Contributing to the Family of the Earth
By spiritual constitution we are all one--individuals of the same nature and family of God. By living in the material world we accept a false ego that tells us we are the material body, mind, intelligence and emotions, and that we should act for this limited self-interest. Our general conditioning is to believe we must compete with others for what we perceive as scare resources and facilities for survival and enjoyment.
At times we may feel like this: "How pitiful that although I believe in my own and everyone's spiritual identity, and have experience of myself beyond the perishable body, I am still affected by the same selfishness." Of course, it is a question of degree in how much selfishness we have, yet we are wired for survival, and have to learn the benefits of giving and then strive to increase our kindness. However, we can be confident that we are making spiritual progress by constant endeavor, focus, prayer, and practice in giving to others, though at times it is--or may seem to be--painfully slow. After so many years of spiritual practice (sadhana) we sometimes forget how we have changed. Remembering our ignorant and painful past can help us understand that our soul is gradually awakening. Regardless, today we can practice gratitude and appreciation for our blessings, and see how we can be of service. These practices are an easy and quick way to change our state of mind for the better, and by doing this, our life improves.
We can also think of the pure devotees of the spiritual world. They are our inspiration and pure example--who we want to become like--though at times, their position seems unattainable. This is material thinking of course, and though due to circumstances we may embrace it due to the lower modes of nature affecting us, we have to throw it off by taking shelter of Krishna and his pure devotees. We can remember, "This too will pass," and that we can be possibility thinkers that by Krishna's grace, all things are possible. Expectations or a vision for the future tend to be realized and set the tone for our day and our lives. I have found that by making empowering intentions as soon as I wake up in the morning and throughout the day, I am able to act in a higher capacity than if I just react to my surroundings.
Without faith in God and aspiring for spiritual advancement we are imprisoned in the illusory world of Maya or illusion. This is the negative impetus for the practice of bhakti:
We can study how conditioned souls want to be excited by what is actually the tasteless, boring world of no substance in comparison to the blissful life of the soul. Due to the fact that the material world is a reflection of the spiritual world, there are hints here of happiness and promises of fulfillment. However, this is something like a post dated check in a closed account. There is no possibility of realizing the money, though the promise of the future money drives us onward. Material happiness and fulfillment seem to be right around the corner, over the next mountain, just up ahead. We think we need to just keep moving toward our goal.
This promise is just like the proverbial carrot before donkey--always within reach, though never really achieved. And there is no unadulterated material happiness or peace. It is like sweet rice (kheer) mixed with sand. There is some sweetness, but it is spoiled and temporary.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, we look to movies and T.V. for the life we would rather live--a life with everything we don't have now. We would rather watch someone else's exciting life, then live our often humdrum existence--or heaven forbid, to make an endeavor to change our paradigm. Even if we seem to be successful in the short term in finding happiness, we still have to die, and begin anew, forgetful of our past, yet still trying another life with slightly different circumstances to find fulfillment. This is the soul's eternal search for its home life of spirit channeled through the temporary fleshy body. Like a fish out of water, our soul is out of its natural spiritual element.
The positive and realistic spiritual impetus for bhakti:
When we are working to truly satisfy Krishna--and we succeed even partially--all our needs will be fulfilled. We remember that Krishna is our maintainer and protector. As a young devotee under Shrila Prabhupada's desire and physically inspiring presence we served together, out of love, or duty, or some combination of material and spiritual necessities. Most of us were unable to maintain that standard of "do the needful" for the mission, and we were thus forced to follow our need for fulfilling what I call our personal "karmic mission," with the hope and prayer to connect that to the service of Lord Chaitanya, the avatar for this age.
Presently, most of Prabhupada's disciples (the deputed first generation pioneers of bhakti in the modern world) are in their late 50's and 60's with grown up children, and some are again trying to revive their previous mood of surrendered service--this time with the maturity that comes from living and working in the world and trying to see Krishna in all circumstances. Our "preaching" is now the outgrowth of our experience. One's shared experience is a powerful testimonial for the effectiveness of our Krishna consciousness process. For many of us, it is our hope and prayer that we can inspire others to come to Krishna and stay the course of a lifetime of devotional activities, and take up the goal of Krishna prema, or pure love for Krishna.
If we are successful in using our time for Krishna's service, that is a manifestation of mercy. Practice and prayer makes perfect. We want to keep on keeping on with determination, and give this one life to Krishna--in old or young age, or wherever we begin our journey. Our life in this body is very short, but long enough to make significant spiritual progress if we are determined and humble. At the same time we have to be patient. Krishna will help us more than we can imagine. If we are helping others become Krishna conscious as well, we become very dear to Krishna.
The world will change one person at a time, and we leave the bigger picture to God. Every person who truly becomes spiritually advanced, or Krishna conscious, displays naturally increasing good qualities. This helps the world be a better place by the devotees practice of kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion, and sharing spiritual and practical wisdom, as appropriate. We can't save others if we loose ourselves in the process, so charity begins at home with each one of us. This is why our personal spiritual practices (sadhana) are so important. They also include introspection to discover both our skills and shortcomings. We endeavor to be the best person we can in relationship to other living beings and just our normal interaction with the world. By our positive outlook and honest self-assessment we see and retire our remaining bad habits of thinking and acting. God helps those who help themselves and pray like anything! This is the basic spiritual practice of bhakti: to accept what is favorable for bhakti and to let go of what isn't. We teach by example and who we have become, not just by our words.