Vanity thought #775. Parallel worlds

The conversation between a “Mensa member” and Srila Prabhupada I mentioned yesterday is a nice case study in trying to preach to the “intelligent”.

First of all, on krishna.org site it’s introduced as “Conversation with Member of the Mensa Society” without giving any names, as if the devotees maitaining the site thought that being a Mensa member is enough to justify posting it online. On vanipedia, however, we can learn that it was actually Dr Weir who met with Prabhupada, and another, unidentified Mensa man. That doesn’t make it stand out so much.

I think that this difference in presentation made krishna.org version convey undue respect to the power of one’s intellect. It’s as if normally we are preaching to average (dumb) people and that’s why we don’t succeed, but if we talk to someone with high IQ then we have a chance of real indepth conversation and accepting Krishna consciousness would be so easy.

It wasn’t the case, even though Dr Weir and his friend were pretty favorable towards religion in general and Krishna consciousness in particular.

What actually happened is a demonstration that high IQ means having a lot of information, not so much knowledge, and almost zero realization.

Srila Prabhupada was simply presenting Krishna Consciousness as it is, as he had always done, and it was an unfamiliar territory of Dr Weir so he tried to steer it towards what he knew by comparing us with unitarians (a branch of Christianity). Srila Prabhupada didn’t know anything about unitarians so he repeated the usual story about the name of Christ being derived from Krishna.

And then it got weird.

Prabhupada was talking about our often used analogy of serving Krishna as watering roots vs watering leaves. Dr Weir jumped on it and said that we can pour water on tea leaves and make a nice beverage. Yeah, right, but that doesn’t help the tree, it’s a completely unrelated approach.

Then Prabhupada talked about asking your mother to determine who you father is. Dr Weir(d) jumped in again and said some mothers would not necessarily tell the truth.

Right, said Prabhupada, but generally we accept that mother has child’s best interests at heart so she doesn’t cheat. But what if she cheats, insisted Dr Weir(d). Well, if she cheats that’s your misfortune, but generally we accept that mother doesn’t cheat, just as a lawyer doesn’t cheat his client. If he does, it’s a misfortune, but it’s not the principle.

Dr Weir(d) couldn’t agree with it. He wanted an analogy that covers all possible scenarios or no analogies at all.

Then it went on about cheating for a while. Prabhupada said that if you deliver wrong information then you are a cheater whether you do it consciously or not. Honest mistakes do not count.

If you’ve ever been to an astrologer there’s usually a lot of stuff they tell you that they have only very vague ideas about and so you were being cheated. They might be sincere and everything but astrology is such a vast subject that most of what they say is less than educated guesses.

Prabhupada’s point is very simple – if you don’t know something to be correct [from infallible authorities] but present it as truth, you are a cheater.

You say “this is verily the truth” but you don’t know, you imagined it to be true only five minutes ago, that makes you a cheater.

Dr Weir couldn’t agree with it, and so on and on it went.

It was about accepting mother’s authority in finding out who the father was, if you remember. Very simple, but high IQ-ed Mensaits couldn’t comprehend or accept it.

Then there was a lengthy detour about Sun and planets that have one side in the light and one in the shade. For some reason Dr Weir(d) couldn’t agree with it. He somehow insisted that it’s all in the mind of an observer.

He just wanted to talk about subjectivity and some other unrelated concepts but if you are planet rotating around the Sun then no matter where the observer is, of even if nobody’s watching at all, you will always have one side turned towards the Sun and the other side in the dark. What’s there to argue about? Well, if you are Mensa member, you will always find a reason…

Then the conversation went all over the place, touching on this, touching on that, Prabhupada was often quiet for a long periods of time and his disciple Syamasundara tried to steer the discussion towards Krishna Consciousness talking points. He wasn’t very successful because minds of these two intellectuals were remarkably unsteady.

I can’t hold all the twists and turns in my memory, one thing I remember is how Syamasundara tried to illustrate that scientific progress serves the same base animal instincts – eating, sleeping, mating and defending. It didn’t quite work out as Dr Weir(d) brought in Freud with his fancy notion of inadequacy, as if it somehow changes the driving force being sense gratification.

Prabhupada and Syamasundara managed to corral the good doctor but he escaped by citing Jung and the necessity for spiritual side and then lamenting that in twentieth century people were losing interest in religion, which was basically confirming Prabhupada’s point without conceding defeat of science.

There was another point missed by Dr Weir towards the end – that silence means speaking only of Krishna. They have talked about activities of a spiritual person for a bit but when Syamasundara mentioned what real silence is, the doctor continued talking about people being addicted to background noise or sounds of a radio and being unable to just be silent. Syamasundara’s point about real silence just didn’t register and went unnoticed. High IQ or not, there are deficiencies everywhere.

Basically, what high IQ means is that your brain can process more information in shorter periods of time, but it doesn’t do it “better”, the same errors and same deficiencies will always be there. If you have a luxury of reading that conversation slowly you can see that the doctor’s mind was indeed very fast, but since you are not constrained by time and you can always dig up more information, his advantage disappears and all you can see is the debris.

Fast or slow, if mind is uncontrolled it can’t see the truth. If you don’t accept a higher authority, you won’t know the truth.

At one point Doctor Weir acknowledged the value of simplicity, that to be a spiritual person you don’t need to think fast and know a lot, and that powerful mind is a distraction in its own. Unfortunately, that realization didn’t stay with Dr Weir for very long – his hungry mind needed to chomp on something else and moved on.

We, the slow learners, should stay on that for a while longer. We don’t need to process a lot of info, we don’t need to read a lot of books in record times. We need to accept one or two simple principles and sincerely implement them in our lives.

There’s no need for us to think fast, and so there should be no particular deference shown to people with high IQ.

Vanity thought #774. The power of logic

is such that it can destroy one’s devotion.

Just look at the following quotes from Chaitanya Charitamrita, how Krishnadasa Kaviraja summarized various pastimes of Lord Chaitanya or His associates:

Hear about such incidents without putting forth dry arguments, for these incidents are beyond our material reasoning. One must believe in them with faith.

