Vanity thought #593. Future, present, past

This is not related to yesterdays’ post even though the title suggests so. I was actually thinking about how much sleep I’m getting these days, how much sleep I had last night and how much sleep I’m going to have today.

Will I wake up rested and refreshed, moments before my alarm goes off, or will hit snooze a couple of times cursing everyone and everything? Will I enjoy my sleep or will I suffer from a bout of insomnia? Will I have an obsessive idea that would switch me off like a robot for a few hours and then turn me back on in the morning with no recollection of any dreams? Will I have dreams?

I’m not overthinking this, I’ve been sleeping every day for many years already, I know the subject, I know how it works, and I’ve got some unusual insight from my findings.

It turns out I can predict my sleep patterns rather well. By analyzing what happened in the past and what happened today, the amount of nap I snatched during the day and other details I can predict what will happen at night with striking accuracy and as the night approaches my estimates get better and better.

This is where I realized that future and past are linked together very very tightly. One does not happen without the other and in their interdependence they don’t allow for any variations.

It’s natural for us to spend a lot of time analyzing our past, why things happened and what were the reasons and how they could have happened differently. Well, at some point these same “things” were in the future, and all our rationalization is nothing but proving strong, unbreakable links between events on the time line, so, if we take these two points into account when we prognosticate events in our future we should see that there’s absolutely nothing special about. There will be the same links, the same reasons, the same laws and the same conclusion that things couldn’t have turned any differently given the circumstances.

Future events do not come out of the blue, they are results of preexisting conditions. Future does not exist without past and we call it “future” only relatively to our chosen point on the time line. In regards to our own lives we do not get to choose out point in time but that’s because we are conditioned souls, if we were free from bondage of time we would also be free to “relive” our lives in any direction, from birth to death or from death to birth, it would be an abstract exercise just like we contemplate history.

Sometimes we tell stories from the end, sometimes from the beginning, sometimes we jump back and forth, make loops and shortcuts – that’s how our lives would appear to us when we finally achieve liberation, that’s how we would retell them to anyone who cared to listen.

What is the meaning of present then? Nothing, it’s just an elusive moment between past and future, or it’s just a duration of time, rather short, that we can process using our brains’ RAM before we dig into long term storage or call the CPU to calculate complex future possibilities. Either way, it’s not important and it’s not that different. We constantly see our future become our present and our present becoming our past.

The important point is that mystery and expectations surrounding our future are an illusion, they are baseless. It’s just titillating ignorance, nothing more. We, of course, are attached to this illusion and we enjoy having hopes but actually, if you think about it, it’s all deeply boring. We are just being entertained like little children who are told a story or shown a cheap trick.

So yes, ignorance is bliss, literally, and rather crappy bliss at that. Hopefully, by becoming Krishna conscious we will be granted a superior source of happiness, the real one, the one that won’t get spoiled if we are told the ending.

Vanity thought #592. Past, present, and future

I was listening to a lecture by His Holiness Bhakti Vidyapurna Swami and he mentioned one very interesting concept. When we dwell in our past and lament all the things that have happened we take shelter of the mode of ignorance. When we dream about our future and imagine all the wonderful things that can happen we take shelter of the mode of passion, and only being in the present is governed by the mode of goodness.

It’s a very Buddhist approach to life, to live in the moment, but it has a solid foundation in shastra. Just look at descriptions of the modes of nature in Bhagavad Gita or elsewhere and it becomes very clear. Those who can’t let go of the past are unable to move on, they become lazy and inert. Their consciousness becomes filled with sorrow and regrets and their life becomes one long, uninterrupted suffering. I don’t know about people who dwell on happy memories, I guess their spell of ignorance is marginally better but because they still cannot move forward it would ultimately turn to suffering that even happy memories cannot diminish.

Those dreaming of their future are clearly guided by passion, there’s no need to explain it. It’s better than ignorance but because they put higher priority on things that don’t yet exist they tend to dismiss blessings they have in the present or offend somebody due to inattention. Like ignorance, passion blinds us to real life and so leads to suffering.

Now for the goodness – it implies having clear knowledge and awareness of the world around us, about mistakes of our past and about dangers of indulging our senses in dreams about future. People living in the present are not irresponsible towards their future, they know what they have to do to ensure their wellbeing but they are patient and they wait for the appropriate time to act. When that time comes they are not lazy either, they perform their duties and feel very good about it. People under passion or ignorance always do something either too early or too late, never what they actually have to be doing.

What about Krishna consciousness, can we do one better over Buddhists? We sure can. Under the influence of vishuddha sattva, transcendental goodness we are aware not only of our place and duties in this world, we are aware of our spiritual position and spiritual responsibilities, too. In fact we stop caring about the fate of our bodies here and fully absorb ourselves in devotional service.

