Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s recent article on fundamental principles for initiated devotees I wrote about a couple of days ago made me re-evaluate my own situation, too. Anyone would, right? We all want to be devotees, we all want to comply with rules and regulations and when we see a compliance check list we naturally run the test on ourselves. I didn’t like the result but that was not the biggest revelation or the biggest problem with me, it was the presence of multiple personalities.
I have at least two. To outside world I appear as an ordinary man, I go to work, I spend money, I desire things, I desire happiness, I have opinions, I argue, I have faults, I hide them, I have dreams, I have prospects, I act naturally in each and every respect.
Most people in this outside circle do not know or do not care about my spiritual aspirations which form my other identity. That’s the identity I checked against mahārāja’s list of Fundamentals. That’s the identity I present when in the company of devotees. They know my name, they know my guru, they know my history in ISKCON, they know my prospects, they know my sādhana, they know my dedication, or rather lack of it, they know everything there is to know about me as a “devotee”.
People in this circle do not really care about what I do for a living and how I live my life when I return home. Actually, strike that, being well-trained in PR relations our local leaders are always very concerned about everyone’s well-being and once class time is over they want to know and talk about everything. I remember myself being exactly the same way – temple residents can’t hide their natural curiosity in the goings on of the outside world. They might not be interested in cars or power tools or, god forbid, sports teams, but you can always find someone to talk about gadgetry or computers.
Aside from that, however, when being really pressed about things, devotees do not care about our lives in the outside world and this is how it should be. This, however, leaves me with a case of split identities.
It’s fairly easy with devotees, they know that life must go on but do not take it seriously, they also know where our priorities should be so they always understand our unfortunate situation of trying to survive in the material world without compromising our spiritual progress.
People on the outside are similarly confident in my priorities. Save for a few trusted souls they can’t imagine that I would consider completing my sixteen rounds more important than going to work or performing my family obligations. They treat my “spirituality” as just another facet of my persona, like some people have a drinking problem, others have a gambling problem, and I have a religious problem, which is not even serious. My vegetarianism is a much more real thing to them than my allegiance to some weird Hindu gods.
How am I supposed to manage all those identities? Most of the time I know how to compartmentalize and deal with people on the level they expect and understand but what about me being myself?
I know I’m not my body, I know that me being part of my family is also not my real identity, I know that I’m not defined by my work or age or gender or even my mind, so all those external obligations are not me, I just have to do those things because I was born that way.
What about being with devotees and my devotional persona? Here’s the kick – I know that it’s not me either. In the beginning I took all that very seriously but as time passed I realized that my description as a nondescript devotee is not who I really am. They call me by name that is just one out of many and that will be forgotten after my death just as all the other names people identify me by. Initiations seemed like a really big deal in the beginning but by now I realized that those formalities are just that – formalities. It’s nice to know that my efforts were accepted by representative of the paramparā but I also know that initiations don’t do much for my actual problems – accumulated dirt in my heart.
I once tried to learn many verses, then I forgot them all, they were part of my identity as a devotee but not anymore. I still think I *know* them but I don’t remember Sanskrit. If tested it would appear that I don’t have even basic knowledge required for bhakti-ṣāstri courses or whatever exams are necessary for initiations now.
More importantly, I can’t define myself by my sādhana, as required by Fundamental principles. It could be said that my real identity as a servant of our mission reveals itself when I strictly follow all the rules and regulations and when I don’t follow them I compromise this identity and cover it with the cloud of illusion. I would agree with that but it also makes me see how following the rules is external to my being.
I would agree that I want to be the person who rises early for maṅgala-ārati, attends both morning and evening classes etc etc but I also know that’s not who I am and, from experience, it’s not the identity I can maintain for prolonged periods of time, let alone eternally.
Here’s another thing – when I meet devotees I subconsciously try to appear as more devoted than I really am, and I also see them trying to form a better opinion of me that I actually deserve. Ideally, my projections and their expectations must meet in total harmony but it also means that it’s not who I really am.
So, who am I? My real spiritual identity is a non-starter, it’s hidden so well that I might as well not have any, it’s of no practical use. My identity as seen by other devotees is just another aspect of my false ego, my identity as seen by the rest of the world is my false ego at its fullest, so what is left?
I don’t really know, I try not to think in such terms when I chant my rounds, hoping that for the Holy Name it doesn’t really matter. I could say that I’m closest to being myself when I am alone with the Holy Name but there are also some things that I don’t want to mention even in my prayers. I know them, I know Kṛṣṇa knows them, but it’s something better not be brought into our relationships. I also know that they are external to me as the spirit soul, so I don’t take them seriously no matter how close to my real self they appear to be.
Without realizing my actual spiritual form the only real thing in my relationship with Kṛṣṇa is the Holy Name. Without seeing myself as a spirit soul any personal perspective I bring into my chanting will be polluting, so I think it’s best if I don’t bring any.
I can’t please the Lord by being who I am so I think it’s better to leave “me” and “my” from my chanting altogether and leave just the sound of the Holy Name. It’s supposed to be absolutely pure and extremely beautiful on its own, why contaminate it with my polluted, conditioned nature? It is nice to have this nature engaged in Lord’s service and I’m grateful for such engagements but at the end of the day it’s not who I really am. It might be who I want to be but at this stage in my life I realize that even these particular aspirations are temporary. In my next life it might be only one round per day and no sex with animals, forget all the other regs and requirements, or they could be far more strict than those outlined in the Fundamentals.
Acting on all these egos is confusing, and what if there’s only one false ego for the entire universe? I think it’s quite possible that it’s only one element forcing everyone here to assume myriads of false identities. Does it mean that if I become free from this false ego I would become free from Fundamentals, too?
Whichever way it turns, it’s safer to just chant and listen to the name and put the question of identity and attitudes aside, the Holy Name will be better off without us as we imagine ourselves here.