Vanity thought #534. Faceoff three – sankirtana vs. varnashrama

In our movement we have embraced the idea that we should implement varnashrama system so it’s not politically correct to pitch it against preaching, sankirtana, yet we can’t avoid some basic compatibility problems either. Without acknowledging the conflicts we won’t be able to move forward either of two missions successfully, they both have to be dovetailed first.

What is the problem anyway? Well, varnashrama is taken as a way to organize our lives in the material world as perfectly as possible, sankirtana is the way to abandon all that kind of hope and surrender exclusively to Krishna.

A person asking a “varnashrama devotee” would get a lot of very useful advice on how to be happy, the same person asking a “sankirtana devotee” would get a straight away answer – don’t bother, it’s not possible, surrender to Krishna instead.

It’s like joining two completely different movements.

And on this basis it goes on and on – sankirtana devotees being abhorred by varnashrama devotees’ “materialism” and varnashrama devotees practically deride the naivety of “surrender to Krishna” message.

They both have very good points – sankirtana devotees naturally don’t want to sit and listen to how to solve your marital problems and varnashrama devotees can very legitimately say that sankirtana devotees tried preaching renunciation and ended up as being married as anyone else and suffering the very same things varnashrama is supposed to protect them from.

Sankirtana devotees naturally claim being above the rules and demanding special treatment, ie whatever they do does not accrue any karma. Varnashrama devotees can’t help but notice that this doesn’t work as expected.

So, how do we move both missions forward?

First, sankirtana is superior to varnashrama, there are no two opinions about this.

Second, in the spiritual world varnashrama doesn’t cause any problems for sankirtana and vice versa, so the solution is there, in Vaikuntha, but not yet here on Earth.

Right off the bat we should say that any hope that varnashrama is meant to make people happy here is erroneous one. Varnashrama’s goal is to make Krishna happy, not pander to our material senses. It’s not a concession for our enjoyment.

This is a very important point – marriage is not a concession to enjoy sex life, it’s a concession to engage sex life in service of Krishna. If we think even for a moment that now I’m married and I can let my hair down, so to speak, and legitimately partake in some carnal pleasures, then we stop being devotees right away, we become enjoyers.

The fact that for most of us it’s a necessary and unavoidable step doesn’t meant that it can be classified as Krishna’s service.

Same thing with varnashrama – it might be necessary to structure our lives in a certain way so that it’s relatively easy to remember the Lord but that structure should not be used for our enjoyment, if we do that we cease to be devotees.

On sankirtana side – it is true that there are no rules and regulations in the preaching mission and so dedicated sankirtana devotees are above varnashrama but I don’t think it means that the bodies of sankirtana devotees are beyond the laws of material nature.

When karma comes it comes for the bodies, a dedicated sankirtana devotee shouldn’t see it relating to his spiritual position as a servant of his guru and Krishna.

Sankirtana devotees shouldn’t also be proud of their position – that would actually be a sign of failure. They should humbly accept all the criticism and “I told you so”s and feel themselves the most fallen, most unworthy creatures on the face of the planet.

It is very easy to preach when Krishna gives you all the facilities and power to command people but a real sankirtana devotee would never stop trying even when Krishna makes him look worthless and a subject of ridicule. Mercy might come or it might not, our service must be unconditional.

If some devotees talk about varnashrama sankirtana devotees shouldn’t argue with them but rather encourage them to implement this system in order to remember Krishna at all times. If they sense some material desires in others they should not condemn them but rather fill their lives with thoughts of Krishna that would automatically push material desires out.

It’s like one devotee came to see Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji to get blessings for his marriage. “Marriage?”, Srila Gaurakishora pondered, “Oh, very good. This is very good. Daily he can cook an offering for Lord Visnu with his own hands. After he prepares the offering for Lord Visnu’s satisfaction, then he may accept it as maha-prasadam along with his religious wife. Instead of an exploitative mentality he must always consider his wife a servant of Lord Krsna and a representative of his guru. If this is done, then everything will become very auspicious for him.”

Needless to say this is not the mentality we approach our marriages with, maybe for a brief moment in the beginning.

If we do not follow this advice, however, then we have absolutely nothing to be proud of and nothing to teach others about marriage either.

Same with varnashrama – if we don’t do it right, we are not devotees, and to do it right is so difficult, there are so many temptations, that one day we might think that distributing books is actually a breeze. And, in fact, it is.

Sankirtana devotees do not offer people happiness in this world and they have no material happiness of their own to show either, and what’s worse, while remaining in this world they are subjected to all kinds of mistreatment and punishments to make them respect and surrender to the laws of this world, but they should not flinch and they should always value their dedication to the mission of sankirtana far above any material sufferings.

They should think “yes, to stay healthy I should have not done that, and I should have eaten this, and so many other things, but I don’t care if I stay healthy, my only concern is pushing the mission of Lord Chaitanya”. One might say – if you do things right you can serve that mission of yours for far longer, with a healthy body and without stress of being poor and not knowing where your next meal would come from.

To this we can give example of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati who had never taken any medicine as a matter of principle, always leaving his personal well being in the hands of Krishna. We are certainly not on that level but we should stick to the same principle – Krishna knows best how to take care of us, if we see His provisions we must accept them as Lord’s prasadam, and if we make mistakes and ignore His provisions He has the power to remind us anyway.

Staying faithful to our mission is more important than staying healthy, we should have firm faith that simply by serving our mission we will achieve all necessary help to move that mission forward, we don’t need to seek help elsewhere and make any separate efforts.

All in all, I think sankirtana devotees are in a better position here because even if they did something wrong, their goal was to exclusively please guru and Krishna and if they get punished for it they see it Krishna’s mercy.

