When we think about out progress, or rather the lack thereof, we are mostly concerned with the transitions between different versions of reality, of which I think there are three. I said I think because our literature doesn’t classify the reality this way. Someone might offer a few more states of reality but nothing else has come to my mind so far.
To recap – I mean reality as total illusion, ie the world as seen by the conditioned souls, the full spiritual reality of Kṛṣṇaloka, and our current state somewhere in between where we have some perception of the Lord but nothing direct yet.
Normally, we oscillate between the lower two, completely forgetting Kṛṣṇa for spells of time and then remembering Him and seeing Him appear in the form of the Holy Name. That’s not exactly right, though – we can hear a mundane audible sound but it doesn’t yet manifest itself as a full Name, at best it’s a nāmābhāsa. Kṛṣṇa can also reenter our consciousness as a form of a deity or as our spiritual master or as a narration in our books.
What we want instead is an oscillation between this state and full spiritual perception of Lord’s own spiritual form. Ideally we want to see only that form and nothing else but we are not greedy, we’d allow ourselves to perceive the material world as long as we are in our bodies, too. /sarcasm
Actually, there appears to be distinctions even on a spiritual level as we can see from a story of Dhruva Mahārāja. He saw Lord’s spiritual form in his meditation and it was cool, but then the Lord appeared between his otherwise material eyes and it was way cooler. We’d be perfectly content with the Lord appearing only in meditation, internally, on the seat of our hearts, we are not greedy, as I said.
We consider these transitions as real milestones on our path back to Godhead and so far we haven’t reached even one. Of course our engagement in service to our guru, our chanting, our association with devotees, our service to the deities is already tremendous progress but it’s clearly not enough.
Some of us, however, argue that it’s as good as it gets and because it feels pretty good already so we don’t really need anything better. Well, no one actually argues that way but they express this attitude when discussing our devotional life. I’ve been known to make similar comments myself, of “what more do you want” variety. This time, however, I mean someone else. A devotee resident of Māyāpura was canvassing people to come and live there and he talked about how his fridge was full of mangoes and how life was simple and yet sublime and so on. It was totally understandable in the context but it still sounded like a life of sense enjoyment, albeit at Lord Caitanya’s expense, and it was devoid of even a hint at spiritual realizations. I say so because spiritual realizations would blow “mango” argument away, who remembers mangoes when one can see the Lord in his heart?
This kind of attachment and content could probably be classified as anartha arising from devotional service itself and it needs to go. No matter how good it feels and how legitimate it is, no matter that it might be based on real relationship with Mahāprabhu where we serve Him and He places us in comfortable conditions in exchange, there’s no comparison between this life and real vision of the Lord. I can cite Dhruva Mahārāja here again.
The first words coming out of Dhruva’s mouth were (SB 4.9.6):
My dear Lord, You are all-powerful. After entering within me, You have enlivened all my sleeping senses — my hands, legs, ears, touch sensation, life force and especially my power of speech. Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto You.
It was a real awakening, and this what Prabhupada started his purport from: “Dhruva Mahārāja could understand very easily the difference between his condition before and after attaining spiritual realization and seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face. He could understand that his life force and activities had been sleeping. Unless one comes to the spiritual platform, his bodily limbs, mind and other facilities within the body are understood to be sleeping. Unless one is spiritually situated, all his activities are taken as a dead man’s activities or ghostly activities.”
We want that, too, we must want it if we want to become pure devotees. Content in our present situation should only be accepted as gratitude to the Lord and not as settling for inferior kind of “bliss”. Mangoes just don’t cut it.
This transition can also be seen as coming under the influence of the Lord’s internal potency. Right now we are in the hands of māyā, it is she who engages our bodies in Lord’s service, places Lord’s name on our lips and thoughts about Him in our minds. Perhaps in her domain this is as good as it gets, we can’t extract any more pleasure from our bodies. We can squeeze a few tears and maybe occasional goosebumps but these should ideally be symptoms of internal vision of the Lord, and for us they never last anyway, which is proof that they are material experiences. Perhaps it’s not correct to address this external energy of the Lord as māyā when she engages us in Lord’s service but you know who I mean.
Our Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, however, starts with “Hare”, an appeal to the internal potency of the Lord, so desire to come under influence of yogamāyā is totally natural, it’s what we chant our rounds for everyday and then murmur to ourselves as much as possible, too. We are not asking the Lord to keep us in the material world even though it could be considered a noble sacrifice. Kṛṣṇa doesn’t want us to be here, we are not that special, He keeps us here for the time being because we aren’t ready to move on yet, not because we are on some secret mission.
Some interpret this desire to mean that we need to read up on Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and gradually enter Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes by meditating on them. I’m very skeptical about this approach, I’d rather stick to behaving in such a way that Kṛṣṇa wants to see us and sends us an invitation. We achieve this by humble service to our spiritual master instead of role-playing. I’m not aware of any of our ISKCON gurus asking their disciples to meditate on pastimes instead of helping them to preach, and so that’s what we should do. Consequently, our very first spiritual realization must be seeing our guru as non-different from the Lord. He is not a stepping stone to be used and forgotten, he is our eternal master and our eternal service to Kṛṣṇa goes only through him. Granted, sometimes Kṛṣṇa might interact with us directly, but real followers of Rūpa Gosvāmī would rather serve Lord’s servants, meaning our guru.
Our real awakening should be appreciating the role our guru plays in our lives. That’s when our senses become awakened. Maybe not as fully spiritual senses capable of perceiving the Lord directly but at least awakened from dull existence of sense-gratification. That would be quite an achievement already.