Vanity thought #983. Bloop – the sound of Entrance Into Eternity

Ekādaśī Śrimad Bhāgavatam class in Mayapur usually consists of a recording of Śrila Prabhupāda followed by a short discussion about what he said. This discussion is done more in a format of inverse questions and answers where devotees in the audience get picked up by a teacher to demonstrate that they have been listening, rather than audience asking the speaker as usual. I’m glad I’ve never been caught out this way, I can never answer anything on the spot, my brain is too slow for this.

This ekādaśī, however, was different. Instead of the usual memory check something else came up on the screen. There was a moment of confusion as the MC didn’t know himself what exactly was going on. After a short consultation with video team he told everyone to simply watch a short film “about Prabhupada”.

Turned out it was this video (Vimeo). I don’t want to include it here for reasons explained later.

I don’t know if this episode will find its way into ISKCON bashing sites but I won’t be surprised if it will. If you watch it without sound there are no problems – you can see Mayapur, ecstatic devotees, scenes of the dhāma, Prabhupāda Samādhi etc. Elephants might have been a bit out of place but they are okay for a video about India, no problem.

There was no Prabhupāda in the video, however, not that I remember, but it’s a minor detail, devotees who arranged this presentation on ekādaśī needed it to sound legitimate and so “about Prabhupāda” line was born.

Real problem was that the soundtrack for this video “about Prabhupāda” didn’t have any devotional singing. We can see kīrtanas but we cannot hear them. No mahāmantra, no bhajanas, nothing, just modern instrumental music, “trip hop”, as they called it on wikipedia. The musician himself is not a devotee, or at least he doesn’t declare himself as such anywhere in public.

The music was kinda nice to hear, good choice, but that’s exactly what is wrong about it – it pleases our senses, not the Lord’s. We enjoyed it, not the Lord, we want to hear more of it for ourselves, forgetting about the Lord’s enjoyment completely.

At first I thought maybe it was a recording from one of those “bhakti-fests” where they might not sing but at least everyone is supposed to be in devotional mood. Nope, it’s a studio recording from eight years ago, which only raises more questions to people who selected it for video about Mayapur.

The way I see it, they didn’t look for any devotional music at all, they just remembered this nice track from years ago they thought was attractive and pleasing to the ear. Looks good, sounds good, and it’s “about Prabhupāda”. Okay, really it’s about Mayapur but in a very loose sense anyway.

Here’s my second problem with this video – what does “Entrance into Eternity” mean? Are these just words thrown around by neo-māyāvādīs that are meant to invoke nice feelings rather than make logical sense? If that’s how they chose this title then there’s no point in dissecting it, every meaning is good, everything is okay, it’s “about Prabhupāda”…

Well, my interpretation is that these ecstatic kirtanas shown in the video are nothing more than just entrance, and then they lead to eternity. Or maybe Maypur is an entrance that leads to eternity. Somewhere there must be entrance that leads elsewhere, to eternity. Images of Rādhā-Mādhava is just an entrance, devotees are just an entrance, kirtans are just an entrance, Prabhupada is just an entrance, Kṛṣṇa is just an entrance to eternity, which is the ultimate goal.

That’s pure māyāvāda, there’s no other way to see it.

Of course the title can be interpreted differently, like watching this video is an entrance into devotional life – seeing ecstatic devotees will make one try their kīrtans for himself. Maybe someone’s devotion will start with this video, maybe it will blossom. This means that it’s not what you see but the act of watching itself is entrance into eternity, not the most direct explanation. It gives too much benefit of doubt to its creators, imo.

My interpretation matches with kīrtanless soundtrack better – what you see is only the means, there’s no point in dwelling on exactly what they are singing, there’s no point in sampling their music, we go for eternity so this “Anthem by Emancipator” fits it better than kīrtans themselves.

From māyāvāda point of view devotees shown in the video are just neophytes, they haven’t entered eternity yet though they discovered a cool way to reach there. Once they see beyond their singing and dancing they’ll appreciate the eternity and universal love, and then their journey will become their destination, or some such crap.

