by Jambavan Dasa
Each and every one of us, as a spiritual practitioner, struggles to overcome material desires. For some of us, the desire may be rather gross in the form of intoxication, sexual pleasure, gluttonous eating, etc., and for some of us it exists in a subtle and often apparently innocuous form, such as the desire for praise, adoration, etc. Nevertheless, both types of desires are obstacles on the path of sadhana-bhakti. However, note that they are not offenses. After all, it is not an offense to the holy name to have a material desires but rather to maintain them. The struggle we have is that we want to give them up but because the “taste” for devotional service has not fully kicked in, we constantly find ourselves reverting back to them for solace and comfort. We know we shouldn’t, but if we don’t, our mind becomes so disturbed and thus we rationalize that it is better to just give into temptation so that we can find some peace of mind in order to be able to better practice our devotional service.
So what to do? First and foremost we have to remember that once we open Pandora’s Box it is often hard to close. Nay, it is almost impossible to close. The reason is quite simple, as Krishna tells us in the third chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, lust is never satisfied and it “burns like fire.” The more we give into our desires hoping to find relief the more we will find ourselves wanting greater pleasure and yet finding ourselves increasingly dissatisfied. At some point we have to realize that this is a losing battle and that the only thing we can do is put a tourniquet on it. There is never going to be an end to how many joints we can smoke, how many women we can land at the bar, or how much money we can have. There is never enough pleasure and selfishness only begets selfishness. The only thing we can do to overcome this situation, as Krishna tells us in the third chapter, is to use our intelligence to see the reality of the situation. We need to just walk away cold turkey, and if we do find our mind becoming too disturbed, then we need to engage ourselves in more service. The idle mind is the devil’s workshop and the problem really is that devotional service is not sweet at our stage. Either we don’t have enough of it, we are committing offenses, or we are not engaged properly.
This engagement, however, must be done under the guidance of a capable and willing spiritual master—note that I didn’t just say capable, but I also said willing. Having some type of passive relationship with a guru, whom you just twirl incense around once or twice a day is not sufficient. We need someone who we can open ourselves up to and ask for help—someone who will talk to us in person and set us right, someone who will even call us out if need be. Why do we think we can make advancement through distant learning? How much discipline would a child have if he simply put a picture of his parents up at home but never had them physically present in his life? We need that person in our life who can tailor our practice according to our unique situation so that we can find fulfillment and thus not be allured once more by the siren’s call of maya. It is for want of the physical presence of a spiritual master that we are now seeing so much stagnation and backsliding present in the Vaishnava community. We should not think that Krishna’s instruction to approach a guru is just a onetime affair. We need to continuously plead for his mercy and guidance, otherwise the task of extricating ourselves from the entanglement of material desires will certainly prove insurmountable.