“The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.23)Download this episode (right click and save)
It is said that the seed of bhakti, or devotion, starts growing when first handed over by the benevolent spiritual master or devotee. One of the stages of that development is anartha-nivritti, where unwanted things are gradually removed. From studying the typical life cycle of the human being, the necessity for this stage becomes quite apparent.
In the beginning the human being drinks just milk. They don’t have a choice in the matter. They accept whatever the parents provide. It is noteworthy that by drinking the mother’s milk alone the newborn can survive without issue. They don’t have to worry about a nutritional balance. They don’t need to pay attention to exercise or protein consumption. The milk has everything they need.
Even in the young adult years, the child is relatively pure. There is no such thing as smoking, drinking, or gambling. And yet the same individual a few decades later can be addicted to such things. It means that these things are gradually introduced through association. I see others in school smoking, so I decide to give it a try. I want to escape from the miserable material experience which repeats day after day, so I reach for a bottle of whiskey. Everyone else is doing it, so why not me too?
Anartha means something that is not profitable. This has meaning across all spheres. To the fitness buff, the cupcake sitting on the counter is not profitable. It will get in the way of their goal of remaining physically fit. To another person the cupcake is just what the doctor ordered; it is what they would like to eat the most. To a person trying to study for an exam, loud noise is not profitable. To another person who wants to party all night, the loud noise is a necessity.
In devotional service, the anarthas are those things which keep the individual from remaining conscious of God. From the life of the infant, we see that gambling and drugs are not necessary to remain alive. The child will not die if they don’t smoke. They will not die if they fail to play bingo or the slots. Why, then, should there be fear over renouncing such things in adulthood? Why should anyone think that they cannot live without getting drunk periodically? Why should anyone believe that giving up gambling will make their life miserable?
The removal of the unwanted creates more space for the wanted. If your room is cluttered with junk, when you get rid of it you can enjoy the time in the room more. Gambling and intoxication are like junk for the consciousness. They keep one from contemplating the beautiful features belonging to the all-attractive Personality of Godhead. They keep one from thinking clearly as well. After all, that is the point to getting intoxicated. Those inhibitions during periods of sobriety that prevent you from acting a certain way suddenly vanish in the intoxicated state. Therefore you get the courage to do things you normally wouldn’t. Then, in the aftermath, you realize that those inhibitions were probably good for you. You didn’t need to act stupid in order to be happy.
The clear consciousness can always think of God. When there is difficulty keeping the concentration, there is the audible chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This creates the sound of God all around, within the immediate vicinity. Chanting forces one to act, and if one is sleepy, overly stressed, or focused on some other objective, it is more difficult to chant. Therefore one of the benefits of anartha-nivritti is the increased ability to chant the holy names, which is the dharma specific for this age.
“In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.” (Brihan-naradiya Purana)
In the end, you work to enjoy some kind of result. That is the point to going to the office for long hours, five days a week. That is the point to travelling so far just to earn a living. You are working primarily to eat, and once that is taken care of you are working to enjoy. If the nature of that enjoyment is such that one is constantly amidst things that are not profitable, the work essentially goes to waste. It’s like spending time all day to fill up a jug of water, only to empty that jug at night. Then the next day the cycle repeats.
In this way anartha-nivritti makes one’s work more profitable. It ensures that the enjoyable free time afforded from working for money doesn’t get misused on things that are not beneficial in the end. By working to support a life in a devotional culture, the work itself becomes transcendental. It merges into transcendence, which means that it no longer bears effects in karma, which is fruitive activity. Through something as basic as removing unwanted things and chanting the holy names, an entire life can turn around, proving once again the unique potency of bhakti-yoga.
In simple and innocent play,
For child easy way to spend day.
For cigarettes ask it will not,
Gambling too and alcohol not a drop.
Without these things fine to survive,
Get in way of life’s goal to strive.
Remove them for consciousness to clear,
Then can chant holy names without fear.