Vanity thought #745. Disclaimer on materialism

Over the past month I had quite a few posts arguing in defense of “fallen” devotees which might mean I see no difference between perfectly engaged devotees and “slackers” who don’t even follow regs anymore.

This needs to be clarified.

There’s nothing more glorious than a dedicated devotee on a sankirtana mission, or serving Deities, or cooking for devotees. That cannot be compared to someone giving in to their senses, period.

In terms of respect, however, we should approach this from manadena angle, which means we should offer respect to all living beings, fallen devotees included. We can say that as most of us are objectively on the madhyama level we must discern between devotees and those envious of the Lord and we cannot pretend as being on the uttama level where such differences fade away.

This is fine, but what we should differentiate is our external behavior – offer full dandavats to our guru and mental respect to ex-ISKCON devotees, for example. Internally, however, we should strive to follow Lord Chaitanya’s injunction which demands manadena attitude without exceptions. He didn’t say that it should be cultivated only by uttama devotees, it was meant for all of us.

We will undoubtedly fail to follow it at all times but that is not an excuse for not trying.

Another fallacious conclusion from this “respect to everyone” could be our attitude towards our struggle between service and sense gratification. If we are not responsible for thoughts and desires that come into our minds then we might decide to stop fighting to control it.

Actually, it works this way – we, as spirit souls, become attracted to service and by the mercy of the Holy Name the Lord puts us in a situation where we can fulfill our desire to serve Him. Essential part of that engagement are our mental processes, which indeed are out of our control, but which are dictated by our natural inclination for sense enjoyment on one side and words of our guru on the other. Both are external to the soul itself, and so is this blog, but I’d rather have it on the side of guru and shastra so I encourage whoever reads it not to take it as an excuse to give in to our senses.

Let it be one of the factors that pushes our minds towards service and renunciation of sense enjoyment, the one that tells our minds to restrain themselves and redirect our senses to serving the Lord.

In case our minds are not pure and our senses still strive for objects of their enjoyment we shouldn’t pretend to be more exalted than we really are, and we should engage our senses according the rules and regulations of varnashrama dharma, which means following our general ISKCON program. Nothing more, nothing less.

Consequently, if our senses need this enjoyment we shouldn’t expect the same level of respect as if we were truly renounced, that would be incorrect from a madhyama adhikari POV. This, I think is one of our problems – as devotees drifted from temples to families they expect the same level of recognition but unless they follow rules of grihastha ashrama as strictly as our brahmacharies follow theirs, it’s simply inappropriate, but that is a topic for another day.

Vanity thought #744. Matter and spirit

There’s one aspect of matter vs spirit that I’ve never been able to grasp fully, and I mean even on the intellectual level. I’ve even listened to lectures that were specifically meant to clarify such doubts but I found them to be just a collection of words that does not address the root of the problem.

I don’t have a solution in my head yet but I hope that it would become clearer simply by thinking about it out loud. Then might come actual realization, I would hope.

So the problem is usually posed like this – the body of a guru, or a Deity, or prasadam are supposed to be fully spiritual but they all subject to inevitable decay. Prasadam left overs go bad just as any other food, guru gets sick and leaves this world like any other mortal, and even Deities need repair and maintenance, or rot away if made of wood. Even Lord Jagannatha replaces His body every twelve years.

How can it be called spiritual, which, among other things, means eternal? Also how can it be blissful, as expected of spirit, but guru’s body is a source of suffering, not bliss.

The answer lies, I think, in our achintya-bhedabheda tattva. All these things – guru, deities, prasadam – they are Krishna’s energies and so non-different from Him, and yet the are not the same.

In regards to individual soul we talk about same quality, minute quantity but in regards to material energy the difference might be a lot more substantial.

Matter is an inferior energy and it will never turn into higher, spiritual energy which is the basis of the spiritual world and the living entities.

Yet matter can become spiritual in a sense that it is served Krishna’s senses, not ours. In the same way we make distinction between different rasas – some are superior to others but they are not equal, one is never a substitute for another, and they don’t display same features.

Thus inferior energy, matter, can be engaged in the service of the Absolute and become spiritual but it will never possess the same properties as the “original” spiritual energy.

The bliss of conjugal love for Krishna is never to be found in Vaikuntha and so bliss of Vaikuntha can never be found on Earth, but service is a service, it pleases Krishna nevertheless.

We tend to judge the difference between matter and spirit in terms of our enjoyment – material pleasure is temporary and always mixed with pain while spiritual pleasure is eternal, blissful, and without a spot of discomfort.

I can’t blame us for that, we have been born and raised this way, but, perhaps, a more mature approach would be seeing matter and spirit in their relation to the Absolute. If it’s engaged in His service, it’s spiritual regardless of how it feels and which laws it follows – laws of nature, with inevitable decay, or laws of Vaikuntha.

