Vanity thought #277. Brownout.

Yesterday our house suffered a brownout – dim lights and not enough juice to run the computer, UPS fed it for a while but then it just died.

Even though I was chanting japa at the time I had a strange feeling of being cut off from the world, not just the world outside but the material world as a whole, beginning with my body. After looking at the dead computer and all the things that were waiting for me there I felt like I lost my body.

The body, of course, was still there, but I lost the ability to apply my senses which is the main point of having the body in the first place. The feeling was pretty much how I imagine people who just lost their limbs still feel their presence and it was just weird. Or maybe it was like ghosts who are consumed by desires but have no tools to satisfy them – there’s a longing but you can’t do absolutely nothing about it.

This realization made me think about how important our bodies are. Normally I would preach to myself that my body is a useless sack of meat that impedes my devotional progress. I was wrong.

As a living entity I do not perform any devotional service at all. My spiritual limbs and senses are as good as non-existent, all I have is my body, it’s all I really know about myself, it is, in fact, “myself”. Theoretically speaking I might be different from my body but I have no experience of that whatsoever. I think, feel, and act as if I was a body. What’s up with that?

What is “surrender”? Is it only a product of my imagination? How can I surrender myself if I don’t know who I am?

Maybe the secret lies in surrendering only the body, since it’s the only thing I know about. Dreams about surrendering my soul need to be postponed until I can actually see myself as such.

What about the developments that I observe and conclude that they are “devotional progress” Are they real? Or are they just as real as the rest of the material world?

What is the difference between being in Krishna Consciousness and being in maya? Reading Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s biography I don’t see that he was always fully aware of his spiritual identity, so seeing one’s true spiritual form is not a requirement. What is, then?

Luckily, I just stumbled on a Srimad Bhagavatam verse, 2.9.1, that sheds some light on the matter:

…unless one is influenced by the energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no meaning to the relationship of the pure soul in pure consciousness with the material body…

This is not a direct answer, Sukadeva Goswami tells Maharaja Parikshit that this world is but a dream – “That relationship is just like a dreamer’s seeing his own body working.” It still mentions the possibility of being influenced by the energy of Krishna and that is supposed to dramatically alter the soul’s perception of the world (and the body) and its place within it.

This means that even if I don’t see myself as I am, if I manage to come under the influence of the Supreme Lord my life will never be the same. It means I will not be under the influence of maya anymore. I won’t be able to participate in Lord’s eternal pastimes in the spiritual world either but I would be more like the residents of Vrindavana during Krishna’s advent – they had no idea who he was and thought they must pray to demigods for their sustenance.

Two episodes come to mind in this regard – gopis praying to the Goddess Katyayani to obtain Krishna as their husband. Under the influence of Krishna’s energy they though Katyayani had some independent powers that could control Krishna Himself. They were convinced they were just ordinary mortal girls, they didn’t even suspect they appeared in their own, eternal forms.

The second episode is the infamous Indra Yajna that Krishna stopped in favor of Govardhana Puja. This as another demonstration that residents of Krishna’s eternal dhama had no idea how lucky they were, they thought they had to work hard and worship the demigods to provide for themselves and for Krishna.

Some of them must have made inquiries into their spiritual nature, studied the books, prayed to the gods, learned from the gurus. What do you think they’ve been told? I bet no one told them they were in their fully spiritual forms already and didn’t have to go through reincarnations and changing the bodies. They probably thought they had to meditate and perform sacrifices just like everybody else so that they could shake the illusion that they were gopis and gopas of Vrindavana. Imagine they succeeded!

What if I am in a similar situation? Of course I’m not in my original body, but I’m under the influence of the same energy, at least the same kind of energy. Maybe not the one that manifests Vrindavana and all different kinds of service devotees render their but under Lord’s energy anyway.

How else would all the devotional things in my life came into my view? Even the verse I quoted earlier appeared in my twitter feed as a blog by a devotee I’ve never heard about before. What about the Deities, the images, the sound of the Holy Name? How did they come before my senses? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t arranged by maya.

That means I’m a stubborn soul that resists Krishna’s influence and dreams about sex and sense gratification instead.

According to Shukadeva Goswami those dreams are just that – dreams, but attempts to maintain relationships with Krishna are as real as service rendered by Vrijabasis who didn’t know who Krishna was and prayed to demigods instead. Not nearly as perfect but of the same nature.

Does it matter then whether I see myself as a material body or as a spirit soul? I still have to render the same service. In a different, perverted way, but still service. Contaminated and insincere but still service, under the direction of Lord’s energy.

Unfortunately the brownout made me starve for material enjoyment, not for the service, so there’s still a long way to go but the principle has been established – body is not a burden, it’s a blessing, just have to engage it in a proper way.

There are more implications from this but they require separate post.

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Vanity thought #276. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Puri Bliss.

Testing Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s faith and devotion by pitching him against impostors with yogic powers was probably the only uncomfortable moment during his stay there. Everything else was pure bliss.

Remember how the only thing he brought with him when he was assigned to Puri were sets of Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita? He put them to good use.

He had learned Sanskrit earlier but wasn’t very good at it. In Puri he got himself a tutor to help him study Bhagavatam. There were also two friends who studied with him but soon they were left behind. Yesterday I wasn’t sure if he originally brought Sridhara Swami’s commentary with him but this was the edition he read in Puri. After Bhagavatam he devoured lots of other Gaudiya vaishnava literature like Sat Sandarbha and Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and lots of other works by Six Goswamis and their followers. He even read Govinda Bhashya – Gaudiya commentary on Vedanta written by Baladeva Vidyabhushana.

Not only did he study those books, he learned Sanskrit well enough to start writing books of his own. His first Sanskrit book was Datta-kaustubha and while in Puri he also started work on his famous Krishna Samhita.

Simply studying and writing wasn’t enough, he had to go and practice his understanding by preaching.

Everyday he would go to Jagannath Temple and hold discussion about vaishnavism. He avoided groups of mayavadis that also gathered there, he said that their blasphemy towards the Lord was unbearable for him to hear. He started his own community, by the place where Lord Chaitanya left imprints of His feet (how appropriate!) Eventually more and more people joined in and he had become a famous preacher of the Bhagavatam. His worldly scholarship paid off again as he was able to quickly pick up on philosophy he was only vaguely familiar with only few years ago.

He also held regular discussions in the place of Ramananda Raya’s bhajan. Many vaishnava pundits came to hear him talk there.

His success was noted and some people were not very happy, initially. There was one renounced devotee, a babaji, by the name Raghunatha Dasa, who thought that Kedarnath didn’t look like a real vaishnava – he wore neither tilaka nor kanthi-mala – tulasi beads worn around the neck.

It was like a replay of the episode between Gadadhara Pundit and Pundarika Vidyanidhi from Lord Chaitanya’s lila. When Gadadhara Pundit, a member of the Panca Tattva, saw Pundarika Vidyanidhi for the first time he thought he met an ordinary self absorbed sense enjoyer but then he observed transcendental transformations in Pundarika Vidyanidhi as soon as he heard verses about Krishna from the Bhagavatam. Gadadhara Pundit realized his mistake and begged not only forgiveness from Pundarika Vidyanidhi but also asked to be accepted as his disciple.

Well, this case was very similar – Raghunatha Das was a great devotee himself but at first he didn’t recognize Kedarnath’s greatness. We commit similar mistakes all the time, in Raghunatha Das case, however, Lord Jagannath Himself appeared in his dream and told him to beg forgiveness from Bhaktivinoda Thakur. We don’t get this kind of mercy, if we criticize vaishnavas even in our minds we get doomed. Actually Raghunath Das was first afflicted with a severe illness, too, but later the Lord came through and revealed him the cause of his misfortune and told him how to rectify it.

Raghunath Das immediately went to see Bhaktivinoda Thakur and begged his forgiveness. Unlike the case with Gadadhara Pundit, though, it was Kedarnath who asked to be accepted as a disciple.

It went down like this – Bhaktivinoda Thakur accepted that he wasn’t wearing the signs of vaishnavas but he said that it was because he didn’t have a guru, Krishna hadn’t sent him one yet, and without guru’s blessings he would look like a fraud wearing tilaka and kanthi mala. He already had japa mala and that was enough for him ATM, he said. It’s in this context that he asked for Raghunath Das shelter. It wan’t formal, though, the proper initiation was still a few years away. Still, Bhaktivinoda Thakur had probably learned a lot from association with Raghunath Das.

