Sunday, February 1, 2009

Q&A: Siddha-identity in everyday life: Harmonizing siddha-deha with ordinary activities

Q: I have been wondering how one harmonizes one's siddha-identity with "ordinary" activities like bathing, eating, going to the toilet etc. Or is that a kind of mental switch, like during bhajan I am X gopi (siddha-deha), then I turn into Y das (sadhaka-deha) and do my ordinary activities until its bhajan time again? How can I meditate upon myself as a perfected, spiritual entity while being sick, driving a car, using my mobile phone or arguing with the boss in the office etc.?

A:  In his Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Sripad Rupa Goswamipad presents the famous two-fold division of seva to be undertaken by those who seek to follow the raga-marga:

sevA sAdhaka-rUpeNa siddha-rUpeNa cAtra hi |
tad-bhAva-lipsunA kAryA vraja-lokAnusArataH || brs 1.2.295

"Serving in the sadhaka-form, as well as in the siddha-form, engaged in activities while desiring the mood of the residents of Vraja, following in their wake."

The external sadhaka-life is to be undertaken while emulating the example of the Goswamis of Vrindavan, engaged in the varieties of devotional services led by sravana, kirtana, archana and so forth. These activities are classified as svAbhISTa-bhAva-sambandhi, or as having a direct relationship with one's desired feelings. These activities, even though undertaken in the external body, lead one to the identity within. Therefore, there is no essential conflict between the two realms in which service has been undertaken.

Such activities of devotional service are also known as svarUpa-siddha-bhakti, or acts that are inherently devotional by their nature. This classification has been presented in contrast to saGga-siddha-bhakti, or elements that attain the quality of devotion through contact with devotion, and aropa-siddha-bhakti, or activities over which the quality of devotion is superimposed, and that are therefore considered to be akin to bhakti.

The quality for kindling inner revelation that is inherent in activities of svarUpa-siddha-bhakti lacks in the two other categories. Activities such as maintaining one's livelihood through work in the society, and thereby maintaining one's facility for devotional services, are generally known as aropa-siddha-bhakti, or activities that become devotional through superimposition. The activities are not devotional in and of themselves, their quality is transformed after the event through the devotee's internal spirit of offering and surrender.

Though elements of aropa-siddha-bhakti are also helpful, and indeed a necessity at a certain stage, they must begin to withdraw as one enters into the world of siddha-rUpa-sevA. Lacking a direct connection with the transcendent realm in which the seva is to take place, they have a great potential for distracting the mind. Some elevated souls are able to transmutate even worldly activities into direct acts of devotion through the power of their smarana, remaining aloof from external influence. However, most sadhakas will find that such external activities will prove to be obstacles in the practice of smarana.

Some aspects of ordinary daily life have qualities that are parallel to the course of the lila. Therefore, someone conversant with the lila can easily attribute the self-conception of the svarupa and the flow of the lila over them and remain in the proper self-identity in the course of the said activities. One should, as far as possible, seek to organize his life in a manner that facilitiates absorption in the lila throughout the day.

The adoption of a specific transcendent identity and the subsequent gradual absorption in the nectarine services of Radha-Krishna possess a vast potential for attracting and containing the consciousness beyond and away from this world. Therefore, as one becomes more accomplished in such practices, he will find it harder and harder to dwell amidst a mundane environment, so much so that time spent in distraction will begin to be felt as painful, and indeed unbearable. The two worlds don't mix together all that well.

For success in smarana, it is vital that one protect the consciousness from outer influences, as smarana is dependent on the purity of the mind – smaraNaM tu zuddhAntaH-karaNatAm apekSate (BhS 276). The foremost among the purifiers of the heart is the chanting of the divine Name, which one should chant at least one lakh, or sixty-four rounds, daily. Before exposing the matter of raga-bhajana (verse 8) in his Upadeshamrita, Srila Rupa Goswamipad has laid emphasis on the worship of the Name as the healer of the polluted heart (verse 7). Chanting a lakh of Names or more, along with the other devotional duties that must be undertaken to support the inner worship, take a substantial amount of time.

All of this has led some mahatmas to conclude that one should renounce the world as a prerequisite for the practice of lila-smarana. While the formal acceptance of the life of a renunciate is not necessarily called for, a withdrawal from the world is instrumental in making the practice successful. Successful smarana calls for exclusivity, and it calls for the absolute rejection of mundane desire. A heart riddled by the mundane, devoid of suddha-bhakti, is not eligible for entrance into the kingdom of rasa.

One must remember that svarupa-meditation and lila-smarana are not a matter of mere techniques of visualization. The lila is self-manifest by nature and arises of grace, grace that is drawn towards one who forsakes all for the sake of a wholehearted devotional pursuit. The appearance of the lila in the chamber of the heart cannot be forced. It flows naturally in a pure and devoted heart, and is therefore aptly called svarasiki. The varieties of meditation, memorization and visualization that are undertaken, despite their being instrumental in supporting the attainment, do not possess the power for revealing the lila and bestowing saksat-seva.

One may also, disregarding all of the above, engage in a semblance of cultivation of svarupa-meditation and lila-smarana. While through that bhajana-siddhi will not be attained, often a favorable samskara is created, a samskara that will in due course of time lead the devotee to the shelter of realized bhajananandi-mahatmas who infuse him with the power to leave behind the mundane and embrace a life of bhajan. Prior to that, practices of smarana are reminiscent of a child's play with dolls. Feeding a doll and putting it to sleep gives a conception of what having a baby is like, and yet the experience is far removed from the labor a mother must bear in caring for a child.

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