Vanity thought #927. Causes of failure

Yesterday I compared our spiritual progress to progress in a stupid game (btw, one local geek just posted his score on Twitter – 110. I’m not fighting that). It could be questioned why such comparison is justified and here are my reasons.

We chart our spiritual progress through time – we meet devotees, we get their association, we start chanting and following principles, maybe move to a temple, get initiated once, get initiated twice, maybe get married and get a job, keep chanting, struggle with principles, settle, aspire for more, fail again, make more promises, old age creeps in, get respect from juniors, we prepare for retirement and start thinking about death, and so on.

Time doesn’t act on the spirit soul, however. Our relationships with Kṛṣṇa do not depend on it. As far as He is concerned – the moment we surrender we are back in His graces, as good as home. Once we reach His abode time will stop making sense to us, too. We wouldn’t be thinking in terms of progression I described above because time would be cast away just as we’ll cast away our bodies, minds, and the whole shebang.

The described progress IS a function of time on material elements, forcing them to move in certain way, cause effects and then react to those effects in an endless chain. It IS mechanical, it follows reason and logic as we can always explain what happens to us and why both spiritually and materially. Every now and then some of us get Lord’s special mercy but otherwise developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a science. We do this and we know what happens next, we follow guru and we become self-realized, we chant and we become blissful, we read and we understand, we commit offenses and we lose taste – nothing happens to us without a reason.

This is why I think we can investigate causes of our failures employing same methods as materialists, they are very good with such empirical observations after all. One could say that Vedic scholars understand how human body works even better but we can’t learn from them, can we? We don’t read Sanskrit and we don’t have proper paramparā to learn this kind of stuff. One could say we are allowed to read only our own literature but we are not prohibited to apply what we read there to the world around us, śāsta cakṣu doesn’t mean one who looks only at śāstra but one who looks at the outside world (through the eyes of śāstra).

Anyway, there’s a lot of material out there explaining failures in our ways of thinking. Most of the time we just don’t see how wrong and mistaken we are, it’s nearly impossible to judge ourselves objectively. Look at this this video, for example, see if you fall for this trick, lots of people do:

I’ve caught only the last glimpse of the effect and only because I knew there was something about this on the site I saw it on first. I can’t tell you how many times in the midst of a heated discussion I caught myself missing obvious points just because I wasn’t looking/reading carefully enough. This happens a lot when we try to prove our own point and fail to see anything else, the bigger picture. In such situations another fallacy called confirmation bias comes into play, too. That’s the one where among pile of evidence we select only that which suits our point of view and ignore the evidence to the contrary.

That’s how one sided books about FDG or rittviks or any other controversial issue come into being.

Well, now try this video from the same series:

Did it work? It worked totally on me. This shows that even when we know and prepared there’s still a whole lot of stuff that we miss, we just can’t catch it all, it’s impossible.

What does it mean in practice? That whatever we think we know we actually don’t. We know only a small slice of the reality that appears in our view, not to mention all the subtle stuff visible to beings like demigods. This means that we have no hope of progressing in our spiritual life based on “understanding” but only on following. This means that whenever we argue about something the only thing we can rely on is the words of our spiritual master because even books in front of our eyes contain so much material that we simply fail to notice.

Another common fallacy is that we think we are rational beings, it’s related to Ben Franklin effect I discussed earlier this week – we make unconscious and unrelated decisions without realizing their consequences all the time and remember to apply logic and reason when it’s too late and mostly to justify our previous choices rather than plan for the future.

Most of our decisions in life are irrational. The guy who discovered it, Daniel Kahneman, got a Nobel prize but, interestingly, in the field of economics because there’s no Nobel prize for psychology. Economics seems like a good substitute because the effects of our irrational decisions can be expressed in financial terms and everyone loves theories about making more money.

This means that our decisions in devotional life are irrational, too. Most likely they are not driven by our remembrance of Kṛṣṇa but by our base, material instincts. This is very important because we don’t score any brownies for those. Kṛṣṇa might look at us forgetting all about Him and doing some incredibly stupid things in His name and sigh. Or shake His head. Or do a facepalm move.

This is why we should strictly follow orders of our guru and do not trust our own judgment. There are lots of people who think they can read books by themselves, apply it in their lives and think they are becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious. They most likely aren’t because we can’t get anything right on our own – our consciousness is too impure to make the right decisions ourselves, we need to be constantly corrected by someone who really knows or who acts as Kṛṣṇa’s representative.

Have you been or seen people in situations where nothing they do comes out right because they are totally out place? That where we are in relation to real spiritual knowledge – we don’t know the first thing about it, we only know the material world around us and even that we know poorly.

Finally, we tend to overestimate our own level, can’t stress this enough. There are surveys showing that most people think of themselves as being above average, which is mathematically impossible. That’s why when we think about our own level we select only our best achievements while to reach the level of bhakti we need to stay pure, meaning that we get disqualified because of our low moments. Of course it wouldn’t matter when Kṛṣṇa personally transfers us to the spiritual world but until that happens our level is determined by the amount of our anarthas – our low scores.

This means that instead of reaching for the stars we should spend more time keeping our nose clean and avoiding pitfalls and falldowns, at this stage this will do us more good than trying to catch glimpses of love and devotion.

I’ll end this post with another common prank.

If you’ve seen something like this before consider that, according to this study, fifty percent of people fall for it and don’t notice anything. It’s unbelievable.

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Vanity thought #926. Flappy devotion

Initially I wanted to call this post “waves of devotion” but then I thought it would be presumptuous. We already have “waves” in books like Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and Bhakti-ratnakara, I don’t want to introduce “waves” that would practically desecrate the subject. Besides, I’m onto Flappy Bird today.

Flappy Bird is a game for mobile phones that at one point was the most popular in the world, only a few weeks ago. It was developed by a young Vietnamese guy who didn’t expect it to become such a phenomenon. At its height the game brought him fifty thousand dollars per day in ad revenue, not a trivial number by any count. It proved to be too much for the developer though. We don’t know the story but he ran into some personal problems, decided that the game was not worth the aggravation, and pulled it off the internet.

His decision can be a fertile ground for speculation – what went wrong if he had so much money coming in? Did this wealth created jealousy and envy in his family? Did he lost his girlfriend? Was he simply not prepared to deal with fame and glory? This doesn’t happen in America, maybe it was something about Vietnamese culture, possibly Buddhist values. We’ll never know.

The game itself is as simple as they come, all you have to do is tap the screen to make the bird “flap” its wings and fly. All you have to do is time this flapping so that the bird flies through the obstacles. If you don’t flap in time the bird loses altitude, if you flap too often it soars too high. That’s all there’s to it.

What made the game popular is that it is also impossibly difficult. Stupid bird crashes all the time no matter how hard you try, and you don’t really have to try hard at anything – just tap the screen. This combination between simplicity and difficulty hooked millions of people on.

flappy-bird-screenshot

Giving it up without getting some respectable score feels like a defeat and no one wants to admit it, and getting a respectable score takes a lot of effort and practice. I don’t even know what respectable score is, I asked a teenage girl and she said she got 21 so I got an idea what to aim for. It is a genuine time waster, that game, but I noticed something very illuminating about it and decided to run an experiment.

