Vanity thought #220. Sukshma sharira.

While contemplating various aspects of what happens to the memories during reincarnation I must admit I have totally forgot about the sukshma sharira, the subtle body. There are reasons for that, though – I never thought it mattered enough.

Linga sharira, sukshma sharira – all the same thing, the subtle body. There are probably some differences but they are not essential at the moment. What is essential is that subtle body means many things to many people and that, I believe, accounts for all the confusion in the case of missing memories.

We know subtle body as the combination of the mind, intelligence and the false ego – three subtle material elements, the other five, earth, water, fire, air and ether are gross material elements. That’s all there is to the world, according to Bhagavat Gita. Other vedic sources, however, count a lot more things, altogether twenty six including the soul itself, if my memory serves me right.

According to other vedic sources composition of the subtle body is related to five koshas, or sheaths around the soul. The first one of those, anamayakosha, is where we deposit the food – the gross body, the next three are related to prana, mind, and intelligence, and form the subtle body. The last one, anandamayakosha, is treated differently in different schools so I’ll leave it out.

Notice how false ego is missing from this classification but there’s an addition of prana, a very important element that we don’t normally pay any attention to in our society. I’m not saying that we should but prana is always out there, everybody has it, and it’s mentioned a few times in our books but we just never try to correlate it to other elements of the subtle body.

Yet there’s another system of counting subtle body elements that includes all kinds of senses and sense related stuff and the total runs up to seventeen.

All of those dichotomies can be found in Prabhupada’s books, here and there, and so it’s not clear what he meant exactly when he said in the purport to Bhagavat Gita 15.8:

It is stated here that the subtle body, which carries the conception of the next body, develops another body in the next life.

If we look at what is stated in the verse it isn’t clear either – Krishna probably referred to the “six senses including the mind” mentioned earlier. That is yet another classification of what the subtle body is, the forth one.

I’ve also seen further divisions of the mind and, possibly, other subtle elements, I don’t remember, something about conscious, subconscious etc etc.

All of these definitions are pretty authoritative and all of them must be true, I believe all of them could be reconciled if we consider possible approaches to the subject. Sometimes mentioning mind, intelligence and false ego is enough, sometimes we need to differentiate further. The only real problem is prana – it’s hard to see where should it go in a simple three element subtle body, but if Krishna mentioned only three subtle elements prana must fit somewhere there, He couldn’t be wrong, could He?

Now, what is relevant to the discussion of reincarnation here? We know that the soul leaves the body via several possible exits and the subtle body follows it. At the moment of death there’s separation of the gross and subtle bodies. Then come Yamadutas and take the soul away, still with the subtle body.

From all accounts I’ve heard the subtle body at that point is still pretty much the same as the gross body it just left. It feels different but it has the same shape, same memories, same desires – it’s still ME, I don’t have arms of legs anymore but it’s still me, why can’t anybody hear me?

When the soul is taken to Yamaraja it still maintains the same subtle body. There it is given a list of reasons why it should go to hell and it remembers all or most of the transgressions from the recent life.

I don’t know if it maintains the same subtle body while the actual punishment is administered. Some said that souls are made to suffer in their subtle bodies, in other places they take forms of worms or other creatures according to the hellish planets they’ve been sent to.

At this point they might remember what they are being punished for, or they might not.

Some souls don’t go to hell, they get born on the heavenly planets, then they come down to Earth as rain, then they enter grains, then they are eaten my men, then they become semen, then they are impregnated into a female womb, and a few weeks later they finally wake up and start praying.

I don’t believe that most of this journey they maintain the subtle bodies of the demigods, more likely their astral forms take shape of the particular gross vessels they happen to be carried in.

That is an important point – the subtle bodies change. They change throughout our lives, the grow and then shrivel as we become old, and they keep familiar forms for as long as they can, before new gross bodies reshape them.

It’s said in the Bhagavatam that the soul within a human embryo prays for Lord’s mercy but forgets about it as soon as it gets born, and we all know that it doesn’t get the capacity to pray again for another few years. It doesn’t say that the soul prays for the mercy to be eaten when it’s confined inside the grains of rice, too.

I would also go with Bhagavat Gita – the soul discards old bodies and takes on new ones just as we put on new clothes, and that the soul is the only unchangeable, eternal element. Krishna didn’t say that the subtle body containing the soul takes on new gross bodies and discards old. He didn’t say that the soul and the subtle body stay the same through all these changes either.

That leads me to a conclusion – even though there always are some material elements surrounding the soul, they are not constant in shape and they change, sometimes completely, under the influence of the material nature and higher powers.

Thus I’m extremely doubtful that they carry all the memories of all past lives at all times. One reason is that at no point in its history the subtle body displays capacity, another reason is that the subtle body doesn’t need to remember everything, only the last snapshot of the mind at the time of death.

That is actually an interesting point – why is the last memory so important? The subtle body can think, it can desire things at all times, all the ghosts want something. They can’t act on their desires but the last thought is not an action of a gross body – it’s a thought, it’s an action of the mind or intelligence which are parts of the subtle body and so is not particularly different from thinking while gliding above the operating table watching your body dying, thinking, for example, that you should have shaved that morning to make a better impression on that cute nurse.

Maybe it’s the rules – thoughts while in a gross body count, thoughts without a gross body don’t, or maybe there’s a principal difference between the mind of an incarnated man and the mind of the subtle body carrying the soul between births. Maybe they are not quite the same thing, maybe they function differently, maybe they have different capacities.

Maybe the last thought counts more because it’s literally the last thought – all other memories are going to be wiped after getting through purgatory. After that you are born as new, your last desires are recorded, you can resume from where you left off, with the new gross body, but all that happened before that is gone, your memory slate is clean.

Either way, it doesn’t sound good for the argument that we all carry all our memories from all our births at all times.

Why am I trying to prove that? To soothe my wounded pride, and also for the sake of the argument. And also I believe it makes sense. And also because I don’t know any better, I have no humility, I have argumentative nature, and I’m going to hell to find out how it works for myself.

Can’t find any proper reasons, really, so I’ll leave it at that.

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Vanity thought #219. Born again.

This subject gave me considerable grief in the past couple of days – what happens when one dies and gets born again. What does the soul carry from one life to the next.

Actually, I don’t care that much, it’s not something we, as devotees, should be overly concerned about – we should be preparing ourselves NOT to be born again, ever, and we shouldn’t be making plan B in case that doesn’t work out. All these things are better left to Krishna, man proposes, God disposes, there’s no practical application in knowing the exact procedure of reincarnation.

There’s a matter of pride, however, I staked mine on saying that the soul goes alone, it turns out I’m most probably wrong and I want to make it right. Not by accepting the correct version, proving that I didn’t make a mistake. Such a fool.

I’ve learned quite a few things along the way, however, so there was some benefit from my stubbornness in the end.

My understanding always has been that the soul leaves one body and goes to the next. All that we accumulated in our lives becomes lost, all our possessions, all our family ties, all our expertise, experience – everything. Surely our present situation affects our next appearance but, basically, when you die you leave everything behind.

Turns out there’s an alternative version – that we take our subtle body with us, too. Outrageous, was my first reaction.

It all started with competition for the best answers to a common question – if there’s reincarnation then how come I don’t remember anything from my previous lives? A common answer is that these memories stay hidden so as not to overwhelm our gentle psyche. Basically the same reason we don’t know our future that is predetermined by the laws of karma – too much to bear.

I always thought it was a lame argument. Some people can deal perfectly well with predictions of their future, some people should be able to deal well with memories of the past lives, too. Maybe not at each and every moment of their lives but occasionally, when they’ve been told they have only a few months left to live or when they go through some allegedly traumatic experiences and need a real eye-opener to put their trivial problems in perspective.

Instead, the memories of our past lives are shut out for us forever regardless of the state of our minds. There are people who remember something from their previous incarnations and they don’t go crazy, too.

There must be another reason, I always thought. Recently I found one – when we die and get born again we do not carry any physical connections from one life to another, no receptacles for the memories. Even if there was no restriction on remembering our past lives we still have no means to carry the data from one life to the next. Sounds plausible to me but, as I said, some people say that we indeed carry something – our subtle bodies.

