There was an iconic movie with this name some twenty years ago. The protagonist goes to some little provincial town to report on an arcane ritual where locals predict the weather for the rest of the year from a choice of food made by a groundhog on what is known as “Groundhog Day”. What happens is that when the protagonists wakes up the following morning it turns out that the time stuck and it’s Groundhog Day all over again. At first he is surprised but when this phenomenon repeats unfailingly again and again he gets the hang of it, learns every little details of what is going to happen, uses it to his advantage first but eventually he realizes the futility of worrying about trivial stuff. He starts seeking the deeper meaning of life and tries to live this day as perfectly as possible. I don’t remember how the movie ends but that part of the plot is enough for today’s post.
What if our lives here are just like this Groundhog Day and we get to relive them again and again until we realize the value of spiritual side of it? Being in ISKCON we are quite advanced already but clearly have a long way to go to perfection, too.
As I argued yesterday, in order to qualify for this repetitive lives we need to become liberated first, which practically means we need Lord Caitanya to personally extend His mercy to us and take us under His wing. If we are already in ISKCON than this is no problem, we got it covered, and so we need to concentrate on getting our lives right.
Unlike with materialists devoid of Lord Caitanya’s mercy our progress isn’t going to happen in huge steps – one life here on Earth, next life possibly on heavenly planets or, more likely, down in hell, then animal birth here again, and so on. Each new life and the assigned body is going to be very different from the previous one, but not for us. We get to stay and repeat the same mission over and over and over again until we get it right, or possibly forever. Our consciousness will become clarified incrementally and as soon as material body catches up, ie learns to walk and talk, we’ll be right where we left at the previous attempt.
Unlike the movie, however, we are not going to recognize our “new” life right away, it would take a certain level of maturity to see beyond the trivialities of every day life and recognize familiar patterns. They might still look differently but we’ll know that it’s the same experiences and same interactions repeating themselves. Falling in love is the same, getting out of bed and going to work is the same, raising children is the same, food is the same, entertainment is the same. When we are young we feel that we are special and that we have our own, unique experiences never seen in history before but that exultation is repetitive, too.
What we need to finally learn is the appreciation for chanting of the holy name, appreciation for saṅkīrtana. We sort of know it’s important already but we still behave as if we don’t, as if it’s only an add-on or one of many other equally important activities we can’t skip.
There’s one big difference between that Groundhog day and our groundhog lives, and actually any other time tweaking story – they use this opportunity to change history while we don’t. Materialists do not have a spiritual dimension to their lives and so they are not interested in spiritual progress, which is transcendental to material happenings. They want to improve the material life instead.
Given the chance they might go back and kill Hitler, for example, or save Kennedy, or prevent any other catastrophes and disasters. They want to bring modern inventions to help people of old, or they want to bring future inventions into the present. They want past and future to be interactive, hoping to improve things for everybody involved. This, of course, is not going to happen and it will always remain a fantasy.
We, the tiny little jīvas, are not in control of this world and we don’t make changes here, nor can we turn back the time because time works under the orders of the Supreme, not ours, and for us it’s irreversible. The Groundhog Day phenomenon in our lives might become possible only if we are outside of the influence of time, ie liberated, just as I said earlier, or if it happens in different universes which are at different stages of material development but always see Lord Caitanya visiting them anyway.
As spiritual beings we can make spiritual progress but it will remain imperceptible because spiritual matters are transcendental. There are, of course, external symptoms to recognize devotees but I could argue that plenty of ISKCON members qualify for being potentially pure devotees already. They all chant, they all follow regulative principles, they all serve the mission of Lord Caitanya, they all surrender their lives to their gurus, and differences in the amount of visible service are trivial, they don’t mean much. It is possible to become a pure devotee and still do the same things in exactly the same way.
Life of a pure devotee does not depend on external happenings, his body reacts to hot and cold, it needs food and shelter, but it doesn’t break his constant concentration on Kṛṣṇa even if his mind apparently interacts with material objects. Mind is a material element, it will keep doing whatever it is doing according to the laws of the universe.
Pure or not, but, as Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna in Bhagavad Gītā, we all have to perform our assigned duties. Arjuna had to fight, we have to go and vote, for example, and we might also need to explain our voting choices if someone asks. That would all be done by the mind but our spiritual lives underneath the material coverings are not going to be disturbed. In fact, at the stage of perfection we’ll see each and every movement in the material world as an interaction with Kṛṣṇa himself where right not we still see illusion.
So, we will relive our groundhog lives over and over again but the difference would be in our appreciation of Kṛṣṇa’s role in it which we don’t have yet at the moment. We would still chant the same sixteen rounds but with each new life we’d ignore our minds better and better. We’d also have more and more appreciation for whatever little service that is given to us where now we see it as insignificant and inconsequential and not really worth mentioning because we think it’s OUR service that WE deserved ourselves. Right now we might still desire big things for us but that should go away, and even if we happen to come across big service opportunities we’d credit our guru and fellow devotees, not ourselves.
I don’t know how many lives we need to start seeing it as Kṛṣṇa’s service arranged by His representatives for His pleasure, and it’s our presence there that is inconsequential instead. I hope not too many, this selfishness is boring and tiring.