Would we extract the same bliss from engaging our material senses as well as spiritual ones? Probably not, but as devotees we should be concerned with pleasure of Krishna, not our own. There should be a difference, of course, as Krishna tends to value devotion in the heart over offerings on the plate, but even a slightest drop of Krishna’s pleasure will overwhelm whatever we can possibly get from our material senses.

So, it doesn’t matter whether guru’s body gets unfit to perform its duty, either because it’s sick or it needs its “down time”, it should still be considered as vishnu-tadiya, Lord’s own ornaments or paraphernalia, and therefore deserves utmost respect and worship.

Look at it this way – even actual paraphernalia used in service has to undergo several transformations – ore need to be mined, smelted, shaped in a form of a lamp, sent to the paraphernalia shot etc., and at none of these stages there’s anything “spiritual” about it. Then it serves the Lord for some time and it becomes “spiritual” for a while, then it is replaced by a newer, shinier lamp and discarded, losing its “spiritual” value again.

Do we turn it into a spittoon? Of course not, we would never treat Deities paraphernalia as mundane objects, even when not in use. We understand that this period of time, however brief, when the lamp was used in Deity worship, fully justifies each stage of its existence.

Similarly, a guru needs to be born, fed, schooled, chastised etc. and no one looks at the boy as anyone special and spiritual, then for a period of time his body is engaged in the preaching mission of the Lord, and then it might become unfit again. Why would we use him as a spittoon for our impure, critical thoughts?

Even a moment of service to the Lord justifies the rest of the lifetime. You can’t learn how to live a life without mistakes, they are absolutely necessary and none of them matters when finally a guru takes his place on vyasasana, so we don’t judge vaishnavas by their past, but similarly, after sitting on a vysasana for years, the body needs to get off and stretch its legs, so to speak.

It’s natural for our minds to swing between love and hate and various other extremes, why not accept that sometimes Krishna leverages these swings to deliver his message? Like we can preach when we are awake but then we have to sleep and eat and go to the toilet, so similarly, guru’s body might be engaged in preaching in prime time of his life but then swings the other way as dictated by the laws of nature.

It would have been better if the guru was always situated on a transcendental platform but that is an unrealistic expectation. The message is always the same – Krishna is God, we are His eternal servants, so what does it matter if guru’s mind needs a rest from repeating it over and over again?

We should know better than hitch our own faith to fluctuations of external energy.

Vanity thought #743. The gift of Prabhupada

It’s kind of symbolic that Srila Prabhupada appearance day follows that of Krishna Himself.

Conditioned souls in this world do not have the ability to perceive spiritual forms, our senses are not designed for that so impersonalists and mayavadis are half right when they deny spirituality to forms and shapes as all our perceptions of those are material.

However, every once in a while the Lord descends on this planet in His original form that is perceptible by our senses. Once He’s gone it’s all matter again, and this matter acts under the laws of material nature, ie karma, with unbreakable cause-effect chains. It means that there’s no way to introduce anything spiritual here again, each phenomenon here must have material origins.

This means you cannot just manifest something completely spiritual, made not of atoms and molecules, or ether, air, fire etc, but made entirely from spiritual energy. No one breaks nature’s laws and our senses will never be able to perceive such spirit.

The only way to preserve spirituality of perceptible matter is to link it to Krishna’s original appearance. Then it would be accessible to our senses just like Krishna’s body was five thousand years ago. That’s why we have the parampara – no one invents anything and all the members just carefully pass the message down the line.

This means that people have to be born, raised, schooled, and put in contact with preceptor acharyas, learn the message and then pass it down to the next generation.

If the message gets lost and parampara breaks down Krishna descends again, or their might be other ways to restore it, as when Madhvacharya went to see Srila Vyasadeva and learned from him, but that is not the point today.

The point today is that sometimes just this one single person spreads the message to thousands and thousands of others, and that was Srila Prabhupada.

We tend to think that the explosion of Krishna consciousness in this world is some kind of magic trick but it isn’t, there’s no uncertainty here, everything that happens has perfectly reasonable explanations – how people develop their interests, how they come in touch with Krishna Consciousness, what attracts them, what repels them and so on. From the outsider’s POV we, as devotees, do not do anything magical and are as predictable as the next religious group.

Outsiders can’t gauge our spiritual development, though, but, honestly, neither can we, so we all totally depend on external manifestations of the Divine energy, and that’s why Prabhupada was so important.

Now we can say – I’ve got books, I’ve got internet, there all kinds of translations and commentaries, all this ancient Vedic knowledge is just a few clicks away, why do I need Prabhupada?

