Vanity thought#98. Clarity search.

I was kinda in a hurry today and started my daily rounds even before I could go to the bathroom and brush my teeth, I was half asleep. It was nice, actually. My mind hasn’t woken up yet and hasn’t filled itself with all mundane garbage that keeps it going during the day.

It’s in these wee hours that the importance of the Holy Name became clear to me. It is far, far more important than thinking about anything else. The Name is the only thing that matters, period.

Unfortunately this realization didn’t last long. As soon as I got up and went to prepare myself for the day the clarity was gone and I had all kinds of scheduling things, billing things, annoying things, managing things, responsibility things and what not crowding my mind and fueling it up for a hectic day.

Every pause I had since then I was searching for this lost clarity. Where does it come from? Where does it go? Why can’t it be maintained? How can it be restored? How can it be made to last?

Surely it is not simply a consequence of chanting in half awake state. What about the days when I wake up after an engaging dream? Those stay in my head for good half hour.

One thing this clarity might come from is overwhelming love for Krishna. If you got that you can’t physically think of anything else. If you haven’t got it, welcome to the club.

The other thing it might come from is super clear intelligence. If I really understand how this world works and what’s important here and what’s not than I can clearly see the chanting Holy Names cannot be interrupted under any pretexts. Where does this intelligence come from?

It might come from thorough understanding of our philosophy. If I read books very carefully and pay real attention it should be clear to me that I have to give up everything and start chanting instead. Or is there more to it?

I sort of understand this point now, why doesn’t it work? What’s missing? Is there a secret ingredient somewhere? Like in those situations when you can explain our philosophy very nicely to someone and they would look totally convinced but then say “it’s not for me”. Does it happen with devotees, too? Sure happens to me.

Like I was watching this old TV show today and there was this guy who said to himself that he should grow up and behave like responsible adult, but not today.

I think it all comes back to the taste, love, and devotion. Catch 22. You can’t get those without chanting (or any other kind of sincere service), and you can’t start chanting sincerely without some kind of devotion first.

Besides, there was a voice in my head that was telling me that I should chant even if I don’t feel any love, that intensive chanting is all I have to do in this world. Where does that come from? Okay, it could have been Paramatma’s nudge but I can’t count on it at all times to do the intelligence part for me. Not with every round, not with every mantra.

There must be something else.

An easy shortcut is reading books, searching for the mood, not for arguments. If I read books not to prove something to myself but to absorb other people’s devotion, it should rub off on me, too.

Arguments don’t prove anything. Lord Chaitanya could out argue anyone else and when He was done he could argue against His previous opinion and defeat Himself, too. I have observed the same in “real” live  – it’s impossible to win a debate against a fully committed person. You can bring a jury and they can declare your victory but that person will still be unconvinced and will not admit defeat.

It’s not the arguments that win the debates, it’s dogged determination, ie arguments do not possess absolute qualities, determination does, because if you have it, the Lord will supply the results and you will win.

Debates is actually a battle of wills, nothing more.

So, when I read our vaishnava literature I shouldn’t be looking for good, rounded, flawless explanations, I should be looking for devotion to the Lord. Forget the structure of the universe or the origin of the soul – it’s a total waste of time trying to argue something like that. Forget searching the vedabase for translations of some Sanskrit words or explanations of some puzzling episodes. That’s a waste of time and resources, too.

What I should be looking for is prayers, what I should pay attention to is glorifying the Lord, either by commentators or shlokas themselves. The value of Bhagavatam is not in its complete explanation of our philosophy, it’s in perfect glorification of the Lord.

It’s not very easy to force my mind to do that but at least I’m not in despair, not for now.

Maybe on the day when just don’t get it I will give it another thought but for now I’m saved and can go to sleep in peace.

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Vanity thought #97. Under the spell.

I keep wandering about Lord Chaitanya’s associates in Navadvipa and what standards they set for the rest of us.

Sure, they were the luckiest people in the universe to gain Mahaprabhu’s direct association and incredible mercy and participate in His sankirtana movement but it’s only half of the story.

The first half was their deep frustration and angst that nobody in Navadvipa appreciated devotional service. If we take Krishna’s words literally that He comes when the religion is in decline and it’s time to protect the devotees and punish the atheists, then sufferings of vaishnavas of Navadvipa’s should be put in the same line as those of Prahlada Maharaja or the reign of Ravana.

It must have been tough even though a lot less dramatic. Vaishnavas were ridiculed along with their practice of loud singing and dancing. They did everything right yet no one appreciated it and brahmanas of Navadvipa chastised them for perverting the scriptures.

They surely had a lot of faith to carry on under these circumstances as they had nothing else to support them – no ISKCON, no memory of Prabhupada, no mercy of Lord Chaitanya – there was absolutely nothing and nobody for them to turn to for spiritual strength. It was only their small group and Srimad Bhagavatam, actually their own interpretation of Srimad Bhagavatam as the rest of the scholarly community of Navadvipa had different views and conclusions.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like. Nowadays we take so many things for granted, transcendental things that give us a firm footing in this material world. We have Prabhupada’s personal example, he really existed, he really was with us, he really was Krishna’s messenger and he is undeniably perfect example of unflinching faith. We have his books, we have an entire disciplic succession coming down from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s time, we have gosvamis of Vrindavana who were personally participating in Krishna’s pastimes. We have a lot, and our lot comes from actual, tangible things we can see and feel and perceive even with our material senses.

Comparing to us devotees of Navadvipa had nothing but faith and each other. Not much different from some Startrekkers gathering together to talk in Klingon – no one ever took them seriously and thought they were just imagining things.