We do not dwell in the past, we do not dream of the future, and we hardly care about present, too. We know that the Supersoul and the material nature will take care of everything, and we know that our material lives ultimately have no value whatsoever, whether they bring happiness or distress.

People in the mode of goodness are still concerned with being happy here, devotees, on the other hand are only aware of Krishna’s happiness. They outsource knowledge to those who have to act on it – the material nature and the Supersoul. Think of it – why should we be aware of everything around us, physically and on the time line? We can perfectly act on a need to know basis and rely on Krishna completely – that would be a sign of mature faith.

The practical application of this is self-evident – do not give in to urges to dream or to replay past events over and over. Even on a conditional platform we should always seek shelter of goodness, we can’t go wrong there. Eventually we might also learn to rely on Krishna to provide us with everything we need to know, we don’t have to make separate efforts. He, after all, has promised to supply us with intelligence already, we just have to learn to trust Him.

Then our human form of life would bring ultimate perfection.

Vanity thought #591. The impossible truth

It’s not really impossible, actually it’s the only reality for liberated souls and pure, unalloyed devotees but it’s impossible for us in our present state, without exceptions.

In every personal conflict where things do not go as we like we are always wrong and our opponents are always right. Whenever we see injustice done to ourselves it isn’t there – we have to accept whatever is forced on us no matter what.

This rule follows straight from the third Siksashtaka verse – lower than grass, more patient than a tree, always offering respect to all others.

It means that in no confrontation we are allowed to come on top, it should always be – you are right, I’m wrong, prabhu, I’m too low to even argue with you.

If we are upset at not getting something, like food, for example, then we cannot argue that it’s unfair – amanina – we should not allow false prestige dictate us that we deserve more than we get.

Another foundation for this rule is the fact that we are conditioned living entities struggling in a world controlled by the Lord through His maya potency. This plainly means that maya is always right and we are always wrong. Another way to put it is that karma is always just. Yet another way to put it is that our feeling of injustice and of being unfairly treated is also the result of our karma, we can’t increase of decrease it, we just have to accept the discomfort and carry on.

Sometimes we come in contact with devotees, and they are controlled not only by maya but also by Krishna who personally takes care of them no matter what they do. Obviously when we pop up with our selfish desires then we are wrong and Krishna is always right.

There aren’t any other actors in this world – only Krishna and His maya potency, every other living entity is just an observer.

Once we try to apply this rule in real life it quickly becomes apparent that we are nowhere near that platform, ie it’s impossible. It’s pretty hard to sustain this attitude even for a few moments, and it’s okay because that is the natural feature of illusion we are in – as soon as we identify ourselves with our bodily interests we see ourselves as superior to the world around us and we start believing in our divine right to shape it according to our desires.

Sometimes, however, we fight for our rights and we win our trophies – does it mean that the rule can be broken? No, not at all, it’s a rule for those who seek spiritual progress, it’s not the rule for those who desire to control material nature as they like. If someone wants to control the nature and obtain desired things than maya makes them work hard and eventually grants their wishes. This has been going on since time immemorial and it will continue to go on because that’s what material world is for – to grant us our illusion.

If we want to be freed from the illusion – that’s when the rule comes in with full force.

It ties up beautifully with the ability to chant the Holy Name – as long as we think we have some rights to stake in this world we can’t be Krishna’s devotees, we have to give up all and every right and aspiration. It is possible to be like little gods in Krishna’s presence and draw power from him but that is not devotion, that is not service and that is not love. It might be a perfect setup for personal gratification but it’s not what we are looking for at all.

There’s one important catch with this rule – when we represent Krishna we gain a lot of power and we can argue on His behalf with all given strength and intelligence. This is very important because if we fail to do so then we are practically refuse to carry our service. Yet at no point we should assume that these powers are our own.

The moment Krishna withdraws His endorsement we are back below the straw on the street where everybody, and I literally mean everybody, can trample upon our egos and display their superiority in all imaginable ways and we should patiently accept it, for without Krishna we are nothing.

I just remembered a shastric example to illustrate this point, hopefully will investigate it further some other day.

Vanity thought #590. Price of being right, part II

Let’s try to look at the facts of Jiva Goswami’s predicament that I described earlier in a practical light.

First of all – Jiva was Rupa and Sanatana’s nephew, unlike them he had never met with Lord Chaitanya but he had extensive association of Nityananda Prabhu who took Jiva on Navadvipa Parikrama. Question – did young Jiva know that Nityananda Prabhu was the Supreme Personality of Godhead? Not Krishna Himself but the other Godhead, you know.

At that time, I might remind again, there was no Chaitanya Charitamrita or Chaitanya Bhagavata yet. In Chaitanya Bhagavata Vrindavana Dasa Thakura goes out of his way to prove Lord Nityananda’s divinity and he talks quite a lot about people who didn’t accept it. So, where was Jiva in this debate?

