Vanity thought #836. Ekadashi bhava

I’m not talking about eleven constituents of service in the spiritual realm, I’m talking about my mood on ekadashi.

Generally, I’m not just skeptical about following ekadashi, I’m almost cynical. There’s been a practice lately to put up explanation and glorification of each ekadashi on the internet extolling all kinds of possible benefits. Apparently fasting on ekadashi is hundred times better than ashvamedha yajna, and hundred ashvamedhas give one the post of Indra, do the math. Fasting on ekadashi is even better then seeing the Lord face to face, if you believe those descriptions.

Why am I skeptical? Because of all the fine print, for one – it’s impossible to follow all the rules exactly unless you live in tightly controlled temple environment. There’s also the issue of food contamination – flour or grain products could be found in most unexpected places. Asafoetida, for example, is a no no on ekadashi, and I suspect other powdered spices could be tempered, too.

More importantly, however, is that I have no interest in what’s on offer there. Absolution from killing a brahmana? Becoming famous throughout the universe? If they offered faster car or faster internet they could have caught my attention but otherwise I’m not interested. Those boons are decidedly materialistic, I wouldn’t fast for materialistic purposes, not so much because we shouldn’t want karmic results but because in this day and age going to work is a far more obvious method. It’s so easy to ruin one’s ekadashi, by speaking to materialistic person, for example, salaries, on the other hand, are always paid unless you get fired.

Nevertheless, ekadashi is a day of Vishnu and puranic descriptions are often taken from conversations between Krishna and Maharaja Yudhishthira. Pandavas were asked to follow ekadashi, Mother Saci was asked to follow ekadashi, Srila Prabhupada instituted ekadashi in ISKCON – those are the reasons for me. I don’t know why we have to follow ekadashi. I can understand that for Pandavas it was a part of their religious duties, but why bother Mother Saci?

Are we really going to hell for the rest of the kalpa for taking grains? That seems very harsh and unreasonable.

Also, I don’t think my body is agreeable with fasting anymore. Ten twenty years ago fast was not a big deal but now something goes wrong with my chemistry, low blood sugar or something, and by afternoon I get terrible headaches that don’t go away until next day breakfast is properly digested, so almost for twenty four hours. I’m abstaining from food, yes, but then I eat aspirin instead. Is it how ekadashi is supposed to be followed? I don’t think so, but I also don’t think I have any other choice.

So, with this attitude as a background I’m happy to report that recently I’ve been really enjoying ekadashis. Not the food part, though, but the part where we chant twenty five rounds and read as much as possible. It’s as if subtle energies of the universe really align for those days and chanting goes as smooth as silk, mind becomes by best friend, and I can’t seem to pull myself away from books.

It feels as if a young brahmana boy started mastering his mantras – finally it works and it looks very promising.

It could be a placebo effect but I don’t mind – as long as chanting improves it doesn’t really matter why. Yesterday, on ekadashi, I had the best japa in a very long time. Today I couldn’t concentrate on more than a few mantras, the universe is out of sync again even if psychologically I wanted to extend yesterday’s bliss.

On one hand I’m glad that this is happening, and how could I not be, on the other hand I’m also cautious and worried. Two days of relief in each month is nice but it also only two days, it reminds me of how much garbage I carry in my heart and on my shoulders for the other twenty six lunar days and, observing it, I don’t think that ekadashi pickups matter very much. Life is short, I don’t think I’ll be able to purify my entire existence in time. Ekadashi or not, I don’t expect my body to become a body of a devotee. It will always remain selfish and contaminated so I look at ekadashi with apprehension of singles on Valentine day – all this romance everywhere is not a promise, it’s torture.

Should I even want perfection for my body? Should I waste all my life on trying to make it a perfect servant? I think it’s impossible, and, considering that I’m still acting under the false ego, it’s not even what I really want – I just want to be better than others or better than standards I set for myself. Service doesn’t really enter into the picture here and it’s theoretically impossible on the material platform.

Should I judge progress in my chanting on how it *feels*? Why? Shouldn’t we chant for Krishna’s pleasure first and foremost, so it doesn’t matter how we feel about it ourselves, only that it doesn’t really grind Krishna’s ear.

If was performing a transcendental activity, should I expect the results manifested on a material platform?

Nevertheless, doubts or no doubts, it’s human nature to be attracted to pleasant feelings and so if ekadashi fills me with sense of progress and hope I have no reason to deny this to myself. I could have been attracted to something else instead, there’s no loss here, only gain.

And that’s why I can’t wait for the next ekadashi.

Vanity thought #835. Putting money in my mouth

Or rather where my mouth is, as the saying goes. I just talked about how this world is perfect and we have absolutely nothing to complain about here, and here’s an opportunity to put this theory to practice.

I’ve just heard accusations against Mayapur devotees that they have been filling the dhama with ugra-karmic activities and ignoring simple living high thinking principle. In the past decade or so Mayapur has seen an explosion of private property development and it’s gone more or less unrestricted, turning once pristine rice fields into ugly modern dystopia, as some say.

To become a respectable member of the community you now have to own a flat, a fridge, an air-conditioner and a motorcycle. Some have 500cc bikes which seem like an overkill but I’m sure look very imposing, projecting the image that their owners must have be really blessed by Lord Chaitanya. Of course there also must be wives, internet, laptops, smartphones and tablets, too, to keep up with the Joneses and to show the world that spiritual life can also be very rewarding.

What to make of it? First of all there’s freehold issue – how can devotees buy and sell land in the Holy dhama? All treasures of the universe are not enough to buy even a speck of dust of Navadvipa, are we sure that devotees who “buy” houses there do not think themselves as real owners? What about the sellers, how do they dare to sell land that doesn’t belong to them? Are we sure that they maintain the proper mentality when handling such transactions? Is it okay for them to benefit materially from it? They make a lot of profits, not to mention the value of the land and buildings that developers hold in their name.

Srila Prabhupada was very clear about it (CC Antya.3.101):

We must always remember that a devotee’s life is one of vairāgya-vidyā, or renunciation and knowledge. Therefore all devotees are warned not to live unnecessarily luxurious lives at the cost of others. Gṛhasthas living within the jurisdiction of the temple must be especially careful not to imitate karmīs by acquiring opulent clothing, food and conveyances. As far as possible, these should be avoided. A member of the temple, whether gṛhastha, brahmacārī or sannyāsī, must practice a life of renunciation, following in the footsteps of Haridāsa Ṭhākura and the six Gosvāmīs. Otherwise, because māyā is very strong, at any time one may become a victim of māyā and fall down from spiritual life.