This was about Haridasa Thakura (CC Antya 3.228), this is how Krishnadasa Kaviraja introduced the story about Maya Devi herself appearing at Haridasa Thakura’s cave, trying to seduce him.

Was it really Maya Devi or was it just some village prostitute? What would reason, logic, and common sense tell you? Forget that and take advice of Krishnadasa Kaviraja instead – one must believe in this story with faith.

Consequences can be dangerous (CC Antya 2.171):

Please hear the pastimes of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu with faith and confidence. Do not argue, for arguments will produce a contrary result.

That was a summation of the story of Junior Haridasa, how he was caught begging rice from a woman on his own, how he was rejected by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and how he committed suicide by drowning in the Ganges and how he consequently rejoined Mahaprabhu’s kirtans on transcedental platform when people could hear his voice but could not see him.

What would reason and logic tell you about this? It’s unbelievable, right, it couldn’t have happened. For one thing you cannot hear someone’s singing if he is not physically there.

How about this warning (CC Madhya 18.227)?

Whoever argues about this is a great fool. He intentionally and personally brings a thunderbolt down upon his head.

This was at the end of the chapter describing Lord Chaitanya’s visit to Vrindavana and included a story of Gopala Deity spooking His servants about imminent attack my Muslim soldiers so that they took Him from His temple on top of Govardhana Hill and hid Him in various villages so that the Deity could meet Lord Chaitanya who, playing a part of a devotee, refused to climb on Govardhan to get a darshan.

Do not argue about this, do not be a fool and do not invite thunderbolts onto you head, for if you avoid this then you get the benefits described in the next verse:

The pastimes of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu are an ocean of nectar. Even a drop of this ocean can inundate the whole world with transcendental bliss.

Do not try to “produce a contrary result” instead.

And here’s what Krishnadasa Kaviraja had to say about talks between Lord Chaitanya and Ramananda Raya (CC Madhya 8.308):

The author requests every reader to hear these talks with faith and without argument. By studying them in this way, one will be able to understand the confidential truth of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

Lord Chaitanya’s own behavior in the latest stages of His appearance on this planet was generally unbelievable (CC Antya 19.106):

The activities of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu are undoubtedly uncommon, especially His talking like a madman. Therefore, one who hears of these pastimes should not put forward mundane arguments. He should simply hear the pastimes with full faith.

Why Krishnadasa Kaviraja so insisted on avoiding logic and arguments when discussing pastimes of the Lord? Don they have no place at all? Here’s what he had to say at the beginning of his book (CC Adi 8.14-15):

Logicians say, “Unless one gains understanding through logic and argument, how can one decide upon a worshipable Deity?”

If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply it to the mercy of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. If you do so, you will find it to be strikingly wonderful.

In the purport Srila Prabhupada gives an explanation by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, which starts with denouncing logic and reasoning as a matter of principle:

acintyāḥ khalu ye bhāvā
na tāḿs tarkeṇa yojayet
prakṛtibhyaḥ paraḿ yac ca
tad acintyasya lakṣaṇam

“Anything transcendental to material nature is called inconceivable, whereas arguments are all mundane. Since mundane arguments cannot touch transcendental subject matters, one should not try to understand transcendental subjects through mundane arguments.” (Mahabharata 5.22).

But then it continues:

“Despite all this, those who are actually inquisitive to understand the philosophy of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu through logic and argument are welcome. Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī addresses them, “Please put Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s mercy to your crucial test, and if you are actually a logician you will come to the right conclusion that there is no personality more merciful than Lord Caitanya.” Let the logicians compare all the results of other humanitarian work with the merciful activities of Lord Caitanya. If their judgment is impartial, they will understand that no other humanitarian activities can surpass those of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.”

Here the logicians are told to contemplate the result of putting faith in Lord Chaitanya, and, since it surpasses any other humanitarian activity, this faith should be accepted even when logic can’t explain certain aspects of it.

I’m not sure this would put an end to all possible doubts about far out stories from Chaitanya lila but then I’m also not sure we should spend any time arguing with people who refuse to accept authority of Krishnadasa Kaviraja and other acharyas. They should cover the basics first – why we should accept anyone’s authority in the first place, and why we should accept Bhagavad Gita/Srimad Bhagavatam as authoritative scriptures, why we should accept guru and so on.

There’s also the fact that no matter how much faith one has one cannot avoid applying his intellect in studying the scriptures and one cannot avoid using logic and reasoning in explaining the meanings even to himself, but it has to be done correctly (CC Adi 2.73).

An interpretation is never accepted as evidence if it opposes the principles of scripture.

The recent “no ananda” issue is a perfect illustration – there are no statements anywhere that say jivas in the material world are only cit+sat and constitutionally devoid of ananda but if one interprets certain verses in a certain way he might draw such a conclusion. This kind of interpretation, however, cannot override the principles of acintya-bhedabheda tattva – we are qualitatively similar to the Lord. If the Lord is sat-cit-ananda-vigraha, so must be our nature, too.

So, the proper way to apply logic is to try and see how guru and shastra ARE correct, not WHETHER they are correct or not.

I’ll end with a quote from Srila Prabhupada’s conversation with a member of a Mensa society:

“But according to Vedic verses, a philosopher is not a philosopher if he has not a different opinion from another, nasau munir yasya matam na… Therefore, through the philosopher you cannot come to the right conclusion. Tarkena apraptas ca. If you simply go on arguing that will also not help you. If you simply read scriptures that will also not help you. Because there are different scriptures. Bible is different from Vedas and Vedas is different from Koran. So tarka… by argument you cannot come to the conclusion, by simply reading scriptures you cannot come to the conclusion. By following the philosophers you cannot come to the conclusion. Therefore the truth is very confidential. Dharmasyartha… guhyam. It is kept very confidential. Then how to have it? Mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. You have to follow the great personalities who have actually realized God. That is the conclusion.”

Instead of listening to your own logic follow the mahajanas. If they say – surrender to guru and Krishna and develop faith in their words and in the scriptures – just do it regardless of whether you fully comprehend the full import of the instructions or not.

Basically the same argument Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati made about proof of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s superiority – look at the results, they are better than anything else, so take to the path. Very simple and logical.

