Vanity thought #714. The point of knowing

There are a lot of things to learn about workings of this world, what’s the point, though?

What practical advantages can we extract from knowing that the future doesn’t exist, for example? I mean future in a sense of uncertainty, because technically speaking “future” is no different from the “past”, as I showed yesterday.

What do we do with our lives when we know that we have absolutely no control over it, when we realize there’s no such thing as free will? Keep arguing otherwise? Settle down and lose interest in the world? Give up our service, too? Stop trying to become better devotees? Stop trying to control our minds or strictly follow our regulative principles?

When some people learn they’ve got terminal cancer they feel like they are not obliged to do anything, some people feel that their obligations is all that is left. Some people compile their “bucket lists”, some lose all interest and withdraw instead.

What should we do as devotees?

In one word – chant.

The only point of acquiring knowledge is to convince ourselves that chanting is the best and the only viable activity in this world. Our minds beg to see it differently, they want things, our intelligence remembers all the good times and agrees with the mind when it wants something, and so we live under the illusion that we are the doers and enjoyers of the world.

Real knowledge, however, would tell us that investing ourselves in manipulating matter to our advantage is wasteful, that we are only cheating ourselves if we take this course of action.

So, how should that affect our chanting?

In the beginning we chant when we are in trouble. We think that by chanting we can improve our lives, we can get better jobs, more money, or that Krishna might help us to find those darn keys. Every time we find ourselves in trouble we turn to Krishna. “Please help me here, please help me there, I want this, I want that, I have this perfect plan and with Your help it will surely come through. I’m sure this is the right thing to do but the material nature is so uncooperative, please help me to get it going.”

With a little maturity we realize that not everything we want or plan for ourselves is actually good. Then we start praying for Krishna to take charge of our lives, whatever He feels is the best for us, we promise to accept it. “I don’t know who to marry, please show me the girl. I don’t know where to go, please show me the way. I don’t know what career I should pursue, please give me a sign”.

With this attitude we trust Krishna more but we also expect Him to fix our problems, we just don’t insist on our own solutions.

All these things occupy our minds during japa, it’s unavoidable, and we think that approaching Krishna is the right thing to do. Sometimes we catch ourselves and pull our minds back to listening and chanting but the overall ambiance is still there – we chant because we want things, we want the better things, we want the best things in this world.

With real knowledge, however, it all loses sense. There’s no point in trying to find the best way to improve our lives, with or without Krishna. Things are going to happen anyway and Krishna is not going to mess with them for our pleasure.

When thoughts come into the mind about solving this or that it’s not “I want it that way” anymore, and it’s not “Let Krishna do it, He knows better”, but rather total disinterest and disengagement. “Shoo! Shoo!”, we must tell our thoughts, “not now, now is the time to listen to the Holy Name, all your mundane problem solving can wait.”

Normally one would feel an obligation to take care of things – health, family, money, chores etc, but equipped with real knowledge that just goes away. Will I be blamed for not performing my duty? Yes, probably, but my chanting should prepare me to face that blame with detachment rather than try to avoid it.

I take interest in controlling this world because it feels good, even if I know it’s illusion, and I really empathize with my mind because it simply doesn’t know any better, it just doesn’t have taste in Krishna. Yet. I’m going to change that, slowly, step by step, Name by Name, taste will come.

I’m sorry that daydreaming and fantasizing about this and that feels so good, with the power of knowledge, which can be very persuasive, I’m going to train my mind to listen to the Holy Name instead. It’s going to take time but I can already feel the power of the Name. It’s not in the taste yet but somehow it’s already compelling.

Knowing that we don’t have to worry about anything at all can also be very liberating, just sit and chant, Name by Name, mantra by mantra, round by round. The world can go to hell, or it can stay, when listening to the Holy Name in such a state the universe practically ceases to exist.

Vanity thought #713. Stuff they don’t teach you in school

The worst thing is that actually they kind of do, in science classes, but they can’t bring themselves to apply this science in real life. Ironic, isn’t it? Considering that they pride themselves on their rationality you’d expect them to follow through on the most famous theory of all time.

I’m talking about relativity, of course. It’s been around for over a hundred years and Einstein is probably the most popular icon for modern science but when it comes to making simple conclusions everyone is busy with something else.

