Material world, a place of temporary improvements and permanent inconvenience.
I recently met an old friend who told me the master plan for his spiritual journey. While his current 70-hour-a-week city job ensures his steady ascent up the corporate ladder, unfortunately it leaves him zero time for anything else. His plan? “I’ll pay off the mortgage in 10 years time, build up enough financial security so I can retire, by that time my kids will have settled down and married, I’ll still be in good health, and thus being freed from all worldly distractions, I’ll be able to fully immerse myself in spirituality.” It sounds good on paper, but I do have serious doubts. While the externals of lifestyle undoubtedly need attention and reengineering, I’m not sure that putting one’s spirituality “on hold” in anticipation of the “perfect situation” is the wisest choice. As the American poet Longfellow said, “Trust no future, however pleasant!”
Once, Srila Prabhupada was being driven to a public engagement. As they hit a series of roadworks, the traffic slowly built up. Within minutes all the vehicles were at a complete standstill. As they peered outside the windscreen, a huge road sign read “temporary inconvenience, permanent improvements.” Srila Prabhupada laughed at the sign and exclaimed “this material world means temporary improvements, permanent inconvenience!” He went on to explain how life in this world is like a can of worms once we open it up, it’s impossible to keep things under our control. In the course of making our life plans so many things can go wrong and do go wrong.
The external reorganization of our life and the internal cleansing of our consciousness need not be mutually exclusive activities. Like train tracks, they can coexist side-by-side. As we progressively reengineer our lifestyle, we can simultaneously intensify our spirituality. Realistically, will life ever be free of those unexpected distractions? Cars break down, family feuds need to be mediated, homes demand improvement, friends need advice and attention, health problems slow us down and work demands drain our “free time.” Amidst the complexities of this world, the only practical solution is to create a sacred space within. Serious spiritualists make quality time for spiritual meditation and introspection on a daily basis no matter how busy they are. They guard those hours with their life. Sacrificing that sacred time in pursuance of a utopian ideal is a risky strategy.
Sutapa Dasa is a resident monk at Bhaktivedanta Manor, ISKCON UK’s headquarters. Visit his blog