“How much is push and how much is pull? By push, I mean the conscious way we push ourselves towards spiritual development through our intellectual understanding of its necessity. By pull, I mean the natural attraction that draws us towards development. Both, I suppose are interwoven, but often I feel there to be a tension between the two. Is there a proper balance?”
In the beginning, the attraction is often more to a paradigm that answers many questions that no one has answered successfully for us in the past. That propels us initially to have the faith to investigate, and so we undertake to learn the elements involved in the practices of Bhakti (karma, modes of nature, making the yogic link, etc.). This is our “push.” This is the beginning of Sadhana-Bhakti (practices that are favorable to the “flowering” of Bhakti in our hearts).
This is an important and necessary stage, akin to learning the scales when you begin to study piano. At first we must push ourselves a bit to practice the piano, because, frankly, we can’t produce beautiful music with our hands yet. So, in the beginning “push” is prominent, but there is a hint of what is to come, and we hear others who can play, and we want what they have, we sense it is life-changing and beautiful, and with that, there is a “pull.” But at this stage in our Bhakti practice, we may not directly be all that “emotionally involved” yet. But if it all resonates with us, we may look back occasionally, but we continue following this intriguing path to see where it might lead.
As we progress further down the path, new landscapes appear, and it gets lovelier and lovelier, and we begin to feel pulled, we want to progress faster. We want more—our hearts feel pulled by Krishna from within. Our hands now know exactly where to go on the spiritual keyboard to create music. It may not yet be a full blown symphony of the heart, but it is original and pure and pleasurable.
In time there is no need to “push,” it is most, or all “pull.” Along the way, we don’t consult the steps, we may not analyze where we are, unless perhaps we happen on them in our reading on occassion. We just invite this beautiful Bhakti path into our lives and trust if we continue, we will reach the goal.
This reminds me of my Aikido training. Aikido is a complex martial art. Very complex. When I began my training I was pulled by my sensei’s mastery. It was frankly a thing of beauty to watch. I wanted to be able to do what he did. Initially, I felt I was slow to learn, others in my class had taken other martial arts and they seemed ahead of me in all facets. My sensei said, “Don’t pay attention to that, compete only with yourself.” I trusted his words and did just that. I did a lot of “pushing” to keep getting on the mat and training, in the first few years. When I finally received my black belt, I remember looking back and thinking how all along, I didn’t think I was progressing all that much.
I remember that Prabhupada used a nice example on this point, as he likened us to iron filings, and Krsna to the consummate magnet. When we choose material life we’re (consciously or unconsciously) covered-over (akin to heavily encrusted, or dirty, particles of iron). Taking up yogic/spiritual life is the process whereby we clean away the layers of “dirt” covering the filings. Then we’re in a position to be more readily attracted to Krishna and spiritual life. The state of attraction is always there, it’s really a case of how one wishes to respond. Of course, the closer we move toward Krsna, the stronger the attraction, and the more that’s revealed.
As we decide more and more that we want to get more serious on this path, there are innumerable things we can do to speed the process. There is much to read, we make sure to offer our food, we increase our chanting, we pull Krishna into our lives much like we would bring a new friend in. We begin to feel more comfortable in the association of other Bhaktas, and when we experience that taste, we start to have less of a taste for purely mundane activities. I believe AC mentioned how, as children, we naturally upon experiencing higher “tastes” in life—give up playing with dolls or playing cowboys & Indians. And just like there is no trauma to not playing with our dolls anymore, that is how we gradually change our focus. Maybe one day as an adolescent, a girlfriend might say, “Let’s play dolls!” and our thought is, ” It’s not really fun for me anymore.” But that doesn’t mean we no longer have any fun. It just means what is fun to us has changed.
The 1st phase (sraddha) is dependent upon our desire to take up spiritual life, while later it becomes a combination of deepening that desire because we are experiencing what’s revealed. As Amit Acara mentioned last Sunday in class, as we engage in devotional service (Sadhana Bhakti-yoga) we receive assistance all along the way. Initiated Bhakti-yogis receive an enormous leg up, so to speak, from their respective teachers/gurus—both Initiating (those who accept our karma and situate us so we can, properly and ultimately, relate with Krsna), and from our Instructing gurus (those who give proper and relevant instructions). And of course, Paramatma (localized aspect of Krsna within every living entity’s body) helps, as nicely explained in Bg.—from within—as He sanctions what our actual desires are. Hence the admonition in yoga to control the mind, for as we desire—so goes our consciousness, and therefore our “life.”
An intellectual understanding of the need for spiritual life is necessary, but it is only a preliminary one, particularly because we’re making this assessment with our material mind and intellect—which, by their very nature of being material, can’t in- and of-themselves make the leap to the transcendental platform. That is, engaging material phenomena—can give us material results only. However, when the mind becomes more and more cleansed and understanding deepens by following the discipline of Sadhana-Bhakti, then we’re afforded greater insight, and the attraction to Krishna is spontaneous and deeply heartfelt. Depending upon the depth and density of material conditioning, everyone responds, initially, and necessarily, at a different pace.
Of course there must be a balance if one’s to be successful, and thus you’ve probably heard us state that real, or actual, spiritual/yogic life is a GRADUAL process. It’s a little like choosing sides between something which is known and comfortable (and we know what material life can provide), and something hazy in the beginning—but which supplies us what we’ve been looking for, for lifetimes (i.e. yogic/spiritual life). The two can’t even be compared, and yet, because of material consciousness—in the beginning it is a little hard to have confidence in the transition.