Holiness is a two-way street

(This article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times on 8 June 2002.) IN BHAGAVAD-GITA, Krishna promises Arjuna: (Ye Yatha Mam Prapadyante, Tams Tathaiva Bhajamy Aham, Mama Vartmanuvartante, Manushyah Partha Saravasha) that He will award him if, he surrenders. Yet we tend to think that saintliness is a kind of blissful detachment, an advanced kind of mystical merging into oneness with the universe and everything in it. There is no personhood involved, only an ethereal unity with Brahman and renunciation of things of this world. It’s habitual among western theologians, even in the Vatican, to consider Vedanta only as Advaita or oneness. But the world’s leading religious thinkers are now beginning to realise that there is such a thing as Dvaita Vedanta, or dualism, within Eastern philosophy. Modern psychologists tend to look askance at codependency. But let’s face it – we simply don’t experience happiness without some form of dependency. Knowingly or unknowingly we depend on response. Without reciprocation life is lonely and desolate. It has been said that love of God is the thread that connects all religions. But love requires knowledge of the loved one. There is much talk of love of God, but what does it mean? A lover always has a beloved and vice-versa. Nobody likes the ‘silent treatment’ at home. Similarly, spirituality is not about silence. It is not a hackneyed affair. You can’t really love the sky or air as your ultimate adorable object. Solitude and sanyass are generally not spiritually advisable for denizens of our planet. At least in this age of quarrel, our breed requires exchange in order to achieve fulfilment. In order for genuine affection to take place, knowledge of the lovable other is needed. An image has to become fixed in mind – a face, a voice, a picture, a garment at the very least some kind of reminder of the person. In other words, love requires lovable features, not lofty concepts, ethereal entities, or other vagaries, devoid of attributes. This kind of ‘love’ is primitive, undeveloped and usually self deluding. Unless there is substantive activity going both ways, love is merely a tired platitude without any substance — wishful thinking. In fact, love is another word for happiness and wholeness, but without features, it simply cannot exist. Those who meditate do so upon a personality, either a family member, or a loved one or the Supreme person. In the case of the latter, all loving feelings are included. It once was said by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, that one who becomes a lover of Krishna becomes “a lover of everyone in the universe.” (The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Go-verning Body commission)