Vanity thought #1431. Swing vote 4

Yesterday I talked about obstacles to our surrender caused by excessive material desires. Sometimes, despite having this blessed human form of life, we are just too full of them, like the demigods, and so even when we receive Lord’s mercy we still continue on the same trajectory. It’s a kind of demigod syndrome making human form of life more of a curse than a blessing. It’s not the only problem, of course, so let’s talk more about these unwelcome obstacles.

This demigod syndrome is not related to the demigod level of life per se, ie it’s not only for the rich, but I don’t think it applies to those used to poverty. Poverty is in a class of its own, more on it later. In order to be cursed like a demigod one needs to have a certain level of commitment to good life which can come only through experience, simply dreaming about it is not enough.

Our desires go through several stages as they eventually fructify. First it’s just a thought (that’s what poor people think about money), then we make efforts, then we get first results, then we get the taste, then we can’t have enough of that thing, and that’s when demigod syndrome manifests itself in full. We need to have invested too much to let go and even Kṛṣṇa doesn’t do anything about it but lets our karma run its course out first. Poor people don’t get to that state, they don’t have anything to invest to begin with, but more on it later, as I said.

Another class of unfortunate people are those who learn too much nonsense, or māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, as Kṛṣṇa defined them in Bhagavad Gīta. It might seem that I’m trying to provide a different list from that of Kṛṣṇa (grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons – BG 7.15) but my list is on a different topic. Kṛṣṇa spoke of those who do not surrender, I’m speaking of those who try to but are too limited by their conditioning. People I’m talking about are an addition to Kṛṣṇa’s list. Btw, the very existence of Kṛṣṇa’s list means that not all people are created equal, for some even a human form of life is not a guarantee of the possibility to surrender.

I saw somewhere a claim that 93% of scientists are atheists. If one grows up in such a family or makes a career in science then he would naturally have a great obstacle in exercising his free will. Everything he learns, everyone around him would scream that God does not exists, Kṛṣṇa is only a heart-warming myth, and there could be no such thing as spiritual reality. Trying to surrender under these conditions will go against literally everything one knows.

Doctors are part of the same club, too. They spend too much time studying how human body works to leave any space for the soul. In case someone thinks that if we learn as much about the human body as doctors our faith would also be shaken, the answer would be that they create a self-affirming bubble and filter out any alternative explanations. It’s like if we ask a sociologist to describe our movement he would present a compelling picture explaining every aspect of our lives but he would totally miss the spiritual part of it. We do not perform any miracles and every our action conforms to material laws of nature and so externally it would look like spirituality does not exist but as spirit souls, not sociologists, we have a very different experience of actually living with it. The deities, for example, in sociologist’s view would only be dolls for adults, never the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Similarly, a doctor would see only the material part of our bodies and it would work according to material laws, and that would convince him that there’s no such thing as a soul. If he tried living as a soul and experiencing the world as a soul he would see bodies very differently, but then he wouldn’t be practicing medicine and wouldn’t be a doctor anymore. Part of being a doctor is denying spirituality and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Being forced in such a situation where one must see himself and the world around him as only matter is going to have an effect on our ability to reject this view and surrender to the Lord instead. As I said, it would go against everything one knows and his mind and intelligence won’t be very receptive to the idea.

On the other side of the spectrum would be an archetypal Vedic brāhmaṇa who might never see an atheist face in his life and never hear materialistic view of the world explained to him at all. His mind and intelligence would have no idea that alternatives to serving the Lord are even possible.

We are somewhere in between these two extremes and so we should try, if the opportunity arises, to structure our lives in such a way as to make the idea of surrendering to the Lord look very natural to our minds. A vaiṣṇava, after all, is a person who rejects everything unfavorable to the service of the Lord, and that means rejecting lifestyle that confuses our minds.

But let me get back to the “swing vote” for a moment. The idea is that our progress through material time does not have a very significant effect on our progress on the spiritual scale. Generally, even if one appears to possess a solid knowledge of spiritual basics, the Bhagavad Gīta, for example, or Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as any Indian knows them, it doesn’t mean he won’t go through periods of total ignorance. He might be struck by Alzheimer’s, he might become a vegetable and slip into a coma, he will be born again and spend first years of his life in total ignorance, and yet the level of his spiritual realization would remain more or less the same.

It’s not like reading Gīta makes us see Kṛṣṇa any better than a toddler, and if we don’t see Him now we are not going to see Him when we lose all our mental faculties either. Hopefully, our spiritual trajectory is gradually ascending, life after life, but our ability to remember ślokas is only temporary and does not have a big effect on its own so we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

The “swing vote” in this context refers to the few years of our lives when we can really make a difference the way toddlers and senile people can’t. It refers to the peak of our abilities to influence our spiritual position for the better, the time when we can really exercise our free will despite limitations imposed on us by our materially contaminated mind and intelligence. We better not waste it on less productive pursuits, like memorizing ślokas instead of living them in our lives. Memories will be lost, attempts to serve our guru won’t, they will be counted and added to our spiritual balance while parroting Sanskrit verses will be erased.

I’m not saying that learning ślokas is totally useless but it’s not the cramming part of this process that is beneficial, it’s taking them to the heart and trying to act on them that is. One śloka learned this way is better than remembering the entire Gīta. That’s the kind of swing vote opportunity that we shouldn’t miss in our lives – act on our knowledge, not just acquire it for keeps. Our opportunities to act are far fewer than opportunities to learn, we shouldn’t waste them.

Here’s an example to clarify what I mean – Śrīla Prabhupāda had only a few minutes of association of his guru and received only one short instruction from him while he spent decades reading and learning, and yet dedicating his entire life to following that one order, a suggestion even, was far more important then everything else. Many of our devotees have similar experiences with their gurus, too, but even if they haven’t, we all can find one single thing that we can build our lives around, be it preaching or book distribution or Food For Life or chanting or kīrtana or serving the deities, we should hang onto that thing and never forget it, never ever let it go. We should then use it to swing our lives around, hopefully all the way back to Goloka.

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