Question: My question has a few parts to it and ultimately it is about the nature of studying one’s own mind and inclinations. Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that tattva bhrama (misconception about the Absolute Reality) is an anartha, since anarthas are impediments on the devotional path, presumably a lack of clarity in terms of siddhanta will dilute our absorption, is this correct?
Answer: Sri Bhaktivinoda Thakura is very right in saying that tattva bhrama is an anartha. Anarthas obviously take us away from our goal; that is the very meaning of the word anartha. The simple process, which everybody knows, is that if you want to reach a destination, you have to be very clear about it. If you want to come to Vrindavan, you have to know the exact location and some land marks of Vrindavan, beside the proper road or highway leading to Vrindavan. This is common sense. If you have bhrama, which means having misconceptions or mistaking a wrong thing for the right, then you cannot expect to reach attain this object. If you mistake Koshi for Vrindavan, then you stop there and will not reach Vrindavan. If you mistake brass for gold, you will only have brass. Therefore, tattva bhrama must be uprooted if one is sincere to realize tattva. It is for this reason that acaryas wrote books. Truth is only one but bhramas can be unlimited. Thus there is always a need for the clarification of tattva.
Question: For someone who is intellectually inclined, how important is it to understand tattva and how does one, through gathering the knowledge of the science of devotion, affect his surrender?
Answer: If someone is intellectually inclined, I don’t think there is any need to answer this question. Such a person will not be satisfied with bhrama. The inclination of jijnasa, “desire to know the truth” will keep pushing him or her until the bhrama is removed. It may take a long time, but it is bound to happen. It is only those who are intellectually lazy that get stuck in bhrama.
Certainly, the better understanding one has of tattva, the deeper will be the surrender. In the very beginning of Bhagavad Gita (2.7), Arjuna surrenders to Krishna, but right after that, he says he will not fight ( 2.9). Then, in the 18th chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna asks Arjuna to surrender (18.66). What was the need for that? Arjuna had already surrendered, but it was the type of surrender commonly seen in the modern day Arjunas. It is like a girl meeting a boy and telling him, “I devote myself to you for the rest of my life.” After hearing this, the boy says, “Surrender to me and I will take care of you.” That means the boy didn’t really believe that she surrendered.
Similarly, Krsna knew that Arjuna was not fully surrendered when Arjuna made that statement in 2.9. After hearing Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna repeats that he is surrendered (18.73), but there is a difference between these two types of surrender. In verse 2.7, Arjuna calls himself one who is bewildered by his duties, dharma-sammudha-cetah, while in verse 18.73, he says that he is free from bewilderment and devoid of any doubts and that he will do whatever Krsna asks him to do. He did not say that he will not fight, rather he fought. So you can see the difference in these two levels of surrender caused by the knowledge that Arjuna gained. Surrender in ignorance or confusion is not very deep.
Question: Secondly, the nature of the Absolute is unlimited. Hence the acaryas recommend absorption in the personal form of Krsna, which I always understood as the blue-hued Lord of Vraja, with a flute, feelingly calling out his loved ones to come and play with Him. However, without a sense of our own place in that lila, without any emotional content driving our remembrance of Krsna, from where will absorption come? Is it just a matter of hearing from the right sources and letting their bhakti flow into our own hearts, that will eventually make us gradually more absorbed?
Answer: The absorption will not come. This is not only your experience, but also the experience of many others. The reason is that as long as there are anarthas in the heart, and tattva bhrama is a big anartha, there is no possibility of absorption. Hearing from the right source is the first step, but not the last. Unless one is free from anarthas, there cannot be any absorption. Anarthas deviate the mind to material objects. The mind is material and thus it is naturally attracted to material objects and actions. It has no inclination to think of anything spiritual. Only when it is imbued with the internal potency, called bhakti, it naturally flows towards of Krsna. Kapila Deva gives the example of the flow of Ganga water towards ocean.
Question: Finally, what is a good balance between outreach and in-reach, because one might find much more absorption in Krsna through the in-reach but one may still be too full of anarthas for taking to such a path exclusively.
Answer: It is very important to understand one’s own mind and nature and then find a suitable balance of in-reach and outreach. Ultimately, spiritual practice is very individual. It is not like producing a product on the assembly line, with every raw material going through the same process. Shastra and the acaryas give basic guidelines, but ultimately one has to find one’s own notch. It is like curing a disease. You can read about it in a medical book. There may be many cures prescribed for it, but the patient has to know what is best suitable for him. For this he needs to consult a good doctor. These days, medical treatment has become very impersonal. You go to a doctor. He prescribes certain tests and bases his treatment on the tests. He may not even ask the patient anything. In spiritual life such impersonalism does not work, although in spirituality also the tendency is towards becoming impersonal. Nowadays disciples do not have much personal contact with the guru. They are given a standard sadhana and some basic guidelines but not much personal guidance. Unfortunately it has become like a manufacturing industry.