Conversation between Mahatma dasa and Akrura dasa about Gita Coaching in June 2009 in Alachua, Florida
Mahatma dasa: What is coaching and how do you distinguish it between consulting, teaching, mantoring, counseling and therapy?
Akrura dasa: Coaching is more about facilitating your learning and drawing forth from you (knowledge, realizations, understandings, goals, solutions), while teaching is putting in information, giving people information about different things. Therapy deals with emotional scars from the past. Counseling is a similar thing, just milder. Consulting is giving solutions, giving advice. And coaching helps you find your own solutions and become more self-reliant.
M: One of my understandings of coaching that distinguishes it from therapy is that person who wants coaching has definite goals they want to achieve. And often in therapy people have specific issues they are dealing with and they are not goals of achieving something in terms of so-called success and something tangible, as opposed to resolving an internal problem. "I have this issue from the past that is affecting me today and I need to deal with it." Would that be correct assumtion of the differences?
M: Then my next question would be – Vaisnava philosophy, we know, teaches, and we know by experience, that we are in ignorance, and we need a guru to show us the path. Now you seem to be saying that coaching allows you to become your own guru, so wouldn't that create just even a greater problem? Or you are saying that once you have a guru you have knowledge, and at that point coaching facilitates the application of that knowledge?
A: The specific coaching I do is Gita Coaching, which is spiritual coaching, and basically I help people follow the instructions of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srila Prabhupada and their current guru, so it's all based around our philosophy. It's not that you become your own guru but you take more responsibility and learn and find out ways how to effectively apply the knowledge that is already there in the scriptures.
M: So it's bridging the gap between what you've got in your head and perhaps what has gone to your heart that you want and practically achieving it step by step through implementation and empowering the person you're coaching to come up with their own decisions on how to do that and helping them see ways of how to do that.
A: It is not I who empower them. They empower themselves or Krsna empowers them.
M: You facilitate them.
A: Yes. I try to create an environment where they can think more effectively and clarify what they want. This is very important. Until they know what they want they are more or less stuck. But when they clarify what they want we can work on creating their goals and achieving them.
M: I was assuming that when people want a coach they already know what they want. Are you saying that sometimes people want a coach because they don't know what they want – they want to become clear about that?
A: Yes. It is easier to work with people who know what they want. But if they don't know what they want or it's too vague – they want something too general – then coaching helps to become more specific.
M: Some devotees may say it's not about what I want, it's about what my guru wants. How you deal with that in a coaching situation? Or is that a problem for someone?
A: As far as I have seen, very few people can just follow what guru tells them, so I have seen some gurus ask disciples "What do you want to do for Krsna?" And they may say, "I want to make money and give half to the temple or for printing Prabhupada's books or something similar." And th guru says, "Then do that." He encourages them to do that. Very few people can just do the needful. And also in few letters Srila Prabhupada mentions that it is advantageous, it is favorable to do something you are inspired to do, you like to do, then even it will be easier to follow the principles.
M: So for the person who is not clear what they want to do you might have to facilitate helping them find, within the parameters of the instructions of guru and sastra, what enthuses them, what inspires them, and clarify the vision of what they would like to achieve, let's say, within this year or six months or within five years or all of that? And then you would start to help them discover ways in which they can do that?
M: Do you ever run into situations where that's all done but the person has a major fear or obstacle or blockage in doing that? If so, how do you help them?
A: It depends how this block is severe. Sometimes these blocks come from some past traumas, or emotional scars, or abuse. This is not my area. I don't deal with that. I send them to other professionals or other devotees. If block is less severe and it has to do with their misconceptions, then we can work on removing them. Usually the main obstacle to do anything is fear, some kind of fear. Either fear of success or fear of failure or something else.
M: There may be people who might be thinking that having a coach could be good but they are not sure if they maybe need a therapist. Maybe their issue is too deep or troublesome. So how can they distinguish what they need?
A: That's a very important question. Usually, through my experience, I am able to see whether I can help them as a coach or not. People may show symtoms that they are emotionally disturbed. They might become extremely mental or thoughtful when they speak about something. And you can see that their feeling is very deep. They were maybe abused in the past, or they cannot forgive someone, and it's very deep.
