The term has become popular some thirty years ago when UK musicians started performing their hits on acoustic instruments for the public. The idea was to hear the songs as they are, without the help of amplifiers, reverberators, and all the gadgetry like the latest scourge of youtube – autotune. Use of electronics was believed to cover and obscure the original, pure, raw talent.
In the Internet era unplugged refers to disconnecting yourself from the digital universe, a sort of digital detox. Latest joke is about living through a blackout: “Internet was down, mobile run out of battery, had to talk to the family for a while – they seem like nice people.”
As devotees we should be totally unplugged from the society in all its aspects. Why? For one thing Krishna’s instruction is sarva dharman parityajya, and it’s not only about religions, dharma means so much more. Everything you feel you are obliged to do because of your position or your nature is your dharma, and you have to give it all up.
Another point is sarvopadhi vinirmuktam – devotional service must be free from all kinds of material designations. Whatever you think of yourself in relation to the society – get rid of it.
It’s not as simple as it sounds. Humans are social animals, we need other people around us for all kinds of support and this association provides comfort and safety to our existence while we are in the conditioned stage. Just making a list of all such support might take days, weeks, or even months as we discover more and more about ourselves.
A while ago I mentioned spotting feeling of anticipation when I pop some food into a microwave. Here is a device made by other people that makes my life so much easier, I feel comforted by their help and that makes me indebted to the society that looks after me so well. Give it up.
Today is Monday, everyone has the right to make a gloomy Monday jokes and everyone who works for a living would appreciate it. Well, don’t, as devotees we shouldn’t feel anything special about Mondays. Neither we can share the joy of TGIF. No matter how much we want to share these feelings, they are upadhis – external designations. We can’t hope to attain bhakti if we still wait for the weekend when we can unwind like everybody else.
I’m not even sure about Sunday feasts, all devotees come to love them dearly and wait for them just as 9-5 slaves wait for their brunches or something. Srila Prabhupada instituted this custom for the benefits of our guests and as a tribute to our conditioned nature but we can’t hang on to it if we ever hope to attain devotion.
Speaking of unwinding – we don’t get to come home in the evening, collapse on the sofa and take comfort in feeling of freedom and opportunity to relax. We don’t get to relax, ever, service to Krishna must be uninterrupted – nityam bhagavata sevaya. For everyone else this down time is well deserved and everyone expects us to appreciate it just like them but we are not part of this society, we don’t share in it.
If we work for a living everyone would assume that we deserve rest just like them but we don’t and we should banish the idea that we deserve anything from our minds forever. This is even more prominent on paydays – we are given money just like everybody else and this money is assumed to be ours to spend for our own pleasure, or at least the part of it not confiscated by our wives. As devotees we should never see any money as ours, we cannot allow ourselves to be tricked into the illusion of having power and opportunity to enjoy material nature.
Try to excuse yourself from having that feeling and see how difficult it is. Impossible would be a better word.
Somehow or other we always have at least some money just like we always have at least some food and so when we walk into a shopping mall we naturally assume the position of a shopper. Everything and everybody we see treats us like that and everybody reassures us that spending money and getting served is our purpose in life. No, that’s one of those dharmas we are supposed to give up. We cannot allow ourselves to become shoppers if we want to be devotees.
Or imagine driving or walking down a dark street and you see a collection of lights up ahead. People are there, there are shops, restaurants, cafes – there are people and, contrasting with the darkness around us it looks and sounds very enticing. Forget it, we are not part of that crowd even if we look like one of them – two legs, two arms, mouth to stuff. We cannot allow ourselves to be attracted by community of sense enjoyers.
Or take driving itself – as soon as we sit behind the wheel we assume identity of a driver, a responsible member of a driving community who follows all the rules and avoids causing problems to anyone. It’s like taking on a new body, it’s a particularly dense concentration of upadhis. Of course we can’t drive anywhere we like, off road or through traffic lights, but why can’t we? It’s one of those dharmas that need to be abandoned for the sake of Krishna’s service, too.
Here’s the tricky part, though – even if we are asked to abandon our dharmas we are also told to follow them to the best of our abilities. We still have to spend our money and eat our feasts and we still have to drive on the right side of the road, which could be left, depending on the country, but at no time we should allow to identify ourselves with any of those designations and we should never accept rewards for our compliance as ours.
We cannot allow ourselves to think “I deserved this” or “I deserved that” even if the whole society insists that we do so. We should completely unplug ourselves from them like sociopaths who can’t physically feel any empathy, which doesn’t stop them from appearing totally normal because they are very adept at faking human emotions.
This what sarva dharman parityajya also means – don’t take anything here personally, don’t cry for baby seals, don’t get swayed by pain and suffering caused by material nature, don’t get attracted by joy and happiness either. Charity and outwardly compassion are domains of impersonalists who don’t want to find relationships with the Lord and so try to fix the material world instead.
It’s unfixable and it doesn’t need fixing, we should not confuse liberation with creature comforts and once we achieve liberation we should strive to bring other people into Krishna’s service, not try to tell Maya Devi how to do her service. She can manage very well without our advice, thank you very much.
But first we need to do is to unplug ourselves, we don’t get to help a lot of people by staying materially conditioned forever.