Vanity thought #958. Tale of two egos, or three, or more

Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s recent article on fundamental principles for initiated devotees I wrote about a couple of days ago made me re-evaluate my own situation, too. Anyone would, right? We all want to be devotees, we all want to comply with rules and regulations and when we see a compliance check list we naturally run the test on ourselves. I didn’t like the result but that was not the biggest revelation or the biggest problem with me, it was the presence of multiple personalities.

I have at least two. To outside world I appear as an ordinary man, I go to work, I spend money, I desire things, I desire happiness, I have opinions, I argue, I have faults, I hide them, I have dreams, I have prospects, I act naturally in each and every respect.

Most people in this outside circle do not know or do not care about my spiritual aspirations which form my other identity. That’s the identity I checked against mahārāja’s list of Fundamentals. That’s the identity I present when in the company of devotees. They know my name, they know my guru, they know my history in ISKCON, they know my prospects, they know my sādhana, they know my dedication, or rather lack of it, they know everything there is to know about me as a “devotee”.

People in this circle do not really care about what I do for a living and how I live my life when I return home. Actually, strike that, being well-trained in PR relations our local leaders are always very concerned about everyone’s well-being and once class time is over they want to know and talk about everything. I remember myself being exactly the same way – temple residents can’t hide their natural curiosity in the goings on of the outside world. They might not be interested in cars or power tools or, god forbid, sports teams, but you can always find someone to talk about gadgetry or computers.

Aside from that, however, when being really pressed about things, devotees do not care about our lives in the outside world and this is how it should be. This, however, leaves me with a case of split identities.

It’s fairly easy with devotees, they know that life must go on but do not take it seriously, they also know where our priorities should be so they always understand our unfortunate situation of trying to survive in the material world without compromising our spiritual progress.

People on the outside are similarly confident in my priorities. Save for a few trusted souls they can’t imagine that I would consider completing my sixteen rounds more important than going to work or performing my family obligations. They treat my “spirituality” as just another facet of my persona, like some people have a drinking problem, others have a gambling problem, and I have a religious problem, which is not even serious. My vegetarianism is a much more real thing to them than my allegiance to some weird Hindu gods.

How am I supposed to manage all those identities? Most of the time I know how to compartmentalize and deal with people on the level they expect and understand but what about me being myself?

I know I’m not my body, I know that me being part of my family is also not my real identity, I know that I’m not defined by my work or age or gender or even my mind, so all those external obligations are not me, I just have to do those things because I was born that way.

What about being with devotees and my devotional persona? Here’s the kick – I know that it’s not me either. In the beginning I took all that very seriously but as time passed I realized that my description as a nondescript devotee is not who I really am. They call me by name that is just one out of many and that will be forgotten after my death just as all the other names people identify me by. Initiations seemed like a really big deal in the beginning but by now I realized that those formalities are just that – formalities. It’s nice to know that my efforts were accepted by representative of the paramparā but I also know that initiations don’t do much for my actual problems – accumulated dirt in my heart.

I once tried to learn many verses, then I forgot them all, they were part of my identity as a devotee but not anymore. I still think I *know* them but I don’t remember Sanskrit. If tested it would appear that I don’t have even basic knowledge required for bhakti-ṣāstri courses or whatever exams are necessary for initiations now.

More importantly, I can’t define myself by my sādhana, as required by Fundamental principles. It could be said that my real identity as a servant of our mission reveals itself when I strictly follow all the rules and regulations and when I don’t follow them I compromise this identity and cover it with the cloud of illusion. I would agree with that but it also makes me see how following the rules is external to my being.

I would agree that I want to be the person who rises early for maṅgala-ārati, attends both morning and evening classes etc etc but I also know that’s not who I am and, from experience, it’s not the identity I can maintain for prolonged periods of time, let alone eternally.

Here’s another thing – when I meet devotees I subconsciously try to appear as more devoted than I really am, and I also see them trying to form a better opinion of me that I actually deserve. Ideally, my projections and their expectations must meet in total harmony but it also means that it’s not who I really am.

So, who am I? My real spiritual identity is a non-starter, it’s hidden so well that I might as well not have any, it’s of no practical use. My identity as seen by other devotees is just another aspect of my false ego, my identity as seen by the rest of the world is my false ego at its fullest, so what is left?

I don’t really know, I try not to think in such terms when I chant my rounds, hoping that for the Holy Name it doesn’t really matter. I could say that I’m closest to being myself when I am alone with the Holy Name but there are also some things that I don’t want to mention even in my prayers. I know them, I know Kṛṣṇa knows them, but it’s something better not be brought into our relationships. I also know that they are external to me as the spirit soul, so I don’t take them seriously no matter how close to my real self they appear to be.

Without realizing my actual spiritual form the only real thing in my relationship with Kṛṣṇa is the Holy Name. Without seeing myself as a spirit soul any personal perspective I bring into my chanting will be polluting, so I think it’s best if I don’t bring any.

I can’t please the Lord by being who I am so I think it’s better to leave “me” and “my” from my chanting altogether and leave just the sound of the Holy Name. It’s supposed to be absolutely pure and extremely beautiful on its own, why contaminate it with my polluted, conditioned nature? It is nice to have this nature engaged in Lord’s service and I’m grateful for such engagements but at the end of the day it’s not who I really am. It might be who I want to be but at this stage in my life I realize that even these particular aspirations are temporary. In my next life it might be only one round per day and no sex with animals, forget all the other regs and requirements, or they could be far more strict than those outlined in the Fundamentals.

Acting on all these egos is confusing, and what if there’s only one false ego for the entire universe? I think it’s quite possible that it’s only one element forcing everyone here to assume myriads of false identities. Does it mean that if I become free from this false ego I would become free from Fundamentals, too?

Whichever way it turns, it’s safer to just chant and listen to the name and put the question of identity and attitudes aside, the Holy Name will be better off without us as we imagine ourselves here.

Vanity thought #957. Cosmos E2

Yesterday I said that Cosmos is currently the hottest story in the religion vs atheism battle but that is not correct, it has been overtaken by release of Biblical flood movie Noah and creationists’ reaction to it. Apparently it doesn’t correctly reflect the flood as Young Earth Creationists imagine it. I don’t think I’m going to watch it or go into the details of the feud, so I’ll continue with Cosmos instead.

Second episode of the show was about evolution. It’s a big and important topic, of course, but it is also very predictable. Scientists would invariably explain evolutionary tree and mutations that lead to improvements and eventually to creation of new species. Creationists and proponents of Intelligent Design would, in turn, point out holes in the evolution theory and insist that natural selection can’t possibly explain certain developments. As observers we will never know the truth because facts are very complicated, we have a convergence of genetics, biology, chemistry, physics and paleontology here. DNA analysis is not for feeble minded either, so we are left to judge who presents the most compelling story from the layman’s POV, which is not the same as being closest to the truth.

As devotees we accept the evolution in a sense that not all species were created simultaneously, we are closer to Intelligent Design here, yet we also know that there’s no intelligence behind the evolution, it’s just dead matter being agitated by the modes of nature and time. There are living entities who enjoy watching this particular show of creation, notably Lord Brahmā, but he doesn’t have intelligence of his own, he just follows the sound of Kṛṣṇa’s flute that penetrates universe’ coverings and makes the matter in his brain resonate in response to this vibration.

So, even before I sat down to watch this episode of Cosmos I knew I was going to be bored and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not going to strictly follow the familiar format even if it’s unavoidable, I’d rather try to address it from a different direction.

The episode started with demonstration of how wolves were domesticated into dogs, men’s loyal friends. The way it was presented it made perfect sense and looked very reasonable. Wild wolves approached men’s camps being attracted by the tasty smell of their unwashed bodies and also their barbecue. Men at first scared wolves away with their torches but then they realized that all they really want is some bones, not an actual confrontation. Gradually the relationship developed, some wolves got to even live with humans. Humans had their own preferences in wolves and so they bred some of them to be cute, some of them to be ferocious guard dogs, some to help with hunting and so on. In the space of ten thousand years they have bred hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of dogs – this is evolution through artificial selection.

What can we say about it? As I said, it makes perfect sense, if there actually were hunter gatherers men evolving into modern day humans. Maybe they were like apes of Rāmāyana, like Vali and Hunumān. Maybe they were like indigenous tribes of Vrindāvana. We might very well be their descendants, too, but spiritually we’ve been enlisted to follow āryans who don’t breed dogs or eat that much meat.

