Vanity thought #978. Phrenology

Phrenology, or study of the skull, is considered a pseudoscience but once it was a very popular subject. People who “invented” it were considered learned and famous and it was considered real science through and through.

Phrenologists believed that brain is a seat of the mind and as such is composed of various mind “organs”, up to forty in number. The skull, then, was thought to replicate the shape and form of those organs like a glove follows contours of the hand. By measuring various regions of the skull one could then talk about the level of development of each mind organ and make predictions of one’s mental state and abilities simply by the shape of his head.

It all went sour when “real” science discovered that brain is not made up of mental organs the way phrenologists assumed, that it’s organized completely differently, therefore phrenology lost it’s scientific basis.

That’s a brief history but what I think is obvious is that phrenologists didn’t have a clue how brain works and what those organs are, they simply made up those maps based on common observations. They have found that people with certain traits have common features of their skulls and that’s how they “determined” what brain organs lie underneath. In this phrenology was a lot like western astrology which seeks connections between stars and our lives. It’s still considered a pseudoscience, of course, because we can’t explain how those connections come about no matter how reliable our predictions might be.

It was the same technique ancient people used to predict rains by observing heavy clouds in the sky – it almost always works but because they had no idea of precipitation, evaporation, condensation, water cycles and the such, they are not considered scientists and their predictive abilities are called superstition.

Fair enough, yet Vedic astrology is considered “real” science by us even though we still have no clue how it all works. Phrenology, therefore, comes in the same line as Vedic palmistry, numerology and probably ayurveda, too. It works even if it sounds wonky to the modern scientists, and it is based on the teachings of ācāryas who knew what they were talking about and how it worked exactly, and we assume that because of its Vedic origin it is a far more reliable science than modern medicine, sociology, or whatever they use to accomplish the same tasks nowadays.

A few years ago some devotees used Vedic phrenology, or whatever is left of it, to describe Śrila Prabhupāda. They mostly got a flak for it. Partly because it still sounds wonky and, like a horoscope or a palm, can be read in many self-contradictory ways, partly because devotees didn’t think it was appropriate to talk about vaiṣṇava ācāryas as if they were mere mortals governed by the same material laws as the rest of the conditioned world.

Both objections have solid reasons behind it but if we don’t object to reading of our ācāryas horoscopes then why object phrenology? One could similarly find many traits not expected from a pure devotee in a horoscope or in the lines on a palm, we don’t usually object, we just try to read these horoscopes through the prism of ācārya’s devotion and accomplishments. We like the horoscope of Śrila Prabhupāda because it predicted his travels and opening many temples in late stage of his life. If there is anything in his horoscope that seems fishy we had not been told about it and we wouldn’t even read it if it wasn’t explained by a devotee.

That doesn’t seem fair to the Vedic science, perhaps we should develop a slightly thicker skin and see Lord’s power shining through our ācāryas no matter how they looked to our material eyes, warts and all.

More practical study, however, would be physiognomy. Measuring skulls is difficult, seeing one’s face is the first thing we do when we meet people. We don’t need to study anything to make reasonably correct first impressions. They don’t always hold, of course, but they are usually quite close to the truth.

Physiognomy suffered the same fate as phrenology – it was based on observations but it couldn’t find scientific basis for it and was discarded. Yet it is impossible to stop us from judging people character by their appearance, face being the primary factor. Even legislation against facial profiling doesn’t stop HR managers from judging potential candidates in the interviews. It’s just there, unstoppable and unavoidable, yet it’s not scientific enough.

Well, the problem seems to be with science lacking knowledge to explain how it works instead of people using it with relative success.

Why is it important? I think not because of people’s actual facial features but because of their facial expressions. I can’t say I’ve seen lots of dead people and those that I have seen were already wearing make up but I’ve seen enough pictures of dead bodies to conclude that corpses do not look beautiful or thoughtful or inspiring or happy or sad. They are just plain.

What we see in people’s faces is their emotions and projections of their personalities that do not exist in material bodies alone. The moment you step on a plane and are greeted by an air-hostess she projects certain mood for you to enjoy. Her dead face wouldn’t look anything like that at all. People who smile at us from giant billboard would not look like that when dead either.

Browsing through job applications or sites with perspective candidates you’ll see what people want you to see but not their real, lifeless faces. Physiognomy would teach you how to read beyond these “life” faces and whether you should believe what you see or not but that is not important – what is important is that by looking at these people we absorb their projected moods and therefore contaminate ourselves.

They want us to look at them and feel their power or their happiness, they want us to believe them or maybe be afraid of them, in case of boxers doing pre-match photos. They always want to communicate with us through their faces even before they open their mouths.

Needless to say, whatever they want to communicate is grossly materialistic. One should jump into the Ganges if he sees a non-devotee in the street, that prescription hasn’t changed its appropriateness. We can’t follow it, of course, but that doesn’t mean contamination isn’t there, we just have to deploy different means, like chanting or remembering Kṛṣṇa, which is a million times better decontaminant than simply bathing in Ganges’ water.

I guess this is the gist of what I wanted to say today – people enliven their dead bodies with their vile, materialistic attitudes and they try to impose those attitudes on us through their smiles, however innocent. Phrenology and physiognomy might be legitimate Vedic sciences but we don’t really want to know materialistic people they can be applied to. Why study them in the first place? And that goes for astrology, too. Why do we want to contaminate ourselves by observing other people’s selfishness? So what if they are great in this or that respect? So what if they appear moral and ethical – as long as they do not display unalloyed devotion it’s only an illusion.

That’s why devotee houses shouldn’t have mirrors, I think – even looking at ourselves is contaminating, we aren’t that different from the rest of the society, our bodies are as selfish as anyone else’s. What we see in the mirrors only ties us further to this world, we won’t see reflections of Kṛṣṇa in them, so why bother?

Too radical? Perhaps, we need little mirrors to put on tilaka, but that’s it, I won’t agree with anything bigger and would certainly argue against endlessly staring at ourselves.

Vanity thought #977. Ways of wonder

Please excuse me for brining up a topic I’m unqualified to speak on but I’ve been wondering about several aspects of life in the spiritual world, specifically Vṛndāvana.

We all heard that every stone there is a gem, every move is a dance, every tree is a desire tree and every cow is a desire cow, too. Unlike material world there is no dull matter there whatsoever, everything is fully conscious so there are no “things” per se, only “whos”. Okay, but do they all talk?

It’s one thing for a tree to be able to grant all wishes, which, I think, means they can supply any kind of fruit rather than do completely unrelated things like knock on your window in the morning to wake you up like some sort of an alarm clock, it’s quite another thing for a tree to talk. Why? Because we expect trees to behave in a certain way that would define them as trees and talking is not a part of it.

