The futility of utility; the utility of futility
The futility of utility: Utilitarianism is today’s dominant belief system – if something is useful, then that makes it good. Utility is today’s god, the arbiter of good and bad, desirable and undesirable, even right and wrong. Utility has its value, no doubt, but as a lighthouse for living, it is limited and limiting.
Limited because utility is usually restricted to the materially useful because most people live for material things. Anything that isn’t materially useful is discarded as a waste of time.
Limiting because by deeming the non-material or spiritual level of reality irrelevant, it ends up limiting people to lives of uni-dimensional materialism.
However, such monotonous materialism is doomed due to the misery and mortality unavoidable at the material level of existence. That’s why utility ends in futility
The utility of futility: Understanding the futility of living at the material level can have immense utility if we use it as a spur for exploring the spiritual level of reality. The Bhagavad-gita (13.09) indicates that contemplation on the misery and mortality of material existence – on birth, old age, disease and death – impels us to seek spiritual wisdom. In fact, the Gita goes even further stating that such contemplation itself constitutes an item of spiritual knowledge.
Won’t such contemplation sentence us to a paralyzing pessimism as we agonize in vain over the inevitable? No, because Gita wisdom shows us a spiritual utilitarianism that is through and through dynamic, resourceful and optimistic. By the process of bhakti-yoga, we can use material things for serving Krishna, thereby purifying ourselves of our material attachments and realizing our spiritual identity.
Thus, by recognizing the futility of material things in and of themselves and their utility in service to Krishna, we can go beyond the futility of mortality and misery.
“Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona ﬁde spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratiﬁcation; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth – all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.”