Or you can sit and argue and doubt until you die. But do not despair, you can continue with your doubts in the next life, for without faith doubts will never go away. They cannot be resolved on their own, they are endless that way. Prove one point, another argument pops up, deal with that, there’s another question coming.

Life is short to be wasted on such time consuming pursuit.

Vanity thought #773. Glass half full

If we apply this idiom to our lives as devotees our answer should be “half full” because our faith makes us confident and optimistic that we are firmly on the way to achieve our goal.

If, however, we ask that question in certain circles their answer would be “half empty” because of all the alleged failings of our leadership and our alleged lack of progress. In those circles they won’t give us any credit for following Srila Prabhupada and they spend a lot of time discussing our imperfections, they see us as eternal neophytes who haven’t figured anything and remain as naive as ever.

Without giving any credit to ISKCON devotees they gleefully see us as full of faults and so technically their answer should be “half full”, too, except that we assume totally opposite qualities as “water”.

If we look at ourselves we’d also call our lives as full of imperfections and so agree with our critics. We are born and bred materialists, it’s our base quality, and service to the Lord is something that pushes our materialism out.

Actually, devotional service would be like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water that slowly spreads to the bottom of our hearts. It is not displacing our lives, it’s transforming them. As Srila Prabhupada would say that one can dig a hole in the ground and think of it as a service to the Lord and that would make him Krishna conscious, or he can dig the same hole and think of cool bottle of beer expecting him at the end of the day and that would make him a doomed sense-enjoyer.

This transformation of consciousness is important but I think it doesn’t do justice to our sadhana. By becoming devotees we make some real changes to our lives. We start to get up earlier, for example. We also change our diet, reading our books is incomparable to reading for pleasure, for most of us worshiping Deities has no material equivalent, and chanting our rounds is also totally alien to anything a materialist would do in his life.

So devotional service doesn’t simply change our consciousness, it changes our life itself, too. This difference is important because these changes come not from our hearts, as surrender to Krishna does, they are imposed on us by the modes of nature. They follow unbreakable laws of karma, they have causes and they have results and they can be quantified and predicted just like any other activity.

This also helps to explain how sankirtana words as the prescribed method of worship in the age of Kali, and the action of this medicine is similarly two-fold. On one hand it works on the transcendental level as the Holy Name itself. This mechanism does not lead to changes in our external conditions.

If we chant Hare Krishna it doesn’t ease our arthritis, for example, and chanting doesn’t cure hunger or make our bosses any more pleasant, but it helps us to see ourselves as separate from mental anguish of our minds or physical pain of our bodies. In this sense chanting doesn’t alleviate the effects of Kali Yuga, it takes us around them, so to speak.

The other action of sankirtana is that it engages us in sattvic activities – rising early, eating healthy, staying away from polluting influences etc. In this sense it actually displaces Kali from our lives and it makes our temples literally into Vaikunthas. If we take full shelter of this process we will be genuinely happy and trouble free.

There are ways to subvert even the best process, of course, if that’s what we want, but if we restrict our interests and aspirations to simply following the program we’ll be immune. Simple living should be accompanied by simple thinking, too, ie we shouldn’t try to over complicate our lives and step outside our boundaries, then high thinking will be able to take place, but I digress here.

The important part is that if we are suffering from the effects of the Kali Yuga we can alleviate our pain in two ways – by becoming transcendental to it and by being engaged in the process of sadhana bhakti under the guidance of guru and shastra.

First one is kind of raganuga based, for it doesn’t impose any external rules and is completely imperceptible to outsiders, and it depends entirely on our spiritual relations with Krishna. The second one depends on material nature cooperation – whether we have bodies suitable for temple living, whether we have suitable skills to survive as proper grihasthas, whether we get suitable partners etc. It’s all out of our control.

One could say that sadhana bhakti is inferior to raganuga but that is only half the truth because it also requires a higher level of devotion. It’s not just about trusting our lives to Krishna, it requires us to entrust our lives to the material nature and to other devotees, too. It requires us to see the world as uttama adhikaris do – fully under control of the Lord, in each and every respect fully connected to Krishna, and all the dazzling or fearsome manifestations of it as nothing but plays of Krishna’s energies.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. In the olden times it could have been considered relatively easy but now, in Kali Yuga, trusting our lives to material energy is an act of utmost faith and surrender.

Or let’s put it another way – raganuga bhaktas see this world as dull and irrelevant while our Kali Yuga sadhakas see it as Krishna’s playground and accept their assignment to the Earth and not to Vrindavana as Krishna’s direct order.

Serving Krishna on Goloka is definitely sweeter but if He wants us to serve Him here, we don’t mind, our guru told us to wake up for mangala arati, chant, listen to Bhagavatam and so on, we are more than happy to oblige. If there was a chance to jump off the train of sankirtana mission and onto Vaikuntha – we won’t take it. We won’t exchange all the treasures of all the material and spiritual universes for following the order of our guru, whatever it might be.

Or, if our consciousness it not yet pure enough, following sadhana is more pleasant than sweating from fear in the clutches of Kali Yuga – whatever works.

Vanity thought #772. All you must eat buffet

This is the life in the material world, there are so many planets here, so many species, so many things to enjoy, and we must do it all, no exceptions.

Normally we assume that we must enjoy or suffer what is allotted to us by our karma, and that is more than enough, why do we have to go through the rest of the buffet?

It’s just one curious turn in Srila Prabhupada’s translation of SB 1.5.18, the famous verse spoken by Narada Muni to encourage Srila Vyasadeva to write down Srimad Bhagavatam. There Prabhupada translates it as

As far as happiness derived from sense enjoyment is concerned, it can be obtained automatically in course of time, just as in course of time we obtain miseries even though we do not desire them.

See, if we want some particular form of happiness, it CAN be obtained in due course of time, so we should not apply any special endeavors, whatever is destined to us by karma will come by itself, we can’t stop or hurry it.

When Srila Prabhupada translated this verse again in Caitanya Caritamrita (CC Madhya.24.169) he translated the same line in a slightly different way:

By the force of time one attains whatever material happiness is available within the fourteen worlds, just as one attains distress in due course of time.

See, there’s a difference – here it’s about time forcing us to attain WHATEVER IS AVAILABLE, not just what we might want and hope for.

