Vanity thought #899. Intractable problems – ISKCON

It’s easy to understand why the rest of the world is at each other’s throats. Even when they had religious principles they couldn’t live peacefully together but now they make up “rules” as they go and no one is going to make sacrifices for the sake of anything, and so they clash.

Why do we have the same problem in ISKCON? Not so much in ISKCON but in our post-Prabhupada society. It’s interesting – no one, except for a few fringe groups like maybe Sidha Svarupa and Tripurari Swamis, argues against Prabhupada’s order to stay in ISKCON but what they say instead is that Prabhupada surely didn’t mean ISKCON in its current incarnation.

In the same vein, ISKCON is full of well-wishers, but well wishers who can’t stand our current culture and our current GBC. What happened?

Unlike demoniac society at large, we know what is right and what is wrong and we have no disagreements over our siddhanta. Even those who left Srila Prabhupada’s shelter altogether have no arguments over Bhagavad Gita, for example. I don’t think they have arguments over Srimad Bhagavatam and even Chaitanya Charitamrita either, it’s really esoteric stuff that they claim to know better than us.

We’ve got rittviks, of course, but even they don’t challenge our common principles of guru parampara and guru-disciple relationships, they just implement them in a weird way, like an apa-sampradaya.

So, why can’t we co-exist peacefully? I’m not saying we should, I am asking why it doesn’t happen. We should keep all those deviants at an arm’s length, that’s beside the point, the point is – why do we have all those deviations?

I’m not interested in details, who did what wrong where and when, I’m interested in the driving force behind our disagreements.

It’s all due to Kali Yuga, of course, but we are not supposed to fall prey to Kali, we are supposed to be protected, so where does he sneak in?

One answer is our lack of purity. Money, power, fame – all those things are conduits for lower gunas. They bring up unfavorable karmic reactions and make us suffer and they lead to gross misbehavior and falldowns. Fallen leaders spoil the entire society, as Chanakya Pundit used to say – one good son can glorify the entire dynasty while one bad son can completely ruin it.

This is understandable, but bygones are bygones, all the bad apples have fallen off our desire tree already, second generation has taken over, untainted by the scandals of the past, yet still there’s no peace. Why Many of the current issues are unrelated to our past mistakes, we are keeping ourselves up to date here, so what gives?

I’m afraid there’s another force at play here, and it’s a philosophical one. We put too much faith in Srila Prabhupada. Blasphemous words, but let me explain what I mean by that.

Our disagreements are due to, well, disagreements. We don’t have a common understanding, we can’t agree on what is right and what is wrong. We agree on our siddhanta but when it comes to acting on it our opinions are all over the place. Why? First answer would be because we do NOT follow Srila Prabhupada but follow all those different gurus and GBCs, some are strict traditionalists, some are libertarians, some display impersonal tendencies, some are fascinated by material progress of the world around us and some are deep into Krishna katha, and there are plenty who do not follow anyone in particular, no wonder we can’t agree on anything.

On the second thought, however, it all comes to us putting too much faith in Prabhupada, I say. We all agree that he was a perfect acharya and we all agree that we should follow him as closely as possible but thing is, he is not around anymore. The reality is that no matter how much faith we profess we have to make our own decisions, and because Srila Prabhupada is everyone’s guru we all feel equally qualified to make them.

Now everyone can say that he follows Prabhupada, find a couple of sentences to support himself, and go and preach to everyone else the correct way of serving Krishna. We think that by deferring all our decisions to Prabhupada’s instructions from the time he was present we will achieve unity but Prabhupada is not here to straighten us out anymore. What happens instead is that we slap a label with his name on our own ideas and because it now comes from Prabhupada we are not going to even consider the possibility of us being wrong.

What happens is that by declaring full allegiance to Srila Prabhupada we refuse to accept any other authority and because Prabhupada cannot correct us we, in effect, live without following any authorities whatsoever, just our own interpretations of the rule book.

The idea that one has to follow his guru no matter what and often against his own judgment is so passé. When Srila Prabhupada was present no one dared to contradict him, do it first, justify it later, if ever. Now, however, everyone is his own master, everything must past stringent quality control in our own heads and we are not going to follow anyone unless we approve of their behavior, which is the exact opposite of surrender.

And if anyone objects – they are not objecting to us, they are objecting to Prabhupada, because that’s where we get our ideas from, as we tell ourselves.

By making Srila Prabhupada the pivot point of all our lives we actually bring anarchy and disorder to our society. Strange but true.

In this sense ritviks have already won. We’ll never admit it, of course, but there’s not much difference between us, just in rituals.

We claim to represent Gaudiya vaiṣnavism but what kind of vaiṣnavas are we if we can’t publicly announce our dedication to any particular guru? You’d be laughed off and ostracized for putting faith in anyone else but Prabhupada himself. Some people consider it their life’s mission to chase devotees and tell them to abandon their gurus and follow only “pure” Prabhupada.

The fact is, Prabhupada is gone. He lives in his books but we are not Christians, we have to go and surrender to a living breathing guru who will not be afraid to chastise and punish us whenever he feels like it, because that’s the meaning of surrender.

I often refer to Prabhupada myself – he said this, he did that, but the truth is – I know nothing about him. I read his books but understand him only through the teachings of my guru. I’m not qualified to read them on my own and glean my own understanding, nor do I strive to qualify for that. I will be damned if I ever try to approach Srila Prabhupada directly, bypassing interpretations of my guru.

Contrary to what we usually say to each other, I wasn’t saved by Srila Prabhupada, I was saved by his disciples, or even disciples of his disciples and so I will never be elevated to his company, nor do I want to be elevated to his company, I’m perfectly fine where I am, serving servants of his servants.

Well, I’m not fine at the moment but this IS my place, perfection of my life lies here and nowhere else.

Moreover, I propose that if we all had this attitude we’d have nothing to argue about because then we’d all be right by Krishna instead of being right by ourselves, which leads to endless conflicts. This is a bit bold statement to make and it probably should be left for another day.

Vanity thought #898. Intractable problems

Is the world moving to a better future? There’s a case to be made for both yes and no answers.