Admittedly, relativity is fairly difficult to grasp but we have plenty of down to earth explanations of how it works. Speed of light is constant, instead it’s time that speeds up or slows down to maintain light’s velocity. This gives rise to the twin paradox where one of the two brothers, the astronaut one, comes home to find that he has now become younger because his time slowed down.

The physics of it are complex but the concept is easy to visualize. Twin paradox is not the only curious side effect of relativity and here is the video that explores these time adjustments in a different and, I admit, very striking way.

This video plays on the idea of “now”, ie both observers start at the same point in time and then check the space around them at a predetermined interval. Because of the time dilation one’s “now”, however, becomes the other’s “past” or “future”, depending on the direction of their travel.

The video illustrates this by slicing the bread of space and time at an angle. I don’t know if it’s scientifically plausible, I mean two travelers on the opposite sides of the universe can’t communicate instantly to observe the effect themselves so you can’t really cheat time and ask what is going to happen to you in the future but that is not the point.

The point is that the future that we think is uncertain and subjected to our manipulation ALREADY exists. I’m tempted to say that it’s visible to the dude on the other side of the Milky Way but it’s not, thought if he could look at it he would have seen it.

So, what we call “future” exists objectively though we are restricted from accessing it. We have no choice but to live through the motion of time and experience it sometime later but it’s there already, waiting for us to arrive.

Just as Krishna says – I know past, present and future (BG 7.26). We accept it because it’s said in the Gita but now there’s an example of scientists coming to the same conclusion, except they don’t know Krishna.

Why don’t they teach this to the kids right from the start? Why do they fill their minds with notions of “free will” and “everything is possible” and “follow your dreams” crap instead? Why don’t they accept science that they profess to love so much?

Why don’t they accept that science demonstrates futility of our existence? Why are they in denial?

I guess it’s because they think that if are going to live through predetermined future anyway we might just enjoy it and pretend we are control. This is what we do for entertainment already – watch the movies where hero always wins at the end or go on rollercoaster rides where we know exactly where we would be at each point of time, where cameras would snap a picture of our distorted faces, and where it would eventually stop. It’s all predetermined yet we still enjoy the experience.

That might not be such a bad solution in the end, but before we accept it we should realize that it’s all just a game, that there is no freedom, no options, no real control. There’s no “future” and all our worries, hopes, and attempts to improve it have no effect on it whatsoever. We indulge in such stuff only to entertain ourselves.

That’s what we should remember when we chant the Holy Name, when our minds wonder off to revisit the past or to scheme some improvements to our future. We do this only because we like it, not because it would have any real effect.

There’s no real reason to worry about our jobs, about our income, about our health, about our pleasure or pain, we can’t change anything, just experience it when it comes. Is it the best experience in the world? No, it isn’t, we’ve been told. Much better experience comes from serving Krishna, much better taste, much more enjoyable rasa.

At this moment we can’t feel it yet but if we abandon our interests in enjoying the illusion of control, which has been demonstrated scientifically, there’s a chance that Krishna will eventually reveal Himself because serving Him is our natural position.

If only we would stop worrying about things that are going to happen anyway.

Vanity thought #712. Modern marriage

Scouring my memory I curiously can’t find a proper definition of marriage and I don’t know where to seek one either. There are plenty of quotes about what marriage means but they all highlight only some particular aspects of it, not give a full, comprehensive definition the way Absolute Truth is defined in the first verse of Bhagavatam, for example.

The reason this has become important lately is the proliferation of gay marriage legislation all around the world. What should be our opinion on this? Where should it come from? What should it be based on?

We know that Srila Prabhupada would never have accepted it but we also need some shastric sources to justify his opinion to others.

Arguments for gay marriage are numerous and very compelling on their own and it appears the only reason to reject it is our fourth regulative principle, which we can’t force on the rest of the world. We can’t even force it on ourselves, after all. Yet we know that gay marriage is wrong regardless. Why?

In my view it all comes down to the definition, the very purpose of marriage. For us, followers of Srila Prabhupada, marriage is an institution for procreation. The rest of the world has never really thought about it and so when gays came out to claim their right there’s no straight answer for them.

A couple of months ago some gay marriage related case passed through the US Supreme Court and one of the dissenting judges mentioned difficulties arising from a lack of definition of marriage. Marriage has been an unquestionable tradition but now can be interpreted at will. When US Congress passed the original law less than twenty years ago marriage meant one thing but now the majority of US population wants it to be another, not to mention differences in legal interpretation between various US states.

