Our path towards our goal is charted in stone, no one gets to make it any other way, though shortcuts in the form of causeless mercy are allowed, and yet it’s natural for us to try and improve ourselves and get there as fast as possible. So, is our progress perfect or is to be perfected?
In the western culture everything is eligible for improvement and a quintessential leader doesn’t even need to know the field he is managing, just ask his subordinates to identify their problems, think of the solutions, and make sure they are implementing them. This makes sure that in every situation there’s always some room for progress.
I don’t think I’m alone in running unspoken conversations with my inner manager and wondering how I can improve my attempts at service. There’s always that vision of ideal progress that I should live up to, and then it becomes a question of efforts. Am I being thorough and responsible? Am I implying piecemeal, ineffective fixes? Should I crank up the engine and make radical changes? Am I doing enough? Am I doing too little?
The ideal devotee is described in our books, the ideal path is shown by our predecessors – we have no shortage of ideals, we know what perfection is and this makes this over-analyzing things very easy.
Well, I have a radical answer to this – what we see around us, what we see in our lives, is already perfect and instead of reaching for the “ideal” we should learn to appreciate it as it is, as it is given.
We know Lord Caitanya’s mission – to spread chanting of the holy name all over the world and establish a ten thousand year old Golden era in the midsts of the Kali yuga. If it isn’t happening yet it’s our fault and we can bring it forward by being better devotees. More specifically, Śrīla Prabhupāda was a perfect devotee and so all his wishes must come true and be fulfilled, if it isn’t happening is because we do not live up to our potential as devotees. We don’t have varṇāśrama because of our lack of dedication to the cause, for example. We don’t have Kṛṣṇa conscious governments because we don’t know how to preach to world leaders and we don’t have practical solutions to world problems. We haven’t defeated Darwinism because we don’t believe in Bhāgavatam enough ourselves, and so on.
Most of us would object to this explanation but the alternatives would somehow diminish the power of Śrīla Prabhupāda and become unacceptable to Prabhupādānuga orthodoxy. We somehow have learned to live without a resolution, in an unspoken compromise between our own imperfections and Prabhupāda not really meaning what he said, or maybe being merciful and forgiving. Even this solution, however, implies that Lord Caitanya’s mission is stalling and not manifesting in full.
This step from us failing Prabhupāda to a potential problem with Lord’s own mission is rarely taken but it exposes the fallacy of this thinking. The problems we have seen in our movement can’t be attributed to Lord Caitanya, it’s unthinkable, and so we unquestionably attribute them to our own shortcomings. We can explain and even justify ourselves but the problem lies in us, not in the Lord.
But if we determine the outcome of the mission than it’s not Lord Caitanya’s anymore, is it? Another paradox here is that we attribute all success, every step to the way, to the Lord but when these steps produce less than ideal results in our estimates our deference to the Lord is nowhere to be found. It suddenly becomes karma and material energy as if they are capable of independence or of overturning Lord’s will.
We fail to see our mission as a whole, we see only unconnected parts of it, successes and failures, and we fail to notice that most of the time the border between successes and failures is impossible to draw. We fail to accept that the image of our mission is made up of successes and failures equally.
This, of course, makes it easier for us to blame ourselves and think that we can improve the mission through our own efforts, if not by expanding successes then at least by minimizing failures.
The underlying problem here is that we still think we are in control and even if the Lord knows what He’s doing we still can improve on His management. This view is rooted in illusion and, perhaps, it would be useful for us to consider how it would look like if we were free from it.
Caitanya Caritāmṛta has a story of Sanātana Gosvāmī falling into the same trap but it was laughed off and quickly corrected by the Lord who called Sanātana Gosvāmī a thief. Perhaps this joking accusation steals our focus here but the point was that Sanātana Gosvāmī thought he had his own ideas on how to improve his devotion but the Lord has cut him short. We don’t get to choose what is good or what is better for us, we have to accept whatever service the Lord has given.
Just to remind – Sanātana Gosvāmī contracted some infectious disease while traveling through a forest and when he arrived in Purī his skin was covered with boils and he had to avoid the crowds where he could accidentally touch and pollute servants of the Lord Jagannātha. Seeing himself as not just useless but also dangerous to others Sanātana Gosvāmī decided to commit suicide by jumping under the wheels of Lord Jagannātha’s chariot.
Lord Caitanya had none of it whatsoever. He said that ever since Sanātana Gosvāmī had surrendered himself to Him Sanātana has lost all rights to deciding his own fate. His body, however sickly and polluted, had become Lord Caitanya’s instrument and so he was effectively accusing the Lord of incompetence in using His own tools.
“Nope,” said Lord Caitanya. “I know exactly what I am doing, what state your body is in and what plans I have for it in the future. Trust me.”
We are not Sanātana Gosvami but the same logic applies to us – ever since we surrendered our lives at the feet of our guru and the Lord we do not get to complain about them being misused or not utilized properly, each such complaint would be an accusation against the Lord.
The mission is perfect and it is implemented perfectly. We might see it as being slow to spread but by whose standards of speed? Ours or Lord Caitanya’s? Whose ideal we apply in our imagination? Ours or Lord Caitanya’s?
Scientists have their speed of light as the absolute speed in the universe, you can’t go faster than that. We should similarly accepts Lord’s pace of progress as absolute. Move a bit too fast or a bit too slow and you are in māyā, either imagining yourself too advanced or not fulfilling your Lord assigned potential.
So, every time we think “ideally, it should be..” we should stop ourselves and accept that the existing situation is ideal already, just the way the Lord wants it. Our “ideally” means “in my illusioned view” and nothing else.