From Krishna consciousness point of view we should have the Golden Age coming right up so things are looking better. On the other hand our preaching push still hasn’t reached the fervor of the early days of our movement and it’s hard to see Krishna consciousness taking over the world any time soon. We are yesteryear’s news, “whatever happened to those Hare Krishnas,” old people might wonder if they remember us at all.

From general society perspective there’s always the case to see progress in almost every sphere of human life. We live longer, our children don’t die as often as a hundred years ago, we live healthier lives, we improve our diets, we have better technology, more comfortable homes, better ways to communicate with each other and so on.

On the other hand, almost each of these “facts” can be disputed. We take more medication than ever, allegedly to stay healthy, and without these meds we are done. Our mental health is atrocious, almost everybody needs a shrink. Only few of us can afford allegedly better food while the majority has to survive on mass produced, nutrient and taste depraved food like substances and sorry excuses for vegetables and fruit. Even food designated as healthy and “organic” doesn’t taste anything like what used to grow in everybody’s garden only thirty, forty years ago.

Financially, our progress has stopped long ago, only the richest 1% has made any gains while majority’s buying power is the same as it was eighty years ago. That’s right – an average car, for example, costs the same proportion of an average income as it was in 1936. Houses are way more expensive and education costs went through the roof. Only food is cheaper, but then it’s crappier as well, big scale agriculture paid off only in terms of price, not quality.

Effect of technology on the quality of our lives is debatable, too. On one hand we have soppy Apple ads about teenage kid ridiculed by his whole family for being glued to his phone only to discover that he’s been quietly filming family’s greatest moments all along, like that ever happens! It’s all Candy Crush and selfies, and family dinner is an occasion for instagramming, not bonding. There are studies that prove that more time on social networks makes people unhappier, too.

The world has got democracy, though. Everybody everywhere thinks democracy is the best and human rights are a must, every tinpot dictator wants democratic legitimacy. Human rights, of course, is an artificial construct which in real life means rights of the white people to rule over the world and any disagreement must be crushed.

That’s the thing I wanted to talk about today – constant, unresolvable disputes between people, societies, and countries. There has been some progress in the past couple of months in places like Syria and Iran, Egyptians voted for the new constitution and even in the US government shutdowns look like a thing of the past, for now. But that is only a temporary reprieve, pretty much like global warning is not a linear process and occasional swings to the cold do not disprove it in any way.

At the moment Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest Egyptian party, is still outlawed, hunted, and excluded. Whatever semblance of unity they have there is only because they purged some thirty percent of the population from collective consciousness as if they were Jews during the WWII. It will blow into their faces at the earliest opportunity.

Over in Ukraine things are getting really out of control and there are no prospects for peaceful coexistence between two opposing camps any time soon. Same situation is developing in Thailand. In situations like this in Europe they used to split such countries rather than try to keep them together so that might become a possibility there, too.

Peaceful settlement via negotiation worked in Indonesia’s Aceh but that was just one blimp on the overall preference for violence, Yugoslavia is the prime example. Czechs and Slovaks divorced amicably but in Sri Lanka Tamil Tigers were defeated by brutal force. East Timor independence was won by spilling lots of blood, too.

Overall, people can’t seem to agree on anything anymore. In fact, they’ve invented “agree to disagree” clause and even called it a “feature” of democracy rather than admit that it’s actually a bug.

The reason, of course, is very simple. It’s Kali Yuga, the age of quarrel, and unless that Golden Age occurs it will only get worse.

To be more specific, however, we might want to refer to Bhagavad Gita and Krishna’s teachings about modes of nature and their effects. Prevalence of mode of ignorance gives rise to demoniac qualities and the first thing Krishna says about demoniac nature is that they don’t know right from wrong (BG 16.7):

    pravṛttiḿ ca nivṛttiḿ ca janā na vidur āsurāḥ

“Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done.” If people don’t know what’s right, what’s good and what’s bad, they don’t have a common value system and everyone ends up pushing things in his direction. It’s really really simple.

People do not appreciate values professed by others, be it integration into Europe vs getting closer to Russia for Ukranians, or Islamic society vs secular Islam for Egyptians, or big bad government vs big good government in the US. When they don’t appreciate alternative values they don’t leave any room for coexistence, both views usually can’t be accommodated at the same time so there are no chances of compromise.

This has been going on for ages and it was one of the basic things Srila Prabhupada taught us about modern societies. In his time it was worldwide battle for independence and for staking out lands. All land belongs to Krishna but these thieves try to snatch it for themselves and so there are constant wars everywhere.

Civilization got kind of past fighting over the land and territorial conflicts are becoming increasingly rare (not counting Palestine) so we think that those words are no longer relevant but because people’s demoniac nature hasn’t improved in the slightest people still keep fighting, just over different things.

So, when they say something like “living with disagreements is a beauty of democracy” they only kid themselves. Once those disagreements become pronounced, and they always will, coexistence will become untenable. It’s as sure as old age, disease, and death.

As long as people refuse to accept common values, which is only possible in Krishna consciousness, nothing will ever change for the better.

Speaking of Krishna consciousness – we aren’t immune to disagreements either, but this post is getting too long to start a whole new topic. Hopefully, I’ll discuss it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #897. Astucious atheists

Just who are these atheists we keep hearing about so much? There’s a tricky logical proposition that disproves their very existence and it’s deceptively simple:

“There are no atheists because to be an atheist one first has to have conception of God, and if he has conception of God then he is not an atheist.”

It’s like there’s no meaning to Antichrist without Christ, no anti-communism without existence of communism and so on, down to “no darkness without existence of light”, because darkness means absence of light and so you can’t define it if light didn’t exist at all.

Atheists are not having this, of course, and they enthusiastically attack this logic from each and every angle, convincing themselves of easy victory but, to my knowledge, there are no easy answers to this problem.

One easy refutation goes like this – I have a concept of unicorns but that doesn’t prove they exist, so I might have a concept of God but it doesn’t mean God exist, and so I can remain an atheist. This can be modified to disprove existence of Santa Claus, tooth fairies, and Pokemons, too.

