Vanity thought #867. Liberal New Year

Being liberal about this particular holiday is super easy. All one has to do is to overlook all the gluttony and boozing and sexual promiscuity. Once you are able to look past that the holiday is actually very inspiring – people look forward to the next period of their lives and they honesty hope to make the best of it.

Those who make New Year resolution are obvious. They think long and hard about what their perfect life should look like, identify their weak points and resolve to overcome their deficiencies. I don’t see any way they could be criticized for this, effort is unmistakably there.

What we can make fuss of is their misguided aspirations. They don’t know where their true benefit lies and go after illusory and temporary goals. If only they knew that they are spirit souls separate from matter they’d make much better resolutions. That’s a legitimate complaint but whose fault is it anyway? We’ve been around for nearly half a century, how come we still haven’t convinced people of basic spiritual truths?

Thinking this way one can easily see himself as being inferior to the ordinary folks celebrating their New Year. We can say that we’ve been following instructions of guru and Krishna and therefore we are objectively higher beings but this pride can be dissipated by considering our apparent progress solely as mercy of Lord Chaitanya and not claiming any credit to ourselves.

One can easily imagine wealthy people deciding to control their ostentatious spending habits and becoming envious of the poor who are much better at controlling themselves. They correctly identify their problem as inability to restrain their shopping urges and don’t see their wealth as a blessing at all. If they were poorer it would have been much easier, they’d think.

We are in the same situation – we’ve been given wealth of spiritual knowledge but we don’t know how to use it wisely. A simple devotee who has just accepted Krishna into his heart has it so much easier, he is not burdened with politics and conflicts, he can’t care less about dark periods of ISKCON history, his enthusiasm and dedication are pure and his future looks bright.

We can, of course, dismiss it as utsaha-mayi, false enthusiasm, and we can indulge our envy in thinking up various reasons for their certain downfall but if that’s what we want then paramahamsa stage is obviously not for us yet.

Even people who don’t make any New Year resolutions due to their cynicism can be applauded for their practicality and honesty. It takes certain bravery to admit one’s weaknesses and one’s inability to control one’s life in face of the superior force of fate. It’s not that they don’t have any goals, they know value of healthy life and wholesome relationships just as well as those who, on this New Year’s eve, promise to achieve all their goals, they are simply being realistic about it.

I would even argue that they realize weaknesses inherent to their own nature and they see themselves as separate from their uncontrollable minds, a step better than being enthusiastic but largely ignorant of the reality.

It’s very easy to see the best in people on New Year, maybe even easier than on Christmas or Thanksgiving which are spoiled by Black Friday shopping or Christmas present frenzy, there’s just too much greed involved.

Now that I just said that then the next step should be about seeing goodness in people rushing through store doors morning after being thankful to God for whatever they have. That’s a tough one, I admit. Naughty and nice business with Santa is also awash with greed and sense of entitlement, which is still somehow seen as legitimate by devotees with perfect vision.

So, seeing good in people on New Year really is a baby step but a necessary one. We should still see them as non-devotees and protect our consciousness from their polluting attitudes but it won’t hurt us to theoretically acknowledge their efforts anyway.

In fact, there’s no good reason not to try and set New Year resolutions for ourselves, too. Taking vratas is one of the limbs of devotional service, what’s so bad about taking them on this day as opposed to any other?

In fact, what is the reason to avoid taking vratas right now? Following lunar calendar is not an excuse, any promise for any period of time is good. We don’t have to wait for auspicious days to start serving the Lord.

All we have to do is to figure out reasonable vratas, not too difficult and overwhelming and not too easy and meaningless. Will I make a New Year resolution myself?

Not very likely but if something comes to mind in the remaining hours of this year I won’t object. You can’t rush these things either, and if you are not ready to start on New Year, any other day is just as good, too.

There’s another consideration here – like it or not but our lives are tied up to the secular solar calendar and even though we think of vows as reading more books or chanting better rounds there’s no reason for us not to take vows relevant to our bodily lives – eating healthier, exercising, or just being nicer to people. It is a kind of dharma that comes with our bodies and performing it to the best of our abilities is our duty.

What would a paramahamsa do? I think it’s reasonable to expect pure devotees to greet their material obligations as coming from the Lord Himself and so they would put all their efforts in performing their assigned duties. Usually they don’t have that many duties so if something comes along they’d be feeling as being truly blessed.

So, there’s no reason for us not to participate in New Year celebrations with eagerness and enthusiasm. Our material lives are given to us to purify ourselves so we should welcome the opportunity.

This probably not what one would expect from New Year’s post on a blog ostensibly about service to Krishna but obligation to perform all our duties as a service to Krishna is not going to be suspended. If New Year celebrations are a part of it then it’s an offer we better not refuse.

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Vanity thought #866. Case study in liberalism

Yesterday’s speculations need examples to see if they make sense in real life. Pretty much everything could be considered but I thought it’s better to start with some contentious issues of the day, of which we have way to many. FDG has been my favorite for some time but I’ve grown tired of it. Among other issues there aren’t clear favorites and I decided to start with “ISKCON infestation by kirtaniyas” that I haven’t considered before.

There are, as usual, two sides to the story. To my knowledge, “pro-kirtaniyas” never engage in any public debates and I’ve never discussed this issue personally with any of the proponents, just heard a few excuses here and there and tried to fill the gaps.

The main argument is that these kirtan singers bring in the crowds, people who otherwise would never have come to ISKCON chant the Holy Names, and really, what other arguments are needed?

Fair enough. Now, the opponents, who are disproportionally vocal – they charge that this kind of kirtan is polluted, that there’s too much association with neo-mayavadis, that in Prabhupada’s time being on the same stage with hardcore impersonalists would have been unthinkable, as was inviting impersonalists to sing at our festivals.

Hearing Holy Name from the lips of mayavadis is poisonous, there are examples from Chaitanya Charitamrita if Srila Prabhupada’s own instructions are not enough. Associating with mayavadis is prohibited, too. All valid arguments that have no retorts, afaik.

How to be liberal about this then?

Let’s just step back a little and determine the context. Liberalism requires looking at a bigger picture, then what is unacceptable in one situation for a certain kind of devotees starts to look quite okay elsewhere for a different group of people.