Raghunath Babaji wasn’t the only exalted vaishnava who Bhaktivinoda Thakur respected very much. At that time in Puri lived another great devotee, Swarupa Babaji, who, btw, later became an associate of Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. Swarupa Babaji lived near bhajan kutir of Sanatana Goswami and many devotees came there for the kirtans, bhajans, and readings from vaishnava books.

Swarupa Babaji spent whole day doing his solitary bhajan and came out only after sunset to engage in congregational chanting of the Holy Name. Devotees would bring him Jagannatha prasadam and he took very little, only what was necessary for his body maintenance. After that he would ask someone to read books about Lord Chaitanya, and then, around 10 PM, he would retire to his kutir for further bhajan. In the middle of the night he would go to the ocean for a bath. Bhaktivinoda Thakur says he went for a bath so late because he didn’t want to give people a chance to serve him, but he needed the service indeed – he was blind in both eyes! As Bhaktivinoda Thakur says: “Only Lord Chaitanya knows how he found his way to the ocean all by himself.”

This is the kind of association that anyone could only dream of and Bhaktivinoda Thakur took full advantage of the opportunity.

As I said, he became a very respectable member of the vaishnava community. His service to the government also didn’t go unnoticed and he became a magistrate. He was actually in charge of maintaining the temple itself and organizing all the festivals, as far as the government was involved.

He was very dear to the Englishmen in charge but his relations with the locals were not very smooth. Once he even put down the king of Orissa in his place when the raja unceremoniously broke into a devotee’s assembly in the temple compounds. Bhaktivinoda Thakur rightly told the king that he rules only on the outside, inside the temple there’s only one Lord – Jagannath, and raja was in no position to show any disrespect towards Jagannath’s devotees.

His relationship with the king was a complicated one. First of all, it was the king’s library that supplied many of the books Bhaktivinoda Thakur was reading. Then there was that incident in the temple. At first the raja offered his apologies and the matter would have been forgotten but next time he got caught embezzling temple’s money and was sentenced by Kedarnath to pay for Lord Jagannath services from his own pocket, Lord Jagannath eats fifty two times a day and the expenditures were very taxing even on the king himself. Eventually the raja became very upset with Kedarnath, so envious that he decided to kill him.

Kedarnath was too prominent a man in Puri society that simply hiring hitmen wasn’t a very wise idea, the king decided to turn to brahmanas instead, he hired a team of fifty and ordered a series of massive fire sacrifices lasting for thirty days with the sole intent of killing Bhaktivinoda Thakur. On the last day, when the curse was supposed to finally unleash its power, the King’s only son died instead. Talk about backfiring.

It wasn’t a big deal for Bhaktivinoda Thakur, though, he was too absorbed in the bliss of his daily sadhana to notice. King’s episode deserved only a bare mention in Svalikhita Jivani but in those days other devotees started memorizing his pastimes and so now we have far more detailed accounts.

It was also in Puri that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was born and all his samskaras – first grains, first solid food etc were performed with Jagannath’s prasadam. In fact that was the time that Bhaktivinoda Thakur and his family ate nothing but Lord Jagannatha’s prasadam. When he entered the temple for his daily service someone would always give him a bowl of dahl there, without tasting that dahl Bhaktivinoda Thakur could not be satisfied.

All in all, it was a period of pure bliss, but as with all periods it had to come to an end. Kedarnath was transferred back to the vicinity of Calcutta and that’s a story for another day.

Oh, one more thing – while dealing with Besikisen and other impostors Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur had to learn a lot about their philosophy and, by extension, he also learned about all kinds of deviations practiced by many different groups there. The fight for the purity of Lord Chaitanya’s movement was practically born there and then. But that is also a story for another day.

Vanity thought #275. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Puri and punishment of Bisakisen.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur spent about two years in Dinajpur during which he had a daughter and a death of a new born son. By some unfortunate circumstance his father-in-law died at exactly the same time and Bhaktivioda Thakur chose to withhold this sad news from his wife for a few days to spare her even more grief. I don’t know if that would have been possible in modern age, we can tell people white lies for their benefit but we not something like this – death of a father. This is the kind of news that has to be told right away, this is our default setting – people are supposed to be mentally strong to absorb something like this, in fact we believe that telling them unpleasant news makes them stronger, though they obviously need to mobilize more energy to deal with the situation. It wasn’t an easy choice back then, too, I believe, but it worked without any serious consequences for the family, his wife survived through one big unhappiness just fine. Later in Dinajpur she gave birth to a baby girl and all was forgotten.

There were also examinations, with mixed results, long vacations and some more progress in government service. There were also a few months spent in a place called Champarn but none of that seems important now. What’s important is that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was given a position in Jagannatha Puri.

His newly born daughter wasn’t old enough to travel yet so Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t take his family with him, instead he took Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita. Of all the things in his household he thought that those two books were most important. It’s like “what would you take with you if you were on a deserted island?” question. Bhaktivinoda Thakur, or Kedar Nath, as he was known at that time, chose books about devotion.

Puri wasn’t a deserted island either. First habit he started there was to daily visit the temple. He would see the Lord Jagannatha and remember how Lord Chaitanya visited Him, too, and that made him very happy. There were vaishnavas everywhere and he immensely enjoyed their association.

Puri, of course, is the place where he overpowered a local mystic pretending to be an incarnation of Vishnu. Every story about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur mentions this episode and the way I remember it was that none of the mystics curses worked on Bhaktivinoda Thakur and the power of Srimad Bhagavatam. I remember how it was rendered in the Abhai Charan TV series – mystic was cursing and Bhaktivinoda Thakur was reading Bhagavatam. This is how I remember it from my first days with devotees, too.

Svalikhita Jivani gives a slightly different account, to say the least, there was no mysticism involved and no mentions of the power of Bhagavatam or bhakti at all. Mataji Nalini Kanta’s book has quite a few more details and adds a touch of spiritualism that is missing from autobiography, I believe Bhaktivinoda Thakur excluded it intentionally, out of his humility. This was also the time when Bhaktivinoda Thakur became famous in vaishnava circles and so his life had started being documented by others.

Anyway, that mystic was an Atibari, a break away sect of followers of Lord Chaitanya. Their founder gave up pure devotion and took shelter of mayavadis and was rejected by Mahaprabhu Himself. Atibaris wrote their own books about Chaitanya and had some weird ideas, one of them being people pretending to be Gods. There was Krishna, Balarama, Lord Chaitanya, and one dude who claimed to be Mahavishnu. That dude’s name was Bisakisen, with alternative spellings.

He had some yogic powers and that attracted a large number of followers, he did miracles for them – cure diseased persons, read people’s minds etc etc. What got government’s attention was a complaint from a local brahmana community that Bisakisen was spoiling their women under the pretext of rasa dance. Bhaktivinoda Thakur was sent to investigate.

He went to the yogi’s place accompanied by a few collegues, among them an Englishman, and a few soldiers for protection. They heard Bisakisen speak and they determined that he was posing a genuine threat to peace and the British government. Bisakisen was scheduled to manifest a four armed form of Vishnu, kill all the infidels and free entire India from the British rule.

In Seventh Goswami there’s a description of their dialogue, how Bisakisen tried to prove to Bhaktivinoda Thakur that he indeed was Vishnu by displaying his powers – telling Kedar Nath his entire lifestory, healing wounds and curing sick people on the spot and issuing threats. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t moved, just gravely offended that the impostor declared the Deity of Jagannath an ordinary slab of wood. Something had to be done. Next time Bhaktivinoda Thakur formed a posse and went to Bisakisen with the intention to arrest him.

This time he took a hundred policemen with him but Bisakisen wasn’t about to give up easily, he started shooting fire out of his hair and his eyes and policemen got scared. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t afraid, though, he continued trying to convince Bisakisen to give up his ambitions and accept that he was not God. Bisakisen didn’t want to go to Puri himself so they ordered a bullock cart to transport him. Bisakisen was arguing until the very end but eventually realized that he had no power to stop being arrested and led away by force, not in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s presence.

Next was the turn of Brahma and Shiva who didn’t argue at all but blamed everything on their ringleader, Vishnu, naturally.