Because he is the only one with connection to Krishna, and by connection I mean supreme level of devotion. Every Vedic book and every Indian guru has connection to Krishna, for He is the ultimate source of everything, but only Srila Prabhupada gives us unalloyed, uncontaminated devotion. That cannot be replaced and that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

We can attend hundreds of Gita and Bhagavatam recitals but it will not give us devotion, that we can learn only from Prabhupada.

So, in way, there are all kinds of parampara branches in all kinds of sampradayas and they are all more or less legitimate but they do not pass down pure devotion in the line of Rupa Goswami. No one expresses Rupa Goswami’s mood as well as Srila Prabhupada (and our acharyas before him).

So now we have a choice – so many Gitas, so many books, so many teachers, so many views. Who to follow? Ultimately, we’ll go with our tastes.

Our tastes, however, are material. We want food, we want safety, we want comforts, we want sex, we want intellectual comprehension of what we are doing, we want validation, we want to feel superior etc, and there are gurus, teachers and organizations that can provide all of that yet there’s no one but Prabhupada who can provide us with pure, unadulterated devotion, and if we stick with him and his representatives it is bound to rub off on us eventually. Might take time, might take sacrifices, but it’s in our nature, jivera svarupa haya, sooner or later it’s bound to come up and appreciate Prabhupada’s message whereas following our material inclinations might provide a temporary relief but will not satisfy the soul.

Knowing all that, it would be foolish of us to see Prabhupada as a Bengali man with human faults who was born on certain day. Yes, it is possible to look at him this way but that would deprive us of his gift. Why would we do it to ourselves?

Vanity thought #742. Janmashtami festival?

For about a week now every ISKCON temple and community has been sending out invitations for Janmashtami celebrations. Every leaflet, every webpage promises music, shows, abhisheka, kirtans and, of course, a sumptuous feast.

Should we be holding these festivals at all, though? Janmashtami is a day of fasting after all, not stuffing ourselves.

If we observe the fast we shouldn’t be in the position to enjoy food or pretty much anything by the time we can break the fast – after midnight. We should be weak and exhausted and our stomachs not in the mood for digestion.

Festivals are needed for out guests, of course, it would inappropriate to preach about Krishna and then leave people hanging on His appearance day. What kind of God is that, they would think.

For aspiring devotees, however, it’s the day of service, and a very selfless service at that. Feast needs to be prepared, guests need to be taken care of, entertained and fed, and there are so many of them that there isn’t really time left for ourselves. Let our guests enjoy the performances, our job is to sing and cook and serve, and if we have spare time – read more about Krishna. There’s, of course, extra rounds to chant, too.

If Janmashtami is a festival we should be on the other side of it, making it happen but not touching anything for ourselves.

I can’t help but remember how Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji decided to hold a festival once. Immediately everybody in his company started making grand plans, what to cook, where to find the money etc. etc. Srila Gaurakishora, however, cut them short – we will the fast whole day and we will chant and read from books, it will be the best festival ever, who said anything about food?

Our “celebration” is even more difficult than that – we must organize food and entertainment but we can’t enjoy it.

There’s nothing unusual about that, Krishna is the only Enjoyer, if we want to enjoy along with Him we are worshiping the wrong God. We’d be better off with Vishnu or Narayana, with Krishna there’s only selfless service.

Even when Krishna appeared it was anything but a festival. Nanda Maharaja had to walk from Vrindavan to Mathura in the middle of the night, in the rain, so he could pull a switcheroo con on Kamsa. When he finally got back he was too exhausted to celebrate anything and Mother Yashoda was so tired she couldn’t remember if she had a boy or a girl.

Sounds like our devotees at the end of Janmashtami.

There’s this description of Krishna’s face in Srimad Bhagavatam (SB.9.24.65): nitya-utsavam — whenever one sees Him, one feels festive. Well, today is not the day, after this long fast nothing makes me feel festive, let along somebody else’s face.

The reason if very simple – my body is material, it has no attraction to Krishna whatsoever and it only sees material form of the Lord or the Deities, and between hunger and observing material forms the mind’s choice is very predictable – food! Moreover, if instead of food it’s offered to look at things it feels rebellious, thinking that its distress is caused by the instructions of the guru and shastra and that Srimad Bhagavatam is lying.

Krishna’s face makes one festive, of course, if we get to see it, but for that we need to be on the purely spiritual platform. Krishna doesn’t step out for Vrindavana and we can’t approach Him there with our material mind and senses, so we need to search of another reality and not fool ourselves that a bit of music and nicely decorated Deities will make us forget hunger.

Sometimes we do forget our own bodily inconveniences but let’s be honest – we are just distracting our minds with something else, ie we are too excited about the festivities to remember our stomachs. That’s not the same as having spiritual experience. This kind of distractions can be caused by purely material things, too, like traffic accidents or big fires.

