Vanity thought #1080. GR

GR stands for “Guilty Remnants” in the TV series The Leftovers which I have gotten into a habit of discussing every week. There were some very good episodes there, like the one about the pastor trying to save his church – we can all relate to such experience. This one wasn’t particularly inspiring or memorable. The plot just slowly moved along but I’m not interested in the plot, I’m interested in portrayal of religion, in portrayal of one’s faith.

GR is one of the strange cults featured in the series. No one really knows what they want, and they were the ones who took over local church, which made them into enemies of religion. On the other hand, I am also curious about that bunch and I once wrote about being in their cult as compared to being a Hare Kṛṣṇa. The point of that comparison wasn’t to determine which cult is better but to understand how joining a religious organization changes a person. Not counting spiritual progress (which GR people don’t get), the experiences are pretty similar.

Our ISKCON leaders have noticed that long time ago and I’ve listened to seminars on the topic, on how to strike a golden balance between being too weird and demanding too much and being too conventional and thus unappealing. People invest themselves into something they feel as special, if we were just like everybody else not many people would have seriously committed themselves.

Kṛṣṇa West, btw, is probably nothing more but another shot at finding that balance. I don’t know why everybody is on their case. If Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t make concessions to westerners there wouldn’t be ISKON. He hooked people first and demanded certain standards of material and spiritual purity later, same principle Kṛṣṇa West devotees hope will work again.

Anyway, these GR folks are mystery. The whole show is about life in a small town after some of its residents were “raptured” and went to Heaven, or so goes the official version. Some people are indifferent to it, some took it as an impetus to try harder in their lives so they don’t get left behind next time JC comes around. GR decided to strike at God with vengeance.

Being left behind is totally unacceptable to them, they refuse to recognize God who would do this to His people. On one hand they appear to be inimical to God, on the other hand they demonstrate an unusual intensity in their relationships with Him, which is never a bad thing. One of Kṛṣṇa’s favorite queens, Satyabhāmā, was similarly hot tempered, so there’s a space in relationships with the Lord for justifiable anger or frustration.

They are also angry at people who let themselves to be manipulated and cheated by a God like that. That’s why they stake their targets and keep reminding them about futility of base human existence – “God does not care, there’s no meaning in life without Him, so just drop it” – that seems to be their message.

There was one scene involving them last week – they staked a boy, gave him a flier that said “Everything that is important about you is inside”. He opened it and it was empty. Clever.

There’s no meaning to our lives without God. Even animals have a purpose – they will eventually become human, their lives don’t go in vain, they make their own steady progress. People who refuse to serve God in the human form of life, however, are a total waste of space.

Well, Kṛṣṇa is generous, they can have pretty good lives even without worshiping Him, but for most of us life without devotion is empty.

Christians aren’t that different. They might not have as strong sādhana as us but they know that whatever they do must in the end lead to reunification with the Lord. Sometimes they can do horrible things but this one realization – “It’s not right by Jesus”, might stop them in their tracks – everyone has limits.

GR people are there to tell them that there’s no point. God as we know is dead, we shouldn’t fool ourselves and should seek the meaning of life elsewhere. I still don’t get their message in full, I just remembered this phrase “We want them to remember something they want to forget.” What does it mean? It was mentioned casually as if it’s pretty obvious but I missed the memo, I guess. Are they saying that they want people to remember ultimate futility of their existence? It would make sense but it’s only my guess.

Even outside their fixation with God there’s a lot we can find in common with them. They are very renounced, for example. We have very advanced views of what proper renunciation means but in real life we are still very attached to sense gratification. GR members aren’t.

They don’t talk, for example – they control their tongues and their minds. Not perfectly, because they can write things they want to say on a piece of paper, but it’s still a reasonable compromise between running your mouth off with the latest gossip and not using your mouth at all.

There was one other thing I noticed about them. This episode started with one of GR woman being stoned to death by some lynch mob. The whole town was pretty shaken, the police chief tried to even impose a curfew. It was a horrible, senseless, inhumane crime but we can find something else to ponder about here – our deep rooted assumptions about the society around us.

Everybody assumes that killing is wrong, but why? Why do we expect people around us respect our right to live? Why do we expect the police to ensure our safety, as individuals and also as groups. Why do we think “I’m a part of this group therefore the government should protect me and my rights.”

If our lives have been rejected by God and have no purpose – what’s the difference between life and death? Why living should be better than dying?

Same applies to GR, too – they renounced the world, so what if one of them got killed? It’s not like there’s any hope or grand destiny for their cult members anyway. When they walk out on their families they cease to exist as members of the society, why should they expect the society to treat them as fully fledged citizens with all the rights and privileges? Renunciation should go both ways, here, shouldn’t it?

This goes for us, too – if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa we shouldn’t expect a fair treatment from the society we rejected

Then, at the end of the episode, the pastor came to preach to these GR folks. He got portable speakers to amplify his message and he expressed the desire to pray for their souls. He said that even if just one of them listened to his message and came out to join him in a prayer he would feel very grateful.

Finally, one of them did come out, approached the pastor, who was already melting with appreciation for God’s power, and then that GR woman blew a loud whistle in pastor’s face, which symbolized their attitude towards church. Whistle is a powerful, multifaceted message – it warns people to danger, it expressed disagreement, it’s meant to wake people up, too.

“Stop doing whatever it is you doing, it’s a waste of time, search for the real truth within, God is not there for you anymore” – that seemed to be that woman’s message.

I don’t approve but I agree with quite a large part of it

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Vanity thought #1079. Measuring lines

Yesterday I looked at spiritual progress of different people as parallel lines that never cross, not until they finally reach Kṛṣṇa. By different people I meant different religions but, I suppose, this theory holds true for individuals, too – we don’t have any personal connections ourselves, only through Kṛṣṇa.

Let me explain – we see and interact with people all the time, they all seem to be different, each with their own personality, but actually it’s just an illusion. We do not exist as separate personalities in the material world, we just claim a part of the material energy as our false ego. When other people interact with us it’s still the material energy acting under the inviolable laws of karma that conducts the interactions.

These “other people” cannot and will not say anything that is not destined for us to hear. They can’t harm us, they can’t please us, they can’t present danger to us, they can’t present hope to us – they can’t do anything outside of what is predetermined by our karma.

But what about occasions when somebody’s intervention does change the course of our life? Nothing, these people are just being karma’s agents. Karma isn’t a mysterious, transcendental force, it acts only through material elements. If we are destined to be robbed, it will send a robber out way, and if we are destined to be consoled it will send someone who cares about us and makes us comfortable.

At first it would appear heartless and impersonal to strip people of their humanity and look at them as passive agents of invisible karma but that is not the whole totality of ideal, paramahaṃsa vision. That vision consist of two parts – seeing everything as the work of Lord’s energy and seeing everyone in connection to the Lord, too.

That is to say that paramahaṃsas see the world as the illusion and at the same time they see everyone’s connection to Kṛṣṇa, connection that ordinary people are not even aware of.

