Vanity thought #503. New year’s message

Well, since everybody wishes everyone New Year’s blessings, I don’t think we can’t use this practice in our service to devotees, too.

There’s one caveat, though – we shouldn’t assume that we are qualified to offer blessings in the first place. I guess we can wish other devotees smooth progress on their way back home, back to Krishna, but what is the strength of my wishes? My personal seva is absolutely minimal and, considering my mindset, is practically non-existent.

In fact, even seeking blessings should be done with caution. We can ask for this and for that but the truth is we hardly appreciate what is already given, how can we ask for more blessings we will not be able to digests? Our appetites can be enormous, our actual positions are usually much more humble.

Nevertheless, if I have a shred of independence and if Krishna is willing to back up my desires to any degree, what is the better way to use it than to pray for His mercy towards His genuine devotees who give Him genuine pleasure?

They are the ones who provide us with knowledge and inspiration and they are the ones who carry the mission of Lord Chaitanya on their shoulders, their progress and strength is our only chance of getting saved by their mercy.

If we look into our hearts we will see that they are too polluted to be engaged in Krishna’s service, therefore we should try and help those who are pure and pleasing to Him.

That is our damnation in this world – we are absolutely worthless, our only value comes from service to Krishna’s devotees so I hope we all will make some progress towards that goal in the coming year.

On a personal note – I do have a wish – that at the stroke of midnight Krishna, Lord Chaitanya – whoever – appeared in my dream. More likely, though, it will be my guru kicking me and screaming in my ear: “Why you are not distributing books, you lazy, ungrateful bastard!”

Why indeed? I can never give a satisfactory answer to this question.

Maybe next year…

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Vanity thought #502. Wrong lessons from the horrific rape tragedy

The story that grabbed India’s attention is over, the victim of a gang rape on a public bus has succumbed to her injuries and left this world. Her case provoked waves of public outrage and everybody has something to say about it.

I can’t pretend to know what all Indians think about it but several points that reached international press show that the lessons people are learning from this tragedy are all wrong. I hope organizations like BBC misrepresent what people actually think otherwise India has no hope left, too.

First and foremost lesson that I hear is that Indian women should have the right to wear skimpy outfits in the middle of the night and strut their stuff as much as they want. It seems that this is exactly what women of India want nowadays and this tragedy has finally supplied them with valid excuses.

They can’t be more wrong about it, we don’t even need to trace the faulty logic of their reasoning, if it arrives to an outcome like this it’s just a waste of time, rubbish from the beginning to the end.

Actually, it’s very simple, in the varnashrama system the goal is to help everyone constantly remember about Krishna and minimize sensual distractions. Apparently this is not what people of India want nowadays and therefore it’s wrong and it will only bring trouble. Even Arjuna, whose reasoning was rejected by Krishna, knew that women should be protected or the society is doomed. If modern Indians don’t get that then, perhaps, we should rethink our preaching there. Normally we assume that they accept the authority of Bhagavad Gita but maybe this is not the case anymore.

Speaking of women protection, another thing that I read in the papers is the outrage that women now have to worry about their safety and safety of their daughters. This sounds like a genuine concern but it’s also complete rubbish, once you get past the emotional charge that they throw at you.

Traditionally safety of women should be main concern of fathers and husbands but I think that any sensible woman would also double check the arrangements anyway. What these women want, however, is having no concerns about safety whatsoever.

Well, this might come as a shocking news to them but this ain’t Vaikuntha – their demands don’t match their status and abilities. This world will never be safe, only if they fully surrender to Krishna, no one else can fully protect them.

Or maybe they want to outsource their protection to the state, thus officially becoming “public women”. Hmm, first the state will provide security, then jobs, then food and income, it’s only a matter of time before they demand that the state provides husbands as well. I think this has happened in Soviet Russia after their revolution – women were under complete protection of the state and were assigned mating partners they coudln’t refuse. Or maybe it wasn’t so bad, I haven’t checked the source of that story.

Anyway, once they start dreaming big they won’t stop, and this is the road to nowhere. Krishna is completely excluded form the equation and becomes just a quaint cultural relic, the stuff of lullabies and bed time stories.