Technically, a tree is something that drinks with its feet so there’s nothing to prevent it from talking as long as its remains fixed to the ground with its roots but trees do not have mouths. We can say that they don’t need mouths to talk but talking without a mouth would be weird. Kṛṣṇa’s bodily organs are freely interchangeable and that, I suppose, is true for all inhabitants of Vṛndāvana but still, as we have seen in our local manifestation, He and everybody else follow certain conventions in the way they use their bodies. So He doesn’t talk with His foot even if He perfectly can.

I mean Vṛndāvana trees could talk if they wanted to but my point is that normally they don’t. Most likely it’s just not their rasa, not their service, not how they relate to Kṛṣṇa and other devotees. They might be fully spiritually conscious but it doesn’t mean they push their boundaries at will. If all Kṛṣṇa expects of them is to stay there and let Him climb then that’s what they do, they don’t provide a running commentary while He is climbing.

Likewise, when Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī wanders through the forest and asks trees whether they have seen Kṛṣṇa or not they do not immediately respond and give away Kṛṣṇa’s location. They, of course, could, but that’s not how they relate to Śrī Rādhikā. At that moment they are there as a prop to let her speak her heart. She wildly talks to them precisely because they appear as inanimate objects and this is why her otherwise crazy talk becomes even more exalted – she talks even to the trees!

Another thing – every rock, every grain of sand is a precious gemstone there. What does it mean, however? What constitutes a gem? Down here gemstones are valuable because they have special features that make them different from ordinary rocks, but if every rock is of the same quality – what would be the point of calling them gems? They would lose the very distinction that makes them unique in the first place.

Maybe they are gems in a different kind of way – they can appear as precious as you want them when you look at them. Normally, however, their service is not like that. Grains of sand and “dirt” lie there to be walked on by Kṛṣṇa and His devotees. They are not supposed to sparkle, they are not supposed to be picked up and fitted into earrings and other jewelry. Sometimes they are, I guess, so that Kṛṣṇa and devotees can exchange gifts, but wouldn’t picking up any stone on the road make a gift appear cheap? Shouldn’t devotees require to make some extra effort to please the Lord? Like go somewhere very far, climb some mountains, mine some rocks. The value of a gift is not in the object itself, after all, but in the effort the gift giver made to deliver it.

Maybe it’s just my material mind talking but I think it would be better to have some really valuable, hard to get gemstones there so that we can go through all the trouble of getting them for Kṛṣṇa? Why should it be easy? Why should service be easy? Isn’t hard effort is an essential part of what it means to render service?

Or maybe stones there appear as gems only when you look at them in a certain way but ordinarily they appear as ordinary sand and stones. As I said – they could be gems but if we only want to use them to make the paths softer then that’s what they would do. This, however, could mean that sand and stones we see in our earthly Vṛndāvana appear as ordinary only because our vision is imperfect, only because we expect to see them as ordinary but to those whose eyes are smeared with love of God they appear as precious as they desire.

Speaking of love of God – is Kṛṣṇa really all that attractive? When He grew up and moved out of Vṛndāvana He appeared as a human to most observers. Very few understood His divine nature. We don’t have a problem with that because He stepped into our world, full of unbelievers. We can walk straight pass Him here and not notice anything special about Him. Okay, but is it any different in Vṛndāvana?

Does everybody there think He is the most attractive being not because He objectively is but because they love Him with their lives and souls? Typically, everyone is His devotee there but there were also brāhmaṇas who refused to give Him and His friends any food. Maybe it was a pastime but they clearly didn’t see His divinity and didn’t think anything special of Him. There are also gopīs husbands who, afaik, do not see Him as their wives lover. The whole idea of sneaking out in the middle of the night rests on husbands not knowing what is going on and not appreciating Kṛṣṇa’s power of attraction.

So, here are two cases when Kṛṣṇa probably personally pulled wool over some devotees’ eyes so that they could not see Him for who He is. They, of course, will always love Him in their own capacity but certain aspects of Kṛṣṇa’s personality would always stay hidden from them. This means what Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī says of Him is true only in her own eyes. Other devotees in different relationships with the Lord do not see Him that way at all. This means that beauty is in the eye of a beholder.

How’s it any different from our world?

Well, we don’t have Kṛṣṇa here who IS absolutely attractive regardless of our imagination. We can become fans of some local celebrity but that would depend on values we project on that person ourselves, up close and personal that celebrity is not as attractive as media makes them to be. We can imagine supreme beauty in some model or actress and by everybody’s account she might be beautiful indeed but it’s also only temporary, pretty soon she would get old and wrinkled and die.

This does not happen with Kṛṣṇa. He IS the basis of our love for Him, it’s not imaginary. He IS the attraction that makes us into His devotees, we do not surrender to our own imaginary idea of God.

Sometimes people make pledges to themselves, like New Year resolutions, for example. These pledges look like surrendering to certain ideas and images. Means people voluntarily agree to forsake some of their interests for the higher goal. “I will not do this because I promise to become that”, they tell themselves, but that is a surrender to their own visions. They can rethink their pledges any time they want, there’s not objective basis behind them.

With Kṛṣṇa it’s different. He IS there, always, and He will never change and He will always remain the most attractive being – that’s the meaning of His name, after all. He wouldn’t be Kṛṣṇa if He wasn’t supremely attractive. This also means that whatever we see as valuable and attractive now will become useless the moment Kṛṣṇa reveals Himself to us. Nothing will appear of any value then. It will be only our Lord and our unstoppable desire to love and serve Him.

Let’s just hope that this moment comes as soon as possible

Vanity thought #976. Cosmos E6

Being carried away by other things I almost forgot to catch up on my “favorite” science show. We are almost midway through the season and my mind is cast, nothing will change my opinion, and so here’s just more predictable criticism.

Even before watching this latest episode I knew what I would see – top notch presentation by starry eyed Neil DeGrasse Tyson backed up by awesome CGI imagery trying to cover up wrong scientific facts, stretched out interpretations, and shameless propaganda. I wasn’t disappointed.

On the other hand, there’s nothing really new to say so there was disappointment all around in the end.

Let’s go point by point – top notch presentation? Check. NDGT was again clearly in his own element, making human connections, speaking form his heart, and generally being very believable.

Was it inspiring? Yes, again some people on the web admitted to shedding tears while others, obviously teachers, couldn’t wait to show this episode in their classrooms. Apparently there are lesson plans being developed to go with each episode of the show, to me they appear rather boring but then I’m not a student. Here’s this episode’s pdf.

Was NDGT starry eyed? Sure he was. He always exudes exuberance and this episode was no different. Best moment was probably “trust the science” trick with a swinging ball.

cosmosBall

Of course it didn’t look like that in the show but somebody couldn’t contain himself and made a joke out of it.

