Vanity thought #1019. Truffaldino

Truffaldino was a type of a character in Italian comedy of two-three hundred years ago. There were heroes, heroines, villains etc but Truffaldino was there for comic relief, it was a servant, kind of a court jester who was supposed to be sharp but goofy. Perhaps the best known comedy featuring Truffaldino was the “Servant of Two Masters” and that’s why I remembered it here – it’s kind of relevant to our situation.

Plays were the most common form of public entertainment in those days and this one was like a modern soap opera – impossible to keep track of the plot and even harder to explain. There was rich background and too many characters to bother, so I’ll look at it only from the POV of Truffaldino himself.

As the title says, he signed up to serve two masters simultaneously and the comedy is build around him wriggling his way out of impossible situations. People would give him things to deliver to his master without specifying the name and he wouldn’t know who it was meant for, that type of thing.

Why did he sign up for this gig? Because he had serious food cravings and he thought that with two masters he’d have twice the amount of food. At one point he even eats a cat.

Okay, how does that relate to us? Because we also serve two masters – māyā and Kṛṣṇa, and we are driven by the same gluttony. Theoretically, we are devotees but as long as we are conditioned and act under the influence of the false ego we seek happiness expressed in material terms. We approach Kṛṣṇa to fulfill our material desires, asking for either pleasure or for freedom from suffering – same coin, different sides.

We want to please both – we want māyā to be merciful to us and we want Kṛṣṇa to be happy, too. No matter how it sounds, this is a great achievement already and there’s nothing wrong with this approach per se. Even Dhruva Mahārāja had material motives at first, everybody does, we only have to worry that we might get stuck at this stage longer than necessary.

Someday someone might write a comedy about bhaktas trying to juggle their materialistic aspirations with their service to Kṛṣṇa, we can all learn to notice such faults in ourselves.

The comparison with Truffaldino doesn’t end here, though. Turns out that his masters came to Venice to look for each other, they even stayed at the same hotel but as luck would have it, never met until the very end. One of them was a woman and so the whole plot revolves about two lovers reuniting. This makes Truffaldino acting like a mañjarī arranging the meeting between Rādha and Kṛṣṇa. That’s quite an unexpected interpretation for an Italian comedy but it has far reaching implications for us and our identity.

Whose servants are we? Kṛṣṇa’s? Or Rādhārāṇī’s? When we first come in contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness we we learned that Kṛṣṇa is God and so we should serve Him. As we delve deeper into our Gauḍīyā philosophy we come to learn that actually our goal is to become servants of the servants of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. We follow in the footsteps of Rūpa Gosvāmī and we realize that he offered us the best position in the whole spiritual world – dāsa-dāsa-anudāsa of the best servants of Kṛṣṇa.

We realize that we ourselves will never amount to much and if Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure is our only concern then we better help those who really matter to Him. I’m not going to describe glories of mañjarīs here but let’s think what it means to us in terms of choosing our master, choosing who to pray for.

Yes, Kṛṣṇa is God, we obviously can always pray to Him, but for what? What’s the most He can give us? We have no idea what spiritual treasures He can unlock for us but if we see it in comparison to the treasures of this world then we are looking at it wrong. He can please us beyond our imagination but it’s still a self-serving, egoistic attitude.

We are also confined to living at least the rest of our current lives in our bodies with no access to real spiritual feelings. We know that we are made to suffer like this for our own benefit and we know that we have to make do with whatever situation we find ourselves in. What’s the point of praying to Kṛṣṇa then?

We can say that our constitutional position is being His servants but that also doesn’t mean much. He IS God, and we ARE His servants. Pray or no pray, it’s not going to change anything, our constitutional position is not going to change.

What we can attain is pure devotion, bhakti, it’s something that we have the potential for but it’s obviously needs to be developed even if we manage to shake off the illusion of being material bodies.

Here’s the catch, though – bhakti comes only from bhakti. We learn it from other devotees, not from Kṛṣṇa Himself, so if we want bhakti we should seek shelter of devotees, seek shelter of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. She has something we don’t, and without Her mercy never will – Kṛṣṇa prema.

That’s why if we choose wisely we should choose serving Her, not Kṛṣṇa. There’s another, practical reason, too – Kṛṣṇa is fickle. He is supremely independent and He is known to switch His allegiances and break His devotees’ hearts. In our present situation He simply doesn’t want to reveal Himself, He prefers to keep His distance, and that’s understandable, but we’ll never run into this problem if we take shelter of Rādha. Never.

There’s not a moment when Krṣṇa’s devotees forget about Him, never a moment when they decide to wander in the woods by themselves, minding their own business. They don’t have their own business. If we want to always remember Kṛṣṇa we have to learn steadiness not from Him but from Śrī Rādhikā.

There’s another comparison to be made with Truffaldino here – one of his masters was a woman dressed as a man, trying to behave like a “normal” person while hiding her true identity. We had Lord Caitanya doing just that and He had examples of devotees struggling to deal with His dual identity, too. Many were not aware of it, many didn’t understand it, and if we present it like that to the modern people they would immediately question His gender identity. They can’t imagine that spiritual emotions are completely asexual, as far as their material manifestations are concerned.

The comedy had a happy ending, of course, but, perhaps, the greater moral of the story was Truffaldino’s discovery of his true passion. Turns out his love of food was simply an expression of his desire to love an actual person. Once he finds his true love, his food cravings go away.

I hope something like that happens to us, too, and rather sooner than later. Whichever master we choose to pray to (except māyā, of course), I hope we find spiritual happiness that would make us forget about all the attractions of this world. They are like anchors holding us grounded here, they spoil all the mercy coming to us from our ācāryas, they are anarthas that need to be purged

Vanity thought #1018. Science of Bhakti

Yesterday, and for the better part of this week, I tried to prove that “scientific method” isn’t as scientific as it’s made out to be, that science has no monopoly on it, and that it can be applied in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, too.

My last note, however, was that scientific method is of no use in catching Kṛṣṇa even if we fully comply with instructions of our ācāryas and rules of sādhana bhakti. I guess you can already see where it’s going.

Scientific method won’t work for us because the idea of reaching Kṛṣṇa by our own efforts is wrong. There’s another materialistic assumption about scientific method I haven’t mentioned yet – reliance on yourself. In science it’s axiomatic – if you want to learn anything, you have to study it yourself. If you want to discover anything, you have to search of it yourself, too. There’s a pretty straightforward correlation between success and efforts made to achieve it. It’s not a constant ratio, of course, but the correlation is always positive – you study, you learn. You don’t study and you don’t learn, there’s no other way.

We cannot achieve Kṛṣṇa by our own efforts, no kind of God would allow Himself to be exposed this way, not just Kṛṣṇa.

This puts a huge damper on whatever enthusiasm I might have about applying scientific method in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It makes it look like waste of time, and, in a way, it is. We don’t need to be scientists to learn this simple truth. What is hard is to always be aware of it.

Most of the time, being in a conditioned state, we forget that our efforts will never be the cause of whatever results we get. Karmically, yes, of course, but spiritually there’s no such thing as the law of karma. There’s only the law of causeless mercy. Causeless – get it, it’s the opposite of karma.

So, if we think that by chanting many rounds we can make Kṛṣṇa manifest in the Holy Name, we are wrong. If we think that by reading many books we can finally grasp the philosophy and develop love of God, we are wrong. If we think that if we go to all temple programs and serve devotees there we will earn the right of Kṛṣṇa’s association, we are wrong again.

Nothing works. No matter what we try, we can’t force Kṛṣṇa to reveal Himself. No matter how scientific or how rational our method is, it does not deliver Kṛṣṇa, because Kṛṣṇa is supremely independent. If He doesn’t want to, He won’t show Himself.

We can try the sneakier way – we get the mercy of guru first, then we hope to get the mercy of Lord Nityānanda, then, by His grace, we get the mercy of Lord Caitanya, and then Lord Caitanya will deliver us to Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet.

