First, an outline of what I have been talking about for the past few days – a conditioned living entity naturally seeks pleasure. He starts with simple pleasure of his senses, happiness of animals and children, then he gradually elevates his targets to seek pleasure in the workings of his mind or in associating with other living beings, then he revels in his own wisdom, and eventually he discovers pleasure derived from his spiritual nature. We aren’t there yet, we are somewhere on the way.
Each step on this way is progress and so we should encourage everyone to move along regardless of their current position. Every living entity gradually levitates to the same goal – ānanda, spiritual bliss, even if he is not aware of his final destination. Sometimes we can inform people about it, sometimes focusing on their immediate milestones is more conducive for their gradual elevation.
In Kali yuga, however, life is short and so Kṛṣṇa gives us a shortcut – chant the Holy Names regardless of your situation in life. That’s why we don’t preach karma yoga to materialistic people, it would take them forever, and even that is based on the assumption that they won’t slide down to hell first.
Now, about ourselves. Unlike ordinary people, we know where we are going, we know what we have to do, and we know that we are practically always in touch with Kṛṣṇa. Ānanda, therefore, should be our God given right. With all the chanting and all the service we do we must approach that level within our lifetimes. I know it’s nearly impossible in practice but we don’t have an excuse not to try.
Sarvopādhi-vinirmuktam, they say, we should become free from all material designations. Upādhi, however, is not just a designation, it’s a self-imposed limit – “I can’t do that because I was born…” We act according to our designations and, despite of our aspirations, we do not normally try what we perceive as being outside of our capabilities.
So we say things like “I can’t get up for the morning program”, or “I can’t fast, my body needs regular nourishment” – these things are our self-imposed restrictions and they have to go, too.
First of all, these are not our bodies, they are Kṛsṇa’s, He can do whatever He wants with them and for Him there are no limits. He can make our bodies chant the mahāmantra twenty two hours a day if he wants to. He can make our bodies travel all around the world at the age of seventy. He already did all those things with devotees who never expected it from themselves but once they discarded their upādhis and surrendered to Kṛṣṇa everything became possible.
My point is, we are not precluded from achieving genuine spiritual pleasure, we just have to have faith in the power of the Holy Name and we need to have patience.
So, what kind of ānanda we should seek then? We know that ideally bhakti should be our only goal but I think we need to pass intermediate stages, too. We can’t get around experiencing sexual desire, for example, we need to get passed that stage to move forward. Maybe we have done it in previous lives, maybe we’ll do it in the next birth, but we absolutely MUST overcome sexual attraction to even start thinking about ānanda.
This is probably a good point to excuse myself from talking any further but important thing for us is not the sexual attraction itself but the desire to maintain it, an unspoken hope that one day sex will bring us pleasure. We CAN fight this hope and we CAN stop ourselves from fantasizing about it, and if we are determined in our efforts eventually it will go away, so the questions about ānanda are still somewhat relevant.
Traditionally, it’s assumed that ānandīs derive happiness from within their self. We have better ideas but tradition is still there – there is spiritual happiness outside of devotional service to the Lord. It might be incomparably small and even those who have learned to taste it in full are immediately swept away when they come in contact with the Lord, as per ātmārāmāś ca munayo śloka (SB 1.7.10), but it’s still there – there’s ānanda within our self, however imperfect, it is still better than anything experienced in this world.
Question now is – how to find it and how to direct it towards the Lord? As we chant the Holy Name we obviously shouldn’t make plans for anything other than bhakti, so how to find this pleasure in the Supreme Self, the Soul of all souls? How do we say the words in such a way that they bring smile to Kṛṣṇa’s lips? Is He even listening, or has He delegated it to our local Viṣṇu-tattva or our guru?
Well, the guru can’t hear how we chant, all his mystic powers come from Kṛṣṇa, so it’s Kṛṣṇa, or maybe Paramātmā, who must be listening.
Moving on – consider the story with stolen cowherd boys. When they had been cloned by Kṛṣṇa their mothers loved the clones more than ever. How does that fit into the dictum that service to Kṛṣṇa’s devotees is better than service to Kṛṣṇa Himself?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that while Kṛṣṇa’s friends were His intimate associates, their mothers didn’t serve them as such, they served them as their own sons, and, as Śukadeva Gosvāmī said, children are dear to people only because they are related to their bodies, their selves.
So, while for ordinary people developing love for their children might be a progress, for residents of Vrndāvana it was nowhere as good as serving Kṛṣṇa. It was “my children”, then “my body”, then “my self”, then, ultimately, Kṛṣṇa. When Kṛṣṇa substituted children with Himself they immediately felt the difference.
Now, I hope that if they looked at their children not as theirs but as Kṛṣṇa’s friends, first and foremost, perhaps their pleasure would have been greater than during the year they took care of Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Perhaps the problem was that they couldn’t easily see their children as anything else. Familiarity might not have bred contempt but it didn’t breed the proper kind of respect either.
Uddhava, OTOH, didn’t have any pre-existing relationships with people of Vṛndāvana, when he saw gopīs he didn’t look at them as ordinary country girls. Technically, he was superior to them in every respect but he realized that they were actually superior in their love for Kṛṣṇa. He was with the Lord everyday of his life for many many years but he longed to be born as a blade of grass in Vṛndāvana, and not to be close to Kṛṣṇa but to be closer to gopīs.
So, serving Kṛṣṇa’s servants is superior when it’s done in the proper mood, otherwise it’s just ajñāta sukṛti, will come useful in the future but doesn’t blow one’s mind today.
Should we put that above service to the Supreme Self then? Should it be the natural next step after we realize that there’s something even cooler than serving Kṛṣṇa personally?
How should it affect our goals? Should we still concentrate on chanting the Holy Name or should we seek service to the devotees? I’m afraid there’s no definitive answer in our sampradāya. I think I’ll expound on this tomorrow.