Vanity thought #806. The Empire Strikes Back

In the Star Wars mythology the Empire is an evil force and we are expected to cheer for the rebellion. In real life rebellions are mostly demoniac, people trying to replace God’s established order with their own laws. Now, however, we are watching rebellions against previous rebellions who earlier rebelled against the original rebels who, in turn, just wanted the old order back. We can’t pick sides with these people.

The Empire itself got corrupted, no doubt about it, this is Kali Yuga, but empire is still the ideal social organization, we just can’t get it up and running like during Lord Ramachandra’s era anymore.

Anyway, the old empire, the long lost Vedic way of doing things, is not completely dead yet and every now and then we see glimpses of the glorious past. I’m talking about two discoveries I wrote about in the past couple of days – desexualized society and living on the streets as a viable alternative to running in the rat race.

It is far from perfect, of course, abstaining from sex hasn’t made Japanese any more pious and every homeless person dreams about finding a home, which was not the case with Vedic ascetics, but one way or another these old fashioned ideas found their audience, just not among devotees yet.

Similarly, there’s a widespread backlash against feminism, which was a truly scary rebellion in itself, and we are all over this one. The tide is turning, female diksha gurus are out, bashing career minded females is in. Some of us just can’t hold back and want to go nazi on entire female population. They all should be married, husbands will be assigned to them according to astrological charts, they will undergo re-education in home making skills, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

This, of course, won’t work. It would take generations to undo the damage inflicted by feminism and re-educating people is a very bad idea. We’ll have to make do with whatever women join our movement and we have to accommodate their feminist needs even if they totally agree with the overall goal of establishing proper institute of marriage and families.

We can’t force them to be anyone but themselves. Let them fail at feminism, if that’s their nature, than train them to become perfect wives, which won’t purify their inner desires.

This probably deserves its own post.

Today I present you another long forgotten Vedic skill – archery.

This guy, Lars Anderson, has figured out a way to shoot arrows really fast, faster than another mythological character Legolas from The Lord Of The Rings. Of course, it’s still nowhere fast as Arjuna or Lorl Ramachandra but it’s impressive nevertheless.

His trick is to hold several arrows in his left hand at once rather than pull them from the quiver one by one, like Legolas did. We don’t know how Arjuna managed it but it was probably something similar. In fact, I have no idea how they could carry quivers with thousands and thousands of arrows in them but if they had a manageable number and could hold a dozen or two on the ready in their left hand, then Lars Anderson is an example how Vedic feats of archery could have been possible.

There’s no magic in it, just an idea and a lot of training, which can’t be said about Arjuna and others who also used mantras to direct their arrows, but for an average archer of those times Lars might be a legitimate contender.

He learned to shoot while moving around, too. He can shoot while jumping, while running backwards, while falling of a horse, and he’s pretty sharp with his shooting. This reminds me of Delta force training I read about once.

It was said that major skill they master there is sharp shooting. They also do a lot of running and all kinds of endurance exercises, hand to hand combat and so on, but the real emphasis is on sharp shooting. First of all they borrowed British SAS principle that they should always have their weapon at the ready and therefore their rifles do not have shoulder straps, they can’t swing them over their shoulders even when they are running. Then they practice shooting at things six-eight hours a day, increasing distances and accuracy. Then they learn to shoot at moving targets and work on achieving same precision, then they learn to shoot at moving targets while running themselves.

In the end, while running, they are expected to hit another running man in the head with 100% accuracy. Nothing to do with Krishna consciousness but it’s a cool skill nonetheless.

Well, Lars went the same way, except his arrows are not as deadly as bullets and he isn’t as accurate yet. With more power, bigger bow, and sharper arrows he’d probably be as deadly in no time.

Another interesting part of his skill is that he doesn’t take aim, not in the conventional arrow shooting sense. He doesn’t need to line his eyesight with neither the arrow nor his hands, pretty much like we throw stones or baseballs, we rely on fine motor skills and training, there’s nothing to align a ball in your outstretched hand with anyway, there’s just muscle memory and that’s it.

Basically, it’s like shooting form the hip – not so easy at first but all cowboys in the movies can do it and they are pretty fast and accurate, too.

Enough talking – here’s the video of Lars attempts at reviving ancient archery skills. Apparently he hasn’t got to Vedic books on the subject yet but this will do for now.

Vanity thought #805. Paramahamsa 2.0

Prior to Lord Chaitanya there was no way to achieve self realization but by becoming a paramahamsa. We have stories of saintly kings in Srimad Bhagavatam but that is a drop in the ocean of human attempts at achieving perfection, I don’t recall any king making it since Maharaja Parikshit himself. At the same time India has always been full of ascetics who completely renounced all material entanglement and dedicated themselves to the search for the Absolute Truth so, practically speaking, that was the only recognized way.

By the mercy of Lord Chaitanya, however, everyone can return back to Krishna at the end of his life regardless of his situation. All we need to do is engage in sankirtana, and it’s also the only guaranteed method of self realization in this age of Kali.

Does it mean paramahamsas are out?

Not at all, but the outward appearance has changed. Now we judge someone’s level not by the external engagements of his body but by his consciousness. For an outsider it’s impossible to tell a liberated devotee from an ordinary materialist, save for following the regs and wearing tilaka and tulasi, or to tell a difference between devotees who “made it” and those who are still in the preliminary stages of developing bhakti.

In the olden age it was simple – more advanced devotees were more renounced externally, now everyone could be a paramahamsa and you wouldn’t know it.

Is it still possible to lead an externally renounced life though? I believe it is.

