Vanity thought #903. Humble beginnings

I’ve just got a message from a kind of “a quote a day” service and it paused me in my tracks, whatever I was doing. Sometimes these things catch you off guard and these occasions are the main reason I keep this kind of subscriptions. It was from one of Śrila Prabhupāda’s purports (CC Madhya 10.119):

    In the beginning, a conditioned soul is bereft of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and is always morose in his material activities. Later, by associating with a pure devotee, one becomes inquisitive to know the Absolute Truth. In this way one begins* to engage in the transcendental service of the Lord. Next, by the Lord’s grace all misconceptions are vanquished and the heart is cleansed of all material dirt. It is only then that the pleasure of transcendental bliss is awakened. By the Lord’s mercy one is completely convinced of the value of devotional service. When one can see the pastimes of the Lord everywhere, he is firmly situated in transcendental bliss. Such a devotee is relieved of all kinds of material desires, and he preaches the glories of the Lord all over the world. These Kṛṣṇa conscious activities separate him from material activities and the desire for liberation, because at every step the devotee feels himself connected with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although such a devotee may sometimes be involved in household life, he is untouched by material existence due to his constant engagement in devotional service. Thus everyone is advised to take shelter of devotional service to become happy and liberated.

* – this star is where I am now, actually, most of the devotees I know. Long way till the end of the paragraph, right?

Sad part is that I’ve been stuck at this place for such a long time I can’t even imagine progressing any further. How long will I need? Decades? Probably lifetimes.

Because I’m not alone in this predicament there must be some bigger things at play here. Maybe we are all meant to chant until our death with no progress whatsoever and then get a new birth in more auspicious circumstances, like in India, for example.

This would make sense, after all this is what pāṇḍās have been telling us all along – we can’t even see the deities unless we are born Hindu, too contaminated to appear in the presence of the Lord. What about assurances given to us by Śrila Prabhupāda then? His promise is also not the only argument against “another birth” theory.

Indians aren’t making any progress themselves. They might be able to walk into the temple of Lord Jàgannātha but they don’t seem to be bathing in the ocean of transcendental bliss either. In many many cases I don’t want to be born as an Indian, they are “developing” their country in a completely wrong direction and even got a rebuke for corruption from Dalai Lama recently:

    “They pray to God but the purpose of their prayer is to make their corrupt life more successful..”

Hard to disagree with this assessment, not that corruption in the West is any better or births in the western countries are more auspicious. They were once, when we were spreading sańkīrtana all over the world, but that phase seems to be over. If you were born in the US right now there’s very little chance you’d be engaged in the kind of preaching that made ISKCON into the hope for the degrading humanity, all that criticism against us is possible only because we don’t preach enough so people talk about all the other things instead.

You could still have a nice birth anywhere, of course, but I’m talking about mass appearance of people who couldn’t quite establish themselves on the spiritual platform and so are born again to taste real transcendental mellows. That’s not happening in the West, it’s not happening in India. Maybe we are done with this planet and with this yuga, maybe we’ll get born in some other universe a bit closer to Lord Caitanya, because I find it hard to believe we are going to be separated from Him and made to worship any other form of the Lord instead.

The roadmap outlined in Prabhupāda’s purport is quite clear about our next goal – we need to cleanse our hearts of all material dirt and vanquish all misconceptions. This means we can’t be transferred to the spiritual world, our work here is not done yet.

We could hope to be born during Lord’s manifested pastimes and be like the gopīs who previously, during Lord Rāmacandra’s time, were sages of Daṇḍakāraṇya and so were not invited for the rāsa dance but were Kṛṣṇa’s intimate devotees anyway. That would make sense and it would be a glorious birth indeed, and this is how learned devotees solved the contradiction of getting a new birth yet being with Kṛṣṇa’s in what He called his dhāma paramaḿ mama. I understand there are arguments about exact circumstances and exact nature of those gopīs but that is not important here.

There’s a problem with this explanation, too – Śrila Prabhupāda clearly writes about devotees who do not yet have Lord’s association, he writes about devotees who can see Lord’s pastimes everywhere instead and then go on preaching Lord’s glories all over the world. This is not about Lord’s associates but about sańkīrtana.