Problem with this explanation is that it assumes that concept of God and concept of unicorns are interchangeable in this construction but they aren’t. To be fair, however, to atheists they are, they think they are both imaginary and so if you can think up something in your mind, like God or a unicorn, it doesn’t make it exist in reality.

This seems solid but even that logic can be challenged, and it has been challenged, by so called “ontological argument” that seeks to prove, using definitions of God, that if you can think of Him in your mind that He must exist for real. There are many variations of this argument but the basic logic goes something like this:

That which exist in reality is greater than that which exists only in the mind and so if God is greater than everything than He is greater than what we can possibly imagine and He can top our imagination only by being real, and we can’t top that in return.

Modern atheist think that this kind of logic is easy to defeat but it puzzled greatest thinkers for hundreds and hundreds of years and big names like Descartes or Leibniz elaborated and solidified it. It wasn’t until Kant that ontological argument has been defeated conclusively, but, interestingly, only within Kant’s own elaborate framework. If you don’t accept it, ontological argument still stands.

There has been no philosophical movement on it since Kant and propagandists like Dawkins simply do not engage with it, preferring to reject it out of hand instead.

So, it is possible to argue that God exists simply because you can have a concept of Him in your mind but ontological argument is not the only way to puzzle atheists here.

Concept of God does not have to be imaginary at all. We can think up unicorns or any other weird creature and so we can imagine God sitting in the clouds and casting bolts of lightning but we don’t have to. In Vedic philosophy no imagination is required at all.

We define God as the cause of all causes, for example, which is not an imaginary concept. Good luck trying to prove that cause of all causes does not exist and if it does – there’s your God.

I guess one could argue that cause of all causes does not exist just like there is no such thing as the smallest number, because you can always divide it by 2 and get something even smaller. Likewise there is no such thing as the greatest number because you can always add 1 and get something greater.

Yet we do have concepts of infinity and if infinity exists so should things like “cause of all causes”.

Or we can define God as absolutely independent being, which is a similar quality to “cause of all causes”. What it practically means is that God is not obliged to follow laws of nature and therefore His existence cannot be proven, because “proof” for us means getting response from the object, be it light reflected of its surface or quarks generated from its bombardment with other particles. Absolutely independent entity is not obliged to react to anything and so it’s impossible to prove its existence in conventional way.

Alternatively, we define God as being inconceivable and beyond perception, which is a direct consequence of being the cause of all causes or being absolutely independent. This, of course, makes people like Dawkins into fools because when they ask for proof of God they don’t even notice that anything that can be “proven” in the way acceptable to them can’t be God by definition. Usually they travel around and agitate ex-Christians but I wonder how they’d do against Islamic scholars whose concept of God is very similar in this regard – Allah can’t be felt, seen or perceived so what Dawkins is asking for is nonsense.

So, this is one feature of atheism – they imagine their own concept of God and then vigorously try to prove that it doesn’t exist. In this sense they aren’t really atheists, just fools, and so the original puzzle still stands.

Another way to explain it is to point out that atheists only reject God’s authority over their own lives, which they can do, but they can’t prove God’s non-existence to the believers nor can they deny God’s authority over those who surrender to Him. In this sense atheism doesn’t exist either just as darkness does not exist on itself, it’s just a localized absence of light. So what atheists actually say is that in their locality God does not manifest Himself but by saying so they admit that He exists elsewhere.

Well, we shouldn’t get fooled by their arguments, they appear clever only on the surface and being atheists is their God given right so we can leave them practice it to their hearts’ content.

As for ourselves – we should build realistic understanding of the Absolute Truth, not something that we imagine in our minds. It’s a bit difficult because we’ve been given so much information about Krishna’s personal qualities and we can easily imagine Him walking in Vrindavana and playing games with His friends but actual realization of this reality must go through the generic stages – liberation, Brahman, and then Bhagavan.

I mean liberation is not just a word we throw around, absolutely meaningless to our lives because, as we’ve been told, devotees are liberated already and mokṣa herself waits to serve us with folded hands but we aren’t devotees yet, just trying, and to attain that status we need to reach actual liberation first.

So, even if all of the above sounds like pseudo-intellectual mambo jumbo, which it probably is, we still can contemplate building our relationship with the “cause of all causes”, īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ.

Best way, as they say, is to listen to the sound of His name.

Vanity thought #896. Addicted to life

When I was ranting about news the other day I wasn’t totally honest, there was one piece that caught my attention because it offered a fresh insight into a familiar problem that can have great repercussions for us as devotees even if it seems to be unrelated.

It’s about experiences of one young woman who tries to abstain from alcohol for one year, in London. She describes it as probably the worst place to be a teetotaler and gives plenty of reasons why, main of which is binge drinking.

The result of it is toxic atmosphere where everyone is goaded into drinking and there’s too much societal pressure to conform. Elsewhere, in her experience, when people don’t drink to get drunk then no one cares if someone abstains completely or not, but in London not being intoxicated considered practically rude and party spoiling.

Anyway, she soldiers on, on the seventh month now, and she’ll probably complete her “vrata”, so all is good. What can WE learn from it?

In her struggle she questions several fundamental assumptions, first of which was that not drinking is considered “extreme”. What’s so extreme about it? As she says in her article, she is not bungee jumping from London Tower with a live cheetah strapped to her back, that would be extreme.

This is what happens to us when we step out into a society – they have funny notions of what is extreme – no drinking, no coffee, no meat, no sex. For us it has long become a lifestyle, they, however, think that we are torturing ourselves. When someone asks me “So, do you like vegetarian food?” I don’t know how to answer politely. I don’t know any other food anymore, this is what I eat every time, day after day, year after year. We don’t wonder if dogs like dog food or fish like fish food or Italians like Italian food, so why ask if vegetarians like vegetarian?

Now, when we see such artificial limits in others we might consider similar psychological barriers we build for ourselves. Things that we think are impossible, like becoming a book distributor or strictly following the fourth. Much of it is impossible only in our minds just like those London alcoholics can’t comprehend teetotaling.

Back to the story, her next challenge is to “everything in moderation” paradigm. Why? Why should everything be in moderation? A little bit of rape is okay? A couple of murders? Occasional shooting rampage? Shoplifting? Infidelity? Taking office supplies home? A little spouse abuse? A little child abuse? A little heroin?