Varnashrama devotees, on the other hand, must find a way to keep their hearts clean while contemplating all the ways varnashrama can be implemented. And how to keep you heart clean? By doing sankirtana.

Sometimes I wonder – why do we even bother with anything else? Maybe we should treat varnashrama the same way as we treat temple programs – they are nice in the morning but then you have to go out and preach, if you don’t preach then all that singing and dancing is a giant waste of life.

Perhaps seeing varnashrama as a tool to keep our temples going is all that sankirtana devotees need to know about it, just as they don’t worry where electricity and gas come from.

Similarly, varnashrama devotees should see their service as supplementary to sankirtana, as having no intrinsic value on its own, just as devotees who are engaged in temple maintenance.

Enough for today already.

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Vanity thought #533. Faceoff two – sankirtana devotees vs temple vasis

This has been a hot topic from the very early days of our society. First big schism between those two groups of devotees happened on Prabhupada’s watch, with the most illustrious Radha Damodara traveling sankirtana party and temple presidents. In that stand off temples came out on top but the war was far from over.

Why am I using words like schism and war here? Because I believe this is a very serious matter that cannot be reconciled, ever. Archetypal sankirtana devotees cannot co-exist with archetypal temple devotees, if we want to keep peace in our communities we need to train people not see themselves as archetypes.

Sankirtana devotees see temple vasis as leeches of Lord’s mercy who do not contribute anything to Lord’s actual happiness. It’s silly to think that Krishna really really likes our chapatis or sweet rice or our flower garlands. He doesn’t care for all our opulent offerings at all.

Actually, ISKCON is sometimes criticized for worshiping Krishna as He was Narayana and people point out that we replace our lack of realization with our money. There could be some truth in there but I think there isn’t, it’s a matter for another day.

The point being is that in this age the proper way of satisfying the Lord is sankirtana, not temple worship. If we want to show Krishna our love we should go out and preach, and temples, well, Krishna appears in a murti form because we can’t see Him in the Holy Name, murti is a concession to our material senses. Krishna is adapting to our imperfections and therefore temple worship is, on some level, accepting Lord’s service, not offering Him ours.

There are no such concerns with preaching, it’s absolutely pure and selfless and it’s not conditioned by any material constraints. Books, pictures, devotees’ words – Krishna could be delivered to eager souls through practically every media.

No matter how you explain it, temple worship is inferior to sankirtana, especially in Kali Yuga.

There needs to be one disclaimer, though – I’m talking about neophytes here who can neither see Krishna in a murti nor hear Him in the Holy Name. For self-realized devotees there’s no distinction.

On the other hand temple vasis have their own complaints about sankirtana devotees – they are ungrateful and arrogant and have very high opinion of themselves and their service. There’s a lot of truth to it, too, and these concerns need to be addressed.

To reconcile these two parties our leaders proposed an easy solution – we are all promoting one mission but in a slightly different ways, that’s all. The mission, however, is sankirtana, temple vasis need to accept it.

The fact is that without temples sankirtana devotees wouldn’t last a day. Okay, maybe a week, or maybe even a month. Temples are our homes, temples are sources of our inspiration and our energy, temples are the places where we refill reservoirs of mercy to spread to the rest of the world.

Sankirtana devotees feeling superior to temple vasis is like misogynists forgetting that without women they wouldn’t even be born.

To sankirtana devotees our leaders proposed this solution – everyone in our movement is doing sankirtana, some are privileged to do it on the streets and others offer support back in the temples. Sankirtana is a team effort and while some people get to score goals the defenders and goalkeepers are part of the team, too.

To temple vasis our leaders offered the same solution, too – you are sankirtana devotees, just not on the tip of the arrows that mortally wound conditioned souls with the poison of love of God. Without the rest of the arrow the tip won’t fly.

This was a brilliant idea – that all our devotees are sankirtana devotees, both those on the streets and those providing backbone services in the temple kitchens. This approach worked magic in places like Russia but then the times changed.

In the early days ours was a temple movement – we had temples as bases for preaching. Nowadays we are a collection of communities, not temples. Most of our devotees live outside of temples and in some places they actually take turns to come and perform essential temple service as there are no resident devotees at all.

The main function of our temples thus shifted from serving sankirtana devotees to serving needs of the communities. Before that shift main thrust of our classes was on how to preach and how to keep our consciousness absolutely pure, now we need to talk about how to deal with our material problems.

For sankirtana devotees material problems simply don’t exist, they are not their concern, for temple communities, however, material problems is what they are forced to deal with every day of their lives. That’s what naturally happens when you try to perfect your own life rather than think about preaching to others.

How to reconcile these two parties in current ISKCON – I do not know. I just heard a lecture by one life long book distributor and he was giving his usual pep talk: “Raise your hand who here is a sankirtana devotee.” Not one hand shot up, not a single one, and it was in Krishna Balaram Mandir.

No one there saw himself as a sankirtana devotee, they didn’t think of themselves as preachers at all, or even as supporters of the preaching mission.

How to bring them back to sankirtana? Should we try to bring them back? Aren’t they are properly situated already? Maybe so, but personally I think that without serving preaching mission of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati before him we are not doing Krishna any service at all, just leeching off His mercy – He lets us reside in the Holy Dham and provides us with food and lodgings in exchange for our namaparadha chanting of His Name.

It’s a nice deal as long as we are being selfish. If, however, we decide to serve Krishna’s interests instead we should probably reject it. We should not seek accommodations for ourselves, we should seek whatever makes guru and Krishna happy, and with Srila Prabhupada and his true followers it’s as clear as day – constant, uninterrupted preaching.