I didn’t remember ever reading anything like that so I set out to scout all relevant pages in Bhagavat Gita and finally found some – verse 15.8:

The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another…

In the purport Prabhupada says “It is stated here that the subtle body, which carries the conception of the next body, develops another body in the next life.”

The commentaries by acharyas in other vaishnava sampradayas are unequivocal, Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara sampradaya being a but more direct than others:

The purport is that wherever the jiva departs from a body and whenever it is compeled to accept another body the atma or immortal soul migrating from one body to another, arrives with the subtle forms of the mind and senses in tact to perform their functions through the physical body which has been allotted due to karma or reactions to previous actions.

This looks like a total defeat for my little theory, or does it?

I’ll leave the acharyas out of it for the moment and concentrate on Prabhupada. He said that the soul carries “different conceptions of life”, nothing about mind and senses at all. Different conceptions of life could be impressions the mind leaves on the soul’s consciousness at the time of death.

That’s how I always thought it worked – the mind affect the consciousness, consciousness can’t be separated from the soul, however polluted it is, it’s inseparable part of the soul itself. In the next life a new body develops according to this particularly polluted consciousness, and it develops from the scratch, no need to carry anything physical, gross or subtle. In fact, the new mind develops according to the present material conditions – DNA, parenting, education, at least the mind as we know it. The living entity has been put into these conditions according to his consciousness and karma but I don’t see why the old mind should be present, too.

The reference to mind and senses come from the previous verse, Krishna doesn’t mention them here at all, he just says etani – all these, referring to the content of the previous sloka, 15.7:

The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.

Krishna talks about several things here – living entities are His fragmentary parts, living entities are conditioned, living entities are eternal, living entities struggle with six senses including mind.

When He says “all these” – what exactly does He mean? It’s not very clear. Prabhupada didn’t translate it as “six senses including mind” at all. He just said “different conceptions of life” as that follows logical progression of the thought. Logical in the sense that Krishna wasn’t concentrating on a particular composition of the material bodies, it was just one little aspect of what He was saying – my fragmentary parts, eternal, conditioned, and suffering. Six senses including mind was only one example of what our sufferings here are.

If Krishna was really enumerating all the reasons we suffer here He could have mentioned suffering caused by our bodies, other beings and the nature, or sufferings due to birth, death, old age and disease, sufferings due to the modes of passion and ignorance – there are so many reasons to be unhappy here.

If Krishna was preparing to describe what a living entity carries over to the next life he would have described our bodies in greater details – what senses, jnanendriyas or karmendriyas, and what of intelligence and false ego? It just doesn’t sound like it was His intention at all, not the subject of His concern at that particular point.

Following that logic I agree with Prabhupada not mentioning any details specifically, just “different conceptions of life”. Or maybe Krishna referred to eternal struggles in conditional life – in English they could also be covered by saying “all those”. Prabhupada didn’t want to commit one way or another – the point Krishna was making was about the way to reach His abode, not about specifics of reincarnation.

Other acharyas chose to focus on mind and senses, good for them.

This calls for some kind of reconciliation. Reconciliation between commentaries and reconciliation between current interpretations, too, but, most importantly, reconciliation between my pride and the truth…

Maybe the soul does take something with him when he travels from one body to another, however I don’t think we should take OUR literal meaning of what the senses and the mind are in this context. Literally speaking, taking senses with you does not make any sense at all.

Does taking the mind mean taking all the memories, all the skills, all the experience? No one is born with a mind of a grown man, no one is born with the memories of an old man either, and it’s not just because the new body is too small for all these things – when it grows up it doesn’t display them either, it collects new memories and skills.

Material science has largely proved that memories are stored in the brain – they might not be able to manipulate them yet but they can do crude things like enabling and disabling access to the memory areas via surgical or chemical interventions. Brain is not carried over, that much is clear.

Personally, I think that having consciousness is enough – all new body elements, gross and subtle, are supplied by the material nature according to the laws of karma and these new elements enable the consciousness to develop the new body.

Gosh, but then Prabhupada said that it’s the subtle body that develops the next body! Something must be carried over.

What about ghosts and going to hell? Ghosts, as far as we know, exist outside their bodies and they have memories of their lives. People having near death out of body experiences also don’t need brains to know what’s going on. Subtle bodies must have some kind of storage, too.

When people go to hell they, I presume, remember what they are being punished for. I’ve been told that Yamadutas torture people in their subtle bodies there and they get gross bodies only upon new birth.

Fine, but isn’t it also the common theme about the “point of no return” in all ghost stories? Wouldn’t it mean the point after which people lose their identities? The point where they are stripped of their subtle bodies and eventually get reborn?

At this point I’m leaning towards the theory that memories do not get carried over. I don’t see the need, I don’t see the evidence, and I see only a weak reference in the Gita that could mean a lot of things, the whole bank of memories from thousands and millions of lives is the last possibility, in my opinion.

The living entity itself who lived through all these lives must have the memories in its own, spiritual form anyway. Normally we don’t have access to this “spiritual” storage but that is not surprising – in the conditioned state we don’t know who we are, after all, and all remembrance and forgetfulness is controlled by the Supersoul. Sometimes these memories might come to the surface and manifest through our material bodies, like when people remember their past lives or start speaking in ancient languages.

On a related topic – when Krishna talked about being the cause of forgetting things He probably didn’t mean the functions of our material minds. Our minds can be trained to remember and they can be trained to forget. They can be trained to recollect things faster and they can be distracted to slow them down. That kind of manipulation doesn’t have any direct connection to Krishna, remembering something stored in our spiritual memory is another thing altogether – no one but Krishna has a control over that facility.

I guess He can easily remind us where we dropped our keys even if our minds resign in desperation, who can claim that such little miracles never happened to them? There are other cases that could be explained by the Supersoul unlocking some of our memories and forcing us to make some surprising connections and discoveries. To scientists it happens all the time – the solutions just appear our of the blue, or they dream them up.

Anyway, the definite resolution of this matter requires more references from the scriptures. Either answer to the question of not remembering our past lives is fine, I guess. I’m not comfortable with “You don’t remember because your weak mind wouldn’t be able to deal with it” explanation but it’s me, I don’t use it very often, if ever, maybe people who give this answer themselves find that it works just fine, I don’t know, I’m not in the position to tell them how to preach anyway.

If only I could subdue my pride and admit I had no clue what is really going on with reincarnation, the spiritual ABC. That’s my real problem, not the correct answer per se.

Vanity thought #218. More debates.

Not long ago I complained I don’t get enough meaningful input during the day to reflect upon in this blog. Today I have too much and I wish someone would turn it off.

Most of the day I spent thinking about things instead of chanting but there were long periods when I prayed for the Holy Name to replace all the ideas rushing through my mind. Why doesn’t the Holy Name become meaningful for me? Why doesn’t it occupy my mind and attract all my senses? More on the senses to follow.

For the past three days I was following a religious debate on the pages of my local newspaper, today it came to an end, I hope. There was no resolution, just one of the parties decided that no debate is worth fighting about. When the arguments degrade to the level of name calling and personal offenses there’s no point trying to prove anything anymore.

Both sides belong to the defenders of religion group and so in the eyes of the neutral public misbehavior by one party cast a shadow on both and on religion in general as well. It is better stop it until it turned really ugly.

So I got a little breather in this regard but picked up two other issues almost simultaneously.

The first was about Prabhupada and astronomy, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the universe, the good old Moon landing, and the authority of Prabhupada and his infallibility as a jagat-guru, the spiritual master of the whole universe.

Everyone can understand and sympathize with people who can’t get their heads around Prabhupada’s insistence that NASA didn’t go to the Moon, it makes us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. We can’t tell people with a straight face that the Sun is closer to the Earth than the Moon, too. Or how about “each universe has only one Sun” statements?

In fact the entire Srimad Bhagavatam cosmography is a source of endless confusion and embarrassment. Lots of devotees just avoid the subject to save themselves from troubles. The fact that our ISKCON scientists are still unable to reconcile two models of the universe doesn’t help either. The fact that their explanations, however cheerful, do not make any sense only adds to the problem.

They do not make any sense in a sense that they can’t easily show how the universe looks like anything that is described in Bhagavatam. Most people expect an easy solution – a hanging model, perhaps, you stand in one place and the universe looks like what we’ve been taught at school, you stand in another place and the universe has one Sun that is closer to the Earth than the Moon and there’s Mount Sumeru and all that.

