Vanity thought #562. Varnashrama and the American Way

Continuing from yesterday’s post on American “weirdness” – the fact is that they are not simply different, everybody is different, after all, that doesn’t make anyone special, what is so special about Americans is that they seem to be more evolved in a certain direction than any other nation or community.

Actually, there are differences in this level of “evolution” across the country, too, between East and West coasts, for example, but that is not particularly relevant to today’s post.

So I was thinking how people in the varnashrama system would share the reward in the $100 dollar test. To remind – two people are given $100 dollars and they can keep it if they can successfully share it without negotiating with each other. One person offers the sharing formula and the other person has to accept it. If the other person rejects it on the grounds that it’s unfair, they both get nothing. Americans are the only nation that strongly gravitates to 50/50 split, others are either stingier (offering less than a half to the partner) or more generous (offering a bigger share to the partner).

Researches discovered that this perception of what is fair differs from one society to another and that it’s shaped by how people see themselves in their society, how they relate to other members of the society, and how strongly they conform to ideal communal behavior.

Some might feel they should be generous but can’t miss the opportunity to extract a bit more benefit for themselves, by offering their partner $40 and keeping $60. This also depends on their perceived role in the experiment itself – do they feel in charge and in the decision making position, having struck a little pot of gold, or do they feel their role is equal or even inferior to their partner.

It’s hard to judge the value of two roles even with all the time in the world, there don’t seem to be any easy criterion to decide who is in the position of power, and people were under time constraints, thus prone to justify whatever their first thought was, so this probably also was more shaped by their first impressions. Some people by default preset to think that they are in charge while others are pre-programmed to depend on their community and therefore defer decision making to others.

Americans are taught from their very birth that everyone is equal in every way and everyone deserves an equal shot at and a share of happiness. It’s natural for them to go for 50/50 offer. It’s not natural too feel that way unless you are an American, most other people see themselves somewhere on the hierarchical ladder, part of a collective, and that position determines their expected behavior.

If that experiment was conducted in India, for example, I would venture to guess that brahmanas would have no problem asking for a bigger “donation” for themselves (or rejecting less than a $50 offer). Poorer people who are accustomed to depend on the mercy of others would not mind getting less than $50 for themselves.

India, however, is not a varnashrama society, they are too screwed by the caste system, their perception of who they are in the society is based on material birth rights, they never see themselves as equal to everybody else.

Actually, in the true varnashrama this experiment wouldn’t work at all – choosing two people of the same community and of the same status lies at its very core, so you can’t just pickup two random people, you have to pick up two people of the same varna, and, presumably, of the same ashrama (grihastha ashrama, naturally).

If that condition is met, and both participants know that it is met, then they would have no choice but to see themselves as equal and offer 50/50 deal right away, just like the Americans.

I don’t see a reason why members of a varnashrama society would think they deserve a bigger slice of pie for themselves. I can see why they would offer more to their counterpart but being in the position of responsibility as grihasthas they are also obliged towards their dependents and their duties. Nobody takes the money for themselves, after all, varnashrama is the society of duties, not rights, and everyone’s duty is as sacred as that of any other.

That’s why I think in varnashrama this experiment would show results close to that of America.

So, there’s no wonder that Americans (and Western devotees in general), are so receptive of varnashrama when they talk about spiritual equality. They see the future of ISKCON where gays and women are serving side by side and no one feels sidelined or restricted in any way. In their view (shaped by their upbringing) everyone in the varnashrama system naturally gets freedom to express himself as they desire, so they talk about unity in diversity, they appreciate everyone’s efforts to serve Krishna in whatever way, they talk about Krishna Consciousness giving people real freedom, guaranteed by God Himself, not just by their politicians and governments.

They see ISKCON as an America of their dreams.

So, why do I hate it so much then? Why do I feel extremely uneasy and threatened every time I see these devotees propagating their views? Why do I feel the need to put brakes on their progressive ideas? Why do I find myself gravitating towards conservatives, not liberals in ISKCON?

I think I have a perfectly good answer but I’ll leave it for another day.


Vanity thought #561. In defense of racism

No, not really, of course, speaking in favor of racism in public would be suicidal, and what I have to say today would actually be against racial theory, but this weird title would be appropriate for the article this entry is based on – Why Americans are weirdest people in the world.

