It’s impossible to find the Lord in this world, he just doesn’t live here, especially in Kali Yuga, yet we all need to keep in touch with Him via material means, there’s no other way. How? And what about the Holy Name? Let’s speculate about it a little.
Traditionally, there have been many paths of self-realization. Results were not the same, of course, but at least they all led to the point of liberation which was a common entry level for all kinds of transcendentalists. Yogis reached the Paramātmā feature of the Lord, jñānīs saw the effulgence of Brahman, and devotees engaged in transcendental loving service. I forgot what was wrong with yogis and why didn’t they engage in bhakti but there IS a reason why their realization of the Absolute is considered inferior to that of devotees.
There were also karmīs, the proper ones, not the gross materialists we have populating the world now. Proper karmīs are engaged in karma-yoga, meaning they offer fruits of their labor to the Lord and then enjoy the results themselves. Perhaps modern religionists are examples of karmīs today but certainly not those who call themselves atheists. Even religionists are not big on sacrifices, which is the essential part of karma yoga, their only achievement is that they plan to enjoy the world by begging mercy from God. The best of them give money to religious charities but most just learn to beg and think that this is enough.
Well, it might be enough for getting what they want but they are still nowhere close to the level of karmīs of Vedic times. Demigods can be considered karmīs, and they had access and occasional association with Lord Viṣṇu Himself.
It’s not like they are BFFs, and they need Lord Brahmā to call for Lord Viṣṇu’s intervention but they have personally witnessed numerous incarnations of the Lord, sometimes on this Earth, sometimes elsewhere in the universe. Sometimes they take a birth among humans to get Lord’s association, sometimes they appear among humans to see the Lord for themselves.
However it happens, they are usually cool with it. Viṣṇu’s great and they can always rely on Him but their purpose in life is not devotional service to Him but controlling the universe and enjoying the perks. Cool does not mean devotion.
So we have hundreds and thousands of living beings who regularly see the Lord in His original transcendental form and still don’t feel impressed enough to give up their life of comfort and power and dedicate themselves solely to serving Lord’s lotus feet.
Great kings from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam usually did better, they always became devotees at the end even if they started off as heaven seeking karmīs. Some of them saw the Lord personally, too, and even if they didn’t, they reached the Lord by manipulating material nature – conducting sacrifices or meditating.
The process was mechanical – you do this, then you do that, then the Lord might reveals Himself to you. Even if you didn’t get to meet the Lord, there was always varṇāśrama, there were always kings who were Lord’s representatives, there were always husbands and gurus and brāhmaṇas who acted as Lord’s agents. There were always temples, of course, where one could come in direct contact with the Lord Himself.
Then came Kali Yuga and the system stopped working.
God knows where our rulers derive their authority from. Originally from the Lord, of course, but then so did Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu. No one in his right mind would look at that kind of rulers and think that serving them means serving Viṣṇu.
Varṇāśrama is all screwed, too, and there are no brāhmaṇas to speak of. There is no shortage of pretenders but not the kind of pure humble souls who were once considered as a mouth of Lord Viṣṇu. And that is in India, there’s nothing outside of it whatsoever.
Sacrifices are a joke, too. In ISKCON we try to do them right but in reality we hope that simply following the instructions is enough. The Lord is not going to appear in our sacrificial fires as He did in previous ages. I would argue that success of our sacrifices doesn’t lie in achieving their purpose but in trying to follow the orders of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Even then, the first thing I heard about Deity installation in Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma mandira, for example, is that he conducted that ceremony solely to impress local Hindus, otherwise simply chanting would have been enough. I’ve never taken our yajñās seriously since then.
The Divinity has simply become unreachable. The Lord might still manifest Himself as a deity, for example, but all we will ever see here is dead matter, never the actual spiritual form of the Lord. There just isn’t enough purity in this day and age.
Purity is crucial here. The Lord IS the Lord of this universe, too, but not when we keep it in such filthy condition. Even the best and purest ingredients can’t be relied on anymore. Everyone knows that Śrīla Prabhupāda allowed devotees to drink milk contaminated by eggs because that was the only milk available on the market. We had no choice but the Lord wasn’t going to be joining us for a cup of egg laced milk. I don’t think they add eggs in any form to milk nowadays but they still contaminate it by their industrial production, not to mention what they do to the cows. Ghee made from such milk isn’t going to be pure, too.
It’s all just hopeless.
That’s why the only authorized incarnation of the Lord for our age is the Holy Name. Everything else fails. Our temples are okay, I guess, but once you step outside there’s only the Holy Name.
And yet it’s not enough to sustain our lives. In Lord Caitanya’s times He would personally make sure that all the devotees were taken care of, provided with shelter and prasāda. In Navadvīpa everything was spiritual and pure, and when devotees came to Jagannātha Purī it was still the spiritual world. Then they all happily engaged in harināma saṅkīrtana.
These days we are on our own. Temples can’t look after us and they shouldn’t – we should be looking after them instead, but how do we purify our own existence when we work for materialists and sustain ourselves on materialists’ mercy?
What happens is that we take contaminated stuff, like money earned in ugra-karmic activities, and give it to the devotees who will engage it in service and thus purify it. Okay, but what about all the other stuff that we don’t get to give to the temple? What about the food we consume ourselves? Clothes we wear? Cars we drive? Houses we live in? It’s all contaminated, all laden with sin, and none of it comes from Kṛṣṇa.
Moreover, we are forced to take on all this stuff to simply sustain our lives. How can we say we depend solely on Kṛṣṇa? Kṛṣṇa doesn’t give us anything, not directly, and whatever He gives indirectly is still contaminated and impure.
I mean how can we proclaim that we would surrender only to Kṛṣṇa and then go to work and do whatever it is our bosses want from us? We can do our jobs in a proper consciousness but it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s not Kṛṣṇa who supplies us but materialists.
Our water comes from public pipes, its purity is questionable, and it’s provided by the government, not Kṛṣṇa. Electricity comes from the government, too, not Kṛṣṇa. Heating gas and Internet come from materialists, too. How can we rely on Kṛṣṇa when we have to pay money to the materialist providers for all those life sustaining services? And the money to pay for that comes from serving materialists, too, not Kṛṣṇa.
How’s our surrender going to work? Holy Name is not going to produce any of that stuff for us.
I don’t see any solutions to this dilemma other than acceptance that even those despicable, corrupted providers and authorities are Kṛṣṇa’s representatives. We hope that Kṛṣṇa would always talk to us through His devotees but that is generally impossible when it comes to maintaining our lives. I don’t see any other answer but that Kṛṣṇa talks through materialists, too, and everything we get from them actually is given by Kṛṣṇa, they are just agents.
What does it mean for out surrender then? What about sarva dharmān parityajya?
What do we say to people who give us money? Honestly. Okay, we might not want to say these things to them personally, but what do we tell ourselves?
I have no idea. How can we see them as Kṛṣṇa’s agents when they don’t want to have anything to do with our religion? I guess it will remain a mystery for now.