Are you really sure you want spiritual advancement???

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Image by nitainam via Flickr

If I want to know why it has been “all this time” and I am still not “making advancement” I should note that one can spend an infinite amount of time in the 4th stage of progress – anartha-nivritti. The other 8 stages all progress from one to another relatively quickly and surely. But anartha-nivritti is the major hangup. If my observations are correct, about 98% of us devotees get stuck in a nearly infinite loop here.

Anartha-Nivritti means “getting rid of impurity.” There are four categories of impurity to discard:

1) desire to get pleasant experiences
2) desire to avoid unpleasant experiences
3) desire to enjoy side effects of spiritual culture
4) lack of appreciation and offense towards elements of bhakti

I’ve listed them in ascending order of how problematic they are, and how stubborn they are.

Number 3 is a real killer for many of us. I think for me this may have been the big one that sent me into a 10 year loop. At the beginning of that loop Number 4 went out of control, and that is always the direct cause of “death” – offenses towards devotional elements.

Why aren’t we getting anywhere? A car with the gear in neutral just loops the engine around without engaging the wheels. It makes a lot of noise, consumes gasoline and creates pollution – but it doesn’t do the most important thing that a car is supposed to do… move you forward. We all hit a loop in this anartha nivritti stage which disengages our spiritual wheels. Then we feel like we are putting in effort and making all the noises and motions – but there is no progression.

How do we “engage the clutch” and get the vehicle moving forward?

Are you really sure you want to? Look how people react to Aindra… they piss their pants, they are so scared of him. Are you really sure you want to move forward in spiritual life? If Krsna opened the door to Vaikuntha would you stay or go through it. Sounds like a stupid question – but when you are actually put into that situation all the sudden it aint such a stupid question anymore. Now we know why we are in neutral. We are scared of letting go of everything and moving forward – because after anartha-nivritti, spirituality gets mega-real.

If we read about it a lot, hear about it a lot, and (best of all) if we are lucky enough to see examples of people who are doing it (Sriman Aindra, Srila Gurudev, Sri Shuddha Vaishnava Gana, etc.) we will build up the courage to go for it.

How do we “go for it.”

Mahaprabhu says, about #3, “as soon as you see the weed, rip it out of the ground relentlessly!” As soon as we detect that we are trying to enjoy someone’s attention, respect, admiration, or whatever, as soon as we detect it (which will usually be quite late into being in the midst of it, unfortunately) we have to kill it – rip it out. I think the best way is admiting one’s perverse desires, and paying lots and lots of sincere obeisances and respects to other people as often as possible in as many ways as possible and in symbolic as well as practical expressions (not just folded hands or obeisances – but really giving other people positions of authority and respect, really learning from and listening to others).

About #4, Mahaprabhu says, “do not let the elephant of offenses into the garden of devotion – build high, high fenses and keep him far away!” What does it mean to “build a fence” against offenses?

First of all I have heard and observed that criticism breeds more criticism, malice breeds more malice – and conversely praise and love also breed more of the same. Building a fence means that you have to risk being a “devotee-nerd” and when someone is being offensive, put them on the list of people with whom you don’t discuss important matters, are not intimate, and would rather not hang out with if possible to tactfully do so. I think that is at least a good portion of the fence mahaprabhu is talking about.

Other people are really not that important, though. What is in my own mind is more disgusting. What I try to do is take the digusting, offensive bits of my mind and make them into little characters with names and identities, and throw them outside my fence. In other words I don’t want to give any leeway to the negative components of my own personality which are offensive to devotional elements.

With these measure in place, we can concentrate on getting past anartha-nivritti. Past anartha-nivritti is nishtha, and we should set that in our gps as the next destination. We should start trying to constantly hear about Krsna’s name, qualities/intricacies, pastimes, and always seeing his beautiful form with our eyes and in our mind. I have found that when I concentrate on pulling out the weeds and reinforcing the fences that it is realatively effortless and spontaneous to more constantly be doing Krsna-sravana-kirtana – always hearing and chanting about Krsna. It seems like, “oh no way, can’t do that.” But its really not hard at all. The hard part is just clearing the pit, dancing is easy. We have to clear out all of the weeds and elephants in our garden – then growing the bhakti plant is really fun and easy.

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  1. In my opinion, the fact that anartha-nivrtti is the stage where we (have to) struggle hard just cannot be emphasized enough. The path of bhakti is no plain sailing and devotees need to be aware of this. The idea of “chant and be happy” may sound slightly romantic and imply no hard work, but that happiness will appear only after the anarthas are destroyed, which again will only come after putting in great effort in serving one’s sad-guru and Vaisnavas, overcoming thus one’s bad habits and attachments.

    I find this a great post and a great blog as well, obviously written by someone who lives what he writes. Also, I really appreciate the fact that you do not always use the typical expressions used in our philosophy, but rather try to employ everyday speech and examples, like the one with engaging the clutch 🙂

    Thank you very much for inspiration.

    Hari Hari


  2. Vraja Kishor das is a writer and devotee that touches many hearts.
    Because I am a person that never really learned to read or write so
    well, for me his best work is his booklet “Who Are The Hare Krishna’s.”
    The to the point format with short yet precise explanations make it perfect
    for the masses of less intelligent peps like myself.
    I am trying to find this great work so I can translate it into Thai and
    distribute it at my prasadam restaurant I plan to open here in Thailand.
    Does anyone knows where I can obtain a
    copy of “Who Are The Hare Krishna’s.” I would be very grateful if you
    can direct me to it. Either hard copy or on the net will be great. Please
    contact my e-mail if you can help.
    Hare Krishna


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