During the trial Bisakisen didn’t eat or drink anything and he was sending some curses Bhaktivinoda’s way. His seven year old daughter came down with a fever and it took many many doctors to cure her but it eventually happened. Bhaktivinoda Thakur believed that Lord would protect him and his family and was resolute in his determination to bring Bisakisen to justice. Even when his wife pleaded with him for the sake of their children he was unmoved.

Next day Bisakisen reminded Kedarnath about the calamity he sent to his house and promised to attack the judge directly. On the last day of trial Kedarnath came down with a severe chest pain and had to be carried to court in a palanquin but he saw the trial through, having full faith that Krishna would protect him no matter what.

Bisakisen was sentenced to a year and half in jail and immediately after the sentencing, just as constables were about to take Bisakisen away, an English medical doctor who had some knowledge of how yoga works, jumped up and cut off Bisakisen’s hair with a large pair of scissors. As soon as Bisakisen had lost his locks he lost his powers, too, and, exhausted, fell on the floor. That had made a big impression on his followers who finally realized he was a fraud all along, a typical yogi, not God by any stretch. Bisakisen eventually poisoned himself in jail and died.

This whole story looks like a big test for Kedarnath, a test of his faith and devotion in Krishna and the result showed that it wasn’t lacking in any sense. Think of it – only two-three years earlier he was eating meat and now he withstood an onslaught of mystical curses on himself and the family. We’ve been eating prasadam for decades but in many cases we would demand Krishna to spare us from any inconvenience to prove his care. Bhaktivinoda Thakur nearly died, his daughter nearly died, yet he hadn’t thought for a minute that Krishna had deserted him. His standard of proof was very different from mine, he thought that as long as he could perform his duties it was proof of Krishna’s protection already. Never mind he had to be carried to court, that was his personal inconvenience.

To a devotee personal inconvenience is not a sign of being forgotten by Krishna. A devotee doesn’t think that “I will protect you” promise from the Gita refers to his personal comfort but rather to success of his service to Krishna, because that’s what a devotee is really interested in. If one puts personal safety before the safety of his mission he is probably not a devotee and so doesn’t qualify for Krishna’s protection.

This should have great practical application next time I get in trouble and need Krishna’s help. I must not ask for help for myself, I can only believe that Krishna provides help for his mission, anything more than that is the product of my imagination and my selfishness.

How to put it better – real devotees care only about their service and in reciprocation Krishna assures them that execution of his service will never face any obstacles. Obstacles to one’s own well-being don’t count and a real devotee never counts them either. In any situation Krishna will always provide a way to serve Him and that’s what Krishna guarantees, nothing more than that. A devotee would not be interested in anything more than that anyway so there’s no contradiction. You want more – you are not a devotee, not covered by Krishna’s insurance.

After passing this test Kedarnath Dutt’s career as a vaishnava really took off, but that’s the matter for another day.

Vanity thought #274. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Conversion.

When Bhaktivinoda Thakur lived in Chapra he got attracted to eating improper food (don’t want to open the post with words “meat” and “fish”), and tasting local variety of pickles that gave him an ulcer. He later moved to Purneah where his disease went away. It appears it was the best method of maintaining health in those days – move to a more suitable place, even if it’s only a few kilometers away, it has always worked. Chapra is only five kilometers from Mayapur, for example.

From Purneah he moved to Dijnapur and, in his own words, “Vaishnava religion was fairly strong” there. Local rulers and influential persons maintained many brahmana pundit assemblies and there were many renuncitates living there. Apparently this is what could make all the difference for potential devotees. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t a potential devotee, he was a “hidden” devotee but I think the point still stands – support from the ruling classes is very very important for spreading Krishna Consciousness, or any other religion, for that matter. Without this support grassroots movements probably can’t survive at all, not in the long run. ISKCON needs to convince world leaders if we have any hope of creating a Golden Age.

Anyway, in Dijnapur, as was in Midnapur a few years earlier, there was some tension between followers of Brahmo and Hindu traditionalists who wanted to “put Brahmos out of their caste”. It’s at this time when Kedar Nath finally disassociated himself from Brahmo and declared allegiance to vaishnavism. He gave a very big speech in front of many local luminaries that was later made into a book “The Bhagavat: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics and Its Theology.” It wasn’t very pleasing to traditionalists but it was even harsher on Brahmos.

In that speech Kedar Nath criticized reformist approach of Brahmo founter, Ram Mohan Roy and he also criticized racist thinking among Calcutta intelligentsia, and his own, too. They have never ever gave Srimad Bhagavatam any credit and young Kedar wasn’t any different, but now he finally saw the light, so to speak.

To the Hindus he directed the part about non-sectarianism and open minded approach to all religions, looking at the substance rather than superficial issues. I’ll just give a quote from Mataji Nalini Kanta’s work here:

Both Brahmos and Hindus thus duly chastened for their narrow-mindedness, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura then systematically glorifies the Bhagavata, its categories of knowledge: sambandha, abhideya and prayojana, its universality, its profundity, the mysterious nature of Krishna’s sports with the gopés, etc.

This is indeed a remarkable transformation on his part. At this point I’m getting a bit tired of reminding myself that there are no transformations in the nature of an eternally liberated soul such as Bhaktivinoda Thakur. I assume that it’s true but it doesn’t mean there were no transformations to his external behavior while on this Earth, and by external I also mean his mind, intelligence and understanding. I’m also pretty sure he had no idea of his eternal identity at that point yet.

In fact I’m advocating reading his biography “as it is”, and same goes for his speeches, especially if he himself acknowledges deficiencies in his earlier understanding.

Now, the way these transformations happened to him does not mean they will happen to us in exactly the same manner so there should be no imitating and no “but you did this for Bhaktivinoda Thakur” pleas to Krishna, but in the context of his own life they worked as intended – he heard about Bhagavatam from a vaishnava but nothing happened until he moved to the area where he had a lot of vaishnava association. This proves that we can’t make progress on our own, devotion spreads only through devotees.

In his autobiography he also writes about his love for listening to kirtan. He goes about it in a curious way, though, he talks about Manoharshahi kind of kirtan that conquered his heart. Turns out Manohar Shahi is a traditional style of Gaudiya kirtan, actually not so much kritan as we know it but a style of music. I’m pretty sure he listened to glorification of the Lord Hari but when Bhaktivinoda Thakur heard it for the first time it was the style that made the biggest impression on him and he goes on to say that he would never listen to anything else anymore. This is pretty much as our neophytes fall in love with our style of kirtans, which is not quite the same as classical Bengali music and Manohar Shahi, afaik.

Who cares if he got distracted by style? Or that he couldn’t recognize that it was actually kirtan that made such profound changes in his heart, not the style. I bet he was too overwhelmed to notice the difference. In our practical life, though, it shows that proper singing is important, it’s not just a superficial aspect.

Another important point was that he finally procured copies of both Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita. The above mentioned lecture was the result of his studying both books, though it wasn’t a smooth sailing, too.

I don’t know how much it matters in this instance but he probably couldn’t read Sanskrit at that time as he mentions he got a translation of Bhagavatam. I don’t know whether that translation included Sridhar Swami’s commentary that he came to appreciate so much later on. Srimad Bhagavatam with Sridhara Swami’s purports was the main reference for Srila Prabhupada’s translation, too.

Maybe he could read Sanskrit then, maybe he couldn’t, he was good at learning languages anyway. Once he was assigned to an area where people mainly communicated in Urdu and he learned that language and even written a few books in it.

Anyway, his first reading of Chaitanya Charitamrita gave him a “little faith”, the second reading made him think that there was no other learned pundit as Lord Chatianya but that wasn’t the end of the road either because he still had doubts, and the nature of his doubts make me doubt that he understood much at all. I’m speaking from my perspective here, how I would imagine a person would progress through reading Chaitantya Charitamrita and Srimad Bhagavatam after being exposed to ISKCON preaching and Bhagavat Gita.

Again, in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s own words about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu:

…being this sort of pandit, and having revealed the reality of love to such a degreee, how is it that He recomends the worship of the improper character of Krishna?

My question here is – how was that Kedarnath didn’t know the first thing about Krishna after reading Chaitanya Charitamrita? To answer this I think we need to realize that we come to this book from very different backgrounds. We first learn about Bhagavat Gita from Srila Prabhupada and his followers. For practical purposes his translation and purports give us all spiritual knowledge we will ever need in this lifetime. That includes all we need to know about Krishna, too. Of course there’s a lot more in Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita but for the vast majority of us those will remain “just books” for a very very long time, until we gradually cleanse our hearts to appreaciate their true spiritual beauty.