Success in this game requires concentration, it requires some basic motor skills but nothing major, it doesn’t give you breaks and leaves no room for failure, and you get better as you play along. Sounds like our attempts at self-realization.

Developing skills required to play well is a mechanical process – as you practice your body (eye, mind, finger) learns certain patterns of behavior as obstacles come in patterns, too. Some of them might appear scary and impossible at first but soon you’ll learn how to navigate through, it’s just a matter of trying and spotting them early on.

Hitting the obstacles is like our falldowns – they end the game. In our devotional life we don’t accumulate strikes either, we either follow our vows or we don’t. If we fail it’s not the end of the world but, like in the game, we have to start over. Might not sound terribly important to older devotees but if you are waiting for first or second initiation then no slip ups allowed, you have to start your probationary period again.

Even if we talk about little falldowns, like eating chocolate, the same principle still applies – we have to pick ourselves up and lead an absolutely clean life if we want to achieve any success in developing genuine devotion. We cannot maintain any material attachments and hope to progress – there’s no progress for those who commit offenses against the Holy Name, just stumbling around in the same place, breathing the smoke from wet wood and not getting any fire or warmth.

Yet following our principles and vows as well as restraining our material aspirations is a mechanical process, our body and mind can be trained for it and we get better with time. We can foresee patterns in our falldowns and we can learn how to avoid these traps as well as what to do in emergency situations.

It’s exactly the same as navigating through this game.

Then there’s a question of “level”. In our books devotees are remembered by their best achievements. We don’t know how Pahlāda Mahārāja lived the rest of his life, or Bali Mahārāja, or what devotees from Caitanya Caritāmṛta did between their visits to Jagannātha Purī. When we tell stories about our contemporary devotees we talk about their best achievements, too, unless you are one of those who’d rather dwell on others’ mistakes.

When you ask people about their level in the game they’d assume it means their record score, that’s how all games judge players progress. No one judges himself by lowest scores but sometime we judge others by their early exits, just like in real life.

So, for the experiment, I decided to play the game for an hour and enter each score into a spreadsheet and then make a chart. It looks like this:

flappyBirdAverage

I’ve played 200 rounds which was just a few minutes over an hour, my best score is 22 and the red line is my average. It’s not a “moving average” of the last five rounds, for example, but the average of all values from the start up until that particular point. At the end of the hour my average was 4.

What level am I?

You can see that I have hit plenty of zeroes, those are like hard falldowns, and that my post popular scores were two to five, which are like eating chocolate or ice cream.

You can also see that high scores repeat at roughly the same intervals. It was uncanny – as I was recording the scores I practically knew when the next high was going to come up. It was roughly at the bottom of each page before I had to scroll down as I entered numbers into a column.

This is what happens with my chanting, too – good days come at intervals and in between I don’t even expect much anymore, nor do I get super excited about short periods of really good japa.

What’s my level then?

The average line is interesting, too – it went up in the first half an hour or so but then got stable, just as it happens with devotees – they make a lot of quick progress in the first couple of years but then hit the wall, or rather reach the ceiling. As I got tired the average even started to decline, which is what we observe after many years of devotional practice, too.

Now, I started the hour with a number 21 in my head as a reasonable score. After I hit 22 I thought I had achieved my goal and didn’t really try anymore. Isn’t it what happens with our devotional lives, too? When we don’t expect any miracles anymore and think that our best years of service are behind us?

Also, the last few rounds people expect to be the best of all – go out with a bang, as they say. That’s not what happened to me at all. Would it be the same when death comes knocking? We expect to be on our best behavior, to be totally absorbed in Kṛṣṇa but in reality it could be worst time of our lives and we go out with a whimper instead.

The more I look at this chart the more I see how everything in this world acts under the same laws and follows the same patterns. What does it mean for our devotion? Or should we, perhaps, approach it quite differently if usual patterns don’t look promising? This needs to be explored.

There’s another thing that I didn’t get to see today – how after playing enough rounds one can develop a real skill that seems impossible to ordinary people like me. It’s like sure, everybody knows how to run but running on the Olympic level is done on a completely different level. Is it possible to observe this transition with this little game? If so, would it be possible to achieve this in our devotional lives, too? How would that work? How long would I have to practice? Will it come as one monumental shift or would the rise be slow?

Looks like I need more experiments. It’s for the science of Kṛṣṇa consciousness so it’s okay

Vanity thought #925. Life as a born again pig

Today, the ekādaśī, is the first time I was able to withdraw from eating again since I stopped “fasting” last Saturday. These past four days have been challenging and exhausting.

First thing I noticed when I resumed eating was that it’s a very time and energy consuming business. What to eat? When? How much? How often? How to match foods? When to cook? When to go shopping? What to cook?

That’s just the first stage of attack. Second stage comes with actual eating and digesting. It’s a big strain on one’s body, by the end of the day I was exhausted. My stomach was working fine but it felt like my entire day was dedicated to processing food. Now, four days later, I got used to it but it still feels like heavy lifting.

Today’s ekādaśī, as I said, and it gave me a legitimate opportunity to take a break from that aggravation. What a relief! I had a couple of glasses of juice and nighttime milk still awaits but that doesn’t count as eating, does it? Juice, or even water, kills approaching feeling of hunger and my body hasn’t accumulated enough toxins yet to trigger a headache so life is good. I feel light and peaceful. Not much energy to run around but that’s not what I do everyday anyway so there’s no loss there. I should seriously reconsider my relationships with food and eating.

This is where I run into a problem – I don’t know what the proper relationship should be. Eating as usual is too stressing, eating nothing is unsustainable in the long run. Eating less is tricky – once you start it’s difficult to stop.

I don’t consider cutting myself half way through a meal as control of the senses, if I feel like I want to eat I should eat, renunciation is non-devotional, it’s an artificial tool that one day will backfire and unfulfilled senses will eventually find their counterparts, sense objects. Fasting or restraining oneself from eating hardens one’s heart, too – devotees should not be forcing their bodies to reject Kṛṣṇa’s energy and mercy in the form of prasāda, we should be embracing it instead.

Renunciation also stresses one’s mind and intelligence into fighting hunger instead of thinking of Kṛṣṇa. These resources are limited, mind is strongly attracted to lots of things as it is, we should try to reduce its distractions, not add some more in the form of jonesing for food.

So, if I want to eat I should eat. Problem is that eating leads to wanting to eat more, just like sex or any other addiction. This is another manifestation of māyā’s force – prakṣepātmikā-śakti, the one that drags us down. It’s like a quicksand or a bog – you step into it and immediately you start to sink. The more you try to escape the deeper you sink, staying completely still is your best option to slow it down and you’ll need external help and support if you want to survive.

I wonder if it at all possible – finding the proper diet by gradually reducing one’s food intake. I wonder if approach from opposite direction would be faster – total fasting and eating only when it feels absolutely necessary.

This approach establishes a baseline – no sense indulgence at all, and then adds only what is unavoidable. The correct amount of food is determined not only by what the body really needs to sustain itself but also by how it feels against the baseline.

