Answers by HH Romapada Swami
Question: Was it destined when I was born that I would one day become associated with ISKCON and do all these spiritual activities? If yes, then why do we preach? Won’t people destined to join ISKCON join it, and those not destined to join ISKCON not join it? If no, then does it mean that joining ISKCON is outside the influence of destiny?
Answer: Bhakti is supreme, causeless and fully independent - no material cause can either induce or impede bhakti from appearing in one’s heart. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarthi Thakura analyses this as follows: if material pious deeds, suffering, blind fortune or any such material condition could guarantee or give rise to bhakti, then that material cause would be considered more powerful than bhakti - this is contradictory and cannot be true.
It is therefore understood that bhakti is attained only by the mercy of bhaktas, who carry pure devotion for Krishna in their heart. In other words, bhakti (present in the heart of devotees) is the cause of bhakti.
Lord Caitanya taught that a rare and fortunate soul achieves the seed of bhakti through the mercy of a pure devotee.
brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
guru-krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
“According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.” (Cc Madhya 19.151)
Devotional service is thus not predestined. It is by the causeless mercy of devotees that one attains the opportunity for pure devotional service and to revive one’s forgotten relationship with the Supreme Lord. Therefore the pure devotees of the Lord move here and there out of great compassion, taking great troubles to create opportunities for people in general to render devotional service.
Even upon receiving the mercy of the devotees, and getting the seed of this devotional creeper (bhakti-lata-bija), it is the choice of the living entity to take up the process of devotion. In other words, it is a matter of individual freewill. At every point, the conditioned living entity has full freedom of choice to turn his misdirected attention back to the Supreme Lord or not - otherwise there would be no meaning to the term freewill at all. (We have previously discussed freewill and predestination at some length - please see Digest 4 and Digest 12 Q 117)
Thus, it is only by the causeless mercy of devotees, when received and accepted by a conditioned living entity by proper use of their freewill, results in their taking up pure devotional service.
It is sometimes seen that certain individuals take to the process of devotional service very quickly and effortlessly, upon coming in contact with devotees - just like dry wood catching fire. In such cases, it can be understood that they are continuing or resuming their spiritual progress from a previous life. One who takes up the path of spiritual realization, or devotional service, but does not achieve complete success in this lifetime is given a further chance in the next life - this is confirmed by Krishna in BG 6.41-44. The Lord arranges in the lives of such persons an environment or an opportunity that is conducive to once again take up the process from where they left. But even in such a case, it is not quite a matter of predestination - the individual still has the full freedom to choose or reject the opportunity given to them, to misuse or to properly utilize it.
Also, Krishna is fully independent, and so is Bhaktidevi - thus, it cannot be expected that bhakti is obliged to appear because of one’s previous devotional practices. Srila Prabhupada explains how the transcendental system of devotional service is fully independent — it may or may not develop in a particular person even after he undergoes all the detailed formulas. Similarly, the association of devotees is also free from material causes. One may be fortunate to have it, or one may not have it even after thousands of endeavors. Thus, freedom is the main pivot in all spheres of devotional service. (Cf. SB 1.6.37 p) By sincerely surrendering to the Lord through the transparent medium of the spiritual master, we can hope to attract His causeless mercy.