There’s nothing wrong with it, this is exactly what will happen, but it won’t depend on us, and Kṛṣṇa can block our progress at any point without any explanations. He is not obliged to explain Himself to us. Our guru, our predecessor ācāryas, our entire paramparā all the way up to Lord Brahmā – no one can force Kṛṣṇa to do anything. They can put a good word for us, and I hope they would, but final decision always rests with the Lord.

One could say that Kṛṣṇa always fulfills desires of His devotees but He does that our of His own free will, if He doesn’t want to, no one can force Him to do anything.

This isn’t the end of the world, though – we can always seek shelter of Śṛīmatī Rādhārāṇī and leave Kṛṣṇa to enjoy His selfishness alone, ha ha.

Seriously, though, this realization that we cannot command bhakti to appear in our hearts should increase our humility and that is always a good thing. Humility increases our patience and makes it easier for us to wait.

Another side of this realization is that we can reflect on the very nature of bhakti and on our expectations from it. Why can’t we get devotion? What’s wrong with us?

Let’s put it in very simple terms – bhakti means relationships with Kṛṣṇa. Not chanting in our own room, not reading books in a cozy chair, not eating prasādam, not dancing, not offering prayers, not offering obeisances, not associating with devotees – bhakti means associating with Kṛṣṇa.

Bhakti means relationships and so without contact with Kṛṣṇa it is meaningless. Nothing can substitute it either. In fact, our first contact with Kṛṣṇa will probably be devoid of bhakti, it would probably be about awe and veneration, not love yet.

So, in our everyday lives, when we don’t even hope to contact Kṛṣṇa directly, what is it that we expect from our version of bhakti? Our own happiness, that’s what.

We might say that it’s a spiritual happiness so it’s okay but it’s still about our own enjoyment, still fundamentally selfish. Bhakti will not grow in such a heart.

When we apply this so called scientific method in our devotional lives we usually judge results by the amount of pleasure this or that activity brings us. “Oh, serving devotees is so nectarian. Oh, book distribution is the height of ecstasy. Oh, freedom from sex is so cool. Oh, kirtans are so sweet. Oh, Bhāgavatam classes are so liberating.”

Without direct contact with Kṛṣṇa this is probably all we can hope for. We assume that this pleasure is given to us by Kṛṣṇa so it IS a kind of exchange, however indirect. It IS a kind of relationship, isn’t it? We do things and Kṛṣṇa reciprocates by giving us spiritual rewards. This doesn’t prove anything, however.

God reciprocates with every living being. He fulfills desires of every little worm slurping its way through delicious stool. Getting this kind of response is not bhakti. It is a higher level of enjoyment, true, but it’s still enjoyment. Our enjoyment, to be precise.

As long as we value our own feelings, we won’t get bhakti. We should be ashamed of it, really. It’s nice and kosher and it’s spiritually uplifting but it’s the very thing that keeps our hearts locked out of love for Kṛṣṇa.

We can’t say “I want pure devotion but I also want to feel good about it.” It’s an oxymoron, pure devotion and our own feelings are like oil and water, they don’t mix.

Well, what can we do then?

Not much, I’m afraid. We can forgo our feelings and engage in service without any ulterior motives, that would be good start. We might not be able to serve Kṛṣṇa directly but we can start by serving His representatives, and not just as a step to better things in the future but as our ultimate goal – as far as this life in this body is concerned it is true.

Without seeing Kṛṣṇa directly we don’t know how to please Him but we have His representatives and we can concentrate on their happiness instead of ours, and we should not treat this as a temporary assignment either. It’s all there is for us, life after life. Kṛṣṇa manifests for us through His devotees and so we should treat them correspondingly.

It is a kind of spiritual ABC but I haven’t heard anyone preaching in this vein for a very very long time. Maybe I am just unlucky, or maybe we, as a society, have become so suspicious of each other that we can’t say such things in public anymore. What can I say? It’s our greatest loss.

Vanity thought #1017. Scientific Method in Krishna Consciousness

As I said a couple of days ago, atheists love their “scientific method” because they somehow assume there’s magic involved in using it that separates them from the rest of the humanity. There isn’t.

For the past two days I’ve been trying to demonstrate some inherent problems with taking this scientific method on its face value. In theory it sounds okay but in real life it’s full of faults and there are tons of exceptions and loopholes that need to be watched for. It’s imperfect just like everything else in our lives.

These shortcomings can be overcome but, again, only in theory. Whether it happens in real life of not is usually beyond the scientist’s remit and it certainly doesn’t happen as expression of his will. I would argue that when science works it’s only because stars have aligned in a beneficial way. I guess I could break it down to actual outside factors that influence success of any scientific endeavor but there are too many and they are too random. It’s easier to just blame it on stars.

Here’s the thing about science – they think they have their theories and these theories give them power over the nature but they forget about one important thing – real world works perfectly well on its own whether they can explain it or not. They might study some phenomenon for ages and gain ever deeper understanding of it but their thoughts about it can’t influence the reality. Laws are laws, they work regardless of whether we know them or not.

Scientists live in the real world, too. Things happen to them regardless of their theories. They get old and die, for example, or grant money goes elsewhere, or bosses demand research in another field, or they demand something that can get quoted and raise university rankings. Or wives leave them and break their hearts, affecting their concentration.

This real world won’t wait for their theories and it doesn’t depend on them. Scientists imagine that they are independent doers and controllers and scientific method is their tool but their independence is minute even by materialistic standards. I, personally, always argue that there’s no free will in this world at all.

So, scientific method is as erratic tool as any other but that is not all – it’s so conventional that it can be used even when trying to find God.

It shouldn’t be applied in exactly the same way but that is because it comes with wrong assumptions about the world around us. When these assumptions are corrected it becomes perfectly useful for us as aspiring devotees, too.

Main difference is that scientists assume that God is like the material nature which follows the same laws, these laws are uniform throughout time and space, and it’s meant for our control and enjoyment. God is nothing like that.

We imagine ourselves as seers and observers of the world, which is to be seen, while God sees and observes us (and He also controls the world but we don’t usually notice this so let’s not bring this into the discussion for now). The very nature of our relationships with the world is directly opposite to the nature of our relationship with God. We need to keep this in mind when we use “scientific method” to find him.

Usually we discuss our search for Kṛṣṇa in terms of sambandha, abhideya, and prayojana. It’s a great method that makes us think in transcendental terms because we don’t have contaminated, material equivalents for them, but it’s not very applicable today. Today I want to express our progress in terms familiar to scientists.

So, first step is “formulate a question”. For us it’s “How to reach Kṛṣṇa?” I assume that we already agreed that we know Kṛṣṇa exists but if we want to present this to an atheist we need to start with something else.

“How to reach Kṛṣṇa?” might not be the most appropriate question for each and every situation. We might be more specific about it, like “How to cleanse my heart of anarthas?” or “How to please my spiritual master?” and so on.

Second step is “offer a hypothesis”. For us it means figure out a possible way – by distributing books, for example, or by donating a portion of our income to the temple, or by chanting a gazillion of rounds. We don’t have a shortage of possible solutions.

Third step is “make predictions”. Ideally we should engage in our service without any expectations, it should be unconditioned, but in real life we all need some signs of progress to help us move along. Whether we feel it’s necessary or not but we can make predictions of what would happen to us if we follow our chosen method without much difficulty. We could expect a victory over sex desire, we could expect increase in our business, we could expect gaining visible mercy from the devotees – it’s not really that hard to make predictions about outcomes of our service.

Next step is “testing”. This just means we have to get on with the program and see what happens.

Finally, “analysis”. For scientists it means comparing their predictions with actual results and trying to figure out what it all means. Most of the time there are differences between results and expectations and these differences need to be accounted for. Maybe experiment need to be changed, maybe the theory need to be adjusted, maybe it all falls within acceptable deviations.

