Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #14 – Can Changing Diapers Be Bhakti?

April 8th, 2019

It’s a question often asked. Well, not exactly about changing diapers, but about how, in general, we should reconcile our material and spiritual lives for full Krishna consciousness, especially when much of our material life consists of unavoidable family and occupational duties. The answer: For one on the platform of uttama-bhakti, or pure devotional service, there is, in a sense, no difference between one’s material and spiritual life. Let’s explore that concept, but first a definition of uttama-bhakti.

 

Here’s a simple but accurate definition, and one that best serves the point at hand: “To give up all separate or selfish interest for the service of the Ultimate Truth.”

 

Before I continue to make my case, I need to lay out the premises on which my reasoning will be based. I assume most of my audience already accepts these assumptions. For those who may not — perhaps those for whom bhakti is not their tradition — I hope they will still appreciate how the philosophy of bhakti works.

 

  1. There is an Ultimate Truth.
  2. A person of character puts devotion to truth above selfish interests. Such devotion, when fully pure, is called uttama-bhakti.
  3. The ultimate truth is revealed in śāstra (revealed scripture).
  4. A guru is defined as one who knows and lives by the śāstra and thus realizes that truth.
  5. Therefore, when one surrenders fully to a legitimate spiritual master, one’s whole life, including their family and work, is guided by the Ultimate Truth and on the platform of uttama-bhakti.

 

In other words, in answer to our question, a soul fully committed to guru and Krishna, who thus never acts with separate or personal interest, is always on the platform of uttama-bhakti whether at the temple, at work, or at home.[1]

 

It is for this very reason that a major subtext of the Bhagavad-gītā states that Arjuna did not have to renounce his “worldly” dharmas in order to be a fully realized yogi. In bhakti, both worldly and spiritual duties can be reconciled.

 

We should also note that although the general principle is that pure devotion does not require us to change our occupational or social status, that doesn’t mean we can do anything in the name of bhakti, or that one shouldn’t alter their activities if they are not conducive to devotion. For example, one fully surrendered to his spiritual master may very well change his job after initiation if his work promotes sinful activities, or he feels his present situation is not conducive to his devotion.

 

The fact that worldly activities can also be spiritual also doesn’t mean that marriage or a job are items or practices of devotional service. Rather, it means that to the extent that everything, even “material” duties like family and occupation, is done dutifully and from one’s identity as servant of the spiritual master, the distinction between worldly and spiritual duties blurs.

 

But what if one has natural material desires that cannot be renounced without disturbing the mind? For example, a mother needs to express her affection for her children. Is that desire not separate from the one-pointed focus required of uttama-bhakti? The body and mind will die if we don’t satisfy at least a minimal amount of their emotional and sensual needs. These needs may vary from person to person.

 

The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam instructs that this sort of self-satisfaction may also not be separate from the path of bhakti if we take only what we need to keep body and soul together. In other words, if such measured enjoyment is not the objective but only the means to keep mentally and physically fit in order to realize the Ultimate Truth, then those needs don’t inhibit spiritual life, but instead serve it.

 

My intention here is to not cheaply promote worldly duties as necessarily spiritual, or to minimize the process of chanting and hearing about Krishna. One on the platform of uttama-bhakti is chanting Krishna’s glories at every spare minute regardless of their occupational or social status. My aim, as reasoned above, is to highlight the principle of uttama-bhakti to show how it extends to one’s whole life when one fully surrenders to a spiritual master.

 

It should be noted that we are not here just talking about the formality of initiation, but the full depth of commitment that not only substantially deepens one’s spiritual practices and devotion, but adds a positive spiritual dimension to the grind often felt while living in this world.[2]

 

So back to changing diapers. Let’s finish with a hypothetical, and then a comment by Śrīla Prabhupāda. First, the hypothetical: A mother is so eager to hear and chant about Krishna that she leaves her child unattended or sits in the class with her child crying and disturbed because the child wants to go outside. Another mother, although wanting to hear the class, dutifully cares for her child and makes the sacrifice of going outside with him. Who is pleasing Krishna more? If the former, then it seems that Arjuna should have given up fighting and taken up japa meditation.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s comment on the dilemma of how to prioritize the important things in a devotional life offers a fitting conclusion to our discussion. It also highlights that bhakti is ultimately not just the particular activity one is doing, but ultimately what Krishna wants us to do at the moment.

 

“Everything in the household affairs of Mother Yaśodā was meant for Krishna. Although Krishna was drinking the breast milk of Mother Yaśodā, when she saw that the milk pan in the kitchen was overflowing, she had to take care of it immediately, and thus she left her son, who then became very angry, not having been fully satisfied with drinking the milk of her breast. Sometimes one must care for more than one item of important business for the same purpose. Therefore Mother Yaśodā was not unjust when she left her son to take care of the overflowing milk. On the platform of love and affection, it is the duty of the devotee to do one thing first and other things later. The proper intuition by which to do this is given by Krishna.

 

teṣāṁ satata-yuktānāṁ
bhajatāṁ prīti-pūrvakam
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ
yena mām upayānti te

 

“To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Bg. 10.10)

 

 


[1] Just so there is no confusion, when we use term uttama-bhakti we are referring to a faithful and honest soul who has fully surrendered to his guru, not necessarily a person who is not yet free from all material desires.

[2] I thought it was important that I acknowledge how difficult it is to work in the modern world, but also offer something practical to do about it that would apply to everyone, even those not at the level of uttama-bhakti.  Below are notes I took from a discussion with Mahāmuni dāsa about karma-yoga years back.

 

Buddhi-yoga (the practice of conceptual readjustment required for karma-yoga)

 

Two aspects of buddhi-yoga:

  1. Transformation of motivation from selfishness to the desire for purification/liberation and the service of God.
  2. Identity with the self, not the body. Body assists self in fulfilling dharma (moral and religious duties).

 

Karma-yoga requires trying to consciously live the following:

  1. Dharma. Try to live according to dharma (righteous duties) since dharma is vehicle or occasion for karma-yoga.
  2. Dharma in the service of God. Be conscious while performing dharma (work, family responsibilities, chores, etc.) so that our performance is in service to God. Should be done lovingly and gratefully.
  3. Serve others. All (family members, work peers, society, etc.) are parts of God and should be respected and loved as such.
  4. Identify with true self. We are not merely the psychophysical contingencies of this life. Our core self is grounded in our relationship with God. Remember body is dependent on God to function.
  5. World is the body of God(paramātmā)  Interact with it thus.

 

Daily mindfulness of the above requires centering:

  1. In the early morning.Prayer/study/contemplation provides focus and alignment for the day.
  2. Throughout day. Fifteen minute break from work. Can include reading select versus from scripture, recitation of key prayers/mantras, contemplation of reality as posed in b, c, and d above.

 

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