Once again, it might be the international news media that misrepresents what is happening in India in reaction to this case but this is what I heard so far – not a single useful lesson that would make the society appreciate Krishna more, rather the opposite.

PS. I intentionally avoided discussing any particular arguments presented in public sphere as it would be time consuming and confusing. Just step back and look at the big picture, zoom out of the details.

Vanity thought #501. The necessity of being selfish

Today I heard one devotee say that, and it wasn’t off the cuff joke about ways of the world, he quite sincerely observed that unless you are a paramahamsa you must act selfishly simply to survive.

The implication was that it’s not a personal choice, everybody acts like that, it’s the society’s pull that one can’t resist if he to maintain his job and his family.

Someone proposed that while the society’s pressure is real, if we want to see change someone has to act first. Then someone else would follow and someone else would follow him and so on.

Regarding this second, snowball proposal, I have major reservations. In theory this is how it should work, true. We can start one or two exemplary communities to show that alternative ways of life and organizing society can work. Then this community could be duplicated elsewhere, then more more people would join in and pretty soon we’ll have a franchise on our hands.

Practically, however, situation is quite often very different. Quite often we have a struggle for limited resources, be it positions in the company, or a number of potential customers we must feed on with our competitors. It’s the market economy, previously known as the law of the jungle, or survival of the fittest. In situations like this there will always be winners and there will always be losers.

If someone simply gives up and folds it won’t start the snowball rolling, the winners will simply be relieved they get bigger share with less effort.

If there has got to be ten percent losers then there will be ten percent losers, no snowballs. Being unselfish in situations like this is like withdrawing from the auction to preserve funds and wait for the next opportunity because one day you will have to kill to eat, even if it’s killing carrots.

Unfortunately, this is how material world operates, there are no two ways about it – eat or be eaten.

What I think is wrong with this conclusion is that only paramahamsas can survive it. That’s not true. Being selfless doesn’t mean not fighting for your share, as Arjuna was instructed in Bhagavad Gita. Kshatriyas must fight, that’s their dharma, it’s not selfishness.

Actually, brahmanas are supposed to be selfless, too, but not necessarily paramahamsas. Living off voluntarily donations while providing essential service to the community doesn’t require one to be a paramahamsa, it used to be a normal way of life for brahmanas for millions and millions of years.

Even in Kali Yuga there is a great number of non-profit organizations that subsist entirely on left-overs from donations for the causes they champion. If they do their fund raising among affluent segment of society they can afford to maintain their staff and provide for their families quite nicely.

These are only half solutions, though, patch work to get us through this life. If we think we can find a way to live in this world and not succumb to selfishness we are mistaken. One must become paramahamsa, there’s no other way. Even if at the moment we are forced to act selfishly and follow society’s rules we must not lament it but rather patiently wait for the day we become paramahamsas and leave all these concerns behind.

We can’t maintain our attachments to our families and pleasures in life forever, sooner or later the material nature will drag us down and drown us the deep well of material existence. We should look beyond our everyday worries and interests.

Even when paramahamsas like Srila Prabhupada engage in the wheelings and dealings of this world they do so only for the sake of the preaching mission, not to make our lives here comfortable. A paramahamsa descends on the visibly material platform to make us into paramahamsas, too, not to put is into an illusion that life here can bring happiness.

So, the smart-ass comeback for that question should have been “So you should become paramahamsa. Seriously, nothing else would solve your problems, just chant and pray and in due course of time your worries and your mis-identifications will go away.” It’s too late for that, maybe next time if I have a chance I’ll bring this subject up with him again.

Vanity thought #500. Resolutions

As there are only a couple of days left before New Year people are putting the last touches on their New Year resolutions. Should we jump on the bandwagon, too?

I’m in two minds about this. On one hand what could possibly be wrong about making a promise to read more books, visit the temple more often or whatever it is we can do to improve our service? On the other hand I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of resolutions itself, never mind tying it to a New Year’s day.