Creationists would challenge the evolutionary interpretation of it and their argument is just as strong – yes, we’ve been breeding dogs and we got hundreds of different breeds, but all we got is more dogs. We never got a cat or chicken or any other animal through this breeding. What we see with dogs is not evolution of new species but variation within one species. No new genetic information has been added in the process and creationists also argue that there’s no mechanism for adding new genetic information at all, mutations only tweak existing data, not create any new genes.

This sounds reasonable to me but what do I know about genetics? To be honest, I don’t know much about interspecies breeding, maybe it’s possible, they do cross donkeys with horses, for example. I’d need to investigate this closer to form an informed opinion but I’m not sure I want to go into the details at all.

What we can do instead is point out errors and fallacies in Cosmos presentation itself rather than rely on outside opinions. At the end of the dog segment Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the presenter, asked rhetorically – if we can create so many kinds of dogs in ten thousand years through artificial selection, imagine what the nature could do in millions of years of natural selection? Umm, okay, I’m trying to imagine and I am not coming up with anything.

Natural selection must work much much slower, like hundreds and thousands time slower. Our breeding conditions are unnatural, we provide all kinds of care and protection that is not available in the wild, we provide medicine, we provide food, we can make animals survive through all kinds of harmful mutations that would have killed them instantly if left on their own. When we breed domesticated animals there’s no question of survival of the fittest, it’s not a consideration for our goals at all. Think of chicken farms or force feeding geese for their liver – we can completely defy nature and get whatever we want. Why would natural selection be any more efficient?

What kind of question is that? It begs us to agree with the presenter without actually thinking of an answer, which might very well be opposite to what NDT had hoped.

And then there’s the question of creating new species – we still breed only dogs, remember, they still can’t fly or breath under water. Just because we can make them predictably big or small and in certain colors doesn’t mean nature can make them into something else. It could, theoretically, but we’ve never seen it or tested it and so this proposal in unscientific and is more like wishful thinking that result of rational analysis.

Another interesting part of the show was presentation on the evolution of the eye. Once again, attacking shows’ own deficiencies is more interesting than actual science. NDT specifically mentioned eye as an argument against evolution, this segment was specifically meant as an answer to the creationists, yet it’s in this specific aspect that it failed miserably.

When creationists say that there’s not plausible evolutionary explanation to the eye they don’t mean there’s no explanation at all, which is what NDT apparently assumed. He naively thought that all he needed to do to answer creationists’ questions is to build a simple chain of changes that could gradually make light sensitive cells evolve into eyes and so he did just that.

What creationists say is that there’s no PLAUSIBLE explanation, NDT’s simplistic chain is precisely what they object to, so instead of answering their questions he simply repeated the questionable argument. It’s such a cheap trick but it’s also very effective for people who are not familiar with the issue. They would come away thinking that NDT finally answered the eye problem while people who actually asked the questions would be incensed by such blatant manipulation.

The eye problem is much bigger than creating a possible chain of mutations. There’s a huge variety of eyes in the world, eleven different kinds of photo-censors, for example, and there’s no progression from simple life forms to more complex ones as we can observe with other organs such as brains or hearts. Some of the most primitive, oldest animals have/had more sophisticated eyes than animals that evolved millions and millions years later. There’s simply no observable progression in eye evolution and what is observable does not fit into evolution through natural selection.

In this regard someone mentioned that Cosmos’s presentation of genetics is outdated. Epigenetics, the branch of biology that deals with gene inheritance, has seriously modified earlier, simplistic understanding of how genes work. Mutations are not the driving force and survival of the fittest is not exactly what is happening in the nature. Genes and their mutations are not there to create new traits but are rather like memory banks, they can be recalled and switched on in response to external situation and then switched off if there’s no need for them anymore.

This doesn’t mean that epigenetics prove that there’s no evolution but it rather shows that text book view like the one presented on the Cosmos is NOT how it works in real life, so NDT is cheating us of real knowledge again.

I don’t know, the Bruno story I discussed yesterday pretty much discredited the show and its presenter for me already. If they can twist historical facts with such ease, why talk about science and scientific method at all? They are just charlatans. Today’s rhetorical question about dogs and shameless avoidance of answering questions about eye evolution further sealed my opinion. I don’t know if I want to watch the latest, third episode at all, I probably will but I don’t expect it to be any better.

Well, all it shows is that there’s no plausible alternative to our Vedic knowledge. Science and scientists simply don’t cut it.

Vanity thought #956. Cosmos E1

I finally got round to watching remake of TV show Cosmos, which they call Cosmos 2.0. I believe it’s the hottest topic since Nye-Ham debate in January. The first episode was introduced by US president Obama himself, as high endorsement as possible.

I must say that I’ve never seen the original Cosmos presented by Carl Sagan, it was aired thirty four years ago, after all, nor do I care about Sagan’s personality and contribution to science. New presenter, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, is Sagan’s avid admirer and his tribute to Sagan was probably the best part of the show, lost of people admitted to shedding a tear or two when they heard the story of young Neil visiting Carl and getting a book signed. I don’t care about any of that, I just wanted to see what’s this new attack vector on religion is all about.

The first thing I remember hearing about this new Cosmos is a retweeted headline: “Cosmic terror: Why Neil deGrasse Tyson has religious fundamentalists so freaked”, and it didn’t get any better since. Is it really that challenging, I wondered? So I watched it and now I wonder whether it’s all happening in some parallel universe, which would be possible according to NDT’s introduction of multi-universe theory as a scientific fact, which it isn’t.

For a show promoting science it relies heavily on rhetoric, spin, shameless propaganda, and lots of visual effects. Anything but logic and rationality. NDT is a good presenter in this sense, likable, passionate, involved etc but some saw him as a bad actor, too. I’ll get to his personality a bit later.

If you look at online reviews they are all raving, giving it maximum stars with critical content very hard to come by. The quality of those reviews, however is highly questionable. People liked the show, that much is clear, but it is also clear that they liked not the science and reason but for all the fluff that was put into it instead.

First of all, I don’t understand who is this show meant for. Judging by the level of actual science it was probably aimed at third graders and lots of people admitted it freely, asking for the show to be made mandatory viewing in schools. Lots of people judged the show by the effect it had on their kids, too. Yet the show airs very late at night when kids are supposed to be in bed, not in front of the television.

Maybe this show is meant for really ignorant people, I saw one person talking about “redneck audience”. There’s a doubt, however, that brainwashed creationist rednecks are not going to be swayed by it no matter what it says, and they’d probably watch something else that’s on TV at the same time, like Walking Dead.

I noticed one funny thing about it all – despite being presented as promoting science we are told right from the start that we are being taken on a journey of imagination. With a disclaimer like that we can’t argue against anything shown there at all. We are being taken along with NDT traveling on a “Ship of Imagination” that looks straight out of si-fi movies, or a car key fob, so whatever happens to it can’t be taken seriously.

So here I was, looking at these cheesy CGI visuals accompanied by music that was supposed to elicit memories of good times, like Star Trek or Indiana Jones, listening to some very basic facts presented as greatest revelation on Earth, and I thought – God, I can’t sit through an hour of this. Then it got worse.

NDT was explaining our cosmic address – Earth, Solar System, Milky Galaxy, Local Group etc. With all the investment in CGi, however, they got some of the visuals horribly wrong. Passing through the asteroid belt, for example, looked like an episode from Star Wars and the ship had to maneuver between them to avoid the collision. In real life asteroids are separated by millions of kilometers, you’d probably pass through the whole belt without every seeing one let along needing to change your course.

There’s also a complaint about vague reference to Venus’s hot climate and sulphuric clouds caused by greenhouse effect. In Sagan’s times, they say, they would have referred to acid rains instead, it’s not science, it’s just pandering to politics.

Another thing is that Oort cloud is not a scientific fact, it’s just a theory, there’s no evidence for its existence whatsoever, yet there it was in all its glory as Ship of Imagination went right through it. Oort cloud, just in case, is where all our comets supposed to come from. No one has seen it, however.

The real cringer was the episode with Giordano Bruno. That wasn’t a cartoonish depiction, it was an actual cartoon presenting heroic scientist Bruno envisioning Sun being at the center of the Solar System and not only that, but Sun being just one of the stars we see in the sky, and the entire universe just being one of many. Btw, “bubble universe” is an interesting idea, we know that universes really ARE bubbles coming our of the pores on the skin of MahāViṣṇu.