This article challenges some very basic assumptions about equality of people of the world, in terms of equality of their aspirations, their perceptions of happiness or fairness and so on. This is not news, of course, and the article isn’t signed by Captain Obvious, but in the West we’ve been fed this idea that there are some universal rights and truths that resonate equally across all humanity. Now someone came up with numbers to prove that it’s wrong.

I was surprised to learn that even optical illusions affect people from different backgrounds differently. This is a nice example:

Two lines are of the same length but people who grew up in urban environment unfailingly see them as different. The reason is that their world is filled with straight lines going into the distance and so they have a strong sense of perspective. Basically, they see it like this:

People who grew up in the country are not accustomed to such geometry and so a less susceptible to this illusion.

This is just one interesting physiological example, the core of that article and research behind it focuses on perception of fairness across the world.

Their experiment is simple – two people are given some money and they can keep it if they agree on a sharing deal from the first try, no negotiations. One person offers a sharing formula and the other has to accept or they both get nothing.

Logically speaking the offer should be 50/50, fair and square, but in reality people’s perception of fairness differs wildly from one community to the other. Some would offer only 5% and their partner would agree to it, others would offer well over 50% and have no regrets whatsoever. Only Americans are statistically close to 50/50 split – if they give too little, their partner would punish their greed by refusing the deal, and they never offer more than half.

In American view fairness is when both partners get an equal amount of money, and by conducting this experiment all over the world the researches found out that this perception of fairness is extremely unusual, hence the title – Americans are weird.

When people evaluate what would be a fair split they have so many things to consider and judge according to norms of the societies they grew up in. Would they be perceived as stingy? Would accepting more money would be considered as exploiting generosity? When they think what would be acceptable to both parties they don’t know their identity, they only know they are from the same community so peer pressure, or desire to conform to social norms, also plays a large role.

Another optical illusion illustrating this point is this:

People from individualistic societies (read America) see that the rod in the center is always vertical – their upbringing taught them to consider and focus on central element in great detail, while people from communal societies are easily affected by this illusion because they see position of the rod in relation to its surroundings.

They cite another example of this – if you show people a picture of aquarium people from individualistic societies would describe the main fish in great detail while people form communal societies would talk about weeds and rocks and all kinds of background details that Americans would not even consider remembering,

These findings are pretty important in politics and economics – policies and values from one country do not resonate with voters in another, justice system from one place can’t be transplanted on another and bring the same results. When multinational corporations or governments go for land grabs in poor countries their offers of compensation to robbed peasants should also reflect local concepts of fairness.

Okay, but what has it got to do with Krishna consciousness?

Well, we need to build a varnashrama society with our own ideas of what is fair, what a mutual benefit is, what are the rights of our members are, what is generosity, what is stinginess, what is greed, what is responsibility and so on.

It has got nothing to do with racism but with educational system and environment. Same people educated in different countries accept new attitudes and stick to them. What we need to learn is how to do it our own way, how to shape our education and our society so that it is conducive to remembering Krishna and respecting other devotees.

So far our gurukulas are apparently teaching children the American way, and our wider community also shares the outside value system regarding fairness and rights. When talking about every day things we appeal to “common sense”, but this common sense is not as common as we think, it’s shaped by materialistic or religious, individualistic or communal societies we grew up with. We don’t have Krishna Consciousness system of values yet, or at least it hasn’t reached our everyday life, jobs, problem solving procedures etc.

Also, much of our internal debates are about the same clash of values – rights of individuals, like gays and women, for example. What is fair to them from American point of view is not the same what is fair to them from Prabhupada’s books. Some people find it very hard to accept, while others, like me, find it impossible to compromise with “American ways”.

Answer that question and all confusion would go away, though I don’t believe there will be reconciliation. That’s a whole another topic, today I’ve only discussed its foundations.

Vanity thought #560. Giving up on FDG

Recent developments in FDG debate have been very disappointing for me. To the point of giving up on the whole issue altogether – that is I don’t think there’s any merit in it and it only promotes selfish, materialistic aspirations in the guise of service.

What I mean to say is that my storage of benefit of doubt has run dry – I won’t give any to FDG proponents anymore.

There are several reasons for my decision, I can’t be bothered to rank them in order of importance or on the timeline.

So, here’s the list of things I find unacceptable in arguing pro-FDG side:

FDG opponents are openly called misogynistic male Taleban or worse. Proponents do not register that these attitudes do not come from studying Taleban literature but from reading Prabhupada’s books. Devotees who stick to our books and traditions exposed therein are being verbally abused. End of debate for me.