M: In other words, you can't move forward because that problem keeps coming up, can't get passed it?
A: Yes, like a major inner obstacle.
M: And then you realize this person needs other kinds of professional help to resolve that particular issue. Another thing you mentioned is that it's common even for successful people to have some fear, of doing something they haven't done, taking on a new occupation or a new service. I don't know if people consciously think about the fear of being successful. I think most devotees come to Krsna consciousness with a strong desire to be appreciated (our conditioned side) or recognized. That's what we bring in when we come to devotional service, unless we've practiced Krsna consciousness very deeply in the past or during many lifetimes. And when we come to Krsna consciousness we realize that it's supposed to be the exact opposite. We should offer recognition to others. And there may be a fear that if we become successful, along with that success will come recognition, honor, followers, wealth, so many things. On one side, we are attached to it, on another side we may be afraid that if we have it we may misuse it. For us as devotees it could be a common problem. How would you help someone with that?
A: We have to understand our philosophy. We have to understand that the credit goes to Krsna for our achievements. We shouldn't be proud of borrowed plums. There is no limit to how much you can achieve if you don't care who takes the credit. We know that Krsna has given us intelligence, physical strength, mental power, and that it is thanks to Him that we can achieve anything. So it's His credit. And it's better to do something and become proud than sit and lament and do nothing, just sink into the mode of ignorance. I heard that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati said that he wanted his disciples to come to the mode of passion. And so called goodness I call tamo-goodness. We think we are in the mode of goodness but we are actually in the mode of ignorance. We are afraid to do anything, out of fear of failure or fear of mistakes, or sometimes fear of success. And Bhagavad-gita says you should be equal in fame and infamy, so if we don't experience both in our lives, how we will practice it?
M: I remeber when Prabhupada first asked us, his disciples, to go to India. He called us - his dancing white elephants. And he wanted to show us off. He said, "Your behavior will glorify me, because you are my disciples. And when people see that you are sadhus, they will ask who is your guru, your guru must be wonderful, because you are wonderful." Just like when you see children who are well-behaved and intelligent, you naturally think they must have a very good parents. So I think that's very helpful, that we want to glorify Krsna and Srila Prabhupada, our spiritual master, and if we become successful, that will glorify them. And as Prabhupada showed, he always gave the credit to his spiritual master. The anartha of wanting to be recognized is there. We have to transfer that to wanting Krsna to be recognized. And Prabhupada even in a letter to me he wrote the same thing. He said, "Don't try to become famous. Try to make Krsna famous." If I become famous, that can make Krsna famous, but my motive is not to become famous. My motive is to introduce people to Krsna. Can you describe some typical situations or common situations that people come to you for coaching and how you help them get passed or get beyond where they are now? Because coaching is meant to take someone further, and they need a coach because they are not getting there on their own. If they would be getting there on their own they wouldn't want a coach. They wouldn't feel a need for a coach. So, let's say you are coaching me and I'm doing something that I want to do more and I'm stuck. I cannot get beyond this point. What are some of the things that you would ask me? Or how would you deal with me?
A: People come to me because they have either a problem to solve or a result to achieve. First thing I do is increase awareness. By asking questions I help them become more aware of what's going on or what they are thinking, what they are feeling, what they want, what other people are doing, what is the situation. I also help them to be more objective, rather than just subjective, and to try to see things from a side. Try to be neutral or objective. Once they become more aware of what's going on and what they want, then we can take more concrete steps.
M: You say they become more aware. Are you talking about giving them more objectivity about their situation and/or awareness of options that they didn't see before? And more aware of what else?
A: First see where they are now, what's the situation. For example, if someone says,
"I have so many problems in my life."
"What problems do you have?" And they name 10 problems.
"Which one would you like to work on now? Which one is the most pressing or the most important? Or which one would you like to work on now?"
Thus we take one thing and we work on that. By working on one thing we cover many things or get into other things. So we thouroughly look into that one thing.
M: Is it because the mentality or the activity that created one problem usually is the one that creates other problems?
