03.32: Spiritual advancement comes not by defining, but by refining

by August 3, 2012

Spiritual advancement is essentially a journey of our heart’s affection towards Krishna, a journey that can get sidetracked by many detours. One tempting detour is over-intellectualism, wherein we get preoccupied with ratiocination instead of transformation. At such times, doubts and questions about logical, informational and philosophical technicalities engulf us, leaving us with little desire or energy for self-reformation.

This unidimensional intellectuality is often triggered by the modern scientific approach, which glamorizes expertise in reasoning while neglecting character as subjective and irrelevant. The scientific approach deems understanding of a subject to be the result of analyzing, reducing and defining.

This defining approach that is central in the study of matter becomes peripheral in the study of spirit. No doubt, defining has its place in spiritual life; it helps us to gain basic intellectual conviction and to discern authentic spirituality from shallow- or pseudo-spirituality. However, the spiritual realm essentially lies beyond the reach of the intellect. We may glimpse it partially using intellectual conceptualization, but can grasp it properly only by spiritual purification.

The Bhagavad-gita (3.32) indicates how all knowledge – even knowledge about spiritual subjects – is rendered futile (sarva-jnana vimudhams) among those whose consciousness is misdirected away from the spiritual level (acetasah) to the material level. Correcting this misdirection of consciousness is primarily a process of refining, not defining. Just as refining of gold frees it from impurities, refining of consciousness frees it from the impurities of anti-devotional or immoral desires that keep it trapped at the material level.

When we refine our consciousness by practicing devotional service, spiritual wisdom arises within our hearts, bringing thereby clear and deep understanding that supersedes the most rigorous defining.



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