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IBSA (ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Sadhana Asrama), Govardhana, India
14 December 2003

Habit is Second Nature

Therefore habit is second nature. It is very difficult. The example that yasya hi yasya bhavasya tasya sa duratikramah. Svabhava, one who has his habit, one who is habituated to do something, it is very difficult for him to give it up. The example is given: sva yadi kriyate raja svakim nasnotapanam. You can keep one dog in a royal position, but as soon as it will see one shoe there, immediately bite. Because he's a dog. The doggish quality's there. You may put him on the throne. That's doesn't matter. But the doggish quality, you cannot change. Similarly this svabhava, svabhava means the material nature, material nature. We have acquired so many material nature, by association of the three modes of material nature, sattva guna, raja guna, tamo guna. So our habits are formed on account of our association with the three different qualities of material nature. But if we can disassociate ourself from the three modes of material nature, then our real nature, means spiritual nature, becomes invoked. That is the process of Krsna consciousness. If you remain Krsna conscious, then there is no chance of your associating with the three material modes of nature. That is the secret. [Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture in New York on 24 July 1971]

Another British writer, who like Owen Barfield was primarily concerned with consciousness, is Colin Wilson. In 1956, when he was twenty-four, he came to prominence with the publication of his first book, The Outsider. The books he wrote after that were not nearly as popular, no doubt because his subject matter is very challenging for modern sleepwalking man. Wilson has what I believe is a very useful insight into this "second nature" of habit that Srila Prabhupada spoke of above.

Wilson termed second nature "the robot. " It is that part of the mind that performs functions unconsciously. In the In2-MeC entry for 11 December I wrote:

Vrtti means the mind's material engagement. There are eleven vrttis that are divided into three categories. When the mind is absorbed in hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling, it is engaged in sense objects. When the mind is absorbed in grasping, walking, talking, urination/defecation and sexual intercourse, it is engaged in organic activities. When the mind is absorbed in mental concoction and self-importance, it is engaged in abhimana (false egoism).

Wilson's "robot" is in Bhagavatam terms the organic activity of the mind. It is a kind of automatic pilot. This psychological robot is useful and necessary in human life. Human beings are blessed with a robot superior to that of the animals: after a learning period, we can automatically perform such intricate activities as typing, driving a car, playing a musical instrument, or speaking a foreign language. Such activities involve the karmendriyas, the motor senses; like the jnanindriyas (knowledge-acquiring senses) that feed sense impressions into the mind, the karmendriyas are managed by demigods. The functions of these two groups of senses and their controlling deities are outlined in the In2-MeC entry for 24 June 2003.

Developing habits, or svabhava, is a process of turning over our organic activities to the management of the demigods. As per our liking for different modes of activities, the demigods manage the affairs of our senses accordingly. A person with a taste for tamasic activity like drinking alcohol will be conducted by the demigods as per the mode of ignorance. Acting in terms of ignorance and passion is, of course, not at all helpful in spiritual life; thus devotees are advised to act in the mode of goodness.

But there are two kinds of goodness: ordinary sattva-guna which is still under material management, and suddha-sattva or Vasudeva-sattva which is turiya, above the material modes altogether. What is the essential difference? Let me simply repeat the last part of Srila Prabhupada's quotation given above.

If we can disassociate ourself from the three modes of material nature, then our real nature, means spiritual nature, becomes invoked. That is the process of Krsna consciousness. If you remain Krsna conscious, then there is no chance of your associating with the three material modes of nature. That is the secret.

"Remain Krsna conscious", Srila Prabhupada says. Krsna conscious. CONSCIOUS. "That is the secret. "

From the point of view of Krsna consciousness, material consciousness is unconsciousness. The whole material creation with all of its so-called wakeful activities is summarized by Srila Prabhupada thusly in his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 4. 29. 83:

This material creation is the spirit soul's dream. Actually all existence in the material world is a dream of Maha-Visnu, as the Brahma-samhita describes:

yah karanarnava jale bhajati sma yoga-
nidram ananta jagad-anda-saroma-kupah

This material world is created by the dreaming of Maha-Visnu. The real, factual platform is the spiritual world, but when the spirit soul wants to imitate the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is put into this dreamland of material creation.

Don't forget that Colin Wilson's "robot" is at work in the material mode of goodness, too. If a devotee is not careful to remain Krsna conscious in his sattvik life, the robot will overtake his devotional activities. On page 172 of Unspoken Obstacles on the Path of Bhakti by my Godbrother Purnacandra Prabhu, a picture brilliantly illustrates the correlation of an "unconscious" devotional activity and ordinary material activities. The picture (an artist's drawing) is divided in half, top and bottom. In the top half we see a karmi ensconced upon a sofa, a drink of liquor in his left hand and a telephone held to his ear in his right hand. Between the fingers holding the telephone is a cigarette. As this fellow talks and drinks and smokes, he watches a TV set on a table front of him. In the bottom half we see a devotee driving a car and chanting his rounds at the same time.

Purnacandra Prabhu writes on page 171:

Devotees sometimes act similarly due to their Western conditioning: gazing at a video while tasting prasadam, or flipping through a magazine while chanting japa. We know that chanting japa while driving a car is not quite the same as when one is sitting peacefully at home or in a temple. When one, however, learns to concentrate on one activity, the mind becomes peaceful and one's ability to chant japa is improved.

