Lately, while charting the way of our spiritual progress, I found myself navigating between two of our mortal danger enemies – sahajiya and impersonalism. Getting close to one in my speculative attempts causes me to bounce back and that makes me closer to the other.
Let’s look at sahajiya first. I don’t mean putting a feather in your hair and imitating Krishna, that’s just nonsense, I mean mistaking our material emotions for spiritual ones. The obvious example is discussing Krishna lila and assuming we can understand what’s going on there.
There’s a boy and a girl, they are in love, they engage in a variety of exchanges – what’s so complicated about that? If we read enough we develop a taste for it and that’s when we assume that our mental and emotional reactions are actually fully spiritual. We become rasikas.
My question to such practitioners – what is spiritual about it at all? You can substitute names for some Romeo and Juliet and it will be just as engaging. You don’t need any spirituality to emphasize with a couple of teenagers and you might just as well drool over some Japanese manga. This kind of idealized puppy love is not unique at all and everyone, literally everyone, can understand these feelings.
Even outside of rasika circles we can fall into the same danger if, for example, we accept our relationships with other devotees as purely spiritual. Every human being has friends, most animals have friends, too. The fact that association of a particular person makes us feel better than usual is not a sign of spirituality. The fact that we are drawn to devotees when facing a crowd of strangers is also not a sign of spirituality. Warm hugs and tears of joy are also not a sign of spirituality, people have this kind of reactions about their college friends, too. Sharing food, gifts, and intimate secrets is also nothing special. You can have this everywhere and most people do.
The fact is that most, if not all of us, are under the influence of the material nature, under the influence of our false egos, and so we are still selfish and our hearts are full of anarthas. This also means that we are attracted to each other on the strength of our material compatibility. Same tastes, same outlooks on the world, same level of intelligence, same level of emotional maturity, but not too similar. I bet there are astrological charts for this type of compatibility as well.
Okay, that’s about dangers of sahajiya and the solution I propose is to focus only on what is undeniably spiritual. In case of devotees – remembrance of Krishna when you see them. This can’t be faked, it can’t be polluted, in as much as Krishna means anything to you, devotees will remind you of that.
However, if we dismiss all out daily interactions as material they immediately lose their value and pretty soon we’ll be left with nothing. We don’t have any actual spiritual experiences, we do not see ourselves in our original spiritual forms, we do not see Krishna, we do not see other devotees in their original forms either, so we behave as if they (spiritual forms) don’t even exist.
Deities are not spared either. They are made of material elements, they are shaped into forms and when they deteriorate, like wooden bodies of Lord Jagannatha, they are discarded and merge into material elements again. When they are Deities they are fully spiritual but, more than anything else, it’s a matter of perception. Lots of people see Them as idols, we see them as Krishna with a sense of duty rather that with actual realization.
When we reach highest levels of advancement we will see Krishna everywhere, not just in the temple. We’ll see Him in the hearts of devotees first, then we’ll see Him in the hearts of every living being. At that point it would be impossible to point at something and say “Krishna is here but not there”. When Hiranyakashipu asked his son Prahlad “Where is your Vishu? Is he in this pillar?” Prahlad replied “Yes” and Lord Nrishimha jumped out of it. Prahlad Maharaj didn’t say “Oh, He is in the temple, you should go see Him there.”
So, it looks like manifestations of the Lord visible to our material senses are an artificial construct, we need them only while on the lower stage of advancement. Actual spiritual form of the Lord remains hidden from us and whatever spiritual feelings we might occasionally experience are of non-differentiated character. We don’t have any spiritual senses and we don’t see the Lord as having a spiritual form – it’s all very impersonal.
What’s even worse, it’s a sort of mayavada because we have plenty of temporary manifestations of the Lord that we treat as merely helpful but not as eternal. This is especially true of our interactions with devotees – they come into our lives, they stay with us for some time, and they move on. We assume that our relationships are eternal and that they will continue in the spiritual world or at least in the next life but we do not have direct experience of this, for us it’s still a matter of faith, not reality.
So, which one of these two extremes is more dangerous? The immediate response, if you put a question like that, would be “stay clear of both” in one hundred percent of cases, I guess. I, however, propose that mayavada is better and that it’s even necessary.
I base this proposal on the fact that Absolute Truth is realized in stages and that impersonal realization of God is a common step even for accomplished transcendentalists, and it’s even unavoidable.
Look at how we are supposed to chant the Holy Name – first there’s offensive chanting, namaparadha, then, as we cleanse our hearts of anarthas, we experience a shadow of the Holy Name, namabhasa. This stage grants liberation but not realization of the personal form of Krishna yet. This is where we become impersonalists, this is why impersonalism is unavoidable.
As we are being saved by the mercy of Lord Chaitanya I hope we won’t get stuck on that stage forever and we won’t become hard core mayavadis but quickly progress to the next step that would bring realization of our own spiritual form and our own relationships with Krishna. Quickly, however, is not how things have been going so far, so take that word with a pinch of salt.
This is also the reason why I tend to be skeptical about declarations of eternal devotion either to guru or Krishna. We are not in the position to make such promises until we reach the liberated stage, otherwise it’s just maya talking, and once we get to that stage there’s no guarantee that we won’t enjoy the eternity of it. It’s not ananda but it would certainly feel so much better than anything we have ever experienced here. Try that first, then make promises.
Actual devotion will start to grow only after we make a conscious choice to seek Krishna beyond the stage of liberation, until then it could be only a tool to get what we want – nice an comfortable living. We do that now – we pray for jobs, success, money, love, children, and those are goals of the lowest class of spiritualists, the karma kanda followers. Impersonal liberation is next, and we can’t even imagine how it would feel. We only know that it would be great. Who knows how long we would want to enjoy that?
Having said that – the necessity of passing impersonal liberation stage, I would stress the need to follow our acharyas, mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. They have been through this already and they laid out the best possible path for us to follow. We might speculate of how it would go exactly but if we stick to it we will be alright even if we don’t understand it completely.
This means that we shouldn’t worry about hitting either the rock or the hard place but rather about where footsteps of our acharyas are. Scenery is not important.