Vanity thought #407. Vanity, piety and ekadashi

For a while now I’ve been noticing verses about how Krishna preserves progress of His devotees and how He ignores their temporary falldowns. In Bhagavad Gita, for example, He says that even if His devotee commits most abominable actions he should still be considered saintly, that for His devotees He would preserve what they have and also give what they lack (BG 9.22 and 9.30).

Then there was a passage from Srimad Bhagavatam (SB 11.20.25 and verses around it) where Krishna tells Uddhava that for His devotee there should be no worry about committing some offenses, but rather determination and enthusiasm to continue on his path.

That seems to be the standard view on the subject – falldowns are not as important as they seem to be and can be overcome simply by getting up and continuing with one’s service or sadhana. I should note here that it doesn’t really matter what a falldown is, it could be breaking four regs or it could be putting away Bhagavad Gita and watching some movie instead. Each one of us knows his own weaknesses and has his own demons to fight, the principle holds equally for all.

But then there’s this mind blowing verse from the Fourth Canto (SB 4.20.4) where Lord Vishnu personally tells Maharaja Prithu (an incarnation it his own right!):

If a personality like you … is carried away by the influence of My material energy, then all your advancement may be considered simply a waste of time.

All your advancement is simply a waste of time. How about that? How about “I preserve what you have” promise?

ATM I don’t know of any authoritative explanations of this discrepancy, just my own speculations, so beware.

What I think is happening here is that we tend to mix up our advancement on a material platform with our spiritual progress. By material platform I mean all the goodies we collect for years of engaging in “devotional service” – a couple of initiations, gayatri mantra, good standing in the community of vaishnavas, maybe access to Deity worship, invitations to give lectures or conduct seminars, maybe a responsible position in ISKCON management or a residence in the Holy Dhama and so on.

All of these things are incredibly important but ultimately they all have to be left behind in this world, they do not define us as devotees of the Lord, if we agree that real devotional service starts only on the liberated platform and is conducted in one’s original spiritual form.

From that point of view all our achievements are not much more than upadhis of materialistically minded persons, limitations stemming from living on a bodily platform. They see themselves as learned scholars, we see ourselves as learned scholars, too, or as brahmanas, or as “vaishnavas” with tilakas and kanthimalas, or as brahmacharies or even sannyasis. Same kind of illusion, just related to Krishna.

Our real spiritual treasures, however, lie somewhere else – we have been given the Holy Name and we have been accepted by our gurus. We have nothing else to show until we get past the anartha nivritti stage. Then we’ll start treasuring our attachment to Krishna, our ruchi, then bhava, and ultimately pure, unalloyed love – prema.

So what Krishna promises to preserve for us is just that – knowledge of the Holy Name and acceptance by the guru. Everything else is just temporary stuff that would be unwise to try and hold on to. It’s very important to have when we have it but when we die we will have to leave it behind.

This could be the kind of stuff that Lord Vishnu told Maharaja Prithu he could easily lose. The background for that verse was that Indra got envious of Maharaja Prithu’s strength and tries to still his sacrificial horse. He got nearly killed for that and that’s when Vishnu interfered (Lord Brahma spoke first, though) to stop Maharaja Prithu from committing a serious offense of murdering Indra.

The achievements that Lord Vishnu most likely meant was the accumulation of pious results of Maharaja Prithu’s sacrifices. One hundred horse sacrifices enable one to reach the position of the King of Heaven – clearly a karmic activity even if done in Vishnu’s name, and it’s also not very different from climbing the ladder of success in ISKCON. We might have one hundred full sets of Prabhupada’s books distributed, or one million servings of prasadam, or a thousand of disciples, or whatever else that suits our own level.

These things will be taken away if we let ourselves to be carried away by maya. Of that there’s no doubt and there are millions of examples. We might be able to collect these merits again in the next life but that should never be our goal, should it? What do we need these things for if not for our own vanity?

Krishna might not care about our falldowns but that also means He equally doesn’t care about the other stuff we might consider important now. He will preserve the spark of our devotion and the memory of the Holy Name, that’s all. When circumstances permit He would also direct us towards our guru, which, in turn, might turn into scoring some brownies for our service again.

I was pondering all of that today because it’s also edadashi, observance of ekadashi brings an untold number of benefits and general piety. Do we really need all that stuff? Umm, probably yes and no. Lord Chaitanya wanted His devotees to observe ekadashi but probably not because it would make us into pious persons.

I’ve decided to do a serious fast today, no food, just juice and milk, hoping to eventually go only on water. This proved to be an impossible task. Even a year ago, even a few months ago, on Nirjala Ekadashi, I had absolutely no problem with fasting. Today it was a torture.

I’ve learned two lessons – I totally identify myself with my body, and that this extra asceticism is absolutely worthless as its results can be wiped away in an instant.

Unfortunately these realizations also left me without an anchor – everything I used to rely on to give me strength turned out to be illusory, and I don’t know how to be an atmarama yet, I know about the Holy Name but I can’t glean any support from it, I don’t get anything that I can feel and measure, unlike reassuring words of fellow devotees or family members.

Hopefully the Holy Name does its work quietly in the background and something does get cleansed in my heart. If even that doesn’t work then I’m truly doomed. No family, no connections, no recognition can provide me with proper support as a spirit soul, and this is a dilemma on its own, perhaps one that I should address some other time.

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