This sensitivity to how much is too much is there though it does not develop if we overeat everyday. It’s like an alcoholic who can describe himself only as being more or less drunk vs a sober person who feels effect of even very little alcohol right away. Another example is sex – a brahmacārī can sense even the tiniest sexual desire while a person addicted to women’s company becomes less and less sensitive to the grossest pornography. Similarly, after not eating for some time one becomes very sensitive to pleasure derived from indulging one’s tongue.

It feels like an external force acting one one’s mind or like a cloud affecting one’s judgment. The trouble, though, is not only in how it feels but in that it distracts our mind from its natural attraction to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Mind is an element governed by the mode of goodness, remember, left on its own it will learn to appreciate Kṛṣṇa more than anything else. Influenced by hunger or lust it will become contaminated and will become our greatest enemy.

We can’t appreciate Kṛṣṇa if we don’t learn to keep our minds clean.

By Kṛṣṇa I mean our local manifestations – books, orders of the guru, lectures, association with devotees etc. Discovering Kṛṣṇa’s actual form is not on the list yet.

Yesterday’s post covered exactly the same topic – indulgence in materialistic affairs cuts us off from Lord Caitanya’s mercy. It’s still there, sort of, but more in a form of non-liquid assets – we can’t use it for our spiritual advancement right away, we have to wait until we die or until we are relieved from our material obligations. While at it we are also bound to make mistakes and get ourselves in troubles for which the Lord doesn’t want to take any responsibility, we are on our own.

Lord Caitanya might have given us the easiest method of self-realization but it’s still self-realization, it still has to take us through the same steps as other, more difficult forms of yoga. Mind has to be withdrawn from the senses all the same. We are supposed to achieve this through eating prasāda but that still means that we are supposed to learn how to stop eating for own pleasure.

What I propose here is not eating anything at all and then learning to sustain ourselves on only minimum necessary quantities of the said prasāda. This we can’t do artificially, however, most of the time eating nothing is not an option but I posit that eventually, perhaps after consuming a mountain of prasāda equal to the size of Govardhana, it will come naturally. This pig like lifestyle is NOT natural, our bodies do not require food, not in these quantities anyway, desire to eat is the external force, it comes from the modes of nature and from our karma, not from our soul and not from our bodies themselves which are inanimate objects after all. Interaction between senses and sense objects does not arise by itself but only under the influence of the Lord through presiding demigods. It’s external to our pure consciousness.

I don’t know when or if I’ll have a chance to test this theory on myself, for now I’m prepared to wait for the opportunity. I’ve got a taste and I know what I want, eventually the Lord or His material energy WILL provide for it, hopefully in not too distant future.

Vanity thought #924. Preaching problems

Saṇkīrtana, or preaching the glory of the Holy Name, is the yuga dharma for this age but this being the age of Kali even saṇkīrtana brings problems. How so?

Well, a lot of our ISKCON problems are blamed on improper preaching. That has started even when Śrila Prabhupāda was present. Japan was a hot spot and so was Nigeria. Devotees complained to Prabhupāda about “wrong” preaching techniques all the time. At least once he answered that the end justifies the means and so whoever distributes lots of books is doing it right.

Longer term effect, however, needs to be assessed differently and I’m sure there are Prabhupāda quotes to clarify that books needs to be distributed honestly, as a preaching effort, not as some sort of a scam.

So, even book distribution is not immune to creating problems, what to speak of regular fund raising in the name of saṇkīrtana. We better get used to screwing things up every now and then, it’s impossible to be perfect by these material standards – that everybody should be happy about our preaching all the time with no negative consequences ever. By spiritual standards every contact with Kṛṣṇa is beneficial but we don’t see it that way with our material minds and intelligence so problems will be there.

Even Lord Caitanya couldn’t escape it.

Let’s see – He discovered the congregational chanting of Kṛṣṇa’s names and tried to spread all over Navadvīpa. There were obstacles, sure, but I’m not talking about those, I’m talking about problems arising from saṇkīrtana itself. First it was His childhood friends who openly questioned the value of glorifying such adulterous characters as gopīs and Kṛṣṇa. They were speaking out of ignorance and it was a blasphemous talk but Lord Caitanya couldn’t do anything – they were His equals with an equal say and an equal right to an opinion. He wasn’t an authority for them.

So, instead of benefiting the whole humanity He ended up with encouraging offenses by “rational” thinkers of His age. Not the intended outcome.

His solution was to take sannyāsa. That gave Him immediate authority, no one would dare to object Him and no one would dare to offend objects of His devotion. This looked like an ideal solution. The Lord went on preaching tours all over India and spread Gauḍīyā Vaiṣṇavism everywhere, converting Muslims, strict South Indian brāhmaṇas, and even attracting devotees of Lord Rāmacandra to worship of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇ.

Perfect, right? Not so fast.

Problems started almost immediately as the Lord settled in Jagannātha Purī. There was the case with Amogha who criticized the Lord for eating too much. Taking prasāda is legitimate spiritual activity for Gauḍīyā devotees, sannyāsa or not, but in the broader spiritual culture it was viewed as inappropriate. The Lord took advantage of mundane adoration for sannyāsīs but it came with side effects, too – He had to comply with standards of behavior of non-devotee renunciates.

The Lord was accused of eating too much on another occasion by godbrother of His guru, Rāmacandra Purī. That devotee didn’t get any praise in Caitanya Caritāmṛta but guru’s godbrother must be respected no matter what he does so Lord Caitanya had to go on a diet. That wasn’t the full extent of the problem, though – other devotees didn’t like it and I’m sure it contributed to their dissatisfaction with Rāmacandra Purī regarding some other, legitimate topics, too. I’m sure some of them developed a rather offensive attitude because even Gadadhāra Paṇḍita got some flak for accepting Rāmacandra Purī as a guest and listening to him.

The whole atmosphere was unhealthy and life returned back to normal only after Rāmacandra Purī’s departure to some other place. With Rāmacandra Purī it would have been awkward regardless but being sannyāsī Lord Caitanya made himself into an easy target even if He didn’t do anything wrong.

Then there was also a problem with local king, Pratāparudra Rāya, who wanted the audience of the Lord but that was impossible due to the same sannyāsa limitations. As a sannyāsī the Lord could preach everywhere and convert everyone but He couldn’t preach to the rich and powerful, and it’s the rich and powerful who set up rules and provide role models for the society to follow. Without converting them preaching would not be effective.

This, however, points to another, larger underlying problem – saṇkīrtana is not for everyone but only for the most pure souls. We’d love to take everyone on board but only they completely if give up all their material interests. Unfortunately, we do not take this prescription seriously and so while our interest in Kṛṣṇa remains our ability to obtain Lord Caitanya’s mercy disappears. We just can’t get it anymore. The Lord came here to give pure love of God to everyone but we excuse ourselves and rather use His boon for our own self-gratification.

Does it still benefit us? Yes, it does. Does it please Lord Caitanya? Not in the least.

There is a chapter in Caitanya Caritāmṛita (CC Antya 9) that describes problems created for the Lord by less than stellar behavior of some of His devotees.

Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers were employed in various government positions where they had access to large amounts of money which they misused on inappropriate things like watching “dancing girls”. This led one of them, Gopīnātha Paṭṭanāyaka, into serious debt. I don’t know how much dancing girls charge but when he offered his horses to settle the debt it wasn’t enough. In one place it’s mentioned that his entire property wasn’t valuable enough to pay back whatever he squandered.

This being Kali Yuga, one thing led to another and soon he was facing capital punishment. Then another brother got arrested, too, probably on some other embezzlement charge. All the devotees rushed to Lord Caitanya for help and that greatly upset Him. What He saw ws the King asking what was rightfully his and devotees getting themselves into trouble over sense-gratification. Having considered the circumstances, He refused to help and advised to beg mercy from Lord Jagannātha instead.

We should all take note here – we can’t count on Lord Caitanya’s mercy to help us with our petty sins. He doesn’t like being involved into our materialistic affairs and it’s not what He descended on this planet for. We are on our own as soon as we decide to make a living for ourselves here. Lord’s mercy is withdrawn from hypocrites who want the benefits of both worlds – material and spiritual, it’s only available to those who completely renounce all selfish interests and surrender to the Lord with all their hearts and souls.

This shouldn’t be injunction only in relation to the Lord Caitanya but in relation to our ISKCON, too. We preach to everyone but we can’t solve everyone’s problems and we really shouldn’t. As Lord Caitanya’s representatives it’s not our job either.

As fellow strugglers, however, it would be unthinkable for us not to offer help. In the case with Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers it was devotee intervention that saved them. Kāśī Miśra met up with the King and reminded him that it was Lord’s devotees who got themselves in trouble. Luckily, the King would have never done anything to harm Lord’s servants and instead of punishment rewarded Gopīnātha Paṭṭanāyaka with bigger salary.

Basically Kāśī Miśra cashed in the Lord’s glory while Mahāprabhu didn’t have to do anything himself. It all worked out in the end and the Lord delivered His mercy in the form of instructions for the future but what we should learn is that He doesn’t like being involved at all.

Also, we aren’t Rāmānanda Rāya’s brothers, we might not get as lucky. We are actually entirely on our own, so it’s surrender in full or slowly die at the hands of our karma without ever attaining love of God.

Vanity thought #923. Learning from the “best”

The name Benjamin Franklin is widely respected throughout the world as one of the best people ever lived – he was a scientist, and a polymath at that, and one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, the “best” country there ever was. Means nothing to us but maybe we can learn a few lessons from him, too.

I saw an article about one particular mind trick that is attributed to Franklin which I found very interesting. There were many technical terms casually dropped there like “cognitive dissonance” and “naïve realism”, which are fascinating topics in themselves, and so a question can be asked – should I even bother commenting on “Franklin Effect” if I don’t know the first thing about psychology? My answer is yes – Franklin didn’t know the first thing about psychology either, he “invented” his effect when psychology as we know it didn’t exist and Freud hadn’t been born yet.

I haven’t been able to find an elegant, concise definition of Ben Franklin effect and his own description was rather wordy but the gist of it is this – we develop better opinions of people we help than of people who help us. The counterpart is that we grow to hate people we harm.

The trick here is that usually we expect things to happen in reverse – we like people so we help them and we hate people so we harm them – thoughts and attitudes come before actions. Franklin observed that it often the opposite.

Usually, actions are last things in the chain that starts with desires. We want something, we think about it, we make plans, we wait for the opportunities, then we act. The entire “Eastern” wisdom is based on this chain – that we should start changing our lives by changing out thoughts. That’s what our mantra meditation is for – to purify our minds, and, as we all know, it gradually leads to purifying our actions and, hopefully, to taking us out of this miserable world altogether.

Franklin bet the opposite way and found it a very useful technique in dealing with people, as a politician it was very important to him.

Say you have an enemy that hates your guts, make him do something nice to you and he’ll start to like you without you making any changes in your own behavior. Works like magic.

There was one study to observe this in action, in short it went like this – two groups of people were invited to take part, one group was paid 10 dollars for participation and the other 200. They were both given long, mind numbing and tedious tasks, like turning square pegs one quarter turn at a time for half an hour. There was a guy there intently recording proceedings to keep people from rebelling and make it look like an actual experiment. After the task participants were asked to describe what they thought of the activity.

Turns out that people who got paid 200 were brutally honest and said it was two most boring hours of their lives while people who got nothing, only 10 dollars, described the activity as stimulating and engaging.

This happens because we need to justify our behavior. People who got paid well thought they got all justification they need already, people who got nothing had to become creative and come up with imaginary explanations.

Franklin used this trick early in his life when he asked one of his opponents to lend him a rare book. He didn’t even read it but returned it a week later with a thank you note. His nemesis had to justify his small act of civility and he did that by changing his opinion of Franklin, eventually taking his name from his enemy list.

Neat, huh? Should try this in internet trolls.

Despite this effect going against our common explanations and not having any particular name in our Kṛṣṇa conscious literature we still employ it quite often. It’s the whole basis of our sādhana bhakti, for example. We do nice things for guru and Kṛṣṇa and we hope that doing this without actual devotion will eventually change our attitude to that of real bhakti.

One common explanation why sādhana bhakti works is that doing it satisfies our guru and by his mercy we get the actual bhakti but Franklin effect adds something to it, too – we naturally come to love people we serve, with or without their mercy. It won’t bring us real devotion by itself but this change in attitude is very important if we want to persevere in our service.

Sadly, we all know that relying only on observable results isn’t very motivating in our practice, especially if we commit offenses and cut ourselves from the nectar. Great many devotees have gone astray, fallen down or lost interest in active service, it’s a dark part of our history and inevitable part of present day reality, too. We have explanations why it happens but they don’t seem to hold devotees back in place as effectively as they should. Maybe Ben Franklin effect could help here.

I would even say that when our ISKCON leaders thought about the problem of dissatisfied devotees they came up with the wrong solutions – making our lives more comfortable and establishing many “caring” ministries. They thought these would be incentive enough to make people like us but, personally, I think they make people feel cheated. We don’t give much value to, for example, hotel receptionists or wait stuff hospitality, and why should we? They work and smile for tips. It’s like the infamous “How are you” non-questions.

What would really make people like ISKCON is volunteering. Ben Franklin effect explains volunteering very nicely – the more people give, the more they like the object of their service, the more selfless they are, the more they appreciate it.

To be fair, this hasn’t escaped our leaders altogether, community engagement is as important to us as public relations. Still, whatever trick we use to keep people in is still a trick, it doesn’t come from genuine, personal appreciation for their service and their value as Kṛṣṇa seeking individuals.

Another application of this effect can be found in Śrila Prabhupāda famous rejection of giving away our books for free like Christians do with their Bibles. People must give something, he said. He didn’t know of Franklin effect but he knew that if they give some money they would appreciate our books more. Even if they don’t know how or what for but they will come up with explanations why our books are worth their donation, sometimes very substantial.

Another typical application of this effect is “foot in the door” technique taught to every salesman but I don’t want to go there. What we should remember is that it works with developing devotional attitude when we don’t feel like serving anybody. We should do it against our will anyway and let our minds themselves convince us why it’s important.

It would be exploiting our minds natural weakness to make them into our friends, a very useful technique, I’d say. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin.