Devotees in question are not avoiding opulences but rather try to accumulate them at all cost. This is definitely not right. At first it might seem easy, if you got funds to invest, but eventually maintaining such a lifestyle will become a read drag. These things have a rather short lifespan, your shining bike will become old news in a couple of years, air-conditioners and fridges need to be replaced for better, more energy efficient models if not for any other reason. Electronic gadgetry becomes obsolete with an alarming speed, too, you need a new phone, tablet, and a notebook every two-three years. Then you’ll need to replace your furniture, which is not as sturdy these days as it was before. Plumbing and various fittings also do not last as long as they used to. Fresh coats of paint aren’t cheap either.

What seemed like a wise initial investment gradually turns into a life time commitment and slavery. It’s okay to maintain such lifestyle if you are plugged into a global economy but I wonder if Mayapur will be able to provide enough economic activity to sustain these grihasthas forever. Temple itself will always be a magnet for visitors and donations but if people think they would work for the temple and share in the profits one day they might face a big disappointment.

I believe they’ve compartmentalized temple income long time ago, every department must be responsible for its own finances, so people don’t really work for the temple anymore but rather for success of their own projects. This is a recipe for disaster.

Capitalism might be totally at ease with varnashrama dharma but it has no place in a temple. For now we might not see a problem with merging temple with communities in Mayapur but that is a delusion. Pretty soon devotees themselves will sense the difference between maintaining their own lives and selfless surrender that is expected from temple dwellers. They themselves will strive to put a barrier between their lives and temple ideals. Pretending to be Krihsna’s mouth will work only for so long, eventually they realize that they are leeching off and feeding themselves, not serving the Lord and the society.

So with so many reasonable objections to what’s going on, how can I apply paramahamsa vision here? How can I not notice the deviations? How can I see this situation as absolutely perfect?

Actually, I don’t have any problems with Mayapur situation at all. Yes, it’s unsightly, but all our existence here is unsightly. Mayapur “problems” are not any different from problems anywhere else in the world. Should I expect something totally different from Mayapur? Why? Material existence is the same everywhere, people will always need to eat, sleep, and mate, and they will always have something to defend.

Ultimately, it’s the Lord who maintains everyone in this universe and He is extremely partial to His devotees and to the residents of His own dhama, so if someone qualifies to be sheltered by the Lord, why should I protest that he is provided a relatively better care? Out of envy? That is not a valid reason.

Are these devotees abusing Lord’s mercy? Maybe, but, to be honest, I’m abusing my limited privileges, too, I shouldn’t be the one throwing stones at that glass house.

We can also be sure that devotees pursuing their materialistic aspirations in Mayapur will get purified of them sooner than those who remain in the West. Somehow or other they must get over their obsession with big bikes, why not do it in the most suitable place for this purification?

Are they getting carried away? Well, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, the complete collapse of the world economy might not be as far away as we think and Mayapur’s bikes will probably the first ones to go down. For devotees who are ready for the next step the Lord doesn’t even have to wait for worldwide economic meltdown, He can strip anyone of any possessions in a minute, yet somehow He doesn’t, He lets His devotees to play with their toys for a little while longer, who am I to object? I’m not their guru and even if I was, they are in the hands of Lord Chaitanya now, why would a guru get in the way of Lord’s mercy to his disciples?

We should really learn to mind our own business and trust the Lord in having the best possible plan for everyone, including alleged deviants.

Vanity thought #834. Better vs closer

What will happen if we succeed in our lives and become Krishna conscious? In Bhagavad Gita Krishna states that we will never have to take birth here again but rather reach His abode. Elsewhere I’ve heard that we will take a birth in a universe where Krishna displays His pastimes and only after that go to Goloka Vrindavana. Is there a contradiction there?

Maybe not, anyone born in Vrindavana in Krishna’s presence could be counted as being in His abode already. Anyone born in Vrindavana in His absence is not an ordinary conditioned soul either. On the other hand, we have failed spiritualists who get born in Vrindavana as pigs and monkeys. They aren’t ordinary monkeys but it still looks pretty much like a birth to me, and an animal one at that.

Maybe we should accept that monkey in Vrindavana is a better birth than a human anywhere else. That would work, too.

So, what’s our destination? Considering that being born in the Holy dhama is as good as reaching God’s own abode I propose two choices – we can become closer to Krishna or we become better devotees where we are now. Not where our physical bodies are, I mean our distance from Krishna, or rather Lord Chaitanya. Technically speaking, being engaged in His mission is as good as living in Navadvipa, spiritually there’s no difference and materially we could be liberated in any condition and in any place on Earth.

From the writings of Six Goswamis it appears that our final destination is Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana. As aspiring Rupanugas we shouldn’t get anything lower than that. I mean we could reach Mathura or Dvaraka, too, but there aren’t any opportunities there to serve in the mood of Rupa Goswami. In fact even in Vrindavana there aren’t many opportunities to display this mood rather than being gopi’s maidservants. Out of five rasas followers of Rupa Goswami fit only in parakiya. Or maybe we’ll develop appreciation for it but not the rasa itself, like what happened with Uddhava.

Point being – our place is with Krishna.

On the other hand, as followers of Lord Chaitanya we also supposed to be eternal residents of spiritual Navadvipa. That’s a special place in Goloka whose residents can weave in and out between Krishna’s pastimes and Lord Chaitanya’s kirtans. Sweet but there’s another question to answer here.

What about the fact that all followers of Lord Chaitanya we know were also participants in Krishna’s pastimes five thousand years earlier? Some were cowherd boys, some were gopis, Goswamis were manjaris – of course when they talked about going back to the spiritual world they meant restoring their original forms. What about us? We are just some trash Lord Chaitanya picked on the way, we aren’t avatars of anyone important, we are nitya baddha jivas, eternally conditioned. Why should we expect getting same positions as Lord’s eternal companions who appeared on this Earth along with Him? Our original forms could be anything.