Devotees arguing anti-FDG side are publicly being called ignorant simply because they do not agree to the pro-FDG interpretations of shastric statements.

One well-established devotee website heavily moderates anti-FDG contributions. There could be no mention of feminism in discussing sources of pro-FDG position but comparing anti-FDG to Taleban is accepted.

Another long standing devotee site doesn’t apparently moderate its comments section but pro-FDG views there are interweaved with worst examples of vaishnava aparadha and FDG proponents treat these contributions as perfectly normal and acceptable, reply and comment on them and keep them as part of their overall presentation.

The books and papers arguing pro-FDG stance have shown alarming lack of reason and consistency, cherry picking quotes and arguments, twisting meanings, misrepresenting opinions and excessively relying on emotionally charged labels. At one point they even imply that BBT has corrupted Prabhupada’s original meaning, in another place they argue that Prabhupada’s purports give a snapshot of the ancient world and so are not applicable to our age.

The volume of pro-FDG papers is increasingly expanding while it all stems from only one or two quotes from Prabhupada’s letters and conversations. The debate has become about who speaks louder and longer. It’s not particularly difficult to answer all presented pro-FDG arguments but it would require an inordinate amount of time and effort. Some devotees have taken the challenge but this can’t continue forever.

Despite the piles of paper and bandwidth spent on pro-FDG argument, we are still in the dark about FDG motives – why do they want to give dikshas, why they are not content with being siksha gurus, or how would they conduct their new guru duties? Will they speak with male disciples through the curtain, for example? Will they act like travelling sannyasi gurus? Also, the debate is not about exceptional qualifications of proposed candidates, nor about practicality of it, but about normalcy of FDG itself.

Practically nothing is being said about effects of introducing FDG on our preaching efforts and whatever is said is downplaying possible dangers while extolling possible benefits. I think this should be the most important consideration in the whole debate but it’s being avoided.

Apparently there will be a name proposed for GBC vote this year but it’s all shrouded in secrecy and FDG proponents choose to talk about anything else. I perceive this as disingenuous, it’s like they are sneaking a different agenda from that presented to the public. It’s like all the arguments are presented only so that they can sneak a foot in the door. I’ve seen enough such trickery in local politics – once the objective is achieved there will be a whole new set of proposals and ideas to deal with while the original debate will be all but forgotten. In politics it’s about victory at all costs and I sense the same is happening with FDG issue, too.

Lastly, if FDG was indeed what Krishna wanted there wouldn’t be so much controversy about it and there would be no need to insult devotees who remain cautious about introducing these changes.

Vanity thought #559. Papacy and guruship

The idea of succession of infallible Popes is very much like our guru parampara and that’s what separates Catholic church from all other Christian denominations – they accept the supreme authority of the Pope who himself must be properly authorized. Catholics do not allow any speculations or free interpretations of the scripture as practiced in Protestant churches.

Orthodox Christians believe that the original Pope was a deviant himself so there’s no value to pass on down the generations but let’s focus on Catholics for now.

Unlike our acharyas, Popes are elected. Actually, our ISKCON GBC and ISKCON gurus are elected and voted in, too, but no one believes that simply by securing a vote one would attain the mercy of Krishna. Oh, hold on – that’s exactly what we believe in.

We believe that devotees get empowered through following their guru, and in case of GBC, by following Srila Prabhupada’s desire to see GBC as the supreme authority for our society, and if GBC votes something or someone in, he or she gets recognized by Krishna, too. While it’s not guaranteed that Krishna would infuse these elected devotees with His shakti, it’s the best available solution – Srila Prabhupada wanted GBC to represent Him, Srila Prabhupada was Krishna’s dearmost devotee, if we do not get empowered by following his orders we have no other recourse left anyway.

So, we cannot infuse someone with shakti by voting but we hope that Krishna doesn’t ignore our votes, as long as it’s done sincerely with the sole desire to please Srila Prabhupada.

This principle must be reconciled with the absolute position of a guru. Some devotees can’t get their heads around it and demand that gurus must be fully powerful on their own, that gurus must be liberated souls on uttama level.

Catholics also face same kind of questions – when they talk about infallibility of the Pope. Thanks to Dan Brown’s books the procedure of electing the Pope is well known now and nowhere during the proceedings there’s any place for God to put a tick in the checkbox. It appears that the process of infusing Pope with super power of infallibility is entirely materialistic. It might not be even democratic enough by modern standards, so why do so many people, 1.2 billion, accept the Pope as God’s representative? Where does this infallibility come from?