In the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam translation Prabhupada talks about our desires, explaining “can be obtained” part, and there’s no purport to Caitanya Caritamrita there so there’s only the translation itself.

Can I, therefore, speculate on the meaning of CC translation alone?

Well, if the translation is technically correct than I don’t see why not. If it was just an oversight by the editors and I see something in this verse that is not there, then I’m in trouble.

What’s interesting is that Sanksrit word for word translations are different, too.

In the last line, kālena sarvatra gabhīra-raḿhasā, the last word raḿhasā is “progress” in Bhagavatam but in Caitanya Caritamrita raḿhasā it’s “having force”.

It’s one thing to obtain something by progress of time, which implies just waiting until time catches up with your desires, it’s quite another to be forced.

The word gabhīra is translated as “subtle” while in Caitanya Caritamrita it’s “insurmountable”.

Now instead of subtle progress of time (just wait, it’s coming) we have insurmountable force.

These differences look like a permission to reinterpret this verse as it appears in Caitanya Caritamrita because it’s not just a different wording of a translation anymore, these are different meanings of Sanskrit terms.

In Srila Prabhupada’s books gabhīra is often translated as deep and grave, not just subtle, so insurmountable is more in line with the usual meaning. It’s even more so with raḿhasā which always conveys force and power and translating it as “progress” sticks out and is used only once, in that particular place in Srimad Bhagavatam.

So, we are being forced to live through every bit of pain and pleasure available in the material world whether we like it or not. Simply by the power of time we’ll be put through each and every species on each and every planet.

This blows for the “free will” brigade – we don’t just get to choose and wait, we’ll be forced to experience everything at one point or another by the force of time, not due to our free will.

Nothing comes in this world on its own, everything is the result of our karma and that means everything is the result of our desires. So this means that if, by the power of time, we get to experience everything then it should all come from our desires, too, and it will be determined solely by time. In due course of time we will want that and later on we will get it. No free will, just wait until time forces you to desire your preferred objects and make your “free choices”.

This is a bummer. Not only we have to contend with our present hankerings but we will also have to contend with every other wish by every living form on every planet. I don’t think I’ll ever want branded cat food, for example, so at least I don’t have to deal with that, but wait for it – I’m scheduled to be striving for Whiskas in two lives from now. Great, just great.

Killing and being killed, insulting and being humiliated, raping and being raped – I will want to experience all of it, just wait for it, desires will come.

Oh dear me, before this verse life was so simple and now there’s a mountain of things I never planned on dealing with. Good news the solution is still the same – surrender and chant like crazy. If anything, at least the sense of complacency is gone.

Disclaimer – it all hinges on “whatever material happiness is available within the fourteen worlds” which is not tied up to any particular Sanskrit word and is not present in Srimad Bhagavatam version of translation.

Still, who knows what crazy things we will desire in the future, there’s no reason to assume we won’t be wishing for everything that’s available at one time or another. “Free will” brigade can rest, however, if this verse doesn’t really mean “all that is available will be forced” then there’s still scope for making our our choices and avoiding some situations altogether.

Vanity thought #771. Undervalued asset

Our books provide many descriptions of Kali Yuga and some are more memorable that others. I can’t shake off the “news” that in Kali Yuga people will be passing stool in the water, for example. In the context of Vedic life water is practically sacred and so this habit sounds really odd and damning but in the context of modern life we don’t even think about it anymore.

Usually we assume that degradation in this age means destruction of religious principles that are symbolized by our four regs and because if we do not engage in that kind of stuff we remain largely immune. We also chant Hare Krishna, listen to Bhagavatam classes and support our preaching mission to the best of our abilities. That should keep Kali at bay, right?

Well, there’s one verse in the Twelfth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, actually just one line, that we accept as self-evident truth as if we were good disciples of Kali (SB 12.2.4):

avṛttyā nyāya-daurbalyaḿ – A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he does not earn a good living.

It’s a non-issue for temple devotees but everywhere outside the pressure is inescapable, even in our congregation where to be a good standing member you must show some level of prosperity. By engaging in pious economical activity with the blessings of guru and Krishna you are supposed to maintain not only your family but also the temple itself, especially preaching programs.

If you don’t earn a good living it means there’s something seriously wrong with your devotion, that you lack responsibility and dedication and do not take your occupational and family duties seriously. It means your devotion is just for show, it doesn’t please neither Krishna nor guru and your prayers do not reach them because you only think about yourself.

A real devotee, on the other hand, should achieve success, and that is measured by the amount of power, influence, and money you can generate. Even our Bhagavatam is a book about kings, not about some nobodies who never amounted to anything.

In ISKCON hierarchy ability to raise funds and followers also often matters more than anything else, and I don’t think it should be any other way – because we are a preaching movement and people will always need strong leaders to follow, so we must speak their language, language of money and power, but it still means that unless you earn a good living you are useless.

Then, of course, there’s the society around us where money determines everything, that doesn’t help either, especially if you work outside. “If you speak for Krishna, you should show that your god can take care of his own first”, they think of us. And we largely agree.

To be poor and unsuccessful is improper. Today there’s a job ad in our local newspaper that shows a bunch of smug young people raising their thumbs – “We choose success!” If you have nothing to be smug about then you obviously made a wrong choice in your life.

I don’t know what I would personally do if I was suddenly out there looking for a job. I don’t project all those CV suitable qualities anymore and I’m not sure I want to project them.

On the other hand, if it’s what I have to do then, according to Bhagavad Gita, I should fire up my printer and get typing wonderful stories about me and where I want to be in five years. If I don’t do that it would be my failure in executing orders of guru and Krishna.

Hmm, I’m glad I don’t have to wear those shoes…

Thankfully, there’s always Srimad Bhagavatam where pursuit of spirituality and simple living is a treasure in itself and where it’s considered more valuable than accumulating wealth and power.

Under the pressure of modern life we tend to forget that these qualities are as precious as ability to earn a good living, actually even more precious. People around us don’t value them at all but we should not let ourselves be influenced by their mentality and their value system. No meat eating, no drinking and no sex is great, we are quite successful in insulating ourselves in those areas but we should also protect ourselves from accepting their definition of success itself.

