The Fate of the Unsuccessful Yogī
kāṁ gatiṁ kṛṣṇa gacchati
“What is the destination of the man of faith who does not persevere, who in the beginning takes to the process of self-realization but who later desists due to worldly-mindedness and thus does not attain perfection in mysticism?” (Bg. 6.37) In other words, he is asking what becomes of the unsuccessful yogī, or the person who attempts to perform yoga but somehow desists and does not succeed. It is something like a student who does not get his degree because he drops out of school. Elsewhere in the Gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa points out to Arjuna that out of many men, few strive for perfection, and out of those who strive for perfection, only a few succeed. So Arjuna is inquiring after the vast number of failures. Even if a man has faith and strives for perfection in the yoga system, Arjuna points out that he may not attain this perfection due to “worldly-mindedness.”
chinnābhram iva naśyati
vimūḍho brahmaṇaḥ pathi
“O mighty-armed Kṛṣṇa,” Arjuna continues, “does not such a man, being deviated from the path of Transcendence, perish like a riven cloud, with no position in any sphere?” (Bg. 6.38) When a cloud is torn apart by the wind, it does not mend back together again.
chettum arhasy aśeṣataḥ
chettā na hy upapadyate
“This is my doubt, O Kṛṣṇa, and I ask You to dispel it completely. But for Yourself, no one is to be found who can destroy this doubt.” (Bg. 6.39) Arjuna is asking this question about the fate of the unsuccessful yogī so that in the future people would not be discouraged. By a yogī, Arjuna is referring to the haṭha-yogī, jñāna-yogī and bhakti-yogī; it is not that meditation is the only form of yoga. The meditator, the philosopher and the devotee are all to be considered yogīs. Arjuna is questioning for all those who are attempting to become successful transcendentalists. And how does Śrī Kṛṣṇa answer him?
pārtha naiveha nāmutra
vināśas tasya vidyate
na hi kalyāṇa-kṛt kaścid
durgatiṁ tāta gacchati
Here, as in many other places throughout the Gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa is referred to as Bhagavān. This is another of the Lord’s innumerable names. Bhagavān indicates that Kṛṣṇa is the proprietor of six opulences: He possesses all beauty, all wealth, all power, all fame, all knowledge and all renunciation. Living entities partake of these opulences in finite degrees. One may be famous in a family, in a town, in a country or on one planet, but no one is famous throughout the creation, as is Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The leaders of the world may be famous for a few years only, but Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa appeared five thousand years ago and is still being worshiped. So one who possesses all six of these opulences in completeness is considered to be God. In Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa speaks to Arjuna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and as such it is to be understood that He has complete knowledge. Bhagavad-gītā was imparted to the sun-god and to Arjuna by Kṛṣṇa, but nowhere is it mentioned that Bhagavad-gītā was imparted to Kṛṣṇa. Why? Complete knowledge means that He knows everything that is to be known. This is an attribute of God alone. Being that Kṛṣṇa knows everything, Arjuna is putting this question to Him about the fate of the unsuccessful yogī. There is no possibility for Arjuna to research the truth. He simply has to receive the truth from the complete source, and this is the system of disciplic succession. Kṛṣṇa is complete, and the knowledge that comes from Kṛṣṇa is also complete. If Arjuna receives this complete knowledge and we receive it from Arjuna as it was spoken to him, then we also receive complete knowledge. And what is this knowledge? “The Blessed Lord said: Son of Pṛthā, a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities does not meet with destruction either in this world or in the spiritual world; one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil.” (Bg. 6.40) Here Kṛṣṇa indicates that the very striving for yoga perfection is a most auspicious attempt. When one attempts something so auspicious, he is never degraded.
Actually Arjuna is asking a very appropriate and intelligent question. It is not unusual for one to fall down from the platform of devotional service. Sometimes a neophyte devotee does not keep the rules and regulations. Sometimes he yields to intoxication or is trapped by some feminine attractions. These are impediments on the path of yoga perfection. But Śrī Kṛṣṇa gives an encouraging answer, for He tells Arjuna that even if one sincerely cultivates only one-percent worth of spiritual knowledge, he will never fall down into the material whirlpool. That is due to the sincerity of his effort. It should always be understood that we are weak and that the material energy is very strong. To adopt spiritual life is more or less to declare war against the material energy. The material energy is trying to entrap the conditioned soul as much as possible, and when the conditioned soul tries to get out of her clutches by spiritual advancement of knowledge, material nature becomes more stringent and vigorous in her efforts to test how much the aspiring spiritualist is sincere. The material energy, or māyā, will then offer more allurements.
In this regard, there is the story of Viśvāmitra Muni, a great king, a kṣatriya, who renounced his kingdom and took to the yoga process in order to become more spiritually advanced. At that time the meditational yoga process was possible to execute. Viśvāmitra Muni meditated so intently that Indra, the King of heaven, noticed him and thought, “This man is trying to occupy my post.” The heavenly planets are also material, and there is competition – no businessman wants another businessman to exceed him. Fearing that Viśvāmitra Muni would actually depose him, Indra sent one heavenly society girl, named Menakā, to allure him sexually. Menakā was naturally very beautiful, and she was intent on disrupting the muni’s meditations. Indeed, he became aware of her feminine presence upon hearing the sound of her bangles, and he immediately looked up from his meditation, saw her, and became captivated by her beauty. As a result, the beautiful girl Śakuntalā was born by their conjugation. When Śakuntalā was born, Viśvāmitra lamented: “Oh, I was just trying to cultivate spiritual knowledge, and again I have been entrapped.” He was about to flee when Menakā brought his beautiful daughter before him and chastised him. Despite her pleading, Viśvāmitra resolved to leave anyway.