On the superficial level, though, any graduate from a bhakta program can tell Bhaktivinoda Thakur all about his doubts in Krishna, his character and his relationships with Srimati Radharani and other gopis. Many of us can give these explanations in our sleep. In our heads everything is so logical and organized.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur, however, didn’t have this kind of background. He probably knew all about Gita that there was to know at that time but he never heard its explanation from a devotee. Consequently he had no idea who Krishna was, just as in his childhood he had no idea what Deities were, he just worshiped them with faith and devotion. We know all about the Deities but have no devotion or even humility in our hearts. We are children of Kali Yuga, our path starts in different places and has its own set of obstacles.

In Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s case the obstacle was the lack of formal knowledge and he addressed it as a devotee – by praying to the Lord for intelligence, and the Lord provided.

When we want to know something we go on the Internet and in a matter of seconds we can find an answer to any question that is bothering us. In fact questions themselves don’t bother us anymore, our main concern is access to the Internet, it has become an external repository for our knowledge. Once we are online the difference between knowing an answer and not knowing it becomes very very thin. We might forget the answers with time but we always know how to retrieve them back.

Does it help us with our devotion, though? Does this outsourced knowledge make our hearts any softer? Do our question matter if the answers are so easy to find?

Bhaktivinoda Thakur had natural predisposition, he got a few books and that was everything he needed to become the greatest acharya ever. I should mention here that in addition to Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita he also got books by the Six Goswamis, he mentioned it in his speech which was obviously given after all his doubts went away in response to his sincere prayers.

Anyway, when he moved to Puri a year or two later he might not have been an accomplished acharya yet but he was an accomplished scholar of vaishnava siddhanta already. Next chapter of his life was about to be opened.

Vanity thought #273. Babies and hope.

Hopefully last of my latest concerns.

The other day I saw a baby and I somehow looked at it from a distance, not caught in the usual swirl of emotions – how cute it is, how mummy and daddy love it so much and so on. The picture was confusing – it was supposed to be a focus of loving attention for everybody but I could only sigh with apprehension.

I know what kind the world it is being born into and I know that it is very very eager to enjoy it to the full. There’s no self awareness with the babies – they just want things and they want them now. Some people find it adorable but all I see is another demon flexing its little muscles.

Why am I so pessimistic? I don’t know, I can’t get my head around the fact that vast majority of the newly born babies will never ever pay any respects to God. At best they will grow into some kind of organized religions where they will milk God for their own eternal happiness. Lots of them would learn about God only to ridicule the concept itself. Why bother raising it?

In traditional varnashrama babies were nice and useful. They were useful for continuing the clans, as free work force, as insurance against old age and as a ticket to a more enjoyable afterlife. Giving birth was also giving a soul a chance at developing its God consciousness, even if gradually and via indirect ways. By following the daiva varnashrama process and living life in accordance with vedic principles soul’s consciousness was supposed to evolve at least to the level of desiring liberation and that means realizing Krishna’s impersonal manifestation.

Devotion wasn’t guaranteed but it was always just one step away, plus there always have been sadhus who could spread the message of Bhagavatam or Lord Chaitanya.

Why bother with people born in Kali yuga? Unless a baby is born into a vaishnava family it’s pretty much doomed. Is the off chance of seeing Hare Krishnas and getting attracted to them enough as a justification? Possibly, but we have no way of knowing that now. Now everyone just adores the stupid baby.

Of course its not stupid, it just hasn’t developed yet, or hasn’t been developed yet. When it finally grows it will be smart and intelligent, it will have good health and many skills, it will be a magnet for the opposite sex, it will be nice to people, and, in 99.99% of the cases it won’t give a hoot about God.

So why do we have to go dopey eyed at the sight of the babies? Aren’t they just another trick of maya to keep us interested? What kind of hope do they give us?

As they grow older we also realize we have to train them, it’s going beyond providing for their wants and whims, we need to teach them how to fend for themselves and, unless it’s a devotee baby, we need to teach it the best ways of self-enjoyment. We need to teach it to be stronger so that it can grab more stuff from others, we need to teach it to be smarter so that it can manipulate others and subject them to its will, we need to teach it to be more more handsome or more beautiful so that it can attract and manipulate members of the opposite sex. We need to teach it self-esteem and a healthy doze of self-absorption so that it doesn’t loose the sight of the goal – to be a little God in itself.

All the good qualities come after that – being merciful so that it can feel better about itself, being charitable so that it can feel superior to others, loving people because it feels so damn good when people love you back, for a few months anyway.

Nothing that a soul picks up along its journey to old age and death is of any benefit to it. Am I being too cynical?

Maybe it’s just a display of my immaturity, a devotee would see every living soul as equally dear to the Lord and he would see how the Lord is fulfilling desires of each and every living entity so it’s not a waste of time at all, it’s just Krishna being kind. Fine I guess I can look at babies that way, too, but I can’t imitate the realization.

Look at this latest tearjerker – a toddler listening to her father’s bedtime stories from far away:

 

 

The last hug and kiss made many a man cry. Not me, though, my heart remains stone cold. Maybe my consciousness evolved past the blind materialistic adoration and hasn’t reached the level where I see Krishna’s care but more likely I’m just a cold hearted bastard, maybe I haven’t evolved into a proper human yet. I don’t know.

What I see is another soul trying to enjoy her father who is thousands of miles away, making money for his family by risking his life somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan where he has to kill people who get in his way. I see a snapshot of a deeply dysfunctional society that sends hapless young men on a wild goose chase in far out countries for no particular reason.

Oh, how caring it is that the military provides its soldiers with laptops and Internet access so that they can read bedtime stories to their abandoned children! I say abandoned because in the relative scheme of things being with the family is less important than fighting in some crazy war god knows where.

And the baby – what kind of world is she born into? Unlike adults she has no concept of the Internet and long distance communication. She hugs the LCD monitor and kisses is because that’s what she thinks her father is. Does she deserve a real warmth of her father’s body? What for? To make her believe in the safety and stability of this world? What for?

Of course every baby naturally longs for filial love, without it the whole “let’s get born in the material world” enterprise won’t be worth taking. So it’s basically grows itself into a deep entanglement.

In the daiva varnashrama this growing absorption is checked and after a few years of being spoiled under strictly controlled conditions a child is supposed to go to a guru’s ashram and start learning that it is not its body and its parents are not real either. In the modern world it doesn’t happen so there’s little point in cheering the babies on. Sure, they will have to perform their natural duties as prescribed by the prevailing asura varnashrama but the point of it is total detachment, not unbridled enthusiasm and fascination, at least not within our hearts.

Hopefully I’ll have a chance to return to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s life tomorrow and see how he conducted his family life as a vaishnava, it wasn’t quite the same but it wasn’t directly opposite either.

Vanity thought #272. On transcendence and altruism.

Continuing with materialistic things that got my attention.

Actually, first I should reflect on the value of this practice in general – spot something interesting and then try to find a connection to Krishna. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with this. On one hand it’s okay to see Krishna in everything, on the other hand I am fooling no one but myself when I turn on TV, jonessing for the latest political or celebrity gossip or a TV show, and then try to justify it by my imaginary search for Krishna. To avoid this dilemma I will post only about things that have actually reminded me of some Krishna conscious topics and the rest dismiss as nothing more than a gross material distraction.

So, two things genuinely caught my attention last week, apart from the hypocrisy surrounding Gaddafi. First is the latest episode of the TV show House M.D. which I mentioned here at least once. I think House deserves a lot more attention but he is a really tough nut to crack, our usual KC angles don’t work on him, he digs up bullet proof arguments for his materialistic views and he is very clever at defending them. I bet he would see right through any regular devotee and find a million reasons why the said devotee is on the wrong path. Of course it’s not Dr House himself, it’s the writers behind the screen who create all the magic.

What happens regularly is that episodes of these series have such complex twists that I simply can’t find proper comebacks, not even after sitting on them for days and this week installment wasn’t any different, except I thought the main topic deserves consideration on its own, regardless of what House thought of it himself.

