Vanity thought #189. Infatuation.

Continuing on the subject of love, actually on the subject of falling in love – how does that work?

We have experience, wisdom of the ages, science and religion all giving somewhat contradictory answers.

Anyone who have ever fallen in love at first sight knows the feeling. It hits you like a ton of bricks, it’s completely out of control. You can somewhat control symptoms and your behavior but you can’t lie to your heart. There’s certain inevitability and finality to it – resistance is futile.

I guess in this aspect it’s the same as young people first realizing they are gay – one would never find inner peace until he accepts the fact that he is in love, or gay. It’s something that can’t be swept under the rug or washed with bleach.

How one would act on such impulses is a totally different subject I’m not going to touch on today, though.

As love grows we learn more about it and we can observe it and discuss it and ponder and pontificate. That’s when wisdom of ages comes very handy. Love has been defined in great many ways but one striking feature of it that persists is selflessness. It’s especially prominent in eastern religions with their promotion of universal love and kindness. Personally I could never relate to that, I still have no idea what they are talking about. Lucky me – their love is the epitome of impersonalism and that would be a suicide according to our philosophy.

In the west, on the other hand, various definitions of love grow out of observing interpersonal relationships. I don’t recall anyone giving any praise to loving the universe but everyone knows about Romeo and Juliet. Love, especially between men and women, is given such a prominent stage that the sheer amount of examples makes it incomprehensible, I bet an average person on the street would give some cliche definitions like “Love is all you need” that don’t make much sense anymore.

Interestingly, defining love is easier if we start talking about what it is not – we describe love in relations to other feelings. There’s less sexual element than in lust, more attraction than in like and so on.

And then there’s science. Scientifically speaking, all of the above is absolute nonsense. From the traditional biology’s POV “love” consists of three stages characterized by release of certain kind of chemicals in the brain.

First there’s lust, testosterone/estrogen driven, it transforms into an attraction with its own set of chemicals. At this point people develop deeper, “romantic” kind of feelings for each other. Finally there’s attachment – sex drive is gone, romantic interests is gone, people stay with each other out of habit.

Evolutionary speaking, each stage plays its own role. Testosterone driven stage is for attracting best females, romantic dopamine stage is for securing services of a single, dedicated partner, and oxytocin influenced attachment is needed for raising children until they reach independence.

It sounds about right and I agree with this model but it totally misses some very important features of love like selflessness and sacrifice and unconditional desire to please the object of your affection.

The omission is even more striking if you consider that biology leaves no place for love between friends, or between family members or between servants and masters of various kinds. In all our human history love has always been bigger than the need to safely procreate.

Then there’s psychological explanation of love, but psychology is not science, strictly speaking. It can’t be successfully reduced to interactions between atoms and molecules and various formulas and equations.

Then there’s neuroscience that studies our brains and monitors our brains’ activities and responses in various situations. Their findings are incorporated into the biological model but they’ve made quite a few observations in the past decade that deserve special attention. It was them who discovered the release of certain chemicals in the brain at various stages of love and it was them who discovered that same areas of the brain are engaged in processing some aspects of love and religious devotion.

Then scientists looked at the DNA and found love and religion genes. Not religion genes per se, yet, but the genes responsible for our capacity of attachment and morality, for example.

Their findings led them to believe that religion is nothing but another manifestation of our desire to love and be loved. Great, I’ve learned the same thing at, probably, my first lecture on Krishna consciousness when MRA scanners hadn’t even been invented yet.

At this point scientists declare victory while we can congratulate them on catching pretty fast, but they still have a whole lot to learn.

My first argument against their narrative is that they can’t establish for sure whether chemicals cause love or love causes these chemicals to be released in the system.

They, of course, have been feeding people hormones for ages to “correct” their bodies’ sexual behavior, and there’s viagra, of course, but I haven’t heard of a single case where pills actually caused anyone to fall in love. Hold on, I take it back, it happens all the time but not in the sense scientists would want to.

Imagine they found chemicals that cause the feeling of being full, in a sense of being not hungry, and they also found how to stimulate certain areas in the brain that cause the person to feel as if he is enjoying great food. Imagine they applied both of these to simulate a dinner.

Would it recreate the symptoms? Sure it would, but would it substitute eating? Unless they supply the actual nutrients all those symptoms won’t be able to sustain the body.

Similarly, what makes them think that running electrical currents through certain areas of the brain would make person to love God? At best they would recreate a symptom and it would only be a temporary solution. Imagine they create a God pill like that – you take it and you feel as if you are in heaven. Hold on, they had pills like that fifty years ago already, didn’t work out very well, did it?

There’s another major problem with scientific approach – even if, or when, they find how to reproduce religious feelings in people’s brains they would still need to provide external stimuli to make it work while people’s actual devotion is causeless.

Most of us need churches and temples and masses and lectures to evoke our religious feelings but true devotion doesn’t depend on any of that. In fact we reject devotion that depends on external stimuli altogether. It’s not real, it’s only a shadow of the real thing.

So again, when scientists are proud to announce the proof that external symptoms we experience from time to time during our religious practices are not real and don’t come from God, we can say to them: “Duh! Thanks, Captain Obvious, we knew all along, thanks for reminding us again”.

Sometimes their arguments like that are very convincingly presented in respectable publications and they might shake our faith.

Well, two things – they are specifically designed with a goal like that, just like advertising is designed to provoke attraction to a certain brand or product. Religion or not but as long as we have material bodies they will respond to these kind of arguments/propaganda.

Second thing to keep in mind – these arguments display certain known propaganda tricks to appear more convincing then they really are. Most often they defeat religion as they imagine it themselves – they are fighting battles with their own imagination and they, predictably, win.

I’ve seen a few articles like this and they all fail to address religion as practitioners see it themselves and they fail to consider religious explanations for their findings, too. They really are arguing with themselves there.

They might find DNA evidence for the propensity towards religion and they might explain it as another expression of evolutionary battle for survival of species but that would only explain desire to engage in bettering our karma. We don’t put much value on karmic aspirations and our ultimate goal, love of God, is completely anti-social and self-destructive, as far as evolution is concerned.

They’ve been studying alcoholism, drug abuse and addition for a lot longer than brain imaging and still they have absolutely no idea how to explain this desire for self-destruction in evolutionary terms. I don’t see them explaining the need for selfless, evolutionary unrewarded devotion any time soon.

Even if they do find the basic inclination for love of God in our DNA and learn how to simulate it artificially, the basic problem will still remain – true devotion is causeless, it doesn’t need any external resources, you don’t have to go to work whole week to get a devotional pill on Sunday.

True devotion is not only causeless, it’s also unstoppable, we can’t take a break from it and do something else, it’s simply not possible to turn it off.

In the biological model the first two stages of love are temporary, the second, romantic stage, usually last only a couple of years at most. That’s not what happens with Krishna prema.

In ISKCON we had an experience with drugs being used as a substitute for devotion once, it didn’t end very well at all, even if external symptoms were very convincing and probably genuinely felt.

Bottom line – all these studies and all my efforts to refute them focus on what love of God isn’t and they’re of limited help if I want to find what loving Krishna really is.

Luckily, I should be able to resume my chanting tomorrow, can’t wait to get back into that routine again.

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Vanity thought #188. Love.

Here are a few heartfelt words which, I think, are suitable for this time of the day when everybody’s asleep and I’m alone with my blog.

Krishna, I’m in love with you.

Yeah, it’s that bad, You’re so beautiful to me. Every time I look at Your face or even remember it, it wrecks me. The way You are manifesting to me, sometimes You’re just fun, and sometimes You make me feel worthless and You even make fun of me but You’re real.

I don’t have enough time in any day to think about You enough. I feel like I’m going to live a thousand years if that’s how long it’s going to take me to think all my thoughts about You, to have even one thought about You, which is that I’m crazy about You, Krishna.