Money and power are not nearly as valuable as simple life and pursuit of spiritual progress, we should not compromise our values and our practices to look good in their eyes. That would be seeking our personal emotional comfort, not service to the Lord, and it would corrupt not only our value system but our progress itself, leaving us firing on all cylinders yet not moving a single step forward for years.

This desire to look good and proper is such a waste of time and it cheapens our most valuable assets as aspiring devotees.

It still leaves unanswered the paradox of “Your Krishna is so cheap His devotees can’t even afford a new car/phone/shoes.” I don’t know how to deal with that, maybe leave this problem for Krishna Himself, it’s between Him and His critics, after all. He is in their hearts and He directs their perceptions and their reactions, maybe we should mind our own business here.

Vanity thought #770. Indifference

I’m afraid this is the first symptom of liberation and it’s also the one that is very hard to deal with.

Are we supposed to be indifferent? No one would object to being indifferent to our own pain or pleasure but if we become indifferent to suffering of others there will be no kind words for us ever.

G.B. Show called it the essence of inhumanity:

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity

Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel similarly called indifference evil:

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.

You get the drift.

Not all is lost, however, as French poet Anatole France said:

I prefer the folly of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.

That’s a very helpful observation – linking indifference with wisdom. We want that kind exactly, not the kind that is born of self-absorption where you don’t care because you don’t notice that there’s a problem.

Indifference born of wisdom means you do know there’s a problem and you do know there are solutions but the solutions might not be very obvious to a casual observer who doesn’t know neither the root of the problem nor the correct medicine.

People who achieve preliminary stages of self-realization, where they are driven mostly by the mode of goodness and where they realize that they are bigger than their bodies, can’t help but feel for the world and try to do good in it. According to their level of realization they identify themselves not with their physical bodies but with their society or even humanity as a whole. Some would then try to convert the rest of the world to democracy or Christianity or Islam, others would concentrate on building wells and delivering medicine.

Their rationalization is very simple – I felt pain myself, then I grew up spiritually and overcame it, then I noticed that other people are still suffering, and now I feel bad for them and feel compelled to help.

It’s at this stage that they say “indifference is inhuman”, for they imagine themselves to be top human beings ever, as we all do from time to time.

It’s hard to argue with them about futility of their endeavors because that’s the maximum they can comprehend on their level of spiritual realization. They simply can’t take more until they accept that spirit and matter are fundamentally different and fixing material side of things does not address actual problems with humanity.

We shouldn’t be bedazzled by their dedication to the welfare of others. They might seem like great philanthropists now but in Vedic times it was a duty of all higher varnas without exception, nothing to be proud of, just doing your job.

Indifference that comes from progressing towards liberation is of a different nature altogether. Not just that it comes from wisdom but it also signify taking a different turn at the biggest fork on the path of every human life ever – becoming a servant of God instead of ourselves.

Philanthropists still view the world as the object of their enjoyment and their gift giving is nothing but sharing the spoils. They do not accept that everything in this world belongs to God and is meant for His pleasure, not ours. Despite being such exemplary human specimen they still live on the platform of animals – the world is mine, I’m the enjoyer, and the goal of life is to make me feel good.

Well, they feel good by feeding others, that’s all the difference.

As devotees we completely abandon their attitude and that’s what worries them – they need a validation that their path is the correct one but we ignore it wish such indifference it drives them nuts. They want us to confirm that enjoyment is still the most important goal ever. When they don’t get this from us they declare us dead to their world. It’s easier for them to ignore our existence than to let a suspicion that serving God is better than serving themselves creep into their little lives. It would completely ruin their illusion, wouldn’t it?

So I kind of agree with this other quote from Elie Wiesel:

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.

So true, but not in the way Wiesel intended – we die to the world he wants to live in.

Even Paul of the Gospels said something similar:

The world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world

But what about suffering? Can’t we feel it? Doesn’t it make our hearts twist with pain, like ordinary people? Of course it does, only our reactions are different – we see the root of this suffering and we want to treat that instead. Shouldn’t we worry about immediate symptoms, too? We do but only to the degree it helps removing the underlying cause and doesn’t interfere with the main treatment.

We also understand the value of tolerance, often times people exaggerate their pain an we shouldn’t go alone with their hypocrisy.

Bottom line, though – we should have faith in Krishna, that He won’t let those who depend on Him down, that He would always come to help when pain becomes truly unbearable and detrimental to their spiritual progress.

That is the corner stone of our philosophy – that by surrendering to Krishna all problems will be resolved and people will become truly happy.

It might take a while to build faith in this statement for ourselves and that’s why the best preaching for us is to let people hear it from Srila Prabhupada through our books.

We can’t promise people that Krishna will take care of them ourselves, we aren’t qualified to make such promises and so we should always defer to our guru, no matter how advanced we might appear to be.

That leaves us in constant prayers to the Lord as the best way to alleviate others’ suffering.

Let the Lord, by the mercy of the guru, hear our pleas and wake those other living beings to His service and accept their efforts, and that would finally cure them of all their diseases.

We aren’t being indifferent, we are just going about sufferings the correct way – through guru and Krishna.

Vanity thought #769. Message for atmaramas

Lord Chaitanya had some special fondness for atmaras ca munayo verse, elaborating it on two occasions to two different devotees – Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and later Sanatana Goswami.

Let’s see the verse first (SB 1.7.10):

suta uvaca
atmaramas ca munayo
nirgrantha apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukim bhaktim
ittham-bhuta-guno harih

“All different varieties of atmaramas [those who take pleasure in atma, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls.”

One could easily see why this verse is so important, coming at the beginning of Srimad Bhagavatam – it’s a kind of proof that Bhagavatam works. It might not work for us yet, it might not have worked for the sages of Naimisharanya yet (they were doing a fruitless fire yajnas when Suta Goswami decided to entertain them with stories of Krishna). This verse, however, shows that it worked for other people on a much higher level so it must be true.

That is a very interesting dynamic to their conversation. We accept Bhagavatam as self-evident truth but for them it was just one of the many possible solutions to their problem. They didn’t know if it was going to work and so Suta Goswami referred them to greater authorities, in particular to Shukadeva Goswami, but also it was a part of the conversation featuring Narada Muni and Srila Vyasadev.