When we relate to other people as Kṛṣṇa’s servants we relate to them “personally”, when we see them as agents of our karma we see their false identities, which are parts of soulless material energy, ie we see that aspect of their existence as impersonal, which it is.

One could still argue that we, in our conditioned state, always seek a personal touch with other people. We care, we love, we help, we hate, we envy – these are all personal emotions, as opposed to impersonal indifference.

That is correct but these relationships are illusory, they are only an extension of our fundamentally wrong and impersonal desire to lord over God’s energy. We want to be our own little gods and so we imitate God when we seek personal relationships with others. Our arrangements here are negotiations between two wannabe gods, or two thieves sharing the loot.

Our science of rasa confirms this view, too – our ācāryas have taught us that our relationships in this world are just perverted reflections of original rasas in Vṛṇdāvana. Sex life is real, as Śrīla Prabhupāda explained, but it’s real in the spiritual world, down here it’s perverted and unnatural.

When devotees marry they are not supposed to see and relate to their partners as materialists do, they are supposed to serve them as they would serve Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. One serves in the capacity of the husband and another serves in the capacity of the wife. Marriage is not a license to enjoy but a license to serve. Through that service our certain desires get fulfilled, too.

So, if we all can relate to each other only through Kṛṣṇa, how can we compare our progress? As aspiring madhyama adhikārīs we are obliged to make such judgments and behave accordingly. How can we measure our places on the parallel lines of our progress?

Naturally, only by the distance to Kṛṣṇa, not by appearances in the material world, but that’s the hardest part, really – how do we know how close this or that person is to the Lord?

There are symptoms but they are not absolute, especially in our Gauḍīyā vaiṣṇavism – everyone can be Kṛṣṇa’s dearest servant regardless of appearances. Bhakti is independent of one’s material position and only those who are close to Kṛṣṇa themselves can correctly estimate others’ devotion.

Yet there are symptoms and there are general brackets for the majority of our devotees. External appearances don’t matter only on the higher stages of bhakti and we have a pretty good idea how devotees behave when they have reached bhāva, for example. We can safely assume that no one we will ever meet is on that stage.

Most of us are on the stage of anartha nivṛtti, firmly on the way to liberation but definitely not there yet. Real bhakti begins after the liberation and so until then our progress can be fairly accurately judged by external appearances.

One cannot maintain interest in the sex life and be a real devotee. By real devotee I mean personalities described in our books, the ones who are most dear to Kṛṣṇa, always under His protection, always engaged in His service, higher than the purest of brāhmaṇas, the ones the Lord can appear personally to and the ones who can always see Him because their eyes are “tinged with the salve of love”. We are not there yet, obviously, firmly on the way but haven’t yet arrived.

So, freedom from sex desire is a one big litmus test. Sometimes it’s hard to judge the power sex has over other person and so we should look at secondary manifestations, things like desire to control, drive to succeed, desire to dominate people, envy, possessiveness and so on.

Control of the tongue is another easy to judge feature, probably the easiest. Everyone can spot someone’s addiction to food even if that person is abstaining or dieting. Devotees, real devotees, are fully in control of their tongues, that’s what is said in the first verses of Nectar of Instruction (NOI 1):

    A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.

This verse provides everything we need to know, really – how much a person is in control of his speech, how much a person is in control of his mind – all the main criteria is there.

So, even if we see and appreciate someone’s devotion or interest in God we should also see how much one is still in the grasp of the material energy and then choose an appropriate course of action – whether to seek association, avoid the person, or offer help.

When we say we want to serve vaiṣṇavas it shouldn’t mean serve only to those who are objectively more advanced than us – a guru serves his disciples, too, we just need to determine what the appropriate service should be in each particular case.

We should also remember that the kind of judgment I talked about today is just a calibration – actual desire to serve must come from seeing that person’s connection to Kṛṣṇa. If we don’t see that there’s no question of service at all even if our behavior seems to comply with all the rules.

About that – the rules are important – they help us to relate to others appropriately even when we don’t have the underlying realization why. Guru must be treated as God, for example. We don’t really know how to treat God, do we? And, with time, many of us come to see our gurus as fellow humans, too, but that lack of spiritual vision should not stop us from offering proper service and respect either.

If we could really see people’s personal connections with Kṛṣṇa it would have been so much easier to relate to others but we are not there yet and so should follow the rules. It’s a very simple principle we should never forget.

Vanity thought #1078. Crossing parallels

Parallels never cross, that’s why they are parallels, but do they exist? Is it even possible to draw straight lines that never ever intersect? Mathematically, yes, practically, certainly not, but what I mean is that everything eventually leads to Kṛṣṇa and so He would be the final intersecting point of all the lines in the world. Not only mathematical lines, lines of thought or lines of progress, too.

I don’t mean parallels as a strictly mathematical concept here but as generic development paths that do not come together. In this sense they have no other place to end but in Kṛṣṇa and so they cannot be true parallels. They might not intersect in our limited field of vision but if we knew Kṛṣṇa, if we could see Him as the ultimate shelter of everything, we would not be seeing parallels at all.

So, all parallels eventually cross.

That’s how we should look at fellow religioners, be they Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or even Wiccas. They aren’t parallel to us even historically. Buddhism being a clear off-shot of Vedic culture and Abrahamic religions being off-shots of Zoroastrianism, which was still a Vedic kind of religion. They all sprang at around the same time, along with Jainism, when Kali Yuga corrupted the original Vedic society and people felt the need for alternatives.

Someone might say that Buddhism should not be grouped here because it’s not really a religion as they don’t have a concept of God but we should not deny that they are spiritualists on the search for the Absolute Truth. What aspect of that Absolute Truth they want to discover is not really that important – we all are too far removed from our goal to argue about finer points of our destinations.

So, it would appear that we are all moving along our parallel paths that eventually would end up in pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Neutral observers will certainly object at this point but I would answer that us calling our process Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not mean that we know what it really is, and that saying that everyone will eventually come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness does not mean that everyone will be wearing a dhoti.

God is all attractive but it attracts every soul in a unique way and He manifests His attractiveness differently, too. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is realizing that attractive aspect of the Absolute Truth and it happens regardless of external manifestations. When Christians talk about how they love Jesus they are displaying their Kṛṣṇa consciousness, they just don’t know how to call it properly.

Am I arrogant in claiming to know proper name of God’s different features? No, I am not. We are using the same names as they exist in the spiritual world. Jesus was the name given to a person who lived in Palestine two thousand years ago. Before that there was no Jesus, this name is not absolute.

There are names of God mentioned in old Hebrew texts but I’m not sure they have one that means “all-attractive”. They have their own version of “Viṣṇu Sahasra Nāma”, not as extensive, and God is described there are the most merciful, omnipotent, omnipresent etc but not all-attractive.

So, English word “attractive” can’t be God’s real name, there isn’t a Hebrew equivalent, so why not accept that it’s Kṛṣṇa?

Of course Kṛṣṇa conjures images of a blue boy with a flute and as such His attractiveness is limited but we simply don’t know what Kṛṣṇa really means. When He appears He will irresistible no matter what we think about flutes and blue skin.