I don’t know what they are going to put in the Temple of Vedic Planetarium, they still have time to work it out. That temple is going to be so massive, so much bigger than the current temple housing Sri Sri Radha Madhava, and it’s main purpose is to prove that Bhagavatam cosmology is not mythology. It would be a major disappointment if it fails in that task.

On the other hand, if it pulls it off, we are all good and clear to rule the world.

In the meantime I’m going to stick “the world is not what it seems” excuse for a little longer. It can’t be completely wrong – the world IS an illusion, at least in the sense that it appears to be godless and disconnected from Krishna.

This is how my argument goes – the world is designed to mislead us in so many ways that we can’t really talk about it being objective. Nothing here is what it seems, we might be lulled in the false sense of security one moment only to face death the next. We might look at the same thing and have totally different impressions about it. Just talk to football supporters of opposing teams about penalties, yellow cards and offsides – they will never agree on what has happened on the field, even with multiple replays in slow motion they would still insist on diametrically opposite interpretations.

Another phenomenon, discovered a hundred years ago but not kept on the down low in popular science discussion, is that in this world the mere act of observing the object changes its condition. It was one of the very first findings in quantum mechanics – it is impossible to find precise condition of the system, the more you measure it the more it changes. You can’t find the position of an electron without sending it in another direction. You can’t capture it, weigh its mass, and send it on its former way, it will become lighter just due to the fact that you tried to weigh it. That’s the principle, it might become heavier instead, who cares.

In that regard there was an unfinished joke in the latest Louie episode. He knew the gist of the joke already but didn’t know how to present it properly. It goes something like this – jungle animals are talking about humans, they all kind of agree that humans have two legs and two arms but no one could agree with the lion who insisted that humans have faces permanently fixed in horror, and they are always shitting their pants.

This is another example how the mere fact of observation has a profound effect on the object to the point that other observers do not recognize it anymore.

This is what could be happening with our universe, too. Bhagavatam describes the universe how people like Narada Muni see and experience it, we describe it how we see it in our telescopes. Needless to say that Narada Muni has a completely different body, travels according to completely different principles, and he doesn’t make stuff up.

We, on the other hand, use tools that are merely extension of our imperfect senses. We figured out ultrasound and infrared but it’s still only about adjusting the dials on the duplicate of our imperfect hearing and sight. We have no idea if the sense could work under completely different principles and perceive objects in a completely different way.

Thus, when Narada Muni sees Chandra, the Lord of the Moon, he can come to his house, have sumptuous dinner, have a big singing and dancing party and we would be seeing only dead rocks and dust. Perhaps all the partying and wine and cheese tasting is happening in other dimensions, just like a flat, two dimensional coaster on the table has no clue to the contents of the glass standing on it. As a perfect two-dimensional object it wouldn’t even know the concepts of “on top” and “inside”.

So, scientists see what they see, they are not wrong, the Moon simply shows itself to them as it should appear to imperfect scientists, but we acquire our knowledge from people who see so much more in so many ways and we don’t have reasons to mistrust our sources, and I leave it at that. I leave it to our scientist to figure out the exact explanations, dimensions or any other reasons.

As far as Prabhupada is concerned – he didn’t invent anything, he only repeated what is in the shastras. We can’t say he was wrong on this or that subject – he wasn’t, we should direct our accusations to the shastras instead. Even if the Moon landing wasn’t denounced in Srimad Bhagavatam Prabupada judged it by the criteria given there, it wasn’t his decision to make. Bhagavatam says there are demigods on the Moon and so astronauts must have been somewhere else. At least they weren’t on the Moon from our books, they might have been on the Moon of their own visions.

The third problem would have to wait, it’s getting late already, I hope it won’t be eclipsed by yet more stuff cramming into my head tomorrow.

I’m going to go to bed thinking about how Prabhupada had absolutely no concern for the teachings of modern science. I have my doubts now and then but he didn’t have any, he had full and absolute faith in shastras and Krishna.

Vanity thought #217. The bane of impersonalism.

While considering the proper stance regarding religious pluralism it’s impossible to ignore the question of impersonalism. We’ve been told to fight it from the very beginning but if we talk about co-existence of religions we need to modify out stance without compromising our own values at the same time.

What is exactly our issue with impersonalism? Why do we have to fight it so much?

In the beginning we just patiently listened to Prabhupada chastising impersonalists left and right. I bet, though, that no one had seen a real one at that time yet. Prabhupada was preparing us for debates with unknown, invisible enemies and, in a sense, we still haven’t found them yet.

What we found, however, is the traces of impersonalist philosophy all around us and the more advanced among us realized that WE are impersonalists ourselves, too.

The crux of the matter is the nature of the material world – is it false or is it real? Mayavadis, another word for impersonalists, claims that it is false. Prabhupada taught us that it is real.

Their perception of the world is, however, not much different than ours. They feel pain and pleasure just the same. What is all the fight about, then?

One way to explain it is that by claiming this world as false and only Brahman (in this blog I will use that word to describe the impersonal effulgence emanating from the body of Supreme Personality of Godhead) is real mayavadis deny the divinity of Krishna’s incarnations. They treat them as the same false material forms that we can see and experience everywhere. At best they are a bit closer to the Brahman than us but they do not have any existence beyond what is/was visible to us here.

They also deny any existence of God beyond this material world because, in their view, only Brahman really exists, there’s nothing else there.

Basically, they deny existence of Krishna and, naturally, devotees do not like that.

Another aspect of treating the world as false is that everybody becomes equal – equally false. All forms and shapes are products of an illusion, including that of Krishna in Dvaraka or Kurukshetra. While on the lower stages of spiritual development we see them as different and so we worship various gods but on higher stages we see every form, every body as equal, thus me and Krishna become the same. I am God and God is me, and everybody else, too.

Devotee, naturally, reject this attitude, but we live in a world full of other people and we have to co-exist, as I said. How?

Maybe we should realize the place of impersonalism in spiritual development even if we reject its conclusions.

Maybe we should isolate our conflict with impersonalism and keep it compartmentalized.

Maybe we should summon our anti-impersonalist arguments only when it’s appropriate.

Maybe we should realize that in terms of human development impersonalism is the greatest thing ever, that is the fact we should probably get used to.

Let’s start with this last one – the human race has inherent quest for knowledge of the world around us. We strive for knowledge and truth, we search of it everywhere and we try to separate what we believe is true from what we believe as false. We look for better things, better understanding, better insights, we look deeper in our history, farther in our universe and closer into our atoms.

We haven’t found God, but it’s not only us. Vedic scholars and philosophers came to the same conclusion – God does not exist in the observable world and all phenomena we have ever experienced in all our history have been the product of matter or illusion, but that has never stopped us in our quest.

We pushing further and further, to the time of the Big Bang and to the sparks of bosons flying at the speed of light. We want the truth and all our endeavors and achievements are measured by that yardstick – are we getting any closer? We push and push and push in every aspect of our lives, in literature, philosophy, science, social lives, we capitalize on every success and incorporate it into every other field.

We are moving forward, and that’s the only way we know and the only way that matters.

Now come devotees and they have figured it all out already. We take our understanding from them and treat it as a spiritual ABC.

From our position the search for truth can only reach the understanding that the truth cannot be found in this world of matter. The evolution of human thought cannot reach Krishna on its own and so it has a ceiling and that ceiling is impersonalism – the world is made of matter, it’s perishable and illusory, and beyond it we can perceive only Brahman.

So it’s not like these people are wasting their time, they ARE trying to find God, it’s just that God cannot be found, only his impersonal aspect is open to us at the end of our journey.

Should we blame people for staying on this path? It’s a legitimate path in every respect, as far as evolution is concerned. Once people reach that wall they will be given a chance to learn about the Personality of God that lies beyond the Brahman and at that point they can choose to serve Him or to simply bathe in the light emanating from His body.

We know it from the devotees but I’m not sure we made that choice ourselves yet. Unless we directly see God we are driven either by desire to enjoy the world or to reject it as illusory, real service begins after the liberation, when our hearts are completely pure of all material contamination, including rejecting this world as false, as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and other acharyas said. Until that moment we only experience the shadow of the service, shadow of the Holy Name.