First of all, what makes a resolution? We want to do something better, that’s fine, why do we need to make a resolution about it? It might add some weight to our desire, officially sealing it as a pact with ourselves, making it a part of who we are. After we made a resolution and we are going strong we can look in the mirror and say – this is the man who promised not to eat chocolate and he is keeping it. Look at his strong will!

There you have it – a subconscious desire to appear strong and more devoted. If no one else notices it at least we can stroke our ego ourselves. And it’s all on bodily platform, as if we need any stronger connections to our bodies.

Another feature of resolutions is that there’s no punishment attached. At most we will suffer some disappointment of not living up to our own standards and that’s it. Gambling and drug addiction can really make one lose faith in himself but for devotees it’s probably the forth that would make them question their image of themselves as vaishnavas. Many do not take it too seriously these days.

On the other hand this fear of breaking a vrata can do wonders for one’s service. We are in the material world, we understand carrots and sticks better than anything else, if it takes fear to keep up with our sadhana than so be it, what’s the harm?

After all, a resolution is nothing else but a vrata, and taking a vrata is a genuine devotional activity. Not as heavily promoted as shravanam and kirtanam but it’s there, I’m too lazy to look up a book.

The only problem I have with vratas is that they are not ours to keep. Man proposes, God disposes. It’s by Lord’s mercy that we can stay out of trouble or have enough mental power to go to bed early and wake up before mangala arati every morning. If we don’t get Lord’s mercy for one reason or another, nothing can peel us off our beds in this “ungodly” hour when sleep is the sweetest. I know I shouldn’t be joking about his but it’s true, for people in modes of passion and ignorance brahma muhurta is a time to sleep, nothing else.

So, we can make up all kinds of promises to ourselves but the ability to keep them is out of our control. We can’t maintain the vrata artificially, not for a long time anyway.

Actually, the success depends on the strength of our desire, if we are really sincere and strong, Krishna will surely help. This means it’s not so much about making promises and announcing resolutions, it’s about how much we want to achieve what we set to achieve, and it’s about the purity of our desire.

That’s why I’m not rushing into New Year resolutions thing – I don’t see anything I want strongly enough to qualify for a resolution, any half-thought I idea won’t do.

Basically, we’ll know the resolution when it comes to us, we can’t do it artificially because of some arbitrary date.

I’m sorry I am not prepared for this New Year but it’s okay, I still have a couple of days left, maybe it will come to me. If not I won’t worry about it too much either.

Making a resolution is like taking a next step on the ladder of devotional service. We can’t rush these things, just chant and pray that the Lord engages us and provides that next rung to put our foot on.

Vanity thought #499. Sulking

It’s a natural reaction when we don’t get what we want or what we expect. Children might throw a tantrum but as we grow older we start “hating” things inside, which leads to sulking and, interestingly, to renunciation.

When it happens in our external life we learn not to pay much attention to it, there’s no point in discussing how people deal with their materialistic problems.

What to do if we experience this reaction in devotional service, though? It’s a natural reaction, as I said. We experience happiness in our service, we like certain things and dislike others, we get upset, we get bored or tired, do we have place in our lives to sulk, too?

One could say that we should just ignore it as we wouldn’t worry much about other karmic reactions – feeling hot or cold, getting sick or losing something. We know we should not let those things disturb us, we put on warm socks, take pills and just patiently wait for them to go away. What about sulking, though?

We are told that Krishna reaches to us through our guru and His devotees so we treat our relationships with these persons on a very different level. In many cases they are much more personal to us than even our families. We learn to deal with nagging wives but we don’t expect similar treatment from our spiritual relations.

Unfortunately, as we all eventually find out, devotees get mistreated by their authorities and friends. We all had moments when we felt disrespected or neglected, and I bet many of us thought it was Krishna Himself who was giving us a cold shoulder.

Passed over when everyone gets some special maha prasadam, being pushed towards the end of abhisheka line or having someone cut in front of us in the queue – these and other little things can lead us to sulking. What should we do? It happens right in the temple room, under Lord’s nose, so to speak. Why are we being mistreated in such a way?

If we are a bit hot-headed we might try to renounce these things that we didn’t get, just like non-devotees do. “No maha for me? Fine, I don’t want it in the first place, they take if for their self-gratification anyway. Next time I won’t even bother asking for it.”