It could be said that this sankirtana mission attracts souls with a certain kind of devotion, Rupanugas at heart, so to speak, and that’s why our place is in Vrindavana. Well, we preach to everyone and we expect everyone to react to our preaching regardless of their long forgotten spiritual forms. We don’t exclude non-Rupanugas from getting Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and when we ourselves were approached by devotees for the first time they didn’t check our original status. Srila Prabhupada never implied that this Krishna consciousness movement is only for Rupanugas, so our final destination could be anything anywhere.

Consider this – our relationship with our guru(s) are eternal, relationship of our guru with his guru is eternal, too, means that our relationship and our place within the entire parampara is eternal. Means we will always be a fixed number of steps removed from Lord Chaitanya. Pretty far away, actually.

What if this distance will never change? What if all we are good for is being five hundred years away from the Lord, birth after birth, no matter how successful? It’s not a bad place to be, after all. We are a part of a mind blowing expansion of Krishna consciousness that has never been seen before, we just don’t appreciate it as much as we should, grass is always greener on the other side, as usual.

What if perfection of our lives means uncovering our lost relationship with the Lord not somewhere very far but right here, in our present situation. I mean we have everything – we have the Holy Name, we have Deities, we offer food to the Lord, we have prasadam, we preach, we serve, our temples are outposts of Vaikuntha, what more do we need? There’s no better place to be a servant of the servant of the servant than down here. There’s no better place to practice selfless devotion purely for the sake of the Lord than in Kali yuga.

Gopis have nothing on this, they only thought about going to hell once, we live here permanently. They are pampered in their service by wish fulfilling trees, land made of rubies and surabhi cows, they have it easy, whatever they need, immediately appears. We try to serve the Lord with nothing, we have to use polluted objects and reach people in despicable places and most of the time it just doesn’t work but we never give up, forgoing any thoughts about our own convenience we keep serving preaching mission of Lord Chaitanya. What other service could be more glorious?

Therefore I’m in two minds about this – should we hope to become closer to Krishna or should we try to become better at what we are already doing? Birth after birth after birth, pretty soon being in the material world won’t bother us so there’s no loss of anything.

When I put it this way the answer seem to be obvious, and it’s not like we have any choice anyway, not until our death here, so why not make the best of our situation and stop looking for greener pastures elsewhere.

Vanity thought #833. Paramahamsa vision

We all try to become better devotees everyday, hopefully. We all try to become shastra-chakshu – see the world through the eyes of shastra. We all try to uproot our anarthas, we try to avoid offenses, we try to avoid bad association, we make conscious efforts to remember Krishna, we make conscious efforts to always be of some service. We know when we’ve been naughty, we know when we’ve been unfaithful, and we sure know when others are wrong, too. Sometimes we just can’t help but tell others about their mistakes. We practically feel the itch to improve the world.

What if I told you we are already perfect in every respect?

While we are busy improving our lives, paramahamsas see no need for any improvements. Their vision is actual, they are free from the influence of maya, they see the world as it is, and they see it as absolutely perfect.

Why don’t we accept it as a fundamental, underlying reality? Well, we don’t see it that way, that’s one reason, but we also don’t see Krishna yet we accept Him being God, so what’s the problem with accepting that His creation is flawless, too?

It won’t stop us from seeing duality of the creation and it won’t stop us from acting on that duality but at least we’d know that it’s just an illusion, a tribute to our imperfection, and that seeing perfection in everything is our goal. Well, not THE goal, but when we finally become devotees and engage in actual service this is how we will see the world.

All paramahamsas do, we won’t be any different.

The better devotees we become the less imperfections we should see in the world around us.

First we’ll stop noticing the suffering inflicted on us by material nature. Right now we see our bodies in terms of healthy and unhealthy, healthy being obviously better because sickness means pain and we don’t like pain. Liberation will take that perception away. All of it will become equally irrelevant, pleasure or pain, hot or cold, happiness or distress.

Absorbed in Krishna consciousness we’ll stop seeing some karmic reactions as better than others, we’ll see all of them as equally facilitating our appreciation for Krishna. Queen Kunti welcomed pain, for example, for it made her into a better devotee. It’s not a very rare kind of realization, if you listen to senior devotees they will all have stories to tell how stressful years of their lives were actually beneficial to their progress in the end. Most of us look back and don’t regret living through unpleasant times, too, if we took correct lessons from them, of course.

After transcending duality in our own lives we’ll see others as being perfect, too. We’ll see how they live through their tribulations so that they become better devotees. We’ll see that nothing happens without a reason, and for devotees that reason is their purification. Bad seeds in our hearts need to fructify so that we see how damaging they are. If we hold onto our anarthas we need to see that they have no value and for that we need to see what they are leading to. If they just stay there dormant we’ll never know we have to get rid of them. We need to see mistakes to learn from them. We’ll see how others go through exactly the same process, how all their mistakes ultimately lead to their purification.

Then we’ll learn to see the same principle applied to non-devotees. That’s a real paramahamsa stuff – the disappearance of non-devotees as a category. A paramahamsa see everyone as a perfect servant of Krishna already, incomparably better servant than himself. How’s that?

When I become a paramahamsa I’ll let you know.

For now we can only speculate. I guess they see that people interacting with the illusion are on the path to becoming devotees. They see how Maya devi takes care of slowly guiding them to perfection. They see how the Lord manifests Vedas for them, they see how the Lord manifests various dharmas suitable for their situation and how following these dharmas purifies them of their material consciousness, however slowly.

Or we can speculate that paramahamsas see how Lord relates to these people in the way suitable for their consciousness. They see how people interact with God according to their desires. When they surrender to maya they surrender to Lord’s energy, after all. We don’t see maya that way, we see her as separate, but paramahamsas don’t. They only see how everyone is put under a different kind of illusion. Yoga maya for liberated souls and Maha maya for conditioned, either way, it’s essentially the same energy that enables jivas to communicate with the Absolute Truth.

There’s no point in trying to predict what it would look like, we are like kids who have only a vague idea what sex is and absolutely no idea what it feels like.

Another possible way to see the world as perfect is to realize that time is external to the soul. If the purpose of creation is to gradually elevate us to Krishna consciousness then the only thing that separates the current state of affairs and the perfection is time. We might not be perfect now but we will be perfect in the future, except that for a liberated soul there’s no now and there’s no future because time has no influence over his soul, so he doesn’t see the progress we are so concerned about ATM.

