– by His Grace Chaitanya Charan Das
Five reasons to share the story of how you came to Krishna
“How did you come to Krishna consciousness?” This is one of the most stimulating questions in devotee-circles. The feature “How I came (HIC)” in Back to Godhead, ISKCON’s official magazine, is one of its most popular features. Being one of the editors for BTG, I strive and pray to make BTG more attractive. So I look forward especially to HIC stories among the articles submitted to us for review.
What makes HIC stories tick? I don’t know of any precise answer. But after having heard or read hundreds of such stories, I have thought of five points centered on the acronym SHARE. Through these points, I hope to encourage you to share your story:
S – Special
H – Heart-to-heart
A – Attractive
R – Reminding
E – Experiential
S – Special
Your story is special. No one else’s story will be exactly like yours simply because no one else is exactly like you. No one else can share your story. If you don’t share it, it will be lost forever.
Lest you feel apprehensive about sharing your story, feeling that it may be self-glorificatory, it’s important to remember that the story is not just about you. It is about the evolution of your relationship with Krishna, who is the most special person in all of creation. And this evolution reveals Krishna’s endearing expertise – how he acts in wonderful ways to draw his lost children back to him.
Many devotees, when asked about their story, downplay it by saying something like, “It was nothing special. I got a book and became a devotee.” But a few gently probing questions can reveal the treasure hidden under the nothing-special cover. For example, What attracted you? What convinced you? What transformed you.
Sometimes the external events about how you came to Krishna may not be distinctive. Yet the level of cultural commitment, personal purification and intellectual reorientation that Krishna consciousness inspires is extraordinary. Contemplating how your emotions and conceptions changed can be intriguing.
Your story is, like you, unique. Your unique narrative can be your gift to everyone else – both existing devotees and potential devotees. It will help existing devotees appreciate the treasure of Krishna consciousness from a new angle. And it will help potential devotees see that treasure illumined by the testimony of your experience.
H – Heart-to-heart
Asking other devotees their stories is one of the best icebreakers. It can take a conversation among newly acquainted devotees from formal socialization to heart-to-heart discussion. It helps us see each other deeply, beyond the externals to the essence – as wandering souls who have fortunately found the path back home to Krishna.
The classic example of an intimate conversation centered on a HIC story is found right at the start of Srimad Bhagavatam. In chapters four to six of its first canto, the great sage Narada Muni solaces and guides his learned disciple Vyasadeva. Woven in that exposition of pure devotional service is Narada Muni’s own multi-life story: his transition from being the undistinguished five-year old son of a maidservant to becoming a universally celebrated, ageless spiritual seer. Narada Muni uses his story to demonstrate how the path of bhakti-yoga can elevate anyone from any background. His story also illustrates how the unseen hand of the Supersoul guides everyone, especially sincere spiritual seekers. Narada in his previous life became an orphan when his mother succumbed to snakebite. But the Lord within guided him to the sanctuary of a forest for meditation, blessed him with a brief divine revelation, and reassured him of an enduring future tryst once he completed the course of purification.
Our stories may not have such miraculous visions, yet they do involve the mysterious guiding hand of Krishna. The thousands of devotees that are a part of the Krishna consciousness movement come from different countries, creeds, colors, castes and cultures. Their diverse backgrounds highlight the universal appeal of Krishna consciousness – the profundity of its philosophy, the beauty of its culture and ultimately the sublimity of its bliss. Over and above such specific features that may have attracted different devotees is a generic truth: it is Krishna who has attracted them through these features. Whenever I hear an exciting story of how someone in some part of the world came to Krishna, one of my favorite verses from the Bhagavad-gita (18.61) springs to mind: “The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.”
I have had the fortune of meeting many inspiring devotees during my fifteen years in the devotee-community. Among these meetings, those in which we shared HIC stories candidly have been the most memorable.
Heart-to-heart discussions can take place on various topics, but what makes discussions centered on HIC stories distinctive is that they deepen our bond with our heart’s eternal companion – Krishna. And they bond us through him to each other. The bonds of affection that go to Krishna and through Krishna to others are the most enriching and fulfilling.
A – Attractive
People like to read about people far more than about philosophy. Abstract principles become concrete and come alive when explained through stories. That’s why expert teachers, whatever their subjects, have always told stories that illustrate their teachings. Buddha told the Jataka tales; Jesus told his parables; and Vedic sages retold the teachings of the Upanishads through the Puranas and the Itihasas.
In the Vedic canon, the Upanishads have great authority, but they have never been able to compete with the Puranas and Itihasas in terms of popularity and efficacy. No doubt, all scriptures being revealed texts have divine potency. But people need to access those texts to benefit from that potency, just as sick people need to take a potent medicine to be benefitted by its potency.
The scriptures offer us the healing wisdom that cures our diseased desires – desires that are directed away from Krishna instead of towards Krishna. This misdirection of our desires is the root of all our problems. Battling with these problems consumes most of our energy, indeed our whole life. Lifetime after lifetime. When we use scriptural wisdom to redirect our desires, we discover the way to lasting inner fulfillment and meaningful outer achievement. Such achievement brings glory to Krishna, does justice to our God-given abilities and enables us to serve others holistically. All these blessings can’t reach those who don’t access scriptural wisdom.
To increase the reach and appeal of scriptural wisdom, teachers present that wisdom in the form of stories. No doubt, scriptural stories of the Lord and his intimate devotees are in a different league from our stories. But still the underlying principle holds true for both – concepts in action are far more appealing than concepts in abstraction.