In our tradition, in Krishna consciousness, there’s no such thing as “gay marriage”, it’s an oxymoron because gays can’t produce children, but for those who see marriage as a symbol of love and commitment being gay is not an obstacle.

This reflects gradual shift in understanding what sex is and what it is for. We stick to sex as means for procreation while the rest of the world wants sex as means of enjoyment. Procreation works only between a man and a woman while enjoyment can be had in almost everything.

Opponents of gay marriage are not the brightest bunch and they often get ridiculed. One guy said that once you accept same sex unions the next step would be mating with animals. He got a lot of flak for it but all I can see is that he was stating the truth.

Our local LGBT activist was quoted as saying that sexuality is fluid. No one had a problem with it but that goes so against the very premise of gay rights – that they were born that way. Not long ago an American organization that specialized in converting gays to straights had called it quits and everyone applauded their belated admission that it doesn’t work but here we have a gay leader herself saying that sexuality is fluid. I think I know where she is coming from – she has seen way too many convoluted, fleeting relationships in gay communities that she can’t honestly say that one’s sexuality is fixed at birth.

The only thing that is fixed is the presence of lust. How that lust manifests through one’s life is largely up to his or her association. As we move through life we learn to be attracted to available sexual targets. If that availability changes so will our preferences. I’ve never looked up statistics but it’s a common knowledge that men in prisons who have no other outlets learn to be attracted to men. Arabs and their goats is another example.

The body, of course, imposes its own limits, but only to a degree. No one is born to copulate with a goat, after all.

Recently I read a Buddhist scholar saying that in his religion there’s no requirement for procreation and so there are no restrictions on same sex unions, everything goes. Apparently among major religions only Muslims are holding out.

What is happening is that people who reject God’s laws start making their own, and that includes deciding what marriage is. If we engage in such debates we should remember that what marriage means to us is fundamentally different, if people don’t accept our position all further arguments will be futile. That’s why it’s important that sex for us means procreation, not enjoyment, and our definition of marriage rises from this.

There’s one more big difference – modern marriage implies “until death do us part” while our marriage ends when wife can be handed over to grown up children. It makes perfect sense to us – since there’s no more procreation and children can take care of themselves, there’s no need for the relationship. The opposite stance makes perfect sense to those who think marriage is meant for love and enjoyment, too – since there’s no time limit on how long it can last. They think they make a big sacrifice by staying with one person but that is only a preliminary stage on the path to renouncing sex for pleasure that is absolutely necessary for any kind of spiritual life.

Of course no one stays in marriage until death even where it’s considered ideal. Having accepted marriage as means of sense gratification one is practically obliged to divorce once his passion subsides or diverts to someone else. There’s a huge societal pressure to leave unhappy marriages while staying on despite all problems is considered practically sinful.

Finally, a perfect example of people inventing their own laws is latest statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the so called moral compass of South Africans and an icon for the rest of the world. He said that he is not going to worship a homophobic God and he is not going to enter heaven where same sex love is not accepted as natural.

Well, Desmond Tutu is such a big, honorable man that I’m sure God is already making adjustments in His kingdom, ready to serve Tutu’s preferences. Angels are busy writing pro-gay legislation and all the inhabitants are being lectured on how to behave once Tutu comes in.

The egoism and self-centeredness of these modern day Christians is beyond belief but it takes a while to observe it shine through. In the meantime we should stay clear of the marriage debate, listening to these arguments is very very polluting as they come from hearts of people who want to make God their servant.

Vanity thought #711. Guilt trip

If we were to boldly declare that Hare Krishnas should abstain from sex altogether, which is what our fourth regulative principle means in practice, there would be a barrage of arguments why it wouldn’t work. There would be arguments about built up stress, pent up demand, uncontrolled and potentially dangerous releases leading up to encompassing feeling of guilt that would drive us insane. We’d all be unfulfilled individuals who hate themselves and project their hate on the world around them.

It would be our version of Christian original sin that everyone has to carry, except our sin would be our own falldowns, and it would shape our entire psyche. The civilization has moved past such guilt trips and it has become axiomatic that restraining oneself would lead to nothing but psychological ruin.

To reply to that I have several arguments why it wouldn’t be an issue.

First of all, things like stress, unhappiness, guilt etc are pre-ordained by our karma, if one has to suffer from them he has to suffer, there’s no way of avoiding it, and if one’s karma is filled with happiness and content no regulative principle would be able to ruin it. One can look up his horoscope to see if any “unhappy” planets are casting their shadows on one’s personality if one is really curious.