Bruno is introduced as the only man in the world who thought that the Earth was not at the center of the universe and that he was jailed for this belief. “Where was he on New Year’s eve of 1600? In jail, of course” – quoting from memory. We are then shown how he got there, Copernicus that came before him was mentioned in passing and so Galileo who came after him. We are shown how he got in trouble with church, first Catholic, then Protestant, how he was ridiculed in England, how he came back to Italy, the most dangerous place in the world to do science, and how he was imprisoned for eight years but never gave up.

He is shown as some kind of Jesus, floating in the sky amongst the stars in his pure, beautiful spiritual form while his body was shacked in prison. We are shown Inquisition that eventually sentences him to death, and then he burned at a stake and his free spirit flies away, undefeated in knowledge and science.

The problem is – none of that happen, certainly not in the way presented in this so called scientific show.

Bruno wasn’t the only one who believed in heliocentric model, there were dozens of scientists before him who believed the same, not to mention the entire Vedic tradition, which, sadly, doesn’t seem to exist as part of this Cosmos’ civilization. More importantly, he subscribed to heliocentrism not because of his scientific theories but because he believed in Sun god. He was into all sorts of paganism including magic and even some sort of reincarnation and that’s what caused his rift with church, that’s what he was prosecuted for and that’s what he was asked to renounce.

Instead he was made into some sort of a martyr for freedom of thought. Even that message contradicts what was actually said in the show – he was rejected by three churches, correct, but before that happened he was ACCEPTED by those churches and they knew who they are taking on board. Likewise, he was ASKED to present his case to the audience in Cambridge, they didn’t like it but such an invitation itself is the evidence that freedom of thought was not prohibited then. Freedom of expression, sure, that’s what they had Inquisition for.

The inquisitioner was a really scary character, according to Cosmos, real anti-science guy, except that he wasn’t. He was very much into science and later was credited for correcting Galileo’s theory of tides.

So, after all this drama that lasted a quarter of the show NDT casually mentions that Bruno wasn’t really a scientists but a visionary who bla bla bla. Too late, the impression has already been made – church was the enemy of knowledge.

This is the same mistake Sagan had made, too, or so I read. In one of his episodes of original Cosmos he talked about library of Alexandria and a female scientist working there. Alexandria was a citadel of ancient knowledge, then evil, ignorant Christians came and burned it to the ground and killed the woman. Except it didn’t happen that way at all. Library was burned before Christ and episode with Christians destroying Pagan temple didn’t involve any books, and the female scientist fell victim to local politics. There were other famous women in Alexandria after her, too, so it was another cheap shot at Christianity that missed the mark. Sagan admitted the mistake, afaik, so it was all good at the end, but not after millions of people watched distorted presentation of historical facts.

This is the thing with this Cosmos – it teaches people science just like movie 300 teaches them history of ancient Greece and Persia. It’s a bad, tasteless caricature and not much more.

NDT treated Big Bang as a ball appearing in pre-existing space, for example. There was no space outside the universe, which was the size of ping pong, however. That’s just not how it looked, there was no space nor place for an observer to see the ping pong rapidly growing in size. Time was also completely distorted then, we talk about speed of expansion but to the observers at that time it might very well felt like billions and billions of years – they didn’t have the same perception of time flow as we do now. Cosmos’ presentation of Big Bang might be easy to understand but it is also wrong. Factually it’s correct, yet visually it couldn’t have possibly looked that way.

There’s another interesting thing about time – towards the end of the episode NDT presented the entire universe timeline as being compressed to one year, from Jan 1 to Dec 31. He then placed some big events like forming of the Sun and the Earth, emergence of life etc. This was in March, that was in April and so on. Our western civilization and triumph of science take only a few seconds there, four, IIRC.

Question – if Cosmos can squeeze the entire creation into one year, why can’t Bible squeeze it into six days? It’s exactly the same concept, just a different scale.

There are some good things about the show, too – I like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as I said. He appears honest and inquisitive about the truth and he appeals to the same appreciation for the nature and universe as religious people have about God. In this sense he is more in tune with Bruno and his vision of God than with Christianity and that is not a bad thing. “Your God is too small!” is a great argument we can use ourselves, and Bruno’s idea of bubble universes each being divine and non-different from God is not too bad either.

Even if the show is misleading in many ways, it is not maliciously so. Everybody makes mistakes in their search for Absolute Truth. To NDT the Absolute appears in the form of science and in the form of universe, he is not completely wrong here. He is humble and ready to admit his own deficiencies and correct his own views, which is a great attitude when inquiring about Absolute Truth, too.

Even though it’s the age of Kali and our only dharma is chanting of the Holy Name, any quest for the Absolute should still be encouraged. So what if he denies personal God behind the universe? It’s completely natural for this kind of inquiry, he’ll get there eventually.

All considered, it’s not the worst show people can see on TV. Forget science, it’s always in a state of flux anyway, I hope people remember humility in the face of creation and appreciation for its greatness. That would be a good start.

Vanity thought #955. Price of admission

Price of admission into Kṛṣṇa’s company is high. In fact it’s priceless, we can never earn it, only hope that one day we’ll be accepted. There are promises and rules, of course, but they go only as far as taking us to Kṛṣṇa’s abode which might mean manifestation in the material world to complete our training. It’s like with horses – we can be taken to the water but no one can force us to drink. No one can guarantee Kṛṣṇa prema, it’s awarded to us only by Lord Caitanya and He is absolutely independent in His decision making.

Never mind that, in our present situation simply achieving liberation, which is a necessary stage for developing actual devotion, is an almost impossible task. It would be very very rare to attain liberation while still in our material bodies, vast majority of devotees will have to live out their present conditioning and hope liberation comes after death.

Entering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes is probably a million times harder than that, in our entire paramparā only very few most illustrious ācāryas were able to meditate on Kṛṣṇa’s form and see Him and His abode as spiritual reality.

We are not even suppose to pray for that, Lord Caitanya has taught us to value love in separation more than pleasure of being in Kṛṣṇa’s company. The added bonus is that separation is easier to experience in our present condition, no modifications necessary, though we can’t expect the same intensity as displayed by Mahāprabhu Himself.

Those are lofty goals we better not consider seriously, just a theoretical roadmap to success. In real life I was just reminded of a price of admission into our community and it appeared steep to me.

HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī is writing a new book on vaiṣṇava etiquette and posting chapters of it on the internet. Latest one is called Fundamental Principles for Initiated Devotees and it sets out lots of uncompromising rules for potential candidates (link) . There could be some differences between this article and Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s actual requirements for initiation (pdf) but I didn’t notice any, they are identical.

It starts out with laying out our four regs. No sex except for procreation, none of that “what happens in your bedroom is not my business” nonsense. No abortion (duh!), no contraception, and no sterilization. That’s an interesting area devotees rarely talk about, I’m not going to ask anyone but I suspect there are people out there who use contraception on a regular basis.

No masturbation, of course, though “loss of vital fluid” and “contamination of consciousness” aren’t the strongest possible arguments. Fluid can be regenerated and consciousness gets contaminated all the time, why single our masturbation? Still, mahārāja calls it illicit sex and forbids it, no two opinions about that.

There’s an interesting paragraph on intoxication, too. Alcohol is out and so is coffee and tea but also caffeinated soft drinks like Coke and Mountain Dew. Chocolate also got axed. The note about chocolate refers to appendix which is at the end of the book, I guess, and so is not included in this article. Pity, I’d like to see how mahārāja argues against chocolate. Is it really that intoxicating?

Chocolate can be addictive, according to popular culture, but I’ve never personally seen any chocoholic, people just like the taste, and I’ve never seen anyone getting any high from chocolate consumption either. It’s poisonous to dogs but not to children, and if they get hyperactive it’s due to high sugar content, not intoxicants.

I wouldn’t seriously argue in favor of chocolate, it’s forbidden and that’s all there is to it, reasons don’t really matter. Interestingly, mahārāja doesn’t go into fine detail about other food – mushrooms, for example, or any processed foods, or supermarket cheese. He does stress that initiated devotees should eat only Kṛṣṇa prasāda, though. He gives Prabhupāda’s quote on this, too: “One of the restrictions is that you cannot take anything which is not offered to Kṛṣṇa.”

There’s a paragraph on gambling that includes small bets like the kind men make on just about anything mostly for fun, not for actual profit, and a reference to stock trading, I guess, because I’ve seen mahārāja use exactly the same language about it earlier, otherwise it’s a bit unclear what kind of business is considered prohibited and on what grounds exactly.

