‘In this world there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has become accomplished in the practice of devotional service enjoys this knowledge within himself in due course of time’
(Bhagavad Gita: text 38)
To the observer viewing from the outside reading such a statement there appears a certain arrogance and self-congratulation about it; the insular clubbiness of the initiates.
The get out of jail free card though, which turns on its head this observation from the outside, of any sense of arrogance and self-congratulation, is the concept of ‘devotional service’ as it is expressed in this saying, as being the sine qua non for a person to practice, to be practised in, before entry into ‘transcendental knowledge’ is tenable for that person.
And it is ‘Devotional Service’; what it is, and why it is important, and in what relation ‘transcendental knowledge’ it is, as it were, revealed to a person who is practiced in this ‘Devotional Service’.
I have written elsewhere about the ‘the expense of spirit in a waste of shame’ which is implied and involved in living out an ‘armchair Christianity’ or other spirituality which is wholly based on meditation and reflection, on spinning thoughts about what constitutes ‘the good life’ (not ‘a good life’ as enjoying luxuries but for a person in so far as s/he is a moral and ethical entity).
Here is some verse on the topic:
Heads nestled, idle rafts floating pictorial seas
Weightlessly idyllic dreams continue long
Paradise blooms all round here and the flowers on stippled heads
Dance colours freaking, parsing fractal strands
A potion in one’s liquor can approximate so much
Reality overblown to channels pitched beyond
These fragrant borders sheathed in gaudy aromatic shows
In vital glare but definitely here
Bit flashes, silvering glances, chase this wherewithal
And adumbrating thought-looms’ rarefy
Throw high signification en Elysium solonelle:
But taste of evil once infatuation dies
Know pain its own and open sacrifice enough
Its indicative assemblage bonds the eye
Seeking no craven copies of good estimation
Sat on a cloud in terra firma sky
Demure like drunken rowdies whose song down the club
Make delicate in turning wasted words
Fining imperatives of reasonable service:
Raising a glass, to sweet Evangelons,
Rococo, wrong, sonambulants, immoderate, easy,
Chaired insufficient: Love lives in the doing
And this does not represent a ‘deal’; it is not a bargain nor is it any sort of arrangement. It does not partake of politics, cronyism, old school tie, business breakfast clubs, mates’ favours, or ‘enlightened (benighted?) self-interest’. Would you, could you, dare you, make a deal with the guy who released you from having to make deals in order to survive (in the way you saw living to be comprised at that time)?
Do you have the temerity to sell on the ticket that got you a boarding pass onto the Freedom Train, and so forfeit one’s own place for the sake of a monetisation which invalidates a free of charge ticket which does not and cannot and never will be a transferrable item; it is item specific (to you).
There is Simon the Sorcerer in the book of The Acts of the Apostles who is bedazzled by the astonishing miracles performed by the disciples of Jesus Christ, and he wants so badly to be able to perform such miracles on his own account that he offers St Peter money so as ‘to buy’ this ability from him. Peter rises up and rather haughtily and with high condemnation chastises Simon, rebuking him for his attempt to buy his way into ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’, for his efforts to purchase a route to being lighted upon by The Holy Spirit.
St Peter might even be a bit OTT in his reaction but essentially he is right in that he makes clear to Simon that one is unable, whomsoever one is, unable to barter or trade one’s way spiritually-speaking to anywhere but to dismay and grief.
So a person does not do, does not go into, ‘Devotional Service’ for the sake of obtaining the entrance into any ‘transcendental knowledge’ it might offer or allow one. Any and all transcendental knowledge instead is as if a by-product of having done and continuing to do ‘Devotional Service’; it is subsidiary in train to ‘Devotional Service’ and is dependent logically on the priority of devotional service, as is also any such knowledge which might accompany doing such service.
This is not to say however that the ‘transcendental knowledge’ is inferior in value to, because its arising depends upon, the spiritual works of ‘Devotional Service’ one practices. It is, as the Indian translator of the Bhagavad Gita says, ‘the mature fruit’ of long meditation and deep consideration which he terms ‘mysticism’. And so there is indeed room in one’s life for thinking and pondering, but any person is able to think and to ponder, to meditate and consider at the same time as s/he is doing what s/he is able to do in the service of his/her God, for the sake of other fellow beings around the local area and to the extent that his/her reach permits. In fact the things one does as ‘Devotional Service’ are the things one best uses as materials for pondering on and considering and reflecting on. In this way doing of service discovers a route towards that ‘mature fruit’ of ‘transcendental knowledge.
And what is this ‘transcendental knowledge’ – the stuff that sounds so pompous and high and mighty and at which the resistant and the opposed among us scoff at so surlily, as being ‘self-delusion’ and ‘fancied imagination’?
Well, it’s not that rarefied as knowledge goes, and is not that hard to see; it’s local as well as being cosmic, and commonplace as well as being a jewel to be obtained – it’s like the flowers of the field which in summer are everywhere in vast untold numbers wherever you walk or ride – each one of them being something irreplaceable and impeccable in itself, and consisting of a beauty which men and women are unable to extract and to manufacture. We might tread them underfoot – whereupon nature upspringing revives them as pristine as ever at their very next due season.
The stuff of ‘transcendental knowledge’ then is the stuff one needs so as to be able to sustain oneself in doing one’s ‘Devotional Service’. It is simple, plain, obvious, present in the here and now, and plentiful; so as to be picked like a daisy by anyone who desires it.
But a person picking it is unable to do so when it is desired for itself alone and desired above doing that service. (It is like Harry Potter’s ‘philosopher’s stone’ which is only able to be possessed by someone who does not desire it so as to use its powers and capabilities for themselves)
It is instead a complete package, the whole nine yards, the full Monty, the shooting match, the farm, the fruit of all that work and the effort, of one’s attempts to deny oneself and one’s own self-interest. Even of attempts to pass by indulgence in money reward and human thanks; and instead to take these items only in due measure as is needed for sustaining of body and life; and to take them along with a knowledge and joy to be discovered in attempting one’s best to do all things well in ‘reasonable service’.
I have quoted John Donne before now; but he’s such a great guy he’s worth quoting again: his description of ‘Charity’ – which is his age’s word for ‘doing love’ – is that it consists of:
‘Doing what one can: all one can’