We are not that different in this regard. We do our service and then we check our progress. Sometimes it works, sometimes we feel like we are stuck. Sometimes we realize we made mistakes in application, in our sādhana, sometimes we realize that our theoretical assumptions were wrong. Sometimes we get on to a completely new level of understanding of our philosophy and we realize that we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along. It works exactly the same way as with scientists.

Now, if we want to present our scientific method to atheists we need to start with their questions, not with ours. First one would probably be “Does God exist?” Another question that should be important to them is “Who am I?” They might also be interested to know what happens after death and re-incarnation but here we have to take charge and direct their inquiries in a “scientific way” – in terms of sambandha, abhidheya, and prajojana.

First they need to know who they are and who God is, then they need to figure out what to do based on this new understanding, and then they should become devotees and so we won’t have to speak to them from the atheist angle anymore.

I’m afraid it’s beyond the scope of this post to offer a working solution on how to convert atheists. It doesn’t even exist – we can’t convert atheists, maybe Lord Caitanya can encourage them from within their hearts but we are powerless here. What we can do, instead, is search for existing signs of devotion and capitalize on those. Appealing to logic is unlikely to work but if it’s the only approach available we should adjust our expectations accordingly.

There are features of Kṛṣṇa that are extremely appealing to logicians and we should probably emphasize those first, but, as I said, it’s a thought for another day.

What worries me more is that this glorious scientific method of searching for Kṛṣṇa is totally wrong. Not that we should reject it but it’s not how we achieve success in our spiritual life, and this is definitely something that needs to be explained separately

Vanity thought #1016. Scientific Method – go with the flow

I started discussing the so called “scientific method” with its underlying tie to observable facts, then continued to experiments as a way to isolate these observable facts, and that was a jump to step four of the method, maybe it’s time to start from the beginning and discuss the steps in progression.

Just to remind, here are five steps as they are outlined in Wikipedia:

  1. Formulate a question
  2. Offer a hypothesis
  3. Make predictions
  4. Test
  5. Analyze

It all looks very straightforward and easy to digest, it looks bulletproof, and maybe that’s why atheists like it so much. Subject religious inquiry to the scientific method, they say, and you’ll see how irrational beliefs are. Want to prove that God exists? Apply scientific method.

Question is easy – “Does God exist?” Hypothesis is trickier – it’s how we are supposed to prove His existence. Then we make predictions what will happen if God exists and what will happen if He doesn’t. Then we run experiments. Then we analyze the results and see how they fit with our predictions. Easy peasy.

No one has ever been able to prove God’s existence this way and therefore God must be rejected.

It’s not so easy to explain how this method is wrong because it’s perfectly consistent within its own framework. It’s like one of those puzzles which prove that 2×2=5. There’s a catch somewhere and we need to go through the whole thing carefully to identify it.

With scientific method and God it’s a bit different because we shouldn’t be looking at mistakes but reject underlying assumptions, which are not stated explicitly.

The first objection should probably be the belief that nature’s laws are uniform and we all can draw exactly the same conclusions from same observable facts and we can repeat our experiments numerous times and they would always yield the same results.

God is not obliged to behave this way. He is beyond the reach of nature’s laws, they are inapplicable to Him and so we will never get same results from same experiments assuming God decides to respond at all.

Another objection, a more fundamental one but which is more difficult to grasp for an average atheist, is that our relationships with the nature and our relationships with God are totally different. We control the nature, we are superior subjects and the nature is an object which we can observe and which responds to our actions. With God it’s exactly opposite – He is the Supreme Controller, He observes us, we are the objects of His desires AND it’s He who ultimately controls the nature, too. We can’t apply the same method to what we control and to what controls us.

Apart from that, we can challenge the accuracy of the scientific method itself. In real life it hardly ever works as advertised.

First step, formulate a question, is never actually the first. It might be the first in the next cycle of inquiry but we always start with observations. We apply our existing knowledge and try to figure out what we see, only then we might notice some discrepancies that would lead to posing new questions.

It might not sound important – what’s it matter if it’s a first step in the cycle or not as long it’s the same cycle? We’ve got to start somewhere, and new line of inquiry starts with questions, so why the objection?

Because it makes it look like formulating questions is a matter of choice, an expression of free will, an act of independent, inquiring intelligence that separates us, humans, from less developed living beings. This is an underlying assumption behind all science, and it’s completely wrong.

The questions we ask depend on what we already know and on what we want to achieve, it’s a mechanical process that leaves no real freedom.

Let’s look at how it works in real life.

First of all, all scientific research is done with a purpose. We can always remember Einstein who was daydreaming in some patent office and invented theory of relativity just for fun but for most practicing scientists it’s a matter of career.

The description of the scientific method taken from encyclopedias omits two very crucial steps – writing and publishing.

Most of the time publishing is the main purpose behind research because everything in the scientific endeavor is judged by the publicity it generates. Studies must be published in authorized journals and they must be quoted by others, otherwise they are useless (unless one works on commercial projects). Being quoted and referenced is the main criteria by which study results are evaluated even though it is not included in “scientific method” at all.

So, it all starts from the end – we want to get published and noticed, and so we need to look carefully at our field and find what other people might find interesting. Then we could start formulating questions, in theory, in practice, however, writing also influences how we do things.

When scientists publish their papers they look like a coherent narrative, perfectly in line with “scientific method”, but the reality is always messy. They start with questions they think are relevant to their field, they plan experiments, they analyze the results, and then they realize that they have been asking the wrong questions and they need to do the whole thing again but from another angle. This might happen a few times in a row until suddenly they come across something really useful, or don’t. The might abandon the study altogether in favor of something easier, their grant money can run out, or they can realize that they don’t have the necessary equipment to conduct the experiments they need.

These are not trivial concerns, sometimes they can be overcome but most of the time scientists do what works and brings immediate results rather than chase their dreams.

But, suppose, they finally produce something worth publishing. Then they had to sit down and write and compose a perfect narrative that doesn’t mention their initial struggles. This, however, is not the end of their problems.

Successful publishing requires people to pre-commit their results – announce what they are doing and what they expect to achieve. Pre-commited failures must, therefore, be published, too. It’s great for science to know what doesn’t work but it’s not so great for scientists because everyone naturally wants to be successful. This means that risky projects are much less likely to be picked up, and this once again demonstrates that there’s no independence in choosing study subjects.

Science, therefore, goes with the flow. It’s hard to predict where it would go next but everything that has been done before can be rationally explained and justified. Sometimes there are lucky coincidences and course of science gets altered unexpectedly but this isn’t an argument for scientific freedom either, it just shifts the reason a bit further – who is responsible for coincidences? Religious people would say it’s God, atheists would say it’s just a random fluke, but no one would say it’s expression of freedom of will.

I don’t know if objections I raised in this post would be enough to convince proponents of the scientific method to give up on their idea that they are in control, it would certainly not be enough to prove that God exists, but if they are so proud of their intellectual abilities we might challenge them to pause and contemplate their real situation – being in total dependence on outside forces.

There are three steps to approaching God. We, by Śrila Prabhupāda’s grace, take the last one – full and unconditional surrender, but most people realize the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth first, but even before that they realize the universal form of the Lord. So, if we make the atheists to see God’s power manifested as material nature we would already help them to make spiritual progress, even if they refuse to call it God yet.

Not a big achievement, but it’s the atheists we are talking about, we can’t expect much. More importantly, realizing their own insignificance should endow them with enough humility to accept message of bhakti or at least engage in some ajṅāta-sukṛti, and from their it’s just one step to becoming devotees, one step to taking the road back to Kṛṣṇa.

Vanity thought #1015. Scientific Method – experimenting

Yesterday I talked about the very basics of “scientific method” – facts and observations. It’s presumed that these are straightforward things but actually they aren’t. Different observers see different things and this makes perception subjective, and then they interpret their observations to establish facts but it’s also a subjective process.

