Vanity thought #1049. Soft choices

When we decide to surrender to Kṛṣṇa we make, perhaps, the hardest and the most important decision of our lives. Actually, it’s not that hard to make but it’s very hard to follow because Kṛṣṇa just wouldn’t let us forget Him.

If we knew what we were getting ourselves into many of us would have probably asked for a deferral. Just a few more years of sense enjoyment, please. What seems easy and inspiring at first turns into a real struggle with our loyalties. Sex life is the obvious example but, actually, any materialistic activity, careers, health, family, the very desire to live itself – all these things need to be abandoned and we just don’t want to let them go yet.

More like we can’t even imagine how we could let it all go, we have no perception of life without those things, that’s what makes us into how we are – our desires. We can say that we also want to serve Kṛṣṇa but actually we don’t, we just think that serving Kṛṣṇa would be the best way to serve ourselves. It’s a legitimate justification for the neophytes but we if ever decide to become real devotees it has to be abandoned.

So, surrendering to Kṛṣṇa is a very hard choice, it’s also a choice that we have to make every day, every moment of our lives. Even if in reality we have to surrender only once and then wait for devotion to gradually grow, we haven’t got patience for it and if we want progress we need to consciously push ourselves every waking moment of our lives – that’s what sādhana bhakti is all about.

I don’t know which is ultimately faster – to simply chant and go on about our service or to push ourselves to the limits, wake up early, visit the temple as often as possible, travel to meet with our guru when he is visiting, distribute books, try to preach etc.

Second option sounds unquestionably better but it relies on a materialistic assumption that we are in control in this world and that things happen because we do something here. Bhakti isn’t like that, it cannot be earned the way we earn our karma. Doing more stuff does not mean we’ll get more bhakti.

We need to work on quality of our service, on purity of our hearts. It doesn’t matter how much or how little service we “produce”, what matters is whether we’ve done it in proper consciousness and with proper motivation.

The first option might not appear as a fast track way to devotion but it relies on faith and patience, two crucial qualities for success in devotional life. No matter how much we serve, it will always be less than we could and less than someone else does, so at one point we’ll end up feeling frustrated because we just can’t match neither ours nor Kṛṣṇa’s expectations. For some it might not be “one point” but an everyday state of their consciousness.

Without constant validation result driven activities eventually subside and we, as humans, decide to engage in something we feel we are more successful at. “I’ve tried that bhakti thing, it doesn’t work, the process is unsuitable for modern times, the leaders are below standards, have you heard the truth about ISKCON?” – that’s how it ends for many of us.

Slow and steady wins the race, apparently works in bhakti, too.

Of course we can’t be slow and steady right from the start, we are not tortoises, we are boastful hares, even if we know this is the correct way we just can’t follow it, and so throwing ourselves as sādhana is almost always the only real choice we have, which isn’t a choice at all – it’s all we can possibly do.

I was actually thinking about even softer choices – now that we know we need to engage material nature in service of Kṛṣṇa we need to do it skillfully, we can’t save them all and we can’t abstain from associating with materialistic attitudes altogether. How do you choose your career? How do you choose your job? How do you choose your husband or wife? Which ones are better, more suitable for our purpose?

With wives and husbands it’s not really a choice, we just fall in love and then manage the consequences. Only in the past few years our devotees have learned to prepare themselves for gṛhstha life from the very beginning, for the first two-three decades it was brahmacharya or bust.

When “bust” came there was nothing to be selective about anymore even if we pretended to go through the motions of following the rituals. In general society some marry because they get the girl pregnant and everybody understands the “real” reasons for this kind of marriage, in our society we marry because we get lusty and something needs to be done even though it’s too late. We lie to ourselves if we pretend that our subsequent courting, matching horoscopes, seeking blessings of our guru, organizing a vivāha makes it all into a proper Vedic custom.

In Vedic times girls were married off *before* they knew what lust was and the boys were trained to avoid falling victim to lust, too, they were married off *before* lust would become a problem, not after.

So, without proper training we are never really put in a position where we can make choices about these matters, we always react to the circumstances. It doesn’t mean we should not try to make the best of what we’ve got to deal with but there should be some aspects of our lives where we can prepare ourselves long before offers we can’t refuse put us into inescapable situations.

This requires wisdom and foresight, something we usually lack ourselves or acquire plenty when it doesn’t matter anymore. That’s why we need varṇāśrama in our society – not so much to organize ourselves but to give us a code of conduct that we can implement even when we don’t fully understand it. It should be more or less fool proof so it works for nearly everybody and it should be comprehensive so that it covers relationships with every other member, too.

If we decide to marry someone off we should have reasonable confidence that whoever we choose for this person will be trained in the similar way, too. If we decide to take a job we should be reasonably confident that our employer will be trained in Vedic style of management and we have similar understanding our mutual rights and responsibilities.

If we are blessed with better than average intelligence we can figure out best options for ourselves and they might turn out to be varṇāśrama compliant and it would be good for us but as a society we can’t count on everybody being better than average. Some say that society’s success should be judged by its weaker, most vulnerable members and I see no reason it shouldn’t apply to managing ISKCON, too.

So, we need varṇāśrama, right? Not so fast, we need a code of conduct and uniform training but that is not the same thing. We can get all those things without ever dividing people into brahmaṇas or śūdras. We need to figure out what to do with real people that we have rather than try to fit them into ideal but unattainable categories.

We tend to think like this: “This person should be a brāhmaṇa and as a brāhmaṇa he should do this and that – easy.” What if he, due to his conditioning, will never become a brāhmaṇa? Practically none of us will even become a brāhmaṇa and it’s probably even more difficult to get real kṣatriyas, considering the sacrifices kṣatriyas should be ready to make. Training real kṣatriyas would probably be even illegal in most states.

I think it would be better for us to adapt Vedic varṇāśrama regulations to the modern life than to try to force modern people into Vedic roles. Problem is – who is going to make these choices? Where will we find an ācārya everyone else will follow in these matters? It’s fine to wait for a “self-effulgent” ācārya but think of how many thousands of devotees will screw their lives because we are sitting on our hands and waiting?

I don’t have answers to these questions but posing them is at least a start

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Vanity thought #1048. Walking the Vraja

Having said a few critical things about some of our attitudes towards Māyāpura, now it’s turn of Vṛndāvana. Whatever offenses we might commit by thinking of Māyāpura as a field of our enjoyment are multiplied a thousand times in Vṛndāvana. In Māyāpura we can at least count on Lord Caitanya’s forgiving attitude, He knows what stock we are made of, but that won’t fly in Vraja.

Vraja is not a place to beg for forgiveness, it’s a place to serve Kṛṣṇa, if we can’t do it properly, if we do not possess śuddha bhakti we should not even be there. It’s not a place were we go for purification, we can’t plan to bring our sins into Vṛndāvana and expect Kṛṣṇa to take care of them for us. We cannot impose our impure selves on Him there.

Therefore anyone thinking of settling in Vṛndāvana should think twice whether it’s appropriate at all. Some service needs to be done there by our devotees but that means we should patiently wait to be called upon rather than check into some guesthouse, unpack our bags, and go shopping for condos.

Everyone can *live* in Vṛndāvana, sure, but it won’t make them into vraja vāsīs. Vraja vāsīs are only nitya siddhas, Lord’s eternal associates, we can’t claim membership in that club simply because we bought land or got a visa from Indian government.

One could say that residing in Vṛndāvana is prescribed in Upadeśāmṛta so who am I to argue otherwise but we should follow the footsteps of our ācāryas and carry out their mission, not mimic Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī or claim to understand his instructions better than our guru.

We’ve heard it from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura – there are no vaiṣṇavas in Vṛndāvana, only kaniśṭhas. That was a hundred years ago and by the way things have been going we shouldn’t assume situation improved much there. There are more devotees living there now, sure, but in service to Kṛṣṇa quantity doesn’t mean quality.

