Service is not an act, but a habit

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

What if there are more to being miserable, than just learning to endure?

Jayanta dasa: Srila Gurudeva, as we perform our service, how can we know in our hearts that we are actually pleasing you?
Srila Gurudeva: Your soul will be happy. You will realize, “I am happy.” If one truly renders service to Srila Gurudeva, he will realize this. By seeing Gurudeva’s face, you will feel his benediction and mercy. On the other hand, if guru or Vaiasnavas are not satisfied with you, you will know it because you feel some unhappiness:

sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhoksaje
ahaituky apratihata
yayatma suprasidati
Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.6)

[The supreme occupation (dharma) for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self. *]

The symptom of unmotivated service is that one will surely be happy.
Source: Remembering The Lord’s Pure Devotees


So I’m right back at the “Chant and be happy” quote which I have problems agreeing with. At first I thought that there may be two divisions, material happiness and spiritual happiness. Materiel happiness is equated to tasting a little bit of honey while being in a perilous situation. Material happiness I know a little about, I have 35 years of experience in that field knowing moments of it’s counterpart with an “un” before it.

Then I realised that happiness is a feeling. When speaking about spiritual life, there words “eternity” and “ever new”, “fresh” are used which can also relate to feelings. Yet I still think there is a difference to spiritual happiness, but I don’t know what.

So what service could I do that would make Gurudeva happy with me? None. I try to chant every day, but happiness isn’t really the word I would use. “Calmness” and “leaning towards that place of rightness” is more my experience. Happiness seems to be such a huge word that requires so much effort that it’s intimidating. Trying to serve Gurudeva is intimidating. When I think of what it would require of me to serve Gurudeva, I get intimidated. I have more than enough of dealing with a job and a son, and I’m overwhelmed. I don’t have what it takes to distribute books, throw sunday parties with food and a lecture etc. When I get my son to bed, I crash in the sofa and I’m usually in bed by nine pm.

I want to experience that Gurudeva is happy with me. I hope he will settle for me reading the vedas, and I will try to chant a bit more rounds today like I do every day.

I will let you know if the happiness settles in.

What of my personality will be lost?

When I was younger than 10, I was with my mother and two siblings. My mother gave me some sweet and when my siblings came, she didn’t have enough for the three of us so she took the sweet and gave it to my two other siblings instead and said “You will get a sweet at another time instead”. When she said it, I thought to myself: “That never happens”. I understood at that moment that my siblings were the preference before me.

Experiences I have in life changes me, hopefully for the better. Experiences, thoughts, life philosophy shapes my personality.

So when I die, what part of my personality will be with me when I become reborn?

Brajanath dasa: Vidura Prabhu is actually asking his question: Is there any similarity between our material conditioned personality and our spiritual personality?

Srila Narayana Maharaja: No. We now have a different soul, mind, body and senses. In this world there are twenty-eight categories, including the eleven senses, the sense objects and other elements, and they are all different with respect to one another. On the other hand, in the spiritual world all these aspects of a person are one. The jiva in the spiritual world has senses, mind, body, and soul, and they are all one spiritual substance.

Walking with a saint 2008, page 287.

How can I reconcile this with my own experience?

I try to spend a portion of every day on doing japa and reading. These spiritual activities and beliefs are hard-grained in me and if a day goes by without some spiritual activity I feel like I have wasted that day. That my life has become worthless because I missed out on just that day.

I have no problem that my masters degree in IT will be lost when I die, but all the life experiences I’ve had that makes up parts of my personality – I don’t want to loose those skills. The skills and perceptions I’ve gained, aren’t they equal to spiritual realizations that will stay with me? I always thought that the personality changes made me closer to my spiritual personality. 

How can I reconcile this? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Once one is advanced in devotional service, his spiritual assets are never lost under any circumstances. Whatever spiritual advancement he has achieved continues. This is confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā. Even if a bhakti-yogī falls, he takes birth in a rich family or family of brāhmaṇas, in which he again starts devotional activities from the point where he left off. Although Vṛtrāsura was known as an asura, or demon, he did not lose his consciousness of Kṛṣṇa or devotional service.

