Vanity thought #552. Sannyasa in Kali Yuga

Sannyasa is, of course, forbidden in Kali Yuga yet our preachers take it to spread the glory of the Holy Name. Ordinary people are attracted by spiritual labels and tend to trust sannyasis more than ordinary missionaries.

In India the dress makes all the difference, in the West the vow of celibacy impresses people more. Otherwise our sannyasis live lifestyles that are envied by many ordinary people – flying across the globe, being greeted by adoring disciples and having all their needs served before they even announce them.

Our sannyasis manage big sums of money, build temples, run preaching programs and even sponsor other people if necessary.

The genuine spirit of sannyasa, however, is somehow getting lost among this flurry of activity. That is not a bad thing, however, because preaching beats sannyasa every time. Renunciation has no practical value in Kali Yuga anyway, it’s all about engaging everything in service.

A devotee who is engaged in preaching on a 24/7 basis does not need to renounce anything, it’s already the perfection of human existence. Those of us not so fortunate as to be at the forefront of the preaching effort, however, still need to think in terms of renunciation, for without it we can’t make any spiritual progress.

As I see it, renunciation shouldn’t be about eating less or sleeping less or any other artificial restrictions but about gradually losing interest in all material pursuits.

It’s very hard to achieve with all our senses and the mind making grand plans every minute but there’s a certain wisdom in prescribing sannyasa for people over 75 years old.

I’ve just seen a 74 year old man who has completely lost his mind to Alzheimer. He keeps eating or sleeping but his interest in these things is not even secondary – he lives in a world of its own, completely separated from reality.

Maybe that’s what sannyasa should look like – an old man with severely damaged brain who only thinks of Krishna.

If I go around without making any sense and only asking people to chant Hare Krishna I’be quickly stopped and consigned to a mental asylum but some old geezer can get easily get away with doing all kinds of crazy things as long as he doesn’t poze danger to himself and to others.

Actually, this won’t be sannyasa, this would be an uttama adhikari behavior.

Old men relinquish all responsibility for their behavior due to damaged brains, but a devotee should consciously do it, knowing full well that Krishna would take care.

If it is possible for an Alzheimer patient to forget his physical needs, why wouldn’t it be possible for a devotee?

This particular men walks around asking for smokes but with little faith I can hope to walk around asking people to chant if I ever get the similar condition.

Then my life would be perfect, too. That would be “my” kind of sannyasa.

There’s only one question – why would anyone listen to the ramblings of a crazy man? Wouldn’t it cast Krishna in a negative light? Wouldn’t it be counterproductive?

Perhaps the clue lies in preserving mental faculties like Shukadeva Goswami who appeared as an avadhuta and didn’t even bother to wear clothes, yet when necessary he recited Srimad Bhagavatam.

I guess by Krishna’s grace that is not an insurmountable task, I don’t need to recite Bhagavatam, I only need to have an actual level of realization corresponding to the level of renunciation.

Bhagavatam or not, people would appreciate genuine lack of interest in physical needs and, by Lord Chaitanya’s mercy, appreciate the value of the Holy Name. Unlike the ramblings of an ordinary crazy men, the Holy Name has real power and is supremely attractive.

It’s all lies in the faith in the Holy Name, all my speculations rest entirely on this premise – I will have enough faith to pull this through. If there’s faith, there’s a way – if old crazy people can do it, so could I.

Vanity thought #551. An endless run

Guardian website started a new section dedicated entirely to running and it has “Why we love to run” blog article as flag bearer of sorts.

This is a very curious argument in favor of running. The author acknowledges that running defies any logic right from the start and explains it by some primal, evolutionary urge. Men are rather slow runners but our endurance allows us to chase antelopes until they get exhausted and we can finally catch up and kill them, or so the argument goes.

Some people run to record personal bests and are disappointed not when they come close but when they reach their goals because that also means losing the reason to run again. Groups like Hash House Harriers describe themselves as drinking clubs with a running problem. Somehow they just can’t drink and socialize without running ten miles first. Some people say they don’t run to get fit but get fit so they can run.

