Vanity thought #283. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Vipina Vihari Goswami.

Recently Vipina Vihari Goswami, or Vipina Bihari Goswami, or any combination of the first letters, was subjected to some criticism from various quarters and this needs to be addressed, in my opinion.

His name was dragged into bigger battles for the glory of being the most faithful branch of Lord Chaitanya’s tree. Some groups of devotees wanted to see themselves as being better than others, closer to the Six Goswamis and Chaitanya Mahprabhu and so on. Some of them thought that they could prove themselves by finding faults in their “opponents”. They are all very exalted and dear to the Lord but the presence of material nature means that some contamination has crept in and names of vaishnavas like Vipina Vihari Goswami had suffered.

In general it went like this – members of traditional vaishnava gotras, family descendants of Lord Chaitanya’s associates, felt that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati usurped their position as the sole guardians of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and they looked for excuses to declare Srila Bhaktisiddhanta a bogus guru disconnected from the parampara.

So far I have come across several arguments they use. First, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had never been initiated by Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. They have some grounds for this because Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati took sannyasa in front of the picture of his guru after his disappearance. To counter this argument Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers talk about taking actual vows vs receiving the dress. I’m pretty sure this is not enough for their opponents but for us the proof is in the pudding – Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had been a life-long brahmachari, an example of a perfect renunciate and a very very potent preacher who must have been fully blessed by the Lord Himself.

Second argument is insistence on diksha parampara rather than shiksha or “bhagavat” parampara. In this argument they refer to other vaishnava sampradayas where devotees trace their sampradaya through diksha initiation all the way up to the founders. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers point out some inconsistencies here and there while Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati himself stressed the importance of transferring the knowledge and shakti, not the formalities of pancharatra system. This has brought some new arguments regarding various practices in Gaudiya Math, like the color or sannyasi cloth etc.

This is also the line of arguing that drew a split between Vipina Vihari Goswami and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. They argue that correct parampara must come through Vipina Vihari Goswami to Bhaktivinoda Thakur and then to someone like Lalita Prasad, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s younger brother who they believe is the actual recipient of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s mercy, his favorite son etc etc. Since Srila Bhaktisidhhanta Saraswati didn’t include Vipina Vihari Goswami in his version of parampara he had to be excluded himself.

Some of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati followers seized on this argument and responded that Vipina Vihari Goswami wasn’t qualified to be included in our guru parampara due to his personal failings and that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had all the valid reasons to reject his association. Basically they say that followers of Vipina Vihari Goswami were in the apa-sampradaya themselves.

This is where it could get very ugly because the accusations start to become pretty serious, down to tobacco smoking and associating with mayavadis. At this point I should say that none of these allegations have ever been committed to paper and remain only a hearsay. They first made their appearance in print in a book by one ex-ISKCON sannyasi who started his own preaching mission and heard this stuff from his Gaudiya Math guru. That happened roughly a hundred years after no one spoke of these things publicly and the guru itself has left this world so there are no sources left.

What we should remember is that Vipina Vihari Goswami was sent to initiate Bhaktivinoda Thakur by Lord Chaitanya Himself appearing in his dream. Equally, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur saw a dream where Lord Chaitanya had promised to send him a guru, too. Who wants to criticize Lord Chaitanya’s personal messenger? Why? If Lord Chaitanya thought that Vipina Vihari Goswami was good enough to become Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s guru why would anyone try and find faults with him?

Even if there are some aspects of Vipina Viharir’s behavior or personal relationships with both Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati that might raise a few eyebrows we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions here. Like the disagreement over the location of Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace. Some say Vipina Vihari Goswami rejected the site found by Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Jagannatha Dasa Babaji and that he rejected Bhaktivinoda Thakur as his disciple, too, but there’s precious little evidence of the conflict itself let alone its ghastly conclusions. That is to say there’s no evidence that Vipina Vihari Goswami had ever rejected Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in any shape or form. Personally I would only concede the possibility of a disagreement over Yoga Pith but not the possibility of either of the vaishnavas becoming vindictive and rejecting each other.

Later Vipina Vihari Goswami was appointed as one of the directors on the committee overseeing the development of Yoga Pith in Mayapur and that should bring the dispute to conclusion.

Another alleged point is that Vipina Vihari Goswami took the side of the brahmanas in brahmana vs vaishnava debate and for that reason Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t go himself to argue against his guru but sent Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. The book from which this peace of information is gleamed also states that Vipina Vihari defeated the brahmanas and established the supremacy of vaishnavas and that, of course, destroys the whole argument.

I don’t think it’s possible to go through the rest of the arguments in this way, there might be some truth in the allegations against Vipina Vihari but given the failure of these two samples I think we can reject the conclusions with a great degree of confidence.