I don’t want to be with anybody else. I don’t, I really don’t. I don’t think about women anymore, I think about You. I had a dream the other night that You and I were on a train. We were on this train and You were holding my hand. That’s the whole dream – You were holding my hand. And I really felt You holding my hand. I woke up and I couldn’t believe it wasn’t real.

I’m sick in love with You, Krishna. It’s like a condition, it’s like polio. I feel like I’m going to die if I can’t be with You. And I can’t be with You, so I’m going to die and I don’t care because I was brought into existence to know You, and that’s enough.

The idea that You would want me back – it’s greedy, but is there any planet, any part of the world that You’d feel any of the same, is there even a shard of a fraction of the feelings that You have for me too?

….

This is taken almost word for word from the latest episode of TV show “Louie”, and it was addressed to a woman, not to Krishna, but is there any difference, really?

Louie C.K., the comedian who writes, produces, and acts in his own show, put a lot of effort in expressing this declaration of love and it’s perfect in every respect, except it’s not addressed to Krishna.

Let’s take it apart and see how it works. I separated it in paragraphs myself and substituted or added a few words here and there to make it more realistic as if someone was really talking to Krishna, not a woman but it follows Louie’s line of thought very closely.

The first paragraph is the admission of failure, failure to contain yourself. A few posts ago I mentioned that being in love is not cool in modern society so Louie starts with a sorry for falling into such a state.

We are supposed to be proud, strong and unmoved by emotions, we want to display total indifference to silly stuff like that, we want to be above it – we want to keep our wits and intelligence with us at all times but love is the thing that takes it away from us and forces even the strongest man on his knees. It’s an admission of being weak and that’s why his first words were “It’s bad, but I have to tell you this.”

The paragraph ends with very interesting statement – “You are real.” Louie admits that he is weak, admits that he can’t fight for his dignity, admits that he doesn’t mind being humiliated – all because the other person feels real to him. True enough – we are surrounded by fake people all the time – fake smiles, fake compassion, fake emotions, fake sympathy. People express them because they want to appear polite but all too often they don’t really give a damn. When someone addresses you from the heart it sinks and hooks you right away, even if the words are hurtful.

Ages ago I was told by a senior devotee that all people want from us is being real, being sincerely concerned with their lives. Only devotees can feel that because they don’t have any self-interest, only love and compassion. That devotee was very grave when he told me that because he knew that it gave him an enormous power over people and he was very conscious about it, very aware of the temptation. I lost track of him over the years but in those days he was known for always getting what was needed for Krishna’s service, he spoke from experience.

Moving on – lack of time, when we are in love we never have enough time to think about the object of our infatuation, be it a woman, a new tablet, or Krishna Himself. I changed it a little bit but Louie was saying that the single thought about his woman would need thousands of years to get properly expressed. That’s how Balarama feels about Krishna – He’s got the time and He’s got thousands of mouths, as Ananta Shesha, and He never stops talking about Krishna. That’s love.

Third paragraph – can’t think of anybody else and the train dream. Anybody who has ever been in love knows how it changes the perspective on all other men or women – they kind of fade away, zoom out and become insignificant and unnoticeable. They don’t attract us anymore and they don’t distract us either, we truly are indifferent to their existence. That’s love, too.

Train dream is also a clever way to express love. An utterly unremarkable surroundings – train, an insignificant gesture – holding hand, but they mean a whole world to the person in love. Nothing else matters anymore, perfection of life, true satisfaction has been achieved. Devotees hope they can get a hold of Krishna’s lotus feet, just a sight of Lord’s lotus feet, even a dream of Krishna’s lotus feet would do, I suppose. They said to have this unique cooling effect on the soul, I honestly wouldn’t know.

Next paragraph is a climax. Louie proclaims total selflessness in his love. He only wants to be able to love, he realized that had been the goal of his whole existence and he doesn’t want anything else. He also compared being in love to having a medical condition. Devotees know this very well, too. Lord Chaitanya famously talked about being struck in the heart by the arrow of love of God. It’s incurable and once you’ve been hit you wouldn’t want anything else in the whole three worlds.

Last paragraph, unfortunately, is where Louie is preparing to screw it up. After declaring undying, selfless love he started talking about reciprocation. The answer was “Hell, no” and all the love just swooshed out him like an air from a balloon.

Why does that happen? All the time, too. Why do non-devotees are capable of expressing such strong, deep feelings, such encompassing knowledge about love but can’t maintain it and give up at the first hurdle? It’s easy to say it’s because they choose wrong objects and only Krishna is worth such love and if they loved Krishna then their love would never die.

It’s easy to say that but the fact is that we don’t know anyone who is capable of expressing such love for Krishna, last vaishnava who was not ashamed of going public with it was Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his songs and books. Nowadays it’s simply not done. How can we tell people to love Krishna then?

Just direct your love to Krishna and everything will be okay. Yes, it will be okay, from Krishna’s POV, in the long run, but that’s not exactly what people expect. How many of us have stopped trying to love Krishna with all our hearts and all our powers of mind and body? How many of us slipped in the familiar routine of material sense gratification instead?

Loving Krishna is not a straightforward, easy affair, it’s so darn hard and nearly impossible to achieve. Who in this world has achieved it? Who has Krishna prema blossoming in their hearts? If there are such souls, they hide it pretty well.

Records from Lord Chaitanya’s time show that people really fell in love with Krishna, with all the symptoms of being in love – can’t think of anything else, don’t mind public humiliation, can’t look at other people or things, can’t hold your feelings – love just flows like a river out of your heart and you scream at the top of your lungs to the whole world to know about it. Why doesn’t it happen to us? To me?

I also can’t help but draw another parallel – it’s like being in an arranged marriage. Krishna has been chosen for us without asking, now we are forced to live together but love is not there, we are just trying to learn to co-exist, learn each other’s habits and learn not to step on each other toes all the time, but love is just not there. It might be beneficial in the long run but love is still not there.

Can it grow out of co-existence? Maybe, in the material world people can develop tolerance, attachment, even dependence, maybe even deep commitment and, if they stick together long enough, they might even call it a real love, but love is still not there. Not the kind of love Louie was talking about in that episode, not the kind of love that takes away your soul and turns your world upside down.

I can’t help but compare this cohabitation to love gopis have for their nominal husbands – serving them all their lives with faith and devotion, not the love that made them run away from home in the middle of the night to see Krishna.

Maybe we are doing it wrong but more likely we don’t have any other choice. If we can’t fall in love with Krishna we can’t fake it either, we’ll just have to work for it, like Krishna’s wives worked for lifetimes to get the opportunity to become His maidservants, as they told their stories in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Why does everybody have to be a gopi anyway? We are not Krishna’s eternal associates, we are not Lord Chaitanya’s eternal associates either, we are just ordinary fallen souls whose only known association with God is sleeping alongside Maha Vishnu or something, when the material world is non-manifest. Maybe we are not born to love at all, maybe our true spiritual rasa is neutrality, just hanging out on the same Vaikuntha.

I know it’s not much, even a curse in devotees’ eyes but maybe that’s all that we are ever going to get.

Or maybe sincerely chanting the Holy Names will, in fact, eventually wound my heart with all-powerful love for the Lord.

I’ll believe it when I see it, until then I have enough reasons to be skeptical.

Maybe next life.

Vanity thought #187. Another week, another waste.

Days fly amazingly fast now. I didn’t expect the weekend to arrive so fast and I didn’t find time to keep my promises of trying to chant three lakhs on ordinary days, and it’s too late now.

Minor setback, I’m sure I will squeeze it sometimes next week, I’m prepared already. All this week, everyday or it, I was chanting at the steady speed of fifteen-sixteen rounds per hour since early in the morning, the only reason I didn’t go for three lakhs was because I was planning to do something else in the afternoon.

I probably should add another thirty two-rounds first to see how it goes, going up all sixty-four at once appears to be problematic – I worry about my chores, I worry about time to write this blog, time to read books etc. etc.

Nevermind, I think I’ll manage it somehow next week, if nothing special comes up. This week, especially today, I had an avalanche of distractions and by all accounts it should be counted as a total waste of time.