What we do now as followers of Srila Prabhupada is extremely important, we will need the service we are doing now, however imperfect, to help us surrender to the Lord when our hearts will be pure. Maybe some of us will make a different choice, who knows, there’s free will after all.

Perhaps it’s this class of mayavadis we should avoid at all costs – people who made a clear choice, free from the influence of illusion, and chose enjoying their qualitative oneness with the Supreme Lord over rendering devotional service.

If some follower of Islam tells us that God has no personal characteristics we will simply dismiss him for the lack of knowledge, if a vedic philosopher dismisses the devotional service as only a temporary measure to achieve God like quality for himself we should really worry as most of us are nowhere near that level yet of knowledge yet.

We might beat them with quotes but it’s “I’ve been there, I tried both” attitude that is impossible to beat and that attitude could very easily contaminate our own consciousness. We better not hear about this option until we are firm in our devotion ourselves.

To sum it up – if an ordinary conditioned soul exhibits traits of impersonalism in his quest for truth we shouldn’t take it as an offense, it’s just normal pains of growing. We shouldn’t encourage it either but we should realize that everybody has to pass this stage during evolution of their consciousness. If a jnani on the threshold of liberation preaches the supremacy of being one with God it’s an entirely different matter and we should oppose it in every way we can. They should know better.

The difficulty lies in separating a sincere quest from the one subtly directed by hardcore impersonalists who made it their mission to deny existence of God.

There are, of course, hard core materialists who deny God, too, but only because they have no personal experience of Him. They just don’t yet realize they can’t reach Him following their methods. There are hard core materialists who deny God because they can’t stand being inferior to anyone, but that’s just material nature speaking, the greed, the lust, the pride etc. etc.

I think in these cases we should address the material contamination itself rather than its symptoms manifested as scientific arguments. I think we should work on purifying their hearts before we can start talking serious science with them.

As far as the current debate is concerned, the one I have been covering for the past couple of days – I’m still dancing around making a decision what stance to take. If I were to consider what to contribute to it in the public arena I still don’t know what to say. I hope tomorrow it will become clearer for me, now that I dealt with a couple of elephants in the room.

Vanity thought #216. The debate continues.

Just as I was going to wrap up my yesterday’s rant and try and formulate a proper Krishna Conscious position on the issue the first dude came back with vengeance and so it became too early to form any definite opinions.

The first dude was the guy who argued for religious pluralism as a new mantra for the global world. He classified it into three stages – exclusive, just tolerating other faiths, inclusive – other faiths are alright but don’t bring real salvation, and proper pluralism – all faiths are true and equal.

The second dude argued that all faiths can’t be true at the same time and they are obviously not equal in many respects. He proposed searching for commonalities, particularly in the essence of their practice, following the lessons of Ramakrishna.

And now the first guy comes back with the vengeance, using words like blinkered, dares not, I-glasses and cultural baggage. It’s pretty heavy, denigrating stuff and I have no idea how it supposed to promote equality, of all things. Telling people that they are your equals and calling them morons at the same time? I wonder how that argument will be received.

My initial goodwill towards this brand of pluralism is evaporating very fast. Now I can’t help buy compare it to bombing countries to give them freedom, I mean spreading democracy the US way. They just bombed the shit out of Lybia and even put their special ops forces on the ground, all in order to prove that Gaddafi was not supported by his people. Bombs are pretty powerful argument for democracy, isn’t it?

Anyway, so democracy has become a de-facto religion of the modern age. People and countries might squabble over some ancient ruins and their divine meanings but no one can question democracy. Democracy is one kind of God who does not tolerate insubordination, we dare not to speak against Her for She does not tolerate dissent.

All those other gods are simply products of human imagination to fulfill the evolutionary need for protection and dependence. They have proven to be impotent and non-existent. Democracy, on the other hand, is real, it comes from real will of real people and it has real powers of enforcement.

God couldn’t protect Gaddafi from the wrath of Democracy, and God couldn’t protect Osama Bin Laden either. What more arguments do I need to give?

So now that we know who the real boss is it’s time to put all those other challengers in line. In this particular debate it’s an attempt to sort out those relics of pre-civilized era – religions. They caused so much pain and suffering in human history (read western history!) and this will no longer be tolerated.

First order of business is to relegate them to their proper place in human lives, meaning the proper place among other human needs. Christians are granted Sunday mornings, they can’t express any religious feelings outside this allocated time. Jews can dance at their festivals, Muslims need to pray five times a day, that’s too much and we don’t trust them for that.

The important point is to firmly establish that religious practices are nothing more than concessions to sentimentality, we don’t like them but, just like with passing stool, it can’t be avoided. If done properly, with sufficient training and guidance, the effect of religiosity on everyday life can be reduced to the minimum and that’s the goal.

That stage has been more or less completed, now comes the turn of inter-religious struggle. That’s where the “pluralism” comes in.

To reduce the fighting all religions must understand a few basic points. Under the rule of Democracy everyone is equal. No one has any special rights over the others, that’s the fundamental truth and a guarantor of peace.

Most of the religious wars are clashes of collective egos – one group of religious fanatics thinks they are better than the other group of fanatics. Or some religious freaks think they deserve better treatment than others, that their vision of God should deserve some special prominence.

None of that is allowed under the rule of Democracy. All religions are equal, period. No one is better than the others, no one deserves any special rights and no religion will be allowed to dominate its peers.

Once religions been stripped of their sense of entitlement they will naturally stop fighting. This is a brilliant solution.

Then there’s the question of truth. There is an argument that all religions can’t be true at the same time – either God has a Son or not, Mohammed was the last true prophet or not. This creates a bit of a problem for the pluralism theory and we are working on the solution now.

Actually we know the solution, we just don’t know how to deliver it best. All religions are equally true, because they are equally wrong! Since there’s no such thing as God, only Democracy, statements like God is one and God has a Son are both factually incorrect and so there’s no reason for fighting, we just don’t know how to break them this news yet.

One possible way is to convince people that there are no contradictions, contradictions exist only in their minds, if you stop thinking about this and simply convince yourself that everybody is equally true than you can peacefully concentrate on your own atavistic practices and stop looking into others’ bowls.

The proposal might sound incredulous at first but people have been brainwashed to accept far bigger lies. Ultimately it hinges on the successful outcome of the stage one – when people realize how little religions means to them and to others they’ll stop caring about their perceived differences and dedicate their lives to making money and consuming goods instead.

In the meantime, those who point out the contradictions must be vigorously opposed and their voices drown in a chorus of public condemnation – we already convinced the population that religions caused all the sufferings in the world, especially due to their disagreements, and so any accusation of stocking the fire inter-religious conflict will find plenty of supporters who would gladly form pitch fork mobs to crush anyone daring to preach inequality. To these religious fanatics we must send a clear and powerful message – never again will you be allowed to preach such nonsense. All religions are equal, all religions are true, we won’t allow it be any other way.

The best way to silence these troublemakers is on their own ground – by accusing them of not being advanced enough. We must find and present religions leaders concurring with our democratic principle of equality and make them into new religious icons. We must make them into examples, into inspiration for all other religiously inclined individuals. We must make common folk feel ashamed if they find doubts of inequality in their hearts, we must make them strive to eradicate all those doubts from their hearts.

We’ve had much success with this method in other areas, we sold the whole world on Karzai as a symbol of a new era of democratic Afghanistan, for example.

Anyway, it’s all doable, have no doubt in power of Democracy, for your own safety.

I’m pretty sure the first dude, who sparked the debate, did not mean to support any of the scenarios I imagined above but I can’t help but have my doubts.

How about this argument – if all religions are indeed equal and true, how come it’s such a difficult thing to accept for so many people?

If the answer is that one needs to advance well above the average to see this equality, then the next question would be – advanced practitioners, in general, develop unprecedented humility and do not have the need to prove themselves to the rest of the world, do not need to prove their equality or supremacy, in fact they might talk about inferiority instead.

In the present moment, however, we accept the famous as advanced, we learn from celebrities, if it’s pop culture we turn to Lady Gaga, if it’s righteous causes we turn to Bono, and if it’s religions we turn to Dalai Lama and Chopra or the current Pope. We assume that advancement in religions is like advancement in any other field – you have to make it to the top of the pile, driven by the same ambitions and relying on the same personal strengths – leadership, intelligence etc. etc.

