During past month or so I entertained two major lines of thought. One was that material conditioning forced on us is actually for our benefit and the other was that putting too much effort into being a “better devotee” could become a misguided effort.
Pure devotees see the world in permanent and uninterrupted connection with the Supreme, we might not see it like that but nevertheless it’s the reality. If we separate ourselves from our material aspirations we should see that whatever comes to us through our karma is a gift from Krishna Himself. It’s His message delivered to us via His energy, which doesn’t make it any less sacred. Therefore it would be wise to embrace our “material” duties as direct orders from the Lord with humility and patience, waiting for the promotion to service in the spiritual realm, if Lord so desires.
There could be a problem here with “direct” because we are being given orders through maya but we should remember that Krishna promised to personally take care of His devotees, so maya becomes His transparent representative, like a guru. We should not consider ourselves as devotees, of course, but this is not the reason to deny Krishna’s personal care. Therefore our material conditioning here is not really material as it’s being done under Krishna’s personal supervision.
This attitude, however, requires more attention to be paid to our material duties and obligations – work, family etc. This is a dangerous path to take as these things tend to suck us into a vortex of material existence, so this is the “rock” from this post’s title.
The more I think about my job and other things the more distracted I am from chanting my rounds properly. We can’t have both, really, we can’t split our minds, japa requires 100% attention, anything less than that is offensive.
Second line of thought is about inadvertent substitution of prescribed spiritual duties with subtle sense gratification. We want to live better, more fulfilling lives ostensibly for Krishna but what we actually want is to be healthy, wealthy, and smart, have good reputation and everything else we assume comes to us as a reward for our services. This attitude is non-devotional but it’s very hard to shake off because we can’t escape our karmic rewards, they would always be there.
There was a reason Queen Kunti begged for more tribulations instead of comforts – we tend to be more sincere when we are not tempted by material trappings.
One corollary of not trying too hard to be a “better devotee” is that desire to read and know a lot of stuff is a contamination by jnana and so is to be avoided.
The problem is that if we don’t read a lot of stuff about Krishna we tend to fill our minds with outright garbage and that affects our chanting again. We need to be in constant mental contact with the scriptures. It might be a mechanical way but it’s the only one that works for us, “spontaneous attraction” being too unreliable to successfully chant prescribed number of rounds.
This is the “hard place” from the title.
Why am I talking about bliss then?
Because it works!
If we manage to avoid personal entanglement in our material duties and see them only as errands to be run for Krishna they don’t affect our chanting. They don’t break inner concentration no matter how much life throws at us. This is real proof that Krishna is in control and He is always mindful about our spiritual situation. Trusting Him to manage our workload is what surrender means.
It won’t happen overnight but gradually the mind will learn to switch itself off during japa. Trust in Krishna means it has nothing to worry about even if there’s so much work to be done in off-japa hours.
Or things could appear in a different perspective to our minds – japa concentration comes first, body related duties come second.
Second affliction, lack of immersion in Krishna conscious topics, is not so bad either. At first there could be a slight backlash but as time goes by we also start reaping benefits of avoiding subtle sense gratification that comes with trying to be “better”. Once that anartha starts disappearing from our hearts our chanting automatically improves.
It might look like a loss at first but actually it isn’t. It’s not that the mind won’t like thinking Krishna conscious topics anymore, if we keep a required amount of reading it won’t happen, but what we gain is freedom from offenses that come with arguing pros and cons of any particular contention.
Gradually we’ll realize that being “right” is not nearly as important as being humble and respectful to all vaishnavas, and that we don’t really have any opponents, just devotees whose minds occasionally come to different conclusions from ours.
This works, and this is where bliss comes from. Relatively speaking, of course – I mean there’s no detrimental effect on chanting, which is as good as it gets.
We are not chanting our rounds in pursuit of bliss. Seeking pleasure might be our original spiritual instincts but in our current perverted state we shouldn’t trust it. Our bliss should be uncontaminated chanting of the Holy Name, free from subversive desires, free from passion, free from ignorance, free from ulterior motives – free from anything.
Just us and the sound of the Holy Name, syllable by syllable, no matter what happens in the outside world and no matter if the guru/books/mission drift/bla bla issue is being resolved or not. Just chanting, no matter if we feel any kind of bliss or not either.
I’m not saying that embracing above two principles is the only way forward but at least I know it doesn’t hurt and it has been helpful on more than one occasion.