This year local press wrote several articles about homeless people in the area. We have a rather stable community with fixed roaming grounds, fixed shops that give them food, fixed charities that look after them and so on. Their lives are not easy but they kind of got used to it and they rarely cause any trouble.

Lately, however, people started noticing that there appeared quite respectable gentlemen among the homeless ranks. They’ve lost their jobs, don’t have family support to fall back to, their optimism about the future hasn’t totally worn off yet but they are making do with their new way of life just fine. They are not complaining. It’s tough but possible.

Then I saw an article about a college graduate homeless woman in New York and it kind of became obvious – life on the streets is a reality. They’ve mentioned statistics there and it’s better to look at it the other way – 60-70% of homeless people are not alcoholics, don’t do drugs, and don’t prostitute themselves. They are not lazy, they do odd jobs here and there but mostly they rely on donations and soup kitchens.

The woman in question was doing her masters, then she lost her job, she couldn’t pay her rent so she lost her apartment, and then she got gaps on her resume and no permanent residence so no one would hire her, she got no stable income so no one would rent her apartment, and that’s how she got completely locked out of the system.

Since then her experience sounded just as if it was from somewhere in India. Some people abused here, some had shown kindness, some donate more stuff around holidays, some steal whatever she possesses. There are shelters and kitchens and she has to manage her day to get lunch here, dinner there, and a place to sleep in another place. There are public showers she can use, too, though it’s easier to take bath in the Ganges, of course.

Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami has lived through all that in Puri and it’s probably a lot easier to live like a parahamsa in India where support structure has been there for thousands of years but it’s manageable in the West, too.

Even our Aindra Prabhu used to be a hobo before Srila Prabhupada found him and placed him in Lord Chaitanya’s service.

There could be a problem with finding vegetarian food and even bigger problem with offering it to Krishna, for that you’d have to cook yourself and fresh food is not easy to come buy. I guess one could hunt supermarket dumping grounds or something similar – up to 30% of food gets thrown away and one could surely find a couple of usable potatoes or an expired bag of rice that hasn’t got bad yet.

My point is – it’s possible. We don’t usually believe it just as we don’t believe it’s possible to live in a modern society and practice celibacy but even ordinary materialistic people manage to pull it off, why can’t we? We have full backing of the Lord in our service, what could be a better test of our faith? Or even a better faith building exercise.

The fact, however, is that Lord Chaitanaya doesn’t need homeless devotee, he needs devotees who can preach, not beg. If modern society respects money and appearances then that’s what we should do to grab their attention. We can’t tell people how to live their lives if all we can manage ourselves is collecting rejected food. Some would be attracted by such renunciation but we can forget about reaching the general population.

That’s why we need nice temples with first class management. Not for ourselves and not for Krishna but for preaching.

Aindra Prabhu might have been a hobo but Srila Prabhupada didn’t see any use of him in that position, he was much better practicing his paramahamsa like tendencies in ISKCON. Not to say he was a genuine paramahamsa, I can’t judge that, but from where I am he was somewhere up there and must have been pretty close.

Still, the lesson from this should be that unless we are engaged in active service to our guru and Lord Chaitanya we have no valid reason to take up jobs and lead materialistic lives and think that this is the best and only way to live. External renunciation is still possible and, save for being in service in ISKCON, it’s the best way to seek self-realization. We can’t jump ahead of ourselves and renounce prematurely but we should keep our priorities in order anyway.

Vanity thought #804. Entitlements

One of the easier ways to identify various upadhis and dharmas we subject ourselves to is to monitor our sense of entitlement.

As conditioned entities we assume our false ego and our bodies as ourselves and those come preloaded with dharmas and upadhis already. By false ego here I mean our identification with one particular body, not the root material element from which all our conditioned lives sprout. As we can’t see the actual difference between ourselves as spirit souls and our bodies it’s equally difficult to identify all the upadhis and dharmas connected to it.

Entitlements, however, are different, we are much more sensitive to them. If we take some role in the society (upadhi) and perform its corresponding duties (dharma) we expect results and we know when, how, and how much we should get in return for our work. We can judge if the results are timely and satisfactory, whether they are worth the investment and so on, we are naturally attuned to seeking and evaluating this kind of rewards.

What I am proposing here is to reverse-engineer this process – look for our expectations and entitlements and trace them to their causes – dharmas and upadhis we must give up if we want to become devotees.

Some are easy, like a paycheck. If we go to work we expect to be paid, when we sense this expectation we can know that we got attached not only to the results of our labor but also to being employees. Think of it – if we didn’t see ourselves as workers we wouldn’t expect any payment, one follows the other like cause and effect.

Some are more difficult, like we are all feel entitled to good night sleep. Why? What dharma, what designation we assume that we expect to have a well-deserved rest? So, every time your head touches a pillow and you think “Finally!” ask yourself – what makes you feel this way? Devotees do not need rest in their service, the soul never sleeps, so it must be some external designation. This designation might be valuable to our service at the moment but it’s false nonetheless, at some point it needs to go. That point would signal the transition from vaidhi bhakti to the next level.

If we distribute a lot of books or sign up lots of life members we think we are entitled to praise from other devotees and mercy from our guru. This is relatively easy to keep in check, we’ve been trained to purge such expectations from our minds, but if we return to the temple after whole day of preaching and expect a plate of tasty prasadam – that’s a bit harder to notice yet it’s another false designation leading to another false dharma and another entitlement.

Even if the service we do is given to us by guru we can’t expect any rewards for it, not in the form of praise, not in the form of prasadam. If we do feel entitled to rewards then whatever benefits we get will be accidental and more like ajnata sukriti, not bad for a hard day’s work but we should do so much better if we want to become pure devotees.