They didn’t care, though. They were absolutely convinced that Lord Krishna was the supreme source and master of all material and spiritual worlds and the supreme object of devotion.

So, how did they live with this faith in their hearts? Under the spell.

They did all the things that every brahmana of that age did. They worshiped the Deities, they worshiped the Ganges, they worshiped Tulasi – actually we are doing exactly the same things now.  Some of us complain of the lack of spiritual progress and fulfillment, some of us think we need something more, we need to move to Vrindavana to progress further, we need to listen to rasika vaishnavas, we need to find the best, absolutely perfect gurus from the dwindling pool of older devotees. We have no time to appreciate what we already have and we live in dreams instead.

It might not be bad, actually, it might be motivating, pushing us to commit more, exert more energy on service, make extra efforts. On the other hand, these sound a lot like efforts in the mode of passion – for the sake of future results.

Devotees of Navadvipa didn’t think like that. They didn’t have vague dreams about super advancement, about reaching the stage of bhava or prema in the next couple of years. They didn’t complain that they have been chanting for twenty-thirty years and achieved nothing.

As far as their own spiritual practice was concerned, they were happy and content. Maybe we should take a leaf from their book in this regard.

Even when Lord Chaitanya appeared among them they didn’t care much and continued with their worship and their kirtanas. They were surely under the spell of Lord’s yogamaya not to recognize him, and even when the Lord took to devotional service Himself after meeting Sri Ishvara Puri in Gaya they still didn’t recognize Him. They recognized his unmatched devotion and they were extremely happy in Lord Chaitanya’s presence but they still didn’t know that He was their worshipable Lord Himself.

I think this can be cited as proof that devotional service itself is the highest, most satisfying reward one can ever receive. When they were engaged in devotional service and glorifying Lord’s Names they had everything they needed, and even Lord Chaitanya personal presence didn’t distract them.

Of course when Lord Chaitanya revealed Himself everything changed but until then they didn’t know how good they had it.

Maybe same can be applied to us – we don’t know how good we have it here. We don’t fully appreciate what we are given and by desiring something else we diminish the value of the service we already have.

In a way we are living under the spell, too, except it’s mostly mahamaya spell, but I believe for some of the most fortunate among us it is Lord’s internal potency that keeps them going here, worshiping the Deities, distributing books, preaching, praying etc. If that energy were to withdraw itself these devotees would go as crazy as Lord Chaitanya, crying “Krishna, Krishna, were are you?” and rolling on the ground in agony. We can’t have it here, and, more importantly, are these external manifestations principally better than worshiping the Deities or distributing books? Are they? Are they more pleasing to the Lord?

I’m not sure. As long as we are engaged in preaching mission this restraint is absolutely necessary.

Or maybe I’m simply justifying my own lack of progress. That is also possible.

On the other hand – what have I got to lose? What misfortune can paying more attention to my daily duties can possibly bring to me? Nothing, it’s a win-win deal, the only losing part is my passionate desire to become the best devotee ever as fast as possible.

That must be sacrificed anyway and I should develop proper motivation instead.

Vanity thought #96. And then there is life.

Following up on yesterday’s thoughts I checked out how things are going on for people who decided to stick with their gurus no matter what. With limited time I looked up one prominent guru who left ISKCON about ten years ago. There’s no way I can learn all about their lives in one day but there are few things that are impossible to ignore.

I am in no position to judge any of them so I’ll try to avoid any accusations.

Main thing that separates them from me or from their godbrothers is that they have decided that their love and devotion for their guru is bigger than what they thought they knew about Krishna. Meaning bigger than what they think they owe to Prabhupada and the rest of the ISKCON.

I guess they can cite two reasons – all they knew about Krishna and Prabhupada they had learned from their guru. Thus they couldn’t put themselves above their spiritual master when he changed his mind about certain things.

Second reason is that they saw their guru as a person, not a position. Yesterday I argued that, basically, guru is a position – anyone can fill it as long as they carry with them the power of Lord Nityananda who is the adi-guru in our Chaitanya’s movement. I find it hard to argue against it when we have shiksha, diksha, mantra, sannyasa and probably a few more legitimate gurus and each of them is perfectly capable of granting us love and devotion.

On the other hand this guru as a position principle has its own danger of falling into impersonalism – “I don’t care who you are as long as you read from Prabhupada’s books.” As soon as we start to care about other devotees as persons and realize that they are dear to Krishna at all times regardless whether they’ve been put on vyasasana today or not, things start getting murky.

It’s easy to check whether one strictly follows Prabhupada’s books and interpretations and it’s easy to accept or reject any idea on that basis only, but, the whole concept of living gurus, possibly developing into living acharyas, is that they also have the right and capacity, granted to them by Krishna, to change and add to the teachings coming down the parampara according to time and circumstances.

Now it becomes the question of following the spirit and it’s not easy to judge anyone’s purity here. It’s far easier to imagine a couple of situations where there are clashes between different people judgments. By the very nature of the process some innovations will be found unacceptable. Unacceptable to who or what? Who can honestly say that these innovations are absolutely harmful?

As ISKCON devotees we follow directions of GBC, that’s our choice and our path. If it’s unacceptable to GBC we reject it, too.

But then there’s life outside of ISKCON.

I won’t go as far as to boldly declare than anyone trying to reach Krishna outside of our society is doomed to fail. I am doomed to fail outside the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and his movement but I can’t speak for other people. If they continue worshiping Krishna it’s between them and the Lord. They wouldn’t have left without His sanction and I don’t even want to think that they are so low and fallen that Krishna doesn’t care about their spiritual health anymore.