It was about an billionaire who wished to remain anonymous and who went everywhere undercover giving things away in charity. He got into a hospital after he collapsed on the street and a woman from a job skills clinic which he had just given a million dollars spotted him falling. Dr House takes on his case hoping that he would too get some of the easy money. He promptly secures finding for his team and there’s a little morality tussle about the issue when another doctor first tells House that it’s unethical but then jumps on the patient himself when he hears about a possible kidney donation.

This is an interesting turn – how morality is very relative to our own benefits. Even the most moral among men have their price, and it’s this price that is really the heart of the case – how much self interest we should actually allow in ourselves.

Some members of the House’ team think that the man is simply an altruist and there’s nothing wrong with him except possible dehydration. House argues that altruism itself is sickness that needs to be cured.

So it all boils down to this – how much can a man give in charity before the society declares him abnormal and in need of treatment? Apparently the line depends on whether the judge is a charity beneficiary himself but eventually people can look beyond that limitation, too, and still wonder how much is enough. In this case the line was when the billionaire decided to let himself die so that the hospital could harness all his healthy organs, he pledged to give away both of his kidneys to different people and thought – what the hell, let’s donate my entire body. That’s when the hospital administration decided something was seriously wrong. Bloodsuckers.

Anyway, the cause of this unusual condition was a little nodule on one of his thyroid gland that was pumping hormones a bit over the normal level and caused personality change. I don’t know how plausible it is medically in context of that story but the existence of the gland itself and its ability to regulate one’s generosity seems to be undisputed, strange but possible, according to real doctors’ dissection of the episode.

What interested me in this regard is how much generosity is actually possible for a human being and for a devotee. If we talk about normal humans then this story is probably not crossing any lines – everyone would agree that the man was sick, but if we talk about devotees we are facing a major difference – none of the charitable causes in this story are considered worthy, none of them have anything to do with Krishna.

If we are talking about sacrifices made in the name of Krishna then there’s really no limit. Giving up the body is perfectly natural, for example. It’s not that Krishna wants our bodies dead, it means we forfeit all self interests and allow Krishna to take full control of our bodies, whether he prefers them young and healthy or old and sick, whether he wants them to live in comfort or in abject poverty – it doesn’t matter to the owner anymore. A devotee does not see *his* body as actually his, he sees it as Krishna’s property.

Can any of us actually pull it off? That’s the question. We should assume that normal charitable disposition is regulated by some hormone, sometimes we want to sacrifice more of our time and energy, sometimes less. It’s not even about the cause, the cause is only an excuse to satisfy our own, chemically induced desire to give things away. If we are lucky we might give away something to Krishna or his representatives but at what point does it turn into an actual surrender?

At what point can we actually say we are doing things for Krishna and not because there’s a spike in chemical composition in our brains? Tough question. And what of people who have hormonal deficiency and appear to be stingy – can they make any progress on devotional path? How often do we judge other people’s devotion by looking at the results of chemical interactions in their blood? Is there any correlation between the level of that hormone and the level of devotion?

I can’t figure it out. On one hand our regulated practice is supposed to produce actual results but is it going to happen in one magic jump or can that jump be spread and monitored through blood tests?

Some time at the beginning of my acquaintance with Krishna Consciousness I heard that medical doctors are the hardest to preach to. I wasn’t given the reason why, I suspect it’s because they can actually present material proof for every change we consider transcendental, and now I tend to think that it might be actually true – the material and spiritual side of our nature could in fact be inseparable. It’s all under Krishna’s control anyway, just different kinds of energy.

Perhaps there’s really no independence between what is happening to us in our material lives and our spiritual progress but it’s our measurements of what is induced by material interactions and what is a sign of devotional progress are wrong.

Or they could be totally separated and we will eventually see it that way, when we are able to participate in Krishna’s pastimes in our original spiritual form and let the body do whatever it needs to do.

I can’t imagine how it works, however. When I resume Bhaktivinoda Thakur series I’ll look into how it was possible for him, if it was possible at all, and whether we just arbitrarily assign transcendentalism where there’s little.

Or maybe these questions disappear on its own when I actually gain a bit of transcendental knowledge, in the meantime, I better sleep on it.

Vanity thought #271. The King is Dead. Long Live The King!

Will take a short break from Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s biography to catch up with latest events.

One thing that stirred me up last week was the killing of Gaddafi. I’m sure he had fully deserved what was coming but it’s not his legacy that worries me, it’s the manner in which his fate played out and the future that lies ahead.

Western powers have been bombing Libya for half a year, initially to protect the civilian population from attacks by Gaddafi’s armed forces. Pretty soon Britain, France and the US turned their planes and unmanned drones into rebel airforce, supporting the armed and violent rebellion against the ruling government. Observers of course knew it all along, the public talk about protecting civilians didn’t fool anybody, but it kept the presentation civil.

After the fall of Tripoli two months ago the bombing continued but now it was directed at rooting out the remaining forces loyal to Gaddafi from their stronghold towns. In the media it was made to appear as if it was only Gaddafi, a handful of his bodyguards and a bunch of mercenaries that kept fighting. The loyalty of thousands of citizens of those towns was never in the spotlight. As rebel forces, now accepted as legitimate Libyan government, took town after town they discovered that some were completely deserted, in others they sought out the “mercenaries” and punished them. Tribes that were traditionally supportive of Gaddafi were driven out and black Africans were summarily executed. So far I haven’t seen any news of what has happened to the town of Sirte where Gaddafi stayed and fought until the end.

Here you can read an account of how his final hours played out. There are many versions, though, this is just one possible reconstruction.

Two citizens celebrating with Gaddafi's golden gun

Two citizens celebrating with Gaddafi's golden gun

These two look quite nice comparing to the lynching mob that actually did the deed, and here lies my biggest problem – we got rid of one dictator but what have got in return?

I’ve written quite a few posts on the asuric version of varnashrama. People of the West that follow it faithfully did everything according to their rules – they had the UN mandate, they supported the rebels all along, they offered Gaddafi a “safe” way out, facing a court trial that would have most certainly sentenced him to death, and when he refused they kept helping the rebels to finish him off.

It was all righteous and civilized and now the public can pat itself on the back for the job well done and course well stayed. Their armed forces haven’t had a single casualty and Gaddafi’s frozen assets would probably pay for the expenses. I don’t think they will just release the money back without taking a substantial cut but it’s a matter for the future.

What I see instead is cold blooded outsourcing of violence. Just as they do with slaughterhouses.

I have always wondered if people would actually step over the threshold and apply the same method of killing that assures their clean looking steaks, pizza and KFC chicken. Now I can see that they have just managed that.

One might argue that it’s not the fist time when Western public had been desensitized to war violence but with Iraq and Afghanistan we all know that violence is there. The US might not allow broadcasting the burials of their killed servicemen but the violence is still conveyed through the media and popular culture. Not so with Libya – it looked clean and nice from start to finish.

There are some muted calls for official investigation into the circumstances of Gaddafi’s death but we can be rest assured nothing will come of it and no lessons will be learned by the general public. Brutal lynching of a man has been successfully turned into a stream of polite obituaries and celebration of his death.

It all looks just like “Happy Fried Chicken” or “Happy Cow” restaurants where people are told that slaughtered animals are actually happy to be killed.

Once again, Gaddafi fully deserved his violent death, his sponsorship of terrorism and personal brutality are well known. Right now they are discovering the extent of his hidden wealth stashed overseas. Latest estimates put it at 200 billion US dollars, twice the Libyan GDP, and three times more than leading men on Forbes list.

At this point his body is put into a cold storage room of a vegetable store and there are hundreds of people queuing up too see his corpse.

Libyans queuing up to see Gaddafi's body

Libyans queue up to have a look at the bodies of Muammar Gaddafi and his son Mutassim, displayed inside the cold storage room of a store in the outskirts of Misrata on Saturday.

They all look presentable and orderly here, just like polite waiters that bring you your slaughtered food. No one wants to remind you how it ended up on your plate, what’s important is the presentation.

These muslims follow their own dharma, and if the asuric dharma I was talking about could only be a fragment of my imagination, Islam is a proper authorized religion. What is the difference, though? Why do these people want to see Gaddafi’s body? Pay respects? Hardly, citizens of Musrata where the body is displayed never had any love for Gaddafi. Do they want to spit on his corpse? Maybe.

Perhaps it was Gaddafi’s karma that assured his inglorious death and people lining up to spit on his corpse, but what about the karma of those who stay in line for hours to have a chance to further humiliate a dead man?