Was there awesome CGI? Yes, there was. Personally I liked the tardigrades and I can see how people want to make plush pillows in their shape:

Tardigrade-Dont-Give-A-S-t

Japanese underground lake catching neutrinos also looked cool and very real but there were complaints about rendering of chlorophyll and the photosynthesis process but in this case it’s the content that should be criticized first, not presentation.

Photosynthesis, production of oxygen and storing energy in the form of sugars, is one of the most basic, absolutely necessary first steps to building life. It lies at the very beginning of the evolution, yet what NDGT had shown us was a very complex process with factory like precision, slicing and dicing atoms and storing them away.

It might not look anything like that in real life but still there are over a hundred proteins involved in photosynthesis and we still cannot replicate it in our laboratories. It is one of the best arguments AGAINST evolution through natural selection because that kind of complexity simply couldn’t appear on its own just through random combination of molecules.

This is one of the generic questions that evolutionists avoid at all costs – how come the deeper we go into how various life forms work on molecular level the more complex they become and yet there’s less and less time for these mechanisms to develop through evolution? Not to mention that we can’t even imagine how natural selection would have helped there at all.

There was another segment in this episode that NDGT glossed over, completely ignoring some serious questions about how evolution worked – the mechanics of smell.

He simply said that certain molecules trigger certain receptors in our noses which send signals to the brain where they pass very close to regions responsible for emotions and memories.

The latest I heard about smell, though, was that we, the humans, are much much better at it than previously believed. Turns out we have a lot of potential receptors that we can utilize to distinguish an astonishing number of extra smells.

Evolutionists’ answer to this is that these receptors are “pseudogenes”, leftovers from the time we needed to smell better than now.

The way pseudogenes work, however, is nothing like that. They are not simply leftovers, some of them are copied as if a backup, true, but many are also sliced and diced and planted in completely unrelated areas of our DNA and as such often serve as yet undetermined purposes.

This doesn’t disprove evolution per se but it certainly throws a wrench into an orderly, progressive picture of gradual changes presented in popular shows like Cosmos or third grade schoolbooks. But let’s not let facts interfere with a beautiful story, it’s not really about science, after all, it’s about propaganda.

Example from this show was introduction of two personalities from Ancient Greece era who were ahead of their time and invented democracy, partying, and drinking. This was just another cheap shot to give universal value to some current issues and thus justify our present preferences.

There’s a problem with this worldview, however – it has absolutely no justification on universal scale. Intelligent life is nothing special, it’s not a pinnacle of anything, it’s just one of the many many evolutionary steps. Dinosaurs thought they were bees knees once, too, and tardigrades had seen it all.

NDGT is just a latest kid on the block who thinks he is something special, let’s see how long this western civilization can survive before destroying itself. It has been around for only a couple of hundred years, nothing in cosmic terms, nothing at all.

As for factual errors in presentation – comet orchid of Madagascar has a very long spur but the pollen is not located at the bottom of it, as NDGT said, at the bottom is nectar and pollen is near the base, it’s on wikipedia but these “scientists” apparently don’t do any fact checking.

This little error in itself is nothing, I’m more appalled that NDGT called discovery of a moth that pollinates this orchid an evidence of evolution – it’s nothing of the sort. It’s just an observation – if this flower has this long spur, there must be an insect that can reach to the bottom of it or the flower couldn’t procreate. NGDT is reading something that is simply not there and he didn’t even try to demonstrate a connection.

Maybe they assume that their audience is not sophisticated enough to notice. Well, as I said, it’s not a science, it’s propaganda show.

Speaking of flowers – NGDT talked about their first historical appearance and got the date wrong. Latest discoveries of fossilized pollen move first flowering plants FOUR times earlier in the past than NGDT still thinks, and this show was supposed to catch up on latest scientific progress since Carl Sagan’s original thirty years ago.

Appearance of flowering plants so much earlier than previously thought should force evolutionists to reconsider all their models but that’s not actually so difficult – imagination plays a far more important part in evolutionary theory than anything else. Just like in this show, with power of imagination we can explain away anything and need not bother ourselves at all.

There was an example in this episode to illustrate importance of imagination over science. Towards the end of the show NDGT talked about thermonuclear reactions in the core of the Sun and he said that while the light from the Sun reaches Earth in only eight minutes, the photons from Sun’s core take ten million years to reach Sun’s surface (because their path is not straightforward). So he made a special point to say that light we see today comes to us from a very very long time ago, almost like a time machine.

The fact is, latest scientific estimates for this photon diffusion is only 170,000 years, not 10,000,000. This is again on wikipedia but no one bothered to check. Where did they get this ten million number? Probably their imagination, there’s no scientific basis behind it at all.

Well, I think I covered all I had to say about this episode. There were no new revelations and I had no new insights from Kṛṣṇa conscious point of view but I hope this post will slowly chip away at evolutionists’ attempts to pull wool over our eyes, that’s all I can hope for at the moment.

Vanity thought #975. Born To Be Free

Free will is one of those regular topics that comes round and round, never seems to be enough. Do we have any? Is it all just an illusion? What does śāstra say? What does it mean when śāstra says this or that? What did Kṛṣṇa say? What did our ācāryas say? What did they mean? In what context?

I know my position on this – there’s no free will, it’s an illusion, we have absolutely no influence over anything happening in this world. We are only free to surrender to the Lord and that’s the extent of it. His energies carry out the rest. Up in the spiritual world it might be different but down here we, as spirit souls, can’t express ourselves in any other way.

I’m also aware that our ācāryas always leave us some room for our own decisions, their orders are not cast in stone, for example, we can act on them or we can ignore them, it’s supposed to teach s the value of following guru. The free will appears to be there but I still think it’s just an illusion because all of that is still carried out by Lord’s energies – we don’t see neither ourselves nor our ācāryas nor our guru as spirit souls, we only see interactions of material elements that appear as saintly persons.

This can be discussed forever but today that’s not what interests, me. Turns out free will has been questioned by materialists themselves.

So far they don’t question the concept itself having no proper background knowledge about existence of spirit. I guess they could look at it philosophically and question the existence of living beings that are expected to have that free will but that’s a topic they’ll be avoiding for a long time.

Really, just think about it – it all comes down to “life comes from life” principle introduced to us by Śrila Prabhupāda. Without spirit souls or God as sources of life they have nothing to separate life from matter at all. They can’t pin life down to their chemicals. They have never seen it spring out of a bunch of stuff on its own, yet they know life exists. When does it start having free will then?

They promote their evolution through natural selection but that makes our choices only more mechanical. There’s no space for free will in evolution – some choices/mutations will persist no matter what just because physical laws make them more beneficial for survival while others will lead to extinction – like suicides or self-mutilation, I guess.

More importantly – until we come to humans free will doesn’t come into play at all – we don’t talk about free will in lower forms of life. So, it’s not just a jump from life to matter that cannot be explained through physics, it’s also the jump from apes to humans that is supposed to introduce free will. Then they say chimpanzees have consciousness of a four year old child. Do they have free will? Do children have free will?

