Vanity thought #974. Flooding the gates

Nārada Muni’s advice on conquering lust is too controversial to just let it go, there needs to be an attempt at reconciliation with our later ācāryas, so here it is.

Let’s start with quoting those verses again (SB 7.11.33-34) together with a short purport:

    My dear King, if an agricultural field is cultivated again and again, the power of its production decreases, and whatever seeds are sown there are lost. Just as drops of ghee on a fire never extinguish the fire but a flood of ghee will, similarly, overindulgence in lusty desires mitigates such desires entirely.

    PURPORT

    If one continuously sprinkles drops of ghee on a fire, the fire will not be extinguished, but if one suddenly puts a lump of ghee on a fire, the fire may possibly be extinguished entirely. Similarly, those who are too sinful and have thus been born in the lower classes are allowed to enjoy sinful activities fully, for thus there is a chance that these activities will become detestful to them, and they will get the opportunity to be purified.

The fact that the purport is so short and that in half of it Śrila Prabhupāda simply repeats Nārada Muni’s suggestion doesn’t make it easy. I certainly can’t think of any similar ideas expressed elsewhere in our books. There’s a verse in Bhagavad Gītā (2.59) but the purport there is similarly short and doesn’t directly prescribe Nārada Muni’s method, offering developing higher taste through bhakti instead:

    The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.

    PURPORT

    Unless one is transcendentally situated, it is not possible to cease from sense enjoyment. The process of restriction from sense enjoyment by rules and regulations is something like restricting a diseased person from certain types of eatables. The patient, however, neither likes such restrictions nor loses his taste for eatables. Similarly, sense restriction by some spiritual process like aṣṭāńga-yoga, in the matter of yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, etc., is recommended for less intelligent persons who have no better knowledge. But one who has tasted the beauty of the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa, in the course of his advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, no longer has a taste for dead, material things. Therefore, restrictions are there for the less intelligent neophytes in the spiritual advancement of life, but such restrictions are only good until one actually has a taste for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. When one is actually Kṛṣṇa conscious, he automatically loses his taste for pale things.

In fact, here it appears that Nārada Muni’s method shouldn’t work at all – “Unless one is transcendentally situated, it is not possible to cease from sense enjoyment.”

So, does Nārada Muni contradict Kṛṣṇa? Or Śrila Prabhupāda contradicts Nārada? Neither of those, of course, it just gives us a bit of a headache to explain it away.

Both methods should work in the manner intended by the speaking authority, contradictions arise when we try to generalize too much and apply these methods outside of intended sphere. Context, therefore, is very important, as well as exact subject and exact expected results.

In Bhagavad Gītā Krṣṇa is speaking about all conditioned souls in general, dehinaḥ, and He is also the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself so His words should be taken in a more general, absolute sense. Taste for material life does not disappear unless one develops taste for serving the Lord in devotional service. Even liberated souls do not lose that taste forever and occasionally slip back down to conditioned state and let’s not forget that even liberated souls who do not for a moment experience attraction to material enjoyment are nevertheless attracted by the Lord – the famous ātmārāma verse (SB 1.7.10).

There are other conditions that attract an embodied soul to devotional service – “four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me — the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute” which were also described by Kṛṣṇa (BG 7.16). Notice that he doesn’t mention those who have completely exhausted their sense organs as suggested by Nārada Muni.

Let’s look closely at Nārada’s advice. It comes almost at the end of the chapter, previous verses dealt with duties of brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, wives etc. This turn to overindulgence in lusty desires came in rather unexpectedly, though a śloka dealing with mixed classes was inserted three verses earlier (SB 7.11.30). That verse simply mentioned that lower classes have their hereditary customs, nothing else. In the purport Śrila Prabhupāda said that for members of some of those castes intermarriage and drinking is allowed because they do not consider it sinful themselves.

In the next verse Nārada doesn’t say anything about sin but Śrila Prabhupāda continues on the same topic in the purport:

    In Bhagavad-gītā (3.35) it is said, śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt svanuṣṭhitāt: “It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though they may be faulty, than another’s duties.” The antyajas, the men of the lower classes, are accustomed to stealing, drinking and illicit sex, but that is not considered sinful. For example, if a tiger kills a man, this is not sinful but if a man kills another man, this is considered sinful, and the killer is hanged. What is a daily affair among the animals is a sinful act in human society. Thus according to the symptoms of higher and lower sections of society, there are different varieties of occupational duties. According to the experts in Vedic knowledge, these duties are prescribed in terms of the age concerned.

This is very interesting in itself because in our preaching we insist on absolute nature of sinful activities such as drinking and illicit sex. Śrila Prabhupāda doesn’t mention meat eating here but I think it would be fair to assume that killing cows is indeed absolutely sinful while smaller animals, like chicken or fish, can fall under customs of each particular caste. Come to think of it, ritual slaughter of the cows and bulls in corrida traditions of Spanish speaking world should also fall under particular customs of certain people living in a certain age. We don’t usually allows for such relativity, maybe we should.

So, for several ślokas in a row Nārada Muni was talking about duties of people of lower classes and while he doesn’t specify who exactly he had in mind in verses 33 and 34 he must have meant those who fall outside general varṇāśrama. He was also talking about gradual elevation through the ranks, especially in immediately preceding verse 32:

    If one acts in his profession according to his position in the modes of nature and gradually gives up these activities, he attains the niṣkāma stage.

Notice that in this verse he specifically says “gradually gives up these activities”, overindulgence of the verse 34 comes later and should be considered in that context.

Now we can piece it altogether – lower classes of people have their own customs and they should follow those, which is not considered sinful. By doing so they will gradually lose their interests in these activities. How? By indulging in what is allowed in full.

As long as they do not step outside their natural boundaries they can engage their senses as much as they want, it’s beneficial for them, and flooding their senses will satisfy their most base desires, prompting interest in a more subtle and sophisticated enjoyment that will be available in next lives in higher castes.

This is how Vedic way of gradual elevation is supposed to work anyway, the only thing unusual here is that restrictions must be in the form of boundaries, not quantities of sense enjoyment.

Can we apply this method in our own lives? Yes, of course, but we should determine our positions first. As devotees we have our own boundaries and our own rules, part of which is making voluntary sacrifices for the Lord. If we cannot qualify as that kind of devotees we should not pretend to be on that level, and if we are on that level we should not do certain things that are allowed for everybody else.

In practical terms it means no illicit sex, for example, and even if we approach our partners for procreation we should not do so more often than once a month. There’s no restriction on a number of children and no restrictions on how long we can try – this month, next month, month after that and so on.

If we can’t follow – we are not there yet and so we should live by our own prescribed standards, not demanding any initiation rights or recognition as devotees in good standing.

As far as gays are concerned – if they feel like “gay marriage” is a right step for them there’s no reason to deny them this right but if they feel like they can’t live without casual sex with multiple partners – let them do it with whatever rules apply for this kind of “dating”.

Can we “bless” their relationships? Yes, why not, but claiming a right to be initiated is probably beyond their level yet.

At the end of the day – we are saved through chanting of the Holy Name and the Holy Name doesn’t ask us for vows, it’s there free for everybody who has ever met a devotee or read Prabhupāda’s book. Holy Name also works on the absolute level so if we don’t qualify for initiation in this life it doesn’t really matter, we’ll get there eventually. Perhaps our envy of those who appear as better devotees than us is a much bigger problem than our own lack of advancement – we should concentrate solely on our own relationship with the Lord and treat everybody else’s with utmost respect – amāninā mānadena. Then kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ.

We we get that we can’t ask for anything more.

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