We can approximate how it feels if we scale back time and look at manageable examples. Like if a baby is hungry but milk is being warmed up we don’t see it as neglect or child abuse. Just wait a couple of minutes, you’ll be fed and happy again. This short period of uncertainty visibly discomforts the baby but we are older, we know better, on our time scale it’s nothing.

Paramahamsas could see our current struggles in the same way – just wait a couple of lives, nothing really, you’ll attain Krishna’s lotus feet in no time.

What’s the point of all this however? Why should we try to speculate how the world looks to paramahamsas when we are clearly not on that level? One answer – to accept that the world is already perfect and so we don’t waste as much time and energy on temporary things as we do now.

We can’t stop worrying but we should distance ourselves from it because this worrying about the world is not a function of the soul, it’s external, we should tolerate its urges just like we tolerate arrival of a winter. We can’t stop it but it also shouldn’t stop us from our service.

Vanity thought #832. Uttama guru

Much has been made of a requirement to accept only an uttama adhikari as one’s guru. It was one of the reasons for devotees to flee to Narayana Maharaja’s camp, it was probably the main reason for the rise of ritvikism, and it is still a reason to attack ISKCON guru system.

There’s a lot of baggage that comes with this issue, too many arguments to follow, too much history, and it’s a very emotional issue for too many people, too.

Nevertheless, it’s one of the most absurd claims to have been made in recent history.

The foundation of this claim can be found in the last paragraph of the purport to the fifth verse of the Nectar of Instruction (NOI 5). I wouldn’t even bother copy-pasting it here, however, it has been dissected in numerous ways and there’s no consensus on what exactly Srila Prabhupada meant by uttama adhikari there and whether our ISKCON gurus qualify. It’s not a case of “see for yourself, it’s very clear.” It’s a case of putting it in proper perspective.

Now, if Narada Muni magically appears before you and offers spiritual instructions you’d be stupid to reject his advice and say that your uncle is a pretty good guru candidate so you are not interested. Other than that, there are no other practical cases where this rule might become actually useful.

First of all, uttama adhikaris are extremely rare, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati once famously said that there weren’t any in Vrindavana. Maybe there are periods of time when there aren’t any on the entire planet, especially in Kali Yuga.

On the other hand, every human being is meant for spiritual progress and every human being is entitled to a guru. Most of us never bother but if we were interested, a guru should be provided – that’s what human form of life is ultimately for, for athato brahma jijnasa, for inquiring about spiritual truth from a spiritual master.

We can’t seriously talk about “uttama only” rule when there are seven billion candidates on the planet and only a handful of uttamas. It just doesn’t compute. The rule can’t be applied this way.

What’s more, uttama adhikaris DO NOT serve as gurus. They don’t see themselves as masters of anyone, and they don’t see non-devotees who’d need preaching. You can’t have uttama adhikari guru per se, if he was acting as a guru he wouldn’t be an uttama. The answer to this is that sometimes the first class devotee comes down to second class to do the preaching. Fine, but that limits the pool of potential gurus even further.

Next, how would you even know uttama adhikari from a regular bhakta? You can’t differentiate between devotees on the levels higher than you and recognizing a real paramahamsa is extremely difficult. If he decided to behave like a madhyama adhikari – what are you chances of recognizing his true level? Zero.

There’s another point about being madhyama – one must make judgment calls, one must designate some things as bad and other things as good, because that’s what madhyamas do – they differentiate. Acting as guru they also prescribe some kinds of behavior and forbid others. The first thing that happens when you come down to platform of such duality is that somebody will always disagree.

That’s the nature of duality – it is never absolute, no matter what you do, people will have dualistic reactions about it and it means some will be critical. It means that if an uttama adhikari takes to preaching work he will always attract criticism. Srila Prabhupada mentioned that many many times. We accept him as an uttama adhikari playing the role of a preacher and we saw plenty of examples of envious people failing to appreciate his service.

I mention this because the underlying reason for promotion of “uttama only” rule is search for an excuse to lay into ISKCON gurus with full force. As non-uttamas they can be safely subjected to criticism, the wisdom goes.

Well, here’s the reality – anyone acting as a guru will provoke envious people and elicit harsh reactions. When we are forbidden to criticize our gurus we are forbidden to criticize them all, make absolutely no difference whether they are uttamas or madhyamas, they’d be all acting in the same way and attract the same kind of negativity.

Okay, let’s consider another aspect of this – what kind of guru are we talking about here? Diksha, siksha, or both? Those who went to Narayana Maharaj went for siksha, rittviks talk about diksha, I don’t know if general critics have any particular preferences.

Guru is first of all a principle, an external manifestation of Krishna (or Balarama or Lord Nityananda). He can take many forms and perform many functions. Avadhuta brahmana from Uddhava Gita had what, forty different gurus? Did he demand that his python guru was an uttama adhikari? Did he demand that the prostitute guru was an uttama? Of course not. That’s another argument against applying “uttama only” rule absolutely.

Diksha is only an induction into the spiritual family, it doesn’t matter whose son or daughter you are, a family is a family, everybody has an equal opportunity to shine. Dhruva Maharaj might disagree, of course, but I’m talking about spiritual ideal here.

What matters more is what you do after diksha and who teaches you and guides you forward. At this point one might demand an uttama but let’s go with material analogy a bit further. Do you need a university professor to teach you how to tie your shoes? Do you need a university educated nanny to warm your milk bottle? No, you need a teacher suitable for your own level. So, I’d suggest that demand for uttama guru is a tacit declaration of one’s own excellence rather than the actual need.

There’s another consideration here – stages of progress in Krishna consciousness are often marked by the mantras one use to worship the Lord. Gopa Kumar from Brihad Bhagavatamrita had some very advanced mantra to worship Krishna directly. I’m too lazy to look it up now but that’s what gurus used to do – they’d initiate disciples into a series of progressive mantras. On a perfected stage those mantras become non-different from actual worship to the actual Lord.

In that context you shouldn’t be getting advanced mantras from unqualified gurus, that is obvious. You can’t be introduced to direct service to Krishna by someone who has never served Him himself, no argument here, but let’s see what mantras we get in ISKCON first.

