Understanding rasa-lila 3 – Arrogance keeps us locked in ourselves, both apara-dharma and para-dharma get us out of ourselves
[Bhagavatam class on 10.29.48 at ISKCON, Denver, USA]
Transcribed by: Sadananda Prabhu
Understanding rasa-lila 3 Arrogance keeps us locked in ourselves, both apara-dharma and para-dharma get us out of ourselves
Today morning we are continuing our discussion on understanding the rasa lila. In yesterday’s session I talked about how Krishna is calling the gopi’s to paradharma in order to focus completely on devoting oneself to Krishna. At the same time, he doesn’t reject paradharma. It means that the duties that we have in this world are not to be rejected. I will continue this theme today and we will discuss what is that unifies and harmonizes para and apara dharma. But before we go into that, let’s look at the narrative of the pastime. So, Krishna calls the gopi’s and tells them, “Why have you come here? Have you come here to look at the beautiful trees and the beautiful Vrindavan forest? If you have seen, then go back. It is not safe for you to be here. It is not appropriate for you to be alone here in the forest. You have duties to your family. And then the gopi’s very beautifully replied. They said, “Krishna, you are the Lord of our Lord, you are the husband of our husband, you are the one for whom everyone lives, and for your sake we have left everything, and we have come to surrender to you. How can we go back?” The gopi’s fervently appealed to Krishna and he describes very attractively his beauty, his potency and his divinity, and thus they say that they are actually not going to go back. On seeing their resolve Krishna is pleased. Initially, when the gopi’s come, there is one Krishna and there are many gopi’s who are rushing, and the gopis reply to Krishna’s talk, and then Krishna is pleased with their determination, and then he starts preparing to perform the rasa dance with them. And when he is performing the rasa dance Krishna expands. Krishna has the potency by which he can do as he wants. So, Krishna starts expanding more and more. He has innumerable forms. There are so many gopi’s and Krishna manifests along with all those gopi’s.
In the Venkatesh Subrabhatam there is beautiful verse which describes how by the sweet sound of his flute the gopi’s hearts became conquered and overpowered. There are hundreds and thousands and millions of gopi’s who came there, and Krishna’s beauty was such that it superseded the beauty of millions of cupids. “Koti” refers to one crore. There are so many gopi’s and Krishna’s beauty exceeded the beauty of millions of cupids; and then that one Krishna expanded into innumerable forms to perform pastime with each of the gopi’s to make every gopi feel that he is personally with her. And thus, he satisfied the heart of all the gopi’s and he granted immense happiness to the heart of each gopi. The gopi’s thought, “And there is no Lord whom I can worship like this wonderful Lord who is the son of Vasudev. He is such a wonderful Lord that he reciprocates with every one of the gopi’s.” Similarly, he reciprocates with every single devotee. As Krishna was about to perform the rasa dance with the gopi’s, and as they were moving forward in this lila, the gopi’s suddenly saw that, “O Krishna is with me.” And Krishna arranged by his yoga maya potency not only his form to be manifested, but each gopi felt that Krishna is with her. Thus, the gopi’s started feeling a little proud. When this happened, and then when they became mada as it is described in this verse, then immediately the Lord disappeared. This is the last verse of this chapter and it is the cliffhanger ending we could say to this chapter. That is just when the lover and beloved have united and have just come together, at that moment one of them disappears. The gopi’s search Krishna with a frantic anxiety and beg from various objects in Vrindavan for the directions to Krishna. That will be described in the next chapter, and we will discuss more about why Krishna disappears also. But at this point lets focus on the theme that the gopi’s gave up everything for Krishna, and then Krishna gave them up. Now why was that? The reason given over here is, “The gopis became proud.”
For Krishna’s pastimes there can be multiple levels of reasons. There is an external reason and there is an internal reason. The internal reason we will discuss in tomorrows class on the occasion of Radhasthami, but let’s focus on the external reason that is mentioned over here, which is “Pride.” Now words have different connotations in different contexts. Nowadays the word “Pride” has acquired a positive connotation. That means, there are hotels with the name “Hotel Pride” or “Hotel Executive Pride.” If a sports match or cricket match is going on and a team has lost the series and still there is match remaining, then the players on the losing side say, “We are going to play for pride. We don’t want to lose all the matches. At least some matches we will win.” So, pride is considered in today’s world not as a negative meaning. Some devotees who write books for audience, instead of pride or mada, often translate it as arrogance. I have not seen anywhere in the world any hotel with the name “Hotel Arrogance.” Arrogance is still considered to be bad. So, we could say that between arrogance and honor, the sense of honor is considered to be affirmative. That means that the sense of honor makes us act honorably.