Our Srila Prabhupada claimed to have only one thing going for him – he wanted to carry out the order of his guru. He had impressed his godbrothers with his English writings but that was perhaps the only quality worth mentioning about him. He wasn’t a natural leader, he wasn’t attracting any donations to speak of, he couldn’t sell enough of his magazines to support even himself, couldn’t organize anything of importance.

Unlike Arnold Shwarznegger he didn’t go to America with a plan to become the biggest star in Hollywood, he was seventy years old and he had no plans at all, he just tried to carry out the order of his spiritual master expressed many many years earlier.

Yet I don’t see his quotes in my twitter feed, I get Dalai Lama instead. Urghh.

Maybe tomorrow I get a chance to talk about equality from the Krishna consciousness POV, today’s rant is over.

Vanity thought #215. Religious pluralism.

My local paper has been running this quiet debate about religious pluralism. A week ago there was an opinion piece by a Muslim guy who spoke about multiculturalism of the modern world and the types of religious pluralism that we should be aware of.

That’s two big words I’m not very comfortable with, to be honest, and in one sentence, too. I wish I knew what he was on about exactly but these are the concepts that everyone understands in his own way and still they are all correct at the same time, so I’m no exception if I offer my take on the matter.

The logic was more or less like this – we have different cultures around the world. Due to globalization, interconnectedness and free movement of the peoples these different cultures are learning to co-exist side by side.

Religions in the modern world are thought to be part of the national culture but the guy argues that they remain still independent. He points out that Islamic world has a wide variety of cultures, ideologies, political systems and cultures yet Islam itself remains relatively monolithic. The cultures and ideologies might depend on Islam but not the other way around, not to a degree the modern secularism lead us to believe.

I think he’s got a point here.

Anyway, he is more concerned with co-existence of religions and he analyzes various solutions. Pluralism can manifest in the followers as exclusive, inclusive and actually pluralistic.

We all sort of tolerate the existence of other religions but exclusivists quietly think that everybody else are going to hell, inclusivists think that they are dingo okay but true salvation still lies only in their own religion, and real pluralists think that all religions are equal. That’s the position he was trying to promote.

Most religions groups have moved on from exclusivism to inclusivism, at least outward tolerance of differing religions beliefs, but very very few people have reached the level of real pluralism. He rightly notes that it is a very difficult process to adjust to because it shakes the core religious convictions born of socio-religious conditioning form an early age. It might get easier for the future generations but at the moment nobody was ever taught that all religions are true and equal.

That observation is correct for me, too. I have a real trouble accepting that all religions are true and equal, that’s not how I’ve been brought up, but the guy really stakes the future of civilization on making this a common sense idea, like helping starving African children or democracy.

This week another pundit responded and he apparently has a problem with equality, too. First he has the problem with truth – all three Avraamic religions can’t all be simultaneously true. Either God is one, or He has a son and a spirit, either Mohammed is His latest prophet or not.

Religions are obviously not equal in how they are manifested, too. Some have significantly more followers, some have longer history, some appeal to the rich and some appeal to the poor, some demand more respect and some are dismissed as new age phenomena, like they did in Hungary recently. Some have moral values incompatible with modern civilization, like human sacrifices of the mayas.

Actually, there’s very little they agree upon unconditionally. Some deny God, like Buddhists, some make God very personal, like Catholics, some make God multiple manifestation of impersonal divinity, like Hindus.

What this guy proposes instead is equality of the practice, not equality of beliefs themselves. There are some moral principles, ethics that all religions subscribe to, and there are some methods of developing those that are not very different from one religion to another.

This guy brings in Dalai Lama with his book on the unity of all the religions, stressing the need to see things they have in common rather than fighting over the differences. He even quotes a verse from Mahabharata that I’ve never heard before – dharma unites people, adharma drives them away.

Then he admits being a fan of Ramakrishna, the guy who claimed to achieve perfection in practicing every religion he could lay his hands on. All the Deities in the world were eager to appear before Ramakrishna and unite with him in the bliss of devotion.

There’s even a claim that Sri Sri Banka Bihari in Vrindavan got of the altar and ran towards Ramakrishna and that’s why now they open the curtains for a very short time only.

Anyway, Ramakrishna proved that all religions of the world lead to the same goal and so all paths are equal. As far as I know he is the source of modern day pluralism. He, however, stressed bhakti as one unifying aspect of practice.

So, the second contributor to the debate refused to treat all religions as true and equal, but the best practices within them are. Ramakrishna never claimed that all religions he had mastered were equally true, he meant that bhakti works with all of them equally.

This is where I don’t really know what to say.

Is Ramakrishna some kind of religious authority? From my search through Prabhupada’s books Ramakrishna escaped being called a rascal and a cheater and we don’t have a definite word from Prabhupada how to deal with his theory. At one time, I remember Prabhupada avoided passing judgement on him and recommended to follow our path to be sure.

That’s a good point – if Ramakrishna was a real thing and a real acharya then how come no one has been able to follow his teachings and achieve similar success?

Then there’s a question of impersonalism. All his current followers are die hard impersonalists and just today sone “nonism” dude became a @fakekrishna follower on tweeter. We all come from nothing, we disappear into nothing, so we have to achieve happiness in between.

Why do they think there’s real happiness to be found between two nothings? Beats me.

Back to Ramakrishna and equality of all religions – I don’t buy it. Maybe he was a real paramahamsa and all the deities in the world were dying for his darshan, maybe he was really a messenger from the spiritual world to preach unity and equality in anticipation of globalization that came a hundred years later. Maybe he was all that but if he really thought that Sri Sri Banka Bihari came from the same source as Kali Maa I think I have all Prabupada given rights to call him a rascal and a cheat.

His teaching might have helped various religions to co-exist in the modern world but they co-exist on the shared premise that there’s no God anyway. That’s the common ground the secularists were able to put them together whether they like it or not.

Now we are forced to treat every deity equally for the sake of peace, now every deity has got equal rights, there’s no hierarchy between them anymore – they are all concoctions of the same human need to believe in higher powers or they are all permutations of the same non-differentiated Brahman.

Thanks to Ramakrishna we now have democracy among gods, too.

Why should I put up with this? Why is this approach becoming so popular? Why do I see Dalai Lama quotes in my tweetfeed, posted by devotees?

I accept that some people are very knowledgeable in their fields and so their opinions on those relevant subjects are worth quoting even if they are non-devotees, but why Dalai Lama of all people? As a religious authority he has nothing to compare to what Prabhupada taught us.

With all due respect, and I haven’t got much, I admit, I don’t see him as offering anything more than another quick fix for the problems of the material world. He doesn’t give a crap about trying to please Krishna, why should I care what he has to say? What can I learn from him I can’t learn in our parampara?

God is the witness I often try to find connections between various human endeavors and Krishna consciousness. I never found any in Dalai Lama quotes.

On the same note, I have another feed from devotees where I have noticed a slight pre-occupation with bringing peace and harmony to the world through compassion and better management. Nice try, but this is going to fail.

The only way to peace if everyone becomes Krishna conscious, otherwise it’s only a temporary cessation of hostilities.

There will be no peace until we all agree that we exist for Krishna’s pleasure and not for our own comfort.

There will be no peace in the material world and especially during Kali Yuga, why would anyone mislead people to believe it is possible? What kind of service to the humanity is this?

Is this what Prabhupada brought us Krishna consciousness for?

I believe is a gross misapplication of the best thing we could ever have in our material existence.

This rant is getting long and tedious and there’s no end in sight so I might just stop it right here.

I’ll have a fresh look at it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #214. Wasteful week.

The week is not over but I already know it’s been wasted. Not only on frivolous pursuits but I think gods conspired against me, too.

I haven’t had a chance to chant three lakhs, not even close, in fact even two lakhs has been problematic. Weekend starts a day earlier for me so I’m looking at three days with family with four days of nothingness behind me.

Thanks to various engagements I had less time to chant than usual, and thanks to various distractions I had less attention to pay than usual, too.

To survive this week I decided to have sixteen solid rounds everyday but let the rest take care of itself. If I had something to do I had to do it while chanting. Or chant while doing it, doesn’t really matter.

The result was that a lot of time this week I have been totally spaced out, hardly remembering to move my beads and losing count every half and hour. I don’t know if it was a good idea but it was the only one I had. I don’t think it would have been better not to chant at all, my tasks were not really demanding, there was no problem with completing them at all, it’s only my japa that suffered from inattention.