Vanity thought #922. Hare Krishna Hare Rama

I believe I wrote about this before but that seems to have been long time ago while the point still stands as important as ever. It’s very straightforward – at the time of confusion or indecision we should simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.

Practical application, however, does not happen as often as expected. We just don’t comprehend the profundity of the solution. Most of the time we don’t think it apples and when we do we don’t think that it really IS the best choice. Consider the situation described in this meme:

What to do if this happens? It’s not a hypothetical situation, I believe we all have been through variations of it many times in our lives. Devotees are not likely to be so excited about work or study but replace it with service, preaching, and reading books and it suits each and every one of us. Who has never got inspired to turn his life around and become a real servant of guru and Kṛṣṇa?

These are very moving moments, big promises are made to ourselves and to the Lord, tears well up in the eyes and hearts are overwhelmed with humility and devotion. While the rest of the world sleeps in ignorance we think we’ve literally realized that verse from Bhagavad Gita, especially the first part of it (2.69):

    What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.

Should we push on with our inspiration to surrender or should we realize that it’s 1 AM and we are not doing anyone any service by depriving our bodies of necessary rest. It’s probably not the first time either so we know that the morning we won’t feel as charged as expected and that our enthusiasm is likely to be short lived. If we want to do some real service then we should mind our sādhana, which demands being tired at night and supercharged early in the morning, not the other way around. Feelings of devotion are nice but dwelling on them just for our pleasure and, let’s face it, a bit of a pride of being such a great devotee, are not worth a sleepless night. So, should we nurse our scumbag brain to sleep (that’s the meme’s name)?

This is the perfect time to just drop the subject and start chanting, even if only in our minds so as not to wake up everybody else. Would it interfere with our rest? Would it kill our surge of devotion? Would it lull us into sleep? Would it seal the promises we made to the Lord? Answers don’t matter – if we are confused chanting is the best option, let the Lord and His energies sort out the rest.

Think of it this way – as living entities our sole dharma is chanting of the Holy Name, everything else is secondary. Sādhana is important but only as a tool that leads to chanting, not on its own. When we know what we have to do and we have our orders then executing them is the only acceptable course of action because that would lead to better chanting, because guru gives orders to make us into better devotees. If we don’t have any particular orders then we are expected to chant on our own. Sleeping, eating, mating, and defending have to wait.

In this particular case – if we can’t sleep we have to chant, as easy as that. Chanting also helps separate our utsāha-māyī, false enthusiasm, from actual devotion that manifests only through pure chanting, unadulterated with any mundane emotions or considerations. Incidentally, it also helps to sleep.

Other situations might be more serious, like decisions we have to make publicly when people expect us to take charge of things and display knowledge and determination. Can we shirk away from this responsibility and start chanting instead of making a decision? No and yes, absolutely.

We can’t blame our indecisiveness on Kṛṣṇa (we are facing the problem of being unable to make a decision, after all) so we can’t say “Let me chant a few rounds, maybe God will help.” That would be presumptuous and would likely elicit scorn and ridicule, which is not what people should associate the Lord with in their minds.

If we can’t ask for a timeout and we have to make a decision – what’s the best and fastest way? Society teaches us that we should think harder, Śrila Prabhupada teaches us that we should put our faith in Kṛṣṇa’s hands and become totally dependent on Him. This, however, doesn’t mean that we should stop thinking when we need to. So, think or chant?

Chant, even if only in our minds. Thinking is the process driven by the modes of nature and time acting on our knowledge, memories and previous experiences. It’s NOT under our control, if we think so we are delusional, we don’t know our actual position in relation to the world around us. We can’t force time, we can’t change our accumulated knowledge, we can’t change prevalent modes of nature, we can’t change our memories, we can’t change laws of reason and logic that help us arrive at the conclusion – these are all mechanical things outside of our control.

People who observe decision making processes for a living like, for example, teachers or advertisers, know these mechanics very well and with experience they can predict “our” decisions with a hundred percent accuracy. All our decisions have explanations even if not logical but emotional ones which means that the reasoning is already there, we just don’t see it yet but it WILL become visible in the future.

So, what’s stopping us from chanting? Nothing. It won’t stop neither the time nor the guṇas nor the outcome, which is determined by our karma anyway. If our brain is supposed to produce a particular decision, be it based on logic, emotions, or a toss of a coin, we can’t stop it and we can’t make it come any faster, so chant.

Approaching this from another angle – knowledge and remembrance come from the Supersoul anyway, what’s better way to appease Him and elicit His help than chanting the Holy Name?

And, like lulling ourselves into sleep, our chanting is so pathetic that our minds actually work faster and better when we do it rather than when we actually sit and brainstorm solutions, so no loss there anyway.

Oh, and today I saw a band performing on stage (on TV) and they were singing George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and mumbling Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Rāma in the background though I’m sure they had not a slightest idea what that was about. Sweet.

Vanity thought #921. Fighting temptations – pride

Here’s another nasty feature of the material world that comes into our hearts and destroys any hope of attaining devotion – pride. It’s one of the six greatest enemies of the mind or six effects of māyā – kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and mātsarya. Pride here is mada, which is also the word for intoxication.

Interestingly, pride is also one of the seven ingredients of mahābhāva, which isn’t that surprising because that list also includes things like anger and envy. When it’s related to Kṛṣṇa it’s all good and one is allowed to be proud of becoming a pure devotee of the Lord, as was stated by Śrila Prabhupāda many times.

Pride which destroys us comes from mundane fame, pratiṣṭhā. This was specifically mentioned by Lord Caitanya in his instructions to Rūpā Gosvāmī (CC Madhya 19.159) as one of the unwanted creepers that might grow alongside bhakti.

Pride being bad as it is, it also compounds our sufferings because it often becomes the cause of anger, as was evident from the episode of great sage Durvāsā Muni becoming angry with Mahārāja Ambarīṣa. IIRC, Durvāsā Muni thought he was so great and important that he expected Mahārāja Ambarīṣa to drop his concerns with proper rules of breaking the ekādaśī and become concerned with attending to Durvāsā Muni first. This lead to Sudarṣana Cakra chasing Durvāsā Muni all over the universe because no one messes with Lord’s devotees. Pride, anger, offense, death – that is the karmic chain of events that we should always be aware of. Durvāsā Muni survived, luckily for him, but we are not great sages and will be crushed.

If sex is the gold standard of unwanted temptations, pride, in some ways, is even worse. For sex to take over your mind you need a counterpart, either in person or in imagination, but pride can creep in completely on its own and at any time. Sexual urges require suitable body – it doesn’t affect children and even old people are usually spared but anyone can be affected by pride, even dogs. Oof, oof, grr, grr – I’m such a powerful dog, don’t come near me.

Pratiṣṭhā implies adoration by other people yet we can manage to be proud of ourselves entirely on our own. We just have to set some standards and achieve them, that’s all. It’s so easy – complete sixteen rounds early in the morning – great achievement, congratulate yourself and ruin the rest of the day by doing it. Fasting is another great source of pride – look at me, I’m such a great yogī, māyā has no power over me, I control my senses. This, of course, is māyā talking, not you, so pride also leads to delusion.

