About disappearing swans…

A few days ago Youtube suggested me a video, a song, with “Hare Krishna” in the title, so I checked it out. I’ve written about another song by the same singer here already and I’m fairly familiar with his earlier music, but this turned out to be new to me. I knew he used to sing “Hare Krishna” in concerts but I haven’t seen it on any records.

The reason might be because it’s from a movie that came out after I joined so I never watched it and didn’t know it existed, until now. At first I thought it was too sugary but as I listened to the lyrics I thought it deserves to be explained and shared, not that I can really explain it with my meager intelligence.

We’ve had a fair share of famous singers using Hare Krishna in their records, starting with George Harrison. Boy George was a poster boy for a while, too, but there’s one notable difference with this Russian “B.G.” – his songs have always been very cryptic, like sutras. Btw, I’ll use “BG” to spare English readers from parsing his Slavic name. In the previously covered song I see appearance of Lord Caitanya, for example. Second appearance, to be precise – because that’s what Hare Krishna movement is – Lord Caitanya’s entrance into lives of those who were not fortunate enough five hundred years ago. I don’t know if anyone else can understand that song this way, no one on the internet, afaik, but I insist that this is a legitimate interpretation. Just reflect on the meaning of that line from Bhaktivinoda Thakura – “all the people of the world are patiently waiting for the time Lord Caitanya’s party comes to their door.” Just think about it’s meaning, let it sink into our hearts, and I’m sure you’ll see Him everywhere, too.

Anyway, back to this song. It appeared at the end of the movie, I haven’t watched the whole thing but from the plot descriptions it looks like a weird spy story. The song is timed in such a way that “Hare Krishna” comes exactly when the credits starts to roll – a reward for those who really pay attention, just like the Holy Name itself. The movie begins with another cryptic song about “Blue Janitor”, which I knew by heart in those days, but I never thought that it was about Krishna before I read our books. “Janitor” is simply an urban setting substitution for “cowherd boy”, function is the same. Perhaps it deserves another post. The video I post here is an extended version and singer’s voice is much much older than back in 1991.



In this song, however, Christians definitely hear about Christ – lyrics open with the prayer for “vanished swan” which disappeared into darkness. Russian case inflections make it suggestive that he prays *for* this swan, or *about* this swan, which kinda blows Christian interpretation – who are we to pray *for* Jesus? We can pray *to* him, but not for him, right?

Then comes the refrain – “let the saints give us protection”. Just think about this prayer at the end of each verse – how often do we appeal to the help of the parampara at the end of whatever it is we have to say? How often do we realize that we are completely dependent on our predecessor acharyas? How often to we reflect on the meaning of “rupanugas”?

Typically, our prayers start and end with Srila Prabhupada, but his strength didn’t come from nowhere – he spent years of sleepless night praying to Rupa Goswami’s samadhi for help and guidance, weeping alone in the darkness. Srila Prabhupada’s mercy wasn’t “causeless” in this sense – he fully prayed for it, pardon the pun.

So, who do we pray for when we embark on any new adventure? “Let the saints offer us protection”. Who are we to appeal to the Lord directly? If He ever listens to us it’s because of the mercy of the sampradaya.

Second verse is fully encrypted, 256 RSA key. If in the first verse “swan” can easily be identified as JC, the second verse talks about “sleeping trees”. What are they? Who are they referring to? It’s like passages from Rig Veda that can be easily translated but their meaning is incomprehensible. And there are passages there that haven’t been properly translated yet – it’s just word soup. So, I don’t know what Christians make of it, but to me “sleeping trees” are us, ordinary people who haven’t been awakened to our real lives yet. Spiritually speaking, we are senseless like trees, even though we can move about in the material world. This makes sense to me.

Second line talks about wind that doesn’t touch their dreams, or can’t touch their dreams, or won’t touch their dreams. How to parse this prayer? What I see is Lord’s mercy which is still being withdrawn from us. His lilas are ever growing but they don’t touch our miserable, tree-like existence. They don’t cross into our lives, they can’t cross down here, and they won’t. But if we pray for it… That’s what we do with chanting Hare Krishna, after all. We beg the Name to descend into our lives and wake us up from our dreams. But it won’t – not until we make ourselves ready.

Lord’s mercy is unlimited, but it won’t come into the heart filled with anarthas. So by constantly chanting, mantra after mantra, round after round, day after day, year after year, we slowly chisel away all the accumulated dirt in our hearts and hope that one day we’ll become worthy of Lord’s mercy. Therefore we pray for the “wind” that normally doesn’t disturb these sleeping trees. “Wind”, btw, is the property of air, it’s what brings movement, brings change into the world. It purifies and liberates and lifts us up. It’s a very appropriate prayer whichever way you look at it, and it ends with the appeal to the saints to extend their protection.

Next verse reminds us that in front of the Lord we can’t offer any excuses. We can’t blame anyone else, we can’t pass our faults as someone else’s. We can’t be dishonest. This is a very important point – the Lord resides in that corner of our hearts where we are absolutely honest. How often we ourselves go there? Not very, right? But that’s where the Lord dwells. But what to do about our faults? Next line tells us – “you yourself is a justification enough”. What??? How can this bag of envy and cheating and lust be a justification for anything? We can’t process it in our ISKCON realm of four regulative principles, for example. We can’t contemplate a situation where the Lord would accept one’s committing sinful activities and forgive one for that. It’s our red line – four regs or out. Nevertheless it’s the truth – our existence is justification it itself to appear before the Lord and become accepted. How so?

The easy answer lies in “tat te ‘nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo” verse from Bhagavatam which says that for a devotee absolutely every situation, even an unfavorable one, is a blessing from the Lord. The point is that whatever the Lord arranges for us, even if detestable by everybody else’s standards, is His loving and caring arrangement for our purification and benefit. When seeing it this way, as a matter between oneself and the Lord and without trying to impress others, one can appreciate the body and its karma given to us as a justification in itself to invite the Lord into our hearts, or rather to reveal Himself. With this vision one automatically gives up propensity to lie and hide his sins – there are no sins between us and the Lord, only His unlimited mercy and our lack of appreciation for it.

Next line further elaborates on this condition of the heart – one stands before the Lord without “bread in his hands”. In Russia honorable guests are greeted with a loaf of freshly baked bread (and a serving of salt). One we open our hearts to the Lord we realize we have nothing to offer to Him. We own nothing in this world and so we feel totally unqualified to receive Him. There are lots of personalities in Srimad Bhagavatam who attained Lord’s mercy but we are not one of them. Narada Muni discovered that every one of the otherwise celebrated devotees has this attitude of being unqualified and undeserving of Lord’s mercy in Brihad Bhagavatamrita.

Another feature of the soul in this humble position given in this line is that one has “no guiding star” in his life. To anyone else we can say that we follow this person or that person, this idea or that idea, prefer iPhones or Androids, liberals or conservatives, but in front of the Lord we have no one else to follow and no places to go, no other destinations. The song informs us that at this moment one feels himself infinitely alone. I suppose because the world and everyone else in it just fades away and disappears from view. Who are you going to turn to when you are standing before the Lord? No one else is there. Alternatively, the “star” in this verse can refer to stars pinned on the chests of brave soldiers and generals, feathers in one’s cap, so to speak. Makes sense as well.

And then, after a couple of minutes of the flute solo (this flute like instrument really carries the entire song), comes the last verse which repeats the line about “vanished swan” but this time it says that He disappeared only to come back to us again, and this time refrain has changed to “saints HAVE given us mercy”. This turn makes the song into an outpouring of vipralamha, the pain of being separated from the Lord, not just lecturing on things. Without deeply feeling Lord’s absence one cannot possibly cry for the Holy Name. Harinama IS the cry of the soul separated from the Lord, it’s not the sound of someone content with his life. It doesn’t happen to people who still think they own things, have positions, reputations, interests, goals, “guiding stars” etc. It’s only when we distance ourselves from these worldly things that we can turn our attention to the Lord and utter His name with love and devotion. Let the saints extend us their mercy so that we can actually do that.

After processing all this I changed my perception of “sugary” Hare Krishna that follows. It might appear sugary due to lack of practice, but its foundation is solid.

There are many other things I want to appreciate about this song. How the word “prayer” appears only twice in five minutes but every line is tied to it grammatically – because of Russian inflections of verbs and nouns. I guess that’s what it feels like when translating Sanskrit – there simply are no tools in the English language to convey all the nuances and poetic beauty they produce. That is not to say that English poetry is somehow deficient, but it’s different, and it means that it expresses certain feelings but not the ones found in Sanskrit, or in this case in Russian. They are beautiful in their own way, but different. Just like there’s no equivalent for the sweet beat of mridanga. Lord’s madhurya needs appropriate instruments to be expressed, it can’t be done with whatever, not fully anyway.

Did I mention that the movie with this song came out in 1991, which means it was recorded even earlier? Possibly at the time when Russians had only underground Bhagavad Gitas or, maybe, first imported Teachings of Lord Caitanya and Isopanishads at most. How did BG get this deep insight into our philosophy? For one thing, it’s not really unique and is common to all religious paths, Christianity included, but not to all Christians, naturally. Come to think of it, their anticipation of the second coming IS love in separation, though they don’t normally talk about it this way.

In this connection we can remember the story of Narada Muni who experienced a brief appearance by the Lord and then spent the rest of his life longing for Him. It was certainly love in separation, and we can see these examples of echoes of the original separation of the gopis in Vraja. It reverberates through the entire world, manifesting itself here and there, and it takes real appreciation for it to spot it in everyday events. At this point I don’t mind whether it comes from our devotees or from people like this BG. We should feel forever indebted to whoever brings it to us – amanina manadena. How else can we expect to chant the Holy Name? Only by seeing His mercy in every soul, every object, every phenomena coming into our experience.

Hare Krishna

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Vrindavan Welcomes

While hanging around the temple the other day I picked up “Vrindavan Memories” book and read a few stories from it. This book is a collection of personal remembrances related to building Krishna Balaram Mandir. Usually our memoirs are centered on Srila Prabhupada, on what he had done, where he had gone, what he had said etc, but this book is about stories between individual devotees and Vrindavan and therefore it provides an unusual insight into the early days of our movement.

Take the story of Surabhi Prabhu, Krishna Balaram’s architect. First he was invited to design Bombay temple but construction there hit a snag with the court case against the original landowner who wanted to cheat ISKCON out of the land. Having nothing to do there Surabhi was sent to Vrindavan to work on design of Krishna Balaram instead.

When their group arrived in Vrindavan they had nowhere to go and so they decided to start with bathing in Yamuna first – you know, to get purified before they get to know Vrindavan itself. So they went to the river, changed into gamchas, and started bathing.