Jiva Goswami didn’t write much about Lord Chaitanya and even less about Lord Nityananda, so, from the material POV, I think he had no idea that he was in the company of God Himself, or if he did it was in a matter of fact way because externally Lord Nityananda looked just like any other human. He was more or less like Arjuna and Krishna – yes, Krishna is God, if you must ask, but come on, he is my best buddy, we have a lot of fun adventures together, he is not busy ruling the universe or anything and if he does, in his spare time, it has no effect on our relationships.

And so a few years later Jiva arrives in Vrindavana and Rupa Goswami takes him under his wing. Question – did Jiva Goswami had divine visions of spiritual Vrindavana at that time? I would guess not. Materially speaking he was a young student and so he behaved like one and had to go through the same steps as any other aspiring devotee.

It was in the beginning of his Braj education that Vallabha Bhatta visited Rupa Goswami. Now, Vallabha Bhatta was a contemporary of Lord Chaitanya but he wasn’t Lord Chaitanya’s follower like Rupa and Sanatana were. He didn’t think Lord Chaitanya was God and he argued some philosophical points of difference. Back in Vrindavana he established his own school, too. He was also very old by that time.

So, from Jiva Goswami’s POV he wasn’t exactly Lord Chaitanya’s representative, he wasn’t in the parampara, so to speak. When Vallabha Bhatta tried to correct Rupa Goswami’s verse Jiva Goswami didn’t feel like he had the right to teach Lord Chaitanya’s true followers, and, perhaps, he thought that his behavior was putting Rupa, his guru, in a less favorable light.

The actual conversation, however, was not confrontational, Rupa Goswami didn’t object to being corrected at all, so Jiva followed Vallabha Bhatta and talked to him alone again. Jiva’s explanation was brilliant, no doubt about it, and it amused the old vaishnava that such a young boy had so much knowledge and so penetrating intellect. It appears he didn’t care for the argument itself at all.

Rupa Goswami didn’t care for the argument either – right or wrong, whether senior vaishnava liked it or not, Jiva could not try to present himself as being smarter than Vallabha Bhatta. It was not his place to argue with such an old and respected devotee and display his intellect.

It didn’t matter if Vallabha Bhatta was in guru parampara or not either – Rupa treated him as a senior regardless of his sometimes idiosyncratic behavior and Jiva should have followed his mood, too.

When Jiva returned there was no talk about substance of the argument, Rupa Goswami pointed out that Jiva had to learn patience first, before trying to make a devotional career in Braj. Whatever old people say we have to respect their opinions. Jiva also probably assumed that Rupa was swayed by Vallabha Bhatta’s argument and was going to change his mangala charana verses, this also means that he thought he was more intelligent than his guru, Rupa Goswami.

Would Rupa Goswami actually changed the verse? I doubt so, the amount of respect accorded to a seniors and the amount of authority they wield over our service are not the same thing. Considering Vallabha Bhatta’s propensity to argue and his position as a founder of his own movement, Rupa probably had not problem in quietly disagreeing with him at all.

That’s what he chastised Jiva about – Jiva had had no patience and no respect to live among exalted personalities populating the sacred land of Braja. He had to learn patience to mind his own business and his own service instead of arguing with seniors, not everything that comes to our minds need to be spoken.

Being banished, Jiva somehow figured out that he didn’t have to actually go back to Bengal. When Rupa Goswami accepted him back I doubt he ever mentioned that he sent Jiva to Bengal, not to Nanda Ghat, and I doubt Jiva ever brought that up either.

This is the same point once again – it’s more important to maintain proper relationships than to “know the truth” and rationalize everything.

One more thing – it appears no one had any idea why Jiva moved to Nanda Ghat, not even Sanatana Goswami. Or maybe some people knew but they didn’t make such a big deal out of it. Was it an injustice towards Jiva or did he fully deserve his exile? I doubt they cared one way or another, yet they surely had their own opinions. Sanatana Goswami thought that Jiva had to return asap but only after consultation with Rupa and only with Rupa’s permission.

This tells us that if we offend our guru other people might take our side, they might present lots of arguments why we are being treated unfairly and why our guru is wrong, but none of their opinions matter. Life would go on but it wouldn’t matter, the only thing that matters is the opinion of our guru, he is the only absolute and ultimate authority over us.

Theoretically Jiva could have stayed in Vrindavana in defiance of Rupa Goswami’s order, he could have studied shastra, defeated some pundits, made a name for himself but none of that would have mattered without Rupa Goswami’s acceptance. Such is the nature of this world – it can give us everything we want but for the only thing we need – the mercy of our guru, which is irreplaceable.

