Māyāpura part of our annual shindig is over and the first reports are coming in. The one that caught my attention was about a devotee feeling disconnected from the celebrations and totally alone among ecstatic crowds. It was met with “OMG, we have to do something about it” reaction followed by the usual talk about developing interpersonal relationships, taking our vaiṣṇava support ministries seriously, reaching out, touching souls, keeping track etc etc. Some really took it to the heart and thought it was a big institutional failure, perhaps tears were shed, too.
Personally, I don’t understand the fuss.
I don’t know this particular devotee’s circumstances but I think I know enough about loneliness to make some generalizations. I have never been a people’s person and getting me to open up and relax was always a big achievement for various well-wishers around me. I think I know how it feels on both sides of introvert/extrovert divide. Contrary to common assumption, I don’t think one is fundamentally better than the other and I don’t think I ever miss seclusion when going along with the crowds, nor do I miss company when going alone with my thoughts.
What I have come to realize is that these two states of mind are products of karma and the influence of the modes of nature. Or, rather, both of these states can be experienced under different modes, too, just like Kṛṣṇa explains in Bhagavad Gīta how various activities can be conducted under goodness, passion, and ignorance.
There’s “brooding” in ignorance, there’s “brooding” in knowledge, too. There’s joining the crowds with passion, there’s sense of belonging in sattva, therefore we don’t have to fix the condition, we have to fix the consciousness. If someone feels disconnected from the community it doesn’t mean we have to quickly integrate them back, we have to help them to process their feelings with proper attitude.
To start with, we can trace the roots of our alienation and I bet most of the time it will be down to some mundane trivialities. Someone stole out shoes outside the temple. Someone cut in line for caraṇāmṛta. Someone didn’t listen to what we have to say. Someone passed us over when distributing prasādam. Someone didn’t show expected level of respect. Or that we don’t have as many friends as hoped, or that we don’t have enough money to buy all the stuff everyone else seems to be buying all the time, or we can’t digest festival food, or we can’t get used to the heat, or we can’t get used to the Indians outside, or bathing in the Ganges is not as pleasant as we hoped. There are so many little things that can go wrong and spoil our mood. We just have to acknowledge their existence and their power over our mental and emotional state.
Sometimes we could have genuine spiritual problems when we just lose taste and can’t acquire it again. It’s always down to some offenses we might not even remember and so can’t easily correct. Either way, it’s a temporary condition and all we have to do is persevere and hope that the Holy Name eventually straighten us out.
One thing we have to understand is that whether we are suffering from material afflictions or spiritual failures, the problem is always with us, not with anybody else. It’s not that Lord Caitanya doesn’t have enough mercy to overcome our moroseness. It might feel that way but we should be sober enough to reject this ridiculous conclusion outright. The auxiliary of this statement is that we can’t blame ISKCON, other devotees, or our guru either because it’s them who channel most of that mercy for us, we are not taking it directly from Kṛṣṇa in any significant quantities.
Another important thing to understand is that other people suffer from exactly the same afflictions, they just manifest them differently. I mean everyone is forced to act under the modes of nature and everyone is bound to act less than transcendentally from time to time. Perhaps Māyāpura festival is not the best time to expect everyone to be on their best behavior. For many, it’s our vacation time, time when we can unwind and do whatever we want, time when Lord Caitanya mercifully allows us to indulge at His expense, so we behave like kids in the candy store. In these circumstances it’s perfectly normal to be less considerate of others and a sober person shouldn’t be upset over these things. Let them have their fun, they deserved it and the Lord has allowed it. It’s not the time to spoil His mood with complaints either.
And let’s not forget the big picture – as followers of Lord Caitanya we should not expect feeling high all the time. Yes, He started His Śikṣāṣṭaka with describing the glories and joys of chanting of the Holy Name but that was also the last verse to ever mention it. We read it and we expect that there’s this ever expanding ocean of blissful transcendental life but that’s not what happens as we progress along Śikṣāṣṭaka, and that progression of verses should reflect evolution of our own spiritual life, too.
The second verse immediately acknowledges that despite of all the glories of saṅkīrtana we have no taste and we are “not feeling it”. The third verse implores us to chant with patience and humbleness and without any breaks, not because it feels so great but because we should even when we are not in the mood. Finally, Śikṣāṣṭaka arrives to the final three verses where the Lord openly laments feeling deprived of all mercy. At first He asks when the mercy will come, then he states that each moment without it feels like a millennium, and finally swears His undying love even when this absence of mercy is killing Him.
Why should it be any different for us? We KNOW that vipralambha sevā is the highest mode of devotion, we can’t settle for anything less anymore. When we feel disconnected from this mercy and we long for it to come back into our lives this is exactly what we experience – Lord Caitanya’s mood in Śikṣāṣṭaka. We should embrace it instead of rejecting it or trying to fix it. There’s nothing wrong with missing the joys of our service to the Lord or the joy of serving devotees, it should be our most treasured emotion instead.
Besides, fixing it by external means, by reaching out to lonely devotees, will never really work. We can’t change their karma, which is controlled directly by the Lord, btw. And if they have committed some offenses we can’t give them the spiritual taste back unless they rectify them themselves. Only the Supersoul can help them with that, we usually don’t know what’s going on.
On the fundamental level, one feels a disconnect not because of lack of interpersonal relationships but because of disconnect with Kṛṣṇa. We can’t become someone’s friend without getting that person to connect to the Lord first. And when one does that everything and everyone will automatically appear as one and all feelings of loneliness will pass.
At the end of the day, we have to make peace with the Holy Name, it’s the only solution to all our problems, nothing else will ever work.