Right at this moment an Indian man from a local group bathing nearby, in other words a Vrijavasi, got swept away by the currents and started drowning. There was huge commotion and devotees went in to save him but he was drawn under the water and they just couldn’t find him. The man drowned and his body was never seen again.

Just think about it – you go to Vrindavana for the first time. You know it’s a sacred land non-different from the spiritual world, and the first thing you see is this sacred Yamuna River killing a man before your eyes. How do you react? Do you treat her as a person and therefore hold her responsible? Or do you think about it is a dumb river, a mass of water flowing under the law of gravity? What just happened? What kind of welcome message Vrindavan is sending you? 

I’m still not sure what to think. Was it a spiritual decision by transcendental personalities and the message was that “life” as we know it means nothing here and can be legitimately taken away at any moment with no recourse whatsoever? Or do you brush it off as an accident, a kind of natural disaster with no one responsible?

Second story was told by Gunarnava Prabhu, the name I don’t think I have heard before, and there are actually two stories here. He was in a group of devotees who flew into Delhi and were told to go to the train station and travel to Vrindavan. So, they started off in the “civilized” world when they got on an airplane, albeit Indian. They arrived in a half-civilized world airport, but their next stop was Delhi train station and they’ve never experienced  anything like this before. 

Sights, sounds, and smells of Indian train stations are overwhelming. They’ve never seen so many people in one place doing so many different things, all seemingly chaotic. “Vibrant” is one word to describe it. There were screams and shouts, everybody was dressed colorfully but at the same time filth was everywhere, too. There were smells of trains, diesel fuel, smoke from the exhausts, cooked food being sold, food being cooked, spices, sweat, and urine. 

Okay, they went to the ticket office and decided that because the journey was going to be only a couple of hours they could get by in a third class carriage. Little did they know that two hours on the schedule means four or more hours in real life, or that third class carriage means standing room only for many many passengers, and that “passengers” included chicken, goats, and even cows. 

From Mathura they took the last bus to Vrindavan and they arrived when it was already dark. If you seen Vrindavan at night – the city is practically dead. All the doors are bolted and there isn’t a soul on the streets, not even animals. Lucky for them, a man spotted a group of lost looking westerners and offered them to spend the night at the nearby Ramakrishna Mission ashram. 

You know how our scriptures describe the Sun as an eye of the Lord? They experienced it for real the next morning when they first got the chance to see where they actually were. The Sun literally opens our vision of the world around us, and they were taking in the sights with the thirst of a tired pilgrim. 

They were taken by rikshaws to the Radha Damodara temple where ISKCON devotees stayed at the time and so they went through a maze of narrow streets with open sewage on both sides and it all looked decidedly medieval. “What is this place?” question was on everybody’s minds. Welcome to Vrindavan.

After a while Srila Prabhupada sent them a letter asking them to move onto the newly donated land in Raman Reti – where our Krishna Balaram temple now is. At that time (1972) Raman Reti was far out on the outskirts from Vrindavan Town and there was nothing there, it was just overgrown land and nothing else.

They moved in, they got a few huts to stay in, and that was all. There was no running water, no toilets, no plumbing or facilities of any kind, but they did get an electric wire coming from the main road. By that time it was already summer and summers in Vrindavan are unbearably hot. During the day temperature regularly goes into mid forties, means ten degrees higher than the human body. I don’t know how much it is in Fahrenheit. 238923 to the power of ten? This would be a suitable place for a joke about non-metric systems but 108 degrees Fahrenheit is about 42 degrees Celsius so they got at least something right in that system there. 

To relieve themselves from heat, or to actually survive the heat stroke, devotees would soak gamchas and chaddars in water, lie down, and cover themselves with wet clothes, waiting for them to dry, then rinse and repeat. The highlight of their day was when one of them would ride a bicycle to Loi Bazaar to buy a block of ice from ice-walla, bring it back, and make it into a cold drink. Once a day. They didn’t have things like refrigerators back then. One glass of cool drink a day was all they had available in transcendentally unbearable 108 degree heat. 

There was one devotee named Vyala among them. He was a pukka brahmacharit – very neat and very organized. One day it was his turn to ride to Loi Bazaar. Devotees also got a watermelon and it was decided that they’d wait for ice and then have a nice, cooling watermelon with nice, cooling drink. This time, however, Vyala was not back on time. 

Tired of waiting they decided to have watermelon themselves first and they left Vyala’s piece on a plate inside a hut. At this point one stray cow, which are everywhere in Vrindavan,  smelled a juicy piece of watermelon, spotted it in the hut, and went straight inside to get it. 

Devotees tried to stop her but nothing can stand in the way between cow and her food. Except small doors. She went through the outer room okay but got stuck in the door to the inner quarters. Her stomach was too big to squeeze through. Lucky for her, she still could reach the watermelon and she started chomping on it.

Because she was stuck in the door devotees could not get into the inner room and save the watermelon either so they helplessly listened to the cow enjoying her food. When she was done she backed out of the door but cows are not very good at walking backwards so she tried to turn herself around inside the outer room. There were three-four devotees in that room as well and they all started pushing and shoving her. The cow thought that she was trapped and she backed up into the inner room again but this time it was her rear end that went in. Panicking, she relieved herself and a huge pile of hot steaming cow dung dropped on the same plate where there was Vyala’s watermelon before. 

When they eventually got the cow out Vyala finally came back. Turned out the bicycle had a flat tire and he had to fix it himself on the side of Vrindavan road and it took a very long time. He was hot, sweaty, and very very irritated. He was cursing the bicycle, the tire, everything, but mostly the heat.

To his disappointment the ice block completely melted so cool drink was no longer on the menu. “Where is my watermelon”, Vyala asked hopefully. “Well, about that….”

Vyala went inside the hut and realized that not only he spent hours out in the burning sun for nothing – no ice and no cold drink, but that for prasadam he literally had only a pile of cow sh*t. He just flipped out. “I’ve had enough”, he said, and he left Vrindavan soon afterwards.

When I replay this story in my head I can’t contain laughter, it’s pure gold comedy, but there’s a very important lesson here for us. Surrender everything to Krishna means surrender everything. There’s absolutely nothing that Krishna will let us to hold back. Nothing. We cannot demand water, food, tolerable temperature – we cannot demand anything. 

When we approach Krishna there will be severe tests given and we are expected to pass. One can chide this Vyala devotee for not being patient and tolerant enough but he was given a test no one of us is ready for yet. He didn’t pass it but we are not even in the same grade. From his example we can only estimate what will be asked of us when the time comes.

Alternatively, instead of imagining all the possible things we will have to tolerate or give up we can concentrate on the chanting of the Holy Name and then absolutely everything else in our consciousness will have to go. 

In our lives we try to orient ourselves relative to all kinds of phenomena. “How do I react to this? What do I do when this happens? How to I reply here? What about that? Is it safe for me to think this way?” Our true position, however, should be relative only to Krishna/Holy Name. Once we see this connection our positions in regards to all the other phenomena will be clear automatically. We won’t have to think or ask questions about it. Just try to develop Krishna consciousness and everything else will fall into place naturally without any extra endeavor. 

Perhaps it’s for this reason that I’m not eager to go to Vrindavan anymore. I feel like I’ve seen everything that there’s there to see already. That is – I’ve seen everything I can see with my present eyes and if I continue looking – meaning I continue engaging my senses in my current materialistic mentality – I will be making nama-aparadhas. New eyes are necessary. 

Of course it’s not just eyes – eyes are only tips of the senses but the main perception occurs in the mind. Then the intelligence catalogs the experiences in the vast library of dates, places, meanings, and connections, and then the ego decides what kind of experiences I want to pursue in the future. 

I feel the need to cleanse this whole mirror in the heart, the one that reflects reality for my perception, before I dare to have another look at Vrindavan. Interesting thing – once this mirror is cleansed Vrindavan can been seen everywhere and in its full transcendental glory, too.

Another aspect of it is that Vrindavan is not a city, not a town, and not even a village. Vrindavan is a forest and Krishna lives in Vraja, which is a special kind of place that needs to be described separately. This Vraja or Vrindavan doesn’t have electricity, air conditioning, cool drinks, ice boxes, apartment buildings, cars and rikshaws, or the Internet. Or rupees in your wallet. If I interact with these things I’m not in Vrindavana and these are the things that Krishna wants to be given up completely. There will be a test as well so I better get ready. First learn offenseless chanting, establish your own Krishna Consciousness, then Vrindavan will appear together with Krishna Himself. They are inseparable, you can’t see one without seeing the other.

Sanskrit-Thai transliteration issues

This post is meant to elicit feedback, please leave comments below if you think something in this article is factually incorrect.

Common problems

Without going too far into history, Thai alphabet is part of a Brahmic family of scripts and as such, like Devanagari itself, was originally perfectly equipped for writing down Sanskrit. Many modern Thai words have Sanskrit origins, too. With time, however, correct pronunciation has been lost even though spelling in many cases remained the same. Pronunciation standards were not maintained and rather the way the common people say these words became official, and so modern Thai has many rules to regulate this “corruption”, for the lack of a better word.

In Hindi, for example, people drop final “a” so that Bharata becomes Bharat and Prabhupada becomes Prabhupad. Modern Thai goes further than that. Take Thai word for Lord Indra – พระอินทร์. First part is “Pra”, which is a honorific and doesn’t concern us here. “Indra” itself is อินทร์ – it has all the letters “i”, “n”, “d/t”, and “r”, but if you drop final “a” saying “Intr” becomes impossible so “tr” is dropped as well and pronunciation becomes just “In” – Pra In. In some cases full pronunciation is retained, however, like part of the official Thai name for Bangkok is “Mahintara”, which is basically “Mahindra”. In this case “dra/tra” is retained but a vowel is inserted in the middle to make pronunciation easier – “intara”. Sometimes it’s spelled “Inthara” – there are resorts and hotels with this name (to be fair, there’s also “Ramintra”).

Thus there are many cases where letters are part of the word but are silent and there are rules for when they are read aloud and when not.

Another way of simplification concerns final consonants – whatever consonant appears at the end of the word it must make one of the eight permitted sounds. Thus words ending in “r” actually end in “n” and words ending in “s” actually end in “t”. Sometimes, to an English speaker, this affects letters in the middle of words, too, like letter ล – “l” in the middle of ชลบุรี becomes “n” – ChoNburi. There are rules to govern these changes as well.

Implicit vowels – one of the first things to learn when reading Devanagari, are present in Thai but their pronunciation is not fixed. Depending on the position in the word they become “a” or “o”. In the word ถนน – which is written as “th-n-n” implicit vowels are read as thAnOn. There are rules to govern these changes, too.