What kind of bright new future is being ushered on us?

Are we going to live with the society that hides the despicable murder of human beings and pretends that no karma is created? Don’t we have enough of abortions and realistically looking wars already?

We should keep that in mind when we discuss human rights and charity with these people. They all seem so genuinely concerned, they truly see themselves as well-wishers of the mankind. We should have stopped listening to them when they refused to give up eating meat, will we stop pretending that they are all frauds now that they graduated to killing people? I don’t think so, we are gullible and we also want to help.

I just hope we don’t lose the sight of the goal and the sight of the line that separates any material dharma from where we want to be. Only genuine, pure, transcendental varnashrama as practiced probably only on Vaikuntha is safe, everything else is doomed, especially in Kali Yuga.

Maybe those Muslims in the queue make some sort of an advancement if measured on their terms and maybe the Westerners who cheer the new government built on violence they don’t want to see also make some progress towards something, our participation in this crap should be held to the absolute minimum and we shouldn’t lend any credence to them and their leaders.

When Barak Obama was fotographed with HH Radhanath Swami earlier this year it was a great achievement. Not an achievement for Radhanath Swami and ISKCON as our PR teams naturally assume, it was an achievement for Obama.

Radhanath Swami and President Obama

June 2011, US President meets HH Radhanath Swami in Florida

We should never forget that people like Obama, by the nature of their job, have so much blood on their hands we should try to stay away as far as possible. As soon as we subscribe to their views and subtle preaching we contaminate ourselves, not only with their denial of animal slaughter but now with denial of murdering people as well.

A few weeks ago Americans killed an Americal citizen who they accused of being a terrorist. He most probably was, but it’s against the US constitution to deny that man a chance to defend himself in a judicial system. The US government acted as the policeman, the prosecutor, the judge, and the executioner, and what’s more, none of the steps in this process is open to the public, even to the family of the murdered man.

We are just asked to believe the word of President Obama.

I hope Srila Radhanath Swami washed his hand and his clothes really really well after Obama touched him, preferably with Ganges water.

Bottom line – this world is going to hell and we would go down with it, too, if we don’t protect ourselves from its propaganda.

Vanity thought #270. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Last hurdle.

I left Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in Midnapur where he was continuing to ride the wave of his teaching career and on the spiritual side he eventually came in touch with vaishnavism, after he was called to judge a dispute about some vaishnavas there eating fish. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur realized that he had natural attraction towards bhakti from early childhood and decided to study vaishnavism in depth. He was told that the first books he should read were Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita, unfortunately they couldn’t be found anywhere and the project was put on hold for a while.

This was the last hurdle, or hurdles, before turning all his attention to the religion of Bhagavat, as he called it himself.

First he got an offer to change his field and go into tax collection instead. The pay was lousy but people didn’t go into tax service for salary alone. Kedarnath was offered a job of a translator and an intermediary between the natives and British officers. He quickly made extra 200 rupees, about half of his annual salary, in “black deals”, as he said, we know this practice as bribery, no need to delve into the exact details.

He himself was disgusted and applied for a transfer. He said tax collecting job was not suitable for human beings. Many a taxpayer would agree but he meant the illegal money, of course. After just over a year on the job he got another position in the same branch of government but he didn’t have to deal with bribery anymore.

What to make of this episode? Was it any useful to the students of his life? I think I can see an explanation – material world sucks. It literally sucks all the good qualities out of a soul. Just like it’s described in numerous places in Bhagavatam a hapless householder eventually resorts to dubious ways of earning money to support his family and bad karma drags him down. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur got the taste of corruption himself and he got away before he became addicted.

Around the same time his wife died, actually before the tax collecting episode but it’s not really important. Somehow or other Kedarnath wanted to remarry really fast. Some say it was because his mother couldn’t take care of his first child on her own due to her age, others accused him of impropriety, both Indian and European friends. I even heard that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati didn’t approve. Evil minds might also think he simply needed a woman. I don’t know how evil it is, there’s nothing wrong with taking a wife to control one’s sex life. It also shows devotees who believe only sannyasis can make solid spiritual progress that devotional path is not quite so black and white.

To avoid upsetting the larger families the ceremony was very simple, it was held away from new wife’s birthplace and there were no festivities. Whatever problems appeared on the surface, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was convinced it was the will of God that couldn’t be denied, and it was this woman who eventually gave birth to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and even to Lalita Prasad himself.

With new wife secured Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur could focus on his career again, and it was going very well. At one point he received three lucrative offers and decided to go into judiciary. The only problems were with examinations, even in those days people had to pass exams to take this or that government job, half way around the world in chaotic places like India – British surely knew how to run the government. Some of those examinations were easy, some had to be taken twice.

I should also mention that yesterday I discovered that I got some details wrong regarding mochi cobbler story, today I should add that I mixed up deaths of his grandmother and grandfather, too. I don’t think it matters much, what mattered to me at that time was that young Kedar went on a pleasure trip with his friends and missed the death of a close relative. I think it was also a lesson to him on the need to stay with one’s duties rather than follow the wind of easy life.

Moving on, at one point Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur got a high judiciary position in Chapra and he moved his family there. Things were not going smoothly at first but eventually he was able to win his enemies over and everything in Chapra was “very good”, except that he developed a strong desire to enjoy fish and meat.

He ate a lot of fish there but it wasn’t very good so he ate more goat meat.

I can see why this admission is not included in our short articles and commemorative speeches about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur but I think it deserves mentioning in books like Seventh Goswami, I think the omission there is not due to insignificance but a deliberate exclusion from history of things we don’t quite understand.

Anyway, this meat eating habit caused Kedarnath ulcer and he was very sick. None of the treatments helped him and he had to suffer for a long time. I don’t know how long the meat eating lasted, over a year later and after he moved to a new place and a new job he finally got some medicine that worked and he went on a month long diet that included fresh fish cooked in aged ghee among other things. I don’t know if he actually ate fish at that time, its inclusion on the list with detailed instruction how it should be cooked sounds suspicious.

This time of illness also gave him a chance to ask for a long vacation and he went on a pilgrimage to Mathura and Vrindavan and all the usual places on the way to and from Bengal. He was impressed by Vrindavana temples but he didn’t have much appreciation for devotees, as he said. He had even less appreciation for pandars in Prayag, all in all it wasn’t a very successful trip.

Despite the illness he still managed to pass his examinations and got a new position in Purnea, that’s where he finally collected all the ingredients for his medicine and finally cured himself.

I don’t know what is the actual significance of meat eating episode. I guess we should just accept it as it is and keep in mind that it didn’t hinder his path to acharyahood. Maybe he just had to get it out of his system. He already knew that meat eating was wrong and now he had conclusively proven it to himself. It’s one thing to know something theoretically, it’s quite another to teach one’s body and senses. Young children need to get burned to learn about dangers of fire, maybe it was this kind of lesson for Bhaktivinoda Thakur.

There’s also a possible lesson that even Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t fight his natural attractions or bad habits, he let them play out and go away by themselves. Maybe it’s a lesson in futility of false renunciation. Otoh, he was under Krishna’s direct supervision, if any of us goes off the rails like this the result might not be so relatively harmless. On yet another hand Krishna could have easily stopped him from craving for flesh but chose not to. Was it to give us a lesson? But then why do we feel we need to hide this episode from our history? I think it’s a natural desire to protect the reputation of a great devotee and an acharya, it’s not wrong per se.

Either way, after working for a year and half in Purneah he got transferred to Dinajpur where Vaishnava religion was very strong and the rest is the history, as they say.

Nothing could stop his ascendance as the most prominent vaishnava of the century anymore, there were no more setbacks or deviations.

To be continued.

Vanity thought #269. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Approaches.

I’ve been reading Seventh Goswami and I got to the point in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s life where I left it last time, just on the precipice of turning into a vaishnavava.

This is a contentious point, however, because from our POV he has always been a vaishnava, Lord Krishna and Srimati Radharani’s dearmost servant. This is also the point on which I can’t entirely agree with Seventh Goswami presentation.

I generally agree that his early life, seemingly devoid of devotion to the Lord, was only a spell cast by Krishna Himself, just like Arjuna had never been a conditioned soul despite his doubts at Kurukshetra. He appeared life after life as Lord’s best friend but he never remembered any of them, the time spent before he met up with Krishna all over again being just a fleeting and insignificant moment spent in preparation for the reunion.