I bet many of us blamed Krishna Himself for what had happened to us, and we took it our on Him, too, it’s His maha anyway.

So, what would a real devotee do?

We can look at precedents, like when Lord Chaitanya complained about being “mistreated” by His devotees. He was afraid they would be sulking, specifically Jagadananda and Mukunda. He said they would sometimes not talk to Him and feel unhappy so He had to submit to their demands, mostly about eating right and staying warm. There’s a lot more of that kind of feelings in Vrindavana pastimes of Krishna and His gopis.

There definitely is a place for sulking in relationships between devotees and their Lord but we should remember that we are not gopis and so we should not imitate their anger and frustration, we are not even Lord Chaitanya’s direct associates. We can’t afford to be upset at the Lord, it’s above our paygrade.

Perhaps we better look at the precedent of Haridasa Thakura who was excluded from cleaning the Gundica mandir pastime and the following feast but he didn’t sulk, he had all the reasons to but he didn’t.

If some devotees didn’t like his company when they were eating he didn’t shun them forever, when there was no food involved and all the etiquette that goes with it, Haridas Thakur was right in the middle of it again, leading sankirtana parties and dancing for Lord’s pleasure.

We might say that he is way too exalted personality for us to follow but then we can look at examples in the material world, too. Usually mothers never sulk at their children. They never resent them, they never give up their association.

They are selflessly devoted, there’s nothing in this world that can make them turn away.

We can try to be like them. Being pushed over, overlooked or disrespected should not stop us even for a second from trying to get the mercy of the Lord. No matter how many times we are being passed when everyone gets prasadam we should always extend our hands the next time, in our relationship with the Lord there’s no place for pride or resentment.

In the material world we learn from our mistakes, we get burned once and we shun fire forever, but this is not permissible in relations with Krishna – He might burn our hands a million times but we should still stick it out next time someone distributes prasadam, or whatever it is that makes us sulk. We should never learn from “mistakes” like this, not with Krishna.

It would be even worse if we thought: “Okay, these people have no heart, I will avoid them and trust that Krishna will personally take care of me.” He won’t, He won’t like it even a little bit, His devotees are most dear to Him, His devotees is His mercy to us, we shun them we won’t make any spiritual progress whatsoever.

The fact is that they, the temple presidents, the GBC, whoever, they can spit and trample on us and break our hearts – they are still Krishna’s representatives. We turn our backs on them, we turn our back on Krishna, too.

Now, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t avoid them, sometimes respect must be shown from afar, but we should never ever allow ourselves to think ill of them.

So, basically, no sulking, not until we develop truly personal relationships where sulking would just add a flavor to the variety of devotional life.

No sulking until the possibility of us walking out on ISKCON completely disappears. Unfortunately, walking out seemed like a good idea to too many devotees in our history. They might still feel that way and that ruins their chances of spiritual progress. We shouldn’t follow their footsteps, just footsteps of Haridasa Thakura.

Vanity thought #498. Just another ordinary day

This has no connection to Christmas or post-holiday hangover, this is an ordinary day in its own right, I was just reminded of what it means.

It’s ordinary because I haven’t met Krishna. If I did it would have been the most amazing day of my life.

This means that when I think about Him it’s only a theoretical speculation, not a direct experience of His form and qualities.

This means I haven’t obtained His mercy, or mercy of a guru and Lord Chaitanya for that matter.

Not getting their mercy doesn’t sound like a big deal, it’s once in a lifetime experience anyway, but mercy is not the goal in itself, it’s just an indicator of whether the Lord id pleased with my service.

So “another ordinary day” means that I failed to bring a smile to Krishna’s face, my service was in vain, and it actually wasn’t a service anyway.

That’s how we should think of our days – were we able to bring any happiness to Krishna? If not, it was an objective failure. A failure should not be an “ordinary” occurrence, it should fill our hearts with shame and regret.

I bet in the beginning all of us were ready to surrender our lives and souls to Krishna but as time went by we slipped into the comfort of knowing that if we chant our rounds and follow principles we will return to Krishna at the end of our lives. Therefore we don’t feel particularly bad about spending most of our day on petty things like work and family.