Anyway, as we move along our seemingly parallel courses – are we moving at the same rate? Are we at the same distance from our destination? How can we judge those things?

Here it helps to know that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a scientific process. There are stages and there are external symptoms for each stage so that we can quickly locate one’s place on the ladder.

We can place Buddhists with their denial of God at the very bottom. After many lifetimes they will come to appreciating the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth but they are not there yet.

Muslims and Christians should be closer to us but Muslims deny personal manifestations of God, too. Here where it gets tricky – they say that materialistic depictions of the Absolute Truth do not serve God justice, that’s not the same as denying God lacks personal qualities. It’s perhaps taking His personality more seriously than those who doodle something on a piece of paper and call it non-different from God.

It’s an argument directed mostly against Christians but also against us. Originally, it was a big responsibility to draw or paint images of Kṛṣṇa in ISKCON, it was done only under the authority of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which legitimized our efforts. Now it seems open to everyone and people visually interpret Kṛṣṇa according to their understanding, which is not how it should be done.

I would argue that drawing Kṛṣṇa should be as responsible undertaking as sculpting and installing a deity, and our mental images should follow the same rules, too. We can’t just imagine Kṛṣṇa to look whatever we want Him to look.

When talking about God, “attractive” doesn’t mean “likable”. It does not mean “good enough to please me”. It does not mean judging Him like we judge ordinary sense objects and so we can’t draw Him, on paper or mentally, like we would draw beautiful little boys.

When we say Kṛṣṇa is all-attractive it means that we would be immediately swept off our feet and become completely consumed by His irresistible power. All-attractive means that He is incomparable, we wouldn’t be able to say that He is “better” than what we imagined or experienced before, our entire platform from which we judge things would cease to exist.

We can’t remain materialists in His presence. We can’t be anything else but His most dedicated, pure servants in his presence. We can’t have any selfish desires in His presence. We can’t have any self-interests in His presence either.

Where was I? Ah, yes, perhaps Muslims are just more serious about their God than Christians and they might be more serious about Him then we are. They certainly enter into relationships with Him, too. They might not talk about rasas but neither should we, not until we achieve liberation. For now our relationships are no different from those in any other religion – we abide by God’s laws and rely on Him in every situation. We see Him as a master and as our father. Even if we know about superior rasas we don’t relate to Kṛṣṇa through those, only as servants of the servant of the servant.

Christians, however, do one better – they also speak of Jesus as their friend. I don’t think it means being friendly with him, our equivalent would be seeing the Supersoul as our best well-wisher. “Friend” is also the word Śrīla Prabhupāda used when talking about two birds sitting in the same tree, one is the soul, another is the Supersoul (BG 2.22):

    The Supersoul fulfills the desire of the atomic soul as one friend fulfills the desire of another. The Vedas, like the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, as well as the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, compare the soul and the Supersoul to two friendly birds sitting on the same tree. One of the birds (the individual atomic soul) is eating the fruit of the tree, and the other bird (Kṛṣṇa) is simply watching His friend. Of these two birds — although they are the same in quality — one is captivated by the fruits of the material tree, while the other is simply witnessing the activities of His friend. Kṛṣṇa is the witnessing bird, and Arjuna is the eating bird. Although they are friends, one is still the master and the other is the servant.

It’s not the same as serving the Lord in sakhyā rasa in Vṛndāvana but it sounds a bit higher than seeing the Lord only as a master.

I think it’s enough comparative religions for one day, there’s more to be said but I can’t go into that now.

Vanity thought #1077. God’s Not Dead

Just saw this movie. I suppose there have been a lot of Christian movies out there but this is my first one and I must say I’m impressed. It’s not Oscar material but they managed to pull it off, however imperfectly, and that is more than we can say about our ISKCON efforts at cinematography. AFAIK, we have never produced a full length feature movie so we are out of competition.

I read the storyline on IMDB and it provided a nice introduction but after watching this movie I feel it can be summarized differently. Should I do it? I don’t know, the reality might make the show lose its effect and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody, much less for atheists.

The premise is promising – a freshman university student is challenged by a professor to prove that God exists. Will he accept the challenge? How he will handle it? What arguments would he use? Will he win? What if I was put in the same situation?

All these questions provide a lot of food for thought.

The movie is overly simplistic and predictable but it still illustrates our real life. Deciding to debate a clearly antagonistic professor who is prepared to ruin your grades regardless of whether you win or not is not easy. On one hand it feels like the right thing to do, brave and glorious, on the other hand there is a price to be paid and one must have enough faith to make the necessary sacrifices.

In the movie the protagonists loses his girlfriend, for example. Why? For a completely unnatural reason – she can’t accept that her boyfriend would risk getting a low grade in this class and not making it into a law school. I suppose some of those Christian girls can be over possessive but that is definitely an overkill.

How did our boy handle the challenge? He didn’t know what he was getting himself into, being a freshman and all. He went to see a local priest but instead of getting full scriptural support and unbeatable arguments he got a reference to two Bible verses which basically say that if you don’t fight for God you will lose Him. However, the manual on how to fight was not provided.

The boy hit the library and beefed up on some science quotes but was easily put off by the professor citing Steven Hawking. The debate was over three sessions, each only twenty minutes long, so that was the end of the day one.

Argument for God – universe couldn’t have come out of nothing, we’ve never see anything come out of nothing, and the scientific description of the Big Bang is just a different angle on how Genesis described the creation. Argument for science – Hawking’s quota that the universe does not need a creator.

Debates happen once a week and so the time between them is used to draw caricatures of non-Christians. They just couldn’t help it. The faithful in this movie are all nice, honest to God, corn fed blond men full of themselves while atheists are all dicks, beginning with the professor.

The movie incorporates all the clichés about atheists, how they are all soulless, calculating monsters completely stripped of any morals. Yet they all get a chance at salvation. Some take it, some don’t.

There’s a switched on woman. for example, she lives her life on the internet and her articles are read by tens of thousands of people. She goes to a doctor but can’t take her hands off her phone, typing up messages as the doctor informs her she has cancer. So, atheist struck by deadly disease who eventually turns to God – check.

Her boyfriend is a businessmen talking about stock market sell offs, mergers and acquisitions, and the disadvantage of upholding moral values in business. When he learns his girlfriend has cancer he simply breaks up with her because she has no use for his career anymore. She said she was dying and cried and he said he didn’t care. Where do they find these people? He is an atheist, of course, but still.

Professor has a girlfriend, too, and she is Christian, and his former student. So, a licentious atheist having an affair with his student because she is pretty and treating her as a dumb Barbie – check. He arranges a party for fellow philosophers at home, she serves food, and he chides her for forgetting a bottle of wine in the car and spoiling it, and treats her as stupid in front of his friends. Eventually she breaks up with him and turns her life fully to Jesus. Check.