Let’s also not forget that as devotees we shouldn’t worry about our karma, we should just patiently wait it out, being equipoised both in happiness and distress, and we should be able to withstand criticism, too.

Another reason it’s not going to be an issue is that guilt comes from failing expectations. As devotees we don’t expect much from ourselves and we should see ourselves as deeply fallen. In the beginning we might imagine ourselves as the purest of the pure but with maturity comes realization that we are what we are and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise, not in public and not to ourselves.

Instead of accumulating guilt we should accumulate honesty. Actually it’s not “should accumulate”, it happens naturally and automatically as long as we keep chanting.

Besides, feeling fallen and unworthy in our tradition, thanks to Lord Chaitanya’s mercy, leads to greater happiness as we become less reliant on ourselves and more reliant on the Holy Name, which never fails to reciprocate and reward our surrender.

This is what Prabhupada demonstrated right from the beginning – unimaginably great austerities of Hare Krishna’s lifestyle make us into happiest, most enthusiastic persons with big smiles and bright faces. It’s scheming and controlling our own lives that makes us morose again. As soon as we start looking for permission to enjoy sex, spiritual happiness goes away.

Yet another reason why we shouldn’t suffer from guilt trips is that all these things are material in nature, they just happen to manifest on a subtler, mental platform, and they happen to everybody, not just us. Illicit sex is sinful but with so much of it going around any reactions we might get will be totally drowned in the cacophony of universal suffering.

It’s an illusion to think that liberal attitude towards sex leads to greater psychological health. People suffer from “free” sex all the time, they either don’t get enough of it, or they get too much, become attached and then abandoned, or their partners get jealous, or they can’t choose between different partners, or they make their choice and then regret it, or they fail at monogamy. There’s no end to it, and that is before they get their free trip to hell as promised in Srimad Bhagavatam.

As devotees our karmic results of illicit sex would be about the same, Krishna won’t let us suffer more than necessary even if punishment for people who commit sinful activities knowingly (us) should be greater than for those who commit them out of ignorance (the rest of the world).

The real downside of illicit sex is loss of taste for the Holy Name and this loss can’t be measured or expressed in material terms. It doesn’t affect our external appearance, it doesn’t affect the amount of our pleasure or suffering, and materialists who might wish to criticize us for abstaining from sex would never understand it.

Once we realize what we are missing from our lives due to our interest in sex all the concerns about our emotional state or mental health will become insignificant and immaterial. Of course to get that realization one needs to get a kick from Krishna but it will happen sooner or later, just wait for it.

We might let ourselves slip into a slumber of illusion that we can have our cake and eat it but Krishna is too kind to let us asleep forever. A devotee might come along who’d remind us of real spiritual bliss, or we might read something in the books, or hear, really hear, the sound of kirtan.

One way or another, by refusing to enjoy sex we are not losing anything and we have everything to gain. Sex is an anartha, we think that it is valuable and we can’t live without it but that is not true. By now we should have enough experience with anarthas to know that they once they are gone they are not missed, just like meat or alcohol or betting on football.

It will all work out in the end, we should just have faith.

Vanity thought #710. The principle

If regulated sex in marriage is an application of the principle, then what is the principle itself?

In two words: “No sex”

Do not be confused by “sex in marriage for begetting children” wording. It’s not what “sex” means in modern English. Sex means pleasure while procreation has been relegated somewhere to the very back of society’s mind when you start discussing rules of sexual behavior, and the past couple of years the concept of marriage as means to procreation has been successfully challenged by gay and lesbian community. It has become an old and antiquated notion while sex for pleasure has become the sign of enlightenment and liberation.

So that “sex” everyone is talking about is not “sex” that is mentioned in our fourth principle. We do not have any concessions on sex for pleasure, forget about it.

That’s why when devotee discuss sex they get confused – for us sex still means pleasure and we talk about regulative principle we think we are talking about regulating enjoyment. Things like “once a month on certain days” and so on. We don’t even acknowledge it verbally but this is what it means to us – permission to enjoy.

The overriding principle, however, is that devotees do not do anything for their own pleasure, only for Krishna’s. This will never change, this is the definition of devotion – service without any personal interest, anyabhilashita shunyam. You can’t be a devotee and maintain interest in sense enjoyment.