For example, taking vegetarian non-prasadam is a no-no for temple devotees but for those outside it’s often a matter of necessity, and for non-devotees it’s certainly a progress towards a cleaner life. Veganism is certainly better than meat-eating but if someone has been coming to a temple for a while and still hasn’t given up his vegan ideas about milk then progress is not being made.

What we need to see is a vector – where the person had started and where he arrived. If a temple pujari eats a non-offered pizza on ekadashi he is going down, if a meat-eating karmi decides to have veggy pizza on the same day he is going up.

For devotees of Lord Chaitanya associating with mayavadis, listening to their kirtans or reading their literature is a spiritual suicide but I know devotees who were very well read in all kinds of impersonalism before taking up Srila Prabhupada’s books. Whether we like it or not, impersonalism is a natural and even necessary stage before becoming a devotee.

Some get causeless mercy, that’s true, but most living beings purify themselves through thousands and thousands of lives before coming in contact with devotees. Impersonalism is unavoidable.

How can we say with absolute certainty that it is dangerous and undesirable in such non-compromising terms?

Where opponents see mission drift, dilution of our philosophy and spreading the poison, we could try and see thousands and thousands of people coming to hear the sound of the Holy Name. Why would we turn them away unless they read up on philosophy? What do they know about drinking poisonous milk and how would they learn about it if they never come to our programs?

Being liberal in this case is looking at the issue from a different perspective. There are thousands and thousands of vaishnavas who look at “pure” ISKCON and think we are deviating and poisoning people, too. This kind of perception is not absolute, it’s never absolute.

The only real standard is the view of our guru and that’s what we should embrace in the face of all criticism but it’s a standard for US, not for our critics. They’ve never signed up for our program and we don’t expect them to gain mercy of Srila Prabhupada either. We can say that they are missing so much and wasting their lives on worthless pursuits but it’s their lives and their choices. Even as preachers we should not be trying to convert everybody, we should only look for people favorable to our ideas, so we can leave our critics alone and don’t worry too much about them.

So, the critics of “kirtaniya infestation” must be wrong then? No, not at all. We can look at them and see their genuine strive for the purity of our mission and preserving the legacy of our founder acharya. We might dismiss their criticism or decide to take it seriously and reform ourselves but that is not important atm. What is important is to see their sincerity even if their efforts might bring undesirable results, like vaishnava aparadha. Every effort in this world brings about undesirable results anyway, we can’t waste our lives focusing on those.

If we were to ask a paramahamsa which side to take in this dispute he’d tell us exactly the same things – both sides are doing their best for Krishna, and that would overwhelm him with respect and appreciation. He wouldn’t take sides at all and he’d be seen as a well-wisher of all living beings, in short, as paramahamsa.

Is it really that hard to theoretically visualize this kind of response? I don’t think so, it’s very simple, actually. Maybe I need a better case or maybe I’m missing something important, either way, not too bad for the first try, I think.

Vanity thought #865. Bridging broadmindedness

Spiritual progress towards the stage of paramahamsa is accompanied by changes in attitudes and behavior which sometimes are difficult to understand and difficult to appreciate even for devotees, what to speak of materialists. Compassion seems to diminish, as I talked about yesterday.

I don’t think I gave examples but for materialists compassion is about providing care for basic bodily necessities. Religious people sometimes overlook those in favor of saving souls – there are examples of outrageous behavior that results in death of their own children, when instead of taking them to a doctor they try to heal them with prayers. I suppose there’s a value in this kind of compassion even if the results could be unacceptable to materialists.

Compassion of advanced impersonalists, in Aurobindo-Chinmoy-Chopra range looks like no compassion at all as they aim at people who aren’t materially suffering in the first place. No money, no wisdom. Same holds for Buddhists – they simply avoid those deeply affected by misery, meditation etc is for those in the mode of goodness, otherwise it simply won’t work.

I guess their kind of compassion has its value, too, because “rich” people need spiritual knowledge more than anyone else – they have finally achieved a human stage of life where eating, sleeping, mating and defending are not a primary concern and it is time for athato brahma jijnasa.

Now devotees are not simply more advanced humans, they are not of this world at all, their compassion does not bring any material benefits whatsoever, they don’t promise health, wealth or peace of mind, they aim at pleasing the Lord instead. For someone afflicted with material suffering it makes no sense – “I am in pain here, why are you talking about well-being of your Krishna who is full of knowledge and bliss anyway?”

Paramahamsas don’t seem to notice any suffering at all, no pain inducing misbehavior – this we don’t understand. As aspiring madhyama adhikaris we spend all our time differentiating between good and bad and choosing correct paths and this means rejecting some ideas and fiercely defending others. We bring examples of Srila Prabhupada’s wrath towards mayavadis or scientists or feminists or any other concepts we choose to fight against. It seems legit.

Well, we place Srila Prabhupada above ordinary paramahamsas yet in these cases we choose to highlight relatively lower aspects of his behavior, aspects that are suitable for devotees on madhyama level who do most of the preaching in this world. We think that if Srila Prabhupada behaved like us, displaying attitudes that we can relate to ourselves, ie chastising rascals, it is the highest principle of all.

Not really, first there’s a stage of paramahamsa where all these complaints disappear, then there’s a voluntarily step backward because personal spiritual progress and well-being ceases to be a priority – a perfect devotee happily agrees to live in any conditions and behave in any way Krishna wants him to without care for what it would do to his spiritual health. It cannot be destroyed anyway, he is incorruptible.

If we say we shouldn’t imitate paramahamsas, why should we imitate Srila Prabhupada who is situated even higher than that? There’s a thin line between following and imitation here which is beyond the scope of this post.

Let’s talk about broadmindedness instead. How does that change as one progresses spiritually through the above mentioned stages?

Surprisingly, one of the synonyms for “broadminded” is “catholic”. No one has ever accused catholic of being liberal or tolerant but that’s what’s in the dictionary. What I see here is the gradual change in meaning of the term as we observe its movement across different levels, from gross materialism towards spiritual perfection, pretty much like it happens with compassion.