There’s also a Muslim girl there. Her father drops her off at school but she doesn’t study there, she works in the cafeteria. Father wants her to cover her face but she removes the veil as soon as she is out of his sight. She overhears our protagonist talking about his challenge to prove God’s existence and it energizes her, too. Turns out she has turned to Christianity over a year ago. Her father learns about it, beats her up and throws her out of his house. Muslims, huh? Check.

Then there’s the reverend who, surpirsingly, is not struggling with his own faith. Instead he observes God’s hand in motion as he can’t leave the city for a holiday in Disneyland. His car can’t start, he rents one but it can’t start, too. Same thing happens next morning, it’s a mystery. He is actually with his friend, a pastor from the trenches, as he is introduced, preaching the Gospel somewhere in Africa, I suppose. This preacher teaches local reverend some valuable lessons about faith. Check.

Then there’s a Christian rock group playing in town and everybody ends up at the concert. Boys preach the gospel, too, and convert the cancer suffering girl who at first confronts them about their faith but then accepts Jesus into her heart and they all pray for her. Check.

Then there’s an elderly woman suffering from dementia. She can’t remember names and struggles with feeding herself but at the appropriate moment she delivers a completely lucid sermon as if God was personally speaking through her. Check.

Then there’s a Chinese student who is supposed to study hard but takes interest in the debate about God. When he talks about it with his father on the phone, the father tells him to take his teacher’s side and be done with it. The boy’s interest in Christianity rises and eventually he converts. Check.

Then there’s a local cowboy character who made a fortune in duck hunting business. When confronted about cruelty towards animals he dismisses this concern as non-essential, being a nice Christian is more important for him, he said. Actually, it was one of the wisest lines in the whole movie – everything in life is temporary, we all die, comparing to reaching God nothing ever matters. So, salt of the earth Bible thumper/duck killer – check.

All these unbelievable characters somewhat ruin the experience but it’s a small price to pay for seeing a university professor losing a debate to a nice, Christian freshman.

Second round started with refuting Hawkings. Turns out that Hawkins’ statement was a logical fallacy and it was picked up by other scientists, so it was easy to refute. I don’t think I can reproduce the rebuttal from memory and Hawking’s argument itself escapes me, sorry. We were also reminded that there have been many Christian scientists and that Big Bang was described in Genesis for two and a half thousand years before scientists “invented” it.

The third and last debate was about morals – that without religion atheism has no basis for morals. Eventually it became personal and we ended with realization that the teacher has his personal issues with God, that he actually hates Him, and that’s when the student delivers the final blow: “How can you hate something that doesn’t exist?”

In the end, professor decides to go to the Christian rock concert to get is girlfriend back but is struck by a car running the red light. The priest, who never made it to Disneyland, was the first on the scene. Professor was clearly dying but he had just enough time to accept Jesus in his heart before death. This showed the grand design behind pastor’s inability to leave town and well as God’s mercy in not killing the professor instantly so that he gets the opportunity to repent and accept God’s love.

Then, as credits started to roll in, I’ve learned that this movie was sponsored by some Christian association and that it’s based on real life stories of countless students who couldn’t publicly display their faith on university campuses. There’s a long list of such court cases and they all have been won, of course.

So, faith beats everything, right? Right, but not without help of good old propaganda and mind manipulation. Christian rock is one example – luring people in with modern music and then hitting them with the Bible. Actually, this kind of saṇkīrtana is the coolest thing in the whole movie. Let them all sing about God as much as they can, I fully support them in this.

In some ways their lyrics are better than our māyāvāda infested bhakti-fest performances, more honest, more humble. The only thing I can’t stand about them (and Christians in general) is that they always expect the Lord to serve them. There were a couple of examples in this movie but the most telling one was the band praying for the cancer stricken girl – why should it be God’s business to fix our karma, and why should we tell God what to do in our prayers? Why should we assume that we are in the position to offer Him our advice on how to run things?

Another example of mind manipulation was the final class vote on the outcome of the debate. “God’s not dead” position was called first and people were made to stand up when saying it. Pretty soon you’d have to join the crowd or your friends would’ve looked at you funny – it was played on people’s desire to be a part of the group regardless of your personal opinion – the very thing our students decided to fight against in the beginning.

Otherwise, it was a great movie, there were lots of memorable quotes that are supposed to bridge the gap between Christians and our tradition – the process of self-realization is the same for everyone, no matter their denomination.

All in all, I don’t think watching this movie was a waste of time.

Vanity thought #1076. Point of pain

Why are we made to suffer? Yesterday I said that there’s a perfectly good explanation why apparently innocent people and children sometimes have to suffer unspeakable pain. I thought I would present it today but on the second thought the explanation still appears to be elusive.

Short answer is that it’s karma but that doesn’t say much because then you’ll have to explain what karma is and why it works that way and it quickly becomes a shaky subject no one agrees upon.

One could argue that, according to karma, people are made to suffer exactly the same pain they earlier inflicted on others. That makes sense within one lifetime but not so much if karma is earned in one life and manifests in another. In this case we don’t remember the crime and have to take its existence on faith – law of karma is not observable over two or more lifespans. Maybe it works as described, maybe it doesn’t.

One could further argue that because it works within one lifetime then it’s reasonable to extend it into the next life as well rather than to seek an alternative law but not everyone will agree with this logic.

Observable fact is that some things happen to us for no apparent reason while other things do not correspond with their reasons uniformly, like people getting away with murder or ethnic cleansing. It’s nice to hope that they’ll be punished after death and it would make a lot of sense but it’s not something we can see, and we are not talking about spirituality here, just ordinary material laws of nature.

So, if we say that all pain is caused by the law of karma we essentially blame undeserved suffering on unseen causes and a lot of people would ask for a better solution than this.

Another argument could be existence of pain itself – maybe there’s a law of karma and maybe it’s unbreakable, but what is the need for suffering in the first place? Why can’t we have this law of karma AND no pain?

People often answer this question by the need for variety, that without pain we wouldn’t appreciate pleasure. Not true, we don’t need to eat disgusting things to appreciate the taste of delicious food. We don’t need to flay our skin to appreciate soft touch. Variety might be necessary but extreme pain isn’t.

There’s variety in the spiritual world, too, but planets there are still called vaikuṇṭhas – free from suffering, so that answer is flawed.

Another possible answer is that pain is the property of the material world, pain is what makes it different, but it still doesn’t explain why it’s really needed. There are heavenly planets here where pain is practically non-existent so it’s possible to have a material world AND be free from pain, so? Why do we have to suffer but inhabitants of the heavenly planets don’t?

The answer to this is “karma” again, but it still doesn’t explain the need for pain itself. Can’t we all have karma with just a mild irritation? Obviously we can’t, but why?

Another answer is the degree of piety – pious souls experience a lot less pain than impious ones but it still doesn’t explain the need for the low base value. Source of piety itself is questionable, too.

Usually, in Vedic culture and elsewhere, piety is related to worshiping God and following rules given in the holy scriptures but what about best of the demons who live more comfortable lives than the best of demigods? They hate God with all their hearts and can’t care less about worshiping Indra and his crew and yet they appear to acquire more piety than anyone else.