This is why proper grihastha life in Krishna consciousness is the same as brahmacharya and there are plenty of Prabhupada quotes stating just that.

Does that mean that we are not devotees? Who will accept such a verdict? It will be very unpopular. True, but remember the days when you decided to surrender to Krishna? There was no demand for sex pleasure then, at least not consciously. You knew that surrender required giving up sex, everybody knew that, they just can’t acknowledge it now because it would hurt their perception of themselves – who wants to admit being a failure?

I also don’t believe that householder devotees of old were as interested in sex as we are now. In Lord Chaitanya’s time sex meant procreation, not pleasure, it was a different culture and so examples of Srivasa Thakura or even Bhaktivinoda Thakura are not applicable now.

“No sex” principle is the same as eating only prasadam. We are not supposed to eat for our own pleasure and only honor prasadam as a service to the Lord. We, of course, keep stuffing our faces but we also know what proper tongue control is – take only what is necessary for body maintenance and only in the spirit of devotion. It’s not so difficult and pretty soon one would learn to see when he is eating as a service to Krishna and when he is eating as as service to his taste buds.

What about Lord Chaitanya’s mercy then? Isn’t it supposed to be powerful enough to override our sense-enjoying propensities? I’m afraid we can’t rely on Mahaprabhu to grant us love for Krishna while we can’t renounce sex.

There are two ways to understand it. One is that in Vedic and even Indian culture austerity is nothing, there are renunciates on every corner but that does not guarantee anything in spiritual life. Mahaprabhu’s mercy is in giving love of God that is otherwise unavailable regardless of one’s level of austerities.

Another way to look at it is that by Lord Chaitanya’s mercy the spirit of sense enjoyment goes away. Being His devotee means having no interest neither in sex nor in eating. He guarantees that as long as we remain committed to sankirtana we’ll be protected from material attractions and will be filled with spiritual bliss instead.

What we do instead is ask how can we maintain our attachments and be devotees at the same time. This is not possible by definition and it’s not what Mahaprabhu’s mercy is for.

This is also an offense against the Holy Name and so as long as we think that sex in marriage is a means of enjoyment the Holy Name won’t reveal itself to us. This means we can get stuck in this loop forever – desiring sex hides the Holy Name and without Holy Name sex urges become only stronger which obscures the Name even further.

To sum it up – we should completely renounce the desire to enjoy sex and start with this goal in mind. It will be a long way towards this goal but that’s the only way to get there, and, on the other hand, if we pursue any other goals, any other arrangements, the desire to enjoy will never leave our hearts and we’ll never become devotees.

Vanity thought #709. Living the 4th

Talking about the fourth regulative principle opened my eyes to the wide variety of options and situations out there. In our Bhagavatam classes it’s mostly about devotee families maintaining strict spiritual standards but out there, in the ever growing community, we have so many complicated cases you wouldn’t even know where to start.

The fourth regulative principle covers all of the humanity regardless of the status on devotional ladder and when you think about it that way you get to see the principle behind the rule. I mean it’s called a principle for a reason, right?

We have women married to meat eating non-devotee “sex crazies” and these women desperately want to become pure and spiritual but are torn between their obligations as wives and as members of ISKCON, and if they choose their families and children you can’t blame them for also wanting to be “normal”, ie initiated and marching towards spiritual goals.

Is it okay to demand following the fourth from women in such situations? What if it was a man who is married and had children with a non-devotee wife? Can he be initiated and expected to follow the fourth? How should he treat his wife when she needs him physically?

Then we have devotees who got married in ISKCON but with time drifted away. How are they supposed to follow the fourth if one day they come to their senses but their partners are still not ready? Divorce for the sake of spirituality? And then what? Remarry?

Then we have devotee women who marry outside on purpose, arguing that ISKCON men are unreliable and fickle and can easily abandon their families in pursuit of “spiritual progress”. How are they supposed to follow the fourth, considering that their marriage has a perfectly healthy raison d’etre – protection, stability, and procreation. This probably won’t happen in the West but in traditional societies men are still brought up with solid family values.

Then we have male devotees who simply fall in love with non-devotee women. Oh, such a falldown! As if anyone can fully protect his heart from falling in love. It happens, and they still want to be devotees, how are they going to follow the fourth with women who don’t want children just yet, or ever?

What about devotees who can’t get married for one reason or other. Maybe they can’t find the right person, or maybe they can’t find the right job, or maybe they are brought up in this modern non-marrying culture. Not being married they can’t stay brahmacharies for long and eventually hook up with strangers. What is better in this case – one night stand with devotees or with karmis? Or prostitutes?

