Vanity thought #1298. Night at the museum

This weekend I am at a kind of a family reunion dedicated to an anniversary of our family matriarch being taken away by cancer so it’s a bit hectic around here, I had no chance to sit down and type up my daily post until now. It wasn’t all bad, though, because during all the festivities I also got a chance to see a movie that completely changed my plans for today’s contribution. Let’s see if it was worth it.

It was a third installment in the Night At The Museum series. The premise is that New York Museum of Natural History possesses a unique artifact, an old Egyptian tablet, that makes all the exhibits come alive at night, when the museum is closed. There are Neanderthals there, red Indians, cowboys, Egyptians, Teddy Roosevelt, monkeys, dinosaurs, the whole bunch. For the first two installments they had a lot of fun and adventures and this one was no different but there was one important moment there that caught my attention.

As the plot went, they had to take the tablet to London where it was supposed to remain reunited with its original owners. “New Yorkers” spent considerable time and effort to take it there, solve its mystery, and “recharge” it, but then it downed on them that if they leave the tablet in London it means they won’t be able to come alive again, ever. It was their last night on Earth, so to speak.

So they had a choice – do the right thing or take care of their own interests. I should point out that coming to life after sunset was an incredibly treasured experience for them. After standing still whole day without moving a muscle they could finally stretch their limbs, run, jump, dance, even fall in love with each other. Night at the museum WAS their life, their just and deserved relief from a curse of being immovable during the day. Giving it up was practically unthinkable.

As the plot went, the table almost lost its magic and they all were quickly losing their faculties. Their fingers, arms, legs and eventually entire bodies hardened and they were on the verge of death. The hero, of course, saved the day, re-charged this Egyptian iPad, and brought everyone back to life, but only to tell them that it was their last night alive and come morning they would become frozen forever. Would they agree to leave the tablet in London? Would they choose the right or the selfish thing to do?

It’s at this point that one of them dropped the bomb. “We are museum exhibits,” he said, “That’s what we are and our job is to stand there so that people can look at us and hopefully learn something. That’s what being ALIVE is.”

That is an incredibly profound realization, not just for these movie characters but for us as devotees as well. We are Kṛṣṇa’s servants, our job is to wait until He engages us even in tiniest, most insignificant service, and that’s what being alive should mean for us.

As conditioned beings we can try and extract pleasure from our bodies just like museum exhibits had their fun during the night but the actual purpose of our existence is to forget this self-gratification and do our real job. It might look like they/we are being alive when we can use our bodies for our own ends but it isn’t. We/they are alive during the day, when the Lord/people expect our service. That’s what we have been designed for.

Just like museum curators do not set up exhibits so that they could enjoy their lives when no one is watching, so the Lord does not give us our bodies to be used for our own entertainment. We’d be fools to think so. This world exists for the Lord’s pleasure, not ours.

We, of course, abuse our given facilities to pursue our material illusions. To us it might look like a natural thing to do but it isn’t. All our attempts to do so end in sin and suffering, even for the demigods who eventually exhaust their accumulated piety. Even in the best case scenario we are not little gods negotiating our deal with God boss. That kind of arrangement is possible only in Vaikuṇṭha, not in the material world. We need to be in our pure, spiritual bodies then it might be possible to enjoy our lives and not be punished for it. In the material world passion and ignorance WILL eventually take over and drag us down to hell.

In the movie everyone quickly agreed with this realization and moved on but that was probably because it was an adventure comedy, not a drama reflecting struggles of life in the real world. We, even as devotees, are not prepared to give up our attachment to sense enjoyment. We still secretly hope that we can have our cake and eat it, too, that there’s some kind of arrangement here for us that will not end in total disaster. In fact, being devoted to Kṛṣṇa actually fills us with hope that by His grace it would eventually become possible.

Well, maybe He will transfer us to Vaikuṇṭha to fulfill our desires without forcing us to suffer their results, maybe not. If we want to derive comfort and happiness from false identification with our bodies we will probably remain here. I mean if we think that snuggling up under blankets on a winter night is comforting, if we think that filling our bellies with food is comforting, if we think that sex brings gratification etc. etc. then we still live under the illusion and that’s what our innermost desires are, and so we will get material bodies that would accommodate them.

The reality, however, is very different. Unless we serve the Supreme Lord we are disconnected from Him and in that sense we are dead. Or look at it another way – if we identify ourselves with dead matter then we are dead. “Alive” means being in service, nothing else qualifies.

In the movie the exhibits were in service to museum visitors. Similarly, being in service for us means being in service to Lord’s representatives who were sent to us to come in touch with our material forms. We can claim that we are Kṛṣṇa’s servants but actually we are servants of our guru and other vaiṣṇavas, not Kṛṣṇa directly.

Practically, it means that whatever we think we do for Kṛṣṇa is nonsense, it doesn’t reach Him, only what we do in service to our guru matters, only service to our guru brings us alive. So, we can spent years and decades justifying following our own karma, dreams, desires etc and we can successfully convince ourselves that we are doing this in service to the Lord but it has no value whatsoever if our guru remains indifferent to it. We come alive only when he wants something and we do it for him, there’s no other way.

It might not happen very often. Śrīla Prabhupāda waited for nearly thirty years to fulfill the mission of his guru-mahārāja. He patiently waited and prepared himself even if he didn’t know exactly what for. He just knew that he couldn’t give up the idea of translating and publishing spiritual literature. All odds where against him and no one appreciated his efforts but he persevered nevertheless, with full faith that his life is not meant for anything else.

When we want to follow his footsteps, as we all should, we might better pay more attention to the years BEFORE he came to America. Some of us are in the position of being constantly engaged already but I mean those of us who seem to be disconnected from directly serving the guru. We should not despair, our time might come, or it might not. That’s what kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ means – humbly chant without expecting any rewards.

In fact, the ability to do so is a reward in itself, but that’s a whole other topic.

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