When some devotees broke the regulative principles while practicing bhakti, they wrote to Prabhupada and Prabhupada wrote back, “Don’t you have a sense of honor? You took this vow in front of the Deities and in front of spiritual master. How could you break this vow? Don’t you have a sense of honor?” When we respect ourselves not in an egoistic sense; but when we respect ourselves and when we take our words seriously and we make a commitment, then we will do our best to do it. So, the word honor has a positive connotation whereas the word arrogance has a negative connotation. Now pride can sometimes refer to arrogance and sometimes also can refer to honor. We have to see what context it refers to. So, when the word pride is used as one of the six anarthas: Kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and matsalya. (Lust, anger, greed, envy, illusion and pride.), there the word pride has a negative connotation associated with arrogance. When someone says, “We will play for pride.”, it means that they are saying, “We will play for honor.” It is used in that sense over there. So, what exactly do we mean by arrogance? I will use arrogance instead of pride for the remaining part. Arrogance essentially means to think that we are independent, we are special and we are superior to other. All of us do have some free will and all of us have been given some special abilities by Krishna, but our independence is tiny. Though we have some freewill, we are not completely independent. We are special in the sense that each one of us have an individual relationship with Krishna and we are individuals. But there are two distinct things: “Specialty” and “Superiority”. So, if our “Sense of specialty” gives us a “Sense of superiority” and makes us feel that we are better than others, then that sense of superiority over others is what makes us arrogant. To acknowledge that we have some talents is not necessarily arrogance. To acknowledge that we have certain resources is not necessary arrogance, but to parade those resources and gifts and to demand respect, subordination or servility from others because of these gifts is arrogance. Now what was the arrogance that the gopi’s exhibited over here? “Oh we are so special that Krishna is attracted to us and he is with us.” Each gopi felt like that. The gopi’s are definitely special. The Gaudia Vaisnava acharyas have described elaborately how gopi’s are the topmost devotees, and among the devotee’s Radharani is the topmost and supreme devotee. But there is difference between specialty and superiority. What makes us special is that, Krishna has given us certain gifts by which we can make some special contributions. But when we start thinking that those things are not my gifts, but are my possessions and they make me better than others, and we start looking down on others, that is when it becomes arrogance; and that alienates us from Krishna.
Arrogance has two different affects: one is that it alienates people because nobody likes a person who is too full of themselves. We may work with a person like that if that is what our job requires or our service requires, but it is not pleasant working with somebody who is very full of themselves. Along with that in the sixteenth chapter when Krishna is talking about the demoniac nature, at that time, he says that those who are of a demoniac disposition take shelter of their ego. Instead of taking shelter of Krishna, they take shelter of their ego and by taking shelter of their ego they become envious of Krishna who is present in their own hearts, and in the heats of other living beings. So, basically, there is the sense of superiority over others in each one of us. We may not think that we are superior to God, but we do think that we don’t need God. We want to feel, “I can do what I want to do when I want to do it.” That sense of independent doer ship which creates a sense of superiority over others can alienate people as well as Krishna from us. That is demonstrated in a graphic way that even for devotees as great as the gopi’s, if they become arrogant, they start feeling that they are special, and they start thinking, “My specialty makes me superior.” So, all the gopi’s thought that they were so special that Krishna is with them only. Then Krishna disappeared. So, it is demonstrated graphically in this pastime that arrogance alienates the absolute. It is such a fundamental teaching and principle of bhakti that it is demonstrated by Krishna, or it is demonstrated in the Bhagavatam through the medium of the topmost pastime of Krishna through the medium of the interactions between the topmost devotees of Krishna with Krishna. Now applying this point of arrogance to our level of action, yesterday I talked about how we have apara and para dharma. Apara dharma is our worldly duties. They are duties which are meant or necessary for maintaining order in the world, and para dharma are the duties which help us to rise beyond this world and to attain Krishna. The apara dharma can also help us to raise our consciousness, but that is very gradual. Para dharma helps us to raise our consciousness quickly. We discussed some situations in the apara dharma and para dharma which can be in tension. Is this to be done or that to be done? The opposite of arrogance we could say is humility, and humility is expressed through service and more practically through service attitude.
