There’s a concept of exalted and debilitated planets in astrology, one of the very first things to learn. What is behind that concept is murky, however, it’s simply a list without any śāstric explanations attached. The list is a pair of signs for each planet, one is the place of its exaltation, one is the place of its debilitation, and that’s it. Whatever interpretations are there are speculative, I believe.
For all the planets these two signs are opposite in the zodiac which would imply some physical arrangement, like some astronomical sense of high and law, but that is not enough for astrologers, of course. They treat the zodiac and all the luminaries there as if it was king’s court. Each planet has its specific role and its own place. Visiting someone else’s house affects that planet’s status and ability to project power.
The Sun is the king, naturally, and Mars is his military chief. King’s strength is indisputable when backed up by the military, and so the Sun is exalted in a sign of Mars. When the king visits a courtesan, however, he tries to keep it on the down low and so the Sun is debilitated in the house of Venus. What is interesting here is that fortunes of Sun’s servant, Saturn, are directly opposite. He has no say in the house of a military commander but becomes the ultimate authority when he arranges King’s secret meetings with Venus.
The Queen has most power in her own quarters and none at all in the general’s camp where she is not in the chain of command. If the general comes to Queen’s palace, however, he’s humbled because he has to carry out the orders of a woman, hence debilitated.
In this way the whole zodiac is covered, taking into account personal relationships between the planets. The point is that everyone in this world, even the Sun-god, is limited in his powers. For everyone there are situations when things simply don’t work and everything goes wrong. As devotees we are not above these limitations either.
Reading Prabhupāda’s books we can get the impression that a devotee and devotional service are completely free from these influences but that refers only to pure devotees, not beginners like us. Nārada Muni might be free, Prahlāda Mahāraja might be free, though it could be argued that Dakṣa’s curse affected even Nārada. We are nowhere near their level and we must accept that we are totally dependent on the mercy of the material energy.
There are places in this world which are conducive to our service and there are places which aren’t. It is perfectly okay to occasionally find ourselves in a debilitating place and wish we were never there, trying to get out with all our might. We should not accept these debilitating conditions as some sort of a test of our devotion. It isn’t, maybe only to check if we have enough intelligence to extricate ourselves as fast as possible.
Unless someone is a paramahaṁsa he shouldn’t even think about staying in debilitating conditions and hoping his devotion would somehow increase. It won’t.
By places I don’t mean only physical locations, like slaughterhouses, or more likely nightclubs, casinos, and even shopping malls for westerners, I mean the entire environment encapsulating the soul. A shopping mall does not carry as much bad karma as a slaughterhouse, for example, but it’s the anticipation of sense enjoyment that we pick up from advertisements and people around us that can pollute our devotion.
A TV is not a place in a physical sense but if one turns it on and sees or hears something on the news it affects his personal environment. “I’ve seen it on TV” doesn’t mean literally on top of the TV set. Sometimes we have to avoid certain places, sometimes certain meetings, sometimes certain conversations. Just excuse ourselves and leave whenever we sense something ready to pollute our minds. Staying clean like this is absolutely essential for our progress. We can’t have it both ways, just can’t.
We can compare it to married men consorting with other women. It just doesn’t feel right, you might get some taste from flirting but it absolutely kills your emotional connection with your wife, which is very difficult to restore. Marriage usually grows several sheaths around it and things like family, house, or children can keep it standing for a while but infidelity at its very heart is nearly impossible to heal.
At first men (or women) might think that it’s not serious and simply being close to your partner once again will repair the damage but beyond a certain point it simply doesn’t work, and it makes it feel like you have to start loving the person from the square one. In many cases trying to fall in love once again doesn’t work either, especially if one has acquired the taste for someone else’s company. Even if one succeeds, the aftertaste of an affair stays with him forever, weighing on his heart. Some think confessing would make it go away but often it only makes things worse.
Same with our devotion – we should become sensitive enough to it so that we can spot a possible interference a mile away and try to avoid running into it. Still, debilitating places can sneak on you and you’ll get trapped. It happens, it must happen from time to time simply because karma. The good thing is that we won’t stay there long either, the same karma will force to move us along.
Last weekend I got sick, for example. I think it was some food poisoning or I got some unfamiliar bacteria in my gut that wrecked havoc. The main problem was that lots of toxins got released into my blood which led to increase in body temperature and headaches. At first I thought it was Kṛṣṇa’s grace, He is sending difficulties to test me, and also to absolve me from daily duties so that I could concentrate on hearing and chanting, but soon I discovered that it was not it. Sickness didn’t facilitate my attempts at service at all and it felt like I was caught in the bog of debilitation.
Śrīla Prabhupāda gave a sure fire recipe, our sādhana, and following it requires us to be healthy. Being coiled under the blankets, shaking and trembling, is not conducive to service, it’s not conducive to remembering Kṛṣṇa either. It’s a debilitating condition and it can’t be seen otherwise. It’s also a warning that thinking of Kṛṣṇa at the moment of death is not going to be easy, in fact impossible. Someone else must turn kīrtana tapes on, someone else must put pictures of Kṛṣṇa before our eyes, we ourselves won’t be in the position to do so. We can’t expect Kṛṣṇa’s personal appearance, protecting us from our troubles, we are not that kind of devotees yet, we can only hope to have some external presence of the holy name and hope we can somehow focus our consciousness on it. That’s the extent of Prabhupāda’s promise, we cannot demand any more than that and expecting anything more would be foolish and arrogant.
I beat the disease by fasting, btw, let the bacteria choke on itself and die. Somehow it worked but it’s not a solid medical advice, in many cases bacteria will still find plenty of food and needs to be treated professionally.