What about those who live all their lives there or maybe even been born there – shouldn’t we consider them as nitya siddha vraja vāsīs? Yes and no. Whatever their exalted position might be, if they behave as if controlled by envy, anger, or lust, there’s nothing for us to learn there and we should treat them accordingly, which doesn’t meant to retaliate and engage in vaiṣṇava aparādha.

When Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta heard one of those vraja vāsīs declare himself to be fit to offer blessings to Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī he didn’t retort but fasted instead, and he kept fasting until that brāhmana apologized for his behavior.

There’s a lot we can learn from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s guru about behavior in Vṛndāvana, I hope it won’t be disrespectful to Śrīla Prabhupāda to do so.

Take the case of that brāhmana, for example. If we want to be bābājīs then we should simply cover our ears and leave when someone speaks disrespectfully of our ācāryas but because we are engaged in the preaching mission, behave like preachers, use the facilities of preachers and hope to satisfy Kṛṣṇa by preaching, we have no other choice but confront the offenders. We cannot allow to simply walk away, it’s not the mission given to us by our guru and by Śrīla Prabhupāda.

This is an important point – we can’t behave like someone we are not, we can’t pretend to be renunciates of the highest order, we can’t forget who we are and what we were asked to do. We can’t arrive in Vṛndāvana, dress like locals or as if we don’t care that we don’t look like Prabhupāda wanted us to look, and it will all be okay.

No one has ever given us permission to behave anything other than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s representatives and we shouldn’t award such permission to ourselves.

Vṛndāvana is not a place where we can reinvent ourselves spiritually.

Many of our devotees subconsciously try to do just that, to find some inner truth, to discover a pure devotion within themselves.

I wish I could say “it doesn’t work” but it kinda does – except that instead of discovering their inner devotees they pander to their inner materialism, using Vṛndāvana as a place of their lodging.

And what of that “everyone’s a kaniṣṭha there” claim? What can we say or do about that? There are thousands of ex-ISKCON devotees who would argue otherwise, sometimes very convincingly.

Well, the first step would be to weed out anyone smoking or maintaining female association. That is just a big no no. Still, there would be plenty contenders for the post of uttama adhikārīs left, what should we do about them?

There were such devotees in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s time, too, but he was knowledgeable enough to point out their deviations from the scriptures and our ācāryas. I guess we’d have to deal with them on case by case basis, which I don’t want to do here, name names etc.

There’s a long check list on “ācārya compliance” and sooner or later they’d be found lacking. It could be following some smarta rules, it could be lack of respect for Lord Caitanya and literature about him, it could be māyāvāda contamination, something is always there.

Still, there could be found exemplary devotees who follow all the rules, read the right books, worship the right ācāryas and behave impeccably as devotees. Those are the ones Śrīla Bhaktisiddhana called kaniṣṭhas. They are trying but they are not there yet.

If anyone objects that it’s presumptuous of us to call anyone a kaniṣṭha as if we ourselves are any better, but it was only a week ago that I argued that we are, indeed, only kaniṣṭhas and cannot claim any higher position.

As neophytes, we are not qualified to pass judgment on any other devotee and that’s exactly what I am doing here – simply repeating what we were told by our gurus. I can speculate why and how it is true but I won’t take it upon myself to contradict our ācāryas.

But what about Rūpa Gosvāmī’s clear instruction to take residence in Vraja and, specifically, Rādhā Kunda? I can think of two answers to that.

First comes form Upadeśāmṛta itself – one who has control over his senses should take disciples “all over the world”, in Prabhupāda’s translation. You can’t do that by sitting in your “āśrama” in Vṛndāvana. Transition to madhyama means getting off your ass and going out. If these “vraja vāsīs” don’t realize that then they are not madhyamas, what to speak of uttama adhikārīs.

As for residence at Rādhā Kunda, I once again want to refer to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswatī who said that Rādhā Kunda is the place to serve the lotus feet of one’s guru, it’s not a place for a personal residence. We can visit and then we have to return to our less than exalted position.

The recommendation to actually reside there is for those who are completely free from all material desires and who have only a single pointed consciousness – to serve Śrimatī Rādhārāṇi.

So, here’s the second answer – Rādhā Kunda is for those on the pure spiritual platform, those who can actually enter Lord’s pastimes and serve Him there. If we are not given that kind of clearance we should not be there, it’s not a place to “hang”.

Final quote:

    Vraja means “to walk.” Anyone always walking the path of satisfying Kṛṣṇa is a Vraja-vāsī.

I don’t think we should take this as a metaphor but as a statement on reality. If we are not yet serving Kṛṣna personally we can’t be vraja vāsīs, and if we become His servants we’ll become vraja vāsīs regardless of where we reside externally. Everything else is just our material imagination or external material designations.

“Vraja” means walking the path of satisfying Kṛṣṇa. It’s not a physical place, can’t say any better than that.

Vanity thought #1047. An Apple a day

doesn’t keep māyā away. I’m talking about Apple Computer, not a fruit. Late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs has probably moved onto the better pastures but that doesn’t do anything for us.

I don’t want to repeat the story about Jobs being a regular at a Portland temple, dancing his socks off and then stuffing himself with prasādam. We hope that it was the most significant thing he even did in his life, we have no reason to doubt that Kṛṣṇa has never forgotten his service there. We can also interpret the moment of his death, which he himself described as “wow”, as a confirmation that Kṛṣṇa’s devotees will never perish.

Apart from that, Steve was a genuine asshole, parking his car in a handicapped spot just because he could, jumping queues in the cafeteria, and generally treating people as rubbish. I don’t want to talk about that either. In materialistic terms it had both positive and negative effects but it doesn’t matter for Kṛṣṇa so it shouldn’t matter for us.

What I want to talk about is Apple’s impact on us as devotees as well as ideas and ideology behind the company. Once again, Steve Jobs might have been responsible for them and they shaped his future karma but we shouldn’t care about that. Karma is karma, it’s there for everybody, Kṛṣṇa has no interest in it and neither should we.

Apple is a fascinating phenomenon, it’s so much more than just computers and other gadgets, it’s an attitude, it’s a cultural phenomenon, it’s a life choice that defines millions of people for years and years of their lives. It also affects lives of people who somehow oppose Apple’s philosophy, they just can’t be themselves in Apple’s presence anymore. It affects us as well, with so many of our devotees buying into this Apple idea and treating their MacBooks and iPhones as Steve’s prasāda. Apple is like an official sponsor of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. When Kṛṣṇa wants His devotees to be connected and up to speed, He sends them Apple. So it affects us.

First, the name itself. I didn’t read Steve Job’s biography but I scanned the chapters about the beginnings of his company. It was around time when he spent several months on a friend’s farm where they tried to live an alternative lifestyle. Somehow I think that when he was looking for a simple, catchy word to name his company he chose apple for that reason – they tried to grow them there.

The word “apple” doesn’t carry any negative connotations, it convey vitality and values – traditional staple food no one had ever had an problems with. Milk is associated with animal cruelty now but apples are still unblemished. Apples are refreshing, energizing, cleansing, healthy – perfect to inspire positive thoughts and hopes about the company.

Then came the logo. The original was uninspiring, maybe paying tributes to medieval typography than to anything else, but then came the death of Alan Turing and that’s where we should start paying attention.

Alan Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, a father of the computer, some say, an iconic name for computer enthusiasts in those days. He was also gay, which made his life very very difficult. Eventually the pressure had got to him and he killed himself by eating an apple injected with poison.

That’s how we got the Apple logo – an apple with a bite taken out, and painted with rainbow colors, the symbol of homosexual freedom.

Do we really want a symbol of homosexuality to be our designated Hare Kṛṣṇa computer company? Their current CEO, Tim Cook, was just outed as gay on TV, some runaway mouth unwittingly confirming rumors that have been circulating for years now.

