Recently I had a realization about my spiritual life, which in many external ways has seemed to flatline after a few years spent on spiritual hospice, easing the transition from one existance to another. This realization came to me spontaneously, while talking with a friend at the library about the rapid decline in her own spiritual health. Maybe she caught something from me. Tough to diagnose.
We were wondering where our enthusiasm went. Both of us used to be very eager for all things pre-approved Krishna conscious. Kirtan, class, seva…you name it, we wanted it. But now, we are both more discriminatory.
Over the years, as my children have become more and more human and less and less babbling alien, as they take more to be distracted or occupied than a pile full of buttons, I do see them as the most beneficial way to spend my time. And over the years, as I have contemplated the difficult negative experiences I have had as a devotee, going through different phases ranging from embarrassement, humility, anger and acceptance, I have moved to a new phase–outrage.
I am not outraged about the situations which have been adverse to my spiritual life–the abusive manipulation by management, the discourteous and demanding sannyasis, the flat out liars. I can deal with the wrongs, on their side and on my side, which I allowed in my life. But I cannot tolerate that other devotees, small devotees who’s voice no one really cares to hear, have been mistreated. That disturbs me, and I cannot write it off as simply being their karma. People should be held accountable for how they negatively impact the lives of others. Just because someone is disenfranchised does not mean their suffering does not count.
It’s possible that this attitude has hurt my spiritual life. That I am experiencing the blow of being critical. But is it an offense to think critically? To use one’s intelligence to discriminate between what is and is not acceptable? To actually set a standard of accountability?
Despite my blatant lack of enthusiasm for temple service, most visiting sannyasis, chanting, etc, I feel my spiritual life continues. It is not dead matter but rather the business of the soul, which is pleasure seeking by nature. I realize that what needs to change is my own approach to KC; I need to redefine what I define as pleasurable. More specifically, I need to re-calibrate the device I use to measure.
My fear is not that I will never recapture that loving feeling I felt over the majority of my time as a devotee. I would have never have made a big deal out if it then, but looking back I am like HOLY CRAP! I was experiencing some real live emotion in my effort to execute service. I was strongly inclined towards service, towards sacrifice, towards austerity and making advancement. So where did it all go?
Many times I have heard it said that when you first take up the process of bhakti yoga one is awarded a special boon–a little ruci hors’ devours. Maybe you can even liken it to a palate cleanser since it is in such stark opposition to the myriad of tastes one’s experienced pre-KC. This time tastes great and feels like one is floating on the footsteps of the Goswamis; this path actually feels tenable. But this feeling is not the main course. It is simply an intermezzo–a refresher, a break. It is interstitial, melting and (let’s not forget) tasty! But as sorbet melts relatively quickly at the heat of the palate, the time frame of this free ride is confusing. Mine seemed to have lasted about 10 years. Practically a third of my life. However, relative to the lifetimes and lifetimes of entrenchment in material desires, relative to the short amount of time in this physical body which I have been calling myself a practitioner, well, it’s really just small potatoes.
So my fear is not that I won’t be able to emulate this feeling again in my life. Rather, my fear is that I will refashion my practice of bhakti yoga and get to a place in my sadhana that is real…and won’t be able to recognize it. Because it is internal. Because it is not institutional.
Practically every new bhakta asks the same questions over and over again. For example, “How do I develop enthusiasm?” I asked this question many times as a new devotee (yes, a relative term); it was often treated with a blase response–as if to say this is so preliminary…you are still on this?
The usual answer often took the form of, “You serve others and by doing so you become enthusiastic.” There is even a story about Visnujana Swami in this regard. Prabhupada famously defines enthusiasm in the NoI as “endeavoring with intelligence.”
Ok. Sounds simple enough. But really, what does *that* mean?
I am feeling the deepness of this definition and hope I can somehow develop this true enthusiasm. The way I see it, endeavoring with intelligence means that you use your brain, take inventory of the all the crap out there, keep your eyes wide open and function within reality.
In many ways I suspended my intelligence over the years, ignoring obvious signs of The Emperor’s New Clothes and other cults of personality. Swept up in the swell of the crowd, things seemingly moved forward without much effort–that is, unless I activated my intelligence and internally pushed against the current du jour. So where is the real effort? Where is the real work? I need to try to be Krishna conscious while maintaining my individuality…which includes my gut intuition, my internal reflection and my own sense of what is right and what is wrong.
It all makes sense in my mind, but how it is coming across here is unclear. My daughter is singing “Oh happiness oh joy..Nanda Maharaja has a baby boy!” in my face. Now she is jumping on my butt asking me for make-up. Now she is pushing her plush monkey in my ear. The fact that I can have any realization under these conditions is just amazing.