"When Akiba was on his deathbed, he
bemoaned to his rabbi that he felt he was
a failure. His rabbi moved closer and asked
why, and Akiba confessed that he had not
lived a life like Moses. The poor man began
to cry, admitting that he feared God's
judgment. At this, his rabbi leaned into his
ear and whispered gently, "God will not judge
Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba
for not being Akiba."
Some may laugh at the logic here since after all we are not the body, yet there is truth to be gleaned from this narration. We have to engage in devotional service or Krishna conscious activities and thoughts ( or whatever our spiritual practice is) with the help of our material body and mind. To make the best use of our various bodies--gross and subtle--it is important to understand them--what do we have a natural affinity for, or what are our strengths and weaknesses. Our conditioned nature can be a weight bringing us down, or a springboard for our spiritual life. The Varnashrama system (ancient Vedic method of organizing society) is meant to help people understand themselves physically so they can find a satisfying occupation and ashram (married or celibate) and ideally lead a life which compliments them in the context of spiritual cultivation.
Do you do this? Occasionally or habitually? As a general rule I would say this is not a good practice. I have counseled couples where one of the partners said yes when they meant no, and their marriage didn't last a year. We can't please everyone or avoid difficulties by avoiding the truth of who we are--though we are not the body, we have to acknowledge its nature. This doesn't mean that we will have no unpleasant duties if we are honest about our feelings, yet we will live more authentically. It also doesn't mean we agree to unnecessary sensual desires, or avoid getting up early or chanting because we don't feel like it. There is some inconvenience in spiritual life, but that is a different thing than I am speaking about. Basically we have to understand our material self on the path of understanding our soul. As the saying goes, "To thy own self be true"--though I would add--but do so in the service of who you really are spiritually. The whole Bhagavad-gita is based on this principle.
According to Krishnadas Kaviraja
in Chaitanya Charitamrita
“Essential truth spoken concisely
is true eloquence.”
When the British were ruling India most of them failed to appreciate Krishna’s activities or teachings in their cursory study of Vedas, through the colored lens of their limited religious, colonial, racist eyes. Even many Christians decry the attempt of secular scholars (or those of other religions) to expound on the life and teachings of Christ, and recommend understanding the culture that existed during his life. I think it is safe to say that in studying any religion, those unfamiliar with the culture existing during its founding, or who are not sympathetic to the teachings will not really be able to understand the essence of the tradition. This is certainly true as well with the Vedic scriptures of India. Most of the British studied the Vedas with the idea of finding fault with it and debunking what they thought was religious superstition at best. Therefore, Krishna in their heart, showed them what they were looking for! Krishna reciprocates with our desire to either know or ignore him. [BG 4.11]
The first Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam is one of my favorites. Why? Perhaps it is because it was the Canto which Prabhupada brought to America and the first book that was available for us to study. Or it could be the attractive, spiritually uplifting, historical stories used to teach the philosophy, or maybe because Prabhupada put everything he could into it, thinking he might not live to finish the whole scripture. Indeed he didn’t finish. Although he finished only a few chapters of the 10th Canto, he did give us the Krishna book in 1970 which is a summary of that Canto. Any of the various narrations contained throughout the Bhagavatam can help us be freed from bodily illusion and take up the spiritual path. It all depends on our receptivity coming from our inner spiritual necessity. Hearing Vidura's potent words while considering their meaning for you and contemplating the questions that arise will help you go deeper into transcendence.
I am greatly fortunate to work at the Kindred Spirits store where so many interesting and/or spiritually searching people come. Two days ago a Mother and her adult son came to the store. They are are practitioners of Islam who immigrated from Pakistan. They were both quite broadminded, educated and thinking people. They were a pleasure to speak with. If only everyone understood some basic spiritual philosophy rather then knee jerk reactionary religious sentiment, what a different world we would live in, but then again, this is the age of Kali or the time of quarrel and hypocrisy! The son is in graduate school working on his Ph.D in world religions. We had a fabulous conversation about the religions of the world and mystic spirituality.
Yesterday I met a very spiritually curious lady about my age--late 50's or so, who recently was baptized as a Catholic. Other churches wanted her to wait, but as she realized her days were numbered she wanted to be ceremoniously part of a Church. She is studying everything she can find about Catholicism and asks other Catholics about the meaning of various rituals and what they mean personally to them. She was surprised to learn that most of the people don't really know what they are doing, but are sort of going through the motions. Often this was the religion they were born into, and it is familiar but only superficially meaningful. Hearing this is clear demonstration of how religious people equate the form or rituals with the religion, rather then their purpose and meaning--the "why" and "what for" questions.
Of course I don't meet such quality people every day, though very often. In general I am able to share some thoughts that I think might be uplifting or that will in some way cause people to stretch beyond their ordinary thoughts to think more deeply about spirituality, the controlling force or power in the Universe, their "higher power", or simply God.
By the mercy of a pure devotee even persons who are not even very religious can go beyond material dharma to ask higher questions about the soul. This is expressed in Vedic statement in the Brahma-sutra often quoted by Prabhupada: "athato brahma jijnasa" or now is the time to inquire about Brahman or the Absolute Truth. This inquiry is generally the fruit of religious life. Without coming to this point religious life is practically a waste--it is better than ordinary life, but still keeps one the the cycle of birth and death. Thus the pure devotees realizing how short life is point to the essence of the Vedic teachings, that we are soul, part of Krishna, and have to revive our eternal service to him.
For some people it is easier to be religious when times are good, and often a test when they suffer (although from another angle it is natural for many to call on God in distress, though only officially acknowledging him in happiness). Sometimes even knowledgeable devotees may blame God for their problems in their intense grief and sorrowful emotions, yet in more thoughtful moments they can remember that souls are here in the material world to try to enjoy apart from Krishna. In addition they know that their suffering is being minimized by the mercy of Krishna, and due to the purifying effect of devotional service (or activities performed in love, or in pursuit of love).