Gradual Elevation Preferred to Repression
Posted November 25, 2008
Some interesting responses came about from my last article "Flexible Following of Rigid Rules". All were appreciative and thankful that the topic was brought up. I hope the GBC will take note of this fact and bring the topic up in their meetings, for this survey proves that doing so, and following it up with action, will benefit the majority of our members.
One correspondent expressed the need for simple living and coming up to the mode of goodness as an essential precedent to following. Certainly if one acts, lives and thinks primarily in the mode of passion, one cannot expect to suddenly be in goodness when one hops into bed at night. Srila Prabhupada, therefore, recommended that devotees raise themselves to goodness through simple living and varnashrama. By living in and amongst everything that God has created, one is constantly reminded of Him and His everyday miracles of life and artistry, beginning with musical orchestras of birdsong in the morning, to the dramatic, ever-changing, dazzling and ever-diverse skyscape at the end of daylight, followed by the awesome, humbling display of the universe, our last impressions before going to bed. Combine this thought-provocative setting with activity in growing one's own food and other necessities, and one has the best opportunity possible to remember God in the most delightful way.
Srila Prabhupada once expressed that happiness is the key to devotees being able to follow all the principles, which would then become easy and natural — not guilt, the pressure of a vow or the ability to repress desires, but that which we all hanker for anyway: happiness. That which you are happy doing, do it for Krsna and, by doing so, give it depth, meaning, purpose and all-round benefit. If you are not a country person but prefer the constant interaction of the cities; if seeing the light turn on in someone's eyes is for you more exciting than the light of daybreak through mist on the distant hills, then preaching is for you. For someone else, it might be solitary hours in front of a canvas.
If one is simply doing what makes one happiest, then how is it for Krsna and not for oneself? Firstly, Krsna describes Himself as the ability in mankind, so expressing talent is a way of meeting the Lord. Many creative individuals have exclaimed something like: "I don't know where this ability is coming from." They are awed and humbled that something is flowing through their hands or their minds, but they don't know what. It is Krsna.
Secondly, ability can often be further sanctified by dovetailing it in the Lord's service.
Lastly but possibly most importantly, one sanctifies work by looking to purifying one's motive — ridding oneself of the desire for honour, esteem, security, acceptance and other symptoms of the mode of passion, as these motivations are what separate us from the Lord — and do it simply for the joy it brings, knowing that joy is also Krsna. But "ridding oneself" may not be possible by our own effort, as the material energy is not under our control. All one can do is pray for Lord Nrisimhadeva's infallible protection.
In Kali-yuga, the demon (Hiranyakashipu) and the devotee (Prahlada) reside in the same body. We desire Hiranya, the gold of glory and honour, as well as kashipu, the soft bed of security and acceptance, but if the devotee in us simply prays for protection, it will be granted. (Prahlada did not himself kill Hiranyakashipu; the Lord did it). Thus, the mode of passion is avoided, and one lives, acts and thinks only in goodness. Returning to our former theme, this daily practice of the mode of goodness replaces the passionate desires in the heart, and thus following the regulative principles is natural and easy, as expressed here by Srila Prabhupada:
"There is some symptom of missing the point. The point is to be engaged in doing something for Krsna, never mind what is that job, but being so engaged in doing something very much satisfying to the devotee that he remains always enthusiastic. He will automatically follow the regulative principles because they are part of his occupational duty; by applying them practically as his occupational duty, he realizes the happy result of regulative principles." (letter to Karandhara das, 1972)
It is not that a higher taste is something that we have to wait lifetimes for; it can happen immediately. Just doing what is "very much satisfying" makes the principles easier to follow, but there is an aspect to "very much satisfying" that we also have to take into account: the libido. Currently, libido is considered synonymous with sex desire, but that is only one aspect of libido, which is the desire of each soul for union. Erich Fromm explains in The Art of Loving that satisfying libido is essential for good health, but that libido can be expressed in many ways. One can express it through empathy, uniting with another soul at the level of the heart, the union of feeling; thus all types of love satisfy libido, including love for children and animals. Alternatively, one can find union in a concept; it can become who you are; thus, dedication to an idea or a cause is an expression of libido. Finally, expressing creative talent satisfies libido, as one unites with that which one has created; it becomes one's "baby".