What is free will anyway? We all need to agree on what it means first, both as devotees and as members of human species, the only carriers of intelligent life.

Anyway, those are tough questions, and some scientists started with baby steps, probed people’s opinions about free will, and tried to find correlations to other external factors. They were surprised.

There have been several studies on this subject with different groups of people using different setups but they all point to the same thing – what Nietzsche said over a hundred years ago. I must say he was one of my favorite authors before I turned to Śrila Prabhupada’s books. I don’t remember reading Twilight of the Idols but the attitude is certainly familiar: people want free will because they want to inflict punishment on others. Wherever there’s a call for responsibility there’s a desire to make someone suffer.

The typical setup for studies like that is this – they take a large group of students, break it into three groups, tell one group that someone had cheated and was punished, tell another group that someone had cheated but no one was caught yet, and tell the third group nothing. Then they asked everyone to grade their opinions on the free will.

That’s how they proved Nietzsche right – people want free will when they want blood, and not their own.

There’s also a worldwide survey that asks people to grade their perception of free will, it has a lot of data from over seventy countries, and while it’s too late to fine tune the questions to suit this particular research, it is possible to find correlation between degree of free will and other statistics.

In countries with high crime and homicide rates people think they have more free will, which again proves Nietzsche right – we want free will to punish other people.

As devotees, it shouldn’t surprise us at all – we want free will to imitate God and so the more free will we claim for ourselves, the more God like powers we want to project. In this case – we want to judge others and decide their fate. It’s a natural next step from trying to control our own lives an our own circumstances.

Now, as I said, on itself it doesn’t decide the debate of free will one way or another but it surely shows us how abuse of free will works. We want more of it to be more like God.

I guess we can take to the opposite end and say that as perfect servants we wouldn’t want any free will at all, seeing the Lord as the only doer and us only as objects of His enjoyment, but that runs into problems of independence we observe in the spiritual dealings between Kṛṣṇa and His perfect devotees. If free will exists there then there’s no absolute minimum to it at all.

I guess this can be resolved in a number of ways but my own view, just as I expressed it above, is that from absolute illusion with absolute confidence in existence of free will we go down to zero, the point where we realize that we have absolutely no control over our lives in this world, and then it continues to increase in negative values – the degrees of freedom we have as we progress spiritually.

Maybe the other way makes more sense, though. Let’s say the degree of our free will can be expressed as a number. In the spiritual world, as there’s no limit on our surrender and service to the Lord, this number is infinity. As we distance ourselves from the Lord that number gradually decreases – as there are limits on what devotees in lower rasas can do in their service.

In the state of impersonal liberation degree of free will is exactly zero. From that moment on it goes into a negative territory as we become conditioned by material illusion. As we go deeper and deeper into that illusion our number approaches negative infinity.

As an absolute value (ABS(-5) = 5 and is higher than ABS(-3)=3) it grows but it grows into a different direction so we think that we have more free will but its actual value is negative and is nothing like freedom of service we have in the spiritual world.

Hmm, I really like this scale. More illusion equals more free will but it’s useless, less illusion means less free will until we reach impersonal liberation where there’s nothing to ascribe free will to so it’s zero, and as we learn to serve the Lord in increasingly more intimate ways our freedom to do so increases, too.

Great.

Here’s the source I based this post on.

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.

Vanity thought #973. Unexpected twist

This latest debate about deontology, consequentialism, disrobing of Draupadi etc raised a number of interesting points and, I believe, led to a number of new insights into the nature of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, essence of faith, relationships with our gurus and ācāryas and so on. Then came an unexpected twist.

The whole thing started many years ago with some devotees thinking of a proper response to homosexuality when outside society was moving towards embracing gay marriage. We always had gay people in our movement but we knew of their orientation mostly after their falldowns, while they were in our good books they lived a life of renunciation. There never was any formal arrangement for gay devotees, they were expected to be brahmacārīes like straights and that was that. Marriages have never been looked upon favorably by many of our leaders so for our gay devotees the choice between renunciation and having sexual relationships in marriage with women was easy, until it became difficult and they chose the third option – being gay and acting on it.

In our early days homosexuality was still considered a sin by the rest of the society so it was easy to keep gay devotees in check, lately, however, people started coming to us with a sense of entitlement to gay rights and expect them to be at least addressed if not properly honored. Mostly, we don’t know what to tell them. We have no provisions for gay sex whatsoever, it’s always illicit and one must give it up if he has any hopes of advancing through devotional ranks. The way I made it sound here, this kind of career is easy to forsake and concentrate on inner progress instead but if you can’t get initiation you are in trouble, and there are no initiations for people engaged in gay sex.

So we ask them to come, tell them about a house for the whole world to live in, and then refuse to accept them as they are and as any kind of equals. It’s a bummer. I don’t know what can be done about it. Personally, I’m all for expanding our society in less strict form with lesser demands on sādhana but people still need some sort of a recognition for their efforts. Traditionally, our starting point was dīkṣā and if that is unavailable to gays we need to invent something else.

I don’t know how much of a problem it really is, maybe gays are not attracted to Kṛṣṇa consciousness in great numbers anyway or, if they decide to surrender, do not have big problems with denouncing their sexuality. Maybe this interest in gay people is driven not so much by success in preaching but by trying to penetrate “lucrative” gay market the way regular consumer companies feel about it.

If one thinks about how exactly a model gay devotee, even in uninitiated, should live his life one would naturally assume that it should be in monogamous relationship and probably with adopted children or children from surrogate mothers or fathers. Gay people themselves see this lifestyle as much more advanced, sophisticated, and cultured than their typical and well known promiscuity – a stereotype they feel is unfair and in need of correction. When we think about it we should also agree that if their engagement in illicit sex is unavoidable it should be done with some restrictions, just like meat eating or drinking in Vedic times. What’s there to think about it?

Well, devotees who disagree with Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja over consequentialism also disagree over his response to homosexuality which he presented in this 2005 article (pdf). For some reason they thought that regulated sex life for homosexuals is not advantageous to their spiritual advancement. I don’t know how they could have come up with such an idea but they did.

The irony here is that regulated sense enjoyment is all over our philosophy and all over our practice, it’s everywhere in our books, we don’t have any other way to deal with it, be it sex, eating, work, pleasure – we have regulations for everything and if we don’t then we have ācāryas appearing among us and giving us more regulations than we could possibly follow. Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja’s critics accuse him of ignoring the bulk of Prabhupāda’s statements on homosexuality but then they completely ignore this necessity for regulations. Pot, meet kettle.