For materialists “broadminded” means sexually permissive. They might object to such simplification but it’s true – almost everything they feel broadminded about is of sexual nature. Porn, masturbation, feminism, homosexuality or plain old freedom to copulate with anyone you fancy – these are ABCs of broadmindedness. If you are still fixated about those things, you can’t hope to progress towards liberalism of “higher” nature, whatever it means for them.

Freedom from rules and repression starts with sex just as any kind of spiritual progress demands sex control first and foremost. Simple but true, sex is at the root of everything here.

In this sense “Is the Pope catholic” becomes more than a rhetorical question because liberalism in church means anything but sex. Even “Liberal Catholics” use this word in a different way from how Catholics define it for themselves.

They say they are liberal because they accept a common goal for every human being, because their salvation is for everyone, because they never turn away anyone who comes to Christ.

This meaning is almost the same as was used by Srila Prabhupada. It’s not the opposite of conservative, as is understood by materialists and as it is used in modern society. We, devotees, are most liberal because we accept every living being as Krishna’s servant. We do not talk about liberalism as acceptance of every living being’s right to enjoy material nature in any way they want.

Then there’s a stage of paramahamsa where devotees do not see living beings enjoying material nature at all. They do not see what we call material nature, they see it as Krishna’s energy and therefore they see conditioned living entities interacting with Krishna through a medium of prakriti.

At that stage they become liberal in the modern sense of the world, too. Everything is permissible and deserving worship if it’s connected to Krishna, even when it looks like degraded sense enjoyment to us. There’s nothing degraded in relationship to the Lord. If we don’t see the connection it’s the fault of our perception only, it doesn’t mean that the connection isn’t there.

This is what happens with broadmindedness as one advances to a level of paramahamsa, one ceases to exclude or condemn anyone else.

We can’t imitate that and we shouldn’t imitate that because we have our own instructions to follow that say we should differentiate between spiritually favorable and unfavorable things but, philosophically speaking, we should never forget that nothing in this world really deserves condemnation, it’s only a temporary technique for us as neophytes in devotional service.

I think this needs lots of practical examples but I haven’t got any ready for today yet, so I’ll finish here.

Vanity thought #864. Bridging compassion

Let’s start with what happens to compassion on the soul’s journey from materialism to impersonalism to devotion to paramahamsa stage and then to parivrajaka acharya, assuming that it’s a normal process everyone eventually goes through.

When I put it like this it seems implausible, just as a statement that every conditional living entity starts his life as Lord Brahma. I mean there’s one universe for all living beings in it, how come each one serves as Brahma, math just doesn’t work. Same with parivrajaka acharyas – there are too few of them to make it a final destination for every conditioned living being.

If it’s not a normal process but rather a standalone phenomenon then there’s no point in seeing logic to it. It just happens for some but not for billions and billions of others. Still, let me try and bridge it.

At the moment we can see clear difference in the meaning of compassion between atheists, religious leaders, and devotees. Atheists empathize with bodily suffering, which includes emotional discomfort, too – hence “human rights”. Religious leaders used to have a monopoly on compassion but for them it meant roping everyone in their own churches. There’s no compassion for unfaithful, they all go to hell sooner or later and that’s all that really matters. They are not going to feed the hungry is there’s no conversion to be made.

Devotees, on the other hand, see suffering in a different light. They see people’s disconnect from service to Krishna as the root cause and offer to fix that. Once a person is re-established in the service to God, his material discomfort will cease to bother him if not disappear altogether. Watering the roots vs watering the leaves, as we usually explain it.

Paramahamsas don’t see any disconnect whatsoever, as I argued yesterday, hence they don’t see ground for compassion – every one is already better than they are themselves, it’s they who need all the mercy, not the other way around.

Parivrajaka acharyas artificially descend from that exalted platform in order to preach like your run-off-the-mill brahmacharies. Their mission is to demonstrate relative superiority of serving Krishna as a Lord and master than serving maya as a separate energy. They spread love of God.

How often does it happen? Almost never, just a couple of short periods in the day of Brahma. Even Sukadeva Goswami wasn’t in the mood to preach, for example. He gave his Bhagavatam class but didn’t stay to answer the questions. It’s really only Lord Chaitanya who decided to spread the love around, everyone else is essentially a normal religious leader, simply preaching the existence of God and benefits one would extract from worshiping Him, as per karma kanda section of the Vedas.

This makes appearance of personalities like Srila Prabhupada extremely unique and it makes it totally depended on the Lord in their mission. Without Lord Chaitanya there’d be no distribution of love, it’s that simple, they don’t decide it by themselves. They don’t just leave Krishna’s pastimes and decide to have a quick run to scoop a bunch of materialistic conditioned souls before breakfast.

That’s why I, personally, don’t accept that Srila Prabhupada acted with any degree of independence. Externally his body acted fully in accordance with the laws of material nature – it was born of union between a man and his wife, unlike that other religious leader everyone worships nowadays, it was brought up in a pre-existing environment, it was taken to pre-existing schools to be educated by people who were totally conditioned in every each way, it was set to meet his guru even though it was given different, nationalistic interests to pursue, it was set to live as a grihastha and maintain a family, it was placed in a proximity to Gaudiya Math but far away from its internal problems, it was placed in circumstances where it could afford to retire and take sannyasa, it was given enough free time to pursue translation of Srimad Bhagavatam, it was given a crazy idea to travel to the other side of the world with only a chest of books, it was given a one way ticket, it was given shelter on arrival, and then it was sent a bunch of hippies to meet. The rest is history, as we say, but I don’t see why suddenly Srila Prabhupada would be given power to commandeer material energy around him.

I subscribe to a different model – according to the universal plan there was a person scheduled to appear who would spread the message of Lord Chaitanya all around the world and a faithful living entity, known to us as Srila Prabhupada, came down to voluntarily place himself in this conditioned body. He voluntarily subjected himself to birth, death, old age and disease and apparent forgetfulness of his original position. If he ever had glimpses of his spiritual identity, they shouldn’t have been manifested in his material mind and memory, for what we can see and perceive here is NOT born of the spiritual world. It’s just an external shell we inhabit for a while, and in that sense there’s no difference between us and him, even though he was an eternally liberated soul.

Why so? Because you can’t tell pure devotee from a materialist just by observing his external behavior. We ourselves attributed certain aspects of Prabhupada’s behavior to spiritual origins, like his preaching, but there were and still are millions of people who don’t see it as anything special, just an old man making lots of followers by playing on people’s interest in all things oriental.