Hare Krishna at first initiation, gayatri at the second, and sannyasis get some more mantras, too. Do they matter? Not really. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati once said that he gives gayatri to those who don’t have faith in the power of Hare Krishna. We don’t need to become sannyasis to achieve spiritual perfection either, so sannyasi mantras are not absolutely necessary.

Haridas Thakur didn’t need any better mantras than Hare Krishna, he probably knew and mastered them all but he didn’t go around asking for extra dikshas. Gadadhara Pandit once forgot his diksha mantra altogether.

Anyone can give us Hare Krishna mantra. We don’t need to get this kind of diksha only from uttama guru. It would certainly be better to hear and practice chanting under guidance of a first class devotee but that would be siksha, not diksha.

Here I’d like to return to the idea of choice. If you had a choice between a madhyama and an uttama guru you should definitely choose uttama, who’d argue with that, but when do you actually have to make such a choice?

In ISKCON context choosing guru period means a few months before you tell your local authorities who you would like to get initiation from. A few months, after that you are done. Even if Narada Muni shows up with his vina – you have a guru already, it can’t be undone. You can get instructions from his as you would from a siksha guru, he might give you a new mantra, that would be your next diksha, but he could never ever override you original induction into the spiritual family.

He would be like you favorite uncle, supercool and everything but he could never become your dad, that ship has sailed. You might have a lousy dad but he cannot be replaced. Your uncle might act like one, your step father might act like one, but father is father, what’s done is done, it’s not a choice anymore.

There’s another angle to “uttama only” rule – guru is a messenger of God, a gift, and you don’t look into a gifted horse mouth, it’s rude and disrespectful. If Krishna sends you a so so guru, take it, you can’t turn your nose on him and demand a better model. Who do you think you are anyway?

This post is getting too long. Well, I’ve convinced at least myself, and the purpose behind it was to establish that our ISKCON gurus are off limits. We can’t criticize them no matter what we think their levels of advancement are, it makes absolutely no difference. I wish to expand on this a bit more but certainly not today. Enough already.

Vanity thought #831. “Me” time

One of the first things we learn as devotees is that not a moment of life should be wasted, that we should always engage our bodies, minds, and souls in service to Krishna. There are nine major activities like sravanam, kirtanam, and vishnu smaranam, and there are sixty four limbs as explained in Bhakti-rasamrita-sndhu/Nectar of Devotion. If that is not enough, there’s always Hari Bhakti Vilasa with a million more rules to follow.

It might sounds strange but I think what we also need is some “me” time. Time that is not spend on doing any of the regulated activities. Not for everyone and not everyday but its basic function needs to be fulfilled one way or another.

First, let’s see what usually goes on when we try to do devotional things all the time. Temple devotees usually have lots of active engagements but those of us employed outside have to rely mostly on engaging out minds. Whenever we have a free moment we chant, we read, we listen to lectures etc. Sometimes we are very successful at that but it also means that we have an overloaded inbox in our brains.

There’s just too much information to process properly, we can stuff it in, no problem, but we don’t have time to internalize it, we just load another mp3 into a music player or open another book instead. We sort of get what we hear or read and we don’t have problems with comprehension but processing information involves much more than that.

I wish I had some shastras to back me up but it appears to be an entirely foreign concept. I think it was done in such a way that it didn’t require making records of it and information overload wasn’t a problem in Vedic times, too, and their brains were much better at processing data anyway.

Perhaps the science of neuroplasticity offers a kind of explanation, unfortunately it’s still in its embryonic stage and no one applied it in this way yet.

The idea is that brain is not a static organ and neuropaths used to process information can change their course according to needs and circumstances. They can find a way to flow around areas of brain damage for example, pretty much like computer hard disks manage to blacklist faulty cylinders.

Once the brain receives a load of information it stores it in one place and learns the “recommended” way of accessing and processing it but eventually it optimizes it for better use. It classifies different aspects of that information and connects them to relevant memories and usage from other topics. Instead of being a splotch of paint on a brain canvass it becomes a fully organized tree with roots going deep into our memories and branches interconnecting with everything else we know.

This process takes time. Usually it’s done while reflecting and contemplating things and ideas, it’s also done during sleep by those of us who aren’t great thinkers when awake. None of that, however, falls under best known devotional practices and so instead of giving ourselves time to ruminate we chomp new bits of information.

We have smaranam, of course, but that is more like remembering Krishna, which is not the same thing. It’s easier to label what our brains need to do as daydreaming and speculation and we are told to avoid those two.

We do not have an explicit permission to just sit down and think. It is perceived as being idle and it brings up various negative connotations.

Of course if our brains need to think we can’t stop them but because we don’t regulate this thinking it might happen when it shouldn’t be happening, most notably during japa.

If our minds are obsessed with some Krishna related topic and we decide to force it into silence while chanting it will not work. We need time to think, and we need time to chant, those two are not the same things and they should not be combined.

That’s why we need “me” time – to let our brains to adjust themselves. It might not be “realization” per se but it’s a necessary step to deeper understanding of our philosophy. With deeper understanding of philosophy we’ll need less thinking in the future, and, more importantly, we’ll understand that chanting is also a kind of thinking. Pure(-r) chanting should come from the deepest conviction, it should be the foundation of our intelligence. To get there, however, we should realize relative inferiority of everything else, and that needs time to sit and think. It needs time to sink in.

Now, if you are a book distributor you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on what’s happening in between talking to people, if you are temple devotee, a pujari or a cook, you’ll have plenty of time to work with your hands and let the brain do its work in the background, too. Neuroplasticity doesn’t require conscious efforts anyway. You just leave the brain to its work, then see the results.

You’ll have considerably less time for reflection if you are engaged in non-devotional activities most of your day and then try to cram as much Krishna conscious info as possible whenever you have a break.

Personally, I usually listen to lectures while driving but sometimes I just turn it off because I need to process what I just heard. Maybe driving and thinking is dangerous but it’s a kind of automated activity that is very suitable for this kind of thing. Otherwise I’m starving for time to think. I have a few minutes in the shower and when brushing teeth but in the morning I have nothing to think about yet and in the evening I have too much to process that it’s just not enough. This process can’t be rushed or forced, it’s like artist’s creative work in that sense.