We are not the first ones to misuse temples for our own comfort, though. When Gaudiya Math completed the famous Bagh Bazaar temple devotees immediately swooped down on it, sharing and dividing rooms and facilities, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati commented that it would be better to sell off the marble and buy a printing press instead.

We shouldn’t make the same mistake and we should think very hard how to prevent our temples from becoming places of enjoyment. We should probably watch out for temple worship slowly substituting sankirtana mission, that won’t work in Kali Yuga, intelligent people do not do that, as Srimad Bhagavatam says (SB 11.5.32).

This new role of temples, however, is part of the varnashrama system and I hope to discuss how that dovetails with sankirtana tomorrow.

Vanity thought #532. Faceoff: Preaching vs Bhajan

Let’s introduce the contestants first – by bhajan here I don’t mean chanting the pure name on the platform of prema. I mean a group of devotees sitting down with printouts from a songbook and following the bhajan leader.

I guess we’ve all been in this situation where you concentrate on following the melody and getting the words right. If you are lucky you’ll also have time to check the translations. Usually this happens on various vaishnava holidays, appearance and disappearance of acharyas and such. We all dutifully do our parts with deep respect for the activity and in the end we might actually like the performance but this is not what real bhajan is.

Srila Prabhupada reportedly said that we should sing bhajans only if everyone in the audience knows their meaning. Actually, our daily arati songs are bhajans and all regular devotees know their meaning by heart. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see tears welling up in devotees eyes when they sing Gurvashtaka or Sri-guru-charana-padma. These are the situations when we not only sing together but we also share our love and devotion for guru and Krishna, we show our feelings through our voices and our dancing and we imbibe the devotional feelings displayed by our friends.

That is probably as closest to bhajana as we can practically get. The rest of the time our attempts are not nearly as successful.

Srila Prabhupada never approved of constant chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra at the expense of other service. He never stopped his disciples who attempted to do so either but generally he treated such attempts as cheap imitation of Haridasa Thakura.

The point is that as long as anarthas remain in our hearts we are not engaged in service, we are engaged in nama-aparadha and maybe occasionally in namabhasa. The unfortunate reality is that in a tug of war between our resolution to chant non-stop and the urges of our senses material nature wins all the time.

Personally, I observed that japa time is the most fertile ground for all kinds of mental speculations and daydreaming so, while on the surface is does look like a form of bhajan, in my heart it is anything but.

Now the next contestant – preaching.

By preaching I mean proper sankirtana – full, complete glorification of the Lord in a company of devotees. One could say – why in the company of devotees? Because non-devotees will never appreciate the Holy Name and they shouldn’t be preached to as it would be offensive.

What happens on the streets is that we ignite the interest in hearing topics about the Lord in people we meet and that turns them into eager to learn devotees, even if for a few brief moments. We actively seek people interested in Krishna Consciousness or at least favorable to it and we stimulate that interest and we share our realizations to satisfy their innate thirst for Krishna.

If we are doing book distribution then we also induce people to make a sacrifice, to donate money, not in exchange for books we give them but as a voluntary contribution to the service of the Lord.

To get this part right is very difficult but not impossible and it can happen only by the mercy of guru and Lord Chaitanya. Technically, most of our preaching should consist of prayers to the Lord to touch people’s hearts and open them to Lord’s message, and for us to be His faithful servants in delivering it.

An accomplished sankirtana devotee knows that he is there only to open his mouth and do the physical part, that the spiritual knowledge comes from his guru, from faithfully repeating the message of his guru without any selfish motives.

Because it’s such an active engagement it’s relatively easier to keep our minds under control than during our chanting and we invest much much more energy into making sankirtana work than into following the lines from a songbook.

We can also do it for hours and hours non-stop which is physically impossible with singing.

To master the art of bhajan takes a very long time, and to master musical instruments also needs a lot of practice. So is sankirtana, but since book distribution and preaching in general is directly governed by Lord Chaitanya through our hearts and the hearts of people we approach one can see the success on his very first try. We might have to memorize a few opening lines but the rest comes from intelligence provided by Krishna. By comparison – no one learns to play mridanga in one day.

As we grow up we pick up a lot of social and other skills and then we bring them to Krishna consciousness. If we sit down for a bhajan they all become irrelevant, if we go out on sankirtana our knowledge of the world suddenly becomes very useful. By comparison there’s not much yukta vairagya in bhajan.

More importantly, all those skills give us the illusion of being in control, illusion of being the doers who can make things happen. That illusion will not go away on its own, we need to practically see how erroneous this attitude is.

If we go on sankirtana we learn this very quickly – our perception of being in control is our worst enemy and we pray to the Lord to let us be His hand puppets instead. If we sit down for a bhajan we never get a chance to actually see how Lord can act through us and manipulate our bodies and bodies of others, it can only be understood on a theoretical level because our only actual experience is banging the karatals and flipping the pages.

So, it appears that as life long engagement for neophyte devotees preaching and sankirtana win hands down.

That is not to say that bhajan is useless – it is actually the foundation that gives us strength to preach but it should be done very carefully and in optimal dozes. Instead of overdoing it we better go out and preach, there’s no time limit and no restrictions on that.

Preaching would also help us to understand the meaning of our bhajan on a much deeper level, these two activities feed of each other.

We have plenty of people doing some sort of a bhajan but not doing any preaching and that tells us that there’s something seriously wrong with them as bhajan can be fairly easily imitated. No one can imitate sankirtana and no sankirtana devotee is indifferent to bhajan.

Therefore, if someone contemplates the best way to develop his Krishna consciousness he can’t go wrong with dedicating his life to preaching. That decision is also a very easy way to judge one’s sincerity – if one wants to preach then he is perfectly alright, if one doesn’t want to preach then no one knows what really is brewing in his heart. Pure hearts produce insatiable desire to spread the glory of the Holy Name.