It’s fairly common for different scientists to reach different conclusions by observing the same phenomenon, and the best way to achieve uniform interpretations is to provide uniform training. This leads to circular logic – you can’t observe something unless you’re subscribe to a particular theory, and that theory is based on observing things in a particular way so you get caught in a self-perpetuating cycle. There are ways to break out of it but that is a subject for another day.

Today I want to talk about experimentation. Simply observing things in the outside world is not enough, there’s just too much information out there and 99.99999999% of it is totally irrelevant, like right now I can observe a stack of DVD disks on the shelf and try to guess how many are there and how many of them are still blank without actually counting them. It’s a great exercise but it doesn’t advance science in any way – it’s irrelevant.

Scientists need to isolate the relevant phenomena and they need to make sure that their observations are not interfered with by irrelevant phenomena. Most of the time it’s impossible to do in the real world and so they need labs and need to conduct experiments in a controlled environment.

Back to scientific method – the first step there is “Formulating a question” but I’m talking about observation going onto experiments, which is a step number four. Is this justified? I believe it is, because this whole thing with the steps is rather artificial anyway. It’s not how scientists work in everyday life even though they appreciate the ideal progression.

Most of their thinking time they spend on interpreting the results, it’s this process that helps them to formulate the right questions, and this difficulty with interpretation is caused by imperfect experiments, so it’s quite natural to discuss problems with experimenting first, regardless of scientific method’s ideal flow.

As I said, most of their work is answering the question “What did I just see?” which is totally different from formulating a question in step one. To help answering that question scientists try to get full control of all the variables and while it is totally understandable it also means that their theories of what had happened are not based on the real world situations but very artificial setups in their labs.

The question then becomes – do they ever have full control of all the variables? The answer is “never” simply because we don’t know yet what all variables are. At the end of the day it’s always settling on “good enough” rather than “absolutely sure”. Proponents of the scientific method would point out that science is always work in progress and so capturing the Absolute Truth is never going to be possible and this might disrupt our train of thought.

Most of us would immediately say that Absolute Truth is available if they follow our method or that our knowledge is based on Absolute Truth therefore it’s infallible but I bet such reasoning doesn’t impress “scientifically minded” opponents. Without buying into our entire philosophy they are not going to interpret observable facts the same way we do.

Perhaps what we should point out instead is that while current scientific or historical view might not support evidence from our books it doesn’t rule them being accurate either. This might seem like quite a stretch at first but let’s continue talking about experiments and their inherent problems.

Perfect experiment setup depends on the state of theoretical knowledge behind it. There are plenty examples in history of science where experiments were conducted in the most meticulous way and could be repeated over and over again, and yet yielded completely wrong conclusions simply because theory behind them was absolutely wrong.

One such example is trying to calculate weight of the molecules. At first everyone thought that all molecules are built of hydrogen atoms and so their relative weight comparing to hydrogen should be a whole number – five times heavier than hydrogen, for example. They’ve spent decades trying to prove it, all in vain. They blamed it on imperfect conditions and what not and searched and searched for interferences and gave up on the idea only when someone realized that molecules might be made of different stuff rather than combination of hydrogen atoms.

There are other examples, like when Hertz declared that “cathode rays” in vacuum tubes were not made of electrons. He was the best at experiments of this kind and his results could be replicated by anyone following the same procedure, yet his conclusion was totally wrong. Turns out that one needed better vacuum tubes, better cathode and anode materials and lots of other better things that were simply unavailable in Hertz’ lab.

It’s easy to see this rather straightforward solution when looking back but when you are on the cutting edge of science none of that is obvious. Things might make total sense with the best available equipment, it all might be fully compliant with the “scientific method”, and yet one might have no idea that future improvements would completely overrule the currently held theory.

Newton laws have been true for several hundred years but now we know they are wrong, even though they are “good enough” for solving common day engineering. ATM the biggest and latest thing is confirmation of Higgs Boson and it took half a century to prove its existence, some twenty years working on one single experiment in the CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. It’s the best experimental setup for this kind of thing but if we look at the bigger picture we can be certain that there are tons of things scientists are not yet aware of when observing subatomic particles and some “Even Larger Hadron Collider” will most certainly overrule their current conclusions.

Perhaps the string theory will make a comeback, or they’ll discover antimatter, or maybe interference from other dimensions, or maybe something we don’t know exists even in theory, but we can be most certain that something will come up and turn science upside down, like theory of relativity or quantum mechanics did a hundred years ago.

Another problem here is that experimenting in the nineteenth century was relatively easy, nearly everybody could do it by himself and nearly every modern high school lab can replicate them with ease. Building that Large Hadron Collider, otoh, is a collaboration of a hundred thousand scientists from over a hundred countries. We are clearly running into a wall here – experimental demands seem to be limitless while our facilities aren’t. Political problems aside, Russians just declared that they are not going to maintain International Space Station beyond 2020, it’s just not worth it.

Idealists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson might fantasize about humanity expanding all over the universe but the realists who pay for these fantasies have other ideas. Perhaps days when improving out labs and our experiments was a given are past us, perhaps proponents of scientific method need to realize that while in the ideal world it works beautifully, in reality they are facing unsurmountable constraints.

Here’s a food for thought for them – direction of science is determined not by theoretical understanding but by very real world limits on experimentation. If we can’t conduct certain experiments, we won’t develop theories based on their results and instead will work on what’s available.

This is a very important point – in addition to subjectivity I discussed earlier, scientific development is restricted by real world problems outside of scientists’ control. Wars, economic downturns, politics, immigration policies – there are lots of things that affect scientific progress and can totally block some branches of it forever.

The conclusion is that science is not as magical as scientific method makes it to be. It does not provide an objective view of the reality and it does not progress in an independent, unconditioned manner.

Śrila Prabhupāda told us these things right from the beginning, all I do here is try to illustrate them by using science’s own framework. Practically, this should convince us that we don’t need scientific proof of Vedic knowledge and we don’t need to explain how things described in our books could be possible, and this attitude is not just a matter of faith but a realistic description of the situation.

Most devotees would say “but I already don’t feel the need to have scientific explanations so it’s not important to me” but I think we all strive for such proof. We can see this interest everywhere. Every time scientists discover something that suits our Vedic facts we immediately propagate the news through the whole society, not to mention a number of books written to prove Vedic version of history.

We say that we don’t want scientific explanations because we are afraid we might not get them. We are afraid that if we hear scientific alternatives it would affect our faith, and it’s probably the correct course of action, but this fear is unfounded. I hope posts like this can help me realize that scientific method is truly unreliable and whatever scientists throw at us can be disputed on their own terms. It’s hard to keep all of this in mind all the time but the memory, the confidence that if we sit down and think about it then ANY argument against Vedic knowledge can be discredited because it’s just how science works, will always be with me, and that’s a good thing.

Vanity thought #1014. Scientific Method – facts and observation

If we discuss existence of God or evolution or countless other topics with atheists we are very likely to run into the “scientific method” defense. It has become one of their most popular tools of late and they won’t take any our statements seriously if we can’t comply with their “scientific method”, discussion ends there.

To get around this stumbling block we need to find another approach so we don’t trigger this defensive reaction and they don’t retreat into their shell, or we need to challenge their “scientific method” assumptions and so deny them their safety. I won’t touch on the first solution today, I don’t think I even know how to do that, it’s the second one that I want to focus on, even if in the spirit of “know you enemy”.

First of all, science is given a status of magic. Attach word “science” or “scientists” and whatever you say immediately carries a lot more weight. Some disciplines add “science” to themselves to sound important and authoritative. There are things like “political science”, because it sounds better than simply “politics”, and even “literary science” because “art” is not an authoritative label.

On religious side they have “Christian science” and “creation science” because they don’t want to be associated with simple faith. Śrila Prabhupāda also used the word “science” to describe Kṛṣṇa consciousness and we even have “Science of Self-Realization” but at least we try to explain what we mean by science because clearly what we practice doesn’t look like scientific research.