Outside our temples and our communities our entitlements multiply exponentially and one day might completely take over our lives. As an ordinary citizen we are entitled to so many things already – police protection, fair justice, often free medical care and education, all kinds of human rights, freedom of speech, freedom to worship Krishna, freedom to travel to other countries and consulate assistance while we are there, freedom to elect our rulers, freedom to protest against them, freedom to do whatever we want as long as it’s not against the law and so on.

That is just from accepting one upadhi – that of a citizen of a certain country. Some give you more, some give less, YMMV.

In the modern world there are “universal” entitlements, too. If we believe in that sort of thing, we are entitled to clean water, we are entitled to human dignity and respect, we are entitled to love and care, we are entitled to a few good words when we die – the list is practically endless, and it all comes from one false designation or the other. All of it needs to go.

As spirit souls we are not entitled to anything in this world, only our bodies do, and that’s why real renunciates like Sukadeva Goswami are complete, full time avadhutas. They don’t even wear clothes because that assumes we see ourselves as members of human society and therefore should cover our private parts. Big procession of naga-sadhus, naked renunciates, is a major part of every Kumbha Mela festival. I’m a bit skeptical about their qualifications but recognition of complete renunciation is there.

So yes, as spirit souls we don’t have to wear clothes, we don’t have to wash our bodies, we don’t have to pass stool or urinate in private, we don’t have to greet other people or say good-byes, we can behave like animals and even worse because animals also have their social structures and their duties, like procreation and protection of their progeny.

As vaishnavas, however, we are told to dress nicely, always wear a tilaka, and behave like perfect gentlemen. Is there a contradiction? No, it’s the same thing Krishna told Arjuna – give up all your dharmas as your own but fight as ordered by me, so we must follow all the rules and regulations but we also must learn to see ourselves as different from and outside their influence.

That’s why I think checking for feelings of entitlement is very important – it means we are not doing our service right and our attitudes must change.

Vanity thought #803. Unplugged

The term has become popular some thirty years ago when UK musicians started performing their hits on acoustic instruments for the public. The idea was to hear the songs as they are, without the help of amplifiers, reverberators, and all the gadgetry like the latest scourge of youtube – autotune. Use of electronics was believed to cover and obscure the original, pure, raw talent.

In the Internet era unplugged refers to disconnecting yourself from the digital universe, a sort of digital detox. Latest joke is about living through a blackout: “Internet was down, mobile run out of battery, had to talk to the family for a while – they seem like nice people.”

As devotees we should be totally unplugged from the society in all its aspects. Why? For one thing Krishna’s instruction is sarva dharman parityajya, and it’s not only about religions, dharma means so much more. Everything you feel you are obliged to do because of your position or your nature is your dharma, and you have to give it all up.

Another point is sarvopadhi vinirmuktam – devotional service must be free from all kinds of material designations. Whatever you think of yourself in relation to the society – get rid of it.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. Humans are social animals, we need other people around us for all kinds of support and this association provides comfort and safety to our existence while we are in the conditioned stage. Just making a list of all such support might take days, weeks, or even months as we discover more and more about ourselves.

A while ago I mentioned spotting feeling of anticipation when I pop some food into a microwave. Here is a device made by other people that makes my life so much easier, I feel comforted by their help and that makes me indebted to the society that looks after me so well. Give it up.

Today is Monday, everyone has the right to make a gloomy Monday jokes and everyone who works for a living would appreciate it. Well, don’t, as devotees we shouldn’t feel anything special about Mondays. Neither we can share the joy of TGIF. No matter how much we want to share these feelings, they are upadhis – external designations. We can’t hope to attain bhakti if we still wait for the weekend when we can unwind like everybody else.

I’m not even sure about Sunday feasts, all devotees come to love them dearly and wait for them just as 9-5 slaves wait for their brunches or something. Srila Prabhupada instituted this custom for the benefits of our guests and as a tribute to our conditioned nature but we can’t hang on to it if we ever hope to attain devotion.

Speaking of unwinding – we don’t get to come home in the evening, collapse on the sofa and take comfort in feeling of freedom and opportunity to relax. We don’t get to relax, ever, service to Krishna must be uninterrupted – nityam bhagavata sevaya. For everyone else this down time is well deserved and everyone expects us to appreciate it just like them but we are not part of this society, we don’t share in it.

If we work for a living everyone would assume that we deserve rest just like them but we don’t and we should banish the idea that we deserve anything from our minds forever. This is even more prominent on paydays – we are given money just like everybody else and this money is assumed to be ours to spend for our own pleasure, or at least the part of it not confiscated by our wives. As devotees we should never see any money as ours, we cannot allow ourselves to be tricked into the illusion of having power and opportunity to enjoy material nature.

Try to excuse yourself from having that feeling and see how difficult it is. Impossible would be a better word.

Somehow or other we always have at least some money just like we always have at least some food and so when we walk into a shopping mall we naturally assume the position of a shopper. Everything and everybody we see treats us like that and everybody reassures us that spending money and getting served is our purpose in life. No, that’s one of those dharmas we are supposed to give up. We cannot allow ourselves to become shoppers if we want to be devotees.

Or imagine driving or walking down a dark street and you see a collection of lights up ahead. People are there, there are shops, restaurants, cafes – there are people and, contrasting with the darkness around us it looks and sounds very enticing. Forget it, we are not part of that crowd even if we look like one of them – two legs, two arms, mouth to stuff. We cannot allow ourselves to be attracted by community of sense enjoyers.