There are things that happen between vaishnavas that defy our common logic or appear contradictory to what we have learned but we should always be very careful with the conclusions we reach. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had been initiating people left and right, some were re-initiated and normally that would throw a red flag for us but previous gurus appeared to be supportive and probably gave their full blessings. Now, hundred years later, we can’t ascertain it one way or another, I think it’s rather wise to assume the best in the devotees even when our minds tell us to suspect the worst.

There’s also a point of living in the material world – we all make mistakes here, even more so when we pass along unconfirmed rumors and gossip, like the alleged statement that Vipina Vihari called Raghunatha Dasa Goswami a member of a lower caste. That actually may have been so, but what if Vipina Vihari’s point was that Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was Lord’s dearest devotee DESPITE being from a lower caste? One can see an offence here, another can see proof that devotees of the Lord are above all caste considerations.

I admit at first I was attracted to Vipina Vihari stories because of these controversies but now I wish I would always look only for the best in Krishna’s devotees and do not indulge myself in rumor mongering.

All glories to Srila Vipina Vihari Goswami, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and all the devotes of the Lord.

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Vanity thought #282. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Choosing a guru.

Today I had a worrying idea that I stopped writing about Bhaktivinoda Thakur because I have committed an aparadha towards him. I don’t know what it is, if I have time I might go back and look closely at my last posts about him, the possibility itself is unsettling. I’m pretty sure I’d want to edit parts of my previous posts on the second reading regardless of any offenses so it’s not a quick and easy fix, it will take time and effort.

Prior to this thought I explained my inaction over the past few days by being absorbed in flood preparations, and they are absorbing. The situation is easing off a little but I’m still effectively cut off the outside world – the nearest place I can get fresh vegetables to cook is probably one or two hours away if I get lucky, and I’m not sure they still have vegetables. Grocery stores nearby have not been stocked for weeks now, the shelves are empty.

It’s not a total isolation and our area itself is almost dry but the flood has moved on and cut off the small car traffic coming our way, there are very few taxis, not only because they are afraid to get stuck in the water but because gas stations have been left without gas for a week, too. There are still plenty of trucks running around but one must rely on hitch-hiking rather than on schedules.

Anyway, I returned to reading Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s biography by Mataji Nalini Kanta today. At first I thought I would just write about the next couple of years of his life after Puri but I don’t want to go back and refresh myself on all the details. Basically it goes like this – his daughter came out of age and he needed to find her a husband. For one reason or another he wasn’t going to look for one in Orissa and so he returned to Calcutta area. Everything was successfully arranged but the net result was that he got a job in a place called Narail which is located in present day Bangladesh.

There was only one potentially offensive thing I was going to mention in this regard – he thought that marrying off his daughter was more important than staying in Puri and taking association of great vaishnavas. Without trying to pass judgment I think we should rather learn from these priorities – duties come first and one should not shun them no matter what. If the Lord arranges for some respite and awards one with an opportunity to stay close to His temple and His devotees it’s a bonus, not an excuse to give up one’s varnashrama obligations. Of course it’s not an iron clad rule, I’m sure Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur prayed for Lord’s guidance when making this decision and he probably was assured by the Lord in his heart that no trouble would come to him and he won’t pick up any undesirable habits, in fact it was quite opposite.

In Narail his literary career as vaishnava writer finally took off. He published Krishna Samhita and Kalyana Kalpataru, books that got noticed in wider, educated circles, and he got initiated.

It’s this part – the initiation, that needs a bit more reflection. In Svalikhita Jivani he writes that he was waiting for a guru for a long time and his prayers were answered in a dream. A few days later “Gurudeva wrote to me saying, “I will come quickly and give you diksha.”

I don’t know what to make of it. It sounds as if they had previous correspondence and, perhaps, Kedarnath asked for initiation earlier but there’s nothing about it in the both books – Svalikhita Jivani and Seventh Goswami. Perhaps Prabhu (Lord Chaitanya, I understand) appeared not only in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s dream but in Vipina Vihari Goswami’s dream, too. Perhaps we could dismiss this episode for the lack of details but I think this intervention by Lord Chaitanya Himself should be remembered as the basis of their relationship and whatever came next must be viewed in this light – it was arranged by Mahaprabhu Himself.

And there was a lot of stuff that came next but first I want to mention Kalyana Kalpataru again. According to Seventh Goswami this book was describing devotee’s progress from hearing the Lord’s name for the first time until he is introduced into Lord’s personal lilas and association. One of the passages in this book is cited as a proof of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s spiritual identity, he disclosed his own relationship with Krishna.

This does not make much sense. It can be massaged to make sense but then his life would lose all exemplary power – no one can follow his footsteps, he jumped from initiation to meeting Krishna in a year tops. Maybe it is possible, but we also have our Srila Prabhupada citing his life as a standard for grihasthas, how he managed to work as an important government servant, maintain his family (he had ten children altogether), and write upto a hundred vaishnava books, too.