We know better, of course, but we should also admit that others don’t agree with our explanation – therefore the difference between a pure devotee and an ordinary human is not absolute.

This leads back to the question of free will – being a devotee does not make one into a master of the material world, does not make oneself into a doer. Even the best, eternally liberated devotees are simply observers of the show put up by the illusion. If Srila Prabhupada didn’t step into the shoes of that elderly Indian gentleman, someone else would. I bet there was a scramble there when there was an opening. This, btw, explains how some associates of the Lord Chaitanya are described as incarnations of different spiritual personalities. Ramananda Raya, fore example, was simultaneously Arjuna and a gopi. Haridas Thakur was Lord Brahma and Prahlada Maharaj.

Did they have any freedom to act here independently? I don’t believe so, they were like actors taking roles in a play. Quite possible that different acts were played by different actors, or two of them squeezing into the same costume – souls are not people, unlike our costumes a material body can easily fit two or three of them.

What I mean to say is that Ramandanda Raya did not have a choice whether to describe intimate Krishna’s pastimes or not. Lord Chaitanya made him speak, as Krishnadasa Kaviraja says.

Similarly, Srila Prabhupada didn’t have a choice what life to live here. He came down and took the whole deal, no negotiations. Therefore even if he had supreme, absolute vision of a paramahamsa his body was forced to live a way of a preacher, ie madhyama adhikari. We, of course, don’t look at it this way but some of his godbrothers didn’t think much of his spiritual prowess, they didn’t see anything special, preachers used to be a dime a dozen in Gaudiya Math, then everybody spiritually “evolved”.

Well, it’s a controversial topic and I might be completely off the mark, but this explanation seems better than assuming that parivrajaka acharyas come here as masters of material energy, as little gods. This also explains why there’s an apparent difference in spiritual advancement between “ordinary” paramahamsas and the preachers and it explains the source of their compassion, which appears to be absent on the stage of paramahamsa. It does not reappear, it’s that they take the bodies that are not paramahamsa like.

This is my longest post in recent memory, the case is made, time to give it a rest and contemplate where it could be wrong.

Vanity thought #863. Question of pain and compassion

We all feel pain and we also feel compassion to other suffering living beings. The more enlightened we become, the more we empathize with others, recognizing their rights to happiness. We admire leaders who give a lot to charity, leaders who extend help to those less fortunate, who inspire others to help those in need.

Spiritual paths also lead people to the same realization. Even impersonalists, having tasted the fruit of liberation, come back to the society with altruistic intentions. Actually, for them it’s a failure of their model because they can’t maintain their detachment from the world but once they realize the inevitability of engagement they choose the most “enlightened” option – serving others.

People who rise above the modes of passion and ignorance also want to spread sattva around and improve lives of those suffering under the lower gunas.

Compassion is also one of the qualities that naturally develops in devotees and of late it has become a catch word in certain ISKCON circles.

Our role models, Srila Prabhupada and his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, are considered the most compassionate souls, saviors of the entire world, glorified as parivrajaka acharyas. On the scale of spiritual advancement they are at the very top, as we recognize goshthi-anandis to be superior to bhajananandis. What makes the difference is the compassion towards all living entities, while bhajananandis “only” interested in their own spiritual well-being.

Let’s not focus on the fact that compassion of a pure devotee and compassion of a mundane philanthropist are two totally different things and that they lament totally different misfortunes. Let’s leave it out, for the moment. Compassion is where we are at.

Well, squeezed between goshthi-anandis and mundane philanthropists are ordinary, unremarkable paramahamsas. They don’t seem to have any compassion at all, totally oblivious to the sufferings of the world. They don’t see anything in need of fixing, they see everyone perfectly engaged in Krishna’s service as it is. How come? And where does this vision go when they decide to preach?

The question of how come is more difficult to comprehend. Preaching requires a conscious step down from their elevated platform in order to please the Lord, but how do they get to that platform in the first place, and why does compassion disappear?

How do they not see people suffering? How do they see everyone perfectly situated when the entire world is in agony?

I don’t think we, as non-paramahamsas, will even be able to understand it but we can theoretize and we can catch glimpses of their attitude in our clearest moments.

Explanation for suffering appears to be easy – they see people as they are, as spirit souls, and they see that suffering exists only as interaction of material senses with material objects. They are beyond duality of pain and pleasure, they are indifferent to it. They simply don’t notice it.

Okay, pain might be imaginary, or rather illusory, but deep unhappiness that comes from it is experienced by souls themselves. We might be made of stuff that is eternal, full of knowledge, and super-blissful but in our present condition we are objectively NOT full of knowledge and bliss.

It’s highly unlikely that paramahamsas see us in our original spiritual forms having our original, spiritual fun and this is what makes them so happy about our condition. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. We are not here and there at the same time, our consciousness is not split, at this very moment we don’t have our original spiritual relations with Krishna going on somewhere in the spiritual world.

Paramahamsas see us as perfect servants right where we see ourselves now – in the material world. Our suffering is of this world, too, how come paramahamsas don’t notice or don’t care about it?

How come they see us as perfectly engaged in service when we are most certainly not?

I think I got an idea.

We are engaged in the service to maya, who is Krishna’s most trusted servant in this world herself. We see her as illusion but they don’t see her as separate from the Lord. For them service to maya is the same as service to Krishna, she is just Lord’s agent to accept this service on His behalf. He created her to interact with us. Since we can’t or don’t want to reach Him in the spiritual world He sets up a nice show for us and engages with us even when we refuse to see Him.

Okay, but what about suffering then?

Suffering is just a result of our service, a karmic reaction. People suffer in relationships with Krishna in Vrindavana, too. Of course that suffering is full of spiritual bliss, as taught by Lord Chaitanya, but it’s suffering nevertheless.

In both cases, here and there, it only increases our devotion. Separation from Krishna increases love of His devotees, and suffering caused by karma only increase our faith in power of maya, especially for non-devotees.

Atheists trying to improve their conditions as the result of their suffering only strengthen their bonds with material nature. Their answer is to have more illusion, seek deeper surrender, build more trust in science, and develop strongest faith that maya will solve all their problems.