Tomorrow I hope to cover other aspects of sankirtana.

Vanity thought #531. Sankirtana as a unique invention

As Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita – religions tend to decline and He has to personally come and restore them. He was speaking in cosmic terms, though, quite often He sends His empowered devotees instead.

So, last time He came as Lord Buddha to stop the meat eating business in the name of Vedas, and then sent Lord Shiva to restore their authority. Then we had Ramanuja and Madhva acharyas who restored the supremacy of Lord Vishnu, then we had Lord Chaitanya with His own missions – to establish the yuga dharma and to relish the nectar of gopi’s devotion to Krishna, especially in separation.

In the next three-four hundred years the religion, in this case Gaudiya Vaishnavism, has declined, too. I was recently reading HH Bhakit Vikasa Swami’s take on the situation and it prompted me to appreciate what Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati did for us even more.

A hundred and fifty years ago Gaudiya Vaishnavism was in dire straits. It was represented by various apa sampradayas that were simply repulsive to ordinary people, and family gurus who had no interest in spiritual uplifting of their disciples whatsoever. Quite often they were fish eaters themselves or were partial to intoxication.

Basically, they were acting as tax collectors on behalf of God, passing down areas under their control from generation to generation. They came around once a year, demanded to hold a large festival in their honor, collected dakshina, and moved onto the next family on their list. It was very efficient but it had nothing to do with spiritual guidance whatsoever.

It was so bad that no serious seeker of spiritual knowledge would ever consider asking Gauidya Vaishnavas.

Over in Vrindavana it wasn’t much better. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati once said – women thought they could get exceptional sons if they were begot by sadhus so they moved to Vrindavana with an aim of seducing them. Men heard of these women and also moved to Vrindavana, pretending to be sadhus. Cheaters and cheated, there was practically no one else there.

If, by some luck, a person would meet a genuine sadhu like Jagannatha Dasa Babaji he would still run into a problem of not being able to follow. This was demonstrated by people surrounding Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. He might have had only one disciple but around him there were always plenty of aspiring devotees and they tried their best, I assume.

A neophyte, however, simply cannot perform the same sadhana and bhajana as self-realized paramahamsas. Many have tried and some even got the babaji initiation but without being on the completely transcendental platform no one can simply chant and talk about Krishna twenty hours a day, sooner or later the material desires still residing in one’s heart take over and the devotee inevitably leaves.

So, there was simply no hope and no future in the prevailing status quo.

Then Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswait invented sankirtana.

Of course the word and the concept were already there but no one understood them properly. “San” in sankirtana means complete and another meaning is congregational. The confusion lies in what it means to be complete. And can sankirtana be congregational but incomplete? Or can it be complete but not congregational?

It doesn’t really matter to devotees on the uttama adhikari level but for us the correct implementation is absolutely crucial. If we do not properly perform sankirtana yajna we are doomed, it’s our only salvation in this age.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati postulated that proper sankirtana means preaching, imparting transcendental knowledge to other people.

If a group of devotees sits down together and sings a bhajan there’s no transmission of knowledge even though there’s congregational chanting. If one devotee sits down and chants Hare Krishna there’s neither transmission of knowledge nor congregation. At least we chant japa audibly so some one must occasionally hear the Holy Name, even if its only ants and mosquitoes.

If a group of devotees sits down and discusses Srimad Bhagavatam all the ingredients are there but, unfortunately, we can’t maintain interest and concentrations for long periods of time, a couple of hours at most and certainly not kirtaniya sada harih.

What is also missing is the engagement of all our other senses and sooner of later they pull us into action, so listening to devotees explaining Srimad Bhagavatam is not really complete sankirtana.

Preaching, however, answers all demands. A preaching devotee must talk about Krishna and people listen and appreciate, and in order to preach effectively a devotee must work on his presentation, he must go and find people, sometimes he must travel long distances, he must be aware of the world around him and people’s general concerns and interests, and there’s no limit on the amount of material wealth one can engage in the preaching mission.

Preaching engages each and every resource and desire available to the material body, it’s the perfect implementation of not only sankirtana but also yukta vairagya.

Prior to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati (and Bhaktivinoda Thakurs) Gaudiya Vaishnavism hasn’t been proselytizing for a couple of hundred years and times have certainly changed form Lord Chaitanya’s era. Five hundred years ago it was enough to go from house to house and tell people to chant Hare Krishna but material progress of the nineteenth century has added so many new opportunities and there was enough preaching work for everybody.

With re-inventing of preaching any interested person could engage in sankirtana on a 24/7 basis and in a few short years Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati made thousands of new devotees, all busy in the new preaching mission.

Our Srila Prabhupada took this mission even further, to all the corners of the globe. Anyone anywhere, possessing any talent or no talents at all, is given an opportunity to practice sankirtana, something they would not have been able to do if they followed the traditional babaji doing a personal bhajan routine.

Preaching is so versatile that one can engage any material desire in advancing it. Always wanted to go to America – go there and preach! Always wanted to be a superstar – become one and preach Krishna consciousness. Always wanted to be a writer – write and publish Krishna Conscious books and materials. A singer? Dead easy – either lead temple kirtans or perform on stage for the uplifting of the general, materialistic audience, or go on harinama like in the good old days.

Preaching needs money, preaching needs brains, preaching needs energy, preaching needs skills – whatever you have, it can be used in preaching.

That’s why I think it was a wonderful, wonderful idea, one that comes once in a millennium.

If, however, we forget that preaching is the essence of everything we do we fail to perform our sankirtana yajna and we will definitely see a decline in our spiritual progress, without preaching it’s inevitable. We can see how it happens from the example of Gaudiya Math when after disappearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati they stopped preaching and started dividing the properties and life had practically gone away from their temples.