At least some of these devotees must be extremely dear to Krishna. One of them, I learned, was unloading some truck when he saw his first book – Sri Isopanishad. When he saw picture of Srila Prabhupada on the back cover he fell to the ground and cried. I don’t know anyone else who had such reaction.

Some others went through jails and psychiatric clinics in Soviet Russia and I don’t know which was worse. I also learned that some of them firmly chanted their rounds even under heavy medication when they could barely walk. Others actually preached in prisons and had the entire ward sing Hare Krishna.

What honest devotee can say that they never had real devotion and Krishna is leading them down the false path now?

There is something else at work here, and I believe it’s called life.

In the end our devotion to Krishna and Srila Prabhupada will be judged by how we manage to live together. In this particular case, judging from online discussions, there’s still plenty of resentment on one side and very little desire to reconcile on the other.

Time heals all wounds, though. It drives us apart and it brings us together. I just wish we never say or do things we might regret later on.

Just to be clear – I firmly believe that following the path laid down by Srila Prabhupada, within ISKCON, is the fastest way back to Krishna, but it is also the most difficult, I just don’t want to judge people who move at their own speed. We’ll all get there eventually and then we will all be asking forgiveness from each other.

Vanity thought #95. Asking for trouble.

Just heard this in one of the audio lectures I was listening while driving – guru’s purity and qualifications are not so important. This is a very dangerous ground – discussing qualifications of senior vaishnavas and gurus. One step to the side and I’m done for. Still, the topic is too important and thought provoking to pass.

In traditional vedic practice of performing sacrifices demigods are practically obliged to deliver the results, the whole karma-mimamsa philosophy is build on that – you do your thing and the universe will deliver, demigods are always at your service. If we look at the history there’s enough evidence to build a case for it. Ravana was doing his tapasya and Brahma had to deliver, for example.

There are ways to cheat demons out of their hard fought and deserved victories and benedictions, like stealing the nectar in churning the milk ocean story or entering the tongue of Kumbhakarna in Ramayana but these ways only underline the basic premise – sacrifices must be rewarded in one way or another, and, we know from Bhagavat Gita that these rewards are actually coming from Krishna, demigods have no say in the matter, even if we have no idea of Krishna supreme nature or even His existence.

We, on the other hand are dealing with Krishna directly, who is not a demigod and who is absolutely independent and thus can ignore all our sacrifices for thousands of years if he wants to. We can’t force Him to give us our rewards. In traditional practice the bigger the sacrifice the better – more ghee, more rice, more brahmanas, more severe and longer tapasyas – the results are directly proportional to the input, if you do it right, of course.

Not so with Krishna – He might bestow His full mercy in exchange for just a little leaf, a flower, and little water. Actually it’s in exchange for love and devotion, but you get the point.

So, how does it work when we follow the instructions of our spiritual master? What’s his role in delivering Krishna’s mercy and benedictions? Is he similar to demigods in a sense that if we do our part he will have to deliver? Just as with demigods, the actual benedictions come from Krishna as He is the source of all spiritual energies.

Or could we make the case for guru’s special position compared to demigods? Indeed Krishna’s mercy is contingent on guru’s blessings. No one approaches Krishna directly and the actual benediction is to be placed in eternal service to guru and vaishnavas, not Krishna per se. It could also be argued that since we are all spiritual personalities engaged in personal relationships of absolute nature then faceless, impersonal rules can’t be applied.

The guru is not obliged to bestow his blessings in exchange for chanting so many rounds and massage. He will most likely be very very merciful but he is not obliged. If we manage to displease or offend him in any way no amount of service is going to counteract that. He might forget, being human and all, but Krishna won’t.

There seems to enough ground to build the case that guru is in full and complete control of our progress. Or is he? Or to what extent?

It’s easy to talk in absolute categories, ie if our guru is a nittya siddha completely free from any influence of material energy, fully realized maha bhagavata. In real life, unfortunately, it would be safe to say that this won’t be the case.

That’s when the question of connection between guru’s own purity and our advancement becomes very important. It took ISKCON just a few years after Srila Prabhupada departure to realize that many of our gurus were not of the highest possible standard, and, as the society grows and new generations come in, this has become a standard perception and attitude.

Some asked the question very loudly – how much progress can we expect in this situation? Some went to search for better gurus elsewhere at the risk of offending their current spiritual masters and displeasing their godbrothers and other devotees. I don’t want to talk about them here, though, I’m looking at it from the perspective of devotees who choose to stay with ISKCON.

It’s from this perspective that the case for limited guru role in our progress becomes more prominent. It appears that we can indeed make progress even if our gurus are failing in their service themselves. If we are sincere in following their instructions that have been passed to us from previous acharyas than it doesn’t matter if our guru is secretly developing lust for young gurukulis, we still get our benefits. So the case can be made that the guru in his human, fallible form, is not in full control of our progress.

That makes sense if you consider that guru is an external manifestation of Paramatma within our hearts, or a manifestation of Lord Nityananda, the adi-guru, or Balarama –  doesn’t really matter. When the guru passes away the principle of giving us spiritual guidance does not cease to exist. At least we got the instructions that will stay with us forever.

What if the guru didn’t pass away but left our society and fallen off the path of devotional service? Does it mean we immediately get disconnected from the parampara and Krishna mercy? Silly thought, but all too real.

The reality could be that the guru falls of the devotional path several times a day, or even every couple of seconds – if his mind wanders away during japa, for example. Timescale and gravity is different, principle is still the same. It is perfectly natural for a living being in the material world to forget Krishna from time to time, we shouldn’t pay much attention to that, we should celebrate remembrance instead.

