Why does our consciousness change suddenly from devotional to sensual?
By Chaitanya Charan das
Question: At one moment we are absorbed in devotional thoughts and then suddenly at the next moment we become submerged in sensual, even immoral, thoughts. Why is spiritual life so unstable?
Answer: It is not spiritual life that is unstable; it is we who are unstable in our spiritual life. And our instability is due to our having not yet recognized the gravity of gravity in spiritual life.
The gravity force in spiritual life
The force of gravity is a simple, real, undeniable fact of existence. If we neglect this force, we will naturally, obviously, inevitably be pulled down by it and will fall to disaster.
Material desires comprise a similar gravity force that acts on us by dragging our consciousness down to the material level. If we neglect this force, our consciousness will naturally, obviously, inevitably, be pulled down by it to sensual contemplations, and we will fall from our devotional standards to disaster.
The difference between these two gravity forces is not so much in how they act on us as in how we react to them. Our recognition of the reality of the gravity force that acts on physical objects is default and deep-rooted, so we take the necessary precautions instinctively. If we are standing and need to be seated, we don’t lower ourselves into thin air; we lower ourselves onto a chair.
However, our recognition of the reality of the gravity force that acts on our consciousness is usually casual and superficial, so we rarely take the necessary precautions instinctively. If we are doing a devotional activity that absorbs ourselves in remembrance of Krishna and need to engage in a worldly obligation, we rarely think whether that activity will preserve our devotional consciousness; we just start doing it. Metaphorically speaking, we shift from a standing position to a sitting position without checking whether there is a chair to sit on. No wonder then that the gravity force of our habitual material desires starts immediately acting on us and pulling us towards worldly indulgences. Consequently, our consciousness that was at one moment peaceful, even blissful, becomes at the next moment turbulent, even malevolent. The cause for this disconcerting change is straightforward: gravity.
Generating an anti-gravity force
If we don’t’ wish to be pulled down, we need to first contemplate on the reality and the gravity of this gravity force. This contemplation will impel, even compel, us to take seriously the Bhagavad-gita’s direction (8.7) to keep remembering Krishna even while doing our worldly activities. Remembering Krishna generates an upward anti-gravity force that can not only arrest our fall but can also propel us up.
We may wonder: how can we do both these things – remember Krishna and do our worldly duties – simultaneously? It is an art that we learn by practice and experience. Foundationally, learning the art requires an authentic and pervasive devotional intention, wherein we truly want to offer our full heart, our whole life, our entire being to Krishna. When this honest and fervent intention permeates our very existence, then all our activities – even our worldly obligations – will have a devotional purpose. Thereby we will be able to meditate on how the particular activity that we are doing is connected to Krishna, indeed, is meant for Krishna. This meditation will keep our consciousness at the spiritual level – or at least somewhere near it.
Of course, a life-defining devotional intention doesn’t appear automatically overnight; it needs to be carefully nurtured to maturity. For most of us at present, this intention is likely to be in a nascent stage. To ensure that it grows smoothly and swiftly, we need to invest adequate time in core spiritual activities that nourish us with divine happiness and thereby strengthen our devotional intention. These core spiritual activities include chanting, hearing and studying scriptures, engaging in Deity worship and rendering direct devotional service.
Investing adequate time in core spiritual activities doesn’t mean only weekend visits to spiritually vibrant temples or occasional pilgrimages to energizing holy places. It also means diligent engagement in our daily morning spiritual practices or sadhana. This sadhana acts as a daily generator of an anti-gravity force that counters the unavoidable effects on our consciousness of our worldly engagements. Our daily worldly activities expose us to material desires that pull our consciousness down towards materialism. In protecting contrast, our daily devotional practices engender within us spiritual desires that pull our consciousness up towards Krishna. If we don’t engage in sadhana daily, then we will have no force to counter or even check the gravity force of our default material desires. Consequently, we will fall freely, quickly, disgracefully to sensuality and immorality. Even if we engage in daily sadhana, but don’t engage in it diligently – if we engage in it ritualistically or mechanically or perfunctorily just to get it over with, then such sadhana will not generate an adequate upward force to cancel out the downward force. We will therefore undergo a slow downward fall that may eventually terminate in devotional misfortune. Our daily sadhana needs to be so intense that it generates a sufficient upward force, sufficient to not only reverse the daily downward motion but to also slowly but surely push us upwards closer and closer to Krishna.
Spiritualizing our worldly obligations
In addition to our daily sadhana, we need to spiritualize our remaining day as much as possible. Most of us can’t engage in directly devotional activities throughout our entire day – or even for a majority of the day. We spend much of our daily time in professional, familial or bodily activities. Though these activities may not be in themselves spiritual, they are still spiritualizable.
While trying to spiritualize these activities, we need to take a vital, indispensable precautionary measure: stay away from, or at least minimize contact with, stimuli that exert an overwhelming gravity force on our consciousness. These stimuli will vary depending on our specific history of past lapses and indulgences. We need to carefully ensure that we don’t unwittingly allow that black past to darken our present and future. If, despite our best efforts, we somehow get subjected to these provocative stimuli, we need to have an emergency action plan ready to counter their insidious effects. This action plan – which is essentially our personal SOS call to Krishna – can include earnest chanting, heartfelt praying, contemplating on an illuminating scriptural passage, recollecting an inspiring spiritual experience or contacting a trustworthy spiritual mentor or devotee-friend.
On a more positive note, the means for spiritualizing our worldly activities range over a broad spectrum that can include the following:
- Having, whenever possible, a background devotional stimulus like spiritual music or a picture of Krishna or a fellow devotee as our work-partner
- Taking, whenever practical, periodic short breaks to remind ourselves of our devotional purpose
- Consciously offering to Krishna at their starting and ending those worldly activities whose nature and pressure makes it difficult to remember him while doing them
There is no set standard formula for how each one of us can remember Krishna. This is not a deficiency, however. It is a facility, an opportunity to exercise our individuality and creativity within the scriptural framework for the practice of Krishna consciousness. Because all of us are unique and the worldly circumstances in which we function are also unique, we will need to improvise and innovate to find the ways that work best for us in preserving our devotional consciousness. If we show Krishna the sincerity and intensity of our desire to remember him, he will guide us, as he promises in the Bhagavad-gita (10.10). His guidance may come in the form of penetrating insights that enable us to see demonstrations of his teachings even in worldly events. Or it may come in the form of ideas and techniques by which we can remember him more and better while being externally engaged in worldly activities. Or it may come in many other ways – all of which make life in Krishna consciousness unpredictably exciting.
To summarize, by carefully cultivating remembrance of Krishna, we will not only prevent its dangerous yo-yo-like swings but will also preserve its steady upward trajectory towards Krishna.