We convinced ourselves that we are entitled to our own little pleasures and to having a “down” time as long as we pay our tributes in the form of minimum sadhana. I think this is a dangerous mistake and it might cost us dearly.

We will never attain devotional service if we keep sharing our interests with mundane matters. If we don’t attain devotional service then returning back to Krishna would be useless, even if it happens according to our plan. Our life would just get a bit more comfortable, that’s all.

Without attaining devotional service even that sweet afterlife would be filled with “ordinary days” just like this one. What is the point of living it?

Also devotional service does not allow for interruptions and coffee breaks. We can’t do some service in the morning and a little more in the evening, if we still approach our service in such a mindset then it’s not a service at all, just milking Krishna for our own pleasure.

If we do not give Krishna 100% of our lives we are basically prostituting ourselves, offering our “services” in exchange for benedictions and comforts.

So, it’s not just another ordinary day, it’s a day of missed opportunities and a day of self-gratification at Krishna’s expense.

I should be ashamed of myself for living like this, and my greatest misfortune is that I really am not.

Vanity thought #497. And so this is Christmas

Christmas is an interesting phenomenon. There’s no denying its transformative power, if you look beyond commercialism there’s no denying that it brings people closer together and makes them want to be better men. Christmas spirit is a real thing, the joy of giving and caring and all that, but is it really real and where does this spirit come from? This is where it gets complicated.

Is the secret of Christmas in its religious roots? Not likely, the exchange of presents and taking care of the less fortunate ones is a tradition of Santa Claus, and Santa Claus is believed to be based on Saint Nicolas, a compassionate fellow who lived somewhere in Turkey and slipped some money in children’s stockings left out for drying. He was a religious man but his gesture has nothing to do with religion – you don’t have to believe in God to feel empathy with other human beings. Soviets had their own version and their festivities were absolutely secular.

Most people partaking in Christmas spirit nowadays don’t believe in God either and don’t need Him to have their Christmas fun.

What about Christians? They celebrate the birthday of Christ, a genuine religious occasion, that must be the source of their inspiration. Okay, but Christ wasn’t born on Christmas, there are no clues to the actual date in the gospels and it’s too cold in Israel at this time of the year for shepherds to stay with their sheep in the pastures overnight, which was the reason the barn was available in the story.

So the date itself has no spiritual significance. This is different from our Ekadashis because those are cosmic events – fasting between two certain time points brings certain spiritual benefits. On the other hand I feel that our other festivals don’t have any connection with an actual calendar, too.

Maybe the connection is there, in Kali Yuga we shouldn’t trust our under-developed feelings in matters such as this, but the fact is that we can create a festival out of nothing any time we want, have a massive kirtan and distribute lots of prasadam, and everyone would feel that.

Is it what’s happening with Christmas, too? Lots of people getting together and creating atmosphere of a holiday?

If they have no particular spiritual reason, then how is it different from us? How is it different from our Janmashtami or Vyasa puja? Are those real holidays with their own spiritual powers, like Ekadashi, or are they just excuses for us to have a big party?

I mean what would happen if we move Janmashtami or Gaura Purnima by one or two days? Anyone would notice? I think not.

What I mean to say is that Gaura Purnima happens when we celebrate it, not when a certain number of days have passed since the last festival.

I’m not very comfortable with this conclusion, I hope there’s a better explanation but it’s eluding me.

PS The main difference is that our festivals, unlike modern Christmas, are meant for the pleasure of the Lord. That fully justifies them. What can justify a secular Christmas I don’t know.

Vanity thought #496. Change is in the air

I always wondered why there’s a chapter about autumn in Vrindavana in Srimad Bhagavatam and Krishna book. It does not add anything particular to the story line. There are great lessons and metaphors in that chapter but that alone doesn’t justify its inclusion for me. All the other metaphoric stories, like about king Puranjana or avadhuta brahmana fit in the story very nicely but description of autumn stands out like an interlude, unrelated to chapters before and after it.