This lack of time to think and settle down affects my chanting almost every day. I’d love to postpone japa until after I finished with thinking but it would need reorganizing my day. Maybe this is what I have to do, if it leads to improved japa it’s worth it.

I wonder what it would be called on my calendar, though.

Vanity thought #830. Cultural baggage part II

Female guru issue has flared up again, book changes war rages on, and ISKCON devotees in the meantime are preparing to Srila Prabhupada’s marathon, the biggest book distribution race of the year. What drives us to fight each other so mercilessly when we have a clear task at hand?

Kali yuga, of course, but I also think that cultural baggage plays an important role, too. Indians, just as most Asians, grow up in a communal society where everybody knows everybody else and total strangers can find a link between their families in about five minutes. The consequence of it is that everybody is practically a family and family always comes first. I mean before justice.

A person might be breaking all kinds of rules and even laws but as long as he is accepted as part of a family he will be treated with gentle and understanding gloves. Maintaining harmonious relationships is more important than being right, forgiveness and sharing blame is more important than punishment, too.

Consider the tradition of shraddha. You worship the ancestors so that they can stay in heaven a bit longer, when you die your descendants worship on your behalf, too. Everybody is dependent on everybody else. A great person will purify his lineage in both directions, saving both the ancestors and protecting his future descendants. His piety spreads horizontally to his siblings and his wife’s relatives, too. The entire gotra can be saved just by one pure devotee appearing in it.

As they say “It takes a village to raise a child” so the whole village in return reaps the benefits of that child’s advancement. Bad karma spreads around, too, so there’s no point in singling out and ostracizing any particular member of the commune, it’s everybody’s collective fault.

Maybe it was inattentive father who didn’t instill proper respect for dharma, maybe it was a mischievous uncle who undermined father’s teachings, who knows? A person’s life is formed entirely by his community and if he was exposed to outside influences it was probably community’s lack of protection.

So, with that understanding in mind, it’s easier to see why punishment of a selected member is secondary to maintaining overall community’s health, and it means that you should mind your business first and foremost because that is your main contribution to the community while running around and pointing fingers benefits nobody.

In the West we have had our communities broken hundreds of years ago during industrialization. People were uprooted, disconnected from their relatives, and made into individual units. In the cities they were employed as individuals, not as families. At best they were given enough money to support their wives and children but now even that principle has been eradicated, wives are expected to get jobs of their own.

Businesses formed a kind of their own communes but without any official responsibility. If you make a mistake you will be fired, it’s that simple. Nowadays it’s accepted as axiomatic but it was unthinkable and impossible in pre-industrialized communities. You can’t fire you father or your brother or you cousin by definition.

Organizing a society of such disconnected individuals has to be done differently, too. There’s no sense of shared responsibility, there’s no hierarchy, everybody is equal to everybody else and so it’s a jungle out there. Pyramids of power are filled not by nurturing but by fights to eliminate your enemies. Winning battles has become the default way to progress because being better and stronger is the only validation of your existence. If you are not a winner, you are a loser, there are no other options.

We are being bred to fight and to win and so our relationships with other devotees are still based on this principle. We naturally assume that we can advance only by winning, we need to be stronger and we need to capitalize on other devotees’ weaknesses. If we want something we must fight for it and earn our right. Begging for mercy and humbly waiting is not in our repertoire.

If we see someone making a mistake in his service we immediately think of exploiting it to our own advantage, after all, denigrating our opponent is the best way to make ourselves look better and more deserving. If Krishna were to shower us with mercy, why should He spend it on those inferior people who obviously lack intelligence, purity and dedication, therefore we should be at the front of the line.

And so it goes on and on and on.

It’s not that Indians are immune to greed and envy but at least it’s not institutionalized there as it is in the West. We are obviously at a disadvantaged position here – and look at me, I’m talking in exactly the same terms I just denounced!

Maybe there’s a way to engage and purify our crooked propensities but first we should learn to stop ourselves from criticizing devotees. That will never be permissible, and it also takes a long time to master. Personally, I sometimes feel that I have not grasped the limits of my own offending propensities yet, it goes so deep inside my soul I can’t estimate even the scale of the cleansing work to be done on my heart.

What I do know is the correct direction of the vector of my efforts – chanting, chanting, and chanting. It’s the only way to get some sense of where I am now and where I need to be in the future.

Vanity thought #829. Stereotypes, part II

Earlier this week I saw on the news that people of South East Asia got a new phrase, “Don’t Thai to me”, when they feel they are being cheated. There’s nothing unusual about stereotypes like that but, afaik, Thais themselves got a similar stereotype about untrustworthy cheaters and for them it’s Indians. They say that if you are suddenly confronted both by an Indian and a snake, kill the Indian first. Why?

Anyone who has been to India for any length of time knows that you better watch yourself when dealing with natives. There’s nothing they won’t do to squeeze an extra dollar from you and they don’t feel any shame in that. Why?

We’ve been told that, in contrast with Westerners, Asians are communal people but how can they be communal and so dishonest at the same time? How can they maintain communities without basic trust in each other?

In my personal experience, they do trust each other and they are loyal to their community members but that doesn’t extend to outsiders who are considered a fair game. Once you in, you are in and safe, before that, you have no rights and little respect.

None of this would really matter to us as devotees but we have to deal with this on our visits to the Holy Dhamas and that might really stress some people who expect dhamas to be filled with perfect vaishnavas. Something just doesn’t compute there. Either we have to completely abandon our basic ideas what perfection is or we have to admit that dhamas have been overrun by unscrupulous non-devotees.

Personally, I’d vote for the first option.

From the dhamavasis POV all money originally belongs to Krishna and by taking it from us they reunite Krishna and Lakshmi and engage our wealth in Krishna’s service, so they are doing us a favor. We can say “Hold on, but we are devotees, too!” to which they answer “Right, so you understand that there’s no loss, you take it to Krishna, we take it to Krishna, what’s the difference?”

Alternatively, they can see it from a traditional POV where brahmanas are considered mouth of the Lord. If you want to offer something to God, He accepts it through brahmanas, therefore they are see themselves digesting our money as the work of Krishna own stomach.

Should we worry about it? Well, if we’ve been given an order by our spiritual master or our authorities and, in course of executing this order, we’ve acquired some funds, then whatever logic they offer, we cannot allow them to take money that belongs to our guru. Even if dhamavasis appear before us in their original spiritual forms we should not give in to their demands.