I think it’s mostly British problem, though. They have an excess of the mode of passion that simply won’t allow them to sit down and stay still. The author cites running monks of Mount Hiei in Japan who run double marathons every day for three years in order to achieve enlightenment but the argument for running is made to justify themselves to the general public, not to meditating yogis.

As the author gradually discloses his inner feelings it becomes clear that running allows people to get in touch with their “true” selves, stripped of all identifications as men, women, lawyers, football fans etc. Running makes them reunite with their most basic, animal essence.

That is fine, but I can’t help but notice that this is nothing but regression to animal life. Even non-religious humans realize that there’s more to life than our primeval nature, that we need societies and ideals, responsibilities and dreams, that’s what makes us humans.

The author, however, takes us nowhere but the “hamster in a wheel” existence – pointless running just for the sake of it.

While on the surface it appears as a digression it also shows us the true nature of the world – it’s a pointless, endless run for the sake of itself. Our civilization is nothing but justification to keep running – like those personal bests or HHH after run drinks. Once we can distill that essence from the plethora of red herrings that distract us to think there’s an actual reason to our running, once we see that it’s all as pointless as running, we can start questioning if there’s more to life than that.

That’s where people should get to “aham brahmasmi” and “athato brahma jijnasa”. That’s when our human existence really starts.

So, in a way I welcome those running articles – they indirectly bring people closer to the beginning of human lives. I think even devotees might get some benefits from realizations like this because apart from higher philosophy we still tend to forget that our every day lives have no value in itself.

I mean we often fall into the trap that our Krishna consciousness can be used to justify our material attachments via “it’s for Krishna” reasoning.

Or let me put it like this – our attachments don’t go away and so we mistakenly assume that they have some real value. They don’t, they are anarthas. The fact that Krishna does not clear our hearts from them doesn’t mean we can happily keep them forever.

Just look at those runners and think to yourself – is your life similarly pointless? Maybe deep down the answer would manifest itself and we’ll be ready to give it up rather than forever riding “Krishna must like it so he lets us keep it” wave.

Vanity thought #550. Happy New Year

Was cleaning the house today and from a pile of old newspapers fell out a little unsigned “We wish you a happy New Year” note. As I contemplated its origins and people behind it I realized how totally useless it is.

Imagine that I have found its author, went to see him and asked for some real help in making this year as happy as they wished only over a month ago. What would they tell me? To get lost? At best they would apologize for blessings they can’t back up and say it was a spur of the moment wish. Even if they were sincere back then it doesn’t mean anything now.

This is what happens with everything in this world. Even sincere people can’t guarantee anything, there’s no safety or stability anywhere. Every goodwill gesture, assuming you are lucky enough to get one, has a very short lifespan and expires faster than you can extract any real use out of it.

When I grew up I thought my father and my mother were guarantors of my life. That didn’t last long. For a while I believed in government and state power but that lasted only until I learned about politics.

Like a clueless puppy I still happily believe in advertising, at least on emotional level. Every time I hear an offer to solve this or that problem I want to believe that it would actually work. Needless to say it never does, maybe only for a short time and at a great expense.

Now imagine if I found a piece of paper with a “Chant and be happy” message. It would be timeless and it would work perfectly well in any circumstances and its absolutely free. That is the wonder of the Holy Name. Unlike some discount coupon it never expires and even if the person who delivers it to you can’t help you himself the Holy Name has all the necessary powers and then some more.

Even if you go into coma and can’t hear or say anything the Holy Name still can find the way to deliver its mercy. It does not depend even on our mental abilities. Even if we suffer from Alzheimer’s and can’t remember neither names nor faces the Holy Name still can find its way into our hearts because it doesn’t need any material carriers.

Forget happy new years and get well soons, our only need is the mercy of the Holy Name, everything else is a waste of time and a waste of life.

Vanity thought #549. Meeting the maker

I wonder what exactly happens with people meet their maker. Supposedly it’s about meeting God but I doubt any non-devotees have even a slightest chance in Kali Yuga.

