Identifying Our Self With Krishna
While chanting the maha-(superlative)-mantra this morning, or my daily meditation (japa), as I prayerfully petitioned my Radha-Krishna Deities for spiritual advancement, the topic of today’s blog came to me. Later I found sections in the Shrimad Bhagavatam to demonstrate how this great scripture can help us to be absorbed in remembering Krishna, and recreating ourselves, so to speak. As a preface, let me say that while some Krishna devotees speak in self-effacing ways, and it is popular to openly express humility, our words are easier to speak than to embody. Real or spiritual humility comes from realizing the mercy, greatness, beauty, and wonder of Krishna, in comparison to whom, we are like a blade of grass. As a result one is gratefully enlivened to serve. Despite my personal lack of realized humility I can admit, in all honesty, that my devotion to Krishna is greatly impoverished. I say this, not to berate myself, but to be reminded that although I have come far (when I think of so many species of life and meeting a pure devotee), I haven’t left the gravitational pull of the earth, and am sometimes more like a hovercraft, instead of a spaceship, on my flight beyond the Universe to the Krishna planet. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful about my steady progress, by the grace of Krishna.
This means that on the long flight of bhakti, we will experience many stages of development, as well as thorns, and periods where we don’t seem to be getting very far spiritually. I can contrast between many years in the past of unfocused bhakti, to my current increased concentration in practice. There are many reasons for this change—perhaps due to my age and physical deterioration, experiencing the shortcomings of matter, good association, or having the time to dedicate to devotion. We can all understand, that in comparison to pure souls, our spiritual practice is most insignificant. Reading about the standard of devotion of the eternal associates of Krishna helps put our life into perspective, regardless of the role we have been given to play presently. Never the less, I have observed that increased commitment to Krishna consciousness in good company, calls our spiritual progress. We can also pray as strongly as we can to be free from whatever deviates us from Krishna devotion, as well for the blessing to increase our devotional attitude as we live our life, and make the attempt to serve, remember, and love Krishna.
My motivation in writing this blog is to encourage you to put your heart into whatever spiritual practices you perform, or to pray to have the utmost urgency to keep the goal in mind. More than this, we all need to have a burning desire to make spiritual progress, with a corresponding lessening of material desires and intense attachments. Reading the bhakti Vedic scriptures and hearing from those who have spiritual substance is very helpful. If you are in a very dry, difficult period, I encourage you to begin wherever you find yourself to take steps toward Krishna, even if that means praying for the desire, to have the desire, to increase your taste for bhakti and serving attitude.
As I mentioned in my blog about the treasure of saintly association, for many years I never really prayed for spiritual improvement, and while I greatly benefited from my busy engagement in temple services, my heart wasn’t engaged, and I was rather superficial, ill-informed, and tepid in my spiritual desires and standing. Then as a married person I was distracted by my struggling pursuit to find myself, develop an appropriate occupation, and in general, to adjust to the physical departure of Shrila Prabhupada. Hindsight is 20/20, though my hope is that you will benefit from my experience.
There are many ways to describe “Krishna consciousness,” or what Gaudiya Vaishnava bhakti is—or isn’t—and what came to me today is how the process of bhakti is meant to change how we define ourselves. It is simple, and basic, but it seemed profound at the time, with layers of meaning. I don’t think my writing about it can do the subject justice, but perhaps I will bring out some philosophical wrinkle that will help you understand more. Sometimes I receive a seed inspiration, and am only slowly able to unpack it. Our conventional sense of self, or how most of us express who we think we are, is defined in terms of physical designations. We see ourselves in terms of our nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or bodily features such as skin, hair, or eye color. Then we have other bodily conceptions of being fat or thin, tall or short, young or old, intelligent or stupid, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, and (at least in Hinduism or Buddhism) attached or detached, etc. There are infinite in-betweens and nuances.
Basically, as I have shared often, we define our self, or our “I,” by our sense of “my,” or what we think we possess in terms of our body, or things or persons in relationship to our body. This is important to consider since the basic premise of yoga and bhakti, is that we are all eternal souls having a physical experience. Furthermore, our ultimate satisfaction and happiness can’t be found by all the above mentioned material, external, add-ons we cover our soul with. By becoming conscious of Krishna through awakening our spiritual nature, we are changing our conscious identification from matter to spirit. While I was chanting, this sense came to me strongly as I was looking and praying to our Deities. I am not my body, but I am Krishna’s! And the pure devotees in the spiritual world think that “Krishna is mine,” and one of us, who are residents of Vrindavana!
This isn’t just a mental idea, but we begin with theory to inform, and keep us on our journey. We progress gradually to conviction by realization. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra in japa or kirtan, is considered the most powerful method for self-realization for the times we live in, and engaging in the other items of bhakti (like Deity worship, prayer, etc.) although also spiritually powerful, are meant to support us in these main practices. We can note, that we aren’t just artificially denying our material identity in the name of our “not being the body”. The various do’s and do not’s are meant to meet our physical needs in a way that is favorable for reviving our spiritual identity, and coming to the stage where our heart and soul are totally identified with Krishna--a dynamic oneness in loving service.
I will end with a few verses and Vaishnava commentaries relative to this topic:
"Prahlada Maharaja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental Holy Name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Visnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words) -- these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krsna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge." [SB 7.5.23-24]
“I am not a priest or intellectual; I am not a leader or warrior; I am not a business person or farmer; I am not an artist, artisan, or even a worker. Neither am I male or female, fat or thin, ugly or beautiful, intelligent or foolish, rich or poor, black or white, Russian or American, Christian or Hindu. I also have nothing to do with any social or spiritual stage of life. These are all material, bodily designations. Though they must be acknowledged, I ultimately identify myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Sri Krishna, the maintainer of the gopis. He is like an ocean of nectar, and He is the cause of universal transcendental bliss. He is always existing with brilliance.” [An expanded version of Rupa Goswami’s verse in Padyavali attributed to Shri Chaitanya]
“Bhakti is impartial. Bhakti is self-illuminating, beautiful; an embellishment extraordinaire it does not lack in any of the good qualities. Humility and compassion, therefore, are not separate ornaments but comprise an integral part of bhakti. At a certain level of realization the devotee feels, “I am Krishna’s servant, without any material possessions. Krishna is everything to me.” Here the mood of devotion is simultaneously reflecting humility. The feeling of intense longing for Krishna, is in one word, bhakti. Other living beings are all servants of Krishna. Thus, affection and affinity for the jivas (souls), based on this realization, is daya, or compassion. This means that daya is also an inseparable part of bhakti . Latent within daya and dainya , or humility lies kshama , or forgiveness. An example of Kshama is: the devotee thinks, “I am poor and helpless—can I act as a judge of others and met out punishments?" When this feeling is tempered with daya , kshama appears in the heart . Kshama, or forgiveness is also mixed within bhakti.” [From Shrila Bhaktivinoda’s Jaiva Dharma]