Monday, November 5, 2012

Beyond immortality, beyond liberation, beyond oneness (Srila Sridhar Maharaj)

Excerpt from Life-nectar of the Surrendered Souls

A barren conception of mere "deathlessness" cannot afford us any knowledge of a positive thing, but only freedom from the negative side. If immortality means "no influence of mortality," what, then, is its positive conception? What will be the nature, movement, and progress of that which is immortal? Without this understanding, immortality is only an abstract idea. Because it does not appear to exhibit the symptoms of death, stone would be "more immortal" than human beings, and conscious entities would be "mortal," forever denied immortality. 

What, then, is the positive conception of immortality? How are the immortal "immortal"? What is the positive reality in immortality? How can one become immortal? One must search out his intrinsic location in the universal order. It will not do to attempt to solve only the negative side of life which is full of suffering – birth, death, infirmity, and disease. We should know that there exists a conception of life worth living for. This positive side has been almost totally neglected in most general religious views.

For instance, the Buddhist theory is that after liberation, nothing remains. Buddhists crave absolute extinction of material existence. And the Shankarite monist theory of liberation is to lose one's individuality by "becoming one" with the non-differentiated aspect of the Absolute. They postulate that when the triad of seer, seen, and seeing, or knower, knowable, and knowledge culminate at one point, the triad is destroyed and nothing remains.

This is a vague area of "negative immortality." The "oneness" in which the perception of individuality is obscured is a marginal or "buffer" state, midway between the material and spiritual worlds. Composed of innumerable souls, it is an immortal plane devoid of specific variegatedness. It possesses positivity only in the sense that it is a plane of existence, a background, but in itself it lacks a positive development of variegated existence. The nature of the background is oneness, and development woven over it necessitates plurality or a differentiated nature. 

Thus, the "immortality" of the impersonalistic schools such as the Shankarites and others offers no positive life. But in Vaishnavism, immortality is a positive, dynamic existence. Above the non-differentiated Brahman aspect of the Absolute, the transcendental variegated experience begins. Situated there in the spiritual plane is the positive Kingdom of God. 

Transcending the vague areas of "negative immortality" that the impersonalists aspire for, the devotees – the Vaishnavas – dedicate themselves to the life of eternal devotional service to the Supreme Lord of the transcendental realm. Although the soul can maladopt himself to a fallen state of existence in the planes of exploitation and renunciation, he is inherently adoptable to the positive life in the Kingdom of God. Positive immortality is possible only for the surrendered. All others are necessarily mortal. Only those who have wholly given themselves to the center are living in eternality. 

With a broad vision, we must know ourselves as created of smaller stuff, and thus only with assistance from above can we improve our situation and achieve a position in the higher plane. A submissive, serving attitude is necessary. If we submit, the universal authoritative aspect of the Absolute will take us upward to a higher prospect. He is the autocrat, the absolute knowledge, the absolute good: everything about Him is absolute. 

The road to the sphere of transcendence is the descending method. We can reach the absolute good, the absolute will, by His consent alone. Only by faith in absolute surrender is anyone allowed entry into that domain; never by "exploration," by "colonization," or by attempting to become a "monarch" there. No ascending method, such as renunciation or yoga, can compel Him to accept us. Whosoever He chooses can alone reach Him. Although the highest point of the renunciates is desirelessness or freedom from possessiveness, the surrendered soul is naturally desireless. Detachment is only the negative side of surrender, and above selflessness, the devotee surrenders himself to the higher substance, and this is what it means to be awake in another world, another plane of life. Such is the positive Vaishnava conception of life, to determine one's real self beyond the jurisdiction of the world of misconception. 

The nature of progressive substance is eternal existence, knowledge, and beauty. The one harmonizing organic whole contains similarities and differences, held inconceivably in the hand of the Absolute. And there is no anarchy in the absolute power. Nonetheless, mercy is found to be above justice. Above judiciousness the supreme position is held by love, sympathy, and beauty: "I am the absolute power, but I am friendly to you all. Knowing this you need never fear" (Bhagavad Gita 5.29). This revelation relieves us of all apprehension: we are not victims of a chaotic environment, but it is judicious and considerate, and the ultimate dispenser is our friend. 

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