Anyway, today is not the day to celebrate, today is the day to serve. Nanda Maharaja celebrated Krishna’s appearance the following morning and so should we. We, of course, will also have Prabhupada’s vyasapuja.

Vanity thought #741. Respect of others

I was listening to a lecture today and the speaker quoted two Bhagavatam verses that caught my attention. Unfortunately he didn’t tell where exactly he was quoting from and so I spent the best part of my day searching for them.

One was particularly elusive and I gave up several times but in the end I thought that, as usual, after putting enough effort I would eventually stumble upon what I am looking for. It took longer than expected. Let’s just say I also scanned the entire Uddhava Gita looking for the verse. It’s twenty-three chapters. I’ve also looked at all instances of “bhuta” in the entire Bhagavatam, unfortunately I heard “bhuta-brahma” instead of “bhuta-grama” and so I missed the reference.

I’ve found a couple more verses relevant to the topic and decided to drop the search and go with what I have. Then I looked at word for word translations and one appeared close to Sanskrit that I have heard in the missing verse. I clicked to look of its occurrences and my missing sloka was the first one on the list.

Curious, huh?

Anyway, here are the verses:

SB 3.29.24

My dear Mother, even if he worships with proper rituals and paraphernalia, a person who is ignorant of My presence in all living entities never pleases Me by the worship of My Deities in the temple.

SB 11.2.47

A devotee who faithfully engages in the worship of the Deity in the temple but does not behave properly toward other devotees or people in general is called a prakrita-bhakta, a materialistic devotee, and is considered to be in the lowest position.

SB 11.28.1

One should neither praise nor criticize the conditioned nature and activities of other persons. Rather, one should see this world as simply the combination of material nature and the enjoying souls, all based on the one Absolute Truth.

which follows by

SB 11.28.2

Whoever indulges in praising or criticizing the qualities and behavior of others will quickly become deviated from his own best interest by his entanglement in illusory dualities.

I wonder what we should do with all the criticism constantly directed at ISKCON, GBC, and our struggling devotees that comes from apparently well-wishing and concerned outsiders.

This is the thing that is most glaringly missing in all our critics – respect for the Supreme Lord who resides in the hearts of those they criticize. Why don’t they resign to the fact that without Krishna’s permission no transgressions would have been possible? Why don’t they accept that Krishna guides us in each and every second of our lives and in each and every endeavor? Why do they criticize what the Lord is doing to His devotees, even if its done through material nature.

Why don’t they follow the third verse on this list – one should neither praise nor criticize activities of other persons and one should see the world as the combination of material nature and enjoying souls. In our case souls trying to serve the Lord as best as they can.

What’s the answer to my “whys”? Umm, it’s right there – it’s just the material nature and people who enjoy this kind of thing. Why do they do it? Because they don’t know any better, just like the rest of us. We all have our particular attachments which come with the material body and so some like blasting other people with heavy language while others enjoy sarcasm.

It’s just the material nature, or rather Krishna satisfying the desires of His devotees. They can’t say a word against us without Krishna’s permission and, conversely, everything they say gets Krishna’s stamp of approval. It doesn’t necessarily becomes true but it becomes the best course of action for them. We don’t have to follow their “revelations”, if we don’t like to hear them we should just ignore them. What’s good for their purification might be disastrous for us.

By saying even the nastiest things they make their steps towards perfection because that’s where the Lord is leading them. It might get a lot worse before it gets better, though, hop on their train at your own risk.

Whatever they do, we should take a clue form the fourth verse – indulging in this kind of katha is against our interest. We might not be saying anything but if we provide an attentive ear it’s already indulgence, just like with sankirtana – you don’t have to be a lead singer to benefit, or, as they say, you can’t clap with one hand.

Vanity thought #740. Kumbha Mela

The other day I finally found time to watch BBC’s documentary on Kumbha Mela. I don’t know why I felt I had to see it, probably because I’ve never been there and it’s probably the most important Vedic religious gathering in the world. I think I still have this complex of following “Hinduism”, so I watched it from the perspective of “it should be on my bucket list”.

From that POV I was disappointed.

BBC presented Kumbha Mela in a predictable format – they filmed all the necessary angles, didn’t forget curiosities, had “experts” comments on the proceedings, and they followed several UK “pilgrims” to record their personal experiences. Nearly all of it sucked.

First of all, they approached it as if, and it slipped into their narrative, it’s a mythological event. Hundred million Hindus can’t be right, there’s no God or gods, there’s no nectar to spill, and they are just dumb idiots who believe in most outrageous things.

Your average BBC watcher can sleep safe, the “auntie” has proven once again that our faith in rationality is supreme. It wasn’t as bad as “look at these uncivilized natives” at every step but the overall attitude was definitely there, it’s just it’s not politically correct to call them names to their faces anymore.