So, the key to observing people suffering is not the suffering itself but their stronger commitment to their relationship with the Absolute Truth (which of them comes in the form of illusion).

If you really want to empathize with people – look at the world through their eyes and notice how they never ever want to be … evil, for the lack of a better world. Even in their darkest moments they can find justification for their actions. Everybody always strives to make the world a better place, even if only for themselves.

Most of the time it results in unpleasant karma but it’s not the results, it’s the drive to serve the Absolute Truth that impresses paramahamsas. When they see such deep, spontaneous, ever increasing devotion, when they see their unshakable faith, they realize their own imperfection and feel truly humbled. That’s why they can’t preach to anybody.

Of course their imperfection lies in not serving Krishna Himself rather than His agent, maya, but imperfection in service is imperfection, period, because they don’t see the difference between serving Krishna directly and serving His energy.

Now it all makes sense, I hope.

There’s a lot left to speculate here, of course, but let’s take it one speculation at a time.

Vanity thought #862. Glorious sleep

There’s nothing glorious about it, of course, it’s time spend in the mode of ignorance, pleasure for lazy and inert. Yet it’s pleasure and it also an absolute necessity for any body to function so there must be more to it than just ignorance. Maybe we could say that human life is governed by three modes of nature so ignorance takes its third in the form of sleep while waking time is shared by goodness and passion. Never heard of this before, it’s pure speculation.

With ever increasing life expectancy people now spend around thirty years just sleeping, just plain sleep, fully unconscious. Thirty years of doing absolutely nothing. Isn’t it a giant waste of time?

Lab rats subjected to sleep deprivation die in a matter of days, interestingly, from losing weight. No matter how much they are fed, without sleep they exhaust themselves to death. Well, actually it’s people who exhaust rats to death, no rat would do it to himself, but the point still stands.

Sleep is also a great puzzle for evolutionists – conquering sleep or reducing it to a minimum would give great advantage to any species that figures it out but it doesn’t seem to be happening. They go about it in roundabout ways, like cats hunting at night, but come daytime they are the laziest creatures around. Lions sleep up to twenty hours a day, but they don’t have to be alert for any predators so they can afford it. The rest of us need sleep like we need food, water, and air. Why? No one knows.

Vedic literature is also quiet about it, at least literature revealed to us as followers of Srila Prabhupada. We know we need to cut sleep to the minimum because we need our bodies awake to be engaged in Krishna’s service but we also don’t force it because unrested bodies are rather useless. Pure devotees like Six Goswamis and Srila Prabhupada managed to live on only one or two hours of sleep, which is impossible for us, so that could be one criteria to measure spiritual progress. Not forgetting that sleeping less does not cause advancement, only the other way around.

My personal fondness for sleep equals that of a lion, or maybe a hibernating bear, which is very appropriate in the middle of the winter. My sleep needs are clearly seasonal, and maybe that’s why I like winter so much.

Having said that, it all depends on external factors. When there’s a clear rise of the mode of passion I sleep a lot less, like when I live on a temple schedule and need to keep appearances for the young brahmacharies. Fully engaged like this my body can go fine with only six hours of sleep, or at least it used to. Left to myself I need minimum eight hours, and afternoon naps would be welcome, too. Anything less than that and I get cranky and, unlike rats, gain weight instead of losing it.

So, with sleep being unavoidable I’ve been trying to figure out excuses for it and I like the latest one. I prefer sleep to wakefulness because when I sleep my consciousness is at its purest, almost completely free from the influence of the modes of nature. I take inspiration from the fact that deep sleep, sushupti, is only one step away from the level of vasudeva, which is a pure spiritual consciousness.

There’s nothing devotional about this attachment, what I like about deep sleep is cessation of material hankerings, ie liberation. I love the state of not being torn apart and being tossed around by the modes of nature, sue me.

To remedy this attachment I try, during sleep, to focus on my perception of the Absolute Truth, which, however infinitesimal, always exists in the core of my heart. Jivera svarupa haya and all that. We don’t have to be devotees to be servants of Krishna. In fact, we can’t stop being servants of Krishna even if we tried our hardest because it’s our svarupa. It’s similar to being humans – we can try to behave in inhumane ways for a short while but in the end it’s impossible because our humanity would never ever disappear, we were born that way, it’s our svabhava.

Our problem is our perverted, exploitative relationship with the Supreme. That’s what stops us from becoming devotees. It doesn’t stop us from being Krishna’s servants, however, and this clear, original relationship is best observed when material mind is at total rest, in deep sleep, when there are no distractions and material world ceases to exist. That’s the point where, I believe, we can sense our spiritual connection with the Lord. It’s infinitesimal but it’s there. It’s present to the degree we realize ourselves as spirit souls rather than our bodies and minds.

Being so imperceptible I don’t expect to see much but I want to focus on what I do perceive. There’s no sign of Krishna anywhere, of course, but I’m happy if I sense a spot of difference between myself and my deep sleep. It’s like seeing bodily functions as separate from one’s existence, it’s like seeing mind and emotions as being separate form one’s existence. It’s a natural next step, I tell myself.

It takes a lot of practice to maintain “I’m not my physical body” consciousness for sustainable periods of time. It takes even more practice to observe workings of one’s mind as an observer rather than jumping in headfirst. Yet every little step on this path is a valuable experience. One moment here, two moments next time, there’s always hope. Maybe by the end of my life I’ll attain some level of self-realization, there’s still time.

I could leave all of it in the hands of Krishna, of course, but the fact is that self-realization is our service to Him, this service is the only point of trying to reach it. I can’t ask Him to do my job, even asking for help is somewhat inappropriate. We’ve been given knowledge, we’ve been given tools, how can we bother Him if we are not making full use of already provided facilities?

Anyway, after seeking self-awareness even in sleep, next step would be to find means to remember the Lord even when mind and intelligence are inactive. Nest, after fixing on that remembrance, I can start thinking of actual service, like chanting Hare Krishna, which would be performed by spiritual senses, I guess.

This will take time, thirty years of sleep might not be enough, so I better hurry up.