Then mahārāja gives a list of secondary principles which is no less important – one must come to maṅgala ārati, must attend both morning and evening classes and so on. He elaborates on the value of these principles and gives supporting quotes from Prabhupāda, leaving no leeway whatsoever.

His next batch of quotes warns that without following these principles there’s no possibility of spiritual life and, conversely, strictly following them guarantees success and perfection.

All in all, it’s a very strongly worded article that doesn’t mess about and offers no compromises. I’m in two minds about it, however. On one hand this is how I got initiated myself – by strictly following all the rules, yet, as time passed, I also got to realize that it’s not so easy to follow them for the rest of your life. Once certain decisions are made it becomes plainly impossible, and it’s not just me, it’s just how it goes, realpolitics, as they say.

In realpolitics concessions must be made, failures must be overlooked, respect must be given to those who do not live up to the standard. Once you do that, demanding our new members to follow the rules that our old members can’t anymore becomes hypocritical. What can I say? I totally agree with Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī here, yet I also see that it is nearly impossible to implement these standards in one’s personal life and even more so on the level of the whole society.

I understand and applaud mahārāja’s criteria and I hope he inspires devotees to improve their sādhana to qualify for initiation, I really hope he can build a large and strong community where living by these standards becomes natural and easy for everyone, but I also see that I can’t come up with a really good advice to potential candidates here. I’m tempted to say: “Yes, follow the rules while you can, get initiated, prove yourself now, you are unlikely to maintain these standards throughout your whole life, so don’t miss the opportunity” This, of course, should never be said out loud and such possibility should not be even suggested.

I was lucky in this sense – when I was giving my vows I had no idea what was lying ahead of me and I was spared the examples of seniors going astray. Devotees who came just a few years later, however, saw it all with their own eyes. Maybe now it’s better for them to know what they sign up for but if this means I wouldn’t have been initiated if I joined later I don’t see how it would have been better for me.

These strict rules pose another problem – we can’t expect everyone to follow them, ever, yet we go out and preach and ask people to come to the temples and join. Well, maybe not so much about joining anymore but that was the initial idea, when Prabhupāda was still here. What’s the point of asking people to become devotees only to lay out impossible demands? I have two answers to this question.

First, chanting quickly purifies one’s existence and following four regs becomes easy. Sex is hard to control but the rest aren’t usually problematic. So when we present our regs they look impossible only to those who don’t chant. If one moves to a temple then all the rest mentioned in this article comes naturally, too. If one lives at home, however, it becomes so much harder.

In this regard I’m not sure about demand to attend both morning and evening classes or maṅgala ārati and some other items on that list. Maybe chanting and four regs should be the minimum but then new bhaktas are usually enthusiastic enough to do more so there’s no problem with demanding more from them, too.

Second answer is that it’s about time we did some housekeeping in our society. We can’t expect everyone to be the same, some will form the core and some will form the circles. Some will be exemplary devotees and some will be those who look up to them. Some will be renunciates and some will be enjoyers who regularly contribute fruits of their labor to be engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service.

Perhaps our initial division on guests, life members, initiated, and twice initiated needs to be improved on. Perhaps we need more ranks and set different rules and standards for them, too.

There’s also a question of what initiation actually means. GBC might lay some rules and individual devotees might set their own standards but these are not absolute and neither is the formal initiation ritual. One must surrender to his guru and the guru must accept the disciple but this does not necessarily require any other formalities. There’s also the point that it is Kṛṣṇa who sends a guru and it is Kṛṣṇa who initiates one into His service, guru is just a transparent medium, so imposing our own rules might be beyond our remit here.

As we progress on the path of devotion we must pass some tests to get to higher levels but in our present condition we might not hope for more than just chanting of the Holy Name, and one can do that without being officially initiated. Yes, it’s nice to have a new name and “dāsa” attached to it but we should never forget that the only thing that matters is chanting, nothing else.

If we learn to chant as required of us, constantly and with proper attitude, all those initiations lose their importance. Let them have their rules but let me have the Holy Name even if I don’t qualify to be a follower of Śrila Prabhupāda anymore, as the article states. I don’t mind, that is my actual fallen position, and being a follower of Śrila Prabupāda is a very very big title anyway. He told us to chant and to preach, that’s all we have to do, and results shouldn’t really matter – whether we are accepted as followers or not.

Our business is to serve, acceptance of our service and rewards are at guru and Kṛṣṇa’s discretion, they shouldn’t influence our service attitude at all, enthusiasm should always be there.

Vanity thought #954. Humble reality

It’s very easy to theorize how a devotee should live his life and what attitude he must develop but in real life things never work out the way they do in theories. I can talk about “real” humility all I want, we still need to see examples of real devotees showing us how to live our real lives.

Our problem is that we don’t know any “real” devotees anymore. When Śrila Prabhupāda was present he was the only example we knew and trusted, and I shouldn’t use “we” because I wasn’t there, but in his absence we got nothing. As second and third generation devotees we have our gurus but, truth be told, we also have our reservations because we know from experience that whatever we assume as pure and transcendental in their behavior might very well turn into a cause of their falldown.

It doesn’t seem to be wise to accept everything present day devotees do as vaiṣṇava standard. This problem is two faced.

On one hand we have to be careful with accepting everything at face value. There’s no shortage of complaints about our authorities, and some are very reasonable. With all due respect, and I don’t mean it lightly, some examples set by otherwise irreproachable devotees are not meant to be followed (Hare Kṛṣṇa Cruise, looking at you).

This isn’t an ideal situation, far from it. Lord Caitanya Himself took great care not to do anything that could damage His reputation. Our leaders do not seem to mind anymore and I understand devotees who are apprehensive about accepting their sometimes questionable practices as having the same level of purity we expect from Śrila Prabhupada, our predecessor ācāryas, and Lord Caitanya Himself.

We need faith in our authorities to make progress but, as things stand now, can’t wholeheartedly accept their authority without fully developed faith either. Catch 22.

If we had full faith that we wouldn’t doubt actions of our seniors at all, seeing them as merely tools in Kṛṣṇa’s hands. Without faith we do not see them as such and that’s actually our problem.

Here’s the other side of our doubts in our seniors – our own lack of faith and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We are the ones who lack determination to surrender, who are holding back, doubting Kṛṣṇa’s power and Kṛṣṇa’s protection. We need guarantees and we need them manifested externally, on the material plane. We tell ourselves that we will surrender only if devotees can prove their divinity. That’s not what unconditional means, of course, and that’s why we never get anywhere spiritually.

Truth is, we are still holding back, negotiating the terms, waiting for a better deal, waiting for Kṛṣṇa to prove Himself. Actually, since we must surrender to a living breathing guru we are waiting for gurus to prove they are non-different from the Lord. Not in their powers, obviously, but in their purity.

This negotiated surrender is no surrender at all, it’s simply accepting defeat and trying to control the damage, it’s not done out of love and Kṛṣṇa doesn’t need it and has no interest in it. Sometimes we think that by accepting defeat at the hands of material energy and in face of Kṛṣṇa’s greatness gives us some kind of leverage and a leg up in attaining devotion. It doesn’t. We are just trying to outwit the Lord here.

We still see our relations with the material energy as that of a winner and a loser. Externally we might say “I lost” but our attitude is actually “I didn’t win” and it speaks a lot about our priorities and what we really want. We should be honest with ourselves, given a chance we’d jump on the opportunity to assert control over everything we see, become rich or learned or powerful or famous or postpone old age and death.

So, humility, it’s not in admitting our insignificance before the Lord and His energies, it should not depend on the state of the world around us in any way at all. Big, small, young, old, famous, infamous – we cannot even think in those terms and as long our consciousness depends on them real humility won’t manifest, we shouldn’t even seek it there.

Where do we find it, then? Who can provide us with examples? Śrila Prabhupāda, of course, but also devotees of bygone ages.

Take the case of Mahārāja Parīkṣit, for example. He was out hunting, got thirsty, saw a little hut, went in to ask for water but the resident ṛṣi, deep in mediation, didn’t even acknowledge his presence. Parīkṣit got angry and hang a dead snake on sage’s shoulders.

Was it an example of humility, patience, and tolerance on Mahārāja’s part? Obviously not. Yet when the sage came back to his senses he nevertheless praised Parīkṣit as a devotee (SB 1.18.48):

    The devotees of the Lord are so forbearing that even though they are defamed, cheated, cursed, disturbed, neglected or even killed, they are never inclined to avenge themselves.

Here we have it – just a few verses earlier Bhāgavatam spoke of Mahārāja Parīkṣit’s anger and envy but then declared him a great devotee and praised devotees’ forbearance and patience. How’s that possible?

