Although Truth is beautiful, it may also seem stark, and be disconcerting by challenging our misconceptions and illusions. The analogy of decorating a dead body at a funeral, frequently used by our spiritual master, Shrila Prabhupada, may seem insensitive or gross. However, I hope you will see that this view is only a matter of perspective which comes from seeing a person as their body. The fact that we are all eternal spiritual beings temporarily associated with our current body is considered the ABC’s of spiritual life. At the same time, it isn’t easy to apply this truth from realization, even for transcendentalists who accept the theory of transmigration of the soul. This is the case because real comprehension only gradually occurs through spiritual practice, combined with the grace of God. Spiritual knowledge and truth go against our material education and conditioning, or the status quo of conventional civilization, so we need a powerful process of spiritual awakening like Krishna consciousness, or bhakti yoga, to awaken us from the dream of bodily identification.
The process of bhakti yoga, or Krishna consciousness, is entirely based on the power of prayer and remembrance of Krishna. As students of consciousness and the Vedic literature, such as the Bhagavad Gita, we learn that (put very simply) our mental absorption determines our destiny. Some people understand this, though for the most part, don’t realize the connection of God to these laws (He is their source, and they exist to bring us to him). They think mind is supreme. I am not saying that, but I am pointing out the basic principle that sustains material existence. As the American philosopher, Emerson said (who was inspired by the Vedas), “A person becomes what they think about all day long”. This could have been taken from the Gita’s Eighth chapter, where we learn, “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.”, and the specific application for bhakti practitioners: “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”.
In my youth it was sort of a fad to climb a near-by mountain and watch the sun set. A beautiful sight awaited those of us who ventured to the top of this small mountain, and it seemed special, and certainly peaceful. This is an everyday event that is seldom noticed as we hurry along to our next destination, which however, may evoke some deeper reflections about our existence—which it did for me. One problem with normal life informed only by modern media, is that we become conditioned to see the extraordinary and profound, as common place (or only for economic gain), and we can lose the message that these events or things are meant to teach us. If we are to change our life for the best, we have to change our angle of vision. The Shrimad Bhagavatam and other such Vedic scriptures are meant to help us develop our appreciation for the lessons in life and Nature. One verse in the Bhagavatam inspired this blog: “Both by rising and by setting, the sun decreases the duration of life of everyone, except one who utilizes the time by discussing topics of the all-good Personality of Godhead.”
As a nineteen year old living in the redwood forests near San Francisco, California, I became tuned in to myself and my spiritual feelings, and the forces of Nature, which we often become forgetful of in today’s world of gadgets and things. I now appreciate how the juxtaposition of my simple life (I had given up my education, relationship, and employment) with my past life’s unfinished spiritual practice, naturally fostered a spiritual awakening. This was fueled by my existential crisis, without which I couldn’t have turned toward a spiritual path. When we are not distracted and in a receptive mood we can notice many things we formally missed.
Another way to answer the question posed in my last blog, “On Seeing Krishna?” is that we aren’t trying to see Krishna, but to serve Krishna. At present, we don’t have the spiritual eyes, or qualification to really see him. Even if Krishna were right before us, we could very well miss him, or misunderstand him, as did some envious persons when Krishna was on this planet five thousand years ago. Prabhupada often taught us that we will hear Krishna before we see him. Generally we “see” Krishna through serving him as well as his devotees. Pure devotees carry Krishna within their heart, constantly hearing and chanting about him, and share their realizations to those who want to hear. Therefore, we first hear or see Krishna through the example and teachings of such great souls. Through their chanting of the holy name, we are inspired to also chant, and we practice seeing through hearing our personal japa (soft repetition of the mantra on beads), and through singing with others in kirtana.
An educated, wealthy man came to hear a talk given by our spiritual master’s guru, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Thakur. After the discourse, the man requested a private audience with the learned saint. Considering the man’s position, the great guru agreed, and in a short while the two faced one another in a beautiful garden. Unbeknownst to either of them, a new disciple of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta had raced to this spot and hidden in the bushes, fascinated to know what the man would ask his guru. The man look in all directions to make sure they were alone, and asked his host, “Have you seen Krishna?” Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati replied that this was not a spiritual question. If he said that he hadn’t seen Krishna, the man would discount him, whereas if he said he had seen Krishna, he would seem proud.