I’m not saying that Christians have no right to use the word “science” to describe their studies, I’m just saying that there could be an ulterior motive in trying to elevate their status by cashing in on science popularity and prestige.

This popularity is largely based on the unassailable “scientific method” which is assumed as being superior to any other method and, especially, acquiring knowledge from religious texts.

Wikipedia gives five steps to the scientific method:

  1. Formulate a question
  2. Offer a hypothesis
  3. Make predictions
  4. Test
  5. Analyze

There’s a bit more to it, however. At the very basis of it lies an assumption that science deals with observable facts, that whatever science produces is solid, verifiable truth and anyone can prove it to themselves, leaving nothing to faith.

We usually say that even science requires faith but it’s not faith in the sense atheists understand it. They see it as trust in research done by others. They depend on this trust so that they don’t have to replicate previous research themselves. It does not challenge their fundamental belief that anyone can follow the same scientific procedures and arrive at the same results.

That’s why they deal with facts, observation, and laws. It’s all objective for them, all these things are true regardless of who does them and when. That’s why they call it an objective reality as opposed to mystical and supernatural world of faith.

Perhaps we should start the critique of scientific method by analyzing this assumption that it is based on observable facts and that they would be objectively true at all times so that scientists can reuse them to build further theories.

First of all, observation is tricky. Atheists assume that everyone looking at the same picture or event would observe the same thing. That is not always true. It is equally not true that by observing the same thing everyone would come to exactly same conclusions.

Look at this optical illusion, for example:

It’s a staircase, obviously, but which way does it go? Is it a regular one or inverted upside down one? We all see the same picture but what we actually observe constantly flips from one vision to another. The three dimensional aspect of it confuses us. Why? Partly because we are modern city people, we deal with geometrical forms all the time – buildings, roads, everyday objects. People who grow up in the villages do not have such a strong sense of 3D and there are tribes in Africa who can’t see staircase at all because they have no such concept, they have never seen a staircase, and they have never drawn any objects in 3D. We, otoh, can’t see this image as two-dimensional, it doesn’t make sense to us, we can’t associate it with anything we know.

This is just an example of how we see things but we might actually not SEE them because what we observe is based on our previous, subjective experience. Example from science – cells under microscope. People looked at them for over a hundred years before they figured out what they were. To observe a cell one must have a sufficient scientific background, simply looking at it is not enough. We can all look at chest x-rays and see ribs and the heart but only trained doctors can discuss finer details of the lungs and signs of chronic or acute diseases.

One could easily find more examples from whatever field one is familiar with, and this should give us enough ammunition to challenge the assumption that scientific theories are based on observable facts. Not at all, observable facts are based on existing theories instead.

Scientists will say that observable facts can modify and improve existing theories so it’s a self-correcting mechanism and this is true but only to a degree because these ever expanding theories feed on themselves and do not bring any new information in.

Example from science – for other a thousand years everyone thought that matter was made of four-five elements – earth, fire, water, air and ether. They’ve developed lots of theories based on that, correcting and improving on their understanding. Then it all had to be thrown out, lifetimes of research and entire disciplines like alchemy. It all was very rational and logical and based on observable facts but it was all false, as we know now.

Similarly, for thousands of years observational fact has been, and still is, that the Earth is stationary. We don’t take this observational fact as true description of reality but on itself it’s still true. As Prabhupāda once quipped – Earth is flat wherever I go.

So, the point today is that observational facts are not uniform and objective but depend on one’s subjective background, and that theories are not based strictly on facts but facts are observed according to existing theories.

This should open up a theoretical possibility that there could be a parallel system of knowledge that is perfectly consistent on its own and that the current view of the universe or the atoms is not the only correct way to see them. That’s our foot in the door, and it’s based on the same scientific principles, just with a different starting point to develop on. It’s not how Vedic science works, of course, but we could present it this way to comply with the “scientific method”.

Me listing five steps of that method was overly enthusiastic, I haven’t gotten even to the first one, but this is not my last post either. Perhaps tomorrow

Vanity thought #1013. Seed of doubt

A week ago I said about jiva falldown issue that if one reads Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books it would never ever occur to him that we were never with Kṛṣṇa and so our goal is not to go back go Godhead because we were never there. Apparently, there’s a passage in our books that suggests exactly that, that we, as spirit souls, were created devoid of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and then placed under the illusion of material nature. If we were to go back, it wouldn’t be to Kṛṣṇa. This discovery demands an explanation, so far I haven’t seen one so I need to speculate about it myself.

Let’s not jump into the passage itself head first but look at a bigger picture. What I need to do is prove that this passage dovetails perfectly with everything else Śrīla Prabhupāda said on the issue. If that fails, I need to find a way to discount this passage as insignificant or unrelated, or find a different interpretation that suits me better. If that fails I might need to accept that Śrīla Prabhupāda contradicted himself on this occasion and then I have to find an acceptable way to deal with this contradiction. I might have to consider the possibility that Prabhupāda made a mistake. I might consider the possibility that editors made a mistake in transcription.

If everything fails, I might consider drawing different conclusions rather than the most obvious, no-fall-vada one. If I sit down and ponder this for a while longer I might find other ways of explaining this passage away without changing my opinion. From a debate POV none of them would be acceptable, our opponents might say that this is grasping at straws, that I’m being unreasonable, that I’m concocting ideas that are simply not there, that I’m not taking the message as it is. All of these accusations might be perfectly valid but the bottom line is fidelity to Śrīla Prabhupāda which should not be compromised no matter what.

Perhaps I’ll have to accept that this fidelity does not produce a perfect, acceptable explanation of this one point, meaning that Kṛṣṇa consciousness fails in face of logic. There are ways of dealing with this conclusion, too – we should always be humble and prepare to surrender to the Lord against all odds, as a leap of faith, not reason.

It would be appropriate to once again draw the difference between truth and facts here – truth is that Kṛṣṇa is God, Śrīla Prabhupāda is His representative, and so we should serve both of them no matter what. “Facts” can be whatever they are and cannot affect the truth. Between being right and being Kṛṣṇa’s servant we know what we have to choose. We should also remember that we cannot serve Kṛṣṇa without serving Prabhupāda. Fidelity to one means fidelity to the other, they cannot be separated. “Prabhupada might be wrong but Kṛṣṇa is still God” is not an acceptable solution here.

So, with this background in mind, let’s see what the problem here is. The passage in question is from a purport to one of the verses of Śrī Īśopaniṣad (Iso 16):

    The all-pervading feature of the Lord—which exists in all circumstances of waking and sleeping as well as in potential states and from which the jīva-śakti (living force) is generated as both conditioned and liberated souls—is known as Brahman. Since the Lord is the origin of both Paramātmā and Brahman, He is the origin of all living entities and all else that exists.

1974 edition of Īśopaniṣad has this sentence exactly the same (here). There are pdf scans of 1969 edition online (here, for example) but it might take a while to download it, depending on your connection, and the sentence there reads essentially the same, minus silly punctuation mistakes and a couple of words that do not affect the meaning, so editor’s error can be counted out.

It’s the beginning of the last paragraph and from there Śrīla Prabhupāda speaks about necessity to engage in Kṛṣṇa’s service. In the previous paragraphs he discusses the relationship between the Lord and the living entities and various levels of realization and so nothing in this purport suggests it should answer the question of jīva’s origin, just this one sentence.

On the surface of it, Śrīla Prabhupāda says that living entities are generated from Brahman but note the term jīva-śakti rather than jīvas, and “living force” rather than “living entities”. We aren’t “living force”, we are souls possessing such force, though it could be argued that two terms here are interchangeable.

Note that in one of the previous paragraphs Śrīla Prabhupāda also states:

    The living entities are also differentiated expansions of the Lord’s Self, and because some of them desire to be lords and imitate the Supreme Lord, He allows them to enter into the cosmic creation with the option to fully utilize their propensity to lord it over nature.

