Contributor's Essays

Oedipus and the Meaning of Surrender
by Dattatreya dasa

I want pleasure. Not just any old pleasure but perfect pleasure, complete pleasure, absolute pleasure.

Even in the spiritual world, there are jiva-atmas who do not experience perfect, complete, and absolute pleasure. The jiva-atmas that I am referring to are among those jivas in santa-rasa who have no taste for serving Krishna. These jivas are indifferent to the service of the Lord. Their indifference is rooted in a lack of knowledge of self-realization. This lack of self-knowledge ultimately leads to their falling into the material world. (This process is explained by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in Chapter Two of his book Brahmana and Vaishnava.)

My lack of knowledge of self-realization is not simply the result of my associating with matter. It runs deeper than that. It precedes my fall into the material world. It is primordial.

As long as I lack perfect knowledge of self-realization, I will never be completely happy. Since my lack of knowledge of self-realization preceded my fall into the material world, no adjustment of material energy could be sufficient for engendering that knowledge. Hence, no adjustment of material energy could be sufficient for engendering complete happiness.

Mother Devahuti asked her son Lord Kapiladeva how it is possible for a conditioned spirit soul to ever become free from matter. Lord Kapiladeva told her that by seeing the faultiness (drsta-dosa) of material appetite (bhukta-bhoga), she would become independent and stand in her own glory (SB 3.27.24).

To attain knowledge of self-realization, I must see the faultiness underlying my appetite for incomplete, relative pleasures. But that’s the problem—I don’t want to see that faultiness. That’s the last thing I want to see.

I am a bit like Oedipus in Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King. Oedipus killed his father and married his mother.

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that He is the seed-giving father of all conditioned living entities. (Bg 14.4) Now, I am myself the sole cause of my being here in this material world (the place where Krishna is not). Thus, like Oedipus, I am responsible for the absence of Krishna (my seed-giving father) from my world. Also, like Oedipus, I have appropriated my seed-giving father’s energies for my own enjoyment.

At a certain time in his life, Oedipus set out to discover the identity of the person who killed King Laius. (Oedipus did not know that he himself had killed Laius, nor did he know that Laius was in fact his father.) Similarly, to practice self-realization means I must identify that person who is responsible for Krishna’s being absent from my world.

When Tiresias, the blind seer, informed Oedipus that Oedipus himself was the killer of Laius, Oedipus became enraged. He insulted Tiresias and accused him of treason. He could not stand to hear what Tiresias was saying, although it was the truth. The horror of Oedipus’ reality was so strong that it led Oedipus to revile and disdain Tiresias.

Tiresias was Oedipus’ teacher, his guru. He showed Oedipus the truth of his position, and Oedipus reviled him for it. Eventually, when circumstances forced Oedipus to face the truth of what he had done, Oedipus was so horrified by it that he blinded himself.

When Krishna appeared in this world five thousand years ago, some people saw Him as a mundane person. But Krishna is never a mundane person. The reason some people saw Him that way is because their own consciousness was mundane.

As I begin to see myself as I am—that is, as I come to see myself as the person who is solely responsible for Krishna’s being absent from my world—as that truth of my own self begins to come into my view, I resist seeing it. I don’t want to be brought face to face with the shame and embarrassment of my indifference and animosity toward Krishna. I don’t want to face it. The reality of my position makes me want to hide my face from my own self. Indeed, like a hoodlum being led to the courthouse for arraignment, I want to hide my face from the world. I resist the knowledge of who I am and what I have done and what makes me tick. In the depths of my soul, I resist the primordial truth of why I am here.

Like Oedipus, I resist the knowledge my guru offers me. As the truth my guru reveals strikes closer and closer to home, my resistance to him grows stronger and stronger. I must either stop resisting (i.e., surrender to the truth of who I am and why I am here), or I must turn away from that truth. This turning away manifests itself as a rejection of my guru.

When I turn my face away from the truth, my guru appears mundane to me. I think, “What is this nonsense that my guru is saying? I don’t want to hear this. What does this have to do with anything?” If the opportunity arises, I try to control what my guru says: “My dear Guru Maharaja, you just can’t say these things. It’s not spiritual. You’re causing a disturbance in society.”  Eventually, I come to adopt an attitude of condescension: “My poor guru. It’s so sad. He should just be quiet. That would be the best thing for everyone. We should try to keep him quiet, for his own good.” My thinking this way and my seeing my guru in this way comes about because of my own mundane consciousness. It is just like those people five thousand years ago who thought Krishna was a mundane person. They only thought that way because they were mundane people.

To think of my guru as a mundane person is to live in bad faith. It is how I think when I flee from my own personal reality. It is how I think when I resolve to avoid seeing what it is that has brought me to this material world. It is a symptom of a sickness of the soul. It condemns me to a life of darkness.  

The guru opens our eyes with the torchlight of knowledge. What that light reveals is the truth of why we’re here in this material world. It allows us to actually see our own personal reality. It reveals to us our true identity.

In the torchlight of the knowledge that the guru gives me, I see the faultiness (drsta-dosa) that binds me to this material world. The approach of that truth is a dreadful thing. When I catch a glimmer of it, I am filled with embarrassment and shame. Like Oedipus, I would prefer to be blind than to see that faultiness. Yet my guru tolerates my resistance and continues to shine the torchlight of knowledge upon me.

To surrender to guru and Krishna means to turn my face toward the light that my guru shines upon me, despite my embarrassment and shame. I then see guru and Krishna and my own self in our actual positions. In this way I progress toward the ultimate goal of life.