Be a Transcendentalist

Q&A with Swami B.V. Tripurari

Q: I sometimes encounter a frustration between what I see as the paradox of living my day to day life and pursuing bhakti. We know that nothing in this world  is essentially real in contrast to the higher dimensions of consciousness, but I’m still living in it and interacting with others with a more common view of what constitutes reality. Should we expect to experience some frustration in our practice, and would you say that this feeling is a step in the right direction?

Swami: Yes, we have theoretical knowledge–and some experience–that the spiritual reality is different than the empirical reality that is experienced from day to day. To navigate the course between this theoretical understanding of the ultimate reality and the practical reality in which we live can be complicated and frustrating. Therefore it is important that we become grounded in the theory–and thereby grounded in our practice–which can then afford us experience. This gives us roots in the transcendent ideal that enable us to function in the empirical day to day reality very well.

To function well in the world involves some measure of detachment from it. Materialistic people agree, believing that truth lies in the objective perspective. Counselors often advise that emotional and psychological self-sufficiency is helpful for healthy relationships. While it may seem cold, detachment is really the first step in actual love. We stop seeing others as objects for our own gratification and begin seeing them as they are, with their own lives in which we are participants. By objectifying all that is around us and attempting to make our lives work by attaching more things, we put ourselves in the center, and that is not where we actually reside.

The more that our theoretical grasp improves, the better our practice will be, eventually grounding us in experience. That enables us to work in the world fully and passionately despite knowing that it’s not a complete or accurate picture of existence. It’s simply a dimension of consciousness in which we find ourselves, so let us be fully functioning in it while being rooted in the transcendental perspective. This is what it means to be a sadhaka, a transcendentalist.

Eventually there comes a time when we can step into the fourth dimension–the static dimension of enlightened consciousness–more readily. We may start to appear more as a transcendentalist from an objective point of view, becoming less involved in the day to day and living a more contemplative lifestyle. Bhakti however is centered on the fifth dimension–turiyatitah gopalawhich is a dynamic dimension. Thus, we find transcendentalists like Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who raised twelve children and was fully active as a magistrate until finally retiring for the last four years of his life.

Q: Right. I sometimes feel like shying away from deeper practice, because I think if it’s difficult to navigate now, then what to speak of when you go in further? But I think you are saying that if you do go further, it’s actually a comfort and becomes easier.

Swami: Yes, we will actually be more adept in playing our role if we understand it for what it is. Rooted in this reality, we can play out our role of a parent, etc. effectively without becoming lost within it. We need to live in the bigger picture.

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