Many devotees assume that by becoming famous for their service, their erudition, their devotion, their knowledge of Radha-Krishna lila, they somehow become eligible to actually enter it, that by taking initiation at Radha Kund they can erase their offense of leaving Srila Prabhupada.

Jiva Goswami didn’t take that path.

This article appears rambling and not very well thought out even to me but this is the best I can do for now.

One last thing – by looking at this incident from a practical, materialistic point of view, one might think that I’m discussing Srila Jiva Goswami’s display of immaturity – how he didn’t recognize Nityananda Prabhu as Balarama Himself, or how he didn’t have enough respect for seniors, how he was just an ordinary brahmachari eager to progress but not very mindful of his steps and actions. Nothing can be further from the truth. Srila Jiva Goswami is an eternally liberated soul that has never ever been touched by material energy.

This incident of impatience should be considered in the same line as his appearance from a human womb and the fact that he had to go to the toilet like the rest of us. Externally he might have appeared to be conditioned but, and here’s the catch – conditioned by Krishna, not by maya.

He made a “mistake” that many devotees had been learning from for centuries – how’s that a mistake if he brings so many people closer to Krishna?

This we should never forget for a moment – no devotee acts independently of the Lord and no one should criticize devotees for doing something not to our liking.

Vanity thought #589. Lord Chaitanya – the eternal mystery, and an oxymoron

Today we celebrate the appearance of Lord Chaitanya, or do we? The boy that took birth in Mayapur some five hundred years ago was named Nimai, not Chaitanya. Chaitanya became his sannyasi name when He was eighteen.

About oxymoron thing – we all say “Lord Chaitanya”, it’s everywhere in our books and even in our pancha-tattva mahamantra – “Sri Krishna Chaitanya…” The actual name, Chaitanya, however, is not a name of a Lord, it’s not even a sannyasi name – it’s a name of a brahmachari servant. When Nimai took sannyasa He was supposed to become a topmost person in the varnashrama division, even Narayana himself, according to mayavadi understanding, yet Nimai decided to keep His brahmachari name to stress His position as an eternal servant. That’s what it meant for Him – I want to remain Chaitanya the servant, yet we say “Lord Chaitanya”.

And what about “Sri Krishna Chaitanya” part? Isn’t “Sri” supposed to indicate that the Lord is accompanied by His eternal consort, the Goddess of Fortune, but Lord Chaitanya was a sannyasi, if we worship Him and His eternal consort shouldn’t we call Him by the name He used in His married life?

This is not to find faults in our worship of Lord Chaitanya, just to raise awareness of the Lord’s mission and mood, I’m sure “Sri Krishna Chaitanya” can be easily explained and someone has already done so somewhere.

His mood and mission, however, is a real mystery. When He was born everyone chanted the names of Hari, due to there being a lunar eclipse, and we know that the Lord was very fond of people around Him chanting “Hari Hari” to the point He would cry or throw tantrums on purpose just to make people glorify Hari for Him again.

So, did He like the sound of His own name, being Krishna Himself? Did He identify this chanting with Himself or was He pleased that people chanted names of Krishna without taking it personally? I guess we’ll never know.

Just think of it – we always address Him as the Lord and we always think of Him as the Lord even if we use His name as Nimai, which doesn’t imply any divinity, yet He almost never accepted being addressed as such. There were a couple of episodes late in His Navadvipa lila but only relatively few people were allowed to see Him as Krishna, for the rest of the population He was just a saint, a relative, a neighbor etc. I would guess thousands and thousands of people have had personal relationships with Him and never suspected He was God Himself.

So, how should we please Him better? By treating Him as a Supreme Personality of Godhead, or by following His orders to chant Hare Krishna? There were a couple of devotees who treated Him as God, like that Bengali devotee who washed His feet and drank the water at the Gundicha temple, and Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami left us in a suspense there – he said that internally the Lord was pleased by externally he had that devotee escorted our by the scruff of his neck.

Keep in mind that in those days there was no Chaitanya Charitamrita or Chaitanya Bhagavata and so there was no universal point of reference on our theology. I bet even people who accepted His divinity had no idea how to treat Him as such in the real life. From our books I don’t remember anyone who thought “He is the all powerful God, I should beg His boons and blessings”, quite the opposite, everybody thought that without their care and their service the Lord would not be able to survive.

When Lord Chaitanya traveled through Jakikhanda forest He made tigers, deer and elephants dance in ecstasy of love of God, yet when He traveled through Orissa the King, who knew of His real position, had numerous servants negotiate His safe passage as if the Lord could really be hurt by Muslim rulers of that land.

Another mystery is which part of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes is more important. We have no such problems with Krishna – Mathura is higher than Dvaraka and Vrindavana is higher than Mathura, and in Vrindavana His pastimes with the gopis are the highest. With Lord Chaitanya, however, we can’t definitely say which part of His life had more important lessons for us.