Of course if we say anything about it it would be a very bad PR for our movement but internally we should remember that homosexuality is clearly a demoniac inclination incompatible with pure devotion. Any sex life is incompatible with pure devotion in this age but straight people at least have a chance of doing it right, according to regulative principles, and that would quickly elevate them and cleanse their hearts of lust. Gay people do not have such a chance, unless they go against their nature and enter into straight relationships.

Of course we should not ban gays from devotional activities but we should also remember that lust contaminates everything and so we should stay away from any expressions of gayness just as we should stay away from straight men and women obsessed with sex.

But was that Apple logo really a tribute to freedom of homosexuality? Or was it a protest against unjust persecution of gay people? I think it’s the second reason, and in this we can lend Jobs our support.

A hundred years ago our society has been through the similar stage – traditional religionists claimed that one’s opportunities in devotional service are determined solely by one’s birth while Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī argued that in devotion it’s not the birth, it’s actual qualities that matter.

We should at least understand what gays were going through and even if we disagree and do not approve of their agenda, we can find a common enemy in stifling traditionalists. Even now we should pay heed to this attitude when we contemplate what to do with our gay devotees. Do we give them a chance? What kind of chance? Do we ban gayness altogether in all its expressions?

It’s the same story playing over and over again, and I’m afraid I’m siding with Jobs’ reaction to it – it’s simply unfair to people who just happen to be differently conditioned. We are all afflicted one way or another, we should have a heart and see beyond the externalities. It’s what in people’s hearts that matters to Kṛṣṇa, not a particularly wired set of sexual organs.

If homosexuality is a contentious topic, there’s another explanation behind Apple’s choice of their logo – it’s an apple from the Garden of Eden that was given to Eve by a serpent and which spelled the doom of mankind.

“Try something different,” the serpent said. “Dare to be different. It’s an apple from a tree of knowledge,” he said. We know how it turned out for everybody.

It’s our quest of knowledge that binds us to the illusion. Once again, one of the direct meanings of māyā is “to measure” – it means desire to know and judge everything. Quest for knowledge, thirst for science – that’s what drives materialists and other assorted demons. They want to figure out this world without relying on God. They want to discover things without God’s help and they want to see things being great and valuable solely on their own merits.

As devotees, OTOH, we should learn to see God’s spark in every extraordinary phenomenon in this world and realize that nothing good exists here without drawing its attractive qualities from Kṛṣṇa. We could even argue that things look good and attractive precisely because they are invested with Kṛṣṇa’s potencies. He is “all-attractive”, after all.

We won’t find this attitude at Apple computer. On the contrary, they look like they channel some higher powers from demoniac planets. That would explain why their gadgets look so good, so perfect, so flawless. That would also explain why their new HQ looks like an alien spaceship, and not the goofy one they draw in the cartoons but a cool one you might actually agree to be taken in if aliens would ever come for you.

Am I being ridiculous? How is it possible for demons from higher demoniac planets (where life is even better than on the planets of demigods) to channel their sophistication and their demoniac attitudes down to our Earth? The same way any other planet affects our lives. Maybe it’s colors, maybe it’s certain electromagnetic waves, but somehow Mars projects raw, military style power while Sun projects pride or Jupiter channels wisdom. It happens, there’s no reason demons can’t channel their attitudes, too.

One way or another, but shouldn’t we be worried about embracing things inspired by demons? There’s one crucial thing they don’t project – devotion to God, so why should we continue buying into Apple’s ideas expressed through design but also through the way their computers work, they way the expect people to work with their computers, they way they expect people to think when they work with their computers – it’s all contaminating, it’s taking on unwanted association.

Our only excuse is that such association is unavoidable but that doesn’t mean we should be oblivious to the limits.

The worst part is using Steve Jobs connection to Kṛṣṇa as an excuse for us to indulge in all things Apple, as if him being a devotee somehow justifies our own sense gratification. It doesn’t. Nothing does. We should always be on the lookout for seeking sense enjoyment and immediately remember Kṛṣṇa and hope He shields us from temptations.

If we do not consciously do it we can never hope to become real devotees, it’s that simple

Vanity thought #1046. Servants of two masters

or possibly more – who is our ultimate master? Who is our ultimate shelter? Our guru? He is the external manifestation of the Lord so in that sense he is not our ultimate master. His feet are given to us by the Lord and our relationships are eternal, but he is also a spirit soul in his own right and as such he is not the supreme controller.

Come to think of it – are we eternal servants of our guru because this is how we are connected in the spiritual world, too? Or can we have different kind of relationships with our guru in the spiritual world but down here it’s strictly servant-master? As a guru he is the manifestation of the Lord but in the spiritual world such manifestations are not necessary, we relate to people there as they are, we don’t treat anyone as the Lord Himself, we treat everyone as His dearest servants.

It’s not easy to reconcile these two roles of our guru. As our master he is the manifestation of Śrī Balarāma but as a spirit soul he is a servant of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, assuming it always work this way for followers of Rūpa Gosvāmī.

Maybe we should look at it this way – he is a servant of Śrī Rādhikā but in the material world his body is used by Śrī Balarāma to guide his disciples back to the spiritual world.

This isn’t what I had in mind when talking about serving two, or possibly more masters. I was talking about Gods themselves. Kṛṣṇa is, of course, the only God in a true sense of the word. Wait, no, He is not God at all. God, in Western culture, means the all powerful controller who rules the fate of the world. Kṛṣṇa doesn’t do that, He doesn’t rule anything, He doesn’t like it, He lets other Gods to do it for Him. Wait, not for Him, for us. He’s got nothing to do with us down here at all, He is not *our* God, assuming He wants to boss anyone around in the first place.

Still, Kṛṣṇa is God, but so is Lord Caitanya! And Lord Caitanya is non-different from Kṛṣṇa! More over, He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. Yet He’s got a different personality and for us there is one very crucial difference – Lord Caitanya came here for us, we owe Him everything.

Should we make a choice between Lord Caitanya and Kṛṣna? No, that’s a wrong question to ask. We should take shelter of Lord Caitanya and Kṛṣṇa will manifest Himself automagically, one does not exist/manifest without the other. Yet it doesn’t work the other way – by taking shelter of Kṛṣṇa we won’t meet Lord Caitanya.

We, as followers of Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism can, because for us there’s no difference, but for anyone else approaching Kṛṣṇa is simply not possible, they must accept Lord Caitanya first because He is our yuga avatāra. Sorry about all the other sampradāyas but that’s just how it is. They either worship Lord Caitanya or get stuck at their current level forever.

But I didn’t mean Kṛṣṇa vs Lord Caitanya as our two masters either. I meant two aspects of Mahāprabhu Himself.

For brevity, I will not take the detour explaining the role of Lord Nityānanda here. We cannot approach Lord Caitanya without Him and He is certainly our master, being fully independent Personality of Godhead Himself, but that’s just not what I meant.

I mean that we have Lord Caitanya as Gaurāṅga and Lord Caitanya as Caitanya Mahāprabhu. That’s the same person, of course, but these are also two different aspects of His personality and we should relate to them differently.

For His associates in Navadvīpa He will always be Gaurāṅga, or maybe even Nimāi, but those who met the Lord outside of His own dhāma had known Him as Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, as a sannyāsī. They didn’t get to see His beautiful hair, they didn’t get to appreciate His unrivaled learning, they didn’t know His father and mother or His friends – all of that was left behind, He was only known as Caitanya – the supreme living force, while we all are acaitanya – devoid of spiritual consciousness.

Speaking of us – if devotees who met the Lord in Jagannātha Purī, Vṛndāvana, South India, Vārāṇasī etc didn’t know Gaurāṅga but were introduced only to Kṛṣṇa Caitanya – how far must we be removed from Māyāpura?

What other aspect of His personality is there to reach out to us? Probably none, Caitanya is all we got.