One could say here that there are two steps to generating living entities as expansions – first the Lord generates Brahman, and then from Brahman He generates souls. It’s a nice counter argument but still it’s not what Prabhupāda talks about in this purport, jīva origin is not discussed here, what he says forms only a basis for our own speculation of how it happened.

Brahman as the origin of souls can also be questioned in light of, well, light. This and the previous verse talk about dazzling light emanating from the Lord’s face, the brahma-jyotir, and Śrīla Prabhupāda cites several sources explaining this light, including Brahma-Saṃhitā and Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (in Iso 15). He also cites Jīva Gosvami’s Bhagavat-sandarbha where brahma-jyotir is equated with Brahman. In the purport to the next verse (Iso 17) he contradicts the conclusion that jivas are generated from Brahman when he states:

    As we have learned from previous mantras, the brahma-jyotir emanating from the transcendental body of the Lord is full of spiritual sparks that are individual entities with the full sense of existence.

See how Brahman, or brahma-jyotir, is not anymore the “source of” of but “full of” living entities. This fits perfectly well with everything he said before and after on the topic – liberated living entities devoid of Kṛṣṇa consciousness end up floating in Brahman, or brahma-jyotir. It’s already a fallen position – fallen from service to the Lord. We don’t know how exactly the souls end up there, some are clearly elevated to that level from the material world, for example.

There are lots of other questions that can be raised about the original, doubt producing sentence: “The all-pervading feature of the Lord—which exists in all circumstances of waking and sleeping as well as in potential states and from which the jīva-śakti (living force) is generated as both conditioned and liberated souls..” Where does this “waking and sleeping” come from? These states describe conditioned living entities under the power of māya, not the ones with Brahman realization. What other potential states are there? Are some souls generated as conditioned while others are born liberated? It seems the sentence raises lots of unrelated topics but doesn’t clarify them and never mentions them again. *We* can draw various conclusions from it but Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly wasn’t interested in pursuing them, it wasn’t on his mind at all.

So, while it appears straightforward and “as it is”, it actually isn’t, the answer to jīva origin issue appears completely out of context there. The sentence also doesn’t state that we never have been with Kṛṣṇa, only that living force is generated from Brahman “as both conditioned and liberated souls”. We could easily read that from Brahman realization we can either enter the material world and become “conditioned souls” or pursue Kṛṣṇa consciousness and enter spiritual planets, meaning the sentence is not about our past but about our future.

I don’t think any of these explanations would satisfy no-fall-vadīs but they put my mind at ease, at least for now. Should that sentence be worded differently? Perhaps, but then I also appreciate the opportunity to discuss it as it is, I actually quite like it that way, spiced with a touch of controversy.

One thing is clear, as a verifiable fact – existence of this sentence hasn’t changed ISCKON position on the jīva origin issue. Thousands and thousands of devotees read and studied it and didn’t take it as proof that we were never with Kṛṣṇa, it didn’t even enter their minds to read it like that. Why should we start our own interpretation then? I don’t see a reason to step out of line here and risk putting my spiritual health in grave danger.

It’s just not worth it. It’s not that big of a fact to sacrifice or even doubt the truth.

Vanity thought #1012. Books are the basis but

Every activity in this world has a but attached to it and book distribution is no exception. The reason for unavoidable downsides to every endeavor is very simple – we all want different things.

It’s fine to say that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander but it never works in real life, or we wouldn’t need this saying in the first place. I mean we can make a conscious effort to comply with logic of this statement but it still doesn’t *feel* the same not matter what logic says.

What is good for one purpose, therefore, is not so good for another, and so we shouldn’t be judgmental when people do strange things from our POV because it might suit THEM perfectly. Therefore Kṛṣṇa says that one should neither praise nor criticize activities of others (SB 11.28.1). Despite the apparent difference, it’s one and the same material nature acting uniformly, according to another translation of that verse.

Still, in the conditioned state we can’t avoid having different perspectives but there’s a but for this statement, too – if we take fully Kṛṣṇa conscious POV then differences disappear. This is how we are supposed to unite around ISKCON despite our external disagreements. From this perspective, book distribution is absolutely perfect, especially if done the way Śrila Prabhupāda taught us.

Just think about it – it serves all our needs in every respect. Spiritually it’s a pinnacle of saṅkīrtana because it introduces formerly lost souls to Kṛṣṇa’s service. Materially it enables us to maintain and support our movement. Also materially, it engages all our senses in active service and thus fully shields us from the influence of māyā.

Those who have tried it know that there’s no substitute for book distribution, nothing will ever taste the same and nothing will ever taste better, at least not in this world.

It takes less than five minutes to realize that we are not the doers and neither we are enjoyers of our actions, it all happens strictly by the will of the Lord. Any idea that we can control anything here disappears in about an hour. Place, time, circumstances, people we meet, words we say, choices we make, donations they give – nothing is in our control, we have to surrender ourselves completely, one hundred percent, and without any reservations.

Then the mercy starts flowing. There cannot be any better feeling in this world than being instruments in Kṛṣṇa’s hands, but that is not all yet. With a bit of experience we realize that even this mercy isn’t exactly Kṛsṇa’s. We are too far removed from Him to claim He engages with us directly, and this is also obviously not the case as He doesn’t appear in His personal form.

The mercy flows to us through our guru, he is the only source of our power and it’s only by his grace that we get Kṛṣṇa’s attention and material nature starts moving for Kṛṣṇa’s supreme pleasure – saṅkīrtana. We also get to see the power of paramparā – from our guru up to Lord Nityānanda. He is the source of the ability to preach and glorify the Lord, t all happens only by His power, and when He gets involved, Lord Caitanya starts to appreciate our efforts.

There’s still more to it – Lord Caitanya is also Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and by His grace we finally get the opportunity to please Her, which is our ideal position as followers of Rūpa Gosvāmī. I don’t know much about that, though, but what we all can learn very fast is value of the full surrender to the lotus feet of our guru. That is immediately open to everyone who takes a book and offers it to others.

Of course sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything special but if we take book distribution seriously Kṛṣṇa will very soon put us in the position where we start seeing all those things, for real, not just in theory.

What can I say? It’s absolutely perfect, yet there’s always a but, and it comes from having ulterior motives. I have a couple of examples in mind here.

First, is that book distribution is only a method, a tool, a stage, and this means that it should lead to something better and more advanced. One way this attitude could manifest is when we rely on book distribution to build a society and a temple, and then give it up and have members pay for our maintenance instead.

It is perfectly possible to develop this way, every religious tradition eventually learns to live off the congregation, including ISKCON, but I don’t see people being nearly as ecstatic in this position as they were when they depended solely on preaching. It just doesn’t feel better. When ISKCON devotees first went to India and saw Gaudīyā Maṭhas they immediately felt the difference, it’s as if life was sucked out of temples like that. Well, humans get used to everything and eventually many of us settled for non-preaching, too.

Another way ulterior motives manifest is more subtle, I bet most of us are not even aware of it. We assume that books are meant to be sold. It’s true, of course, we need people to make voluntary donations, it’s their sacrifice to Kṛṣṇa since they don’t know how to properly serve Him yet. It is also true that if they pay good money for our books they come to appreciate them more, Śrila Prabupāda explained this to us right from the start. We are not Christians leaving their Bibles everywhere as if they have no value whatsoever.

Still, money should not be involved in preaching. It’s only a temporary substitute for those who don’t know better, for those who do not really understand the value of listening to devotees praise of Kṛṣṇa. Since money is the most valuable thing for them, we take that instead. Still, saṅkīrtana is congregational chanting, not congregational chanting for money.

What is good when preaching to ordinary people is not necessarily good when preaching to devotees, or performing saṅkīrtana with other devotees. We do not charge for having a kīrtana together. We do not charge for sitting on Bhāgavatam class, we do not charge for our association, yet we think it’s okay to charge for books, and I mean books meant strictly for devotee consumption, not for outsiders.