The sages asked him why Shukadeva Goswami would study Bhagavatam and Suta Goswami answered that all kinds of liberated persons are attracted to the Lord and therefore Shukadeva Goswami was no exception.

Anyway, so Lord Chaitanya went to great lengths to explain all possible meanings of this verse, giving examples from Bhagavatam itself or from other scriptures to illustrate each meaning, beginning with various definitions of atmarama. Normally it starts with four Kumaras, then goes to Nava Yogendras,… and then we get lost.

Sure, it worked for them, they were self-realized and liberated already, what has it got to do with us? Just a theoretical exercise? Just an example of complexity of Sanskrit translations?

And then Lord Chaitanya sneaked in this (CC Madhya 24.212):

One in the bodily conception worships his own body as Brahman, but when he comes in contact with a devotee, he gives up this mistaken idea and engages himself in the devotional service of Lord Kṛṣṇa.

That, there, is me, that’s addressed directly to me! Finally, something I can relate to.

Unfortunately, in the next couple of verses Lord Chaitanya explains who these people worshiping their body as Brahman are – different kinds of yogis, those engaged in yajnas and ritualistic ceremonies, so the effect gets lost, but then he mentions those who simply try to fulfill their material desires and that’s me again, not excluded after all.

The puzzling part of the verse – worshiping his own body as Brahman, is actually an acute observation. At first we might say – I don’t worship my body as Brahman, I don’t think my body is Brahman, this has nothing to do with me. But what IS Brahman? If we take it to mean the Absolute and Supreme reality that is above everything else, then yes, we treat our body as Brahman.

That’s how we’ve been schooled – protect your body above everything else. Family comes high, too, and maybe service to you country, but you have to look after your own body first. That’s why they assume that absolutely everyone would crack under torture – no ideals or beliefs can possibly be chosen to protect when the body is under threat.

Other people talk about other kinds of Brahman. Yogis see it as the Supersoul within their hearts, impersonalists see it as transcendental light, devotees talk about Krishna being Param Brahman, but we don’t know anything about that. We might choose to follow them and accept their definitions of Brahman but that would be just words because we still treat our bodies as absolute and supreme and we still have no contact with all those higher forms of Absolute.

It’s pretty much like annamaya, pranamaya and so on – at each stage a living entity considers that particular kind of enjoyment as highest of all. We are at the stage of self-realization where we consider our bodies as the only real truth because we don’t know any better.

It doesn’t even enter our minds that happenings of our bodies can be ignored and overlooked and that there’s another, higher reality elsewhere. We entertain the possibilities but, being in a conditioned state, we don’t have any other options – a bound living entity is bound to feel that way.

Not to despair, though, by the mercy of our guru and all the devotees this misconception will go away and we’ll engage ourselves in service to the Lord.

Practically it means that for the sake of the service we will forgo interests of our material bodies. Non-devotees around us would say: “But what about your job? Think of you family, think of your health. How are you going to support yourself? How will you feel being a beggar? What will all your friends say? Think how stupid you will look if you declare your belief in those ancient Indian fairy tales. No one will take you seriously, ever. Think how it would reflect on us? Think of your future – this is just a spell, don’t burn all your bridges, don’t ruin your life. You should be thinking about building a nest, a safety net. What will you do when you get old? It’s okay to prance about when you are young and careless, but who will look after you later in life?”

Umm, who cares? We are not taking to the service because it would be better for our bodies. All those terrible things are scary only if you accept your body as important, which it isn’t. Persons who are fully engaged in service become transcendental to the conditions of their bodies – hot, cold, pleasure, pain – it just doesn’t register anymore, it becomes irrelevant, junk data.

Of course if we are not fully engaged in service or not engaged at all we have to follow these materially designated dharmas, but only for the time being, make no mistake about it. Once Krishna shows us His mercy we’ll abandon them in a moment.

And that, I believe, is the proper attitude to develop for someone not yet on the liberated platform, the materialistic atmarama.

Vanity thought #768. Liberation expectations

No matter what we say in public prayers and even what we say to ourselves in private, the embodied living entity is forced to desire sense gratification and, realizing futility of those endeavors, it cherishes hopes for liberation.

As devotees we’ve been taught not to value mukti very highly, if at all, but at this stage liberation is just a word, we have no idea what is it that we swear having no attraction to.

If we look at our lives honestly, however, we’d notice that we wish for mukti just as often as we wish for bhukti, we are just aren’t always aware of it.

We don’t think twice about taking medicine, for example, or withdrawing our hand from hot objects like pans and pots. If we talk business or marriage we naturally assume that it has to be set as profitable or happy. If something goes wrong we don’t think twice about fixing things, it would be weird not to.

These assumptions, however, are based entirely on the desire for liberation, which for us means liberation from suffering.

That’s how we see it in the future, too – that, as we progress towards liberation, we will experience steady cessation of suffering until it goes away completely. Alternatively, we think that being liberated means having freedom to do whatever we want without any painful consequences.

We have Bhagavad Gita to back it up, after all. Actions performed in Krishna consciousness do not bear fruits, and also Krishna promised to take care of all our sinful reactions, ma suchaha.

Thinking this through, however, would lead us to absurd conclusions that our bodies will stop aching and our hands will not burn when holding hot objects. That is obviously not going to happen. What will?

If, while doing a pujari service, your arm gets tired of waving a massive ghee lamp – what do you do?

Do you clench your jaws and continue through pain? Do you pray for Krishna to give you strength because His service is not supposed to be this painful? Do you hit the gym and start lifting weights to be ready next time?

None of those actions befit a liberated person and it that what worries you than you are obviously not there yet.

Liberation does not stop suffering. It stops associating oneself with it.

If your marriage is falling apart and you can’t stand the voice of your beloved wife – what would a liberated person feel? Exactly the same things, but he wouldn’t take them personally. These same reactions would manifest themselves in his mind, expect he wouldn’t see it as his mind anymore.