The only reason I see is that it was a really special time, the time when change in the atmosphere was palpable and air was thick with excitement.

I’ve been noticing something similar in my surroundings for the past couple of days, too. It’s not autumn, of course, and with supermarkets carrying fresh produce all year round there’s nothing special about harvest time anymore, but sometimes things change. Imperceptible things – the air, the auras, the smells, the attitudes, and it’s happening around me now.

Maybe it’s the Christmas/New Year season. I managed to stay away from the commercial part of it and maybe that’s why all I see is people caring about their loved ones, taking deep pleasure in being with their families, in taking the stock of the past year, in looking forward to the future, confident that they would stay the right course and weather all the storms.

Time itself has slowed down, I look outside my body with curiosity, seeing old things in new light, listening to people getting happy or upset and not registering any of my own emotional involvement. There’s some new found sense of maturity and enlightenment.

Life feels pretty good and spiritually promising even if externally situation hasn’t changed. It’s a very nice feeling, unfortunately I have to let it go.

I don’t live in Vrindavana, I can’t afford to go all poetic on my surroundings, whatever promises they give me, it’s an illusion. It would be a mistake to identify myself with the changes happening to my mental and emotional state, that’s what illusion does – it entices me to think that it’s real, in the sense that it’s happening to me and not to the material nature.

I don’t know how long it’s going to last, in this world everything comes to an end and in no time passion and ignorance would again feel my heart with pain and restlessness.

When this promising breeze of change passes all that will be left is how much I listened to the Holy Names while it was going on. We can’t take changes with us, we can’t put our faith in our hopes and dreams, however real they appear.

It would be a mistake to assume that one combination of material modes of nature is more spiritual than the other. Maybe it’s more conducive to spiritual activities but that’s not the same thing, otherwise all the poets, singers and dancers would be great devotees. Feeling poetic and lyrical is just a feeling, and a dangerous one at that as it entices us to enjoy the artsy side of the world. Enjoyment is an enjoyment, it’s bad for us.

I suspect that eventually Krishna will arrange for all our deep seated desires to come through so that we get a chance to let go off them and focus solely on Him. We all have desires for wealth, fame and comfort and it’s easy to renounce those things when you don’t have them but that would not be a real renunciation.

I suspect that this sudden wave of beauty and appreciation for the world is one of those tests – am I going to tie my future to it or am I going to stick with Krishna of whom I still know nothing? This is the test of faith, after all, choosing Krishna when you can actually experience Him is a no-brainer.

All the beauty of this world, all the autumns and all the springs can’t compare with the sooting light of His toenails, or so I heard. It’s this faith that I pray for when I chant my japa – to be constantly aware of Krishna’s greatness when all I can see is the material world around me.

Always remember Him and never forget.

Vanity thought #495. Gita Jayanti

Wikipedia claims that Gita Jayanti falls on Ekadashi but our ISKCON calendars say they are two different days. I don’t know what to make of it. All the dates for this year’s Gita Jayanti are the same – today, Dec 23, Sunday. At the same time they also say it’s ekadashi, while in our calendar the ekadashi is tomorrow.

This is confusing, especially if you consider that following ekadashi is not a matter of preference, ekadashi is a cosmological phenomenon, we can’t afford to be wrong on this one, ekadashi doesn’t give any leeway in its obeservance the same way the Holy Name does – niyamitah smarane na kalah. Ekadashi is all about kalah, timing, nothing else.

To be honest I can’t make sense of a lunar calendar at all. The way people are brought up, with the solar calendar, makes a lot more sense for us – anniversary is something that happens every X number of days. Mondays come every seven days, birthdays every 365 days. Of course there are leap years but that one extra day every four years is negligible. Lunar calendar has a leap month by comparison. If the whole world used a lunar calendar it would have been easier but now we all have to translate lunar dates into solar – that’s what our vaishnava calendars actually do.

Hmm, that’s an interesting point – why do we need calendars? What do calendars actually do? Our solar calendars translate dates into days for us because Christmas is on a different day each year, or if someone says “finish this by the end of the month” you’d never know how many days you have left. Lunar calendars don’t have days, only dates, ekadashi, the eleventh day is an eleventh day, every year and every (half)month, there’s nothing to translate it to.