Since computers have a huge impact on us, analogies are frequently made comparing their inner workings to our lives. Though I realize I am not being original here, computer analogies have been useful for me in thinking and speaking about many of our struggles in practicing spiritual life. I hope this one will be of value to you as well in helping put your life in a spiritual perspective. For instance, computers have default settings which they automatically use, or revert to. Applying this idea philosophically, material bodies are vehicles and fields of action for the soul’s attempts to manipulate and enjoy matter. Souls are the perceiver, and conscious awareness of the body, making it appear alive. In this situation, the soul gives up its natural freedom to be under the control of physical, mental, and emotional urges for basic survival of the body, production of progeny to continue our species, and for the fulfillment of our karmic destiny—these are our personal, and human default settings.
My son created a small plot of land five years ago, about 20’ x10’ or so, and surrounded it by a one foot wall of rocks, since they are plentiful here. He was inspired, and I added some topsoil, and thought about growing vegetables, which I did for a few years. Then I became busy writing and traveling, and this plot became like a wild, neglected area, overgrown with tall plants attracted by its fertile soil. As I recently worked on my son’s plot, I thought of many analogies for our spiritual life.
Shri Chaitanya compared taking up Krishna consciousness to cultivating a garden, and planting the seed of bhakti. After the seed germinates and the plant begins to grow, one has to be careful to properly water the plant (with hearing and chanting about Krishna), pulling the weeds (desires for worldly enjoyment), and fencing the garden to prevent the plant being trampled, or eaten by wild animals (compared to offending, or minimizing great devotees). From this unkempt plot, I see a practical demonstration of what happens if we neglect our spiritual practices—our spiritual potential is obscured, and it takes a super effort to get back on track (much more than it did to begin our spiritual life in the beginning). It is also evident that although superficially cleared of unwanted plants, much is going on beneath the surface.
In Grammar School, I thought it strange that certain schoolmates were forbidden by their religion to play cards or games, or go to the cinema. When I asked them about it, I never received very satisfying answers. I was told something like, “These bad things were works of the devil,” “idle distractions”, or that it was just part of their religion. I sort of shrugged my shoulders, thinking it odd, and forgot about it. Fast forward to my practice of Krishna consciousness, and I would agree with the idea of refraining from certain activities, but now I have deep philosophical and spiritual reasons, and a positive alternative. Since for people in general, and some devotees, these seem like innocent enough activities, I thought I would speak about why it is a good idea to be selective about what media we subject ourselves to. I don’t do so with my nose in the air in the mood of condemnation, but from my practical experience, as there was a time in my life as a devotee when I wasted much time on such entertainment. Most of us aren’t perfect in our practice of Krishna consciousness, and we could all stand to improve by increasing our spiritual absorption.
After living in Krishna Temples for twelve years, mostly as a single brahmachari, or celibate student, I began my search for understanding my conditioned nature, as I felt called to be a more balanced person, and find a suitable occupation. Before this time, I was very unaware of myself, and adapted to Temple life in a way that worked for me—which is a way of dealing with one’s nature, though for me, it wasn’t consciously. I was thirty-two, and for the first time, I really understood that I needed to understand myself better.
As a result I had my Vedic astrological chart done a few times, went to psychics, and read many self-help and personal growth type books. I discovered that Prabhupada had used all the success principles recommended by the great success thinkers of the day, like Napoleon Hill and others. I was very attracted to the idea of manifesting one’s life direction, yet I was never excited enough about a course, to really apply the principles. Tony Robbins advised his listeners, to “Live with passion”, but passion, or intense enthusiasm, was always lacking in me. This was the beginning of a struggle with my conditioned nature that has continued to the present, and gave me the name of today’s blog, which I have written to pique your interest in understanding your material self in the pursuit of the spiritual quest. Everyone has to understand themselves on many different levels.