I guess they wanted to oppose him simply for the sake of opposition but that implies some rather base motives which I don’t want to ascribe to devotees. Let it remain a mystery. Their logic and reasoning go roughly like this – there’s a verse in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (7.11.33-34) spoken by Nārada Muni:

    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.

They took it to mean that… I don’t know what. It seems they advocate overindulgence with multiple partners as being better than monogamous gay unions but neither the verse nor the purport say that. The verse advocates overindulgence, the purport allows to enjoy sinful activities fully, but this does not mean without regulation and it does not mean promiscuity. We know how we deal with straight sex, which is what Nārada Muni was talking about here, and this solution is apparently at odds with our immediate ācāryas. This means that while there might be a need to reconcile, in our lives we should follow rules given by Prabhupāda. He never told our devotees to beat sexual desires by humping our brains out, quite the opposite. Why should gay devotees deal with their sexual urges any differently?

Even if that really worked they can still have all the sex they need to mitigate their desires with one single partner rather than by prowling public toilets. One could say that promiscuity is in gay blood but if it’s not what gay people want themselves why should we force them to copulate with as many partners as possible? This is a really strange recommendation.

There’s another reason for it – some study with pigeons who were trained to get food by pecking a button. Researchers tried to find out how they could “unlearn” this behavior. They found out that if initially the food was delivered every time it takes 100 pecks without reward to “unlearn” but if food was delivered not with every peck it takes 1000 times before pigeons give up hope. Interesting observation, but it was done on pigeons, not on people, “unlearning” to peck a button does not equal lost of taste for food, and it does not means that one’s attraction to sex would disappear faster if one gets it every time he wants without any restrictions. Sometimes it appears to be true but then it’s not what Śrila Prabhupāda has taught us and it’s not how it is practiced in Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism.

Fascinating topic, no doubt, but I seriously doubt that this reasoning would gain more traction in our society than accepting gay “marriage” as more advantageous to spiritual progress.

They also made a parallel with gambling, that it is addictive because of “partial reinforcement”, like with pigeons, but if people would win every bet it wouldn’t be called gambling and no one advocates overcoming gambling addiction overindulging in it.

This whole response to gay “marriage” was completely unexpected and I don’t think we should agree with this proposal regardless of what we might think about Hṛḍayānanda Mahārāja or that GALVA website. IMO, they appear as somewhat saner people here.

Vanity thought #972. Deo what? Conseqwhere?

Back to deontology and consequentialism – regardless of their less than justified inclusion in the latest debate about alleged deviations of HH Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī they are interesting concepts to consider in relation to our philosophy.

This is not a legitimate Vedic classification but we do have phalena paricīyate principle (vaniquotes). How universal is it? How often should we resort to it? These are all good questions that are explored at depth by all sides of Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī debate. Yet both sides employ deontology/consequentialism in partisan ways.

Mahārāja uses it to argue that homosexuals in monogamous relationships have a better chance of spiritual advancement while his critics decry consequentialism as an open challenge to Śrila Prabhupāda. I don’t agree with them but it doesn’t mean that Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja’s particular application has universal value either.

People who consider Bhagavad Gītā in light of this dichotomy do not come to any resolution and do not agree with each other, too.

On one hand Kṛṣṇa argues for deontology – Arjuna sites bad consequences of fighting his family as a reason to avoid the war while Kṛṣṇa says that dharmic principles have eternal value and cannot be violated just because they appear to bring unfavorable results.

From this perspective Bhagadad Gītā is firmly against consequentialism but it’s only the first look. Kṛṣṇa also justifies following dharmic rules by describing their eternal and ultimate benefits that outweigh temporary “misfortune” of killing one’s relatives.

Ultimately, everything is judged by its results, we only need to consider longer term effects than usual.

Deontology then means that benefits from following ethics and morals are not yet visible and certain but they are nevertheless there. In case of Bhīṣma and his vow of celibacy, it caused a lot of inconvenience to some people. One woman who spent a night in his house was considered unfit for marriage anymore, a great personal tragedy, in another case he refused to follow orders of his mother, another big no no that surely made her uncomfortable. Does it mean that this vow didn’t bring any benefits or that those benefits didn’t outweigh negative consequences? I seriously doubt it.

Following vow of brahmacārya is what made Bhīṣma into who he was – warrior of unmatched power and unquestionable patriarch for both Kurus and Pāṇḍavas. Without it the whole course of history would have been altered. Bhīṣma died a glorious death, his life was therefore perfect, and therefore we can’t seriously consider him to be wrong in any aspect of his behavior. Even his presence at that ill-fated gambling match has its own benefits which I don’t want to discuss here.

In case of Bhagavad Gītā, Kṛṣṇa actually compared results of following one’s duty with results of killing one’s relatives and that’s what made duty sound superior. He said that engaging in battle would open gates of heaven for Arjuna while avoiding it would not only close them but also bring him infamy. He didn’t ask Arjuna to follow dharma for its own sake, as deontologists would expect, but consider the values not yet seen and appreciated by Arjuna.

This is why we are asked to follow rules of our spiritual life, too – not because they are good for their own sake but because they are more likely to bring us mercy of the Lord. Just a few days ago I listened to a class that discussed exactly this aspect of our service.

Sometimes we become complacent because everything in our lives goes very well – we chant, we read, we get up for maṅgala arāti, we serve, we preach – everything is perfect. And then nothing happens, for years. Then we increase our mode of goodness, follow the rules even better, it becomes a natural part of our lives, we can’t think of ourselves in any other way, and yet still nothing happens.

It feels pretty good, though, we have nothing to complain, and gradually we forget that what we really need is spontaneous love and devotion, not personal happiness and comfort that comes from living in the mode of goodness.

We should never forget that all the rules and all the sādhana are a waste of time if it doesn’t bring us devotion to Lord’s lotus feet. This one result justifies all the means. It justifies absolutely everything, materialists would probably outlaw us if we publicly stuck to this part of our philosophy.

In this sense we MUST be sequentialists, in absolute sense. One might object that it leads to fanaticism but actually it won’t – fanatics follow rules and disregard the results but we do exactly the opposite. We *can* justify any means but it doesn’t mean we will employ any means either – we let the Lord decide that for us and we have absolute faith that His decision will work out for the best of everyone.

There’s a catch to this interpretation, however – if we really develop unalloyed devotional service in our hearts than service itself will become our only goal, ie the means. We would perform our service regardless of the results. Kṛṣṇa will stop being our goal, only our service to Him, which we will consider our ultimate shelter regardless of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy. He might show it, He might withdraw it – nothing will stop us from rendering our service. We know He might be fickle that way but it won’t stop us.

Thus we will become pure deontologists.

What should we do in the meantime, however? Should we make decisions based on dharma or on consequences or on both? Should we strive to see unity in both approaches? Should we follow our duties imposed on us by material nature or should we consider our sādhana duties as being of higher value?

None of it.