Another major area is consonant clusters. In Sanskrit there are hundreds and possibly thousands of them but in Thai there are only fourteen. Any combination outside of these fourteen requires inserting a vowel, similar to “Intara” above. Every school child is taught English nowadays but without sufficient training and discipline even common words like “school” and “spa” (there’s spa on every street corner in Bangkok now) are pronounced as “sa-kool” and “sa-pa”. This rule isn’t fixed, however – proper pronunciation of fashionable words is a sign of social status so many Thais will say “blueberry” perfectly, but those who don’t care enough would still say “baluberry”. So, the rule for inserting “a” is there but it’s not applied when there’s a need for trying to sound like a foreigner. In any case, consonant clusters transliterated from Sanskrit need to indicate that they are, indeed, clusters and that inherent vowels need to be dropped.

In some cases Thai consonants become silent precisely because they are part of clusters that are difficult to say, notably in ศร combination which is important to us because it’s part of “Sri”. Second letter, ร, becomes silent and so words like Srinakarin are pronounced Sinakarin. Full Thai spelling is ศรีนครินทร์ – Srinakarindra, and “Sinakarin” is what is left of it after all the rules are applied.

Finally, and this is probably the biggest and the most obvious issue – some Sanskrit sounds have been totally lost. Five of them are in the “Gha .. Bha” group of Sanskrit letters, and there are no Thai sounds for ś and ṣ either. As there’s no Thai “sh” for Krishna, Thai speakers say “s” instead – Krisana (-sana because “sn” is not an allowed consonant cluster). These missing sounds need to be taught – how to make them, how to position one’s mouth, what they should sound like etc. This isn’t an issue with transliteration per se – because letters for these sounds still exists, but we need to teach people how to make totally new sounds and we need to include these techniques in our pronunciation guide.

Good news is that “sh” is common in English and so Thai people are very familiar with it already. Nobody has been a better teacher than “Share” button on Facebook. Otherwise, Thai pronunciation of “share” and “chair” is about the same – with soft “ch”.

A few words need to be said about “ch” as well – there appears to be confusion among Thai speakers whether letter จ should be written as “ch” in English (and so as “ca” in Caitanya). Bangkok’s most famous market is Chatuchak and it’s written like this on every map and in every travel guide, but when abbreviating many would write it as JJ market instead. “JJ Market” is also the name of a huge mall they built there. One English language newspaper in Thailand would write someone’s name as Chakrit but another would write Jakrit instead. However, all agree that Thai ruling dynasty should be spelled Chakri – not Jakri. I mention this because original Thai letters for “ca” and “ja” have been swapped from the time of Sanskrit and any possible confusion needs to be cleared.

Thai language also doesn’t have “v” and so “va” is pronounced as “wa”. In some cases this “wa”, which is technically a consonant, will be made into an official part of a diphthong – there are rules for that. As as result, “deva” will be read as “dewa” (or actually as “thewa” because of d-th sound shift). Words with “sva” will be read as “sawa” – because of v-w and insertion of “a” between “sv”.

When devising transliteration scheme we should keep in mind not only how to reverse all these rules but remember that many of the rules were often introduced specifically to accommodate wishes of common people. In effect, we have to go against what people want. Here’s a list of what needs to be accounted for:

  • teach production of new sounds
  • insist on pronunciation of consonant clusters
  • insist on pronunciation of correct final consonants when these sounds are not allowed in Thai
  • indicate correct vowel when a Thai speaker would instinctively read differently

We should also decide how strict we need to be with enforcing all these new rules. BBT standard for transliteration into English has been “100% accuracy” from the start and with so many ISKCON devotees studying Sanskrit it’s not going to be relaxed. In real life, however, English speaking devotees make no differentiation between na-ṅa-ña-ṇa, ta-ṭa, and da-ḍa groups of Sanskrit letters, for example. At most, they are aware of ś and ṣ but only vaguely about a and ā or u and ū. What seems important is “bha” type of sounds because every ISKCON devotee can make them and they form the core of our most common words like “bhakti”, “Bhagavan”, and “Prabhupada”. So, we need to decide which of these sounds and rules should be a priority and introduced forcefully.

Acceptance by Thai public is another area we should pay attention to. It can be of two kinds – impressions of people on the street and opinions of authorities when people ask for clarification. They are rarely the same, though eventually authoritative opinions prevail over initial public reaction. If the authorities (academics or influential monks in our case) do not approve of our selected method we will be allowed public space to preach whatever we want and even collect our own following but we will never be accepted as a genuine article by people who actually control Thai society. That will be ironic because these people spill gallons of blood to preserve old Vedic traditions against onslaught of modernization and new ideas. This is an important subject outside the scope of this article, but despite being known as a Buddhist country, Thai Royal court is governed by “Hindu” rules, Royal ceremonies are performed by caste Brahmins, and King’s main duty is to govern the country according to rules of “Dharmarajya”, making Thailand into a de facto last Hindu/Vedic kingdom in the world. These are the same principles that are promoted very heavily in our books so we should not be seen as a corrupting influence instead.

One final word – solutions to each of these challenges should include appropriate markup in the transliterated text and this could create an additional problem. I don’t think we can say that we’ve done a good job if our transliteration method cannot be used on digital devices like phones and computers and devotees cannot possibly type “Prabhupada” into their Facebook posts. Just imagine the outcry if every time English speaking devotees would try to type “Prabhupada said” and it would look like garbage on their screens or the screens of their recipients. They will quickly find a way around it and stop using our proposed transliteration. Then we will have no control if their workarounds are correct or how it affects their pronunciation. These days hardly anyone reads printed books and there’s little use for transliteration scheme that is good only for paper but is useless for computers, phones, and the internet. Our English transliteration is already affected by this problem, for example.

In the next section I’ll give an overview of several possible transliteration schemes.

Pali Sanskrit

This method is the preserved writing scheme for the original Pali and Sanskrit and I will refer to is as PS.

Pros – 100% accuracy, official status and therefore full compliance with ISO standards and full support on all digital platforms.
Cons – reading rule is different from modern Thai, over a dozen letters sound differently from modern Thai, and so the text looks unintelligible to a reader without pronunciation guide.

As I mentioned earlier, originally Thai script was meant to write down Sanskrit perfectly. Over the time, however, pronunciation of many letters have changed and now many of original Sanskrit letters duplicate more common modern ones. This has made them obsolete even though they are still part of Thai alphabet and are taught to children in schools. Thai name for Bhagavad Gita, for example, is kept almost unchanged – ภควัต-คีตา now vs ภควทฺ-คีตา in PS, it still uses ภ letter in front but now instead of original “bha” sound it makes “pha”, and original ค is now not “ga” but “kha”, making it “Phakhawat” (ทฺ-d from PS was replaced by ต-t). Same holds for the word “Krishna” itself. In modern Thai it’s กฤษณะ and in PS it’s กฺฤษฺณ – all the core letters are the same but their pronunciation has changed (to “Krisana”).

Looking at the list of problems to overcome – first is the “new sounds” – in PS original Sanskrit sounds are there, part of the alphabet, and they can be found in a variety of sources, starting from Wikipedia, but many Thai Sanskritologists reportedly do not use them when speaking. In this transliteration scheme new sounds need to be taught in the way they were pronounced before. Techniques for adding “h” sound to “b” to make “bha”, for example, need to be invented and explained in the pronunciation guide and people need to be reminded which old letters they apply to.

The other three issues are dealt with automatically because PS does not recognize modern Thai rules at all. Take consonant clusters, for example – in Sanskrit they are indicated by ligatures merging two consonants together and there are hundreds of these unique combinations. No keyboard, however, can have so many letters. What people actually do is use “virama” extensively instead. When two consonants are meant to be merged “virama” is put between them and then it’s up to the font to display a correct ligature. In the first words of Bhagavad Gita – “Dhritarashtra uvaca”, there’s a consonant cluster ś-ṭ-r. It is typed as (using Devanagari symbols, of course) ś – virama – ṭ -virama – r. The font then merges these three into one ligature.

In PS it works the same way. Virama in Thai is Pinthu, a little dot underneath the consonant, but consonants do not need to be merged and so no ligatures need to be learned. That śṭra combination is typed as ษ-Pinthu-ฏ-Pinthu-ร. Pinthu is not displayed on its own so I didn’t type it here, but it is shown underneath and it becomes “ษฺฏฺร”. Here’s with a bigger font ษฺฏฺร

In PS letters sound always the same, there are no changes for any reasons applied in modern Thai and inherent vowel is always “a” so Thai rules for occasionally changing it to “o” are not applied either.

Consider example of the word “mantra” – มนฺตฺร (used more for something like “incantation” or “prayer”, for regular “mantra” there’s shorter version of the same word). Let’s try to read it. First is ม-m, there’s no Pinthu, so “ma”. Second is นฺ-n with Pinthu, so just “n” – “ma-n”. Then ตฺ-t with Pinthu, so “t” – ma-n-t. Finally there’s ร-r, no Pinthu, so “ra”. And now we have ma-n-t-ra.

What I demonstrated here is the only reading rule and pretty short one at that, but it needs to be taught. Without it people won’t know what to make out of the text. They know about existence of Pinthu in principle but not how it is used in PS. Good news is that people can google how to read Pali Sanskrit and there are plenty of pages explaining it. Bad news is that the way people parse their own language into words is very difficult to change and even if there’s only one rule to learn ignoring all the old ones is going to be difficult, plus there are about a dozen letters where sounds are different, too. Thai letter ช – cha, for example, is very very common but in PS it makes sound “ja” instead of “cha” and memorizing this change requires effort.

Switch to using PS also needs to be indicated in the text. In our English books most of the Sanskrit is put in italics but not always. There are plenty of Sanskrit words that appear as part of the normal text, usually proper names. Readers recognize them by the use of diacritics and if there are no diacritics, like in “Veda” or “yoga”, the words are still read the same way. In PS, however, there are only two symbols that could be considered as equivalent of English “diacritics” (Pinthu and Nikhahit – anusvara in oṁ) to indicate that reading rules have changed and without them the same word could be pronounced very differently. Even something as simple as “yoga” won’t have an expected “a” at the end and would look like a misspelling to a Thai reader – unless there’s indication that PS reading rule should be applied.

Good news is that we can use italics for all PS words, even in verse translations (where italics are never used in our English books). The bad news is that italics cannot be copy-pasted between many apps. Facebook does not allow them, for example, and none of the messenger apps like Line, Whatsapp, or Viber support them. Good news is that simply surrounding words with spaces would indicate to Thai readers that there’s something special about them (spaces are not used between words in Thai, only between sentences).

Regarding accuracy – it will become similar to English. All the information necessary for perfect pronunciation is there and it’s up to individuals if they want to differentiate between sounds like n, ṇ, and ñ in speech and writing. Even better than English – all the symbols needed for typing PS are on standard Thai keyboard and so Thai devotees will quickly learn and indicate the difference between “varnashrama” and “varṇāśrama” – the difference which is often lost on English speakers.