I wanted to “improve” my computer – meaning I totally broke it first and spent hours online looking for solutions. Now it’s back but the original problem is still there. Between clicking here and there and waiting for tech experts to post their proposed solutions I somehow finished my rounds but I don’t remember single one of them.

All I remember is that I told myself it’s better to chant than just to sit and worry.

Yesterday the long awaited tablet finally arrived, it’s not for me, per se, but guess who is tasked with setting it up and filling it with apps and games? It generated so much excitement that probably offset any benefits from half of yesterday’s rounds, and form half today’s ones, too.

Then there was a rat catching business. They don’t make nice pets and should be released far away from the house but in the meantime they should be at least fed. One poor thing was forced to munch on carrot from my dal and I made her listen to Prabhupada’s japa, too. I think we bonded, she had big and beautiful eyes and I was sad to let her go.

I was lucky I didn’t suffer Maharaj Bharata’s misfortune – he got attached to a deer and had to be born again in a deer body. Deer are okay, I think, I was going to reincarnate as a rat.

Whatever they say about the value of being born in the house of a vaishnava, I didn’t quite agree to be born as a rat again, even in devotee’s household. Whatever the benefits, I would be mostly destroying bhoga prepared for Krishna’s offering. Maybe I fully deserve this fate but it’s too much honesty for me right now.

But enough with complaining, the week had some progress as well.

The tussle between speed and clarity is being won by speed. Somehow or other I can’t find any major faults with my pronunciation anymore. If some syllables appear to be mumbled, I just need to enunciate them better and it doesn’t slow me down.

I can’t believe myself – sixteen rounds per hour, seventeen towards the end, is just crazy.

I tried to slow down, I had plenty of time not to hurry anywhere, but it’s just not happening. One time I was sure I got pleasantly slow and settled, only to find out I dropped to fifteen rounds and hour – hardly an improvement.

Eventually I gave up on it, I figure that if my need for speed comes from some anarthas in my heart, the best way to deal with them is by chanting more. I figure that just like with lust and other material attractions I personally don’t have any power to overcome them, the only way is to take shelter in Krishna and hope He will guide me through all the obstacles.

“Look how I’m fighting off lust” attitude is misleading. “Please, Krishna, keep me busy so that I forget about my other desires” is far better. The moment I feel strong I’m actually at my weakest, ready to be slaughtered. Just another argument against pushing for renunciation.

Regardless, anguishing over the clarity of my chanting is not the worst thing that could happen, that alone makes me realize my fortune. We tend to forget how good we actually have it and focus on what we want or need instead. For one thing, it’s a sign of the mode of passion, and also possibly a sign of being ungrateful to Krishna for all His care.

He already gave us the best gift ever – the Holy Name, and He personally came as Lord Chaitanya to plead with us to take up chanting, and still we want more. We are being ungrateful, me thinks, unless we want more help in uncovering what has already been given.

This week was the first week ever when I didn’t secretly want for Saturday to come sooner. I actually wanted more days dedicated to chanting rather than various weekend pursuits. Whatever the reason – me getting attached to my routine or, gasp, me actually starting to develop real taste, it’s a very good and encouraging sign. I should be grateful for that.

Instead I spent last thirty hours or so being totally absorbed with gadgetry. What a waste. If it was a test, I failed miserably.

If the glass if half full, though, then I was being prepared for the inevitable distractions so that I still could keep Krishna in the back of my mind when computer problems came.

However absorbing, I can’t wait for the chance to shake it all off and dedicate my whole day to chanting instead. That is true, I’m not bragging about it. The whole purpose of these weekly summaries is to give an honest account of what is happening to an average human who takes up chanting way too many rounds.

Modesty or bragging – something is going on, something has to be reported. Some good and some bad things. If I claimed there was no progress at all I would be lying and diminishing the power of the Holy Names. If I was taking credit for the progress I would be condemning myself to doom and this danger is always present but it shouldn’t stop me from giving credit to Krishna.

Chanting rocks. Maybe not at first and maybe I don’t know how it can really rock my world, I suppose if it gives me enough conviction to continue that’s success already.

Today I’ll be grateful at least for that.

Vanity thought #186. Generations clash.

A couple of days ago I read an article on some of the problems facing Buddhism in America and I thought it was relevant and indicative of what is happening in the larger world and, possibly, in ISKCON, too.

What is happening with American Buddhists is that they are dying out, naturally.

First generation Buddhists there evolved from the counter culture movement that sought alternative values and religious practices. They spend years and even decades in places like Nepal and Thailand studying under local gurus and masters.

Schools, centers and retreats they established back home were meant to channel that ancient wisdom to the modern society but things rarely flow one way. New converts brought new ideas and new approaches and they didn’t care much about Thai or Nepalese monasteries and so the old guard is worried – traditions are under threat from these young, dynamic, and successful preachers.

Though the first generation made Buddhism a household name and a popularly accepted religion they failed to keep the momentum going until the past decade or so and now the new generation takes all credit for the revival, and deservedly so.

So, on one hand we have people who spent almost their entire lives trying to go deeper into the tradition and valuing it above anything else, on the other hand we have lots of noobs who can’t understand what is so important about following some old teachers on the other side of the globe.

Old guys have time tested methods on their side, new guys tell them that old methods don’t work anymore, they tried some new ways and they worked better, or did they?

This is not restricted to Buddhism only, of course. Lately, for example, people have learned how to use touchscreens on their phones and tablets and now they don’t appreciate the good old mouse anymore. Apple is right on target with their new operating system integrating mutlitouch gestures from mobile devices into their notebook computer line.

They, the Apple, even went so far as to change how you scroll down the screen. With the mouse you pull the scroll bar down but on the phones you flick the page up – ever noticed that? Now Apple did the same thing to notebooks, too – if you want to see what’s down the page you pull the page up, not down as we’ve been doing for two decades now. Actually we’ve been reading things on paper like this since birth – as you read further you move the paper up, it’s the computer mouse that taught us to pull a scrollbar down instead.

It is mighty annoying at first, people report, but they get used to it. These new generation approach has its merits, after all.

So, I want to be fair to these young bloods even if what they do doesn’t sit with me very well at first.

To begin with – they are very very smart in certain ways but not so much in others. Thanks to standardized education they are being taught very effectively everywhere and now we have an enormous pool of people who take our standards for granted.

We’ve been working our socks off for decades to distill our best practices and our best knowledge and serve it in easily digestible portions. How long did it take us to accept that women, blacks and gays deserve an equal chance at everything and should be judged on the result, not on appearance? Hundreds of years. Kids learn this in kindergarten now.

They literally take from where we left off and carry on. They have a wider perspective, they are unconstrained by our old habits, prejudices and attachments. If something works they take it up easily, they don’t have the baggage of “in all my life I never thought…”

Thanks to the Internet they also have an easy access to enormous pool of alternative ideas and approaches we never knew existed. Young people mix and match all the time until they get it right, the share success and failures and they learn from them very fast, and there are simply more of them, I mean the headcount of educated folk now and fifty years ago.

So, if the goal is to learn something – you can’t beat the new generation.

Older folks might be proud of having read Bhagavat Gita a million times and being able to recite all the verses, younger folks don’t see the point – they’ve heard all about it already, if they don’t remember Sanskrit they can look it up on the Internet in seconds. That’s another trait of the new generation – outsourcing memory.

With the information and all kinds of data overflowing from every possible source there’s no question of trying to remember everything, or even everything important – it’s far more practical to remember where everything that’s important can be found. That’s just practical management of limited resources.

They won’t be reading Bhagavat Gita millions of times, they got the point already, they’d rather read other versions to see if any new angles can be explored and incorporated, thus enriching their understanding.

Is there any danger in these developments? For American Buddhists, for the society as a whole, for the devotees?

