There are many ways in which devotees’ lives should be different from those of ordinary people. We have more rules, we have different goals, we have different values, we, hopefully, have different destinations. We hope our way of life is objectively better even though we recognize that other people make their own choices.
We consider life in devotion to Kṛṣṇa as progress and progress in ordinary language means going forward, we, however, often are moving in the opposite direction, we move backwards. How so?
First and most obvious point – we live in the past. We read books about past – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and Caitanya Caritāmṛta. We discuss events of the past, we meditate on the events of the past, we idealize the past, we say that past was better in every way than our current Kali yuga. Given a choice we would have immediately transfer ourselves either five hundred or five thousand years ago, never into the future.
Ordinary people live for the better future, we see it as bleak. There still might be a Golden Age coming but we do not consider it as worth getting born again for. We do not long for the advent of Kalki avatāra either, as much as we appreciate Lord’s appearances, we would rather finish our business with the material world long before that.
There’s another aspect where past looks better than the future – our personal lives. I’m not sure everyone would agree with me on this, though. Let me explain.
Young devotees have naturally everything to live for, ever expanding ocean of Kṛṣṇa bhakti is right in front of them, they are going to enjoy its bliss in ever increasing degree, pure devotion is just around the corner. With time this enthusiasm passes.
At some point we realize the amount of work ahead of us and scale down our expectations dramatically. We are not going to enter Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in our mediation like Six Gosvāmīs did, it’s just not going to happen, save for really extraordinary mercy. We hope it will hit us one day but we also accept that this day might not be in this life at all.
We are not going to develop Kṛṣṇa premā in this lifetime either, nor are we going to reach the stage of bhāva. Is ruci within our reach? Possibility is there but probably not in the sense of ever increasing spiritual bliss. We can see it in the lives of steady and mature devotees around us – their attraction to Kṛṣṇa is undeniable but it’s more like a conscious and voluntary obligation than spontaneous attraction of mind and senses.
This needs clarification. Ruci comes after liberation, when chanting becomes pure and heart becomes free from anarthas. Liberation, however, is a tricky thing. Normally mokṣa is supposed to be the highest goal of life according to Vedas and Hinduism, it supposed to free one from all material suffering and bring “bliss” of impersonalism. We, however, never get any of that.
No one, not even our ācāryas claimed to have achieved liberation of that kind. Nor have they been seen as having achieved such liberation. They looked pretty much like ordinary people with ordinary problems, health being the most obvious one.
I don’t think we seriously expect to attain that kind of liberation either, not even as a step towards bhakti. Come to think of it, even in our often quoted verses on the value of liberation, where she stands humbly waiting to serve pure devotees, we are expected NOT to take advantage of her offer.
What’s more, we should assume devotees as liberated from the moment they have been accepted in our family. Every single one of us is already liberated. Māyā has absolutely no power over us already even though it doesn’t feel like it – because she acts on Kṛṣṇa’s orders and under His direct supervision.
None of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees is a conditioned soul, even the least visibly advanced ones. There’s a huge, fundamental difference between ordinary people who believe māyā is all there is to their lives and devotees who see māyā as Kṛṣṇa’s energy. Not one of us gives her any degree of independence, Kṛṣṇa always, always comes on top in any situation. We always, always expect His protection, we only need to ask. Most of the time we can’t be bothered, life is pretty good as it is, but EVERY devotee would run to Kṛṣṇa at any sign of danger.
Basically, we play with māyā under Kṛṣṇa’s supervision, our hearts are not pure enough to seek Kṛṣṇa directly but we are never under complete māyā’s domain, our arrangement (and indulgence) is temporary.
We ARE free from clutches of māyā even though she still has full control over our bodies and minds, and why wouldn’t she? Our bodies are made of material elements, of course they act under laws of material nature, what else can they do? It’s not what concerns us as devotees even though occasionally it might get overwhelming. At the end of the day, though, we all accept it as a necessary, fully deserved but temporary inconvenience.
We might look as JC’s sentiment “Father, why have you abandoned me” and understand it but it would never ever happen to us. Whenever we need Kṛṣṇa’s help it’s there, always, no matter how bad situation gets, He can always find a way to extricate us from it, even if at the expense of our material bodies and egos. Actually, most of the time it does happen at the expense of our bodies and egos.
We aren’t better than JC and we are prone to accusing Kṛṣṇa of not caring enough but we know in our heart of hearts that it’s just anger talking, He would never really abandon us, and He might even enjoy being rebuked by His devotees, letting the situation deteriorate to the point of no return, and then ride in on a white horse and save the day. There’s naturally more appreciation and gratitude for solving bigger problems so we shouldn’t be surprised if our problems start piling up – more glory to Kṛṣṇa later!
Where was I? Ah, yes. As we age we realize that our life won’t get magical and the only thing we are going to get is better appreciation for what we already have. Then comes the fact that our bodies become less and less capable. I can pretty much rule out distributing books on the streets simply because physical stress of carrying them is probably too much to take for me. We grow not only old but also useless.
Many of us stay in active service and they might disapprove of such defeatist attitude but many would hopefully nod in agreement, too. As servants of Lord Caitanya’s mission our best times have passed. We aren’t going to be like Six Gosvāmīs or Śrīla Prabhupāda, our old age is going to be dull and unremarkable, there will no oceans to cross and no books to write. Well, some of us may write something but nothing comparable to Caitanya Caritāmṛta.
That’s when we realize that the purpose of our birth has been largely fulfilled ages ago – when our bodies were young and actively engaged in the preaching mission. It’s not going to happen again, all we have is our memories.
There’s another aspect where we live backwards yet – if we accept our imperfections and realize that one life is probably not enough to get to the spiritual world, where do we go from here? It’s assumed that we must take birth during Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes first, then get transferred to Goloka (if that is our spiritual home). Most likely, however, we get born with Lord Caitanya first – to complete our spiritual education under His care. What does it mean in practice? Going back in time.
I would argue that we will not get born here some ten twenty years after our death, meaning six hundred years after Lord Caitanya’s time – that would be moving in the wrong direction. I guess it would be possible if there was another big wave of saṇkīrtana coming but generally we would be moving closer to Him, not farther, ie back in time. How’s that possible? Easy.
Lord Caitanya’s pastimes never end, they are always visible in one universe or another, and so are the pastimes of Śrīla Prabhupāda coming four hundred years after Him. We just have to join them in their current location. When I think about it, however, it doesn’t look like we should be moving closer to Him, just becoming better servants in our present position in the sampradāya. That would fit with our guru being our eternal master, coming for us birth after birth. Every time we would just appreciate him better and better.
This type of progress shouldn’t be tied to material forms at all but I think it stands to reason that being twenty steps removed from Lord Caitanya we wold always end up somewhere “here” in relation to His appearance.
It is also possible that once our “education” is complete we’ll get a chance to choose a body from His close associates during His manifested pastimes just like nitya-siddha devotees. That would be clearly going backwards in time, as I tried to prove.
I mean – with our Lord being behind us on the material timeline why would we even want to move forward? Backwards is where we need to go, it would take us closer to the Lord, what’s there to argue?