Anyway, timing was actually very important in the appearance of Sri Bhagavad Gita, it could only be told in those minutes before the greatest battle of all times, when everybody’s senses where extremely heightened and everybody’s life was going do change forever. It couldn’t have happened on any other day, and that’s why we have Anugita.

Anugita is a from another part of Mahabharata, from the time when the war was over and Krishna and Arjuna were enjoying themselves in that special part of a palace that specifically replicated heaven. We shouldn’t really try to imagine what pleasures were available to them at that time. Mahabharata, being a sacred text, upholds decorum, but if it was in our days Arjuna’s request would have started with “Yo Krishna, what was that crazy shit you told me just before we kicked some ass, I can’t remember a thing now. You went all transcendental on me and it looked like it was important to you. Anyways, what was all that about? Do you mind repeating that for me?”

Whatever the actual language, Krishna didn’t like Arjuna’s attitude at all. In the words of the translators: “It is excessively disagreeable to me, that you should not have grasped it through want of intelligence… Really, O son of P├óndu! you are devoid of faith and of a bad intellect.”

I won’t even try to translate it into modern language but I’m sure “you stupid fool” would feature in it somewhere, probably multiple times.

Krishna also said that it was impossible for Him to retell the Bhagavad Gita, and for this reason some question His divinity, ie. he came under a spell once but it wasn’t his actual, eternal position (note the small “h”).

This argument is, of course, unacceptable to us. The reason Krishna refused to repeat Bhagavad Gita lies in timing. On the field of Kurukshetra, moments before the battle, Arjuna had a very particular mindset – unsure, inquisitive, searching for truth, also disillusioned. In this state of mind he easily surrendered to Krishna and so Gita was spoken.

“Heaven” room in Indraprastha’s palace does not elicit surrender. It does not make one meek and humble and dissatisfied with material life, quite the opposite, so the Gita couldn’t be spoken there.

But but but – what about niyamitah smarane na kalah – there’s no consideration of time in glorification of the Lord? Why wasn’t it possible to talk about Supreme Absolute Truth when enjoying spoils of the war?

The answer is that we can recite Gita any time we want but we should do so in a proper state of mind (trinad api sunichena) and our state of mind depends on time and circumstances. That’s why we should practice sadhana-bhakti very seriously – it gives us maximum amount of proper, humble state of mind.

From this point of view it doesn’t really matter whether we understand what we are doing and what our level of realization is – what we really need is to keep us humble and inquisitive and always ready to surrender to our spiritual authorities. It doesn’t matter whether we are washing pots or distributing books or giving a lecture or dozing off during Bhagavatam class, what matters is that we always have rules and orders, someone and something to submit ourselves to, and there are always helping hands to tell us how inadequate we are in our awkward attempts at service.

If we don’t get that, if our lives are always smooth and all we get from people is praise and blessings, and we are put in the position of authority, being decision makers rather than dependents, we won’t get the benefits of practicing sadhana bhakti. We get a lot of other things, probably helpful for our progress, too, but we won’t get help in setting the proper state of mind for Bhagavad Gita to manifest itself in our hearts.

And that’s what Gita Jayanti really is – appearance of Bhagavad Gita in our hearts. That’s the only appearance that makes real, practical sense in our lives. If we don’t get that then all other festivities are just a giant waste of time.

PS After refusing to repeat Bhagavad Gita Krishna retold its main lessons through the story of some brahmana, that’s what Anugita actually is: Link.

Vanity thought #494. Replying to massacre questions

I’ve heard someone asked a question during Bhagavatam class – what should we tell people who can’t understand why God has allowed the murder of twenty elementary school children without sounding heartless? Not only the speaker proffered an answer but several members of the audience also chipped in.

This is not as encouraging as it sounds, it means that truly satisfactory answer is still elusive. I don’t think I can offer one either but there are many other things to consider before we should even attempt answering.

Let’s say someone approached us and asked: “How can you believe in God who allowed this to happen?” I don’t think we should even try to answer this person. How we believe in God is our business, we can’t share this secret if we suspect even a shred of animosity.