I guess we can imagine how it would work if we reflect upon less deep examples. We get liberated from various sufferings all the time, just not so close to “home”. Thanks to the interconnected world it’s very easy to put yourself in a middle of some injustice of universal proportions, like famine in Sudan or NASDAC outage in New York. We have twitter to bring all those gruesome events to the forefront of our consciousness.

Then, two days later, we forget all about it and though we know we could elicit the same emotions again if we start reading up on the news, we also know that if we just ignore it we would save ourselves a lot of aggravation. There it is – we’ve become liberated.

Divorce and moving on is a similar experience – we know that if we return to our exes we can easily relive all our suffering, it’s still there, but now we’ve managed to set ourselves free and don’t care anymore.

There are a lot of situations where we either consciously choose not put ourselves in to avoid emotional upheavals, or we choose to forget and purge from memory. That is liberation of sorts, and maybe that’s why we have a phrase “liberating experience”.

Most of these things are far removed from our core bondage to our bodies but the principle is the same. Liberation also comes in stages, from giving up identification with larger societies, then families, then gross bodies, then mind and intelligence and so on.

I, for example, can’t find any resonance with patriotism speeches on TV – my false ego does not spread that far anymore, it doesn’t cover the entire country. If I sat and listened to those speeches carefully and thought about the prosperity of my country and the debts I owe it, it might start worrying me again. Actually, it would sure start worrying me again, but atm I choose not to let myself to be bound by such designations and I am glad they are not forced on me against my will.

So I hope that one day I would similarly withdraw myself from my gross bodily and mental platforms as well. It won’t stop my mind from working and my body from digesting food but I wouldn’t take it personally anymore and would turn into a simple observer, just as I do with country’s politics right now.

I hope I would be dispassionate about it – if my mind does this, it would lead to pleasure, if it does that, it would lead to pain, if it does the other thing it would bring good results in the future, and yet another course of actions would save me from highly probably accidents, but I don’t care, let it choose whatever it wants.

More importantly, I hope I wouldn’t equally care whether my mind screams in pain or dies of embarrassment. That would be really liberating.

Vanity thought #767. Gifts of magi, reversed

Magi were most likely sadhus of Zoroastran persuasion, which means they worshiped the great and wise Lord Ahura Mazda, which was Avestan for Asura. On the surface Zaratushtra was a Vedic pervert who preferred demons to demigods but at that time Kali Yuga was already in force so nominal allegiance to demigod worship might have been stripped of all goodness and spirituality already and his revolt could have been similar to that of Buddha rejecting Vedas.

Anyway, those magis brought gifts to baby Jesus but that was certainly not the only influence of Zoroastrism on Christianity. There’s a school of thought that ascribes all Christian and Judean eschatology and demonology to Zoroastrism. The symbolism of good vs evil struggle, the “good” God fighting the Satan, the archangels and demons helping in the war, the end of the world, the eternal salvation, resurrection – all these concepts are believed to be sourced from ancient Persians. Jewish people have spent centuries in Babilonian captivity so they had plenty of time to learn all that. Incidentally, magi existed prior and independently of Zaratushtra but that is not important now.

This is actually my roundabout way to introduce a verse from the Bible as a lesson from deviant disciples (Jews). I don’t know its author but it traveled a long way to make an impression as a reflection on the state of modern Gaudiya vaishnavism.

It’s Proverbs 3.5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

In other translations “direct” is not as direct and kind of obscures the meaning and reduces the impact but the gist is all the same.

Why is it important for us?

Because one way or another but we fill the world with devotees who think they are the architects of their own success. They think they are mature enough to select their own sadhana, select their own gurus, select their own paths. Many have left ISKCON because they think they know better. Many stay in ISKCON but remain choosy about who to follow – this guru is too conservative, that guru is too liberal, this guru is too modern, that guru is too “rasika”. Everyone has an opinion and is not afraid to follow it.

At least ISKCON devotees see these differences as trivial as long as this or that guru follows the path laid by Srila Prabhupada. Outside of ISKCON, however, is jungle. Yata mata tata patha – “whatever you think, that is your way”, as Prabhupada once translated it.

Everyone is his own boss, everyone relies on his own intelligence, and they look at ISKCON devotees as sheep who still haven’t broken away from their bondage to their gurus.

One reason for this thinking is that our ISKCON gurus are believed to be spiritual lightweights who can’t possibly teach us anything truly transcendental. This thinking unites rittviks and prabhupadanugas, emigrants to GM and Babaji clubs, and also those who turned to Shivaism, Shaktism, Buddhism, or Christianity.

In explaining their position they site the same set of arguments about qualifications to be a guru and then judge our sannyasis and GBC against those standards. It’s a reasonable approach, I guess, but it also excludes God from our lives.

They don’t account for the possibility that Krishna could be fully in charge of His representatives, however imperfect they might appear to a casual observer. They do not believe that by surrendering to such “inferior” gurus devotees would place ourselves in Krishna’s hands and acknowledge Him in all their ways. They think it’s impossible and Krishna would never ever take control of ISKCON devotees’ lives.

They lean on their own understanding instead, making their own decisions where Krishna would and would not manifest His mercy, which goes against the very spirit of the quoted verse.

Another side of this thinking is that they don’t believe that spiritual knowledge will be automatically manifested in one’s heart. They think it needs to be learned, studied and understood. The more studies the better, the more sophistication leads to deeper penetration. Consequently, results are judged on an intellectual level, too.

The other day I was reading a blog by one Prabhupada disciple who tried nearly everything under the sun since leaving ISKCON, form drugs to yoga to sex as a preferred method of liberation. On his return to Vrindavana he visited Krishna Balaram Mandir on Vyasa puja day and casually observed that his ISKCON godbrothers had made some progress but not as much as he’d hoped.

The best part of that blog was his return to Radha Damodara temple where he submitted himself to Prabhupada as his eternal spiritual father, no matter where he went and what he did, he was always Prabhupada’s spiritual son.

Yet he still thinks he has to acquire spiritual knowledge in his own way, currently being fascinated by vows of silence. He doesn’t think that simply surrendering to Prabhupada could be enough.

And that is our common disease that puts us into a Catch 22 situation. Without faith in our guru we can’t gain and spiritual insights, and without spiritual insights we can’t maintain any faith, and so we abandon the process altogether as hopeless and way below our perceived level of devotion.

