The Problem with the World in Two Letters: MY
By Karnamrita dasa
The concept that we are not our bodies is considered a preliminary basic understanding for devotees, yet this conception has proved not so easy to put into practice. We can all look within ourself and at our communities and society and contemplate how our failure to realize this truth is the cause of many of our disagreements and heated debates. Lets look at the basics of our embodiment.
The soul takes on a material body and mind, with an ego that says, “This is me.” The false ego (“false” because we have a real spiritual identity beyond physical forms) or our material “I” defines itself by what it thinks it possesses–what is mine, our “mys”. This “my-ness” is the basis of all problems the soul faces in the material world, including our problems in dealing with other persons, or souls also conditioned by “my-ness”. It is interesting how “my-ness” sounds like minus, since our material conceptions of identity can only exist if our spiritual identity is forgotten (the soul minus its true eternal identity is a forgetful soul habituated to living under the conditions or laws of matter.)
If someone lists who they are, on say a dating site, we would likely get a list of “mys” describing the body and mind. For instance, “I am a Christian—“southern Baptist”—attractive young white man, medium build with blue eyes and brown hair. I am fun loving athletic person who regularly plays tennis and goes to baseball games. I also love to watch adventure and romance movies, go hiking in nature, and attend folk dancing events.” That is one level of my-ness, the condition of our body, and our mental preferences, or likes and dislikes. All my-ness is what the soul thinks it possesses—though most people think those possessions are just them—who they are. In counseling situations when some negative trait is brought up to a client, one response is, “That is just the way I am.”
Extensions of our body are also considered who we are, or at least part of who we are—like our parents, siblings, or if we are married, our spouse and children. Those things are a big part of who we think we are even if we hate our parents, siblings or our “ex”—which then are a negative attachment or aversion. Devotees are also affected by these things, which tells us why so many have attended our workshops on “Giving up Resentment.”
Then there are the things everyone would accept are possessions. With these, we decorate our bodies, house them, and move them around. These include our clothes, jewelry, and type of living facility like house or apartment, furniture, vehicles, etc.
Our conditioning is in generally thinking of the identity of others in terms of their external body or internal temperament or preferences. These are all their “mys” by which we define then, as we look through our own “my-ness” lens. We perceive them in terms of our own conditioning, and thus we like or dislike them, or are attracted or repulsed etc. We often don’t like those qualities or faults in others that we have ourself.(atmavan manyate jagat)
In material consciousness, we perceive that our existence in the body (who we think we are) is threatened by non-existence through disease, natural calamities of so many varieties or ways we may meet cruel death. In order to prevent—at least temporarily—our demise we are busy working to create structures of safety and security and possessions to make our body and mind as comfortable and safe as possible. In other words, we think we have to add things on to our life to be happy. However, as long as our happiness is based on things that are temporary (which don’t endure)—possessions or material relationships—we are bound to be disappointed and frustrated.
Real spiritual life is about giving up the unessential and accepting the essential—those things which foster our spiritual life are to be accepted, those things which hamper or complicate our spiritual life are to let go of. Out with the old, and in with the new—of course our “old” material conditioning is actually new for the soul, while our apparently “new” spiritual consciousness is eternal and primal.
Experience has taught us that giving up of the non-essential and temporary has to be done according to our realization, and there are many things of the world which can be dovetailed with the purpose of the Lord. “Utility is the principle” Prabhupada taught us, so we don’t have to be a naked yogi to be spiritual (which we would see as false renunciation), but we make the endeavor to see everything in relationship to Krishna.
The Vedas encourage renunciation of material life, by acceptance of spiritual life, or experiencing a higher taste. Unless we have some distance from something by non-attachment, we can’t see it objectively. That is one view of what the expression, “Can’t see the forest for the trees” means—we only see a small picture and not the bigger one we may not like. If we are materially attached to some type of behavior or organizational understanding we can’t see it objectively if, for instance, if it needs to be given up. Likewise our attachment for another person may blind us to their bad qualities or behavior. In a broad sense if we see the material world as meant for our enjoyment (attachment) then we may become angry when we hear devotees decrying it through Krishna’s words as a temporary place of misery.
The world speaks to us according to our worldview. The Gita (4.11) tells us that God manifests to us–or not–by our level of interest in him. Everyone is reciprocated with by Krishna according to their understanding, and given their faith by him as well—no one is independent, though by illusion everyone in material consciousness takes credit for their perspective.
Thus to the atheist Krishna gives him his arguments, or those who believe God is impersonal energy are given that partial understanding. Those who think everything is ultimately a void (the Buddhist who “a-voids” God) become convinced by his agency, as well as those who want to see Nature as God, or conceive there many gods
(the pantheist), or have faith in a so-called reasonable scientific perspective, or his devotee who sees Krishna as his friend and love of their life—everyone is dependent, albeit unconsciously on Krishna for faith in their understanding. In general faith comes from Krishna’s mode of goodness, which is coming from him. Krishna is all good, and doesn’t force himself on anyone, yet he is especially inclined to help his pure devotee.
I mentioned in my last poem the famous verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam that calls our attention to a material thing very prominent in everyone’s life—the sun. We are taught by that verse that whenever we see the sunrise, its movement and setting, our life is decreasing. The physical body is “it” for the materialist, so they only think they have this one shot at living. However, for one who uses his or her life for spiritual advancement, their spiritual life is increasing—progress is being made for the attaining the supreme eternal atmosphere of the spiritual world, Goloka Vrindavana (Krishna’s abode).