There are many virtues which remain abstract unless we act on them. For example, we may say that somebody wants to develop sensitivity. Sensitivity is a virtue, but how is sensitivity expressed? It is through gentle, kind and affirmative speech. So, there is a virtue and there is an expression of the virtue. Similarly, if we consider humility as the opposite of arrogance, that is expressed through our service attitude; and the very nature of our service attitude is that it gets us out of ourselves. Normally we keep thinking of ourselves, “I like this, I want this.” And we act accordingly, but the more we get out of ourselves and the more we grow spiritually we stop thinking too much about ourselves. So, one way of looking at it may be that para and apara dharma pull us in different directions. Apara Dharma pulls us toward the world and para dharma pulls us towards Krishna, and thus we get pulled in different directions. Another way of looking at it is that, both apara dharma and para dharma pull us out of ourselveselves and our self-centeredness. So, even our apara dharma or worldly duties actually pull us out of ourselves. When say the parents have children, then at that time when the parents are just couples, at that time they travel wherever they want and they enjoy whatever way they want. They can do so many things, but when they have a child, they have to think of the child. They have to put the child first; and then it is said that parents make children and children make parents. That means the children force the parents to become responsible because they force the parents to come out of their own self and to think of others. So, every apara dharma actually forces us to come out of ourselves. If you consider Kula dharma; Kula dharma is the dynastic duty which forces people to come out of themselves, and they think, “Oh I don’t want to just think of myself. What about my brother? What about my sister? What about my extended family?” They think about that, and that’s how we come out of ourselves.
If we consider duty to the nation, there are many people who are patriotic. I said earlier that the words often have connotations; there are two words: Patriotism and Nationalism. In today’s intellectual discourse the word nationalism has acquired a negative connotation. Nationalism means, “I want the good of my nation at the cost of other nation.” So, we care for the land so much that we stop caring for the people so that we become almost dehumanized also. Antagonistic people can become aggressive and violent towards others, but the word patriotism has a positive connotation. So, when a person is patriotic – if you look at the independence struggle of various countries, different people fought and laid down their lives. They are considered great hero’s, and yes there is a certain amount of glorious selflessness in laying down their life for the sake of something bigger than oneself, for a kingdom.
There was an Indian patriotic leader when India was about to get independence or was struggling to get independence. He called upon the Indians and he said, “I will give you independence and in exchange I want something from you. I want your sweat, your toil and your blood. You give me your blood and I will give you your independence.” And thousands of people got galvanized to that. There was an American patriot who said, “The only regret of my life is that I have only one life to serve America.” Of course, he was within a materialistic conception because he thought that one life is all that we have. But to say that I have only one life to serve America is an exalted sentiment in the sense that there is a very high level of dedication that is exhibited over there. Even if we want to talk about Krishna bhakti being the highest, how many of us will be ready to give our blood for the sake of serving Krishna, how many of us feel that we have only one life to serve Krishna. We want to feel, “I want this life to get over and I want to go to Krishna and get out of distressful world.” Often the aparadharma can also force people to come out of themselves, and in that sense if we consider the common element that unites apara dharma and para dharma is a displacement from self-centeredness. It is pulling a person out of oneself, and when we are pulled out of ourselves, how far are we pulled out?
Prabhupada in the nectar of devotion introduction talks about how there can be extended circles. So, from thinking of myself alone, I start thinking of my partner or of my spouse. That way I coming out of myself. From there if I start thinking of my children, then I am further coming out of myself. From there if I start thinking of my dynasty, I am coming further out of myself. From there if I start thinking about my nation and my country, I am coming further out of myself and I am thinking of something beyond of myself. And these are all extended circles we could say, and Prabhupada says, “The biggest extension of the circle is Krishna because Krishna is the source of everything and is the well-wisher of everyone. By serving Krishna we can do good to everyone. Just as when we water the root of the tree all the branches automatically get watered.” That selflessness attains its summit when that selflessness is offered to Krishna. So, apara dharma and para dharma can be seen not as contradictory but as complementary; if we see that the purpose is to evolve from self-centeredness to selflessness.
In today’s world where we have a culture of individualism – not just individualism but we have often obsessive individualism. So, we could say that selfishness means, “I first.” But we could have obsessive selfishness as “I only.” Selfishness is something which we cannot entirely give up. Generally, the selfish has a negative connotation. “Why are you so selfish. You are only thinking of yourselves, you are not thinking of anyone else.” Generally, the word selfish is considered to be quite an insulting or judgmental word. Sometimes a person says “How dare they call me selfish? Nobody will take the charge.” They say that very passively. We will feel hurt by that. So, in a sense nobody can give up selfishness, but the word selfishness when it used, it is used in the sense that you care only for yourselves without caring for anyone else.