Of course no one can imitate him but one could always say that since he was able to approach Krishna Himself in his bhajan then whatever he had to do in his earthly incarnation was not even a piece of cake for him, it was completely non-essential, unlike our struggles with our senses, especially in household lives. If he saw Krishna face to face a couple of times per day then he must have had very different relationships with his material body and everything related to it, meaning that his motivations, logic and reasoning in making his life choices were completely unlike our own and thus of no practical importance.

I’d rather think that his description of intimate pastimes with Krishna were written by following books by Six Goswamis and other vaishnava acharyas, and, of course, quietly supervised by Krishna so they didn’t come out wrong. It doesn’t mean he had actually had Krishna’s personal association in his fully spiritual form. He could have but I think he was still a few good years away from it. He just got initiated, after all.

And if one says that his spiritual master was such a potent soul that he immediately elevated Kedarnath to maha-bhagavata paramahamsa level, I’d say wait until he meets Srila Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, because that’s what came next.

In 1881, about three-four years after leaving Puri and eventually settling in Narail, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur went on his second trip to Vrindavana. Whatever I said about his ability to communicate with Krishna must also be reconsidered in the light of the deals he made with Him in regard to this journey. On the way Bhaktivinoda Thakur got seriously ill. When he came to Vrindavana he prayed that the Lord gave him just enough health to receive all the spiritual benefits there and then he would continue with the illness, and it happened exactly like that, and it wasn’t the only case of Krishna answering his prayers, in fact resorting to deals like that had become a routine in Bhaktivinoda’s life. If there was any difficulty he would just pray to Krishna for guidance and everything was resolved.

While in Vrindavan he helped to clear the area of the band of dacoits (love the word, always wondered when I could use it in a sentence) that robbed pilgrims visiting the holy dham, it took quite a lot of time and effort but in Svalikhita Jivani he gives it only half a sentence. More important for him was meeting Srila Jagannatha Dasa Babaji who was the head of the vaishnava community at that time. Jagannatha Babaji made such a deep impression on Kedarnath (he wasn’t awarded Bhaktivinoda title yet) that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati drew our parampara line through him and not through Vipina Vihari Goswami, who I just assumed introduced Bhaktivinoda Thakura to his spiritual form.

In later years Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s relationship with his diksha guru, Vipina Vihari Goswami changed for the worse, to the point that some say he rejected him. Nalini Kanta use the word “neglected” which is not as strong but still points to some sort of a disagreement.

I’ll look into the nature and possible implications of that disagreement next time. There’s a lot of history and politics involved in interpretation of what had happened, I don’t think I can untangle that knot but I need some clarity at least for myself.

Vanity thought #281. Who gets a wow.

I had a few more thoughts on Jobs passing so I’ll try to make a post out of it.

Why “wow”? What did Jobs see in the last seconds of his life to elicit a “wow”? We will never know for sure but one thing is clear – he wasn’t seeing the yamadutas. Or maybe he wasn’t seeing anything but simply reflected on the surge of loving feelings towards his family. On the other hand it’s said he looked past their shoulders so he could have seen something that wasn’t there for everyone else. Most likely, and actually the only explanation I see here, is that he was seeing vishnudutas who came to take care of him because his chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra didn’t go in vain.

What I like to think, though, is that his mind was blown away by their forms and their beauty. They look almost exactly like Vishnu Himself, Jobs wouldn’t be the first one to mix them up. We have plenty of pictures in our books to give us an impression of what they might look like and we have all the descriptions in the shastras to give us the clues but, to be honest, none of the depictions I’ve ever seen looked like “wow” to me. Nice, clean – yes, wow – no. If I were to imagine Krishna as He’s shown in our illustrations to Bhagavad Gita I wouldn’t go “wow”, his features are too Indian for me, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but they elicit petty material associations, they are not transcendental, there’s something off about them.

I shouldn’t be surprised, of course, none of our artists had actually seen Krishna of vishnudutas face to face to portray them exactly as they appear before our material senses. One could say they would never appear before our material senses but on some occasions they make themselves visible. A dying man doesn’t have developed spiritual senses yet he can still see them, for example. Without that first hand experience we can’t really draw Krishna as He is, we have to fall back on our interpretations of what a beautiful Indian god might look like.

Some come out better, some worse, some Deities look stunningly beautiful to me, some don’t, and different people have their own favorites. The only “real” standard of what Krishna looks like that I take on faith is the saying that among the original Krishna Deities of Vrindavana from Vajranabha’s time Govindaji has Krishna’s face, Gopinath resembles Krishna’s form from shoulders to waist and Madan Mohan looks like Krishna from navel down. I’ve seen the pictures, though, “resemble” is the only word I can agree on with my material vision. No “wow” from me.

Jobs, however, saw the “wow”, and coming from a design perfectionist as he was it is a kind of testament to the beauty of the vishnudutas. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know if Jobs was brought back to life he could have reproduced it but the way they appeared to him in person was definitely a “wow”.