Take this observation – in “my” days we had only a limited collection of stories from Krishna Book to tell each other when it was time to talk “pastimes”. If someone learned a new story it quickly spread in the community, everyone was eager to relish it, new stuff was relatively rare. Now there are so many translations of so many books online new stories fail to excite anymore, not unless you twist them in a new and cool way. Mix and match, mix and match…

Devotees are relatively safe, though, we still stress following the tradition and gurus and we are careful to preserve our knowledge “as it is”, but Buddhists are truly screwed, imo.

They don’t have guru system at all in the West, they have no spiritual leaders, no Pope, nothing. Dalai Lama is not it. They also don’t have any traditions to preserve – unlike monasteries in Nepal or Thailand, Buddhists in the US have been exposed to all kinds of interpretations from day one. None of the centuries old traditions has any particular respect and prominence in the new land, they all have to start building reputation from the scratch, most of the time side by side with their traditional rival schools, too.

Old timers might start grave and serious talks how they learned something from their ten years in the mountains but younger ones can interrupt them with “yeah, I know, also look at this guy from Thailand who says that …” Annoying – yes, but I bet their “insights” are amazingly correct, too.

You can’t beat them at learning – remember?

They are missing the important point, though – you go to guru not to learn stuff but to learn humility and appreciation. Stuff can be found on the Internet but it won’t make you humble, it would rather make you more proud.

It’s like Oscar Wilde said over a hundred years ago – “know price of everything but value of nothing”. We go to guru to learn value, not price, not the superficial information.

ISKCON devotees are relatively safe and well protected, though. We know that we approach devotees in hope that their devotion rubs off on us, too. Those who seriously seek devotion do not put too much trust in acquiring books.

Superficial methods do not work for us at all, people realize rather soon that you can’t play a devotee, the trick is not in finding best kirtana tunes or best recipes or sitting postures or squirreling away hundreds of books and hours of mp3 lectures. When all these things fail we remember that we should go and humbly inquire about the Absolute Truth instead, and, thanks to Srila Prabhupada, in his ISKCON there will never be a shortage of opportunities to do just that.

Buddhists are screwed, in comparison. Their new leaders never put that in practice themselves and they don’t see the value of providing such services to others either.

Unless, of course, someone discovers that being humble is cool. Then they’ll have an avalanche of humility on their hands.

Actually, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if ISKCON had a flood of humility, too. I mean real flood leading to tasting real nectar. So far we only read about it being so widely available in Lord Chaitanya’s times. Now we are warned not to expect it in our personal lives anytime soon.

Resuming that flow wouldn’t be bad at all, but who is there to turn the tap?

Vanity thought #185. Oneness.

There’s one aspect of the material energy, maya, prakriti, that I haven’t considered before oneness.

There’s only one maya, as far as we are concerned. It can surely manifest a great variety of things and appear to everyone as something different but it is truly one and only energy. It is said so in Bhagavat Gita 13.31 – nice verse number, mirroring the chapter, don’t you think?

Anyway, the verse says that we see a great variety of different and separate things and identities but they are all created by one and the same illusion.

Actually, I’m not sure I can safely use words like “illusion”, “prakriti” and “maya” interchangeably, there must be differences depending on context and the POV. Liberated souls can see the prakriti but they don’t fall in illusion over it, for example. Generally speaking, however, I assume no liberated soul would ever waste time on reading this blog so there’s no harm.

So, one illusion creates the perception of great variety of living and non-living forms. We perceive them as objectively different but they are not. Yes, there are spirit souls inside some material forms and there aren’t inside others but forms are still material.

We tend to give more value to life, as we see it, and we tend to give more value to human life and less value to insects or plants. This is an illusion – they are all the same, all created by the same prakriti and have nothing to do with the souls within.

Making such distinctions is practical for aspiring spiritualists as we have to navigate the ocean of material existence but once we have safely crossed it we will see all other forms of life as equally precious. Forget the Gita for a second – a devotee sees all living entities as equally dear to Krishna regardless of their material forms and he is eager to serve each and every one of them, too. Why do you think that happens? Because all the material differences we see in the “real” world are illusory.

So there is a place of a bit of mayavada in Krishna consciousness!

Oneness – never thought I would advocate it but it seems it is a necessary step on the path of self-realization.

There are several practical applications. First is bhava as mentioned twice in Siksashtaka – <bhava maha davagni and vishame bhava ambudhau, blazing fire of material existence and ocean of nescience respectively. When I recite the first verse I always assume that I’m talking about MY blazing fire of MY existence. This is wrong.

I assume that my “bhava”, my material existence is objectively mine, objectively different from anything else I perceive, as a subject. Well, not according to the Gita verse – I should develop the vision to see that ALL material manifestations of EVERYBODY’s existence is one and the same thing, being made of and situated in the same prakriti.

It is an illusion to see them as different and separate.

Maybe it’s easy to make this mistake when thinking about the first Siksashtaka verse, and equally easy to make the mistake when thinking about the fifth, but not if you carefully look at word for word translation – bhava ambudhau – the ocean of nescience. Ambudhau is ocean, bhava is nescience – you can’t possibly think of it as MY nescience. It’s just an ocean everybody has fallen in, one ocean for everyone, and it’s called bhava.

Now I have to make the shift in my (!?!) consciousness when reciting the prayers and trying to absorb their mood – it should no longer be about me. It’s not like chanting can extinguish my blazing fire but leave everybody else’s blazing on. I can’t wrap my(!?!) mind around it yet. This is exactly what I think is going to happen, isn’t it?

Well, objectively speaking, from the POV of myriads of bodies all objectively existing on their own, this is what will happen – one tiny soul, me, will cease to be under the illusion. This objective POV doesn’t exist, though. This transformation in my heart, if it ever happens, will be observed differently by my family members, for example. Some would say I’d gone nuts, others would be mildly understanding, but they all don’t exist as separate entities – it’s the same energy.

It’s one and the same illusion creating appearance of objectively different opinions that I am supposed to react to differently. So, it’s basically for my entertainment only – some opinions might enrage me and some might soothe my mind, and it’s maya’s choice which opinions to present. It might choose to hide what my uncle thinks and my mother might have an opinion but express something else in public.

Ultimately, the only judgment that matters is whether I agree to go along with this illusion of things that matter or stick to Krishna consciousness instead and let the maya play it out to her satisfaction and remain unperturbed. I’m perplexed how I would express my unperturbedness if the only means to do so are the ones provided by the same illusion – my mind, emotions, and intelligence. Probably I’ll have to figure out the way not to take it personally – stop looking at life from “what’s in it for me” angle.

Bottom line – there aren’t any people giving me any opinions – all of it is just maya’s play. Objectively they don’t exist.

There’s another practical implication and I think it’s a very useful one. You know how people often put you in hypothetical situations to try and prove that our adherence to vegetarianism is not absolute. Typically it goes like this – imagine you are one of the survivors of an airplane crash, ala that movie “Alive”, when people had to eat the flesh of the deceased crash victims to survive.

The question posed to us is – “What would you do if you life depended on it?” “Would you eat fish if you were on the deserted island?” is another variation.

To be honest, I never knew a good answer. All I could do is to hope that I will never be put in such a situation. Today, however, brings a whole new take on this. There’s no such thing as a combination of a miraculous survival, non-existent means of subsistence, and an odd Hare Krishna vegetarian. None of these things/conditions actually exists as separate entities free to combine or fall apart. People pose questions like this only from the POV of someone overcome by the illusion that the world we perceive has variety and freedoms. Those with better vision see it as manifestations of one and only material energy. There’s the soul, here’s bhava, and there’s the Lord, that’s all there is to it.

Maya serves the Lord and does only what He allows her to do. God is not expected to interfere in the dozen survivors, one fish, one frozen corpse scenario – none of those things exists. For Him there’s just the soul and the energy that can convince the soul to believe in this or that, or in eating fish or even cannibalism.

Of course, cannibalism is not conducive to self-realization and neither is fish eating and the question is better be posed this way – What would you mind and intelligence make your body to do if maya had manifested a situation like this? The correct answer would be – I don’t really care, it has nothing to do with me. Maya can do whatever she wants, I’m not in control of my mind and intelligence, she is.