Srimad-Bhagavatam Purport 6.17.38

So what stays? What leaves? I thought that spiritual advancements in this material life affected ones personality, making the personality gradually more spiritual.

I get that there is a difference in ones material personality and ones spiritual personality. I just thought the material personality very slowly changed into a spiritual one. So when one receives ones siddha deha (spiritual identity), the process of shedding the material personality to a spiritual personality is finished.

There seem to be a contradiction here where on one hand one states that spiritual advancement is never lost, but on the other hand it is stated that ones spiritual personality is different from ones personality here in this material world.

So what is it?

Westernized karma philosophy

Ever experienced an unpleasant person which acts badly, and afterwards thought to yourself: “What goes around, comes around”? That’s a westernized version of karma philosophy.

How about this one – “Good deeds pay off”? Every action results to a consequence, but when we apply this thinking to people and actions that have no apparent consequence, we would like to think that there is some justice above ourselves that apply itself. Like a natural law – which is what karma is. A natural law that applies itself whether we see it or not.

The truth is that when you and I insist on that all-too-comfortable paradigm of cosmic score keeping, we’re no longer talking about Christianity. In fact, what we reveal is that we’ve adopted (unwittingly) a Westernized form of Hinduism. We are talking, in other words, about karma. If you are a bad person and things are going well for you, it is only a matter of time before karma catches up with you and “you get yours.” If you are good person, the inverse is true: just be patient and your good deeds will come back to you.

Read the post which inspired this train of thoughts

Learning versus studying

Learning isn’t sitting down, being told harikatha or listening to lectures “very hard”. Learning is when you have assimilated the teaching, know it by heart – and in our sampradaya, live it.

So how do you learn? I have read so many spiritual books, but ask me a question about it and I will stutter and try to my best to answer. I will not be happy with my answers because I will not find them sufficient, I will not feel content with the answers I’ve given. If I’m not content about it, then the one asking the question probably haven’t gotten much out of my answers either.

Some years ago I asked Syamarani didi this question “How do we learn the philosophy enough to speak about it properly?”

Answer: You have to just cram it, learn it by heart by forcing the mind to remember it. Trying again and again until it sits.

I got that answer, I think I expected it. The trouble was, it doesn’t work for me. I have  half-hearted attempts behind me that have failed – for years. The reason I work within IT and have a masters degree is because it’s practical learning. You program something and it either works or not. When learning IT there is certainly theory to learn, but even the theory is practical and relates to the world and how things work.

Yesterday, I read something that must have been brewing in my mind:

Raghunatha Bhatta dasa: Yesterday you were speaking about our Sripada Tirtha Maharaja. You described how he became a good devotee.

Srila Narayana Maharaja: He was not learned in the beginning. (At the present moment he knows several thousands verses -ed.)

Walking with a saint 2008

I connected this conversation to learning today.

It’s all about the verses. The ability to quote verses from the vedas is the basis. When we speak some philosophy, we are supposed to quote a verse to substantiate our statements. We are not supposed to concoct our own philosophy, and quoting vedic verses validates that we are not speaking bullshit.

But moreover, by learning verses by heart it will be easier to speak the philosophy and what is meant by the verses. I still have to do cramming to learn the verses, but I think it will flow easier then.

I suddenly understand why Kirtana is so important. Kirtana is singing of the vedic verses,  they are the gems of our philosophy. There you get the learning, the praying, the moods, the absorption.

So I will try this approach now – learn a new verse by heart. Cramming it – thinking about it’s meaning and go from there. That seems like a practical approach for me. Studying – the practical way.

But it can’t be those verses that is most used by Gurudeva – the most important ones. It have to be verses on themes that I’m interested in for the moment.

I think I know which one will be the first. The one that speaks to me for the moment since I have no progress in spiritual life.

hena kṛṣṇa-nāma yadi laya bahu-bāra
tabu yadi prema nahe, nahe aśrudhāra

tabe jāni, aparādha tāhāte pracura
kṛṣṇa-nāma-bīja tāhe nā kare ańkura

“If one chants the exalted holy name of the Lord again and again and yet his love for the Supreme Lord does not develop and tears do not appear in his eyes, it is evident that because of his offenses in chanting, the seed of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa does not sprout.”

Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Ādi 8.29-30