It’s demeaning to devotees we give these books to because we assume that they don’t know their value and so we take their money instead. It would be wrong to think that you *bought* a book, too – no one can buy anything spiritual. If you want to share some spiritual topics with people you should not charge them for that. It becomes similar to much criticized Bhāgavata Saptaha. Śrila Prabhupāda said that if there’s exchange of money in reading Bhāgavatam there’s no exchange of devotion, it’s becomes useless and poisoned. In Nectar of Instruction there’s a famous verse (NOI 4) describing loving exchanges between devotees and none of those involves money. There’s giving gifts but no selling things

One could say that publishing books requires a lot of effort and materials and those do not come cheap, there are costs involved. That is true but I would posit that it’s better to find sponsors to publish books the way people find sponsors to build temples, and then give books away for free just as temples do not have cover charges. If we start charging for books then instead of sponsors we’ll have investors and instead of preaching we’ll have business. Similarly, Śrila Prabhupāda condemned priests who charge people to see the Deities.

What are books anyway? It’s just a vessel to record the knowledge we want to share. Before Kali Yuga such vessels were not needed, and with the spread of the Internet electronic copies are practically free to make and distribute. What’s there to charge for? Computer and Internet access needed to type up the book? Personal maintenance? I’m not sure these things need to be invested in and recouped by sales afterwards. I don’t know of any devotional book that could be considered a financial success anyway, not unless they are meant for general public and distributed by saṅkīrtana devotees.

This is not to say that every author in our movement has ulterior motives, this just an awareness exercise. As I said in the beginning – what we see as bad from our position might not look the same for others, we shouldn’t be judgmental. However, the ease with which devotees produce books and put them up on Amazon suggests that awareness is not always there. Lack of awareness is a dangerous thing, it means ignorance, it means space for anarthas to hide in deep recesses of our hearts, and we don’t want that.

Actually, I could also say that we write books for other devotees because we forget that there are billions of people out there who need to be introduced to Kṛṣṇa or we consider their fate as less important than our desire to share whatever pops up into our minds, ie we deviate from saṅkīrtana mission and indulge in self gratification.

Ideally, our only business in this world should be saṅkīrtana, everything else is not important.

Vanity thought #1011. Cosmos E11

In this episode Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes on Bible flood story and that immediately raises atheists’ appetite for some good old Bible bashing. Instead of fighting back, however, I thought that in this review I’ll just make some general comments on the topics that appear interesting from Kṛṣṇa consciousness POV because criticizing NDGT has become boring and somewhat mean.

NDGT starts with glorifying the region of Mesopotamia as a cradle of our civilization. It was the place where humans had first cities and where they invented writing. Our first reaction would probably be to object because we insist that civilization has spread out of India and there are plenty of Hindu scholars who diligently search for proof of this, not counting Bhāgavatam version. On second thought, however, we might bee seeking dubious honors here.

From modern perspective cities are signals of progress, whoever got the biggest city first is considered more advanced. From Vedic perspective, however, cities are signs of increase of the mood of passion, a sign of deterioration. In Satya Yuga there were no cities and no varṇas, everyone was a brāhmaṇa engaged in meditation, and they didn’t hunker for anything else.

Society was at best agricultural but even then sages lived on whatever they could scavenge in the forests, they didn’t need organized food production. Cities developed out of agrarian societies when there was enough stuff produced to let some people dedicate themselves to various crafts and occupations and trade their products in exchange for food and more stuff. People just wanted to have more and cities helped them to fuel their greed.

From this POV, Mesopotamians degraded first and there’s nothing to be proud of here. Similarly, inventing writing is not a sign of progress but a sign of degrading memory, I don’t think there’s a need to explain that.

One more thing, though – NDGT mentioned that Accadian Princess Enheduanna was the first one to sign her works, practically the first woman we know the name of. We should put that in proper perspective, however – people didn’t sign their work earlier because they didn’t consider themselves as authors, they simply passed the knowledge along according to paramparā system. I understand in Vedic literature it’s easier to find the names of the predecessors rather than the names of the followers who put it in writing.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam describes how Śrila Vyāsadeva divided the Vedas and entrusted various branches to various disciples and how he complied Bhāgavatam itself, but we don’t know how it was written down and who did it. We know that it passed from Vyāsa to Śukadeva Gosvāmī to Sūta, then back to Vyāsa, and only then Vyāsa put it on paper, but that last step is omitted – the scribe himself didn’t feel that he made any contribution worth mentioning, unlike Śukadeva Gosvāmī, for example, who made Bhāgavatam sweeter than Vyāsa envisaged himself.

Anyway, Mesopotamia was mentioned for their literary creation, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and that work was mentioned because it has a story of the flood in it. By historical calculations Gilgamesh predates the Bible and so NDGT said that Bible borrowed Gilgamesh mythology. Well, that’s one way to look at it but I don’t see how it is better than saying that both books describe the same event that affected both societies. Different details would explain differences in the stories and even the Ark itself would have been remembered differently, too. We don’t care for Noah and the flood and therefore shouldn’t take sides in this argument, let Christians and scientists slug it out themselves.

Next part of the show was about life preserving itself through the metaphorical ark of DNA. For some reason NDGT went deep into panspermia fantasies. Panspermia is the idea that life is spread throughout the universe by asteroids and meteorites. There’s zero evidence for it and so it’s not even a theory, it’s strange that supposedly scientific show spent so much time on explaining it.

Actually, we shouldn’t have a problem with panspermia – according to Bhāgavatam life comes to earth from other planets via rain. It’s probably not exactly how life originated here first but that’s how living entities travel from planet to planet now, incarnating as demigods, then seeds of rice, then humans.

From the show perspective, however, panspermia doesn’t answer the question of origins of life, it just moves it away from the Earth to some distant worlds. The origin of life is a curious question – there’s a LAW of biogenesis in science which states that life comes from life but scientists refuse to accept it when it comes to life’s origin. It’s amazing to see them sidestep this obvious problem and insist that there was a case of abiogenesis somewhere many billions of years ago. They don’t allow such freedom for any other laws of nature, just this one, and only because it leads to the existence of the soul and God.

After dealing with fantasies of the past, NDGT went into fantasies of the future. Apparently he ended the episode with a key quote from Sagan himself and the build up to it was immaculate. People cried, again. Yet these fantasies sound as far removed from reality as panspermia, maybe even further.

NDGT started with the first radio signal sent into space and how it bounced back from the Moon and that gave people the idea that communicating with spaceships was possible. It happened maybe half a century before Sagan’s proud declarations, yet in this short period of time scientists imagined a great deal already. Looking back at them I can’t help but notice their extreme narcissism. Why do they assume that some fifty years of their progress would determine the future course of the entire universe? What is fifty years, or even three hundred years of modern science, on a cosmic scale? It’s nothing, it shouldn’t even register. On NDGT’s favorite cosmic calendar it’s not even a second, yet here they are, making grandiose plans of conquering the universe.

To be fair, at one point NDGT mentioned that our glorious inventions might not be used by advanced civilizations anymore, they might have moved on far better ways of communication than radio waves millions and billions years ago. Maybe they detect our radio signals but don’t answer precisely because they don’t want to talk to people who still use radios. Maybe our super duper radio telescopes broadcasting messages to the aliens are like a landline that they have disconnected a long time ago.

Another thing about this picture of progress is unhealthy optimism. NDGT makes progress a function of intelligence, according to him we just have to apply our knowledge in all seriousness. He gives an example of climate change that we know so much about yet people still refuse to acknowledge and do something about it. He gives examples of people carried away by fascist rhetorics and warns us that we shouldn’t be like them, that we should be rational.