Regarding acceptance by the public – no academic could ever say that PS deviates from the tradition and for many of them it would probably be even closer to tradition that their own stands. General public will find it, at least at first, as cumbersome, but this is also their opinion of “Rajasap” – language used in the Royal court, which is so high class and  flowery that it’s incomprehensible to ordinary people. It is still accepted out of deep respect for the institution and it is not expected to change to suit the common taste. In this sense, we can argue that Bhagavad Gita should be no less respectable and deserve an effort to read it.

Modern Pali

There’s no widely known term for it but it’s the way Buddhist Pali texts are recorded in Thai and then used by monks and laymen for chanting prayers on all ceremonial occasions. It tries to address the same problems as we have with transliterating Sanskrit and it generates the same kind of conflicts – what’s correct? what’s better for the people? shouldn’t it be made easier? how strict should we be? etc. The situation there roughly as follows. The ideal is Pali Sanskrit I described above but it is deemed to be too difficult  and is hardly followed. Google search gives ten times more results for “Modern Pali” spelling of popular prayers than for their “Pali Sanskrit” spellings.

However, when I searched google for the first line of Tipitaka, the main Pali Buddhist text, number of results was roughly the same for PS and modern spelling. Interestingly, the same situation exists for our common prayers as well: “nama oṃ viṣṇu-pādāya” gives 500 results and “nama om vishnu padaya” gives 50,000 while properly transliterated ślokas from Bhagavad Gita easily outnumber their versions typed without diacritics. That is to say – scriptures are preserved in their correct form but common usage isn’t, and this demonstrates importance of the ability to use transliteration in our own typing. I bet not many devotees can answer whether correct spelling of “sh” in Vishnu is “ś” or “ṣ” because they have never had to type it themselves.

Anyway, top results for “Tipitaka” are sites that usually offer alternative transliterations for the readers and Pali Sanskrit is always there among the choices.

Pali is studied by every monk wishing to advance in the hierarchy – it’s part of their “bhakti-shastri”, so to speak, but old (and so correct) pronunciation is not part of the exam so very few monks pay attention to it even if it’s the same textbooks written by the same Prince Vajirananavarorasa who institutionalized Thai Buddhism. There are also two “advanced” Pali courses which are far superior in content and demand correct pronunciation but completing them does not give one any social advantages like adding a special honorific to one’s name or rights to royal cremation so even fewer monks take them. When Westerners transliterate these Thai Pali texts into English they invariably use correct pronunciation and invariably note that Thais themselves do not read them correctly. It’s a known issue.

Here’s an example from Wikipedia, I won’t post Thai script, only transliteration of how it would be read. First line in Pali Sanskrit, second in modern Pali:

arahaṃ sammāsambuddho bhagavā
arahang sammasamphuttho phakhawa

The advantage of the second line is that every Thai speaker can read it right away without any training but it looks very different from the original. “Bha” has been replaced with “pha”, “d” and “dh” with “t” and “th”, “ṃ” with “ng”, but what is not immediately obvious is that long “ā” has been lost, too, and become short “a” instead.

Here’s another common prayer, this time I’ll post only Thai:

นโม ตสฺส ภควโต อรหโต สมฺมาสมฺพุทฺธสฺส
นะโม ตัสสะ ภะคะวะโต อะระหะโต สัมมาสัมพุทธัสสะ

Second, modern Pali version, has a lot of “ะ” which force the explicit “a” vowel and that’s how they solve one of the problems.

Consonant clusters are not as common in Pali as they are in Sanskrit but “sva” I mentioned earlier is very very popular and pronounced as “sawa” even if written correctly.

Pali has the advantage of being primarily oral and, more importantly, inviolable as language of liturgy, so monks can force what they think is correct pronunciation regardless of Thai rules, while people will learn to read it as they first heard it. Every Thai household has a book, a brochure, or a leaflet with these prayers somewhere around and they read them just as they heard the monks recite them.

I haven’t seen any enthusiasm among devotees for adapting these method, however. Nor will it sound anything close to what the rest of ISKCON devotees would expect.

Some new alternative

Our existing Bhagavad Gita is the obvious example here but the process would be the same anyway. New sounds (bha, sha etc) need to be taught and need to be indicated in the transliterated text. In English diacritic marks are used in printed books but almost never when devotees write or type themselves. So, if we introduce some new markings not easily available people won’t use them. In English it results in no difference between na and ṇa or śa and ṣa – it’s always na and sha, but in Thai there will be no difference between bha and pha and that wouldn’t sound right to an average ISKCON ear so new markings need to be not only taught in the pronunciation guide but also be usable.

For consonant clusters – Thai language has a character called Yamakkan to indicate beginning of the cluster but it is not included in common keyboard layouts and so impossible to use. The idea was that Pinthu, which is on every Thai keyboard, serves the purpose just as well.

I don’t know how correct pronunciation of final consonants can be enforced or indicated. One would just have to state in the pronunciation guide the rule that their sound never changes and hope people don’t forget to follow it while otherwise reading the text in their familiar way.

Inherent vowels can be made explicit and there are ways to achieve it in ordinary Thai, one of them is adding “ะ” after every consonant like the example above.

Here’s my analysis of the transliteration method in the existing Bhagavad Gita:

New sounds – bha, gha etc are taken care of by adding Pinthu or Nikkhahit above or below the consonant – wherever there’s space left. Ś and ṣ are not represented, however, and soft “ch” is used instead. Thus, the word “cakṣur” has the same ช for both “c” and “ṣ” – ชัคชุร. Same “cha” – ช is used in Kṛṣṇa as well whereas Thai word for Kṛṣṇa has “s” sound (but correct Pali Sanskrit ษ letter). “Va” vs “wa” is not mentioned.

Because Nikkhahit is being used to indicate “h” in “bha” group of sounds there’s no letter to indicate “ṁ” left so it’s simple “m” instead.

Consonant clusters are not indicated (partly because Pinthu has also been used for adding “h” to “bha” instead of its usual role) and so people would, reportedly, read kṣetre in dharmakṣetre as “ka-shetre”, or even “ka-chetre”.

Final consonants are not enforced so the word “cakṣur” would be read as “chakachun” (but with softer “ch” than in English).

Final ‘ḥ” is indicated by “ฮ”, which appears to be correct, but without giving the rule about its pronunciation it would be read as “ho” so that we have “māmakāhO pāṇḍavāś caiva” or “mucyante sarva-kilbiṣaihO”. It’s never used in this way in Thai but “ho” would be the expected sound at the end of words.

Inherent vowels are indicated properly – “man-manā” is มัน-มะนา. The way they are indicated differs for the first and second “a”, however. Long “ā” at the end is indicated by “า” so that’s been taken care of, too.

Regarding acceptance by the public – the first issue people notice is that spelling of “Krishna” is different from Thai, both modern or Pali Sanskrit (which have almost no difference between them). When someone asked about it on Pantip.com, the largest discussion board in Thailand, the answer was that Thai language still uses original Sanskrit but in our Bhagavad Gita it’s a transliteration from English – which is not the effect our books are supposed to produce. Beyond that, it needs to be investigated how an inquisitive Thai person will read transliterated ślokas after reading the supplied pronunciation guide (which explains only the production of “bha” sounds and not much else). Thai devotees have grown fond of this method, however, and do not see the need for any changes.

The prospects of adopting this method for the internet are bleak – because Pinthu and Nikkhahit are used in a way different from ISO standard for Thai language and any parsing software treats these combinations as invalid typing errors. How it displays these errors varies by exact combination and digital platform. On one end of the spectrum Chrome hides them all, on the other end iPhones and Apple software almost always  display them as clear errors. Typing these combinations is impossible on iPhones, possible on Android, and tricky on Windows – to produce “Prabhupada” one would need to type “PrabUHpada” and so enter symbols that go above and below “b” in a reversed order. They would still display as errors on iPhones, though. This is regardless of fonts or of whether it’s a website, an app, or an e-book – it’s considered an error on the level of the text parser itself.

Another consideration is that if we propose a new, non-traditional transliteration method people won’t be able to read our text online if they don’t have access to printed pronunciation guide. Traditional methods, on the other hand, everyone can google on the internet.

Finally, my personal opinion is that we should present 100% accurate Sanskrit transliteration and then leave it to people to raise their own pronunciation to this standard if they want.to. Robbing them of the opportunity to ever read Sanskrit correctly seems unfair. This has been done in English and it’s even easier to implement in Thai because it’s already present in the language itself. Not preserving 100% accuracy would also go against the spirit of “as it is” in the name of our Bhagavad Gita.

Тайный Узбек – Arrival of Lord Caitanya

I was listening to my music on shuffle and suddenly a non-devotional song from many years ago came up. Why was it there? Because it’s non-devotional only in a literal sense, the song is actually very cryptic and no one knows its true meaning, which becomes self-evident to anyone who knows about the mission of Lord Caitanya. I remember I was going to write about it all those years ago but it never happened until now, when I feel the urgent need to put everything else on hold.

The (Russian) title translates as “Secret Uzbek”, which doesn’t sound grammatically correct in both languages but that doesn’t matter because his identity is totally mysterious. From reading fan explanations on the internet I think Secret Uzbek is a code word for “Inner Mongol” – someone from Inner Mongolia, and in that singer’s mythology it could mean any Eastern Messiah coming to liberate the West. The singer is more into Buddhism, Tibetan mysticism etc but he used to sing Hare Krishna on stages and thirty years ago he was as popular in Russia as George Harrison.

Speaking of “Inner Mongols” – there’s a Russian book, mentioned by fans, and in that book “Inner Mongolia” is described not as a geographical place but it is located inside of everyone’s heart as a state of consciousness free from all material designations and in which a person sees his spiritual nature and the opulence of the spiritual world. And it’s not really “inner” because “inner” means something in relationship to “outer” world but they mean something categorically different – not here, not there, not inside or outside of anything. And they use “Mongolia” because it’s a play on words – if it’s “inner” it must be “Mongolia”, and in relation to real Mongolia “Inner Mongolia” is actually “outer” – it’s a region in China surrounding the country of Mongolia.

Anyway, please disregard the visuals, especially in the beginning – I’m not sure who the made the video and the images mostly serve to connect present day reality (some anti-government protests of 2011) to the message of the song itself. Keep in mind that it’s poetry and so you supposed to feel the message, the emotion, the import behind the words, especially when translation is done by a non-poetical person such as myself. I kept Russian lyrics as well.

Мы держались так долго, как только могли,
Но туда и сюда – напрочь забыли пин-код.
И теперь мы скользим, не касаясь земли,
И бьемся в стену, хотя с рождения знали, где вход.

