“Unless one has good engagements in spiritual service, it is not possible to get out of the attachment to material service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.25.27 Purport)
“I know that I shouldn’t be attached to material life, but I can’t help it. I’m not a robot who can simply shut off the outside world. I like having a connection to something real. I enjoy talking with people. I like to have projects to work on, tasks to complete. How can I succeed in spiritual life when I have these desires?”
At the outset of getting familiar with the science of self-realization, a person learns of their true identity. “I am” does not refer to the present body. It does not refer to the hands, the legs, the place of birth, the country of residence, or even the car that is owned. “I am” refers to the spirit soul, which is transcendental to everything. Theoretical knowledge of the fact is jnana, but how to get vijnana, or practical realization? Bhakti-yoga is the practical application of that knowledge, the culmination of all yoga practice in fact. It keeps one active, and it provides endless engagements.
Aham brahmasmi. This means “I am Brahman.” Brahman is spirit. Thus aham brahmasmi is the realization mentioned previously but in the Sanskrit language. If I am not my body, then the body probably isn’t so important. This means that I should be able to survive on eating basic foods. I don’t need to travel very far and spend a lot of money to keep my body fit. Since I am not my body, I probably don’t need to wear expensive clothes. I don’t need to be in total comfort all the time, since due to the senses there actually is never full satisfaction. Desires come and go, and one is more at peace when they don’t always try to satisfy these desires.
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires – that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still – can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.70)
I am not my body, but yet I live in it. It is always with me. How am I supposed to just shut everything off? Indeed, this is a problem faced by those who do not know the source of spirit. If I simply try to remain Brahman realized, it will be very difficult for me to avoid material activities. Eventually, I will jump back into those activities, as I will have nothing else to do.
As an example, from my knowledge of Brahman, I know that charity and philanthropy aren’t so important. I see that someone is poor, but in fact they have plenty of food to eat. The difference lies only in quantity of possessions; they don’t have as many as others. Indeed, some of the most famous saints of the Vedic tradition, who were by no means weak, lived completely renounced lives. Their net worth was zero, nothing. They accepted this lifestyle voluntarily, and instead of being lamentable, they were rightfully praised by those seeking spiritual wisdom.
But since I don’t have good engagements, I will be tempted to do some work on behalf of others. I will think that opening hospitals and feeding children is the way to go in life, forgetting the fact that those who aren’t Brahman realized already take part in such engagements. They think the body is everything, and so in behavior I am no different from them. My knowledge of spirit has not made a tangible difference.
Bhakti-yoga provides good engagements. There are nine processes, as spelled out by Prahlada Maharaja in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. You can hear if you want to. That is a good engagement. Like reading a book or listening to a lecture, you can hear the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has endless play in His spiritual land of Vrindavana. You can chant. In fact, this is something you can do all day if you like. You’ll need some good names to chant, and thankfully the maha-mantra provides them: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
These two processes alone, hearing and chanting, can fill up the time in each day. You can hear and then use that hearing to chant. Chanting is also accomplished through describing. What you know about God, what you learned from hearing from Him and those dear to Him – relay that information to others. Present it in an as artful a way as you like. Music and film are just forms of expression after all. The content creators are trying to get a message across, and they do it in a way that is enjoyable to them and hopefully to the audience as well. So you can use the same means of expression for divine love.
You can feed others through worshiping the deity [archanam] and distributing the remnants, the spiritually blessed food. You can travel to various pilgrimage sites. You can keep up with the news of how others in the same field of devotion are doing. You can daily appreciate the efforts of saints who came before you, who paved the way towards transcendence. When a king builds a bridge in a city, even the ants are able to cross over. Similarly, with the path towards eternal devotional life laid out by the saints of the bhakti tradition, things for us became a whole lot easier. The greatest difficulty lies in making the decision: to follow bhakti or not.
When knowledge of Brahman to get,
On renunciation’s path heart is set.
Divine vision, viewing all equally,
Then what, to sit only idly?
Better to have engagements good,
From which Brahman still understood.
Bhakti-yoga path giving full arrangement,
To fill each day with good engagements.