People they have chosen to follow through to record their personal experiences were disappointing, too. The most “advanced” of those was living in some guru’s ashram in India for months and I watched in disbelief how she intensely meditated on a giant lingam as if her third eye was just about to pop out. It’s as if spirituality is reduced to some induced waves of ecstasy, a legitimate LSD replacement or something.

A couple of others were on a trip to reconnect with their Hindu roots. Nice enough women doing the right thing for their situation but it’s also obvious they have not a clue of what religion is all about, total neophytes.

There was also a dude who came following his guru who he saw as an embodiment of bhakti or something. Technically speaking he was head and shoulders above all others, spiritually wise, but appeared a bit cultish and, by our standards, his guru is some kind of modern day mayavadi.

Why am I so critical of them? Because none of them demonstrated a valid reason for me to go to Kumbh myself.

The video also showed some “sadhus” providing insight into the community, especially one mayavadi of western extraction. We’ve been told who these sadhus are, what are their features, why we should seek their blessings and so on. This was accompanied with plenty of shots of naked men smeared in ashes, one was rolling his penis on a stick, and there was one contortionist, too, they call them yogis there.

I don’t want to be caught dead with any of these people, only one of them appeared to be honest, a former soldier, who said being sadhu is his way of keeping serving the society, nothing about any personal aggrandizement of being such an elevated soul. The rest of them were milking their sadhuness in full. Most of those who were on camera were probably waiting for Kumbh to display their genitals in public, especially on TV.

During the whole show, almost an hour, there wasn’t a single devotee there, expect Shaunaka Rishi who, as an expert from Oxford university, got to say a couple of sentences about essential purity of the Ganges. One other expert looked like he was studying Hinduism the way scientists study monkeys, and another woman looked like she was dragged from a tarot reading parlor.

The real stars were ordinary people who walked past the camera and did their oblations as if BBC didn’t exist. They were doing following their dharma and it’s always a pleasure to see people honestly performing their religious duties. That was the redeeming quality of the whole film – a chance to see devotion and dedication quietly and unassumingly going on in the background while the “heroes” looked more like clueless tourists.

So, what about me? Am I going to go to Kumbh Mela before I die? I’m afraid not. It’s an impressive holiday, the largest gathering of people in one place, as they say, but the whole drama doesn’t come even close to hearing just one name of Krishna, and I mumble sixteen rounds a day of those. There’s nothing at Kumbh that would help me more than honestly trying to improve my chanting.

I’m all for dips in Ganges as a tribute to the water that washed lotus feet of Lord Vishnu but the nectar of immortality they can keep for themselves. Who would want to be immortal in this world of suffering anyway?

So, the good thing to learn from this festival is that it makes us appreciate Krishna Consciousness as was given to us by Srila Prabhupada.

Vanity thought #739. Ananda

I was amused to learn that some devotees (non-ISKCON) think that we, the jivas, possess only sat and cit qualities but no ananda, and they got evidence to support their point – we get bhakti-lata-bija by the mercy of guru and Krishna, hence its external, not intrinsic to the soul itself.

I was also amused that it’s impossible to prove them wrong. We know Krishna is sat-cit-ananda-vigraha but we don’t have verses that say the same about jivas.

There’s a verse in Chaitanya Charitamrita (CC.Madhya.22.107):

Pure love for Kṛṣṇa is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens.

The problem is that they highlighted part is not the Bengali text itself, there’s only nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-prema and it could be translated as love of nitya-siddha devotees, and apparently there was one Mukunda Goswami who explained this verse just like that.

So this is a perfect example of what I was talking about yesterday – there’s a point that is apparently needs to be proven, the ananda quality of the jiva, and there’s a world of vaishnava literature out there, but we are prohibited from searching it just for that purpose.

We are supposed to study books for self-realization and we should do it very thoroughly, not just scan all available literature for proof needed to win arguments.

What to do?

Can I/we just let it go? Or should we try to prove it anyway, as this is a significant philosophical challenge? Or should we try to prove it on the strength of the books we already know?

Perhaps we should approach this problem from another angle altogether.

First of all, to actually know where ananda comes from one should simply reach that stage. Theoretical knowledge of the same has no practical spiritual value. That’s the basis, the bottom line – arguing about source of ananda is a waste of time while actual discovery is years and lifetimes away, and it’s not accomplished by mental efforts.

This leads to the logical conclusion – if we want to learn the answer to this question we should engage ourselves in service to guru and Krishna, not in arguments and debates.

The argument, coming from non-ISKCON quarters, questions philosophical presentation by Srila Prabhupada, and that makes our immediate service task very clear – protect his integrity. It doesn’t even matter what is it exactly we need to prove, argument-wise, it matters that Srila Prabhupada remains unblemished.