As Nimai He didn’t accomplish much, as Gauranga He preached all through Bengal, and this is the form that we worship on our altars, but it’s in the form of Chaitanya that He fulfilled the inner, higher purpose of His advent – tasting service to Krishna in the mood of Srimati Radharani, something He barely even mentioned in His Navadvipa lila. Again, there was no Chaitanya Charitamrita back then, everybody had different opinions on this and on Lord Chaitanya’s hidden identity is Radha-Krishna.

If we were magically transferred back in time to Bengal five hundred years ago, met with some of the Lord’s eternal associates, and started talking about supremacy of Srimati Radharani and how Lord Chaitanya’s golden complexion was due to Him being Radharani inside, very few people would take us seriously.

So, it is a mystery how to properly relate to Lord Chaitanya, we reject devotees who treat Him solely as God, the Supreme Enjoyer – gauranga nagaris, we also reject those who do not accept His divinity and treat Him as an ordinary sadhu. Amongst ourselves we call Him Lord but we follow His orders to surrender to Krishna rather than begging Him for sustenance directly.

It’s a tight rope to walk, and the most important lesson from it is that our relationships with Him should be very “personal”, and by that I mean that we should learn from other people and personalities, not from shastra or our intelligence. Forget the arguments and evidence – just do what Prabhupada did, try to catch not the mood of Lord Chaitanya, which is a speculative endeavor, but try to catch the mood of our gurus, which is real and can be confirmed.

The world of devotional service is unimaginably big, I guess everything can be found there, but we want to be rupanugas, followers of Rupa Goswami, and that means we should humbly decline everything that does not come in the line of our acharyas.

There were countless devotees who came together with Lord Chaitanya, some were in friendly rasa, others had parental affection for Him. His advent means quite different things for them. We, otoh, are just His servants trying to carry out His mission, our celebration of His birth should be different, too.

Yet today is the day when we all can put our differences aside and join in glorifying the appearance of our eternal master – Lord Chaitanya. We all have our own plans but today they don’t matter – there’s one thing we have in common – our devotion to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

I hope we can keep this feeling through the rest of the year.

Vanity thought #588. The price of being right

I already mentioned the episode with Jiva Goswami angering his uncle and spiritual master Rupa Goswami but I think it deserves a little more consideration.

The story is taken from Bhaktiratnakara by Narahari Chakravarti, there’s an .rtf and .pdf translations floating around the net, it’s on page 182 of the original book, in electronic copies page formatting is different but original numbering is preserved.

So, Srila Rupa Goswami just started writing his Bhakit Rasamrita Sindhu and when Vallabha Bhatta arrived to see him he had only mangala charana, introductory verses, to show him. Vallabha Bhatta thought something was wrong about them and offered a correction. Jiva Goswami, who just arrived in Vrindavan, was fanning Rupa Goswami and heard Vallabha Bhatta suggestions but didn’t agree with them. He quietly followed Vallabha Bhatta to Yamuna and while Vallabha was taking a bath Jiva defended the version of Rupa Goswami and argued that no corrections were necessary.

Vallabha Bhatta returned from taking his bath and asked Rupa Goswami who that young learned man was, he praised Jiva’s erudition and agreed with Jiva’s conclusion.

When Jiva returned shortly afterwards, however, Rupa Goswami was cold and resolute. He didn’t display any anger but rather in a quiet, authoritative voice allowing for no interruptions he sent Jiva back to where he came from, to Bengal. He was so serious that Jiva had nothing else to do but to pack up and leave, there was no room for arguing for himself in Rupa Goswami’s words.

Once Jiva left Vrindavana and gathered his wits he thought that he wouldn’t give up so easily. He decided to stay in a forest in Nandaghat, some ten kilometers away. He hoped that by fasting and praying he would get into Rupa Goswami’s good graces again. This lasted for some time until Srila Sanatana Goswami on his tour of Vrindavana forests arrived at Nanda Ghat and the residents told him of a young, emancipated goswami living in a nearby forest.

Sanatana Goswami realized that it must have been Jiva and he hurried to see the sadhu. Jiva Goswami was so thin that even Sanatana Goswami, the great ascetic himself, got worried. It’s important to note here that even Sanatana Goswami didn’t know the exact reason why Jiva was in this exile. Upon hearing the reason for the banishment Sanatana Goswami immediately returned to see Rupa.

Rupa Goswami heard of his return and went out to meet him, Sanatana Goswami asked him about his well-being and about the progress of his book, Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu. “Oh, it’s okay,” said Rupa, “I’ve finished writing it but without Jiva it’s still unedited. – About that…,” said Sanatana, and he told him Jiva’s story. Rupa Goswami’s heart melted and they immediately brought Jiva back. The end.

Normally we accept everything from Bhakitratnakara without questions and it’s very unlikely that this story is completely made up but there are some doubts about its timeline.

