“Liberation from material contamination is called anartha-nivritti, indicating a diminishing of all unwanted things. This is the test of development in devotional service. If one actually develops the devotional attitude, he must be freed from the material contamination of illicit sex, intoxication, gambling and meat-eating. These are the preliminary symptoms. When one is freed from all material contamination, his firm faith awakens in devotional service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 23.13 Purport)
The Sanskrit word anartha has the literal translation of “unprofitable.” In the context of advancing in spiritual life, anarthas are those things which obstruct. Due to the illusory energy of maya, anarthas may give a false appearance at first. In that sense, they look to be profitable, but they have the opposite effect underneath the surface.
1. Deflected attention
“I need to focus on this one issue first. After this is resolved, everything will be okay. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about what is really important in life. I know that this birth is meant for finding the Divine, for rising above the dualities of happiness and sadness, friendship and enmity, gain and loss, and so forth.”
“Let me just relax a little. I spend so much time immersed in this culture, in hearing and implementing principles, in trying to remember the right way to do things, even when it is not so obvious.
“Sometimes I need a break. You call these anarthas, but they are necessary distractions to me. Don’t worry, I won’t indulge too much. I can quit at any time. It is up to me.”
3. Uneasiness in how to maintain association
“You tell me that I should focus on other things, but this one issue is literally life or death to me. I need to know if I can maintain the association of saintly people moving forward. If not, based on the restrictions imposed by the demon-led government in my area, I will have to think about living elsewhere.
“I can’t just bury my head in the sand and pretend that everything is okay with the outside world. We have to be practical, to an extent. I don’t want my progress to get erased due to lack of good association.”
The exact anartha is not so important, as the effect will essentially be the same. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada lists four categories of activities as the greatest concentration of anartha: meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex.
He explains that a person can tell if they are progressing along the Divine path by observing the gradual diminishing effect of these anarthas. A similar question we see posed by Shri Rama to the female ascetic named Shabari.
कच्चित्ते निर्जिता विघ्नाः कच्चित्ते वर्धते तपः।
कच्चित्ते नियतः क्रोध आहारश्च तपोधने।।
kaccitte nirjitā vighnāḥ kaccitte vardhate tapaḥ।
kaccitte niyataḥ krodha āhāraśca tapodhane।।
“Have you conquered all the obstacles in the way of your practice of austerities? Has your practice of austerity and penance steadily increased? O lady who possesses asceticism for wealth [tapodhane], have you been able to control your anger and your eating?” (Lord Rama speaking to Shabari, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 74.8)
If we are following the proper path, we should automatically perceive less interest in things like eating and sleeping. It is not that we stop the activities altogether, but they no longer serve as the primary basis for activity. That is to say, I eat to live instead of the other way around. I sleep so that I can have sufficient energy the next day for devotional activities.
If the opposite occurs, if I have recently lost control over the senses, it means that something should be corrected. A simple adjustment, as is automatically made in other areas, will do the trick. If I am distracted at doing my day job, I might put away the smartphone for a little bit. If I have been eating too much, maybe I try substituting healthier foods in the daily routine.
Direct connection with the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the best way to remove anarthas. His association is most profitable, after all. The more time we spend with Him, the better off we will be. He is not situated far away. He is as close by as the heart. He can manifest through sound: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
I can see Him in beautiful, artistic depictions. I can remember Him through hearing of His glories. I can witness His immeasurable grace and kindness in the dealings He has with others. I can experience His continued mercy in the renewing opportunity to connect with Him, in the discipline provided by the bona fide spiritual master.
Anarthas with negative effect,
Sometimes subtly to detect.
Such as distractions abound,
Proper focus not found.
Or in the wrong direction going,
Supreme my best interests knowing.
Such that when to Him always connected,
Path to concentration perfected.
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