We had our chance here but it seems we blew it. Maybe our hearts are made of stone, maybe our hearts are so dirty that even serving in the sańkīrtana mission doesn’t purify them at once and we need several do-overs.

There’s hope, however – look at dhāmavāsīs, they don’t appear as very advanced and they don’t appear to be enjoying any special spiritual emotions inside yet they are Lord’s eternal associates anyway. This means that externally visible manifestations of transcendental bliss are not required and it’s only a matter of time and patience before we join the Lord Himself, while the process described in Prabhupāda’s purport is a shortcut for those who can’t wait to die and want Lord’s service NOW, in this lifetime.

To be honest, I don’t know if I want to be one of those or the one who just sits and waits. If this greed for service is genuine I’m all for it but more often than not it’s just another manifestation of material hankerings for fame and glory, in which case I’d rather sit quietly.

Ultimately, it’s not like I have a choice, the Lord placed me where I am now and sitting, waiting, and chanting are my primary duties at the moment, so I’ll go get along with it.

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7 comments on “Vanity thought #903. Humble beginnings

  1. Hare Krishna
    The dilemma is solved when we properly appreciate the point made near the beginning of Srila Prabhupada’s purport where he writes, “Later, by associating with a pure devotee, one becomes inquisitive to know the Absolute Truth. In this way one begins to engage in the transcendental service of the Lord.”

    For many of us our material moroseness was initially alleviated when we came into contact with Srila Prabhupada’s books. In my case it was as a young boy in 1972 when I found (was guided to) a copy of Srimad Bhagavatam, canto one, and then later on the Large Krishna Book which I discovered in the local library in 1980. In this way, by Krishna’s grace, I was given the opportunity of “associating with a pure devotee”.

    When devotees eventually realise that Srila Prabhupada is alive and well in his books and that we can ‘associate’ with him by reading his ‘personal ecstasies’, they will understand that they are not alone or without adequate shelter or association during the journey back to the Lord.

    This is not meant in any way to diminish the many wonderful services performed by followers of Srila Prabhupada or the guidance we can all give to others to greater or lesser degrees. The point is that no matter who you may accept as your diksha or shiksa guru, if you are initiated or uninitiated, progress will be had when we take the words (association) of Srila Prabhupada as our heart and soul, and attempt to please him by following his instructions and directives.

    By doing this we are safe. If we ignore or change the instructions of the Acharya to suit our material motives our spiritual growth will be terribly hampered, whether we are a rank-and-file devotee, leader, guru or GBC member.

    • There’s nothing I particularly disagree here but while on this topic – last week I wrote about our reliance on Srila Prabhupada’s books alone as the reason for many of our problems.

      Reading is all very nice until you get to a passage like this (CC Antya 7.53):

        As Svarūpa Dāmodara has said, if one wants to learn the meaning of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, one must take lessons from a realized soul. One should not proudly think that one can understand the transcendental loving service of the Lord simply by reading books. One must become a servant of a Vaiṣṇava. As Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has confirmed, chāḍiyā vaiṣṇava-sevā nistāra peyeche kebā: one cannot be in a transcendental position unless one very faithfully serves a pure Vaiṣṇava. One must accept a Vaiṣṇava guru (ādau gurv-āśrayam), and then by questions and answers one should gradually learn what pure devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is. That is called the paramparā system.

      Simply reading books is not enough. One must also follow the advice given there – “One must accept a Vaiṣṇava guru (ādau gurv-āśrayam), and then by questions and answers one should gradually learn what pure devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is.”

      “Must” is a key word here.

      • Thank you for your reply.

        I don’t disagree with the CC Antya 7.53, but I do understand it from a slightly different angle to yourself. often, Srila Prabhupada would point out the fault of trying to attain Krishna consciousness by the ascending process, simply by ones own efforts in renunciation, scholarship etc, without proper guidance.

        I personally believe that someone learning to love Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada by studying Srila Prabhupada’s books and trying to follow his guidelines and instructions is actually entering into a reciprocal relationship with Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna that is much more than ‘simply by reading books’.