They have their service, we have ours. Our goal is to please our guru, not theirs.

Strictly speaking, even if Krishna Himself shows up and demands what belongs to our guru we should be skeptical because our position is dasadasanudasa, as Gaudiya vaishnavas we serve Krishna’s devotees and we cannot betray their mercy. After all, you can’t be a manjari and spill all the secrets to Krishna at the same time, which gopi needs a servant like that?

If our actions somehow displease the Lord we hope that it works out through the proper chain of command, that’s what depending on the mercy of our guru means. Krishna can forgive an offense against Himself but if we upset our guru we are done for. Of course we can also hope that our guru would accept our betrayal because it pleased Krishna but that’s a risky game to play. Krishna is a fickle master, sometimes His mercy is there and sometimes it isn’t, and when He goes away on His merry ways, how can we return to our guru? How can we beg for service again?

This is a very unlikely scenario, btw, it shouldn’t happen to us on our present level.

What usually happens is that we travel to Holy places on our own volition. We don’t have any particular engagements in the dhama, we are just visiting, and therefore we shouldn’t assume that our funds are the same as our guru’s. In that case different rules apply.

When Sanatana Goswami went to see Lord Chaitanya at Benares he was still wearing a fancy chadar and Mahaprabhu made it known that the chadar should go. Sanatana Goswami traded it for some old, worn blanket and that pleased the Lord. We cannot attain Lord’s company while maintaining unnecessary possessions and that stands true for attaining Lord’s dhama, too.

We should not show up in the dhama while flashing out wealth, even if only to ourselves, and from that POV being ripped off by dhamavasis is Lord’s way of telling us how we should approach Him, so we shouldn’t protest.

If we decide to protect our possessions by keeping our money in the bank and exposing only very little to potential damage, that’s how they Lord would measure our devotion, too. Essentially it means that unless we are ready to give up everything we own, we shouldn’t show up in Vrindavana at all, and that is true, otherwise we are just tourists passing through. As much as Krishna appreciates our interest, by holding onto our possessions we are still robbing ourselves of genuine devotion. We can’t have both.

Does it mean we shouldn’t go to Vrindavana at all? Of course not, but we should understand our limitations and be ready to sacrifice whatever is necessary. Krishna isn’t a monster, He is not going to rob us blind, but we should always be ready to give Him whatever He wants.

On that subject I remember reading a fictional book about Jesus’ early days. His father took him and the entire family to the temple in Jerusalem and they had to pay exorbitant prices for whatever paraphernalia was needed for completing the rituals. When everyone was upset about it the father said that they didn’t spend more than they were prepared to, and if they got one dove instead of two it didn’t really matter.

So, if we are being overcharged for whatever it is we are offering to the Lord we should think about it not in terms of how much we got but in terms of how much we spent. Krishna will gladly accept even the smallest offering if it’s done without any attachment. The difference between ten and twelve bananas doesn’t matter to Him, it matters only to us because we still see these bananas as ours.

What if Krishna ate all our offerings and never left any prasadam, save for a few crumbs on a plate? A real devotee would consider it a perfection of his service, we would consider it cheating.

And this takes me back to the point of what perfection really is. Dhamavasis are perfect even when they lie and cheat, even when they eat eggs, even when they eat beef. We don’t see it that way but the Lord does, and we should accept that.

That’s why it’s very easy to commit offenses in the dhama and that’s why we cannot see its spiritual beauty, well, one of the reasons.

Same goes for Indians, comparing to us they are Krishna’s family. However imperfect, Krishna loves them as His own, and we should accept that, too.

Vanity thought #828. KC and “Caesar’s wife”

Srila Prabhupada often said that a vaishnava must be a perfect gentleman. This means that we are allowed to be judged by material standards of propriety and that we should exceed them. There are plenty of “good qualities of a vaishnava” lists that assure us of devotee’s status on the material scale of goodness.

There’s one case, however, where we diverge from what is expected of a perfect gentleman. I’m talking about “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” attitude. Originally it was said by Julius Caesar who, despite presenting no hard evidence of his wife’s adultery, said that even public suspicion is enough grounds for divorcing her.

Now it came to mean that our public servants must be held accountable to higher standards and dismissed for any suspicion of impropriety. We are taught to think that this is a good, democratic thing to do.

Well, Lord Ramachandra banished Sita to the forest when He heard people using her example to admonish unfaithful women but otherwise this is not how we should treat out authorities. Despite the logic that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion,” a devotee should not be disturbed by the activities of his spiritual master and should not try to criticize him. This is straight from Srila Prabhupada’s purport (CC Adi.3.11).

That purport is so good that I’d just paste the rest of it here.

A devotee should be fixed in the conclusion that the spiritual master cannot be subject to criticism and should never be considered equal to a common man. Even if there appears to be some discrepancy according to an imperfect devotee’s estimation, the devotee should be fixed in the conviction that even if his spiritual master goes to a liquor shop, he is not a drunkard; rather, he must have some purpose in going there. It is said in a Bengali poem:

yadyapi nityānanda surā-bāḍi yāya

tathāpio haya nityānanda-rāya

“Even if I see that Lord Nityānanda has entered a liquor shop, I shall not be diverted from my conclusion that Nityānanda Rāya is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

Not to forget, however, is that this applies only in certain circumstances, the beginning of that purport makes it clear.

“Dāmodara Paṇḍita was a great devotee of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Sometimes, however, a person in such a position becomes impudent, being influenced by the external energy and material considerations. Thus a devotee mistakenly dares to criticize the activities of the spiritual master or the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

Couple that with “imperfect devotee’s estimation” and the idea appears not so shocking anymore.

However, even if our estimates are right, criticizing our guru is still strictly forbidden, there’s no escape around this rule. We can offer respect to a wayward guru from a distance or, if a guru has become inimical to vaishnavas, he can even be rejected, but that is still not an excuse to criticize.

Most of the time we should rather suspect our own imperfection. Srila Prahbupada gives an example of guru going into a liquor shop here, meaning that even this kind of activity can possibly be misconstrued, what to speak of various gossip floating around ISCKON that looks like big distortion of reality even without giving any benefit of doubt to the victims.