Situations like this are very very difficult to navigate if these “discoveries” suddenly blow into our faces and demand action on our behalf, but it only strengthens the argument that we should put a lot of personal effort to make guru “work”. If we leave no leeway for him to make mistakes we will eventually blame him for what happens to us.

Or we could decide that I will follow my guru one hundred percent no matter what he does. Such dedication sounds admirable but what if the guru really deviates from the path of devotional service and his disciples engage in activities that are not pleasing to Krishna anymore? I think in this case the disciple taking the absolute stand subtly asserts his own infallibility, too – there is no way I do anything that is not pleasing to Krishna. Then there’s the danger of getting attracted to non-Krishna conscious activities themselves, accepting them as a new standard and misleading future devotees.

So, at the end of the day I tend to think that while guru’s role in our progress is supreme we should also remember that a lot depends on our own efforts when the guru is not there or not in the position to appreciate them.

There is danger of impersonalism in both extremes – on one hand I might imagine that I don’t need a guru and thus deny the existence of spiritual relationships, on the other hand I might feel that devotional service to Krishna does not matter anymore and He will provide me with progress regardless, which the denial of our spiritual relationships, too.

Need a lot of skill and guidance from the heart and elsewhere to navigate these problems safely.

Vanity thought #94. Where is the proof?

I was looking through some recent blogs and found an interesting article I missed about a week ago. It was an answer to a devotee expressing his doubts in Krishna consciousness. I don’t want to compete for the better answer, in fact I’m glad I don’t have to answer at all – meaning I can’t fail if that person is not satisfied, but I can ponder over the same questions and doubts because they are quite common to many of us.

We’ve all been there, I believe, and each one of us got himself an answer one way or another, so let’s try again.

Each one of us formulates the questions differently, in essence, though they all ask for proof of the existence of the world around us and, ultimately, Krishna.

How do we know the world really exists? It could be one big elaborate hoax, we could be plugged into some matrix where all the visions and feelings are fed directly into our brains. Meaning when we see beautiful sunset it doesn’t really exist, it’s only a movie, in real life we might be locked up somewhere else. It’s a kind of forced dream from which we can’t wake up.

Well, we can’t really prove that one, but we can draw certain conclusions anyway, and we can decide on certain actions regardless.

So, let’s imagine we really are some ugly babies plugged into a machine that feeds us all our experiences. Fine, then we are ugly babies and so we do have existence outside the matrix, we are just not aware of it. It sounds exactly like what Krishna consciousness tells us anyway, except we are supposed to be beautiful spirit souls, not half developed embryos.

The world around us is indeed unreal, that’s why it’s called maya, I don’t think anyone can claim that maya presents itself in exactly the same way to everyone of us. We can generalize only to an extent that our assumed/assigned identities are similar. Otherwise everyone of us, ugly babies,  lives under his own, personal illusion.

Freeing ourselves is also independent of what anyone else is experiencing, they can continue watching the same movie from a different angle, while we can get liberated, and, in fact, we can continue living in the same illusion watching the same movie but see it as who we really are and for it really is. At least theoretically.

So what if we are in the matrix? How’s that different from Krishna conscious view anyway? So what if we can’t be certain how other people really feel? Isn’t it exactly what happens when we mistake guru’s mercy for ordinary display of anger? Aren’t we told right from the start that there’s no way we can understand actions and feelings of the pure devotees?

That kind of doubt is no doubt at all – it’s a sure thing, just presented in a different way.

Let’s continue with our assumption. Another thing we can do, while still in the matrix, is to decide what course of actions to follow. We don’t have much of a choice here, though. In fact we don’t have ANY choice whatsoever – we don’t have any experience outside our box, outside our matrix. We can’t decide to pull the plugs out, for example, as we are simply not aware of the plugs existence. There might be plugs, there might be tubes  – there’s simply no way to know.

That means whatever we decide to do will always be within the boundaries of what the illusion is showing us, we might just as well accept it as the only available reality. Meaning that whether you believe the matrix exists or don’t you still have to play by its rules. Just as Krishna says in Bhagavat Gita – everyone is forced to act under the modes of material nature, there’s no escape. Then he offers some solutions and we are certainly free to accept or reject them or to pursue some other religious practices – just like normal people who have no idea about our matrix assumption.

That means the whole idea of the matrix is moot – its existence or non-existence  makes absolutely no difference and we are back to square one – should we trust Krishna or not?

Here we come to the core of the doubts. These kind doubts are not about the nature of the world, not about the nature of experience, not about existence of the alternate reality. Those are just fancy dressings. Really what we doubt is our spiritual experience, the effect of our practice on our hearts and minds. If the devotee is content with his progress and happiness that serving Krishna brings him, his heart has no place for these kind of doubts at all. Or at least they will not appear to him as doubts.

So the real, and only question is – why do I not feel any progress, why do I not feel any spiritual happiness that was promised?

Actually the question should be modified a bit as it imposes a lot of underlying conditions.

– Why do I not feel happiness now, or in MY expected time frame?

– Well, is your expected time frame reasonable? How long, for example, do you expect to wait for manifestation of bhava symptoms? Three days? Three years? Three lives?

It is possible, though unlikely, that it will happen in three seconds, too. Our spiritual relationship with the Lord does not fall under jurisdiction of material time in the first place. Today, tomorrow, three hundred thousand lives  – time makes absolutely no sense to a liberated soul.

When we wait for manifestations of bhava here this process of waiting happens on a material, bodily platform conditioned by material existence and our material perception of time scale.  In this state we not going to see any bhava ever, the waiting is futile.

