Vanity thought #159. Out of my hands.

Another japa diary. I don’t have any other input to process and my hands are full with chanting, nothing else registers.

Usually my first morning rounds are the best but today something happened that turned my day upside down.

It all started with a dream. I was at a brandy tasting(!?!) and I met a woman. It wasn’t that we “clicked”, it was like opening a window to a new world. “Soul mate” implies finding a perfect match for yourself but this woman made me forget who I am and offered a brand new, unique and exciting opportunity that could not be passed no matter what. And then I woke up.

The warm, happy feeling was still in every cell of my body and soul, I saw that it was just a dream but the opportunity felt very real. What will happen if I actually come across such a female specimen?

That’s when I realized that I AM the body and there’s no place for me in Krishna’s service. The dreamy feeling penetrated too deep for me to defend myself against. For the life of me I couldn’t find its roots, it went into the very core of my being, deeper than the deepest I’ve ever been aware of. And she wasn’t some kind of angel, despite the overwhelming attraction the reality has set in even in the dream – she was married, she went on and on about the place where she lived and the dream ended with me impatiently waiting for her to finish a telephone conversation.

Despite its power it wasn’t a new beginning – it was the same, well traveled road to nowhere, yet I was totally hooked on it.

So I gave up – there’s no way I can turn this sack of flesh into anything even remotely spiritual. I cannot find even a tiniest particle in my identity, in my “I am”, that isn’t grossly materialistic. There’s no point in me praying “I’ll do this and I promise that” – they are all cries for personal enjoyment, and not very well disguised either, and that’s not me, this “I” is not my real self, it’s false ego.

Why should I, or Krishna, for that matter, care about well-being of this false ego? Going along with my prayers is not only hopeless, it’s an exercise in futility. So what next then?

Being totally bewildered I also succumbed to desire to fix my home network once and for all, allegedly to copy japa recordings I downloaded earlier to another computer. Various ways to do it and all kinds of solutions and tricks have overwhelmed my mind and so the first thirty two rounds had gone to the dogs. I think I’ve lost half an hour comparing to my regular speed and names were coming out of my mouth with such difficulty that I resigned to being powerless over the process, over my mind, over my life.

Did I consider surrendering? Feeling helpless is a perfect reason, isn’t it? I ran into a small problem, though – I saw no point in trying to surrender what is not me. I could, theoretically, try to surrender my false ego but that would have been under false pretenses, too. “I”, as I know myself, was not worth surrendering.

Then I finally turned on those blasted japa mp3s and in quiet amusement observed a total reversal of fortune. Suddenly my own japa started flowing, not just chanting, consciously producing the words – it flowed entirely on its own instead. When I tried to think about it, I started staggering. When I tried to think of anything else, I started staggering. The only way to keep the flow was to shut up and listen.

I had no idea where my limits were. When I thought I was swallowing some syllables and tried to vigorously monitor myself – I staggered.

It was out of my hands, for the second time in the morning.

I couldn’t pray – it interrupted the flow, I couldn’t concentrate – it interrupted the flow, too. No mental activity was allowed. For a couple of days I was thinking how to introduce the “rapt attention” in this blog, today I was shown that it interrupts the flow, too.

To make matters worse, after one recording maharaj said a few words about importance of chanting or something, I didn’t listen, I just skipped forward to check if he is still talking and the only words I caught “simply chant for Krishna’s pleasure, don’t think of anything, and gradually…”

Don’t think of anything? Simply chant? Is this piece of advice a mere coincidence? Whole morning I’ve been wondering if I should let go of all thoughts and simply chant.

Why didn’t I think of that before?

Well, I tried to concentrate, I tried to put all my heart into chanting, I tried very hard to control my mind, if “simply chant” was so easy I would have done it long ago.

Finally, by Krishna’s grace, I’ve been given this wonderful flow of japa that does not allow for any interruptive thoughts at all. Also, to maintain this flow I need to keep up the speed, it just doesn’t want to flow slower, so to speak.

In the afternoon it went through some kind of rapids, I guess. Round after round it sped at four and a half minutes, on Prabhupada’s japa even faster. I was doing sixteen rounds at an hour and ten-fifteen minutes, solid.

Sometimes it was impossible to follow and it allowed my mind to wander away while still keeping the speed up, and at this time I thought I was going crazy – my awareness of the world around me went to zero. Only chanting, listening, and filling the gaps with the voice of japa recordings – nothing else was allowed if I wanted to stay sane.

God knows I missed lots of syllables but I was in no position to argue. Chant slower, enunciate every word, and the mind goes astray, japa stops, tongue stammers – all kinds of bad things happen.

Out of my hands, I reminded myself, again.

I can’t imagine where it will all go tomorrow. Too unpredictable.

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Vanity thought #158. Chores.

This is a boring diary entry, just doing my chores.

By all accounts this was turning into an uneventful week.

I don’t know how I didn’t see it before but this week chanting 128 rounds sounds perfectly normal. Perhaps it’s Krishna’s magic, perhaps I am actually losing interest in certain things and that freed up time for extra rounds.

Today is the second day I did these two lakhs and I’m optimistic I can continue it as a new weekday standard. The whole process takes about twelve hours since the moment I wake up. When I look at it like that I regret about the other twelve hours I spend on god knows what. It genuinely bothers me and I deal with it the best way I know – by ignoring it.

In absence of any revelations I concentrate on improving the quality of my japa. There’s a truly gargantuan task in front of me – chant 200,000 Holy Names with utmost concentration, humility, and respect. I don’t think the Name will reveal itself to me if I keep thinking of pleasures or pains of the material world.

Put it simply – the truth is that the maha mantra is the only reality, it contains both Krishna and all His forms, qualities, energies, all His devotees and all His pastimes. It is all in there. If, however, I still believe that the reality is my body and all the things that surround it, I’m not going to see Krishna.

I simply cannot divide my attention, I can’t maintain interest in both.

Philosophically speaking this world is real, of course, but unless I see Krishna I can’t see the material energy as it is and try to take shelter in it, and that is total madness.

So if I keep half of my mind on chanting the mantra and the other half on scavenging the contents of my fridge – I’m doomed to fail. Keeping my mind off the fridge at all times seems like an impossible task but I believe I’m making progress.

Progress not in a sense of how long I can stay on the mantra but in how fast I can bring my mind back. Maybe I’m fooling myself but I feel like it is much easier to drop all other thoughts and concentrate on listening. Maybe I should look at my posts from a few weeks ago and see if there’s any factual evidence left there. I remember I’ve been having epic struggles with my mind, it was totally out of control, it’s much more docile now.

What helps me shut it down is realization that I’m not this body and anything related to this body is irrelevant. If some memories pop up in my brain – irrelevant, if the mind starts thinking of food for dinner – irrelevant, job, family, friend, hopes, dreams, successes and failures – it’s all irrelevant and must be dropped the second I realize they stole my attention.

Of course the body and all its multiple interests must be maintained in good working condition but not in my japa time. I can always think about things later, all I need is one good thought, not two hours of repetitive nonsense. Krishna can supply good thoughts in proper time if I need them, they have not right to distract me from japa.