The devotee who drives while chanting is probably hoping that his psychological robot will attend to the car while "he" (the soul) attends to the holy names. The robot is a wonderful facility of nature in that it allows the human being to "multitask" (to borrow a term from computer-speak). This multitasking of organic functions permits us to concentrate on one effort while other activities proceed according to svabhava (second nature, or habit). A concert pianist lets second nature run his fingers over the keyboard while he concentrates on interpreting the music. As we chant japa, we do multitask even if we are not driving a car at the same time. While sitting peacefully in the temple during brahma-muhurta hour, we don't pay much attention to the passing of the beads, one by one, through our fingers. Our chosen area of concentration is (or should be) the sound of the holy names.

Purnacandra Prabhu points out:

One popular Western trait is that people are accustomed to engaging many senses at the same time. Due to the usual prominence of the mode of passion, Westerners often feel the need to overwhelm their senses.

The material mode of goodness is different from pure Vasudeva-sattva goodness in that it is impregnated with rajo-guna and tamo-guna. There is a joke about a father who hears a rumor that his young unmarried daughter is pregnant. He can't tell by looking at her, as her figure is just as slim as always. So he asks her, "Are you pregnant?" She bashfully replies, "A little bit. " Even though a girl is just a little bit pregnant, in time she will become a great deal pregnant: that is, her abdomen will swell, showing the world her condition. And so it is with the material mode of goodness. It is a little bit pregnant with the modes of passion and ignorance. That condition may go unnoticed for a while, but in time it becomes obvious.

The point is this: in time, activities governed by the robot of the material mode of goodness will gradually be overwhelmed by the modes of passion and ignorance. When one drives a car and chants his rounds at the same time, he is already slipping into the mode of passion. He may argue, "No, I am just multitasking, like we do anyway when we chant; I am just multitasking a little more than normal. " Well, Prabhu. . . do you think a concert pianist would agree to do a command performance while driving a car? He couldn't possibly concentrate on interpreting the music nicely. Just imagine that situation: a famous pianist dress in tuxedo at the wheel of a Rolls Royce, a baby grand piano crammed into the seat next to him. He steers the car with one hand, plays piano with the other. . . it's mad! And that is the mode of passion: a maddened state in which people "overwhelm their senses," as Purnacandra Prabhu puts it.

In this way the mind is completely taken over by the vrtti of material engagement in organic activities.

Even when chanting japa in the temple, if one neglects to concentrate on the sound of the holy name, the mind will be taken over by abhimana-vrtti, mental concoction and self-importance. This is also due to the impregnation of passion and ignorance within the material mode of goodness. In the mode of passion, one becomes excessively enamored by efficiency. "Gotta get them 16 rounds done in an hour and a half, 'cause afterwards I've got important things to do. " We thus permit the robot to take over duties that "we" (the spirit souls) should attend to ourselves. . . like chanting japa. Chanting becomes automatic and mechanical, while "we" drift with the unfocused mind into concoction and complacency. . . in other words, into the mode of ignorance.

In Chapter Eighteen of a book I wrote years ago entitled Dimensions of Good and Evil, I said this about efficiency, which is supposedly the more effective way to do things:

"Progress" translates. . . as a more effective way of doing things. Almost daily more effective solutions arrive for how things can be done, incarnated as man-made machinery. The more effective way to cook incarnated as the microwave oven; the more effective way to reckon incarnated as the computer; the more effective way to travel incarnated as the airplane. The appearance of these mechanical deities is jubilantly hailed by millions of people. But it is as if these deities emanate an opiate fog that deadens inquiry into the purpose of increased effectivity--why is such machinery good.

The machine that is closest to us is the yantra of this gross and subtle body (see Bg 18. 61 for an explanation). If in our thoughts and actions we are not very careful to remain Krsna conscious, this body and mind emanate an opiate fog that deadens inquiry into what real goodness is. The body and mind can help us to achieve Vasudeva-sattva, but only if we do not turn off beta-chanting and beta-thinking and so, in turn, surrender to the alpha state of mind. (See In2-Mec for 10 December for an explanation. )

Here is where Colin Wilson's psychological robot links up with Owen Barfield's alpha-thinking; or in Bhagavatam terms, where the vrtti of organic activities links up with the vrttis of sense perception and abhimana (self-absorption). To turn japa over to the robot is to be passive toward Krsna consciousness. It means to shift out of conscious involvement with the holy names into the inert alpha mind-state. This mind-state is dull and impersonal, and it is the result of the opiation of maya. To turn japa over to the robot is to say to material nature, "Go ahead and take care of these 16 rounds, they aren't important enough for me to attend to. " Thus a mental dream-screen, like a pane of glass, slides shut between us and the transcendental nature of the holy names of Krsna. Chanting becomes just another phenomenon external to us that we passively observe.

Until Krsna kicks us out of our complacency. This is what happens to the demigods sometimes. In Chapter Seventeen of DOGE I wrote:

. . . the demons become a threat particularly at times when the demigods are besotted by their heavenly pomp and circumstance. At one time the monarch of heaven Indra, under the sway of self-importance, offended the sage Durvasa Muni. In return Durvasa cursed the demigods who, as a result, faltered in combat with the demons. Indra and his allies withdrew from battle to humbly follow Brahma in prayers of supplication to Lord Visnu. The Lord was pleased upon the demigods now that they sincerely yearned for the shelter of His lotus feet. By His grace the demigods later defeated the demons.

True, this is also Krsna's mercy. I think, however, that for one aspiring to become a pure devotee, this type of mercy is not the type one should come to depend upon. When by the Lord's grace a crisis reawakens our true will, we should struggle to keep that will awake--by remaining Krsna conscious. Backsliding again and again speaks of addiction to the opiate fog emanating from the body and mind.

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