Or take example of Jagadānanda Paṇḍita who was perpetually angry at Lord Caitanya for one thing or another. Sometimes Mahāprabhu even said He was afraid of Jagadānanda’s anger. One time he brought a pot of scented oil with him prepared by devotees in Bengal but the Lord refused to accept it. Angry Jagadānanda then threw the pot he carried hundreds of miles to Purī on the ground and broke it. Must have been quite a scene. Was it an example of humility, tolerance, and patience? Obviously not.

In both cases we are told that these devotees were acting under the direction of the Lord or that Jagadānanda’s anger was a manifestation of his deep love for the Lord, either way, their anger was not material. Fine, how do we know OUR anger is not caused by the Lord Himself, too? What about anger of our senior devotees, GBCs, and gurus? Why shouldn’t we accept that their “deviations” are not Lord’s pastimes, too?

After all, we know that Kṛṣṇa is fully in control of everything that happens with His devotees. We might still be attracted to His illusory energy but it doesn’t mean we are left on our own, He always watches over us and absolutely nothing can happen to us without His sanction.

How do we know what’s transcendental anger and what’s material anger then? In case of Mahārāja Parīkṣit there was also envy, matsarah, which, btw, Śrila Prabhupada once translated as “intolerance”. The thing with envy is that it cannot be engaged in devotional service, it doesn’t have any place in spiritual relationships. Anger is a legitimate rasa, not one of the five main mellows but still it’s legitimate. Jagadānanda’s anger at the Lord is therefore perfectly admissible, Parīkṣit’s envy, however, should not have happened at all.

Śrila Prabhupāda’s anger at some of the devotees is also perfectly legitimate, guru must show displeasure with his disciples when necessary, but Parīkṣit’s case is not like that at all, it was a temporary aberration caused by the Lord Himself to create a pretext for retelling Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Mahārāja has proven himself later on when he refused to counteract the curse by ṛṣi’s son. When time was right he displayed that famous patience, tolerance, and absence of any desire for revenge – qualities that are so profoundly manifest in the devotees. He accepted his fate and he didn’t flinch when the snake came and bit him in the end. Instead Parīkṣit’s son, Janamejaya, got angry and started a big anti-snake sacrifice. And then Bṛhaspati, the guru of the demigods, showed up and asked Janamejaya to stop and Janamejaya complied with request of senior authority without any grudge, because he had genuine humility.

So, it appears that as long as we live under the influence of the modes of nature it is not unusual to display undesirable qualities from time to time but, as devotees, we should quickly gather our senses and do what’s right ASAP. That would be humility. We should not try to justify our wrongful behavior and insist on continuing with it.

This is the lesson I learned from Bhāgavatam today.

Vanity thought #953. Humility for the enlightened

As I talked about yesterday, humility is our key to the kingdom of God. Unable to perceive our spiritual identity and disgusted with our selfish material covering we need to take shelter of the third verse of Śikṣāṣtaka as our siddha praṇāli mantra, and the key to realizing that verse is humility.

All lines and all words in that verse are based on being humble. That’s where readiness to offer respect to all others come from, that’s what rejecting all personal honor means, that’s where patience and tolerance come from, too.

Maybe these last two qualities need a little clarification. One can be patient without being humble, one can take personal inconvenience as a kind of sacrifice, a temporary condition, a necessary trade off for a big payoff. People are forced into this kind of humility all the time in course of their careers. Some cynics say that this is what careers are all about – brown-nosing bosses and then taking over their positions. I’m not as cynical but nevertheless the problem is widespread.

We reject this kind of humility, it’s demoniac in nature and it is based on ignorance, not knowledge, and as such it’s not conducive to spiritual development. One accepts temporary humiliation on the premise that this is not his real position and that actually he deserves greater respect and greater position. When one achieves it, his humility pays off. This, however, is illusion and has nothing to do with devotional service and seeking the truth about our actual situation, it doesn’t help in any way but rather impedes our attempts at attaining devotion, so such humility must be rejected.

Real humility comes from understanding our actual position as servants of the servants of the servants. Knowing this one’s humbleness becomes eternally fixed and attempts at gaining any respect become perceived as undevotional.

Patience, therefore, becomes not a process of waiting for something, as happens with those who practice false humility for material gains, but a natural state of mind. This is counterintuitive for us. “Be patient” always implies “just wait a little more, it will be okay” but vaiṣṇava patience doesn’t have an expiration date. In fact, it is not “patience” according to our definition at all.

Think of a dung beetle who spends his entire life rolling in feces. “Be patient”, we might say to him, “soon you’ll get a body where you could eat butter and honey”. Makes sense to us but butter and honey are unnatural for this beetle, he has no interest in eating that, he likes his feces very much, thank you. For him it’s not patience, it’s his natural position where he feels very much at ease.

Same happens to devotees, they are not waiting for material sufferings to pass, they are not waiting for material happiness to come and replace them, they are perfectly satisfied in their devotion to the Lord regardless of external circumstances. We might say to them: “Be patient, I’ll get you something to eat, soon your hunger will go away. Wait just a moment, I have this medicine that will make you pain go away, just be patient a little more.”

A devotee, however, does not wait for food and he does not wait for medicine, his patience is not connected with waiting in any way. It appears as patience to us but to him it’s just the way things are and he is fully satisfied with his situation.

Same goes for his tolerance – he does not tolerate discomfort or pain, he simply does not notice it because he does not identify himself with the object that perceives this pain – his body. It’s like Buddhists of Myanmar who do not feel any pain for Muslims slaughtered in their neighborhoods. They do not feel pain of children who lost their parents, wives who lost their husbands, they do not identify themselves with those Rohingya people. We do not aim to emulate those murderous Buddhists but absence of empathy is very helpful when dealing with discomfort. In our case we do not identify ourselves with our bodies and so bodily pain becomes irrelevant.

I guess it’s a controversial topic in light of fashionable concern of the wellbeing of this world but I don’t want to argue that now. I want to talk about humility.

Indians can be very humble, I can’t think of any other nation that produces such top quality servants. British make good butlers, too, but they carry themselves with dignity while Indians leave dignity at the door. They are not alone in that, of course, Asian hospitality is based on this all pervasive humility, but it’s the humility of the wrong kind, as I explained above.

Śrila Prabhupāda defined humility as follows (BG 13.8):

    Humility means that one should not be anxious to have the satisfaction of being honored by others. The material conception of life makes us very eager to receive honor from others, but from the point of view of a man in perfect knowledge — who knows that he is not this body — anything, honor or dishonor, pertaining to this body is useless. One should not be hankering after this material deception.

Since it’s in Bhagavad Gītā we learn this definition right in the beginning. Further elucidation on the meaning of humility defines it as fidelity to the truth, to the orders of one’s guru. It’s pretty straightforward connection because our humility is based on knowledge of our true identity – we are not these bodies, so maintaining this humility means never compromising on spiritual truth.

As material bodies we have all kinds of designations but our humility should be transcendent to those, therefore we are not trying to imagine ourselves as our bodies to be lower than grass but we see ourselves as lower than orders of our guru. If guru or Kṛṣṇa puts us into an elevated position we must accepts all the perks that come with it, too. If one becomes a guru on the orders of his spiritual master one must accept his feet being washed, for example.

This gave rise to devotees quick rejection of false humility of the kind of “pamho” and “imho” and “with all due respect”. One must be loyal to the truth, not outwardly inferior, they say. With that they give themselves an excuse to pursue any bone headed idea of their liking. “I am not going to give any credence to opposing opinions because that would be false humility”, they say.

Here one must see the difference between loyalty to the truth and desire to prove oneself right no matter what. It’s not very hard to do if one considers the source of their knowledge. Real truth is never in disagreement with our authorities save for a few slip ups here and there due to the influence of Kali Yuga.

These devotees consider themselves to be enlightened but they are not quite there yet. We need a better version of humility here, the one that does not drive people into a senseless fights with other vaiṣṇavas.

Thing is, we can’t emulate real humility without having realized knowledge about our situation in this world, we have to accept this limitation. We also have to accept that we might be completely wrong just about everything except chanting of the Holy Name.

Everything in this world is shaky and unreliable, only the Holy Name offers us a safe haven, therefore we can argue about philosophy, about practice, about preaching, about purity, about varṇāśrama and when we are done with that we will find yet more points of contention. We must be prepared to accept that in all those fights we are in the wrong. By definition only our guru is right, our own interpretations should always be suspect.