Best policy is to take this rule as absolute, don’t criticize. We don’t have to follow obviously erroneous instructions but even if we do the downside would be negligible comparing to committing a guru aparadha.

In practice it means we should take “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” in a literal sense – we cannot even suspect Caesar’s wife, not how Caesar himself intended it to be understood.

This attitude, sadly, will be unacceptable in the modern society which encourages everyone to look for everyone else’s faults. We’ve been raised on quotes like this: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” and so we cannot remain indifferent to other people’s faults, we are culturally conditioned that way, we see everyone around us as a potential target to be judged and corrected, we assume it as some sort of a mission.

I think it’s not difficult to explain how we became this way. First of all, we are children of a enlightenment that rejects any possibility of God’s control over human affairs. Therefore if you don’t correct others, no one else will do it. You can’t leave it up to God, it would be irresponsible.

Secondly, it’s Kali Yuga, all that is necessary for the evil to triumph is give it some time. It grows on its own. With a bit of an effort you can stamp out obvious transgressions but it’s a bit like a whack-a-mole game, you can entertain yourself while your money lasts but there’s no higher purpose behind it.

To counteract the influence of Kali Yuga we must chant, to chant we must become devotees, and to become devotees we must stop looking at our gurus with critical eyes. If we tell ourselves that we can correct misdemeanors in ISKCON by criticism we are delusional, we don’t understand the very basic things how spiritual progress happens – by the mercy of guru and Krishna, not by criticizing or being correct.

Simple point, hard to restrain ourselves, even harder to avoid criticism sounded by others, but we must stay firm. No vaishnava aparadhas in our presence, if we sense it’s coming, we must leave. Our hearts cannot be exposed to that kind of thinking.

Vanity thought #827. Cultural baggage

It doesn’t take long for any visitor to realize that India is a backward, disorganized and extremely dirty country inhabited by irresponsible and cunning people you can’t trust, and you surely wouldn’t want them for your neighbors. As devotees we try to see past this reality, as educated people we try not to generalize, but come on, you can’t take that country seriously, can you?

Comparing to well groomed Europe and parts of North America it looks like a cesspool. It’s a fact of life.

So, how can we hope to learn anything from them? Why should we even try? What have they got to show for all that allegedly superior knowledge? How can we not see their degradation?

I think every devotee has his own answer to that, we all try to reconcile the reality with what Srila Prabhupada taught us. Some learn to see it as famous bubbles on the surface of the Ganges. Some learn to see spots of goodness in places and in people, some just get used to it so it doesn’t bother them anymore, some learn to see simplicity instead of poverty, ditto for ritual cleanliness vs external hygiene. Some build areas of western like perfection around them, like we do in Mayapur. We all have our own ways, if we want to become devotees we must learn to cope, there’s no other way.

I think the reason for India’s sad state of affairs lies not in their degradation per se but in fundamentally different approach to life and in pursuing fundamentally different goals.

They always put dharma first and leave the rest in the hands of God. They know it’s Kali Yuga and therefore they don’t expect much from it.

Over in the West we think we are firmly in control of our destiny, we are responsible for our surroundings, and so we must take matters in our own hands. Instead of focusing on dharma we are into fixing things that can’t be fixed. Of course our efforts don’t go in total vain and we manage to build oases of sattva and even keep them that way but all our efforts are ultimately artificial.

We waste a lot of our energy on swimming against the current. Kali yuga will eventually prevail, if we stave it off in our neighborhoods it will enter our hearts and corrupt us from inside. It’s noble and heroic to put up this battle but it’s a battle in a war that can’t be won.

Kali won’t be stopped by decorating the corpse of our society, He can only be stopped by chanting of the Holy Name, and even in that case it’s not certain that we can extend victory inside our hearts to victory in our material surroundings.

So Indians take a philosophical approach to this. Just follow you dharma, serve the Lord or whatever it is you are supposed to serve in your position, and the rest will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t, no big deal, your job is to earn a lot of good karma for the next life anyway.

Maybe I don’t have an accurate representation of life in traditional Vedic society but all I read about it paints a picture of people who earn their livelihood by praying and conducting yajnas. They don’t work very much, or very hard, I don’t think they spend more than four-five hours of their day on work.

There are vaishyas and shudras, of course, who need to put hours in taking care of cows and farms but I’m talking about kshatriyas and brahmanas, and general traders here. Those are definitely in the “service economy”, ie they are being served. They spend five six hours every morning on their spiritual duties, then they retire for midday break before noon and they don’t come out until it cools down outside in the late afternoon. They have a couple of hours of evening activities and by six it’s time for spiritual duties again.

They don’t push themselves into what they believe is responsibility of the Lord or of their karma. You know how sometimes things just fall into place and sometimes you work so hard and things keep falling apart anyway? They know it, too, and they simply observe what’s going on. If something sucks they simply take notice of it but it doesn’t urge them into action. Philosophical, as I said.

So, if we see obvious imperfections in the Indian way of life we can try to be philosophical about it, too, and don’t fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control of the material nature. Let us chant, the rest will take care of itself. Or it won’t, the important thing to keep chanting.

On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada couldn’t tolerate such irresponsibility. He demanded perfection in everything we do. He demanded the best of us, he wanted us to be even more meticulous in attention to detail than we are at home. He wanted us to be Germans in managing things, Swiss in precision, Americans in creating things, French in cooking, Italians in design, and Russians in dedication to the cause, to paraphrase the popular saying.

Isn’t it a contradiction? I believe not, because all those things are needed for the benefit of Lord Chaitanya’s mission, not for our own comfort.

We should be philosophical about our own lives but we must have a completely different attitude in service to the Lord. This is where we should apply all our energy and all our efforts while maintaining our own bodies can be left to karma’s devices.

This is the basic message of Bhagavad Gita – work done for your own benefit is the source of bondage, so ignore it, while work done for the benefit of the Lord is the goal of life and should never be stopped. And it also brings the highest possible rewards, so no loss.

So, I guess it’s okay to be sloppy in our personal lives, as long as this sloppiness doesn’t affect our service we shouldn’t worry about it. And we shouldn’t worry about other people not worrying about their own lives, too.

Our cultural baggage needs to be left behind, but that has to be done with proper understanding otherwise it will keep following us and forcing us to commit all kinds of offenses. I hope this idea will help, even if only a little.