Material attachments: a curse or blessing?
Illuminations Newsletter 40
In this chapter, I will share with you an effective way to deal with harmful material desires and attachments. These desires are disturbing because they take our mind away from Krishna. Sometimes these desires can even cause us suffering. Fortunately, there is a way to counteract their influence: we can use such attachments as an incentive to become more Krishna conscious.
Sounds contradictory? In the beginning, maybe yes. But everything in this world is meant for the pleasure of Krishna, and material attachment is no exception. Let’s see how it works.
Indulge in the heart
I have always thought that in the service of Krishna it is easier to surrender with the body than to give Him your mind and heart. But in fact, the service that I perform regularly can easily become mechanical: my body makes some movements while my mind and heart wander all over the universe – everywhere except at the lotus feet of Krishna. This means that I am clinging to a huge amount of internal rubbish while I am engaged in the service of Krishna.
Certainly, this is an expression of Krishna’s kindness towards me and all of us. If Krishna did not allow us to engage in service while we are still attached to the material, how could we even become renounced?
Attachments in and of themselves are not bad. But unwanted attachments become an obstacle to pure bhakti. In addition, we may be discouraged to find those attachments that seemed to be long gone still affect our lives.
Therefore, we should strive to eradicate them or learn how to use them in the service of Krishna. Such attachments really give a great opportunity to advance in Krsna consciousness.
What a wonderful opportunity!
Possibility? How can material attachments provide opportunities in Krishna consciousness if we know that they don’t let us go to Krishna? But there is a way!
There is a verse in Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.3.24) that often discourages me and makes me feel that I am hardly making spiritual progress:
“If a person does not experience bliss while concentrating on the holy name of the Lord, if his eyes do not fill with tears and his hair does not stand on end, then his heart is iron-clad.” After four decades of conscientiously chanting sixteen rounds a day, I feel like my heart remains iron-clad. Why? Because of my deeply rooted harmful material attachments. So how then can I say that material attachments provide us with any opportunities!? I have one crazy method, so stay with me and read on.
Offer the most precious thing to Krishna
If someone has an old wrecked car and decides (out of the goodness of their hearts) to donate it to a temple, is that a big sacrifice? Of course not. However, if that same person has a great new luxury car that they just love and donates that car, that is a big sacrifice because they are giving up something they hold dear.
Now let’s apply this example to our material attachments. I began by saying that surrendering on the level of the mind and heart is more difficult than on the level of the body. This is because we are very attached to our thoughts and try to enjoy them when we think. If it were not so, we would not spend so much time on our reflections.
Therefore, thoughts of material enjoyment give us something to offer to Krishna, something that is near and dear to us. (By “offering to Krishna” I mean giving them up for the sake of Krishna and thus offering Him service in the spirit of “always think of Me”). Because we have to offer everything to Krishna, many things dear to us can be found in the recesses of our hearts to offer to Him. The more dear our harmful attachments are to us, the more valuable is such an offering. Thus material attachments, desires, and illicit thoughts are one of the best offerings we can offer to Krishna.
What is most precious to us
So what keeps popping up in your mind and heart that stands between you and Krishna? Where does your mind go when you forget about Krishna? What material thoughts and attachments are close and dear to you to such an extent that you cannot let them go? By discovering those valuable things that you secretly hold on to, you get a great opportunity to approach Krishna by offering Him something special, something that you deeply cherish.
My suggestion is to make this kind of offering whenever material desires and attachments start to take you away from Krishna. And instead of seeing such offerings as painful sacrifices, see them as a great opportunity to get closer to Krishna.
Don’t feed your thoughts
But you say, “That’s easier said than done.” Okay, maybe we still have unwanted thoughts that persist even after we “offer them to Krishna.” Although they persist, we can at least show Krishna our determination by giving up any intention of following these desires.
Sometimes I tell my mind, “There’s no need to bother me with these stupid thoughts because I won’t do anything about them anyway.” If we do this, unwanted thoughts will gradually lose their power and visit us less often, just as unwanted guests leave the house when we stop feeding them.
And when all else fails, pray and ask for mercy so that you may have the strength to resist temptation. In other words, when maya attacks you, pray for the strength to resist it.
Krishna will test you
When we are attacked by material attachments and desires that are dangerous to the health of our sprout of devotion, instead of feeling discouraged, frustrated and overwhelmed, or simply resigned to the thought that there is little we can do about it, it is better to think: “Now I have the opportunity prove one’s devotion to Krishna by immediately giving up this obsession.”
When we hold on to the thought of material enjoyment, we are actually trying to subtly enjoy that which we have given up on the gross plane. In the chapter Maya Will Test You, I refer in detail to Srila Prabhupada’s explanation of the tests that devotees must pass before Krishna is convinced that they sincerely want to serve Him. When strong material desires and attachments appear in your heart, take it as a personal test from Krishna. Consider that Krishna is giving you a chance to show your devotion by offering Him something that you really like: “Krishna, I want to offer You something that has special meaning to me.” Thus, having material attachments gives us an incredibly good opportunity to show Krishna that we need Him more than anything else.
This exercise consists of the questions I have already asked in this chapter:
- Which of the harmful material thoughts and attachments are so close and dear to you that you cannot let go of them? (Please note that attachments do not only apply to material objects. These can be attachments to honor, position, the desire to be always right, aversion to advice, instructions, admitting one’s own mistakes, etc.).
- When you have useless attachments or desires, how can you show Krishna that He is more important to you than these desires?
Remember, by bringing out the things you hold dear to you that you secretly cling to, you have a golden opportunity to approach Krishna by offering Him something special, something that you deeply cherish.