Or take driving itself – as soon as we sit behind the wheel we assume identity of a driver, a responsible member of a driving community who follows all the rules and avoids causing problems to anyone. It’s like taking on a new body, it’s a particularly dense concentration of upadhis. Of course we can’t drive anywhere we like, off road or through traffic lights, but why can’t we? It’s one of those dharmas that need to be abandoned for the sake of Krishna’s service, too.

Here’s the tricky part, though – even if we are asked to abandon our dharmas we are also told to follow them to the best of our abilities. We still have to spend our money and eat our feasts and we still have to drive on the right side of the road, which could be left, depending on the country, but at no time we should allow to identify ourselves with any of those designations and we should never accept rewards for our compliance as ours.

We cannot allow ourselves to think “I deserved this” or “I deserved that” even if the whole society insists that we do so. We should completely unplug ourselves from them like sociopaths who can’t physically feel any empathy, which doesn’t stop them from appearing totally normal because they are very adept at faking human emotions.

This what sarva dharman parityajya also means – don’t take anything here personally, don’t cry for baby seals, don’t get swayed by pain and suffering caused by material nature, don’t get attracted by joy and happiness either. Charity and outwardly compassion are domains of impersonalists who don’t want to find relationships with the Lord and so try to fix the material world instead.

It’s unfixable and it doesn’t need fixing, we should not confuse liberation with creature comforts and once we achieve liberation we should strive to bring other people into Krishna’s service, not try to tell Maya Devi how to do her service. She can manage very well without our advice, thank you very much.

But first we need to do is to unplug ourselves, we don’t get to help a lot of people by staying materially conditioned forever.

Vanity thought #802. Asexuality

A few days ago I wrote about difficulties in maintaining celibacy in the modern world. Not so much celibacy per se but following “no illicit sex” rule which is practically the same thing.

This week articles about Japanese attitudes towards sex have made news around the world. Turns out it’s quite possible to have a modern society that is asexual and where people knowingly and willingly avoid sex altogether. Latest survey over there produced lots of interesting numbers but perhaps the most shocking is the fact that almost half of young Japanese women and a quarter of their men are “not interested or despise sexual contact”. That’s 16-24 year olds, prime age for fantasizing about it.

This is buttressed by the rising number of singles, and the rising number of singles who are not interested neither in marriage nor in having any kind of romantic relationships across all age groups, and that serves as a role model for teenagers.

There are many reasons for this, one is the workaholic culture that is geared towards single workers, with all their needs looked after by their companies practically on premises. They don’t need to go home to support themselves, they can get all their food and fresh underwear at the nearest 7-Eleven, and it all comes in single portions. And once at work they are not supposed to mingle with the opposite sex and so they don’t get opportunities to become romantically involved.

Another is the career pressure on the women. Once they get married they are expected and even pressured to drop out of the “rat race”, by the society, by their husbands, and by their employers. There’s a worldwide tendency to get married at a later age and so for Japanese women it comes to mean a complete overhaul of their lives. Just as they finish their education, settle in their work and get their lives together, they are asked to drop it all and start over. Doesn’t go down very well, I imagine.

On the male side the expectations of the traditional marriage are also quite high. They were formed in the age of life long employment and secure and profitable jobs which are becoming increasingly rare even in Japan. Young people there, just like everywhere else, do a lot of job hopping and soul-searching which does not mesh with committing yourselves to staying with one company and advancing towards the top. They aren’t automatically interested in that and maintaining families and complying with social norms is not enough of a reason for them to become “enslaved”.

They can maintain themselves very well without making such commitments and they see marriage as a threat to their care free lifestyles.

So when it comes to the choice of doing what they want and marriage they increasingly choose their own interests, and this means they have to protect their decisions and deal with their sexual urges.

While they still have outlets to satisfy their desires outside marriage they also realize that the best way is to structure their lives in such a way that sexual urges don’t even come. When the number of such people rises the society responds and it becomes a new social norm, and this is what their teenagers are graduating into.

For women it means refusing all kinds of dating as a principle. Nip it in the bud, once you fall in love it would become so much more difficult to say no to marriage proposals. Once the women are chaste, men have to adjust themselves, too. It becomes even more obvious that seeking sex leads only to frustration so they apply themselves in other areas, most notably in virtual reality and manga culture.

Is it an ideal situation by Vedic standards? Not really, but if you want to follow the fourth reg than Japan has the answer, and their lifestyles and cultural attitudes are slowly spreading around the world, too, beginning with Asia.

Too bad they speak Japanese and so it all has to be translated into English or it would have consumed the region like a wildfire already. Also their technology based ecosystem is quite difficult to replicate but Internet now is everywhere and Koreans, for example, are quite adept at selling their role-playing computer games worldwide. I mean the games that millions of people play at the same time and that create virtual societies through which people are conditioned to behave in a certain way.

Another example – the most popular messaging application worldwide is Whatsapp but in Asia it’s Japanese Line and it’s main allure is cute over-sized “stickers” to substitute people’s emotions in online conversations, and they are totally asexual, of course. Once you start communicating with other people through this asexual language it shapes your internal thinking, too, and this is how it spreads.

Anyway, what does it mean for us? As I said, it makes it easier to follow the forth reg but then the reg itself might need adjustments to fit with the times. If you substitute sexual gratification with watching robots doing it on your computer it’s still gratification and you are still being attached. The purpose of “no illicit sex” rule is not in having no illicit sex, it’s in engaging in legitimate sex for procreation and thus purifying our entire existence.

If people don’t get married and don’t procreate they don’t purify themselves, they express their sexual energy through different channels that are of no interest to Krishna. I suppose you could build a Second Life environment where you raise Krishna conscious children but that is just a poor substitute for the real thing.