Maybe in our pure spiritual forms we get to be Gaurāṅga’s associates but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Lord had eternal associates outside of Navadvīpa, too – think Rāmānanda Rāy or Śikhi Māhiti. Are they part of the Gaura līlā? Apparently not. AFAIK, they’ve never been to Māyāpura and they have never been to Vṛdāvana either.

This doesn’t mean that they have no permission to enter spiritual Navadvīpa, and they are permanent residents of spiritual Vṛndāvana, of course.

It could, however, mean, that not everyone of us is supposed to take shelter of Gaurāṅga and, by extension, earthly Māyāpura. Obviously, we’d be stupid to reject it but we should also remember our place – we have been born where we are and Mahāprabhu in His aspect as a renounced sannyāsī has reached out to us. And He reached to us not from Māyāpura, where He doesn’t live when He preaches.

Of course He never really steps out of Māyāpura but He externally appears to do so when He wants to save the rest of the world, including ourselves.

Once again – He reaches to us in His aspect as Lord Caitanya and it doesn’t automatically mean we can relate to Him as Gaurāṅga. Maybe some of us can but I, personally, think of it in the same way we should think about our relationships with Kṛṣṇa, ie don’t think about it at all, we’ve got more pressing spiritual matters to attend here first.

BTW, I’m not making this up, well, not all of it. In his commentary on Caitanya Bhāgavata (CB Adi 1.5) Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura talks about these differences in perception of two aspects of the Lord. I like how he says there’s no such thing as “Gaurāṅga Caritāmṛta”, we can’t simply substitute the name when we talk about teaching the rest of the world. We also have “Teachings of Lord Caitanya”, not “Teachings of Lord Gaurāṅga”

Lord Gaurāṅga took the name of Lord Caitanya in order to preach. I think we should respect that and not claim being closer to Him than we really are. Gaurāṅga is for His eternal associates from Navadvīpa, Caitanya is for fallen souls found elsewhere in the material world.

So, who is our master? In our pañca tattva mahāmantra we say “Kṛṣṇa Caitanya”, similarly, when we pray to Lord Caitanya we use “kṛṣṇāya kṛṣṇa-chaitanya-nāmne gaura-tviśe namaḥ”. I don’t think we address Lord Caitanya as Gaurāṅga in any official mantras at all, so that ought to settle it.

Vanity thought #1045. Temple of Doom

If I talked about doom of Māyāpura yesterday then it naturally follows that we are building a temple of doom there, too. That’s not a nice way to describe our rising Temple of Vedic Planetarium but, just like any other devotional practice, there’s a danger of misusing it, hence possibility of “doom”.

Of course no devotee will even be doomed in any sense by supporting, meditating, or simply marveling at TOVP but there will be some impact, and in the material world each impact has two sides, good and bad. That’s what duality here means. No matter what we do, it can always turn ugly.

One could say that with this approach nothing will ever satisfy me because it allows me to find legitimate faults in any activity, but that is just how it is – some things are favorable for devotional service and some are not. None of what happens to us is fatal, we just pause to gawk at the illusion, waste some time, nothing really serious.

The reality is also never black and white – a wise man can learn good lessons from bad things and a not so wise man will pick bad habits even from good lessons, and, to complicate it even more, no lesson is absolutely good or absolutely bad.

This allows us to see devotion everywhere, in everyone’s heart, it also allows us to criticize even the best of the devotees, and it also means that we will never fully agree on anything. It means that everything that happens in devotional service is full of shades and tastes and every time you think about it you find something new to appreciate. Or something new to criticize.

Back to the temple, however. I’ll try to extricate less favorable aspects for our progress so that the rest of our thoughts and attitudes remain pure and we can go on with our service.

Śrila Prabhupāda wanted this temple very badly, there’s no question of not building it, it’s our mission, well, part of it, but we can’t ignore Śrila Prabhupāda’s desires.

There’s also the prediction by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, or rather his vision of a huge temple rising in Māyāpura where people of all nationalities will come together to dance and chant Lord’s names. I don’t know about that. When Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī opened Yoga Pīṭha everyone thought that it was the temple envisioned by Bhaktivinoda.

I’m also not so sure that Śrila Bhaktivinoda had this vision in the house across the river to the south from our ISKCON temple. It’s what they tell us on parikramā but I suspect that in those days Śrila Bhaktivinoda lived across the river to the west from the future Yoga Pīṭha.

Still, new temple needs to be build. We need a proper place four our Pañca Tattva deities which are housed in a barn like temporary appendage to our main temple. They’ve been there for almost ten years, which is ten years too much, and they deserve a temple worthy of their stature – they are BIG.

On the other hand, it means they will be the main deities in the new temple and our Śrī Srī Rādhā-Mādhava and their sakhis will be demoted to stand on the side. Personally, I don’t like this demotion, there’s too much history there, but that’s how Śrila Prabhupāda wanted it so who am I to argue.

Then there’s planetarium fixture. Prabhupāda wanted it to show everyone that our Bhāgavatam model of the universe is legit. We should certainly respect his wishes but we should also remember that times have changed and it probably won’t have the same effect on the general public as Prabhupāda expected nearly fifty years ago.

We don’t need a gargantuan temple to show a model of the universe. There’s software to render such things these days, people at Google Chrome can make it work as a walk through in their browser with therm HTML5 magic. Navigate the Vedic universe with your mouse, or by tilting your Android phone – everything is possible and will reach far more people than a temple somewhere in India.

Indians have been to Māyāpura already, whatever spiritual impact we were supposed to make on their lives by attracting them there has already been made. When we finish TOVP they will, of course, come to visit again, but we can’t build a new temple every time we want to talk to people about Kṛṣṇa, it’s a huge waste of our resources.

I mean to say that the preaching value of this temple is going to be limited. As for the model of the universe – we don’t have it yet, or at least it’s not ready to be made public. Maybe it’s Lord Caitanya’s plan to reveal it at the very last moment but then it means it has little preaching value, otherwise why wait?

So, we don’t really need another temple in Māyāpura, we don’t really need a planetarium, is there anything else we don’t need this temple for?

Umm, yes, for preaching in the West. People on the streets there can’t care less about our temples in India. Maybe we’ll make the news one day and all the media and everyone on twitter will talk about our temple but that will not last long, at best a week. Even if people would still remember it – what does it really matter when we try to awaken them to the truth about them being spirit souls? Not much, it’s not a magic pill and it’s not a substitute to surrender to the lotus feet of our guru and Lord Nityānanda.

If that’s what we hope the temple will do to us – to make selling books easier so that we don’t have to fully surrender, then it will truly be a temple of doom. Luckily, it will affect only those who harbor such thoughts, not everybody.

There’s also another aspect to the temple – we want it to be the center of our new, Vedic community there. If we are going to build a spiritual city in Māyāpura then we surely need a temple, but that’s a whole other can of worms. The way Māyāpura has been developing, it won’t be a showcase of anything anytime soon. The temple itself and other temple properties are fine but the rest is not how cities are build these days, it’s how they grew up like mushrooms in the industrial age – people just come and settle, and then look for non-existent jobs.

During industrial revolution farmers lost their land and sources of sustenance so they had to sell their labor, vaiśyas became śūdras, and were placed in horrible, horrible conditions. Still, they had no choice but to embrace their new situation and it took several hundred years for them, as a class, to attain a more or less comfortable lifestyles.

What will happen to all those who have come to Māyāpura? I don’t really know but I have a few ideas, which I will spare for another day

Vanity thought #1044. Doom of Mayapur

I don’t mean Māyāpura is doomed, I mean the doom it brings to visiting devotees. It’s not supposed to be understood this way but Māyāpura changes people, for good. Hopefully always for the better but maybe sometimes for the worse, too. In any case, once you have changed there’s no coming back. Things you were used to before will be gone forever, there’s no return, you are doomed.

