Simple Living Amidst a Thrill Seeking Culture
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
As a regular writer of blogs, I am often thinking of something to write about to share with you. One might think this would require embarking on exciting adventures or exploring new territory in order to find material for writing about. The previous sentence was in response to my stepping back from my daily routine, as I cut tall weeds and sweated, to reflect upon it. As I drank water and took in the extraordinary, typical country scene of blue sky, white clouds, trees in all directions, and our veggie and flower garden, I wondered what I might write about, since I have often spoken of our country life. As many readers know, my wife and I live in a country setting surrounded by trees and gardens. We don’t see many devotees, and although we have many friends and acquaintances all over the world, here we have only a few friends we see occasionally. We aren’t in the wilderness, mind you, and there is town ten minutes from here, yet we feel very connected to the land, Nature, and more and more, to Radha and Krishna, by the grace of our gurus.
We are pretty self-contained, and except for my traveling a few miles to get fresh raw milk from devotee cows, or supplies, we are satisfied to remain at home. Of course, our home is a temple or ashram, and we have lovely, inspiring Deities of Shri Shri Radha and Krishna, Shri Chaitanya and Nitai, Shri Prahlad-Nrisimhadeva, and a few Shilas, or sacred stones, to which we offer simple, and hopefully humble and devoted service to, as well as our main service of chanting our Hare Krishna japa on beads, and in kirtan. We stay connected to the world through phone counseling (my wife), writing (both of us), the Internet, and rare visitors who bless our home.
Some people upon hearing about the bare basics of our life would see this as boring or humdrum, since we rarely go anywhere, or watch movies or T.V., or in general are interested in what many people consider pleasure, or even essential aspects of modern life. Modern life is fast paced and run by advertisers who promote the search for sensational experiences, or stimulating sensual thrills that can be obtained by their product, service, or unique theme park destinations. People can’t go anywhere without their own personal sound track—as if their life were an academy award winning movie—or a stimulating hand held devise providing absorbing things to do, or in talking on a cell phone to a similarly distracted friend. With such tools one may avoid at all costs, the monotonousness of going to and from work, waiting in line, going to our kids soccer game, or even walking down the street. If material life is like the movie the Matrix, then modern technology is like a Matrix within the Matrix, or illusion within illusion.
Basically, we have become totally distracted from ordinary life, are not peaceful, and miss the lessons available to the discerning eye. Disconnected, in our own artificial world, we have accepted it as much more important than everyday events that surround us. I speak of this to point to the need for balance, and taking a break, or to unplug, to just be with our kids or parents, or in Nature, or in social situations, and look at all these things through a spiritual lens. Everything can be used or abused, or we can use things, or have them use or control us. I too live in the modern world, and have a car, computer, cell phone, MP3 player, and so on, but to me, these things only have value if they can assist, or support, my spiritual advancement. If we truly pursue the spiritual goal, our whole life will change. If we have accepted this goal but are distracted by living in the world, then we need loving devotee friends to remind us to recommit to our ideal.
How to be in the world, while understanding at least in theory, and gradually realizing, that we are not of it? To do this, bhakti practitioners are recommended to absorb their minds in the holy name of Krishna, and reading the insights of Krishna and His pure devotees, as given in Bhagavad Gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Chaitanya Charitamrita and other such literature. Then we’ll begin to know what is real, and what is temporary, and thus unreal. Searching out and obtaining the company of saints who are living the ideal spiritual life can give us practical guidance of how to remain on the spiritual path. The mind has to be absorbed in something. We have a choice to be absorbed in the material world and its gadgets for only material stimulation, or the spiritual world by changing our focus as above mentioned, through which we come to experience ourselves as souls who have a very intimate relationship to our Source, or Shri Krishna.
Therefore, to my wife and me, our simple life seems very full and rich, and not lacking in anything. Admittedly, in our younger years, living like this would have been difficult, as we weren’t in the correct state of mind, or stage of life, to be satisfied with our spiritual practices and endeavoring to live an inner life. I am reminded of an important verse from Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.21.2, that speaks about acting according to our realization or eligibility: “Steadiness in one's own position is declared to be actual piety, whereas deviation from one's position is considered impiety. In this way the two are definitely ascertained.” There are many ways to view this verse, and we could inform it by a Gita verse, 3.33: “Even a man [or person] of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?” Thus we all have to go through various stages, in order deepen our desire for the spiritual goal of life. This is why, regardless of our material situation, our spiritual life will continue if we engage in Krishna centered activities, and try to remember Krishna, or God, throughout the day.
In my practical everyday life, I am seeing how the basic spiritual practices of bhakti yoga can sustain and nourish us as we go through being a parent, occupational goals, material desires, and the various distractions of modern life. We can come out the other side more committed to the holy name and bhakti than ever. I would say my wife and my (our) current life is the fruit of the devotional austerities we naturally did in the course of living in temples and pushing on the movement. Actually, we are still assisting in that effort by our contact with others as I mentioned, and in sharing our faith, realizations, and what we have learned through the school of hard knocks. The more we progress in our Krishna consciousness or in being absorbed in the loving service to Krishna, the more we can be of help to others on their own spiritual journey, whether in beginning to take up bhakti, or recommitting to their practices. As I have done, so can you! Although I am a slow climber on the mountain of prema (love of Krishna), I am still walking and see encouraging signs.