This is actually an important point because it redefines piety in a way that is more suitable for devotees – if Kṛṣṇa is the one who ultimately controls our fate then usual notions of “good” and “bad” karma become inadequate and one must look beyond standard prescriptions from the śāstra. Demons ignore them to increase their material happiness and devotees ignore them to increase their love of God.

We and the demons to not subvert śāstra in the same way, of course, but it’s the possibility of living outside Vedic rules and succeeding is what’s important.

However important that realization could be it still does not explain existence of pain.

I’m afraid we have to look at how the material world is made possible as well as definition of pain itself.

Spiritually, we are all parts and particles of Kṛṣṇa who are meant to be engaged in His service. If we refuse we need an illusion to cover this fundamental truth, and this illusion is temporary. We want something and the Lord arranges it for us, and material world comes into existence.

Because it’s not eternal it needs to be created and creation must end with destruction, which is controlled by the mode of ignorance, and this mode of ignorance also causes pain. How? Not important, what’s important is that it’s unavoidable.

If we can explain how and why tama guna causes pain we’ll have the final answer to the original question.

Tama means ignorance, means forgetfulness of our spiritual nature and misidentification with matter. Even if false ego itself is not the product of tama guna eventually it leads to ignorance and absolute, total conviction that we are our bodies, that we are made of matter, that we ARE matter and nothing else.

Pain, therefore, is the property of matter, not spirit. *We* do not suffer pain, matter does when it undergoes certain transformations, like when nerve endings are stimulated in a certain way. We feel those transformations as our own when, in fact, they aren’t.

Similarly, pleasure does not exist either – it’s just slightly different stimulation of the same nerves.

Pain and pleasure are, therefore, not absolute, but are our attitudes towards interactions between material elements. We have certain expectations about how these interactions should transpire and when they don’t happen the way we want we feel pain.

Take rape, for example – everybody wants to have sex but not the way rape goes, and some actually like being forced into sex, or S&M wouldn’t exist.

Now, I think, I’m getting close – we want material world to be eternal but because it does not reflect the actual reality (which is that we are Kṛṣṇa’s servants) it cannot last forever. When time comes for it to be destroyed tama guna increases and that leads to increase in pain.

One could say – wait a minute, shouldn’t it increase pleasure as well, both should go together, right? Right, it increases pleasure in the mode of ignorance, as Kṛṣṇa explains in Bhagavad Gīta. Similarly, there’s pain in the mode of goodness, too, but it doesn’t feel nearly as painful.

There’s pain the spiritual world as well – pain of separation from Kṛṣṇa, for example, as Lord Caitanya demonstrated in His viraha bhava, but He also showed that this spiritual pain is more desirable than spiritual pleasure.

Hmm, I didn’t see that one coming when I sat down to type this post – that pain and pleasure exist everywhere in every mode of existence but what makes what we understand as “suffering” is the pain in tama guna.

In all other modes it’s not nearly as painful. In the mode of passion, for example, it’s experienced as frustration of not achieving desired results, which is unpleasant but incomparable to the pulling out one’s nails. And whatever discomfort one might experience in the mode of goodness is not even called pain by our standards. It’s more like pain of putting up with fools.

So, in short – pain is present everywhere but experienced differently. The worse kind of experience happens under the influence of the mode of ignorance and mode of ignorance is, unfortunately, indispensable to making material world happen – since it’s not eternal everything here must eventually be destroyed.

Vanity thought #1075. No to neti

Yesterday I kind of suggested using neti neti method in our self realization. Obviously, I tried to present arguments for it while downplaying arguments against it. Today I want to straighten it out a bit.

First of all, pro-anti dichotomy is easy to understand but often it does not describe the situation adequately. Every method has its own uses and reaches its own goals. While we have a single goal, attaining devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, there are many intermediate goals and milestones on this path and they could be served by all kinds of methods.

Nothing is absolute in this world, everything looks good or bad or something in between depending on one’s angle and so it’s not the method that should be deemed acceptable or not but the results of practicing it. If they help us advance in our Kṛṣṇa consciousness then the method used to achieve them should be acceptable, if not, the method should be rejected, right? Wrong.

Same method that brings one set of results in one situation might bring a different set of results in another. So nothing is absolute again, it all depends on application and it all depends on our consciousness. Everything done for Kṛṣṇa is okay and we shouldn’t worry about anything else.

There’s one cardinal rule, though – always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget, but even that is open to interpretation. What does “remember” mean here? Is it a function of one’s mind? Or a function of one’s intelligence? Or some kind of awareness?

We know how things can occupy our minds and usually we work hard to purge them. We could have a similar obsession with Kṛṣṇa but then we must admit that we can’t maintain it at will and it will never be “always”.

Remembrance itself is a function of intelligence but in this case memories are like storage – we have them, we can access them, but we don’t have an “always on” connection, we pull them out on demand.

Awareness of Kṛṣṇa seems like the best answer but it’s such a vague term we can’t describe it with any precision. At its heart, such awareness is a function of the soul and this awareness is what we call Kṛṣṇa consciousness but if defined like that it turns into a catch 22 – to become Kṛṣṇa conscious we need to follow one rule, which is to be Kṛṣṇa conscious.

We just have try whichever way we can, maybe Kṛṣṇa will eventually supply me with intelligence to understand this subject properly.

Now, the problem with neti neti is that this method seeks to differentiate matter from spirit. It’s goal is to prove that material energy is separate from the Lord or from Brahman, as per advaita vāda philosophy. As devotees we seek exactly the opposite – we want to connect everything to the Lord, not separate things from Him.

This means that this method should be unacceptable to us but, as I said, if we use this method to achieve different goals then our assessment must change accordingly.

If you think about it, everything follows from philosophy. We follow Lord Caitanya’s acintya bheda abheda tattva, inconceivable oneness and difference, and so the method of neti neti brings inconceivably contradictory results.

As a principle, we know that material energy is inferior and that we should seek shelter of the superior, spiritual energy of the Lord. This means that differentiating matter from spirit is a useful exercise. That was the point I was citing as a pro argument yesterday.

When we don’t see the difference between matter and spirit, between devotion and self-enjoyment, we tend to take shelter of the wrong things, and so i this situation neti neti approach should help.

Actually, my yesterday’s argument was a little different. I suggested that we use neti neti logic to avoid the same trap atheists fall into when they try to find the proof of God.

Whatever is deemed as material is not spiritual and so should be rejected. If we find envy, pride, lust, desire for fame etc we should reject those material aspirations and we should avoid association with their sources. Those things are neti.

Another category of neti are things that appear as spiritual but actually hide ulterior motives. As soon as we detect hypocrisy we should reject it and avoid association with its source. Neti neti method should help here, too.

These applications are perfect for aspiring madhyama adhikārī vaiṣṇavas. They should differentiate between devotees and non-devotees and they should differentiate between devotees at various stages of advancement.