Of course a conditioned soul can’t give this answer on its own, without engaging the same mind and intelligence that is not under the soul’s control, but, reversely, a conditioned soul won’t pose a question like this either – it can’t, it’s the same old maya playing the same old tricks on us. There’s no one to ask us questions, if we don’t imagine them ourselves, maya creates and illusion for us that they are real but they are not.

That’s why there will be no judgement day when I will have to answer questions under oath and my answers will seal my fate. This trial of a lifetime is also an illusion.

And the same goes for this blog, too.

Urghh, it’s so hard to find Krishna in this mess…

Vanity thought #184. The third wheel.

So, Maya, welcome to the party.

I admit I can’t get rid of her, she will always be there, messing with me. Three is a crowd, you know, why does she do that?

I want to be Krishna’s devotee, His servant, or a servant of His servants – what purpose does Maya have for being here, too?

Some say, and it’s a standard answer, that Maya is testing us, testing our determination and devotion. Maybe.

There is a deeper problem, though – if I can’t see myself as a spiritual soul, all words about wanting to be a devotee come from the material body, material intelligence and very material vocabulary bank. The very “I” that is claiming to want devotion is the product of the material elements, the false ego etc. It is also the product of Maya, so it’s like Maya declaring a war on herself. It doesn’t compute.

It could be argued that all those calls for devotion is nothing but dressing on the underlying desire for either enjoyment or liberation from suffering but I can’t make myself to agree with this completely. Quite often it could be so but I won’t dare to deny devotional aspirations of other vaishnavas as manifestations of Maya. That would be mayavada.

It’s a lot easier to explain if we assume that Maya cooperates with our desire to go back to Krishna. Occasionally she helps, occasionally she puts up obstacles, but it’s all for our own good.

Here I come back to the questions of tests.

The assumption is that we can freely choose to act in a certain way. One choice would be to remain in maya, the other choice would be to try and reach Krishna. Practically it manifests in thousands of ways, some are more familiar, some choices are very hard to make. Eat another helping of halava or go read books is an easy choice, and anyone deciding to leave brahmachari ashram knows that it is darn impossible to say what choice would lead to maya and what choice would lead to Krishna.

Ultimately, both choices would lead to Krishna, one road would be faster, one would be slower, but I dare to say that there are no shortcuts to Krishna consciousness. Due to our conditioning we must travel our assigned roads. I’ll leave space for a very very few very very special cases of causeless mercy that in one single move completely liberate one from his duties and place him at Krishna or guru’s lotus feet.

For the vast majority of us everything has to be earned, I mean everything that happens to us on the material platform. No matter what happens to our souls our bodies still have to follow the laws of nature – there’s no real choice.

We choose halava because our taste buds have been conditioned that way and we can’t stop them. We can try, sure, try to overcome desire to enjoy with desire to renounce the world, like impersonalists do, but is it any better? Maybe it is, relatively speaking, but from the devotion point of view there’s no difference in honoring prasadam or reading books. Unlike impersonalists, we don’t use the power of knowledge to deny our senses their gratification.

Just like reaching for a another sweetmeal might have little to do with honoring prasadam, so is reading books might have little to do developing devotion, we might just need to study books to convince ourselves that senses should be stopped, like good mayavadis do all the time.

What I’m saying is that what appears as a test is actually not. We don’t make choices, the material nature goes on about its ways, as devotees we shouldn’t be concerned with interactions of the material world, they have little to do with our relations with Krishna.

In the spiritual world Krishna pulls Yogamaya to manipulate the devotees, in the material world He relies on Mahamaya. When conditioned souls here want to return to Krishna they are still under the control of Mahamaya, but her work is different. For those who want to forget Krishna, she provides, for those who want to remember Him, she provides, too. This is completely unconfirmed by any scriptures or authorities, btw. Just speculating.

When Krishna says that He is situated in the heart of every living being as Paramatma He also says that He provides us with faith in whatever we want, and in every other aspect, too. Well, what if He doesn’t do any of that personally but employs the agencies of Mahamaya? We want to worship money and sex – Krishna provides, but via the illusory show that convinces us that money and sex are indeed the highest worshipable objects ever.

If one wants to sit and meditate on emptiness, who’s there with a vast array of Buddhist literature to support this decision? Isn’t it the Mahamaya?

Wouldn’t it be the same Mahamaya who makes us reach for the wallet and hand over the money to the nice young man with colorful books in his hands? Something has to send those neurons flashing in the brain, something has to make the muscles contract, something has to make sure the wallet has been placed in the bag and that it has enough money in it. Why would this be the work of a completely different agency?

Or how about this – guru is considered as the external manifestation of the Supersoul, but there are countless other manifestations as well – everything that reminds us of Krishna or teaches us important lessons about Him. We might see a tree – the work of Maya, and we might think of tolerance and Siksashtaka and we might feel the need to develop humility. Wouldn’t it be the work of Maya, too?

Why should we be at war with Maya? Isn’t she Krishna’s most faithful servant in all three worlds?

Remember that Krishna has created them for our own satisfaction and so He needs someone to service them, service us.

It is undeniable that sometimes we are more attracted by the illusion than by Krishna, that we want to be in maya. Fine, but from the moment we turned to Him the first time our fate has been sealed – Krishna’s far more attractive than the illusion He created, in the long run He would always win, and who is to say Maya is not helping Him, too?

What if she tries her best to be repulsive to devotees? We are attracted, like men to women, mostly by our own fantasies, but what if Maya wants us closer only to show her real self?

I’m speaking from my own experience here. Lately I’ve been trying to find something really absorbing but all my attempts so far have been futile though I refuse to give up. I still want to find a better substitute to the life of chanting the Holy Names. When what has been provided to me does not excite me very much I try to imagine better things, mostly in vain.

I calculate how much time I have left until the end of my japa and then I think about what I might do next. Somehow or other all my usual activities seem paler and paler everyday. I blame it on Maya – she isn’t really trying to keep me in illusion, she turns a dull side of her for me on purpose, she basically gives me a free pass to chant as much as I want.

Sometimes I think she is not the third wheel between me and Krishna, she is the only wheel that does any job around here, and for that I will be eternally thankful.

Vanity thought #183. Shades of maya.

I must admit I have no idea what maya is. I know it’s Lord’s external energy designed to dupe rebellious souls into thinking God doesn’t exist but that leaves so many holes for so many questions I don’t know where to start.

I still have to start somewhere, though, so here it goes.

If this whole world is covered by maya then how come EVERYONE here has heard at least something about God? It’s easy to say that God sends His messengers or even advents Himself to establish religious principles because He wants us to come back to Him but does it do to His external energy and how can it coexist with religion here.

It surely does not go away but does it mean its purpose/service to the Lord changes?

What is the difference between the world itself and maya? Sometimes we assume that the world is the product of maya but at other times we believe they are different.

We also often say things like “in maya” and we know the term “pure devotee” but we don’t leave anything in between.

If maya is Lord’s own energy then it must be very very attractive and very very beautiful, yet we treat it only in terms of black and white, no gray areas and no colors. I bet it has millions and millions of all kinds of shades, and not only on the gray-scale either.

Generally speaking, maya is an illusion, something that is not real. Mayavadis say that this world is not real hence it’s an illusion. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu insisted that the world is not an illusion, that it really exists but it’s simultaneously same and different from Krishna. Moreover, this simultaneous oneness and difference is inconceivable.

I suspect this “inconceivability” has a lot to do with the way maya works here.

First of all, the world is not maya, it really exists, but maya makes us see it separated from the Lord and we oblige. So far so good, but what happens when God is reintroduced into the picture?

What happens when we come to the temple, see the Lord’s form there, offer Him service, and feed Him clam sauce? It’s an unfortunate episode from our ISKCON history but it’s a good case study in itself and it illustrates the general principle, too.