I’m still in two minds about it. What I did was offensive, I can’t avoid the feeling of cheating myself, on the other hand I believe chanting even offensively is better than not chanting at all. It’s not like I was dressing the Deities or cooking for Krishna. Oh wait, I did that, too…

I consoled myself by declaring that I’m sick and tired of this world and the demands it puts on my existence here, I told it to go and screw itself. I’m forced to do many things due to me having a body but since it’s only chanting that matters for my soul I’m not going to stop that no matter what my senses want or need.

I’m sick and tired of my mind wanting to solve a multitude of technical problems and learn a dozen of new things. I can’t stop it, it’s in its nature, but I’ve decided I would chant through it regardless.

In some ways the result was less than encouraging, I felt like I was really throwing those hours away. Well, no point in crying for spilled milk, I told myself. The sixteen dedicated rounds were better than ever, that I can’t deny, too. I’ve found some new connections, new, deeper feelings, new dedication, but that was not enough to offset the distaste of chanting inattentively for the rest of the day.

The main problem is how much time that inattentive chanting took. At first I thought it would be only an hour or two but I grossly underestimated the power of my distractions. I swear on some days six hours went by and I didn’t pause a second to think about the words that were leaving my lips.

Something has to be done, it can’t go on like this forever. I’m afraid my initial enthusiasm for chanting extra rounds has gone, my hopes of seeing the rainbows has dissipated. Now I know that there’s nothing magic about chanting three lakhs a day, I have nothing to look forward to, or rather my mind has nothing to look forward to anymore.

At first, my intelligence convinced my mind that great payoffs are awaiting me if I chant three lakhs. Great new tastes, unrivaled enjoyment, reservoir of pleasure, oceans of nectar.

Nothing like that at all and my mind refuses to be fooled anymore. Now it calculates the actual outcomes from me chanting vs me downloading and tweaking all kinds of software. In my mind calculations chanting loses every time. If it’s not interested in software there’s always a daily newspaper with fascinating political news, if politics get boring there’s twitter with people sending interesting links to check out, if twitter is slow there are plenty of blogs on all kinds of subjects to read.

Sometimes I catch my mind being bored with it all but it still doesn’t let me concentrate on chanting. Even if it has nothing particular to do it doesn’t like simply listening to the Names. I hope it would change in the future but for now I’m drowning.

Perhaps all I’m doing right now is dancing around the big elephant in the room – chanting didn’t turn out as I expected. Not attractive enough, not engaging enough, not fulfilling enough. In a battle for the attention of my mind and for satisfaction of my senses japa still loses.

There’s another bitter realization that I’m afraid to admit to myself – Krishna doesn’t care about my life a bit. This week He had plenty of chances to show that He looks after the devotees, I was anticipating His intervention any moment. Well, the week has gone by and nothing happened.

It is not surprising per se and I’m ready to admit my misunderstandings and false hopes and all but it doesn’t come easily.

What if all that I thought real about Krishna’s care is just a figment of my imagination? I know I’m most probably wrong but it gave me a warm feeling of safety and protection when I thought “Oh look, Krishna is doing this for me and Krishna is doing that.” It turns out He is not doing anything.

I’m just a spec of dust in the vast ocean of bhava, material existence, I’m being tossed here and there by the strong waves and sometimes hurricanes beat the last drop of life out of me. I’ve also lead a relatively more sinful life in some aspects and so there’s no way for me to go but down. I think I’ll get something useful for being vegetarian and all but in many other ways I’m doing worse than average, comparing to people around me.

So, I thought Krishna would correct all that. As I said already I was probably wrong, very wrong, Krishna doesn’t exist to provide safety in my material life, He has His illusory potency for that purpose and she is doing fine, lulling me into a false sense of security against all my experience and intelligence.

Maybe it’s a good lesson for me – do not look for Krishna where He doesn’t exist, you’re going to be disappointed. The lesson is bitter, however.

My obsession with duty for the past three days also put some restraints on my options. Today I sat down and thought about my immediate future and I realized that I don’t have any options, my duty is to live through my predicament and that’s all.

You know how people always have dreams of a better life. They have visions of themselves being happy and content and they have at least vague ideas about how this improvements could come about. I got stripped of those. I can’t dream anymore, I only have the “reality” and chanting, there’s no place in my life for dreams, they are part of the illusion and, as such, part of the reality these dreams were meant to escape.

I’m sure I fully deserved my predicament but it’s still hard to accept that Krishna doesn’t care about improving it at all, and why should He? I obviously have enough presence of mind to keep on chanting and to realize the futility of these “improvements”. In fact He might still intervene the moment He realizes I can’t take it anymore. Apparently this time has not come yet and I still have some way to go before I snap.

That’s another thing – I suspect there’s no way to escape the snap test. My will to serve Krishna and my strength to ignore illusory setbacks of this world must be tested to the limit. I don’t know what the passing grade is but if I want Krishna to grant me devotion I have to stay strong as long as I possibly can.

I will probably fail this time but the good thing is that I will surely get another try and it will be easier. It’s like progressing to a next level in a computer game – you have to make a certain number of attempts before you master it, the more times you fail the closer you are to getting through.

While the material energy has tied some screws around me I’m still not even close to the point of screaming for mercy. Most of my problems are concoctions of my own mind, I haven’t been hurt as such, I’m only trying to protect future damage to my own ego, I only imagine all the things that could happen to me.

From that POV I have nothing to blame Krishna for – nothing has actually happened yet, I have only fears for my future.

And inattentive chanting, too, I should not forget.

Somehow or other my progress for this week is realizing my fundamental weaknesses and seeing the futility of my attempts at “better life”.

I have imagined myself achieving some sort of a benchmark for a progressing devotee but I was wrong, I misidentified myself again and I let the pride to rule my head, too.

I don’t know about the victory but identifying my enemies is not a defeat, it’s not a total waste, title of this blog notwithstanding.

Real devotion to the Lord stays the same in external comfort or adversities. I just wish I was tested in comfort first. Actually I wish I was tested ONLY in comfort, forget testing in adversities.

That’s, unfortunately, not how it works and I have to get used to it.

Vanity thought #213. Duty and service.

Still can’t shake it off – the lingering doubts about the value of performing your duty in service of a non-devotee husband.

Some new comments have been posted, and the one, by Mataji Phalini, stole the limelight from what I was going to post today but that is not going to stop me…

First, I think I have and issue with two passages from the books in support of leaving fallen husbands. In Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya 15.264 Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya is pretty clear about it

When the husband falls down, it is the wife’s duty to relinquish the relationship.

Well, my initial doubt was about Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya himself – he earlier advised Lord Chaitanya to retake sannyasa initiation from a better guru, it seems he wasn’t particularly strict about about these things and other people and even devotees might have had different opinions.

Furthermore, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was talking about his own daughter, if there was an impartial trial he would have been deemed as having a conflict of interest in the matter. Attachment to one’s children might cloud the judgment of anyone, especially when caught in an unfortunate moment.

What happened was that Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya just served lunch to Lord Chaitanya and it was a particularly difficult invitation to secure. He prepared a sumptuous feast to the best of his abilities and he was very glad the Lord has enjoyed it. Then his son-in-law, Amogha, walked in and criticized Chaitanya Mahaprabhu for eating too much. As Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya himself put it – I invited the Lord for lunch but instead He had to hear blasphemies. In Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s eyes it was all ruined and there was only one guilty party – his son-in-law.

Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya started his speech with discussing the sin of killing Amogha first but had enough presence of mind to refrain from it. Next step was telling his daughter to divorce her husband.

Maybe his reasoning was overall correct but his reaction was surely emotional and personal. Lord Chaitanya said He didn’t even see an offence because Amogha was right – a sannyasi shouldn’t eat so much. On the other hand, He also saw envy in Amogha’s heart and, when Amogha caught cholera the next day, Lord Chaitanya personally relieved him of the envy and the disease and he personally asked Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya not to take his offense seriously as Amogha was still only a boy.

So, is it right to treat Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s initial reaction as a scriptural injunction to abandon fallen husbands? I don’t think so. We should certainly weigh it in but it’s only one opinion, and somewhat compromised one at that, too.

