Impersonalism is one of our favorite topics and one of our favorite responses to it is that everyone in this world seeks personal connections with each other. That’s why we have a billion user Facebook which we religiously check every five minutes to quench our thirst for hearing something personal and touching from our friends and sometimes even strangers.
The world itself has grown to be quite faceless and cold. We go through the motions day in and day out pretending to be perfect employees or friends or polite gentlemen. Fact is, no one cares, it’s just the rules.
When we ask each other “How are you” we do not expect answers. This irritates some people but, frankly, no one expects honest answers in public. Our public sphere is deeply impersonal, there are roles to play and feelings must be hidden. We are being rewarded for our ability to conceal our humanity – “businesslike” has become an acceptable synonym for “impersonal” in our dictionaries.
We can’t leave home for work and be ourselves. We must project images people want to see and they will pay us for it. It’s just how it is. Days of life long employment based on personal trust and responsibility for each other are long gone, people still feel sad if someone gets an unfair treatment in a work place but they get over it rather quickly.
“It’s just business, nothing personal” has been the mantra for decades now. Maybe it was shocking at first but no one expects anything else anymore. When they first introduced credit cards to the public bank officers signing up new clients couldn’t dare to ask the question about applicant’s income, it was considered hugely impolite. Nowadays its completely opposite, of course, notions of dignity and respect have been legally purged from our public sphere.
Well, that is not entirely true but these values are attached to numbers on paper, not faces in front of you. If your numbers are okay you’ll get respect, if they aren’t they won’t even talk to you.
That’s why you see people absorbed in their phones all the time, texting their actual feelings, updating their real life statuses, sending images of themselves to anyone who’d care like SOS bottles from uninhabited islands.
Of course they can’t escape impersonalism on Facebook either. Your friends on it might be real but everything else, the website between you and them, has been treating us all as digital slaves to be traded with advertisers. There’s a lot of truth behind the saying that if the service is free then YOU are the product. Facebook, Google, Apple – they all are making money from our desperate need to connect to real people and share our real emotions.
As devotees we noticed this basic human need long long time ago. There are many techniques for preaching and book distribution and trying to find a personal connection with people underlines practically all of them. We want to show people that Kṛṣṇa cares, that we are all spiritual souls seeking spiritual connections in the cold and indifferent world. We offer them those connections with the greatest person of all – God.
One of my most memorable quotes I heard from a senior preacher was that we, as devotees, must show people that we really really care for their wellbeing. In exchange for that they will give Kṛṣṇa their lives and souls. They don’t get that kind of attention anywhere else, they’ll give an arm and leg for just a moment of such association. He was, perhaps, the most “personal” man I have ever known.
As years went by, however, I started to reassess this kind of reasoning. There’s a lot of truth in it still but not quite the kind I was expecting in the beginning.
Yes, people still seek personal connections but it’s not simply because they seek God. They don’t. The kind of social support they are seeking is something they had earlier in their lives, when they were children growing up with their seemingly perfect families. They didn’t need God back then, they don’t need Him now either.
The world was a lot more personal even half a century ago but there was still nothing spiritual about it. It is relatively more degraded now and people long for “good old days” but those days weren’t filled with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, they just had a relatively higher level of sense gratification back then.
When they seek these personal connections they seek connections pleasing their false egos, not their souls. When they want to share their feelings they talk about sharing lust, greed, and envy, they need others to appreciate their emotions that otherwise have no value whatsoever.
Personal or not, their whole lives are based on trying to become God and enjoy like little gods they are. If they succeed they boast about their victories and if they fail they demand what is “rightfully” theirs. They still don’t care about anyone else, just themselves.
That’s why we go to Facebook seeking understanding but come away feeling more stressful than before, our souls eaten away by envy of the perfect lives presented there by others. That is a measurable phenomenon – the more time people spend on Facebook the unhappier they become.
That is the real price of these supposedly personal relationships.
When we get together we need to spend time glorifying Kṛṣṇa, not scrutinizing our own little pathetic lives. Without saṅkīrtana this kind of association won’t work. Just like with everything else in the world we’ll go there seeking pleasure and come back feeling cheated.
I dread to ask anyone about how they actually feel – they’ll serve a bucketful to sh*t in return, they’ll dump everything on you and try to convince you that it all really matters, which it isn’t. This is not the kind of association we should seek in the name of “personal touch”.
Relationships based on our false identities are all different but nevertheless the same – as controllers and enjoyers of the material world, and are all doomed to fail. There’s nothing for us to appreciate there and I don’t think we should relate to people on that level at all.
The fact of material life is that Kṛṣṇa is impersonal, too. He doesn’t care about goings on in the material world. He doesn’t build personal relationships on the basis of people’s material bodies. The verse itself escapes me now but He said it Himself – He has zero interest in people’s lives and only cares about His devotees.
Why should we care about non-devotees and their problems? They want to abuse us and Kṛṣṇa Himself in the name of their sense gratification, why should we go along with their nefarious plans?
Our worship of Kṛṣṇa is impersonal, too – we don’t see Him as a person yet. We just follow the orders our guru. Guru is a person, one might say, but look at Śrīla Prabhupāda – he had very little “personal” relationships with his guru, and none whatsoever when it mattered most – when he arrived in America.
He simply followed his guru’s order and that was enough. What kind of personal relationship can you have with an order issued decades ago? Spiritually personal, of course, but that’s not the kind non-devotees seek in their “personal” relationships.
That’s why I don’t place much value on “connecting with people”. First we need to connect with guru and Kṛṣṇa on the spiritual level ourselves. Without it all we can offer others is the same thing they can find on a Facebook.
When we understand and value our nascent spiritual connection with the Divine we can try to share it with others. They’ll appreciate it, too, and, hopefully, better than their other, useless friendships and relationships.
That is not to say that we should stop preaching until we realize the Absolute Truth ourselves. This kind of preaching might be imperfect but it’s better than nothing, better than sitting alone and muttering our japa. Who needs to hear that? What good is it to anyone? Do we really think that Kṛṣṇa enjoys it?
That is why book distribution is so perfect – we might leverage our own conditioning to attract people initially but when we give them a book we are letting Śrīla Prabhupāda talk straight to their hearts, and he does it perfectly, like no one else. Our contribution here is not very spiritual but it’s nevertheless important. Someone needs to come out there and put books in people’s hands.
We can’t offer people real spiritual connections ourselves yet but we can take them to Śrīla Prabhupāda. We don’t need to be perfect for that, we can do that in whatever state we are currently in, there’s no shame in that.
Even Lord Caitanya did that – He didn’t go from person to person saying “Please, listen to me”. He implored everyone to listen to Kṛṣṇa’s message in Bhagavad Gīta and Śrīmad Bhagavatam, and as a Holy Name. Even Lord Himself didn’t claim any spiritual powers in His preaching. He didn’t put much value in His “personal” appearances and relations based on them either. He shaved His beautiful hair and took sannnyasa to appeal to a wider range of people.
He didn’t think “I’m spiritual enough, have a body full of bliss, people should listen to me, it’s all they ever need.” That would have been technically correct but that is not the kind of body based relationship the Lord has been offering people. He offered them Kṛṣṇa, not Himself, and so should we as His followers.
We can utilize our external appearances and relationships following from them but we shouldn’t assign them any value. They are just tools, it’s business, nothing personal. Real value and real relationships come from Kṛṣṇa, and we should realize that for many many years this value will remain under-appreciated but the relationships must be established no matter what, eventually they WILL bring fruit.
Hmm, this post is getting too long. I think I’ve said all I wanted to say already, probably too much for one day anyway.