We might lament that Krishna is not showing us any mercy at all, forget bhava, just a little peace in our hearts. I don’t believe Krishna does not provide that. I’m sure there have been moments when we felt extremely grateful to Him. These moments come and go and sometimes it might feel like there’s a very long time between them but they still come.

So it’s not true to state “I don’t feel anything” and mean “never in my life”.

And that brings us to the unpalatable truth about Krishna – He is supremely independent being, He does whatever pleases Him, not us. If we expect to enjoy Krishna at all times we are going to be severely disappointed. The real truth about devotional service is that it does not depend on what Krishna does either. We just serve him, regardless of how we feel ourselves.

At least that’s what I’m praying for.

Now, if that devotee had read this post, would it be satisfactory? There’s no way to know but I suppose not. Our feelings do not depend on what other people do – that’s one of the features of the matrix like illusion, btw. Meaning whatever I say has no effect on how that devotee feels himself. He is living through his own karma and through his own conditioned emotions. Only Krishna’s mercy can dispel those. It might come from the Supersoul in the heart or it might come from external manifestations – guru, devotees, kirtans, books. If I carried some I would gladly share, too, but I’m afraid I’m the wrong person for this.

Whether it comes sooner or later does not really matter – Krishna knows exactly how it is going to happen and it WILL happen according to His plan. In the meantime He might be enjoying our agony in separation from Him. It’s when we completely forget about Him and don’t care whether we feel progress in our hearts or not – that is the time to sound alarm bells.

Distress of not getting any is part of the deal, indifference is not.

Whatever happens, even our temporary indifference, is entirely up to Krishna anyway.

Vanity thought #93. Being Christian.

Countless times Srila Prabhupada and our gurus caught us practicing mayavada. We don’t preach it, of course, our whole movement is designed to counteract the spread of mayavada in the world but when it comes to daily life we slip up and do all kinds of stupid things that could be traced back to mayavada. But that is a thought for another day, perhaps.

Today is about being Christians – are we occasionally guilty of that, too? I think yes, and in more than one way, too.

First off, Christians routinely pray to absolve them of their sins but then go out and commit them again. In general we are not half as bad but each one of us has at some point broken one or more promises we made to Krishna. I’m not talking about regulative principles here. I mean things we promise on the spur of the moment, like “never again I will eat this much halava”.  Perhaps even things we really try to mean like “I will serve You forever, with each moment of my life”, and then comes a moment when there’s this really interesting thing on the Internet and you know it’s bad but can’t stop yourself.

Isn’t it exactly what Christians do?

But that is trivial stuff, I’m afraid our similarities go a lot deeper. What do we think of ourselves as we engage in devotional service? How do we see ourselves? How do we see perfection? Do we fully realize at all times what perfection entails in regard to our present condition?

What I’m trying to say is that we see ourselves as our bodies and we want our bodies to achieve perfection, even if subconsciously. We want our bodies to reside in Holy Dhamas, we want our bodies to serve our mission, we want our legs to walk and our mouths to talk and our ears to listen and our minds to preach. Isn’t it true?

First danger is that we keep identifying with our bodies in the process. If we think about it from another end, from “I’m not the body” starting point we kind of aware of it, but when we look at how we act and think it’s still “I’ve done this, I’m doing this now and I’m going to do that afterwards” – a total bodily platform.

Even if we remember that “I’m not my body”, we still think of it in terms of my and mine. Actually our bodies do not belong to us, do not belong to our souls. Not if we surrendered them.

Remember the episode from Chaitanya Charitamrita when Sanatana Goswami got really sick on the way to Jagannatha Puri. He was so sick he thought he should kill himself by throwing himself under the chariots at Ratha Yatra. Remember what Chaitanya Mahaprabhu told him? “Your body is mine, you’ve surrendered it to me, you have no right to it anymore. Haridas, please tell him, he can’t kill or destroy somebody else’s property. What a thief!”

Remember the other story from Chaitanya Charitamrita about brahmana Vasudeva who met the Lord in South India? He was suffering from leprosy and his whole body was covered with worms, yet he didn’t consider his body his property at all. He thought worms have equal rights to it so when some of them fell out he picked them up and placed them back where they belong.

Okay, these are normal concerns – identifying with our bodies, everybody goes through them at one time or another, what has it got to do with Christianity?

Well, Christians believe that they would go to heaven to meet the Lord in these same exact bodies they are living in now. For those who died, their bodies will get resurrected and fly off to meet the God. They’d be purified of sin, of course, but they’d still be the same bodies they are carrying around now.

There was this memorable quote from the “Forrest Gump” movie, spoken by Lieutenant Dan, a Vietnam war veteran who lost both his legs and was bound to a wheelchair: “They even had a priest come and talk to me. He said God is listening and if I found Jesus, I’d get to walk beside him in the kingdom of Heaven. Did you hear what I said? WALK beside him in the kingdom of Heaven! Well kiss my crippled ass.”

If we serve the Lord on a bodily platform,  keep our attachments, and think that perfection is near – we are in the same position as Christians. If we look in our hearts we can find traces of this attachment everywhere and if we look into our hearts we can also admit that we’d be happy to see Krishna face to face in these same bodies. I, for one, admit that I’d rather was taken to see Krishna without the pain of leaving this body or the suffering I would have to go through for decades while this body gets crippled and disintegrates.

I will not by lying if I say that I’d rather achieved the perfection of chanting Shuddha Nam now and lived through the aging process without a worry than suffering through another twenty-thirty years. I can even give a couple of reasons why it should be better for my service and for Krishna to avoid the old age altogether. And that makes me just as Christian as the next guy on the subway.