“We held on as long as we could but, this way or that way, we completely forgot PIN to our lives. Now we just slide down with nothing to grab on to and we ram our heads into the wall even if we know where the door is.”

People of my age and older still remember the times of old morals – loyalty, chastity, honesty, modesty etc. It’s hard to stand against times, though, and even as devotees we are forced to accept the new norms where words like “infidelity” do not exist, where taking selfies absorbs most of people’s free time, and it’s perfectly okay to scroll through Instagram feed during a conversation with another person. We still strive for meaningful relationships and we do know how they should work, ie where the door is, but in real life we still do everything just the opposite. It’s the same thing with any other goal as well. We know how to learn things in depth but always study just enough to pass exams or prepare presentations. We know what a proper diet should be but we still indulge in ice creams and snacks. Or we know that we are not supposed to watch TV or movies but… These days every devotional video is put to some carefully chosen Hollywood soundtrack and I wonder how many movies they had to watch to find these tunes. There was a Janmashtami invitation with soundtrack from Call of Duty video game – I “shazamed” it and it was recognized instantly by the app. There’s a new dedication to yesterday’s Prabhupada’s Vyasapuja with movie soundtrack as well. It’s all pervasive now and we know we are not supposed to do any of those things but we still doing them and in this way our lives glide down to hell and we have nothing to hold on to anymore. Especially non-devotees – no dharma left for them whatsoever. Dharma means that which sustains so, in a way, we have to grab onto it to survive so it makes sense.

Second verse:

Но тяжелое время сомнений пришло и ушло,
Рука славы сгорела, и пепел рассыпан, и смесь.
Вылита. И тому, кто тут держит весло,
Сообщите, что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“Yet hard times of doubts have come and gone. The hand holding a cup of vanity has burned, its ashes are scattered and the drink is spilled. Please inform the skipper that the Secret Uzbek has already arrived.”

In the US and pretty much the rest of the western world there’s a serious crisis of leadership and it appears that no one is in charge but in Russia “the man holding the rudder” is still the same – Putin. The protests shown in the video were protests against his election, too. In Russian narrative drinking from the cup of vanity is their obsession with all things American. After the break of the Soviet Union they all thought that joining the democratic world will bring them peace, happiness, and prosperity, but after bombing of Yugoslavia, western support for Chechen terrorists, invasion of Iraq, and 2008 economic crisis that dream was shuttered and their leaders realized that a new course was needed. So the singer delivers the message – do not worry, the Secret Uzbek is already here.

If we turn to actual mythology then what I translated as “hand holding a cup” is “hand of glory” used in black magic, there’s a wikipedia page about it – it’s a severed and pickled hand of a hanged murderer. From his fat they made candles and from his hair they made candle wicks, and then inserted these candles between fingers of this “hand of glory”. Using it as a torch during robberies or burglaries was supposed to render people immobile, sleepy, and otherwise unable to resist. When this torch-hand burns out its effects are gone, too, and suddenly robbers are exposed and unable to hide themselves anymore.

See how this meaning is the same meaning I translated first – it’s something illusory used to fool people but eventually you realize you have been cheated. Magic or politics or history – same meaning can be expressed through different words, or same words can be interpreted in different ways to elicit the same understanding.

Skipper, “man holding a paddle” in the song, is probably Charon, the Greek god who takes the souls of newly diseased across the river Styx into the underworld. This meaning also fits if we consider it to refer to Yamaraja – Lord Caitanya’s arrival means Yamaraja’s jurisdiction over the world gets suspended.

Три старухи в подвале, закутанные в тряпье,
Но прядущие драгоценную нить.
Знают, как знает тот, кто пьет, опершись на копье,
И как знают все те, кому нечем и незачем пить.

“Three hags in the basement, wrapped in rags but spinning a golden thread, know it just as the one who drinks leaning on spear knows it and just those who don’t drink or have no mouths know it.”

Three women here represent fate, they are Moiras of Greek mythology and at birth they give each soul his life, determine how long it will last, and the third one would cut it at death. They know Lord Caitanya’s time has come. The man drinking off a spear is Jesus Christ who was given a vinegar soaked sponge on the tip of the spear when he was crucified. He knows Lord Caitanya’s time has come, too. The other two categories are spirits or angels who have no interest in drinking – no interest in sense enjoyment in this world. They also know that Lord Caitanya’s time has come.

Так раструбите на всю бесконечную степь,
Сквозь горящий туман и мутно-зеленую взвесь.
Добывающим соль и ласково сеющим хлеб,
Шепните им, что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“So go an announce to every corner of the Earth, go through burning forest fires or poisonous smog. Tell those who mine coal and those who tenderly plant wheat – whisper in their ears that Lord Caitanya is already here”.

Of course the song doesn’t say “Lord Caitanya” but “Secret Uzbek” but His identity is unmistakable to us.

Он не – “за”, он не – “против”, он занят другим, как Басе,
Он не распоряжается ничьей судьбой.
Просто там, где он появляется, все,
Происходит словно само собой.

“He is not pro nor against, He’s concerned with something else, like Bashō. He doesn’t control anyone’s life. It’s just that wherever He appears everything happens automatically.”

Bashō is the greatest Haiku poet and Haiku poetry sees the world in a different way. Lord Caitanya doesn’t take sides, He has no friends or enemies, and He is not here to fix our problems – a point hard even for us to understand because, dyed-in-the-wool materialists as we are, we expect that chanting Hare Krishna will bring us material prosperity of all kinds. Nope, Hare Krishna mantra was not given to us for that and Lord Caitanya has no interest in that either.

However, when the Lord arrives in one’s heart all the problems automatically disappear and everything naturally falls into place and everything becomes glorious. These are the benefits of bhakti mentioned right in the beginning of Nectar of Devotion.

Так передайте всем тем, кто долго был выгнут дугой,
Что нет смысла скрывать больше тупость и жадность и спесь.
И бессмысленно делать вид, что ты кто-то другой,
Когда Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“So please inform all those who have been twisting themselves into pretzels that there’s no point in hiding their ignorance, greed, and arrogance, that there’s no sense in pretending to be someone else – when Lord Caitanya is here.”

И даже если нам всем запереться в глухую тюрьму,
Сжечь самолеты, расформировать поезда.
Это вовсе не помешает ему,
Перебраться из там-где-он-есть к нам сюда.

“Even if we lock ourselves into the deepest jail. If we burn the airplanes and dismantle railways it won’t stop Him from coming into our hearts”.

Lord Caitanya’s mercy is unconditioned, we can’t hide our faults but we also can’t hide ourselves from receiving it. There’s no place His mercy won’t reach. He comes to even the most fallen.

И повторяю, что это не повод рыдать и кричать,
Все останется точно таким, как все есть.
А те, кто знают в чем дело, знают, и будут молчать,
Потому что Тайный Узбек уже здесь.

“I’ll say it again – this not the reason to scream and cry. Everything will go on as usual, but those who know it will keep silence because Lord Caitanya is already here”.

This is not anti-sankirtana call, as it appears on the surface, but it’s rather a call to stop arguing about irrelevant things like presidents, Muslims, or climate change. We are not here to fix the world, we are here to deliver SOULS, not bodies. Perhaps I need a separate article on the meaning of silence. In short, silence means silence about non-devotional matters. It means that no material sounds escape from one’s tongue. So we are not going to argue about elections and wars and whatever. Let all those things follow their prescribed Kali Yuga course. They deserved their time in history, let them have their moment, and we’ll keep silent about them and immerse ourselves in Krishna consciousness instead.

The song already implored us to preach this message far and wide – it’s not anti-sankirtana. But at the same time we should not disclose the glory of the Holy Name to non-devotees. That’s why earlier qualifications for the receivers were mentioned – those who mine and those who grow grains – those who hold on to their dharma. People are able to appreciate the gift of the yuga dharma only when they have appreciation for dharma in general. This way they can recognize it as the best of all dharmas – they need to know what to compare it to first.

It also doesn’t mean that there are people who should be excluded because of their moral degradation. No, it’s not an obstacle, but it rather means we should appeal to “dharma” side of people’s lives, however small it might be. If it’s gay marriage then we should appeal to their appreciation for loyalty and dedication, for example. There’s at least SOME dharma in everybody’s life. They treasure it and we should treasure it, too, and then we can give them the perfection of that dharma – the Holy Name. And then they are saved and Yamaraja can take a nap for the next ten thousand years.

In other words, we have to learn to see potential devotees in people. It’s easy to say “potential devotee” but we actually have to see their budding appreciation for dharma and only then we add yuga-dharma to that. Not that we see a degraded sinner and tell him to chant Hare Krishna. No, first we have to see dharma in that person, not his sins.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a bit of track. I just seem to be incapable of verbally expressing gratitude for Lord Caitanya’s merciful appearance in our lives. Maybe talking about mythology bumped me off track, can’t be helped now.

Thai Bhagavad Gita

I needed a quick place to show the state of the digital version of Thai Bhagavad Gita to people and thought that WP would be easy to post and access but the book is too big for it to handle. On my mobile phone it wouldn’t load at all and even on the computer it takes forever, and since WP doesn’t trim posts on the front page this whole blog became unusable, so Gita had to be moved – to git(a)hub, as it turned out.

Right now it can be found here. Need a picture of the real book for thumbnail and there are lots of characters displayed improperly on mobiles so it’s work in progress. Once done, will send it to vedabase.io.

Actually, any website that wants to display it can use it, too, I mean if it’s presented correctly etc and if local BBT doesn’t mind. This is not an invitation to scrap it off the github without saying a word, though.

Living in peace with Krishna West

I was reading something by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and he mentioned a stunning verse that immediately reminded me of Krishna West. In our books in appears only once, in the Eleventh Canto – translated and purported by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami himself. This should be enough of an authority for his followers but I wanted to investigate its origin a bit further. This is what I found.

In commenting on SB 11.20.9 Hridayananda Dasa Goswami apparently used Bhakti Sandarbha (A.173) for the purport because that seems to be the only place where he could have gotten the following verse mentioned by Jīva Goswāmī as being spoken by the Lord:

    śruti-smṛtī mamaivājñe
    yas te ullaṅghya vartate
    ājñā-cchedī mama dveṣī
    mad-bhakto ’pi na vaiṣṇavaḥ

    “The śruti and smṛti literatures are to be understood as My injunctions, and one who violates such codes is to be understood as violating My will and thus opposing Me. Although such a person may claim to be My devotee, he is not actually a Vaiṣṇava.”

That’s a very strong statement – they may claim to be devotees but they are not.

Krishna West argues that “devotional dress” does not exist and all the rules regulating our devotional appearances and behavior are Islamic in origin, or in any case do not need to be followed – because “preaching”. This argument is destroyed in this verse – we MUST follow injunctions of śruti and smṛti, simply going by what we think is “goodness” is not enough. Rejecting these prescriptions would disqualify us from being accepted as devotees by the Lord.

