There is a very prevalent notion that we will attain self-realization / enlightenment / liberation / Vaikunṭha / Vraja Prema (call it what suits you best) by the mercy of Krishna / Rādhā / Guru / Vaiṣṇava alone. “It’s all up to the mercy of the Lord.”
This is wrong.
If our enlightenment is up to Krishna, then why are we not enlightened? It would have to be that he wants us to suffer? He can enlighten us whenever he likes, but he doesn’t – so what would that say about him? He prefers us to be ignorant and unfulfilled? What kind of “Supreme Person” is that? That is obviously wrong.
It is true that enlightenment/ prema cannot be generated by the individual soul. But it is not true that the individual soul has nothing to do with attaining enlightenment / prema. A cup, for example, does not create water – but it would be ridiculous to say that the cup has nothing to do with a cup full of water. The individual soul is consciousness, which is like a “cup” for knowledge (vijñāna) and love (prema). The soul cannot generate pure knowledge or pure love on its own, but that doesn’t mean it’s own efforts and constitution have nothing to do with its attainment of enlightenment / prema!
Our “cup” has its open end facing the wrong way. It points down, away from the flow of divine knowledge and love. Therefore it doesn’t fill up. Our job, our effort is to turn the cup around – set it right-side-up, and then the downpour of divine mercy fills it!
It is not anyone else’s job or capacity to turn the cup around. Only the cup can set itself right-side-up. The “cup” is consciousness, which is synonymous with will. Krishna has established eternally independent conscious-wills (“souls”), and does not tamper with their individual will. Only we can adjust our own consciousness by our own will. We cannot produce divine knowledge or prema, but we can (and must!) adjust our own consciousness so that it “points the right way” to receive the constant flow of divine knowledge and prema that springs from the Original Person, Śrī Krishna.
The Goswāmī’s discuss this pretty thoughly when they define sādhana-bhakti, because sādhana-bhakti is an EFFORT, a “work” we perform. So they question whether this effort and work actually CREATES the goal (bhāva- and prema-bhakti) or if there is some other factor involved. Their answer is that our efforts do not literally create the goal (divine love), but they create receptivity in ourselves which can then absorb the goal (divine love), which descends out of compassion, mercy, grace.
- Vraja Kishor