Why can’t we exclude some things from our lives altogether? We might fail, or we will most certainly fail from time to time but why should we set our goals low from the start as if failure is inconsequential and should become new standard to spare us some embarrassment?

This is where this woman goes to the heart of the problem – people are addicts, substances are addictive, telling people to consume them in moderation is like saying “Hey, you know that stuff that makes you want more and more as soon as you have a bit? Yeah, just have a bit!” It’s actually absurd or outright devilish.

Well, okay, what does it have to do with us? We don’t expose ourselves to addictive substances, we are safe here.

Not quite – life is addictive. Sex life is most addictive. Eating is addictive, too. Games are addictive, news are addictive, TV is addictive, friends are addictive, our jobs are addictive (if we are engaged according to our nature). Everything in this world is designed to be addictive, to make our senses want more and more of it.

Of course eventually we get tired of enjoying stuff, too, and go into some sort of withdrawal phase like sulking teenagers but it’s a cyclical process, mode of passion eventually takes over again and forces us to become addicted to something else.

Problem with life is that we can’t abstain from it like we can abstain from alcohol. With life we have to take it in moderation, there’s no other choice. Or is there? Is this woman right in the absolute sense and “everything in moderation” is a bogus rule?

Yes and no. While we want to enjoy life we should take it in moderation but if we want to become devotees then total abstinence is our only option. As devotees we should not accept any kind of sense gratification in any dozes, however small. Pure devotion means free from any trace of desire for sense gratification, it means total victory over the senses, as instructed in Upadesamrita.

“Isn’t it a but extreme?” someone might say. Yes, we’ve heard this already, just a few paragraphs up, it isn’t, it’s all in our minds. Pure devotion is available to everyone and it is in everyone’s nature so it’s not extreme in any sense.

We shouldn’t look at Krishna consciousness goalposts and think “Oh, that’s for paramahamsas, not for me.” We all must become paramahamsas, there’s no other way, and we all ARE potential paramahamsas, there are no excuses.

Hmm, perhaps these young people are not as hare brained as they usually appear in their selfies. Maybe not everything is lost yet.

Vanity thought #895. Perils of preaching

Yesterday I mentioned The Journey Home book by HH Radhanatha Swami and it refused to let my mind go. This book created a lot of controversy in our community and has become a corner stone of criticism in regards to that particular devotee and, by extension, the rest of ISKCON, because Radhanatha Swami sets direction of our preaching in many areas and in many respects.

This time people used it for a bit of fun, pretty harmless, considering the amount of vitriol being expressed towards it in the past couple of years.

On the surface they have a solid case – backcover of that book uses promotional blurbs from some very questionable people, certainly not devotees.

There could be an easy answer to that – Srila Prabhupada’s books also don’t feature endorsements from devotees on the cover, only scientists – sanskritologists, historians etc. There’s, however, a big difference between those scientists, who are respectable members of academic community, and niche individuals like Ram Dass who dabble in gay porn as well as oriental pseudo spirituality. There’s an endorsement by David Frawley who tirelessly works on promoting Indian culture and history but he is a pop-scientist who is not taken seriously anywhere in academic circles. In short – Srila Prabhupada wouldn’t have wanted those names attached to his books.

On the other hand – if Radhanatha Swami could use his pre-Prabhupada connections to get access to a larger audience than available to “pure” ISKCON and reach to the crème de la crème of Western society – presidents, parliaments, top level bankers, then why not go for it?

To reach these kind of people, actually much lesser than who Radhanatha Swami preaches to, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati went as far as serving them meat and liquor, so the precedent is there.

There are allegations that he presents a diluted message comparing to Srila Prabhupada but this argument is somewhat groundless. One has to preach according to time, place, and circumstances, but, more importantly, according to the level of the audience. This is how Srimad Bhagavatam was presented to the sages of Naimisharanya, without mention of Krishna’s consort, for example, so the precedent, again, is there.

Will it all spectacularly backfire one of those days? Possibly, but what the loss would be at the end of that day?

People have been given message of the Vedas, they might not understand it, they might not appreciate it, they might forget it, but it’s still something that will stay with them forever, life after life, there are no regressions there. If there are any positives to Radhanatha Swami’s preaching they will always be there.

On the minus side maharaj himself might suffer a setback, as happened with unorthodox preachers in our society before, but will it really be a loss?

Let’s say maharaj is forced to deviate from pure message now, by dint of taking on these opportunistic preaching engagements, if he blooped he would have to stop doing that – how’s that a loss? He would finally get a chance to stop talking about “love” and “compassion” and all other crap that attracts this kind of people and concentrate solely on Krishna consciousness. How’s that a loss? He’d probably rejoice at the opportunity.

For the rest of us it would be a lesson in what not to do and this hypothetic falldown would only strengthen our faith in Srila Prabhupada. We would become more attentive to deviations and our appreciation for strictly following in the footsteps of our acharyas would only grow. How’s that a loss?

If we consider probability of such falldown we will have to admit that so far maharaj seems to be impervious to supposedly contaminating influences. His personal behavior and sadhana are spotless, fact acknowledged even by his critics, his preaching grows day by day, so he must be under the protection of Lord Chaitanya.

This is something ISKCON critics usually dismiss out of hand – that our devotees CAN be placed under personal care of Krishna. They see us as operating in a godless world, strictly under the influence of karma and modes of nature, they don’t leave any space for Krishna’s care or interventions. This is a rather atheistic outlook on life even though our critics would be surprised by such accusation.

What usually happens is that Krishna places us under His protection, we get cocky, stop following our guru, develop material attachments, and eventually lose our protection and fall from our position. This, however, is what it looks like externally. As spirit souls Krishna never abandons us and He never returns us back into the kingdom of maya, he never leaves us at the mercy of our karma and we never become non-devotees. We get our lessons, sure, but we get them from Krishna personally, we will never ever have to face maya alone and she will never ever have a full domain over our fate.

Devotees, however fallen, can never ever be compared to ordinary materialists, their connection with guru and Krishna never breaks, lifetime after lifetime. I don’t know why our critics never see ISKCON devotees that way.

