It has taken me many years to understand why devotees sometimes experience the feeling of ‘being used’ or even ‘exploited’. Initially, my reaction to such complaints was that this is nonsense, or simply maya. As we are serving Krishna and He always accepts our service, we therefore get so much spiritual benefit. However, only recently it dawned upon me that there are more subtle aspects to it. Of course, in the ultimate sense there is no exploitation, because Krishna accepts our service, but in our neophyte stage we may not have the necessary vision and faith to directly take shelter of Krishna, and thus we need more tangible shelter-giving relationships in our life.
We can indeed easily feel used or exploited if there is not at least one person in our life who has absolutely no other interest except helping us in our spiritual growth and development. Sometimes, within management, the vision of seeing a person’s spiritual needs may get lost, and devotees can be viewed merely in terms of manpower to cover services, or as a source of donations and income.
When a devotee joins our community the seniors may think: “Here is a pujari - just what we need!” In this way a devotee can become like ‘roster-fodder’ - simply filling the gaps in the service rosters. They are not viewed as individual devotees who want to cultivate pure bhakti. And it is this vision and attitude which can make us feel used. We don’t feel cared for and valued as individual spirit souls with spiritual needs, endeavoring on our path home, back to Godhead. We may feel like ‘hired hands’, and as a result we may not stay for very long in one project, but go elsewhere, trying to find a community where devotees genuinely care.
Many of Srila Prabhupada’s letters end with the request: “Now please take care of him very nicely.” A good example is the letter to Aniruddha Dasa in 1969:
“I have sent back the beads for Girish by separate mail, after duly chanting upon them. I am very glad to learn that he is completing daily his rounds at any cost. It is an example even for the elderly students. Please encourage this nice boy. He is given under your protection so take care of him very nicely. Just produce one nice Krishna conscious youth. It will be a great service to Krishna and recognition of your nice service.”
In the present days of ISKCON, to only have a diksha guru is not enough. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to live in our guru’s ashram and be personally trained by him. We may only see him once or twice a year and may not even have an opportunity to meet with him personally. Many of our diksha gurus have thousands of disciples. It is obviously not possible for him to know all the details of each and every disciple’s personal situation, and give guidance regarding his personal life. Just like in a family with ten children, it is most natural that the older children help to take care of the younger ones - the parents cannot give the same attention and affection to each and every child. So much more so in a family with thousands of children! Therefore it is very important to have such sheltering relationships on a more daily level - someone who can help us to assess ourselves in a well-wishing way.
On the 18th of April I moved on to my next destination...
Your servant, Devaki dd