For this reason, according to Fromm, modern industrialization has caused only misery as people are forced into repetitious actions for the sake of efficiency and profit. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, artisans would create and see the result that was wholly their own, getting much satisfaction from doing so. Now such activity is only in our hobby time, if we have any, and a large part of the day is taken up with mindless rituals as one is forced to produce just a part of an object, or perform part of a procedure, over and over, day in, day out. One feels then simply as a cog in a machine — replaceable, expendable, alienated from one's own feelings and capabilities of creation and innovation. It is dehumanizing, to say the least. In addition, the pace of modern life has left us with little time for connection with friends, with helping neighbours, even little time for family; in every way libido is frustrated, with the only outlet being sex.
Prabhupada's formula for varnashrama is much in accordance with Fromm's recommendations. It is not a step back into the stone age, as some believe, but rather a step away from the age of exploitation. Living in harmony with each other and with nature, and creating vegetable gardens, orchards, flower beds, buildings, furniture, pottery, poems and books — from one's own hands and according to one's particular creative potential — is in the mode of goodness, which results in happiness. That is the higher taste of param drstva, which make the following of the principles "easy and natural" because at our psychological core the desire for libido, and the joy it brings, is realized.
Similarly, cultivating loving relationships through uniting with others in mind and heart, by sharing knowledge and feelings or uniting bodies through hugging, holding hands and dancing, are all valid ways of satisfying libido and realizing joy and affection in ways that do not involve breaking any taboos. Only due to our dry, mechanized and stressful culture has libido been translated into sex desire, and the wrongful belief that if one is not having regular sex, then something is wrong. Something is wrong — that is, desire is being repressed — only if other outlets of libido are blocked. Srila Prabhupada has given us many outlets for libido, but if we continue to be strangers to each other and to our own inner talents and needs, we will have to seek it only in intimacy.
Developing the mode of goodness is a gradual procedure, and certainly Srila Prabhupada recognized this, just as he realized that many devotees were not following the regulative principles. Rather than chastise them, forcing them into a situation of frustration and repression, he recommended that they follow the principles of varnashrama in a setting of goodness, so that bit by bit, varnashrama would become unnecessary.
In each of the varna and ashrama divisions, the rules for religious principles vary. For example, as described in sastra, what is considered illicit sex for a kshatriya is wholly different to illicit sex for a brahmana. A kshatriya could, and was indeed required to, have sex with any woman who requested it, with the exception of when it would break social taboos, such as the woman being a mother figure (too old), a daughter figure (too young) or married to another. Thus Arjuna refused sex with an apsara because he considered her as mother. Yet in his travels he fathered various children from women who desperately wanted them. The kshatriya's role is to be compassionate, even to material needs.
In varnashrama only brahmanas are required to take vows of sustained austerity and sense control. Kshatriyas are supposed to be compassionate to every needy person, and vaisyas and sudras cultivate honesty, generosity and humility. They all elevate gradually to the point where varnashrama is unnecessary, to a point where they see only Brahman (Krsna's energy) and rejoice in the soul. Old age is a wonderful opportunity to realize this state, as bodily ability ceases. When one can no longer run around crazily, it is time to think and reflect upon life and death and gradually cultivate seeing all as spirit, absorbing oneself in prayer and meditation.
In varnashrama, the vow of no illicit sex is followed, but followed differently according to one's nature. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada recommended that an important consideration in marriage is to match the levels of renunciation of husband and wife. If one really doesn't have a need for intimacy but one's partner does, it will lead only to misery in the future. Still, the numbers of those who are beyond needing intimacy, due not to repression but wholly to spiritual vision, are few, as indicated by our own statistics and that given by Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita.
Krsna also has a step-by-step process according to one's nature and ability in verses 12.9–12. No one is excluded from His service. Also in the Gita: "One who restrains the senses of actions but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender" (3.6); and "Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?" (3.33).
Note also the purport to verse 3.35: "Materially, prescribed duties are duties enjoined according to one's psychophysical condition under the spell of the modes of material nature. Spiritual duties are as ordered by the spiritual master for the transcendental service of Krsna.... Duties on the spiritual platform and duties on the material platform may be different, but the principle of following the authorized direction is always good for the performer. When one is under the spell of the modes of material nature, one should follow the prescribed rules for his particular situation and should not imitate others.... Everyone has to cleanse his heart by a gradual process, not abruptly. However, when one transcends the modes of material nature and is fully situated in Krsna consciousness, he can perform anything and everything under the direction of a bonafide spiritual master.... As long as one is on the material platform, he must perform his duties according to the modes of material nature. At the same time, he must have a full sense of Krsna consciousness."
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