Same thing happened with Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, I agree, but this approach also makes his life disappointingly flat. Yes, it was fine for him and His relationship with Krishna and it was great for preaching, but there are no lessons to be learned from it, all his preparations for the preaching mission were inconsequential. I don’t believe this is the case, and I don’t think that Nalini Kanta Mataji, the author of the Seventh Goswami also meant it that way.

What she did was to draw as many devotional lessons from it as possible, just like I’m trying to do, I just don’t always agree with her interpretations.

Her book closely follows Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s autobiography, Svalikhita Jivani, ie. we are drinking from the same source. She had also added a bit of background information on the Indian society of that time, and she also added some outside sources and excerpts from Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s own books and speeches that are missing from Svalikhita Jivani and that I haven’t seen or read before.

I must say those speeches do fill a little gap that is left in the autobiography, they show the side of Bhaktivinoda Thakur that he was presenting to the outside world while his autobiography is more of a personal letter addressed to his son. Those speeches also add depth and perspective to Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s own progression on the spiritual path, they give us a sample of what his thinking was before he manifested himself as a fully fledged acharya.

Again, I see the progression here, there were seeds of what was to come but there were also weeds.

Nalini Kanta clearly tried to spin Svalikhita Jivani in the devotional way, overstressing some episodes and underplaying others. I don’t think it’s the best approach, it might work in certain circumstances but I’m trying to reconstruct a deeper, more nuanced picture of one man’s progress to acharyahood, if that’s the word.

As I said before, I don’t think listening to guards telling Ramayana stories in a language young Kedar couldn’t understand was of some special significance, I bet every child of his age heard those same stories, it’s part of Indian folklore, stuff everybody learns from a very young age, on its own it doesn’t mean anything. The fact that Kedar sat down to listen to these stories while his brothers did some mischievous things is nice but it doesn’t mean that Kedar had some transcendental attraction that overcame his desire to play. He hasn’t learned the concept of God from them, for example, they were just stories.

Later on someone told him to chant Rama’s names to drive away ghosts and Kedar took this advice very seriously, I agree, that is significant, but it lacks the devotional or ontological aspects of relationship. Episodes like this planted the seeds, and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes himself that he was very fond of Hari kirtan he heard as a little boy, and he also met several vaishnavas while he was growing up – those are all milestones to awakening devotion to Krishna within his materially provided body but they weren’t defining moments as far as his general life was concerned, there were plenty of other influences that had bigger and more direct effects on how his youth and early career played out and on what books he wrote and what speeches he made before firmly embracing the religion of Bhagavata.

Speaking of vaishnavas, I think I got a few things wrong. When he got sick it wasn’t a cobbler who cured him, it was another man, introduced by the cobbler, a fakir. Mataji Nalini Kanta also gave the name of that fakir’s guru, Golok. Apparently she found some other source and apparently that Golok was more of an impersonalist than a follower of Lord Chaitanya. Could be so, but the lessons Bhaktiinoda Thakur learned from his association were of worship to Krishna and the value of connection to Krishna, and Krishna’s supremacy over demigods, not straight up mayavada of everyone being a god. Actually demigod worship specifically prohibited by Golok is perfectly acceptable to mayavadis.

Anyway, Bhaktivinoda Thakur personally didn’t see himself behaving as a devotee at that time and later he wasn’t proud of some of the stuff he did, and we should be aware of this, too.

There’s also the argument that EVERYTHING in his life led to what he had later become, nothing was unimportant or insignificant, there’s a lesson to be learned from each and every decision he made and each and every anecdote has its own place on the path to pure devotion, or at least on the path of external manifestation of it since we reject the notion that at any point in his life Bhaktivinoda Thakur was not a devotee.

He had to learn English, for example. We can say it was simply to write first English books about Lord Chaitanya’s mission but it was also important for advancing his career that enabled him to carry a lot more weight in the society and influence far more people than simple babajis of that time. I dare to say that without English he wouldn’t have become a leader of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

There’s also more – it wasn’t enough to simply learn English, he had to learn western philosophy and poetry, too. British rulers thought that they had to develop a new breed of Indians, western in their hearts and their minds and native only in appearance. It would have been impossible for Bhaktivinoda Thakur to succeed without playing by their rules and his eventual betrayal of the western paradigm actually gave more power to the philosophy of Bhagavat, as he called it himself.

By learning a lot about impersonalism and Christianity he also made much bigger impression on the educated society when he rejected Brahmos, which was very popular at that time. He wasn’t speaking as some dogmatic outsider then, he knew Brahmos much better than most of Brahmo followers themselves, so when he presented his arguments against Brahmos they worked much better, he presented Bhagavat as a step up from there, not as some forgotten and discarded atavistic tradition he was trying to push instead or alongside.

It all made sense in the end. We just have to have trust in Krishna’s plan and we have to pray for intelligence to understand it. I don’t think it’s fair to ignore some parts of it simply because we can’t fit those pieces in the bigger picture. Yet, I hope we can’t do it yet but eventually we will.

Maybe not today, maybe tomorrow.

There’s some controversial stuff about meat eating that falls into this category – wait until tomorrow and pray that it comes together then.

Vanity thought #268. Varnashrama and homosex.

I’m taking a break form Bhaktivinoda Thakur, I just finished Svalikhita Jivani and only started The Seventh Goswami and need some time to put those two together in my head.

In the meantime, there as an article on Dandavats two days ago that was called Homosexuality and the New Age that made me stop and think about the third sex. When I was talking about asura varnashrama a week ago I totally forgot about the homosexuals and this is a nice reminder.

In general, I totally agree with almost each and every argument presented in that article but I can’t stop my head shaking in disagreement with the overall thrust and the conclusions.

Two things bother me in regard with homosexuality – blind insistence on following four regulative principles that outlaw homosexual relations outright, and the insistence of the homosexuals on ignoring the four regulative principles when it comes to their sex lives.

I believe I understand both positions fairly well and I think they are both wrong. This is a rather bold declaration on my part but the fact that they haven’t been able to find a workable solution yet implies that something is indeed wrong.

Before going into any details, lets look at what Srila Prabhupada had to say about homosexuals, I’m taking this straight from Dandavats article:

That is not enjoyment. Just like sex indulgence. If you indulge in more than necessary, then you will be impotent. Nature will stop. You know impotency? That will be there. Impotency. This homosex is also another sign of impotency. They do not feel sex impulse to woman. They feel sex impulse in man. That means he is impotent. It is impotency.

Arrival – Chicago, July 3, 1975

So it’s a form of impotency, okay, next.

Now this progeny is bother. It is sense enjoyment, homosex. Progeny, they don’t want. They’re not interested. Only sense gratification. This is another sign of impotency. When after enjoying so many women, they become impotent, then they artificially create another sex impulse in homosex. This is the psychology.

Arrival – Chicago, July 3, 1975

Impotency again.

There is no limit of sense gratification. The sense gratification, homosex, they are supporting. Just see. Just see. At least, in animal society there is no homosex. They have created homosex, and that is being passed by the priest, the religious heads.

Room Conversation – August 25, 1971, London

So it doesn’t exist between animals and it’s a recent invention, okay.

Watchtower, it has criticized…one priest has allowed the marriage between man to man, homosex. So these things are going on. They take it purely for prostitution. That’s all. So therefore people are thinking, ‘What is the use of keeping a regular prostitution at a cost of heavy expenditure? Better not to have this.’

Talk with Bob Cohen – February 27-29, 1972, Mayapur

Homosexual marriage is compared to legalized prostitution, okay.

The animals also do not support homosex. They never have sex life between male to male. They are less than animal. People are becoming less than animal. This is all due to godlessness.

Conversation with the GBC – May 25, 1972, Los Angeles

Not natural, is not present between animals, and the cause of it is godlessness.

Nowadays, of course, they are thinking like that, that man should remain independent, and they’ll have homosex, and the woman also independent and they will make some… This is most immoral…

Morning Walk – December 10, 1975, Vrndavana

Immoral.

I am very sorry that you have taken to homosex. It will not help you advance in your attempt for spiritual life. In fact, it will only hamper your advancement. I do not know why you have taken to such abominable activities. What can I say? Anyway, try to render whatever service you can to Krishna. Even though you are in a very degraded condition Krishna, being pleased with your service attitude, can pick you up from your fallen state. You should stop this homosex immediately. It is illicit sex, otherwise, your chances of advancing in spiritual life are nil.

