Transcending without Bypassing

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

In the world of Bhakti Yoga, the term transcendental is used a lot. In the Bhagavad Gita, transcendental knowledge is discussed at great volume. Lord Krishna, Himself states in Chapter 4 verse 3: That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.

But what is transcendence? The definition of transcending is to go beyond or surpass. So for us here in the material world, we should aim to transcend the material and all its problems. But I personally like to put emphasis on the word "aim". As I like to jokingly add in my classes and lectures; like Madonna says "I'm a material girl in a material world".

In this current age in time, we are met with so many atrocities on a global scale; racism, police brutality, pandemics, climate change, the list goes on. Transcendence is the ultimate goal of the yogi, yes, but, we need to be careful we are not bypassing others' pain and suffering, and our own for that matter.

Spiritual Bypassing is a term first used by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychoanalyst in the 1980's. His definition reads as, "tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks". This is something I see time and time again within different spiritual communities. A person may go to someone in their spiritual community with a problem and be told that they are talking about their material problems and that they should try and transcend them. This is a lofty ideal not awarded to the underprivileged. For example, A black woman is denied housing due to the color of her skin and she is unable to climb the corporate ladder at work to improve her economic situation for the same reasons. She goes to her spiritual advisor for help and is told that these material problems are not real and that she should meditate. Well, how will she have the privilege to meditate if she is jobless and homeless? This does not only ring true of spiritual bypassing but also of gaslighting (a psychological manipulation where one can question their own thoughts and sanity).

So what's the compromise? How do we offer spiritual help in these chaotic times? My proposal is simple and based on the Bhakti teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: "Health is number one, chanting is number two, service is number three and then comes reading". One has to feel healthy and safe first to make room for devotion in the heart. If health is number one, it is important to recognize mental health is no different from making sure your physical body is healthy. Your mind is part of your body, this is even spoken about in shastra (scripture). Your body comprises the gross body (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and the subtle body ( mind, intelligence, and ego).

Your mind and body have to be healthy and feel safe first, then comes the philosophy and practice. Like getting things in order, like cleaning and making room for Bhakti in your heart.

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