We are individuals. So, there are individuality and there is individualism. Individuality is something which can’t be given up. Each one of us is an individual, and naturally we will look at the world in terms of our interest, our talents and our gifts; we all bring a unique perspective to the world by how we look at it, and we all can make a distinctive contribution in the world. So, being selfless doesn’t mean giving up our individuality itself. There is individuality which is natural and essential innate to us, but individualism refers to thinking about oneself without thinking about anyone else. We will naturally think about ourselves. We can’t think about ourselves, but when we think about ourselves in relationship with other, we say “This is not what I want to do, but how is it going to affect others?” and then they still want to do this. Or we think, “How can I do this in a way that doesn’t affect others negatively?” When we think about others, that’s where selflessness means that we start understanding that we are a part of the unit and not alone or isolated. We understand that we are a unite but a part a whole, and that whole can refer to a family, a dynasty, a nation etc. And ultimately that whole can refer to the supreme divinity, Krishna.
When the Bhagavatam talks about swartha, it means selfishness and that is considered to be negative. But the Bhagavatam also uses the word swartha in a positive sense. In Prahlad Maharaj’s section it is said, “O the materialistic people and the demoniac people don’t understand. They don’t understand “na te vidhu, swartah gatim hi Visnu” that actually our self-interest lies in Visnu and in loving and serving Visnu, and in him their lies our enlightened self-interest. To the extent we understand this, to that extent we ourselves progress towards fully absorbed, consistent and committed devotion to Krishna. Not understanding that Visnu is our self-interest, we think that our self-interest is in various other things. “O my self-interest is in getting this beautiful car, my self-interest is in getting this big fancy house, my self-interest is in forming a relationship with this person.” We start thinking that these various objects are what will give meaning and value to our life and that they are the purpose of our life. When we think like this, then we become bound by the ropes of the law of karma. It is said that actually if we do not voluntary serve Vishnu, then we will involuntarily serve Vishnu. How is that? If a person says that I will not follow the laws voluntarily, then they will be put in a jail and they will have to obey the law forcibly. So, those who do not voluntarily serve Krishna, understanding that service to him is in their best interest, they become bound by isha tantraya. What are the isha tantraya? It is not just the laws of karma in terms of, “We get various kinds of sufferings in our life.” but also it means that we get bound by our own trivial desires. Prabhupada writes in a purport, “For those who don’t accept Krishna as the almighty, their senses become all mighty and they pull them and ask them to do various things, and people just run here and there trying to gratify their senses.” So, those who tell people that this or that will make them happy, this or that is the purpose of your life, this is what you should be aiming for in your life, what they are pointing towards is other than Krishna. Then such people are like the blind leading the blind, and everyone would be doomed in such a procession. Why have I quoted these verses? Because we cannot give up selfishness per see.
I said that the word “selfishness” has a negative connotation. I talked about two connotations of selfishness: one is individuality and the second is individualism. Individuality in the sense that we are individuals with our own consciousness, and that is something which can’t be given up. But individualism means, “Thinking only of ourselves without thinking of others.” That is something which can and should be given up. When the Bhagavatam is using the word “swarthagatim hi visnu” it is saying that our individuality is best fulfilled to our spirituality. By our spirituality we understand that we are souls, that we are parts of Krishna and we are meant to serve him, and for serving him whatever is required, we are believed to do whatever it takes. The nature of love is that we naturally express loving reciprocation. But at the same time selflessness or selfless service attitude means that we put the contribution before the expectation. In every relationship there is reciprocation. Reciprocation means that we do something for the other person, and then the other person does something for us. What we do we could say is the contribution and what the other person should do, we think that is the expectation from others. So, some relationships are very high whereas our contributions are very less. We do very little for the other person, but we demand many things from the other person. But when we have a service attitude, we focus on contribution and not on expectation. Of course, there will be reciprocation, and to have expectations is in a sense to be human, but if we have committed service attitude, then we are not attached to the expectations. We can continue our service even when that expectation is not being fulfilled. And when the service attitude is directed towards other living beings and jivas, then that is apara dharma. When that service attitude is directed towards Krishna, that is para dharma, and when the service attitude is directed towards others through Krishna, then that is where paradharma and aparadharma get united. Now as compared to the mode of ignorance where somebody is obsessively individualistic, where they don’t care even for their parents or their family or anyone else; just there are so many young people nowadays who spend hours and hours and days after day just playing some video games or surfing the net, and they do anything in their life. And especially if one has a little bit of financial security wherein the parents are providing or the government is a welfare state which is providing, then people feel no need to come out of their dark rooms in which they are going in spending hours and hours in an imaginary world through the internet; where there is no ethos or any kind of responsibility. That is tamasic at the best. From the tamasic or the mode of ignorance one come towards rajasic, “I want to achieve this. I want to get this job, I want to get this car, I want to have this family, I want to do this etc.” At least one is coming out of the imaginary world to the real world. So, rajasic is better than tamasic, but better than rajasic is satwic. In satwic or the mode of goodness one starts thinking, “Ok, all these material things are fine, but they are temporary; is there something more to life?” Thus, one starts perceiving and pursuing spiritual reality, and when we come to sudddha satwa and then to bhakti, at that time we start pursuing the supreme spiritual reality. That is Krishna.