And so I was puttering along, making awkward moves from one thought to another, not quite hitting the hole but not quitting hope either. Then I decided to enlist some help – I searched ISKCON Desire Tree for recordings of japa and downloaded myself a few hour long playlist that has become my afternoon companion. It’s in the afternoons that I have less power to control the mind, mornings I reserve strictly for my own struggle.

It so happened that all the recordings are by sannyasis and initiating gurus so all these devotees have decades of tireless, selfless service to the Lord and so must be very, very dear to Krishna. They’ve also tried their best for these tapes. One thing is immediately obvious – when they say “Krishna” they really mean it, they are indeed meditating on the sound of the names. I chant much, much faster, but, in my defense, I have more rounds to cover and that’s all I really do. I don’t need to give classes, meet disciples, fly to some other country and so on.

At first I worried about it a little but I discovered that difference in speed is not a problem. It’s just the first hour after lunch I’m slower no matter what or whose japa is playing in the background. There’s one recording where one round takes twelve minutes to finish but I found that all I need is to try and raise myself to the same level of concentration and then chanting twice as fast ceases to be a problem.

Each devotee’s mood and approach is slightly different but whoever it is, they all stop my mind from wondering when it doesn’t want to listen to my own chanting. When I take breaths it listens to their japa, for example.

It took me a couple of days to get used to it, at first I was totally bewildered, there was nothing fixed neither in my mind nor in my heart, but maybe that’s exactly the point – just listen to the sound of the names.

The last recording is by Srila Prabhupada, it’s the one with shennai in the background. The sound of the music makes Prabhupada’s chanting sound more natural – the way you would hear it in the crowd.

Two weeks ago it helped me with pronunciation of “Rama Rama Hare Hare”, when my own voice had been drowned by Prabhupada my mouth found a new way to produce the sounds. Today I noticed that it’s slipping up again, the distinction between two “Ramas” was barely noticeable.

While I was paying attention to that I also noticed that my speed increased. I was chanting softly and effortlessly but the clock started showing unbelievable times, instead of losing ten-twenty seconds on five minutes per round all afternoon I suddenly started gaining. A couple of rounds clocked at four minutes twenty seconds and four and a half minutes has become a norm.

That was totally unexpected, that was not something I was looking for, it as just a gift. This is the third time it happened. First I shaved about a minute to five and half, then another half a minute dropped, and now I’m on four twenty if I don’t waste any seconds on pausing or repeating the mantra?

I don’t know the meaning of this. New speed mean new worries if I’m not up to it, means new worries about clarity, new level of energy and concentration. Actually energy level was about the same, maybe even lower, but the flow has improved. Why? What for?

Are people expected to chant this fast? There’s no one to ask, but if it happened there must be a reason, I just don’t know it yet.

Vanity thought #157. Source Code.

“Source Code” is a rather unfortunate name of a movie I watched over the weekend. Usually a source code is a text written is some programming language by computer programmers. It is then translated into machine code – a language any particular computer or device can understand. Thus one source can be adapted to run on numerous platforms – Windows, OSX, Linux, mobile phones etc.

In this movie there seems to be no connection to the original meaning but it will all come back together at the end, I promise.

If you ever wonder how fallen souls get out of this world – that’t the movie to watch. I think it best suits to fallen devotees – those who haven’t achieved their goal and were forced to be born again.

I don’t like “fallen” moniker put on a devotee, however, maybe failing or failed – fallen sounds like there’s no way back anymore, as if they have turned into stone hearted demons, enemies of vaishnavas. I don’t know of any such cases, I don’t believe they even exist. Devotees only suffer temporary setbacks, temporary failures, their destiny is to be reunited with the Lord in loving devotional service and they are separated from this goal only by time.

Anyway. Imagine that you fell out of the spiritual world, you wake up in a strange place surrounded by strange people. That’s how the movie starts – Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on a train, next to a chatty woman who keeps talking to him as if she’d known him for a long time. She asks questions, answers herself for him, gives a conductor his ticket and all Jake can do is to stare at her in total confusion. Then he catches a glimpse of his reflection in the window and he can’t recognize his face. He runs to the bathroom to check and sure enough – it’s not him in the mirror.

While he tries to collect his wits a bomb goes off and the train blows apart. Next he wakes up strapped to some chair in what looks like a wrecked helicopter. There’s a woman on a monitor calling out his real name. She doesn’t say much about herself or the organization she is working for, she only tells him that he has to go back on the train and that he has only eight minutes to find the bomber, and boom – he is back on the train.

Same woman is saying same things to him, same conductor asks for the same ticket, he has a watch to see his time running out and in eight minutes – boom, the bomb goes off again.

He finds himself strapped to a chair again, being forced to complete his mission, no one tells him anything else. And so on and on it goes in the same circle.

I guess that’s how our first few rounds in the material world go, too. We are strapped to this wheel of repeated birth and death, we can’t find our home anymore, just some powerful being orders us to be born again and again and each time we inevitably end up dead and then we see ourselves still chained to the same rotating wheel with no excape in sight.

Actually the powerful being tells us our mission, he leaves us clues, we are supposed to find and follow them – that’s the vedas or whatever religion one is supposed to be practicing.

After getting used to dying without any benefit, Jake tries to make the best deal out of the situation. He looks for the bomber but he gets attached to the woman, too. He wants to save her but his handler tells him she is already dead – he is just being sent back in time to find some information about future bombings.

Similarly, we are looking for the way our of this world but we get attached to life inside of it, too, and we refuse to believe that everyone we meet here is already dead. This universe has its own course and it can’t be altered, dead people around us can’t be saved, these walking corpses are not worth wasting our precious time on, yet we insist and die ourselves, again and again.

Every time Jake finds himself before his “judge” there’s only one thing that matters – success of his mission. Everything else is irrelevant. Eventually Jake realizes that and tries to finally find the bomber. Doesn’t matter how many times he fails, he can always go back and try again, each time eliminating dead ends and wrong choices.

That is just like us trying to find all kinds of ways to make it work. We try yoga, we try being nice to people, we try philanthropy, we try everything and we might even become very good at what we do but none of that counts until we complete our mission – find loving devotional service to the Lord. It’s not in total waste, though – now we know what NOT to do and it has some value, too.

After many tries Jake finally finds the bomber, reports him back to his handlers, saves the next target, but his woman dies in the process anyway. Not content with this ending Jake begs for one more try – to have his cake and eat it, too. This is where it gets weird and all wires get crossed. He is not supposed to, or even allowed to create and new reality, it should be physically impossible but it’s a movie and in the name of the great story they need a happy ending.

When filmmakers make time travel movies they always leave lots of loose ends like this, as I said a couple of days ago, so I don’t blame them for that. In our parallel universe that would be like finally going back to Godhead and taking as many souls as we can with us. Krishna can arrange that and it doesn’t screw up the rest of the world in any way.

So, what’s the secret of making out of our predicament? Persistence, persistence, and persistence. Sooner or later we figure out that nothing else works and we give up trying to enjoy here, but that alone is not enough – we need help, and we need to actively seek it, we can’t just sit strapped to a chair and watch ourselves go in circles.