The way people think about themselves, as material bodies, their actual maker is the material energy so if they go meet their maker they should be seeing Durga, and probably not in one of her more pleasant forms. They might also meet Yamaraj. Either way they are going to be disappointed because they’ll get to see past the Maya’s famous smile and meet her sharp teeth, and Yamaraj doesn’t smile on principle.

This is the moment, however, when people have a chance to surrender and plead for mercy. I wonder if I would do the same. As I discussed yesterday, I think I’m missing the knowledge and experience of surrender. Maybe “meeting the maker” would be my chance, though it would certainly be too late to take any lessons from it.

What I think could happen in the best case scenario is that I’ll get to see Krishna, Vishnu, or the Supersoul, or at least Vishnudutas, acknowledge His greatness, and go on about my ways in the material world, possibly with a few blessings, and there will be no surrender.

It would be more like a child coming to see his father only to run away to play his own games the next second. That’s what should happen to people who address God as a father, too – regardless of the amount of respect we show we are also supposed to have our own, separate lives, our relationships are not that of devotion.

If all the chanting and association with devotees pays its dividends we’ll get to be closer to Krishna and, perhaps, have His full support in our next adventure, and He might be even proud of our achievements, but it’s not the relationship of devotion and surrender.

How to breach that gap between two friendly but independent individuals and turn our relationship into selfless service? It would be nice to have Krishna back me up in whatever I want to do but that is not what I’m searching for, I don’t want to have any separate goals and desires, I only want serving His interests whatever they are.

Unfortunately understanding this goal in my mind does not automatically change my heart which still wants an independent enjoyment, power and pride.

If I genuinely developed this attitude I wouldn’t care about “meeting the maker” moment because generally it’s time to get what we deserve, not the time to serve Krishna. In fact I’d probably dread the part where I could ask for whatever I want and condemn myself to another life of self-indulgence.

So, we are all afraid of “meeting the maker” but apparently for very different reasons.

Vanity thought #548. The greatest mystery of life

The greatest mystery of life for me is surrender. Not surrender to Krishna per se but surrender in general. I figure that if I learn what surrender to the material nature is I would have at least an idea how I could surrender to Krishna.

We know that if we refuse to surrender to Krishna we will be forced to surrender to maya but I still don’t know how it happens. I don’t think I’ve ever surrendered myself to maya. It certainly didn’t happen voluntarily and as such it wasn’t actually surrender – being forced is not surrender.

One could say that I surrender to maya every time I decide to enjoy my senses but that also doesn’t look like surrender to me – surrender implies a change in one’s direction, sense enjoyment is what I’ve been doing all my life, it’s business as usual.

What I mean by surrender is the moment one willfully accepts a new master after being thoroughly defeated. As a man I feel too proud to ever surrender to anything. Women might have it easier because that is what their traditional roles demand – surrender to the authority of a husband, a man they have hardly know in the beginning. Surrender means defeated nation begging victors for mercy. Surrender means rape victims resigning to their fate. Surrender means the last look in the eyes of a murdered man, the moment he gives up the fight and begs. Surrender means the last scream of a slaughtered animal. Surrender means honest, full out pleading for your life.

I have no idea of how any of that happens. I don’t think it ever happened to me, I don’t think I’ve seen how it happens to anyone else either, perhaps only in the movies.

I’ve never felt that I’m ready to go of my pride. I’ve been defeated numerous times but I’ve always accepted it as a temporary situation, I always reserved the opportunity for comeback. That opportunity, that defiance should be absent in actual surrender.

Similarly, when I try to surrender to Krishna I don’t accept the finality of it, I accept it just as a temporary retreat, a plea for help in my sense enjoyment, not as complete and absolute change in my outlook in life.

In actual surrender keeping one’s pride is impossible and I’ve never let go of my perception of myself as a glorious sense enjoyer.

How to do that? That’s the mystery. If I solve it – Krishna, here I come!