So what if Radhanatha Swami bloops? So what if he loses his prestige, thousands of followers desert him and he stops flying around the world and meeting great world leaders? So what if they remove his pictures from the altars and his disciples seek re-initiation elsewhere? None of those things are conducive to devotional service anyway, good riddance.

In fact, it would be his greatest opportunity to prove his devotion finally and unequivocally, Krishna would have absolutely no doubts about his motivations then. We, the fools, might point our fingers and deride him but that is perhaps the greatest service someone could do to us – destroy last vestiges of our false ego.

It would be a good thing.

Preaching, any preaching, presents great many pitfalls and creates great many enemies and critics, yet it’s still the most glorious service in the universe. Even pitfalls are placed there only for our purification, experiencing them is unpleasant but spiritually enlightening.

There are no downsides at all.

Vanity thought #894. Blue Sunday

Normal people get blues on Monday but for me Sunday has recently become a dreadful day. It’s a day when I have too much free time and I catch up on the news. News are bad for you, as I learned several months ago. In the past month or so it seems I have been complaining about it every Sunday and today is no different.

Francis the Pope declared internet a gift from god and it’s a thought provoking idea but maybe not for today.

The great liberal democratic ideal kept unraveling with protests in Egypt, Ukraine, and Thailand. In Egypt the military killed over a thousand people to maintain their post-coup power and no one in the “enlightened” West blinked an eye. Earlier today they reported another several dozen dead.

In Ukraine the progressive, democratically minded young men hoping to join European Union have been throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and watching people burn. Apparently as long as they are anti-Russian then it’s okay, burning people is a part of proud European tradition anyway.

In the US they kept their own tradition of mass shootings for no apparent reason, just out of frustration.

In the UK people can’t withdraw their money from ATMs but somehow everybody writes that it’s bitcoin that we shouldn’t trust.

85 richest people own as much wealth as half the planet – 3.5 billion.

Gallup polls showed that after twenty people in former USSR republics are disenchanted with the whole capitalist idea and think it’s a big scam for the rich cats. Apparently, they are not wrong.

Lithuania, the holder of current EU presidency has a law against gay propaganda but it’s Putin who gets the stick and Obama refused to visit the upcoming Olympics to make a statement.

Tulsi Gabbard got a stick for supporting gays, too, though she probably didn’t notice she was attracting so much attention in near-ISKCON circles.

Speaking of near-ISKCON, seemingly endless criticism of a book glorifying Srila Prabhupada still goes on. I don’t know what they are hoping to achieve by this. A devotee should never spend so much time criticizing anyone and there’s no chance that after doing all that they can create a better, more complete and more faithful image of Srila Prabhupada. That’s just a wrong approach to glorifying an acharya.

Someone started a project collecting money to support Ravindra Svarupa’s preaching and book writing. As he approaches retirement age he, obviously, can’t work to maintain himself. For some reason supporting an elderly vaishnava is unacceptable nowadays, they all want to see him suffer in poverty, which might be a blessing for him but a curse for anyone who refuses to help.

Last Monday was Martin Luther King’s day and for some reason people on dandavats encouraged us to appreciate his life that “ us the inspiration to fortify ourselves with the same spiritual consciousness..” Umm, no, thank you, I don’t want my consciousness to be anything like Martin Luther King’s, my own is pretty bad already.

Official ISKCON news site released a promotional video where they claim, and I kid you not, that the clue to spiritual happiness for temple devotees who got everything else right lies in reading their site. True, they inform us of ISKCON successes all over the world but it is also true that they have more “karmi” news on their front page than devotional ones. You can read about vitamin D, effects of television, abortion and so on. They even promote an article suggesting Iyengar for Nobel Peace Prize. How’s that supposed to make devotees happy? I have no idea.

Speaking of Iyengar – he might be sympathetic to our cause but he is not a devotee, he doesn’t appreciate the value of the Holy Name or bhakti-yoga in general. I was surprised to see his endorsement on the back of HH Radhanatha Swami’s Journey Home and he appears to be the best of the bunch there. The rest are outright neo-mayavadis with interest in Indian culture.

So, all in all, it was pretty depressive, a Sunday wasted. The only fun part was this joke on the above mentioned book blurbs – Rave Reviews for The Journey Home.

And on that note I say goodbye to this dreadful, dreadful day.

Vanity thought #893. Glorious Raghunatha Dasa

Life of Raghunatha Dasa Goswami is a treasury of lessons in spirituality, you never know what gem you are going to find next.

A few days ago I wrote about his family life on the orders of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for example. Usually this story doesn’t get much attention yet when we think about our own family lives we think they are truly special. Raghunatha Dasa Goswami had a personal order to stay home and take care of family finances and he executed it most faithfully. He was also married at that time and he followed his prescribed duties as grihastha, too, even though he was probably still too young to consummate the marriage. We don’t have any such orders and our relationships with our wives are nothing like that, yet we believe we deserve as much recognition as sannyasis or life long brahmacharies. Funny that.

When his family duties were over Raghunatha became restless and he sought blessings of Lord Nityananda, which led to the chipped rice festival and a promise to get delivered from his obligations soon. Raghunatha then fled to see Mahaprabhu in Puri and the story of his journey deserves a separate post – how he traveled and how he maintained himself on the way.

When he arrived in Puri he was placed under the care of Svarupa Damodara Goswami and Mahaprabhu’s servant Govinda was supplying him with remnants of Lord Chaitanya’s food but after less than a week he changed his mind and sought other arrangements, I’ll get to that later.

Meanwhile, his father sent him some money and he used it to serve a feast to Lord Chaitanya twice a month until he realized that the Lord doesn’t actually like accepting food bought with money taken from Rabhunatha’s father. This is a big, big lesson for us – Krishna accepts only money given to Him in good faith, if we “re-purpose” it from elsewhere He has no interest in it and actually sees it as a source of contamination.

Back to Raghunatha, he didn’t like being served food by Lord Chaitanya’s personal servant, he preferred to beg it himself. This has led him through a series of steps that ended with him eating prasadam thrown outside temple doors that was discarded even by cows. There’s a famous story of Lord Chaitanya catching him in at night and blaming him for keeping such delicious prasadam all for himself.

There’s a big lesson here, too. Unfortunately, I can’t follow it, unlike Rabhunatha Dasa Goswami I can’t consume spoiled prasadam. I just throw it under the tree, hoping that birds will eat it. Never happens, in my observations, but I don’t know what else to do.

Anyway, the series of steps that Raghunatha took from being served by Govinda to feeding on scraps outside temple walls is important. First, he was taking alms from temple servants as they left home in the evening. Then he took whatever was offered at free kitchens, and then he graduated to feeding the scraps.

Lord Chaitanya was very happy with these developments and He dropped another bomb in this connection. When Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was begging at temple gates Lord Chaitanya compared it to prostitution (CC Antya 6.285):

“‘Here is a person coming near. He will give me something. This person gave me something last night. Now another person is coming near. He may give me something. The person who just passed did not give me anything, but another person will come, and he will give me something.’ Thus a person in the renounced order gives up his neutrality and depends on the charity of this person or that. Thinking in this way, he adopts the occupation of a prostitute.

If you ever been out on the streets you will surely be familiar with this kind of thinking. Everybody goes through this phase in the beginning. Even if not distributing books we still treat people with a similar attitude. We have teams that made such collections into an art. I don’t know if they still practice it but at some point in India they’d import western brahmacharies to show to the prospective donors. These devotees didn’t have to even open their mouths and do any preaching themselves, they were basically pimped out for money.

It worked, but, apparently, it’s not how Lord Chaitanya preferred it himself.

Later Raghunatha Dasa Goswami moved to free kitchens where you don’t have to negotiate your daily alms and you don’t develop any attachments to any particular donors, everyone was served equally, but Raghunatha couldn’t accept even that. He didn’t see it as begging, food was sure to come, you just had to show up on time. It might not have been prostitution but it was no different from zoo animal existence and so is incompatible with renunciation, and that’s when he moved on to searching for discarded food himself.

How do we go about our daily food?

One might say “but I’m not a sannyasi, I don’t have to..”, but renunciation is required of every aspiring vaishnava, devotion does not come in any other way, sannyasi or not, without renunciation we will never progress anywhere.

So, when thinking about supplying our own necessities we should remember that any negotiating to get them was compared to prostitution by Lord Chaitanya, and that getting them form a place of certain supply is not proper either.

I guess we should really be ambivalent about it, getting only what comes on its own accord and never ever jonesing for food ourselves. That’s an ideal, of course, and we might think “Okay, I’ll settle for something less” but the corollary of this settling is that we also won’t get spiritual bliss but something lesser.

So, the moral is – taste for the Holy Name does not come to those who strive for taste of food. Total renunciation is absolutely necessary.

Vanity thought #892. Feeling better

One of the consequences of separating ourselves from our bodies is that we lose any criteria by which to judge our “progress”. I put progress in quotes because by progress we mean success, and, technically, progress means movement from one state to another, which is a material concept because it depends on time. Time is not present on the spiritual platform so talk about progress has no meaning. Yet we all strive for it.

By falling under the influence of the false ego we associate ourselves with our bodies and we start to believe that we interact with this world, that we do things and the world responds. We get to feel that response through our senses, though I don’t know what sense organ is responsible for feeling emotions. Is it mind? Intelligence? A mix of both? It’s a topic for further research but for now let’s assume that something in our bodies registers emotional security or distress, hopes and desperation, love and frustration and so on. These things are important for our “well-being” so they need to be considered, too, it’s not just food, nice music and something pleasing for the eyes.

When we come in contact with Krishna consciousness we continue gauging our progress in the same way, just in a different direction. While living under material paradigm we thought progress meant more money and more sex, when we decided to go with Krishna we think success is renunciation and other symptoms of advancement. We still use our bodies to measure, however, since we don’t have any other tools yet.

Will we ever achieve “success” by judging ourselves from a bodily platform? No, never, it’s an oxymoron. Bodies are meant to make us suffer and they use short term pleasures only as a bait. It’s a fact of life that if we go with bodily consciousness we end up old and diseased and eventually die, and then go through the whole thing again.

There’s no provision in our bodies to register spiritual happiness, no sense organ that measures spiritual health or Krishna’s satisfaction, it’s a useless tool for this purpose.

But wait, can’t we measure changes in the outside world that happen due to our devotion and our service? After all, when Krishna says “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you”, isn’t it supposed to be manifested on the material platform, too? Aren’t we getting stuffed with prasadam, aren’t we dancing ecstatically in kirtans, aren’t our hearts melt when hearing spiritually uplifting classes? Aren’t things like renunciation, loss of interest in material pursuits, following regs, compassion, gravitas, desire to hear more and more about Krishna meant to manifest on the material platform with our material bodies?

Well, yes, but there’s a limit. Bodies will never be eternal, for example, and that’s one major spiritual realization that they can never manifest. Renunciation is absolute but bodies will never achieve that either, they’d always need food and sleep, and breathing. Likewise, sexual attraction will never disappear completely, nor attraction to good food, nor desire to hear “news”, no desire to control things and make things better. These things can be reduced but they will never disappear completely.

This is why all our acharyas complained of personal imperfection and that’s why feeling of personal inadequacy is a hallmark of spiritual advancement. How can it be any other way? One might be the greatest, purest devotee in the whole three worlds but as soon as he identifies himself with his material body he sees that there’s no devotion there, which is the correct conclusion – bodies are not meant for service to Krishna but for observing interactions between senses and sense objects.

If we were to ask a sadhu how he feels about himself his full answer, which he would never give, would be “As this old man in a body full of diseases but still striving for comfort and pleasures I feel I have absolutely no devotion”, and he would be right. If we seek devotion we should never seek it through our bodily consciousness either. That question should be addressed on a spiritual platform and if that platform is not available to us yet then we should accept our limitations, that’s all.

Yet we still want to feel better about our progress. Foolishly, we seek spiritual rewards manifested through our material karmic reactions. Here’s another fact of life – devotional service is not meant to make US feel better, it’s meant to please Krishna. Devotional service means we should not expect any rewards in exchange for it either. If we do expect some rewards then this means we have no real devotion, consequently Krishna is not really pleased, and so there’s nothing to reward us for!

