Seeing Material Miseries in a Positive Light
Our general conditioned tendency is to see the world—the things and people in it—as meant for our personal enjoyment and the utility of our selfish purpose. Although scientists may tout the scientific method and objective research they can’t escape seeing the world selfishly. Some may be selfless to an extent and be motivated to benefit others, yet the indirect goal is still personal satisfaction (to feel good by helping others). Or one may extend one’s self into others—groups, countries or perhaps all humanity—and work for their collective selfish interests, or to free them from disease or old disease so they can enjoy themselves free from misery. Is this the highest form of giving?
I realize that to most people helping others enjoy and be free from disturbance sounds good, but this is only relative or worldly good, with no relationship to God or spiritual realization—which is the true lasting good. Helping others in any way can be a good place to begin our life of service, yet it is not an end in itself. If we were just our body then this would be the end of giving—but we are all eternal souls. Admittedly, this is not understood by the great mass of people who are focused primarily on material enjoyment and goals to further them. This brings up the question as to how people may understand the difference between material and spiritual good, and the superior value of transcendental good.
If we want to know the method to do this, we need to consult with those on a spiritual path. For instance, the yogi, Vedantist, or bhakta cultivate a healthy detachment from the ways of the world. Why? Because in order to really understand what life is, one must be able to stand back from it without being invested in seeing it in a way to further one’s personal agenda. Science might call this being “objective” whereas, as I mentioned, a yogi or transcendentalist would call this detachment. We create a distance from the world so we can see it for what it is. The opposite of this perspective is the expression that “one can’t see the forest for the trees”. Sometimes we are so close to something that we really can’t see it for what it is or escape the influence it has on us.
The purpose or goal of our life colors how we see life and the questions asked. The spiritualist begins with the idea that the seer or consciousness in every living thing is the eternal soul who experiences the body and its various necessities. In other words we are souls having a human, animal, or plant experience, and this is actually the real, though hidden problem of life. Why? Because the soul belongs in a soul or spiritual dimension which is a world where there is no duality between matter—the world and physical bodies—and the owner or animator of the body, the soul, or atma and true self. The soul is now in a foreign environment and is consciously or unconsciously trying to return to that spiritual “home” plane.
By yoga or spiritual practice we are meant to gain some spiritual experience and taste for that dimension. Everyone is endeavoring to be happy so if one has no personal spiritual taste how can they remain steady in their pursuit of transcendence, or have natural detachment from the world? The soul itself is pleasure seeking, so it has to find pleasure somewhere. Our problems come from endeavoring for material happiness which doesn’t really touch or satisfy the soul any more then a virtual meal in an online world satisfies one’s hunger. And the true hunger of the soul is spiritual union with God or Krishna!
Krishna certifies the material world as a place of temporary existence (repeated rebirth and death and constant changes even within one life) and misery. If a person is absorbed in desires for material happiness and its pursuit—or is attached to a certain material view of life, and thus not detached—he or she will likely be upset by such statements. The endeavor for material facilities, material happiness, and material love is what fuels future births in this world and also covers one’s vision. Such material attachment fueled by lust, anger and greed creates spiritual blindness, which are like cataracts for our spiritual eyes. And love of God is the true eye opener!
True spiritual vision lifts the veil of illusion so we can perceive ourselves and the world for what they are. Without spiritual knowledge and some realization of the soul and God we will suffer throughout life’s different stages of birth, disease, old age, and death—repeatedly from life to life.
My initial motivation for writing this blog was to try to present knowledge of the Vedic perspective on the inherent miseries of the world in the proper positive spiritual context, and how due to our material attachment we can’t appreciate this view. Since the average person has no experience of spiritual enjoyment, when they hear the Vedic perspective about the shortcomings of matter, they consider it life denying or pessimistic. However, this is only half the equation. The full theistic philosophy is materially pessimistic, but spiritually optimistic.
The power of Maya or illusion is what causes us to identify our soul with whatever type of imperfect physical body we have been awarded. Ignorance of the self and God or spiritual forgetfulness is root from which all our problems come. If we can understand the naked form of the material world as a very inferior place full of disappointment and distress and fully take up self realization, then we are considered by the Vedas to be properly using our human form of life.
As I sit amidst old and dying patients in my mom’s long term care and hospice facility it is painfully obvious that these folks have no or at least little awareness of their everlasting shelter. The energy of doom and gloom is as thick as fog. Some do have comfort through religion or some vague idea of God, yet most have no specific and realized knowledge of the soul, and its maker—and certainly not about Radha and Krishna—or any understanding of the purpose of the material world and life!
Those of us who know about and have faith in bhakti and Krishna, even in theory, are truly fortunate. If we can help others increase their spiritual understanding, that will be good for us and for them, since it is pleasing to Krishna and the pure devotees. It is a great art to present spiritual knowledge in a way that our audience can hear and relate to, and a special blessing to help others fully take up spiritual life. That is my prayer for my mom, the readers of my blogs, and any person I come into contact with. The Vedic version is to do good to others, while knowing who one and everyone is spiritually. Hare Krishna!