They believe that Jesus died on the cross for them so they don’t have to go through this shit themselves. I believe Krishna will save me from it. What’s the difference? We are on the same bodily platform, looking for the ways to make our bodies more comfortable and secretly desiring not to leave them when we get to Heaven or Krishnaloka.

That kind of worries me, not because I’ve lost a reason to feel superior to Christians (though that, too) but because I see that I don’t really know who I am. I’m afraid my attachment is so deeply ingrained that I don’t see it most of the time and I won’t give it up easily simply because I don’t realize how much it really means to me.

Perhaps I’m biting more than I can chew, but what’s the alternative? Nothing, just keep biting.

Much, much work ahead. Need to sharpen my teeth.

Vanity thought #92. The thin line.

This is yet another mass media inspired reflection. Not really mass media, to be honest, but a searching and probing Turkish movie called Five Minarets in New York. Not really about New York either.

It’s a movie about Islam and its adherents’ search for God. Okay, they are not really searching for God in a sense they don’t believe God exists in any comprehensible form to search for but they are definitely searching for divinity in their hearts and that is something we can relate to, too.

Yes, fine, we have our temples and our Deities and paintings and pictures and stickers with Krishna while they have empty altars and patterned walls instead but how big our advantage really is? Is there a danger of abusing the boon of Lord’s presence in His murti form?

What I think can easily happen, and I speak from experience, is that we might treat our murties and pictures as nice accessories designed to make our lives happier. We seek spiritual safety in our temples, true, but we also often seek plain old material safety in them, too, and that’s where the lines might get blurred.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati famously complained that all his temples made his society weaker, fatter and lazier, sell the marble and buy printing presses instead. It would be naive to assume that this can’t happen in ISKCON, too. In fact it WILL happen, it’s unavoidable, it’s the law of material nature – you get a nice place to sleep and a steady prasadam flow and you start enjoying these things. It might be bad but, as a growing society, we must provide this kind of safety too all our members, all our congregation.

What will happen to our altars then? Will they become just a substitution to big screen TVs in karmis’ homes? What will happen to our kirtans? Will they simply replace Hi Fi stereo systems? Will our dancing satisfy our desire to go to discotheques?

In fact this is exactly what these things are supposed to be – replacement for less spiritual forms of enjoyment. Yes, it is great that we can turn any material activity like eating or listening to music into spiritual, it’s a great boon and benefit but it’s still seeking the same old enjoyment we have been seeking for thousands of lives.

Where exactly is that line that separates us from enjoyers and enjoyed?

I don’t know, I only know that it’s in our hearts and finding it is very very difficult. All those Muslims in the movie were searching for exactly the same things – turning their hearts to God.

We say “God has given us His murti form so that we can see Him”. They say “God is all around us and we so should learn to see Him in everything”. We say “Our Deities make us see God”. They say “Your Deities make you look outside your heart and miss the really important stuff”. We say “We see God”. They say “You also see a lot of things that you think are not God”, and then we say that “You don’t see God in our Deities, so what have you achieved?” I don’t know if they have a comeback for this.

It’s looking inside their hearts and being absolutely honest with themselves that I admire in that tradition. I their tradition you can’t BS your way through a small bathtub of prasadam and call it service to the Lord. We shouldn’t do it either but it happens all to often.

I’ve pretty much established for myself that I need temples to enjoy, not to serve. Of course I would have no chance to serve without temples, too, but it’s still no excuse for me. And is it only temples?

When I was young it was fashionable to talk about moving to Mayapur or Vrindavan, closer to the nectar. Precisely – so that I could enjoy the nectar. There was this Swedish lady who was asked if she wanted to live in Mayapur and she said “No, Sweden has everything I need”.  At that time I though it was a very mature attitude. Now I suspect it could be interpreted either way.

We are just looking for a place that gives us more comfort according to our version of what comfort is. God be damned.

In that movie the ultimate blossoming of the faith and understanding was overrun by old family feuds. Time, death, and karma wait for no one.

I wonder what the devotees in New Zealand felt after the earthquake broke and shattered their Deities. I am sure their faith wasn’t broken, far from it, I just want to have a glimpse of their new, deeper understanding of what God is and how He shows Himself to us.

I wonder what the devotees in Vrindavan felt five hundred years ago when all their newly built temples were destroyed and deities desecrated. I’m sure when God takes something away He gives something a lot better in exchange.

I’m not saying I’m past temple worship, but is it bad to think about it? I hope not. I hope if I find something it will make me appreciate the Deities even better.

Vanity thought #91. Due credit.

There was this thing that has been bothering me for nearly two weeks. Some technical matter that just refused to go away. Finally it came to a head a couple of days ago and someone came up with results that ran contrary to what I have been arguing against for two weeks.

It meant not only that I was wrong, it meant that all the data I had been presenting to that point was either bogus or I was a absolutely unreliable as a researcher.

Normally that would have signaled my total meltdown. This time, however, I was unusually composed. At first I attributed it to my own maturity that comes from devotional service. Things don’t bother me so easily anymore.

In reality, however, it was all a bit different. The matter was something I’ve never connected with devotional service, only as a hindrance to my concentration during japa. It had nothing to do with Krishna and it had everything to do with my silly pride. Not worth praying about, I thought. So when my pride came under ultimate threat and I didn’t feel like losing anything I thought it was a sign of my progress, but, as I said, it was different this time.

I had a nagging feeling in my heart that I should not pay attention this time and that strange feeling came from somewhere else, not from me, and it demanded the respect I usually associate with my “consciousness”, ie Supersoul, and it urged me to persevere and exhibit proper respect to the new findings. I went along.

