On Changing Our Default Setting

Karnamrita Das - July 18, 2015 1:49 pm

More thoughts in relationship to recent events which are given as food for thought and personal reflection for the lifelong practice of bhakti:

Since computers have a huge impact on us, analogies are frequently made comparing their inner workings to our lives. Though I realize I am not being original here, computer analogies have been useful for me in thinking and speaking about many of our struggles in practicing spiritual life. I hope this one will be of value to you as well in helping put your life in a spiritual perspective. For instance, computers have default settings which they automatically use, or revert to. Applying this idea philosophically, material bodies are vehicles and fields of action for the soul’s attempts to manipulate and enjoy matter. Souls are the perceiver, and conscious awareness of the body, making it appear alive. In this situation, the soul gives up its natural freedom to be under the control of physical, mental, and emotional urges for basic survival of the body, production of progeny to continue our species, and for the fulfillment of our karmic destiny—these are our personal, and human default settings.

A general principle of bhakti is that we can work with some of our default settings to facilitate our spiritual practices, rather than fighting against, or repressing them in the name of devotional service. How favorable or problematic our personal default settings are, depends to a large extent on the bhakti (stock of past spiritual merit, and spiritual blessings) we have brought to this life from our previous ones. This explains why some aspiring Vaishnava’s (theistic bhakti practitioners) take up and continue the practice of bhakti or pure devotion relatively easily, while others seem to always be struggling. In fact, we find that some people come to Krishna by the influence of a great devotee, and/or situational conditions, yet leave after some time, and return to their old ways (their material default setting).

This means that some default settings for aspiring devotees of Krishna are especially challenging, and may be their Achilles heel, or weakest point. We, the soul, are presently under the influence of our false ego, which gives us the illusion of being cut off or separated from God. Due to our identifying our true self with the body, we have a selfishness to enjoy our senses and mind. We naturally feel we are the owner/controller of our body, life, and its paraphernalia, as well as considering ourselves the enjoyer/cause of the fruits of our work, and, if not the “supreme” friend of others, at least we may feel we are a very significant/important one. Although part of our selfishness is for self-preservation, modern society promotes undue selfishness in the form of lust and greed for material things, which fuels consumerism, and the modern disease of boredom, or the lack of peace and fulfillment. Being trained up in modern values and aspirations makes the practice of spiritual life more difficult than it has to be.

The habits we develop are also a type of default setting and are usually easier to change than our fundamental conditioned nature to be a separate enjoyer from God. We can learn to rise early in the morning when meditation and prayer are easier, avoid non-Godly social events, and in general, rearrange our life to maximize our spiritual development. Addictions, which are are habits that have become compulsive with a life of their own, are more difficult to change. Never the less, the spiritual practices of bhakti are a potent method for uplifting our consciousness, and changing our habitual behavior. Although we can outline various substances and behavior that have the potential for addiction, all material urges are all a kind of addiction for the soul. Such pursuits are very inferior substitutes for the true nourishment of the soul, loving service to God. Human life is a special facility for realizing our relationship with Krishna, yet in modern society we are more distracted from this quest than ever before.

From my struggles with my default settings, I can appreciate the value of being raised in a Krishna conscious family by loving parents, elders, and a supportive spiritual community. Though every particular body and karma has its shortcomings, and we all have to control our mind and engage the senses in the activities of bhakti, some environments are more compatible with a life of devotion. Never the less, even people like me, or perhaps you, who have a very mixed karmic upbringing and past, can still take up the path of bhakti for our progressive spiritual advancement. Purification of our life means to make our conditioned default settings favorable for bhakti, and to revive our spiritual nature of serving and loving Krishna. We gradually loose taste for dry material things, and gain a taste for everything in relationship to Krishna which is our true nature—with no fault at all!

Karnamrita Das - July 19, 2015 11:26 pm

This blog goes with the one above, and rather than start a new topic, I thought to post it here:


On Changing the Influence Acting Upon Us


In Grammar School, I thought it strange that certain schoolmates were forbidden by their religion to play cards or games, or go to the cinema. When I asked them about it, I never received very satisfying answers. I was told something like, “These bad things were works of the devil,” “idle distractions”, or that it was just part of their religion. I sort of shrugged my shoulders, thinking it odd, and forgot about it. Fast forward to my practice of Krishna consciousness, and I would agree with the idea of refraining from certain activities, but now I have deep philosophical and spiritual reasons, and a positive alternative. Since for people in general, and some devotees, these seem like innocent enough activities, I thought I would speak about why it is a good idea to be selective about what media we subject ourselves to. I don’t do so with my nose in the air in the mood of condemnation, but from my practical experience, as there was a time in my life as a devotee when I wasted much time on such entertainment. Most of us aren’t perfect in our practice of Krishna consciousness, and we could all stand to improve by increasing our spiritual absorption.

We learn from studying the Bhagavad Gita, that whatever state of mind we are absorbed in at the time of death, we will obtain in the next life. The sum total of our attachments, desires, and pious or impious activities crystallize into a predominant mode or quality of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance, which creates our next body: “When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets of the great sages. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when one dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.” [bg 14.14-15] This is the general principle, though there are many factors all working together from this and previous lives that determine our future. Krishna conscious practice is meant to take us beyond the influence of material qualities, and if we are absorbed in remembering Krishna in love throughout our life, that is spiritual consciousness, and will take us to Krishna's world at death.

The impressions, or samskaras, we take in from our senses affect our consciousness, and what think we want. Like attracts like, so the general principle is that material impressions create attachments and desires for more of the same, whereas spiritual impressions create an affinity for pure spiritual activities. The activities of sadhana bhakti, or the practice of bhakti regulated by Vedic scriptural injunctions, as outlined by great saints, are meant to purify our consciousness through association with various manifestations of Krishna, or God.

For example, Krishna’s holy name, His Deity forms, the holy scriptures, and pure devotees who carry the Lord in their heart, are all considered manifestations of Krishna. By associating with these potent manifestations of the Lord, in the consciousness of service and love, we gradually awaken our dormant spiritual awareness, by changing the energy that is acting upon us. That is why it is recommended to refrain, or limit, our exposure to material music, or worldly talk and visual images, in the lower modes of nature. They are produced by persons absorbed in trying to enjoy and exploit the material world. From these types of entertainment, we imbibe the message that we can be happy in the material world without any connection to the spiritual dimension. It is true that we won’t die if we watch movies, and we may be entertained, but we also won’t make much spiritual advancement. What we give our time and attention to, reveals what we consider important, and who we are.

Life is energy, and people emanate their own type of energy, and put that energy into their home, the food they prepare, the words they speak or write, the songs they sing, and whatever else they do. We become influenced by the energy we surround ourselves with, or take into our conscious awareness. Understanding this is the secret of transformation, and will determine what we achieve, our future in this life, and where we go at death—to the lower, middle, or upper planets, or the spiritual world.

Our nature as tiny jiva souls, or the Lord’s marginal energy, is that we are a product of our association—whether material or spiritual. In the material world we identify with matter, being influenced by her energy, laws and qualities, and thus becoming matter-like—dull and forgetful of our true spiritual nature. In spite of appearing strongly rooted in material consciousness, we can remember our spiritual nature and love for Krishna by spiritual association. In a nutshell, that is what Krishna consciousness is about, and we have to choose what we want to be influenced by and put our attention on. If we are convinced we are spiritual beings having a temporary human experience, it will be easier for us to focus our life on Krishna, and dedicate our energy toward Krishna in bhakti.