So, on one hand Japanese set an example of a sex-free society which smashes our excuse that it’s impossible to avoid sexual temptations in this day and age, on the other hand they don’t offer any positive alternatives to regular, Vedic human dharma – procreating and maintaining Krishna conscious families.

I’m not sure that dropping out of family life altogether and following the fourth is better than trying to build a family and failing at it. Actually, when I put it this way it’s clear that having a family, however imperfect, is more in line with Krishna’s instructions, but if you decide to stay as a brahmachari then you might want to consider moving to Japan.

But then again, being a brahmachari is not only the question of celibacy, main purpose of brahmacharya is education, once that education is completed you must apply it, you can’t be a student all the way through to your fifties and sixties.

Once we have sex desire under control we have to deal with other kinds of attachments and aspirations in our lives and those are almost always better suited for grihastha life. If you have your sex desire under control then your duty is to procreate, unless you are one of those rare souls like Lord Chaitanya who can take sannyasa in their twenties.

Ultimately, our goal is to become Krishna conscious, which is not synonymous with asexual beings.

Vanity thought #801. Lord’s help

One of the first things we’ve been taught is that we should always trust the Lord for our protection. In Bhagavad Gita Krishna has made a public promise to personally protect His devotees. In Srimad Bhagavatam we have stories like that of Prahlada Maharaj who was saved by Lord Vishnu’s personal intervention. We have a story of Ajamila who was saved by the Lord long after he ceased to be a devotee. We have a story of Sudama brahmana who got a celestial palace for his wife.

Why shouldn’t we trust the Lord with our protection and why shouldn’t we beg Him for help at every step of our lives? Shastra supports it, after all.

Well, there’s also Chaitanya Charimrita and it’s a bit different book from Bhagavad Gita or Srimad Bhagavatam, it has descriptions of devotees’ everyday lives and their everyday problems and there’s very little magic in it.

Lord Chaitanya Himself behaved like an ordinary man, His journey through Jarikhanda forest was mind blowing, with all the animals coming to join Him in sankirtana, but at other times He needed protection from local rulers to pass through their lands. One time He was nearly arrested by a Muslim patrol.

On that occasion He could have displayed His powers and overcome the soldiers with transcendental tricks but He preached to them instead.

Sri Advaita Acharya, the incarnation of Maha Vishnu, got Himself in an embarrassing debt situation, well, embarrassing enough for other devotees to notice and try to help. And then get rebuked by Lord Chaitanya for doing so.

Srila Haridas Thakur was protected by the Lord during his punishment but Sanatana Goswami had to bribe his way out of jail like a common criminal, and that same Sanatana Goswami, on the way through Jarikhand forest, picked up a nasty disease that made pus ooze from his sores. Was he protected by the Lord then? No, he got rebuked for having the wrong mental attitude towards his problem.

Subudhi Raya’s service was to take care of visiting Bengali devotees, cook rice for them, find them yogurt and offer them massage. Sounds nice but the reason for that was that Bengali devotees on a pilgrimage to Mathura couldn’t eat local food. Their stomachs were not accustomed to digesting chapatis, they grew on rice, but in northern India they ate mostly wheat chapatis, and that was during a visit to Vrindavan. Did the Lord help them? Apparently not, only through Subudhi Raya and only to those who were lucky to receive his care.

Every year Sivananda Sena took devotees to visit Lord Chaitanya in Jagannatha Puri and on the way there they had to cross many rivers. When Mahaprabhu made the same journey earlier toll collectors were merciful to Him and let Him through but Sivananda Sena had to deal with them every time, every year, and it wasn’t easy. One time he had to pay a lot of money for the dog that eventually got liberated.

Did he ever complain that he was doing this service for the Lord and His devotees’ pleasure so a little help would have been appreciated? No, he didn’t go to toll collectors and try to overcome their will by calling on Mahaprabhu’s transcendental powers.

There are plenty of examples in Chaitanya Charitamrita where devotees didn’t get any special treatment and they didn’t expect any special treatment. Not because they were devotees, not because they were engaged in Lord’s mission, no excuse whatsoever.

So, what help can we reasonably expect from the Lord?

Free passes and discounts, it seems.

We actually judge others’ devotion by the amount of discounts they can squeeze out of ordinary people. We believe that because it’s possible only with Lord’s help those who are better devotees should get more of it and those who are not so advanced would have to pay full price for everything.

The more devoted we are, the more we expect. I once heard a self motivation guru who, as a proof of the power of his method, offered the fact that he can always visualize a free parking spot in an city center and lo and behold, the spot is there and he can take it.

We are not that different. We want the similar kind of success and even greater achievements. The only difference is that we claim this success for the mission of the Lord, and it’s a really crucial difference, but are we more devoted than Lord Chaitanya’s associates from Chaitanya Charitamrita? Is our service and our mission more important than theirs?

Narottama Dasa Thakura’s party carried the only copy of the works for the Six Goswamis from Vrindavana to Bengal and got robbed. They had a dozen soldiers protecting their cart but it didn’t help. Did the Lord help them? No, it took about a year and a big detour on their mission to recover the stolen manuscripts, and it didn’t happen by magic but through dedicated preaching, and not for the purpose of recovering books, Srinavasa Acharya didn’t even know the books were there.

Did they blame the Lord for not helping them sooner? Did they lose their faith? No.

Do we have the same amount of patience in the face of adversity? No, but at the same time we think we are so important that we deserve Lord’s help right away.

I guess my point is that we are not supposed to enjoy Lord’s mission, we are doing it for His pleasure, not ours, and we are not supposed to hurry it up. What we are supposed to do is to be patient, and we are supposed to keep our enthusiasm for the service, not keep begging for help.