None of it matters, it’s just perturbations of the material energy that have nothing to do with us as spirit souls, and our interest in solving these problems (for our benefit) is the main cause of our imprisonment here. This is why we can’t see the Lord and can’t dedicate ourselves to His service – we are too busy trying to make sense of the material world instead.

We as conditioned beings of this world do not exist, we do not have our personal stake in this illusion and we don’t owe anything to anybody here. Our bodies are part of this world interconnected with everything else that exists here but we are not our bodies nor are we part of any family, community, nation, the entire humankind or any other grouping based on our claims on material energy as our own.

We do not make decisions on how to behave here, it’s all carried by the material laws over which we have no control, we just like some of the actions here and dislike others. All must be abandoned.

I hope that clarifies the matter a bit.

Vanity thought #971. Draupadi misdirection

Continuing from yesterday, critics spend significant amount of time elaborating how difference of opinion regarding incident with disrobing Draupadī leads to HH Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī complete rejection of Śrila Prabhupāda’s authority. Personally, I don’t see the case to be made there but we still can learn a few lessons for ourselves.

First, let’s forget for a second the disagreement itself, I’ll get to that later. The issue came up a while ago and was quietly forgotten, it’s not that important, and therefore I’m a bit suspicious about bundling it with latest charges against mahārāja. I don’t think it’s justified, here’s why.

Much of the blame centers around mahārāja’s statement that Yudhiṣṭhira was not a dharma rājā, it practically builds the entire argument on that phrase. To prove that it is wrong all kinds of authorities are brought to testify – Śrila Prabhupāda, previous ācāryas, Sanātana Gosvāmī, even Nārada Muni. It looks so conclusive and irrefutable that mahārāja surely must be wrong.

Well, he isn’t.

He is not questioning Yudhiṣṭhira saintliness at all, he says that IF the incident with Draupadī’s disrobing actually happened it would have left a big stain on Yudhiṣṭhira’s character, citing a couple of later episodes from Mahābhārata Hṛḍayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī says that according to that scripture Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira has lost his privileges and respect as dharma rājā. He then says that if that was the case Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t have endorsed him and put him on the throne.

The whole point of it is to dispute Mahabhārata’s version of the event, not Yudhiṣṭhira’s character.

This makes the whole attack on mahārāja misguided and unwarranted. Critics ascribe him opinions that he never held, then they defeat this imaginary opinion and come down heavily on the “culprit”. It’s a big mess out there. Critics aren’t saying anything wrong per se, it’s just the target of their attack does not exist and in any case it’s not Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī, who gets totally undeserved flack.

That’s why it’s better for us to keep our distance and our opinions to ourselves. Actually, it’s not the best course of action, much better would be to find humility, devotion, and surrender in the behavior of each side. They are all dedicated to serving the mission of Lord Caitanya and they all deserve our respect. We should seek mercy and blessing from both of them, all the while without showing any disrespect towards their opponents.

It’s not easy but it’s actually very simple if we sincerely do not see faults in vaiṣṇavas – if there’s no fault there’s no disrespect and there’s nothing to hide. The trick is to stick to our position and not let ourselves be swayed by arguments from either side. I hope it never comes to the situation where a devotee would demand us to chose either him or his opponent. We should agree, we should listen to arguments, we should see their merits, we should sympathize with their conclusions, but we should not cross the line where we consider a devotee as our enemy.

It’s that inconceivable oneness and difference again – some people just can’t be reconciled and it’s not our job anyway. They are different yet they are both devotees deserving respect and never blame.

Anyway, back to Draupadī argument – was she gambled away and did Duryodhana try to strip her naked? Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī doubts that it really happened. His argument is four fold – putting up people as stakes in gambling games was not allowed in Vedic culture, there’s absolutely no law that would permit separating wife from their husband. f that actually happened Yudhiṣṭhira would have lost his stature, as I said before, and that this episode is not mentioned in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam even though the gambling match is there.

The first argument can be objected by pointing out that Yudhiṣṭhira did gamble his brothers away. Maharaja responds that he didn’t lost his brothers, only their obligations to him as their leader. I guess it means that if they ever got to rule their kingdoms they would be obliged to pay tributes to their new feudal lords, not to their elder brother. I don’t know, it sounds plausible.

Second argument is about unbreakable bond between husband and wife. I don’t know what could be said against that.

Third argument, about effect on Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira, is linked to the last one – if that story is made up then the rest of Mahābhārata is also brought up to sync with it. Hṛdayānanada Dāsa Gosvami mentions some references to it in later story but critics question his interpretation, except they are coming from a completely different angle, as I already said, so let’s say it’s inconclusive.

The last argument is the most intriguing – is the whole story false? If there are differences between scriptures we should take Śrīmad Bhagavatam version over any others. Bhāgavatam talks only about Dushasana touching or pulling Draupadī’s hair and nothing about disrobing or losing her in a gambling bet.

The problem is that all our ācāryas support disrobing episode, there’s even the illustration in our First Canto, how can anyone say that it isn’t true?

This is where mahārāja gets into a tight spot. All the ācāryas and Śrila Prabhupāda on one hand, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and suspicious rendering of Mahābhārata on the other. Is it possible to reconcile them?

The story of disrobing Draupadī is always told to illustrate Kṛṣṇa’s care for His devotees, implications for Maharaja Yudhiṣṭhira never play any part in it at all. Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī once discussed it in great detail, focusing on the level of Draupadī’s surrender, how it progressed through the episode, and how Kṛṣṇa reciprocated with it. If that story did not happen, does it mean that exchanges between devotees and the Lord follow some different course? Surely not.

We should not forget that for us the whole Mahābhārata is “unreal” and so is Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad Gītā – we have absolutely no practical way to confirm any of it with our own senses, we totally rely on the words of our ācāryas. At best we can compare them with words of other Hindu followers but objectively we can still treat them as myths, ie there’s no proof of any of it ever happening. Recent findings of submerged city that could have been Dvaraka mean nothing to us – we believed in the words of Prabhupāda before and we will continue to believe them even if this Dvaraka find turns out to be false.

So, disagreements between scriptures are mostly theoretical to us while lessons about devotion and surrender are very real. It doesn’t matter what had really happened there as long as words of our ācāryas touch and transform our hearts.

There’s another example of entire body of Prabhupāda’s teaching on a particular subject being based on potentially false premise – the identity of Lord Buddha. Countless times Śrila Prabhupāda mentioned him teaching ahiṃsā and then blaming modern Buddhists for not following it. It turns out that historical Buddha and Buddha mentioned in our scriptures are two different persons separated by about a thousand years.

This argument comes from Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī himself, it’s just that it wasn’t well known when our Prabhupāda was there. He probably didn’t hear it and it wasn’t a popular topic for discussion then so he missed it completely. When he came to the West, however, Buddhism was on the rise and he needed to answer questions, which he did from the Bhāgavatam, naturally assuming that both Buddhas are one and the same person.