Ultimately, however, we know that everything is connected or can be connected with Kṛṣṇa and so there’s no such thing as neti at all. This is the vision of paramahaṃsas, the perfect, the only correct vision of the world.

Unfortunately, we can’t imitate it. We should be aware of everything being connected with the Lord and be ready to respect this connection but we shouldn’t judge everything as spiritual if we don’t actually see it that way.

Just like with devotees – we should always offer them respect, no matter what they do, but we shouldn’t accept some of their clearly non-devotional practices as spiritual. Not unless we see their connection with Kṛṣṇa all the time.

Interestingly, when we don’t see things or people as eternally connected with the Lord we can try reverse neti neti, which I don’t even know what to call. I mean we should try and engage our brains in identifying that inseparable connection.

How? By asking this same question – “How is it possible that what this person does is a manifestation of his eternal relationship with the Lord?”

Sometimes the answers are obvious, sometimes they escape us at the moment, sometimes they escape us for years and decades, and sometimes the answers might not even exist unless we actually attain paramahaṃsa vision ourselves.

Here is a clue – everything in this world, all kinds of sense enjoyment are provided by the Lord to the spirit souls as a sign of His deep love and care for all His spiritual particles. Whatever we want, He provides.

Kṛṣṇa fulfills everybody’s desires, whichever particular way we want to enjoy He has a suitable body and karma for it. Even people who want to molest children, rape and murder innocents have their desires fulfilled by the Lord.

Atheists would immediately object – why is God so cruel as to permit these clearly sick activities and make innocent victims suffer? I don’t think I have time to answer that today but there’s a perfectly good explanation for this.

What I wanted to stress today is the skillful navigation of seemingly immutable rules.

The corollary of this suggestion is that we shouldn’t be quick to judge anybody. With sufficient knowledge we should see Kṛṣṇa’s loving hand everywhere and if we don’t see it then it’s our fault, not of those seemingly bad people

Vanity thought #1074. Purging atheism from our hearts

We are not atheists, we are nominally devotees, why would we harbor atheism in our hearts? Well, it’s not done intentionally, of course, and it’s been sitting there since time immemorial, we just nor usually aware of its more subtle manifestations. Today I want to focus on one of those hidden atheistic attitudes.

Atheists want us to prove that God exists. This proof must be delivered on their own terms – God must be subjected to a series of tests and experiments and he (small “h” here) must return predictable and replicable results. If he consistently complies with scientific criteria for evidence then atheists would agree to accept his existence.

There are so many problems with this attitude that I don’t even know where to begin. God is not a object of anyone’s inquiry, He is not “seen”, He is the “seer”. We cannot subject God to our experiments or He wouldn’t be God by definition.

“Which definition?” – one might ask. The one where He has absolute power, for example. Absolute power means you can’t force Him to do anything. You can’t compel Him to do anything and so He is not obliged to respond to our tests.

Or we can take a definition where He is the source of laws of nature. This means He is not bound by them. We have quite a few fundamental laws, like conservation of mass and energy or laws of thermodynamics. These laws cannot be broken (except the law of biogenesis that states that life must come from life, ha ha). God is above and beyond these laws so even if we decide to test Him, He will behave totally unpredictably and irrationally.

When we shed a light on an object it usually reflects it, that’s how we see things, but God’s skin is not obliged to reflect light back. When we touch things they offer some resistance but God’s skin is not obliged to be felt in any way. Scientists fire particles at each other and watch them collide but they won’t collide with God. They will go straight through, or He can change their direction in physically impossible ways – it’s entirely up to Him.

The point is – God will never behave like an ordinary physical object. He cannot be detected, by definition. There’s a definition of God that states just that – He is beyond the reach of the senses and He cannot be “known”.

Of course the fact that God is not obliged to do anything doesn’t exclude the possibility that from time to time He might decide and respond to our material senses. Would it be enough for scientists? No, because it won’t be replicable. Unless experiments can be reliably reproduced they will not be counted towards supporting any theory (like a theory that God exists).

Atheists can’t quite wrap their heads about such basic things about nature of God but we are not immune to replicating their mistakes either. We want proof of Kṛṣṇa’s existence that is not very different from the proof expected by atheists. We call it “spiritual experience” and “realization” but we expect it to work in the same way.

We expect Kṛṣṇa to be visible to us, for example. We might concede that our eyes are not suitable for seeing Him but then we simply ask for eyes that would work. Principle is the same, just sensory organs are different – we want to see God, meaning He must respond to our actions. We look, and He appears before our eyes.

See how this attitude is essentially the same as that of the atheists?

We want to experience spiritual joy, we expect it to be infinitely better than anything else we experience in the material world, but we expect it to work under the same principle – we are the enjoyers and the spiritual energy, ie God, is meant to be enjoyed, just in a different way. See how this is essentially atheistic?

Bt let me return to atheists’ demands of proof of God. They want it to be empirical, and we say that God is transcendental, so empirical proof is not possible by definition. There’s a Vedic method of employing this basic principle in our search of God, the (in)famous neti neti.

It’s the method of jñāna yoga – trying to separate Brahman from matter. If it can be perceived, it’s not Brahman, therefore “not this, not that” (there are other translations as well). It’s very simple, really – whatever behaves like matter is not God. Whatever can be perceived empirically is not God.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was not very keen on this method, of course, due to its close association with impersonalism of Śaṅkarācārya and due to it’s being far from the path of devotion and our philosophy of acintya bheda abheda tattva where, in a certain sense, everything is Brahman and so there’s no place for neti.

And yet this method is recommended in Bṛhad Araṇyaka Upaniṣad, it’s legit. We don’t give much credit to jñāna yoga but it’s mentioned in Bhagavad Gīta as a possible way of realizing the Absolute Truth, even though it leads to incomplete understanding. Therefore I suggest we try to apply it in our spiritual lives and cleanse our hearts of atheistic expectations of God.

Everything we do in connection to Kṛṣṇa is spiritual but acintya bheda abheda can be applied to us, too. Some things are separate and so are detrimental to our devotional progress. Those things must be rejected and neti neti method can help.

We all serve Kṛṣṇa to the best of our abilities but our service is not pure, we can isolate those impurities by analyzing and rejecting them.

Marrying a girl so that we can sex with her is not a spiritual aspiration – neti. Eating a ton of prasāda to fill our belly is not a spiritual aspiration – neti. Going to the temple to enjoy the sound of beautiful kīrtana is not a spiritual aspiration – neti.

I once subscribed to a newsletter from one famous kīrtanīyā and now every couple of months I get invitations to enjoy my senses in the company of cool people. I’m not going to attend that, ever.

Criticizing devotees is an aparādha, it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa but it’s not a spiritual aspiration, so neti.

You see where this is going?

I can take it further – appreciating deity’s beautiful dress is appreciating a material form as it conforms to our material standards of beauty, so neti. Of course we don’t always transfer our material concepts of beauty to decorating our deities but we should always watch our hearts for what is it exactly that we like about Them.