Vanity thought #800. Vancha kalpataru

Devotees are known as desire trees and we offer them pranams every day. We say that they are also oceans of mercy and saviors of fallen souls, but it’s the vancha kalpataru aspect that I want to discuss today.

Desire trees are quite common actors in our perception of Krishna lila. Every tree in Vrindavana is a desire tree, and every cow can fulfill all desires, too, and every rock is a touchstone, but in the material world desire trees are very rare. On some occasions the Lord is addressed as vancha kalpataru, otherwise it’s only His devotees in this particular prayer. It’s not in Vishnusahasranam (thousand names of lord Vishnu) either.

So it’s a pretty unique function. How does it work? What kind of desires should we expect to be fulfilled?

In India it’s very common to offer food to sadhus, the idea being that serving sadhu is as good or even better than serving God Himself, so whenever they want something they feed sadhus or brahmanas, and even better, whenever they have the opportunity to feed sadhus they take it, just in case, to stock up on good karma for the rainy day. It must work or they would have stopped it long time ago.

That’s them, what about us? How we should approach wish fulfilling aspect of Lord’s devotees?

In my personal experience, we are not that different. Being engaged in service we have plenty of desires we consider legitimate and so we expect that devotee blessings will help us in our mission.

Before undertaking any preaching engagement we seek blessings, before building any temples, before going on any long journey. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

Gradually, however, due to mission creep, we expect that devotees’ mercy will solve all the other problems, too.

Also, the line between who we are asking to fulfill our desires gradually blurs – guru, Krishna, or devotees, anyone would do, if one source fails we turn to another. Normally we would pray to Krishna – please clear those hurdles, please help me cut through red tape with this new venture, please inspire that person to help me because I’m doing this for You, please follow your promise dadami buddhi yogam tam and give my wife some intelligence so that she comes back to serve me…

If, by chance, a devotee comes around, we think we stroke oil and become even more optimistic about our chances. “If a devotee blesses me, it will surely come through,” we think.

So devotees become our fall back plan in case everything else goes wrong. Even as our life crushes around us we think that it’s Krishna’s mercy and His plan is to send us to take shelter of devotees who will surely offer us comfort and prasadam. You failed to pay your mortgage, you can’t refinance your debts, your house has been repossessed, time to go to a temple, devotees will save you.

Save you from what?

Here’s where we have to have a hard look at ourselves and admit that we want them to fix our material problems. We expect food and shelter when we are totally down, and we expect success in our undertakings when we are up. That is not right.

This makes us treat devotees as a kind of demigods and universal order suppliers. When real demigods fail to pumper us, we turn to devotees.

We also take special notice of the idea that devotees are even more merciful than the Lord Himself. When Krishna doesn’t want to help us for some reason we think devotees most certainly will, because they are more merciful. But why are they more merciful? In what way they are more merciful?

One explanation is that unlike the Lord, who never comes under the influence of material energy, devotees know her power very well. They know how difficult it is down here, so they can put up a word on our behalf. Maybe so, but by assuming this we also assume that they are sinners just like us, we see them as ordinary people struggling with their senses, so we tell them “you know what’s it like to be poor, can you ask the Lord on my behalf to send me some money”.

A real devotee might know what it’s like to be poor but he would never try to put himself in such a position – position of a conditioned living entity. So what’s we saying to them is “please walk in my shoes, see how it feels, ask the Lord to fix it”. Why would we ask a devotee to feel material pain? It’s no fun for anyone, where is our own mercy? Devotee are engaged in the service of the Lord, why would we ask them to become sense enjoyers like ourselves even if for a brief moment?

That’s not the kind of desire trees we should want them to be.

We should accept them as spiritual desire trees, granting spiritual wishes, not alleviation of material suffering. The solution to a repossessed house is not a new place to sleep, it’s full engagement in Krishna’s service so that you don’t even think about houses and places. That’s the kind of wish devotees will very happily fulfill.

Of course most devotees we know are not entirely like that and usually go along with our assumptions of what constitutes help. Nothing is perfect in this world, but at least we should know what perfection is, and we shouldn’t think that if devotees help fails it means his blessings were a dud. We simply misunderstood of what blessings should have been given.

In the end, Krishna is the Lord, it’s He who ultimately grants all benedictions, He and only He has this power regardless of who is asking Him on whose behalf. If He thinks that certain benedictions should not be given, a real devotee would happily accept His decision, and so should we.

Vanity thought #799. Right on the money

Louis CK has popped up on my radar again and I’m curious why I’m noticing this man so much. This time I wasn’t looking for him, I was reading about something else and there he was, with as sound advice as ever.

There’s this young man, Dustin Moskovitz, who is in the Guiness Book of Records as the youngest billionaire ever. He happened to be on the team that started Facebook and even though he left that company long time ago his original shares made him a billionaire when Facebook went public. The question was put to him how he feels about his money. That’s when he quoted Louis CK:

I never viewed money as being “my money” I always saw it as “The money” It’s a resource. If it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system

Isn’t it just great? I mean how many people in the world are obsessed with money? How many don’t think twice about concept of “my money”? It’s all pervasive, and yet here we have a man with the most sober attitude of all time.

It’s just a resource, it’s neither yours nor theirs, it pulls around certain people and its purpose is to be spent, that’s all.

As devotees, of course, we see Lakshmi, as well as any other resource, as Krishna’s property that needs to be spent for His pleasure but otherwise Louis CK is amazingly right on the money. He already figured out that it doesn’t belong to anybody here, he just doesn’t know the real owner yet.

Also as devotees, we should admit that we spend money on ourselves. No one that I know follows the Vedic formula of giving fifty percent away but even if we did, it would still leave fifty percent as legitimately ours. Well, Louis CK’s attitude is even better than that – none of it is yours, or mine, it just needs to be spend in a certain way.

