Yesterday I discussed two alternatives to bhakti, karma and yoga, today it’s time to look at jñāna and I believe it requires deeper consideration because one way or another it holds a big sway over devotees, to the point that resisting it can be as frustrating as battling with lust.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī usually treated karma and jñāna as two sides of the same coin, bhoga and tyāga, as they define our attitude towards the material world. They are born of duality of “good” and “bad” experiences forced on us by the material nature. When things feel good, living entities get into bhoga, enjoyment, and so they get attracted to karma yoga. When things go bad they decide that this material world is an awful place and decide to reject it, tyaga, and go for jñāna.
Tyāga is generally good for spiritual progress because it frees one from the illusion that we can be enjoyers and so people following jñāna feel like they are genuinely progressing and finding peace and shelter in a higher reality. This, to me, is the main reason it’s so hard to defeat even for devotees, though we get plugged into this process in a different place and for different reasons.
In the begininng… wait, for us it looks like also in the middle and in the end, we do not have established spiritual relationships with neither Kṛṣṇa, Lord Caitanya, or our guru. We still see the world through our conditioning, deities still look like brass dolls, guru still looks like an ordinary person, and the Name still sounds like any other word. Nothing compels tears to flow from our eyes and nothing melts our hearts with devotion, and humility is still only a theoretical concept.
Deprived of truly spiritual devotional mellows we seek replacements anywhere we can find. Some of us dive deeper into books or get more books in hope to find the missing ingredient in the writings of previous ācāryas. Many of us take to the internet instead.
Maybe the truth can be found on facebook, maybe if we connect with devotees there we’ll finally fill the gaping hole in our hearts. Ditto for twitter. Pretty soon we find out that facebook is not used for devotional exchanges by anybody, it’s a place to share gossip and recipes, a place for prajalpa or gramyā-kathā – village talk in the global age. We can get the updates on who went where, visited who and ate what, but pretty soon we realize it’s a huge waste of everybody’s time. If some devotional topic gets everyone excited you can bet it will be some controversy and a huge fight will soon erupt leaving nothing but devastation in its wake.
Then there are blogs and personal websites and some of them are very very good and worth following but, usually, it’s just not enough, a lot of stuff there is directed at newcomers, and they are run rather impersonally by owners’ assistants, they offer institutionalized experience. The biggest problem is the scale, though. They just don’t have enough mass to keep us locked there forever, we need more.
The above describes an imaginary ideal path, most of us simply like the attraction of the internet and all the shiny things that are there. We go there to please ourselves and checking out devotional websites is only an excuse, and afterthought, a customary tribute to make us feel better and justify our addiction.
Could internet be a part of jñāna yoga? Yes, it can, we come here to learn new things, that’s a big part of it, and learning is jñāna. I’m not talking about those into staring at other people’s food, of course. Or porn. However, the learning potential here is very very small and there are way too many distractions to satisfy a genuine seeker, but we take good with bad, learning combined with pleasure, stay away from porn, and we are all good, right? Maybe, but it’s not enough.
We also seek genuine spirituality here, we check out religious boards and sites, try to find people with similar views on the world and try that “interfaith” thing on our own personal level. Sometimes we find them and when we succeed the contrast of experience invigorates us, it feels right and righteous and we want more of it. We want to find or build a genuine community of non-sectarian, level-headed truth seekers, free from trollish hoi polloi inhabiting most of the internet.
This experience gets us closer to real jñāna and it gives us genuine realizations about the nature of reality. We learn to see the error of humanity’s ways, the futility of most human endeavors, the arrogance and ignorance of our leaders, the bewilderment of our thinkers, the misguided passion of neo-atheists. It can be as eye opening and mind blowing as anything, and we collect lots of allies on the way.
In terms of jñāna yoga it should qualify as developing one of the four basic qualities, viveka, discrimination between spiritual and non-spiritual. The other three are renunciation, self control and development of other sattvic qualities, and intense yearning for liberation.
These are only qualifying stages, though, a student in advaita tradition is supposed to go through twelve years of training to master them before he gets to actual practice which might lead, if everything goes right, to real jñāna, which is realizations of the Absolute happening in one’s mind, not just learning things here and there.
Completing and succeeding in his entire process is obviously out of question, what we get instead is mere crumbs on the path of nondual realization but we get so excited about it that we think it justifies the existence of the internet itself.
Let’s make a few things clear. It IS a nondual, advaita realization, as it is inherently non-devotional and does not channel Lord’s mercy, it can’t lead to anything else but impersonalism. However much we might enjoy the communal spirit of this discovery, real jñāna is a solitary practice. What they call “satsang” is only a helping tool which should be abandoned as one makes sufficient progress.
Secondly, we’ll get a lot more buck for our time if we stay off these distractions and sincerely engage ourselves in devotional service. We can say that it doesn’t feel like we are making any progress but we should remember that success in our lives is remembering Kṛṣṇa at the moment of death. This alone will justify everything we did and everything we sacrificed to get there, and that includes giving up the company of non-devotees.
If we don’t feel like we are making progress it’s because we are not doing it right and we won’t make more progress if we stop doing it altogether either. Substituting service for hanging out with māyāvādīs is not a solution, it only deepens our problem.
Sometimes we feel like we did a great job if we managed to extend our hand, swallow our pride, and establish rapport with “fellow spiritualists”. What we really accomplish, however, is getting association of non-devotees of the most dangerous kind (well, Christians and Muslim probably shouldn’t count, but Buddhists should). Lord Caitanya was very emphatic about it – DO NOT ASSOCIATE with māyāvādīs, those attached to sex, and non-devotees of any kind. What do we hope to achieve by rejecting this injunction? More mercy?
Nope, all we get is crumbs off māyāvādī table and we will lock ourselves from making any progress in real devotional service altogether. Does that sound like an acceptable deal?
Finally, I think trying to establish a devotional community on the internet is like setting a temple in the middle of a seedy honky tonk district. Sure, there will always be some bar stool philosophers wandering over with beer in their hands to engage in lively “spiritual” debates but no sane devotee should ever step foot in this place in search of enlightenment and association. If we can’t avoid it altogether we should seriously think how to make the best deal out of it, and it’s hard, really hard.