We can start by dismissing possibilities of mistranslation of “nitya siddha” verse because it as in Prabhupada’s mother tongue – Bengali, so it becomes an allegation of misrepresenting the philosophy.

That’s quite a serious charge that needs a lot of proof. What is the source of this deviation? Where could Prabhupada have learned it? Where else does it manifest? How does it contradict shastra?

At first these questions appear disrespectful but if our accusers can’t answer them than they have no support for their allegation. They can’t say Srila Prabhupada deviated on this one verse and was fully compliant on all related matters.

We also have a much easier, direct way to check – compare Srila Prabhupada’s statements with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s. Well, it’s easy to say, not easy to find the exact quotes, and searching for quotes to prove our point is not recommended, remember?

The core of the argument is actually our interpretation of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva in regards to the individual soul. We say that jivas are infinitesimal parts of the Lord and so qualitatively the same but they possess those same qualities in infinitesimal degrees. It’s hard to imagine Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had a different view on this. This, after all, is one of the first things we tell people about Krishna consciousness – Krishna is full of eternity, knowledge and bliss, and we are minute parts of Him that have forgotten their original position.

We have Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s translation of Brahma Samhita into English with his own purports and there we can find this:

Both jīva-soul and Kṛṣṇa are transcendental. So they belong to the same category. But they differ in this that the transcendental attributes exist in the jīva-soul in infinitesimally small degrees, whereas in Kṛṣṇa they are found in their fullest perfection.

Srila Prabhupada often quoted examples of fire and its sparks or sun and sunshine, which follow the same logic.

The comparison between Sun and sunshine isn’t actually Prabhupada’s invention, it’s there in Chaitanya Charimrita (in jivera swarupa haya verse), and the similar concept – vibhu and anu is given even in Vedanta Sutra.

To say that it relates only to sat and cit potencies of the Lord but not to ananda needs a serious, direct proof, which doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t matter – we need to prove that Srila Prabhupada didn’t deviate from the teachings of his guru, that’s our primary service.

If somebody says that maybe Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati didn’t know works of Jiva Goswami or Mukunda Goswami very well we won’t take that person very seriously, his erudition was beyond reproach.

Another point is that “externality” of ananda is not the correct way of looking at it. Sat and cit aspects of the Absolute are available for realization by yogis and jnanis, on their own, but we can’t experience ananda in the same way – it comes only from service to Krishna. If you are not employed in service, there’s no ananda for you. In that way it is certainly external – it’s not enough to possess it within oneself, it manifests only from interaction with an external entity – Krishna.

I’m not sure that these arguments will convince our opponents, though. Actually I’m sure they would be refuted with more references to shastras and what not. These arguments, however, are meant to convince ourselves, they are meant for us to understand our philosophy better because that is our service.

If we do it right, with full faith and dedication, we might get a direct experience of where ananda comes from. Let our opponents have their own way, feel victorious or whatever. Between beating them and living in the bliss of ananda it’s not really a choice, is it?

Vanity thought #738. Value of knowledge

Do we really need it? I grew up in an environment where the more stuff you know the better, and it hasn’t changed in ISKCON either, just the books changed.

And then there’s this prescription in Chaitanya Chariamrita (CC.Madhya.22.118):

One should not partially study many scriptures just to be able to give references and expand explanations

Looking at word for word translation it means exactly what it says, there’s no scope for interpretations. In the purport Srila Prabhupada clarifies how to apply this rule practically – just read four books – Gita, Bhagavatam, Chaitanya Charitamrita, and Nectar of Devotion (as we don’t have an authorized translation of Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu).

It all looks pretty straightforward and doesn’t require any commentary, but it also stresses that we (I) need a whole new approach to acquiring knowledge.

First of all, we’re talking about spiritual knowledge here, which means it has to be realized. Simply knowing stuff, philosophy, verses etc is useless, spiritual knowledge means it happens in the heart, not in the brains. It’s not enough to say to oneself “I got it, I’m not this body”, spiritual knowledge means attaining corresponding level of realization. With a simple “I’m not this body” this means liberation, and “Krishna is God” means establishing direct relations with Him.

To learn that spirit soul is sat-cit-ananda means experiencing yourself as such, with actual ananda, which is available only on the highest stages of bhava.

Obviously, reading as the only means is not going to help much, it has to be done as a service to our guru and this service needs to bear fruit, then we can start talking about “learning”.

Googling for slokas that support this or that argument in a debate is not learning and Lord Chaitanya says it has to be avoided, which means it cultivates ignorance. Who would have thought?

It makes sense, though – winning an argument is not a devotional activity, it’s rather the opposite as it convinces us in our superiority, convinces us that we are in the center of our existence and our knowledge is our power over unruly and ignorant world. Basically, it strengthens our illusion and usurps Krishna’s position.