A: Yes. Like a habit. A bad habit influenced all his problems. One bad habit. Like, for example, not getting up early, not chanting your rounds. This influences everything. It influences your consciousness and everything you do. So we look into one thing. We do one thing at a time. We don't do ten things at once. And then we do it very thoroughly. And this gives so much insight. They become more aware. They discover things. They say, "Oh my God, I didn't realize I have this." Or, "I have this thing within me that is holding me back." Or, "I have this talent." We work on discovering positive things: talents, skills, strengths. And discovering more options. They become aware that there is many more options than they see at the moment. And they become more hopefull and inspired to work on their goals.
M: You mentioned about discovering their talents or maybe getting more in touch, maximizing their talents. Some people could think that coaching is actually really suited for people who are not successful, who are losers. Persons who have never really done much. They are very simple person and they need a coach, someone to push them, someone to help them be successful. Whereas a person who is successful may think, "I don't really need a coach because I've been successful ever since I've been a teenager. I was a president of my class. I achieved this. I started this when I was 22, etc. So how do you address that? Does a person who's successful benefit from coaching or it's just for people who have trouble being successful?
A: This is a great misconception. One of my mentor-coaches, Marshall Goldsmith, who is a behavioral coach, coaches only successful people. Only great achievers, super-sharp, intelligent, educated, capable. So, coaching is for everyone.
M: He's coaching CEO's of some of the biggest companies in the world. Is that correct?
M: These guys are the most successful people out there. So why are they needing coaches?
A: He coaches people on behavior. Sometimes they have a blindspot in their behavior. He helps them improve that. But, for example, in sports situation, top performers also have coaches, top coaches. Whether you are a poor performer or top performer, you need a coach in order to be able to achieve more, to achieve better results, higher results.
M: You are saying that coaching can help everybody achieve something more, even if you are really successful. Maybe you're not going to go a 100 miles with coaching, like a person who's not been a success. But you'll go further. You'll go somewhere you could not go on your own.
A: More quickly and more efficiently than you would go on your own.
M: Or even get there on your own.
M: So, just putting this all in perspective, it seems to me that if a person says "I don't need a coach" we can translate that to mean "I don't really need help or want help in going forward," or "I feel I don't need to go forward". Maybe this could be due to ignorance, or due to pride. Some people say "I don't need a coach" because they are satisfied where they are at and they don't want to see other possibilities or options or go further. Or some say "I don't need a coach because I'm happy where I'm at". If that were the case, would you try to encourage those people or would you just say it's better that I don't encourage them because coaching wouldn't work well for them because they don't really want it?
A: Well, everybody wants something that they don't have. Even most devotees, they don't have pure love of God yet. So if you don't have something you want but you don't have it, you need some assistance to achieve it. Or if you already have all the tools and you have become like a super self-coach, in that case you are already working hard on yourself. Often this fresh, objective, outside perspective helps. Because we can't see what other people can see. And they can give us ideas, they can give us feedback, they can give us feedforward. So it's always good to do this. It's always adventageous. One way to do it is peer coaching. People who are equal they can help each other. Ocassionally they can discuss. It's always good. Because we are not God. We don't know everything. So if you want to achieve anything it's good to speak about it with somebody.
M: Do coaches have coaches?
A: Yes, or they have mentor-coaches, or they have friends who act like coaches in their lives.
M: It's really the objectivity that someone else brings to your subjective world.
M: And even if the coach is not fantastic, even if the coach is just your spouse or friend, asking a few questions or even in a consultant format, they are bringing in points of view you may not be able to see.
A: Or asking good questions. One way to do peer coaching is that I give you a set of questions that I want you to ask me every day, and these questions cover the most important aspects and activities of my life. Then you ask me those questions, and you can ask me some subquestions. Some people do it daily, some people do it weekly. For example, you ask me "How is your chanting?". That's very important to me, and I say "Oh, I haven't thought about that. I was just chanting mechanically for the past week. Honestly, my chanting is not where I want it to be." And immediately my awareness increases and the likelihood of improving my chanting also increases, because you asked me that question.
M: And you are the one who told me to ask you that question.
A: Yes, I gave you that question.
M: Because that's important to you so you want to be reminded, otherwise you would not remind yourself.
A: Yes, reminded, and discuss about it, become more aware, and ultimately take action to improve it.
M: What's that called – peer coaching?
