Dormant prema-vāda posits that the ātman has prema or love inside of it for Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, but has forgotten this fact due to māyā. Bhakti, then, is a means to revive this prema by reminding the ātman of it.
If the ātman has dormant prema for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, then the natural question arises- how or why did the ātman forget it? The typical answer to this question is that the bhakta exercised his or her free will to not serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa at some point in the past (long ago). As such, it fell from Kṛṣṇa’s abode into the material world to enjoy but has suffered the consequence of its original ‘sin’ ever since.
We have seen in numerous articles that dormant prema-vāda contradicts Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi’s extensive treatise on the subject. I will not belabor that here. I was recently asked about the psychological effects of believing in dormant prema, which I will discuss in this article.
As I mentioned above, the concept of dormant prema is intertwined with the concept of the ‘original’ sin of rejecting Śrī Kṛṣṇa. My observations of individuals who are staunch supporters of both these concepts is that they harbor deep-rooted subconscious feelings of guilt. The guilt of having rejected Śrī Kṛṣṇa causes a type of trauma, which when internalized, takes on a life of its own. In the worldview of such people, everyone in the world is or was an offender to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, including the bhaktas they come in contact with, and even their own guru. Besides, as someone can fall down like an apple from the tree of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s abode anytime and anywhere, even those who take to devotion sincerely are liable to ‘fall’ anytime. What a bleak and unhealthy frame of mind! Such bhaktas do not trust themselves to do the right thing ever. They castigate themselves internally and hate themselves. A person who hates themselves cannot have genuine love or compassion for others. This is why numerous bhaktas are dismissive of others with ease. They do not value others for who they are – the default assumption is that whoever somebody is, they are or were ‘rascals’, or are liable to become ‘rascals’ anytime.
I consider the concept of original ‘sin’ a mental illness. People who harbor this notion look typically for a messiah or savior- someone who can save themselves in spite of themselves. Once they are convinced that someone or the other is that messiah, they will not budge from their faith. Fanaticism takes root, and any word or opposition to the messiah becomes intolerable. Original sin is also a handy tool to control one’s group members. This is why many such bhakti sects and also religions based on original ‘sin’ routinely practice thought control. Also, if nobody can be trusted in the whole wide world other than the messiah, then who is worth giving your time to? (Other than the messiah of course). Everyone else is expendable and/or mostly irrelevant.
The other side of the original ‘sin’ coin is the notion that there is dormant prema inside us. This suggests, then, that one is already a siddha – someone who is already a ‘pure’ bhakta. Like a person with amnesia, one has just forgotten it. People who think like this consider themselves inherently special. They may mouth words like ‘I am fallen’ or ‘most humble’, but internally their self-esteem is built on the false foundation of being a bhakta who already possesses love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. They demand and expect respect from others in a passive aggressive type of way. Call me ‘prabhu’, not dāsa! Truly speaking, they do not feel the need for a guru, as what is the guru going to give to them that they do not already possess? So what if one’s guru ‘accidentally falls down’? It has happened to every single person in the past. One can go on because one has prema already! Truly speaking, one does not need anyone else.
For a person with the above concepts, the focus is squarely on one’s own self. Either one is consumed with guilt and hates oneself and others (thereby being dis-respectful to others), or one thinks one is special because one already has prema for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. One is liable to go back and forth between these two frames of mind. Such ego-centric thinking at the two extremes produces an unhealthy frame of mind and distances one further and further from the truth.
The facts are these:
a) the ātman has no love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. As such, it is not a bhakta at all.
b) the ātman has been in the world from beginningless time. As such, it is not an offender to Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
c) an ātman who has received the special gift of prema can never again come under the control of māyā.
d) the ātman can only get prema from outside – from another bhakta who has it.
e) there is no need to feel guilty for rejecting Śrī Kṛṣṇa as this event never happened.
f) no special messiah is needed to get prema. One’s own guru is all one needs. This is why finding a genuine guru is paramount in bhakti.
g) All ātmans are identical and without blemish
h) no bhakta falls from Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s abode. Harboring such a notion is an offense to bhakti, and one cannot get prema if one is offensive.
Dormant prema and rejection of Śrī Kṛṣṇa are intertwined concepts, which over time, produce an unhealthy frame of mind. Our worldview can become so distorted, and we can lose trust in our own self to such an extent, that we can freely give away our freedom to cultish sects. We will tend to develop a split personality – on the one hand, we feel guilt for rejecting Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and on the other hand, we falsely believe that we are already prema-bhaktas.
It is crucial to break free from the dangerous mental illness that results from such concepts. Otherwise we cannot even live a normal life and have friendly relations with others, leave alone achieving our goal of bhakti.