I really hope that it was all just a misunderstanding and that no one on that production team harbors any māyāvāda ideas. Otoh, someone deliberately chose trip hop soundtrack over devotional music, so…

If there’s some outrage expressed somewhere I would totally understand it – why would anyone bring sensual, non-devotional music to Mayapur, of all places? What are they trying to prove? What are they trying to show? Why would anyone play it during Bhāgavatam class? Why would anyone play it right after Prabhupāda’s lecture? On ekādaśi?

I guess I can imagine how these actions can be defended, too – someone just wanted Mayapur to look nice, and they did, the cinematography is superb, everything looks very professional and it sounds nice, too, so what’s the problem?

One could also say that it was not originally meant for devotees but to attract outsiders. Typical line of reasoning would be about bad connotation that comes with “Hare Kṛṣṇas” so it’s better to avoid it at the first meeting, let people just see how ecstatic our life is instead.

We usually say that Prabhupāda was always a straight talker and he would have none of this nonsense but that is not entirely true. He knew very well that for preaching purposes our message sometimes needs to be modified and sweetened. The goal is to give people the medicine of the mahāmantra, if they don’t like the taste at first we can mix with with sugary words and attractive imagery.

I can look it up but I’m sure that Prabhupāda didn’t insist on straight on Kṛṣṇa consciousness being presented in places like Soviet Russia or Iran, he had no objections about taking it slowly there first. There’s no reason we can’t employ this same method in a hostile western environment. Forty years ago we were welcome as a novelty but we ourselves sullied our reputation and so there is a need to disassociate us from people’s bad memories. We can’t start with “We are those Hare Kṛṣṇas you surely must have heard about years ago”.

This is walking a thin line, though, if we present Kṛṣṇa “forcefully” and make mistakes we at least force people to hear the message and the Name. It’s transcendental, it will work its way into people’s hearts regardless of their initial reactions. Mahāprabhu is also not strict with those who make mistakes while preaching about Kṛṣṇa.

If we take it slowly, however, and didn’t get a chance to introduce Kṛṣṇa at all – what have we achieved? Nothing. We get only a few minutes for our presentation and if it didn’t work we have completely wasted a precious opportunity.

There’s a much bigger downside to caution here, and beating about the bush does not please Mahāprabhu as much as preaching straight.

Still, if the preaching attitude is there and the goal is to attract people to Kṛṣṇa then criticizing this video is unwarranted. People preach according to their abilities. If they come up short by somebody else’s standards it doesn’t mean Kṛṣṇa does not appreciate their effort at all, and if Kṛṣṇa appreciates it – who are we to argue?

Somebody just have to make sure that videos like this are produced and distributed in good faith. If the attitude is wrong then it all smacks of māyāvāda and needs to be condemned in strongest possible terms.

I’m not the one doing this attitude check so I better shut up for now


8 comments on “Vanity thought #983. Bloop – the sound of Entrance Into Eternity

  1. i agree that the background music was purely chosen, nothing spiritual about it, or connected in any way to srila prabhupada. it’s pleasant enough, but that’s all.

    i don’t think it’s meant for outreach, preaching to those who are not ISKCON devotees already — and i hope it isn’t used for that purpose.

    i’ve been living in mayapur for more than 30 years now, and in my mind all the scenes are clear, make perfect sense; nothing even vaguely associated with mayavada or such nonsense.

    these are moments that anybody living in or visiting mayapur experiences every day, and watching them in this artistically well-done video brings exactly those memories to the mind, in spite of the bland, elevator-type music in the background.

    i see nothing wrong showing it _after_ bhagavatam class, to an audience that knows perfectly well what the video is ‘talking’ about. trying to use it to impress outsiders, people who have no idea what’s happening, would be wrong though — at least in my opinion.

    • um, there’s two typos in my comment. if you choose to publish it, it would be nice to correct them:

      1. the bg-music wasn’t “purely” chosen, but “poorly;”

      2. i haven’t been living in mayapur for 30+ years, only 20+;

      thanks, phani.

      • I hope you are right and there’s no connection with mayavada in any sense…. but…

        I can’t think of a single legitimate reason why devotees raised on Śrila Prabhupāda’s books would ever consider adding karmi musak as a soundtrack to devotional video. There must be some explanation before this little error can be dismissed as insignificant. I’m not demanding it here but until such explanation is found I’ll think of it as an open case.