Deities in Vṛndāvana are often very simple but they are loved absolutely selflessly by their worshipers. Kṛṣṇa does not need opulence, we offer it because we appreciate it ourselves, we think it’s “better”, so neti.

“Vṛndāvana charm” itself reflects material position of devotees there. Their hearts might be pure but when we look at their lives and their worship we see it as “Indian”, so it’s neti, too.

This neti neti path has no end, not for impersonalists, not for us – as long as we live here our hearts will always have something to purge.

One more thing – we might think that not separating non-spiritual aspects of our service is not a big deal, and, in a way, it isn’t, it’s still purifying, but this also means accepting non-spiritual aspects of our service, and it means that our determination to seek Kṛṣṇa is not resolute, that we are not complying with vyavasāyātmikā buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana bahu-śākhā hy anantāś ca buddhayo ‘vyavasāyinām verse (BG 2.41).

By accepting non-spiritual things our intelligence becomes “many-branched” and it affects our resolution, so the warning is there, we can’t go on like this forever.

Vanity thought #1073. A Tangled Snarl

We generally accept that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is easy, or at least simple. We have a pretty straightforward program and great books that explain everything in detail for those who want to know more.

The first thing we learn from books is how easy devotees have it – Kṛṣṇa always protects them, always helps them overcome their obstacles, loves them more than He loves Himself, they are all perfectly adjusted and never have any problems. It’s easy to be a devotee.

When we first decide to surrender we think that we will immediately join the club and that we will immediately start reaping the benefits, too. That doesn’t happen, we get just enough to get by and that’s for those who stay, plenty more simply give up or at least postpone their serious push towards Kṛṣṇa. It’s just too much for very little return. No matter what the books say, people’s first hand experience always wins.

Our enthusiasts of “I’m alright, Jack” variety always easily dismiss their concerns because they are simply not doing it right. More hard hearted say that those who “blooped” simply don’t have enough devotion, haven’t fully surrendered, and dismiss them out of hand.

With time we, as a society, have matured and do not say such things in people’s faces anymore but that’s not much of a progress – we simply learned to be polite in our smugness. We still have no answer why Kṛṣṇa consciousness doesn’t work for so many people. We can’t just say “it’s all their fault”.

Besides looking at other people’s problems – what makes us so confident in our own situation? Do we really think that we are Kṛṣṇa’s recognized devotees? We can say that following four regs, chanting, reading books, or even residing in holy places qualifies us for the title but does it, really? Does it really makes us qualitatively different from those who “blooped”?

I would be the first to say that our stalwart, exemplary devotees should get more recognition and be treated as the core of our movement but that is a political consideration – it would give wider spectrum to our hierarchy so that we can have more rungs for the bottom dwellers such as myself.

It still does not answer the question why we do not make any visible progress. Bhakti Rasāmita Sindhu is supposed to be devotees’ guide book but it clearly wasn’t written for us, we still stand only on the shore of that ocean of devotion. We aren’t really devotees by that book standards.

It doesn’t discourage us, of course, we can easily find justifications and explanations and rationalization for our own lack of progress, humans are great at finding excuses, but it still doesn’t solve the problem. The problem that shouldn’t even be there – there are no examples of devotees in our books who struggle with their lack of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

If we forget about self-adoration for a moment and sit and think how we can make actual progress we’ll discover that it’s not easy and it’s not simple. Let’s look at the typical chain.

We obtain love of Kṛṣṇa by the mercy of Lord Caitanya. He gives it freely to everyone, right? Well, obviously not to us, so there must be conditions attached. Us being born five hundred years later probably explains it but doesn’t give much of a hope.

If we can’t get Lord Caitanya’s mercy straight from the source, we can obtain it by the mercy of Lord Nityānanda, who is super merciful, more merciful than Lord Caitanya Himself. Problem with this solution is that we are still five hundred years late to claim it.

Our next step is Śrīla Prabhupāda – we can obtain the mercy of the entire paramparā and all the Lords at the top if we please him, right? Well, he had many thousands disciples, they did everything right, distributed books, preached, saved so many souls, yet for those who are familiar with their lives they look rather ordinary, not like devotees from Caitanya Caritāmrta or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Many of them seem to be bent on destroying ISKCON for unclear reasons so instead of using them as roles models we should avoid their association instead. Great help, right?

Most of us, however, are second and third generation devotees, we don’t get to serve Śrīla Prabhupāda directly so no mercy for us. It’s fashionable now to worship Śrīla Prabhupāda and even call him one’s own guru but that’s just fooling oneself. One must accept a living spiritual master and treat him as representative of God, as good as God Himself. We don’t get to pick departed ācāryas as our gurus. Guru picks a disciple and saves him, not the other way around.

So, all we need to do is to please our guru, right? Why is not working then? First answer is that our gurus suck, they are all neophytes and kaniṣṭhas, as we’ve been told. This is not correct, of course, but they aren’t obviously mahā-bhāgavata personalities from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam either. We can argue that we can’t see mahā-bhāgavata devotees but we should be able to see a self-effulgent ācārya, on that we all agree, and that ācārya hasn’t come and saved us yet.

We look at our gurus or gurus of our fellow devotees and we don’t see them as good as God Himself. We can try, we can learn to behave accordingly, but we just don’t see it. How do we solve that problem?

We can also say that they are not very difficult to please, maybe not all the time but we have plenty of examples of great service that surely must have been pleasing to guru and Kṛṣṇa but after a while things always get back to normal again. Mercy just doesn’t stick.

Pleasing one’s guru is also tied up to one’s material abilities. It could be offering great service, it could be offering great material support. It could be offering support to guru’s disciples, which should be a super easy way to please him, it still doesn’t work, and very few people have been born to do great things.

Should we admit that devotional service is not for everyone?

Do we have any other steps? Of course we do – we should just chant and rely on the mercy of the Holy Name which heals all wounds. If we managed to offend our guru or other devotees and do not have enough humility or guts to apologize and beg forgiveness or simply do not have the opportunity – we have to seek shelter of the Holy Name.

Ultimately, our guru is an external manifestation of the Supersoul, so he IS representing the Holy Name, whatever we can’t say to him, for one reason or another, we can tell to the Holy Name and result would be the same.

So, Holy Name is really the only thing we can rely on in our lives, nobody else. It’s the Holy Name that sends us our guru, it’s the Holy Name that arranges the opportunities to serve, it’s the Holy Name that grants us our progress. Easy, right?

We’ve gone full circle, btw – we have started with seeking the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, who is the Holy Name, and ended up with seeking the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, which we found to be particularly difficult to obtain. Did this full circle solve anything? Not really, but this circle has taught us the value of all other persons in our life, the value we didn’t appreciate in full when we “surrendered” at the beginning.

Looking back at it – we didn’t even know what “surrender” meant then. And if we are smart we should realize that this isn’t the end of the road either, that we’ll have more revelations in the future and then we will have more frustrations as well. So why bother?