Srila Prabhupada resurrected the preaching spirit of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and somehow ISKCON has been able to maintain it after his departure. As a society we face a different set of challenges than Gaudiya Math but whatever solutions we propose must be based on continuation of preaching or we will be doomed, too.

I hope to develop on this tomorrow.

Vanity thought #530. Life is not a circle

The Vedic outlook on life, echoed in observations of any major thinker, is that it goes in the circles, or maybe a spiral because every time it repeats itself it looks slightly different. This is, however, an objective view, describing life as it appears to a neutral observer.

A conditional soul’s perspective is different and who is to say that his view is any less important, he is the one living it, after all, not the observers.

The absolute value of any particular view lies in how fast it can bring the soul to Krishna. A cyclical perception of life might encourage the soul to simply sit out the rough patch, convincing him that things will certainly get better if one waits long enough, so his need to surrender to Krishna is also perceived as temporary.

We’ve all have heard this argument ourselves – you play with Krishna because you are a loser who will ditch your gods as soon as your life gets better. Sadly enough, this is exactly how it happens for many devotees, at least in the span of one life.

This is an example of how the objectively correct understanding of life can turn out to be pretty useless for developing one’s Krishna consciousness.

If, on the other hand, we tell people that life is an endless line of misery punctuated by periods of suspension and inactivity after each death, this bleak outlook leaves them no hope and no other choice but to surrender to Krishna.

The clue is to convince them of the objective hopelessness of their situation so that they see each up cycle as just a different degree of delusion.

This week I had a chance to observe the behavior of an aging relative I haven’t seen for many years. His physical and mental abilities have deteriorated to the point of no return and people now see him as helpless, separated from reality, and mildly annoying, though occasionally he can be pretty hilarious, because everyone has limits on his patience and understanding.

He might ask the same question over and over again, every five minutes, in all seriousness, and each time expect a respectful and reasonable answer. It took quite some time for everyone to get used to it and now people have learned to see the world through his eyes and notice the same behavior in their own lives, albeit not as pronounced.

His wife is currently in a hospital and several times a day he tells people that it’s time to go and visit her and every time they have to come up with acceptable excuses. If someone snaps and asks him how is he going to visit her he would simply say: “I’ll walk.” Needless to say the hospital is half an hour drive away and walking is out of the question.

If you look at it from his point of view he feels he is being challenged to do something himself if he wants to see his wife so much and he is prepared to offer his biggest sacrifice – he will walk. The walk he is talking about is a twenty meter distance between the elevator and his wife’s room. Every day it takes him five minutes to manage it, supported from both sides.

So, if someone implies a question what he is prepared to do to see his wife he is fully prepared to go all out, which isn’t much, objectively, but what is the principal difference between him and our confidence that driving is all that is needed. He takes it for granted and so do we. We take for granted how much Krishna has to arrange for us to enable us to simply drive.

If Krishna does all his homework it indeed appears very easy but so is going to the hospital, assuming someone takes care of driving.

We’re all suffering from the same delusion at all times, just to a different degree. Thus life isn’t really a circle because regardless of being up or down we still go in the same direction – engaging our senses in controlling and enjoying the material nature. Like a toy train looping through its track over and over again does not know that it goes in circles. It knows only one movement – forward.

This kind of realization ought to shake our sense of entitlement and our confidence in the power of our control over this world. It would be even better if we realize that it is Krishna who makes us digest every morsel of food and it is He who puts all the thoughts and ideas into our minds.

If we understand that we will surely realize that it is our false ego that claims all these abilities for ourselves and that our false ego is not our friend but only Krishna is.

Keeping this realization in our hearts is also possible only by His mercy and He is our only guarantor and caretaker.

Then, by His mercy, we might learn to see Him everywhere we look just as it is described in Brahma Samhita.

Vanity thought #529. It’s all in the Name

From the very beginning we have learned that the Holy Name includes all the opulences of the Absolute Truth and grants all the wishes but I think that as time goes by we forget this simple fact and treat the Holy Name in a restricted and sectarian way.

First we lose faith that It delivers unlimited material wealth. Perhaps we accept the dictum that Krishna takes away all material prosperity from His devotees too literally. Many devotees therefore deliberately stop worshipping Krishna when they decide to give in to their material desires. It might actually be not a bad idea because this way they do not commit the offense of maintaining attachments while chanting the Holy Name.

Then we take Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada’s unlimited mercy too literally, too. We assume that if we keep on chanting the unalloyed devotion would automatically rise in our hearts. We do not take the warning that chanting while keeping our anarthas would actually water them and not the creeper of devotion.

Practical implication of this is that we mistake a lot of things that happen to us as growth of the genuine bhakti. We also think that if our chanting does not lead to immediate suffering then we are on the right path. If we get some positive results we sink even deeper into this illusion.

Therefore some devotees think that moving up the ladder of recognition is a sign of progress on the path of devotion. Some devotees think that residing in Vrindavana is the pinnacle of progress, too. Some think that delving deep into Krishna’s pastimes is the only way to go. Some think that developing symptoms of ashta-sattvika-vikara is the perfection of our lives.

The trouble with this thinking is that to achieve any of these things we need to make sacrifices. Career in ISKCON demands engagement in politics. Moving to Vrindavana requires leaving their yatras and quite often leaving the shelter of Srila Prabhupada and getting re-initiated in Gaudiya Math or entering babaji circles. We almost always have to make unfavorable trades, unless all these things come to us without our asking.

