Yesterday I compared our spiritual progress to progress in a stupid game (btw, one local geek just posted his score on Twitter – 110. I’m not fighting that). It could be questioned why such comparison is justified and here are my reasons.
We chart our spiritual progress through time – we meet devotees, we get their association, we start chanting and following principles, maybe move to a temple, get initiated once, get initiated twice, maybe get married and get a job, keep chanting, struggle with principles, settle, aspire for more, fail again, make more promises, old age creeps in, get respect from juniors, we prepare for retirement and start thinking about death, and so on.
Time doesn’t act on the spirit soul, however. Our relationships with Kṛṣṇa do not depend on it. As far as He is concerned – the moment we surrender we are back in His graces, as good as home. Once we reach His abode time will stop making sense to us, too. We wouldn’t be thinking in terms of progression I described above because time would be cast away just as we’ll cast away our bodies, minds, and the whole shebang.
The described progress IS a function of time on material elements, forcing them to move in certain way, cause effects and then react to those effects in an endless chain. It IS mechanical, it follows reason and logic as we can always explain what happens to us and why both spiritually and materially. Every now and then some of us get Lord’s special mercy but otherwise developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a science. We do this and we know what happens next, we follow guru and we become self-realized, we chant and we become blissful, we read and we understand, we commit offenses and we lose taste – nothing happens to us without a reason.
This is why I think we can investigate causes of our failures employing same methods as materialists, they are very good with such empirical observations after all. One could say that Vedic scholars understand how human body works even better but we can’t learn from them, can we? We don’t read Sanskrit and we don’t have proper paramparā to learn this kind of stuff. One could say we are allowed to read only our own literature but we are not prohibited to apply what we read there to the world around us, śāsta cakṣu doesn’t mean one who looks only at śāstra but one who looks at the outside world (through the eyes of śāstra).
Anyway, there’s a lot of material out there explaining failures in our ways of thinking. Most of the time we just don’t see how wrong and mistaken we are, it’s nearly impossible to judge ourselves objectively. Look at this this video, for example, see if you fall for this trick, lots of people do:
I’ve caught only the last glimpse of the effect and only because I knew there was something about this on the site I saw it on first. I can’t tell you how many times in the midst of a heated discussion I caught myself missing obvious points just because I wasn’t looking/reading carefully enough. This happens a lot when we try to prove our own point and fail to see anything else, the bigger picture. In such situations another fallacy called confirmation bias comes into play, too. That’s the one where among pile of evidence we select only that which suits our point of view and ignore the evidence to the contrary.
That’s how one sided books about FDG or rittviks or any other controversial issue come into being.
Well, now try this video from the same series:
Did it work? It worked totally on me. This shows that even when we know and prepared there’s still a whole lot of stuff that we miss, we just can’t catch it all, it’s impossible.
What does it mean in practice? That whatever we think we know we actually don’t. We know only a small slice of the reality that appears in our view, not to mention all the subtle stuff visible to beings like demigods. This means that we have no hope of progressing in our spiritual life based on “understanding” but only on following. This means that whenever we argue about something the only thing we can rely on is the words of our spiritual master because even books in front of our eyes contain so much material that we simply fail to notice.
Another common fallacy is that we think we are rational beings, it’s related to Ben Franklin effect I discussed earlier this week – we make unconscious and unrelated decisions without realizing their consequences all the time and remember to apply logic and reason when it’s too late and mostly to justify our previous choices rather than plan for the future.
Most of our decisions in life are irrational. The guy who discovered it, Daniel Kahneman, got a Nobel prize but, interestingly, in the field of economics because there’s no Nobel prize for psychology. Economics seems like a good substitute because the effects of our irrational decisions can be expressed in financial terms and everyone loves theories about making more money.
This means that our decisions in devotional life are irrational, too. Most likely they are not driven by our remembrance of Kṛṣṇa but by our base, material instincts. This is very important because we don’t score any brownies for those. Kṛṣṇa might look at us forgetting all about Him and doing some incredibly stupid things in His name and sigh. Or shake His head. Or do a facepalm move.
This is why we should strictly follow orders of our guru and do not trust our own judgment. There are lots of people who think they can read books by themselves, apply it in their lives and think they are becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious. They most likely aren’t because we can’t get anything right on our own – our consciousness is too impure to make the right decisions ourselves, we need to be constantly corrected by someone who really knows or who acts as Kṛṣṇa’s representative.
Have you been or seen people in situations where nothing they do comes out right because they are totally out place? That where we are in relation to real spiritual knowledge – we don’t know the first thing about it, we only know the material world around us and even that we know poorly.
Finally, we tend to overestimate our own level, can’t stress this enough. There are surveys showing that most people think of themselves as being above average, which is mathematically impossible. That’s why when we think about our own level we select only our best achievements while to reach the level of bhakti we need to stay pure, meaning that we get disqualified because of our low moments. Of course it wouldn’t matter when Kṛṣṇa personally transfers us to the spiritual world but until that happens our level is determined by the amount of our anarthas – our low scores.
This means that instead of reaching for the stars we should spend more time keeping our nose clean and avoiding pitfalls and falldowns, at this stage this will do us more good than trying to catch glimpses of love and devotion.
I’ll end this post with another common prank.
If you’ve seen something like this before consider that, according to this study, fifty percent of people fall for it and don’t notice anything. It’s unbelievable.