So the question is not whose money it is or who it is given to, it’s not even the question is how it is ultimately spent, it’s the need to spend it that’s important here.

It’s easy to consider pros and cons of any particular spending scheme, whether it’s done for Krishna or whether there are some selfish motives, it’s not very interesting.

What is interesting is that money needs to be “flushed back into the system”, you can’t just sit on it.

In this regard there’s a story of Avanti brahmana in Srimad Bhgavatam (SB 11.23). Before that brahman turned into an exemplary devotee he was very rich. Usually the problem with wealth is the way people acquire it, which is often less than savory and so karma eventually catches up, but in this case the wealth was acquired legitimately.

The problem was that it wasn’t spent.

The brahmana was miserly, the chief reason for his downfall was that he didn’t spent money neither on his family nor on himself: “He would not even allow sufficient gratification for his own body at the suitable times,” as Krishna tells us. Then he lost his wealth, realized that it was his stinginess that cost him his fortune, and became a renunciate.

This is probably the only time when NOT spending money for your own sense enjoyment is mentioned as a cause of a falldown, usually it’s the other way around.

This also gives us an important lesson in yukta vairagya vs phalgu vairagya – denying yourself your allotted pleasures is a false renunciation, proper renunciation is to go along with Lord’s plan for you. If you are given a certain amount of resources you have to engage it, not renounce it, and that’s true even for non-devotees.

Btw, Louis CK said that thing about money when he unexpectedly made a million dollars in ten days and was completely overwhelmed by the experience. What happened is that he decided to ditch usual agents and distributors for his show and offered to download it to anybody anywhere for five dollars, he only asked not to steal it, and in ten days he was a millionaire. The way he spent his money wasn’t kosher, but most of it he just gave away, leaving himself only about ten percent.

Dustin Moskovitz went even further – he invests his money into other people’s ideas and helps them grow. He does not give in charity per se, he gives it to people who will “flush it back into the system” in the best way possible.

This is a very responsible way to deal with wealth, even if these people don’t know anything about Krishna, the true proprietor.

Vanity thought #798. Healthy eating habits

Some devotees are very conscious about their diet. Some have a million tips on proper combination of the doshas in their food (ayurvedic bodily humors), some are more into western nutrition and even supplement their diet with vitamins as pills. I, somehow, do not care about any of that, except in the most basic form, ie following the menu that is usually served in our temples.

While I agree with the need for the proper body maintenance my line where it becomes necessary to mess with food intake is rather far away. I figure that Raghunatha Dasa Goswami ate rice that was passed on even by the cows and he was never chastised for not having balanced meals. The traditional practice of madhukari, collecting little bits and pieces of this and that, whatever people give, and eating it right away, doesn’t lend itself to obsessing with diet either. Sanatana Goswami maintained himself on unsalted chapaties, got rebuked for that by his Deity, but the complaint was about the taste, not about the lack of vitamins or vegetables.

Consequently, I got blamed a lot for eating what is deemed to be unhealthy. It wasn’t a big deal until very recently, I just followed people’s advice because one benefit of not being strict with a diet is that you can eat whatever people tell you just to get them off your back. Did it improve my health? I don’t know, there’s no one to watch ALL of my meals so any impact would have been limited anyway.

A short while ago, however, I noticed some strange emotions connected with my food intake. I consider them to be signs of purification – they were always there but I didn’t notice them, and now, by Krishna’s grace, I’m more aware of my situation.

First is unhealthy anticipation I feel when putting food into a microwave for reheating. I know that as devotees we should not store prasadam for later consumption but it happens, I can’t cook every day for every meal, leftovers go into the fridge and get reheated. Is it unhealthy? Probably, but what I didn’t like about it is the anticipation of consuming comfort food, which is what reheating feels like – you don’t cook, you don’t offer it to Krishna, you just take a box from a fridge and in two minutes you can stuff yourself to your satisfaction.

This is sense enjoyment pure and simple, muttering sharira abidya jal under your breath doesn’t make it any more spiritual. I could, in theory, consume this prasadam with proper consciousness but the reality is that I don’t, I just devour it and I like that this enjoyment is so easily available.

I caught this feeling very clearly only once but now I remember it every time I open microwave’s door. It didn’t change my habits yet but it reminds me of keeping my gluttony in check, and this is what I consider a real healthy eating habit.

Then I started noticing increased sensitivity towards other people’s suggestions. Sometimes, just as I reach for a refill, someone would say “enough” and it would immediately kill my mood. Sometimes I ask for several preparations at once and someone would say: “You already have that, why do you want this other thing, too?” There’s never a shortage of health-minded Nazis in my household and these things happen way more often than I expect them to.

Usually I just complied, as I said earlier, but lately I’ve been noticing how resentment rises in my heart as soon as my cravings are checked this way. I haven’t done anything about it yet and no one has noticed anything but now I’m very aware of the possibility of being shutdown on any request for food. Freely stuffing myself was never a problem but now I’m very conscious about it, and this is what I consider a real healthy eating habit, too.

Maybe it’s the mercy of the prasadam – it teaches us to be very mindful about what and how we eat and it teaches us to control urges of our tongues. I hope it is, and I want more of it. I want weaknesses like this exposed and dealt with, and not only in consuming food but in all other areas of my life, too.

This needs more observation and this awareness needs to mature and lead to some actual changes in the way I eat but that is what I’ve got so far. At least it’s a good start.