What we forget is that none of it has anything to do with Krishna and His service and we still treat Him and the Holy Name as the source of our enjoyment. WE want to cry at the sound of the Holy Name, WE want to live in Vrindavana, WE want to become a sannyasi and train lots of disciples, and the Holy Name dutifully delivers. It keeps serving us and fulfilling all our desires. It keeps giving and giving and giving and we keep taking.

While we indeed become closer and closer to Krishna the essence of our hearts doesn’t change, we are still not devotees but leeches and we slowly convince ourselves that this is how it ought to be.

The Holy Name is so merciful that It allows us to make It into whatever we want It to be and thus we still misuse our independence.

It’s ALL in the Holy Name also means that It encompasses everything. We shouldn’t take it to mean that we have to experience Its every aspect, though.

Devotional service starts when we abandon ALL self interest, even spiritual one. Being free from material illusion does not automatically make us into devotees and even people of Vaikuntha do not necessarily possess the kind of devotion that we aspire to. This complete absence of self interest is what makes our acharyas to leave the comfort and safety of Krishna’s lotus feet and descend into this world.

Achieving this position is only possible if we become indifferent to what the Holy Name can do for us and start sensing the world through Krishna’s eyes. Regardless of how much happiness we can experience with our pure spiritual senses, Krishna’s capacity to enjoy would always surpass ours so sharing in Krishna’s pleasure makes sense even from the position of our self interest.

Unfortunately, this is also the hardest level to achieve but it should not stop us from trying.

So here’s another meaning of “It’s all in the Holy Name” – the secret lies in sharing all the treasures that exist in the Holy Name for Its own personal pleasure and ignoring anything that could be available for ours even if we deserve the right to kick back and enjoy.

Methinks Krishna is so clever that He would trick us into accepting His mercy even if we are not looking for it.

All in all it’s a win win solution and we ought to pursue it very vigorously not least because this is what Krishna’s service actually is.

Vanity thought #528. Split personality

Today I had a driving day, spending almost eight hours behind a wheel and while I wouldn’t say it was the worst in terms of remembering Krishna, it still led to one painful realization.

It’s impossible to drive over a speed limit AND think of Krishna at the same time. The bodily consciousness demands total attention, it’s either the road or …, well, actually, there’s no choice.

Srimad Bhagavatam describes a lot of devotees who are totally absorbed in Krishna consciousness but all I can remember is that they were either like Maharaja Ambarisha, constantly engaged in Lord’s service, or they were like Jada Bharata – totally oblivious to the world around them. Sukadeva Goswami himself was an avadhuta, as well as examples described by Krishna in Uddhava Gita.

To become like Maharaja Ambarisha I must be fully engaged in preaching or in any other active service in ISKCON, but that is not how my life shaped out to be. If I remind myself of “Whatever you do, do it as an offering to me” verse from Bhagavad Gita (BG 9.27) I can’t help but answer it with Lord Chaitanya’s famous eho bahya, it’s external (CC Madhya 8.59).

There’s also an example of gopis and other residents of Vridnavana who spent their entire lives in separation from Krishna, performing their external duties on autopilot, but who am I kidding? I’m actually quite enjoying whatever little crumbs the material nature throws my way. If I was a gopi I would have been happily married to someone else.

That leaves me with a split personality solution. One moment I’m a gross enjoyer and next minute I pray to Krishna to save me from this ocean of nescience.

This doesn’t work as well as it sounds because every moment spent enjoying this life is a moment of betrayal that makes all my subsequent prayers very shallow. I don’t think it will get any better any time soon either. Maybe later in life I will have the opportunity to be engaged in constant service but that would be when I become totally old and useless.

Not just generally useless, but useless for the mission of Lord Chaitanya. There’s only one Srila Prabhupada in the universe and that position is already taken, the rest of us are going to wither and die in relative ignominy, rotting away as a burden to society.

One could say – okay, maybe not Srila Prabhupada like, maybe we could follow footsteps of Bhaktivinoda Thakura who didn’t die in ignominy but as a respected vaishnava saint and everyone was seeking his blessings and wisdom. To that I can answer that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura spent many many years completely devoted to the preaching mission of Lord Chaitanya, even when he was still in government service. He didn’t drive around the country at neck-breaking speed and having fun doing it.

So, split personality it is.

I should have listened to our preachers back when I had a chance to go out and distribute books every day and be otherwise fully engaged in serving the orders of my spiritual master. That’s what our acharyas established Gaudiya Math and ISKCON for, to give people a place to be constantly connected with Krishna. It’s people like me who turned it into some sort of a hobby instead.

And now we are paying the price, probably for the rest of our lives. It’s even worse when we blame someone else of our own choices – GBC, temple presidents, ISKCON leaders. It’s as if we have absolutely no understanding of how the law of karma works. We make our own beds, everybody does.

It is also hypocritical to try and present this situation as a viable way of life, to present that mixing our families and careers with attempts at devotional service is an acceptable solution. It should actually pain us beyond measure every time we get up for work rather than for mangala arati.

Well, I guess we all deal with pain in our own ways but let’s not pretend that the pain is not there and everything is in a tip-top shape. Unfortunately, I don’t see an easy way out, I guess this is one of those taror iva sahishnuna cases – be more patient than a tree – when the life itself comes to cut us down we should tolerate it and offer our best service regardless.

Vanity thought #527. A square meal

What is the most important meal of the day? Breakfast, of course. We’ve learned this in our childhood from our mothers who would not let us out without a huge pile of pancakes or whatever, and later, if we were lucky enough to live in a temple, the tradition continued.

Actually, the wisdom at the time was that we shouldn’t eat too much and we shouldn’t sit down after breakfast but go straight out to distribute books or do other service, the idea was that the sitting down to digest a large meal would drain our energy and make us lazy. So lunch was arguably bigger.

