Vanity thought #1357. Illusion substitution

I’m away from my digital library and I don’t want to search and download all the books I need to continue the story of Haridāsa Ṭhākura, so let’s talk about something else.

The world around us is a pretty grim place, completely devoid of devotion to the Lord. There are many religions around and plenty of people identifying themselves as religious but they are usually not a company we would rather keep. Sometimes even fellow devotees behave in not so inspiring ways, sadly. Of course we always have books and lectures and kīrtana recordings but they are not a part of this world, it’s stuff imported from Vaikuṇṭha.

Some people manage to live on imported stuff just fine, usually when they are long term guests or recent immigrants to a country. On the first visit the new culture is attractive but after a while people start to long for familiar tastes of home and that’s when they scout local stores for imported products to satisfy their cravings. It never works in the long term, however.

Imported stuff is expensive, it takes too much time and energy to keep supplies refilled on time, and it just doesn’t match up with the rest of your life, locals don’t appreciate it and think you are weird, you have no one to share your little joys with, and so sooner or later you are forced to go native.

Perhaps that’s what happens to us in the material world, too, and now we are at the stage of rediscovering our lost identity. This presents us with the need to go on an imported diet once again and it’s hard, for all the same reasons it was impossible to maintain it when we just arrived. No one appreciates it, supplies are scarce and expensive, and in many ways we already got used to the substitutes.

Our temples are like embassies from Vaikuṇṭha in this sense, they’ve got all the stuff we need culturally and nutritionally, but for most people they are still only a once in a week experience. In between we are forced to live off the land, looking for sparks of spiritual life in otherwise dull environment. Sometimes we find stuff, sometimes stuff finds us. Well, if it happens to me it must have happened to other people, too.

For a paramahaṁsa everything is a reminder of Kṛṣṇa, everything he sees is Kṛṣṇa’s energy, he never sees anything as illusory, but for us it’s different. When something reminds us of Kṛṣṇa we know that we are looking at the material energy, which is inferior and is a cause of our bondage, so we can never trust it. We can say that matter itself is neutral and the cause of our bondage lies somewhere else but for us it’s only a theoretical understanding. When we see an attractive female form, for example, we think that it’s this form that is illusion and it’s this form that provokes our lust. So, when the same form reminds us of Kṛṣṇa we are very skeptical. “Yeah, right,” we think to ourselves, “it’s just māyā’s trick, this feeling is not really spiritual, I’ll get contaminated if we let my consciousness dwell on it.”

And yet today I want to talk in defense of such experiences, sometimes they are mind blowing and therefore cannot be ignored. Stuff that shakes our souls needs to be dealt with one way or another. We need to understand what and why and how and whether we need to reject it or cleverly engage it in Kṛṣṇa’s service.

Four years ago (has it been this long?) I wrote a post about a monologue from a TV show. Re-reading it today made me queasy and it looks like I was more daring back then, that I was really taking it to the edge just for the dramatic effect, to demonstrate the gems we sometimes find in the world around us. In that monologue I substituted the object of affection, and ordinary woman, with Kṛṣṇa. I guess one can do it with any love poem but that one struck a chord with me back then.

We do not normally say such things about the Lord, it’s not for us to use this language and express these feelings, and that’s why reading this feels uncomfortable but the analysis in the rest of the post was spot on, I’m actually quite proud of myself for that.

Now, the question is whether taking that monologue seriously and transferring it to Kṛṣṇa was justified. First of all, that’s not what I did there. I wasn’t searching and then creating something. I just heard it unexpectedly and as I was processing the words I saw parallels with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It was the case of “stuff finds me”.

It’s rude to look in the mouth of a gifted horse. If something I heard unexpectedly reminded me of Kṛṣṇa and provoked strong reaction it would be similarly rude to reject it outright.

Was the reaction based on spiritual or material attachments? TBTH, I haven’t thought about a woman as the subject of that expression of love even for a second. I did not substitute woman with Kṛṣṇa when I was listening, I did that later when I adapted it for the blog. Unless I am lying to myself, I did not transfer material emotions on the Lord, I did not make the Lord the object of material attachment, as sahajiyā would have done.

Moreover, I did not even think of the Lord Himself but of similar prayers by devotees like Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura. I didn’t think of emotions of the gopīs but of the emotions of those glorifying them.

Material objects reminding one of Kṛṣṇa was a persistent phenomenon in later life of Lord Caitanya. He’d see a hill and think of Govardhana, for example. He’d see the ocean and think of Yamunā. My experience wasn’t anything like that. I don’t have any attachment to neither Govardhana nor Yamunā, nor to the sound of Kṛṣṇa’s flute, nor to the beauty of His face etc. Nothing can remind me of Kṛṣṇa because there’s nothing for me to remember. What I can remember is other people praying to Him and that’s what that monologue reminded me of.

This is the best protection against sahajiyā tendencies I can think of – do not make the Lord the object of one’s attraction, but Lord’s devotees and THEIR glorification of Kṛṣṇa. Let things remind us how OTHER people serve the Lord, it’s just as nectarian and it’s much much safer.

There’s another such illusory thing that substitutes for spiritual experience when there’s nothing better around and I think I’ll write about it tomorrow.

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