Continuing with yesterday’s battery analogy, we all consider our application as heavy duty and mission critical. We cannot fail, we must be one hundred percent reliable and our service must be uninterrupted.
We leave space for our own leisure, though. Whenever we don’t feel like working we convince ourselves that we deserve a break, but if someone else comes along and tells us that our service is not needed anymore, for real, we find this unacceptable. We think we deserve breaks because of how important and valuable our service is, not because its worthless. If our lives are, indeed, worthless then we don’t deserve any pleasure whatsoever. Feeling unneeded is devastating and unbearable and free time must not be simply pleasant, it must be deserved, too. After all, we judge other people’s value and social standing by the quality of their leisure – by vacations they can afford, cars they drive, boats, and maybe even personal planes. Someone who can afford to live a life of luxury must be a very important person, we assume, without even knowing in what field.
I’m trying to resolve an apparent contradiction between people’s love of leisure with their commitment to their work and their estimate of their importance to the society. Work and service always, always come first, even for the laziest of us. Our really big attachment is to work, not to pleasure. Of course our tongues are attached to food and genitals are attached to sex but that’s not what I meant, those are simple animal urges, most people are able to restrain them for the sake of their work.
This should be obvious, btw – no one takes a day off or calls in and says he’d be late because he feels he needs to masturbate, or eat, for that matter. Our priorities here are self-evident. Work hard, then maybe play hard. “Work” here, btw, is a placeholder for any kind of duty or obligation we have. Could be taking care of the family, could be raising kids, could be helping someone in need, any situation when we are ready to put our obligations above our immediate concerns.
My point is, if someone comes along and tells us, for real, that we don’t have to do these things anymore, we won’t accept it. It won’t compute in our heads, it’s unthinkable. “What do you mean I don’t have to help children, old people, or puppies? What do you mean my mother does not need my Christmas cards? What do you mean my child doesn’t need care and attention? What do you mean my boss and my company do not require my services?” Sometimes it would appear absurd, sometimes unbelievable, sometimes possible but not applicable to us.
These things are somewhat fluid and not everyone’s life and responsibilities are the same. If at some point parents should learn to let their children go it means their duty is fulfilled, not that it was never necessary in the first place. I’m talking about OUR specific duties, they would very from person to person but I’m talking about duties applicable to each and everyone of us individually. They are sacred to us, but should they be from the perspective of Kṛṣṇa consciousness?
When one first declares himself a devotee and behaves as if he has accomplished his sarva-dharmān parityajya people do not take it very seriously. “You are too young to make such bold proclamations,” people think, “wait until you get children.” Most of the time they turn out to be right and we are unable to sustain our initial enthusiasm.
As we gradually mature in our service another realization comes along – we see our duties as given to us by guru and Kṛṣṇa, and so we justify their sanctity on the basis of our philosophy. Maybe we are right, maybe we aren’t, but everyone else around us also takes his duties very seriously, as I explained in the beginning, we are not unique here. In fact, lots of people take their duties far more seriously than us, whatever their justification is, so we won’t impress anyone at this point either. Some might say “Your Kṛṣṇa is probably not very important to you, considering how lightly you treat your service,” and they might be right.
If at this point Kṛṣṇa sent His messengers to take us back home, back to Godhead, we might suddenly realize that our commitments here are not Kṛṣṇa conscious at all and we’d give plenty of reasons why we are not ready to leave just yet and want to stay just to tie up some loose ends. It’s inconceivable to us that Kṛṣṇa might not care about all the things we consider as important and needing closure.
“I cannot die before my parents, my mother needs my help,” or “I cannot leave my children, they are dependent on me, they are not ready to be left without a parent,” or “but I’ve been working on this thing for months, how can I leave it half complete?” Excuse after excuse after excuse. Where is our Kṛṣṇa consciousness?
We could pretend not to care about all these things but whoever Kṛṣṇa sends for us will see it right through, and the worst part is lying to ourselves, so let’s try to avoid that.
Then, after many many years of practice, we should start to realize that all those things are unimportant indeed, that the world will go on without us just fine. It would partly be because of our growing spiritual knowledge, partly because of growing humility, partly because burden of our duties becomes lighter and lighter with each passing decade. Then we will start to seriously pay attention to the holy name. We’ll realize that our chanting before that was simply begging the Lord for help in our materialistic pursuits, our “sarva-dharmān”. That’s when we might seriously start to consider surrendering for real.
Ironically, as the material value of our duties starts to fade away we’d come to realize that doing these things out of duty for guru and Kṛṣṇa is actually pretty sweet. This time around we’d see it for real – we need to do these things for our own purification and enlightenment. Every little thing we do leads us to better and better service to Kṛṣṇa, and so our duties become sacrosanct again, but now legitimately so.
This will also be the time when we realize that if Kṛṣṇa doesn’t need us to do these things anymore then we can easily and happily give them up and do something else. If He wants to us to die we would die, no questions asked. Last time around we’d have declined the offer because we saw material value in our lives but now it would be gone and the only value left in our duties is the one assigned by Kṛṣṇa. If He says it’s not important then it isn’t, as simple as that, no personal attachments in play whatsoever.
And then, just to confuse us even further, Kṛṣṇa might ask us one last thing to do: “How do you feel about liberating some of those unfortunate souls, too? You don’t have to, but I’d really appreciate if you volunteered.” Assuming we still had our wits with us it would be impolite to decline, but fear not, only very few very rare souls take Kṛṣṇa up on it, statistically we should be safe, but I’m not sure how saying no would feel in this situation. Are we going to stand there hoping Kṛṣṇa won’t ask?
Bottom line, we have tons of obligations here for all kinds of reasons, some are legitimate, some are not, and, in fact, it’s only a question of our consciousness, our progress in devotional service. Whenever questions like “should I” or “do I have to” rise in our minds we should look at them from a bigger picture and not as a life and death situation. It never is, even though it usually feels like we absolutely must find the answer right this minute.