Sankirtana devotees, however, often didn’t have time to return for lunch and they ate in their vans so lunches weren’t particularly big for them. It probably wasn’t the best practice for one’s health but it prevented slipping into siesta mood and kept us on our feet for the rest of the day.

There were no dinners and that was unusual for me but I got used to it. The reason given was that the going to bed with a full stomach led to oversleeping and a host of other problems. Later I saw Indian devotees often having a meal at night but my metabolism was nowhere near theirs.

Anyway, what I’m leading to is that this two-three meal a day schedule is not as natural as we assume. In fact modern science recommends eating even more often but in smaller quantities as not to overload our stomachs. It makes sense but, I’m afraid, it goes against tradition.

In Brihad Bhagavatamrita there’s a description of Krishna’s dinner: “He ate very sweet warm milk mixed with sugar and ghee, jallebis, pupa cakes, phecika sweets, capatis, many other delicious foods cooked in ghee, and many sweets made of milk and yogurt, in the middle He ate many exquisite, sweet, warm, fragrant, soft foods, vataka cakes, parpata cakes, soup, spinach, other vegetables, many milk preparations of the sweet and bitter kinds, and many other spicy, bitter, and salty foods, at the end He ate curds with sugar, many kinds of curd and yogurt preparations, and buttermilk with hing”, and that was only “in the beginning” as gopis fed Him even more stuff later on.

Reading this one would think that eating at night was acceptable and maybe it was, for wealthy vaishya or kshatriya families. We should take our cues from sannyasis and renunciates who developed control of their tongues. Reading about their daily routing suggests that they ate only once a day.

Actually, it wasn’t only renunciates, a couple of months ago I saw an article of eating habits in ancient times all around the world and one meal a day was a norm. People woke up very early and went straight to work, animals and crops needed to be tended and there was not time for cooking.

Likewise, no one would cook in the evening because there was no electricity and so there were no dinners. The article documented how all the modern customs of lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper came into existence. What is important for us, however, is that traditionally people had only one big meal and maybe they had some snacks to keep them going through the day.

While in Vrindavana Krishna ate very sumptuously but when He moved to Dwaraka He stopped having breakfasts, as evidenced from His morning routine described in Srimad Bhagavatam and Krishna book (KB ch70). He meditated, He gave charity to brahmanas and everyone else, and then there was time to attend to His managing duties and His driver was already waiting. No time for morning meal.

Among our acharyas I think Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had all the meals customary for Bengali society of that time but Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji most certainly not. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati most likely followed the schedule he set for Gaudiya Math (probably very light breakfast and lunch but also supper), and our Srila Prabhupada set our schedule for us that we all know.

We obviously should follow it but we should also keep in mind that our “two meal plus milk” routine is meant for maintaining a busy life in active service and as we grow older and become useless we might reconsider it.

Look at the lives of Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Vamshidasa Babaji – they went for bhiksha in the morning then cooked whatever they got, offered it to Krishna and that was it. I suspect that was the renunciates’ routine for thousands and thousands of years.

In addition, Srila Vamshidasa Babaji was so meticulous in his food preparation that just this one meal took most of his day. It’s not that he cooked something very exquisite but he selected only the best vegetables and best rice grains for his Deities and that took time.

From Chaitanya Charitamrita it would also appear that Lord Chaitanya and His associates also ate only once a day, even when they had huge feasts. Govinda would deliver maha prasadam to Haridas Thakur only once, and Raghunatha Dasa Goswami would famously collect rice rejected even by cows when it was already dark.

The main point is that one should not eat until he has finished his daily duties, be it collecting alms or chanting a large number of rounds, so no breakfast. This, of course, is not applicable to devotees actively engaged in a preaching mission who need a lot energy to convince the entire world to take to the message of Lord Chaitanya.

What about the rest of us, though? Why do we need to have a large breakfast? Just because we are hungry? That’s not a good reason, our feeling of hunger would eventually adjust to our new schedule, it’s a minor inconvenience only.

Sadly, we need big breakfasts to exert more energy in service to our employers who need our work for their superior sense gratification. If this is the way that we have to maintain our bodies we should accept it but with full knowledge that this is a far from perfect situation. Developing detachment to our jobs is beyond the scope of this post but developing detachment from our big meals is something we should seriously consider.

Simply eating prasadam is not enough to gain control over our tongues if it doesn’t lead to automatic reduction of our daily intake. Like with chanting, we need to consciously strive to overcome our anarthas, too. This desire comes naturally but we should also act on it, not just notice its presence.

After all, control over our tongues is absolutely necessary for our spiritual development, we should not neglect it. If we remain slaves to our bellies chances our we will be in slavery to our sexual desires, too, even if subtle ones.

This is something that must be done, there are no two ways about it.

Vanity thought #526. Catchy tunes

Today I was half-listening to Bhagavatam lecture on MayapurTV and was surprised to hear the speaker singing Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna He to a popular classical tune. Later in the day I checked the recording again and finally learned that HG Sukreshvara Prabhu introduced it as his personal way of appreciation for Krishna, not as something we should all follow, too.

That made me think of all the times I tried to merge Hare Krishna mantra with catchy tunes that somehow get in my head and refuse to leave.

I don’t know the real cause of the catchy tunes, I don’t know what shastra says about them and the modern scientists do not have any explanations either. Some one-liners get into our heads and play on perpetual loop, everyone knows what it is and it can be extremely annoying.

One way of dealing with them is to change lyrics to Hare Krishna mantra and sometimes it works very well. Several years ago I had a bad affliction of Christmas music and almost all the songs there fit with Hare Krishna perfectly. Or I remember trying Katy Perry’s Fireworks, it was so good it could have been used for actual kirtans.

