Srila Rupa Goswami in Nectar of Instruction or Upadeshamrita Text 2 writes that there are six activities which have the potential to destroy our bhakti i.e. devotion to Krishna and atyāhāraḥ is one such activity.
अत्याहारः प्रयासश्च प्रजल्पो नियमाग्रहः ।Nectar Of Instruction 2
जनसङ्गश्च लौल्यं च षड्भिर्भक्तिर्विनश्यति ॥ २ ॥
atyāhāraḥ prayāsaś caNectar Of Instruction 2
jana-saṅgaś ca laulyaṁ ca
ṣaḍbhir bhaktir vinaśyati
One’s devotional service is spoiled when he becomes too entangled in the following six activities: (1) eating more than necessary or collecting more funds than required; (2) over-endeavoring for mundane things that are very difficult to obtain; (3) talking unnecessarily about mundane subject matters; (4) practicing the scriptural rules and regulations only for the sake of following them and not for the sake of spiritual advancement, or rejecting the rules and regulations of the scriptures and working independently or whimsically; (5) associating with worldly-minded persons who are not interested in Kṛṣṇa consciousness; and (6) being greedy for mundane achievements. Nectar Of Instruction 2 Translation
In this article we will discuss how atyāhāraḥ can destroy our spiritual life and how to give up atyāhāraḥ.
Srila Prabhupada gives two meaning to the word atyāhāraḥ
- Eating more than necessary
- Collecting more funds than required
How overeating (atyāhāraḥ) destroys our bhakti?
Overeating or Overaccumulation: If we overeat and are not regulated in our eating habits then it will spoil our devotional life. In devotional life it is important that we regulate our material senses and engage it in a systematic way in the service of Krishna. Krishna in Bhagavad Gita has underlined the importance of regulating one’s eating habit.
नात्यश्नतस्तु योगोऽस्ति न चैकान्तमनश्नत: ।Bhagavad Gita 6.16 Sanskrit Verse
न चातिस्वप्नशीलस्य जाग्रतो नैव चार्जुन ॥ १६ ॥
nāty-aśnatas tu yogo ’stiBhagavad Gita 6.16 Verse
na caikāntam anaśnataḥ
jāgrato naiva cārjuna
There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogī, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough. Bhagavad Gita 6.16
Our mind and senses control us now. So, when our mind asks us to overeat, we eat a lot. When our mind instructs us to not eat, we don’t eat. We always look for palatable food to satisfy our tongue and belly. They drive us crazy. But tongue and belly should not control us and compel us to overeat. Overeating makes us lazy, obese and become the cause of so many diseases.
Even in material life too those who want to become successful regulate their eating habits. They even give up their favourite food items if it is not good for their health. In one interview Virat Kohli, the captain of Indian Cricket Team said that if given an opportunity he would like to eat chole bhature but he has given it up because it will spoil his health.
Develop the habit of saying ‘no’ when mind asks you to overeat
During our spiritual journey too, we have to give up overeating. Initially we will face difficulty in resisting temptation of the food items we like but if we start making conscious efforts then we will succeed. For example, if we have fondness for pineapple cake and if someone brings it in front of us then it will require tremendous amount of determination to say no to it. Most of the time we end up eating and later regretting.
So, next time when mind asks us to overeat then with determination we should say no to the mind. Initially mind will rebel and put forth all logic to convince us to overeat, but we should not give in to our mind’s demand. We should develop the habit of saying no to the demands of our mind.
In one of the lectures HG Radheshyam Prabhu, President Iskcon Pune, was saying that devotees get lots of mahaprasad and throughout the day they keep on eating varieties of sweet items. Devotees think that since its mahaprasad so we should eat a lot. But Prabhuji said that it is not required. We should definitely respect mahaprasad and honour it. But we should take little amount of it and distribute rest to others.
During earlier days in Pune temple, the bhoga (food) which was offered to the deities was only available to brahmacharis. But once one brahmachari said to HG Radheshyam Prabhu that you talk about controlling the tongue but lots of mahaprasad is available in the ashram and we all are enjoying it. From that day onwards it was decided that there will be special mahaprasadam counter and it will be available to congregation devotees and to public. HH Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaj once said that devotees should learn how to remain thin from HG Radheshyam Prabhu. He is in charge of all mahaprasad of the temple but still he is thin. In one congregational program one senior congregation devotee said, “We are of the same age but we look old but Radheshyam Prabhu still looks young.”
If we seriously grow in our spiritual life, then we should control our eating habits.
Great spiritual personalities taught us regulation
Once Srila Prabhupada offered sweets to an elderly person. The elderly person expressed his inability to eat the sweets. He said that during his younger days he liked sweets a lot and so he used to eat lots of sweets. It spoiled his teeth and now he has been advised to give up sweet items. Srila Prabhupada smiled and said, “I also liked sweets a lot, but I ate it in a regulated way.” If we study the life of great acharyas we find that they have been extremely cautious about their eating habits. They never overeat. The ate simple food. Raghunath Das Goswami took only few drops of milk a day.
Regulation is the key. Scriptures do not ask us to give up eating. It asks us to give up overeating. In the first verse of Nectar of Instruction too Srila Rupa Goswami underlines the importance of controlling the urges of tongue and belly. And again, in the second verse he is highlighting the danger of overeating. So, we have to make conscious effort to give up overeating and give up the desire for eating tasty food. By this we can understand that to advance in our spiritual life, it is extremely important that we control our eating habits.
How overaccumulation (atyāhāraḥ) of funds destroy our bhakti?