Vanity thought #547. Simple life – truth or fiction?

Living simply is considered a virtue in any religious tradition, that’s what Arjuna himself proposed to Krishna in Bhagavad Gita when he suggested he should retire from the battle and become a monk. That time Krishna told him that this kind of simple life is a fallacy.

In other places, however, we have plenty of shastrical support for simple living and high thinking formula. How important is it? Does it have an absolute value in itself? These are the questions I pondered after spending a day upcountry.

First of all – “simple” here is a very relative term, it means that people have modest ambitions but it doesn’t say anything about their attachments to those ambitions – the only thing that really matters for spiritual progress.

When city people like me come to the country we see that folks there are satisfied with a lot less but what we don’t immediately see is that people spend a lot of sweat to get whatever little they’re satisfied with. We assume that they get it easy but often it’s not the case. Nothing falls down from the trees, one has to work even for a few grains of rice.

This seems in contradiction with a lesson from a python in Uddhava Gita – a spiritualist must lie and wait until fruits of his karma come to him by themselves, like a python. One should not expend any energy trying to obtain what is already provided by the nature.

Srila Prabhupada often quoted invocation to Isopanishad in this regard – this world is complete and it has everything one needs, later on this same idea is further expanded – one should be satisfied with whatever comes to him by itself.

I think it would make for a fascinating experiment – trying to really lie down and wait until food somehow enters my mouth. This might actually happen but there’s a second half to the karma phenomenon – everyone must work, everyone one must perform some activities according to one’s nature and under the influences of three gunas.

Usually we think that these two halves are intrinsically connected – no pay no play, but actually they are not, most of the time what we eat has been earned a long, long time ago, possibly even in the previous life. If we trace the chain of reactions from our efforts to our food then we can easily see how it might take years and decades – if one decides to become a medical doctor, for example.

My point is that simple living doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have to work hard, there’s no connection there.

There’s another angle to this, too – normally people are told that birth, death, old age and disease exist everywhere, including heaven, most of the time they invoke this argument when talking about lives of the wealthy, that money doesn’t solve your problems. The extension to this is that living simply is easier and less problematic.

Sounds plausible but it’s simply not true, not all the time. To get the benefits of simple living one must concentrate on mind control, not on the amount of actions and results. It is easier to control the number of one’s desires in the environment with less stimuli but it might not affect the strength of those few desires that are left, and another potential pitfall is that if one’s dormant desires are not satisfied then artificially restraining them might backfire very badly, like what happened to brahmacharies and sannyasis of the early ISKCON.

I have one more argument against simple living in traditional rural communities – people there get very very attached. In the cities we live communal lives and we outsource a lot of our “defending” problems to the government. We keep money in the banks and title deeds registered at government offices. Police patrol our streets and courts protect our freedoms. If something goes wrong we give the government some space and time to remedy it, we don’t just act on our immediate emotions.

In the country side this kind of protection is often not there. Police is practically non-existent, if you want to protect your property from burglars it’s pointless to wait for 911 response, you have to deal with it yourself.

If neighbor encroaches on your land you deal with him personally, you can’t wait for the government bureaucracy to sort out your issues. You need fences and you need to evict squatters yourself.

All this leads to the necessity of having strong attachments to your properties and possessions, otherwise you won’t be motivated to act and defend them.

Upcountry people think that city folks are wimps, and there’s a lot of truth in this description, but the other side of being a wimp is that you don’t have as strong attachments that would motivate you to fight to your death, and that is a good thing for spiritual progress.

All in all, there are no easy solutions to the main problem of life – lack of devotion to Krishna, there are no shortcuts. Learning to watch flowers grow might be good for one’s meditation but it doesn’t bring us closer to Krishna even by an inch.

Simple living in itself is not it.

Vanity thought #546. Simple life

I’m spending a day upcountry, there’s not much evidence of high thinking here but the living is definitely simple.

Every evening people huddle over carcasses of dead animals, wash them down with local firewater, and by 7 PM life is basically over. They lock up their houses and for the last couple of wakeful hours stupefy themselves in front of their TVs.