Vallabha Bhatta was a contemporary of Lord Chaitanya and he left this world in 1531. There are different opinions on when Srila Jiva Goswami was born and when he came to Vrindavana but if we take the earliest possible dates it’s possible that he caught Vallabha Bhatta just before his departure. That is if Jiva Goswami was born in 1513 and he was eighteen when he came to Vrindavana, which would have been 1531.

Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu, however, was completed in 1541, ten years later. It’s not very likely that Jiva Goswami lived incognito in Nanda Ghat for ten years or that it took him ten years to edit the book, or even ten years both for his exile and the editing.

Regardless, the story is part of our Gaudiya tradition, the objection to its timing comes from infamous Jagat, a very knowledgeable devotee who left Srila Prabhupada, which actually disqualifies him from studying Gaudiya history as this is the most serious guru aparadha, and who also thinks that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a fraud who forged Chaitanya Upanishad himself.

I mean how twisted and corrupted one’s mind must be if he accuses our spotless acharyas like Bhaktivinoda Thakur of forgery. I can only conclude that once one places the path of scholarship above the path of devotion he is lost to devotional service. Who cares if Jagat is “right” because, as far as devotional service goes, he is definitely and irreparably wrong – just look at how strict Srila Rupa Goswami was regarding proper etiquette when dealing with devotees.

Well, I’ve been meaning to discuss etiquette lessons from this story but there are so many of them that it’s better to leave it for another day.

Vanity thought #587. The last on Pope

It’s been two weeks since Catholics got themselves a new Pope. He looks okay to me, and that’s what I want to say a few words about – the old Pope looked disturbingly evil.

Even though I appreciate his stance on their theological doctrine and his resistance to liberalism I never got around to liking his face. This is a strictly materialistic judgement, strictly according to my pre-conceived notions of what good and evil people should look like.

If we give external looks any more value than that someone might say that Srila Prabhupada doesn’t look too good either. We can protest about that and say that physical appearance does not show internal spiritual level, or that a person has a weird taste and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to judge people, but it will be too late. I can either denigrate the ex-Pope for his looks and invite the same treatment on Srila Prabhupada, or I can shut up and think of it as some curiosity, nothing more.

But he DOES look disturbingly evil:

Pope

There are, of course, much better pictures elsewhere but this one sums up my memory of him pretty well.

I never liked my own pictures, too, and I remember scaring quite a few people, including children, but I have an excuse – I don’t particularly want to be liked, our goal shouldn’t be success in this world, being rejected is actually a blessing, be it for the looks, lifestyle, convictions, whatever.

A devotee is actually a bane of this world – people should hate us with all their guts because devotees take away their source of enjoyment, they break their dreams about overlording everything they see and ask them to surrender to Krishna instead. Devotees come here to destroy everything people believe in. It’s songs and sweets only in the beginning, afterwards our egos get crashed, slowly and methodically, day by day, round by round, Name by Name, until we finally give up hanging onto our illusory dreams and surrender to Krishna.

The inconvenient truth is that we can’t have both – comfortable life here and devotion to Krishna, so, well, yeah, if people don’t like me they are doing me the greatest service, it’s the ones that admire me I should be afraid of because I might get attached to their veneration. Luckily for me these people are only imaginary, no one likes me that much.

So, until the new Pope does something extraordinary I will leave him and his church alone.

Vanity thought #586. The amazing snowman

This last holiday season one Swedish man in his forties didn’t feel like joining the festivities and decided to get away from it all. He packed up his car, drove to the North of the country and parked away from the main road. He didn’t miss anyone and had a jolly good time to himself. Ten days later, just before New Year, he ran out of food. He still had booze and smokes, though, so he thought he would stay a little longer, he didn’t want to return yet.

Ten days later he ran out of alcohol and cigarettes, too. By that time his hatred and resentment of the world grew so much he thought that he’d rather stay hungry and cold than come back to the society. To hell with them, he thought, I’m staying here. Ten days later someone called the police about a car parked in the woods but because it wasn’t reported stolen the police didn’t want to investigate it, apparently there are lots of abandoned cars all over Swedish forests.

The man still had his plan B – the main road was very close and the nearest gas station less then two kilometers away but he didn’t use it, he decided not to give a shit about the world he has left behind. And then came the snow, a lot of it, waist deep. By the time he tried to walk back he could make only ten meters before getting exhausted.

Fair enough, the man thought, I gave up on the world and the world gave up on me. He returned to his car and snuggled in his sleeping bag. He didn’t have any food but when he was thirsty he would scoop up some snow and eat it.

He was found on February 19, still alive, two months after he left the society behind.

When snow bikers who found him opened the door of his car he asked them if they had any coffee – no, they said. Well, do you have any cigarettes? No. Then get the hell out of here and close the door, you are letting the cold in!