But what about the description of an uttama adhikari devotee from a few verses earlier (CC.Madhya.22.65)?

One who is expert in logic, argument and the revealed scriptures and who has firm faith in Kṛṣṇa is classified as a topmost devotee. He can deliver the whole world.

What about it? It’s not a shortcut to becoming a maha-bhagavata, as with little perseverance anybody can learn to tackle practically any contentious topic. Rather, a devotee on the topmost platform knows the Absolute Truth and that knowledge cannot be overcome by mind tricks and rhetorical arguments.

In the presence of the Absolute Truth illusion of our fellow conditioned souls does not stand a chance – they can’t deny existence of God, for example, when you an actually see and relate to Him just as they make their ignorant proposition. They can’t see the Lord, you can, and you can see why they cannot experience the Lord and you know exactly how to correct their misunderstanding.

To achieve that level of realization studying the four above mentioned books is enough, there isn’t much left to learn after you practically realize conclusions of Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, and engage in Krishna’s service in accordance with your rasa as taught in Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu.

On the other hand, if we don’t have that level of realization then we need support of many books, we need books by all the previous acharyas, we need Sandarbhas, we need Jaiva Dharma, we need Gaudiya commentaries on Bhagavatam and Vedanta Sutra. We can learn all that stuff, it’s not easy but possible, but this learning alone won’t make us into better devotees and, when push comes to shove, it won’t convince anyone of anything because in the material world there are counterarguments to everything, you just have to dig deep enough.

Look at practical examples – has arguing and displaying superior knowledge ever enabled a political victory? Look at Egypt, for example – can you stop their madness by debates? Can you stop Syrian war? Can you make US Democrats and Republicans work together? Can you convert Tea Party enthusiasts into supporters of Obama? Can you settle the war between fans of Apple and Windows/Android?

Look at anti-ISKCON or anti-GBC sites and blogs – can you show a single example where anyone was able to convince our detractors to change their position? Has anyone ever out-argue a ritvik? It doesn’t happen, and it’s not due to our lack of scriptural support, it’s due to our lack of actual, spiritually realized knowledge.

About a year ago Rochana Prabhu compiled the best ever argument against ritvik-vada, illustrating their misconceptions step by step, both philosophically and how it happened in a real life, yet I haven’t heard of a single converted ritvik yet. This kind of arguments appeals to the brain while the reason for our illusion lies in our hearts. To reach people hearts, people’s souls, we need to be self-realized ourselves, and that is not a result of gathering shastric knowledge, it’s a result of serving guru.

Just as with the example of uttama adhikari – we can’t substitute spiritual realization with superficial knowledge of shastra and great debating skills. We can impress many people that way but we can’t touch anybody’s soul.

So, the process should be like this – service first, then by the mercy of guru and Krishna actual, spiritual knowledge is revealed in our hearts, then we can go out and preach and, as Nectar of Instruction says, can go and make disciples all over the world.

Vanity thought #737. Another lesson about mind and Vrindavan

Let’s not mention the names anymore but it’s about a sannyasi who recently got himself in trouble with GBC and resigned from the “glorious preaching mission of ISKCON”. We don’t know what happened so let’s just speculate on the possibilities and what we can learn from them.

It looks like a royal mess – GBC uncovered evidence of impropriety, sannyasi blames his disciples for a frame-up, two versions do not mesh – who to believe?

Let’s consider a scenario where the sannyasi has done something inappropriate, maybe short of full blown sexual relations but Junior Haridas was banned from Lord Chaitanya’s company for much less, simply for begging rice from a woman, alone. Or maybe it’s not related to sexual matters at all.

In this scenario the sannyasi does not want to admit his wrongdoings and his mind is agitated, he can’t just dismiss accusations against him because deep down he knows that in depth investigation might reveal something he doesn’t want the world to know. In this situation his mind starts looking for scapegoats and conspiracies. It’s a normal impulsive reaction, practically involuntary, so we don’t take it too seriously.

In this confusion he makes a decision to withdraw and take a break, which is okay and might be even necessary, but he makes a bizarre public statement about resigning from preaching mission. We can’t resign from preaching, it’s our only mission, we don’t have orders to serve guru and Krishna in any other way. The sannyasi uses the word “glorious” to describe it but, apparently, it’s not glorious enough for him to continue and he wants to do something else.

We have plenty of warnings from Srila Prabhupada not to jump to nirjana bhajana prematurely and certainly not in places like Radha Kunda which require absolute purity.

We can use difficult material circumstances as an impetus to give up material life but we can’t apply the same principle to difficulties in our service, which is preaching. We can get our present material bodies, use them for enjoyment, and then move on to devotional service, but we don’t move from devotion, we don’t move on from surrendering to our guru.

