From Hating the Material World, to Seeing it As An Abode of Joy
I gleaned a deeper understanding from a feeling I sometimes think about: “I hate the material world”. I said this as I observed a trail of ants coming into the kitchen, knowing that I would have to spray and kill them to avoid being infested with a huge army of their hungry brethren. I really don’t like killing anything—not even gardening because I have to pull weeds and fight off the bugs to prevent them from eating the flowers and veggies.
Even in an idyllic place like we live in we can’t live without harming other creatures. Traditionally in the Vedas householders are informed of all the ways other living entities are killed just inside the home by ordinary living: through cooking, sweeping, grinding spices, filling a cup with water etc; and there needs to be some counteraction for these sins. For devotees, we endeavor to take shelter of and serve Krishna and his devotees throughout our daily activities, and also hear and chant about them, so we don’t need to perform Vedic methods of atonement. Krishna consciousness is itself the supreme method of atonement since it gets to the root of our embodiment and purifies it—our desire to be independent of God, or his competitor. In the 18th chapter of the Gita verse 66, in one of its concluding verses, we are told by Krishna, that if we factually surrender our life to him, we will be free from all sins.
One result in being a devotee is the desire not to harm others. Vegetarianism is part of becoming compassionate and realizing that “others” are not just human beings but all living creatures—animals, bugs, plants, and the whole Earth, the Universe, and even so-called dead matter like rocks, streams, “dirt”—everything is part of Krishna’s energy and in that sense divine [BG 7.14]. We don’t worship anything independently of God, but we see it as part of him, and thus we have reverence for his energy. Seeing everything in relationship to him is Krishna consciousness. The Energetic Source and its energy are one—yet different at the same time. In a broad sense, there is only God.
Being a devotee means becoming conscious not only of Krishna, but seeing everything as connected to him, not apart from him to be used for our selfish enjoyment or exploitation; it means being aware of the suffering of others and working to alleviate it or at least minimize the pain we give others. And for human beings, we give them spiritual knowledge, the holy name, and kindness, love and compassion. We want to walk more softly on the earth, to exploit it less, to take only what we need, and to do so in relationship to serving Krishna. Prabhupada also said being Krishna conscious, means to become conscious, so we should live as simply as we can in harmony to our environment, being thoughtful, and with a devotional, grateful attitude.
So, as I observed myself saying, “I hate the material world”, I followed that thought back a step to understand that I really hate being in the material world because of having to be subjected to material laws—like the struggle for existence, and the unavoidable killing. In a higher sense when souls are in the material world, they become limited by time, space, and material necessities. We can’t even walk or live in any way without killing—microbes, insects we can or can’t see, plants or “weeds”, and animals either directly by those who eat meat, or indirectly by disturbing their habitat, or supporting their exploitation by eating honey, drinking milk from cows which will be slaughtered etc. I am not arguing to be a vegan here (which is beyond the scope of this blog), but just thinking of the many ways our life causes harm or death to others.
The material world is perfect for what it is designed for by God: to give us a place to try to be God or the center of our own life (without direct interference from his visible presence), and ultimately to teach us that the material enjoyment souls are madly pursuing, cannot bring us happiness. Real happiness comes from reconnecting to God and acknowledging our dependence on him (funny that today is “independence day in the U.S.A.), and serving and loving him—which is actually our eternal nature.
Although we are separate from God in having an individual consciousness, we are equally one with him in the sense of also being 100% spirit, as he is, though we are tiny, he infinite. God is like the sun, we the sun rays. The sun rays or energy of heat and light are one with the sun planet, yet also different. We have the same nature of God in miniature. Our relationship with God is what we are really about, and is the reality upon which we must set our compass in order to be unlimitedly happy or blissful.
Our material ego doesn’t like this truth, because it was given to us so we could think we ourself separate and independent of God. Without this illusion or ignorance of the false ego we couldn’t pretend to be happy without our loving relationship with God, or we couldn’t pursue things outside our spiritual self. Take away our false sense of self, and we no longer have the material world, and our struggle for existence. For the pure devotee, there is no material world, and life is an abode of joy, perfect in all aspects under Krishna’s control as his energy. When I revive my pure nature, then I will be his, and he will be mine, and there will only be loving service to Krishna and his devotees. As I reflect on my life in the material world, I aspire for this goal. That makes everything worthwhile!
To end here is a purport by Shrila Prabhupada:
“A devotee knows that any pleasurable material position is subject to be annihilated at a certain point. Even if one reaches the post of Indra, Candra, or any other demigod, he must be dissolved at a certain stage. A devotee is never interested in such temporary pleasure. From Vedic scriptures it is understood that sometimes even Brahma and Indra fall down, but a devotee in the transcendental abode of the Lord never falls. This transcendental stage of life, in which one feels transcendental pleasure in hearing the Lord's pastimes, is also recommended by Lord Chaitanya. When Lord Chaitanya was talking with Ramananda Raya, there were varieties of suggestions offered by Ramananda regarding spiritual realization, but Lord Chaitanya rejected all but one -- that one should hear the glories of the Lord in association with pure devotees. That is acceptable for everyone, especially in this age. One should engage himself in hearing from pure devotees about the activities of the Lord. That is considered the supreme benediction for mankind.” SB 3.15.48