Does spirituality kill our individuality?

by Chaitanya Charan dasMarch 28, 2012

Question: In spiritual life, everybody is told to do the same activities like chanting the same mantra. Doesn’t this standardization suppress and destroy our individuality?

Answer: Not at all. In fact, this standardization destroys the coverings that block our actual individuality.

Firstly, let’s try to understand: what is the essence of our individuality? Is it our hair-style, our looks, our wardrobe? If yes, then it is materialism that actually standardizes and suppresses our individuality. Because materialistic lifestyle makes us dance to the tune of the latest fashions; where’s the individuality in a tawdry dress that is a commonplace copy of a jazzy billboard? Even if we adopt fashions that are extravagant and therefore uncommon, how can they be expressions of our individuality when we are just reflecting the upwardly mobile social mirror?

At a deeper level, we can say our individuality comprises our desires. All of us are individually distinct because we have different desires. But again materialism standardizes our desires too; impressing the opposite sex is often the common desire that drives most materialists. There may be variety in the ways of impressing: a skimpy dress, a flashy car or whatever else. But there is often total monotony in the underlying desire. Where, then, is the individuality?

Gita wisdom helps us understand that our actual individuality is spiritual, not material. What we call as our material individuality is mostly a product of past internal impressions and present external compulsions. This material individuality obscures the real me, the soul. As souls, we are all individuals with our own unique forms and our unique relationships with the supremely unique Lord, Sri Krishna.

Our present material existence is a diseased condition, and our material individuality is largely the specter of symptoms of our underlying disease of materialism. Seen from this perspective, people parading their material individualities are little better than sick people parading their symptoms.

Just as people suffering from a common malady are often prescribed a common treatment, Gita wisdom prescribes for all of us who are suffering from a lethal overdose of materialism the standard spiritual treatment of chanting the holy names. Just as recovery of health enables sick people to naturally express their individuality, recovery of our spiritual health enables us to naturally express our actual spiritual individuality in our relationship with Krishna.

During this recovery, Gita wisdom accommodates our material individuality by facilitating us to serve Krishna according to our individual natures. But it urges us to use this temporary material individuality as a springboard for expressing our lasting spiritual individuality – and not to get stuck to or sunk into the springboard. This means that instead of perpetuating our material individuality, we use it as best as is possible while focusing on regaining our spiritual health and thereby reclaiming our spiritual individuality.

 

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan das
3 Comments
  • Vaishnav Charan Das
    September 10, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I think a simpler answer to this question would be: Irrespective of our outward appearance and personality, which is a product of material modes of nature, we all are pure conscious souls at the deepest level. We are individual unique souls who are part and parcel of the supreme soul, Sri Krishna, as confirmed in the vedic scriptures:

    “The living entities in this conditioned world are my eternal parts and parcels.” – Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, 15.7

    Because we all are part and parcel of our common father/origin: Sri Krishna, and because we are currently in a state of forgetfulness of Sri Krishna, we are suffering immensely in the cycle of birth and death, again as confirmed in the Vedic scriptures:

    “Due to conditioned life (in forgetfulness of Krishna), they are struggling very hard with the six senses, including the mind.” – Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita, 15.7

    So if we all are individual souls having a common origin from Sri Krishna, having an eternal relationship with Sri Krishna as confirmed from the Gita and Vedas, and if we are suffering due to Sri Krishna’s forgetfulness, then it is obvious that the remedy for all of us is also common: Chanting Sri Krishna’s names. That will restore the wandering souls (all of us) to our original position as eternal unique individual associates of Sri Krishna in the spiritual world.

    Secondly, I don’t agree to the blanket assertion: “But again materialism standardizes our desires too; impressing the opposite sex is often the common desire that drives most materialists. There may be variety in the ways of impressing: a skimpy dress, a flashy car or whatever else. But there is often total monotony in the underlying desire. Where, then, is the individuality?” This blanket assertion ignores the variety of desires that underlie different classes of materialists. Some have a desire or inquisitiveness to explore the universe or nature. Like scientists and physicists. They are not necessarily driven by attraction to opposite sex. For many such scientists and mental speculators, their romance with theories and mathematics is more gratifying than engaging their precious time and energy in a foolish activity like sex. Indeed, some “materialistic” philosophers totally reject the opposite sex as a waste of time and energy. I feel we should be wary of blanket statements, because you never know what class of materialist is reading what we are representing here. The buddhists are a good example of this, they neither believe in spiritual individuality, nor in existence of soul, nor in engaging in sexual activities. So technically, they are materialists who discard material enjoying, and want to attain “Nirvana” (negation of matter) as the highest state of existence. And their numbers are also increasing.