And to save other people we outright need Krishna to make an extra effort to grant us the power, well, according to a movie anyway – after being liberated Jake pleaded to be sent back one more time and it was against the protocol but his kind hearted handler gave him a chance because he really really wanted to.

It is also clear that with each new birth we become more experienced, more skillful, we know what to avoid and we move about with grace, we avoid useless niceties and time wasting small talk and we go straight for what is good for us – Krishna and his devotees, chanting and service, and when we achieve each little victory we don’t pause and celebrate or congratulate ourselves anymore – we become resolute in purpose and very very humble.

We learn to value each living being and each life and we strive to help everyone in their progress towards the same goal, too, even if people don’t realize it yet.

Will it work? I have no doubt – that’s what we are made of. At our core we are all servants of Krishna, that’s our source code. We are being cast to run on lots of spinning wheels and they all look different at first but eventually we’ll realize our real nature and eventually it will shine through.

Only time separates us from success, if we keep trying, that is.

PS In the meantime, I bumped my number of rounds to 128, that’s two lakhs in Indian counting. I want it to become my new daily standard and I think I’m ready for it. More on that later.

Vanity thought #156. Sanmodana Bhashyam Verse 3. Humility and Compassion.

I bet anyone who has ever seriously tried to make himself heard by Krishna run into the problem of humility. You can’t fake it and without the real thing Krishna is not going to pay much attention.

It’s a catch 22 – you can’t become humble without Krishna’s mercy and you can’t gain Krishna’s mercy without being humble.

The main problem is our ignorance of our true nature. Not seeing ourselves for what we are we are forced to adopt identities provided by the material nature and those new identities are meant to be proud, not humble.

Forcing them to pay respect to anyone is like squaring a circle. The only reason they might accept bowing down to another person is if they are going to deserve more respect in return.

I might not consciously desire it but somehow or other my body and mind are searching for all kinds of vanity and validation. All I can do is to try and stop myself in time because the moment I allow myself to dwell on those things I become immediately disqualified from gaining Krishna’s mercy.

Next problem is that even if I push these thoughts back inside they are still sitting there, waiting for their chance to come out and shine. The propensity to enjoy fame is one of the basic features of my false ego, I can’t turn it of at will.

So what am I to do?

Nothing, just keep chanting. Eventually the Lord will notice my intentions and will help me in my endeavors. Then He will find a way to sneak into my heart while my pride is not looking and manifest Himself there, even if partially.

In Sanmodana Bhashyam, verse 3 Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura doesn’t give any other solutions:

When the holy name, which is the absolute embodiment of transcendental rasa I, appear in the devotee’s heart, setting him up to abhor anything mundane he begins to think, “I am constitutionally an infinitesimal and eternal servant of Lord Shri Krishna…

One cannot become naturally meek and humble unless one sees himself as an infinitesimal and eternal servant of Lord Krishna.

The good news is that when this finally happens one would be avoiding both namaparadha and namabhasa and so be well on his way to chant the pure name. That’s from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s purport.

So the real problem is getting that initial Krishna’s attention and, no matter what I said about rejecting all my identities in the past few days, one can achieve it only by engaging his material senses and material ego in service of the Lord. Hopefully, when Krishna sees us sincerely trying to fit a round pin into a square hole He’d have a quiet smile to Himself and send a little boon our way, too.

I suppose I, as a spiritual entity, have a minute quantity of spiritual powers and I shouldn’t be wasting these powers on observing my material body having its way in the material world. I should try to steer this ship to the best of my abilities, resolute, determined, yet unattached.

There are many things I can gain by submitting myself to others – their approval, their gifts, a job, all kinds of things, so out of all these options why shouldn’t I choose to beg for Krishna’s mercy instead? So what if I don’t have a pure heart and want to enjoy His mercy myself? There’s a good chance I would be attracted to the service itself, actually it’s my only hope.

Now for compassion. I wrote about it a couple of times last week (here and here). Today, after looking at Sanmodana Bashyam explanation of what compassion is I’m positive the materialists have got it all wrong.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura links compassion to “taror iva sahishuna” – tolerance. The reason he gives is that the tree is ready to give everything it has even to its killers – fruit, shade, place to rest. The can enjoy as much as they want before getting their axes out and cutting it down. The tree doesn’t mind.

Neither does a devotee. He sees the world as completely devoid of interest in chanting Lord’s names, being completely covered by ignorance and even enjoying it. He doesn’t really notice their pleasures or sufferings, he only laments that they don’t see Krishna and he is ready to do absolutely anything to wake up their dormant love for Him.

Compare that to compassion of common men. To begin with, they feel that they got it pretty, pretty good. They feel that they are more fortunate than anyone else. A devotee never feels that way – trinad api sunichena. He doesn’t have what he wants to give. Actually he does but he doesn’t feel that way, he feels as being the most unfortunate of all. The more unfortunate he is, the more he wants to help others. That’s a paradox of Krishna consciousness.

Common people, thinking that they have reached unprecedented heights, look down on their fellow men and generously offer help. This is nice but the help they offer is often not the help that was asked, they just share whatever they got in excess, not what people really need.

Blinded by their false ego they imagine that everyone wants to be just like them, they think that other people suffer because they didn’t follow in their footsteps exactly. They think that to make people happy they need to teach them to be exactly like them.

The best gift to a suffering man in the third world country is a green card. Short of that he also needs a cellphone, access to cheap and nutritious burgers and a lot of Christmas spirit. Oh, if only they celebrated Christmas over there!

Of course not everyone is like that, there are exceptions, but they still are trying to elevate others to the material standards they assume as optimal for themselves.

People in Middle East need democracy and freedom to live like in America. If they are unhappy with their rulers they want someone like Obama instead. Also they want a lot of internet and porn. There’s no way they want to live like Arabs, that is so backward.

There are basic necessities, too. Access to clean water and so on, that’s fine, but I still remember a story on CNN from ten years ago about a new slaughterhouse in Angola. First thing they said about it – now everyone has enough water to drink. Yeah, but if they didn’t kill the cows in that place everyone would have enough water to take five baths everyday.

In modern philanthropy even the basic needs are exploited for someone’s own gain. If it’s politicians – we should give people hope and jobs, happy, docile subjects make for happy, content rulers for life, they think. If it’s Starbucks – buy our coffee and save the world. You don’t have to do anything personally, just put your money in the register and we’ll clean up the environment for you.

That is the epitome of modern philanthropy – be compassionate by enjoying yourself to the full, don’t even need to lift a finger.

No wonder everyone is so determined to fight the global warming and third world hunger – they intend to beat them by shopping more!

Vanity thought #155. It’s all His fault. Again.

Actually I mean all credits should go to Krishna but there’s no problem with assigning credits, we all easily take them for ourselves, it’s when the time to spread the blame comes no one steps forward, so for those awkward situations – it’s all Krishna’s fault.

Actually it’s all our fault, originally, it just as removed from us as the original sin – we aren’t even supposed to speculate how we fell down here. Very very few people see it as their own fault in their hearts. We’ve been told about it, we see the results – our attachment to the material nature, but we still have no clue how that happened.