In fact, when our goal is spiritual life or to attain Krishna, the whole world changes in appearance—from one of selfish sense enjoyment (material my-ness ) to a life of selfless service to Krishna and others in relationship to that service. Then the world will speak differently to us. For instance when Lord Chaitanya (the incarnation for the age of Kali, who taught the ideal of how to live as a devotee) looked at the trees they spoke to him: you should learn to be tolerant like we are—and when he looked at the grass they also spoke to him: be humble like we are!
The 11th Canto of the Bhagavatam gives us the narration of the avadhuta brahmana who due to his intense spiritual desire was able to take lessons for his spiritual life from the world, seeing 24 shiksa or instructing gurus. The highest devotee sees Krishna everywhere, and everyone and everything as his teacher. Here is a brief summary given at the beginning of that description in the 8th chapter of the first 9 of his shiksa gurus:
“Lord Krsna told Uddhava how the avadhuta brahmana explained to Maharaja Yadu the instructions he had received from nine of his gurus, beginning with the python.
“The instruction the avadhuta brahmana received from the python is that an intelligent person should cultivate a mentality of detachment and should maintain his body by accepting whatever comes of its own accord or is easily obtained. In this way, he should remain always engaged in the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even if no food is available, the person who wants to engage fully in the Lord’s worship should not beg; rather, he should understand this to be the arrangement of providence, thinking, “Whatever enjoyment is destined for me will automatically come, and thus I should not uselessly waste the remaining duration of my life in worrying about such things.” If he does not get any food, he should simply remain lying like the python and patiently fix his mind in meditation upon the Supreme Lord.
“The instruction the avadhuta brahmana received from the ocean is that the mind of the sage who is devoted to the Personality of Godhead appears very clear and grave, just like the still ocean waters. The ocean does not overflow during the rainy season, when all the flooded rivers discharge their waters into it, nor does it dry up during the hot season, when the rivers fail to supply it. Similarly, the sage does not become elated when he achieves desirable things, nor does he become distressed in their absence.
“The instruction of the moth is that just as he becomes enticed by the fire and gives up his life, the fool who cannot control his senses becomes enchanted by the forms of women decorated with gold ornaments and fine clothing. Chasing after these embodiments of the divine illusory energy of the Lord, he loses his life untimely and falls down into the most horrible hell.
“There are two kinds of bees, the bumblebee and the honeybee. The instruction learned from the bumblebee is that a sage should collect only small amounts of food from many different households and thus day after day practice the occupation of madhukari for maintaining his existence. A sage should also collect the essential truths from all scriptures, be they great or insignificant. The instruction received from the second insect, the honeybee, is that a mendicant sannyasi should not save the food he begs for the sake of having it later that night or the next day, because if he does so, then just like the greedy honeybee he will be destroyed along with his hoard.
“From the elephant the avadhuta brahmana received the following instruction. Male elephants are tricked by hunters into moving toward captive female elephants, whereupon they fall into the hunters’ ditch and are captured. Similarly, the man who becomes attached to the form of woman falls down into the deep well of material life and is destroyed.
“The instruction received from the honey thief is that just as he steals the honey collected with great effort by the honeybee, a person in the renounced order of life has the privilege of enjoying before anyone else the food and other valuable things purchased by the hard-earned money of the householders.
“The instruction from the deer is that just as he becomes confused upon hearing the song of the hunter’s flute and loses his life, so also does any person who becomes attracted to mundane music and song uselessly waste his life.
“The instruction learned from the fish is that because he comes under the sway of attachment to the sense of taste, he is caught on the baited fishhook and must die. Similarly, an unintelligent person who is victimized by his insatiable tongue will also end up losing his life.
“There was once a prostitute named Pingala in the city of Videha, and from her the avadhuta learned another lesson. One day she dressed herself in very attractive clothing and ornaments and was waiting from sunset until midnight for a customer. She waited in great anticipation, but as the time passed her mind became very uneasy. No man came to see her, and in disgust she finally became renounced, giving up her hankering for the arrival of a suitor. Thereafter she engaged herself in thinking only of the Supreme Lord, Hari, and her mind achieved the supreme platform of peace. The instruction received from her is that hopes for sense gratification are the root cause of all suffering. Therefore, only one who has given up such hankering can fix himself in meditation upon the Personality of Godhead and achieve transcendental peace.”
Therefore, if we sincerely want to be Krishna conscious the whole world can help us if we are open to learn in good spiritual association. Although this brahman or saintly devotee appeared alone, he was always seeing spiritually, feeling the presence of the Lord, and thus the world was never a hindrance to his bhakti. The process of bhakti is meant to enable us to solve all the apparent problems of life by solving the real problem of realizing our eternal self, occupation or service, and the love of our life, the divine couple, Shri Radha and Krishna. The process of Krishna consciousness or bhakti-yoga is for realizing this truth, and devotee communities and relationships are meant to foster that quest. As our godbrothers and sisters are increasingly teaching us– life is short, so if we act on our spiritual necessity we really know everything that is necessary to be known for success in life and we will not be caught up in material upheavals or petty quarrels. Death or the fear of death has a way of putting everything in perspective about what is really important and essential!
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