05.11 – The balance between “matter alone matters” and “matter doesn’t matter”
Matter alone matters is the belief of materialists. They consider the things of this world alone as valuable and material enjoyment as life’s ultimate success.
Matter doesn’t matter is the belief of impersonalists. These tyro spiritualists see matter as the shackle of spirit and so think that spiritual advancement hinges on the rejection of matter.
However, neither of these beliefs survives intellectual scrutiny. Materialists falter when confronted with the question: “If matter alone matters, why do we have a longing for the eternal that temporary matter can never satisfy?” And impersonalists flounder when questioned: “If matter doesn’t matter because the one all-pervading spirit is all that exists, then where does matter come from and how does it get the power to shackle spirit?”
Gita wisdom outlines the balance between these two extremes: matter matters when it serves the purpose of spirit. We all are souls entrapped in material bodies. As we have been situated in material reality for an indeterminately long time, rejecting everything material and trying to theoretically meditate on the spiritual is not something that we can enjoy or continue for long.
Bhakti-yoga redefines the material as the springboard for the spiritual. The Bhagavad-gita (05.11) urges us to use our body, mind, intelligence and even the senses for the sake of purification. We purify our senses by engaging them in devotional service to Krishna and by especially using them to connect with their respective spiritual sense objects, for example, eyes with Deities, tongue with prasad and ears with spiritual music.
Of course, we still need to keep a safe distance from those material things that entangle us. But bhakti-yoga provides an arena for regulated and safe interaction with. No wonder it makes life happier, purification faster and our return to the spiritual more attainable.