Modernity for them came in three waves – TVs, cars and motorcycles, and mobile phones. Internet is still a novelty here and the house I’m staying in has broken ADSL connection that no one knows how to fix, including the local ISP who supplied the modem. In typical upcountry fashion they took the complaint and decided to wait until it resolves itself.

Having said that, there’s certain undeniable attraction in living simply. There’s a sense of freedom in not having to deal with constant desires and attractions that come with living in a big city, but this freedom is not freedom to act, it’s freedom in a sense of relief – the mind is relieved of urges and desires.

Somehow it’s deeply satisfying to simply sit on a veranda and watch life going by, which mostly consist of blowing breezes and crawling insects. With a little practice I think I can learn to watch flowers grow, too.

By Krishna’s mercy I’m having these different outlooks on life recently – from the POV of old people, dying people, and now country people. It helps to break out of the mold and search for life’s very essence. There isn’t one, though, it’s just the material nature going about its ways, growing, maintaining and destructing itself, we are just caught in taking it all too seriously.

It also helped me to see that Krishna consciousness is completely separate from our material entanglements. We can talk and argue with each other over FDG or varnashrama or guru qualifications or mission drifts or whatever – it’s all just foam on the surface of the ocean of material existence. It’s only value is in keeping us connected with the Holy Name.

Of course it’s important to live this life right, according to the instructions of our gurus and shastras, but we should remember that we have to do that only to stop us from doing something else, something damaging to our spiritual progress. We shouldn’t be fixated on these material happenings, they will pass with the flow of time and the only thing that will be left of them is their connection to Krishna, not the details we preoccupy ourselves at the present moment.

I wish I had more time to read, though, all this running around and traveling is taking too much of my time.

Vanity thought #545. Changes and ISKCON

There’s a large group of devotees who see absolutely nothing wrong with gradual evolution of ISKCON, in fact the see absolute necessity for such evolution. These changes might accept many different forms, some probably quite legitimate, others, however, are at least controversial.

Some devotees gradually abandon external vaishnava symbols like sikhas and tilakas, some devotees embrace equality of men and women, some devotees want to see ISKCON as not a bigoted, patriarchal, misogynist or a homophobic society. Some devotees accept universal rights and freedoms and all the liberal values that come with it as a natural path for ISKCON to follow, too.

Without discussing individual merits of all these innovations, is the evolution itself a legitimate process?

In the material world everything changes, and also practicality is one of our guiding principles, therefore adapting to the changing world is one of our responsibilities as a preaching movement. We also practice yukta vairagya, meaning that we don’t reject anything but embrace everything in service of Krishna. Evolution, therefore, is natural and necessary.

On the other hand we can adjust only the details, and even that only under the guidance of qualified acharyas, so blindly introducing changes would simply go against the principle of parampara, the principle of passing unadulterated teachings and attitudes.

How do we know what is a principle and what is a detail?

Personally I stick to one and only criteria – preaching spirit. Everything can be changed to satisfy our preaching needs and, alternatively, sticking to old rules will not give us any benefits if the preaching spirit is lost.

This is the reason why I’m rather cool about our temples serving the needs of a Hindu communities, or any other communities for that matter. Our only service should be to Lord Chaitanya’s mission.

I do not buy into arguments that in order to preach we need to please first. I do not want to go to the temple for nice prasadam and I think nobody should. I like to be pleased just like anybody else but I’d rather go to the temple to please the Deities.

The absence of the preaching spirit and the spirit of service to the Lord is very easy to notice and I don’t believe that it can be easily replaced by serving vaishnavas excuses.

Yes, serving devotees is extremely important but we should also see that we serve their genuine spiritual needs and not their residual material desires. Their genuine spiritual needs, btw, should be serving preaching mission and Srila Prabhupada.

Or we can look at Gaudiya Math – they have undergone changes we can clearly see with our own eyes, they appear quite different from ISKCON both in their rituals and their spirit, yet when one reads about GM at the time of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarswati one can’t help but wonder how closely Srila Prabhupada followed their early practices.

