In a hypothetical contest between impersonalism and sahajiya, which one would win? Actually, it’s not entirely hypothetical because as long as we remain under the influence of illusion we will be firmly in the grasp of one or the other.
A conditioned living entity either enjoys the material world or suffers here. Consequently, it embraces either a materially pleasing philosophy or a negative one. Usually it’s the contest between karma khanda and jnana kanda – karma kandis believe that the world can be successfully enjoyed and work towards extracting that enjoyment, jnana kandis believe that as all pleasure is accompanied by an equal or even bigger amount of suffering, seeking happiness in material sense gratification is a dumb idea and renouncing the world altogether is a better way.
I’m not talking about some actual karma and jnana kandis here, we all assume these roles every moment of our lives. When we are full of optimism we are karmis, when we are deeply pessimistic about material happiness, we are jnanis. In the dualistic material world these are our only two, binary options, we either like our experience here or we don’t, there’s no third choice to steal our attention, that is until we meet devotees and learn about Krishna, of course.
Still, our conditioned nature plays out its role and even while ostensibly being devotees we continue our love-hate relationship with the world, with minor modifications – gross sense gratification becomes replaced by sahajiya, and renunciation, well, it’s still as impersonalistic as ever. We renounce the world but we don’t know what or who for, we just renounce it because it sucks, that’s all.
So, now that I established that sahajiya and impersonalism are unavoidable ingredients of our lives here – which one is better?
Here is where it turns into to a rock-paper-scissors game. In some areas sahajiya is better, so paper beats rock, for example, but if impersonalism answers with scissors instead, sahajiya goes home. If next time impersonalism offers the same scissors but sahajiya offers rock instead of paper, impersonalism loses.
Sahajiyas, even ones pretending to be Krishna, are still vaishnavas. Most of them are not so obvious, I understand, they just believe that there’s a way to spiritual progress that lies through manipulation of our senses. Sex is big spiritual experience in their circles at all times but pretending to be in a rasa dance is rare. Still, they are vaishnavas and they should be shown respect accordingly.
Our own sahajiya tendencies are not as bad as that but are also far more common. It’s saying that Sunday feast halava is pure spiritual nectar and enjoying it until it comes out of our ears. Krishna hears it, of course, but maybe what He wants to tell us is that if you want pure spiritual nectar you should go and serve this halava to that devotee at the end of the line, not stuff yourself with it like a pig. We don’t listen, we believe in our own direct experience of gustatory pleasure and we call it spiritual, so if we want to fool ourselves like that, Krishna let’s us.
It’s nothing, this fascination with food or good music or beautiful Deities will eventually go away, it doesn’t ruin our devotional progress, so sahajiya must be better than impersonalism, right?
What we call impersonalism is an offensive kind of denial of Krishna’s spiritual identity, mayavada, but it’s not all that there’s to impersonalism. Strictly speaking, it’s realization of the Brahman aspect of the Absolute and it’s miles ahead of being a conditioned living being as we all still are at the moment.
Four Kumaras, the founders of Kumara sampradaya, were impersonalists. Sukadeva Goswami was an impersonalist until he recited Srimad Bhagavatam, we would be lucky to reach their level of realization while everybody can sit down for Sunday feast and call it a spiritual experience.
Impersonalists are not vaishnavas, per se, but neither are we. Devotee means serving Krishna, we haven’t even started, we are still serving our senses and we need Krishna to help us in this endeavor. Devotion starts only after liberation, which means after we achieve impersonal realization of the Supreme, so impersonalism is better.
But if impersonalism plays mayavada card, sahajiya would obviously beat it because there’s no cure from mayavada. Reaching liberation leaves us with only one step towards realization of Krishna and our relationships with Him, taking to mayavada removes us from His good list forever. Same thing, impersonalism, but completely different destinations.
So, with all this in mind, I think it becomes clearer how we should navigate the treacherous waters of the ocean of illusion. It’s not perfect to try and renounce the world but it’s better than pretending to be spiritualists while enjoying gross sense gratification. And it’s better to let our senses be satisfied by Krishna’s prasadam than rejecting it because we are against sense gratification in principle.
It’s unacceptable to listen to mayavada but it’s okay to dismiss whatever imperfections we see in other devotees because material world and their actions inside of it are illusory. It’s just an interaction of the modes of nature and material elements that serve as devotees’ bodies. Yet at the same time we cannot dismiss their service as illusory, for that would be mayavada.
It might seem a bit confusing but that’s because clear vision of these relationships between Krishna, living entities, and material nature is available only to paramahamsas. We cannot imitate it.
We should take our acharyas word for it, though, that would be the wise thing to do.