BTW, it’s plain obvious that devotional dress and behavior in ISKCON are a lot closer to South Indian vaiṣṇavas than to Muslims and I hope KW is not going to preach to Ramanujas or Madhvas that they are following Islamic rules, too. As you will see later, even if our codes were influenced by Muslims or Ramakrishnas it doesn’t mean they can be rejected.

So, back to the heavy speaking verse – where does it leave KW? What do they have to do? Embrace dhoties and saries and tilakas and halava? Not going to happen and should not be happening against their will. However, the verse itself (SB 11.20.9), which was also used by Jiva Goswami in the same anuccheda, gives a clue:

    tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta
    na nirvidyeta yāvatā
    mat-kathā-śravaṇādau vā
    śraddhā yāvan na jāyate

    As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ, one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.

Sridhara Swami, also quoted in the anuccheda, explains: “The word ‘karmani’ here means ‘regular and occasional prescribed duties’.” HDG translated it as “fruitive activities” in the word-for-word, so it’s not exactly “regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions” as in the translation. This gives KW a way out – they have to follow prescribed duties according to their culture, regular and occasionally rising. These duties might not be Vedic but, as prescribed duties, we should accept them as some sort of upadharma for degraded people of non-Vedic civilizations.

That’s where they get their definitions of “goodness” already anyway, like acceptance of pants or pizza or french fries or or veggie burgers. Let them do it, in fact, they SHOULD do it – until they feel satiated and become naturally detached, or until they develop taste for Hari-Katha and forget they ever liked these things.

In the anuccheda Jiva Goswami mentions a few other verses explaining the conditions for when one can give up following “karmani” – when one takes complete shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord and stops relying on anything else in his life, which is a pretty advanced stage not yet reached by vast majority of non-KW devotees as well.

In this way both KW and mainstream ISKCON can happily co-exist. It becomes a problem only when KW devotees reject prescriptions given to mainstream devotees as artificial. That’s when they become non-vaiṣṇavas opposing to the Lord even if they still claim to be devotees. They, effectively, start saying that rules they follow themselves – how they dress, how they eat, how they behave in public – are sattvic and “real”, but mainstream vaiṣṇava rules are bogus. Calling them Islamic inventions only exacerbates the matter.

There’s another discussion about whether following upadharma can take one all the way to the Lord, as KW claims. SB verse above means that if they still feel the need to follow it then śraddhā yāvan na jāyate – their faith has not been yet awakened. In this position they shouldn’t be arguing about how exactly śraddhā will eventually blossom into prema. That would be premature.

This mistake – that by following upadharmas they feel they are qualified to talk about “going all the way”, as they say, is manifested in another area – that they feel they are qualified to talk about dharmas given in śāstra, too. Forget about arguing about actual merits of wearing dhoties all the time – the mistake is to treat dharma and upadharma as equal in the first place. They might not use the same words but that’s what they mean when they say things like “the Lord enjoys french fries and puris equally because they are both sattvic and are cooked with love and devotion.” Cooking oil is not sattvic, only ghee is sattvic, so the Lord would enjoy french fries cooked in ghee better than cooked in oil, there’s no equality even there, and that’s before comparing root vegetable (potato), which grows in cold, dump darkness to wheat.

This can be explained in many different ways, but the bottom line is simple – upadharma is called upadharma for a reason – it’s not as good as real dharma. At first, I was doubtful that I use the word “upadharma” correctly, but no, it seems fit with the definition in SB 7.15.13:

    dharma-bādho vidharmaḥ syāt
    para-dharmo ‘nya-coditaḥ
    upadharmas tu pākhaṇḍo
    dambho vā śabda-bhic chalaḥ

    Religious principles that obstruct one from following his own religion are called vidharma. Religious principles introduced by others are called para-dharma. A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas is called upadharma. And interpretation by one’s jugglery of words is called chala-dharma.

It would seem unduly harsh to KW but they DO oppose the principles of the Vedas in favor of their version of “goodness” and they do think that Hridayananda Das Goswami is qualified to lay down new principles for others to follow, which is an indication of false pride being present, and it IS a new kind of religion when compared to mainstream ISKCON. I meant it to mean a sub-dharma not fit to be mentioned in Vedic texts but either definition is okay, mine was more generous.

The peace formula I propose here is simple – let them do their sattvic things, that’s how they’ll eventually get purified, but they shouldn’t reject rules followed by mainstream as bogus. They should just stay out of these “comparative studies”, nothing good will come from criticizing ISKCON. Most likely they’ll develop an attitude that is condemned by the Lord and the Lord Himself will stop considering them as His devotees. That’s a pretty heavy warning there at the top. As I said – stunning.

The meaning of “Lord Caitanya”

We think Lord Caitanya descended and then disappeared some five hundred years ago. On one hand it’s an undeniable fact, on the other hand it betrays our materialistic way of thinking about these things – in this version He gets born and dies as an ordinary human, we only use different words like “descended”, “appeared”, or “disappeared” for the sake of etiquette. What we mean, what we perceive in our minds, is actions of “birth” and “death”, so using more respectful terms doesn’t help very much. I think there’s a way to expand our understanding of what’s going on here.

In the introduction to Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the meaning of Caitanya as “living force”. In the first few chapters Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja explains the mission of Lord Caitanya in various ways and one aspect of it is to propagate chanting of the Holy Name and to purify the whole world through this chanting. In the introduction Śrīla Prabhupāda explains it in terms of “living force in immortality” or “character of the living force in immortality” and how the Lord makes it happen for the souls born in Kali yuga. Why not take it as the actual definition?

I mean under materialistic way of thinking “Lord Caitanya” means a person who was born and died five hundred years ago, that’s the main definition, and then we add the details with information about His divinity, mercy and so on. What I propose is to take “giver of immortality to the living force” as primary definition instead and THEN start filling it with details about when He was visible, what He looked like etc.

In relation to our gradual awakening from the dreams of māyā Lord Caitanya appears as He who gives the sound of the Holy Name and fills it with spiritual realizations. Prior to Him chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra was absent from this world and without His mercy it does not produce desired effects. Technically, the mantra itself was known, of course, but no one paid much attention to it, and now, when everybody is aware of its existence and benefits of its chanting, hardly anyone actually becomes a devotee – without Lord Caitanya’s mercy it’s not possible.

Lord Caitanya was also Kṛṣṇa Himself who appeared in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī but I can’t personally relate to it (yet), what I do know is that chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra effects changes in myself. I won’t argue if to other people Lord Caitanya means Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa nahe anya, but I would argue that to me it means gradual spiritual awakening, which is a legitimate part of His mission and He and His mission are non-different.

If I accept that this is how Lord Caitanya appears in my life then I can’t say “He disappeared in 1534” because that doesn’t make sense now. In fact, He NEVER disappears because His presence as “immortality of the living force” which fills the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra with spiritual potency does not go away, ever. Well, I can commit offences and stop chanting as a result or chanting would become ineffective but something tells me it would only be temporary and Lord Caitanya’s mercy would reach me even at my own worst.

Lord Caitanya is addressed as mahā-vadānyāya and kṛṣṇa-prema-pradāya in his praṇāma mantra. At this stage prema-pradāya practically means “giver of devotion”, exactly what I’m talking about, and mahā-vadānyāya means supremely merciful and magnanimous so there’s no way to avoid Him, means in this aspect of His personality He never disappears.

I remember this when I chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, my mind gets absorbed in mundane thoughts, and suddenly I wake up and purge them from my consciousness – it’s the appearance and mercy of Lord Caitanya. I might think it’s my own effort but it isn’t, I falsely appropriate it. Why do I remember to stop thinking nonsense things? Because of Lord Caitanya, who is ever present, ever ready to help, ever putting meaning in words “Hare” and “Kṛṣṇa” and “Rāma”, ever filling them and myself with living force and immortality. He didn’t disappear five hundred years ago, He is always here, with me, even if I don’t fully appreciate it yet.

Okay, but what to do with the fact of Him taking birth in Navadvīpa and then living for forty eight years “on Earth”, in materialistic speak? First of all, accepting materialistic worldview means accepting a timeline, which is also linear, not cyclical like in Vedic science, so let’s distance ourselves from that first. Lord Caitanya’s existence and appearances are not restricted by time, place, or circumstances, only by our readiness, devotion, and His mercy. If we accept ourselves as parts of the materialistic community based on science and history then we can’t see Him because that time has passed. If we realize that we are not a part of that world then we might pray for Lord Caitanya’s full appearance right now, subject to our readiness, devotion, and His mercy.

In one place, I can’t find it right now, Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja describes Lord Caitanya as mercy personified, which I take to mean that mahā-vadānyāya aspect has a form and that form is of a tall, large man with lotus eyes, long arms, and golden complexion. It might take a while for us to realize that feelings like mercy can have forms but we can start with the fact that we recognize things like “look of compassion” or “manifestation of mercy”. Mercy isn’t impersonal, in relation to our beings it takes forms suitable to us so that we at least recognize it as “mercy” and not as “malice”. Like a crying baby who perceives mother’s mercy first as sound of her saying “Coming!”, then adds a perception of her figure appearing in his view, then the gentle touch of her arms and warmth of her body, then a sensation of nipple in his mouth, and then the taste of mother’s milk, so Lord’s appearance in our lives is also gradual. It starts with the sound of the Holy Name and graduates in Goloka, just have patience and keep crying for Him. His mercy WILL take more perceptible forms, we just have to start somewhere and keep going.

Engrossed in materialistic thinking we do not recognize that the power which shakes off our distractions as we chant the Holy Name IS Lord Caitanya Himself, we take it for granted. There’s a similar situation with our thinking about atoms I heard many many years ago. We think that atoms have nucleus and there are orbiting electrons (not entirely correct but the most common model) but Vedic science would look at the same atom and say “it occupies space – either, there’s movement – air, there’s energy – fire, there’s bondage between parts of nucleus – water, and there subatomic particles themselves – earth”. Same thing, different perspective, different science. Materialists take existence of space or movement for granted but in Vedic science those are fundamental elements making matter, not protons and electrons.

Materialistic worldview and their understanding of the universe or history do not have any independent sources of existence, they are not objective reality. It’s a degraded “Vedic culture”, in the simplest terms, and periodic decline of religion was mentioned by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gīta, so every now and then the Lord appears even before the eyes of the degraded population so that some of us get to see Him “for real”. On average, I’m removed by about twenty five generation from Lord Caitanya and my ancestors were nowhere near India at the time. They didn’t see Him, how can I expect this body produced by them to see the Lord? They weren’t even among those who only heard of Lord Caitanya, or even heard of the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa. Those events, however, were recorded and accepted as “real” even by atheists. My ancestors were not qualified for that particular manifestation of Lord’s mercy, there were nowhere near it, so I get this mercy in the form of chanting that only begins to make sense, which is a solid start. What’s there to complain?

