On Changing Our Default Setting
Since computers have a huge impact on us, analogies are frequently made comparing their inner workings to our lives. Though I realize I am not being original here, computer analogies have been useful for me in thinking and speaking about many of our struggles in practicing spiritual life. I hope this one will be of value to you as well in helping put your life in a spiritual perspective. For instance, computers have default settings which they automatically use, or revert to. Applying this idea philosophically, material bodies are vehicles and fields of action for the soul’s attempts to manipulate and enjoy matter. Souls are the perceiver, and conscious awareness of the body, making it appear alive. In this situation, the soul gives up its natural freedom to be under the control of physical, mental, and emotional urges for basic survival of the body, production of progeny to continue our species, and for the fulfillment of our karmic destiny—these are our personal, and human default settings.
A general principle of bhakti is that we can work with some of our default settings to facilitate our spiritual practices, rather than fighting against, or repressing them in the name of devotional service. How favorable or problematic our personal default settings are, depends to a large extent on the bhakti (stock of past spiritual merit, and spiritual blessings) we have brought to this life from our previous ones. This explains why some aspiring Vaishnava’s (theistic bhakti practitioners) take up and continue the practice of bhakti or pure devotion relatively easily, while others seem to always be struggling. In fact, we find that some people come to Krishna by the influence of a great devotee, and/or situational conditions, yet leave after some time, and return to their old ways (their material default setting).
This means that some default settings for aspiring devotees of Krishna are especially challenging, and may be their Achilles heel, or weakest point. We, the soul, are presently under the influence of our false ego, which gives us the illusion of being cut off or separated from God. Due to our identifying our true self with the body, we have a selfishness to enjoy our senses and mind. We naturally feel we are the owner/controller of our body, life, and its paraphernalia, as well as considering ourselves the enjoyer/cause of the fruits of our work, and, if not the “supreme” friend of others, at least we may feel we are a very significant/important one. Although part of our selfishness is for self-preservation, modern society promotes undue selfishness in the form of lust and greed for material things, which fuels consumerism, and the modern disease of boredom, or the lack of peace and fulfillment. Being trained up in modern values and aspirations makes the practice of spiritual life more difficult than it has to be.
The habits we develop are also a type of default setting and are usually easier to change than our fundamental conditioned nature to be a separate enjoyer from God. We can learn to rise early in the morning when meditation and prayer are easier, avoid non-Godly social events, and in general, rearrange our life to maximize our spiritual development. Addictions, which are are habits that have become compulsive with a life of their own, are more difficult to change. Never the less, the spiritual practices of bhakti are a potent method for uplifting our consciousness, and changing our habitual behavior. Although we can outline various substances and behavior that have the potential for addiction, all material urges are all a kind of addiction for the soul. Such pursuits are very inferior substitutes for the true nourishment of the soul, loving service to God. Human life is a special facility for realizing our relationship with Krishna, yet in modern society we are more distracted from this quest than ever before.
From my struggles with my default settings, I can appreciate the value of being raised in a Krishna conscious family by loving parents, elders, and a supportive spiritual community. Though every particular body and karma has its shortcomings, and we all have to control our mind and engage the senses in the activities of bhakti, some environments are more compatible with a life of devotion. Never the less, even people like me, or perhaps you, who have a very mixed karmic upbringing and past, can still take up the path of bhakti for our progressive spiritual advancement. Purification of our life means to make our conditioned default settings favorable for bhakti, and to revive our spiritual nature of serving and loving Krishna. We gradually loose taste for dry material things, and gain a taste for everything in relationship to Krishna which is our true nature—with no fault at all!