Vanity thought #1043. Illusions

Continuing with re-evaluation of our position on the devotional ladder – first step was to realize that we might have over-estimated our progress. Second step was to realize that things we thought were spiritually solid aren’t real. Third step is to realize that things that are not real are illusory.

It’s not really a step, though, just stating the same thing in different words, but it also makes for a different impression. “Illusory” is such a negative word in our vocabulary that we are not ready to use it when talking about our devotional lives.

This calls for re-examining some of our basic assumptions and then for recalibrating of our expectations or something like that.

First – real vs illusory is not a black and white dichotomy, they are not opposites. If we think about it – everything is real and everything is also an illusion. Material world is real, it exists, my headache that I’m still carrying from yesterday’s fast is real, I can feel it. It has solid, empirical explanations behind it, either in the language of ayurveda or modern medicine.

Yet it is also illusory, in a sense that it’s not MY headache, I’m not my head and this head does not belong to me. There’s no reason for me to be upset about it, it doesn’t affect me as a spirit soul.

Existence of the spirit soul is real, yet it’s also illusory because I can’t perceive it at the moment. I *imagine* myself being a spirit soul, I have no experience of myself being such an entity.

Devotees relationships with Kṛṣṇa are real, yet they are also an illusion because they don’t see Him for who He is and they perceive only certain aspects of His personality, sometimes purposefully ignoring evidence of His greatness, as is the case in Vṛndāvana, or His intimacy, as is the case in Vaikuṇṭha.

All living beings, both in the material and the spiritual world, live under the illusion. Down here it forces them to identify themselves with matter and up there it makes them serve the Lord in a particular capacity only. That spiritual illusion, Yoga Māyā, is superior to our illusion just as spirit is superior to matter.

It is our destiny to live under the illusion so we shouldn’t freak out about it.

When we try to become devotees in the material world the best we can hope for is that Mahā Māyā, material illusion, will engage our bodies, ie matter, in the service of the Lord. When she does that, everything in our lives becomes spiritual, and yet it is also illusory because it’s still based on our misconception that we are our bodies. We just cleverly convince ourselves that we are “body-servants” of Kṛṣṇa.

Clearly, this is not an ideal understanding – we still act on the wrong assumption. If we manage to correct it, if we become fully liberated souls, then we’ll probably act as paramahaṃsas and pārivrājaka ācāryas. We’ll probably end up doing the same thing but with different consciousness.

Anyway, even if living under the illusion is not such a bad thing there are still pitfalls to avoid. I mean even if we get ourselves engaged in service to the Lord as part of our dream, as śāstras often describe our situation, we still can make wrong conclusions about this service that would impede rather than help our progress.

Easy examples would include accepting results of our service as material benefits of tangible value. Becoming the best book distributor, collecting the most donations, becoming a GBC at a very young age, filling stomachs under pretense of eating prasādam, bossing your wife because you are her guru – that kind of thing.

There are many ways we can act externally as if it was service to the Lord, and it really is, it pleases Kṛṣṇa as much as anything in the material world can please Him, but we are doing it for our own benefit, which spoils our progress.

Another kind is when we mistake our material feelings for spiritual. We imagine that we come to like Kṛṣṇa, like our service, like associating with devotees, like kīrtans, like Bhagavatam classes, like preaching, and we believe that these emotions are spiritual, that they come from our souls.

Nope, they come from pleasant interactions of material senses with their objects, and that includes stroking a false ego. These attractions are favorable to our progress but only to a degree. They serve their own purpose but once that purpose has been fulfilled they become obstacles instead. The purpose is, of course, to keep us engaged in service, so we better like what we are doing, and that’s why prasādam is delicious and kīrtans are sweet, there’s no other reason.

“Knowledge” is another article from that category. At first we need it, we need to understand the philosophy, need to justify our sacrifices, need to know everything about Kṛṣṇa, material and spiritual worlds, we need to know everything. As it’s said in the Bhāgavatam, we need to understand nesciense as well – to see how illusion works so that we can avoid falling its victims.

After a certain point, however, knowledge becomes a burden. At the very highest stages devotees know nothing and everything they know is objectively wrong. They don’t know that Kṛṣṇa is God and they worship demigods instead. The whole Govardhana pastime was rooted in ignorance, for example.

At some point we become too clever to remain simple and peaceful devotees, which hurts our progress. Just as in Vṛndāvana, we should be somewhat aware of the actual situation but we shouldn’t waste time analyzing it. Yes, Kṛṣṇa is God, devotees of Vṛṇdāvana might occasionally think to themselves, but let’s not allow this knowledge to interfere in our relationships with Him.

Similarly, certain things about our world and about our ISKCON might be very revealing but we should not let them distract us from our service. If we know that we should constantly chant the Holy Names and offer respect and service to every vaiṣṇava, and actually every living entity, we don’t need to know anything else.

Too much knowledge is an illusion – it makes us ignorant about our purpose, we forget it and go on exercising our brain power instead. Feels good, right? Much better satisfaction than simply eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. It’s still satisfaction of our material brains overpowering material energy, though, a non-devotional thing, and an illusion.

I would even go so far as to say that our visits to the holy dhāmas are illusory but that is a serious allegation, need to be careful about it and so I won’t indulge in such apostasy today.

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