I know devotees who had a much better perception of Lord Caitanya’s mercy that me so I can see a gradient, which means it’s real and progress can be actually made.

The main point is to appreciate Lord Caitanya in the form we can perceive rather than raise our expectations in line with our materialistic upbringing where it’s all or nothing – you can either see God or He doesn’t exist. No, He DOES exists, and there ways to sense His presence other than “seeing”, we just not paying attention.

The meaning of humility

There’s one elusive quote from Śrīla Prabhupāda. Elusive in the sense I don’t see it explained anywhere else in his books. I’ve seen is supported in the statements of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī but can’t find them at the moment. The latest I’ve seen it is in this image on facebook but originally it’s from Harivilasa Prabhu’s memories on Following Srila Prabhupada DVD 5 (source):

Humility means that you are convinced beyond any doubt that there is nothing in this world, absolutely nothing in this world, not your money, not your family, not your fame, not your gun, not your education, nothing that will save you except the mercy of Krishna. When you are convinced like this, then you are humble.

It’s obviously quite different from a dictionary definition of humility or from how we talk about what it means to be humble or from Bhāgavatam examples of humility, and even from tṛṇad api sunīcena verse in Śikṣaṣṭaka. In fact, it is so different it doesn’t make sense at all. We can’t disagree with the requirement to see Kṛṣṇa’s mercy as absolute but why is it called “humility” here? I’m not entirely sure but I do have an idea and I do consider this definition of humility as a new standard. It doesn’t apply everywhere, obviously, but it’s what humility means in the ultimate sense.

To start with we need to look at general meaning of humility – it’s an attitude displayed in relation to others, though one can be humble in the face of events and impersonal forces as well. In any case, to speak of humility you need to accept the worldview where there is you and there are other people and things, and you all relate to each other in terms of “bigger” and “smaller” and “weaker” and “stronger” etc. You need to see your own power and the power of your counterpart and conclude that one power is greater than the other. Then you can start thinking about displaying humility. It would not make sense to talk about humility is these basic distinctions aren’t there.

In the quote Śrīla Prabhupāda gives us a few examples of distinct entities – family, guns, education etc. They are not our counterparts, however, but they are sources of one’s own strength when we compare it to that of “others” whose existence is indicated by mention of “save you” – there’s someone or something to be saved from. So we have three parts to consider – me, others, and sources of my strength.

Now let’s see what these parts mean in terms of Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy. “Me” could be me as the soul or it could be me as an embodied entity, forced by māyā to identify with material form. “Others” can be divided similarly into spirit souls and forms created by material nature. As we shall see later it doesn’t really matter, and the answer was given to a person still identifying himself with the body in the context of relating to material objects, not relations in the spiritual world.

So now we have “me” foolishly thinking that I’m am my body even if I do theoretically know that I’m not, so I have to elevate my current understanding of humility to that suitable to my real nature – jīva trying to free itself from clutches of māyā. That’s why the definition was given in the first place – to improve our current understanding. Then we have “others” who are not actually “who” but are “what” – forms created by the illusory energy. Jīvas behind these forms are similarly illusioned and have no control of what the forms do or how they appear because forms are products of universal guṇa and karma.

This basic understanding is actually quite revolutionary – we are not dealing with other jīvas, we are dealing with products of guṇa and karma, and even more to the point – with OUR guṇa and karma. Because we can’t perceive guṇa and karma of others and because we can’t perceive anything but what is allotted to us anyway. Nobody can do anything to you that is not in your karma. They can’t harm you and they can’t give you pleasure either. All that we experience is OUR guṇa-karma.

This means that we have a misconception about our real identity, we are aware it exists but it’s very persistent and we need to overcome it, and we are dealing with results of our karma which we perceive as “others”. We intend to counteract these results with our own powers which we draw from the sources mentioned in the quote – education, means knowledge, means we think we know what to do. Family provides emotional support, guns provide physical safety, wealth provides resources and so on. From Kṛṣṇa conscious point of view all these are illusory and unreliable. They are also in the same category as threats – they are both provided by karma. We have no more control over our gun as over a home intruder. It is the same karma that dictates that the gun is locked and you have no time to load the ammo and protect your family. It might work or it might not just as the intruder might attack you or might decide to flee.

What Śrīla Prabhupada is saying here is that actual knowledge means that in our interactions with illusory energy we can rely only on Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. Because He is in control of the illusion and because He can free us from our karma as well. Actual knowledge means all we are ever dealing with is Kṛṣṇa’s energies. There’s one energy to create our perception of the world and another energy to counteract that perception if necessary. Both are strictly controlled by Him and both work for our ultimate benefit.

It’s this vision – that there’s absolutely nothing but Kṛṣṇa everywhere, which brings humility. When death is coming it’s Kṛṣṇa who wants to kill me and when I’m saved it’s Kṛṣṇa who saves me as well. When Kṛṣṇa presents danger with one hand we can take shelter of His other hand, there’s nothing else to it. In this state we realize that we don’t have any powers ourselves but are absolutely helpless in the face of Krṣṇa’s all-powerful energies. Of course it brings humility.

If, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, we become freed from the illusion and we see actual spirit souls then the attitude of enjoyment and dominance disappears. We become servant of the servant of the servant, we stop competing with others’ powers but rather want to help them and serve them to please Kṛṣṇa better. That is the state of our constitutional humility which should be thought of in spiritual terms, not through comparisons to our mundane definitions.

Anyway, realization of humility as explained in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quote means we realize we never deal with other people or forces but only with ourselves (and Kṛṣṇa, of course). All the phenomena we perceive as “outside” are actually products of our own hearts and our own illusion. They don’t objectively exist. Just like in quantum mechanics – if you don’t look the particles aren’t “there”, they exist only as possibilities. These possibilities are converted into observations by guṇa-karma. If we take shelter of the material energy She would show us all kinds of things. If we don’t look all these things will disappear.

Humility means we don’t compete with creations of our own illusion but take shelter of Kṛṣṇa, or if we do decide to compete due to our lack of knowledge it’s only Kṛṣṇa who can counteract them anyway. The deep seated illusion that we do have some independent sources of power goes away, we sort of become stripped of our powers, and this realization brings humility.

This realization will not come about as a result of observing material nature – we have to stop looking at it and concentrate our consciousness on Kṛṣṇa instead. This means that my explanation isn’t really necessary – one can just absorb himself in chanting the Holy Name and the humility will appear naturally. It doesn’t need to be explained, it will become a self-evident, undeniable truth.

PS. One corollary of this is that when people get into fights and try to prove something to somebody or rage against something somebody has done they are actually dealing with themselves. The solution to fixing their perceived problems is not fixing the world but fixing their own hearts. In my experience people do not normally accept this suggestion but it’s the truth. All we need is to become Kṛṣṇa conscious and all the “problems” will be solved, which is what Śrīla Prabhupāda says in the quote – we need to attain Kṛṣṇa’s mercy (and then we can call the result “humility” as well).

Gurus and expectations

Last weekend our regular program class was on the section in the Nectar of Devotion which deals with not accepting unfit disciples, not constructing too many temples etc. It’s a pretty straightforward topic – one should not initiate too many disciples, certainly not with the idea to increase his own prestige. Śrīla Prabhupāda also discusses the obvious statement that one should not initiate those who are unfit – how sometimes it’s necessary for propagation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Nothing we haven’t heard of before.

What spiked my interest, however, was looking at the sources for this section. In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu there’s a line by Rūpa Goswāmī stating these three rules (we’ll talk only about guru-disciples one here) and then he gives a supporting verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.13.8). The way Śrīla Prabhupāda translated that verse later on, when he got to the Seventh Canto, is somewhat different from how he talked about it in NOD:

    A sannyāsī must not present allurements of material benefits to gather many disciples…

See how it’s not about them being unfit or about extracting material benefits yourself (by guru). This is something else entirely – do not make any promises. This has not been mentioned in the class and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone explaining the rule this way. Once I spotted it, however, it downed on me that it’s what the very first line in NOD says as well:

    … a person may have many disciples, but he should not act in such a way that he will be obliged to any of them for some particular action or some favor…

That is a development on the initial thought, which is based on one word in that Bhāgavatam verse – anubadhnīta, which in word-for-word given as “one should induce for material benefit”. This word is repeated in Rūpa Goswāmī’s own line as well, in fact it’s the only meaningful word for this rule, the other two are “no” and “disciple”. Then in both SB and NOD we see Śrīla Prabhupāda explaining various implications of that word. In SB purport it’s all about not making alluring promises and nothing about “unfit” or “for your own prestige”:

    So-called svāmīs and yogīs generally make disciples by alluring them with material benefits. There are many so-called gurus who attract disciples by promising to cure their diseases or increase their material opulence by manufacturing gold. These are lucrative allurements for unintelligent men. A sannyāsī is prohibited from making disciples through such material allurements.

It’s pretty straightforward here, too, but let’s discuss implications of this rule most of us overlook when it comes up in NOD or when it’s buried deep somewhere in the Seventh Canto. I mean this rule is evoked quite often but is somehow never put this way. When we were reading it last week in class it went straight over our heads, too.

In NOD Śrīla Prabhupāda actually gives an explanation why attracting disciples with materialistic promises is dangerous – it makes guru obliged, ie conditioned and bound up by karma. Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t even say what promises are forbidden, he says one should not act in such a way that he becomes obliged. Stated like this it casts a very wide net – any time one feels a guru is obliged to do something for him the rule has possibly been broken.

A disciple might have his own expectations, of course, it doesn’t mean his guru actually promised anything, but I can think of several examples where two hands must have been clapping, and they are not very comfortable topics to discuss. Still, let me try, I only try to understand the issue here, not cast any doubts on anyone’s spiritual purity.

A typical ISKCON disciple expects that initiation will bring him recognition, that he would leave his current social strata of uninitiated “friends of Krishna” and enter into an exclusive club of ISKCON members for real. It’s a huge step up, nowadays it’s somehow even harder to make, but it’s a topic for another discussion. Offering initiation so that one becomes a fully fledged member of community has been done since forever, including by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. In NOD he explains why sometimes this rule has to be broken but in the absence of emergency there’s no justification for this.

When most of our devotees lived in the temples initiated disciples expected a place to live and engagement in service. When I grew up it was practically a demand – every temple resident must be given service, and not just any service but the one suitable to his nature. There were tons of seminars on how to achieve this and they were given by gurus who actually felt that it was their obligation. These days devotees live mostly outside but temple management or project management is a big big thing, gurus might not be directly involved but that’s only because there are too many people to manage so they delegate these responsibilities. The point is that our spiritual leadership obviously feels obliged to provide comfortable situation for our devotees. It would be an anathema to reject this responsibility, it’s unthinkable – we spent so many decades indoctrinating our entire society it’s not even an option anymore.