If you look at it this source of pride it becomes clear that pride, in its essence, is a willful acceptance of illusion of being our bodies. If we become pure devotees and attain pure spiritual bodies then pride rising from that achievement is purely spiritual and to be commended, so pride by itself is okay but pride that leads to illusion is not. I still don’t quite get it but who am I to argue? I mean – do people in the spiritual world walk around full of pride like ordinary ***holes down here? I hope not but who knows.

If pride is so bad, how can we avoid it? I’m afraid it’s not possible. It looks like pride is an essential, defining feature of being a conditioned soul. Pride is liking our illusory identity and satisfaction with our given bodies and this is one of two functions of māyā – āvaraṇātmika. It makes us feel satisfied with ourselves in ANY position, no matter how low. We can’t avoid it, it’s what makes us live here in the first place.

So, if we can’t avoid it, how do we deal with it? Rejecting it would be the wrong option, it would be false renunciation stemming from desire for liberation, which is deeply impersonal in nature. As devotees we need to learn how to see pride in relation to the Lord just as we need to learn to see the rest of the creation of as Lord’s energy and all happenings down here as Lord’s pastimes with the dumbest of the souls. I mean we don’t like interacting with the Lord in the spiritual worlds and prefer to deal with Him manifested as māyā – how dumb is that?

There is another way pride is worse than sex – sex we can simply avoid altogether, never think of it, never acknowledge its existence, purge it our from our consciousness. We can’t do that with pride, it will always be there as long as we identify ourselves with our bodies, there’s no escape.

Here we have to keep in mind that pride is a relative term. As a mere satisfaction with being in illusion we feel it only ourselves but as this satisfaction grows other people notice our self-importance and that’s when we get pratiṣṭhā, mundane glory, and that’s when they start talking about our pride. Does it mean we are too far gone? No. Can we stop it? Not really.

It’s the same Lord’s energy awarding us results of our karma, just as this birth is the result of our karma or our paina and happiness are the results of our karma, there’s no qualitative difference, sometimes we get more, sometimes we get less, we have to learn to deal with it regardless. Likewise, if we manage to disassociate ourselves from illusion it won’t matter how much karma is coming our way, when qualitative difference is there, quantity doesn’t matter.

In that sense big pride noticed by others is better – it’s easier to recognize, understand, and accept as external to our being, subtle pride of simply being “ourselves” is much harder to see and much harder to separate ourselves from. Perhaps we should start with dealing with big pride first, learn how it feels, learn how to respond, and then tune our consciousness to recognize it in progressively subtler forms. I’ve never heard this prescribed anywhere but it makes sense.

To make it clear – we should see mundane recognition as results of our karma, it comes and goes according to the laws of nature, nothing to do with ourselves being great or small, and recognition for any devotional practices comes due to guru and Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, nothing to do with ourselves either. If we see the cause of fame as separate from ourselves we would not give in to pride so easily. We’d see it as external and related to our bodies, not to our souls. It would be: “Yeah, if I were to assume my bodily identity I’d feel very proud at this moment but since I’m not this body then I’d rather not, it has nothing to do with me and it’s very dangerous.”

Easier said than done but there’s no other way – illusion is defeated with knowledge and knowledge starts with theories, not realizations. At least we’d know what we need to know.

Vanity thought #920. Fast but not furious

Fasting is actually a non-devotional practice and should be avoided and we don’t have any prescriptions to fast in our sādhana. This doesn’t sound right at first but it’s the fact, afaik.

On vaiṣṇava holidays we usually fast until noon but those aren’t fasts – it’s just good manners – do not eat until festivities are over. Same for Gaura Pūrṇima and Janmāṣṭamī – we are not fasting, we are just waiting for the Lord to come to dinner. Ekādaśī isn’t a real fast either, we just avoid certain kinds of food and there are no restrictions on how much we can eat what is allowed.

Fasting is a big thing in all the other schools but it makes no sense for practicing bhakti-yoga because of the prasāda thing – eating is actually service, can’t have too much of it.

There’s more to it, though – it’s really non-devotional, I mean harmful, I mean it shouldn’t be done, it should be avoided. Why?

First of all, there’s yukta-vairāgya as opposed to phalgu-vairāgya or śuṣka-vairagya, as Śrila Prabhupāda explained in the purport to this injunction by Caitanya Mahāprabhu (CC Madya.23.105):

    …the Lord forbade dry renunciation and speculative knowledge in all respects.

Here – it’s forbidden!

On one hand fasting is a karmic activity, people do it for all kinds of materialistic reasons – to lose weight, to look better, to detox, to fit into old clothes, to obtain some boons described in the scriptures. Fasting is a tapasyā, a sort of a sacrifice. You do something and you expect something in return.

We don’t do that, it’s an anartha.

On the other hand fasting is an impersonalist activity for those who desire liberation, both jñānīs and yogīs. Their whole existence is aimed at stopping interactions with material energy, which they don’t see as being under Lord’s control and that’s they main problem – they don’t want to be devotees, they want to be independent from the Lord. They don’t want to serve Him and they don’t want to serve His energy – māyā.

We don’t do that, it’s suicide, it’s driven by envy.

On the ordinary level fasting is perceived as a difficult task and so pride and potential fame become one of the driving factors. At least people want to prove it to themselves that they can do it if no one else is interested. It makes one feel good about himself – look at me, I’m such a powerful renunciate, I can control my senses, I can defeat hunger.

Devotees don’t do that, we don’t seek neither fame nor control over anything. It’s māyā.

Anytime anyone starts talking about fasting we should avoid that conversation because those selfish materialistic aspirations will contaminate our consciousness. We can’t listen to people who seek a boost to their pride or to their powers, it’s as bad as listening to them going on about sex.

Fasting should be rejected, period.

Why am I doing it myself then?

Well, I’m not fasting, I haven’t taken any vows and I didn’t make any promises. When people asked me about it I didn’t have any objectives in mind. I don’t have any particular goals so I can’t judge whether I’m successful in my “fast” or not. I don’t have any rules either – I’m not juicing, I eat fruit, I drink milk, I had yogurt – it doesn’t fit into any known fasting pattern and I don’t care.

When people go on a diet they have a list of “don’ts” and so when they slip up they feel guilty. I don’t have any “don’ts”, I have nothing to feel guilty about.

When people go on a diet they are prepared to fight with hunger, it’s a tough mental battle against your stomach. I’m not hungry, I don’t exert any mental force to keep my “fast” going. If I was hungry I would have quit right away – because fasting is non-devotional, remember.

I don’t know what happened to me. It wasn’t long time ago when I complained that my body is too old for fasting but during this last ekādaśī I suddenly felt like eating is not for me anymore. I spent the rest of that week wondering if I could stop it at all and when Monday came I simply tried to do it. I skipped all meals until dinner and when people asked me what I was going to eat I still wasn’t sure if I was up to it and decided to fast only at the last moment, after consulting with my stomach if it was going to be okay. It’s been okay ever since.

Somehow my body’s baseline shifted, thanks to some devotees I suddenly realized that eating is not that important, that we can survive perfectly fine on very very little, and that our “normal” dietary demands are only in our minds. Once that mental barrier to the possibility of not eating was gone everything became very easy.

