The following is an article which appeared in Hindustan Times on Monday, April 8, 2002
Meditations | Mukunda Goswami
"POWER IS present, holiness is hereafter" as TS. Eliot said, is a mentality. A common notion holds that God and heaven are things to concern ourselves with after death and that measuring spiritual advancement in today's world Is irrelevant.
We are averse to measuring spiritual growth on the earthly plane. Usually, spirituality is conceived of as something static. We tend to relegate it to heaven, wherein we'll revel forever atop billowing clouds, complete with celestial music, dancers, angels, gods and goddesses--living a life of endless joy and delight.
Despite our conceptions of a happy afterlife, those we took up to as holy, like. rishis and saints, not only in regard to the hereafter but because we also look at them criticially--consciously or inadvertently--are they tolerant, merciful. friendly and peaceful, or are they flawed? Are they genuine or counterfeit? Knowingly or unknowingly, we measure them.
The Sreemad Bhagwatam (11.2.42) tells us that the pleasure, nourishment and reduction of hunger that occur when the eat, are analogous to devotion, awareness of God and lack of attraction to matter that takes place when we practice devotion. The intimation is that we measure our spirituality by how much we enjoy acts of devotion, how intensely we feel the presence of God, and how detached we are from this world's pleasures.
Another way to measure spiritual advancement is through assessments made by saintly personalities. According to the teachings of the Mahabharata, the mahajans, or the saintly, hold the secrets to transcendental wisdom, wherein it is written that real "path of progress is that which is traversed by the great acharyas". Also. the Svetashvatara Upanishad (6.23) asks us to develop absolute faith in a living person as well as in God, asserting that only in this way can we truly understand the transcendental world.
On its face, this injunction appears unattractive and counterproductive. How can a human being be perfect? How can we have absolute faith in any human? Is it not 'human' to err, and isn't it true that there is no such thing as a perfect person? At least with otherworldly God, we can have an ideal and we can think of a flawless existence and totally unsullied behaviour.
Through the history of great works and genuinely spiritual people, there has always been a master-disciple relationship. Even the Lord himself, when He appeared in person as Vasudev in Mathura, took instructions from Sandipani Muni, His spiritual teacher.
Just as this world can be miserable, there can also be heavenly or godly existence in the here and now. By practicing devotion under the guidance of genuinely spiritual people, we can realise perfection.
The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission