Vanity thought #289. Be ready when He comes…

Time and time again various senior devotees remind us to listen very very carefully to the Holy Names while chanting japa. One of the favorite metaphors is comparing us to housekeepers awaiting an important guest.

 We are expecting some very very important guest to arrive and we put our house in order, prepare everything he might need and sit there, eagerly awaiting. Then, when the guest actually arrives, we wonder off to the room somewhere in the back and engage in some petty mundane stuff, like checking e-mails or texting, without paying any attention to our visitor.

This is not the way to treat our guests and the metaphor works fairly well as everybody understands and relates to this kind of situation. I guess this metaphor helped quite a few devotees to keep their minds on chanting japa.

There’s another way to look at it, however, and it might turn out not so benefitial to our spiritual lives.

I mean the situation itself – we are sitting here, waiting for Krishna in the form of the Holy Name to arrive. Well, knowing myself, it won’t be “any minute now”, so there’s a hidden incentive to slack off and check the phone, but that is not what I really have in mind. 

In real life, not the one we perceive under the illusion of maya, Krishna is already here. It’s the wrong assumption that He is not in the  form of the Holy Name now but will arrive some time later. This is what the metaphor implies, after all.

The fact is that He is already in our house but we are still not paying attention, and the fact is also that no matter how hard we try to pay attention we won’t see or hear or sense Him in any way of form. This is true for most of  us most of the time.

That doesn’t mean that we should stop trying, of course, that’s an entirely different topic, but for now we should rethink our approach to chanting if we find out that this particular metaphor has got deep into our subconscious and influenced the way we chant. I know it influenced me on more than one occasion.

Bottom line – we are not here waiting for Krishna to arrive, it’s quite the opposite – He is already here waiting for us to take Him seriously. Also the Holy Name is not just a hollow sound waiting for Krishna to fill it with knowledge and bliss, every Name we ever utter is already filled with all transcendental powers to the brim. 

 Why do we not feel it so? That’s the thought for another day. 

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Vanity thought #288. Sinful demigods.

Yesterday I caught a part of Srimad Bhagavatam class on Mayapur TV and people were discussing how demigods can commit sinful acts. As is becoming usual some smart cookie in the audience raised the question that the speaker couldn’t adequately address. I remember another one of those but will save it for another day.

Again, as usual, the better answer, I believe, lies not in knowing some obscure passages from shastras or utterances by Srila Prabhupada, but in understanding the question. Once you understand the question properly the answer appears well within our range of knowledge.

Anyway, the speaker tried to answer the question posited like this – if demigods live on heavenly planets only to enjoy results of their good karma, how come they occasionally engage in sinful activities. I didn’t hear what activities were referred to specifically and how exactly the question was originally worded, but this is how the speaker heard it and, posited like this, it is indeed a bit perplexing.

The clue to untying this knot, I think, lies in the assumption that only human beings on this planet can create karma. This is one of the very first things we learn about it, about the importance of human form of life. I don’t think we should take it in absolute sense and blindly employ this principle in each and every situation.

What does it even mean – create karma? The living being is not a creator of anything in this world, karma is created by material bodies acting under the influence of the modes of nature. Every time something happens in this world it’s bound to have reactions in the future. Perhaps the real meaning of “creating karma” lies in putting our consciousness into it.

Again – what does consciousness mean in this context? Does it mean that only human beings possess consciousness so that only human beings can create karma? That’s absurd, every living entity possesses some degree of consciousness.

This is where I think the answer lies – how much freedom to apply our consciousness is given in different forms and conditions of life. Some humans have better conditions to develop spiritual consciousness, some worse. Even in Bhagavat Gita Krishna mentions that – people in distress, for example, are more likely to turn to God than people enjoying their senses to the full.

I believe it’s not correct to assume that there’s a clearly drawn line between forms of life and the ability to project consciousness but rather that in certain conditions certain human beings appear to be more conscious than others of their kind, or of lower or higher species. Relatively speaking, not absolutely.

Thus even the demigods can commit sinful acts or worship the Lord. They can also express envy or greed and act on those urges, they certainly have the capabilities. I suspect that those a just petty crimes in the great karmic scheme of things. They are not genocidal, they don’t rape and pillage, they are far to civilized for that. And so are some of the people living on this planet right now.

Perhaps their sins are like taking home a pencil from the office. Sinful? Yes, but not the maha raurava level of sin.

Conversely, demigods live in far too opulent conditions to surrender their lives to serving the Lord, but there are exceptions, too, when they decide to descend on earth and take part in Lord’s pastimes. They don’t do it because our local sweet rice is so irresistible, though it’s often a treat deserving demigods.

We are not so much different after all, we just have different levels of help or distractions provided by the material nature.

Imagine being suddenly transferred to New York’s Upper East Side, into a family of immense wealth, and given dozens of platinum credit cards and an obligation to appear like an ordinary member of New York’s elite. That would throw anybody’s sadhana off the balance for a while. So is transferral to the heavenly planets.

I think arguing in this direction would have satisfied the person asking the question much better.

Thought for the day – devotees live their lives in conditions tailored by the Lord to provide the best chance at self-realization, there’s no greener grass on any other side, let’s make the best use of what is given.

Vanity thougth #287. The meaning of sannyasa.

From our first days in ISKCON we learned to treat our sannyasis as real life magicians, top most, purest devotees, uttama adhikaris and what not. Just look at this picture from a recent Krishna Comic post on Dandavats to see what I mean.

Haver you reached Svarupa-siddhi, maharaj?

First generation devotees didn’t have these illusions regarding svarupa siddhis but they didn’t tell us in order not to shake our faith, however naive it might have appeared to them.

For us the way to Krishna was pretty straightforward – chant, get first initiation, get second initiation, get sannyasa, and you are there.

We are older and wiser now but old habits often refuse to die, and so I’m presenting another take on the sannyasa situation here.

There was no such thing as sannyasa in our sampradaya for hundreds and hundreds of years since Lord Chaitanya. The institution was re-introduced by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and he saw sannyasa as a necessary sacrifice taken by devotees in the preaching mission. It wasn’t a pinnacle of anything and, in fact, it was a step back from the pure path of devotion.

By accepting sannyasa Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and his prominent disciples didn’t signal the next step in their devotional progress, it was rather an admittance that they have to step back and comply with society’s norms.

Vaishnavas, and followers of Lord Chaitanya in particular, are transcendental to varnashrama, they are not interested in following some materialistic rules and they don’t value relationships that arisen on material platform.

They agree to externally follow some regulations but their real life, their real interests, lies in their internal mood of serving Krishna with every beat of their hearts. For them taking sannyasa is just like for brahmacharies entering the grihastha ashram – scary, tempting, potentially very dangerous and definitely distracting to their pure spiritual lives.

Brahmacharies are afraid that indulging in sex life will lead to their downfall, sannyasis are afraid not only of that but also of fame and glory that comes with their position. What vaishava would voluntarily put himself in a situation where everyone offers them their obeisances and tries to snatch dust from their feet? And for what? Sannyasa is just an external label awarded to our bodily existence, why strive for it?

As I said, no one in our sampradaya has taken sannyasa for hundreds and hundreds of years. Six Goswamis of Vrindavana weren’t sannyasis, they were what we now call babajis but without the negative connotation. Sanatana Goswami didn’t write about sannyasa in Hari Bhakti Vilasa, afaik. Devotees seeking renunciation would simply take the babaji vesha and that was it. Taking sannyasa for them was the sign of attachment to worldly reputation and desire for respect, nothing more, and that’s the exact accusations we often hear in regard to our ISKCON sannyasis, too.

The truth is – it’s all true. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati also saw it this way, but he considered it a necessary sacrifice to attract people’s attention, just as Lord Chaitanya took sannyasa because people of his own age didn’t take him and his teachings very seriously.

So, for the materialists Srila Bhaktisiddhanta wore elegant clothing and got around in imported cars, and for so called spiritualists he was a sannyasi whose preaching deserved respect simply because of his status in varnashrama system.

There was nothing there about svarupa siddhi or any other kind of magic and it wasn’t a sign of actual progress, though I must admit that it’s a far more serious sacrifice for Krishna than buying a pair of designer jeans and a nice watch.

Yes, people making this sacrifice are obviously serious about their spiritual lives, but then again, these days ISKCON rules make sure that this sacrifice is not too hard on them, which kind of defeats the purpose.

It is our duty to offer obeisances to a sannyasi the first time we see him during the day, or else we should fast until tomorrow, it is also our duty to offer them respect as very dedicated devotees, it’s all good for our own progress, but it has nothing to do with spiritual life per se, just with following external rules and regulations and so we should not expect any kind of magic to come out of it.

Vanity thought #286. Pregnant with thoughts.

It’s actually not so easy to have a thought a day, not worth posting publicly anyway, thoughts need time to mature and ripen, so as I’m thinking of reviving putting something up on the internet daily, again, I find my head pretty empty. There’s something brewing up there but it needs time to take shape.

On average I think the idea needs three days from first popping up to the being ready for a post, so today’s stuff will be ready by Wednesday.

In the meantime I’ll use something that appeared important to me a short while ago.

It was a Bhagavatam class and the speaker described various expansions of Krishna. Balarama is the first, then there’s the quadruple expansion of Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Vasudeva and Sankarshana. In the scriptures all these expansions are assigned various responsibilities and at the end of the class someone asked – if Aniruddha is the presiding deity of the mind, shouldn’t we pray to Him when we want to control our minds and direct them towards Krishna?

I don’t remember what the answer was, perhaps it was totally satisfactory, but my first thought was – we are followers of Lord Chaitanya and so He provides us with everything we need to succeed in devotional service including mind control. Moreover, He provides us with all our material needs, too – He is also a yuga avatara who established yuga dharma. Some people are not as fortunate as to try to give up all their material ambitions and strive to become pure devotees yet even for them chanting of the Holy Name is still the best method of fulfilling all their desires.

From this standpoint to go and pray to someone else for what is already given to us by Lord Chaitanya amounts to a betrayal.

I can’t put it any other way.

In fact I think out bond with Lord Chaitanya will never ever be broken, not even if we deserve the right to enter into Krishna’s pastimes. I think our spiritual home will still be Navadvipa.

Not to mean any disrespect to Lord Aniruddha but we already have our Lord and Master and we don’t need any others.

Vanity thought #285. Surfing the waves.

Recently I’ve tried to develop better tolerance in face of daily troubles – stress at work, family disagreements, body ailments etc. I told myself that I should treat happiness and distress as waves, they come and go in due time and instead of panicking about it and thinking of the ways out I should just soldier on and wait until relief comes naturally.

It works magic. Surely it sometimes tests the limits of my patience but, generally speaking, the relief comes without me having to wait for it for too long, and every time I feel satisfaction when it does. Mostly it’s the satisfaction with myself for sticking around with my rule of ignoring my personal discomforts.

It’s only in the past couple of days that I realized that this much awaited relief and the sense of satisfaction is actually me falling head over heels with maya, with the illusion that I’m this body. Suddenly I remembered that it is actually maya’s first business to make me feel welcome and comfortable in my life.

It appears that when I ride the wave of distress and await the lull in suffering I’m actually waiting for the maya to embrace me and show me her good side and I buy her proposition hook, line and sinker.

All the while I thought I was developing my Krishna consciousness but it was actually quite the opposite. So what IS Krishna consciousness? Negation of suffering is not it. Attraction to happiness is not it either, but avoiding those too feelings and getting some sweet spot of temporary equilibrium is also not the answer.

It is said that impersonalists have to give up all their interests in comings and goings of this world in exchange for nothing whereas Krishna’s devotees replace those interests with interests in Krishna and His service. Fine, but the fact is that I’m not aware of any of my spiritual senses that I can engage in service anyway, so there’s not much practical difference with impersonalism.

When I strike out time when I feel happy, distressed and all the other feelings in between, there’s absolutely nothing left. I can experience feelings when tasting prasadam or looking at the Deities or reading books but those manifest in my material body. They are pleasant but there are many other things that could be pleasant in exactly the same way.

I’m afraid I do not have an easy answer to this problem. I’m afraid that all my Krishna consciousness can be tested by what I feel when I say or hear Krishna’s Name without trying very hard to pretend I like it. What I feel is indifference, but that is good indifference, it’s indifference of my material senses, material mind and material emotions. Somewhere behind this indifference lies my dormant Krishna Consciousness.

Another test is how much aware I’m of Krishna during my deep sleep. Not much, but I’m going to look for that little part of my soul that never really sleeps. Until I find it all I have to go on is Krishna’s manifestation on the external platform – Deities, books, devotees etc. That’s how He keeps His connection with me and should hang on to it at any cost.

Well, this post grew longer than I originally planned but, perhaps, it’s a good thing. I could have been typing away on local politics, Facebook IPO, Apple’s evil plans or something, that would have been an enormous waste of time, it always is.