That’s why real tests of devotion are very simple – always remember Krishna and never forget, or nityam bhagavata sevaya – constant service to the Lord. Regardless of how we feel about it, we continue chanting the Holy Name, regardless of what our bodies tell us to do, we continue seeking Krishna, regardless of our own personal happiness or desperation, we continue seeking service. Even if the whole world becomes clear and united in one single thought and screams in our face: “Your service to Krishna brings you nothing by all possible standards”, we still seek that service.

Remember Krishna and never forget, it’s that simple, nothing more than that. Of course there could be more, we could be engaged happily in sankirtana, we could be worshiping deities, we could be known in our community as great, dedicated devotees, but those things are temporary, we can lose them and it won’t affect our spiritual status in the slightest. If we become attached, however, it will make our service dependent on these external rewards, which would make it un-devotional. Devotional service is ahaituki, causeless, remember, it has no external sources. Only then it can satisfy the soul, yayatma suprasidati (SB 1.2.6).

There’s one big caveat to this line of reasoning, though – our bodies are not really external, they are given to us as direct reflection of our consciousness. They are not caused by anything else but our own desires coming from our own souls. Our consciousness is polluted by matter, true, but it’s still OUR consciousness, we are not made suffer or enjoy someone else’s reactions. We get exactly what we deserve.

Why can’t we say that if our body is not spiritually engaged then this means we, as spirit souls, are not making any progress?

Yes and no.

Just today I listened to a lecture and I heard that Krishna can clear our hearts of all our anarthas in one moment. It’s absolutely no trouble for Him. How can we claim all responsibility for ourselves then? In as much as we identify with our bodies, would be my first answer, which takes me back where I started this post.

Let me present this argument – our bodies have full charge of karma to last until the end of this life. No matter what we do, no matter where we direct our consciousness, no matter whether we become liberated or not, this karma has to work itself out. We can’t stop it.

Doesn’t matter whether we identify with our bodies or not they’ll keep doing what they are meant to do like a wound up toy. We might just as well take a break from watching this freak show and concentrate solely on Krishna, our material senses will continue their interactions, our material mind will continue desiring things, our material intelligence will continue making plans – it doesn’t depend on our participation at all, it’s all driven by the laws of karma, not by us.

So, it doesn’t matter whether we feel better about our service or not, these feelings are immaterial, pardon the pun, for our actual spiritual life.

Vanity thought #891. Saving the world

Sometimes we feel like we are the best thing that happened to the world since sliced bread. We are part of Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana mission, we tell ourselves. We purify the entire world by our chanting, and actually by our mere presence. One our glance on a conditioned soul saves him from repeated births and deaths. Our family becomes liberated for ten generations in both directions. There’s simply no more potent purifying force than us. Demigods line up to get born in our ranks. You get the picture.

Theoretically we are on the solid ground – sankirtana mission IS the best thing since sliced bread and by becoming devotees we do purify a lot of stuff that gathers around us but there’s always a but.

First of all, we are nothing. Our only value is in connection to devotees who are connected to Srila Prabhupada. This value depends on the strength of the connection which, in turn, depends on our dedication to the mission. Simply sitting there doing nothing is worthless. When death comes Krishna will remember a few tokens of service we’ve done here and there but that will be the only time we can cash in, before that our “super powers” are impotent. We can try and pull rank on younger devotees but the effect would depend on their purity, not on ours. We’ve got nothing to show for all the [wasted] years of our superficial “devotion”.

Purifying power comes only when we are fully engaged in the mission, the moment we drop back for a short break we lose it, as simple as that.

This is not just theory, if we have achieved some level of purity we can actually feel being disconnected from the shakti of our guru and Krishna. As I’ve been saying for the past couple of days – we CAN learn to see the actual value of our bodies and the actual value of our devotion, it’s not that hard.

Just put Krishna before everything else, notably before going along with the interests of our senses, and you’ll see how little devotion we actually possess and how much hypocrisy we profess instead, and when we happen to see our bodies being engaged in service we’ll also see that it’s not our credit and we are just observers of superior powers at play. We come to see that it’s not *our* body that is being engaged, that it was Krishna’s tool all along, we are here just for the ride, in the back seat, not even shotgun.

In this state we can see how spiritually purifying and empowering this engagement is. We can actually see and experience the “hot iron rod” metaphor – when Prabhupada said that ordinary iron being placed in the fire is still iron but it already acts like fire itself.

We can also actually see how iron cools off when being left on its own. I’m not a blacksmith but steel that cools down very fast might become easy to crack, and this is what happens if we not only suspend our service but actively engage in sense gratification along with our fellow materialists. In this state we become the worst enemy of our mission, especially if people know us as Hare Krishnas.

More common, however, is overvaluing and overstretching the mission itself. Even Lord Chaitanya was aware of His limitations and He always put personal purity before everything else. We are not Him, we can’t afford our consciousness to become polluted.

It’s great to hear stories of sankirtana devotees going into places like casinos and gambling dens or even abattoirs but I wonder if they do it for their own gratification (see how pure I am, saving all these sinners) or the Lord actually wants them there. Yes, gamblers can listen to our pitch and they might even buy a book or two, for luck, but their interest is absolutely egotistical, their donations are not made in the mode of goodness or in the spirit of respect.

For them it might be ajnata sukriti but it’s a big question if they ever appreciate it. They are interested only in money while Krishna’s mercy is in separating us from it, they don’t welcome it when mercy is manifested like that.

For us, however, it’s contamination, and if we do it consciously and with any ulterior motives we are doomed to experience a full blowback, which would manifest itself in losing all taste for service. Desire for fame and round of applause back in the temple is an ulterior motive, desire to get more donations is an ulterior motive, too, desire to experience our preaching power is an ulterior motive, desire to have a look inside of a casino is an ulterior motive. It’s highly unlikely that the Lord Himself would lead us into such places so if we do go there it must be for some other reason but pure service.

In our ISKCON history we had a long period of “Middle Ages” when this disease afflicted our entire society. All around the world devotees were selling incense, paintings, baseball caps and other assorted crap for years. We were calling that sankirtana and we thought that we were “liberating” lakshmi this way. In some cases it was downright illegal.