Letter to: Lalitananda – Hawaii 26 May, 1975

Chances of advancement are nil, but also note “I don’t know why you have taken to…”

While on the surface of it the verdict is pretty clear, and it’s the one the author of Dandavat’s article was hoping for, but on a closer inspection there’s more to the problem than meets the eye.

Take the nature of homosexual attraction, for example. In the first couple of quotes Prabhupada explains it as a kind of impotency, normally it happens when men lose interest in women due to old age, except in this case Prabhupada thought that they tried to transfer their sexual impulses on to other objects, like men, or it could be animals, I guess.

I understand it as if men have had too much enjoyment that their senses have become dull and worn out and so they need higher degree of stimulation to get them going again. I agree that it might be the reason in some cases but I don’t think it applies to the devotees, with all our abstinence. If some of our devotees experience homosexual attraction it’s not because they had way too much sex, that’s for sure.

Actually there could be a case made that confining young men to the company of each other for prolonged periods of time might make them look at each other as objects of sexual attraction. Body needs to express it even if there are no females around. I believe there have been studies that observed this effect in places like jails and army. If that happens it obviously needs a different approach than calling them old impotents looking for a sex fix.

Then there is a couple of references to the animals and how homosex is unnatural. It’s funny how my spellchecker red flags the word “homosex”, it’s not used in the modern English but I think Prabhupada’s choice was rather telling – something unnatural and strange and not deserving a proper term, would be giving it tacit acceptance if it was expressed in normal people language.

Some people might say that Prabhupada was too old fashioned, that his attitude and choice of words do not belong in the twenty first century, but that’s precisely the point – homosexuality does not belong in Prabhupada’s world. In the asura dominated society people might use all kinds of perverted ways of sense gratification, it doesn’t have a place where we, as devotees, are hoping to go.

Okay, I don’t think anyone of us can say with absolute confidence that homosexual relationships do not exist in the spiritual world but each one of us can also say with absolute confidence that none of our ways of satisfying our sex urges exists there either, homo or not. Sex as a means of procreation is a form of Krishna Himself but not sex as a means of satisfying our own senses. We can possibly put an elephant of our sex desires through the needle eye of Krishna’s definitions but homosex simply doesn’t stand a chance. It’s a way of self-gratification that has nothing to do with Krishna.

Having said that – it is also out there, up in our faces, there are people “suffering” from this condition and we have to do something about it. I put quotation marks around suffering because the word has a different meaning in the context of homosexuality as a disease that needs to be cured and in the context of sense enjoyment in general that prevents us from approaching Krishna. In the context of modern discourse on homosexuality suffering would be a bad choice of a word, in the discourse on Krishna Consciousness it’s perfectly normal and to the point.

What else was there in the quotes? Prostitution – okay, if people are engaged in illicit relationships they want to call it normal and acceptable, they don’t want to be ashamed of it anymore. From that point of view Prabhupada’s observation is correct – calling it a marriage doesn’t make it any more legal or spiritual.

Then there’s immoral. Okay, but norms of morality depend on the society, what is immoral here is perfectly acceptable in some other countries or places. Granted, in practically all human societies the basic norms of morality are the same, but I want to remind people here that all the societies we’ve observed and studied so far have been religion based, they were not influenced by the asuric desires for godless sense gratification. Hedonism is certainly nothing new but it has never been practiced in any religious societies and never on the scale of the modern western civilization.

The modern way of trying to satisfy our senses in the best possible ways and relying only on our own efforts has never been practiced before, at least in the modern history, and the ancient Vedic texts do not describe the life under Hiranyakashipu in great detail, for example. Perhaps homosexuality was as morally acceptable then as it is now.

So my point is that we are dealing with something we’ve never dealt before, it is unnatural from our point of view but it is VERY natural for people affected by it. Some hope to cure homosexuality but it’s only a symptom, it’s the prevailing modes of material nature that bring forward perversions like this. For some people the change might happen during their lives, for others it had already been inserted in their genes. Without reversing the gunas dealing with symptoms is futile so we must do something else.

First, we should recognize the change, not deny its existence, second, we should identify best practices under the current circumstances, as I said earlier, Krishna wouldn’t leave us without our duties, however perverted, so we must look at what specific set of behaviors could qualify as following this asuric varnashrama. Not surprisingly, monogamy would probably be at the top of the list. Raising adopted children in Krishna Conscious atmosphere would easily qualify, too.

Would it be enough to go Back to Godhead? That I cannot say, and that’s where I think some of the advocates of vaishnava homosexuality need to scale down their expectations. There’s no particular rule that would disqualify a spirit soul from receiving Krishna’s mercy simply due to its position in the material world, our chanting and other kinds of service will never go in vain, but there’s also our agreement with Srila Prabhupada – no illicit sex. He didn’t live long enough to “understand” our predicament, and I say “our” because it’s not only homosexuals who have illicit sex problem, straight devotees in this age find it just as hard to follow this regulative principle as any other third gender. We all have occasional thought in our heads – “he didn’t know what’s it like.”

Maybe he didn’t, but that’s the price of getting on his coattails. Maybe we are too sinful to receive his mercy but I think it’s a false proposition. We are too sinful to remodel our lives to qualify for the entrance to the spiritual world on his ticket. He met hallucinating hippies who had practiced as unrestricted sex as possible and they had to change their lives to qualify. He never said they could go back to Krishna while still living their sinful lives and they understood, they turned their lives around, as much as they could, and they have a clear shot at Krishnaloka.

What’s stopping us? Maybe we are too sinful to change in one lifetime, maybe our material affliction is far worse than that of those hippies. Maybe we need a new acharya who would inspire us to change our perverted ways, or maybe we should just keep our head down and pray for a better birth next time. What’s wrong with a little humility?

One thing we shouldn’t expect is a new acharya who would lower the bar and declare that homosex or any other perversion is perfectly acceptable in Krishna’s service and we don’t need to follow four regs as prescribed by Prabhupada. Once we go down that way there will be no end to it, you’d be surprised how many thing are considered “normal” these days in certain circles demanding recognition.

And what makes us think that we are so special that we deserve promotion to Krishnaloka within a single lifetime? Why do we expect our gurus and acharyas to guarantee that? Why do we feel qualified to judge this or that guru against this arbitrary and selfish criteria – “Can he give you love of God in a matter of minutes?” What nonsense is this? What incredibly self centered, customer always right, attitude is this?

Krishna is not our servant and if we think that getting us out of here is the sole point of His existence we are simply delusional. Krishna is not in love with our polluted, perverted hearts, we can’t blackmail Him with “but You love me as I am” arguments. We are not who we think we are, if we keep these selfish desires in our hearts we are still not ourselves and we are not the kind of material that attracts Krishna, it’s a delusion.

Wow, a rather long post, possibly my longest ever, I should stop ranting now.

Devotees fighting against homosexuality in our ranks should realize that simply outlawing it doesn’t do anyone any good and does little to encourage those afflicted by this particular material disease. They should also realize that it can’t be corrected at will, with some magic pills and maybe an extra round of japa, quite often it’s firmly embedded in those people’s nature and it’s not going to go away by issuing orders.

Devotees who argue for equal spiritual rights for all should realize that they have been put in less favorable position and they should realize that compared to straights they might have a bit more baggage they need to get rid of. How they manage their sexual lives now is one thing but in the end it has to be given up altogether and though one might argue it’s easier for straights.

I don’t necessarily agree. Straight people have an opportunity to fool themselves into thinking that their sex enjoyment is legitimate and they are making devotional progress. Gay people will never be under such illusion. Straight people might have their lives easier because they tell themselves they are great and totally legit while gay people will have to suffer the guilt of succumbing to their sex desires each and every time but who knows which approach is better for advancing in Krishna Consciousness? Krishna is always in full control of both the pleasures and the sufferings of His devotees, remember? He won’t make any devotee suffer any more than it is absolutely necessary, it would break His heart. Besides, in practice straight devotees also have plenty of reasons to suffer from guilt, there’s no innate advantage or disadvantage here.

Then there’s a sticky question of initiations – married straight people can get them, married homosexuals can’t. Formal initiation and recognition is a whole other topic that in itself has little to do with homosexuality, it needs to be sorted out independently and it’s too late for it today.