Illuminations 40 – Material Attachment – A Curse or an Opportunity?

In this newsletter I share with you a powerful process for dealing with material desires and attachments. The presence of unwanted desires is disturbing because they deviate our mind from Krishna. Sometimes we can even be tormented by these desires. But there is a way to counteract their influence: we can use such attachments as an impetus to become more Krishna conscious.

Sound contradictory? At first glance it might. But everything in this world is meant for Krishna, and material attachment is no exception. Let’s look at how this works.

May you always think of Krishna,

Mahatma das


Material Attachment – A Curse or an Opportunity?

I have always found it more difficult to surrender my mind and heart than to surrender my body. In fact, service that I regularly perform can easily become robotic: my body goes through the motions while my mind and heart travel all over the universe (except to Krishna’s lotus feet). This means I can hold onto a lot of internal garbage while I engage in Krishna’s service.

This, of course, is Krishna’s kindness upon me (and all of us). If Krishna didn’t allow us to engage in service while still materially attached, how would we eventually become detached? Still, since material attachments are obstacles to pure bhakti, we must endeavor to root them out.

But there is another way of looking at material attachments: they provide opportunities to advance in Krishna consciousness.

What a Wonderful Opportunity
Opportunities? How can having material attachments provide opportunities in Krishna consciousness? Strong material attachments weaken us and deviate us from Krishna. Plus, it’s discouraging to again discover attachments we thought were long gone. Thus, attachments don’t seem to offer any kind of opportunity. They are clearly impediments on the path of bhakti. They keep us further away from Krishna.

This is all true. In fact, there is one verse in Srimad-Bhagavatam that always puts me in anxiety – it even depresses me.

“Certainly that heart is steel-framed which, in spite of one’s chanting the holy name of the Lord with concentration, does not change when ecstasy takes place, tears fill the eyes, and the hairs stand on end.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.3.24)

After over thirty-eight years of faithfully chanting sixteen rounds daily, my heart remains steel-framed. Why? It is because of my material attachments. So how can I still say material attachments provide an opportunity?

There is a method to my madness. So stay with me.

Offer Krishna What Is Most Dear
old and new
If you have an old car you no longer want or need and donate it to the temple, is that a great sacrifice? Of course it isn’t. However, if you have a beautiful new luxury car that you are totally attached to, and you donate that car to the temple and keep the old car for yourself, that is a sacrifice.

Now let’s apply this example to our material attachments. I began by saying it’s more difficult to surrender the mind than the body. That’s because we get enjoyment (at least we try to) from our thoughts. Now, let’s compare thoughts of sense gratification to the luxury car. Since we are attached to them (if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be dwelling on them), they provide us with something to offer Krishna that is near and dear to us. Since we should offer Krishna everything, we can find many dear things to offer Krishna stored in the recesses of our hearts. And the more dear what we offer is to us, the better the offering. Thus material attachments, desires, and thoughts are some of the best things we have to offer Krishna. (By “offer Krishna,” I mean give up for Krishna and thus make the offering of, “Always think of Me.”)

What’s Most Dear to You
So what keeps coming up in your mind and heart that is getting between you and Krishna? Where does your mind tend to travel when it forgets Krishna? What material thoughts and attachments are near and dear to you, so near and dear that you can’t seem to let them go? By identifying those prize possessions you are secretly holding onto, you capture a wonderful opportunity to get closer to Krishna by offering Him something special, something you deeply cherish.

What I am suggesting is this: make this kind of offering every time material desires and attachments begin to pull you away from Krishna.

Starve Your Thoughts
But you say, “That sounds easier said than done.” Okay, may be you have unwanted thoughts that persist even after you “offer them to Krishna.” When they persist, at least show Krishna your renunciation by giving up any intention to act on those desires. In the stage of sadhana we can acknowledge our fallen condition and the presence of material attachments, while at the same time resist the temptations those attachments offer.

Sometimes I tell my mind, “No need to bother me with those nonsense thoughts because I am not going to do anything about them.” If you do this, the thought will tend to lose energy and visit you less often, just as people tend to go away when you neglect them. If you want to get rid of unwanted guests, don’t feed them. Similarly, if you want to get rid of unwanted thoughts, don’t feed them either.

And when all else fails, beg and pray for mercy so you have the strength to resist temptation.

Krishna Will Test You
So when material attachment is attacking you, especially attachments and desires that are hazardous to the health of your bhakti creeper, instead of feeling discouraged, upset, depressed, or simply resigning that there’s little you can do about it, you can instead think, “Now I have an opportunity to show my devotion to Krishna by immediately relinquishing this thought. (When you hold onto thoughts of material enjoyment, you are trying to enjoy subtly what you have given up grossly.)

Srila Prabhupada said Krishna will test you to see if you have come to serve Him or disturb Him. When strong material desires and attachments appear in your heart, see it as Krishna’s personal test. Think that Krishna is now giving you the opportunity to show your devotion by offering Him something you really like. “Here Krishna, I want to offer You something that is very special to me.”

So isn’t this really an incredibly wonderful opportunity to show Krishna you want Him more than you want anything else?

Exercise

The exercise came up in the article. I am again including it here.

What keeps coming up in your mind and heart that is getting between you and Krishna? Where does your mind tend to travel when it forgets Krishna? What material thoughts and attachments are near and dear to you, so near and dear that you can’t seem to let them go? By identifying those prize possessions you are secretly holding onto, you capture a wonderful opportunity to get closer to Krishna by offering Him something special, something you deeply cherish.

To simplify this, you might want to answer the following two questions:

  1. What are you attached to that is especially detrimental to your bhakti?
  2. When those attachments or desires arise, what can you do to show Krishna you want Him more than you want to dwell on those desires?

Note that attachments do not only relate to material objects. They can be attachments to things such honor, position, being right, etc.