It turned out that just a few hours later I have found the source of the problem and the ultimate explanation that supported and reconciled both my own data and the new, pride crushing discoveries, and I came out smelling like roses. That was quite a feat – from permanently ruined reputation to ultimate triumph in one day. Supersoul knows what He is doing, I can tell you that.

And it didn’t end there. As soon as the stress cleared out of my heart and mind I have found new powers and new determination to fully take to chanting, the mind has become clear, at least one troubling subject has dissipated. Apparently while I wasn’t taking it seriously, Krishna did. Apparently while I wasn’t taking the negative effect it had on my japa seriously, Krishna did. He, as the Supersoul, went out of His way not only to prove me right but to also free my mind and give me strength to direct it to chanting His Holy Names.

Apparently He has read my blog a few days ago where I complained that He never takes my side and He decided to prove me wrong. Well, you can’t argue with Krishna, when He wants to prove something He is not satisfied with simply presenting unbeatable arguments, He goes straight to the heart and removes the desire to argue itself. He just fills the heart with desire to surrender to His will instead.

After He did that I found it extremely hallow to attribute my little victory to my own prowess. It was all Krishna’s doing, it was all Krishna’s lesson. All credit should go to Him.

Now that this matter is clear I’m asking myself if it was worth it. Did I really have to complain? Did I cause any inconvenience to Krishna so that He had to prove Himself to me? Wasn’t it stemming from my lack of faith? Maybe I should have just chanted all my troubles away without making a fuss. Why did I have to waste Krishna’s attention on something so trivial? There are better things to ask from His intervention – I could have asked for unconditional service, for example. I could have asked for the taste for unconditional service. I could have asked for the taste for the Holy Names.

Instead I asked Krishna to prove that he exists. What a waste. What if I have only three wishes Krishna is going to grant. One wish has been wasted on silly stuff already.

So I am in two minds about the whole matter. On one hand it’s nice to attract Krishna’s attention, on the other hand it’s not so nice to waste it on something useless.

The lesson I hope I would learn, though, is that I should never take any credit for myself. Krishna is the ultimate doer and Krishna is the ultimate source of success, not me.

If I can use another wish today – let me remember this lesson forever, please.

Vanity thougth #90. Lotus feet.

This one is really diabolical – what’s up with the feet worship?

Krishna’s body is transcendental and, among other things, it means His body parts can act interchangeably and that means there’s no difference between His feet and His hands, for example.

No one I know has any experience of seeing actual Krishna’s feet and so their particular attraction over His hands has not been established, yet every one I know faithfully worships His feet. What’s up with that?

I think the reason could be that putting oneself below someone’s feet is a human way of acknowledging that someone’s superiority. Accepting being shorter is not nearly as effective in reducing one’s ego so we go for the lowest.

Feet indeed are the lowest part of the body but we also don’t judge body parts importance by the height of their location. The reason for the feet being lowest lies somewhere else and we know very little about it. I always assumed it has something to do with subtle energies and their flows, from “the soul is supported by the five prana currents” category. I have no idea how that soul support is even possible but that’s not the point today.

The point is that among all body parts the feet gets the lowest subtle energy discharge and the head the highest. In some cultures, like in Thailand, feet are considered so dirty that one shouldn’t even expose the sole of his feet in public or point his feet at anybody. It has nothing to do with feet being generally smelly and dirty from walking on the ground, even clean feet are still considered dirty.

Maybe I’m wrong here but that’s what I’ve got. This explanation at least makes it understandable why one would display his humbleness by putting himself below the lowest, sometimes in the mind, sometimes literally.

Again, why would one think that Krishna’s feet are the lowest is unclear. The records about those who can actually see and touch them indicate otherwise – they are called lotus feet for a reason.

So why do we worship feet? Why are we applying this anthropomorphic concepts to our spiritual practice?

Another point is how peculiar our foot worship is in the modern society. Everybody gets the idea of displaying humility, even if they don’t want to share in the feeling or the process, but those who do are treated as sexual deviants and perverts. Not only they get sexual stimulation from their foot fetishes but the whole idea of being dominated has pervasive sexual undertones, and the practice is quite popular in certain circles.

Question – do we have anything in common?

Is there a danger of contaminating ourselves with feelings of sexual nature when we set our minds and hearts on worshiping feet of our Lord and our spiritual masters and advanced devotees?

The question about anthropomorphism can be answered easily – since we don’t get access to our souls directly we have to learn humility through our bodies. We learn to bow down, offer obeisances, learn to worship the feet of our spiritual masters, who are present in their human form, btw. We learn to worship Krishna by worshiping our gurus in their human form and we learn that, in no small part, by physically lowering ourselves and subjugating our minds.

This practice is expected to develop proper attitudes in our headss and, eventually, in our souls.

There’s another aspect to developing humility and that is forcing ourselves to follow the orders of our gurus. No feet necessary but subjugating our minds and bodies to performing guru prescribed actions is probably more damaging to our pride. Offering dandavats is easy, going everyday out in the streets and begging people to accept the message of Lord Chaitanya is far more difficult. But that is also not today’s point.

So, while we are learning humility the easy way, by engaging our bodily concept of life in worshiping feet, don’t we run into a danger of absorbing the sexual desires that are usually associated with foot worship, too? When other people put themselves in the position of being physically dominated they get their sex fix, are we fundamentally different as to be totally impervious to this?

Or are we supposed to get our sexual fix this way? Isn’t it why it’s sometimes recommended to read about rasa dance to subdue our own sexual urges? Gopis were very big in feet worship there.