Does it mean Prabhupāda was wrong? Does it mean ahiṃsā is any less important? Does it mean that Buddhists are excused from following it? Not at all, they have their own arguments for ahiṃsā though it might not be central to their philosophy anymore.

It doesn’t make Śrila Prabhupāda any less of an ācārya, it just makes him human, which he was when he was present in this world. Guru is not God, while placed in a human form of life he is bound to act under restrictions imposed by material energy – he must take birth, get old, get sick, and eventually leave this body. Natural faults must also be present. It doesn’t make him any less of a devotee and it shouldn’t affect our service to him as God’s representative.

Inconceivable oneness and difference strikes again.

Vanity thought #970. Deontology vs Consequentialism

Who knew these two philosophical theories would be of great interest to devotees but that has happened. In the past month or so there has been a great deal of discussion, mostly criticism, about HH Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Goswāmī’s “Krishna West” initiative. It got attention of GBC and so concern is legitimate, and some try to present this duality of deontology and consequentialism as an underlying fundamental issue behind this new deviation. Is it, though?

Just as with any debate concerting best ways to preach, taking sides is probably not the best idea. Even in general – when two great personalities have differences of opinion we shouldn’t take sides. In this case, Hṛdayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī has definitely earned the position where one must respect his views regardless of how one feels about them. He might not have been exemplary sannyāsī by some external standards but the fact is that he is still there, at the front of our global preaching effort, and it’s a testament to his devotion and his acceptance by Mahaprābhu. We don’t argue with those favored by the Lord, period.

So, whatever I’m going to say here is not to take sides and not pass judgment on anyone but for our personal consideration only. It’s a discussion of ideas, not personalities, and it should not affect our respect for anyone. It’s a message to oneself.

These two big sounding words that are not accepted even by my spellchecker have actually pretty simple meanings. Consequentialism basically means “end justifies the means” and deontology says that ethics and morality have inherent values and so “means” are more important than “ends”.

It’s an oversimplification that might not go down well with purists but for the purpose of this post it’s a close enough approximation. The only thing I would warn against is that “ends justifies the means” here does not carry the usual negative connotation, it’s just a judgment on relative value of ethics seeking the best possible outcome, not justification for immoral behavior.

First thing first – there’s no such dichotomy in Vedic literature and even in western thought these two concepts are often not mutually exclusive, so imposing this foreign values system on vaiṣṇava behavior and trying to make it into a black and white issue is quite a stretch but this is exactly what is happening here. We should not evaluate vaiṣṇavas by such artificial constructs.

This being the material world, however, it is impossible to single out anyone to blame – devotee who wrote a long essay (pdf) on Hṛḍayānanda Mahārāja falling for consequentialism was not the one who started it – it was the mahārāja himself who introduced these terms back in 2005 (pdf) and it was mahārāja himself who chose to take sides here. Or was he?

According to his critics mahārāja is firmly in consequentialist camp but he himself makes it clear that consequentialism is not ideal, that ideally our moral and religious duties must be straight as an arrow and inviolable but this is not what happens in real world where compromises must be made. He gives plenty of historical examples to illustrate his point, from Bhīṣma to Kṛṣṇa, and it’s hard to argue with them. Does it mean he is blameless?

My first thought was that this is exactly what happens when we read too much of non-Prabhupāda’s books. Our only śāstra is Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, the amala-purāṇa, the rest of the Vedic literature is considered contaminated by pursuits of dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa, and that includes Mahabhārata on which mahārāja worked extensively for many years. No wonder he spends so much time on intricacies of dharma, morality, and right things to do – the very values that Mahabhārata is supposed to promote.

If this shade is cast over our minds than we start reading even Bhāgavatam with the view of untangling those complex questions. Bhāgavatam covers a lot of topics, true, but their only mention is to stress superiority of loving devotional service to the Lord, not to teach us how to live happy married lives or how to build models of the universe, it is wrong of us to seek Bhāgavatam answers to our material problems. Likewise, Bhāgavatam is not a clarification on how to apply dharmic rules in our lives. Sarva dharmān parityajya is our starting point in approaching Bhāgavatam, not getting ourselves back into “which dharma is better” arguments.

Anyway, critics decided to cast Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja as an avowed consequentialist and made it sound like a bad thing. Well, there’s legitimate phalena paricīyate statement that Srila Prabhupāda quoted very often – actions must be judged by their results. Afaik, it was one of his last arguments when everything else fails. This is as consquentialist as ever, so there’s no fundamental deviation there.

Unfortunately, by placing this label on mahārāja his critics went on to argue that it leads to eventual rejection of both Prabhupāda and our paramparā. Really, I’m not making this up. It starts with mahārāja “implied”, then graduates to “asserts”, then concludes with “repudiation” and a call for immediate, GBC mandated rectification of his behavior, more or less in that order. All of that without a single shred of evidence that Hṛḍayānanda Dāsa Gosvāmī rejects Prabhupāda’s authority in any way. There’s mahārāja’s response to this allegation here, I really have nothing to add, except that he wisely refuses to dignify the most direct accusation with an answer, it’s patently obvious it’s a spurious one.

A couple of points – in his paper linked earlier mahārāja omits commenting on Srila Prabhupāda’s purport to SB 3.20.26 regarding homosexuality:

    … the homosexual appetite of a man for another man is demoniac and is not for any sane male in the ordinary course of life.

He instead spends considerable space elaborating how the demons in question were simply too lusty and not homosexual by nature. He therefore says that Bhāgavatam does not cite any specific references to homosexuality. Critics say that Prabhupāda’s comment should have been included, which sounds reasonable on surface, but two things must be kept in mind – this sentence is from purport, not Bhāgavatam itself, and this sentence does not constitute an actionable reference, it only says that homosexuality is insane. We all know that already, our problem is deciding how to deal with this insanity, and for that we don’t have scriptural evidence.

Critics point to Manu Saṃhitā where homosexuality is described as sinful and then prove that it’s a recognized śāstra but it’s still not actionable. We know it’s sinful, no one argues otherwise, and even if Manu Saṃhitā recommends some kind of punishment we are not going to implement it in this day and age, so this reference ultimately adds nothing to discussion.

Homosexuality and ISKCON is a very important issue here that sparked the whole debate but it’s still a separate subject, I don’t want to discuss it today.

Hmm, there’s so much to say here, both on deontology and consequentialism from vaiṣṇava perspective, and on the episode with disrobing Draupadī that serves as another pillar in the case against mahārāja, but I can’t do it all in one day.

It’s not like I disagree with critics, btw, a lot of what they say makes perfect sense but not necessarily when it’s projected on Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja. As I said earlier – we have to take all these arguments to our own heart and apply to our lives, not to judging others, especially senior vaiṣṇavas.

