Keepers Of The Flame: Although this expression is most often used by our Christian brothers and sisters, I totally relate to its exclamation in relationship to what or who I am, or at least, aspire to be: A Keeper of the Flame of Bhakti, or A Keeper of the Flame of Spirituality. Personally, I see this as a responsibility for all followers of Shri Chaitanya and those who represent him. I visualize a flame burning brightly in my heart, or raising a torch in my hand to dispel darkness. To me, this is inspiring! “Lead me from untruth to truth! Lead me from darkness to light! Lead me from death to immortality.” [Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 1.3.28] This is my meditation and affirmation on being a keeper of the flame.
More than ever before in my life, this is what I want to stand for, and share, and be, and promote. Though admittedly this has waned in the last year, I keep being reminded of it, and now this is the direction I want to take. With this new year, I am reaffirming my commitment. Thus, I write and speak with the prayer to do this service of giving light and encouragement to deal with our worldly desires and nature in the context of spiritual growth—transforming our human life into the life of the soul. Easy to say, I am well aware, yet for me, I need to keep high aspirations always in mind and in my prayers for my highest prospect. Otherwise I may just settle to get by as I have for so many years.
Or it may seem terribly vain to express such a desire—who am I to call myself a keeper of the flame of bhakti? However, to my thinking, without inspired aspirations, what will we become? Writing about it is another way to keep it in mind, and sharing it with you is to be accountable to those who read this, who may ask me how I am doing. I must keep thinking and reading about this, and putting it into practice. Sitting on the mental fence, or merely being an armchair philosopher takes us nowhere. We have to put ourselves on the line to follow our conviction. At least this is my test in life!
I can think of nothing more noble and consuming than this quest. We realize this quest by doing it—my main question is am I willing to put this into practice? One of the blessings of becoming older and knowing our days are numbered is that this sometimes gives us a sense of urgency we didn’t have before as our body diminishes, and death is around the corner.
In a way, for those of us who lived as single celibate monastics or brahmacaries (men) or brahmacarines (women) living in monasteries or ashrams, being keepers of the flame of bhakti is what we are were doing, though most of us couldn’t articulate it well, nor could we maintain it in the face of what I have dubbed our “karmic mission.” Karmic mission means having to deal with our psycho-physical nature by being compelled to marry, have a family, home, and an occupation by which we could interface with the world.
Having passed through this, it is natural to again be more absorbed in sharing spiritual truth, but now with years of both worldly and spiritual understanding. This would be called, “vanaprastha,” or spiritual retired life.
I aspire to share the flame of spirituality from my heart, even in the face of my old conditioned tendencies to think I am the enjoyer of the world, or the basic lust for the flesh in so many gross and subtle ways that every embodied being is born with, has to deal with, and if one is on a progressive spiritual path, must overcome.
Old habits or lifetimes of conditioning die hard. However, being victorious in this struggle points to the importance of regular spiritual practice, of always praying to make the best choices, keeping inspiring, uplifting association, and to be “constantly endeavoring for perfection.” We can’t rest on our laurels, lest our spiritual flame diminish or be extinguished all together. As Prabhupada taught, we need to aspire to be first class. Then we may be successful or at least become second class, but if we only try to get by we may not make much progress, or go backwards.
Those dualities of life that can compete against our spiritual focus, I described a few days again in the language of Internal Families Systems, or our having to deal with so many parts of our conditioned psyche while we engage in spiritual practice. This is the struggle for most devotees, especially in the early years of our bhakti practice, even as we endeavor to give our life to Krishna, and help others who are suffering in this struggle find a way above it through the holy name and bhakti practices. Each one of us has to be the example of what the bhakti practices offer. This is why we hear that “example is better than precept.”
To do this work I derive much strength and support from the philosophy of bhakti, in verses and explanations of them in books and in the persons of those who inspire me spiritually. I also find inspiration in the success literature of the day, and in the lives of those who have risen above adversity to make their particular contribution to the world. As we must breathe in to breathe out, we must be constantly taking in the good association of scriptures, inspiring books, and saints, to consistently give what we have been blessed with.
This was my thought today as I alternatively sat and paced back in forth chanting my rounds of japa in front of our Deities, praying for inspiration, help, and spiritual advancement. I ask them every morning, “What can I give today, and how can I make a difference?” In the mood of being useful to you, let me ask you to think about what questions you ask of yourself, and what prayers do you make, on a regular basis to begin your day? What do you truly want to give, and how will you realize it? Do you relate to being, or aspiring to be, a keeper of the flame, or a keeper of the flame of bhakti? I thank you if you have read this far and share your thoughts and feedback!
Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 1.3.28
asato ma sad gamaya
tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
mrtyor mamrtam gamaya
Lead me from untruth to truth! Lead me from darkness to light! Lead me from death to immortality.