I’m sure the sannyasi knows all that but, being caught in the circumstance, his mind betrayed him, and that’s a very important lesson for us.

When we engage in some frivolous activities like gossiping or arguing or watching mundane entertainment we think we got it under control, we still remember Krishna, but here’s an example of a very elevated devotee whose mind gave up under duress and followed the influences of its association with babajis of Vrindavana (they are the only ones who value bhajan over preaching and maharaj was indisputably close to some of them).

Had the sannyasi not mixed with them the idea of moving on from the mission assigned by his guru wouldn’t even have entered his mind. Now it’s there and it dictates his course of action. It’s not death yet and the mind does not determine the new body but it certainly determines sannaysi’s next occupation and social standing. The cat is out of the bag, reversing the course and resuming preaching is so much harder now that maharaj committed himself to bhajan.

What will happen to our minds when we get in trouble? We think we can control them now, that we keep them on the leash, but what if we get squeezed all of a sudden? I bet it would be very very difficult to keep our minds focused on Krishna’s lotus feet, we just won’t have wits around us to do so, the only thing we can count on is that among all the stuff our minds like to do, the memory would serve something related to the Lord. What if it doesn’t happen? What if all that our minds bring would be memories of petty squabbles, electronic gadgets, and family members?

Krishna might interfere, too, but if things are not too serious He might not. Like the case with this hypothetical scenario – it’s not a matter of life and death but sannyasi’s mind still played a nasty trick on him and forced him to say something unfavorable to his devotional progress.

Ultimately, while we are under illusion that we keep our attachments in check they are not under our control and they can take over in any second, so when we have a chance to give them up and turn our attention to Krishna we should never hesitate to do so. Packing our memories with useless stuff is dangerous, god knows what our mind will pick up from that clutter.

Vanity thought #736. The tale of two videos

Two youtube videos popped up in my news stream, both from reputable ISKCON sources, yet they couldn’t be any more different.

One is a showcase of some videographer and it’s about his filming of “Festival of Colors” with the soundtrack of MC Yogi, pumping out meaningless lyrics about love. There’s no mention of ISKCON or Krishna or Srila Pabhupada anywhere. The only connection seems to be that the festival was the work of a rather despondent looking Charu Prabhu who organized that outwardly madness (to be honest, I had to play video frame by frame to catch this look).

Charu Prabhu observing Festival of Colors madness

Charu Prabhu observing Festival of Colors madness

Website of the organizers utahkrishnas.org doesn’t state any affiliation with neither ISKCON nor with Srila Prabhupada.

It looks good, people were certainly having fun, but what has it got to do with Krishna consciousness? Apart from Charu Prabhu there isn’t a single devotee in a frame.

The other video is from Villa Vrindavana in Italy and features a group of devotees doing poorly choreographed dance moves to the Hare Krishna mahamantra. There aren’t any high tech cameras doing fly over shots, video effects seem very amateurish but the overall mood is of utmost sincerity and dedication to chanting the Holy Names of the Lord.

Maybe I am too prudish and very hard on the first video. Thousands of people went to a festival organized by Hare Krishna temple and celebrated their local version of Holi. ISKCON has certainly made many friends that day (actually, it was a two day festival). Why am I complaining?

Why not compare these two videos like we compare Vaikuntha and Vrindavana. Many devotees on Vaikuntha are in shanti-rasa, they are aware of the Lord but they prefer to sport their own, Narayana-like forms and do their own thing. It’s very easy to imagine them doing something like this Festival of Colors just outside Lord Narayana’s temples there. Even the Lord Himself probably looks at them and feels pleased by his devotees having so much innocent fun.

The other video is Vrindavana where there’s no sophistication, no expert dancing, no opulence – nothing but love of Krishna. To a casual observer it wouldn’t look attractive at all, especially comparing to Mathura or Dvaraka. They dance like milkmaids and they look goofy as cowherd boys do in their simple village charm. Yet they will never ever sing anything but Krishna’s glories.

It’s easy to assume that Vaikuntha devotees are inferior to Vrindavana but from our point of view, from down here in the material world, they are both equally unattainable.

Let’s not forget that gopis feel jealous of women of Mathura and Dvaraka, they lament being plain village girls who can’t keep Krishna with their backward country appeal, so the feeling of inferiority is present in Vrindavana, too. And I suppose Vaikuntha devotees also do not feel inferior to villagers of Gokula.

I’m saying it’s not my place to pass judgments, every devotee is dear to Krishna and I don’t know how He felt about that Festival of Colors. I don’t know even how Charu Prabhu felt about it. I wish they displayed more of a Vrindavana mood but, on the other hand, Vrindavana atmosphere is better appreciated when there’s a comparison with mad dancing Americans.