By Mahatma Dasa
We simultaneously live in three worlds: physical, emotional, and spiritual. New devotees often neglect their physical and emotional needs in the name of transcendence. This doesn’t last, because we cannot sustain high levels of detachment and renunciation until we become more advanced. Most of my Godbrothers and sisters will admit that in the name of sādhanaand service we often would ignore or deny our physical and emotional needs. But we paid a price for this as we grew older.
Many devotees misunderstand the importance of psychology. Psychology deals with understanding the workings of the mind, and controlling the mind is, of course, essential for both spiritual and material progress. As we learn from śāstra, the mind has three functions: thinking, feeling, and willing. If we better understand our minds, we’ll begin to recognize the beliefs, emotions, and past conditioning that control our actions. In other words, we’ll understand why we do what we do.
Beliefs and habits are called saṁskāras (impressions), the programs, sometimes unconscious, behind our thoughts and actions. Prabhupada uses the word conditioning to describe this, as do psychologists. We are conditioned by our family, culture, association, and actions from past lives. Our past experiences frame our current beliefs. Our thoughts and actions are thus conditioned by past experiences. Dealing with our conditioning (understanding the ways it is affecting us, as well as reprogramming or recreating better saṁskāras where required) is a major part of what it means to understand and deal with the mind.
Prabhupada said: “First be conscious, then become Kṛṣṇa consciousness.” Until we fully transcend, we will need to deal effectively with our conditioning. There is more going on in our inner world than we are conscious of, and in some cases conditioning causes problems in our lives, relationships, and spiritual practices. In other words, problems we face in our spiritual lives are often not due to spiritual deficiencies or weaknesses, but are fundamentally emotional or psychological challenges.
Over the many years I have counseled devotees, I have seen again and again how mental and emotional issues can hugely impact a devotee’s devotional life, and not all psychological and emotional issues are healed entirely by the practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness alone.
Psychology, however, is sometimes stigmatized as humanistic and materialistic. Though this is true in some cases, not all psychology or psychologists fall into this category. In fact, I have been able to help devotees solve some deeply-rooted problems through my study and application of psychology and self-development (all within a devotional context). If a devotee is continuously adversely affected by past conditioning despite their good sādhana and service, then it would be unwise to overlook the possibility that underlying psychological issues could be causing the problem.
If you have problems in attitude, relationships, maintaining enthusiasm, feeling content, coping with difficulty, or with any kind of past conditioning, then instead of blaming it on a spiritual deficiency and staying stuck, try to assess if it is due to an emotional or psychological issue that needs attention and healing. If so, seek out counseling or therapy and see if this works for you.