Was the devotee offering clam sauce to the Deities in maya? If the answer is yes then it’s clear that presence of the Deity and offering of service is insufficient to free oneself from the illusion God is not there. It means we see God on the altar but we don’t see GOD.

How often does that happen? Does it happen only when we offer impure preparations or does it happen when we offer food with our personal motives in mind, too? Does it mean that the devotee who offered clam sauce was in maya only on that one occasion and not in maya when he was offering acceptable items? Or does it mean that it was a special case and none of the other devotees is under any illusions as long as they offer only correct stuff?

There’s another way to look at it – we are all deeply in maya, we have never ever left and many of us never will in this lifetime. As long as we identify ourselves with our bodies we will be in maya, meaning we know nothing but illusion until we can see our own spiritual identity, which is a very rare gift to expect within this life.

It’s a very clear theory – can’t see your original form means you are in maya, can see your form means you are not under illusion anymore.

This approach, however, doesn’t address the shades problem either, it’s still “either or” proposition and it still doesn’t answer many questions, including about that clam sauce.

Yes, we don’t see the Deities as Krishna Himself yet and we offer Them food prepared according to our tastes, or at least how we ourselves imagine how Krishna likes it, but does it mean we are totally in illusion? Obviously not, so we need to introduce degrees of illusion.

We have no problems with degrees of devotion, we qualify and quantify devotion without giving it a second thought. We progress from kanishtha to madhyama to uttama and we progress in out chanting from offensive to the cleansing stage to the pure chanting. We cleanse the anarthas one by one, going further and further, one step at a time.

So why can’t we similarly describe degrees of illusion?

We are all in maya, fine, but those offering sweet rice are in less maya than those offering clam sauce and considerably in less maya than those who fall off the wagon for some time. Interestingly, when we talk about people’s devotion in these cases we realize that the setbacks are only temporary and continuous chanting will eventually elevate each one of us to the stage of pure devotion.

Maybe we should apply the same approach to judging maya, after all it’s only the filling agent for the missing devotion, so to speak. One day it’s here and the next day, by Lord’s mercy, it’s gone.

There’s another aspect to it, too – engaging maya in service of Krishna. Okay, I don’t think it makes any sense, but we engage the world in service and preaching just fine, yukta vairagya, as Prabupada taught us, we take everything and engage it in service of Krishna, there are no limits.

Can we engage maya, too? Let’s say maya makes a person think that he is a young, healthy male who is very good with his hands. This is obviously an illusion, but if that male body is engaged in building chariots for Ratha Yatra – is it still maya? Isn’t it engaging the illusion in service of Krishna?

In ISKCON history we had so many wonderful gurus who had inspired thousands and thousands of people only to fall a few years later. Does it mean they have always been in illusion and none of their previous service has any devotional aspect to it and we should avoid any mention of them as a plague?

Who’s to deny that during their best years they have been delivering perfect knowledge that had perfect purifying effect and, perhaps, actually delivered a soul or two, or maybe several hundred? During their best years no one would have allowed himself to think that these gurus were in maya, even those who suspected or actually saw it. Their maya was perfectly engaged in service of Prabupada and the preaching mission, for a few years the external energy was reunited with the Lord, at least to some degree.

So I submit that there are shades of maya, we simultaneously see Krishna on the altar as God and as a doll and understanding how these two aspects in our hearts unite and differ at the same time is impossible, it’s inconceivable.

When we offer service to the Lord we are pure devotees in maya – it’s inconceivable but it happens.

Due to our position we can’t be freed from maya, we can only add some devotion to it, practically it means following the orders and instructions of our spiritual masters, to be safe, as we can’t profess any devotion on our own yet.

Next big topic – does maya have a soul? How does it cooperate with us or how does it hinder our progress, does it have any discretion on her own? Is Krishna always in control or does He allow maya any freedom? To what degree? Does it really matter?

Vanity thought #182. Weekly roundup.

I just realized that a whole week has gone by and I hasn’t said a word about my only “service”, as if it’s not important to me at all. Looking back at these past seven days there were actually quite a few things happening, some for better some for worse.

First, the Monday curse. For several straight weeks now there’s always something’s going on Mondays that makes me cut my rounds. This Monday I managed to do just over a half of what I plan for weekdays. Great that I haven’t made chanting two lakhs everyday a vow. It’s not only the circumstances that conspire against me on Mondays, chanting goes a lot slower, too. I believe it’s because my mouth forgets how to do it over the weekend. Constant practice makes it faster and smoother while the lack of practice makes it harder and slower, that’s the fact I can’t ignore, pretty important fact to remember on those other days.

Anyway, carrying over from last week, my main concern regarding my japa was pronunciation and speed. I was afraid I was chanting too fast and the names didn’t really come out right. Didn’t matter on Monday, as I said, but on Tuesday I was back to my usual evil ways.

This Tuesday was different, however. Somehow I just couldn’t find the fault with the clarity anymore and by the afternoon the speed picked up to sixteen rounds an hour again. Same thing happened on Wednesday, too. I started thinking up ways to squeeze three lakhs in some days, not everyday but maybe once a week or maybe even twice.

On Thursday, however, the mumbling was back. It was back right from the start of the day, right from the first few rounds, the tongue just didn’t want to move. The speed eventually increased to sixteen rounds an hour by the clarity wasn’t there. Same thing happened on Friday.

Makes me wonder – how important it really is. Sure it’s better to chant clearly than not but what exactly goes on there?

Taking it back to the basics – we chant the Holy Names, so we should say them. Forget the japa/kirtana difference for a moment, names are supposed to be audible. It might matter not to Krishna but that’s the promise we made to our spiritual masters.

Okay, now that it’s established that the names should be audible, how clear should they be? What is more important – clarity or speed? Speed means guaranteed completion of a certain number of rounds. From the examples of Haridasa Thakura and goswamis of Vrindavana it appears that saying a certain number of the Names per day is more important than simply chanting 24/7. I made some observations about casual chanting with my clicker.

I think I’ve honestly chanted as much as I could and at the end of the day the most I’ve seen on the counter is five rounds. FIVE rounds for the whole day chanting? And it must have been two-three times less if I had been singing instead. If the number of the names that counts, casual chanting is a huge waste of time.

Oh, and that Kali Santarana Upanishad, too lazy to find the link now, also says about reaching a certain number of Names to reap the benefits, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati also took a vow to chant a certain number of names, which he then divided into monthly and daily quota without any concern for timing. He just counted until he hit one billion, didn’t matter how long it took.

So, who counts the Names? I do, of course, but I am not the one granting the benefits so my count doesn’t matter. That leaves Krishna as the score keeper. Well, okay, what’s His cut off point then? What are His criteria for accepting or rejecting the mantra?

Say, I swallowed a few Names. Will they count? I see several options here – they don’t count, so that when I think I’ve finished two lakhs it’s actually less in Krishna’s books. Does it matter? Since I’ve completed my service, at least in my opinion, it shouldn’t matter much – I keep my vows.

When time comes to drop the mercy, however, Krishna might postpone it until I hit the actual number. Means I’d have to wait a little longer. Does it matter? I have no idea how long I have to wait anyway, not even a slightest estimate when mercy will come. If Krishna postpones it by a few days I would not know about it.

Another scenario is that it’s not only the individual Names that count but the number of complete mantras matters, too. Singular Names have Their potency but the maha mantra should be relatively more powerful when it’s complete, and it should be more powerful in some unique ways that would be denied to me if I screw it up. Means that certain kinds of benefits will be locked until I reach the desired number of the complete mantras regardless of the overall name count.

Practically it would mean that if I drop one name in each mantra I’m losing not only 1/16 of the mercy but ALL of what chanting the complete mantra was supposed to bring to me. This is a lot scarier.

Next step is considering when mispronouncing a Name qualifies as a fail. What makes chanting a Name into success? There are several components – the intention, the concentration, the listening, the hearing, the pronunciation and the actual sound. What about the accents?