We should always avoid that, it’s the most important lesson we could take away from this debate, the rest doesn’t really matter, it’s just words that will escape our memory in a very short time.

Vanity thought #969. As it never was

My yesterday’s post arguing for accepting words of our guru as Absolute Truth rather than as translation might make people think that I was also arguing against changes to original Prabhupāda’s books. Far from it. I think the whole campaign for “Bhagavad Gītā As It Is” is totally misguided.

There are two ways to explain my position. First is the common one – Prabhupāda tasked BBT with editing his books, they are just carrying out the order, nothing else. If someone chooses to see BBT editing books for their own benefit he must also explain what benefit is there, they got nothing but trouble for doing this service.

This is the main point, though – people are serving their spiritual master, no devotee should even criticize them for that. There are no imperfections in service even though sometimes quality might appear to be lacking. In this case I don’t see even that. So far all the allegations about book changes I’ve seen have been petty and insignificant. Sometimes they find examples of BBT changing the meaning of the sentences but on close examination BBT’s explanation has always been convincing for me.

I do not discount the possibility that some of the changes might have been made in error but I bet it makes absolutely no difference in practical terms – when books are distributed and when people learn philosophy from them. You just can’t learn Prabhupāda wrong from his books, edited or not.

If some such changes are spotted BBT will surely admit their mistakes but in the current atmosphere there’s understandably very little good faith towards those who come with suggestions, it’s not the right time, all critics are bundled together with “as it is” zealots.

Ironically, by pushing so hard on all fronts, “as it is” movement makes correcting BBT’s editing mistakes nearly impossible and I think I’ve seen actual examples of this a couple of years ago.

The main thing, however, is the poisonous atmosphere that is spread by “as it is” people. It’s full of all kinds of negative feelings towards sincere devotees of the Lord simply trying to carry out the mission of their guru. There’s nothing spiritual left in it, only unbearable self-righteousness.

The criticism has spread far and wide, sadly, and traces of it can be spotted in unexpected places from otherwise level-headed devotees. False anti-BBT propaganda has been repeated so often that it has become part of “everybody knows”, you don’t have to prove it anymore, you can just mention it as self-evident truth.

Well, yes, these people repeated it to themselves so many times that they can’t unwind their web and go back to checking their own premises, they are too far gone, and those who don’t buy into their agenda immediately offered a torrent of worn out “proofs” and urged to join the club because “everybody knows”.

Repeating something does not make it true, though it does convince people to accept it as truth, this is a fact made well known by Hitler’s chief propagandist Goebbels. Make a lie very big and repeat it often enough, and people will believe, he said. It always works, but it doesn’t make it true.

Anyway, that’s just the first, common objection to “as it is” movement. My second reason is more philosophical. I think that their Bhagavad Gītā As It Is actually never was and their entire approach to the words of a guru is erroneous.

Guru is not God, he is a living entity placed into a material body, and this brings certain constraints. Material bodies have their natural faults – they make mistakes, they live under illusion, they tend to cheat, and their senses are imperfect. No matter who you place in such a body it will live by these material laws and exhibit these material traits.

Pure devotees will have them in tiniest amounts but they will have them nevertheless, only God is free from these faults, and guru is not God.

Therefore, there MUST be mistakes in Prabhupāda’s books and our service is to minimize them for the future generations. It doesn’t mean we minimize his position, too, we are simply aware that he is not God.

When guru gets old his body needs extra help. We can say that as a pure devotee he doesn’t need help and he is only providing us with the opportunity to serve but who are we kidding here? No matter how advanced a devotee is, he will never overcome conditioning of the material body. He will never avoid old age and disease, and when he is sick and powerless he will not magically get up and start cooking and cleaning if there’s no one around.

You can see this attitude – a guru is all powerful, he can do whatever he wants, material nature can’t stop him – in books about Prabhupāda’s last days on this planet. It didn’t work out that way. Guru is not all powerful and his body genuinely needs help. If we don’t do it Kṛṣṇa will engage someone else but the guru will never become young and powerful again – that’s not how bodies work.

Once we reconcile ourselves with this thought, editing books appears as a far less blasphemous idea. I personally noticed that “as it is” proponents also claiming that Prabhupāda was all-knowing and all-powerful. It’s not my place to correct these senior devotees but Prabhupāda was not all-knowing and not all-powerful, he was not God.

Another way to mistake guru as God is to confuse guru’s material form with his spiritual identity. Śrila Prabhupāda was a soul, not his body. As his followers we must accept his body as spiritual but we still can’t equate it with his soul. Only God’s body is non-different from His soul, and guru is not God.

Accepting the difference between guru’s body and guru’s soul would also make BBT editing a perfectly acceptable service, not to mention all the other things devotees helped Prabhupāda with, like operating dictaphones. There are also clear mistakes in Prabhupāda’s own writing or dictating – that’s why he never refused proofreaders and editors.

Even if guru’s body makes mistakes but we should not see these mistakes as any less spiritual. On the material platform we see mistakes in comparison to some ideal standard but spiritually these ideals do not matter, we should not judge guru’s work by them at all. People who see mistakes see them only from a material platform, spiritually they don’t exist. This is another example of inconceivable oneness and difference – how is guru’s body simultaneously spiritual and material.

So, that perfect Bhagavad Gītā As It Is has never existed. “As It Is” here means its fidelity to Kṛṣṇa, it doesn’t cast in stone any particular edition as “as it is” and all others as something else. What we have as “as it is” version is just one of the snapshots of work in progress – from Prabhupāda’s lips into the dictaphone, onto the paper, through the editing work, off to printers and so on. There never was a final, untouchable edition, cast in stone like Moses tablets. Such perfect edition cannot exist in the material world as a matter of principle because nothing here is all perfect and everything can be improved.

Judging Bhagavad Gītā by material standards of perfection is misleading, its perfection lies in absolute devotion to Kṛṣṇa, not in visible quality of the translation and editing work, therefore I dismiss the entire campaign as being misguided.

I hope it doesn’t come across as me accusing some very senior devotees of a māyāvādīc offense of equating guru with God even though I believe this underlying error is there. This is the reason I don’t want to mention any names, this is a message for personal consideration, for cleansing our own hearts, not for pointing faults in others.

I’ve just finished proofreading this post and I wish I could have argued it better, and that was after my own check. If any actual proofreader went through it I might have had to re-write it from scratch, and it would have been a much better edition that the one I leave here now. Which one would be “as it is”? There wouldn’t be any if I had to present it as knowledge coming from Kṛṣṇa, I can agree on this version of the post as being “as it is” only if I sign it as myself, with all my faults and mistakes.

Bhagavad Gītā is the same – in our own rendering it is never perfect and there will always be something to improve.