We can say that anything done for Krishna is pure, we shouldn’t worry about legalities of the materialistic society, but that is not true – Krishna doesn’t want offerings from materialistic people, He doesn’t want “liberated” lakshmi, He is not interested in stolen property. Stolen in the sense it wasn’t given to Him but in exchange for a painting or something else. He appreciates only what is given to Him and what is given from the heart without desire for anything in return.

We can say that it is US who offered Him this money and we did it from our heart, so it’s pure, but that is not true either.

When Raghunatha Dasa Goswami ran away to Jagannatha Puri his father sent him four hundred gold coins and a couple of servants for easy maintenance. Raghunatha didn’t take a single coin for himself, of course, and he gradually used this money to offer monthly feasts to Lord Chaitanya. Then one day he realized that this money is un-offerable and stopped. “Finally”, said Mahaprabhu, “I was accepting your invitations and I couldn’t turn them down but I never ever want to eat food bought with money given by materialistic persons with impure intentions”, and that was the end of it.

Our service here is to connect people with Krishna but we should do it only when people want to be connected. Taking away their money and offering it to Krishna is not as purifying as we think. Krishna certainly doesn’t need it and we certainly don’t need it for our spiritual life while the risk of being contaminated is very very high.

Sometimes it’s necessary, when we need donations for building a temple, for example, but we should always think twice and be aware of negative effects, too. In theory we shouldn’t do it but practice is always different even if we try our best.

Vanity thought #890. Natural next step

What happens when we get comfortable in realization that Krishna is closer to us than our body and that we need to seek His blessings to indulge in any bodily activities?

We drop the notion that it is *our* body, of course.

Interestingly, it’s impossible to see it as not ours if we still engage in sense gratification but it becomes quite clear if the body is engaged in Krishna’s service. First part is easy – it is impossible to enjoy sensual interactions of the body with sensory objects unless we are under the influence of false ego, hence it’s impossible to enjoy and NOT think that it’s our body. Second part is trickier.

On one hand it’s the correct vision or the correct application of the body, on the other hand it’s not how we see it everyday. It’s possible to see it as Krishna’s property only in the case of absolute surrender, which is available to sankirtana devotees but usually hidden from everybody else. Theoretically, of course, there are no such restrictions but in practice surrender for us means surrender to sankirtana mission and we can’t have it any other way.

Alternatively, surrendering to sankirtana brings about self-realization and total clarity (and no interest in typing up these things on the internet). Those of us who are not on the streets with the books there’s still theory, of course, but it’s not as satisfying as the real thing and the impression doesn’t last very long.

I guess next best thing is service to the Deities and it opens up its own advantages. Sankirtana devotees see their bodies as completely out of their control but pujaris see their bodies as Vishnu’s paraphernalia. It’s easy to understand why – paraphernalia needed for the puja doesn’t stop at the handle of the ghee lamp, there’d be no puja if that lamp wasn’t attached to a hand, and if that hand wasn’t waved in the air by an arm, and if that arm didn’t have its other end attached to a body, and if that body didn’t have legs to stand on or brains to control it.

Those observing the puja can easily see that the pujari is Lord’s intimate servant. Those prescribing rules of performing puja also treat pujari as Lord’s accessory – he has to be clean externally and ritually, his mind has to be clean of all material thoughts, too. He must be properly dressed and properly decorated with tulasi necklace, shikha, and tilakas.

Once you put someone in pujari service his body ceases to be his in all practical respects, it has to live by strict rules and regulations established by the Lord.

If you ARE the pujari you also realize that you have no freedom to live your life as you want. You cannot pollute neither your body nor your mind, you cannot partake in any pleasures outside those provided as Lord’s prasadam, you cannot freely choose your life partner, your place of residence, you are stripped of all your other rights, too. Your body exists only for the pleasure of the Deity, no one else.

This certainly helps to convince our mind and intelligence that this body is NOT ours and that it should be treated with respect awarded to Lord’s intimate servants or Lord’s paraphernalia. If we are sincere in our chanting we would also see that none of this we deserved ourselves and that it is all arranged by Krishna Himself, following our prayers to be engaged in His service.

If we are sincere it would be easy for us to see that we are not, indeed, our body and that bodily engagements in material interactions are solely for the pleasure of the Lord, not our own. With this mindset we can also learn that the source of our sustenance is not our body but its engagement in service. Body serves Krishna, Krishna is happy, and this makes us satisfied, too.

When we have a clear vision like this bodily aches don’t bother us anymore. If the lamp is too heavy and the arm loses power to waive it it’s not OUR arm we are talking about, it’s Krishna’s, so we do not take this pain personally, even though we can sense that it’s there.

It’s not pain all around, of course, but if we decide to participate in experiencing bodily pleasures for ourselves the vision will be gone in an instant, only a memory would remain and even that not for a long time, so we better cherish these rare moments of clarity. It’s in these moments that we can easily understand such lines from the scriptures as na yatra dambhīty abhayā virājitā – there exists a supreme reality, in which the illusory energy cannot fearlessly dominate, thinking, “I can control this person because he is deceitful.” (SB 12.6.30)

Maya can easily overcome us because she “can freely exert her influence over those who are hypocritical, deceitful and disobedient to the laws of God”, as explained in the purport. Disobedience is easy to observe, considering standards of renunciation expected from real devotees, but hypocrisy and deceit is not something we notice in our lives very often. Maybe we should, considering dictionary definition of a hypocrite: a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

Every time we decide to enjoy activities of our bodies, be it eating, sleeping, or even breathing, we belie our pledge of surrendering all our lives to Krishna and no one else. We know that this body is meant to be pleasing to Krishna at all times but we quietly decide to take it for a nap or for a snack, or to even simply put it down in a comfortable chair.

The instruction that we should be asking permission before commencing any of those activities can come very useful here. We might get our permissions fairly easily but the thought that it’s not our body to take for a joy ride would eventually etch into our very beings. Therefore it’s much better to remember to ask than just take the body our for a spin, or we might get the wrong idea that it’s actually ours.