The man is recuperating very well and is almost ready to be discharged from the hospital but so far he still refuses to talk to anyone. Sometime last year he got into a bad business venture and amassed huge debts. His house was repossessed and in Sweden you can’t claim social benefits if you don’t have a place of residence, and you can’t rent a place if you don’t have any money – catch 22. His girlfriend had also left him. He didn’t speak to his parents for twenty years and is not going to start any time soon either.

It’s an amazing story but what has it got to do with Krishna consciousness? Not much on the face of it, just another misanthrope, or another case study of the modern uncaring society. Most of online commenters can’t understand his point of view at all. People think he was crazy or suicidal, some think it’s a hoax because they don’t believe he couldn’t walk to the gas station (some say he actually went there to get supplies but that can’t be confirmed atm). Some people think it’s a publicity stunt to attract attention and make money on movie and book rights, they don’t understand how shallow and repulsive modern society can appear to someone who wants to look beyond its superficial charms.

We, as devotees, should take note of it next time we get excited about some new social invention like gay marriages or vegans.

More interesting, however, is how he survived the cold – it got down to -30 Celsius during that time. He didn’t have any food, he had only snow for water, and he still lived, just on his will power alone.

We think that only people like Hiranyakashipu or Ravana can perform austerities like that and it was millions of years ago in a different age. Apparently it’s still possible if one is determined enough.

So what’s stopping us from leaving this world on the power of the Holy Name? Why do we think it’s impossible to live in Himalayas like Nara Narayana or Vyasadev? Why do we not have faith?

I’m not saying that we should all try something similar, I’m saying that we should have full faith that it’s perfectly possible. I personally knew a devotee who spend whole night outside in -20 Celsius without a coat on, he didn’t even get sick afterwards. He was chased by the police for distributing books in some remote, unenlightened village, he ran outside of his hotel and was afraid to come back, chanting Hare Krishna through the night instead.

Last time I heard he left the movement and is considered blooped but I don’t believe for a second that he abandoned Krishna or that Krishna abandoned him, not after making sacrifices like this. They can say whatever they want but I will always see him as an eternal servant of Lord Chaitanya, no matter what he does in the material world, which is nothing major anyway.

I hope that when my time comes to go through tests like this I’ll have enough faith to keep going. I need to grow beyond the bodily conception if I ever want to become a devotee, these two concepts are incompatible, you choose either one or the other and I hope I’ll have enough strength to make the wise choice.

I’ll end with some pictures of the car and its insides:

Vanity thought #585. Yamuna

The problem with Yamuna has been bothering me for a while now. It used to be a nice little river, not particularly clean but very usable. Maybe it’s not the right way to talk about this most sacred river but if we talk about rivers we assume we can take a bath in them, pollution might not touch their spiritual powers but after a bath we are expected to be visibly clean, not covered in unidentifiable oily muck.

In case you don’t know what the current problem is – Yamuna starts high in the Himalayas but when it reaches the plains it gets all diverted to serve towns and factories and there’s literally nothing left of it. These towns and factories return the water in the form of sewage and the river gets reassembled again a couple of hundred kilometers down it’s usual course. That’s how it reaches Vrindavana.

If I were to go there now I wouldn’t know what to do about it. Should I take a shower with lots of soap after talking a bath in Yamuna? Should I even bother with taking a bath there? Maybe offering obeisances on the shore is enough. What if she feels offended that I refused to fully utilize her offerings? It is possible to take a bath in her waters after all.

I guess it’s the same problem as with the rest of Vrindavana – you need to completely forgo all material considerations in order to worship it properly, and I mean all of it must go, even the most basic instinct of self preservation. If you have any concerns about the condition of your body at all you are not fit to enter.

I’m not talking about setting a nice materialistic life in Vrindavana, that has been proven to be quite possible, but I have a feeling that if you accept that option you’ll never be allowed into the spiritual Vrindavana, ever. It’s your choice – having a comfortable life in one of the numerous condos with deeply satisfying knowledge that you made it into a Brijabasi or take baths in Yamuna without any care for skin cancer, rashes and whatever diseased you will certainly get there.

I guess a real inhabitant of Vrindavana wouldn’t even consider taking a bath anywhere but in Yamuna. Of course there’s also Radha Kund and others but our acharyas warned us of using their waters for something as mundane as cleansing our bodies.

Maybe these doubts are the real reason I don’t go to Vrindavana anymore, I’m not ready to deal with it, not ready to live up to the expected standards and cannot afford to compromise anymore. Once you know your behavior is offensive you cannot continue with it. In that sense my earlier ignorance was my bliss, and now it’s gone.

Besides, I don’t want to go there and see monkeys, open sewage and half burnt bodies floating around, as long as my eyes see these things there’s no use of taking them to Vrindavana.