Next argument is taken from Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.28

…a chaste woman should engage with affection in the service of a husband who is not fallen

In the purport Prabhupada is very clear – if a husband is addicted to four principles of sinful activity and is not a devotee than “a chaste woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband.”

However clear it is, we should also consider the circumstances of how this situation came about in the first place. If a devotee woman decides to marry a non-devotee man then something was clearly wrong from the start. What are the chances that leaving such a husband would be any better?

In that same purport Prabhupada says that giving up association means living separately, not a divorce per se. I think that unless one is absolutely sure the woman would be able to simply live separately from her husband without any chance of falling for another man we shouldn’t be advising this course of action.

It is easier if the woman moves into a temple but, I think, the situation should be clear to all – she is still considered to be married and she restricts association with her husband only to protect her own purity. I’m in a completely foreign territory here, however.

What if a man realizes his bad ways and accepts his wive’s reasons but can’t do anything about it due to his fallen nature? What do you tell him? Some part of him wants to be a devotee but his habits keep him strangled. Never happened to any of us?

The line with four regulative principles is pretty clear but giving them up is a process that might take quite a long time. Alcoholism, for example, is a disease and it’s largely incurable. What if the efforts to contain it are clearly there?

Would you advise to give up such “fallen” man, thus depriving him of the very opportunity to purify himself?

I think any devotee, either male or female, would approach this situation as an opportunity to preach by personal example, to bring another spirit soul back into Krishna’s fold. If our efforts are not sufficient and the progress is very slow we would blame ourselves and our own lack of devotion and as long as the partner appreciates it there shouldn’t be even a thought about leaving.

You know what they say about families – they would love you no matter what your faults are and would never give up on you, pretty much like Krishna Himself. Of course we not quite at that level yet but we know we should strive to achieve it, giving up is not an option.

If a husband says that he likes halava and this is the only reason he keeps his wife around than it is a different case. I’m talking about being sincerely sorry for one’s faults and being grateful for not giving up on him. Just like we pray to Krishna.

Come to think of it – in many ways a wife in this situation should display exactly the same qualities we ourselves search for in Krishna, should behave exactly the way we want Krishna treat us. Funny that.

There’s another twist to the story – in Srimad Bhagavatam purport Srila Prabhupada talks about serving the husband but in the original article Mataji Sundari Radhika talked about serving the duty.

There’s a difference, I believe. We serve husbands of wives for their satisfaction, we serve our duties for the satisfaction of Vishnu. We perform our duties because they were given to us by the material nature under Krishna’s guidance, because Krishna Himself told us through Bhagavat Gita that we should do so. It doesn’t really matter if the husband appreciates our service or not. There are plenty of men out there who don’t appreciate anything but it doesn’t mean all service is in vain.

This is how Mataji Sundari Radhika approaches the problem of a non-devotee husband (she is married to a nice vaishnava herself, btw). She advises to clean the house not in service of a man but in service of Vishnu, with complete detachment, just as advised in the Gita.

For example, when a woman wakes up she cleans the house and prepares breakfast, her husband should be performing some spiritual duties in the meantime but what if the slob is still in bed? He is certainly screwing up his karma, but what about the woman? Wouldn’t she screw up hers if she decides not to clean and cook? How would anyone feel about abandoning his or her duties this way?

Throughout human history there have been millions if not billions of mistreated women and many of them didn’t even think about abandoning their posts. In a karmi world they deserve recognition and they often get it but here come we, Hare Krishnas, and tell people that it’s all worth nothing and women are free to leave any time.

If a husband can’t give her the liberation he is not worth staying with, we say. I wonder how that works. Who in his right mind can guarantee liberation to anyone? A guru can, but not on his own strength, on the strength of the mercy of the previous acharyas. Does a husband have to have a parampara to rely on, too? How many husbands in the history of the universe have qualified by this criteria? Is it reasonable to expect every female devotee gets one like this, capable of giving liberation?

And wouldn’t part of this guarantee be a condition that a woman should never ever leave him not matter what his faults are?

Tricky, tricky world we live in. What can I say, I’m glad I’m not in marriage counselling business.

Vanity thought #212. Mocking Duty.

I mean my duty is mocking me.

After yesterday’s to and fro arguments about the importance of performing your duty against the importance of protecting the growing seeds of devotion my duty has come out and made big fun of me. I guess now she knows that I can’t say no to her and will dutifully take all the shit she is going to throw at me.

Well, let her mock me all she wants, I got something out of it, too – doing your duty even if it doesn’t come out right feel satisfactory. I wish I got better results but maybe getting satisfaction from screwing things up is an important lesson for me. God knows I have more of them coming, round one wasn’t too bad at all.

Okay, so what happened was that I have to go and visit this government office on the other side of town. It’s not particularly urgent and, personally, I don’t believe anything will come out of it, but I owe it to everyone I know to go and make my case. As an unemployed person I don’t have any excuses anymore, beggars are not choosers, if I refuse to take care of myself I might impress Krishna but as long as I live in a society I have to keep people’s minds at ease, too.

Anyway, I tried to go last Friday, I was hoping to get there just after lunch and combine my trip with some other errands. When I checked opening hours, however, I found out that they are open only until 12, and so I had to rush to make it on time. Whole morning I was chanting my rounds, carefree, and then I had to run.

It was a long trip and I was ten minutes late.

On Monday I invented some excuse and it didn’t go down well, people were starting to lose faith in my sanity and/or sense of basic self-preservation.

On Tuesday I got a reminder message exactly at 9AM to get out of the house. I took it seriously. I had plenty of time when I eventually left and people were following my progress through the city on Latitude in their phones. Everything was going fine.

Then I realized that I was going to pass my old place of work and everyone in that neighborhood knew my car so I decided not to risk it and change my route. I took a “shortcut” through a dense residential area that looks like a bowl of spaghetti on the map. I haven’t driven through there in five years but I knew the general direction and it was going fine, until eventually I got the sucking feeling in my soul, the suspicion that I got lost.

Twenty minutes later and with absolutely no idea which narrow street to take to get to the main road I turned to the help of GPS. I was going in opposite direction, GPS told me. I dutifully turned around and made a few more laps and ended in exactly the same spot, still with no clue where to go.

I had no choice but to admit defeat and send the message out – “I’m lost, I can’t make it on time.” I got sooo much scorn back – “Up to you, it’s your life!”

To elicit a little bit of sympathy I also sent out a message that I didn’t know how to get home either but no sympathy was forthcoming. I was widely condemned and faced with disbelief and derision. If I had a tail it would have been between my legs, or between my rear wheels. The fact that I found the way home in less than a minute didn’t help either.

Three times I tried to get to some damn office and three times I failed. What are my prospects in life now?

Yes, my duty was mocking me, full time.

On the other hand, it wasn’t the first time it was doing so and all I could think about was that this unfortunate series of events must be leading me to some very welcome alternatives.

The first time something like this has happened to me was many many years ago, just a few days before I bought my first books.

At that time I used to hang out at a walking street and listen to all kinds of buskers, and especially Beatles fans. It was a popular area and it was a magnet for all kinds of missionaries. I guess I’ve seen Hare Krishnas doing their kirtans, too, but for the life of me I can’t remember. I do remember lots of Christians, though. They were very keen on talking to people about God and religion and they didn’t have anything to sell, just talk. It was challenging and attractive and I got a name card from one of them.

Eventually I decided to attend their meeting, I was living in the suburbs and relied on mass transport then and so the trip took me half a day. Funny thing happened just as I started off – I got a serious stomach problem. By the time I got within a walking distance from the church I couldn’t hold it anymore, I needed a toilet. The only one open for the public was closed for cleaning so I jumped on the subway and got off at the next stop.

I couldn’t find a toilet anywhere, I ran and ran and ran and there was nothing. I then got on the subway again and went to the previous station, there was one paid toilet I dismissed at first but now I had absolutely no other choice.

Relieved, I set out to find the church. It was in a neighborhood that was very similar to the one I got lost this morning and I just couldn’t find it. I thought I knew the streets but I just kept making wrong turns.

By the time I found it the service was over and people were leaving and there was no one to talk to. I had to return home. In two days time I bought Srimad Bhagavatam and never thought of going to that church again.

My whole life since that episode I believed that Krishna intentionally confused me and my intelligence and also gave me the runs. He didn’t think catholics were suitable for me and I’m eternally thankful to Him for that.