Srila Prabhupada also translates atyāhāraḥ as collecting more funds than required. Here Srila Prabhupada is not saying that “collecting funds” is wrong. He is saying “collecting more funds than required” is wrong. It is because it makes us greedy. And we spend all our time and energy in earning money. No doubt money is required to take care of our life’s necessities, but we should not get obsessed with it.
In this world we fear future, we feel insecure and money apparently gives us a feeling of security. We assume that if we have bigger bank balance, we will have a better future. And so, we spend all our time and energy in earning money.
Along with that we hoard lots of things which we may not even require. Some people become shopaholic i.e. they become addicted to shopping. They buy things which they do not need in their life. Some people go for window shopping. They do not buy anything, but they look at goods which are displayed at shop windows. It’s a big wastage of time. In my personal life also, I have seen that many things we buy but we do not even use it. I have few dresses which I bought couple of years back and have not even wore it.
Material things and big bank balance gives us a false sense of security. But if we use our intelligence and look around the world, we see that money or material things does not guarantee happiness. And definitely not immortality. We see that even the wealthiest person gets depressed, take sleeping pills and unfortunately some even commit suicide.
And no matter how much we accumulate all these stuffs are going to remain here only. We are not going to take it with us during our final journey.
Despite all the wealth Alexander failed to save himself from death
There is a story of Alexander the Great. He was on his death bed. Some say he was suffering from malaria and he got malaria during his quest to India. At that time there was no cure for malaria. He was desperate to save his life. He thought may be the doctors are treating him half – heartedly so he is not getting cured. Let me speak to the doctors. Let me offer some attractive proposals to them, it will motivate them to put maximum efforts in his treatment.
He called the doctors and told them, “If you all cure me of this disease, I will give you 25% of my wealth.” The assembled doctors who were experts and had come from far of places said, “We are trying our best but as of now there is no cure for your disease, so we are helpless.” Alexander thought may be 25% is not enough. He increased his offer, “I will give you 50% of my wealth.” The doctors again said we are trying our best. Alexander then helplessly said, “I will give you 75% of my wealth.” The doctors finally said, “Even if you give us 100% of your wealth and your entire kingdom, still we won’t be able to save you.”
Alexander understood he cannot bribe the agents of death by his wealth. And at the time of death all his wealth will remain here only. He won’t be allowed to carry even a penny.
Alexander’s death teaches us an invaluable lesson
So, it is said that he had ordered his minsters that during his funeral procession his hand should be kept out of the coffin so that people could see that the conqueror of the world who had unlimited wealth is leaving this world with an empty hand. He also said that his many beautiful queens and mighty soldiers should be there in his death procession. Alexander wanted to send a message that although he had many beautiful wives and worldly conquering soldiers, but none were able to save him. He died all alone, none of them accompanied him. These stories should be an eye opener. It teaches us an invaluable lesson.
So, instead of focussing on temporary we should focus on permanence. We should not get obsessed with money and with worldly pleasures. These temporary things are not going to be with us forever.
Instead, we should focus on things which are eternal. The allurements of this world will distract us but if we should not deviate from our eternal goal. Our ultimate goal is to attain Krishna and whatever activities we do in our life should be dovetailed in such a way that it takes us towards Krishna.
Offering results of our work to Krishna frees us from material bondage
Anything in this world we do it should be an offering to Krishna. This is what Krishna asks us to do.
यत्करोषि यदश्नासि यज्जुहोषि ददासि यत् ।Bhagavad Gita 9.27 Sanskrit Verse
यत्तपस्यसि कौन्तेय तत्कुरुष्व मदर्पणम् ॥ २७ ॥
yat karoṣi yad aśnāsiBhagavad Gita 9.27 Verse
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me. Bhagavad Gita 9.27
If we work hard to gratify our senses, we suffer but if we act to satisfy Krishna, we experience satisfaction. If our activities are as per the guidelines of the scriptures and if we offer the results of our actions to Krishna, we will attain Krishna. Such work frees us from all material bondage and opens the door to kingdom of God.
By giving up atyāhāraḥ we free ourselves from material entanglement
To attain Krishna, it is important we spend sufficient time in practicing devotion to him. We should chant minimum 16 rounds of Hare Krishna Mahamantra daily, follow four regulative principles, worship Krishna in his deity form, read books like Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, hear lectures of Srila Prabhupada and other senior devotees who inspire us.
These spiritual activities remove ignorance from our life which is the root cause of all our miseries. Because of ignorance we consider this world as a permanent place to live. We consider relationship of this world as permanent and get too attached to people of this world. All these causes immense suffering. But once we start practicing Krishna consciousness, we get enlightened. We understand our true self.
We understand, “I am a soul currently entrapped in this material body. I am part and parcel of Krishna. I have eternal relationship with Krishna. The purpose of my life should be to reunite with Krishna in the spiritual world. And for that I need to sincerely and seriously practice devotion to Krishna.” With this intelligence if we start working in this world then our life will be successful.
So, it is important that we should not get carried away by our material desires. Instead, we should live as per the rules and regulations of the scriptures. Great spiritual personalities advent in this world time and again to teach us how to purify our life.
In Nectar of Instruction or Upadeshamrita Text 2 Srila Rupa Goswami is asking us to give up atyāhāraḥ because it will take us away from Krishna and destroy bhakti. But if we give up atyāhāraḥ and lead a simple life, we will not get entangled in this world. We will also have sufficient time to practice devotion to Krishna and perfect our life.