This analysis isn’t meant to minimize the importance of the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. Without the philosophy as explained by Srila Prabhupada in his empowered books, people won’t even understand the difference between the sick state and the healthy state, leave alone understanding that they themselves are sick. HIC stories center on that same philosophy and convey the same essential message. But they also vivify the message, thereby expanding and enriching its attractiveness.
In fact, so great is the human hunger for stories that catering to it comprises a booming industry – the fiction literature industry. This giant genre of literature has hardly been touched by our outreach efforts. Nearly all our books fall in the non-fiction genre. Christian fiction is a huge sub-genre with several books regularly finding their way to best-seller lists. A few enterprising devotee-authors have written devotional fiction that incorporates the themes of Krishna consciousness, but that doesn’t even begin to tap the potential.
To better tap the potential, all of us can do our small part in catering to the universal hunger for stories by sharing our HIC story. Of course, our stories may not be fiction, but they may well be better than fiction. Many HIC stories demonstrate the saying “facts are stranger than fiction.” Even if your story isn’t all that exciting, still being a story, it will be much more appealing than a discourse. Many people who would refuse to hear a philosophical discourse would be open to hearing a personal story.
R – Reminding
When we find our way to Krishna, our initial days, with their many dramatic outer and inner transformations, are exciting. But over the years we may get so caught in life’s daily struggles that we forget the huge difference Krishna has made in our life. Such forgetfulness can make us neglect the supreme blessing of Krishna consciousness.
To help us remember how Krishna has blessed us, here are a few introspection-inducing questions.
1. What was my life like before Krishna entered into it?
What were my conceptions and beliefs? What was my culture and lifestyle?
2. What made me feel the need for Krishna?
When and how did I start feeling that something was missing in my life? How did I try to fill that void before I came to Krishna?
3. How did I commit my life to Krishna?
How did I encounter Krishna through his devotees for the first time? What was my first impression? How did that impression evolve with future encounters? What eventually convinced me? What were the defining moments in my spiritual transformation from apprehension to conviction, from vacillation to dedication, from dissipation to purification?
4. What difference has Krishna made in my life?
How did Krishna consciousness make me a better person? How did it bring vision and add value to my life? How did it empower me to encounter and counter my lower side? How did it help me to face problems better?
I wrote my HIC story after much hesitation and trepidation (It’s here: An intellect discovers it perfection). All the standard objections stonewalled me – “There’s nothing special about it. Why are you doing self-promotion? What good is going to come out of it?” But eventually the wall broke due to the insistent requests of several devotee-friends who argued: “You are a regular writer. Readers will want to know more about the person who is sharing Krishna’s message with them. Knowing the messenger better will increase their appreciation of the message and their attraction to the source of the message, Krishna.”
I don’t know if my HIC helped my readers, but it definitely helped me. Writing my HIC helped me look back at my life-journey and see how Krishna, through his various manifestations, has been there at all the critical turns, not just showing the way or helping along the way but even taking me along the way. Few things are as faith-boosting, hope-generating and joy-bestowing as gaining such a devotional vision of our life-journey.
E – Experiential
An honest real-life story bypasses the intellectual defenses of people and places the case in the court of the heart with the evidence of personal experience on full display. You may or may not be an authority on scripture, but you are the authority on your life. And the testimony of personal experience has its own inimitable, irreducible, irreplaceable force.
Skeptics often deride religion as a big business and dismiss religious teachers as professional marketers. So they dissect even the best presentations of the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, finding some fault somewhere so as to preserve and propagate their disbelief.
Within their cynical view, your personal story has a credibility that the best talks of spiritual teachers can’t have. In their lingo, you are a satisfied customer. They believe that your satisfaction is a delusion, but still they want to understand your delusion, to comprehend why it makes you feel satisfied. Your story, if effectively explained, may well help them discover the real delusion – not your warranted satisfaction but their unwarranted suspicion.
In fact, the experience-based approach for outreach is critical amidst the contemporary intellectual ethos, which is known as post-modernism. In modern times (which are now considered outdated by many thinkers), people had faith in reason and science, which were seen as reliable means to certain knowledge. In pre-modern times, people had faith in revelation and scripture. But that faith was assaulted by science, whose worldview seemed to be superior to that of the world’s scriptures. However, science didn’t reign on the human intellect for long; it was found to be not as objective as was initially touted. Historians of science showed that scientific theories have deep-rooted biases – they are usually formulated, popularized and accepted based largely on the cultural conceptions and intellectual inclinations.
Due to this historical erosion of the authority of both scripture and science, people in today’s post-modern times have faith in neither; they view with deep suspicion any source of knowledge that claims to be absolute. They base their lives largely on experience, and consider as authentic those teachers who speak based on experience, not dogma. Many teachers of impersonalism have popularized their philosophy by presenting it through their memoirs, but not many bhakti teachers have tapped this avenue.
This is unfortunate because the post-modern fascination with experiential spirituality opens a great opportunity for us to share Krishna consciousness. After all, because bhakti-yoga is eminently experiential – it gives direct perception of the self by realization, as the Bhagavad-gita (9.2: pratyakshavagamam) asserts. Acknowledging this experiential potency of bhakti, Sanatana Goswami enthrones experience as the highest of all pramanas, ways of acquiring knowledge. Your story, with your unique experiences, may well present the very kind of evidence that many people will find persuasive.
Do share the story of how Krishna changed your life. Krishna can act in inconceivable ways. As He has changed your life, so He can use your story to change others’ lives.