So, whatever changes that need to be made are acceptable only as long as the essential principles are firmly followed, and that is preaching and renunciation of all worldly dharmas and values.

I’m sorry but I don’t see the scope for hatha yoga, feminism, liberal interpretation of the fourth reg or homosexuality. I would also argue that things like that are an impediment to preaching. On the surface it might appear that being liberal would expand our preaching circles but we shouldn’t forget that success of our preaching is not in numbers but in purity of motives of those we attract.

If people do not come to us with strong determination to give up false dharmas and bad habits then we are not preaching, we do not institute changes in people’s hearts and so it’s all a giant waste of time.

All in all, I’m largely against changes, especially if they are motivated by some “mature” and “liberal” understanding because it assumes that we are somehow better than Prabhupada himself or at least better than those who were with him during his presence.

Fact is that changes come from either the mode of passion or ignorance, not even goodness, let alone transcendental platform, therefore we must be suspicious.

Vanity thought #544. Krishna and the nature

Honestly, I don’t get it – I can’t see God behind the beauty of nature. Everyday Internet spits out dozens of high definition pictures designed to inspire awe and wonder about the beauty of the world. Rivers, mountains, sunsets, beaches, icebergs, it’s got it all. Sometimes we get to see some of that ourselves and it is undoubtedly beautiful but I can’t see God behind it.

There must be something wrong with me because even in Bhagavad Gita Krishna described various aspects of nature as His own manifestations and it’s also one of our most trusted preaching techniques – to remind people that there must be a creator behind a beauty like this.

Maybe one day I will see the universe as Krishna’s energy but for now all I see is an illusion. It’s beautiful but it’s designed to attract us to itself rather than to Krishna. I know people who see some sort of higher truth in the wonders of the world but I don’t know anyone who got attracted to God that way.

Higher truth in this world is ultimately impersonal, we can’t learn of Krishna’s personal nature by studying the world around us. This gives me a reason not to worry about my lack of appreciation. If it comes, it comes, for now I don’t worry about and I don’t think that I should.

Beauty of the trees and flowers doesn’t remind me of Vrindavan either so I don’t need to worry about that aspect, too. In fact I can imagine what Vrindavan looks like only by looking at the trees outside my window and I know that it looks nothing like that in real life, so the beauty of the trees is ultimately useless, at best it gives me the wrong impression of the spiritual world.

Still, I know some devotees who can’t imagine the world as being separate from Krishna, I don’t understand them and so it worries me a bit. Either I am far behind them or they take Krishna too easy, somewhat like the sahajiyas do.

Neither of the answers gives me any comfort and so I leave the question of Krishna’s connection to the wonders of the world open. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not.

Safe option is to respect the unknown, connected to Krishna or not, best not to express any thought that might be construed as an offense, just in case.

Vanity thought #543. Who needs mercy more?

Recently I was in a company of people whose family member just got cancer. Their response was rather usual and reasonable but what made it interesting is the question – who needs mercy more?

The cancer person is preparing to accept death and is reassessing the value of everything in his life. The family members try to cheer him up and pretend that everything goes on as usual.

If you had a magic power to pray to the Lord and illuminate their hearts from within, who would you choose first? The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that healthy people need it more as they are in deeper illusion and actively ignore the reality of life, ie birth, disease, old age and finally death.

The dying person is very open to the science of self realization, healthy people avoid it. If we can enlist Lord’s help then He should help us with healthy people first.

That has to be weighed against the available time left in this human form of life – the dying person obviously needs mercy now, it can’t be postponed.

Ultimately, though, death is just another occurrence in our journey through the universe, it doesn’t mean anything in particular, what is important is our interest in self-realization. That interest is supposed to be preserved from one life to another. From this point of view the dying person is on the right way already and we can pray for healthy people first.

Fortunately, Lord’s mercy is unlimited, everyone can get some at the same time so the problem is entirely theoretical.