No one can stand up and say “I’m not making any promises. You might have service or you might not have service. You might get living quarters, food, and clothing, or might not – nothing to do with me.” And yet this is exactly what Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Bhakti Rasāmṛita Sindhu, and Nectar of Devotion tell us – do not make promises.

For non-temple devotees getting guru’s blessings for any project is a must. They open a restaurant – it must be under auspices of a guru, you set up a publishing company – it must publish books by spiritual leaders, you start a farming project – it must be associated with a big name, too. In all these cases devotees expect their projects to succeed. I don’t know how much of an obligation it is for the spiritual masters themselves, I hope they don’t get caught up and do not make any promises.

Varṇāśrama is, perhaps, the most controversial topic here of all. The very meaning of varṇāśrama is to produce tangible material benefits. It must produce food – milk and grains, and some even talk about allowing polygamy. If our varṇāśrama projects do not provide sense gratification they are considered a failure. Of course we all say that varṇāśrama is needed for practicing devotional service but it’s just our code word for “comfortable material situation”, let’s not pretend otherwise. The full sentence should read “comfortable material situation is needed for practicing devotional service”.

When we look at varṇāśrama this way it’s hard to justify our gurus and even Śrīla Prabhupāda himself pushing for it and not breaking “do not make promises” rule. I mean we generally think that by following Prabhupāda’s specific instruction on varṇāśrama we can obtain satisfactory sense gratification, be it marital advice or gurukula advice or farming advice, or advice on making your own toothpaste. We treat this advice as promises, and as the most solid promises ever. It. Should. Work.

Why? Did Śrīla Prabhupāda consider that advice as his solid promises? I don’t think so. Did he use it to attract people? Generally – no, but sometimes devotees were inspired to get closer to him by engaging in those projects, succeeding, and then claiming their rightful spots in his entourage, like on morning walks. When a spiritual leader starts any such project now it does attract devotees and disciples. The word in SB and BRS is śiṣya, btw – any kind of disciple, not only initiated ones. Projects do attract following, that’s a fact of life, and so if someone talks these projects up to recruit people then he creates an obligation, and that would be against the rule.

The tough part is that managing ISKCON is impossible without making promises and luring people in. One of our senior leaders lured devotees through their wives, for example. Ever so subtle but the message was “you do this and your marital happiness is assured”. It’s just how the world works, so what can we do? Here’s a radical solution – stay out of it. ISKCON is a preaching movement meant to attract more and more people but the rules for them are not the same as rules for making personal spiritual advancement. Personally, we should not fall for the same type of propaganda we are forced to produce when we reach out to non-devotees.

Even more radical solution – ISKCON is not meant for our own comfort. We cannot expect or demand it to serve our material needs. It is not meant to provide us with pensions or provide emotional support or business opportunities or food or shelter – nothing, really. Only when we want to serve it without any such expectations, not even waiting for a thank you, we can start making actual progress the way Rūpa Goswāmī has meant it. When all these egotisitical interests are absent from our relationships with our guru we can start to appreciate him for what he really does for us – saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam…

Seeing Krishna Everywhere

We know that seeing Kṛṣṇa in everything is the goal of our practice. Maybe not the only goal but that’s what it means to be free from māyā – a devotee starts seeing Kṛṣṇa in absolutely everything. It’s the highest state of realization so we naturally think it’s not for us, certainly not at the present moment. It is true – we can’t attain this stage by our own efforts, it comes as a result of Kṛṣṇa bestowing His mercy so you either have it or not and we don’t. Still it doesn’t mean we don’t need to try.

“How can we artificially put Kṛṣṇa into everything?”, one might ask. “Not artificially”, is the answer. Kṛṣṇa IS in everything, the connection is always there and this connection is real  – we just have to find it. By His grace this connection will be realized to the highest degree just as we know “Kṛṣṇa” is God but full realization of this fact is yet to dawn on most of us.

This is what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī said on the subject of what it means to observe things in this world:

    We must find the link between whatever objects we come across in our day-to-day life and Kṛṣṇa, because every object is an integral part of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, to discover the factor that unites them is actual observation of an object.

We “must”! Actual observation of an object is to discover the link of this object to Kṛṣṇa. How’s that?

Science is very proud of its power of observation but here we see that they completely miss the point of “observation” is. Observation means to see connection to Kṛṣṇa. Well, okay, but how?

This is where Sāṅkhya comes in and we have no excuse not to study it because we are given all the facilities, specifically Lord Kapila’s teachings in the Third Canto. One might say “I’m not a philosopher, I can’t understand these things.” Okay, but it’s only a matter of effort – I’m pretty sure people who object this way do not consider themselves as scientists either and yet they know quite a lot about how the world works according to modern science. They know how cars work, for example – that there are engines where gas is burned, that there is a transmission, there are axles, wheels, breaks, power steering etc. They know how computers work, they know how refrigerators work and so on. Obviously not in great detail but the point is that they put in the effort to learn these things and they only need to put in the effort to learn Sāṅkhya, too. We don’t need to know it in great detail either – all we seek is a link to Kṛṣṇa, remember, not how to create flying mansions like Kardama Muni.

One way or another I put some effort while reading “Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”, a book which I covered extensively here, and I feel like I got the principle of how it works.

First of all – objects of this world do not have connection to Kṛṣṇa per se because Kṛṣṇa never steps a foot outside of Vraja, but they are connected to Viṣṇu who, in turn, is connected to Kṛṣṇa. As far as this world is concerned tracing its objects to Viṣṇu is going to be enough, certainly for the moment. That is also where Sāṅkhya starts – from Mahā Viṣṇu. I’ll try to delineate the essential steps, skipping what isn’t important for the task.

Mahā Viṣṇu casts a glance at pradhana and what is produced is mahat-tattva. Mahat-tattva is, therefore, like a reflection of the Lord, or a impression of the Lord left in the material nature. It looks exactly like Him but it’s not. It’s as attractive as the Lord Himself but it is also separate and so we can relate to it in a different way – as enjoyers, not as servants.

When we say “look” we mean only visual appearance but mahat-tattva is a collection of ALL God’s qualities – beauty, strength, fame, renunciation etc. We can’t visualize most of these but we can certainly perceive them with our minds. I’m saying this to decouple of our idea of “what is” from “what we can see”. Tattva means that which is, not that which we see.

Anyway, second Puruṣa avatāra selects a few qualities and from this set creates what we now call “the universe”. Our universe started with the selection of austerity, cleanliness, generosity, and truthfulness. We should keep in mind that what is meant here is the very essence of these concepts because the words we use come loaded with baggage of history. No one likes austerity, for example – the word bears negative connotation, but the essence of it still is a self-evident virtue, an undisputed moral value – the ability to discard something. It feels good to get rid of unwanted things and it feels good because it’s originally a quality of God. Purity is self-evidently good, too, and so are mercy and truthfulness.

Three guṇas get to work on these selections, mix and match them and in this way the complexity of the universe multiplies. In our case we take four qualities, color each in one of the three guṇas and we immediately get twelve different things. Then they can be combined in certain proportions, too, and in this way the universe expands.

What we now call the universe is a world of visible things. Somehow “tattva” for us is that which we can see. If, for example, we hear sound we accept that it’s real and not imaginary only if it has a source which we can perceive visually. Ākāśa sound, the “voice from the sky”, is impossible in modern science. When we can’t see things we use microscopes or we create visual models, like that of an atom, which turns out to be a very incorrect representation according to quantum theory but everybody still draws atoms with nucleus and rotating electrons.

In Sāṅkhya, empirically perceptive objects are the last stage of the creation and everything before them is actually “more real”. Empirical objects are like mp3 files, which encode songs into mp3 format. In the same way empirical objects encode desired sensations which exist prior, just like a song exists before being encoded into mp3. The difference is that in science we accept that songs are real but moral values are not. It would be interesting to investigate at what point science considers the song as “real” but let’s leave it for now.

There was a little switcheroo in the above paragraph – empirical objects encode sensations but what we actually want to encode, what we actually want to produce, are moral values as originally found in mahat-tattva.

When I look at the bedside lamp I see that it was designed to be beautiful – that is a quality straight from Kṛṣṇa. They followed a different standard of beauty but the goal itself is the same. The lamp is supposed to provide light in the darkness – to provide knowledge and dispel ignorance – another quality straight from Kṛṣṇa. Depending on how closely I examine the lamp I will find more and more ways the designers and manufacturers wanted to embody and present certain virtues or moral values.

This is how everything that is created works – first, there’s the desire to represent a moral value, one or more of Kṛṣṇa/Viṣṇu’s qualities, then there’s the effort, and then there’s the result. It’s sattva, rajas, and tamas. Three modes are involved in absolutely every act of creation, every act of production of every material object. One of the modes might be predominant but all three are always there.

Sattva manifests as a desire to see a form of the Lord. Not the complete form but one of its features. Once you see sattva in every object you see the Lord already. Not complete vision but something definitely from Him. Mission accomplished.

Rajas and tamas are also connected to the Lord but indirectly so we don’t need to bother about that if we see Viṣṇu already. It’s not difficult to spot His qualities but sometimes they are not obvious, too. Murder is universally condemned but the initial desire is for the Lord’s power to subdue enemies and do not say it’s not attractive. We all enjoy dominating others from time to time, murderers just take it a bit further. Same raw power of domination is expressed through rape as well, it’s not difficult to see it but most of the time it’s not what we focus our attention on.

The problem with murderers and rapists is that Lord qualities are not meant for our enjoyment so even if He has the power we should not appropriate it for ourselves. Second problem is that of ignorance – domination is only ONE aspect of the action, the unbearable suffering of the victim is another. If we ignore it then we’ll be surprised by what karma brings in – karma doesn’t care what part you particularly like, it serves the entire fruit whether you remember ordering it or not. Let’s not get sidetracked here, though.

The main point is to see how absolutely everybody in absolutely every action wants to express some aspect of Kṛṣṇa and how that aspect will be forever a part, and actually the root part, of every created object, like the dharma of the lamp is to give light, which means knowledge.

Another point is to remind that it will be an aspect of Viṣṇu, not Kṛṣṇa, which means we can relate to all objects only in śānta and dāsya, which means awe, reverence, and servitude. This is encapsulated in amāninā-manādena line from Śikṣāṣṭaka – we can only give respect to everyone and everything in this world, all attempts to relate in some other way will be misguided and are signs of ignorance of our actual relationships with objects of this world.

That video I’ve been watching for the past two months demonstrates this point as well. Just watch/listen/read it for a few minutes, the subject will come up again and again: