Vanity thought #442. Renouncing liberation

Usually we have no problem with renouncing liberation and praying only for devotion to the Lord. We know very well that liberation is not worth bothering, that it is automatically included in the “welcome” bag for every devotee already.

We also know that liberation is the greatest enemy of bhakti (I mean impersonal kinds of liberation here). Why would anyone pray for liberation? Why would anyone desire liberation? Why would anyone pay any attention to liberation?

Well, this is in theory, in practice, however, we might seriously underestimate our core motivations. We might not acknowledge them but Krishna, or Paramatma within our hearts, can see them very clearly.

One could easily test his desire for liberation by remembering or even imagining himself in a difficult situation. We don’t feel we need liberation when life is comfortable, bellies are full of food and internet is fast, but what if we get struck by a terrible, painful disease?

If we are lucky we might go into a shock and lose consciousness, but what if pain is never strong enough for automatic body shutdown and we get to vividly experience every shade of torture? Can anyone say that he would be completely uninterested in the offered painkillers? Because that what liberation would look like to a sick person.

What if we were stranded in a desert and run out of water? We can survive a day or two, maybe less if it gets very very hot, and just when we are about to give up struggle to survive someone offers us cool shade and a bottle of water – will we be in a position to have absolutely no interest in taking it?

Most likely we will grab at this offer of liberation with both hands and will never let go.

To fully renounce liberation we have to develop extraordinary levels of tolerance, taror iva sahishnuna, like a withering tree about to be cut down but still offering shade and whatever remaining fruit is there to its own murderer.

Actually, we might need to be a lot more tolerant than a tree because we don’t know how the tree feels, we can only observe how it acts. Maybe the tree is agonizing beyond relief inside but has no power to protest externally. That consciousness won’t get us anywhere, we should fully embrace our fate if we are to request the gift of devotion and chanting of the Holy Name.

We should be really indifferent to whatever levels of pain and pleasure material nature throws at us. On that note – I believe there’s no limit of pain the material illusion can inflict on us. Which leads me to the next step – it’s impossible to achieve this stage by our own efforts.

We might learn to tolerate moderate amounts of pain, we might learn to tolerate occasional insults thrown at us in the comment section on some Apple-Android article, we might tolerate people forgetting our birthdays and anniversaries, we might tolerate mild headaches, but that is all only relative – what we have to learn to tolerate is infinity, and by that measure all our mundane achievements in tolerance are utterly insignificant.

Basically, we should try our best but remember that our best will never be good enough to earn devotional service to Krishna. We can’t afford to show any slack either.

As for liberation – yes, we should reject it, but remember that our inner motives will not withstand any real tests and most of what we are saying now is just talk. Luckily, Lord Chaitanya only talked about dhanam, janam, and sundarim kavitam – things we can easily relate to. If He included mukti in His Siksashtaka we might have to gloss over it as we gloss over yugaitam nimishena verse because we can’t fully grasp its meaning yet.

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Vanity thought #441. Maya Sita

Now that Ramacandra Vijayotsava is behind us it is a bit safer to raise a few questions regarding the captivity of Sita Devi.

It might not sound like much to Westerners but Indians somehow can’t accept the fact that Sita Devi spent some time in Ravana’s hands, some of it, perhaps, literally. To the modern man her chastity was never in question and she wasn’t violated in any way, apart from the kidnapping, of course, so why is it so important to prove that it wasn’t real Sita who was captured?

Regardless of the legitimacy of the concerns, it is unquestionably accepted that real Sita was hidden by Agni and Ravana never got anywhere near her, he got Maya Sita instead. When that Maya Sita was finally liberated she stepped into the fire again and out came the real one, to dispel anyone’s doubts. As the story goes it wasn’t enough and eventually Sita had to be banned into the forest but let’s leave that for now.

Maya Sita “trick” pacified some agitated minds, most notably one brahmana from Chaitanya Charitamrita for whom Mahaprabhu brought a copy of Kurma Purana describing the whole episode, but it raises a whole host of other questions.

First of all – what is this “Maya” business? Neither the Lord nor His eternal associates can be ever touched of covered by maya. If we say that this particular form of the Lord is not the real thing but some sort of transformation that is a straight up mayavada.

We cannot possibly accept this as a principle, Lord Ramachandra and Krishna appeared in their original, spiritual forms, there’s no question of there being “Maya” Krishna. Sita Devi is Lord Ramachandra’s eternal consort, her appearance in this world is governed by the same laws as that of Lord Rama or Krishna, her form is fully spiritual and unchangeable, fully beyond the influence of the material nature.

Another question – if the real Sita was hidden by Agni, who was that soul inside “Maya” Sita body? Normally “maya” body means that there’s a soul inside that is a different from the external form. It also implies having polluted consciousness and knowledge. Was “Maya” Sita in ignorance about her real spiritual position? How does that all work?

Yet another question – why was it in Agni’s power to hide or to reveal the purely spiritual body of Lord’s consort? Agni is much more powerful than any of us but he is still a product of material nature, a soul playing the part of the god of fire.

And what about Ravana? It is said that he was cheated by the appearance of Maya Sita. Cheated of what? If he expected to kidnap Lord Ramachandra’s wife he didn’t get that, true, but if he wanted to enjoy her company than it doesn’t matter if it was Maya Sita or real Sita. These days people substitute their sex idols with posters and desktop wallpapers, getting a “Maya” version of their sex symbols would be an unrivaled success. Maybe Ravana was cheated but he actually had it infinitely better than any modern man or a woman.

The more I think about Maya Sita solution the more puzzling it becomes. So far I haven’t seen these questions even raised let alone answered according to our siddhanta. I don’t think our acharyas contemplated them so I am out of luck. If it really bothers me I should deal with it on my own, just like we can’t site shastra when dealing with contemporary things like stem cell research, we can only speculate what our acharyas would have said about it.

There’s a more serious implication here – what if Maya Sita’s appearance was triggered by Ravana’s lack of devotion? Everybody else saw the real Sita but not Ravana, because he was a demon and the Lord does not reveal Himself to demons and neither do His associates. The implication here being is that unless one is a devotee Lord’s personal appearance in this world is almost useless as all he gets is a vision of the “maya” form.

This is already true, to a degree – we know that only devotees saw Krishna as their worshipable Lord, everyone else thought He was just another ordinary man. We already know that non-believers see Deities as metal and stone, not as transcendental spiritual forms. That’s how I see the Deities, too – like a bona fide pashandi.

While this might be disconcerting in one sense, there’s an easy way out of this dilemma – one word – Lord Chaitanya. Actually it’s two words but the point is that by His mercy even a pashandi can be turned into a devotee. His mercy is exceptional, He distributed love and devotion to anyone He met regardless of their status and qualifications.

If Lord Ramachandra or Krishna were to descend in this world right now we would all go “meh, not interesting”. It would be a trending topic on Twitter for a few hours but then people would forget all about it.

The mercy of Lord Chaitanya, however, is still working, five hundred years on. That is some really useful magic.

Vanity thought #440. Peter Principle

Peter Principle is usually stated as “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” It was a half-joking observation made some forty years ago by a couple of doctors one of which was named Peter. Upon closer inspection, however, it turned out to be alarmingly correct.

In hierarchical organizations employees are promoted to the next level for doing a good job, when they master the new position they are promoted higher and so on. Dr Peter, however, pointed out the obvious – eventually the employee will hit a level that is simply beyond his level of competence – eventually he would be given a job as a reward for his efforts but he won’t be actually qualified to hold that position.

Therefore it could be said that an employee would rise to the level of his incompetence.

The corollary to this principle is that in time every position in a company would be occupied by people not qualified to hold them. There are other interesting implications here but let’s not get completely sidetracked.

Is Peter Principle applicable to ISKCON? Our world-view is extremely hierarchical, with Krishna at the top, His close associates nearby and us, the lowly Kali yuga souls, at the very bottom.

In reality, however, ISKCON is a very complex organization. We have managerial and spiritual hierarchies that sometimes work in unison, sometimes overlap and sometimes diverge. In addition we also know that every vaishnava’s devotion can be judged only by Krishna and so our external designations might not reflect the level of actual advancement.

More important question would be – does Peter Principle apply to our spiritual lives? Do we rise to the level of our spiritual incompetence and stay there forever?

So far this seems to be an accurate description of the state of things. An aspiring, fired up bhakta would normally make a lot of progress in a very short time, give up bad habits, figure out basic philosophy, get initiated once, get initiated twice, but this is where it usually stops.

In the spiritual hierarchy the next initiation is sannyasa, which is practically unobtainable for the vast majority of ISKCON devotees. One might rise through the managerial ranks but don’t forget that this is a pyramid, not a rectangle. Everyone can get a second initiation but managerial positions are only for selected few, everyone else is expected to drop out in this model of hierarchy.

One might become a senior, respectable devotee and that is available to everyone, not only to temple presidents, but we also have to remember that while goodwill of the community is a great blessing it still doesn’t reflect our actual spiritual progress.

Here we have a paradox instead – if we make any real progress we will observe only degradation, an advanced devotee does not see his own advancement, he thinks that recognition of his progress is actually his pride trying to lead him away.

So, on one hand Peter Principle does not work with pure devotees but otherwise we can observe diminishing interest in worldly affairs and take it as a sign of progress.

In a large scheme of things, however, progress in devotional life means not only getting rid of anarthas but actual progress in developing ruci, rati, bhava, developing a particular taste in relationships with the Lord and so on. Not having any interest in reading Fifty Shades of Grey is not a big sign of progress.

From that point of view many of us feel like we hit a ceiling, that we have exhausted the accrued benefits from the previous lives and securing advancement for the next birth is a hard and arduous task. We have faith that if we worship Krishna in this life and remember Him at the time of death we will return home. We can guess how many years we have left to live and we can read in Srimad Bhagavatam about Vishnudutas arriving on vimanas but we have no clue how we are going to develop our love of God.

We have no time frame, no actual experience of what it feels like, not even examples of others going through this process successfully as we can’t see or estimate devotion of people more advanced than us.

In our literature we have all the symptoms of developing love of God but in practice we recognize only one – nityam bhagavata sevaya – constant, uninterrupted service to Bhagavatam, guru and Krishna. That is a great achievement but it’s not enough to map our progress from enjoyers of Kali yuga amenities to associates of Krishna in spiritual realm of Vraja.

So yeah, it does seem that I, and I guess many others, feel like we have achieved our level of incompetence, that we don’t make any progress anymore, or we don’t make any significant progress that really matters.

Perhaps it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and put in a lot of efforts without any apparent gain, simply on faith that eventually results will come, results in the form of developing actual love for Krishna, not simply in being transferred to the spiritual world which, without desire to love Krishna unconditionally, is only a notch above desire for liberation.

Vanity thought #439. Ekadashi blessing

For the past few months I’ve been skipping breakfast and lunch on ekadashi and I think now I can say with confidence that it makes a lot of difference to my japa. Some ekadashis were better and some worse but, statistically speaking, there’s a marked improvement overall.

I don’t know the exact reason, skipping meals in itself is not a service, and if I happen to skip a meal on any other day it has no effect on chanting but ekadashis have been a blessing. Why?

I tend to think that it’s the cosmic arrangement where any sacrifice for the sake of pleasing Lord Vishnu magnifies the result on ekadashi. Now I’m going to abuse that opportunity to the fullest.

Last ekadashi, on Wednesday, I had a blast chanting my rounds and at one point I even felt the Lord was personally guiding me in my efforts. Usually I stroll around the house and look out of the windows but there was a moment when I was compelled to sit in front of the picture of Panca Tattva and chant. It felt like the responsible and required thing to do, that if I got up and went to chant somewhere else I would feel myself like a traitor.

I dutifully complied and it was indeed a blessing to the quality of my rounds. Eventually the effect wore off but I’m curious whether I will observe it again.

This case led me to rethink the connection between my materialistic mind and my chanting. Normally I feel like there’s none and just ignore whatever thoughts are dwelling in my head, the mind quietens down pretty fast if I don’t indulge it. This time, however, it felt like the mind was fully engaged in chanting, too, attentively listening to the Names, and it felt not only good, it felt like the right thing to do.

Perhaps the best part of ekadashi improvement in japa was the feeling that someone actually cares about my performance and someone wants to see me succeed. Comparing to that internal urge to chant better and chant only in one particular spot my usual japa seems to be totally unappreciated.

Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. Essential quality of devotional service is that it’s done without any desire for rewards so it’s okay to persevere even if no one is apparently paying any attention (I’m talking about Krishna, of course, not people around me).

On the other hand, if I don’t feel appreciated it could also be a sign that all my chanting is going to waste and it doesn’t please the Lord in the least. The primary cause for this is committing offenses against the Holy Name and it might go untreated for many many lifetimes. That would be very depressing but the fact that someone listens at least on ekadashi leaves me with a ray of hope.

Let me not spoil the moment, talking too much and over-thinking things is a sure way to end the lucky streak, so I better shut up now.

Vanity thought #438. Deficiency

My mom saw a program about vegetarianism on TV and immediately contacted me with their findings – vegetarians suffer from deficiency of vitamin B12 and need to take it via supplements. If they don’t they will develop all kinds of symptoms including numbness in their fingers.

I replied that this is nonsense but she defended their position so I had to do a little research on the subject.

The most comprehensive, long term research into relations between diet and health had been done in China and concluded about a decade ago, it was summarized in a book called “China Study”, published in 2004. I haven’t personally read it though I’ve seen numerous references to it. The study is generally favorable towards vegetarianism but even those supporting its conclusions still recommend taking B12 supplements. What is going on there?

My first question was – where did these doctors on TV found vegetarians with numb fingers? I’ve never heard of such thing. This symptom is not listed neither on wikipedia nor webmd, prime sites for this kind of information. According to them B12 deficiency is a very serious matter that can lead to death. Next question – where did they find vegetarians who died because they didn’t take their vitamins?

Turns out they didn’t. The study commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture found that 40% of Americans suffer low levels of B12 and 10% have levels below threshold for deficiency. That’s why they know all the symptoms – this condition is very well documented but not in vegetarians!

I found only one study specifically targeting vegetarians but it was done on a much smaller sample and, looking at the low levels of B12 found in general population, not indicative of anything in particular.

B12 is produced by bacteria living mostly in soil, no animals produce it on their own, they get it when they eat dirty grass and that’s how it eventually transfers to meat eaters.

One “scientist” proposed that B12 deficiency in third world countries like India is not a problem because people there don’t wash their hands and don’t wash their vegetables. People living in the hygienic West, however, have to take it as a supplement.

Interestingly, one pro-vegan scientist discovered that B12 producing bacteria can be found in human mouths. Now I’m waiting for someone to counteract that Indians don’t suffer from B12 deficiency because they don’t brush their teeth.

This is simply ridiculous.

What is being missed, however, is that meat consumption is not correlated to levels of B12 at all, if it’s correlated to anything it’s to drinking lots of milk. Among the general population instances of B12 deficiency are cut in half for those who consume a lot of milk and dairy products, those in the top third of milk drinkers.

This should settle all arguments about us, Hare Krishnas, being in danger of B12 deficiency.

As for supplements – they are the most effective way to get your B12 but it is not a guarantee – generally the deficiency is not caused by the lack of B12 in one’s diet, it’s caused by the body refusing to properly process it.

Normally B12 is deposited in the liver and then the liver regulates its release into the bloodstream and normally the liver has enough B12 to last for up to twenty years. I’m absolutely positive that no scientist ever interviewed vegetarians (actually vegans – those who don’t take milk) and found that many of them have no tactile feelings in their fingers. This stuff on TV is nonsense.

There’s another angle to B12 story – it is known that it’s produced by bacteria in our bowels but it’s believed that this B12 is not reaching the liver. I think we shouldn’t discount the possibility that our bodies can adjust themselves to absorb this wasteful B12 when faced with a clear deficiency. I don’t think this should be considered an impossibility – starvation, for example, can lead to all kinds of abnormal changes in our bodies management of scarce resources. I’m not a doctor but this question is bound to make our opponents to pause and think, I don’t think even qualified doctors can rule out that possibility on the spot.

The first deficiency in these debates, however, is personal integrity and adherence to the facts. At school I was taught that scientific inquery is objective and honest and people of my generation still operate under such premises but in the modern world facts don’t matter anymore, what matters is perceptions and the force with which participants are able to state their opinions.

The strength of reason and logic has been replaced by the strength of personal conviction, and, increasingly, by the number of converted followers. Simply speaking – truth can be outvoted.

So, before one wishes to engage in an argument over merits of vegetarianism or any other subject one should first estimate the possibility of the other side accepting facts and altering their position. Quite often this possibility is so low that we can’t really expect a positive outcome.

We can jump on the bandwagon and use the opportunity to canvass more people for our side rather than try to defeat falsehoods propagated by our opponents.

Actually, this is how preaching works, too. We can’t establish Krishna’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead on the strength of facts, logic, and reason. We cannot defeat demoniac persons denying His divinity by arguments alone, we can win only if people listening to us make a leap of faith, their illusion is not going to dissipate by any other means. Maya Devi can lift her veil only if they put faith in Krishna, without faith she will continue to supply the demons with self-convincing arguments for the rest of their lives.

I think this is a very profound realization, if one truly acquires it, for it allows one to see beyond the external obstacles and see right into the hearts of those we try to preach to. If we can’t reach their hearts we fail in our mission no matter how learned and logical we appear to ourselves and everyone else.

We can learn a lot of things that could be helpful in our mission but if we don’t learn how to reach people’s hearts then all this education is a waste of time.

Speaking straight to the hearts of people with a humble and sincere desire to reconnect them to Krishna is our only deficiency, not B12.

Vanity thought #437. Big disappearance day

Today is the day of passing of three prominent Gaudiya acharyas – two of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, Raghunatha Bhatta and Raghunatha Dasa, and also Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami.

It’s interesting that we know they day they left this world but we don’t know the years. Just like any other day (save for Ekadashi) there’s no discernible magic about it – if we were told that actual disappearance day is tomorrow it wouldn’t make any difference.

Actually, nowadays presence or absence of vaishnavas in this world is all skewed up, thanks to the Internet. We can see videos of devotees, listen to them speaking, or read their books. If it wasn’t for style you wouldn’t know whether the author of any inspiring book is still present in this world or not – Srila Prabhupada is present in his books, Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja is present in his Chaitanya Charitamrita.

Similarly, one could listen or read lectures and books by Tamal Krishna Goswami or Gour-Govinda Maharaj or Bhakti-Tirtha Goswami and have no idea that they all have left this world already. Has Aindra Prabhu left this world? Not if you listen to his kirtans. Same could be said about Gopiparanadhana Prabhu or any of the present day devotees. I often listen to lectures by devotees that I have never ever met in my life and I would need to check their bio to know if they are still with us.

As I said, in many cases it doesn’t make any difference anymore. It was not so in the Six Goswamis times when the world had very little “vani” but lots of glorious opportunities of “vapu” association. Losing vapu, therefore, was devastating – there was no internet to replay all the best moments, no youtube, and books were very few far and between, all copied manually.

When Srila Sanatana Goswami left this world Sri Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was devastated, when, only a month later, Srila Rupa Goswami followed his brother, life force left Raghunatha Dasa Goswami’s body, too. He became so frail and emaciated that his body had to be protected from strong winds. He didn’t stop his sadhana, though, and continued chanting, lecturing and offering pranams for many more years.

He didn’t do or wasn’t interested in anything else. Usually even old people have some ambitions in their lives, then, at some point, they feel that it’s their time to go, there’s nothing left for them here anymore. That was the situation of Sri Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, too, expect he had his service – daily chanting and daily offering dandavats. There was absolutely no self-interest in his existence, no self-preservation instinct, nothing, just engaging his body in the service of the vaishnavas and the Lord.

Stories about disappearance of Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami are similarly based on his reaction to loss of something he hold most dear – the teachings of Six Goswamis. Some say that he killed himself by plunging into a well when he heard that Jiva Goswami rejected his Chaitanya Charitamrita but learned acharyas say there’s no substance to this story whatsoever.

More plausible is Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s reaction to the loss of the manuscripts sent to Bengal with Srinivasa Acharya and others. When the chest with all the writings of the Goswamis was stolen on the final leg of the journey Srinivasa Acharya sent a letter with this news to Vrindavana. It was about half a year before the books were recovered, which is a fascinating story on its own. Anyway, when Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami heard that ALL the works of the Six Goswamis were lost he jumped in Radha Kunda and drowned himself. Alternatively, he survived but not for very long.

Lastly, in those days devotees lived under the constant threat of temples being desecrated by Muslim rulers so all these three acharyas, including Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami who left this world a few years earlier, were not placed in traditional samadhi but were cremated on the shores of Radha Kunda and part of their ashes deposited in the samadhis there while the rest taken and put in samadhi in Vrindavana temples.

Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami’s ashes couldn’t go anywhere but to his beloved Radha-Govinda temple, the most beautiful of all the temples in Vrindavana, and Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami’s ashes were placed at the Radha-Damodara temple where our Srila Prabhupada resided for many years before coming to the West to save us.

Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, unfortunately, didn’t leave us any books and in this day and age we offer respect and devotion in proportion to how much we personally get from this or that acharya. If we enjoy reading lots of books we offer lots of respect and vice versa.

The more stories from vaishnavas lives we hear, the more we appreciate them. Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami didn’t perform any miraculous feats, he just recited Bhagavatam day and night, not very impressive by modern day standards, thus his memory is the fuzziest one among all the Goswamis.

I hope this deficiency on our part will not prevent us from offering all respect we can every time his name comes to our minds, not only today.

Also, we don’t have to wait another year to relish the pastimes and devotion of these acharyas, we can appreciate their contribution every day, for example tomorrow.

Vanity thought #436. Tribute to calendar

Tomorrow is a big “disappearance day” but if I want to talk about calendar events I should say a few words about past week holidays first.

Last Sunday we had Durga Puja, yesterday was Ramachandra Vijayotsava, and today is Ekadashi.

Durga Puja has become big for ISKCON congregation, I understand. In the early days devotees paid no attention to demigods but things are changing. I don’t want to discuss reasons for this, I think as long as we keep proper consciousness we should be alright.

One reason why we have Durga puja in a vaishnava calendar is the story of the gopis worshiping her as goddess Katyayani. The idea is that we can ask her to help us to attain Krishna, so Durga puja is okay. Well, gopis prayed to her because they had no idea Krishna was the original Supreme Personality of Godhead. On the other hand, even if they knew Krishna was God Himself they would still probably ask Katyayani for help – pure devotees have no pride whatsoever, they would beg anyone for Krishna’s mercy, they see everyone as His devotee already.

Our own progress is also dependent on Durga’s cooperation, she is the one who can distract us forever if she wants to and we generally don’t have enough power to resist her charms, so we better play nice.

On the other hand we should simply surrender to Lord Chaitanya, if we do this there’s no way Durga would take any offense and there’s no way she would dare put obstacles on our path.

This is a very important point – if we surrender our body, mind and soul to Lord Chaitanya we should not concern ourselves with being nice to everybody else, including demigods. Sounds harsh but that is the price we need to pay if we want to join Mahaprabhu’s party.

He is not giving us a joy ride within this world, He is taking us out, meaning that we should give up all our attachments to everything we hold dear and valuable here, we can’t bring these attachments to Mahaprabhu’s kirtans in Sri Dhama Navadvipa. If we still want to be nice to demigods and forefathers then we are not ready yet and we might miss our train.

