My last speculation about the Lord keeping historical accuracy of our relationships with him birth after birth might go against some most basic principles of spiritual progress. Given the 666 in the number of today’s post, however, some devilish entertainment is only natural so let me indulge for the moment, something good might come out of it anyway.
The idea is that we were not randomly plucked out of a crowd of faceless materialists but were placed in our current position according to our previous karma and, more importantly, our previous service to the Lord. In this case to Lord Caitanya. Considering how little progress we make in our present life it’s not such an outrageous idea. With all our chanting we should have made giant strides but it doesn’t happen. Why? Maybe we expect progress in the wrong area.
For a materialist traveling through eight million species of life each new birth is progress, it gives him new abilities, new opportunities, new modes of sense enjoyment, everything looks new and improved. This is the kind of progress we expect from our spiritual life, too – we want to perceive the holy name better or see the deities as God and not as brass dolls on the altar, for example. And I mean actually see the Lord standing there because our eyes only perceive inanimate matter when we look. We might also expect penetrating insights into the workings of material energy, the ability to see past, present, and future, the ability to immediately judge one’s spiritual position and give appropriate advice etc. That last one is what happens to our gurus in ISKCON, we assume. They start off as fresh bhaktas, get shaved up, taught to chant and preach, get initiated, and then voila – ten-twenty years later they are promoted to sannyāsa and allowed to initiate. These days it’s not so easy but that was the general path for Prabhupāda disciples. We assume that because of their guru status they possess some superhuman powers, at least in spiritual matters. Our gurvaṣṭaka prayers are pretty explicit about out assumptions of what to expect from our guru, too, so no one can really blame us.
This kind of progress is still materialistic because it’s materially visible and materially measurable. We can’t see how the guru is serving the feet of Rāḍha and Kṛṣṇa in private groves of Vṛndāvana but we can see that he was declared a guru so it must be there – there’s still a materially perceptible designation to make him qualified. When we define our spiritual progress in such terms we can easily imagine what kind of birth would be a step up in the next life. We also have Kṛṣṇa’s assurances in Bhagavad Gītā that even if we fail to return to Him at the end of this life we’ll be placed in favorable conditions in the next and those conditions are defined materially – a family of a brāhmaṇa, for example.
So, how can I propose anything different? Because chanting of the holy name already granted us liberation even if it might not look so to our material eyes. We still suffer and enjoy and our minds are still attracted to material objects and they are still very very hard to control, where is liberation here? To counter this I’d say that we are liberated from the clutches of material energy and everything that happens to us now is lovingly controlled by the Lord Himself. But what about material desires? He recognizes our material desires and He arranges for their fulfillment in the most spiritually harmless way, it is not dictated by cold karma anymore. There’s another discussion to be had on whether law of karma is actually cold and impersonal but let’s leave it for now.
The point is that we are fully in the hands of the Lord, in every conceivable aspect of our lives, and if we don’t see unicorns and rainbows that’s because we don’t love Him in return yet, we are just coming around to realization that it would be a great idea but we are still attached to our “freedom”.
And that is why might need to disassociate our expectations of progress from materialistic perspective. We don’t need to get a better birth, we are perfectly capable of chanting where we are now. There might be relatively more or less material obstacles but they cannot override the irrevocable fact – we’ve been given the holy name and we can chant it. If it’s more difficult than for others then it could be so that we appreciate it more. One name uttered in the state of helplessness could be more spiritually valuable than sixty four rounds chanted in comfort of our home, who knows?
Material obstacles can’t hinder our spiritual progress but they might encourage us to give up our attachments to safety and comfort. We might think that in the next life we need better arrangements for our chanting but do we really? What’s stopping us from achieving perfection in chanting right where we are now? It’s the desire for better arrangements, that’s what. One split second of perfect association can grant us full spiritual perfection and it’s freely available, what better arrangements do we need? So what if we might spend years waiting for this moment to finally come? Kṛṣṇa, or rather Lord Caitanya, who is in charge of our progress, sees the bigger picture and He is infinitely patient. Waiting is not a problem for Him and it shouldn’t be a problem for us either. The state of kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ is tested precisely by the ability to chant patiently regardless of all kinds of obstacles and the desire to remove those obstacles goes against this principle. When we want better conditions in the next life, even if ostensibly for chanting, it means we still have material hankerings.
How will the Lord deal with them? I’d say He doesn’t need to place us into these better conditions. Judging by the state of our knowledge of philosophy and currently present spiritual opportunities we should be ready to achieve perfection right where we are, we just need more practice in service and detachment.
There’s also the issue of yukta-vairāgya where we must learn to engage everything we see in the service of the Lord. In this spirit we shouldn’t be asking for more stuff when we can’t deal with what we already have. Why would we need a “better” birth when we can’t fully utilize the present one? I’d say that it’s far better to discover connection to Kṛṣṇa where we don’t see it yet rather than demand advancement to the next level.
That’s why we might be born again and again precisely in these conditions, five hundred years after the appearance of Lord Caitanya. We still have plenty of spiritual progress to make here and this work shouldn’t be visible to the materialistic eyes anyway because they can’t see devotion and devotion does not have to manifest externally either.
But what about visible spiritual progress of the kind we can see in our ISKCON? What about it? I’d say it’s no different from a baby learning to walk and talk. We can replay it life after life, this external recognition of our externally visible efforts doesn’t matter, it’s just striving for fame and glory and it would eventually go away once we lived this life a few times.
It’s a fascinating topic, maybe I’ll continue it later.