Ultimately, everything that happens to us is for our benefit, even for ordinary materialists, so there’s nothing to worry about when we lose or gain something. In short and medium terms, however, some things are beneficial for our progress and some aren’t and we judge them accordingly. So, there could be situations where a visit to Māyāpura prevents a long term disaster but appears to damage our spiritual lives from a short term perspective.

I would even argue that this is a very common occurrence, we just don’t see it that way.

Originally, annual Māyāpura festivals were meant to recharge our spiritual batteries for a year-round preaching. That’s how Śrila Prabhupāda devised them – to let devotees get a taste of what is coming so that their faith becomes stronger and they see more compelling reasons to preach in cold and gloomy west. It certainly works for some but not for as many as we’d like.

What was true in Prabhupāda’s time might not be true anymore because devotees have changed, it’s been almost half a century, after all, which is a lot of time in the modern, Kali Yuga world. Just think about people back in the sixties and seventies, it was a height of the Cold War, hippie revolution, flowers, flying to the Moon and dreaming about the world of 2000.

We, the humanity, are a lot more cynical now. What was exciting fifty years ago only make us cringe t our naivety. Communism had become a huge disappointment, and then so did democracy. Flying cars haven’t been invented and no one flies to the Moon anymore, Americans don’t have a rocket to fly anywhere, period, they hitch rides on Russian rockets instead.

Social fabric has been completely torn apart, homosexuality and feminism have become a norm, and people go to concerts to take selfies, not to listen to ground breaking music.

ISCKON has also changed, devotees changed, tricks our managers used in Prabhupāda’s time do not work anymore, we’ve learned a lot of lessons and become very sensitive not to repeat them again. It’s not that we became more advanced, we rather became more sophisticated in our ignorance.

When devotees come to Māyāpura they certainly get a lot of inspiration but they do not apply it in the same way Śrila Prabhupāda had hoped all those years ago.

I suspect even in those days there were devotees who saw trips to Māyāpura as a validation of their progress or position in the society but let’s not dwell on the past, it’s not a problem anymore.

Everyone can go to Māyāpura now, even Russians, or, as they called them once, CIS devotees, have got enough money to visit India, money is not a problem. When the society consisted mostly of brahmacārīs they depended on the mercy and generosity of their superiors and so getting on the list of those who gets to go to India was an achievement, a sign of status. When everyone works and has his own money going to Māyāpura adds nothing to his status. So, okay, that motivation is gone, which is a good thing, right?

There are other problems still, yet unresolved.

Come, see Māyāpura, take in the spiritual atmosphere, which is always so thick there you can cut it with a knife, then go and share this ecstasy with people of your home country. Very easy, but it rarely works. Why?

I’d say it works on two kinds of devotees – very simple and very advanced. Most of us are neither. Most of us are not advanced enough to feel the innate need to preach. We get ānanda, we keep it to ourselves, we are not mature enough to share. We are envious of others, we don’t think they deserve to be equally blissful, most of the time we look at them with critical eyes and they never live up to our expectations, so no ānanda for them. If they want it, they have to work for it themselves. Holy Names are there for everybody, if they want bliss they should do their chanting themselves.

“They have to earn it, they have to earn their entrance to the dhāma. I worked my ass off to save this money and I prayed, and I did a good job because now not only I can afford to go to Māyāpura every year but I’m thinking about buying a condo there. If they were as dear to Lord Caitanya as I am He would have given them money, too. Or, if they got the money, I got contacts there, I’m needed there, I’m a part of Lord Caitanya’s eternal club of dhāma-vāsīs. If they want to be there, they have to make their own way, they have to serve their own authorities, it’s a privileged position that is not be shared lightly.”

So they don’t preach. They treasure their success too much to give it away. “It’s not mine to give,” they might even say, “Go beg Lord Caitanya yourself”.

So, we are not advanced enough to share our spiritual accomplishments, and we are not simple enough, too. A simple devotee would taste the bliss, come back home, and continue doing his service. We get the bliss and we want more of it right there, in Māyāpura. We come back and all we can think about is how awful our place is and how it was much better in India.

There’s a clear culture shock on return, you step off the plane and you just feel the weight of the Kali Yuga. People are not the same as in India, the atmosphere is not the same. We walk around and we feel that we don’t belong here, that our place, our real home, is Māyāpura, or Vṛndāvana, as the case may be.

We cannot stay satisfied in our position, as a simple devotee would be, we want better things for ourselves, we feel we’ve made a great advancement and we need to validate our progress by getting spiritual “promotions”. Walking the streets with books is for neophytes, we are ready for bhājana, we get to preach to other devotees, not to karmīs. So we don’t preach, if you don’t count sitting there spreading the word of our own advancement as preaching.

Yet there are others who treat visits to India as holidays. In Europe everybody gets a holiday once a year and everybody tries to travel somewhere warm and famous – Spain, Egypt, Thailand, etc. We go to India instead, and we go in March. People get charged by frolicking on the beaches, they come back, show off their tan, and feel good about themselves and their lives. We are no different, we might even stop in Thailand on the way back, to get two birds with one stone.

I don’t know what Lord Caitanya thinks of such visits. Maybe He doesn’t mind, who knows.

Bottom line – we come back and we don’t preach, we are too smug to bother.

We also get the idea that Māyāpura or Vṛndāvana are the best places for devotees, it’s said so in our books, after all. This means that streets where we live and where we are supposed to preach are not the best places for us. We think that staying there, meeting all those karmīs is not where we are supposed to be. We want to go back home, back to Kṛṣṇa, and He lives in Vṛndāvana, so that’s what we want, for ourselves.

How about what Kṛṣṇa wants from us? What Lord Caitanya wants from us? What Śrila Prabhupāda wants from us? What our guru wants from us?

These days one can easily find a guru with an āśrama in Vṛndāvana. If he wants to be there then he is not going to push us out into the cold streets of our cities, we’ll be safe with such a guru. He might tell us to preach as a test but if he himself spends most of the year in India then eventually we’ll get there, too.

Luckily, not everything is so bad. ISCKON is still a preaching society and most who entertain thoughts like the above tend to drift away to bābājīs or Gaudīyā Maṭhas.

My point is that we should watch out for attitudes like that in our own lives and we should not allow ourselves to indulge in such thinking. Maybe getting to Māyāpura IS a test, but we mostly fail it and so the Lord gives us shelter there because it’s where it is easier to keep us under control. If we pass, however, then we get to go and serve the Lord for His own pleasure. We get to take risks and suffer inconveniences on His behalf.

Will we get the same comfort and bliss from Him? Shouldn’t be our consideration at all. If we pass our Māyāpura test we won’t be thinking in such self-centered terms.

Our dharma is to preach, that’s what constitutes saṅkīrtana, congregational chanting. Mutually scratching our backs and congratulating ourselves that we have made it to Māyāpura is not saṅkīrtana. I would even say that no one who really wants to please the Lord will spend even a day there, it’s a place for those who want to accept Lord’s service instead, for those who want to enjoy at His expense, albeit spiritually.

No one needs us there. Yes, we need a big temple so that many Indians can come but it’s such a lame excuse. We don’t know what their motivations are, we can’t even talk to each and every one of them, we don’t really get to preach. We should be going out to meet them in their homes instead – that’s what Lord Caitanya did and that’s what He asked His followers to do.

We are not in business of preaching where results matter most, we should value the process instead. Our success is in reaching out and changing people’s hearts and minds. I don’t think that ever happens to temple visitors, it’s just one of the many temples they visit every year, it’s not a life changing experience like a meeting with a devotee could be.

I’m getting carried away here, maybe need to rethink some of what I just said, so I’d better stop now and get my mind back together

Vanity thought #1043. Illusions

Continuing with re-evaluation of our position on the devotional ladder – first step was to realize that we might have over-estimated our progress. Second step was to realize that things we thought were spiritually solid aren’t real. Third step is to realize that things that are not real are illusory.

