Physical imperfections---a perfect arrangement!(revised 8-01-08)
This morning I was listening to one of Prabhupada’s first lectures in New York City where he described the four miseries of life (birth, old age, disease and death) in a different way then I am used to. He described them as the 4 difficulties or the 4 imperfections. The word imperfection really got my attention. (Funny, because I have listened to these lectures many times.) I have noticed over the years that everyone has their gut level attractions and repulsions. From my material or false ego vision, I always notice physical imperfections, and frankly I greatly dislike them.
Perhaps due to retaining some standard of excellence from previous births, or my many years of serving the most beautiful Deity forms and pictures of Radha-Krishna, Gaura-Nitai etc, the physical imperfections are like glaring headlights (which used to be the chagrin of my young son when I would point out some very old, invalid person who I announced used to be beautiful and full of vitality). It is not that I think that anyone who has many imperfections is worse off then those that have fewer. More or less imperfections are just a manifestation of karma, and for some people, having more may help them spiritually. The spiritual vision is the perspective I thought of as I pondered my dislike of material imperfections.
Moles, freckles, wrinkles, pimples,
hair in unbecoming places---
or the lack of it where it should be---
bags under the eyes, age spots.
Varicose veins, protruding bones,
sagging, coarse or discolored skin,
ugly fat hanging all over
creating strange shaped bodies.
Missing or very crooked teeth,
bad breath of all combinations,
body odor, and in general
very old unsightly people.
O their limitations as they
shuffle around still trying
to enjoy their old body---
such degradation for the soul!
(the aged often have
many of the imperfections I listed)----
yuck, I do hate it all.
In general, whatever gets my attention I have to ask questions. Why I am repelled or attracted, and what does this tell me about myself? Even though my general focus is on Krishna and helping others to appreciate him (or some aspect of him) in their lives, upon reflection of my awareness of imperfections, I know that it’s a blessing for me if I take it to heart. Imperfections of all descriptions remind me that I am in the material world which is the plane of imperfection; it is a poor reflection of the spiritual world of perfect beauty, function, happiness and love.
We may have a good karma body, surrounded by similar persons, yet so many others aren’t so fortunate. Or we may feel saddened by our own physical imperfections, hankering for a better body. Since most people are unaware where true beauty resides, and that the spiritual world is our real home and our true goal to obtain, they try to overcome the inherent physical imperfections by covering them up or hiding them, changing them or ignoring them, or helping others deal with them by accepting that this is just how life is, and that the imperfection is actually beautiful. Or they want to go to heaven. However, real beauty comes from the soul, which is part of the Supreme Beauty, Krishna. Our temporary physical body is only the manifest consequences of previous lives’ actions of piety or impiety, along with our desires and attachment to others and the things of the world.
In a larger philosophical sense it is true that the imperfections of physical life are beautiful, and perfectly designed----though not like the materialist "realists" think. If we are blessed, they call our attention to the spiritual dimension of life---for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, Reality is the Beautiful, Shri Radha Krishna, who is an impetus for us to take up spiritual life. I spoke in the beginning of Prabhupadas' lecture where he spoke of the four main headline imperfections (four fold miseries). The ones I listed are detailed expansions of these. They are unnatural for the eternal soul. Becoming aware of these miseries is part of the process of knowledge given in the Gita’s 13th chapter.
A big part of my and many devotees impetus for coming to Krishna (along with sankirtana) in the early days of the movement (and currently in some places) was centered around this negative view of the material world. I mentioned this point in my last post, but only in relationship to our outreach. Here I am thinking of it in terms of our personal application of Krishna consciousness. When we come to Krishna through strong distress—which can make us desperate for relief, we find comfort in having our negative perception of life confirmed. We weren’t so crazy after all—but those others, now they are crazy. O how time changes things!
This intense perception of material miseries helped us to take shelter of the holy name in full earnest. As our life improved by following the 4 rules and chanting the holy name, many no longer felt the acute misery that served as a negative impetus for practicing KC. After some time, speaking of how bad the material world was, didn’t motivates us in the same way as before. We required more of the positive impetus for Bhakti, which is the nectar of the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Lord, and in general experiencing a lasting higher taste from our spiritual life. (Of course that is always there, though I am speaking from my experience of what is emphasized in preaching and in my own practice.) If we don’t obtain a positive experience of KC in a substantial way, then it is likely that we will again become attracted to material enjoyment, since we are pleasure seekers by nature and must derive our pleasure from somewhere. (see Prabhupada’s Gita purport to 9.3)
In our own Krishna conscious life we have to rely on both the negative and positive impetuses for practicing Bhakti. How much we emphasis one or the other should depend on our realization and our needs. The same is true with outreach. We don’t want to preach “at” people, without taking the time to really know them. One emphasis doesn’t fit everyone, though both perspectives are important.
For me, my nature is such that I can’t help seeing the imperfections of the physical body and mind, especially now, since I deal with so many people everyday at the store where I work. This helps temper my conditioned nature to be an enjoyer of matter.
How many times have we heard Prabhupada or a devotee informing us that trying to enjoy separately from Krishna in the material world is like eating sweet rice with sand in it. There is some sweetness, but that sand is unpalatable. Or Prahlad Maharaja comparing material enjoyment to chewing what has already been chewed. How easy this to say---sounds good to a point. Yet, it must be a joyful realization (not like sour grapes)! It is very painfully true that we only gradually become purified, and change our taste from matter to spirit. That is a long term effect of Krishna consciousness, though we get hints along the way.
At 20 years old I thought I would be Krishna conscious in only a few, short years. Now as I approach 60, I know how strong my conditioning is. Although I don’t want to limit the mercy of Prabhupada and Shri Shri Gaura Nitai, if I come to Ruchi in this life, I will think myself very blessed—rooted as I am in anartha-nivritti.
Just hating the material world and its’ imperfections won’t give us bhakti, though it can be a beginning if we are fortunate to gain association with saintly persons and gain positive footing in Bhakti. My great dislike of the material imperfections is partly because I want to enjoy without those nasty reminders of my incompatibility with matter. I have to be continually reminded that my real self doesn't want temporary material enjoyment, but the true happiness of the soul, or serving Krishna in love (which can be done anywhere).
The spiritual world is more a plane of consciousness then what we materially conceive of it as. I know in theory that we become naturally detached from matter through attachment to, and love for Krishna and his pure devotees. My gurus, the pure devotees and acharyas of the past, and those who walk amongst us today inspire me to pray to see every condition as favorable for serving Krishna, and to make the most of every situation!
What about you? What do you materially love or hate? That will tell you much about your conditioned identity, and how much progress you have, or haven't made. When you see physical imperfections and limitations, I would suggest that you remind yourself of where your real lasting happiness, fulfillment, and perfection lie, and that you pray to increase your determination to serve your true friend and well-wisher, Shri Radha Krishna, Shri Gaura-Nityananda and their pure devotees.
Material imperfections are perfectly, compassionately designed to help point us to the spiritual dimension. Whether they do or not depends on where our urgent necessity is—matter, or spirit. Someday—some lifetime, I will see the spiritual perspective from the purity of my soul, beyond the theoretical view that I can present so well to others!