Vanity thought #769. Message for atmaramas

Lord Chaitanya had some special fondness for atmaras ca munayo verse, elaborating it on two occasions to two different devotees – Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and later Sanatana Goswami.

Let’s see the verse first (SB 1.7.10):

suta uvaca
atmaramas ca munayo
nirgrantha apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukim bhaktim
ittham-bhuta-guno harih

“All different varieties of atmaramas [those who take pleasure in atma, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls.”

One could easily see why this verse is so important, coming at the beginning of Srimad Bhagavatam – it’s a kind of proof that Bhagavatam works. It might not work for us yet, it might not have worked for the sages of Naimisharanya yet (they were doing a fruitless fire yajnas when Suta Goswami decided to entertain them with stories of Krishna). This verse, however, shows that it worked for other people on a much higher level so it must be true.

That is a very interesting dynamic to their conversation. We accept Bhagavatam as self-evident truth but for them it was just one of the many possible solutions to their problem. They didn’t know if it was going to work and so Suta Goswami referred them to greater authorities, in particular to Shukadeva Goswami, but also it was a part of the conversation featuring Narada Muni and Srila Vyasadev.

The sages asked him why Shukadeva Goswami would study Bhagavatam and Suta Goswami answered that all kinds of liberated persons are attracted to the Lord and therefore Shukadeva Goswami was no exception.

Anyway, so Lord Chaitanya went to great lengths to explain all possible meanings of this verse, giving examples from Bhagavatam itself or from other scriptures to illustrate each meaning, beginning with various definitions of atmarama. Normally it starts with four Kumaras, then goes to Nava Yogendras,… and then we get lost.

Sure, it worked for them, they were self-realized and liberated already, what has it got to do with us? Just a theoretical exercise? Just an example of complexity of Sanskrit translations?

And then Lord Chaitanya sneaked in this (CC Madhya 24.212):

One in the bodily conception worships his own body as Brahman, but when he comes in contact with a devotee, he gives up this mistaken idea and engages himself in the devotional service of Lord Kṛṣṇa.

That, there, is me, that’s addressed directly to me! Finally, something I can relate to.

Unfortunately, in the next couple of verses Lord Chaitanya explains who these people worshiping their body as Brahman are – different kinds of yogis, those engaged in yajnas and ritualistic ceremonies, so the effect gets lost, but then he mentions those who simply try to fulfill their material desires and that’s me again, not excluded after all.

The puzzling part of the verse – worshiping his own body as Brahman, is actually an acute observation. At first we might say – I don’t worship my body as Brahman, I don’t think my body is Brahman, this has nothing to do with me. But what IS Brahman? If we take it to mean the Absolute and Supreme reality that is above everything else, then yes, we treat our body as Brahman.

That’s how we’ve been schooled – protect your body above everything else. Family comes high, too, and maybe service to you country, but you have to look after your own body first. That’s why they assume that absolutely everyone would crack under torture – no ideals or beliefs can possibly be chosen to protect when the body is under threat.

Other people talk about other kinds of Brahman. Yogis see it as the Supersoul within their hearts, impersonalists see it as transcendental light, devotees talk about Krishna being Param Brahman, but we don’t know anything about that. We might choose to follow them and accept their definitions of Brahman but that would be just words because we still treat our bodies as absolute and supreme and we still have no contact with all those higher forms of Absolute.

It’s pretty much like annamaya, pranamaya and so on – at each stage a living entity considers that particular kind of enjoyment as highest of all. We are at the stage of self-realization where we consider our bodies as the only real truth because we don’t know any better.

It doesn’t even enter our minds that happenings of our bodies can be ignored and overlooked and that there’s another, higher reality elsewhere. We entertain the possibilities but, being in a conditioned state, we don’t have any other options – a bound living entity is bound to feel that way.

Not to despair, though, by the mercy of our guru and all the devotees this misconception will go away and we’ll engage ourselves in service to the Lord.

Practically it means that for the sake of the service we will forgo interests of our material bodies. Non-devotees around us would say: “But what about your job? Think of you family, think of your health. How are you going to support yourself? How will you feel being a beggar? What will all your friends say? Think how stupid you will look if you declare your belief in those ancient Indian fairy tales. No one will take you seriously, ever. Think how it would reflect on us? Think of your future – this is just a spell, don’t burn all your bridges, don’t ruin your life. You should be thinking about building a nest, a safety net. What will you do when you get old? It’s okay to prance about when you are young and careless, but who will look after you later in life?”

Umm, who cares? We are not taking to the service because it would be better for our bodies. All those terrible things are scary only if you accept your body as important, which it isn’t. Persons who are fully engaged in service become transcendental to the conditions of their bodies – hot, cold, pleasure, pain – it just doesn’t register anymore, it becomes irrelevant, junk data.

Of course if we are not fully engaged in service or not engaged at all we have to follow these materially designated dharmas, but only for the time being, make no mistake about it. Once Krishna shows us His mercy we’ll abandon them in a moment.

And that, I believe, is the proper attitude to develop for someone not yet on the liberated platform, the materialistic atmarama.

2 comments on “Vanity thought #769. Message for atmaramas

  1. I can completely relate to some of the examples you list of what some non-devotees say. I’m fairly new to Krishna consciousness and have been investigating it then beginning to practice within this past year. It would be so “easy” in the material situation I live in-with a husband who strongly opposes it, friends who don’t understand and ridicule it and even some who think I might go to “hell” because of it (they are Christian)..but when it comes down to it I keep being drawn to this path and it seems that there’s nothing that matters more than being devoted to Krishna.

    Thanks for this post. It was a great read.

    • Glad you feel being drawn to serving Krishna, not so good that there’s so much opposition, though – it imposes a false dichotomy that you are either “one of us” or “being brainwashed into a cult”. It might take years to see that we all want essentially the same thing and we all depend on the same Absolute to achieve it, it’s just a matter of taste. They want to experience Absolute through its energies – bodies, tastes, smells, or families and countries, devotees want to experience the Absolute directly as spirit souls and we consider it a superior way.

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