I’m not sure we can draw them with the same effect if all we can rely on are the forms and shapes we have experienced in the material world. It’s the modes of material nature that restrict us here. If one carefully looks at common designs surrounding us in our everyday life we can easily trace them back to something we have seen before, something that is connected to certain emotions and certain experiences. To give you an example – soviet era military machinery looks nothing like iPads, they are inspired by a different culture and different design values. I’ve seen the pictures of the insides of decommissioned soviet submarines and it’s an entirely different world out there, with its own rules and its own attractive features but it’s just different, it was inspired by different gunas.

My point here is that unless we are inspired by vishuddha sattva all our design clues and solutions will be traceable to common material roots, they can’t be transcendental. That’s why I think no one so far has been able to adequately convey Krishna’s beauty through material sculpture and painting. It might not be even necessary for our advancement but that is a different point.

Anyway, Jobs got his wows, but did he deserve them? I haven’t finished reading his biography but I’ve seen enough to declare him a major a-hole. You don’t even need to read a book to know he was an a-hole. He rejected his first daughter, for example, he had an uncanny ability to insult and denigrate people, he knew their weak spots right away and he was happy to press on them until he got what he wanted. He was a greedy, vindictive, vain, self absorbed pompous ass. Why did he get the wows?

Remember Daniel Knoppke, his close friend in college that he went to India with, when they first met Jobs pissed of Knoppke’s girlfriend by discussing how much money would it take for her to sleep with another man. Steve Wozniac, his life-time friend they started the company together, Jobs cheated him our of the bonus on the very fist job they did together. Why did Jobs get the wows?

Shouldn’t people like this got to hell straight away? Okay, maybe not to hell but they deserve to be on receiving end of such callousness themselves. Maybe they should, but this is thinking in terms of cause and effect existing only in the material world, under the assumption that we are our bodies fully responsible for what we do.

From Krishna’s POV, however, it might all look very different. Yes, Jobs deserved a body of a genius prick and if he were to follow his karma he would probably be living life of cartoon characters from Dilbert but after chanting Krishna’s names he is not obliged to do that anymore. His next body could be occupied by any number of other living entities, Jobs has nothing to do with it anymore, Krishna would put him somewhere where he can go to the temple, dance and eat prasadam again. Actually I think this is wrong – his dying body didn’t deserve the next incarnation. the law of karma in relation to his body implies that it would be burned or eaten by worms, there’s no Stive Jobs 2.0 waiting somewhere for his old soul to jump in.

That’s all very well but my mind still screams that it’s unfair to the victims of his abuse. To that I can answer that people get abused according to their karma, not because such and such was such an a-hole. Wozniac wasn’t offended by being cheated, for example, he thought that a small matter like this was not important enough to get in the way of their friendship. He was cheated but he didn’t feel like he was shorthanded.

When I see “injustice” like that I want to restore the order in the universe but my perception of what order is is inadequate. There’s so much stuff, so much background information that I don’t know that I should simply not pay attention to thoughts like these. In Wozniac’s case there was no offense, for example, and on some level Job’s ruthless greed was exactly what their partnership needed to become successful so it was in Wozniac’s self-interest to let that one slide.

In cases like this I justify my desire to put the universe straight by appealing to some principles that shouldn’t be violated in the name of universal dharma but in fact it’s not the threat to dharma that gets me all worked up, it’s emotional reactions in my own head that deprive me of sleep. Oh, this guy said this and he is such a shameless liar and the whole universe deserves to know about this. I can’t go to sleep yet – someone’s wrong on the Internet.

Well, this is a wrong approach, I’m protecting my own bruised ego by appealing to religious principles, that’s all. I see the world from the position of my body that has got into its head that it’s in the position to judge what’s right and wrong. I’m not a judge, I’m not a journalist, I’m not an expert on anything, I just have Internet access, that’s all.

I hope Krishna doesn’t see it like that, too, I hope he only counts the times I called His Name and the rest goes straight past his counter, I hope He is not like Santa with his dreaded naughty list. Steve Jobs example inspires me here – nothing else matters but chanting and listening to Lord Krishna’s Name, His pastimes and His glories.

I can say amen to that.

Vanity thought #280. Just WOW!

Almost a month ago NY Times published an eulogy on Steve Jobs by his sister, who he first met in 1985 because he/they were adopted and grew up with different families. The most remarkable part of it was Jobs last words, as he looked over and past the shoulders of his wife and children and he said these now famous words “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”

I don’t know what these words meant to his sister and to the millions of his fans and I don’t really care, devotees quickly assumed that it was a “payback” for his prasadam munching services he rendered back in the seventies.

So, with flood and everything, I took my sweet time and finally decided to have a closer look at those crazy years as they are documented in Jobs official biography.

It’s not a short book and it’s filled with all kinds of irrelevant and confusing biographical information – who went where and who talked to whom and in what order and so I went straight for the meat – the Reed College years when Jobs was attending Sunday feasts at ISKCON temple in Portland. I once mentioned it here.

The biography puts it in the larger context of Jobs spiritual development, or it was mostly search for enlightenment, development implies progress while his life was bobbing up and down the river of spiritualism.

Anyway, this is what I gathered so far. It was 1972, hippie movement was pretty much the background of all social life in California and young Steve wasn’t missing anything. He got himself a girlfriend, taught her to smoke marijuana, played a guitar, experimented with LSD – the whole nine yards. His foster parents worked their whole lives to get him to college while he had no idea what to do with his life. Among all the available options that included Berkeley and Stanford he decided to enroll in a small but very expensive Reed, it was three times smaller than his high school (don’t quote me on that, I haven’t read about his high school years yet).

After a year or so he got bored of all the required courses that he had to attend so he dropped out. In practice it meant he could still attend courses that he liked and he could still live with his friends in the dorm. I mention this as an example of what “search” meant for him – he had plenty of hunger but he was very whimsical with his choices and wasn’t going to commit to anything or do anything against his will.

In his private life this search meant consuming large amounts of alternative culture and trying all kinds of lifestyles without committing to anything in particular. Hare Krishnas were part of the Portland scene already but from the biography it appears they were just that – part of the scene. I don’t know where he heard about vegetarianism first but he was convinced by a couple of “hippie” books, not by Hare Krishnas.

Jobs took vegetarianism very very seriously but because his sources were rather dubious his practices turned outright weird. Generally he would call himself a vegan but it was a lot more than that – he was obsessed with cleanses, diets, and fasts. Sometimes he would eat only apples for two weeks, at other times he would live only on carrots, sometimes he would drink only juices, sometimes he would fast, sometimes he would avoid all carbs and so on. People were joking that during his carrot eating stage his complexion would turn orange.

Speaking of his appearance – he hardy wore any shoes, only sandals, if it was snowing. This is worth repeating – he never wore shoes, not to college, not to work, not even when he was raising money to manufacture his first Apple computers a few years later. In fact he was kicked out of one of the important meetings for putting his bare feet on a table.

There was also a question of his personal hygiene – he honestly believed that eating vegan food would not make him sweat at all. Everybody around him disagreed but that didn’t stop Jobs, or rather he couldn’t start taking showers just because other people complained about his BO. In his first job, at Atari, they had to assign him to the night shift because not only he was obnoxious to his colleagues but they couldn’t stand his stench, too.

So this was the young man who came to Hare Krishna “Love feasts”, as they were called then. At that time Jobs met a guy, Robert Friedland, who introduced him to eastern spirituality. That dude even had a local guru, a converted American Ram Dass who also had influence on now famous American kirtan singers Krishna Das and Jai Uttal. They have nothing to do with ISKCON, except that our Sri Prahlad lists them on his site, though that doesn’t mean he gives them any special endorsement. I’ll investigate this matter separately, if the need arises.

Anyway, this Friedman was four years older than Jobs and he taught him how to use the famous reality distortion field and lots of other valuable life lessons. They were a group of four friends and together they went to dance their socks off (if they were wearing any) at the Hare Krishnas. Robert would work himself into a frenzy while Jobs was a bit subdued as if he was “embarrassed to let loose”. After the kirtans they would stuff themselves with prasadam.

That wasn’t all, Friedland had stewardship of a large apple farm and he turned it into a spiritual community where they would practice meditation and such. It wasn’t japa meditation, btw, they were heavy into Zen Buddhism and enlightenment, not devotion. I mean he once credited LSD for his biggest breakthroughs on the path to higher consciousness. Still, on Sundays they would welcome Hare Krishna devotees from the temple and have a big program that ended with big plates of prasadam. Curiously, biography mentions that after stuffing himself to his neck Jobs would go and “purge”. I should also note that when it came to prasadam Jobs apparently didn’t mind milk, butter and other diary products that he wouldn’t have touched otherwise.

I’ve searched the book, there are no more references to Hare Krishnas in Jobs life, except that famous Stanford speech, of course. At no point he is described as a devotee in the book, and, as I said, Buddhists have far better, solid rights to claim him as their own. This is what I meant when I said his search for enlightenment was bobbing up and down – sometimes he was very close to Krishna, sometimes he drifted away. To him it looked like steady progress, though.

After a short stint at Atari Jobs decided to go to India and search for a guru. He found dysentery first, then went to Kumbha Mela (that was lucky!) He traveled a lot, practicing simple living and fasting. In that sense he was really trying to find enlightenment in renunciation. Perhaps he even went to Vrindavan, no one would know now, except, perhaps, Daniel Kottke, a close friend from ISKCON dancing days, who accompanied Jobs on some of his travels in India. I’m not going to try and reach Kottke though it would be interesting to know if Jobs been to Vrindavan or not. He most certainly didn’t go as far as Mayapur and Bengal but Vrindavan was close to his general travelling area.

Jobs returned to the US without finding a guru but the experience still had a profound effect on his perception of the society and things like intuition and analytical western minds. It’s important mostly to to his fans who search for clues to his ingenuity but if some of us are struggling with overthinking things then we might take notice that Jobs’ conclusion was that mind and intelligence don’t matter much, listening to your intuition (read Supersoul) is far more important.

That was the end of his “gurukula” period and what happened next – invention of a personal computer, animation etc shouldn’t be of big interest to us. Jobs held to his vegetarian diet to the end of his days, though he relaxed his rules a bit from time to time. Once he enjoyed sushi, for example, fish tasting so good he was willing to overlook his principles. It was also a major bonding moment with his daughter, so that counted, too.

He still had weird fixation on dieting, with each new choice of restrictions being endlessly discussed at family dinners but that was one of his more controversial sides. His insistence on non-traditional diet, healing and medicines is now called responsible for delaying the much needed operation on his cancer back in 2003, but that also should be beside our interest in him.

Our main interest should be these three “Wows” – I can’t think of anything else but Krishna’s messengers coming to take him to his next destination. If he was so lucky then maybe even I have a chance now, this example of Krishna caring for anyone who chanted His names, even if long long time ago, is truly encouraging.

It shows not only that Krishna remembers, but also that he waits for us to end our prison terms in these bodies, he never forgets even for a second, patiently guiding us through our lives to our eventual meeting point. It also puts things in perspective – what really matters in our lives and what doesn’t. Building a biggest company in the world (at times) and having millions of fans is not nearly as important as honoring Krishna’s prasadam, chanting His Names and dancing with His devotees.

It also shows the meaning of the word “devotee”. Anyone who has ever chanted Krishna’s Name in an ISKCON temple is a devotee and is very dear to Krishna, we should always remember that, no matter where life takes us afterwards.

Maybe I will read more of the book of Jobs but I think I’ve seen all I ever need there, maybe it’s time for me to return to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, or maybe Jobs darker sides need some illumination, they can be off putting and dealing with them might have some practical value for us, too.

Vanity thought #279. Flooded.

Some folks in power screw up run off water management in this country and now it’s living through a flood of Biblical proportions, if they believed in God.

It’s been going on for over a month now and finally flood waters are approaching my house. They’ve actually been approaching for four days now, they surely take their time. Our house is a part of an estate build on a pretty high landfill so it’s now an island, beyond our walls there’s a sea of water and two days ago the road in front of it became impassable for small cars, there’s a large truck transporting people to and fro, though, life still goes on.

Most of the houses in the neighborhood had been boarded up, all cracks have been sealed, temporary walls have been built around the doors, cars have been taken out to the dry land and people have left for safer grounds. This was the first time I was sleeping at home alone – all my family members have moved out, too, they have jobs to go to and they don’t trust the ad-hoc transportation arrangments. The main road in our area had been flooded at both ends and there’s only one bridge left that connects us to the mainland and locals in the neighborhood blocked it in the protest against the closed sluice gate they blame for inundation in their neighborhood.

They say they’ve lived with water for three weeks now and it’s up to their chest level already. I live only a few kilometers away and my foot hasn’t touched flood waters yet.

Our problems are still incomparable to the devastation in other parts of the country. Our water is rising very slowly but in some places it went to the chest level in one hour and swept away cars as if they were rubber duckies.

So, despite living smack in the middle of the affected area I really have no idea what the actual flood is. I bored everybody with my google plus updates that show absolutely no progress. I restrict these updates to family members only, I’m too shy to go public with them, they do not qualify as flood news and I should keep my mouth shut.

So, what am I to do now? Why don’t I move out like everybody else? Our house will be safe, it can hold off water rising up to one meter, which should take about two months at the current rate. I swear water dries faster. Okay, there was a day when it went up fifty centimeters overnight and it might surge again but it’s unlikely. Family members think I’m stubborn and I should join them in their hideouts.

I refuse to go.

I have plenty of supplies to last me for weeks, I can still cook and there’s plenty of drinking water. Electricity is not going to be cut off until water goes up by another two meters, tap water is also flowing without problems. I set a condition – until there’s Internet I’m not going anywhere.

Initially I thought I’ll just get rid of all the distractions and happily chant day and night and read books, but this isn’t happening – I’m on a constant flood watch and I’m always in touch with people outside. More importantly, my mind is greatly disturbed by all the news. Occasionally I manage to snatch an hour or two and enjoy some quality chanting, most of the time, though, I’m running all kinds of scenarios in my head while mouthing the mantra. I don’t know if it will change.

Initially I thought I would use my solitude to meditate on Krishna, on Holy Names, on books, on recordings of kirtans and so on. This is not happening.

Why?

I see a lot of hypocrisy in my actions. Subconsciously I am trying to get people’s attention by playing a victim. I want them to bring me stuff, I want them to care about me, I want them to appreciate my sacrifice. They see right through my plan and don’t pay me any attention.