Ramachandra Vijayotsava is a different affair, though. Lord Ramachandra, unlike Durga, is a vishnu-tattva and so there’s no difference between Him and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, there are only different moods of service. Actually, we could learn quite a bit from devotees of Lord Ramachandra, in particularly Hanuman.

Yesterday was the day when Hanuman burned Lanka and informed Lord Ramachandra that he had found Sita. Some people say that Hanuman didn’t display trinad api sunichena attitude by being so vindictive and destructive – he burned the whole city, what kind of devotee is that?

This is total nonsense – Hanuman displayed true humility – completely unselfish desire to server His master in any necessary way. If Lanka had to be burned – he burned it. He wasn’t doing it to show how powerful he was, he rather showed Ravana that by the mercy of Lord Rama even one single devotee can destroy his entire city.

The act of burning Lanka wasn’t a celebration of Hanuman’s power, it was celebration of power of Lord Ramachandra. Anyone thinking that Hanuman was enjoying himself there has a demoniac mentality and shouldn’t be making such comments in public.

So, Hanuman was a personification of trinad api sunichata principle which is not an outward displaying of humility by being nice to everybody but internal surrender that leads to performing any kind of action on behalf of the Lord, even the one that brings condemnation from the general public.

Being truly humble is not submitting to false egos of materialistic persons, it’s seeing those persons as parts and parcels of the Lord. We should feel ourselves lower than the grass because we see Krishna in the heart of everybody else, not because everybody else has any claim to greatness.

Consequently, worldly people can’t appreciate devotee’s true humility because they don’t see it in connection to the Lord, they expect devotees to subjugate themselves to their own material ambitions. If they fail to impress anybody else they might want to go see a devotee to massage their egos, thinking that a devotee must lower himself before them because that is what prescribed in the scriptures.

Oh, how wrong they are! What a despicable, devilish mentality. They think that if a devotee is a servant of every living being they can get some of that service for themselves. What they forget is that in reality they want to enjoy service meant for the Lord, it’s like stealing from the Deity’s donation box.

We should never indulge them, we should never let anyone to take anything that is meant for the Lord, we should protect His interests at any price. We should remember that in this world there’s no connection between us and any other living entity but through mutual service to Krishna. If someone intends to exclude Krishna from the equation we should immediately cut the connection to that person, too.

Preaching means reconnecting people with Krishna, nothing else. Not making a good impression, not being nice to people, not being friendly, not attracting people with our good qualities – only connecting them to Krishna. If they don’t like it we must leave them alone, we can indulge them in above mentioned sweeteners only if it serves fanning a spark of their relation to Krishna. If they want to use us for something else it would be abuse of Krishna’s mercy. We are Krishna’s tools and no one has the right to engage us in anything else. We must say no to abusers.

This is not pride, this is real humility.

And we can learn it from Hanuman.

Vanity thought #435. The tale of two Buddhas

A few months ago I bought a book “Advancements of Ancient India‚Äôs Vedic Culture” by Stephen Knapp and was puzzled by placing the birth of Lord Buddha 1,500 years earlier than accepted by the rest of the world.

A couple of days ago, Stephen Knapp, or Sri Nandanandana Prabhu, came up with the idea that actually there were two Buddhas. Actually, it wasn’t his idea but he presented the proof of it for everyone to examine.

I don’t know if this proof will impress anyone outside ISKCON and whether it can withstand any scrutiny by outside scholars. As is mentioned in the comments there, the idea of two separate Buddhas was supported by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Himself using the same arguments and citing the same scriptures.

The details are a bit hard to follow and even harder to check, but, in general – the original, Avatara Buddha, has appeared much much earlier than historical Gautama Buddha. It was Shankaracharya who mistakenly blended two different Buddhas into one personality and we’ve been following this mistake ever since.

Unlike Gautama Buddha, the original, Lord Buddha, hasn’t left any historical evidence of His existence, only a few verses in Srimad Bhagavatam and other puranas. There are some Buddhist scriptures that lend to this explanation, too, but we better wait for Buddhist opinion on their interpretation first.

For us there’s this quote from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in regard to historical, Gautama Buddha:

Sakyasimha Buddha was merely a vastly learned person, so we cannot call him the original Buddha or Lord Buddha.

It needs to be reconciled with numerous mentions of Lord Buddha in books, letters, lectures and conversations by Srila Prabhupada who never talked about there being two different Buddhas. Srila Prabhupada clearly said that Gautama Buddha was a saktyavesa avatara – see here. I don’t know if “vastly learned person” would qualify. I don’t know how to deal with this discrepancy.

Up until now we had clear instructions by Srila Prabhupada on how we should treat Lord Buddha and how we should preach to others about him. If the original Lord Buddha only preached non-violence then historical Buddha, with his shunyavada philosophy, should get no more respect than Shankaracharya, perhaps even less, as Shankaracharya was actually Shiva acting on orders of Vishnu while Gautama Buddha appears to be unconnected to the Lord in any way.

