Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #11 – The Seer, the Seen, and the Path of Bhakti

March 14th, 2022

Every morning Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura would step outside of his room, which was adjacent to the far wall of the temple room, and immediately take off his glasses before taking darshan of his Lordships from forty feet away, although he could hardly see without them.  A disciple who witnessed this made a humble inquiry as to why. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s answer was instructive: “I am not here to see Krishna, but to be seen by Krishna,” expressing the essence of how one in devotion views the world.


We can’t imitate Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s elevated mood. We shouldn’t therefore blind ourselves before the deity. Rather we need to open our eyes to the beauty of the deity to redirect our desires from looking at beauty for selfish enjoyment to relishing beauty in a devotional mood as an offering of the best to Krishna. What Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was therefore demonstrating, more than a particular action, was the general principle of adjusting our view of the world, even towards the deities, from seeing the world as an object for our enjoyment from the standpoint of the enjoyer and controller (the seer), to seeing ourselves as objects of God’s pleasure from the position of a humble servant (the seen). Let’s briefly unpack his message to understand its importance. First, I will introduce a basic philosophical principle and give a personal example in an attempt to put this issue in a clearer context.


When, by dint of one’s constitution, what one desires cannot be fulfilled in reality, one’s desire can only be fulfilled in Illusion. When thinking on how to illustrate this principle an example came to mind from when I went to high school. David Siegal was exceptionally squat and overweight. Somehow, he desperately wanted to make the high school basketball team. We watched as he practiced day and night, but obviously he couldn’t make the team and his aspirations failed.  Shortly afterwards, we would see him, even in the winter, carrying a basketball and wearing the uniform of the New York Knicks, the city’s professional basketball team. When approached, he would only talk in all seriousness about the great game he played the night before at Madison Square Garden. Sadly, he had gone mad in trying to fulfill his constitutionally unobtainable wishes. Similarly, we desperately want to be the enjoyer and controller, a position we cannot have by our constitution. That unattainable wish attracts the illusory potency of Krishna (maya) to fulfill our desire by covering us from the reality of God’s immanence, a view of God’s all-pervasive presence that would obliterate the false ego or our desire for and sense of superiority. Maya literally means “not this” or illusion. In other words, to satisfy our impossible wish for a sense of dominance and control, maya puts us in the illusion that Krishna’s energy is not His, but instead separate from Him and meant for our enjoyment.


Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s example was illustrating this exact same point. We are in reality “the seen”, the servant of God, but our false ego wants to be “the seer”, the center. Krishna fulfills this unreachable desire by putting us in the illusion that we are indeed primary, and that the world revolves around us to control and exploit. All devotional practices are meant to move us in consciousness from this deceptive centered self-identity by developing an attraction for Krishna, which puts God back in the center of the world and ourselves at the periphery in service as the seen. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was indicating something more—that not only can we engage in devotional service to accomplish this, but we can also make a direct conscious effort to make this shift. So, I tried something.


My sitting place in Govardhan directly faces the hill a hundred yards way. As usual, I see the world, including the sacred mount, rotating around this little speck of consciousness garbed in a man’s body with saffron robes. I closed my eyes and instead envisioned Giriraja as the seer and my seat somewhere on the periphery begging for service. I prayed: “I am not here to see You my Lord, but to be seen by You.” I then lamented my lack of devotion.





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