more time with your disciples, and at some point on the path, you don’t get time for sadhu sang and instead you become an object of worship. I have seen how many gurus learn something from other gurus, but when they teach their devotees, they boast that the knowledge came from them. This happens because they too want recognition. This desire leads to less sadhu sang for that guru, because he focuses most of his efforts towards gaining recognition, and he starts to slip. He may even start to glorify his disciples and the people who are helping him to become a guru, which can lead to his downfall.
This series of incidents was a real eye-opener for me. Our spiritual life is meant to nourish our bhakti, but it can turn in such a way that we end up nurturing our desire for recognition instead. I pray to Shriji that he continues to bring changes in our lives by teaching us the lessons we need, but which we may miss due to our busy lives.