It’s like punishing a three year old kid for breaking a vase two years earlier – now he can understand that it was wrong and so is eligible for punishment even though he doesn’t remember it, so let’s put him in the corner or take away his toys – he deserved it.

So when some devotee feels unhappy and wonders why it is so, why he has lost the taste or inspiration and why devotional service no longer satisfies him, ie me a few days from now – I’ve got the answer. It’s all Krishna’s fault.

Last time I posted an article under the same title it was about responsibility for starting sahajiya movement but that’s not what I mean today.

Why does Krishna make His devotees suffer? It’s one thing to take away their possessions so they lose their attachments or put them in dangerous situations so they could surrender to Him fully, but why does Krishna make them suffer while executing their service to the best of their abilities?

Chanting supposed to make you happy, not apathetic and indifferent. Marrying another devotee supposed to protect you from into the falling deep well of family existence, not lusty and guilty of it, not push you even farther down the hole of family problems. Taking responsibilities supposed to make you stronger and protect your dependents, not utterly fail and appear hopeless when others are still relying on you.

There are all kinds of troubles that we, as devotees, find ourselves in against all our hopes for Krishna’s protection. Why is that?

Let’s start with credits first.

Who has provided us with a chance to meet the devotees? Who arranged our births in countries blessed with ISKCON presence? Krishna.

Who gave us intelligence to understand our books, who gave us intelligence to understand how to apply our philosophy in our own lives? Krishna.

Who gave us the opportunities to visit the temples and engage in worshiping God there? Krishna.

Who sends us powerful preachers who inspire and comfort us with their enthusiasm and strong faith? Krishna.

Who gives us enough time everyday so that we can finish our daily rounds? Krishna.

Who gives us determination to finish our daily rounds against all odds? Krishna.

Who puts books in our hands so that we can flip pages and read about Him? Krishna.

Who allows people to put up free vedabase and lots of other vaishnava literature online? Krishna.

Who gives us memory to think about Krishna when we get in trouble? Krishna.

Who gives us remembrance of Krishna when we see some seemingly mundane objects? Krishna.

Who inspires devotees to sing sweet songs that we keep playing in our heads? Krishna.

Someone smarter than me can go on for a lot longer but my point is – if it’s Krishna who gives us all the good things in life, who is responsible for all the other, bad things?

Our original sin? As I said, it would be like punishing us for a mistake we not only can’t remember, we are prohibited from looking into altogether.

There must be some other reason.

Let’s examine how the process works in some hypothetical situation. A person comes into the temple for a Bhagavat Gita class, sitting cross legged on the floor is not the easiest position to maintain for a long time and eventually he loses concentration for a moment, trying to make himself mode comfortable. Unfortunately at this exact moment the speaker is making an important point about dealing with other devotees and our visitor totally misses it. Some words just enter his ears but they do not register in his long term memory, he does not internalize them, and when a crucial time comes he lashes out another devotee, completely forgetting the lesson he has missed earlier.

I don’t know why he got angry. Our bodies and minds have millions of reasons to feel frustrated, one way or another it came out wrong.

The result is a serious vaishnava aparadha that leads to the loss of interest or the loss of association, things start snowballing, his bosses give him more work, wife presses with her own issues, kids start acting out, too, and pretty soon he finds himself in a middle of a mess of royal proportions. Each new problem elicits more anger and more frustration, meaning less taste and less interest in Krishna.

Whose fault is that?

Who provided the temple and the speaker and the floor? Krishna. Who told us to sit on the floor cross legged against our habits and physiology? Krishna.

Who gives us the ability to concentrate and understand the lecture? Krishna.

So why is that when we lose that ability for a few seconds it’s entirely our fault? From Krishna comes BOTH the remembrance and forgetfulness, right?

Or should I believe that Krishna remembers to help us only from time to time and when He turns away we are totally at the mercy of the material elements – the bodies, the emotions, our minds and so on?

There’s an argument that we CAN control our mind ourselves, but not without being taught, by Krishna, ultimately, how to do it.

In the example above the devotee could have sat through the pain, mentally suppressing it but where would that mental strength come from? Where would the determination not to miss a word from the lecture come from? Krishna. Sometimes He just doesn’t provide enough, or so it seems.

I dare to say that Krishna doesn’t forget any one of us even for the moment even when we feel like being totally abandoned, or when we feel we don’t deserve his attention anymore.

When we feel happy it’s due to Krishna and when we are in pain it’s the same old Krishna showering His mercy again, paradoxically.

No, not really. We feel pain because we mislead ourselves to believe that we are in our spiritually cleansed bodies already that shouldn’t feel any pain or suffering, two days ago I argued that we are most definitely not. I guess the stronger our misconception and attachment to this particular identity is, the more painful it becomes.

I understand that we also under pressure from other devotees and our seniors to fully grow into our new identities and behave like perfect vaishnavas, and we naturally strive to meet their expectations. It’s kinda hard to achieve that without full dedication, meaning developing a strong false ego. On the plus side it’s a better false ego than one given to us at birth or by our families, coworkers and society in general.

However good it is, it still has to go at some point and pain is the essential part of the separation from attachments.

Okay, pain can be beneficial, what about loss of taste? How’s that Krishna’s mercy?

Well, if you realize that it’s missing you are probably learning better what it is and its real value – how’s that not a lesson? The taste will come back, Krishna preserves everything we have achieved, and we’ll have better appreciation for it then.

But what about devotees who not only lost the taste but also don’t seem to mind it at all. How’s that Krishna’s mercy? They are surely in maya, aren’t they?

Maybe they are, but it is also only temporary. First of all, we “forget” about Krishna all the time, some only for a few seconds, some for a few minutes, some for a few years or even lifetimes. What’s the principal difference? We are on the same platform of absolute ignorance because actually we, as conditioned souls, never ever remember anything about Krishna at all. Sometimes He manifests some of His images before our material minds and sometimes He doesn’t. It is completely our of our control, and by “us” I mean our original spiritual identities.

It’s a bit presumptuous to say “I remembered Krishna and then …” because I don’t mean I remembered Krishna as we were in our eternal spiritual relationships. More correct would be “A particular image of Krishna, as has been taught by my spiritual master and other devotees, has flashed in my mind”. I didn’t do anything, I’m not a doer, just an observer.

For practical purposes, however, we have to assume one identity or another and act accordingly, eventually it will purify us enough to see us as we really are.

At this point my duty under my given identity is to chant at least 108 rounds tomorrow and put all my energies into it. I’d much rather sit back and observe my body doing it by itself but I have not been purified enough yet.

For me, not knowing real self, the only reality is the sound of the Holy Names, everything else is silence, or white noise – doesn’t really matter which, it just fills the space between the sounds of the maha mantra.

That’s how I prepare myself for another day of chanting. This gives me confidence.

It also makes me a bit irresponsible and rebellious, like a son trying to test the limits of his father’s love and forgiveness – everything goes until the father gets serious.

Vanity thought #154. Free will crisis, too.

Now that I don’t know who I am I’m also mighty confused about the free will.

It has always been confusing to me no matter what identity I was wearing.

When I was young I thought I could choose my own future and built it just the way I wanted. Didn’t take me long to realize the world doesn’t work that way at all, maybe ten years of trying or so and I was extremely skeptical about the existence of choice.