When I sat down to type this post I thought I had all these cases organized and sorted in my mind but now it doesn’t matter anymore if I forgot something. The point is that they are all devotees and they all know the value of the fourth but their situations are not favorable to following it. Should they be initiated?

Easy answer – no, only devotees who commit themselves to following regulative principles should be given initiation. That is too simplistic, however, because following the fourth is a matter of karma and external arrangements, as you can see from the above examples. We can’t restrict initiations only to people who have enough good karma to start and maintain a proper, Krishna conscious family with proper, Krishna conscious partners, and most importantly, can afford abstaining from birth control.

If we do that we’ll become a caste society – some would be pure enough for initiations and some won’t and would never have a hope until they get a better birth.

As far as I know no one has figured out a solution to this yet, and I don’t have one either, but understanding the situation and accepting the difficulties is a good start already. At least it will make us a bit more mature and less judgmental.

Vanity thought #708. Debating the 4th

Recently a devotee posted a quote from one of our leading sannyasis about following the fourth regulative principle. The gist of it was that there’s a big difference between sex inside and outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is sinful and ruinous for spiritual life while recreational sex between married people is simply unfavorable for spiritual progress.

I thought that was very odd because Srila Prabhupada has never made such a distinction. There are tons of quotes on this and these two sound very convincing:

..in the Vedic civilization sex life is allowed only in a restricted way; it is for the married couple and only for begetting children. But when sex life is indulged in for sense gratification illegally and illicitly, both the man and the woman await severe punishment in this world or after death.

SB 3.30.28, purport

and

These laws and scriptures are meant for human beings. As such, if one violates these laws, he becomes sinful. The conclusion is that unrestricted sense enjoyment means sinful activities. Illicit sex is sex that violates the laws given in the scriptures. When one violates the laws of the scriptures, or the Vedas, he commits sinful activities.

SB 4.27.5, purport

So my first reflex was to point how maharaj clearly diverges from Srila Prabhupada on this. Thinking about it some more, however, I realized that this was a reply to a question, and if the question was “What to do if ..?” then one certainly has to make distinctions between husband and wife slipping into a bit of sense enjoyment and a sannyasi sexually abusing children.

Maharaj also called devotees who don’t see the difference “foolish and fanatical”. I don’t know about that – there’s no difference in principle, but if the question was “Should I drown in Ganges like Chota Haridas?” then the comment would be totally appropriate.

This question of in and out of marriage sex made me think of what a marriage is, too. From a karmic/devotional point of view – what constitutes marriage? Registration with civil authorities? Performing vivaha? Declaring their status publicly? That doesn’t seem to be definitive enough for marriage as it is accepted in “heaven”. What if a devotee performing the yajna made a mistake? What if all our yajnas are useless and no demigod/higher power ever recognizes them as a proper sacrifice?

Perhaps the most important part is the commitment to raising Krishna conscious children. Traditionally it’s the commitment to stay together until death but from devotional point of view the purpose of marriage is procreation, not the commitment to enjoy/annoy each other no matter what.

Perhaps we should define marriage as an arrangement for producing and raising Krishna conscious children, and everything else consider only as a tribute to society. Devotees aren’t meant to stay together until death anyway, after their procreational duties are over they should leave the family and devote themselves solely to spiritual practices.

Anyway, after submitting some of these arguments in hope to clarify maharaja’s statement it turned out that the question was about some other gurus who openly declare that any sex within marriage is okay and are not demanding abstaining from it neither for the first nor for the second initiation.

I don’t know what to say to that. Here I thought this particular guru was very liberal in his interpretation of how to follow the fourth reg but now he turns out to be the “strict” one!

There’s a confusion about what Prabhupada meant by establishing this fourth requirement for ISKCON devotees, the argument goes. I don’t know about that. To me it can’t be any clearer – no illicit sex, and illicit sex is sex outside of marriage, and in marriage it’s sex not for creating children.

What is there to be confused about?

Never mind the rules, there’s no surprise that some guys come along with easier versions, but rewriting the rules can’t change the fundamental principle – those who are attached to sex life, illicit or otherwise, will never become devotees. As long as attraction to sex enjoyment is there we can’t even dream of going back to Krishna. Pure, spiritual sex desire will not manifest itself as long as we cling to our base, material lust.