One answer lies in limiting Pope’s scope of infallibility only to doctrinal matters, not to everyday talks and orders. Apart from resolving theistic issues, the Pope gets authorized to perform certain liturgical procedures like ordaining new cardinals or bestowing sainthood. It’s not unlike our initiations that allow one to worship the deities or perform sacrifices.

So, when Catholics consider Pope’s various roles and functions they come to realize that being the Pope is a position, papacy is an office, Pope is not a person.

Can we apply the same solution to our gurus? It would certainly make it easier to deal with guru falldowns. Or should we see our guru as absolute in every respect?

Actually, the guru is absolutely perfect in every respect he follows Srila Prabhupada. If we see only those aspects we will have no problems at all, but if we get to see the guru acting on its own we should be very cautious – we can’t afford to develop critical attitude and we can’t blindly follow unauthorized teachings either.

In those moments when the guru appears to be doing something else but preaching the message of Lord Chaitanya we should, perhaps, learn to see how everything in the material world still works under direction of Krishna but some actions teach what to do and some teach us what not to imitate.

That’s where it’s important to remember that the guru is not his body. His body is transcendental, like all Lord’s paraphernalia, but sometimes things like conchshells are directly engaged in worship and sometimes they appear to just lie around and do nothing. Same with guru’s body – sometimes it’s preaching and sometimes it’s sleeping. Sometimes it needs to eat and sometimes it needs to procreate.

Some of our gurus have “resigned” from their positions, meaning their bodies are not fit to perform guru duty anymore, but that doesn’t make them any less dear to Krishna or any less transcendental.

Perhaps it’s better to see that our guru is our eternal master but his current manifestation in this world is an “office”.

That’s what the Pope officially said about his resignation – his body can’t perform the functions of the office anymore.

There will be repercussions for Catholic church from this resignation just as some devotees freak out when this or that maharaj retires from his guru responsibilities. I think we all should deal with it in a mature way. I have some ideas about it and maybe by Krishna’s mercy they get into shape in the coming days. So far I can’t “nail” it yet.

Vanity thought #558. Pope goes the weasel

The news of Pope’s resignation has been out for a while now and at first I didn’t pay much attention to it but eventually we should all take heed to it because Catholic Church, after all, is the largest religious institution in the world and our ISKCON should eventually reach that status, too.

Popes don’t usually retire, for the past 600 years death was their only way out so resignation is a very significant event in Church’s history, it’s practically unprecedented considering that we don’t identify ourselves with the world 600 years ago anymore.

At the time of total modernization of every sphere of human life this resignation is like the first divorce or the first abortion ever. It might have its own merits and values but, perhaps, more importantly, it has a profound and irreversible effect on “tradition”.

Now there’s public talk about possibility of the church embracing gay marriage, abortions and whatever else matters to contemporary people. Nothing is sacred anymore – the Pope was supposed to be God’s representative on Earth and if we can willfully severe that connection then we can do everything else we want, too.

It’s been only about a month since the Pope very publicly inaugurated the first ever official Pope’s twitter account – funny how these two firsts came so closely together. Maybe we should consider how changes start relatively small and end up in complete disaster.

This might not sound like a good example or a reasonable connection to make but these are not the only changes the Pope was forced to make – he actually started with financial audits to keep Vatican in compliance with international accounting standards. While on the surface it seems like a welcome development it immediately sparked internal wars and produced accusations of corruption, powerful people got threatened, some went on attack while others took defensive measures.

When it all became public, in the Vatileaks scandal, all the dirty laundry was out and caused the Pope’s resignation. Yes, they tightened up procurement policies and saved quite a few euros here and there but is it worth destroying the credibility of the institution they originally set to strengthen when they introduced new accounting policies?

The reformers would say that they will build a new Vatican, more open and transparent and better in every way, and it sounds wonderful, but pessimists would say that by solving one problem they create a multitude of new ones and from now on it will be just like the rest of the world – chasing an impossible dream with more and more efforts needed to solve more and more problems and there’s no way you can return to simple ways of the past.

Old Vatican could lay claim to being connected with God from its very foundation, new Vatican would be an entirely human creation, and they started modernizing it when credibility of modern financial system has been completely undercut. They can’t sell this financial transparency dream elsewhere anymore but somehow Church’s leaders bought into it and committed themselves to this reform.