It’s not really a step, though, just stating the same thing in different words, but it also makes for a different impression. “Illusory” is such a negative word in our vocabulary that we are not ready to use it when talking about our devotional lives.

This calls for re-examining some of our basic assumptions and then for recalibrating of our expectations or something like that.

First – real vs illusory is not a black and white dichotomy, they are not opposites. If we think about it – everything is real and everything is also an illusion. Material world is real, it exists, my headache that I’m still carrying from yesterday’s fast is real, I can feel it. It has solid, empirical explanations behind it, either in the language of ayurveda or modern medicine.

Yet it is also illusory, in a sense that it’s not MY headache, I’m not my head and this head does not belong to me. There’s no reason for me to be upset about it, it doesn’t affect me as a spirit soul.

Existence of the spirit soul is real, yet it’s also illusory because I can’t perceive it at the moment. I *imagine* myself being a spirit soul, I have no experience of myself being such an entity.

Devotees relationships with Kṛṣṇa are real, yet they are also an illusion because they don’t see Him for who He is and they perceive only certain aspects of His personality, sometimes purposefully ignoring evidence of His greatness, as is the case in Vṛndāvana, or His intimacy, as is the case in Vaikuṇṭha.

All living beings, both in the material and the spiritual world, live under the illusion. Down here it forces them to identify themselves with matter and up there it makes them serve the Lord in a particular capacity only. That spiritual illusion, Yoga Māyā, is superior to our illusion just as spirit is superior to matter.

It is our destiny to live under the illusion so we shouldn’t freak out about it.

When we try to become devotees in the material world the best we can hope for is that Mahā Māyā, material illusion, will engage our bodies, ie matter, in the service of the Lord. When she does that, everything in our lives becomes spiritual, and yet it is also illusory because it’s still based on our misconception that we are our bodies. We just cleverly convince ourselves that we are “body-servants” of Kṛṣṇa.

Clearly, this is not an ideal understanding – we still act on the wrong assumption. If we manage to correct it, if we become fully liberated souls, then we’ll probably act as paramahaṃsas and pārivrājaka ācāryas. We’ll probably end up doing the same thing but with different consciousness.

Anyway, even if living under the illusion is not such a bad thing there are still pitfalls to avoid. I mean even if we get ourselves engaged in service to the Lord as part of our dream, as śāstras often describe our situation, we still can make wrong conclusions about this service that would impede rather than help our progress.

Easy examples would include accepting results of our service as material benefits of tangible value. Becoming the best book distributor, collecting the most donations, becoming a GBC at a very young age, filling stomachs under pretense of eating prasādam, bossing your wife because you are her guru – that kind of thing.

There are many ways we can act externally as if it was service to the Lord, and it really is, it pleases Kṛṣṇa as much as anything in the material world can please Him, but we are doing it for our own benefit, which spoils our progress.

Another kind is when we mistake our material feelings for spiritual. We imagine that we come to like Kṛṣṇa, like our service, like associating with devotees, like kīrtans, like Bhagavatam classes, like preaching, and we believe that these emotions are spiritual, that they come from our souls.

Nope, they come from pleasant interactions of material senses with their objects, and that includes stroking a false ego. These attractions are favorable to our progress but only to a degree. They serve their own purpose but once that purpose has been fulfilled they become obstacles instead. The purpose is, of course, to keep us engaged in service, so we better like what we are doing, and that’s why prasādam is delicious and kīrtans are sweet, there’s no other reason.

“Knowledge” is another article from that category. At first we need it, we need to understand the philosophy, need to justify our sacrifices, need to know everything about Kṛṣṇa, material and spiritual worlds, we need to know everything. As it’s said in the Bhāgavatam, we need to understand nesciense as well – to see how illusion works so that we can avoid falling its victims.

After a certain point, however, knowledge becomes a burden. At the very highest stages devotees know nothing and everything they know is objectively wrong. They don’t know that Kṛṣṇa is God and they worship demigods instead. The whole Govardhana pastime was rooted in ignorance, for example.

At some point we become too clever to remain simple and peaceful devotees, which hurts our progress. Just as in Vṛndāvana, we should be somewhat aware of the actual situation but we shouldn’t waste time analyzing it. Yes, Kṛṣṇa is God, devotees of Vṛṇdāvana might occasionally think to themselves, but let’s not allow this knowledge to interfere in our relationships with Him.

Similarly, certain things about our world and about our ISKCON might be very revealing but we should not let them distract us from our service. If we know that we should constantly chant the Holy Names and offer respect and service to every vaiṣṇava, and actually every living entity, we don’t need to know anything else.

Too much knowledge is an illusion – it makes us ignorant about our purpose, we forget it and go on exercising our brain power instead. Feels good, right? Much better satisfaction than simply eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. It’s still satisfaction of our material brains overpowering material energy, though, a non-devotional thing, and an illusion.

I would even go so far as to say that our visits to the holy dhāmas are illusory but that is a serious allegation, need to be careful about it and so I won’t indulge in such apostasy today.

Vanity thought #1042. Reality

What is real? What is not real? What is an illusion? Is there such thing as a “good” illusion in the material world?

Two days ago I wrote about clarifying our current situation and the conclusion was easy to accept – we are not as advanced as it might seem. It took a little time for this realization to sink in, however, there are implications there that I wasn’t expecting.

Let me start with an unrelated topic, though – ekādaśī. Last time it was nirjala, completely dry fast, and I didn’t like it very much, it gave me a headache. It’s acceptable a couple of times per year but living through it twice a month is a bit much for me.

We don’t have to abstain from drinking water, of course, but that is the purpose behind fasting on ekādaśī, there are not two ways about it. We can abstain only form taking grains but that is a concession, total fast is still preferable.

When this next ekādaśī came along I didn’t know what to do. There are several options here – do the usual ekādaśī, eat only fruit, ie uncooked food, it’s still filling, drink fruit juice to replenish the energy, there are plenty of calories there to survive through the day, drink only water, and observe a totally dry fast. I settled on water.

Hunger isn’t a problem, thirst isn’t a problem, but the headache still is. What should I do about it? Live through it? Why? What benefit of pushing myself through pain is there? What good does it do to anyone, Kṛṣṇa included?

While voluntary austerities are welcome in our sādhana, inflicting pain isn’t. Next time I should take fruit if not full meals.

Far more important question, however – are these ekādaśīs even necessary? Yes, Lord Caitanya demanded devotees to follow them but things have changed since then.

Śrila Prabhupāda didn’t see much value in fasting. He, of course, insisted on no grains but any other ekādaśī rule was considered as subservient to preaching. If we have books to distribute then we should not let fasting disturb our saṅkīrtana in any way. It’s just not that important.

Abstaining from grains maintains our purity and that seems to be the only thing that matters about ekādaśīs, whatever benefits they supposed to bring cannot be compared to the benefits from engaging in saṅkīrtana. Headaches or detoxing are obviously not part of our plan.

Going back to my original topic – is any of it even real?

Are things like long life, health and wealth that should come from observing ekādaśīs real? We don’t see any evidence of that. Maybe these results will manifest in the next life but that doesn’t make them “real” in our present. And if they are “real” even if we don’t perceive them then what about saṅkīrtana. Is it as real as ekādaśīs? Or is it similarly a long term investment in our next life that should be taken solely on faith?

One can object to defining “real” as something that can be perceived by material senses but I would argue that it’s the only kind of perception that is available to us in this life and, therefore, it forms the sole basis of our “reality”. Everything else is faith.

We take it on faith that Kṛṣṇa is there and that we might eventually reunite with Him. We have no evidence that any of this “Kṛṣṇa consciousness” is real. I would gladly welcome non-empirical evidence as well but there isn’t any, there’s only faith.