I can easily check the success or failure of the voice input if I run it by voice recognition software – if it gets the words right it’s success, if it gets them wrong it’s a fail. Unfortunately there’s no voice recognition software for Hare Krishna mantra.

Even if there was, the thing with software is that you can tweak it in any way you want and you can actually teach it to recognize your particular speech. If someone else said exactly the same words the software wouldn’t understand it. The goal here is to recognize the intention of the speaker, not the actual soundwaves.

Does this apply to Krishna, too? He tweaks His voice recognition Himself, though. He might make it tough or easy, and He knows the real intention of the speaker anyway. How much do actual sounds really mean to Him?

There’s also the “four levels of sound” phenomenon. I don’t know enough about it to speak with any certainty but it appears that the “normal” sounds we usually hear are only the first, the most gross form of sound. In deeply conditioned state we can’t hear the sounds on the higher levels but it doesn’t mean they are not present.

This is the reason, for example, why we are encouraged to chant Sanskrit shlokas as much as possible, even if we don’t understand a word and we get pronunciation completely wrong. On higher levels of sound it still brings us benefits. Shouldn’t it be the same with Hare Krishna mantra?

Of course we still try to get our Sanskrit right and we know the value of correct pronunciation when it comes to performing sacrifices and such.

Yet we also have the example of the illiterate brahmana who was laughed at for his mangling of Bhagavad Gita but every time he read it tears would flow down his face because those were the words of Krishna anyway. No need to guess who Lord Chaitanya favored in that argument.

I guess I can sum it up this way – it’s the intention that is of primary importance, whether the words come out right or wrong is secondary. If the intention is right Krishna will eventually provide the better facilities. Also, if the intention is right one would care very much to get his job perfectly and chant each and every Name with utmost clarity so there is no room for slacking.

Practically, for me, it means that I should not give up my attempts at better chanting. Yesterday I argued that one would never achieve perfection anyway, not by his own standards and measurements, so there should be no permanent satisfaction with one’s efforts. If something appears perfect one day it’s only because one is not self-critical enough.

Also one should never forget the priority – the intention. Thinking about how good or bad the outcome is makes one forget about the intention, one should be unattached to the results, just as Arjuna was advised in Bhagavat Gita.

I guess I have to analyze the speed on some other day, it’s getting late now.

Vanity thought #181. End of hopes.

Continuing form yesterday’s topic of elusive happiness, I think it’s time to put this issue to rest altogether. There is no guarantee of happiness in this world even if we chant the Hare Krishna mantra.

Krishna might throw a few bones our way in the beginning but when we take to Krishna Consciousness seriously the bones will be very few far between. Ultimately there will no happiness for us whatsoever, only what is allotted by our previous karmic activities.

Today I want to look at the example of Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, one of the six goswamis of Vrindavana and the spiritual master of Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, author of Chaitanya Charitamrita. I particularly want to examine his life from the point of view of being happy. From Krishna consciousness point of view he fully enjoyed the nectar of devotional service, of that there’s no doubt, but could he ever considered himself happy in a same way some of us do, especially when we complain that chanting does not bring the desired level of satisfaction.

Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was born in a wealthy family and had a very privileged childhood but was he happy? From what I know he had very little interest in enjoying his life. When he was still very young he met Haridasa Thakura and that brought a complete end to all his material aspirations and childhood (childish?) happiness.

Now he wanted to meet Lord Chaitanya, I guess he considered that to be some measure of success in his life and so until then he must have considered himself unsatisfied. It so happened that he indeed met Mahaprabhu and was able to serve Him for about a week while the Lord was visiting Advaita Acharya. Raghunatha must have been happy during those few days but it was a very short period and I bet he was very unhappy about it ending very soon.

Then there was the second time he met with Lord Chaitanya, the occasion of the famous chipped rice festival that he arranged and he surely was on the seventh cloud but his request to join Lord Chaitanya on the way to Puri was rejected. Instead he was ordered to stay home and enjoy life and take care of his family business. I bet it was torture, not happiness.

Then, but the grace of Nityananda Prabhu Raghunatha was able to escape the guard assigned by his uncle and run away to Puri on foot. He took the back roads to avoid being recaptured and reached Puri in about two weeks. I bet he was very happy on his journey but I doubt this is the kind of happiness we are looking for.

During those two weeks he had a chance to eat only three times and he never slept on a bed. Grueling two week trips through Indian jungles with no food or any provisions is generally not the time for contentment.

Okay, tribulations were over, he finally reached Lord Chaitanya in Puri and was put in personal care of Swarupa Damodara, wasn’t it the best time of his life? He surely must have felt some happiness finally flowing his way. Well, maybe yes, maybe no.

He was so humble that he never dared to approach Lord Chaitanya directly and ask for anything. After some time had passed he conveyed his concerns to Swarupa Damodara – it turns out he had no idea what to do with his new sannyasa order. Being at a loss about your position in life when you are supposed to be the happiest person on earth is not the sign of content. Who would have thought that meeting Lord Chaitanya would cause such bewilderment? Where’s the nectar?

Lord Chaitanya gave him the basic instructions and, among other things, Raghunatha Dasa Goswami understood the importance of renunciation. He joined the line of beggars outside the temple of Jagannatha and that was how he was getting his daily food. Was he finally happy? No.

After some time Lord Chaitanya had noticed that Raghunatha disappeared. Upon inquiries he learned that Raghunatha was unhappy about begging at the gates – he knew all the regulars there and he couldn’t stop calculating who would give him food, how much and how often. He realized he had always judged everyone by the probability of getting food from them.

Raghunatha solved this problem by begging food at the shops where he didn’t have to think at all, just stand in line and wait for his turn. If he was happy about this arrangement it didn’t last long either. Eventually he resorted to picking up discarded prasadam that was thrown away to the cows. After cows had their fill, Raghunatha would come at night, collect remaining rice, wash it and eat it.

Even that didn’t make him content – he was so ashamed of his extraordinary renunciation he preferred to hide it from everyone, including Lord Chaitanya Himself. This is the famous episode with Lord Chaitanya snatching this rice from the hiding place and chastising Raghunatha for trying to enjoy all the nectar himself.

So there, Rabhunatha Dasa Goswami went from life of luxury to life of complete renunciation and he still hadn’t found happiness and content as we often understand it. He had personal association of Lord Chaitanya and he received quite a few favors from Him but He still didn’t consider Himself advanced enough to address the Lord directly.

After disappearance of Lord Chaitanya Raghunatha had lost all the reasons to live, no question of happiness, he decided to commit suicide by jumping from Govardhan and so he set off for Vrindavana.

Reflect on this for a moment – we chant a few rounds here and there and we complain about the lack of progress. Here we have a very very exalted and fully blessed associate of Lord Chaitanya who lost all the reasons to live and no amount of chanting could pacify his heart. Luckily, Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis managed to change his mind and eventually he settled on the banks of Radha Kunda where he spent many more years completely absorbed in devotional service and became the epitome of renunciation.

He chanted three lakhs of names everyday, he wrote several dozens of books, he gave daily, three hour classes attended by Krishnadasa Kaviraja so that we could have Chaitanya Charitamrita now. But was he happy?

In one of his books, Sri Vilapa Kusumanjali, where he glorifies Srimati Radharani and describes her in ways that reveal his intimate knowledge of the subject, there are several verses about his own situation.

In verse 6 he admits he was unwilling to taste the nectar of renunciation – Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, of all renunciates! He said that it is only by the grace of Sanatana Goswami that he was forced to continue his practice. Doesn’t sound like a generic expression of humility, it was clearly a very real episode from his life. I wasn’t expecting one of the famous sannyasis to have this kind of doubt but it apparently happened.

Then he said that he MUST offer Sanatana Goswami proper respect. If anyone hoped that on this advanced stage of Krishna Consciousness a devotee never has to force himself to do anything, service comes out naturally, this is an example to the contrary. Raghunatha talked about duty, not a causeless flow of respect. I conclude that the material body will always present this kind of problems regardless of the level of advancement. I believe that expecting these problems to go away is wrong, they will always be there.