    Apart from this: I found that some of the articles on this site are simple assertions (no matter how correct), without any supporting statements by Srila Prabhupada’s purport or quotes or at least some verses of the Gita or Bhagavatam quoted. That makes it less authentic from the perspective of “Vaishnav Siddhanta”. The reader is forced to accept the assertion without any supporting statements from either Guru or Shastra or both.

    Your Servant

    • Chaitanya Charan das
      September 11, 2012 at 5:50 am

      >>>I think a simpler answer to this question would be
      ccd: All answers are simpler if we assume that the questioners already believe what we believe. That, however, is rarely the reality. So I start from the level at which the questioner is – in this case, what is the understanding of individuality of the questioner and show how that doesn’t have sound foundations.

      >>>then it is obvious that the remedy for all of us is also common: Chanting Sri Krishna’s names.
      ccd: Agreed. And the same point is stated in the article, isn’t it? “Just as people suffering from a common malady are often prescribed a common treatment, Gita wisdom prescribes for all of us who are suffering from a lethal overdose of materialism the standard spiritual treatment of chanting the holy names.” Isn’t the next point that you make about original individuality also already stated in the article?

      >>>” I don’t agree to the blanket assertion”
      ccd: Can i know what is the source of your definition of “blanket assertion?” The meaning that i find in standard references is a statement that makes absolute claims that allow for no exceptions. Statements with qualifying words like “almost, often, most” are not blanket statements. In the paragraph quoted by you, there are two such nuancing words “most” and “often.” How, then, can these be called blanket assertions?

      >>> “The buddhists are a good example of this, they neither believe in spiritual individuality, nor in existence of soul, nor in engaging in sexual activities”
      ccd: The number of Buddhists who actually abstain from sexual activities – the monks and nuns – is minuscule as compared to the total number of Buddhists. Most of them are, functionally speaking, materialists.

      >>> I found that some of the articles on this site are simple assertions (no matter how correct), without any supporting statements by Srila Prabhupada’s purport or quotes or at least some verses of the Gita or Bhagavatam quoted.
      ccd: I appreciate your concern. As our tradition requires, I always substantiate the essential points with scriptural quotes. At the same time, I don’t put too many quotes because of three reasons – all centered on who the target audience is:
      1. If we are speaking to audience who already believe in the authority of the Vedic scriptures, then quoting can add authenticity and authority to what we are saying. I don’t make such assumptions about my audience and so focus primarily on the universal language of logical reasoning that can be accepted even by those who don’t accept scriptural authority. When the scriptural quotes appear at the end of a logical sequence, then the logicality of the point increases their faith in the scriptures.
      2. In postmodern times, there is an increasing aversion to excessive reliance on authority – it is seen as dogmatic or slavish or pedantic or show-offish. There are literally thousands of people with perceptions described by each of the four adjectives i have used above: dogmatic, slavish, pedantic and show-offish. Why should we permanently deprive those people of scriptural wisdom by being insensitive to their sore spots?
      3. On the net, everything has to be in as short as possible, people’s capacity to focus is remarkably low. That’s why i don’t quote unless it serves an essential point. And as you have yourself acknowledged, the points are accurate. I am painstakingly careful to ensure that none of the points contradict the overall scriptural teaching, I am serving as a member of ISKCON’s Shastric Advisory Council, which is the movement’s topmost intellectual body and so i have access to all the other members, many of whom have 30-40 years of experience in studying and sharing Krishna consciousness. I consult them whenever i need to confirm my understanding.
      My inspiration and knowledge largely comes from Srila Prabhupada, and my models for writing are Ravindra Svarupa Pr (especially his book “Endless Love”) and Devamrita Maharaja (especially his book “Searching for Vedic India”). Their writings have been remarkably successful in connecting with intellectually refined people of the contemporary ethos. They use the strategy of conveying the overall import of the scripture but with minimal explicit quoting. I strive to follow in their footsteps.

  • September 12, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I like ur Approach very much,plz Keep Enlightening us with Ur Wisdom.Thank u very Much prji

Leave a Response

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

*