Anyone who has tried it knows that there’s no end to it, every time it fails to deliver you’d be required to dedicate even more resources to it, make even more changes to your life and your attitudes. Reforming yourselves to fit with modern standards requires total dedication and total surrender. You’d have to give up your culture and all your traditions to succeed in keeping up with times.

Elsewhere it’s called westernization, now even Vatican got hooked on it and it suffered its first causality – the Pope himself resigning in frustration, and it’s just the beginning.

In ISKCON we’ll come to face similar problems, too. There’s no lack of reformers and innovators in our movement and we are alsooddly fascinated with modern managerial practices. FDG issue is just one of the aspects of “westernizing” ISKCON, we’ve already adopted divorces and a loose interpretation of illicit sex, and homosexuality is always lurking around, waiting for its chance in the limelight.

Our GBC needs to keep a fine balance between the legitimate need to adjust to time, place, and circumstances and being pressured by foreign, non-devotional ideas.

There’s also an amazing absence of any spiritual considerations in all of this – it’s all about management and politics and all kinds of material needs and considerations, nothing about Krishna (or God for Catholics). I guess it’s because we apply a completely godless value system to judge our performance and, consequently, get a completely godless set of proposals for improvement.

My personal stand is that these reforms are like a vampire – you don’t invite one in your house because once you let him in you are finished.

Vanity thought #557. They are not their bodies

I mean devotees and especially our gurus.

Before listening to arguments about discerning kanishthas from madhyamas I want to question some of our basic assumptions about what makes a devotee. Objective criteria might still be there but we are all being conditioned by our own experiences. In a society like ISKCON we go through certain steps and completing them means achieving some milestones in devotional progress.

If a devotee gets up for mangala arati a few minutes before us we think he is more advanced, those who get up later are obviously not as dedicated. Same with chanting our rounds, with distributing books, with mastering mridangas and harmonium and so on. Our leaders are naturally assumed to be better, more senior devotees.

This goes all the way from being accepted as a “bhakta” to getting sannyasa and becoming a GBC. It’s all laid out for us and it makes it easy to place anyone on a hierarchical ladder.

This makes us naturally assume that for all practical purposes devotees are their bodies and many of us never ever let go of this assumption.

I guess the logic goes like this – we pray to Krishna to engage us in His service and so those actively engaged in service are the ones whose prayers have been heard and so they are more advanced.

There are many questions about this assumption, one, for example, is that we place devotees under the influence of time. Time has no power over devotional service. In absolute terms one minute of relative inaction is the same as a year or a decade but if we see a devotee “taking a break” we think he has blooped.

Another question is about expecting bodies of devotees to flaunt the laws of material nature. We sort of accept that devotees can get hungry and if they eat they get full for a while, but we think that their bodies should not experience sexual desires or we would consider them fallen. In absolute terms there’s no difference, just as with time.

We also know that no one can understand the heart of a devotee but at the same time we assume that we can pass judgments on anybody’s behavior without exceptions.

I think that before we start talking objective criteria we should lay down these subjective assumptions aside first, then same things and same quotes from Nectar or Instructions or Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu would be seen in a different light.

That’s all I have time for today, sorry.

Vanity thought #556. And what of women?

Yesterday’s episode with Amogha has another interesting dimension to it – the possibility of divorce. That’s what Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya demanded of his daughter right away – abandon her husband, Amogha, and become a widow.

All in all I think Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was a little bit hot-hearted in this story, even Lord Chaitanya said as such – Amogha is very young, he is your dependant, he is practically your child, you can’t take his offences seriously. There was even talk about how punishment of Amogha would tarnish Sarvabhauma’s own reputation, too.

Still, the recommendation to Sathi to abandon her husband was there. In the comments Srila Prabhupada cites the verse from Bhagavatam where it’s said that unless one can deliver his wife or children from material existence one should not become a husband or a father, and that such fallen husbands can be abandoned for the sake of service to Krishna.

By criticizing Lord Chaitanya Amogha certainly could have been considered the most fallen. Even Sarvabhauma’s wife couldn’t accept his behavior, quite unlike Draupadi who saved Ashvatthama from death (both Amogha and Ashvatthama were brahmanas).

I guess people can interpret this episode in a way that suits them as we don’t have a final verdict from Srila Prabhupada.