        Studying Srila Prabhupada’s books in the mood of a disciple certainly includes ‘taking lessons from a realized soul’, ‘faithfully serving a pure Vaishnava’ and ‘accepting a Vaishnava guru’. The only other consideration is whether our questions can be answered by Srila Prabhupada. I believe our questions can be answered by Srila Prabhupada through the agency of his books, and through discussing his books in the association of Vaishnavas.

        In these ways, Srila Prabhupada fulfils all the criteria mentioned in the purport regarding a guru/disciple relationship.

        This is not to deny anyone the opportunity to take initiation from and serve whoever they so desire, although the higher principle is service to the pure devotee, not our status as being initiated or uninitiated. We are all individuals and while following sadhu, shastra and guru, there is ample room in Vaishnavism to repose our love and service at the feet of both past and present Vaishnavas without uneeded fear of reprisal or condemnation. All such persons should be praised for their great fortune in taking shelter of the lotus feet of a pure devotee, and welcomed as bona-fide members of the Vaishnava family.

      • “..I do understand it from a slightly different angle..” – under parampara system we don’t get to choose angles, all angles must be approved by a guru or there will be a mess. Basically, we can’t have our own opinions.

        Reading books is reciprocating with Śrila Prabhupada, right, but not following his instructions completely in all respects puts a damper on things. It’s like chanting while making offenses, still beneficial but does not lead to the ultimate goal in the shortest possible way. There’s a ceiling on how much progress we can make while holding onto our anarthas, at some point they should be abandoned.

      • Thanks again.

        Any angle of vision I hold is confirmed by the Vaishnava gurus, and is never my independent opinion, which I agree would be useless. It could well be you who has come to a wrong conclusion. As quoted in your original post:

        Madhya 10.119):
        In the beginning, a conditioned soul is bereft of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and is always morose in his material activities. Later, by associating with a pure devotee, one becomes inquisitive to know the Absolute Truth. In this way one begins* to engage in the transcendental service of the Lord. Next, by the Lord’s grace all misconceptions are vanquished and the heart is cleansed of all material dirt. It is only then that the pleasure of transcendental bliss is awakened. By the Lord’s mercy one is completely convinced of the value of devotional service.

        What I disagreed with was your conclusion, shared by many, which has been allowed to flourish to the detriment of devotional service and surrender to guru. I think you are lumping in “simply by reading” which actually refers to unpurported Vedic literatures, with those that have been purported by our Vaishnava Acharyas.

        I totally agree that “simply by reading” is a foolhardy way to progress. My point was that studying Srila Prabhupada’s books as much much more than “simply reading”. It is actually association with the pure devotee Acharya, where questions are answered and misconceptions are vanquished.

        I also accept that the association of Vaishnava’s in studying these books will help us churn the nectar contained within. But I draw the line at your emphasis that we need a (possibly conditioned soul) to explain the explanations (purports) that the (pure transcendental personality) Srila Prabhupada has already provided. Such a conclusion is actually quite ludicrous, and could well lead to misconceptions.

        Anyone more advanced than us can assist our understanding. They are gurus. But we should never minimise the genuine learning and taste for devotional service that Srila Prabhupada is offering us through the agency of his “living books”, whether we study alone or in a group setting.

      • “Simply reading” means what it means, you add conditions that are not there. In our Gauḍīyā tradition we have only two “unpurported” books – Bhagavad Gīta and Śrimad Bhāgavatam and tons and tons of literature produced by our ācāryas. From Caitanya Caritāmṛta we can see that reading Gīta and Bhāgavatam was perfectly okay in “upurported” form, too. Your distinction is artificial.

        In case of disagreements we should seek clarification from our guru. In this case I know that “simply reading” means avoiding guru’s guidance in our studies, which includes clarification of the meaning and correction of our errors. We all make errors, there’s no exception, so guru’s corrections are necessary.

        If you disagree that we absolutely need a guru and reading books is not enough I don’t want to argue with you. Go on, read your books, I’ve already said that the benefits of this will be limited.

        Btw, just a hypothetical example – a guru can save a disciple even without Śrila Prabhupāda’s books. They help but they are not absolutely necessary as long as the guru conveys the same message. That’s the meaning of paramparā, all wisdom of the previous ācāryas is contained in the words of our guru.

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