Question: If spiritual happiness is eternal, why is our experience of that happiness temporary?
Answer summary: Because our connection with the source of spiritual happiness is temporary.
Answer: Let’s use an analogy that is drawn from the Srimad Bhagavatam and elucidated by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his devotional classic Harinaam Chintamani. Krishna and the happiness in his devotional service are like the sun, whereas our material conditionings are like clouds that block the vision of the sun. These clouds exist as a consequence of our own past material indulgences, but where they are located in the sky is determined by the influence of the modes of material nature. Sometimes, when the influence of the lower modes of passion and ignorance on us is not much, the clouds are positioned such that they don’t obstruct the sight of the sun; so we can connect with Krishna tangibly and thereby relish spiritual happiness. At other times, when the influence of these modes increases, the clouds move and obscure the sight of the sun; so we can’t relish any spiritual happiness.
The Bhagavad-gita (14.10) indicates that the modes are in a state of constant conflict with each vying for supremacy. Depending on which mode gets the upper hand, spiritual happiness appears to us as tangible (in goodness), peripheral (in passion) and unreal (in ignorance). However, through all our changing perceptions, spiritual happiness always remains real and available.
If we are avail spiritual happiness steadily, our actions are critical – especially two sets of actions. Firstly, what we do when we can glimpse the sun and secondly what we do when we can’t.
Whenever we can glimpse the sun, that is, whenever we do relish spiritual happiness, we need to tap that opportunity fully. If we absorb ourselves deeply into that experience, the resulting memories and impressions will become strong and rich. This will give us the experiential conviction that spiritual happiness is for real.
Whenever we can’t glimpse the sun, that is, whenever we don’t relish spiritual happiness, we need to tolerate and navigate that phase intelligently. During this phase, cravings for material enjoyment may re-surface in our consciousness. If we give in to those cravings, we create fresh clouds that further block our perception of the sun. That is, we create fresh conditionings which make it more difficult for us to relish spiritual happiness. However, if we tolerate those cravings, as the Gita (05.23) recommends, the clouds pass in due course of time and we become able to relish spiritual happiness once again.
Thankfully, we don’t have to endure material cravings forever. Devotional service enables us to do much more than just tolerate the cravings; it enables us to even eliminate them. If the sunrays fall on the clouds long enough, it evaporates the clouds. Similarly, if we keep remembering and serving Krishna long enough, then the resulting purification evaporates our cloud-like conditionings. That’s why the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, after analyzing the influences of the three modes, concludes with the recommendation (14.26) that we practice devotional service undeviatingly so as to transcend the modes.
How can we ensure that our practice of devotional service remains undeviated despite the influence of the modes?
By using various supports like the following:
- Philosophical conviction that comes by serious study of scriptures
- Commitment to live according to spiritual principles that comes from our own resolution and from our initiation vows
- Devotional culture that decreases our exposure to agitating worldly stimuli and increases our exposure to stimuli that remind us of Krishna
- Association of like-minded devotees that nourishes us emotionally while also inspiring us spiritually
- Adequate engagement in practical forms of devotional service that keeps us busy so that we don’t have time for material indulgence even if temptations prompt us
- Sincere praying and fervent chanting of the holy names that invokes Krishna’s mercy which accelerates the removal of the clouds.
Of course, several of these are not just supports to devotional service; they are themselves limbs of devotional service. But we can refer to them as supports in the sense that they can support us even when we falter on the spiritual path due to not being able to relish spiritual happiness. Through such supports, we can keep ourselves connected with Krishna steadily even when we don’t experience spiritual happiness. The more we make that connection steady, the more the clouds of our conditionings will evaporate and the more our experience of spiritual happiness will become steady. Till finally when our connection becomes constant, the clouds will evaporate completely, and we will start relishing spiritual happiness at every moment.