Personally I prefer the mood of Draupadi in her instructions to Satyabhama in Mahabharata, but I’m not the one who has to follow them, of course. Still, they appear perfect to me, though certainly not easy.

The entire Draupadi-Satyabhama Samvada can be found here, scroll down to page 473.

I don’t know what they mean by “wiked” females, I guess it’s women who get what they want by playing on men’s weaknesses towards the fair sex. Draupadi rejects such attitude altogether. In her mind there’s no place for exploiting her husbands in any way, and she had five of them!

Her attitude of completely selfless service is remarkable. There’s simply no time in her life where she would think “I deserved the rest, a down time, some me-time”, or that she thought she could ask her husbands for any kind of presents or gifts or anything.

Today’s women have absolutely no qualms about asking men to provide them with this or with that but Draupadi’s outlook is completely opposite. She doesn’t see her husbands as the source of her pleasure, all she thinks about in her life is the pleasure and convenience of her husbands, service to them is the source of her happiness. I don’t think I can even say “satisfaction” here because it appears there’s no place for satisfaction in her outlook whatsoever.

This is how we should serve Krishna, too – without as much as a thought of getting anything in return. Unfortunately it’s not so easy to find examples of devotees behaving just like that. There’s Srimad Bhagavatam, of course, but Draupadi provides a much more detailed description of her service in such a way that it’s very easy to relate to.

When we think about serving Krishna we have no idea what it means. We have a better idea of serving our guru but that is not for everybody, most of us have to contend with serving guru’s instructions, and that’s where it gets fuzzy. Draupadi, on the other hand, describes uninterrupted, 24/7 service to her husbands, and for women that is supposed to be their main mission. From Draupadi’s example every woman can understand how to do it herself.

One could argue that Draupadi had Pandavas for husbands, best devotees in the three worlds ever, and Satyabhama was Krishna’s wife, so they both had no concerns about qualifications of their husbands. This implies that if our modern women were married to Krishna or Pandavas instead of fallen souls like us, modern men, then they could serve in the spirit of Draupadi. That is the same “If you want me to behave like Sita, behave like Rama yourself first” argument.

I believe it has little to no merit – it’s our own service we are talking about, we can’t justify slacking off because someone else does. Having husbands like Pandavas is a blessing, not a pre-condition. Nowhere in her speech Draupadi gave any indication that less exalted husbands deserve less dedicated service. In fact in one place she mentioned something that could be considered as her husbands faults and told Satyabhama to persevere with praising them regardless.

As a man I don’t have my service set out for me with such clarity, that’s unfortunate but at least I can try to imbibe the spirit. What I do have is an unassailable example of how women should behave in case someone starts arguing their “freedom”. There’s no such thing, not for them, not for me, not for anybody. Our own interests must be sacrificed fully and unconditionally and interests of our gurus or husbands must occupy not only central, but all available place in our hearts.

We ourselves might be fallen but our standards should not be compromised.

Vanity thought #555. Not so funny business

555 in Thai language sounds like a sound of laughing – ha-ha-ha, but I have no laughing matters to discuss today, the only thing I am ready to type about now is Lord’s treatment of offenders of Vaishnavas.

I’m afraid I have nothing new to say but I’ve seen an interesting combination of cases from Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes that adds a bit of a perspective.

First is mother Saci complaining about Advaita Acharya after he persuaded Nimai’s older brother, Vishvambhara, to take sannyasa. If that wasn’t enough, Advaita Acharya set his sights on Nimai next. Mother Saci didn’t like it a little bit and called him “dvaita” – the one who separates, and probably some other chosen names.

For that offense the mother of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who descends with Krishna time after time was deprived of the darshan of the Lord. Imagine that. No one is safe, no matter how advanced a devotee is, one little offense and he could be excluded from Lord’s company. Mother Saci, when it was explained to her, immediately begged forgiveness of Advaita Acharya and got admitted to the room where Lord Gauranga exhibited his mahaprakasha lila.

One more important lesson from this is that we all, including the most exalted souls, are prone to making mistakes and committing offenses but the Lord doesn’t give us any leeway, we all have to properly atone for every little thing we do wrong.

No one can pull a rank and claim to be above the rules.

Another episode is with Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s son-in-low Amogha. It happened when Bengali devotees left Jagannatha Puri and it was Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s turn to enjoy serving the Lord. He arranged a number of meals and built a special room exclusively for reception of Lord Chaitanya but on the very first day Amogha sneaked in, saw how much food was served to a sannyasi, and made some very sarcastic comments.

Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was incensed and even contemplated killing the boy. He begged forgiveness of the Lord but Lord Chaitanya told him:

What Amogha has said is correct; therefore it is not blasphemy. What is your offense?

Srila Prabhupada doesn’t comment on this verse so I think we have a little freedom to explain it.

First of all it appears that as long the truth is spoken there’s no blasphemy. This interpretation might go a very long way in justifying our criticism of other devotees. “It’s the truth, therefore there’s no blashpemy” sounds like a perfect excuse. Is it really so?

Well, let’s look at the second part of that statement – the Lord didn’t see an offense on the part of Bhattacharya. That doesn’t address the offense of Amogha, only Bhattacharya’s fault. If there was an offense by Amogha, however, Bhattacharya’s responsibility is clear – he personally guarded reception room and he let his guard down for a moment, and let an envious offender to sneak in and criticize the Lord. It was his responsibility to provide privacy and he failed.

Lord Chaitanya obviously avoided mentioning that part, as anyone else would, too, but it doesn’t mean the fault wasn’t there.

It all comes down to Amogha, however – was he offensive or not? While pacifying Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya the Lord implied that there was no offense but subsequently, when Amogha fell ill with cholera, Lord Chaitanya rushed to his help and established his guilt beyond any doubts:

Why have you allowed the caṇḍāla of jealousy to sit here also? In this way you have contaminated a most purified place, your heart.

Apparently the Lord wasn’t entirely truthful when talking to Sarvabhauma, His goal was probably to address Sarvabhauma’s feelings first and save the truth for later.

It means that while telling the truth per se doesn’t qualify as blasphemy but if it’s done with envy in one’s heart then we are as doomed as Amogha, who was actually dying, btw.

Acharyas like Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had not a trace of envy in their hearts so they could speak unpalatable truth without being affected. Should we imitate them even if we find a legitimate grief with other devotees?

I don’t think so.

When we see faults of other devotees we can’t help but feel superior or disrespectful or worse – that is the natural outcome of our conditioning, so we should not give in to the urges to discuss other devotees’ shortcomings.

One way to manage it is to de-personlize the perceived offense and talk about the mistake, not the devotee who made it but even that is a slippery slope.

I guess we have to accept that we will be offending devotees and blocking our own progress, the goal is to manage it properly, beg forgiveness promptly, and never let our offenses pester until they fructify and ruin our lives.

I suspect we got thrown down here for offenses of devotees in the spiritual world, not for offending Krishna Himself. It makes much more sense when you think about it – Krishna would easily forgive offenses against Himself but He can’t help if we offended His servants. Therefore we keep rotting here for millions and millions of lives and even when we come in contact with the Lord or His representatives there’s not much they can do in terms of forgiving our offenses against other devotees.

We know that the lack of taste in the Holy Name is due to our offenses, and we rectify most of them on the spot, but if we offended a devotee several lifetimes back we can’t do anything about it but wait until the Lord arranges circumstances for us to beg forgiveness. When and how it will happen we do not know.

All we can do is patiently wait and do not add to our misfortune.

Vanity thought #554. Life as a reject

Over two years ago I optimistically named this blog “Back to Krishna”, now I think I’ve coming to accept the terms of my “jail sentence”. Whatever they say about origins of the jiva a proper devotee should feel himself as ejected from the association of the Lord due to his own stubborn nature, not because of grand design of Maha Vishnu.

So I’m a reject, just like the rest of the population of this universe. Actually, calling myself a reject implies I suffered some injustice and did not deserve being in my situation. This is, of course, not true. I, as all the other beings here, have rejected the Lord on my own terms and this rejection was far more painful for the Lord than for me. I foolishly stomped out and still do not realize the extent of the damage I’ve done to my own self-interests, and, more importantly, to the feelings of Krishna.

Lord Chaitanya had mercifully come here to call the likes of me back home, back to Krishna, but, apparently, I wasn’t around. Mahaprabhu then sent acharyas like Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and, of course, Srila Prabhupada and their followers to rescue the rest of us and, finally, it worked.

Still, I stubbornly refuse to submit myself to the authority of the Lord and the guru, thinking that sense gratification would eventually proves to be life’s ultimate goal.

It’s in this vein, as a sense enjoyer looking for the best deal around, that I imagined I should go back to Krishna where every cow and every tree fulfills all desires.