We should also accept that our self-realization will never be complete, so we would never be able to say “I have achieved necessary humility and tolerance”. We should never appear to ourselves as being humble, real humility unattainable no matter how much we try.

We should accept imperfections of our bodies, too, their tolerance is not unlimited, sometimes they WILL snap. Perfect tolerance, like perfect humility, is unattainable in this world. Our reaction to these failures should be swift and decisive, however. We cannot dwell on prayers to relieve us from pain or curses to restore justice, we know better than that.

I would even say that one’s success in humility and tolerance lies not so much in maintaining it but in restoring it after falldowns as quickly as possible. In fact, our whole life in Kali Yuga is not so much about being pure but about constant cleaning our sh*t. We cannot avoid making mistakes but we cannot accept living with mistakes either. This is what makes occasional mistakes into offenses against the Holy Name. “Oh, you know, it’s not so bad, I need some down time for myself, it’s not a big deal.” – that’s how we send a message to Kṛṣṇa that He can wait and our devotion can be postponed. We cannot allow that if we want to succeed in chanting.

This unfortunate situation where we should strive for humility and tolerance but can never achieve it is a trade off we have to accept for the sake of attaining devotion. If it were possible, material world wouldn’t be such a bad place, and if we understand how bad material world is, possibility of becoming perfectly humble and tolerant here would appear to us not as desirable but as a trap that needs to be avoided.

Basically, if we want to become devotees we should abandon all hope that we can achieve any kind of success down here, on the external level of our bodies.

Vanity thought #952. Siddha Pranali

The topic of unsuccessful chanting of the Holy Name is a long one, we’ll never have enough of it. I guess it will go away only when we manage to develop love of Godhead and all such worries would dissipate like morning fog. This day surely must come, right? Wrong.

Consider this verse regarding offensive chanting (CC Adi 8.16):

    If one is infested with the ten offenses in the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, despite his endeavor to chant the holy name for many births, he will not get the love of Godhead that is the ultimate goal of this chanting.

See – one will NOT get the love of Godhead if one keeps committing offenses while chanting. In the purport Śrila Prabhupāda cites Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura saying plainly that “there’s no possibility of attaining the platform of devotional service”.

Kṛṣṇa doesn’t owe us anything, He certainly doesn’t owe us our own love for Him, so if we simply keep chanting with offenses absolutely nothing will happen. It might go on for many many lifetimes, we’ve been told. At first such projections were probably meant to scare us but I think they have an opposite effect now. We chant for many years and decades, do not achieve any results, and tell ourselves that it’s normal, that this could take many lifetimes, so our years or even decades without any progress is nothing to worry about. Instead of whipping us into a shape we use it as an excuse to improve nothing.

Certainly, this attitude won’t be appreciated by the Lord. Therefore we should never forget the struggle for offenseless chanting. Never.

Sometimes I read what devotees say about each other and I can’t help but see total disregard for their own spiritual progress. Why do they do this to themselves? Targets of their criticism might very well deserve it, this is besides the point, but why do they go to such lengths to denigrate other people’s dedication and service?

I think that they have become so insensitive to their own chanting that it doesn’t make much difference for them anymore, so they see no problems. When asked, they say it’s for the good of everyone, from Kṛṣṇa to Śrila Prabhupāda to ISKCON to their targets and they certainly hope it will be beneficial for their own progress, too. Giant waste of time, methinks.

Also this attitude is contagious, it creeps up on you. I haven’t checked these questionable websites for a few weeks and now when I look at their headlines I really don’t want to open any of their “click me, I’m so controversial” links. It’s not stench per se but the offensive mood is so thick you can cut with a knife. If you visit them often, however, you fail to notice it, and that means you’ve become a victim yourself.

Never mind, this is not what I meant today’s post to be about.

Problem with offenses is that they are natural for us. Our very birth is an offense to the Lord, our very nature is offensive. Atheists might see parallels with Christian orthodoxy here – how we are all damned from birth and how nothing we do here deserves praise in the eyes of God, how sin is everywhere and devil penetrates all our thoughts and desires. Perhaps they are right, the difference is that Christians blame everything on Adam and Eve while we know we are personally responsible for our situation, no one else is.

I don’t think we can declare our innate corruption publicly anymore, no one will listen to us, they’d declare us dangerous lunatics full of hate and laugh us off, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the truth. More importantly, this should be our innate struggle, not something we should bring out in the open. We should accept our own deficiencies, not point them out in others.

Only the guru has the obligation to show his disciples how materialistic and fallen they are, no one else. A preacher is also a kind of a guru so it’s okay for them to say so but only if the audience is willing to hear it.

When we are on our own with the Holy Name, however, we can and should be brutally honest, there’s no point of hiding the truth anyway – the Supersoul sees everything.

If we consider our motives very closely we’ll inevitably come to a conclusion that all our actions on the material platform are selfish. We always do everything strictly for our own benefit, occasionally our actions please guru and Kṛṣṇa, too, but that is more like an afterthought or a side effect.

How do we transcend the material platform then? One way is to fully absorb ourselves in the service to our mission but that is very hard to achieve and it is beyond our control – we are engaged by guru and Kṛṣṇa, not on our own volition, and we have example of thousands and thousands of devotees who gradually slipped from ISKCON authorities radar and are not on active duty anymore. It just happens, we can hope it won’t happen to us but it most likely will, just like most of us are likely to succumb to sex desire, too.

What to do if we fall outside of full-on service? Is there any chance of us then? Of course there is but we have to fight for it very very hard.

We’ll need more sādhana, for example, the more time we leave for ourselves the more time we leave for committing offenses. We should always, at all times, have something to do and we should watch very carefully that we are not doing it for our gratification but for the sake of our duty. Sometimes we need some “me time”, too, but we should watch carefully that this idleness doesn’t degrade our consciousness.

Creative types need more of this idle time than others but even they can look at it as a necessity – they need to give their minds enough time to come up with ideas, and producing ideas is their duty, so they are not being lazy and idle per se, this is simply their dharma.

Bottom line, though – we cannot perform devotional service as long as we identify ourselves with our bodies, it is simply not possible. To become real devotees we need to see ourselves as spirit souls, we need to realize our spiritual identity.

This might sound like an invitation to esoteric practices of siddha praṇāli, introduction to one’s siddha svarūpa but that is not what I mean. It appears that we have only two choices – see ourselves as our material bodies or see ourselves as our spiritual forms but there’s a third option here, thanks of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

Lord Caitanya introduced another kind of identity for us and gave us a siddha praṇāli mantra to achieve it:

    tṛṇād api su-nīcena
    taror iva sahiṣṇunā
    amāninā māna-dena
    kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ

This should become our svarūpa while in the conditioned state, we should stop seeing ourselves as men, women, seniors, juniors, husbands, wives etc. All those designations must be cast away, we should accept this new identity instead – lower than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, always ready to offer respect to everyone and never demand any respect for ourselves.

This is not our spiritual form but this is not our material form either. We can accept this identity without giving up any of our external obligations either. How will it manifest externally then? That’s a good question that needs another long answer.

The point is that this Śikṣāṣtaka verse is even more important than we usually think. ike I said, it is our siddha praṇāli mantra. I didn’t make this up even though I don’t remember who said this first, I think it was Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī.

The point is that it is a brilliant idea.

Vanity thought #951. Choosing the beneficiary

Who should benefit from our chanting? Our first slogan has always been “Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and be happy” which leaves no questions about our goal – our happiness. There’s no shortage of Śrila Prabhupāda’s quotes along these lines, too. What about Kṛṣṇa, though?

The mantra itself comes from Kali-Saṇṭāraṇa-Upaniṣad where it is is given to Nārada Muni by Lord Brahmā as the best means of counteracting effects of Kali Yuga. It goes without saying that Kali Yuga affects us, the conditioned living entities so chanting is meant to benefit us, but what about Kṛṣṇa?

Similarly, mention of chanting in Śrimad Bhāgavatam (12.3.51) starts with kaler doṣa-nidhe rājann – Kali yuga is an ocean of faults, chanting then is recommended as a means to counteract those faults, so it’s done for our own benefit again.

Even our harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam verse mentions age of Kali. It does not specifically mention our own benefits but mere association of the mantra with Kali makes it dependent on material conditions which, in turn, makes its purpose contaminated with self-benefits.

This is the thing – as long as we are here our motives are selfish no matter what we do. Our consciousness here is contaminated and this contamination does not exist in the spiritual world, only down here, and it’s impossible to shake off, so we always chant for our own pleasure, not Kṛṣṇa’s.