On one hand we can now lay into Buddhism with all our might, since their philosophy had just been stripped of its divine origin. On the other hand we lose ahimsa argument as it is central only to Buddha the Avatar of Vishnu but not to Gautama Buddha for whom it was a by-product of his teachings.

Vast majority of Buddhists are not vegetarian at all and they don’t think that vegetarianism is prescribed by their scriptures. We used to have Srimad Bhagavatam to point out that preaching ahimsa was his main message, but that appears to be related to a different person now.

I wouldn’t hurry to accept this new paradigm, though. I don’t want to contradict teachings of Srila Prabhupada without giving it proper consideration. Eventually, however, we might accept the possibility that Srila Prabhupada was simply unaware of his spiritual master’s position on Lord Buddha vs Buddha the Learned Man.

This is the most plausible explanation, the alternatives seem far sketchier – that Prabhupada intentionally contradicted his guru or that Prabhupada had better knowledge than Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. We could also attempt to see the possibility that Srila Prabhupada simply hidden the knowledge of the Lord Buddha from us and so there are no contradictions there, but, as I said, it all appears to be sketchy.

Revelation of the existence of two Buddhas is still new and fresh, we should wait until it settles down and all the rough edges are smoothed over.

Vanity thought #434. Siksashtaka #7

It’s been over a year since my last post on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakurs’s commentary on Siksashtaka, Sri Sanmodana Bhashyam. After such a long break there’s no point in trying to “follow” myself as I hardly remember my frame of mind in those days, yet it would be nice to finally finish reflections of Siksashtaka so here it goes.

The reason I stopped then is simple – I was waiting for some realizations pertaining to that verse and, unsurprisingly, I haven’t got any. Not to this day, not in any foreseeable future. The seventh verse deals with the subject matter way above my pay grade in this life and probably a few of the next ones, too.

Unlike previous Siksashataka verses there’s absolutely nothing to personally relate to here. Verse two, “durdaivam”, is a simple statement of fact. Verse three, “trinad api sunichena” should always be in our minds, the mood of the verse four, “na dhanam na janam na sundarim kavitam” should also occasionally appear in our prayers, as is the mood of the verse five, about being saved from the ocean of material existence. Verse six, “nayanam galad ashru dharaya…” is trickier as it deals with transcendental symptoms that can’t be imitated but its root lies in the word “kada” – when, seen that way it becomes much easier to relate to this verse: “When will I finally experience any kind of emotion towards chanting of the Holy Name?”

Verse seven offers nothing. We have no idea what experience of separation from Govinda feels like, we will never have any idea what it might feel like until we actually meet Him face to face. We can’t speculate about separation from someone we have never met.

Looking at Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s comment in Sanmodadana Bhashyam we can’t relate to anything he says there about various mixtures and progressions of rasa either.

There’s a possible way we can relate to separation from the Lord but I think it’s totally inappropriate here. I’m talking about feelings of losing our devotional mood and mistaking them for separation from Krishna Himself. It’s true, we often feel ourselves separated from the Lord if we honestly look at our situation here, but this separation is due to our failures, due to our own desire to enjoy separately from Him in this material world.

Our separation is caused by Lord’s external energy, maya, who we take shelter of due to our lack of devotion, it has nothing to do with the Lord disappearing from our vision, “govinda virahena me”, as described in the seventh verse.

Our feeling of separation is related to the second verse, no taste to chanting of the Holy Name, and in this condition the idea that the Lord would abandon us is unthinkable. In materially conditioned state of consciousness the Lord’s ever-present mercy is our only hope, the only constant in our lives. Everything else comes and goes, including our own rare desire to become Lord’s servants, everything here is impermanent but we can’t imagine that Krishna would one day disappear, too. We rely on His promises in Bhagavad Gita that His devotee would never perish and that the Lord would personally take care of all our sins and needs, we are too immature to think of Siksashtaka here.

On that subject – Jesus’ reported “Why have you forsaken me” question also can’t be considered on the level necessary to appreciate the seventh verse of Siksashtaka as it seems to arise in his mind only at the ninth hour of crucifixion.

This is an important point to keep in mind – our feelings of separation depend on the circumstances provided by the material nature, on our perceptions of ourselves as material bodies put in certain conditions. Lord Chaitanya’s feelings of separation from Govinda were completely transcendental to the happenings of this world.

We might cry to the Lord and experience separation from him when we are cold or sick or hungry or when we suffer in any kind of way. Pure devotee’s separation from Govinda might afflict him when externally he is very very comfortable, well fed and and rested, or when he appears to be eating or sitting or sleeping.

