After Krishna Responds, I
February 23, 2019
In Chapter 6 of the Gita, after Krishna has explained the goal and practice of meditation, Arjuna asks,
Krishna, what happens to the man who has faith but who lacks self-control and wanders from the path, not attaining success in yoga? If a man becomes deluded in the spiritual path, will he lose the support of both worlds, like a cloud scattered in the sky?
Interestingly, Krishna responds by appealing to the laws of karma and rebirth:
Arjuna, my son, such a person will not be destroyed. No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come. When such people die, they go to other realms where the righteous live. They dwell there for countless years and then are reborn into a home which is pure and prosperous. Or they may be born into a family where meditation is practiced; to be born into such a family is extremely rare. The wisdom they have acquired in previous lives will be reawakened, Arjuna, and they will strive even harder for Self-realization. Indeed, they will be driven on by the strength of their past disciplines. Even one who inquires after the practice meditation rises above those who simply perform rituals.
A secular spirituality makes this response unavailable. We cannot believe that an impersonal moral order governs the consequences of our actions, rewarding sincere spiritual effort and punishing the willfully ignorant or slack. So what would an appropriate reponse, what Thomas Metzinger might call an “intellectually honest” response, to Arjuna be? I offer:
Arjuna, we have no guarantees in this practice, neither that we will succeeed, nor that success will be what we want, nor that, contrariwise, having achieved what we want, that the world will vouch for its meaning and reward us. Perhaps we initially commit to the practice simply to follow the trail of certain intimations—hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses—towards a space of feeling, one outside the penumbra of ordinary consciousness or desire, where the self quiets and tranquility abides. After that, the practice must offer its own reasons for following it.