Vanity thought #861. Govindam adi purusham

I think this is by far our most presentable prayer. Of course Hare Krishna is our signature mantra but it also comes loaded with people’s preconceptions when they hear it. Anything from cult to nostalgic memories, everyone’s got an opinion already. Govindam adi purusham, however, is clean.

George Harrison’s arrangement is decidedly non-Indian, words are not in English, they don’t sound like any language people know but they are sung by English speaking people so there’s no association with any particular accent and there’s no particular culture to attach this sound to. It’s clean, not to mention it’s beautiful, and that’s why I think it’s our most presentable prayer.

Being so culture neutral it can pop up in unexpected places, like as a soundtrack to figure skating routine a few years ago. On my phone I set it as a ringtone for some special calls or alarms and when it goes off in public I’m often being asked what tune it is, its beauty being so difficult to dismiss.

For devotees it’s also associated with the most special moments in our sadhana – Deity greetings. Everyone primes himself up for these couple of minutes and mouths out the words as the song fills the temple room and tears well up in almost everybody’s eyes. No other moment is so emotionally charged as this. Well, in my opinion anyway.

Having said that, it’s not without controversy. For starters, the music was written by George Harrison, not much of a devotee at that time. Certainly he was very kind and generous to Srila Prabhupada and our movement but he wasn’t following principles or chanting sixteen rounds. He has never been initiated, too.

The singing is by a woman, which is no big deal these days but we’ve never read about women singers in Lord Chaitanya’s parties. At one point devotees from some temple sent a question to Srila Prabhupada asking if it’s appropriate for them, as brahmacharies, to listen to woman’s singing. It was serious matter for them and it was delivered to Srila Prabhupada in person through a messenger. He, of course, had none of it. If it was good for Krishna Balarama temple in Vrindavana then it was good for any other temple, too, he said, it was a standard for all Deity greetings in ISKCON and there would be no changes. This singing is transcendental, I don’t know anyone who is agitated by it.

Similarly, the question about George Harrison not being initiated is a pedantic one. He was recognized as a devotee by Srila Prabhupada and so he became a part of Krishna’s family, as per meaning of dikṣa I discussed in this post. Name and beads do not make one into a devotee, it’s just a formality, a ritual, a part of sadhana bhakti. Being accepted as a devotee by a vaishnava is all that matters.

Another question is about the content of the prayers themselves. Strictly speaking, it’s a kind of rasabhasa – no one in Vrindavan worships Krishna as the original purusha, there’s no such rasa among devotees of Vraja.

The answer to this is that it is not sung by a devotee in Vrindavan, it is sung by an outsider looking in – Lord Brahma. He is the leader of our sampradaya and so his particular mellow of the worship to the Lord sets the mood for the rest of us – outsiders looking in, very rupanuga like, never feeling themselves qualified to render service directly. There are stories of Lord Shiva sneaking into the rasa dance but we never hear anything like this about Lord Brahma, in our sampradaya we don’t strive to be so close to the Lord, we are servants of the servants of the servants, humbly offering whatever we can from our designated position, which is exactly where Krishna wants us.

This, however, also means that we are not worshiping Govinda of Vraja, despite saying the prayers ourselves, not directly anyway. There are glorious descriptions of Krishna and His abode in that Brahma Samhita but I often found them meaningless. I have no clue what a land made of spiritual gemstones look like. I find our local gems rather disappointing and I can’t tell them from pieces of colored glass, I think I can imagine an entire land made of such gems but it would look weird and not impressive at all.

I can try to imagine what millions of surabhi cows look like but then there was one occasion where Srila Prabhupada in all seriousness declared cows as not beautiful. So, millions of rather dull looking, clumsy animals? Means nothing to me.

We often dismiss Islam as having an impersonal concept of God but there’s something to say for their idea that image of God cannot be described in ordinary language or drawn by ordinary hands. It isn’t their particular idea either, it’s the argument of Shankarites, too – whenever we try to assign personal features to God we limit Him by our own perceptions. I don’t know what should be exact language here – personal features of Krishna exists whether we describe Him or not but when we do try to describe God we always do it through the prism of our experience, so the charge against us is reasonable.

We can say that our renditions are authorized because they follow authoritative descriptions given by personalities who HAVE seen Krishna, like the ones from Brahma Samhita. We can say that our renditions are authoritative because they’ve been approved by Srila Prabhupada, too. Saying that, however, does not remove the touch of our conditioning.

In my own perception Deities are usually okay but maybe that’s because they are made by people whose cultural biases I don’t recognize. Drawings by westerners, however, always remind me of someone else. We tend to draw Krishna as complying with our own cultural standards of beauty or attractiveness.

These two images, for example, are apparently correct and they present Krishna as He is described in our books but the one done in manga style reminds of all the pathos of Japanese cartoons while the other looks like a cross between Krishna and Maugli (not the Disney one) with a touch of fascination with Twilight and vampires.

In modern parlance we can say that Krishna is sexy and I guess this is what “sexy” looks like to modern women.

I might be completely off in my judgment here but I can say it with certainty – I don’t worship Govinda that looks like this. Which one I worship? I don’t know, that’s why I’m saying that descriptions in Brahma Samhita are meaningless to me.

Even Deities usually take some time to get used to, and some will never look truly beautiful to me. It doesn’t mean that it’s Krishna’s fault for not presenting Himself properly and not being all attractive because here is the crux – Deity greetings are not for us to look at Krishna, it’s for Krishna to look at us. If we do not appreciate His beauty it’s our fault, it’s us who come contaminated and pre-conditioned and unable to appreciate His attractiveness.

Krishna is not the Lord of Kali Yuga, He never aims to captivate the hearts of demons and materialists, He is only interested in loving exchanges with His dearmost devotees. We can’t demand the same sweetness extended to us, we are outside the circle, looking in.

For the foreseeable future this could be out “eternal” position so we better get used to it.

Vanity thought #860. JIT verse

JIT, Just In Time, is a computer programming (and also business) term that refers to feeding code to the machine exactly when it’s needed as opposed to compiling all the code prior to program execution, AOT, Ahead Of Time. Roughly speaking, if you are using a mobile phone than Ahead Of Time execution will mean a few second lag between touching a button and an app doing something in response, in this case it would need to prepare code for execution of all possible scenarios before finally getting processor to work. With JIT the phone will start showing something first and figure out the rest as you watch and interact with the app further.

