Last week I wrote a post about ordinary peoples’ realization of the Absolute. Not seeing Kṛṣṇa directly we, as ISKCON devotees, are just as ordinary, even though we’ve been given the right tools.
Let’s talk about “ordinary” ordinary people first, I’ll get to us as aspiring devotees a bit later.
Normally, we assume that Kṛṣṇa is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that He lives in the spiritual world, on the topmost planet Goloka Vṛndāvana. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this but it’s only a partial understanding of the situation.
Yes, Kṛṣṇa is God and He lives on Goloka but ours is also a philosophy of acintya-bhedābhed, inconceivable oneness and difference. When we assume that Kṛṣṇa exists only on Goloka we inadvertently separate the rest of the world from Him. We separate not only material creation but spiritual worlds, too. Kṛṣṇa does not live on Vaikuṇṭha, we say, or rather those of us who think themselves as rasika, too advanced to consider Vaikuṇṭhas seriously.
Paramahaṃsa vision, otoh, is that Kṛṣṇa is everywhere, in every atom and with every living entity, and that there’s nothing else in the world BUT the Absolute Truth. Everything we see and experience is nothing BUT the Absolute Truth, just different aspects of it, according to our realizations.
Transcendentalists famously know this Absolute Truth in three aspects Brahman, Paramātma, and Bhagavān (SB 1.2.11), and that’s just the beginning. Those who are not transcendentalists, the ordinary people like us, know the Absolute Truth in lesser aspects corresponding to our level of spiritual development.
In a sense, everything is Kṛṣṇa – all attractive, or rather Kṛṣṇa is in everything. Mostly He attracts us through the material energy but originally it’s still His power of attraction, māyā has nothing good to sell us on her own (BG 10.41):
yad yad vibhūtimat sattvaḿ
śrīmad ūrjitam eva vā
tat tad evāvagaccha tvaḿ
“Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor”, Kṛṣṇa says. Normally we talk about those kind of opulences as presented for less advanced beings who cannot see beyond material energy while the devotees “spit at the thought of” things like that. If we talk about ordinary people, however, these sparks of Kṛṣṇa’s brilliance is what keeps them going.
Some see God in the nature, sunsets, landscapes etc. Some see God in pure love. Some see God in wisdom of old people. Some see God in wonderful creations of men. Point is – everyone sees nothing but God, they just don’t realize it or do not give Him enough credit.
Or let’s take five kośa concept – anna maya, prāṇa maya etc. Usually these kośas are considered as “sheaths” enveloping our body but we often talk about them as means of enjoyment. Enjoyment means attraction, and attraction comes from manifetstations of Kṛṣṇa.
On the bottom level there’s enjoyment of the senses – anna maya, that’s what every embodied being feels first. Absolute for us starts with our senses, our perceptions and our ability ot act. That’s how we relate to it until we discover something better.
Next is prāṇa maya, enjoyment of the life force, ie relationships with other beings. We want to be part of the society, we feel it’s a higher calling than being selfish. We are attracted by love and family relationships or even compassion for the humanity. It’s still a manifestation of the Absolute, though – other living entities are Kṛṣṇa’s parts and parcels.
Next is the enjoyment of the mind, then intelligence, and finally enjoyment of relationships with Kṛṣna Himself, which are ānanda because He is ānandamayo ‘bhyāsāt, as per Vedānta sūtra.
So, some of these people enjoy scheming and gossiping. I guess it would be the level of the mind, one step above relationships with people. I mean first people appreciate their social contacts and then they start extracting even more pleasure from them by screwing with others’ lives.
Some appreciate philosophy, which would be the level of intelligence. They are captivated by logic and reasoning, they can’t resist trying to figure out and explain things, develop and test new theories and so on. Logic and knowledge are still manifestations of Kṛṣṇa. I guess we could add sundarīṃ kavitāṃ, beautiful poetry to this category, too.
On that point – I never really understood what is it with beautiful poetry but I must admit that some people have a way with words that demonstrates extraordinary brilliance, can’t think of examples right now but if you go into any internet discussion you will find plenty of people who impress the audience by clever turns of phrases. It attracts people, that’s what I want to say.
Another way to observe people’s attraction to different aspects of the Absolute is from the famous conversation between Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya. The inquiry was about the ultimate goal of life, remember? Meaning what people understand by the Absolute.
First was varṇāśrama dharma, of course. Why? Because it is a divine order established by Kṛṣṇa Himself, for most people varṇāśrama laws and duties are laws of God, and they think that following varṇāśrama brings about ultimate satisfaction.
If we think about what it means we must agree that work, marriage, sex, raising children etc are all integral parts of it. When time comes people eagerly accept their next stage. They voluntarily give up life of laziness and feel that dedicating themselves to their career is a better use of their lives. Even those who do not have to work for a living want to do something useful, want to perform some work related duties. Career, for them, is a spark of Kṛṣṇa, it’s irresistible.
Others see raising children as their calling. They voluntarily give up all the pleasures of a single life, dating, traveling, spending time with their spouses, sleeping late etc. The attraction of their children is simply irresistible.
Those who are not so advanced feel they are doing something great by deciding to become monogamous, ie get married. They think that love is so much better than meaningless flings.
Then Rāmānanda Rāya talked about detachment. There are people like that, too – they are wise and renounced, they stay above the fray and they cherish their realizations. It’s also a legitimate aspect of the Absolute Truth. It wasn’t good enough to attract the mind of Lord Caitanya but it’s still legit. Most modern people wouldn’t appreciate it or wouldn’t have the taste for it but it’s still there.
Rāmānanda Rāya also talked about sacrifices. Lots of people are into those, into the “joy of sharing and giving”. It feels good even when religion is not involved, and those who donate to building temples are certainly convinced that they are doing it to advance towards the ultimate goal. The so-called compassion of impersonalists might fit into this category, too.
All these categories of people are imperfect in their relationships with the Absolute in a sense they do not know it in full but they are perfect in their own, albeit limited ways. When we see a child making first steps we can’t even think about calling him imperfect. We know he would make many mistakes in the future but at this moment it doesn’t matter, this moment is the perfection of his life (“so far”, as Homer Simpson would say).
Similarly, a family deciding to try for a child are perfect, there’s nothing wrong or incomplete in their efforts. A man getting up for work in the morning is perfect. A student sitting down to do homework instead of hanging out with friends is perfect. A boy falling for a girl is perfect and a girl giving her heart away to a boy is perfect, too. They do not know the rest of the Absolute Truth but in their own lives they are close to realizing all that is currently possible.
All this perfection can be destroyed by selfishness, you don’t need to be a devotee to notice that. Work done for money rather than as a personal vocation is imperfect. Pursuing a girl for sex is imperfect. Conceiving a kid to tie up the husband is imperfect. Raising kids to ensure comfortable retirement or continuation of one’s own business is imperfect. None of it even feels right.
As devotees we can easily appreciate all of the above but it doesn’t drive our hearts, we still feel unfulfilled even if we did all those things to the perfection. We respect them and we respect people engaged in their limited realization of the Absolute Truth but it’s not enough for us. Our hearts have been snatched by Lord Caitanya and Śrīla Prabhupāda, nothing we can do about it.
Still, our understanding of the Absolute is similarly incomplete, and, as usual, it’s something I will have to discuss some other day.