If we consider that say this is the circle of our interests and say this is the circle of the interests of Krishna, we find out the intersection between the two, and that is where we can steadily serve Krishna. If I do only the things which interest me and which have no connection with bhakti, then I am no longer a devotee. But if I try to do the things which I have no interest in, but I do that simply out of a service-attitude to Krishna, I can do that for some time, but it is not sustainable for a long time because to embrace our spirituality we do not have to deny our individuality. So, each of us can serve Krishna according to our nature and our particular psychophysical situation; psychophysical as well as social situation. The same principle may apply to others. If we have committed relationship with someone and we don’t just think of ourselves but we think about others “This is what I like to do, but this is what this person likes.” Then let’s find out what we can do together, and sometimes we may do something which we don’t like just for the pleasure of the other person, and sometimes the other person may do something which they don’t like, but they do it for our pleasure.
Now if we are one circle and the other person is another circle and Krishna is the third circle, the ideal situation is where all these three circles intersect. Then that relationship will bring in a harmony of para and apara dharma. That means that whoever are there in the relationship; even if both of them are also devoted to Krishna and both of them find some common way in which they can serve Krishna together – in that way apara and para dharma get harmonized when we give up arrogance, and we embrace a service attitude centered on selflessness. So, in tomorrows session I will talk about the selfless service attitude of the gopi’s and especially of the topmost gopi, Srimati Radharani.
I will summarize:
I spoke today about how apara and para dharma can be harmonized through a service attitude. I started by talking about the topmost pastime of the rasa lila; Krishna goes away from his topmost devotees when they exhibit arrogance. I talked about how pride can have a negative connotation. In that sense the word arrogance is more appropriate. When it has a positive connotation, the word “honor” is more appropriate. So, a sense of honor inspires us to act honorably whereas arrogance alienates us from others and from Krishna. That we are all special is just a fact of life. Each one of us has our own individuality, but when that sense of specialty leads to a sense of superiority towards others and a sense of independence of Krishna, then it becomes harmful. So, people today when they are selfish in the sense of being obsessively self-centered or individualistic and just don’t care for anyone at all, then they just sink into themselves. So, para dharma takes us towards Krishna and apara dharma takes us towards the world. This way they seem contradictory, but if we see that both of them get us out of ourselves – apara dharma forces us to think of others in our various relationships as family, as partners, as children, our dynasty or our country. I talked about how there had been patriots in various countries who selflessly laid down their lives for the sake of their country. So, this is an expanded sense of how we can come out of ourselves, and this expansion attains its zenith when it is directed towards Krishna and when we understand that Krishna is the source of everything, and is the supreme well-wisher of everyone. Then by serving Krishna we are watering the root of the tree, and thus everybody will be benefited by that. So, for us, when we live in today’s obsessively individualistic age, at that time where people tend to live only for themselves, then even apara dharma is important to help us come out of ourselves. Individuality can’t be given up, but individualism in the sense of thinking only of oneself and not considering others is something which needs to be given up. So, the word selfishness has a negative connotation, but we cannot be completely selfless. What happens is, we understand that our best enlightened self-interest lies in Krishna. Then we become free. To the extent we neglect Krishna, to the extent we don’t obey the almighty and our mind and senses become all mighty and drag us here, there and everywhere.
Lastly, I concluded by talking about how when we are practicing bhakti we may have come from the mode of ignorance, and we need to see how best we can come out of ourselves. When we are in a relationship with Krishna, then we find out the circle of what interests us and what is Krishna bhakti, and situate ourselves in our interaction. Sometimes we may do some things which we don’t like for Krishna’s service, but for sustenance we need to be situated in that intersection. And if we in relationship with someone, then we find the intersection of both the interests and we situate ourselves there for the steadiness of the relationship. All these three circles: our interest, others interest and Krishna’s interest come together; then that relationship is where apara and para dharma becomes harmonized. So, arrogance which takes us away from Krishna can be removed by a humble service attitude. Humility is the dormant virtue and it is actively expressed through our service attitude, and service attitude means we place contribution above expectation. Rather than demanding that the other person do this and that, or even Krishna do something for us, we focus on contributing from our side in a mood of service.
Thank you very much.
End of transcription.
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