Still, I’ve never been satisfied with this practice, I perceive it as wrong and non-devotional. The best thing about it is that it purges earworms from my brain rather fast.

I reject this practice because no matter how nicely Hare Krishna fits into the melody, it’s the melody that makes it attractive to my brain, and with melody comes association of the author, producer, and the performer. These people convey certain mood and vibe that makes their products so attractive, and that attraction lies in certain forms of material enjoyment, be it feeling of power, control, hope, lust, desolation – we share their emotional state and we enjoy it.

When I transpose Hare Krishna mantra on those tunes I still don’t sing them for Krishna’s pleasure, I still enjoy the original feelings put there by materialists whose association, even subtle one, I should reject if I want to become a vaishnava.

Sticking Krishna’s Name on that subtle enjoyment doesn’t make it okay, it makes it only marginally better, and only if the goal is to get rid of the tune altogether. We cannot use Krishna’s Name to justify our continued enjoyment, that is actually an offense.

Now, Beethoven’s Ninth is probably not the worst kind of association one can get this way, it’s much better than some Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, but the principle is the same – it has to be rejected or it would become a serious anartha in our hearts. Anartha – thing without value that we keep attachment to instead of being attached to Krishna.

The mirror side of this problem is catchy Hare Krishna tunes. Over the years we’ve collected quite a library of “dhuns” and we keep adding more and there’s always one or two fashionable ones that everyone imitates in kirtans and bhajans.

I don’t think it’s a problem on the same scale as getting One Direction in your head but the mechanics are the same – we enjoy the dhuns/tunes ourselves, Krishna comes second. I don’t think that’s how the tunes originally come into existence but imitators/followers really have no choice – they like the tunes themselves and they sing them because they like them.

Does Krishna like them? We generally assume He does but we tend not to verify this with our gurus. When these questions gets passed on to Srila Prabhupada his answer was that he didn’t like any new tunes. He gave us a list for each arati service and he didn’t want to see any deviations.

We have a bit more freedom with Hare Krishna and kirtans outside arati services but one should be obliterated on the spot for starting gurvashtakam to the tune by some pop-singer. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, for example, indicated what tunes his songs should be sung to, leaving very little space for personal choice. If we sing our kirtans to the tunes of our acharyas we would get a bit of their association. Why would one replace that with the taste of Beyonce? Only for personal self-gratification.

Having said that, if a popular Hare Krishna tune gets stuck in our heads and gets replayed over and over with Lord’s Names reverberating in our minds – what could possibly be wrong about that?

In conclusion – as with all other material desires – we can avoid them only by avoiding their sources. Desires come from association, a good devotee would never get hooked on Lady Gaga if he never heard about her. Same reason why we avoid pornographic and erotic images – once you let it in it will never come out and it won’t stop until it wrecks your service completely.

Maintaining our purity should be our main concern when navigating this world.

Vanity thought #525. Another anniversary

This year happens to mark a 150-th anniversary of the birth of Vivekananda, probably the most known proponent of Hinduism in the West. While the actual birthday falls on January 12 the celebrations are scheduled all throughout the year. My local news talk about exhibitions held sometimes next month, for example.

I don’t know what to do about it. It seems that this is a legitimate cause for celebration and raining on people’s parade would be perceived as petty and mean-spirited, yet there should be no excuse to let people kill all their hopes for salvation, because that’s what admiring Vivekananda does to people. It does not bring enlightenment, it brings eternal slavery and damnation.

They say Vivekananda was an ambassador of Hinduism and Vedanta but the man did everything he could to destroy both. Actually, to be fair, his teachings are incorporated in modern Hinduism, but that only makes it drift farther and farther from its Vedic roots.

Vivekananda was the most successful among the disciples of Ramakrishna who is known for inventing his own weird ways and completely ignoring shastra. What has made Vivekananda into a messenger of Vedanta? Has he ever quoted anything from the shastra? Nothing, never, afaik.

His defense of meat eating should also permanently disqualify him from representing Vedanta:

..so long as vegetable food is not made suitable to the human system through progress in chemistry, there is no other alternative but meat-eating.

A sannyasi who doesn’t see an alternative to meat eating? What kind of fraud is that? Whose school of thought is it coming from? Shankaracharya? Pleeeaaase.

Lord Ramachandra once killed a shudra who was studying the Vedas. If He was present in Vivekananda’s time He would have shot him on the spot for shamelessly subverting the Vedic knowledge.

And all these fools treat Vivekananda as ambassador of Hinduism? There are no limits to human deprivation in Kali Yuga.

In Lord Chaitanya’s times mayavadis were busy studying Vedanta as their primary sadhana and they were dismissive of “silly” practices like bhakti.

Then people like Ramakrishna and Vivekananda came and laid their hand on bhakti as a means of becoming one with God, forget studying Vedanta, all you need is love. No surrender, no service, no helpless dependence, no humility, just love and compassion flowing from your own heart. If you master it perfectly you will feel like God yourself.

This is the most abominable perversion of the path of devotion, notwithstanding their rhetoric.

Thanks for your service, Swami Vivekananda, but no thanks. Someone had to hasten the demise of Vedic culture and genuine devotion so that people of Kali Yuga can fully devote themselves to degradation and forgetfulness. It’s an important service but we will have none of it.

Our mission, the mission of our founder acharya, is to liberate the world from the pseudo gurus like Vivekananda and we should be very adamant about that.

So, I don’t know if I should send a letter to a local newspaper damping people’s celebrations. It might have an opposite effect, I’m not big on introducing controversial topics gently and painlessly.

I wish I could, like Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, say that I would consult with Mahaprabhu and get an answer that way.