        Also, in our temple sadhana, _after_ Bhagavatam class should be prasadam, not trip hop. It can also be argued that this video replaced Q&A session which is part of Bhagavatam and sometimes grants as even better sadhu-sanga than listening to class itself.

        It’s not a big deal, devotees who are responsible for this surely meant well, I don’t want to cause any trouble. Lord Caitanya allowed it to happen for a reason and criticizing devotees is definitely not it so lets just leave it before I say something I can’t take back.

        Hare Krishna

        Also, as a long time resident of the Holy Dhama and therefore practically Lord Caitanya’s ambassador, please be merciful to me, I don’t get chances like this very often. This kind of mercy is life sustaining, just a thought would probably be enough.

  2. since i don’t know the video authors personally i can only speculate as to why they chose that music; but mayavada leanings does not come to my mind. i wasn’t present during that class, but heard that the audience loudly applauded after the video was shown.

    rather the desire to keep the experience “smooth,” as the scenes are flowing into each other, perhaps a little lazyness trying to find bhajan & kirtan clips that would fulfill the same purpose. and, at least in my opinion, not-so-good musical taste 😦

    the SP disciple in charge of the arrangement regretted that he’d chosen the video after hearing the sound track. he was told it was “about srila prabhupada,” and was unpleasantly surprised after actually seeing & hearing it.

    also the video is tagged as “trailer,” introduction to something larger, which presumably would have more than elevator music as it’s sound track.

    there’s a general tendency, specially among young devotees, to appreciate non-spiritual music, or even produce it, which certainly isn’t ver spiritual, but understandable, at least for me.

    not everybody is born as a sadhu, only few grow up in a purely sattic environment like our “mayapur academy” (or whatever it’s exactly called), which is strictly brahminical.

    young people are exposed to western culture and, with very few exceptions, experience some type of youthful rebellion against what for them is “the establishment.”

    again, that’s not ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world, not even in mayapur at this time.

    in regards to my blessings, i’ll gladly give them to you, but am doubtful if they’ll do you any good. i chose to live in mayapur because i’m afraid of srimati radharani & tulasidevi, knowing that lord caitanya’s dham is more forgiving of my many faults & mistakes.

    • I was listening to it on the internet with video turned off. Where others saw beautiful imagery I only heard the musak, it took me a while to turn the video back on and I watched in on Vimeo afterwards, too. I can understand why people applauded, it’s mind blowing indeed.

      As for mayavada leanings, I can build a connection by saying that producers didn’t see the difference between devotional and beautiful music and they felt that it’s all ultimately the same – yata mata tata patha. “Entrance into Eternity” is also a suspicious title with mayavada undertones.

      The label mayavada itself is like calling someone Hitler or a Nazi in the outside world. It’s bad but these tendencies are, indeed, everywhere including our own hearts. In this I agree with you that it’s understandable.

      Mistake has been made, hopefully it will be corrected, that’s all there is to it at the moment. It will turn into a problem only if there are no corrections and devotees continue making these errors over and over again.

      Hare Krishna

  3. it depends on the motive, not only the visible or audible facts. i believe the mistake was caused by ignorance or thoughtlessness, not mayavada contamination. since neither of us know the authors, we can only speculate. i prefer the maxime: “if in doubt, assume ‘not guilty’.”

    i’ve left a message pointing to this discussion at the authors’ vimeo account, but they don’t seem to be interested 😦

    • “If in doubt” approach requires you to make a value judgment on which explanation is less damaging. In this case there could be far worse scenarios than simply hanging out with bhakti-fest crowd (which brings mayavada contamination).

      As far as error correction – I never meant to tell producers what music they should or shouldn’t put in their movie. I thought playing it during Bhagavatam class was inappropriate, and that’s whole other department which I never meant to contact either. You said that SP disciple in charge noticed that music was off and that’s all I, personally, needed to hear.

      My involvement with how things run in Mayapur is absolutely minimal, I’m in no position to effect any changes there and I don’t want to overstep my non-existing authority.

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