And to top it off, Raghunatha informs Srimati Radharani in his prayers that he is drowning in the ocean of pain. He addresses her as her maidservant, which, I guess, is a sign of his level of realization, but the pain he is referring to was not be the pain of separation from Krishna, it was the pain of separation from Srimati Radharani’s mercy, as if he felt unqualified.

I mean, here we have a devotee in full knowledge of his spiritual swarupa yet still he doesn’t feel like he had enough mercy and was still deeply unhappy. Will this ever end? I don’t think so, I honestly don’t think so.

It is clear to me from my own speculations that we shouldn’t even try to judge our progress by the amount of happiness we feel.

From the example of Rabhunatha Dasa Goswami it appears that even on the most advanced stages of devotion one would still be overwhelmed by various material desires – not in a sense of being overcome, but in a sense of not being able to cope on account of having no faith. Think of all the above stories again and imagine what the cause of Raghunatha’s unhappiness was each and every time.

I bet it was his “lack” of devotion. He didn’t get enough of Lord Chaitanya’s association because he was a “lousy” devotee. He didn’t know what to do as a sannyasi because he had very little faith, he was attached to calculating amounts of prasadam he was going to get because of lack of taste in devotional service. He had to hide his washed rice because he felt his achievement as a sannyasi made him proud. He wanted to kill himself because he didn’t feel Krishna’s presence in the Holy Names. He lost the taste for renounced life because he was too materialistic, he had to offer obeisances to Sanatana Goswami out of duty because they didn’t come from the heart. He had to beg Srimati Radharani for the shelter because he, already seeing himself as a gopi, wasn’t devoted enough.

Maybe things feel different in the spiritual world but down here I don’t see ANY chance of happiness coming from devotional service. We will always feel inadequate and unfulfilled.

I should probably re-evaluate my expectations and motives. I suspect I’m in for quite a few disappointments.

Vanity thought #180. The elusive happiness.

What is happiness? Am I happy? Am I a happy person? A happy devotee? Am I unhappy?

Just as I was contemplating this topic yet another “chanting doesn’t make me happy” question popped up in my twitter stream.

The answer was that we are unhappy because we are trying to be enjoyers and that we can experience genuine happiness only when we understand that Krishna is the actual enjoyer and so we chant and do everything for his pleasure. When Krishna is pleased with our chanting we will become happy, too.

Nice and to the point, subtly suggesting a problem in our own consciousness before blaming our unhappiness on Krishna. I wonder, though, if it makes any immediate practical impact. It’s not like we can turn our devotion on demand. In fact, according to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s comments on Siskashtaka and Sanmodana Bhashyam, a conditioned soul is so covered with anarthas and desires for karma, enjoyment, or jnana, renunciation, that he is incapable of rendering any devotional service at all.

So it’s not that I can start chanting for Krishna’s pleasure at will. It’s more like I have no such capacity at all, but let’s go back to happiness for a moment.

Am I happy? Well, it depends on how happiness is defined, doesn’t it?

Pardon me, but for some happiness is one never ending orgasm. Am I happy? Huh? No, far from it, and, judging by my age, never will be. However ridiculous, but this definition has its merits.

Others might think that happiness is an ever expanding world of opportunities. Younger people certainly get a buzz from these kinds of visions – career, girls, perks, traveling around the world, it’s all yours and the world’s your oyster. Am I happy in this sense? Hmm, no, and I don’t really care for any of those things, they don’t excite me anymore.

Contrary to the youth, older people might describe happiness as being content. I can relate to that, and it has a certain sattvic ring to it. So, am I content? Well, it depends.

I am generally content now, but if I expand the scope of my time reference – I’m in a hurry to finish this post, I’m worried that I’ll have to postpone it and will lose my train of thought. If I expand my scope a bit further I’d say I’m content with having the opportunity to chant so many rounds a day.

If I expand even further I might start to worry what is going to happen to me in the medium term, when the money will start running out and nothing continues to come in, it would create a certain pressure, so I’m not content.

Expanding further I believe Krishna will somehow or other arrange everything and all astrological predictions put a better future in front of me, I’m *only* six or seven years away from the best period of my life, so I’m full of hope and content.

On the other hand, there are certain changes happening with my body, the old age is not very far away, I’ve lost a spring from my step and it’s not coming back and much bigger problems are awaiting me very soon. Does that make me content? Of course not.

I also know that despite all my problems it’s very unlikely that Krishna will abandon me forever, I can always count on His mercy and protection, that’s the ultimate contentment, right?

Well, yes, when I remember about it.

It appears the feeling of happiness very much depends on my current perspective, and my perspectives change and fluctuate in a matter of minutes if not seconds. With a bit of practice I’ve learned how to keep myself in a permanent happy mood, ignoring some aspects of my life and concentrating on others instead, but is it a sign of happiness or just cheating?

Perhaps “Why am I not happy despite my chanting?” question is wrong and misleading in itself, and that’s why I’ve never seen anyone getting a truly satisfactory answer to it, however correct and well meaning.

My concern with my happiness has no relation to my chanting and pleasing Krishna. Happiness and distress come and go according to my karma and the laws of nature, and they will come and go no matter how far advanced I might become in my Krishna consciousness. Practically it means it’s wrong to expect chanting to have any effect on feelings of happiness and distress.

Sure, Hare Krishna mantra is absolute and can grant any kind of benedictions but a) it is not obliged to do so, as Krishna is also absolutely independent, He is not some kind of demigod who must respond to performance of sacrifices, and b) that’s not what we are asking for, is it? When we chant we are asking for devotion, asking to engage us in devotional service, and that has nothing to do with the happiness or distress experienced by our bodies.

What we should be concerned with, instead, is whether we are giving any pleasure to Krishna at all. It’s safe to assume that our chanting itself, being impure and mixed with all kind of anarthas, is not much fun for Him to listen to, but the efforts to purify ourselves and become ready recipients for the boon of devotion might please Him very much.

Again, it is not wise to expect Krishna’s feedback on our efforts to manifest itself as feeling of happiness. As long as we identify ourselves with our bodies all our happiness will be temporary anyway.

Thinking about it this way made me realize the value of my efforts. If I can’t chant Krishna’s names with devotion all that is left for me is to try, and that has led me to some interesting thoughts – is Krishna helping me in my attempts?

He knows the value of efforts better than me, so, is He making various arrangements to make me try more often and with more sincerity?

Let me see, is He making me think about sex because it easily reminds me to concentrate on Holy Names instead. This kind of thoughts are too provocative to simply ignore, they require an all out effort to listen to the mantra, currently I don’t know a better way.

Is Krishna consciously allows lust to enter my mind? Absurd, huh? Well, He regularly sends all kinds of troubles and tribulations to His devotees so that they come to Him for shelter, it’s a well known and time tested trick, ever since Pandavas stories.

I can easily think up a couple of cases from my own life that would follow the same pattern but they are quite large in scope, affecting my life for several months or years. If the scope itself is not important why not imagine that Krishna sends me little troubling thoughts every few minutes so that I can take shelter of the Hare Krishna mantra? It’s not such an outrageous idea, is it?

I would even say that lust attacks serve this purpose better than diverting my mind to possible topics for this blog or various other Krishna related arguments. Those kind of things can occupy my mind and keep me from listening to the mantra for hours, why wouldn’t Krishna send some female images to my brain instead to remind me of my precarious position and run back to the sturdy boat of the Holy Names?

Well, it seems like a nice cope out – blame my lust problems on Krishna, but it makes me try and that’s the only thing that matters, right?

Also, this explanation is guaranteed to purge any thoughts of achieving jata-rati stage of chanting anytime soon – my chanting is not born of attraction to Krishna, it’s born of Him prodding me with blasts of lust.

Should work miracles for my over-inflated ego.

There’s still a lot of stuff to say about the pursuit of happiness, though, will do it tomorrow or at the earliest possible opportunity.