One of the consequences of separating ourselves from our bodies is that we lose any criteria by which to judge our “progress”. I put progress in quotes because by progress we mean success, and, technically, progress means movement from one state to another, which is a material concept because it depends on time. Time is not present on the spiritual platform so talk about progress has no meaning. Yet we all strive for it.
By falling under the influence of the false ego we associate ourselves with our bodies and we start to believe that we interact with this world, that we do things and the world responds. We get to feel that response through our senses, though I don’t know what sense organ is responsible for feeling emotions. Is it mind? Intelligence? A mix of both? It’s a topic for further research but for now let’s assume that something in our bodies registers emotional security or distress, hopes and desperation, love and frustration and so on. These things are important for our “well-being” so they need to be considered, too, it’s not just food, nice music and something pleasing for the eyes.
When we come in contact with Krishna consciousness we continue gauging our progress in the same way, just in a different direction. While living under material paradigm we thought progress meant more money and more sex, when we decided to go with Krishna we think success is renunciation and other symptoms of advancement. We still use our bodies to measure, however, since we don’t have any other tools yet.
Will we ever achieve “success” by judging ourselves from a bodily platform? No, never, it’s an oxymoron. Bodies are meant to make us suffer and they use short term pleasures only as a bait. It’s a fact of life that if we go with bodily consciousness we end up old and diseased and eventually die, and then go through the whole thing again.
There’s no provision in our bodies to register spiritual happiness, no sense organ that measures spiritual health or Krishna’s satisfaction, it’s a useless tool for this purpose.
But wait, can’t we measure changes in the outside world that happen due to our devotion and our service? After all, when Krishna says “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you”, isn’t it supposed to be manifested on the material platform, too? Aren’t we getting stuffed with prasadam, aren’t we dancing ecstatically in kirtans, aren’t our hearts melt when hearing spiritually uplifting classes? Aren’t things like renunciation, loss of interest in material pursuits, following regs, compassion, gravitas, desire to hear more and more about Krishna meant to manifest on the material platform with our material bodies?
Well, yes, but there’s a limit. Bodies will never be eternal, for example, and that’s one major spiritual realization that they can never manifest. Renunciation is absolute but bodies will never achieve that either, they’d always need food and sleep, and breathing. Likewise, sexual attraction will never disappear completely, nor attraction to good food, nor desire to hear “news”, no desire to control things and make things better. These things can be reduced but they will never disappear completely.
This is why all our acharyas complained of personal imperfection and that’s why feeling of personal inadequacy is a hallmark of spiritual advancement. How can it be any other way? One might be the greatest, purest devotee in the whole three worlds but as soon as he identifies himself with his material body he sees that there’s no devotion there, which is the correct conclusion – bodies are not meant for service to Krishna but for observing interactions between senses and sense objects.
If we were to ask a sadhu how he feels about himself his full answer, which he would never give, would be “As this old man in a body full of diseases but still striving for comfort and pleasures I feel I have absolutely no devotion”, and he would be right. If we seek devotion we should never seek it through our bodily consciousness either. That question should be addressed on a spiritual platform and if that platform is not available to us yet then we should accept our limitations, that’s all.
Yet we still want to feel better about our progress. Foolishly, we seek spiritual rewards manifested through our material karmic reactions. Here’s another fact of life – devotional service is not meant to make US feel better, it’s meant to please Krishna. Devotional service means we should not expect any rewards in exchange for it either. If we do expect some rewards then this means we have no real devotion, consequently Krishna is not really pleased, and so there’s nothing to reward us for!
That’s why real tests of devotion are very simple – always remember Krishna and never forget, or nityam bhagavata sevaya – constant service to the Lord. Regardless of how we feel about it, we continue chanting the Holy Name, regardless of what our bodies tell us to do, we continue seeking Krishna, regardless of our own personal happiness or desperation, we continue seeking service. Even if the whole world becomes clear and united in one single thought and screams in our face: “Your service to Krishna brings you nothing by all possible standards”, we still seek that service.
Remember Krishna and never forget, it’s that simple, nothing more than that. Of course there could be more, we could be engaged happily in sankirtana, we could be worshiping deities, we could be known in our community as great, dedicated devotees, but those things are temporary, we can lose them and it won’t affect our spiritual status in the slightest. If we become attached, however, it will make our service dependent on these external rewards, which would make it un-devotional. Devotional service is ahaituki, causeless, remember, it has no external sources. Only then it can satisfy the soul, yayatma suprasidati (SB 1.2.6).
There’s one big caveat to this line of reasoning, though – our bodies are not really external, they are given to us as direct reflection of our consciousness. They are not caused by anything else but our own desires coming from our own souls. Our consciousness is polluted by matter, true, but it’s still OUR consciousness, we are not made suffer or enjoy someone else’s reactions. We get exactly what we deserve.
Why can’t we say that if our body is not spiritually engaged then this means we, as spirit souls, are not making any progress?
Yes and no.
Just today I listened to a lecture and I heard that Krishna can clear our hearts of all our anarthas in one moment. It’s absolutely no trouble for Him. How can we claim all responsibility for ourselves then? In as much as we identify with our bodies, would be my first answer, which takes me back where I started this post.
Let me present this argument – our bodies have full charge of karma to last until the end of this life. No matter what we do, no matter where we direct our consciousness, no matter whether we become liberated or not, this karma has to work itself out. We can’t stop it.
Doesn’t matter whether we identify with our bodies or not they’ll keep doing what they are meant to do like a wound up toy. We might just as well take a break from watching this freak show and concentrate solely on Krishna, our material senses will continue their interactions, our material mind will continue desiring things, our material intelligence will continue making plans – it doesn’t depend on our participation at all, it’s all driven by the laws of karma, not by us.
So, it doesn’t matter whether we feel better about our service or not, these feelings are immaterial, pardon the pun, for our actual spiritual life.