But what about “realized” knowledge that is supposed to distinguish our, genuine spiritual process from inferior faith-based religions? Don’t we feel Kṛṣṇa’s presence in our lives? Aren’t we persevering in our practice precisely because we feel that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is real?

I have my doubts.

Take following the regulative principles, for example. Practically anyone who sincerely takes to our process, especially to chanting, will quickly lose interest in meat-eating, drinking, gambling or sex. This is a fact, everyone can observe it, it’s reproducible, it’s scientific. It proves that our method works.

Does it, though?

Initial surge of enthusiasm usually subsides and old habits refuse to die. Defeating sex is nearly impossible in the long term for the vast majority of practitioners. Isn’t it proof that Kṛṣṇa consciousness doesn’t work?

The initial loss of taste in material matters can be explained differently, too. One doesn’t have to become a spiritualist to live a clean life. When people get excited about something they tend to lose taste in everything else. There are plenty of vegans, for example, and there are plenty of people who stay clear of gambling, and there are plenty of people who forget about sex, too. Not for long, of course, but neither do we.

Initial bliss can also be explained away. We aren’t the only ones who ignite people’s hopes and imagination and make them feel extremely happy. We aren’t the ones who invented the word ecstasy either.

Changes in our lives, even our growing attraction to topics about Kṛṣṇa, are not unusual. In the material world everybody eventually comes to like his surroundings. If we talk about Kṛṣṇa 24/7 we WILL come to like stories about Him, there’s nothing spiritual about it. In fact, it’s precisely why we must attend daily classes and read books – to make us like Kṛṣṇa artificially, to make it into a habit. It’s not a sign of actual spiritual awakening.

Once again, nothing in our lives proves reality of Kṛṣṇa. Placebo effect, self indoctrination, and similar psychological explanations are as good as our own. All we have is faith.

The purpose behind this argument is not to discourage anyone but to present another proof that we are only at the very first stages of bhakti, total kaniṣṭhas. At this stage we shouldn’t have anything else but faith and whatever else we might imagine will not be real.

Is faith real, though? Obviously it is, but the problem with faith is that it’s not based in reality and so it might change when reality changes. I accept illusion as reality here, too – material world exists, we just have wrong ideas about it.

Our contact with devotees, availability of our books, temples, and classes – all these things are outside of our control. Somehow it has been arranged so that we can support our growing faith in Kṛṣṇa but our karma might change its mind at any moment. In fact, at the moment of our death none of these facilities will be available anymore. We will be forced to perceive a different kind of reality and it might not be conducive to our faith. Will we remain devotees then? Probably not.

Truth is, we are not devotees even now. We will become devotees only when we get to serve Kṛṣṇa, only when we will get to perceive Him and relate to Him, only when He becomes “real” for us. We can’t force this on ourselves, it happens only by His own sweet will.

Only then our knowledge of Him will become realized, only then we can talk about Kṛṣṇa consciousness as being a “scientific” process rather then as a set of beliefs. This means that we have to fight the urge to declare so now, both to ourselves and to other people.

It doesn’t mean that preaching should stop but we should remember what forms the basis of our preaching – our faith in achievements of others. We succeed in preaching because Śrila Prabhupāda and our gurus carry Kṛṣṇa’s power, not because we are so self-realized ourselves. Surely, we have experiences to share, too, and they can be beneficial to others, but we should remember that they are not spiritual. These are not our experiences anyway, they are the works of material energy, time, and karma, hopefully acting under Kṛṣṇa’s direct control. We don’t contribute anything there, only our illusions.

Finally – what’s the benefit of understanding and accepting all of the above? Will it make anyone into a better devotee? Not necessarily. Understanding stuff does not automagically lead to spiritual realizations. Perhaps the best lesson to learn here is that we are not in control and are totally dependent on Kṛṣṇa. We do not make progress – Kṛṣṇa drags us along. Therefore, if He tells us to chant then that’s what we should do. Thinking and understanding things are secondary, and wasting time on trying to figure out one’s position on the spiritual ladder is just that – wasting time.

Vanity thought #1041. Sadhu Sanga

It’s important, right? In our present condition it’s probably more important than even chanting of the Holy Names. How could that be?

Our chanting is impure, our hearts are overwhelmed with all kinds of material desires, whatever we say comes out as an offense from our lips. Śrila Prabhupāda said that offensive chanting is like burning wet wood – lots of smoke, no heat, and it can go on forever without any effect.

To actually make progress we need to chant offenselessly but it’s impossible for us because of our material desires. We value them higher than service to Kṛṣṇa, we have too much taste for enjoyment obtained from interaction of material senses with their objects. That taste spoils everything we do, and we can’t get rid of this taste unless we find something better, and we can’t find something better unless we stop chewing the chewed – it’s catch 22.

The only way we can taste something better is if other devotees introduce us to it. There’s no inherent reason for us to come across something we are not interested in, that’s not how the material world works – it satisfies our desires, it doesn’t impose anything we haven’t asked for earlier. Devotees, however, can break this chain and that’s why it’s called “causeless mercy” – we haven’t deserved it, it’s not in our karma.

So, by the mercy of the devotees we can attain some higher taste, learn attraction to pure things, and, eventually, learn to chant purely. Without this sādh saṅga Holy Names would mean nothing to us.

We can learn to extract material benefits from chanting but that is not the same as devotion, it’s still a material activity meant for OUR pleasure, not Kṛṣṇa’s. Of course when we ask Him for something and He provides it it’s already a relationship but we want to do so much better than that. So we need to associate with devotees. How?

If you are in the temple it’s easy, but I want to talk about finding association on the internet, where we are now. Lots of people forgo personal relationships for the virtual ones. Dating sites were initially looked down upon but eventually people realized that if they spend most of their free time online they might as well use it for finding life partners. It works for some and craigslist has become a lifestyle for others, but what can we do there as devotees?

I’m not talking about vaiṣṇava dating sites, I’m talking about seeking genuine, spiritually enriching association. Is it possible? There are statements by Prabhupāda that voice recordings are not as purifying as listening to an actual guru but most of us don’t take it in absolute terms – based on our own experience listening to tapes, or mp3s now, is as illuminating and inspiring as sitting in a Bhāgavatam class, and you are not likely to fall asleep. Plus they’ve got tons of videos now – you can both listen AND watch, and with some life broadcasts you can also ask questions and see them answered in real time. Isn’t it great?

There’s more to association, though, we also need friends to share our minds with, and that’s where it all might go really bad really fast. It’s the same in real life, unscrupulous association will affect us negatively regardless of whether it’s online or face to face. The advantage is that when we are online we can avoid bad association immediately, and we also have a greater choice of groups to affiliate ourselves with.

With freedom comes responsibility, as Spireman’s uncle has taught us, and in our terms it means karma. Join the wrong club and you are doomed. Visit the wrong site you’ll get contaminated for the rest of the day. Offend someone by rather innocuous banter (by internet standards) and you’ll lose taste for devotional service forever.

All in all, I don’t think we can manage our online association as easily as it looks. Sometimes we get great help and inspiration but, personally, I can’t find neither rhyme nor reason in how it works. If I go looking for it, it escapes me, but then, out of the blue, I get real gems, or I don’t.

I’ll take whatever I can, there’s a lot of bath water with this baby but that’s just how it is.

I’ve spent a month without checking vaiṣṇava news sites and I probably should have kept going but curiosity took the better of me today. How many times will I lapse into this news reading thing? It always ends the same, with me telling myself how I should not have done this and why.

Over at Sampradaya Sun they keep going, “Finding faults with devotees, part 273” is as fresh as ever. Official ISKCON news extols virtues of legumes, benefits of aloe vera, and fruits for diabetics. There’s an inside ISKCON section, too, but also an opinion piece about Modi swearing in ceremony (which wasn’t actually bad).

