An early tract distributed by Krishna devotees issued the challenge “Who is Crazy?” Having frequently encountered taunts regarding their mental state, the devotees responded with this well reasoned argument from Srila Prabhupada on the definition of insanity.
Although no longer an acceptable medical term, the word insanity generally means mental illness where a person poses a threat to him or herself, or to others. In that sense merely violating societal norms should not be sufficient cause to be called insane, but often in common parlance this is the case. Hence the sight of unusually clad persons singing and dancing along the street to the clash of cymbals was enough for many to consider them quite mad. Especially as, unlike most persons trudging along the street, they appeared strangely happy, another sure sign of the madman.
But just how mad are the devotees? Considering it in terms of causing harm to themselves or others, they surely cannot be so labeled, in contrast to most of their accusers.
There are different ways we can harm ourselves but all of them stem from one root cause, ignorance. This is the essential point of the ‘Who is Crazy’ leaflet. If we do not understand our real self interest then we will likely act against it and do ourselves harm. So what then is that interest? Do we really know?
Before we can answer that we have to ask another question; what am I, what is the self? The underlying assumption that drives most people today in their daily struggle is that we are the material body. This corporeal form we currently inhabit comprises the sum total of our existence. The mind and senses are therefore seen as the means of our enjoyment and happiness, and we work diligently to satisfy them.
Vedic knowledge immediately challenges this assumption, positing that we are spiritual beings encaged in material forms. In his tract Prabhupada describes us as eternal parts of Krishna, asleep to our real existence with him. Our fleeting material lives are a dreamlike condition. Forgetful of our real identities, we believe ourselves to be the temporary, ever-changing forms we occupy. This is an illusion and the result is that we strive for illusory happiness in association with the body, never finding the satisfaction we crave and indeed quite often achieving serious amounts of misery.
Surely this is a kind of madness. In fact not knowing who you are seems by itself to be enough to earn that description. The classic image of the madman is the fellow with his hand thrust into his jacket, declaring that he is Napoleon. Or if I was to march up to 10 Downing Street in London and announce that I was David Cameron and demand entry that would probably do the trick. Men in white coats would soon pronounce me as having a psycho-pathological disorder, or in other words, insane.
But almost everyone is convinced they are something or someone they are not. We have nothing to do with this world and all of its ephemeral designations. Today I may think I am John Brown, a man with a wife and two point four children (going for the average here), but who knows what I will be tomorrow? If I were to die then I must leave behind that body and move on to another one, about which I presently know nothing at all. This is sure to happen sooner or later, and it has already happened so many times before. In our dreaming state we transit from one life to another, never knowing our true and eternal self, identifying with a collection of chemicals that has no relation to us.
In truth we belong with God in His supreme abode. Not knowing this we are certainly harming ourselves in as much as we act in ways that perpetuate the material illusion. As long as we consider ourselves to be the body we avidly feed our material desires and they simply grow stronger. As long as we have such desires we will have to accept repeated material births so we can indulge our wants, and as we all know material life is always afflicted with all kinds of suffering.
So what then of the devotees, gleefully cavorting along the high street and chanting Krishna’s names? Well, according to the Vedas this is how we can awaken the sleeping soul. By calling to God we reestablish our loving relationship with Him. The dream dissolves and we see the truth of the self, as an undying, blissful being forever free of pain. So this is not only a completely harmless activity, but also a greatly philanthropic one as it shares the awakening process with others.
That sounds like sanity to me freedom from illusion and knowledge of the self. Right there on your high street. Find out more next time you see the devotees pirouetting past you. You would be crazy not to.
Krishna Dharma Dasa is the author of the famous editions of India's great epics, the Ramayana: India's Immortal Tale of Adventure, Love, and Wisdom and the Mahabharata: The Greatest Spiritual Epic of All Time. Visit his blog: http://krishnadharma.com/blog/