A: Yes, peer coaching, when equals help each other, or they don't even have to be equals. We can just call them success partners. They can exchange a set of personal questions and then just discuss, but with a genuine interest.
M: So if we are going to do peer coaching I would come up with a set of questions. I want to work on a particular project, so you would ask me "Did you work on this project?" or "How much time did you put in this project this week?"
M: I want to chant on a certain level. On a scale of 1 to 10 I want to chant my rounds on level 6. So you would ask me "Did you chant your rounds on a level 6 or better?" Or "I want to go to bed before 9 o'clock." "Did you go to bed before 9?" Each week you ask me these questions and you said something really important, that the person is not just reading the questions you have given them, but you have to show concern. Because the concern is what helps the other person be self-reflective and helps them talk and open up. And if you are not concerned, you just read the questions mechanically, like you are totally bored and uninterested, and you are doing it because I asked you.
A: Genuine interest motivates people. It is inspiring to see that someone is interested in what I do. Yesterday we had a Gita Coaching training and I gave devotees the question "How can I help you succeed?" This is a very powerful question. You can have someone ask you that question every day or whenever you meet. Or you can ask "What else could help you succeed?" Or "What other options do you have?" So these are questions that expand your thinking. You start thinking "outside the box". You broaden your horizons. And you get more ideas how to achieve what you want to achieve.
M: Are you saying is that when you have a coach, your coach is exclusively interested in your success? Perhaps even more interested in your success than you are.
M: Sometimes we see that we want things but we don't really work for them because we don't want them that much, or maybe we do want them but we're lazy.
A: Lazy or fearful.
M: Or we're just overworked or burned out. And you have another person who wants it equally as much or even more than you, who's not encumbered by obstacles that are preventing you from being as focused on it as apparently you want to be. So that's a very interesting dynamic that you have someone in your life who wants something as much as or even more tha you want it. And who's maybe even more committed to you achieving it than you are. It's seems that's also a position of a spiritual master. He's giving you Krsna consciousness. He's your coach. He's praying for you. And he wants you to have it maybe even more than you want it.
A: Yes. That's really giving life, inspiring, to have someone like this. I think all preachers, teachers and brahmanas and all the devotees who assist others in ISKCON should have this goal – sarve sukhino bhavantu. Srila Prabhupada gave this point for leaders, as one of the instructions. Make everyone happy, everyone that you are leading. Coaching helps you become happy and successful in all areas of your life. Thus there is nothing lacking in your life. And then you can help others. For me, success of my coaching is when my coachees become preachers, leaders, coaches, or responsible parents. Some responsibility should be there. Because when you accept responsibility it means you are following your dharma and you are connected to God.
M: Do you find that when you coach someone it naturally helps them become more responsible because you're not telling them what to do but you're asking them to find answers, options, and to deal with whatever they want to achieve, so when you finish with the coaching they are in a different mindset because they have discovered so much on their own already?
A: Exactly. One of the main goals of my coaching is to help people take 108 percent responsibility for their lives. I have seen in working with over 300 devotees over the past 5-6 years that those who take responsibility start moving forward toward success. Those who don't, they remain stuck.
M: Are you saying that some people become dependent on a coach and they can't continue without him? When the coaching should be finished or staggered over long periods of time, they are just not taking responsibility and therefore they dont really achieve as much as they could. Is that like an artificial dependency, like they need that person (a coach) always there because they are weak and that's not healthy?
A: We are talking about two diffeent things. One is becoming self-sufficient and independent of the coach, and another is taking responsibility for some or all aspects of your life. If someone remains in the coaching relationship it doesn't mean they don't take responsibility for their lives. It may be they still need help. So it can last 3 months, 6 months, a year. I sometimes coach people for years – monthly or every two months, or whenever they need assistance. Some people I coach once or twice and they are ready to go. They know what needs to be done. They just clarify certain things and get going again. Ocassionally I might ask them how are you doing, and they say I am doing well. In that case, either they are really doing well or they are afraid, because they know if they come back to me we will be confronting all the obstacles, I will ask them what do you want ... and sometimes they do not want to hear that.
M: Someone might think, "I know what the obstacles are, both internally and externally, but I don't know if I am really ready to deal with them. So would you say that even if they think that way the coaching will empower them or facilitate them or enable them in some way to deal with that, to deal with those doubts?
