Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #21 – Spiritual Autism

May 25th, 2020

Autism is a mental disability where one lacks the ability to read minds to the degree that it seriously impairs ordinary social functioning. When I say “autism” in the context of the phrase “spiritual autism”, I am not using the term to describe a mental disability, but rather to describe in an analogous way[1] the general inability of one to comprehend an action without understanding the mind behind it, especially when trying to fully comprehend Krishna’s pastimes.


For example, the loving relations between Krishna and the gopīs have nothing to do with mundane lust, the consciousness corresponding to the exchange of similar forms in this world. They are purely a manifestation of the highest devotional mind. One who is not mature in devotion, however, will fail to see that, which is why comparing the inability to understand Krishna’s pastimes and autism is such a good analogy.


Another example of what I call “spiritual autism” is the inability to understand spiritual texts without realizing the intention or mind behind their composition. This is described in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad:


“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.” (ŚU 6.23)


The import of the Vedas is that one must give up the false ego, the desire for control and superiority. To realize that import, as to understand any deep subject, some preliminary frame of reference is required, a phenomenon of learning similar to how a very young girl must first mature before understanding romance. The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad therefore reminds one that only those who are sincerely trying to transcend the false ego by humbly taking shelter of both the Lord and the spiritual master will have the frame of reference to recognize that same principle in the Vedas. On the other hand, those lacking such a reference, will be unable to comprehend its meaning despite intellectual and linguistic prowess.


I was inspired to come up with the analogy of spiritual autism to help communicate a principle that is foundational in achieving perfection on the path of bhakti. The perfection of devotional practice is to fully feel the intense devotion of the pastimes of Krishna described in the Tenth Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, a practice that requires not just understanding the stories, but also realizing the pure intention behind them. Such mature understanding takes place by a systematic reading of the preliminary nine cantos free from spiritual autism, accompanied by the experience of devotion imbibed by humbly taking shelter of Krishna and His devotees. Oh, when will that day be mine?


“His pastimes with the gopīs are all displays of transcendental existence, bliss and knowledge, although these are manifested apparently as sex love. The specific attraction of His pastimes with the gopīs should never be misunderstood. The Bhāgavatam relates these transcendental pastimes in the Tenth Canto. And in order to reach the position to understand the transcendental nature of Lord Krishna’s pastimes with the gopīs, the Bhāgavatam promotes the student gradually in nine other cantos.”  (Bhag. 1.3.28, Purport)



[1] Analogies are meant to compare specific aspects of something with something else. They are not meant necessarily to compare one object with another. For example, if you compare someone’s face to the moon you are complimenting their face for its luster, not as being large and spherical. Similarly, I am using the analogy of autism in terms of the challenge of reading minds and not defining one in total by that, as people with a particular disability such as autism may, of course excel, in other ways intellectually and personally.


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