for www.bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk on Jan. 5, 2012
With the arrival of another new year many of us will be girding our loins and making firm resolutions that this will be the year of change. Grimly determined to shed those unwanted pounds, get in that much needed exercise, or hopefully and more importantly, improve our spiritual practices, we chide ourselves for past failures and set out to try again.
To be honest I’m not making new year resolutions myself, but I have had to make recent lifestyle changes and I know how hard it can be. Bouts of sinusitis have obliged me to eliminate from my diet a range of culinary delights in favor of a rigorous regime of healthful items of very little appeal. Oh well, good for the spirit, for sure.
Reforming ourselves is not easy when it involves hardship. There has to be a compelling reason, like not being able to breathe, which just about works for me. We might also undergo austerity when it will bring a future pay off. For example we punish ourselves in the gym, inspired by a vision of that slim and fit form we desire. As they say, no pain no gain.
A proactive approach to life is intelligent. Rather than grasping at immediate pleasure it is generally better to delay gratification, keep in mind what will produce our enduring happiness rather than an instant hit, so to speak. Pay the price now rather than later, when it may well be considerably higher. A child generally lacks this capability and needs to be properly guided. Stern counseling is often required for our older offspring to drag themselves out of bed and head into school, bearing in mind that life’s later challenges will be far better met when one has the benefit of a proper education, a calculation that all too frequently seems to elude them.
This too is the principle of spiritual life, to be ultimately proactive and recognize what will secure our permanent happiness. The first Vedic instruction is to inquire into Brahman, the absolute, and seek our greatest good. Straight away we are informed that this means knowing the supreme origin of everything, including all happiness. It is life’s highest attainment. Becoming supremely fit in the gym, or gaining any number of high qualifications cannot compare, because these will afford some gain as long as we have the body that gained them. When that dies we are left with precisely nothing. Knowing God however, endures for eternity and bestows endless joy.
How much then should we be prepared to sacrifice to achieve this end? Thankfully though, although spiritual practice leads to maximum gain, it does not require maximum pain. The Bhagavad-gita describes the path to knowing Krishna as “fully joyful”, but like everything else there is a price to pay and some resolve is required.
Rather than continuously indulging in sensual pleasures a determined spiritual practitioner will take the time to chant, or to hear and meditate upon divine instructions. The mind will likely rebel when confronted with this option. It would rather indulge in material gratification, but we have to ask ourselves; will that make me happy? There might be some temporary titillation but does indulging our senses truly lead to that deep sense of satisfaction we crave? Or does it leave us more agitated and desirous of still more gratification?
Human life is meant for achieving the highest state of absolute happiness, and for that we must be prepared to make some sacrifices. Forswearing mundane association in favor of the spiritual as much as we can is a must if we want to progress. But though it can be difficult, choosing the spiritual way not only leads to an eventual state of pure bliss, it also quickly bestows a feeling of inner peace and fulfillment.
Krishna says in the Gita, “While in this body if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.” These of course are powerful urges, as anyone who has tried to check them will attest. Indeed it is impossible to succeed on our own. We frequently find our resolve melting like a chocolate biscuit in a cup of tea, and our materially inclined mind emerging triumphant in spite of our best intentions.
Krishna therefore warns us that the material energy is “insurmountable”. Our only hope is seeking his shelter, which means constantly praying to him and doing our best to follow his directions.
First though we require the resolve that the time has come, that I shall no longer be the ever faithful, hard working servant of my mind and senses. Then we just have to remember Krishna, our ever present friend and well wisher.