“How can I/people believe in God after this massacre? Please help me understand” is a more acceptable version. It shows that the person at least considers the possibility of God’s existence. Still, what we should see is that he has a completely wrong concept of God, material world and living entities within it. When this concept fails him he wants us to repair it instead of learning how the world actually works. I don’t think we can help here. The concept is broken, it’s unfixable, it was wrong from the start, just ditch it. If they are not prepared it would be a waste of time trying to answer.

Another aspect is that questions like this don’t sprung out on their own – people feel agitation in their minds and they want a spiritual equivalent of Xanax. They don’t care how God does what He does, they just want the pain to go away. Well, it’s a legitimate reason to seek spiritual answers but it’s not a spiritual one, we should not lose sight of that.

This is where we come to the question of compassion – we are supposed to show compassion in our answer, if we don’t show compassion than our answer is considered a failure. This is not fair – first we have define what compassion is. Soothing their mental agony is not compassion, it’s pouring oil into the fire of their material existence. Compassion is informing them about the existence of Krishna and about our eternal relationship with Him. If we do it right the agony would go away without any extraneous efforts. If we fail we’d be declared cruel and heartless and banned for life, so we should be very very careful here.

This is where we might consider the time, circumstances, our own abilities and whether we have the support of Lord Chaitanya or not. Sankirtana and preaching is the absolute, overarching principle but in the material world everything has a time and place.

If we approach a sleeping person and shout “Krishna!!!” in his ear we might do him some real long term spiritual benefit but short term we might get punched in the nose and never be allowed to talk in his presence again.

On the absolute level talking about Krishna to a person in coma is as beneficial as talking to a person sitting in a Bhagavatam class. The only difference is that a Bhagavatam listener actively engages his senses in processing the information, engages in service, but the person in coma cannot.

What we mean by “showing compassion” in this case is eliciting a positive reaction from the listener, having him perform at least shravanam, and maybe even kirtanam vishnoh. This depends on the circumstances. Sometimes it’s more difficult, like during the time of grief.

One of our ISKCON sannyasis once said that he doesn’t talk to people who hasn’t defecated yet. He reasons that people become much more agreeable and receptive after passing stool.

Perhaps it’s okay to pass on the challenge to pacify some agitated minds right in the wake of the massacre.

My point is that the question is quite loaded, we shouldn’t rush in without understanding all the implications. Once we figure it out we might attempt to say something.

It’s quite interesting to look at it from God’s point of view. The children of Sandy Hook didn’t actually die, all this crying about it based on ignorance. What has happened to them is that they served out a chunk of their karma and are well on the way to their next life. This is actually a good thing, they don’t have that debt overhand anymore.

I seriously doubt people would ever agree to look at the massacre from this angle but it doesn’t make it wrong.

They would object on the grounds of children’s innocence but from God’s point of view innocence doesn’t exist, each body in this world is the result of karma and it will create another set of karmic reactions during its time on Earth. No one comes here with a clean slate, as innocence would imply. What they mean is that they can’t believe this kids had such a combination of karmic reactions that their time here was so short.

Well, why? Thousands and thousands of children get legally killed even before they are born, people do not cry about them. Hundreds and thousands of children get killed in American initiated or sponsored conflicts all around the world. No one protests that it breaks their karmic laws. Why these children of Sandy Hook should be so special? Just because they are children of self-righteous parents?

How righteous are they exactly? Did they ever take shelter of Krishna to claim that He broke His promise to personally protect them? No, they didn’t, if they ever appealed to God it was to their own imaginary concept of universal order supplier. That’s not what surrender means, sorry.

One answer I heard today stood out – someone on the internet asked how God allowed this to happen in our schools and some clever cookie answered: “I’ve been banned from your schools, sorry, can’t help you there. God”

If all these answers do not sound palatable in the name of compassion than perhaps people shouldn’t be even asking. Eventually they will learn that this “compassion” leads them nowhere. Even dogs can get trained that way but we are dealing with the modern civilization here, they are too proud to accept sound advice, they prefer to continue in their own ways.

God bless them…