Continuing yesterday’s topic I thought reassessing our relationships with Śrīmad Bhāgavatam are in order, too. I don’t think I would speak only for myself when I say that we take it as a guide book, as a course of action. We are supposed to follow in the footsteps of great devotees described there, after all. So what’s my problem now?
Same thing – we are not the doers in this world, we are simply being tossed on the surface of the great ocean of material existence, we might try to swim but our efforts are insignificant and our direction and position is determined by powerful winds and undercurrents. We can go with the flow and feel like we’ve become powerful swimmers or we can struggle against the current and become tired and frustrated. In either case, the illusion that we matter is only that – an illusion.
Frustrated and exhausted we take to the Bhāgavatam and devotional service as if they were paddles to help us row. We hope to get enough power from Kṛṣṇa to finally overcome the material energy. He is all powerful, right? If we get Him on our side we will surely prevail. This logic is solid except for one thing – it has nothing to do with devotional service, which is characterized by selfishness. We just want to use Kṛṣṇa for our own ends, it’s not bhakti.
Realizing that we are missing devotion in our efforts we could take two-pronged approach to the problem – change our hearts and put Kṛṣṇa’s interests front and center, and stop using His help the way ordinary materialists would.
Bhāgavatam, therefore, is not meant as a course of action or a guide book to happiness. We are not supposed to read it and do what we usually do after reading life changing books. It’s not a tool to help us overcome our material addictions to sex or intoxication. It would do that anyway regardless so there will be no loss for us if we give up our materialistic mentality.
Rather, I propose, we should become Bhāgavatam ovservers. Just listen faithfully and marvel at its representation of God and His devotees. We are not going to become part or Bhāgavatam ourselves, we are not supposed to play out its pastimes in our own lives. Maybe in some future incarnation we might be born during events covered in Bhāgavatam but even in that case our names are not likely to be mentioned. So all we should do is observe.
Another argument in this line – Bhāgavatam is a literary representation of God, it’s non-different from Kṛṣṇa, why should we strive to become part of God. What’s wrong with being its humble servants?
I’m sure there could be any number of good objections raised but consider the essence of my argument – we should not use Bhāgavatam to further our illusion that we are doers, everything else is perfectly okay. One objection could be that, according to Bhagavad Gīta, we should not withdraw ourselves from action but rather engage ourselves in service to the Lord. Seems solid, right?
Well, I’m not arguing for inaction, we can’t stop ourselves from doing things, that should be the least of our worries. One way or another but we will be forced to act, which is also what is said in Bhagavad Gīta, remember? I’m saying that our consciousness is better be directed at absorbing the message of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam than at actively trying to figure out how to improve our lives.
I’m pointing out to mechanics of actions – first comes observation, then desire, then plans, then activities. As spirit souls we can only express desires, plans and actions are carried out by the material nature. Our desires, in turn, are determined by our observations, we are not really in charge of them either.
We can’t just develop a desire to become devotees, for example – the seed of that desire needs to be planted from the outside. We can’t desire to drive a Ferrari, the image of Ferrari as the fastest of cars needs to come from the outside, too. You see what I am driving at here? The key to all our desires, all our plans, all our activities, all our karma lies in our observation. The rest happens automatically.
It’s very obvious in the material world where nothing happens without a reason, every thought, every emotion, every desire could be traced to something external. It’s less obvious in spiritual life but that’s because we are not living it yet, only speculate about it. There are books, of course, and they tell us that spiritual progress starts with śravaṇam, from hearing the words of our guru. He plants the seed of devotion, he gives us a glimpse of taste, we can’t get it from anywhere else.
Next comes kīrtanam and watering the seed of bhakti but we shouldn’t see this stage as taking matter into our own hands – it happens automatically for anyone exposed to the messages of guru and Bhāgavatam. We can’t stop it and we can’t facilitate it either – that’s why it’s so hard to speed up our devotional progress. All these external manifestations are outside of our control, as spirit souls we as powerless with spiritual energy as we are with material. Service to the Lord is governed by His internal potency, not by us.
From śravaṇam and then kīrtanam comes a desire to do something more, to carry out the orders of our guru, for example, or the desire to serve the Deity. It’s not ours either – orders come from the guru and instructions on Deity worship are external, too. We get them by further listening to our spiritual masters and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. That’s where we get the idea that orders should be followed and Deities to be worshiped. What’s our contribution here? Only to listen with rapt attention so that we don’t miss anything.
Listen, observe, absorb, and the rest will come about naturally. What do we do instead? Affected by material disease we treat guru and Bhāgavatam as an ordinary teacher and an ordinary book. We seek instructions useful to our agendas, we cover the material, understand it, use it in our lives, and move on. After we get basic philosophy we don’t see anything else to learn there, maybe some ślokas, details of some stories missed by others, so that we can impress everyone by our memory. Mostly we move on, reading up on Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes elsewhere and learning philosophy from Six Gosvāmīs.
Sometimes we treat Bhagavatam (and guru) as a repository of material knowledge so we try to reconstruct the model of the universe, or perfect family life, or varṇāśrama, or figure out intricacies of re-incarnation or whatever. At some point we realize that it doesn’t describe those things in required detail and so we move on, filling the gaps with our own speculations, because that’s what all materialists in this world do – they constantly expand their empirical knowledge and constantly “conquer” new frontiers of knowledge.
Devotion has nothing to do with it, it doesn’t grow in the same direction and it doesn’t grow while being watered down by our materialistic aspirations. So what I propose is to watch ourselves carefully and catch that moment where we tell ourselves “I’ve heard this before, I’m going to listen to something better”. Another moment to watch out for is when we think to ourselves that we can do better than characters described in the Bhāgavatam. We can do better than Ajāmila, better than Mahārāja Bharata, better King Prācīnabarhiṣat, better that Dhruva. Out of ignorance they’ve made errors on their spiritual paths but then were saved by the mercy of the Lord. We can learn from their mistakes and do better, we think. We think that learning from others’ mistakes is clever but that kind of thinking only betrays our deep seated materialistic attitudes.
This needs to be stopped, we better stop devising ways to use Bhāgavatam in our own lives and become simple, humble listeners instead. Those stories are perfect in every detail, there are no errors there, they are Lord’s pastimes. Without Dhruva’s envy of his brother, for example there would be the story itself. Without Ajāmila’s seduction there would be no saving him from Yamadūtas. We can’t improve on perfection, we’d better stop trying to and simply sit and listen.