There were a couple of other “unfortunate” events that led me to buying that Bhagavatam. I can easily count at least three crucial junctions that could have set me on the completely wrong tracks, hold on, just remembered the fourth one.

Anyway, my point today is that when I see something messing with my plans in such a persistent way I tend to think of Krishna’s intervention, mockery or not.

For nearly three months now I’ve been waiting for Him to make His move. Actually, it’s probably only my karma and there’s nothing good waiting for me in the foreseeable future but I’ll take any sign of abnormality as Krishna’s intervention.

What will happen this time? Will He send me a devotee? Will He send me TO devotees? Will He facilitate my move to holy places? Will He engage me in service of sankirtana? Whatever it is, I’m patiently waiting.

It is my duty to sit tight, chant my rounds, and pray.

I could probably turn to some ISKCON Ministry or other and beg for help but I don’t feel that would be the right thing to do. I have my life and I’m pretty clear what my duties are, according to my current position, and that’s what I’m going to do. Performing these duties doesn’t present any serious obstacles to my sadhana, not even close to the obstacles I put up myself with my inattentive chanting and my material attachments.

I have no one to blame and I have no reason to ask for any special treatment, in fact, I think all my personal requests will be for my own personal gratification no matter how may excuses and reasons I dress them in.

My external circumstances are perfectly conducive to my spiritual progress at the moment and if it ain’t broken I shouldn’t try to fix it. Trying to improve one’s material situation to, allegedly, serve Krishna better, is a treacherous path that has no end and I will try not to take it if I can.

I welcome all my duties with a doubtful mind but my heart is not heavy at all. I know deep within that I just have to stick through it and everything will be okay in the end.

Vanity thought #211. Duty vs. Devotion.

Rather belatedly but I finally read the “karmi husband” article on iskcon.com and the heated discussion around it. It can be found here. There’s also a response by Grihastha Vision Team but I’ll get to it later.

The original article was calling on women to serve their husbands, even non-devotee ones, to the best of one’s ability and without any complaints. Serve even meat and alcohol if required.

The reasoning went along these lines – women should act according to their stri-dharma, treating their husbands as manifestation of Krishna in the same way brahmacharies treat their gurus. As brahmacharies receive their initiations and become dvija, twice born, so women become dvija on the day of their wedding. Husbands, like gurus, according to the article, are sent by Krishna Himself so abandoning them is equal to abandoning one’s service to the spiritual master.

It doesn’t really matter whether husbands commit mistakes or not – their faults should be dealt with by their peers and superiors, not by wives, it’s not woman’s place to correct her master, her job is to serve and that’s it. Rebelling against even a wayward husband is a gravest offence.

In support of this position the author mentioned Bhagavat Gita, verses 3.8, 3.9, and 18.47.

Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work.

Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.

It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.

There were verses from Bhagavatam, too, but they were definitions of stri-dharma itself, not arguments in its favor.

There is also an example of Prahlada Maharaj who has never ever abandoned his super demoniac father and never ever showed him any disrespect, even after his father tried to kill him in every possible way.

We are relieved of our given duties by Krishna, we can’t go AWOL, the argument goes.

There is also an example of Srila Prabhupada’s sister, Pisima, who had a drunk, philandering meat-eater as a husband but she never gave up serving him the best she could. When she asked Prabhupada for advice he recommended that she prayed to their old family deities, Sri Sri Radha Govinda, who will arrange everything. In the meantime, he said, she should do what her mother taught her about serving a man.

I think it’s a very strong, sound position to take. Then other devotees tore it to shreds.

They gave other quotes from Prabhupada that were clear as day – fallen husbands should be abandoned. There were quotes from the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam, 7.11.28

It is recommended, therefore, that a chaste wife not associate with a fallen husband. A fallen husband is one who is addicted to the four principles of sinful activity — namely illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. Specifically, if one is not a soul surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is understood to be contaminated. Thus a chaste woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband.

There was also a quote from Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 15.264

Inform my daughter Ṣāṭhī to abandon her relationship with her husband because he has fallen down. When the husband falls down, it is the wife’s duty to relinquish the relationship.

On the face of, the arguments against serving a non-devotee husband are stronger because they were given specifically to address our situation as followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and ISKCON.

With strong arguments came strong words, from both sides. The author somehow managed to mention ISKCON ministries dealing with women in less than favorable way, and also those who turn to these ministries for help instead of sticking it out.

In turn she was called naive and immature and ignorant of the shastras and dangers of living a sinful life and values of devotion.

Still, there are many holes in both lines of attack. Some started talking about husbands, for example, but their responsibilities and failures are clearly irrelevant to the discussion, they just lead the debate astray. And attacking feminism in ISKCON is also counterproductive – some women really suffer in their marriages and they deserve all the help they can get, from feminists or not.

There are so many aspects to this issue that it’s impossible to lay down a clear cut solution for each and every case out there. There was a ray of hope, however, and it came from a devotee attacking the article:

Pisima was not in danger of falling down due to her husband’s bad association; she was trained from earliest childhood in both the principles of stri-dharma, and Vaisnavism. A weaker woman would almost certainly succumb to her husband’s bad influence. If we have Pisima’s devotion and spiritual strength, maybe then we can imitate her chastity. Otherwise, it’s risky. The first principle is to save yourself.
The issue is not whether a husband is a devotee, it’s whether one’s husband or wife is an impediment to one’s Krishna consciousness.

I think the nail has had his head hit here – it’s our devotion that really matters. It’s not the question whether husbands are pure or fallen, it’s the effect of serving them on women’s consciousness that is important.

Some female devotees are so strong in their faith and determination that even cooking meat for their husbands doesn’t affect them. Some are not so strong and might suffer from bad association.

That answers it – we should pray to Krishna and we should firmly believe that our fate is only in His hands and nothing could happen to us without His sanction and everything that happens to us is for our ultimate benefit.

Someone reminded in this connection:

Whatever happened to:

sarva-dharman parityajya
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.

Indeed.

Maybe Krishna will arrange a Women Protection Ministry or whatever they are called to find and save an unfortunate devotee from her predicament, maybe husband will be so impressed by his wife’s humility and devotion that he will abandon his evil ways and become a devotee, too. That’s what happened to Pisima’s husband, apparently.

Having said that, not everybody is strong enough and devotees with less faith should not be abandoned. For them Krishna provides the chance to escape themselves. Maybe they will live with the guilt of abandoning their post for the rest of their lives, maybe not. At the end of the day even this guilt is beneficial, it gives strength and intelligence for the next test.

Running away from one’s duties is not recommended but not if one clearly lacks spiritual strength to perform them in full Krishna consciousness, and we can’t stop women from leaving their husbands anyway but I don’t think we should encourage this behavior either.

There’s one very important point in Prabhupada’s advice from Srimad Bhagavatam – the woman should not remarry! If she leaves her husband that’s it, no more family life for her, it’s like taking sannyasa.

Of course if one doesn’t have strength to stay with her husband then it’s natural to expect there will be no strength to resist marrying someone else either.

Urghhh, I think it’s impossible to stop people from making big mistakes in Kali Yuga, I think we should focus on what we can instead of what we can’t. I’m also very impressed with Krishna for being able to keep track of all this crap and perfectly arrange everyone’s path in life according to what he or she deserves and what is best for their devotional progress.

Finally, the response by Grihastha Vision Team was a bit disappointing to me. It was vague and elusive and contained an unhealthy doze of self-promotion. It reminded me of a pest control websites I’ve seen recently where the worst thing that could possibly happen in life is if one tries to catch a mouse himself – it is a job solely for the highly trained professionals with decades of experience and latest and most expensive equipment.

Still, I don’t think this kind of decisions were taken without any consultation with seniors even in Vedic times, we surely need someone to serve in this role now and if they are organized into some sort of a ministry than it’s great, and maybe there’s benefit in slowing things down and talking about everything and nothing at the same time if it diffuses the situation and allows people to think clearly and prevents them from making any haste decisions.

Following our duties is nice, no doubt about that, but developing one’s devotion is even higher. We can fail in performing our duties and go up and down through all the planets in universe but devotion only accumulates, we should remember that, too.

At the end of the day, devotion is the only thing we should really count, the rest is temporary, illusory, and immaterial.