Vanity thought #1448. Contemporary asceticism

Thinking how the decision to drop atomic bombs was forced on US military command by the accumulated effects of the Kali Yuga I tried to find a connection to our ISKCON. We haven’t dropped any bombs anywhere ourselves (there was one episode in NZ, though) but it doesn’t mean we are immune to the influence of Kali. The problem is not only in overcoming unusually strong attachments but in that it forces us to act in decidedly non-Vedic ways even for a good cause.

Take our yukta-vairāgya, for example. The idea is for mahā-bhāgavata devotees to use everything they see for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. For us, however, it slowly turns into an excuse to indulge ourselves in sense-gratification under the pretext of service. If it was a real yukta-vairāgya then we would be able to stop it at will and simply sit still, absorbed in chanting and meditation on the Lord. We can’t however, we “need” to act, and so there’s no vairāgya in our actions of any kind, there’s plenty of hypocrisy, though.

Maybe it’s only karma-yoga – dedicating results of our work to Kṛṣṇa while we reserve the right to thoroughly enjoy the process. Maybe it’s only “always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget” rule where we allow ourselves to do practically anything and consider it okay as long as we keep Kṛṣṇa somewhere in the back of our minds.

I don’t mean “okay” from the rules perspective, I mean okay from the perspective of renunciation. Hitting a snooze button on alarm clocks is not against any rules, for example, it’s “okay”, but enjoying even a few extra minutes of sleep is not okay for renunciates, who we claim to be with our yukta-vaiṛāgya excuse. Well, what we cleverly say is that these extra minutes enable us to get up feeling fresh and so contribute to the quality of our morning service, which is very important, more important than getting up on time for the sake of the rules.

This explanation might be acceptable but what happens to us embracing these extra minutes of sleep with eager anticipation, longing for the comfort of our pillows? What kind of vairāgya is in that? if we gave in to this pleasure then everything we say afterwards to deny our self-indulgence is hypocrisy. If someone sprung up from bed on time but then dozed off during his japa we would call it monkey renunciation, but what do we call ours?

The only solution that I can think of is to accept our imperfection, stop calling it yukta-vairāgya, identify problem areas and start working on them. In the snooze button case it’s disassociating ourselves from the pleasure brought to us by the warm embraces of our pillows. We can’t avoid it, we also need to get up fresh so sleep is necessary, but we can’t see this enjoyment as ours, it’s an interaction between material elements extraneous to our real existence.

Beating the snooze button pleasure would be a great achievement, btw, because at this point our mind and intelligence are still turned off and so we don’t have the same sense of [false] self-awareness we are forced to live with during the day. The illusion is at its weakest during deep sleep, as śāstras say, and so finding “ourselves” in this situation should be a lot closer to the truth than our self-perception in fully awakened state. It should enable us to see daytime imposition of the mind as external to our real selves, finally beating “I think therefore I am” illusion.

Seeing failures in our renunciation, yukta or otherwise, should also enable us to see our real enemies. What is it that drives us to act? Is it our own desire on an external imposition? Is it a combination of both? How much of it is truly ours and what can we do about it?

A mahā-bhāgavata devotee would, presumably, see everything in this world as an external imposition but an imposition by Kṛṣṇa’s energies for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. His own participation would be determined by the degree of his realization of his actual spiritual form. I don’t think he would act on it, though.

We have an example of Lord Caitanya playing out His pastimes with Kṛṣṇa in “real” life but to outsiders it looked like total madness. No one else among His followers did anything close. What we’ve been told is that as we slowly uncover our preferred rasa we devevs vairagya
lop affinity for listening to that particular type of Kṛṣṇa līlā, and that is what I think the degree of our true spiritual involvement should ever be while still in this world.

Everything we do before we reach that level would be acting in illusion – illusion that we are the doers in this world and we can control and manipulate material energy according to our will. The only difference from the rest of the eternally conditioned population is that we assume our will as superior to theirs, so Kṛṣṇa Himself is helping us to do anything we want while they are left at the mercy of karma. I’m not sure this difference should count as positive for our spiritual progress, however.

Is this the kind of freedom we hope to achieve in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? The fulfillment of the same desire to control the world but now with Kṛṣṇa’s help?

Well, I guess it is progress but it should not be seen as the ultimate goal of our process. There should come a time when we realize that controlling the world is not as much fun as letting Kṛṣṇa do it and becoming His puppets instead. That’s what the liberated soul cries for when chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa – please engage me in Your service. Not “please empower me in whatever I want to do”.

But then there’s preaching – mahā-bhāgavatas don’t preach, the world is absolutely perfect as it is and doesn’t need any improvements. Every living entity is already engaged in service the Lord in whatever capacity that suits best his consciousness so there’s nothing for mahā-bhāgavatas to do here. Wait, maybe this isn’t right – it’s paramahaṁsas that don’t do anything, mahā-bhāgavatas could be different in that they see superiority of the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth so everyone who is not engaged in service to Bhagavan needs to be elevated to that stage. They see full potential of every living being and they see how it can be achieved, and they can convince the Lord to upgrade relationship level with these jīvas, too, so preaching is there as their service. It’s paramahaṁsas that don’t preach.

It makes sense but I’m just speculating here. I hope there’s a verse or two that clarify the difference, if there’s any, between mahā-bhāgavatas and paramahaṁsas.

In any case, the role of those liberated souls that take up preaching adds a level of complexity to the whole renunciation paradigm. That’s when yukta-vairāgya actually comes in, but that’s a topic for another day.

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