I tried to do the same thing with Krishna, artificially withdrawing myself from the outside world and thinking that it would attract His attention, that he would appreciate my sacrifice and show me some mercy. He sees right through me, too.

This is yet another lesson in how we won’t attract Krishna’s attention and win His heart. Not by abandoning our duties and taking to renunciation, that won’t work. How many times do I have to hear this from myself? Why does it never stick in my consciousness?

What I have to do is perform my duties given to me due to my material conditioning and try to think of Krishna. Sometimes I think that thinking of Krishna would be easier is I didn’t have any duties at all but this is not true. I can purify my senses only through engagement, not through withdrawal.

Most of the time I’m afraid to engage my senses, I don’t think my activities will be purifying enough. I guess the intention is admirable but the fear is unfounded. Just like Arjuna was at Kurukshetra, I’m afraid because I don’t know the science of Krishna Consciousness. I’m nothing like Arjuna but if he, for the sake of the lost souls, pretended to be conditioned for half an hour I guess it should be okay to compare myself to his presentation of weakness.

Srila Prabhupada had taught us the science of engaging in Krishna’s service but all I remember from it is that it only works for people living in ISKCON temples and serving ISKCON programs. Fair enough, I guess I have to settle on making very little progress by staying outside and doing what normal, non-Krishna conscious people do. I’ve heard it time and time again – this is not the way to make spiritual progress. Fine, but does it mean I have to abandon my duties and my job and move to the temple? I don’t have a job, okay, but getting life settled in a temple community is not like going to movies on a Saturday night.

Okay, but what about the duties themselves? Some things I have to do, like brush my teeth or lock the doors at night, but most of my duties is the stuff that I want to do – going out to take pictures and post them on google plus, read all the flood related tweets, dutifully download stuff that I’m not going to watch alone just yet. Do these things count as “performing my duties”? I honestly don’t know.

What I know is that I will do these things anyway, with or without Krishna consciousness. Sometimes I lose interest in them and I think of them as my duties, sometimes I am very excited about them and I can’t admit it to myself, hoping that if I were alone I would simply chant instead of watching that silly stuff.

I can’t count how many times I checked twitter while typing this, and that’s not counting the trip outside to take pictures before it gets dark. Actually it was because I enjoy getting out and seeing people gathering outside and chatting to each other about their flood problems. Does it count as performing my duties? Should I feel as if I betrayed Krishna?

Oh the life of a conditioned soul that can’t see the world as made of Lord’s energies, that sees danger on every step.

And then I heard yesterday that the only way to attain devotion is to absorb it from advanced vaishnavas. Yeah, sure, but what does it mean practically?

I see quite a few potential deviations in practical application of this principle. If I don’t lose my train of thought it might become the subject for tomorrow’s entry.

Vanity thought #278. Constitutional position.

So my constitutional position is a tiny spark of life covered by a thick layer of ignorance because that’s what I chose.

I also know that underneath these coverings I have my original identity, very well hidden from me, also because I chose it that way.

If I rediscover that original identity I will be engage myself in devotional service to the Lord and His associates, I will engage my spiritual body and senses, not the arms and legs I identify with now.

It is possible to develop that level of spiritual awareness even while being confined to the material body as examples of Six Goswamis and other exalted devotees show.

Or maybe it’s not so clear and there are different ways to look at the situation and its development. The following is an attempt to analyze my position from a different perspective. It might look convincing but it’s just a speculative play at this point, I have no idea how it could reconcile or deviate from the shastras.

Why am I doing this? Mainly because I can, it’s not the worst way to spend my time after all. I’m also interested in finding the difference between material and spiritual activities and fine-tuning my own behavior. Hopefully it will help me to remember Krishna at all times better.

What if I didn’t have an eternal, permanently fixed spiritual identity at all? No shape, no form, no senses – nothing permanent, and all these things are being supplied to me according to my desires and Krishna’s permission. If I choose not to exercise this option I would be dissolved in brahmajyoti but, as we know, the desire to act cannot be suppressed indefinitely and I would eventually fall down from the platform of the Brahman and into the material world, or into Krishna’s service, doesn’t matter at this point.

My point is that if my identity is not fixed I can express it through a variety of means and according to the variety of desires available to me, and Lord’s internal potency, yogamaya, would take care of the implementation. One day I might want to impress Krishna with a new game, another day with a new dress, and then with some intrigue or maybe just with a nice massage. My imagination is quite crippled, forgive me, but I think I’m clear on how it would work – the living entity wants to serve the Lord and Lord’s energies enable it to please Krishna.

Isn’t it what is going on in Vrindavana already? Gopis can sing and dance but even their clothes and decorations need external sources – the saris need to be bought, make up needs to be applied from make up kits and so on. I imagine there are people in Vrindavana whose main service is making beautiful saries for gopis to wear and there are manjaris there who go to the forest and collect ingredients for gopis’ make up, too.

I mean there still needs to be the difference between what service one can produce himself and what needs to be outsourced, even if the entire world there is made of a purely spiritual energy.