I see two problems with this. First, it’s not clear that rationality would lead to progress. Much of the actual progress we see in everyday life is due to people being stupid and buying into all kinds of crazy ideas without thinking. That’s how scientists get their money – by inventing things and selling them to stupid people. Some of it sticks, of course, and becomes a widely recognized innovation, but I would argue that it wouldn’t be possible without mistakes and errors supported by sheer stupidity. Having lots of blind followers is not always a bad thing.

Truly intelligent people would forgo progress altogether and dedicate their lives to chanting instead, that shouldn’t be forgotten, too.

Another problem in betting on human intelligence is that as Kali Yuga progresses people’s discipline degrades. We might know a lot of good things but we do not have will power to implement them anymore. We know this from our own lives – how hard it is to follow all the rules and regulations we know are good for us. Ordinary folks are even less disciplined so I wouldn’t put any eggs into that basket.

It’s far more likely that we will end up like any civilization before us. We’ve seen the sunset of British empire already, we are looking at decline of the US going on right now. Chinese, when they overtake the world, might no be as scientifically minded and progress driven as idealists of the twentieth century. What will happen then? End of dreams?

Right now Chinese insist on their right to pollute the environment, it’s their turn to enjoy, they say, so by the time they realize that there’s a price to pay it might be too late.

I’m not saying that mad made global warming will wipe out modern civilization but the picture of eternal progress described in this show looks rather ridiculous. Everything dies, that’s another law of nature, why should our civilization be any different? Rationality fails us here again, just as in case of biogenesis.

It all comes down to the same thing – scientists proclaim their dedication to rationality and logic but fail to follow their own ideals. They say they think with their brains but as soon as they get overwhelmed by passion they forget all about that and behave as irrationally as anyone else

And that’s why truly intelligent people shouldn’t bother with any of that and take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness instead.

Vanity thought #1010. On the losing side

I’ll continue on the subject of middle class and how it affects our society, a topic I started two days ago. I’ve thought about and the situation became clearer to me now, to the point that it appears self-explanatory.

Let’s start with definitions first. Originally middle class was comprised of small time bourgeoisie, which was probably the worst slice of the society. Proletariat was slaving away, honestly earning their bread, aristocrats were decadent but still miles ahead in their material position, proper bourgeoisie were rather obnoxious and uncouth for their new found money, and middle class was obnoxious and uncouth without money – really the bottom of the barrel.

Only a hundred years ago middle class was the main recruitment base for all kinds of fascists. I mentioned that distinct feature of middle class is constant whining. They always have something to complain about, always critical of their leaders and their servants at the same time. They complain about economy, politics, culture, religion – they imagine themselves to be perfect judges of everything they see, that’s how they validate themselves in the society. When someone comes along and shows them the way to put the rest of the society straight they jump on it – hence fascism.

As time went buy small scale businesses were consolidated into ever larger ones and employment has become the main source of income even for middle classes. To distinguish themselves from proletariat they invented white and blue collar job descriptions. Originally middle classes were vaiśyas, traders, and so one could say that being in employ made them into śudras, a step down the ladder, but white collar jobs are not quite the same.

Most of such jobs are not in executing someone’s orders but rather working in an impersonal system. Most of these people never even see the owners or their employers, and many businesses do not have owners as such, only shareholders, so working there isn’t quite like being a śudra.

Still, they are the guys that make things happen. They do not lead, they follow. They are undoubtedly a very important part of the society but they wouldn’t survive on their own, without massive corporations to provide jobs and support their financial habits, which is mostly borrowing. They are also miles below the real ruling classes.

Numerically they are very big and in a democracy the more people you can rally for your cause the stronger you are, so no one can rule successfully without getting support of the middle class.

This made middle class egos bloat beyond any reason. They truly believe that they are the only ones who matter. They usually have a decent education so they understand how things work, more or less, so they love to offer unsolicited opinions, usually critical, about everything under the sun. Add to this their weight as a voting block and they start talking about electing leaders to serve the public, ie middle classes, ie themselves.

One could say here that leaders are supposed to serve the public even in the Vedic system but there’s a key difference here – seeing the king serve the public is one thing, demanding the king to serve me is something completely different. It’s just arrogance.

This arrogance, desire to be involved in everything, relatively high level of knowledge, and the necessity to court the middle class has made ruling classes job more difficult but they’ve learned to manage anyway.

Ruling classes learned to manipulate middle classes and exploit their weaknesses and vanity. First, they give them plenty of topics for criticism, usually of their rivals, but a common enemy is also a good option. Latest example is how the whole world ganged up on Putin, even Prince Charles got involved, comparing Putin to Hitler. No wonder no one takes that sock puppet seriously there.

Secondly, they give them some projects to work on to feel like they are doing something good for the society and to feel good about themselves. Drinking Starbucks coffee as doing charity is one little example of this. Starbucks coffee is overpriced, of course, but they advertise that some of the profits go towards poor coffee farmers so Sturbucks customers think that it makes them charitable. The whole scheme was thought up to increase Starbucks own profits, of course, but that is not he message drilled into their middle class customers.

Other, far more nefarious examples, could be distracting people with nonessential issues like abortion or medicare or “change”. Abortion, of course, is a very important topic for us as devotees but for the rulers it’s just something to keep middle classes busy with while the government continues with the business of governing, which is business.

“Occupy” movement of a couple of years ago raised people’s awareness of the really important issues in the modern society but they didn’t catch on. Why? Because middle classes can’t carry anything on their own, their attention span is short, they need easily understood solutions, they need sound bites, they need emotional involvement, and all that is done through mass media. If it’s not on TV, it doesn’t exist.

Ruling classes nailed these three down – media, capital, and government. There’s like a rotating door between them, or a game of musical chairs where no one ever loses. Middle classes are totally excluded, however.

There’s a case to be made that for all the self-importance and boasting, middle classes have never ever made any real difference and haven’t contributed anything substantial to the betterment of the society.

Thirty years ago the middle class world was united around raising funds for starving Africans. They organized the famous Live Aid concert that was watched by one and a half billion people. Did it make any real difference? None whatsoever.

As usual, it didn’t address root causes of poverty, it didn’t affect the system that keeps Africans poor, and once the money run out it was back to starving. It kept the middle classes occupied for a long time, however.

Another example is that stupid “change” – every election in the US is about “change”, about going to Washington and cleaning it up. “Together we can”, they hope, but it never happens. Why? Because it’s just a topic for conversation, topic to have a political discourse about while business as usual goes on.

Now, what about us, what about our society? How does is relate to us?

Unfortunately, we have swallowed this middle class agenda hook, line, and sinker. We feel very passionate of middle class issues of the day, which are non-issues most of the time. Veganism, fanaticism, gender equality – we pick up everything that can be related to us and we make a big fuss out of it, just as middle classes would do. There’s a lot of hot air, accusations fly left and right, and nothing ever changes.

Here’s the thing – if we want to change the world we need to use issues like this to control the discussion, not to drown in it ourselves. We need to stick to our own values that should be spared public exposure and criticism and let people rave about something else.

We need to manipulate public discussion, not be manipulated ourselves. Some of us figured that out but chose to manipulate public discussion internally on matters we should not be discussing at all. They use these techniques to saw internal discord rather than advance our society’s agenda. Why? Because we forgot what that agenda was, we let ourselves to become overwhelmed by trivial issues and started chasing butterflies.

Anyway, middle class life is for losers, and if we, as devotees, can choose who to get fascinated by in the material world we should be fascinated by rulers, not by these hapless followers. That’s who we should imitate if we want to change the world, not the “chattering classes”, as they are often called in British media. “Chattering” because they are all arm-chair, internet philosophers who love to talk about everything but have absolutely no effect on the real world.

Perhaps I should end with a disclaimer – by losers here I mean people who think they can make a difference but actually they don’t. If one leads a middle class life because it’s his karma and he tries to use relative peace and comfort to advance his Kṛṣṇa consciousness than “loser” label is clearly not for him.