“One has to get rid of all three stages of attachment to the material world: negligence of spiritual life, fear of a spiritual personal identity, and the conception of void that underlies the frustration of life. To get free from these three stages of the material concept of life, one has to take complete shelter of the Lord, guided by the bona fide spiritual master, and follow the disciplines and regulative principles of devotional life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.10 Purport)
Like trying to walk while in a dark room. There is no light, and this is a new room, so there is no idea of what furniture is around. Is there a light switch? Are there paintings on the walls? In this situation only so much can be learned through experience. Moreover, there is chance of injury and misidentification at every step. Not until the lights turn on will there be an opportunity to ascertain for sure what is going on.
In the same way the living entity in the material world struggles from beginning to end. Birth is the initial cause, and right away attachments are formed. Until these attachments are removed there can be no lasting peace.
It is something like trying to learn a language without help. If you leave a child in a room for years and years, without providing any instruction, they won’t learn how to talk. Formal schooling is not even required; just some association, where questions are asked and sufficient answers are provided.
Attachment in the material world goes through three stages, and the expert spiritual teacher, bona fide through participation in a chain of disciplic succession, is there to help remove the attachment and lead the humble student beyond, into true spiritual bliss.
1. Negligence of spiritual life
“I have too much to enjoy right now. I have my spouse and children to look after. My parents are in failing health. They need help. Though I’m earning a lot of money right now, that is no guarantee of the future situation. I have to stay on top of things; otherwise I could become poor one day.”
These are different material attachments that serve as excuses for avoiding spiritual life. It is seen that in families where the parents are blinded by such attachments, there is great anger and disappointment if one of the children should show a sincere interest in spiritual life. The clearest example is Prahlada Maharaja, who as a five year old boy was harassed by his father, King Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada’s lone crime, if you will, was devotion to God the person.
2. Fear of a spiritual personal identity
In this situation we get a person who was previously very materially absorbed. They had such a bitter experience that they swear off attachment altogether. Renounce everything. Their idea is to merge into the spiritual effulgence known as Brahman.
Brahman is an energy without attributes. Attaining Brahman is equivalent with liberation, which ends the cycle of birth and death. There is still a tinge of material attachment, however, since there is fear of a personal nature to the spiritual side of life. When such persons hear that there is something beyond Brahman, they become afraid, not properly understanding the concept of spiritual attributes.
3. The concept of void that leads to extreme frustration
In this stage of attachment there is frustration at the many philosophies heard. They sound contradictory. One side says to renounce everything, another says to enjoy to the fullest. Throwing their hands up in the air, the last option is to just take skepticism to the extreme. “Everything sucks. Everyone is wrong. Life is a miserable journey.” And so the only resort is to try intoxicants to find a different, albeit temporary, experience. The highs are then mistaken to be spiritual visions.
The truth is that material existence is miserable in a sense, but it is also a kind of mercy. It is the chance for souls competing with God to reform their ways. The transformation focuses on consciousness only. The rest is temporary, as the body won’t stay forever. Consciousness carries forward, from lifetime to lifetime.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
Fortunately, one process is so simple that it takes care of material attachment without requiring a dedicated focus. Just go directly to God the person. Understand and identify Him through the help of the spiritual master, the guru. Stay connected to God through transcendental sound: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Material attachment is best strengthened through four activities: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. Avoid these four and stay on the path of bhakti-yoga. The material attachment will then become purified, changing to bhava, or transcendental ecstasy. There will be attachment to God the person, who ensures that a spiritual identity remains going forward.
First spiritual life to neglect,
Then Brahman merging to expect.
Utterly confused, towards void to go,
Since clear understanding not to know.
Material attachment in these stages three,
No peace until finally free.
Help from guru and Krishna required,
Victory when by bhakti inspired.
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