When I was a brahmachari I believed I had the will to get up for mangala arati or push myself out on the streets. All I needed was to wish for it really really hard and Krishna would arrange everything.

This was the prevailing attitude in those days. Everything senior devotees would say was bound to happen, what to speak of gurus and sannyasis.

It took me a little less time to realize that’s not how the world works either.

I was still convinced that I had the will to do anything, it just had to be strong enough. Basically that’s what Krishna explained in the Bhagavat Gita, He fulfills our desires, but where the initial will is coming from? Whose desires are those?

On one hand we have a standard answer – the only choice for us is to be with Krishna or not, everything else is out of our hands. I totally agree, btw, for now.

On the other hand we have things like astrology that struggle to reconcile our free will with predictability of our lives. They also offer remedies and corrections so that we can manipulate our destiny. I’m totally lost there.

As far as I know astrology, we can’t change anything. Our entire lives have been cast from the moment of our birth. With a bit of an insight you can predict the exact date of death, the number of children, wives, lovers, and, more importantly, one’s ability to believe in these predictions, too.

Where do the corrections and remedies fit in all this? Is it just a marketing talk to get people pay for them? Astrology wouldn’t enjoy the same popularity if it offered only the finality without any hope.

Even if the remedies do exist, wouldn’t their existence or availability depend on the destiny itself? A million things outside your control must converge together so that a person suddenly starts chanting mantras or buys an expensive prescription gemstone. You need extensive and favorable background knowledge, you need mining companies and the entire gemstone industry, you need a suitable astrologer who just has the stone for you, you need money, you need friends to give you a push and so on.

An honest astrologer should be able to predict the entire transaction and its subsequent effects years before it takes place. It would take a lot of knowledge and a lot of insight but, technicalities aside, it’s no different from predicting a birth of a child or a failed marriage.

With an attitude like this I consider myself a determinist, though I don’t go around and declare myself as such in public.

As far as this universe goes, there’s no free will. Making a choice between Coke or Pepsi is not a free will at all, the choice is dependent on the lot of things, like the third installment in Superbrands series on BBC. It changed my perception of Coke and will influence my choices from now on.

Anyway, so the universe is deterministic, but what about devotees? Krishna promises to take care of them, Krishna has the ability to break the laws of nature, He can alter the course of one’s life forever and no one would ever notice, it won’t be a sloppy hack job like in time machine movies where people are tripping on the loose ends everywhere.

Maybe He does that, I wouldn’t know. It’s nice to believe in that but, on one hand, it would make absolutely no changes to determinism theory because everything would still look logical and predictable after the intervention, on the other hand we should consider the reason for Krishna’s intervention, too.

Is it because I want mango lassi and I have been chanting? Is Krishna going to fix the mangoes for my material enjoyment? I seriously doubt it.

Sometimes I think that giving me mangoes would increase my devotion because I could offer them and honor the prasadam, assuming that it would be a more persuasive argument. Well, Krishna is not going to be fooled by this.

Seriously, though, if I admit that some of my requests for service are at least mixed with material desires, what stops me from extrapolating that ALL my requests are just the same.

But what does “mixed” mean? If all our freedom is to choose between Krishna and material world, everything is black and white, there’s no place for “mixed”. What exactly are we choosing here?

How am I to choose between Krishna and maya? I don’t see any difference. I’m offering mangoes because I want them, the process works, I get purified, gradually, but I don’t know where offering to Krishna ends and anticipation of my own enjoyment begins.

“Gradually purified” means there’s a mix, mix does not mean a clear choice.

If I consider the whole offering process from start to beginning I don’t see any space that could be filled by free will. I want mangoes because of my previous experience, I can choose mangoes only from a limited choice of fruit on offer, I remind myself to offer mangoes to Krishna because I’ve been taught this way. Sometimes I might consider not offering them, because I’ve heard even Prabhupada occasionally ate fruit in the hotels. So it’s a battle between my upbringing that has arguments for both choices, and my hunger. Where is free will in that?

Imagine how much preparations have to be put in place to organize, say, Ratha Yatra festival. How would you even know you can do such a thing? It didn’t just popped in inside your head, you might even carry the concept from the previous life. Where’s free will?

Or what about numerous statements that one who has heard the Holy Name even once achieves liberation? We know that most people don’t achieve liberation at once but eventually. I suppose I’m in the beginning of this “eventually” stage myself. Everything I do, everything that is happening to me can be easily traced to the moment I heard someone telling me about Krishna, possibly many lifetimes ago.

I don’t think I have exercised my free will ever since. I’m just guided through a series of Krishna’s arrangements to gradually purify my heart and make me eligible to see my true nature. When I see myself as a spirit soul and I see both the material and spiritual worlds, then I can start talking about exercising my free will. I don’t think I’ll be concerned with these logical arguments, though.

Maybe the choice will be – serve Krishna, don’t serve Krishna, not go here or go there.

So my current conclusion is that it’s Krishna who is doing everything I normally consider my service, which is fine, what I don’t know is how I can help. I know how I can help if I identify myself with my body but that’s not me, not my decisions, not my choices, not even my head where all these choices are made.

Maybe I shouldn’t concern myself so much, the fact is that identifying with my body and engaging in service works, what more do I want at this point? And even liberated souls should continue chanting, so what’s the question?

The existence and the exact nature of free will is just a red herring, it is irrelevant to what I have to do now and it will be irrelevant for a long, long time to come.

Once we’ve heard the name Krishna, especially from vaishnavas, there’s no turning back, there will be ups and downs and we’ll make plenty of stupid choices along the way but we all somehow or other end up at His lotus feet, it’s only a question of time.

Vanity thought #153. Identity crisis.

I don’t know who I am anymore. I know I’m not this man. I know I’m not this body and I’m most likely not this mind, memories and intelligence, too. I haven’t felt the separation from subtle elements yet but it must be just around the corner, next logical step.

But who am I?

Many years ago I picked up the first volume of Srimad Bhagavatam and learned that I’m not this material body but an eternal spirit soul, covered by ignorance of my true nature. I’ve also learned that to rediscover my lost spiritual identity I had to join the temple, shave my head, eat only food offered to God, chant sixteen rounds of japa everyday, follow the instructions of the spiritual master and so on.

That certainly seemed like a totally appropriate proposal at that time. It still is, but the situation changed, more on that later.

Anyway, while living in the temple, doing all those things and serving the sankirtana mission I developed a new identity – a young man with sikha, chanting sixteen rounds a day, serving the sankirtana mission and so on. It was alright, I guess, one can certainly imagine himself to be much much worse.

One little thing was left out unattended, though. At that time I thought I have no place for sex in new life, it wasn’t part of my identity then. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right and maybe there was not much support in our society back then and maybe we had wrong ideals at the time but one way or another the hormones eventually took over and my freshly minted identity just crumbled.

I guess it served its purpose because instead of blaming the ISKCON for taking the best years of my life and spitting me out with nothing, as some of our enemies were whispering in my ear, I actually made a career out of a skill I learned at the temple, and it wasn’t much of a choice for me either, it just happened, by divine providence.