I’m going to resume eating tomorrow but I still don’t know why. Normally the question is “why are you fasting?” but for me it has become “why eat at all?” – there aren’t any compelling reasons to.

There’s nothing unusual about this – it’s how we feel about eating meat – we don’t need a reason to avoid it, we can’t figure out the reason why we should and why people consider it food at all. It’s like no one is craving for dog food, devotees don’t crave for meat, and now it happened that my body doesn’t crave for food at all.

Physiological key to this is also very simple – once the body switches from digesting food to drawing on storage of fat it doesn’t need food anymore and it doesn’t feel hunger. It has everything it needs right there – in the fat tissue, it isn’t lacking anything. Well, I give it some vitamins and salt so it’s all good.

Would I recommend it to anyone? Umm, not fasting, no, but I would recommend the realization that food is extraneous to our existence. Do I have it? Can I share it? Not really, it’s just that I read something and it stuck in my head. I’ve read that many times before without getting any funny ideas but this time it struck, I don’t know why or how.

My obsession with this “fast” is non-devotional, too, and this entire article is self-centered but I thought these things need to be clarified.

It’s not true that I don’t feel any pride in myself or I don’t feel any interest in losing fat or I don’t feel any interest in food at all, or even hunger itself – I do, but to a degree that can be easily overlooked. The only problem was the headache in the first two days but that was because of toxins, not fasting itself, and I felt it was okay to tolerate it and wait until toxins get expelled. There were no problems ever since and I even tried living only on water, like today. Yet I WILL have a cup of warm milk before sleep because I’m not fasting and body needs sustenance even if it doesn’t know it itself.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next week or next month and I don’t want to speculate. After all, I’m not in control, my karma is. What concerns me more is that I haven’t chanted my rounds as well as usual this week. My distractions didn’t seem to have anything to do with fasting but this is the kind of concern that should put things in perspective – chanting comes first, life comes later.

Vanity thought #919. Disappearance day

Today is the disappearance day of three prominent vaiṣṇavas – Śri Puruṣottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, and Gour Govinda Svāmī. It’s not usual for me to write about vaiṣṇava holidays like that but these devotees were truly special.

I don’t know anything about Puruṣottama Ṭhākura, apparently he was an associate of Lord Nityānanda and was one of twelve cowherd boys of Vṛndāvana but that’s all I know. Had I been a real member of Gauḍīyā family it would have made sense for me to learn the names of all the “relatives” but… they don’t know me, I don’t know them. In big picture view I’m one of those mlecchas saved by Śrīla Prabhupāda, a faceless name or a nameless face, one in the crowd. I wasn’t even saved by Prabhupāda but by his followers but that doesn’t really matter.

ISKCON is better defined by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, whose disappearance is also today. Why not Śrīla Prabhupāda? Isn’t he our founder ācārya? Isn’t it disrespectful to him? I hope not, not today. In a big family of Lord Caitanya we, ISKCON, take a very special place, not like any others, and it was Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta who was responsible for this differentiation. He was the one who established our understanding of siddhānta and our sādhana, Śrīla Prabhupāda just faithfully transplanted it to the West. There are only minor differences in rituals between us and Gaudīyā Maṭha but philosophically we are exactly the same, with same values and same moods in our service – preaching first, and nothing else is really important.

Of course modern day Gaudīyā Maṭha devotees might not look exactly like us but that’s the thing I wanted to talk about today – how and why they changed so much after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance.

They had a troublesome history after him, much worse than anything that ever happened in ISKCON, and they didn’t survive. Well, of course they still have many temples but they are not united as an organization and they have long forgotten their preaching mission. Influx of ex-ISKCON devotees has livened up things a bit but after departure of Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja they’ve gone very quiet again, just as they were when Śrīla Prabhupāda brought his dancing white elephants from the West and turned Mayapur upside down.

Incidentally, in Transcendental Diaries Hari Śauri Prabhu describes how ISKCON devotees forgot to sent out invitations for Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s disappearance day and no one came, our big temple was practically empty save for the residents and visiting western devotees and Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t like that at all, of course. It was not how festivals were usually celebrated there even in those days. I hope there were plenty of people in our temple there today.

So, what happened to Gaudīyā Maṭha after Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s departure? How could they disintegrate from the most dynamic preaching movement in Indian history into a loose collection of unrelated and often hostile temples? The obvious answer, of course, is that they didn’t follow the order to establish a Governing Body Committee but rather tried to select a single successor ācārya. What happened is that if no one was really qualified they didn’t actually have an ācārya and without an ācārya to lead the way they quickly got lost.

Having your own understanding of devotional service and your own ideas how to serve the Lord, however solid, is not enough. One must follow the footsteps of a guru, that’s the only way we, conditioned souls, can do the right thing. No matter how much we know we won’t get anywhere on our own, and, conversely, no matter how inadequate a guru might appear, following him would bring us success. It’s a paradox that not many in our society are ready to admit.

One could object – but most Gaudīyā Maṭha devotees followed their guru(s) even after his departure! That’s not entirely true – they followed self-appointed ācāryas, and to the degree they accepted those ācāryas bogus authority they strayed from the path laid down by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.

What concerns me more, however, is why it happened at all. There were problems while Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was still present and sometimes Śrīla Prabhupāda said that internal squabbles was one of the reasons for his guru’s early departure – he was only sixty-two years old, nothing by the standards set by devotees in our sampradāya, but his leading disciples were spotless according to all available evidence. Yet it was those exemplary devotees who strayed away from their guru’s orders. Why? What changed?

What is it in our psyche that suddenly gives in as soon as our immediate authority leaves? One minute they know everything, next minute they get carried away. And they really knew stuff, realized it rather than understood it on the mental level. Their love for their guru was real and their dedication to service was unquestionable. Even when Maṭha was falling apart they didn’t stop their service, even when they were ostracized and exiled from their community they still didn’t stop their service. Those were real devotees if not liberated souls already, yet they brought entire Gaudīyā Maṭha to its knees. That’s not what they ever wanted, not what they ever contemplated, not what they ever suspected they would do.

We must search our hearts deep and wide for these traces of betrayal, they are there, we aren’t special, but we must guard ourselves from ever letting them grow. Personally, I think the first sign is the belief that we can serve Kṛṣṇa on our own, that we’ve got all education from our guru we need and now can lead the way ourselves. That never happens, it’s only an illusion.

Our Śrīla Prabhupāda was undisputed leader of ISKCON with absolute authority in all matters but he never ever saw himself as independent of his guru’s orders in any possible way. He might not have said it every time he opened his mouth but we’d be foolish to think of him as a man who achieved his powerful position trough his own efforts, that he “deserved” his glory. We will never ever deserve anything in our devotional lives, and neither did Prabhupāda, guru’s mercy is causeless no matter how great we are, and once we get it, it still isn’t ours, it’s always our guru’s.

In the material world we always appear to have some position and some power to control things, that’s what being a conditioned soul means, and we can use this power for good, which is great, but as devotees we are always lowest of the lowest with infinitely small claims to anything. Once we forget that and confuse our spiritual position with our temporary material empowerment we are doomed.