As a result we have thousands and thousands of zombies who once were promising devotees but then turned into empty shells preying on whoever left living, and without new sources of food simply brooding in their own mental fantasies.

All we have to do, however, is put our trust in the Lord and surrender to Him. That means giving up our own speculations and ideas on how to make things better. Let Him direct us in all our paths, and for now our paths lie in the material world and we are given apparently material guidance by apparently materialistic rubber stamp gurus, yet this is Lord’s prescription on how to surrender and we should follow it.

Vanity thought #766. Droppings of wisdom

Lois C.K. had appeared on Conan O’Brien show and packed in two major ideas into a six minute segment, complete with examples and multimedia.

Officially it’s called Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones but cell phones were kind of secondary to what he really said.

First, he started with explanation why he doesn’t allow his daughters to use cell phones, and it wasn’t just because mobiles are bad for children, it’s because he defines his role as a father very differently:

– I just don’t let them have it, it’s easy, just say “No, you can’t have it, you know, it’s bad for you”
– But I want…
– I don’t care what you want…

Conan: I love “I don’t care what you want”
Lois: I’m not there to make them happy.

Pause, laughter, Conan trying to say something, then Lois explains:

Lois: I’m not raising children, I’m raising grownups that they are going to be.

This is actually a very mature approach to child education – it’s goal should be preparing people for future life, not for making kids feel comfortable.

Think of it – there’s no way you can give children any spiritual education if you simply try to meet their immediate material needs. In fact, our entire life should be nothing but preparation for death and going back to Krishna. Yes, we have a lot of things to do before we die but we should always think how they fit in the overall arch of our lifetime, which should end with fully surrendering to Krishna.

Everything we do and everything we learn should be subservient to this overarching task. We don’t live to be happy and comfortable, human life is not meant for that, it’s meant only for preparation to become Krishna’s devotees.

This knowledge will never come on its own, nothing in this world is built to elicit it, rather the opposite, it’s only guru and Krishna who can actually make our human lives worthwhile, make them really human, so Lois is totally right here – father’s job is give kids what they can’t find here on their own. Of course he isn’t going to teach his kids Krishna consciousness but we know better, he just reminds us of the principle itself.

Moving on, Lois talks about how phones destroy our interpersonal communications, how real people are being replaced with speech bubbles in message applications and how it strips our counterparts of all humanity. This is not restricted only to the phones, of course, it’s a much larger problem – how instead of human contact we choose to interact with letters popping up on our screens.

Facebook was recently in the news on this subject when some researches published results of their studies on how facebooking affects our real lives and how it distorts our perception of lives of others.

More interesting, though, was Lois’ explanation for our addiction to talking to gadgets – we are afraid to be on our own. We use gadgetry to dumb the overwhelming feeling of sadness and loneliness that pervades our real lives. We just don’t want to face this reality, we would do everything to avoid meeting it.

There are two aspects to this realization – lack of mode of goodness in our lives and acceptance of life as a source of suffering, Buddhist style.

At one point Lois talks about simply being yourself, just sitting there not doing anything in particular and just being yourself. That won’t happen without influence of the mode of goodness. People covered by passion can’t sit and people covered by ignorance will end up taking some kind of intoxicants. Only people in goodness can simply be in the moment and observe the world around them as well as workings of their own bodies and minds.

This is still very far from spiritual realization of ourselves as krishnera nitya dasa but mode of goodness is very favorable to spiritual progress anyway.

Second part of Lois’ realization is that our lives, deep inside our hearts, are empty. There’s nothing in there, there’s no one to be with, and all our external relations can’t reach there, they are too superficial for that.

This fills Lois with untold sadness, which, I guess, is a good thing, but if it doesn’t lead one to search for Krishna then all the benefits become wasted. In Lois’ case he welcomes the sadness because it actually makes him feel good, it relieves his heart, and because it leads to his body releasing counter-agent chemicals to make him feel happy again.

He describes this experience as a “trip”, which completely devalues the realization itself. It becomes all about his own feelings, not about finding the purpose to his life. He finds this trip better than usual coping methods, phones included, and this means that he remains stuck in his desire to be the enjoyer of the material nature.

Is he a person ripe for accepting Krishna consciousness? He’s a pretty open and accessible guy, I’m sure one can easily contact him via e-mail or twitter, so should someone try and tell him about Krishna?

I’m in two minds about this – on one hand it’s our service, on the other hand it looks somewhat exploitative, predatory even, something that would fit Jehovah Witnesses rather than devotees. I feel like it would be more about adding to our own score of converted souls rather than about a genuine concern for Lois’ spiritual well-being.

Maybe it’s because Lois didn’t go on TV to advertise his search for God but rather to tell people that his search is over, that he figured how to deal with his sadness himself, and he is actually giving out advice rather than seeking help.

He might be a good candidate but that is not enough – one should actually want to become a devotee before we can tell them about Krishna’s glory, only then it would become sankirtana, if we volunteer without being asked it would be namaparadha instead.

But isn’t it what we supposed to do when we go out on sankirtana – tell about Krishna to everyone we meet? True, but in our public addresses we do not give out very much, only the basic spiritual knowledge – you are spirit souls, you should take care of your spiritual health, Hare Krishna mantra is a recommended method for this age etc, but nothing about actual glory of the Holy Name unless people are interested and receptive.

Maybe one day Lois will come across a Hare Krishna pamphlet and remembers it in one of those moments when he sits down and tries to be himself. He seems to have established this rule – everything external and temporary can’t be deep and spiritual, which is fine. Maybe he’ll get some prasadam somewhere and it turns his entire being upside down and he throws all his assumptions out of the window.

Search for Krishna is a very personal matter, TV appearances are too public and too prestige related to be taken seriously. It’s better for Lois to hear about Krishna when it’s not done in response to his pursuit of fame.

I think this should be the rule when approaching all other celebrities or politicians. Lord Chaitanya refused to meet King Prataparudra as long he behaved like a king, only when the king became a humble street sweeper and dressed accordingly he was granted Lord’s audience.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, on the other hand, gave somewhat different lessons, but that’s a thought for another day.