Okay then, why should it work any differently in the material world where I am now? How much service can I render on my own? Shravanam, for example, implies that there’s a separate source for the sound. Book distribution implies that someone else produces books. Even smaranam and kirtanam require material organs like mouth and mind.

Basically, there’s me, as my material body I misidentify myself with, and Lord’s external energy, mahamaya, that takes care of implementation of my desires. Most of these desires have nothing to do with Krishna but occasionally He bursts into my experience as well. I get to see His form, I get to hear His glories, I get to read books about Him and so on.

It might not be the same experience as devotees have in the spiritual world because I look at Krishna not with love but with indifference but hey, indifference is a rasa, too!

I was also promised that my envy will gradually go away if I keep looking at Him, listen to stories about Him and chant His Holy Names.

Moreover – yesterday I was thinking about Lord’s extending His internal energy to engage His devotees in the material world. He CAN do it if He wants to, then their material bodies would become tools for their service to the Lord.

I don’t claim to be so special but, as I said, there are things that I can observe that couldn’t come from anywhere but Krishna’s mercy – from books to ISKCON devotees. If I serve them, I serve Krishna. Maybe not as perfectly as in the spiritual world and maybe tainted with selfish desires, maybe at first tainted beyond repair but it’s still service and I should be grateful for this opportunity.

That makes me think – what is the difference between material and spiritual worlds anyway? Is this world material only because my desires are impure? Wait, hold on, how could my desires be impure? What does it mean? Impure comparing to what? To Srimati Radharani? I’m afraid everyone’s desires will be deemed impure comparing to her.

They are MY desires, coming from MY soul, how can they be impure? I think I can use this word only when talking about my desire to serve Krishna, that desire is indeed mixed with all kinds of selfish motives, but as a desire on its own it can’t be impure.

Okay, maybe it could be called impure because I have these desires according to my conditioning and the influence of the modes of material nature. Okay, I agree, but how is it different in the spiritual world? Aren’t the desire to wear a beautiful sari dependent on the modes of the spiritual nature equivalent of our gunas? If a devotee who supplies saris produced a red one today – how’s that different from me going into the shop and selecting from a limited choice of t-shirts presented there? T-shirt selection was dictated by gunas – the colors that were presumed popular, the fabric etc. etc.

The argument could be that in the spiritual world if one wants a green sari instead it would immediately be produced right away but more or less the same thing works in the material world, too, you can even order a custom made shirt if you want to. There’s a delay, of course, but who’s to say there’s no delay in the spiritual world either? Their concept of time might be different or non-existent but at least the devotee supplying saries should desire to make a green sari first, on your request. That implies delay, even if not in minutes and hours terms. Originally he thought that a red sari would serve Krishna nicely but now he had to change his mind and create a green one.

I’m afraid I’m losing the difference here.

Maybe delays in the material world are more painful because our desires to serve are not perfect. Maybe if we really wanted to please Krishna we wouldn’t care about delays, or things would be procured much faster.

Even in the material world – first time we want a car it might take us some time to save the money and we might not get the model we wanted, but if we really really want a particular car we won’t mind putting in extra time and waiting, then, ten twenty years later, we could get ANY car we want in a snap, waiting just the time the dealers require to make their deliveries.

With passage of time not only our desires become stronger and we acquire more power to fulfill them but the passage of time become less painful, too. Isn’t it the same thing that happens with Krishna’s service? At first we don’t have anything to offer but with practice and perseverance we acquire nearly unlimited powers, and we don’t mind waiting anymore as we develop extraordinary patience and humility?

And here is the last, the killer argument – what if my original, constitutional position is right where I am now? I’m connected to Krishna via my spiritual master already, I’m removed a certain number of generations from Lord Chaitanya, for example. Why do I assume that there’s a better place for me, closer to Krishna? Maybe even as a servant of Srimati Radharani as presumed in certain circles. Why do I assume that besides the service I can render to Krishna here there’s an entirely new place for me where I can see Krishna directly?

What will happen to the parampara then? Would it mean me jumping to the position much closer to Krishna than that of my spiritual master in this world?

My answer to this is that there are two paramparas – one manifested here and one existing in the spiritual world. I would still be X generations removed from Lord Chaitanya but I won’t be typing blogs on ugra-karmic computers anymore, I would be doing something truly spiritual.

Take Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis – they were manjaris in their spiritual form and they were very close to Lord Chaitanya in their material forms. Maybe devotees serving them as their spiritual masters are serving them in the spiritual world as well. And we all have direct access to Krishna in the form of a Deity, for example, just as they all have direct access to Krishna in the spiritual world if they so desire – remember that on the stage of perfection we will desire to serve Krishna’s devotees more than to serve Him directly.

Either way, the line between the matter and the spirit is totally blurred for me right now. There’s also a touch of impersonalism in my proposal, and I intend to deal with it later.