Our Gauḍīyā literature of course sets the course straight – devotional service must please Kṛṣṇa, not ourselves, and it should be free from all material desires by definition. There’s no shortage of verses explaining that from all possible angles, too. How to make Kṛṣṇa the beneficiary of our chanting, though? That is the question.

We chant japa everyday for up to two hours, how to make this pleasing to the Lord? I don’t know.

Lots of thoughts enter our minds while we chant. Some are about solving problems, some are about future hopes, some are about scrutinizing the past, some are about proving our own righteousness, some are about blaming others – none of them are about Kṛṣṇa. Thoughts about Kṛṣṇa simply do not occur in this world, that’s not how mind works here. At best we can have thoughts about advancing our mission and improving service to our guru but that is not without contamination either.

If we were sincere about carrying out orders of our spiritual master then the order concerning japa is simple – do not think of anything else. If we start devising ways to do this or that we are already breaking this order, everything else is just excuses. So what to do? I don’t know.

It seems very simple – chant for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure, let Him enjoy our kīrtana, but how to put this in practice? We assume that He likes hearing His name over and over again but put yourself in His shoes – it must be really annoying to hear someone constantly muttering your name, hoping to attract your attention to his problems. Actually, not someone – everyone! Our only hope is that Kṛṣṇa is truly Absolute and so has unlimited patience.

Similarly, the prescription is to always remember about Kṛṣṇa. I try to follow it and as I observe myself I notice that all my remembrances of His existence are about my own problems. Whenever I decide to mentally chant His name it’s always about my own interests.

It could be about headache, it could be about helping to wake up, it could be about helping me to fall asleep, it could be about avoiding dangerous situations on the road, it could be about taking my mind off everyday problems, it could be about praying for some good luck, it could be about seeking protection, it could be about influencing other people, it could be about sustaining my fundamental assumption that things WILL get better. None of it concerns Kṛṣṇa Himself, and this is the problem I don’t know how to solve.

Generally, it goes like this – something happens in the world and it makes me remember Kṛṣṇa. On one hand it’s perfectly okay but on the other hand it contaminates me with material interests, especially if things happen to me.

Kṛṣṇa has no connection with this world and no interests in its goings on whatsoever, He left the business of running it to His trusted agents, so any time His name comes up in our minds in connection to happenings here He has no interest in it. I bet for Him our constant “prayers” is like spam texts from hell. First thing I’d do is to find a way to unsubscribe.

So I chant the mantra, something comes over me and pollutes my consciousness, eventually I notice it and try to purge unwanted thoughts and concentrate simply on listening to the name but the contamination persist for a while. It affects my attitude and with the wrong attitude we won’t get anywhere even in this world, what to speak about satisfying the Lord.

What is the right attitude then? I don’t know, I don’t think it even exists. We know what it should be:

    anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaḿ
    jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam
    ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-
    śīlanaḿ bhaktir uttamā

Free from material desires and favorable to Kṛṣṇa but in conditioned state we are never free from material desires and on close examination our “favorable to Kṛṣṇa” part is based on using Him for our own ends. The fact that He is not lacking in anything doesn’t help either – what can you do for a person who is fully satisfied in Himself? He’s got absolutely everything He could ever desire and He does not desire anything we see in this world.

That’s why bhakti is so rare. In its absence we really have nothing to go on but Lord Caitanya’s instructions in Śikṣaṣtaka (CC Antya 20.21):

    tṛṇād api su-nīcena
    taror iva sahiṣṇunā
    amāninā māna-dena
    kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ

Notice how there’s nothing about love, service, or bhakti here. It does not require any qualities to our attitude that are not available in the conditioned state, just patience and humility, and in the next several verses Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī explains how to cultivate this attitude on examples of trees – objects available in this world.

It’s still not easy to follow in everyday life. Our mental attitude depends on what happens to us, not on what happens to some hypothetical trees. We can’t just feel being below the grass when our minds come with completely different estimates of our position here. We can’t practice tolerance when nothing seems to affect us either. When problems come tolerating them is not straightforward, too – we naturally wish for problems to go away and for us to be free from suffering but that’s not what Lord Caitanya wanted and it’s not how we could attain devotional service.

There’s a big debate always going on about real meaning of humility, too. What it means to be humble according to the dictionary and according to Kṛṣṇa consciousness are two different things.

It seems we are truly trapped in this world with no escape. We know that chanting must help but we don’t know exactly how. We, as our bodies, are simply not designed to be liberated, nor are we designed for serving Kṛṣṇa. Attaining devotional service to Him is a hope against hope, and that’s why it’s called causeless mercy.

In the meantime, chanting is the only way, pure or not, there’s no other solution. We are totally in the hands of Kṛṣṇa here, let Him arrange everything in the best possible way.

Vanity thought #950. Boundaries

Kṛṣṇa consciousness offers us brilliant philosophy and even though we grasp it in the first few months its depth is virtually unlimited and there’s always something new to learn. I say virtually because in “reality” we don’t add much to “we are spirit souls, parts and parcels of God, and our eternal position is to serve Him”, what we add is realization of this simple principle which, hopefully, happens on levels higher than what everybody sees as “reality”.

Of course we can learn Vedic stuff from saṅkhya to ayurveda to cosmology but that is rather distractive. We can also go deep into the science of rasa but that is rather premature whereas one simple thing like “I am not this body” can keep us fascinated throughout our entire life if we gradually progress in realizing it, and that is just the start because there’s a whole universe around us whose nature we need to realize, too.

For the past couple of days I was talking about nature of apparent variety in the material world, how all the observable phenomena appear to be separate and at best related but in reality it’s just ONE energy pulling wool over everybody’s eyes. Vigorous philosophical study of the world around us always leads to this kind of realization regardless of who is doing it – Christians, Hare Kṛṣṇas, scientists, philosophers – everybody eventually comes to the same conclusion.

There’s no mystery behind this, it’s just how the world is – one energy appearing to be variegated therefor anyone who looks at this world honestly will see it this way, too.

I don’t have much evidence prepared to support this assertion, Advaita Vāda is one obvious example. Likewise, in Islam material representations of Allah are strictly forbidden because all the forms, shapes, and colors of this world are accepted as illusory and unconnected with God. Christianity went through this phase during Reformation – God is God, what we see here is not God, hence it doesn’t really matter. Catholics have not caught up, of course, but the entire Christian philosophy is based on monism – God is different from the creation which does not have its own, independent existence.

Science is a bit slow here but news from the frontiers are about the same, especially if they extend principles of quantum mechanics to everyday existence. They have figured out long time ago that Newton’s laws, which everyone can observe everywhere around us, are not actually laws but only a small part of the spectrum that falls into our view. Go smaller than our everyday objects and Newton’s laws don’t work, go bigger and they stop working, too.

Now that they are building a unified theory of everything they are not even trying to accommodate what we in our everyday life think as the laws of nature. Quantum particles behave in an absolutely weird way and so does the Big Bang with the entire universe compressed to the size of walnut.

We can imagine walnut, no big deal, but most of us can’t understand how this walnut is all there is – there’s nothing outside of this walnut, no space, no vacuum, just nothing. I don’t know how we can picture a walnut this way because all our mental images come with its relative size. We also see the space we can measure inside the walnut and outside. The universe, however, does not have an outside. Imagine that!

Nor do most of us comprehend the idea that there was no time before Big Bang. What do they mean “no time existed”? We can imagine being frozen in time but that’s not the same thing – time goes by but we stay the same. Pre-Big Bang didn’t have time, it didn’t go anywhere. In fact we can’t even talk about pre-Big Bang, it doesn’t make sense from the POV of science but for us as ordinary people it’s a perfectly natural question.

Anyway, their unified theory points out to incredible unity of everything that happens in the universe, nothing here has separate, independent existence, it really IS just one energy interacting with itself in very weird ways like switching between being a wave and a particle, for example.

But I wasn’t going to talk about boundaries of science today. I was going to talk about boundaries we set for our own exploration of the world as aspiring devotees.

We learn to see the world as interaction of guṇas and material elements. From Bhagavad Gītā we learn how we can spot the influence of each particular guṇa. We are told to seek shelter of the mode of goodness first and then aim to transcend it. We also learn a lot about different processes of self-realization and different dharmas. At the end we are told to abandon them and surrender ourselves to the Lord.

Okay, so we try to surrender, but what is it that we are surrendering? Where is the boundary of what is ours to surrender and what is not?