We can’t have the cake and eat it, too.

Vanity thought #707. A broken clock

Psychotherapy is like comfort food. No one believes in its value but it works surprisingly well for the purpose. As devotees we don’t touch either and we can’t seriously consider Freud’s obsession with our feelings for our mothers as the root of all evil. However, even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day, the key is to figure out when.

One easy thing we can agree with psychotherapists is that sex is the foundation of all our material desires and all our lives. Once we established that, however, our views start to diverge again. The second time we are in tune is a bit more complex case.

From Bhagavad Gita we know that our bodies are yantras, machines that work under the direction of the gunas. We also know about the law of karma. It’s not so hard to put one and two together, add the direction to see all living beings with equal vision, and realize that in this world we don’t have friends or enemies and so we don’t have any meaningful relationships, too.

There’s no one out there who can give us a million dollars if it’s not allotted to us by karma. We can have relationships with potential donors but without karma’s permission we can’t have any exchanges with them. Similarly, no one can kill or harm us without our karma’s consent.

What it means is that it’s all in our heads – happiness, pain, friendship, animosity, pleasure, suffering – it comes from our own karma, not from interactions with other people. Technically, it comes through interactions with other people but they are not the cause, just agents.

This is where we should agree with shrinks when they pose “How does it make you feel” questions. When deep in the illusion we tend to assign blame for our suffering to others, we tend to see other people as sources of our emotions. In reality, however, our pain is entirely our own. If we want to find a cause of it we should look within ourselves.

This is a very insightful observation to come out form such a ridiculous field. Is it very helpful? It doesn’t bring us closer to Krishna. It helps with operating in this world but that in itself is not a devotional activity. I hope this realization can help me to disengage from common tribulations and seek the Lord who is beyond the duality of the illusion. People are distractive and unavoidable so I think we all need help to deal with them in a proper way, without losing our concentration on Krishna.

So, next time you feel like flipping out remember that it’s not your nagging wife who is so annoying, it’s not your over-protective mother who makes you look uncool, it’s not your competitors who make you look incompetent – it’s all you and you alone. When you interact with people remember that you have nothing to fear from them and nothing to expect from them either.

The only meaningful connection we can have with people is through Krishna. If they appreciate the Lord and we appreciate the Lord we can engage in sankirtana, otherwise we have absolutely nothing to talk about. Real relationships will manifest in the spiritual world, until then we can withdraw from the societal affairs altogether.

Vanity thought #706. Sharing intimate thoughts

It’s one of the legitimate and even required exchanges between devotees, authorized in Upadeshamrita, Nectar of Instruction, by Srila Rupa Goswami. In the next verse there’s a description of how exactly one should honor other devotees according to their relative situation.

And then there’s “interfaith”. I wrote about it a couple of months ago and I’m still skeptical of its value. If this movement gives us government sponsored access to millions of people it’s great and justifies participating in it but the goal of the movement itself is interaction between members of different faiths.

There’s nothing about interfaith in Upadeshamrita and for a good reason – they’ve got nothing to share. At best we can mentally honor people of other faiths but they don’t even chant the name of Krishna.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was once invited to a sahajiya convention and he posted a list of questions which needed satisfactory answers before he’d agreed to attend. They were mostly rhetorical and demonstrated all the faults of sahajiism so there were no answers. He was very adamant about avoiding association of people who remain attached to their material bodies and who justify their illusion by misappropriating Lord Chaitanya’s philosophy. And those are ostensible gaudiya vaishnavas who chant the Holy Name as much as we do and maybe even more. Why should we be eager to mingle with non-vaishnavas then? What is it that we can share with them? Only the basic things about value of faith and mundane morality.

We assume that there are sincere Christians and Muslims out there but there’s a easy test of their sincerity – have they ever heard of Hare Krishna and Lord Chaitanya? Those who attend interfaith events must have heard about us. If they didn’t accept Lord Chaitanya’s message to their hearts there’s no place for sincerity there. According to Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami even devotees in legitimate vaishanva sampradayas have their progress stunted forever if they don’t accept Lord Chaitanya, what to speak of Christians.

What is there to learn from them that we can’t find in our own tradition? I’m sure we can learn something from even inanimate objects but here we are talking about interactions and exchange of ideas. Total waste of time, if you ask me.