As far as actual association goes, devotees are still fighting over no fall issue. New entries in the top chart this month are the debate over responsibilities of Kṛṣṇa conscious husbands and what looks like an attack on self-help book style of one of our senior devotee’s preaching. I’ve never liked this style myself but now I see several virtually identical comments about this devotee across different sites and it just doesn’t feel right.

What if some people find this style just fine? What if they get inspired by this kind of talk? This devotee has a significant following, I gather, and he is not saying anything controversial, so why the attack? I’m afraid that if I set out to find the reasons it will end up with me seeing even more faults in devotees. Who needs this? I certainly don’t, and so I’ll leave it at that.

What I found interesting, however, is a public announcement by a devotee who leads charge against HH Hṛdayānanda Mahārāja’s Kṛṣṇa West and homosexual propaganda in ISKCON. He says that he has accepted HH Bhakti Vikasa Swāmī as his śikṣā guru. He used to be Hṛdayānanda’s Mahārāja’s disciple but he renounced him a few years back. Now he’s found a new shelter.

Good thing is that he wasn’t re-iniated. Offering śikṣa, therefore, would not be offensive towards his original guru who remains to be in good standing with GBC. It wasn’t done with his mahārāja’s blessings, however, so it’s still, basically, a whim, guru shopping, so to speak. I hope Bhakti Vikasa Mahāraja talks some sense into him because it’s the mahārāja who leads the battle for staying faithful to Vedic tradition, mostly notably in marriage, but I’m sure it also includes staying faithful to one’s guru. Or at least respectful, which isn’t seems to be the case here.

We could also take this to mean Bhakti Vikasa Swāmī’s declaration of his position in regards to Kṛṣṇa West initiative. Maybe it isn’t but that’s how most people would take it to mean. Expect more ISKCON guru bashing in the near future.

Who needs this aggravation? Sane people stay away from such trolling topics in the material world and we, as devotees, should know better than indulge ourselves in them either, their apparent connection with Kṛṣṇa consciousness notwithstanding.

A day well wasted, hundreds of news articles to look through and nothing to remember. Should have read Bhāgavatam instead, this kind of sādhu saṅga is not worth the trouble

Vanity thought #1040. Getting ahead

of ourselves is unbelievably easy in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We want to progress, we want to become better devotees, we have high standards set by our ācāryas to raise ourselves up to, it’s all within our reach, so it’s easy for us to think that we are almost there ourselves.

There’s a couple of verses in Uddhava Gīta that might give us even more encouragement (SB.11.20.27-28):

    Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities.

There’s a very long purport here, too (by Eleventh’ Canto standards) that elaborates on the position of such devotees and their attitude towards their remaining material desires. It appears that residual attachments don’t matter, they are just leftovers no one is interested in but got stuck with anyway.

A devotee keeps on practicing his devotional service despite such desires still being present. He insulates himself from these desires and from lamentation that arises from occasionally giving in. He knows that there’s no better way of purifying himself than keeping up with his service so sitting there and sulking is not an option.

A devotee also knows that stopping these material reactions is beyond his powers and it can only be done by the grace of the Lord. He keeps firm faith in the Lord and accepts the possibility that the Lord might take His sweet time removing them.

None of it affects his service and so we can say that he achieved the stage of niṣṭhā. We can say that his devotion is pure and his external, material behavior doesn’t really matter.

We have a million devotees like that.

What’s more – these devotees clearly have a great taste for their service. They follow sādhana, they carry out the orders of their gurus, they associate with other vaiṣṇavas, and they LIKE it. It’s almost like rati or ruci – preliminary stages of bhāva. They are practically pure. They are constantly engaged in Lord’s service, they are legit.

If one looks at Sanskrit terms, they are engaged in sādhu saṅga, they are engaged in bhajana kriya, they actively work on their anartha nivṛtti – by all symptoms, they are on the platform of niṣṭhā.

Isn’t it just great? Ruci follows right behind, and that is practically bhāva, they have nearly made it.

What’s most encouraging about it is that they haven’t done anything unusual – just followed the program set for us by Śrila Prabhupāda, everyone can do it.

They might not look like much by Vṛṇdāvana standards – they are not bābājīs, they do not engage in incessant rasa kathā, they are not particularly renounced, they do not wail during their kīrtans and they generally not famous as great devotees, but that is even better. They are humble servants of the Supreme Lord and His devotees, they do not want any recognition for themselves, their hearts are pure, and because they do not boast about their spiritual achievements we can suspect that they have a fair share of spiritual happiness to keep them going in such a detached manner.

It’s a path open to all of us and it’s a path successfully traversed by many many devotees right before our eyes. We are nearly there, too.

Except we all are getting ahead of ourselves.

These devotees, who I just proved are on the level of niṣṭha, are actually total beginners.

It’s not niṣṭha, it’s simply śraddhā, preliminary faith required to start the process of devotional service. It has nothing to do with ruci and anartha nivṛṭti is still miles ahead, as well as sādhu saṅga and bhajana kriyā. It’s nothing.

Presence of the material desires that I mentioned at the start is the proof that they are nowhere near those exalted stages. Pure devotees do not have any material desires, and the ones described in the Bhāgavatam verse I quoted earlier are not pure yet, they are only beginners, it says so in the purport, it’s what it starts with:

    The beginning stage of pure devotional service is described here by the Lord.

What I described earlier as niṣṭhā is only a firm faith that by following this process they will eventually achieve success. That by following sādhana and associating with devotees they will make progress, in the future.

The progress hasn’t happened yet. When we say that they do no mind waiting until the Lord cleanses their hearts and relieves them from effects of material desires we say that they have faith that it will eventually happen, yet until the desires are there they cannot be accepted as pure, which niṣṭhā is practically is.

It might sound disappointing – decades of service, millions if not billions of names chanted, at the ripe stage of their lives, and they are only the beginners. What hope is there for us? Most of us can’t even do that – rise of maṅgala-ārati, listen to Bhagavatam classes, engage in deity service or preaching, being totally dependent on the Lord in the form of our society.What hope is there for us?

And what of our taste in devotional service? Is it real? Is their taste real? Or is it just a material compatibility with all things Indian – food, music, culture, colors or clothes? Some are natural at it, others were simply not born to like Indian culture. If this attraction is spiritual, everyone can develop it. If it’s material, there’s no point in making ourselves like Indians.

Another downside of this realization is that if we are only the beginners we don’t really have to judge ourselves by advanced standards. What is considered a big fail for niṣṭha is nothing for kaniṣṭha.

That’s another thing we’ll have to get used to – being called kaniṣṭhas. We don’t like it, we defend fellow devotees labeled like that with vigor and all kinds of arguments. What if they really are? What if we really are nothing but kaniṣṭhas?

It’s perfectly okay to accept ourselves as being so lowly but if we say that our ISKCON gurus are on that level, too, it would be suicidal for our society.

Or maybe it won’t.

However low level we have achieved, it’s real and it’s ours. There’s no better way and those who claim to be higher or strive to be higher are only fooling themselves because by all objective criteria they are no better than our “kaniṣṭhas”. They can claim anything they want, the results are here for all to see – they never walk their talk. Same as us, really, but while we excuse our material desires by verses from Bhāgavatam, they say that their material desires are not even material and they have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Another upside of this realization is that we don’t have to worry about our lack of taste and suspect that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not exactly what was promised – we haven’t even approached Kṛṣṇa consciousness yet, we are still licking the bottle from the outside. Real bhakti will come in due course of time and it will be nothing like shadows of emotions we experience now.

Sex, for one thing, will not even dare to enter our minds then. Now it’s so brazen that it allows itself to occasionally leave because it knows we will welcome it back with both arms when it returns.

It’s not so bad to be lowly and “unadvanced”, and because it’s the reality we’d be better off accepting our position and learning to deal with it rather than try to maintain the appearance of maturity. Lying never helps anyone, especially lying to oneself