Vanity thought #797. Lila smaranam and reality

Two days ago I wrote that if we ever decide to engage in lila smaranam it should be as real as our current engagement, like book distribution. Imagining selling books is not the same as actually doing it, that’s obvious, so imagining Lord’s intimate pastimes is not the same as seeing them.

This sounds logical but there are loopholes in this logic.

First of all, lila smaranam is a traditional practice in Gaudiya vaishnavism. The particular kind I’m talking about, the practices of siddha pranali and ekadashi bhava, are not so common. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati made it institutionally prohibited on the grounds that very few are qualified to warrant any rules, and in ISKCON we are even less qualified than all those Gaudiya Matha devotees.

It’s still a legitimate practice, though.

A quick refresher – siddha pranali is an initiation into one’s spiritual form and ekadashi bhava is gradual revelation of eleven aspects of that form and details of one’s personal service in the spiritual world.

Who’s feeling like being qualified?

Original practice can be traced to Gopal Guru and his disciple Dhyanachandra Swami who wrote several books on the subject. Gopal Guru personally met Mahaprabhu and was a disciple of Vakreshvara Pandita, one of the close associates of Lord Chaitanya. It is said that Svarupa Damodara’s Goswami knowledge of intimate pastimes was passed down through two lines – Rupa and Raghunatha Goswamis in Vrindavan and Gopal Guru in Jagannatha Puri.

Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami, however, doesn’t mention Gopal Guru’s name in Chaitanya Charitamrita at all and in “our” parampara he reappears in the writings of Bhaktivinoda Thakura who himself wrote about asta kaliya lila, the round the clock pastimes of the Lord that form the basis for lila smarana, and briefly mentioned siddha pranali, too.

So it’s all legit, at least theoretically. Oh, and Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami described asta kaliya lila in his Sri Govinda Lilamrita, but not instructions on siddha pranali/ekadashi bhava.

Next comes the question of qualification – do we really have to be past the stage of anartha nivritti, or practically speaking on a liberated platform, to engage in lila smaranam?

And finally, do we really have to see or feel the presence of the Lord when we engage in this type of service, as I stated earlier?

I know people who would say that it’s all right to jump right in and would give quotes and examples to support their decision. None of this people are in ISKCON, however, where our policy is to chant Hare Krishna and patiently wait until these things would reveal themselves. Unless one is brave (and stupid enough) to reject his guru and Srila Prabhupada this is what we should do but that leaves the theoretical possibility still open.

Can I close it? I don’t think so, if one doesn’t follow his guru then he can come up with all sorts of excuses for any kind of deviant behavior. You can’t stop such people with arguments, they are beyond rational thinking. Besides, no one knows vast history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism well enough to pass such judgment. Usually people just pick out what they want to hear and disregard statements to the opposite.

So we need to tackle it in a different way. We can start by sticking to the opinions of our acharyas who haven’t “certified” any of those rasika devotees. As far as we know, not one of them has actually reached the level where they relate to Krishna in their spiritual form even though they talk about it all the time and easily grant siddha pranali initiations to any passing foreigner, or at least that was the custom in the early days of our movement, now they’ve got thousands of western disciples so they can spare siddha pranali only for most important ones.

This is proof in itself – if one actually reaches that level he wouldn’t treat it as a commodity, but they do.

This stresses my yesterday’s point – if you don’t give up your anarthas you won’t make any progress regardless of your chosen method. Chanting won’t help you, preaching won’t help you, and lila smaranam won’t help you either. You have to give up your anarthas, there’s no other way.

So yes, you can discuss Krishna’s pastimes, you can memorize asta kaliya verses by heart and you can memorize all the other literature on the subject and be known as the best rasika devotee ever, it won’t help you progress even a tiny bit if you are still holding on some traces of envy in your heart. It won’t become real for you. It didn’t work for many great devotees, it won’t work for you, forget about it.

Having said that, book distribution must be an actual process where you go outside, meet people, and convince them to give a donation in exchange for a book about Krishna. This doesn’t stop you from attending book distribution seminars and sharing book distribution tips with other devotees.

Most book distributors still have to do that, even those who are usually inspired by the Lord from within and who invent their own methods. This preparation for the real thing could be compared to practicing lila smaranam before you go out and engage in it for real, too.

So it would be necessary to practice lila smaranam without having realization of it yet. How much practice?

Sometimes, actually quite often, none of the sankirtana tips and methods work, you can learn and practice all you want but without mercy of the Lord nothing happens despite your best training. Same could happen with lila smaranam, why not?

If you are a lousy book distributor you are usually given some other seva to perform and it would be better for you to excel in the service given than trying to distribute books when you were asked to do something else. Same should hold for lila smaranam, too – you can try, if it doesn’t work, if you can’t see neither Krishna nor yourself, you’d be given something else to do, more suitable to your nature and your level of progress.

Proponents of lila smaranam for all say that it’s mentioned as one of the sixty four processes of devotional service in Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu so it’s okay for everybody to practice it, but that argument works both ways – it’s only ONE of the sixty four elements, if you aren’t good at it, go do something else.

There’s one final fact about lila smaranam that I think everyone agrees on, on both sides of the fence – you should do it only under the direction of a qualified guru, you can’t just start it on your own. What we disagree on is what you should do about it – we sit tight and wait for such guru to be sent by Krishna, our opponents say it’s okay to go and fetch a guru yourself. They say patience is not a virtue when it comes to service to Krishna.

I say for embodied soul patience is always a virtue and you can’t rush your guru into extending you Krishna’s mercy, much less ditch your guru if he doesn’t supply it on your schedule.

Krishna knows our hearts better than we do and He knows what’s best for us in each and every situation, He won’t leave us hanging and He won’t impede our progress if we are ready to move on, we just have to have faith.