Then I was busy building another identity, a responsible family man, someone people look up to and cite as an example. It was a helluva ride and it was fun while it lasted but eventually this identity has crumbled, too.

And just as I was starting to worry what’s going to happen to me next, still under the “family man” illusion, I was suddenly shown that I’m not this body at all, it’s just some shlep shuffling around without any clue what’s going on around him and no clue about his future. It looked pathetic and hopeless, tossed about by the waves of nature. Am I going to tie my fortunes to this abomination?

But who am I otherwise? Do I have a choice?

Can I go back to my temple days identity? It doesn’t seem like an option anymore, I am not a temple material, I have no business of being there.

Then there’s some major philosophical problem with that brahmachari suit. When I was wearing it many many years ago I thought I was going to heaven. Just like that – put on tilak, purify my senses, eat prasadam for seven years so that all the cells in my body became spiritual, and just step into the heavens.

Okay, there were many more conditions, I had to serve the sankirtana, I had to do so many other things, I had to please my spiritual master, I had to serve other devotees, I had to perform all sixty four limbs of sadhana or whatever it is properly called, to lazy to check now, it’s from Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu/Nectar of Devotion.

It didn’t sound like a lot back then, just go through the checklist and entrance into Krishna’s pastimes was guaranteed.

I love the look of a young brahmachari, I’m sure Krishna’s heart melts, too, but, as far as I know, there aren’t any twentieth century shaved eggheads in His pastimes in Vrindavan, or else they have to rewrite the Krishna Book.

Maybe Lord Chaitanya can sneak some of them into His sankirtana parties but I seriously doubt they can enter without a total makeover.

That’s just a funny idea, but when it gets to praying and philosophy it becomes much more serious.

Yesterday I had a whole new appreciation for “use the body in Krishna’s service” idea. When I clearly saw the difference between my body and me it made much more sense. When I don’t see the difference I could just as well say “engage myself”.

I also suspect there’s a whole new understanding of “pure devotees sometimes take material bodies to help preaching mission” idea. When Lord Chaitanya descended into this world many His associates from the spiritual world descended, too, and for most part they had no idea who they were. Haridas Thakur, for example, didn’t go around telling everyone he was Brahma, or Prahlad Maharaj, so we still don’t know for certain.

Vrindavan Das Thakur is believed to be incarnation of Vyasadev but anyone who has read his Chaitanya Bhagavat can’t help but notice that he didn’t think himself as Vyasadev for a second. He actually left a lot of details out for “real” Vyasadev to fill in later, he specifically mentioned it at least a dozen times.

When all these devotees were descending here, were they under control of Lord’s internal or external potency? Silly question. What about me and people like me? Are we under influence of Yoga Maya as well? Another silly question.

So when I hear that many demigods are taking birth to help ISKCON mission it might very well be true but there are also many, I suspect a lot more people who are just ordinary souls making another step towards Krishna. We are not playing part in His ISKCON pastime, we are not going to wrap it up and go back to Vaikuntha, it’s not a game for us. If we screw up we are done for, if they screw up they still go back.

For them it was a conscious decision to come here, for us it’s an inescapable prison. We should not be imitating them, which, I think, might happen if we imitate their prayers.

Take a common theme, for example: “Please, Krishna, if you want me to stay and serve you here I will happily do it.” Krishna doesn’t want us to stay here. That’s madness.

Or sometimes we might imagine that we are on a some kind of mission to liberate the universe. Can’t liberate ourselves from honoring prasadam service yet think we have control over the universe. Our guru is on a mission, we are just helping, mostly for our own benefit. Krishna liberates people, not us.

Or what about spreading the love of God? We, conditioned souls, don’t have any love of God by definition, we just hope that people would appreciate Srila Prabhupada. We, as ourselves, might spread a lot of unwanted things instead, our anarthas, for example. We just as contagious that way as the next karmi.

But let me get back to “Let me serve Krishna here” prayer again. Who is this “me” here? I wasn’t given this body to serve, I was given it to enjoy myself. As soon as I agree to become this “me” all my service is over. A conditioned soul, identifying itself with a material body cannot render devotional service. It can strive either for enjoyment or for liberation.

We only can hope that by Krishna’s grace the body will become purified enough so that we could see that it’s not us, that we have nothing to do with it at all and Krishna doesn’t need it either. It might be of use to the preaching movement, though, that’s all it is really good for, that’s how we, the spirit souls, get purified from our misconception about our identity so there’s no “me” anymore.

Sometimes it sounds as if we want to enter into Krishna’s lila just as we are, sweaty, hungry and constipated, probably thinking that it doesn’t matter to Krishna, He loves us anyway. Who is us? Krishna loves our material bodies?

Krishna is not a pervert, we are. We think that by selling a few (thousand) books we made our bodies spiritual, that they are now our spiritual identities. They are not, never will be.

These bodies, when properly utilized, earn us, real us, the souls within, a large amount of brownies with Krishna who might one day relieve us of our misidentification and reveal us our real forms.

Until then the body is a prison forcing us to live by its rules, we can’t take it to Krishna, no matter how much we like it. We can’t make it love Krishna either – they are just bodies, some chemicals, minds and egos, they are dead matter.

Same thing with “Please let me love you, Krishna”. Who is this me that’s going to be doing the loving? Another pervert?

I’m sorry, I’m just ranting, I just got confused with everything that includes “I” and “me”. I know what “I” is not but I don’t know what it is, that’s all.

Oh, and it would be blasphemy to think that bodies of other vaishnavas are just puss and urine. Sometimes I have tendency to extrapolate like that. Mental note to myself – stop now!

Vanity thought #152. Breaking up.

That was fast, just yesterday I proclaimed undying love for my precious body and today I’m talking about separation. Kali Yuga, what else can I say.

I didn’t do anything special, the only difference was that I mentioned Siva and Ganesh before commencing my rounds. I just started reading Chaitanya Mangala by Lochana Das Thakura and he includes prayers to Siva and Ganesh in invocation. I thought it was nice, praying to remove obstacles on the path of bhakti.

Then I remembered that I’ve seen similar prayers in various other books by previous acharyas but I never given it much thought. Should I also include prayers to Ganesh, for example?

On the other hand, not worshiping demigods is our ISKCON signature, never did it, never seen anyone doing it. Srila Prabhupada taught us to respect them as great devotees and that’s it, I’ve never read any prayers to Lord Shiva in his books.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with asking anyone for blessings to succeed in service, we ask everyone for blessings like that. Should I intentionally omit Ganesh because he is not an ISKCON devotee? What next, imagine I have a better understanding of our philosophy and Srimad Bhagavatam than Ganesh who actually wrote it down with his own hand? Or was is Mahabharata? Either way it would be presumptuous of me.

So I started the day with these awkward prayers, saying that I don’t offer anything better because I can’t appear more pious than my spiritual master.

First few rounds were a warm up, getting my mind and my mouth to work with proper level of energy and concentration, then it happened – I started breaking up with my body. Maybe I am delusional but I’m not ready to dismiss the incident just like that.

Suddenly I clearly saw that me and my body are two different, barely related things. I wasn’t watching it from above like in out of body experiences in the hospitals, I just clearly felt that I was not the body. I felt nothing in common with this sack of flesh and bones striding around the house, chanting the Holy Names, it had a life of its own, being tossed around by the modes of material nature.