I feel deeply apologetic towards Mother Yamuna but I’m afraid I’ll have to wait with going to pay her tributes in person.

Vanity thought #584. <- Escaped, offended

I usually carry the “seeds” of these articles for a couple of days, slowly growing their bones and meat. Today, however, I had nothing when I woke up. Then something came up and I thought I was all set.

The seed of today’s post came to me again when I was chanting and, as I suppose I should, I chased the thought away, arguing that this is not the right time to contemplate content of today’s article. I contemplated something else instead, sadly.

So, today’s post felt offended and ran away and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was and I haven’t got any other ideas mature enough to replace it.

This happened many times before, I mean chasing the thoughts away during japa, but they always came back or somehow were substituted with something else. Today I had nothing, at least I had nothing as I sat down to type.

I waited and waited but the thought didn’t return and no new ideas entered my head, but, as I was typing this introduction, something indeed reminded me of itself.

I’m not nearly ready to turn this idea into anything cohesive, I see it can grow in many directions but I’m not sure where to take it exactly, so here it goes, in a nutshell.

Our Earthly Vrindavana is non-different from Vrindavana in the spiritual world. This means two things – the dogs, monkeys, and endless condominiums we see here are just a material covering of truly spiritual, eternally blissful Vrindavana, and at the same time they are non-different and truly spiritual, eternally blissful already, we just don’t feel it yet.

The first solution is very easy to accept but it also makes the Earthly manifestation less worshipable – yes, it’s connected to the spiritual world, but it’s not quite “it”. We would always be offering obeisances to the dust and dirt of present Vrindavana with the idea that it’s not the real thing still lurking in the back of our minds.

It’s like “Oh yeah, you river of stool, I offer my obeisances to you but I hope that my vision of you goes away and I see something really cool instead.”

The second solution, that our Vrindavana is as good as it gets but we just don’t feel it that way, is a lot more difficult to accept – I mean are they really kalpa vriksha trees? They don’t act like that in our world. And what about everything else?

Are we really supposed to worship this Indian town with all its stink and economic activity as Lord’s highest abode? We could just as easily pick any rock on the street and worship it instead. Oh wait, that’s what we do with Silagrama shilas! Yet we don’t accept that Krishna is nothing more than a stone, we know that in reality He has a body, a flute, and everything else.

With Vrindavan it’s different – everything is already present there – the Govardhan, the Radha Kunda, all the places are there, unlike hands and feet of Silagrama.

Are we really expected to look at dusty roads with stool flowing through open sewers and feel it as a path by which Krishna sneaks out to meet with the gopis, covered with soft grass and decorated with flowers? Is it supposed to be like our wives – not the most beautiful women in the world but because we love them we see past their external appearances and cherish them as most precious anyway? Is it supposed to be like our children – not the smartest, cutest babies in the world but because they are ours our hearts melt all the same?

This would make sense and it would do wonders for our false egos where we would completely detach ourselves from our shells, forget our backgrounds and upbringing, and worship sewers as the most beautiful thing in the world. I mean surely there are places here which are far dirtier and stinkier and if we grew up there we would see Vrindavan as a nice upgrade. Are we not seeing wonders of Vrindavana because we were shown something much cleaner already? Would we see it as perfect if we were not contaminated with our previous experiences?

Then there’s a question with all the mayavadis, prakrita sahajiyas and all types of materialistic persons living there. They are certainly external to Krishna’s land Srila Prabhupada said so many times. How are we supposed to see them? It’s one thing if they moved in from elsewhere but what if they were born in Vrindavana in the families of offenders that have lived their for generations?

I can’t wrap my mind around this. Yes, everybody who lives in Vrindavana deserves respect yet many also deserve condemnation. How to navigate it safely? I don’t think I can handle it without committing serious offenses.

There’s a way out, however, Svarupa Damodara or Haridasa Thakura, or even Srivasa and Gadadhara Pandita never went to Vrindavana, as well as great many devotees of Lord Chaitanya, and in their day Vrindavana looked much much nicer, without all these Kali Yuga bells and whistles or mayavadis making their living there.

Vrindavana that is present in the Holy Name is non-different from Vrindavana of the spiritual world and thus it’s always closer to our hearts than that piece of land in Uttar Pradesh. In fact it’s non-different from the Earthly Vrindavana, too, minus all the disturbing contradictions.

Hmm, yet another point for the chanting of the Holy Name as the best means of progress in our times.

Well, the original thought might have gone away but the substitute actually looks quite good, maybe even better, maybe that was the plan from the start, I really have no idea how these things come into my head and where they go. I’m not saying Krishna places them there but He also said that from Him comes forgetfulness and remembrance.

Whoever does this – thank you very much, I’m eternally grateful for managing it for me.