Problem with JIT is what to do if it guesses wrong and the code it prepared to execute doesn’t match with what is actually needed, because a lot of JIT are predictions of how various “if” statements will branch out. In case of a wrong guess it all has to be flushed and new code prepared from scratch. The more code you prepare the more you risk to discard, the more code you need to recompile and that would take more time, making JIT ineffective.

About ten years ago Intel figured out how to better predict next batch of code and also found a sweet spot where they prepare enough JIT code to feed the processor without breaks yet don’t slow down the system in case they have to flush it all. That gave them a big advantage over rival AMD, which hasn’t been able to recover since.

Point is – getting JIT right is very very important. Our brains are not unlike computers, we have long term memory, we have short term memory, we process information, we pass data back and forth, taking more from memory or committing new information to storage. We have exactly the same natural limits and in some cases even more.

Our long term memory is not nearly as reliable as what is stored on hard disks. With AOT approach a computer might spend more time preparing to work but at least it won’t forget what it has to do. Our brains can’t think that far ahead and even when they do they forget the plan. Try to predict next five-six moves in chess and you’ll see the problem first hand – it’s too much to process and too much to remember even if you think you figured out the position completely.

Luckly, dadami buddhi yogam tam, Krishna gives us intelligence and Krishna manages our limited resources, feeding us right information just as we need it and in the amounts that we can actually process. He is much better at it than Intel.

Our job is to keep working, we outsource what we can’t do to the Lord but we should never miss His hints and timely interventions.

I’m not saying that Krishna personally monitors and controls my thought process but way too often I’m given little clues to help me better understand the situation. It can’t be a coincidence, though I’m open to alternative explanations.

Yesterday I complained about not being inspired by recent stream of vaishnava news. Then, almost immediately, a verse (BG 2.52) came to my attention:

When your intelligence has passed out of the dense forest of delusion, you shall become indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard.

Indifference to everything people say or will say is a natural step on the path of self-realization. I’m not out of the dense forest of delusion yet but if I ever have moments of clarity than indifference towards affairs of the world will be a prominent feature, I should not be worried about that.

In the purport Srila Prabhupada talks about indifference towards Vedic rites and rituals but the verse is surely not confined only to that. On this page various acharyas explained other aspects of this indifference. Sridhara Swami, for example, writes:

    The desire to inquire about temporal things will cease as it will be perceived that only existing temporarily they are not worth pursuing.

This is a very broad application and I don’t see any reasons to disagree with it. Ramanuja acharya writes about “fruitiveness of actions” – a lot of what passes as news is fruitive in nature – people say things to make a difference, for the better, they hope. Doesn’t matter how it turns out in the end as long as fruitive desire is there it can be ignored.

Madhvacharya makes an important point – Krishna talks about nirvedam here, callousness in our translation or indifference in theirs, but it is not renunciation. We are not supposed to renounce things, just become indifferent to them. Means I should not shun news sites altogether nor should I shun participating in debates when I feel the urge to, but I should become indifferent to these activities, my consciousness should always be somewhat aloof even in the heat of a discussion.

Well, what was it if not a very timely resolution to my dilemma?

I don’t keep track of such interventions but sometimes they come in the form of verses, sometimes these bits of wisdom come from elsewhere, even non-devotee sources. Krishna is a wonderful JIT manager, and this gives me a great peace of mind, practically indifference to everything else that is going on, just like the verse says.

Vanity thought #859. Disappointing disenchantment

As became usual, on Sunday I caught up on vaishnava news on the Internet. I used to look forward to this little sit down, hoping to discover new, amazing sides of Krishna consciousness. Not anymore. The disappointment was particularly strong yesterday and it occupied my mind for many hours.

Am I becoming a snob? We’ve never had so much news, so much engagement from devotional community, why none of it inspires me in any way? Let’s see.

Sampradaya Sun is filled with new and better criticism of ISKCON authorities. One little letter at the end of a Sanskrit word, in a word-for-word translation of a Bhagavad Gita verse, a little word that deals with Arjuna’s exact position on his chariot, and they’ve made a five article debate over it the only visible purpose of which is to attack Jayadvaita Swami for book changes. Perfect example of useless arguing that should be avoided on its own merits, what to speak of perpetuating the cycle of vaishnava aparadha.

It’s all business as usual there. Radhanatha Swami gave a talk on Krishna consciousness in the wrong company, again. Instead of going out and giving Krishna consciousness talks to the right company Sun contributors spend their time dissing a preacher. Don’t these people have a life?

Even when this steady stream of criticism is intercepted by legitimate topics like biography of Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji they look disingenuous, as if it was a donation from a big corporation done for tax reducing purposes rather than as a real charity.

Why am I even checking that site? Well, some “kosher” devotees send their articles there and I don’t want to miss their important contributions. This time it was Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s review of FDG book so I had to check it out, having spent so much time on the issue already. Turned out it was a link to a two hour mp3 lecture. I’ve downloaded it, first thing he said was that it’s all about politics, not philosophy. I suspected as much long time ago and I applaud devotees who deal with politics in our movement, someone has to do this dirty job, but I don’t think it’s what I need in my own life right now.

Unfortunately, devotees who are worth of all respect and whose opinions and preaching needs to be followed sometimes choose to ignore authorized ISKCON news sites. There’s a history there which also deals with politics, meaning I don’t want to load my mind with it either.

Anyway, on our official sites there are news about Hare Krishna’s around the world, the “world” being the operative part. Countless articles about Nelson Mandela, for example, plus benefits of parsley and fatty acids in organic milk. Fascinating stuff, I’m sure, but not what I wanted to read there.

There are news and articles strictly about ISKCON but somehow they didn’t inspire me either. Goings on in our communities are important but if I don’t know anyone in Lublyana and not even sure where it is on the map, it doesn’t make for exciting reading. Neither do service opportunities I’m never going to take nor reports on important sounding seminars with very long names, nor repetitive articles about guru tattva or articles that ask too many questions to engage the audience and then wonder away in unpredictable directions without providing answers. Open ended discussions, those are called, I believe.

Most of the time there are gems to be found there that fully justify time and effort on sorting these issues but yesterday was not such a day. I don’t think I’ve read even a single article in full or saved anything for reading later.

My first reaction to it – there’s something wrong with me. Maybe some other time, suffocated without association of devotees, I’ll gulp down and chomp on every article on Dandavats, or maybe I’m crippled forever. I do realize that I need to put effort in appreciating this work of devotees who sincerely try to present their views on Krishna consciousness but when I look at how much effort it needs and how much background information and context I have to learn, I give up.

Maybe some other time.

I’d rather read more from Srila Prabhupada’s books and as long as that appreciation is present in my mind I think I’ll be okay.

Politics and news are garbage anyway, they only pollute one’s consciousness and lead one’s mind astray. I’ve written about it a few months ago. Funny how I ended that post with a pledge to reduce news reading to a minimum. Should follow my own advice better.

So, even if I was disappointed with my own lack of appreciation for vaishnava news I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. It might require an extra effort to keep necessary level of respect to contributing authors whose work I summarily dismissed but if I manage it then there would be no loss.

What’s more disappointing is the amount of “I” in this post. “I” this and “I” that, and very little about Krishna. That’s the real disappointment.

Vanity thought #858. Science beats materialism

Earlier this month The Guardian published not one but two articles on some recent research confirming that greater materialism leads to greater unhappiness (here and here).

By research they mean not one but a series of studies published this year alone and also a body of research for the past 35 years. The connection is indisputable and some studies insist not only on correlation but also on causation – that, indeed, materialism causes unhappiness. One study even focused on feedback loop, how materialism causes loneliness and how resultant loneliness causes even more materialism. That particular study was done over six years. Other studies followed the subjects for several months and there was one that compared results over the course of twelve years. Science is solid here.

What is left to dispute is what they mean by materialism and what they mean by happiness.

Happiness is a fuzzy concept, especially when so many studies are done independently. They were not measuring one and the same thing but rather a collection of parameters that relate to happiness in general. Sense of well-being, sense of self-worth, sense of fulfillment, sense of satisfaction, peace of mind, or even the decreased levels of opposite emotions like post traumatic stress. In some studies they relied on standard diagnostic tests to identify mental problems, like when they show you a few ink blots and then tell you you have suppressed sexual feelings for your mother.

All in all, however, there isn’t much room left for skepticism here. They weren’t measuring spiritual happiness, of course, but, in our terms, they noticed increased levels of mode of goodness, which always feels better.

There’s more room left for the argument what constitutes materialism there and whether we and them are talking about the same thing at all.

By materialism they mean mostly consumerism, or, more directly, shopping. At one point they talked about two kinds of materialism – “using possessions as a yardstick of success and seeking happiness through acquisition”. Interesting distinction but it’s still talking about shopping. Elsewhere they made another distinction – buying experiences instead of buying things, ie spending money on a trip to a theater or a vacation is better for your wellbeing than spending the same amount on clothes or new phones.

What complicates the matter somewhat is that shopping does bring immediate happiness, that is also indisputable, but the effects are rather short lived and beyond that you are doomed. Much has been made there of this tumblr blog where people show off their possessions and they seemingly look happy but one astute observation always holds true: “If you have four Rolexes while another has five, you are a Rolex short of contentment.”

In other places they notice that instead of inciting envy in others these images reek of desperation and slavery, as if all the displayed stuff has taken control over people’s lives and they send these pictures as some sort of a message in a bottle to remind the world that they still exist. Personally, I don’t see it that way but I understand why someone else would, there’s a point to this argument, too.

So, how does this relate to us? Is is the same materialism that we battle in our lives as aspiring devotees? Yes and no. We want things just as anybody else and, on many occasions, we also fall into slavery to status establishing possessions. For me, there’s nothing more painful than watching a brahmachari lusting for an iPhone and putting forward ridiculous reasons to justify it – “Steve Jobs was a devotee”, or “It’s for preaching”.

I’m still uncomfortable with Bhagavatam speakers who consult with their notebooks or tablets, as if possessing these gadgets is what made you qualified to give a class. Pretty soon we’ll have listeners equipped with tablets, too, ready to double check your every quote, your every reference, and if you don’t bring one to class you’ll be made to feel inadequate and maybe not even serious about your spiritual progress.

There could be valid reasons for justifying this technology but as soon as it inserts itself between a speaker and a listener it ruins everything. One prerequisite for acquiring spiritual knowledge is unconditional surrender, it won’t happen if you doubt the words of your guru and always ready to check Folio for accuracy. Surrender means surrender, you leave everything else behind and you take a leap of faith. Path to Krishna’s feet does not lie through double checking every step. Accuracy does not give rise to devotion, rather the opposite.

This little rant is about obvious effects of materialism, however, even they, the infidels, can spot it and accuse us of hypocrisy.

The most important difference between their understanding of what materialism is and our definition is that what they consider as non-materialistic, the buying of experiences and seeking relationships and a place in a society, for example, is rejected by us with equal force.

What they say is better for your happiness is objectively better, in a sense that mode of goodness is better than the mode of passion, but it’s still to be rejected. We reject their notion of happiness itself, too. We don’t want to be happy, we don’t want to be self-fulfilled, we don’t want to possess extraordinary self-worth, we don’t want peace of mind, for attaining all those things only deepens our illusion that separation from Krishna can be pleasant.

In fact, seeking happiness here is more dangerous than being affected by a bout of envy. With envy we at least know that it’s our enemy and an anartha meant to be purged, seeking of happiness, otoh, is fundamentally undevotional. As long as we seek happiness here, even with Krishna’s help, we’ll never become devotees. Bhakti is about seeking happiness for Krishna, not for ourselves.

Authors of these Guardian articles would also agree that being selfish is bad but their idea of selflessness is to expand your interests to cover even bigger chunk of the material world. You are considered selfish if you project your ego only on your own body but if your ego includes family, nation, and the entire humanity than you are being selfless.

No, you aren’t, you might be being even greedier that way. Hitler wasn’t selfish by that definition, after all.

Hmm, perhaps I reached a point here where Godwin’s Law must take over. Even if I can rant some more I won’t add anything useful to this topic. Selfish, selfless – doesn’t matter, we should try to please guru and Krishna and not waste time on useless arguments.