The only connection I had with it was forcing it to chant the Names, that was the only thing it was good for, the only worthwhile occupation, so I threw it into the battle.

The disconnect wasn’t total but unmistakable. I was vaguely aware of the pain in the body’s knee but I didn’t feel it as personal. I saw the room through the body’s eyes but it was not my vision.

Connection to the subtle body layers were still there, unfortunately, but I’ve observed the marginal area for my mind where I could chose to identify with the gross senses, or choose not to.

It was a mystical experience of sorts, but not spiritual. I saw that I’m not the body but I still had no idea who I was, I still had no shred of taste for chanting, it was still something I had to do out of duty.

The feeling was exhilarating, a whole new perspective on the universe, a whole lot of new opportunities. I was prancing around like a boy who just discovered the joys of a swimming pool.

I also realized how much liberation means to me, how exciting and attractive it must be. Devotional service? Still no idea. I knew that I had to keep chanting and eventually I’d be rewarded with appreciation for devotional service but it didn’t seem like a real option at the moment. Instead I was happy planning what I can do with my body in this newly discovered state of separation.

All the old and worn out slogans about engaging you body and the senses in the service suddenly took a whole new meaning. Wow, I thought to myself, that’s what they were all talking about? I can really commandeer the mouth to chant and the legs to walk? What else can I do, now that I’m not associating myself with what happens to the body?

So I got carried away.

All in all I had about forty minutes to one hour of fun, and that’s what it was for me, mostly fun.

There could be many reasons why it didn’t last any longer or why I didn’t make any real progress towards devotional service. I still was identifying myself with subtle body, for example, or I thought myself as controller of my gross body, or I started making my own plans, or I started thinking how I would teach others, or I just simply enjoyed myself. None of that is conducive to developing a devotional attitude, any of that can seriously disrupt one’s progress for a long time.

It was like partaking in a temple feast for the first time. You know you should restrain yourself and you know it’s just gross sense enjoyment but you just can’t stop, it’s too delicious to pass. I hope the Lord isn’t too disappointed in me, I’ll be good, I promise.

On the positive side I’ve seen yet another confirmation that chanting works, works like magic. Technically I was probably somewhere in the namabhasa stage, and namabhasa brings liberation. If one keeps chanting bhakti will eventually develop, too.

I just had no idea that liberation was so literal. I’ve seen only the beginning of it and it was great.

I’ve also come to accept that I am not a devotee, I’m just looking for relief from my struggles, that’s all I am. I just have to hope that by chanting the Holy Names I will one day realize the value of devotion and maybe even start serving the Lord and the devotees with love, not waiting for anything in return.

Just a few words about growing back into my body. It started with me sitting it down on soft cushions. It felt nice. Nice for the body but a few minutes later I appreciated the comfort too. A couple of times I stopped myself and sent the body up, marching around like a madman again, but eventually it got to me.

There was this funny thing with lust and sexual impulses. Just for a dare I recollected some of my recent fantasies and waited for the body’s reaction. Nothing. Confirmed – it was all only in my mind. Now, when I clearly lost the identification with the body all potential sexual pleasures for it seemed absolutely irrelevant. In order to make it work again I had to manually reconnect my mind to my body first and then forcibly feed sexual images through this new channel. I chose not to.

Even now, hours later, I still don’t have any inclination to do so. I feel that I can but I’m afraid it would only bring me back into a full body consciousness again and I don’t want that.

Later in the day I had only brief spells of conviction that my body should be made to chant but I’ve never experience the same “vision” again, couldn’t duplicate it even in my mind.

That makes me think I wasn’t delusional, or maybe I was, but that doesn’t matter – the main lesson I carried from this episode that I should keep on chanting no matter what, and that’s good enough for me.

Vanity thought #151. In love.

In love with myself, that is, not with people of opposite sex or, God forbid, Krishna.

I actually don’t always see it that way but there was some story I’ve seen on TV that made me pause and think about it.

It was a story of a woman in love, she didn’t mind that she was a mistress and her lover was married. She didn’t mind when she was told that he uses her position at the bank to launder money, she didn’t mind when she saw the proof that the money was financing terrorist activities. She didn’t mind when her love offered her to run away with him as a fugitive, hunted by CIA. She was still in love with him.

Turns out he lured her from CIA protection not to elope but to kill her. He almost strangled her when CIA operatives shot him dead. She didn’t mind, she caught her breath and hold tight to his dead body, crying tears of separation.

Great love story, on the surface, but what struck me there was that she was not in love with the man, she was in love with her own image of herself as being in love.

When she looked at herself in the mirror she saw this devoted woman, loyal to her lover with all her heart, all her being. When she saw this image in the mirror she loved it. The actual man didn’t matter anymore, she was maintaining and protecting her own perception of herself, her own ego.

When I thought about it that way I realized that this problem is far more common than I thought. Typical example is rich, middle aged women dabbling in philanthropy. They don’t care about starving African kids, they wouldn’t touch one with rubber gloves, but the image of themselves being so charitable is irresistible. They do it to boost their own ego.

Over the years I’ve collected enough little experiences here and there to convince myself that a frighteningly large number of people do good things not for others but because they’ve been told it would make them feel better themselves.

A man opens a door for a woman because he is a gentleman. Right, he doesn’t actually open it for a woman, he opens it because HE wants to look like a gentleman.

Someone finds a wallet on the street and decides to return it to the owner. How many times it is because he wants to look good in front of his friends and family, or because his consciousness told him it was the right thing to do? Either way, it’s not because the person who has lost the wallet might actually need it back, desperately. Let’s not discount the number of people who’d return the wallet only for a small reward, too.

All this makes me even more suspicious of modern concept of compassion, I suspect there’s a large doze of self interest in it, but I think I’ll write about it again later.

I don’t know if things have always been this way, probably yes, but popularization of ancient Chinese “Art of war” by Sun Tsu might have raised it to the whole new level of duplicity. Hardly anyone has read the whole book themselves, though, but its ideas made its way into Business Administration courses and so influenced the basic, fundamental moral principles and values of thousands if not millions business and political leaders. Its reach is truly frightening when you consider that these ideas are applied to billions of consumers around the world who happily play along and don’t even realize that they’ve been pwned.

The main idea, the essence of what I’m complaining about, is manipulating people’s self interest in such a way that they agree to accept your terms because they think it’s good for them. The offered deal might be fair and square, that’s not my concern, it’s the part where self interest has been made the main guiding force in people’s decision making and in their lives in general that I find abhorring.

Don’t we have enough selfishness going around already? Doesn’t the world provide more than enough as it is?

In vedic concept of life the whole society was operating to reduce self interest, reduce one’s attachment to one’s illusory self. From arranged marriages to burning bodies to accepting a spiritual master – the false ego must always be under pressure, always in check.

Let’s not forget the impersonalism, too. We might be determined to fight it tooth and nail but renunciation it preached for centuries also made people value their self interest a lot less conducive to spiritual practice. Looks like the only place to escape the pressure of pandering to self interest is prison. There one could finally be free.