Thus there is every chance of failure on the yogic path; even a great sage like Viśvāmitra Muni can fall down due to material allurement. Although the muni fell for the time being, he again resolved to go on with the yoga process, and this should be our resolve. Kṛṣṇa informs us that such failures should not be cause for despair. There is the famous proverb that “Failure is the pillar of success.” In the spiritual life especially, failure is not discouraging. Kṛṣṇa very clearly states that even if there is failure, there is no loss either in this world or in the next. One who takes to this auspicious line of spiritual culture is never completely vanquished.
Now what actually happens to the unsuccessful spiritualist? Śrī Kṛṣṇa specifically explains,
uṣitvā śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
śucīnāṁ śrīmatāṁ gehe
kule bhavati dhīmatām
etad dhi durlabhataraṁ
loke janma yad īdṛśam
“The unsuccessful yogī, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy. Or he takes his birth in a family of transcendentalists who are surely great in wisdom. Verily, such a birth is rare in this world.” (Bg. 6.41–42) There are many planets in the universe, and on the higher planets there are greater comforts, the duration of life is longer, and the inhabitants are more religious and godly. Since it is said that six months on earth is equal to one day on the higher planets, the unsuccessful yogī stays on these higher planets for many, many years. Vedic literatures describe their lifetimes as lasting ten thousand years. So even if one is a failure, he is promoted to these higher planets. But one cannot remain there perpetually. When the fruits or the results of one’s pious activities expire, he has to return to earth. Yet even upon returning to this planet, the unsuccessful yogī meets with fortunate circumstances, for he takes his birth in either a very rich family or a pious one.
Generally, according to the law of karma, if one enacts pious deeds, he is rewarded in the next life by birth into a very aristocratic family or into a very wealthy family, or he becomes a great scholar, or he is born very beautiful. In any case, those who sincerely begin spiritual life are guaranteed human birth in the next life – not only human birth, but birth into either a very pious or a very wealthy family. Thus one with such a good birth should understand that his fortune is due to his previous pious activities and to God’s grace. These facilities are given by the Lord, who is always willing to give us the means to attain Him. Kṛṣṇa simply wants to see that we are sincere. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is stated that every particular person has his own duty in life, regardless of his position and regardless of his society. If, however, he gives up his prescribed duty and somehow – either out of sentiment or association or craziness or whatever – takes shelter of Kṛṣṇa, and if, due to his immaturity, he falls from the devotional path, still there is no loss for him. On the other hand, if a person executes his duties perfectly but does not approach God, then what does he earn? His life is indeed without benefit. But a person who has approached Kṛṣṇa is better situated, even though he may fall down from the yogic platform.
Kṛṣṇa further indicates that of all good families to be born into – families of successful merchants or philosophers or meditators – the best is the family of yogīs. One who takes birth in a very rich family may be misled. It is normal for a man who is given great riches to try to enjoy those riches; thus rich men’s sons often become drunkards or prostitute hunters. Similarly, one who takes birth in a pious family or in a brahminical family often becomes very puffed up and proud, thinking, “I am a brāhmaṇa; I am a pious man.” There is chance of degradation in both rich and pious families, but one who takes birth in a family of yogīs or of devotees has a much better chance of cultivating again that spiritual life from which he has fallen. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna,
yatate ca tato bhūyaḥ
“On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Bg. 6.43)
Being born in a family of those who execute yoga or devotional service, one remembers his spiritual activities executed in his previous life. Anyone who takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness seriously is not an ordinary person; he must have taken to the same process in his previous life. Why is this?
hriyate hy avaśo ’pi saḥ
“By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles – even without seeking them.” (Bg. 6.44) In the material world, we have experience that we do not carry our assets from one life to another. I may have millions of dollars in the bank, but as soon as my body is finished, my bank balance is also. At death, the bank balance does not go with me; it remains in the bank to be enjoyed by somebody else. This is not the case with spiritual culture. Even if one enacts a very small amount on the spiritual platform, he takes that with him to his next life, and he picks up again from that point.
When one picks up this knowledge that was interrupted, he should know that he should now finish the balance and complete the yogic process. One should not take the chance of finishing up the process in another birth but should resolve to finish it in this life. We should be determined in this way: “Somehow or other in my last life, I did not finish my spiritual cultivation. Now Kṛṣṇa has given me another opportunity, so let me finish it up in this life.” Thus after leaving this body one will not again take birth in this material world, where birth, old age, disease and death are omnipresent, but will return to Kṛṣṇa. One who takes shelter under the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa sees this material world simply as a place of danger. For one who takes to spiritual culture, this material world is actually unfit. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī used to say, “This place is not fit for a gentleman.” Once one has approached Kṛṣṇa and has attempted to make spiritual progress, Kṛṣṇa, who is situated within the heart, begins to give directions. In the Gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that for one who wants to remember Him, He gives remembrance, and for one who wants to forget Him, He allows him to forget.