We don’t see such things during our lives because meeting such devotees is extremely rare. Practically, I think it’s better to miss such feelings in those on that level of devotion than to ascribe these feelings to those who are not qualified at all. Simple innocent ignorance is better than developing sahajiya tendencies as ignorance can be easily dispelled by the Lord but sahajiya attitudes will pollute our hearts forever.

Personally, when I chant Siksashtaka I just repeat this seventh verse as it is, simply because it’s there, without trying to imagine how I could relate to it. It means nothing to me and I think it’s better to keep it that way until it actually does.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and wait for “param vijayate sri Krishna sankirtantam” first. Separation would come after that victory.

Vanity thought #433. The end is nowhere near

I was hoping to put the issue of disturbing divergences from Srila Prabhupada to rest but somehow I landed on a website that I never read and will not recommend to anybody, and I discovered they’ve been on this case for years already.

Most of their earlier criticism is not fit for an aspiring devotee’s ears but the latest entries, in the past couple of months, have been very factual and well supported. Of course their innate prejudice to all things ISKCON is still shining through but, increasingly, they speak in the language of quotes and links and not judgments and opinions.

Leaving personalities aside, the main group of neo-mayavadis penetrating our ranks are followers of Neem Karoli Baba. I’m sure no one in India has ever heard about him and he passed away very long time ago – in 1973, but his legacy still lives on.

Neem Karoli Baba was an exemplary post-Ramakrishna mayavadi, he never read and scriptures, he never propagated any philosophy, he never talked about his connection to any parampara, he never accepted sannyasa or any rules and regulations and he lived his life as he pleased. No serious follower of Shankaracharya would give him any credit and neither should any serious follower of Gaudiya vaishnavism.

The fact that he talked a lot about devotion means nothing – that’s what all mayavadis do nowadays. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was pretty clear on this in his Jaiva Dharma:

Vijaya: Can Mayavadis also be called vaisnava-abhasa if they accept the symbols of a Vaisnava and chant sri-nama?

Babaji: No, they cannot even be called vaisnava-abhasa. They are simply offenders, so they are called vaisnava-aparadhi. In one sense, they might be called vaisnava-abhasa, because they have taken shelter of pratibimba-namabhasa and pratibimba-bhava-abhasa, but they are such great offenders that they are to be separated even from the name Vaisnava.

There’s also a story about Neem Karoli Baba sexual encounters with his female disciple that went on for two years. After his death his disciples organized a tantric sex club back in the US with hundreds of people attending their “functions” that were graphically described in their own books.

We should not judge them for what they did so many years ago but I think this needs to mentioned to dispel any notions that Neem Karoli Baba was a genuine guru teaching genuine devotional service.

Krishna Das, the famous kirtaniya getting traction in ISKCON circles, still does not believe in God and thinks that Holy Names are the names of his own true self, his own inner heart. That’s the apogee of impersonalism, can’t get any more offensive towards the Lord than that.

Once he said he was dismayed that “Hare Krishna” mantra was associated with ISKCON devotees, he probably doesn’t say such things now but he still says that he chants for his own pleasure, definitely not for Krishna’s enjoyment.

He’s been singing “kirtans” for decades now and there doesn’t seem to be any progress and, by all available evidence, he is not going to give up his impersonalist attitudes and become a devotee any time soon – preaching to him is useless.

Rather one should remember this verse from Padma Purana:

avaisnavo mukhod girnam putam hari-kathamitam
sravanam naiva kartavyam sapocchrista yatha payah

“If the nectarlike narration of the Supreme Lord is heard from the mouth of a nondevotee, the listener’s spiritual death becomes as sure as a person who dies after drinking milk contaminated by a poisonous snake.”

I don’t think this is an empty warning – if we listen to glorifications of Krishna by such people like Krishna Das or Jai Uttal our spiritual death is guaranteed.

Their spiritual mentor who introduced them to Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass, runs a number of charitable institutions and programs. Every time ISKCON devotees take part in them they are earning money for Ram Dass’ purposes. Mind boggles why our ISKCON gurus should help raise funds for cleaning the Gulf of Mexico, for example?

Ram Dass is not all about charity, however. There’s one curious anecdote where he was caught by a passersby while standing in line for a homosexual porn movie. The way Ram Dass tells it the joke was on a hippie who recognized him and no second thought is given to the first American “guru” watching porn.

The point is – we can’t seriously accept any of these guys as devotees of the Lord, they are offenders. One could say that we all are offenders of the Holy Name in one way or another but the difference between devotees and mayavadi “bhaktas” is that devotees sincerely repent and try to avoid committing any offenses whereas mayavadi commit themselves to committing more and more offenses every day and seek to derive pleasure from it.

I have a feeling that the killer argument against associating with mayavadis is still escaping me, I vaguely remember the spirit of the quote but don’t remember any actual words. If it comes to me I will sure continue in the same vein.