It seems to me (and i hope i’m wrong) that the bulk of aspiring Vaisnavas in America have a decreased enthusiasm for spiritual advancement since the last decade or two. And with mainstream societies values slowly aligning with ours, (increased acceptance of vegetarianism, vast number of yoga enthusiasts, etc.) i would have expected to see another burst of enthusiasm for the imbibment of spiritual principles.
We may get confused by the word “principles” because of our well-known term “four regulative principles”, but vegetarianism, sobriety, informed decision-making and sexual abstinence are merely details that support a higher principle. To consider these four to be principles on their own, without their proper connection to the actual spiritual principle, is a big mistake. We learn from Bhagavad-gita (3.13) that even vegetarianism is subject to the laws of karma unless the food is first offered to Krsna. From this example it is easy to see that vegetarianism is the detail and the principle is to put Krsna in the center of our action of eating. And it is the same with the other three “regulative principles”. Simply following a “rule” does not necessarily imply that one is in line with the principle.
For good measure, i will address one more term that i believe we have ill-defined for ourselves. “Sadhu-sanga” literally means to implement into your own life, the way of the advanced spiritualist. In order for something to be considered sadhu-sanga, there has to be an exchange of transcendental subject matter. Merely being near a saintly person does not qualify as sadhu-sanga unless said transcendental exchange occurs. So going to the movies or out to eat with other aspiring Vaisnavas does not necessarily count as sadhu-sanga. Not surprisingly the determining factor on whether or not something qualifies as sadhu-sanga is, yet again, whether or not Krsna is in the center of our action, thoughts or words.
So, as it turns out, there is really only one principle with several supporting details. Srila Prabhupada named his movement the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, which very precisely points out this single principle. But unfortunately this term is also commonly misused or even abbreviated, allowing us to miss the point of being a member of this most important movement.
i myself admitted that i could be wrong about the decreased aspiration for spiritual advancement. After all, we also learn in the Bhagavad-gita that, externally, spiritual actions and material actions can be indistinguishable, so who am i to say that people are not doing what they are supposed to? And although it may seem that way, i am certainly not trying to make that claim. What i am trying to do, however, is point out that in general when something is running properly, there are certain noticeable side effects that come along with it.
Srila Prabhupada instructed us to “boil the milk” (which is not referring to making burfee)… He wanted the devotees in his society to become cultured ladies and gentlemen so that we would give an accurate example of what our society has to offer. If we fail to attempt to continue to make spiritual advancement, we are not properly showing what our philosophy is capable of doing.
It is important for me, at this point, to say that we should be very cautious about what comes next. When we start talking about expected side effects of one properly engaged in spirituality, it is our conditioned nature to use that knowledge to judge others and not ourselves. But not only are we unqualified to pass such judgments, when we do so it greatly hampers our chance to continue to make spiritual advancement… it’s not called the mad elephant for nothing. So please be very careful to only use the following information to specifically and exclusively evaluate your own self, as there is no way for one to understand anyone else’s personal situation, nor is it our duty to “fix” others against their will.
It is said in the Srimad Bhagavatam (5.18.12) that “All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord's external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?”
Although it is not expected that we possess all of these qualities immediately after taking up the devotional process, it is expected that they at least gradually and continually appear in our character as a side effect of our spiritual advancement.
So here is my proposition. i invite everyone who reads this to do a little experiment for a couple of weeks. (i did this once before at a Sunday feast lecture in Philadelphia and the results were interesting). i want each of you to think of a devotee that you look up to and determine what quality that person possesses that you admire the most (humility, tolerance, steadfastness, detachment, determination, kindness, truthfulness, magnanimity, knowledge, etc.). For the next two weeks, try to consciously enhance this particular quality within your own self, and take note of how it affects your life (are there challenges or obstacles which make this quality difficult to embody?, does this newly reinforced quality effect your dealings with others?, do others seem to notice or react to this change?, was it easy?, has it enhanced your spiritual life? etc.)
Of course, this experiment is not to make you a more likable person or a more efficient worker. As we addressed before, these are mere details to a higher principle, so do not try to embody these qualities because it will make your dealings with others more pleasant, embody them because it is the type of behavior that Krsna prefers and is the type of behavior that exists in the spiritual world. Look at it as training for our reentry into Sri Krsna’s eternal pastimes.
i also request that if you think this is a worthy exercise, please send a link to your friends or share it on your preferred social media site.
And finally, i hope that those who attempt this exercise will email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with their subsequent experiences so that i can share the results with others (anonymously if you prefer).
In my current situation, i am without much physical devotee association, so i have to resort to e-association, or essociation if you will, so please write me with your thoughts (positive or negative).