How not to cross the line here? I suppose putting oneself in a position of being dominated and feeling satisfied from it at its highest should not involve any sexual stimulation. I don’t know if actual practitioners ever achieve this but for us, for devotees, the process is remarkably similar, only that the objects are different – we worship Krishna and our spiritual masters, they worship mortal beings who can’t bring them absolute satisfaction because they are being, well, mortal.

So, how to not cross the line from actually worshiping the Lord and engaging in subtle sex? I guess if we see Krishna’s and guru’s feet as purely spiritual than there’s no harm if we are absolutely selfless in our lust. If, however, our lust is directed to material forms we only mentally try to associate with the Lord and we expect some gratification from it, what’s the difference between that and being a sexual deviant?

Not all is lost even for perverts among us (hello, seen the mirror lately?) Even if we see material forms, Krishna’s and guru’s feet are transcendental and fully capable of purifying our hearts.

Still, when I think about this subject and raise all these stupid questions its unnerving and confusing for me.

That’s why the best way to worship the Lord is going out on the streets and preaching. No danger of developing unhealthy attitudes there.

Sri Harinama Sankirtana yajna ki – Jaya!

Vanity thought #89. Confusion.

There are many examples of fearless devotees performing some wonderful deeds or going into dangerous fights, devotees who had absolute faith in Lord’s backing and protection – from Prahlada Maharaj to our Srila Prabhupada. Mankeys, or vanaras, helping Sri Rama to save Sita is another example.

They formed a mighty army but they also had no weapons, nor to attack nor to protect themselves. All they had is the faith that as long as the Lord Rama is on their side they will be victorious, and even if they die, they’d die for a good cause.

What I’m confused about is why do I get to feel quite the opposite. Granted, I can’t compare myself to those vanaras but the principle should still work, shouldn’t it? I should feel the protection of the Lord, shouldn’t I?

Next week my boss wants me to do something outrageous (or so I think) and I have a million of reasons why it should not be done and I don’t need a million of reasons to say right away that it is going to be a huge inconvenience to me personally. Okay, maybe you could say that as a devotee I should be equiposed in these situations, equally indifferent to good or bad karma, right? Okay, one might be equipoised but one still can’t claim total ignorance whether something gives pleasurable or painful feelings to his body and mind.

I mean I might accept the demands of my karma and plow through anyway as was instructed by Krishna in Bhagavat Gita but I can’t help but notice that these particular karmic results are less than welcome.

Forget that little confusing thought for a moment, where should I find the inspiration to rise up and fight?

Arjuna had Krishna and His very convincing presentation in Bhagavat Gita, he definitely had Krishna on his side, too. Not the case with me. This new assignment has all the hallmarks of a frivolous entertainment, if I begged Krishna to interfere it would be in my boss’ heart first. If I begged Krishna to interfere I would pray for his protection so that He could help me to get through this calamity. I mean, whose side is he on?

From my bitter experience I can say that Krishna is rarely on my side. More often than not He is on the side of my “adversaries”, teaching me lessons and giving me bitter pills. They are for the ultimate good, I know, but the result is that I can never count on the Lord’s help and protection. I’ve developed quite an opposite reflex instead. As soon as some fight or a trial is on the horizon I immediately feel Krishna deserting me and joining my enemies. As soon as it looks like a confrontation or some great effort is coming I sigh and resign to defeat – who can fight against the Lord?

If I was in that vanara army, I would have thought I was sent there to die and Lord Rama didn’t supply me with any weapons just to make it easier to kill me. In the midst of a battle I would have thought that the Lord is guiding my enemies arrows so that they could find me faster.

That’s why I’m not in that army and if I was available at that time I would have probably joined Ravana.

Jesus, when my mind gets caught up in thoughts like this I get all confused and whiny. In this state it’s very easy for me to empathize with the said Jesus when he cried “God, why have you deserted me!” before his death. If Jesus had these feelings, what to speak of me? My faith is nowhere near his level, I can get abandoned in a second.

Why is this happening? Shouldn’t Krishna’s interventions straighten my faith instead? Shouldn’t they make me more reliant on Him, shouldn’t they make me feel better protected? It is not happening. Why?

Okay, let me try to counteract – in order to receive Lord’s protection I must try to fulfill Lord’s orders first. The vanaras were not fighting their own war whereas I’m fighting for my own sense enjoyment. I can’t expect the Lord to serve MY needs and protect me seeking ways to forget HIM, because that’s what my sense enjoyment always leads to. So it IS Lord’s mercy, Krishna is not forgetting me, He is trying to prevent me from forgetting Him!

On the other hand – why are all my fights or other endeavors never in tune with Krishna desires? I mean I can agree that as long as I’m following Krishna’s orders I will enjoy His protection but in reality it is a meaningless assurance. It’s like saying “If I was rich I would never have experienced hunger and I would always had tons of the best food available”. Yeah, right, but I’m not rich so it means nothing to me.

Same with following Krishna’s orders –  it turns out I never do that and probably never will so Krishna’s promise of protection is meaningless and is inapplicable to me in my present state. He might just as well promise the Moon. It’s like watching game shows on TV with huge jackpots  – yes, people win, shows work, but not for me, thank you.

So, is the whole point of this is to prove to myself that I am not really a devotee because I’m always seeking ways of self gratification and never do anything for Krishna? Okay, point taken. Now what?

Next comes the logically following question – since a real devotee never feels himself as such, where does his confidence comes from? How does a real devotee juggle these two realizations – “I have no love for Krishna” and “Krishna is always on my side and he will always protect me”? One might say that a real devotee sees the Lord on everybody’s side as “suhridam sarva bhutanam”, then the argument would be – not every devotee who feels protected by the Lord has already reached the stage of perfection.

Mind boggling.