The reality, however, is different. For me and most of us as well, Krishna is present in the instructions of our gurus, we do not need to go anywhere else to find Him.

This is clearly explained in the following purport:

…if a disciple is very serious to execute the mission of the spiritual master, he immediately associates with the Supreme Personality of Godhead by vāṇī or vapuḥ. This is the only secret of success in seeing the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Instead of being eager to see the Lord in some bush of Vṛndāvana while at the same time engaging in sense gratification, if one instead sticks to the principle of following the words of the spiritual master, he will see the Supreme Lord without difficulty.

SB 4.28.51

I can’t bold enough the emphasized sentence. Instead of being eager to see the Lord in some bush of Vrindavana I should stick to the principle of following the orders of my spiritual master.

So far these orders haven’t changed a bit – we should preach, preach, and preach some more. Only preaching constitutes proper, full, and perfect sankirtana, everything else is just an imitation.

It’s foolish to try and find shortcuts, and especially to think that preaching allows one to graduate to sitting around doing nothing. Preaching is not some temporary means to success, it’s the goal itself, and avoiding it equals to avoiding Krishna.

It’s pretty simple – preaching, ie following orders of the guru, allows one to see Krishna, therefore those who shun preaching shun Krishna’s darshan, too. They look for something else, something more convenient, something more comfortable to their bodies and their egos.

It is also a simple truth that one concerned with his body or his ego will never ever see Krishna but will remain stuck in this world forever. By seeing Krishna I mean attaining unalloyed devotional service, not seeing Him as an ordinary object of one’s perception.

So, this – preaching – should be the life of a “reject”, not trying to get back into Goloka by any means possible. We cannot claim a place in the spiritual world, it’s by invitation only, so we should patiently work until than invitation causelessly comes along.

Vanity thought #553. Junk food for the mind

Got internet connection restored for most of the day and inadvertently spent too much time catching up on stuff. News cycle hasn’t moved much – meteor in Russia, Facebook was hacked, BurgerKing twitter account was hacked, US government was hacked and they know Chinese who did it – life goes on as usual.

Even vaishnava sites are still stuck on guru issies – female, ritvik, kanishtha, madhyama, even Brihaspati was somehow dragged in. Junk, junk, junk.

There’s only one redeeming feature – all these guru debates reminded me of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s sharp observation – a guru is heavy, we can try and sway him with our presentations of empiric matters and even try to educate him into intricacies of the modern life, but guru is heavy, he won’t move an inch and he will keep telling us simple, incorruptible, unequivocal spiritual truths however simplistic they might appear to our “advanced” minds.

All we are doing now is to try and twist these truths to satisfy our own materialistic advancement – the books we read and societies we live in.

I won’t name names but I’ve seen one too many presentations on how to improve our spiritual lives based entirely on discoveries of modern self-help “gurus”. The latest one about developing a high self esteem.

Low self esteem does not equal genuine humility, true, but it doesn’t mean that humility means having high self-esteem either. Srila Prabhupada had a high self esteem but he was also a founder acharya of an amazing worldwide movement. Who are we to imitate his behavior?

High or low, self-perception and self-esteem are material qualities determined by the laws of karma. They have absolutely no effect on our spiritual position. One may suffer from a low self-esteem, recognizing his below average intelligence or other material capabilities, but that doesn’t make him a lesser devotee, not counting the occasions when it might turn very useful in our interactions with vaishnavas.

Conversely – one might have a “legitimately” high self-esteem that would drive him to criticize devotees who dedicated their lives to spreading Lord Chaitanya’s mission. No need to name names either – we all heard how unqualified and insufficiently advanced ISKCON devotees are as presented in some quarters.

There’s another sharp point from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta in this regard – criticizing vaishnavas is like spitting at the sky. It’s too vast and to high to even register the disturbance, and all the spit eventually falls back into the faces of envious offenders.

There’s one more point in this regard, and I appreciate it very much – our ISKCON gurus might not always appear up to the highest standards of vaishnava behavior but it doesn’t limit our chances of progress because we always have guidance and association of Srila Prabhupada himself. We are not limited to kanishtha and madhyama presentations only, we have the entire parampara nurturing our faith, we will never lack spiritual guidance, we have nothing to worry at all.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but the more we look and analyze the world around us the more it becomes clear that our simple formula for spiritual progress – chant, read Prabhupada’s books, and attend temple programs, is also the formula for achieving the highest perfection and it can’t be improved by any outside efforts.