Material and Spiritual – What’s the balance?

By Yamuna Sundari devi dasi - 18.5 2023

It’s a general concern of devotees which we hear in many of the classes, forums and seminars on what can be the real key to balance one’s material and spiritual lives.

There is a very interesting statement made by famous French priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience but we are spiritual beings having a human (material) experience.” It’s true that because of our past conditionings, desires and lifetimes of karma, we are having a particular body. It’s not easy being in the material world where there are challenges faced at all levels. We feel now life is perfect but then again another challenge by Maya is brought to our doorsteps. It’s like a cricket match where-in we feel we have hit a four, but the opponent at the final moment takes our wicket – and we are OUT!

Let’s briefly discuss a few of the prominent challenges we face:

Physical challenges: The material body is vulnerable at every stage. As Prahalad Maharaja quotes Padam padam yad vipadam na tesam. There can be accidents, diseases, physical disorders, harm by other living entities or unforeseen natural calamities. All this practically damages our routine functioning and also hampers our regular devotional services.

Mental and Emotional challenges: With advancement of Kali-yuga, there is also advancement in the mentality of desiring instant sense gratification. We need quick fulfillment of our desires and nourishment of the needs of the false ego like greed, pride, fame and lust. Failure of such an outcome leads to criticizing, fault-finding, enmity, anger, frustration, delusion, depression at different degrees and suicides. When we bring such deep rooted weeds of anarthas with us into our Krishna consciousness, it creates blunders in our sadhana and relationships with devotees and family members. We make offenses and become complacent in our dealings with them.

Social and financial challenges: We want to follow what the whole world is doing so that we are considered a worthy part of the society. As HH Devamrita Swami quotes brilliantly, “the motto of the world today is work, buy, consume and die.” So due to pressure from peers, family, friends and society, we are being pulled relentlessly into these oceanic waves of Maya. Even though, as practicing devotees we internally deride such desires, but the pressures of the society keep us bound. Sometimes due to that, our sadhana and services are neglected.

So, what’s the way out? What’s the medicine for all of us here in dukhalayam ashasvatam – the temporary place of miseries?

Well, the answer to that is simple – to take the medicine of chanting the Holy Name, to hear about the Lord’s activities in association of devotees and to render service to the spiritual master and devotees in a most humble mood of a servant of a servant. Yes, it’s that simple.

Srila Prabhupada, however, states that Krishna consciousness is simple for the simple and complicated for the complicated. Now what does being simple mean? Simple means to have complete faith that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Simple means to have faith in the words of the Acharyas and follow their instructions as a servant in a humble state of mind. This faith on the teachings and words of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada will then become our shield against all of Maya’s weapons to shaken our devotional service.

We read in the childhood pastimes of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, that once Nimai delivered a small baby puppy dog who had accepted His shelter and grace. By mere touch of the lotus-like hands of Nimai, the puppy dog experienced great ecstasies and began to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra swaying his arms in the air and in this way, the little puppy was delivered and went back to Godhead. Now we can wonder what that little puppy had in him to attract the Lord of Lords? Well, the puppy dog only had a submissive attitude and a simple heart to accept the shelter of Nimai. That is the qualification required to have access to Lord’s inconceivable mercy.

All our spiritual practices like chanting, hearing, association of devotees, preaching etc. is to internally bring our consciousness to a level where all our activities become spiritualized. We might be just taking care of our home, taking care of children, going for a job or doing school/university studies – it is all done by keeping Krishna in the center. For instance, if somebody is doing a job, he/she can see it as a service to Krishna – that with all the money I earn, I will maintain my home which is a temple of the Lord, I will maintain my family who are all parts and parcels of Krishna. By serving them, I am pleasing Krishna and that mood actually spiritualizes our activities. With that money, we can buy foodstuffs used for preparing offerings to the home deities, buy paraphernalia for worship of deities. The rest of the money can be used or given for the propagation of Krishna conscious activities. In this way, even doing a material job for Krishna’s pleasure can give us deep fulfillment and happiness.

Therefore, we need to try and try until we succeed in finding the right balance. Meanwhile, we need to water our bhakti-lata bija with the right amounts of hearing, chanting, avoiding offenses to Vaishnavas and Holy Name and rendering devotional services in a humble and tolerant mood. That is the guaranteed way for perfection.

Below is an excerpt from a very inspiring talk given by HH Bhaktividya Purna Swami titled ‘Progressing in spiritual life’ at Brisbane in 2011, which perfectly concludes this topic:

“The idea of progressing in Krishna Consciousness means you’re going to progress by the quality of your sadhana, your chanting, and your association with devotee – that’s going to be your major principle. But aside from that, another element is what it is that we’re doing because of our conditioned nature. For instance, it’s due to our conditioned nature that we wear the particular clothes that we do, live where we do, eat what we do, spend our money how we spend our money, or even use the toilet how we think you should use the toilet. And why is it called material? Because you don’t see the Krishna connection to it – that’s all. It’s that simple. So the point is something is material because you don’t see Krishna, and then it becomes spiritual because you do. So you live in two worlds at once, which must be a great distress. You have to tear yourself between what you think is real life and your spiritual application. But that’s only because you’re in the illusion that whatever you’re doing is real because you feel you need to do it, not because it’s connected to Krishna. And this is an illusion because that’s not true – it’s that simple. So if you want to progress, it means that whatever you’re doing now – it doesn’t matter what it is – you have to see Krishna in it. That’s the only definition of Maya: that which you think that functions without Krishna. “My car runs because I put petrol in it and I started the engine and I paid my road tax, that’s why it works”. No, it works because of Krishna’s potency. If you can see that – then you’re in Krishna Consciousness. “