02.16: Checked, but never checkmated
Practicing spiritual life in the material world can be a formidable challenge because of the materialism that is inherent to the world and is especially dominant during our present times.
Our materialistic environment may sometimes check our spiritual practices. For example, we may sometimes have to chant our rounds discreetly or study scriptures secretly. When such situations are inescapably imposed on us, we may feel disheartened – especially when we see no checks at all on those indulging in blatantly materialistic activities.
At such times, we can take heart from the Gita verse (2.16) stating that the temporary has no endurance and the eternal, no cessation. So all materialistic activities, even if presently unchecked, will ultimately at the time of death get not just checked, but checkmated.
In joyful contrast, material circumstances can only check, but never checkmate our spiritual life because of two reasons.
Firstly, material conditions being temporary may well become less inimical over a period of time.
Secondly, during the inimical period, we can utilize the external checks (obstacles) as internal checks (appraisals) of the sincerity and intensity of our devotional aspirations. When our environment is supportive, we may sometimes engage in devotional practices to create a positive impression on others. When our environment becomes inimical, no one praises us for our devotional practices, and so that external, superficial incentive is taken away. This forces us to engage in our devotional practices primarily, if not exclusively, for their original and pure purpose: the pleasure of Krishna and the resulting experience of love for Krishna. And the strengthening of that purpose is the surest guarantee for authentic spiritual advancement.
Thus by purifying and intensifying our devotional intentions, we can convert the checks that slow us externally into spurs that speed us internally.
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