I mean, the ability to renounce everything is one of the powers ascribed to Bhagavan Himself. You can’t really claim success in your own life if you can’t renounce it when the time comes.

Whatever your self interest is, you always have to put dharma above it, that’s the rule.

It was more or less the same before Sun Tsu in the western world, too, and Sun Tsu can’t be held personally responsible, but proliferation of these views has certainly made the world a lot less.

Didn’t Krishna and Balarama study these same things things themselves, btw? Srimad Bhagavatam says they learned military science and politics but in Krishna Book Srila Prabhupada specifically mentions “practical psychology” – how to influence another’s mind and thus induce another to act according to one’s desire. Prabupada also says that sometimes it’s referred as hypnotism. I don’t know about that, maybe there’s a doze in hypnotism involved in modern practice, too, that’s not really the point.

The point is that having grown up in this society I don’t even realize the actions of my self interest anymore. I love being a devotee, I love writing a blog, I love doing this and that, and I love being unattached to things, too. I love all these nice images of myself.

I chant so that at the end of the day I can see myself as a better devotee, more dedicated, more detached. It elevates my image, even if only in my own eyes. Actually, it’s only my own eyes that really matter. I don’t care what others think of me as long as I see myself as perfect.

Sometimes I catch myself watching my own actions and commenting and commending myself, too. Sometimes, not always. Last week I’ve learned to shoot down these thoughts as soon as they register but I’m not doing a very good job of it yet, also there might be some other manifestations of my love for myself I’m not aware of yet, I’ll keep looking.

There must be some offence against the Holy Names here, I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but I think this is one of the things that I should be conscientious about and purge from my mind if I were to achieve success in purifying my heart.

Good luck to me!

Oh, and I’ve read once that MBA courses are adopting Bhagavat Gita, too, for the times when motivating people’s self interest doesn’t work anymore, for when they need to bring the “big guns”. It’s a fascinating subject, I suppose, but I’m not qualified to comment on it.

Vanity thought #150. Compassion

Every now and then I come across some prayers or writings extolling the virtue of compassion and sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.

I seem to have an issue with compassion as most people understand it.

I don’t have a problem with fully realized devotees who see Krishna inside the hearts of every living being, they have their special vision and I can only speculate about its real nature and what kind of compassion they exactly feel, but I tend to think it’s not what most people assume.

It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for other people’s suffering, I’m pretty normal in estimating how those people might feel, I just don’t go bananas over it and rush to fix the world. Maybe I should, a lot of what I read about compassion says that I should, but I have my own reasons.

By mid thirties practically all my hair had already turned gray, I assume I know a thing or two about hardships and suffering, there are few situations where I have absolutely no idea what it would feel like but the rest, the everyday problems, I got it, I think.

From what I know about suffering, there are no easy fixes, no magic, no “drop a hundred dollar bill in a hat and everything will become peachy” solutions.

When I see someone getting a wrong end of the deal I think I should help that person to live through his karma, not try to change it. We all get our hardships for a reason and we all have to patiently suffer all the way through until bad karma runs out, so I don’t want to be Santa Claus, I want the ability to convince people to fight on and keep their faith.

For people coming from Christian tradition compassion takes another flavor. They are particularly impressed by Jesus Christ sacrificing himself for the sake of all others and so they think they should try to emulate his heroic deed, it has become the standard approach to suffering – one should take as much as possible on his own shoulders so as to relieve others.

That’s where they lose me. If I wanted to relieve others I would relieve them of their pleasures, not their sufferings.

Suffering makes people turn to God, that’s spiritual ABC. I have never heard of anyone who turned to God because his pleasures were fulfilling.

Okay, some people get bored of enjoying themselves and turn to God for the higher taste but imagine an experiment. Two people take two different paths form the same place. One is being put through all kinds of troubles while the other is given unlimited access to any kind of sensual pleasures. Which one will start praying faster?

It’s fine if you meet someone already at the end of his sense gratification path but, generally speaking, there are very few fat cats like this in the world, ripe for the taking.

There’s a similar problem with suffering, mind you. Modern wisdom goes that suffering is proof of God’s non-existence. If you pray for a while and your problem does not go away it’s time to forget about God and take the matter in your own hands. That’s why if you see someone in trouble you don’t encourage them to turn to God, you blame God instead and show them your “compassion” by trying to help yourself.

I must admit this is a very persuasive argument, especially if these “helpers” manage to succeed.

This is not surprising, btw. Krishna helps people to achieve whatever they want. If they really really want to save others from suffering Krishna will strengthen their faith and provide the means.

But are you any better in the end? Any closer to God? Quite the opposite, I think. While they are celebrating the victory I would start mourning another lost chance, another lost soul.

Am I being compassionate in any other sense? I don’t think so. Not at the moment.

The reason is that my own troubles make my heart harder, not softer. I’m chanting too many rounds to feel all warm and soft inside. Everyday I’m engaged in a major battle with my mind and my body, everyday I’m doing this tapasya, forcing myself to listen to the Holy Names.

When I’m done with my rounds I can’t even allow myself a sigh of relief, that would be offensive to chanting.

So what happens if someone comes to me with his own gripes? “Welcome to the club”, I say.

I realize that this is a problem but I don’t know any way around it.

By its nature bhakti is supposed to make one’s heart soft, and by its nature tapasya makes one’s heart hard. That’s why austerities are not encouraged in our practice, we don’t fast just to make ourselves stronger, we don’t reject food, we don’t reject comforts, we practice yukta vairagya instead – never reject anything but utilize it in Krisna’s service.

Fine principle, perfect philosophy, but there are things that just fall outside it.

Take sex, for example. Restricting it only to procreation in this modern age is an unspeakable austerity, by modern standards. Don’t tell me that honestly trying to follow this regulative principle does not harden one’s heart.

My problem is different yet still a very legitimate case of necessary tapasya, I think. I’m trying to purify myself from committing nama aparadhas and the only way to achieve it is by conscientiously avoiding them, meaning forcefully restricting one’s mind.

Among the synonyms for the word conscientious there are scrupulous, meticulous, and painstaking. None of them is conducive to softening of one’s heart. I guess that’s the entrance fee, just like our regulative principles. It should get easier once I’m in.

So please pardon me for not going all soft and wobbly at the sight of someone’s sufferings. As much as I want to feel that way I just physically can’t, not until the real bhakti grows in my heart.

There’s another argument – yes, clearing up anarthas is a tough and painful process, and so is chanting a hundred rounds a day but we are not supposed to do it if it’s so hard. I agree, and I said many times that I’d be glad to be doing something else but there isn’t anything yet. Just hang around the house and chant.

To be honest, though, I’m scared of losing this opportunity, too. I’ve grown fond of my tapasya, but that is a concern for another day.

As for clearing anarthas, it’s supposed to be easier in association of inspiring devotees. I agree, but there are natural limits on that, too. Maybe devotees are not so inspiring, maybe there’s not enough association, but sooner or later one must confront his demons and try to develop pure chanting of the Holy Name, proper sankirtana. I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. It might be easier after death but I’m not betting on it.

I have a chance now and I can’t miss it, that’s all there is to it.