Some people think that they can donate money and that is enough. There are many reasons why they do that and one of them is that money lies on the boundary of their self as opposed to the rest of the world. They think “I own this and I can give it to the Lord, and that will be surrender”.

Others are more advanced and they donate time and energy – they think they are their bodies, they usually use their bodies for their own gratification and when they engage them in service of the Lord they see it as surrender. This is ideal, btw, most of the time they only *lend* their bodies for a short while and then take them back to serve at their own pleasure again.

How do you surrender you soul, however? We don’t see ourselves as souls yet, we talk about it in third person, as in “my soul”, as in my soul, my mind, and my body which together comprise “me”. Of course “my soul” doesn’t exist and what I think as “me” isn’t me either.

So, we tell ourselves that we have surrendered to Kṛṣṇa but we still claim a large chunk of the material energy as “myself”. Kṛṣṇa wants us to surrender as spirit souls but we give Him what is already His and declare it a sacrifice deserving unlimited rewards. I bet it doesn’t impress Him even a bit and that’s why we got stuck down here for ages.

As I was saying in these past two days – we try to see the world as one energy only pretending to variegated and this is fine, but then we forget that we are part of this non-variegated energy, too. Not as souls, of course, but as what we consider as “myself”.

We still think that our bodies, minds, intellects, our decision making powers – they are all independent and under our control. That there’s outside world which is made of Kṛṣṇa’s energy and there’s “ourselves” who are different from it. This is a fallacy – since we don’t see our actual spiritual forms yet everything we perceive here as ourselves is the part of the same energy as the “outside”.

We still keep this boundary, still keep our false ego. It might shrink a little to exclude things like identifying ourselves with our countries, societies, jobs, careers, families etc. We might even accept that our gross material body is not under our control, at least not at all times, but we still draw a line somewhere where we say “mine” and “myself”. This line is fundamentally wrong.

Our mind, our desires, our thoughts, our convictions, even our faith – none of that has any independent existence, it’s all the same material energy that only appears as variegated. Everything we do or think in this world, absolutely everything, is a reaction to something else and a cause of some other thing or thought. There’s no difference between inside and outside, it’s an artificial distinction caused by yet another material element – false ego.

Yet we claim ownership over “our” thoughts, “our” endeavors, “our” service etc etc.

It’s Kṛṣṇa’s property being engaged by Kṛṣṇa’s energy in Kṛṣṇa’s service. We can’t even chant the holy names without demigods pulling some strings so that air passes through our vocal cords and our lips move. Even our determination to chant depends on how often we heard about its importance and how attentive our mind was when we heard it.

For the sake of convenience we can still say “I’ve finished chanting all my rounds today” but we should not see ourselves as the ones who have actually done it – it was the work of same energy that made murderers murder and rapists rape, it’s not to our credit. We are just lucky to live through this particular part of the illusion because it has connection to Lord Caitanya and the paramparā, that’s all.

Vanity thought #949. Abandon what variety?

It’s easy to say, like I did yesterday, that we should abandon all variety because variety itself is product of the illusion. For a conditioned soul it’s not really a choice – mama māyā duratyayā – this divine energy is difficult to overcome (BG 7.14).

Of course those who surrender to Kṛṣṇa can easily cross beyond it but surrendering isn’t easy either or we all would have done it years ago.

It’s easy to say that if we see two people arguing it’s only an illusion, there aren’t two people and there aren’t two different arguments, it’s one energy interacting with itself. It is impossible to actually see the world this way, that’s why they call us “conditioned” souls, we are bound to this illusion and we cannot shake it off no matter how much we try. It’s possible only by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, which doesn’t come around very often.

To give an example – we can look at a country like Ukraine where people had a revolution and then Russians took the advantage of the chaos and orchestrated a land grab and we can say that it’s all just an illusion, it’s modes of passion of ignorance at play with each other. There’s no actual “land” and even if there was it belongs to God, not to Ukrainians, Russians, or Crimeans. The whole fight is unreal and is produced solely for the entertainment purposes. When time comes Kṛṣṇa will suddenly wrap up the whole production and tuck it away for billions of years until the next show.

We can fairly easy imagine that THEIR fight is unreal because for us it exists mostly as a reflection in our minds to begin with but if someone unceremoniously took away our prasādam just as we were about to put it into our mouths ..it would become real right away. It’s easy to pontificate about distant things but once it gets personal all theories go out of the window. Theoretically there’s no difference between our faeces and our mouths and if the two are combined the resulting reaction is unreal, too. Practically it would never work. Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? But why shouldn’t it? It’s all unreal, there’s no optimal speed of transition from pleasant to gross here.

We do have an example of Gaurakiśora Dāsa Babaji who was hiding in a latrine for months because it disgusted people bothering him and they left him alone. It is possible to become completely indifferent to ALL manifestations of material nature but it probably won’t happen to us in this lifetime. It should, ideally, but it probably won’t for several reasons.

When we examine this rejection of variety we first have to admit that illusion is real, material energy is real, variety is real – this is our acintya bheda-abheda tattva. Illusion exists, variety exists, there’s land in Ukraine and there are faeces and mouths, what should really change is our perception of these material phenomena. Simply rejecting the world is not our philosophy, our philosophy is seeing it as it is, not as it appears to the conditioned living entities.

This become pertinent when we consider our own role here as servants of guru and Kṛṣṇa or servants of Lord Caitanya’s mission. This saṅkīrtana movement is happening within this illusory world, this is where Lord Caitanya chose to descent, this is where He decided to conduct His pastimes. He made it not just real but actually divine. How can it be rejected? How can it be ignored? How can we be indifferent to it?

When our guru tells us to do this and that, chant, read books, help ISKCON programs etc he is telling us to engage with the “variety”, it’s our duty, it cannot be abandoned.

And then there’s spiritual variety which is the foundation of our view of spiritual world. That variety is real and we should seek it in a variety of ways, not reject any notion of it. Our relationships with Kṛṣṇa are variegated at every step and so are our relationships with other vaiṣṇavas. It might appear as happening on an external level but actually it isn’t, beyond the externalities lies genuine uniqueness to each and every interaction that purifies our heart just as the sound of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra. We don’t feel it now but it works. If done properly, in the spirit of service and humility, we can feel the benefits faster than it happens with our chanting.

How do we separate what variety is material and what variety is spiritual when EVERYTHING in our lives is connected to Kṛṣṇa? It might not appear so but He personally controls each every minute detail of our lives to gradually elevate us to the level of pure devotion. He is obviously everywhere for temple devotees and it might look like He abandons those who go to work like ordinary people but He actually doesn’t.

Kṛṣṇa is always with us, closer to our hearts than we ever realize, and He carefully measures every bit of our sense gratification so that we lose the taste of it in the most optimal way (if there was an absolute degree to optimum, Kṛṣṇa would find it for us). Our bond with Him, established by the grace of our guru, is eternal and unbreakable. Whatever happens to us is His personal intervention even it does not look so on the surface.

This means that all variety that we, as servants of guru and Kṛṣṇa, see here is spiritual, not material, in a sense that this is external energy working under Kṛṣṇa’s personal control which makes it into spiritual even if some other characteristics of it are not the same as of what we consider the actual spiritual energy.

In this sense our lives are not different from being in Lord Caitanya’s pastimes – He stepped out of the comfort of His own dhāma (if that is even possible) and into the real world which He engaged in service of His mission as His līlā, and we continue to play this līlā for His pleasure, it’s just that He does not appear to be personally present anymore.

This personal presence is not a big deal – even when He was in Jagannātha Purī some devotees could see Him present in certain places, like during chipped rice festival of Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī, and other devotees couldn’t. He even issued a list of places where He is always present regardless of whether people see Him or not. His own mother didn’t see Him eating all the food she cooked for Him in His absence so if we don’t see Lord Caitanya appearing in the midst of a kīrtana doesn’t mean that He is not there.

So, how can I say – abandon all variety? Even if we talk about material variety, how can we separate what is material and what is spiritual, considering that every time we utter word Kṛṣṇa He is actually present along with His dhāma and all His associates?

The answer lies in the question itself – if we see everything in this world as Kṛṣṇa’s own arrangement for our own ultimate benefit we already ARE beyond the concept of variety, it does not exist for us anymore – we see everything as Kṛṣṇa’s energy already, there’s no confusion here.

There’s still a question of identifying ourselves with our material bodies and drawing the boundaries of external/internal in the wrong places and this requires its own explanation for which I don’t have time today. Maybe later.