Yesterday I looked at spiritual progress of different people as parallel lines that never cross, not until they finally reach Kṛṣṇa. By different people I meant different religions but, I suppose, this theory holds true for individuals, too – we don’t have any personal connections ourselves, only through Kṛṣṇa.
Let me explain – we see and interact with people all the time, they all seem to be different, each with their own personality, but actually it’s just an illusion. We do not exist as separate personalities in the material world, we just claim a part of the material energy as our false ego. When other people interact with us it’s still the material energy acting under the inviolable laws of karma that conducts the interactions.
These “other people” cannot and will not say anything that is not destined for us to hear. They can’t harm us, they can’t please us, they can’t present danger to us, they can’t present hope to us – they can’t do anything outside of what is predetermined by our karma.
But what about occasions when somebody’s intervention does change the course of our life? Nothing, these people are just being karma’s agents. Karma isn’t a mysterious, transcendental force, it acts only through material elements. If we are destined to be robbed, it will send a robber out way, and if we are destined to be consoled it will send someone who cares about us and makes us comfortable.
At first it would appear heartless and impersonal to strip people of their humanity and look at them as passive agents of invisible karma but that is not the whole totality of ideal, paramahaṃsa vision. That vision consist of two parts – seeing everything as the work of Lord’s energy and seeing everyone in connection to the Lord, too.
That is to say that paramahaṃsas see the world as the illusion and at the same time they see everyone’s connection to Kṛṣṇa, connection that ordinary people are not even aware of.
When we relate to other people as Kṛṣṇa’s servants we relate to them “personally”, when we see them as agents of our karma we see their false identities, which are parts of soulless material energy, ie we see that aspect of their existence as impersonal, which it is.
One could still argue that we, in our conditioned state, always seek a personal touch with other people. We care, we love, we help, we hate, we envy – these are all personal emotions, as opposed to impersonal indifference.
That is correct but these relationships are illusory, they are only an extension of our fundamentally wrong and impersonal desire to lord over God’s energy. We want to be our own little gods and so we imitate God when we seek personal relationships with others. Our arrangements here are negotiations between two wannabe gods, or two thieves sharing the loot.
Our science of rasa confirms this view, too – our ācāryas have taught us that our relationships in this world are just perverted reflections of original rasas in Vṛṇdāvana. Sex life is real, as Śrīla Prabhupāda explained, but it’s real in the spiritual world, down here it’s perverted and unnatural.
When devotees marry they are not supposed to see and relate to their partners as materialists do, they are supposed to serve them as they would serve Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. One serves in the capacity of the husband and another serves in the capacity of the wife. Marriage is not a license to enjoy but a license to serve. Through that service our certain desires get fulfilled, too.
So, if we all can relate to each other only through Kṛṣṇa, how can we compare our progress? As aspiring madhyama adhikārīs we are obliged to make such judgments and behave accordingly. How can we measure our places on the parallel lines of our progress?
Naturally, only by the distance to Kṛṣṇa, not by appearances in the material world, but that’s the hardest part, really – how do we know how close this or that person is to the Lord?
There are symptoms but they are not absolute, especially in our Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism – everyone can be Kṛṣṇa’s dearest servant regardless of appearances. Bhakti is independent of one’s material position and only those who are close to Kṛṣṇa themselves can correctly estimate others’ devotion.
Yet there are symptoms and there are general brackets for the majority of our devotees. External appearances don’t matter only on the higher stages of bhakti and we have a pretty good idea how devotees behave when they have reached bhāva, for example. We can safely assume that no one we will ever meet is on that stage.
Most of us are on the stage of anartha nivṛtti, firmly on the way to liberation but definitely not there yet. Real bhakti begins after the liberation and so until then our progress can be fairly accurately judged by external appearances.
One cannot maintain interest in the sex life and be a real devotee. By real devotee I mean personalities described in our books, the ones who are most dear to Kṛṣṇa, always under His protection, always engaged in His service, higher than the purest of brāhmaṇas, the ones the Lord can appear personally to and the ones who can always see Him because their eyes are “tinged with the salve of love”. We are not there yet, obviously, firmly on the way but haven’t yet arrived.
So, freedom from sex desire is a one big litmus test. Sometimes it’s hard to judge the power sex has over other person and so we should look at secondary manifestations, things like desire to control, drive to succeed, desire to dominate people, envy, possessiveness and so on.
Control of the tongue is another easy to judge feature, probably the easiest. Everyone can spot someone’s addiction to food even if that person is abstaining or dieting. Devotees, real devotees, are fully in control of their tongues, that’s what is said in the first verses of Nectar of Instruction (NOI 1):
A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.
This verse provides everything we need to know, really – how much a person is in control of his speech, how much a person is in control of his mind – all the main criteria is there.
So, even if we see and appreciate someone’s devotion or interest in God we should also see how much one is still in the grasp of the material energy and then choose an appropriate course of action – whether to seek association, avoid the person, or offer help.
When we say we want to serve vaiṣṇavas it shouldn’t mean serve only to those who are objectively more advanced than us – a guru serves his disciples, too, we just need to determine what the appropriate service should be in each particular case.
We should also remember that the kind of judgment I talked about today is just a calibration – actual desire to serve must come from seeing that person’s connection to Kṛṣṇa. If we don’t see that there’s no question of service at all even if our behavior seems to comply with all the rules.
About that – the rules are important – they help us to relate to others appropriately even when we don’t have the underlying realization why. Guru must be treated as God, for example. We don’t really know how to treat God, do we? And, with time, many of us come to see our gurus as fellow humans, too, but that lack of spiritual vision should not stop us from offering proper service and respect either.
If we could really see people’s personal connections with Kṛṣṇa it would have been so much easier to relate to others but we are not there yet and so should follow the rules. It’s a very simple principle we should never forget.