Mindfulness, Coming Attractions, The Life of the Soul

Karnamrita Das

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Sometimes I am aware of the great number of things that can happen in a day, building step by step into a week, month, year, and then years, and it seems time is flying by. In life’s fast forward blur we may wonder where our life has gone. If we can stop our harried pace, rewinding to look back, awake with grateful vision, we can see the rich tapestry of our life, appreciating our many blessings. This will help us live more fully in the eternal, “now,” which as many have said, is all we have. Mindfulness, or being as fully present in the moment as possible, although considered a Buddhist term, is very much an aspect of bhakti yoga; it's part of having a full life when used in relationship to service to Krishna. Seeing, or sensing, Krishna in our life means appreciating how minute details are actually significant, and combine together, as colors, to create a painting of devotion.

For a devotee of Krishna, mindfulness means not just being in the present as an end itself, but to facilitate remembrance of Krishna, with the sense of being His, and our guru's, servant. In this spirit of mindfulness, and service, I share my thoughts about life, and the details of what I go through. My prayer is that by reading the reflections I make about life, you will be inspired you to appreciate the spiritual opportunity you have and how those can be dovetailed as devotional service. Life, after all, isn’t lived well as a spectator, or to be merely entertained through made up tales, at the cost of our valuable time, and future destination. Unfortunately, the modern world is awash in media in movies and TV, providing endless distractions with narratives about other people’s lives. Rather than having meaningful relationships or endeavoring to solve our own problems, we are tempted to watch how badly or fantastically other people live. We live vicariously through others, rather than making our life the best it can be.
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Although it takes a person to turn on the TV, sometimes the TV, or video games, can take over our life. It’s natural to hear or experience accounts about other people, but from a Krishna conscious perspective, this propensity is best used when such topics have something to do with Krishna. What to do, then, if we are conditioned to partake of modern media? I am not here to make you feel bad, or criticize you, but to share the KC philosophy in a way that works, while pointing to the goal of complete absorption in serving and loving Krishna. If we make this our ultimate goal of life, or want to, that is spiritual progress. The main problem with material stories, in whatever medium, is that the characters are mainly trying to enjoy the world with no spiritual context and awareness of God, and this is conveyed as a laudable goal. Besides this, sensational visual stimulation is addicting, and can breed personal dissatisfaction and a lack of inner peace--we may seek more and more external diversions, and loose interest in the spiritual quest. Transcendent perspectives are few, and it is up to us, or our friends/group, to supply them. As a general rule, if we are to consider ourselves aspiring devotees of Krishna, or spiritually inclined persons, we have to keep a spiritual vision, seeing both the shortcomings of a life devoid of spirituality, and the benefit of Krishna consciousness.

Shrila Prabhupada, my guru, has often shared an English proverb, that “Discretion is the better part of valor,” so we are recommended by sages to develop spiritual intelligence and discretion as we work and live in the world. What can we do to actively move in more spiritual directions, to awaken our soul? We can pray to get our priorities in order, and endeavor to use everything as an impetus for spiritual practice. I find it very interesting and important to look at trends in modern culture, including movies, and TV programming, considering what it says about people’s consciousness and interests, or about us personally—which for me, gives insights into the spiritual work I have to do. What do my interests or attachments say about my conditioning, and what I need to resolve and let go of? If I were to die today, what would be my destination? Let us keep in mind that whatever attracts us is a reflection of our attraction for Krishna, but a very poor substitute. I refer you to the Gita’s 10th chapter where we hear that while Krishna is everything through His energies, the most significant things, or persons, of our experience, specifically represent Krishna and can remind us of Him. Furthermore, in the conclusion of that chapter, we learn “…that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My [Krishna’s] splendor.” [Bg 10.41] Part of our spiritual work is to add Krishna to everything we do, see, taste, or experience.
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Thus, we should balance what we view from popular culture, with reading books, listening to lectures, or watching movies or documentaries with spiritual or Krishna conscious themes. The idea here is to change our taste, or what we allow to influence us, from matter to spirit—and spending time with experienced, balanced, and joyful, Krishna conscious persons can help. Understanding the yoga philosophy outlined in Bhagavad Gita is another key to changing our outlook and habits. What we are absorbed in throughout our life will crystallize, or solidify as we age. Our desires and attachments color our consciousness, and provide the blueprint for our next life.

Let’s again look at the Gita to remind us about the importance of our inner life: [Krishna continues], “And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt./ Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.” [ Bg 8.5-6] The above outlined fact about the power of conscious awareness in life and death is why chanting the holy name and hearing about Krishna and His devotees is so essential. Krishna is identical with his name, form, and pastimes, and is present wherever His devotees are glorifying Him. As Emerson so succinctly put it, “We become what we think about all day long.” The choice is ours, the process our life's work!
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Big Subject

The topic of how to use our time, and how what we focus on affects us--which is the underlying current of this blog--is a large one, with many angles of vision. Some devotees will only give the hard line of totally refraining from anything not specifically Krishna conscious, and there are good arguments for that. However such "preaching" isn't always presented in the right spirit, and may defeat the purpose, which to me is the practical benefit, and inspiration, of the audience. Every person practicing Krishna consciousness has to determine a balance between the material and spiritual, and what their priorities are. I can give you so many "shoulds" and should nots" but you have to weigh it all and come to a course which works for you for the long haul. Thus, I have attempted to make my tone here, the middle, or balanced, way. Moderation is always a good idea, except when our attraction for Krishna is our everything--igniting our life so to speak--and we can be totally focused, naturally, on our spiritual practices, seeing and working through the "serving ego," as opposed to a materially explotive "default" setting. Hopefully, devotees have that as a conscious goal, and work in that direction, rather than just thinking it can't be obtained. The general guideline is to accept what is favorable and give up what is not favorable, though even here, this is an individual determination. We make time for what is important, and for what is enjoyable, so as our taste for sadhana (spiritual practices) increases, our attraction for other things diminishes proportionally. In the beginning stages of Krishna consciousness, chanting the holy name and other spiritual methods are like medicine, whereas in the higher stages, hearing and chanting about Krishna becomes food, or that which sustains us that we can't live without.

If not this, than that

The spirit of this, and much of my writing, is found in the 12th chapter of Bhagavad Gita (and in my book, Give to Live) where we are told what is the highest level of spiritual practice, but also given lessor goals that will lead us gradually, progressively, higher toward spiritual perfection. In bhakti, the highest attainment is loving service to Krishna and those dear to Him, purely and with no material conditions. In other words, spiritual life isn't all or nothing, or one size fits all, but is tailor-made according to our level of material attachment and spiritual obtainment. While we have to know what the goal is, and strive for it, we also must know where we are in our life, and act in concert with that. While acting according to our nature, we still must stretch beyond our comfort zone to do more spiritually. We want to bend, but not break, building on small successes or baby steps, so we can some day run comfortably toward the Lord of heart, Shri Krishna. Be honest, yet don't just rationalize your shortcomings to avoid surrender, but pray to become more, or uncover more of your spiritual self. Krishna consciousness is a path of mercy, where we aspire to attract it, or position ourselves to receive it, by our ardent endeavor to please our Gurus, the Vaishnavas, and Shri Krishna, who has come in this age as Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Both mercy and our effort are required, but of the two, Krishna's and the devotee's mercy are more important.