There’s also a question of flavor. Mixing with non-Gaudiya devotees is about tasting their different attitudes and mixing with Christians is even more so. Those flavors might be attractive to some but, equally, they might be also repulsive, depending on one’s material background. Being attracted to God in one way or another is a plus but indulging in those inferior tastes is offensive to Srila Rupa Goswami. He might not take an offense himself but you can’t hope to become a rupanuga and keep hanging out with Christians at the same time.

Actually, all I wanted to do today is to share this hilarious video.

Once it’s over, ask yourself – do you really want to share intimate thoughts with these holy rollers or whatever their particular affiliation is? I mean they seriously believe in God but, come on, that’s Christian sahajiya at its finest and you’d probably get real hadoken in your face if you question their authenticity.

It’s better to leave them alone and offer mental respects from a distance.

Vanity thought #705. Little princes(s)

A couple of days ago I had a chance to observe an old man who struggles to keep himself afloat in the world that is gradually slipping away. He is not some kind of general who dreams of his old battles and need to wear a uniform to validate his glory days, he’s just an ordinary man.

There are two sides to his behavior. On one hand he has nothing to do with his life and so he waits until something comes along, he wants to be ready. So he diligently shaves, puts on his clean clothes, combs his hair, checks that there’s money in his wallet and his bank books are in their drawers, sorts his medicines, and so he is ready to face any contingency. That takes most of his day.

His mind is not what it used to be and it’s difficult for him to keep track of things, so by the time he checks his medicine cabinet he forgets where he left his wallet, and he is also convinced someone always moves his stack of clean clothes.

Anyway, this aspect of his behavior is about readiness and maybe we all share this trait when we have nothing much to do. Maybe we wait for a job opportunity, maybe we wait for a new woman in our lives, and also when we wait for orders of our guru.

Another aspect of his behavior is validating his identity. All these things – clean face, hairstyle, wallet in the pocket, money in the bank, they all form an essential part of his persona. If something goes amiss he feels the need to fix it right away. When he says things like “I want to do …” he means the devilishly handsome guy with a bit of a spare change whose wishes needs to be fulfilled. Sometimes he pees in his pants but he never notices it or never admits it to himself, that’s not who he thinks he is.

Unfortunately for him he established this image of a family patriarch that no one dares to break. People around him assure him that he has no jobs to do, that all his needs will be taken care of, but no one dares to say that what he should be preparing for is his death, and for that his immaculate hair is of no use. Well, most people aren’t very comfortable with the idea of preparing for death anyway so it’s no surprise, and just another damning evidence of modern civilization failing its citizens.

We, as devotees, sort of know what to do. We are preparing ourselves to enter the kingdom of God, to be with Krishna. Our readiness includes learning to remember Him at all times and memorizing prayers and chants. Our personal identity is also formed about being with Krishna. We try to shape ourselves as servants of our guru and vaishnavas.

So, when I looked at that man I thought that I should use his example to prepare myself for old age and death in the correct way, and I noticed that I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the past couple of weeks.

The reality of old age and death, however, might be completely different from what I imagine now. Maybe all my preparations is like a little girl trying on a ten dollar princess dress and imagining her wedding. However useful that game might be later on in life, it has very little to do with the pressure of choosing a real wedding dress and making a real commitment as a grown woman.

Maybe that’s how guru and Krishna see me – as a little princess, cute but clueless. To this I can say – it might be a long road to perfection but I have to start somewhere with something. And thanks for calling me cute.

The other aspect is a bit more worrying – we all try to keep our place in the world, try to make sense of it and try to understand it, “measure” it, so to speak. We might be preparing to enter the kingdom of God but as long as we have this attitude of control we won’t enter it as devotees. Well, not as Vrindavana devotees.

We want to be little princes with Krishna being the king. We agree to admit His superiority but we are more like kings of vassal states agreeing to pay tributes to the emperor to preserve our little domains rather than seeking to become His servants.

This “little prince” attitude is very hard to eradicate, it pops up everywhere, in all our thoughts and all our actions, and I don’t know where even to start with it. Maybe women with their trusting nature have it easier but I want to know and learn everything for myself. I want to know how remote control works, I want to know how the mind of that old man works, I want to know how death works, I want to predict everything and with high accuracy, too. I’m not prepared to live in a world where I’m not in control and where I don’t make sense of things I see.

I can probably outgrow my “little princess” syndrome but I don’t know how to deal with “little prince” yet.

Well, chanting makes everything perfect, they say, so I don’t lose hope yet.