That’s what I think happened to Gaudīyā Maṭha – they misunderstood their material relationships with the world around them for their true spiritual nature. They thought that if they had transferred temple properties and temple authority into their names they’d become owners, free to do whatever they want, blessed with spiritual powers. That’s how it works on the material level but not in our service to Kṛṣṇa, which is thankfully free from any such contaminations.

There’s not a shred of hypocrisy or selfishness in real devotees, otherwise guru and Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t be worthy of worship, they’d be just ordinary materialistic rulers no different from demigods or politicians. What I mean to say is that we can put a label “guru” or “Kṛṣṇa” on anything but it won’t make it spiritual, only selfless devotion would, and that’s how we can separate real bhakti from cheap imitations.

Anyway, today is also disappearance day of Gour Govinda Svāmī. I’ve never met him personally and I only vaguely remember half-listening to his lectures in Bhubaneshvar a couple of weeks before his departure. We left for Mayapur and he left for Vṛndāvana, so to speak. I still didn’t know what I missed. It’s not until his lectures became available on the Internet that I realized that I was in the presence of a pure devotee. Well, I could see him on the vyāsāsana even from very far away and he could have seen my face, so technically “in the presence”.

We never know the value of things given to us until they are taken away, and that is doubly true for vaiṣṇavas – we never appreciate true value of their association until it’s too late.

Oh well, life goes on, there are lessons to be learned and service to be served, we can express our deepest gratitude even when vaiṣṇavas are no longer present, just be careful about not missing the next chance.

Vanity thought #918. Eating is overrated

That’s my main conclusion after three days of fasting. Headaches are almost gone, other symptoms of toxins in the blood are gone, too – white coating on the tongue, bad breath etc. Hunger hasn’t shown up either.

It appears I’m moving onto the next stage of fasting – body switching itself from digesting to using energy stored in fat cells. The transition should not be entirely smooth so there were minutes of lightheadedness and general weakness but once the switch is over everything should be okay.

All I had to eat today was an apple and a glass of juice, and before bed I’ll have another glass of warm milk. Even this I ate only because body needs vitamins, not because I was hungry, which is a very good sign on one hand but leaves me worried on the other.

Once the body gets used to fasting and settles into a new rhythm, which is how it feels already, there will be no need to eat at all, not for a long long time before it burns all the fat. This means that I have no reason to resume eating. I’m sure I can rekindle interest in sabjis and dahls but should I? I will have to find a new diet for myself, one that is not aimed at pleasing senses but only at maintaining health. Am I ready for it? Not really.

Psychologically, I still have fond memories of the days when food mattered to me and I feel a bit apprehensive about not enjoying food ever again. It feels a bit like taking brahmāchari vows – you always have the possibility of marriage in the back of your mind, if you take sannyāsa, however, there’s no coming back. Resuming eating is nothing like breaking vows of celibacy, of course, but, on the other hand, there’s no “marriage” for eating, eating doesn’t lead to progeny, there’s no justification for it but personal sense enjoyment and I don’t want that.

Ultimately, I’ll leave it to my karma. I will eat whatever it is destined for me to eat, I can’t eat more and I can’t eat less, the only change should be in my consciousness and only on the deepest level where modes of nature can’t reach it.

This isn’t a battle with hunger, this isn’t a battle with gluttony, this isn’t a battle with weight, this isn’t a battle with desire to taste delicious things – it’s the fight to become detached from all of it, no matter what happens.

There are precedents from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes for me to follow in this regard. He was a voracious eater and everybody loved to see Him stuff Himself up to the neck but that’s not what He appreciated in His followers and in His own behavior as well.

Lots of times I mentioned the episode with Amogha, son-in-law of Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. He famously sneaked in on Lord Caitanya enjoying a feast prepared by Sārvabhauma and criticized Mahāprabhu for eating way too much for a sannyāsī. Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya threatened to kill him but the Lord said that the criticism was well deserved and so there was no fault in it. He still cured Amogha of his attitude but He didn’t reject the accusation.

On another occasion Rāmacandra Purī, a disciple of Mādhavendra Purī, godbrother of Īṣvara Purī who was Lord’s spiritual master, came to see the Lord. Mahāprabhu treated him with respect despite Rāmacandra Purī being rejected by Mādhavendra Purī himself, which is a lesson for many of our ISKCON devotees, but not for today.

Rāmacandra Purī had one particular habit – he’d encourage people to eat more than they want and then heavily criticize them for being sense enjoyers. He did this to Lord Caitanya, too. At that time the Lord was invited to take prasāda in homes of different devotees everyday, he was booked for weeks ahead, and everyone knew how much food to prepare for Lord’s party, it was a fixed sum for those who bought Lord Jagannātha’s prasāda from the temple. After hearing criticism from Rāmacandra Purī, however, the Lord has decided to cut His daily food in half.

No one was happy about it but this was the new rule and it went on as long as Rāmacandra Purī was present, only after his departure from Purī the Lord resumed taking his usual quantity.

What does it tell us? That the amount of prasāda the Lord was taking everyday didn’t depend on His own needs but on the needs of His devotees. When pressed, the Lord easily reduced it, and even that was probably to the level where His companions and hosts were not still hungry after the meal. On His own the Lord didn’t need much, if any prasāda at all.

Another episode is the story of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvāmī arrival in Purī, which I wrote about earlier. What is relevant to me today is that Raghunatha could have eaten as much prasāda as he wanted, supplied by Lord’s personal servant, yet he thought it would have been sense enjoyment.

He went on from taking food sent to him by the Lord to begging at the temple gates, then to begging at “soup kitchens”, then to collecting prasāda discarded even by the cows. Why? Wouldn’t it have been enough for him to simply take prasāda as Mahāprabhu personally arranged for him? Obviously not, he didn’t see it as rejecting Lord’s mercy either.

Did the Lord chide him for reducing his food intake to ridiculous levels? Not at all, he got praised instead. Did the Lord chide him for not taking a proper care of his body, giving it all the necessary nutrition that comes from balanced diet? Not at all. Just rice with some salt, that’s it.

Later on, in Vṛndāvana, Raghunatha Dasa Gosvāmī ate even less than that. He lived only on a cup of buttermilk every other day. Was he neglecting his own body? Not at all. Was this eating so little harmful to his health? Not at all, he lived to a hundred. Was it disruptive to his daily service? Not at all.

The thing is – eating is overrated. We can live on very little food without any negative effects. Of course we won’t be able to enjoy our senses as much as we can now but that is not our goal anyway. By enjoying senses I don’t mean only tongue and stomach, I mean how we use all the energy that comes from eating so much food – we waste it on trivial pursuits like work, maintaining family lives etc. etc. This energy fuels our aspirations in life whatever they might be but they are not service.

If our service requires us to have strong and powerful bodies then it’s okay, we can eat more to sustain that level of work but if all we do is chant and read books then we don’t need to eat at all, maybe a morsel of food here and there.

And that’s the reality that scares me at the moment, that I’ve done with eating food for good and will always feel guilty about it from now on. Last week I thought it was necessary and prescribed in the śāstra but now I see that it isn’t, that actual amount of food needed for my body maintenance is surprisingly little.

I will pray for the courage to accept this new reality.