A: If they continue with a coaching relationship then it will become obvious that they have to make their own choices. They have to take responsibility. They have to work on removing obstacles. And it's very simple – go forward and be happy.
M: Is your experience that there is actually more pain in not dealing with it?
A: Yes. Exactly.
M: Even if there is this big fear "oh, I can't deal with this", that it's more painful not to deal with it and just avoid it?
A: It eats you up. It just eats you up. Krsna wants us to be conscious. Very rarely things happen automatically. You have to be either very lucky or very pure that things will happen automatcally. Krsna wants us to be aware. Why do we have consciousness? To be conscious. And especially to be Krsna conscious. But we also have consciousness to be conscious of how to proceed, how to advance, how to remove obstacles, how to recognize our strengths, and how to appreciate what God has given us.
M: What I've noticed in all the workshops that I've done, if you just give people time to reflect on whatever it is we're teaching at that moment (like japa, forgiveness, vows, prayer), give them time to reflect – where you stand, where would you like to go, what are the obstacles, where are your strengths, where are your weaknesses - it helps them so much. Because we don't do that enough. We're busy. We just don't think about these things enough. And than these things remain there. And also, with having another person assisting us, we come up with new options. When we speak about forgiveness, some people say I can't forgive, and there may be many reasons for that. But one of the reasons is you just don't know how. You think my only response to what happened to me is to be angry. You don't understand there can be other responses, other ways to deal with it. And by having another person helping you, you realize, "Oh, I never thought I could deal with it this way. I never thought I could be involved in taking this person to court but at the same time forgiving them for what they have done." So you see more options.
A: Yes, with a coach, options increase, choices increase. Three basic principles of coaching are awareness, choice and responsibility.
M: When you have more choices you become aware you have more choices?
A: Yes, and you are responsible for your choices. And also, you choose what you want. People say they don't know what they want, and I tell them you can choose what you want. If I give you a bag of apples and a bag of mangoes, you will choose what you want. If you have to choose one of them, you will choose either apples or mangoes. So it is our responsibility to choose responsibly, to choose to the best of our ability according to what we know is right.
M: When you are talking about choice, are you confronting people who think they don't have a choice?
A: Yes, and I just tell them, "You have a choice."
M: So in other words, they are in the situation where they don't think there is a choice. "This is the way it is, I'm doing what I'm doing. My life is the way it is. My spiritual life is the way it is" ...
A: "... and my karma is set. It can't be any different. It's pre-destined, preordained." But it's not exactly like that. There is a destiny, but you can affect your life. You are the most creative force in your life, along with Krsna.
M: I was told that Prabhupada said 50 percent of karma you're creating, you're getting in this life, not the next life. We're sometimes thinking whatever is happening in this life is totally because of what happened in the last life. He said – no. 50 percent has been created in this life, which helps us with those who think that things are totally written in stone and there's very little I can do about it.
A: This is one big area I am dealing in coaching - excuses. Our philosophy you can use for so many excuses. "This is my karma. This is Krsna." You just blame it on somebody else. And you are not taking responsibility. That's a tough thing. Many people are very sophisticated in how they make excuses, but I don't buy into it.
M: Very deep, philosophically articulated, profound excuses.
M: Is that common with people when you begin talking, that most of them will give you the reasons why they cannot move forward? I mean amongst devotees. Is that common or is it just individual case?
A: Most people tend to give reasons or excuses, and I just ask them "What do you want to have in your life – excuses or results?" And they say – results. So then you have to give up this habit of trying to convince me why you cannot do something. And they can give me reasons why something is possible. Because with Krsna, anything is possible.
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Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam begins with the definition of the ultimate source. It is a bona fide commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra by the same author, Śrīla Vyāsadeva, and gradually it develops into nine cantos up to the highest state of God realization. The only qualification one needs to study this great book of transcendental knowledge is to proceed step by step cautiously and not jump forward haphazardly like with an ordinary book. It should be gone through chapter by chapter,. The reading matter is so arranged with its original Sanskrit text, its English transliteration, synonyms, translation and purports so that one is sure to become a God-realized soul at the end of finishing the first nine cantos.