I don’t know, it’s the material nature, it forces us to want and do things we don’t need and often regret. Perhaps the simplicity of Kṛṣṇa consciousness is in that we can just drop all those considerations and chant the Holy Name no matter what happens. This trick won’t make our lives any easier but maybe the secret is that it’s not supposed to, it’s only chanting that matters, nothing else. Not guru, not the number of initiations, not recognition, not knowledge, not sādhana – nothing. Yes, we have to do all those things as best as we can and when guru comes into our life he should be our only shelter but most of the time it’s between us and the Holy Name, no one else.

Don’t worry, Holy Name does not exclude anyone from our relationships – all the devotees, all the gurus, all the ācāryas – everyone is present there. The more we chant, the better we understand that Kṛṣṇa is non-different from His entourage and His devotees, the Holy Name and vaiṣṇavas are never separate.

Oh, what am I saying? It just complicates things unnecessarily. We should just chant instead of trying to untangle this snarl of our lives

Vanity thought #1072. Baby Jesus

This week on The Leftovers: bla bla bla and the story of stolen baby Jesus. There was nothing particularly interesting in the latest episode, more drama about people in the cult and their former families, some barefoot weirdos with a bull’s eye for tilaka, but the baby Jesus story somewhat justified the wasted time.

To remind – The Leftovers is a TV series about time after “rapture”, when roughly one in fifty people had simply disappeared. Everybody assumes they went to heaven and those who are left, well, they are the leftovers. This changes everything for them. Suddenly they are more aware of God but also feel snubbed.

Everybody reacts in his own way, some join a cult of “nothing matters”, some try to prove that raptured folks didn’t deserve it and so it can’t be the real rapture. There’s a side story about another cult, too. Everyone seems to have ground taken away from under their feet and they just can’t come to terms with being left without God’s mercy. How would you feel if you were left down here after all the chanting and praying?

I don’t know how I would have reacted. On one hand it would prove that Kṛṣṇa is “real”, on the other hand it would prove that He doesn’t really need me so I’m free from an obligation to serve Him. It’s quite hurtful to be ignored like this by the Lord. We are supposed to develop a personal relationship with Him, it’s hard as it is and being snubbed like this isn’t helping.

Maybe that’s why this show is a product of someone’s imagination and the Lord doesn’t put is into situations like that for real.

Moving on, the town was prepared to celebrate Christmas, they setup a nativity scene in a public place – sheep, Mary, Joseph, the whole family, and, of course, baby Jesus. Then someone stole him.

Town police chief, when hearing about this, said it doesn’t look like his business but then everybody he met started asking him about it, all the way up to the mayor. He was surprised people really cared. He offered to buy another one in a department store but that wasn’t acceptable either. People wanted “real” Jesus back, not a cheap substitution.

This is an interesting insight into human psyche, I hope it is real and people would react like that in real life, too. That street display was nothing special but people thought of it as sacred and that particular baby Jesus as unique and irreplaceable, like a deity.

If we translate this into our language, baby Jesus was properly installed by the town priest and so he cannot be substituted. Deity is a deity, it’s alive, it’s not just a lump of metal or marble, you can’t replace it just as you can’t replace real people around you.

The rest of this story was about people’s relationships with this “deity” of baby Jesus.

I should mention that the opening sequence to this episode showed how that baby Jesus doll was made in a factory. Not a particularly pretty sight – how they molded the plastic head, how they fitted the eyes, it was eerie, I half suspected they were making another Chucky, the doll character from horror movies that mercilessly kills everyone. Turned out it they were making baby Jesus.

I suppose even when Indians make our deities there are stages when unfinished statues look scary, not ready for public display. There’s ugliness in birth for everyone, I guess, part of life, everyone goes through it, even the Lord Himself.

Of course when Kṛṣṇa appears as an ordinary child there’s nothing scary about Him, or so we think, but maybe real devotion is loving Him with all our heart and soul no matter how unattractive He appears to a materialistic eye. Okay, Kṛṣṇa’s birth was special, but what about Lord Caitanya’s? He looked like an ordinary baby – covered in blood and slime and with the umbilical cord instead of a lotus flower stemming from His navel.

He obviously looked better than other newborn babies but that doesn’t say much in absolute terms. One more reason to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that unless we look at the Lord with “the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love” we won’t see anything. We should always remember that.

That was just one step in creating the “deity”, however. It came out of a factory just like any other doll, in a pretty box. It was standing on the ordinary shelf with hundreds of other dolls of all shapes and colors. It became Jesus only after the priest “installed” it.

When the police chief went to buy a replacement he picked one up from the shelf but it just didn’t feel right, he just couldn’t fake “installing” it, ie turning an ordinary doll into authentic Jesus. Believers or atheists – when it comes to real stuff everybody want to do right by God. It’s not a joke.

This takes us to the thieves themselves – a bunch of teenagers who wanted to mock an object of someone else’s worship. They went full retard in that, doing unmentionable things to baby Jesus and laughing about it. Finally, they decided to burn it but then the one given the task of lighting the fire couldn’t go through with it.

I hope it’s true of ordinary people, too – even hardcore demoniac atheists won’t dare to do the Lord actual harm. Whatever their did in their mockery, they knew there are limits.

Actually, the fact that they intentionally desecrated the “deity” of Jesus should tell us that they believe he is real, they just want to relate to him in their own demoniac way.

That’s how I myself see atheists. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, it’s that they want to relate to Him in a certain way, openly defying His laws or His powers, for example.

Next morning, after the designated girl couldn’t set baby Jesus on fire, teenagers dropped him on police chief’s front steps and ran away in shame when the chief saw them.

I hope this is true for the real people, too – that at the end of the day we all want to do right by the Lord, no matter what we have done, we all hope for forgiveness.

Yes, those kids were awful, and there are many people much more hostile and offensive than them, but I hope they all remember that no matter what, the Lord is our father, in Christian speak, and we can never change this fact no matter what we try. Eventually we all come back and seek His shelter.

The police chief picked baby Jesus and later that day went to put him back where he belongs. He eventually accepted that this doll in his hands was something special, real baby Jesus. Turns out that the priest had already installed the replacement. He simply said he had a spare and he put another doll in the crib, case closed.

Police chief put the original baby Jesus back in the front seat of his truck and drove home. Baby Jesus was looking at him with his blue eyes in the dark of the cabin and eventually the chief decided he had enough of this craziness. He stopped and threw baby Jesus no one needed anymore out of the window.

The end.

Was it, though? Was it the end of that man’s relationship with the Lord? Had he been frustrated beyond his limits? Has the Lord let him down?

I’m afraid the answer is yes to all these questions, but, on the other hand, the chief has learned that there’s more to the Lord than His external manifestations. He has also learned that the Lord appears only through authorized channels. If the priest says “This is Jesus” then it is, you can’t make Jesus on your own out of any ordinary doll. The priest can, we cannot.

We, as devotees, often make the same mistake, too. We think that because we know the Holy Name, possess books, and maybe even deities, we can relate to all these manifestations of the Lord directly ourselves. We can’t. Only our guru can authorize our worship. Without his mercy and his blessings there’s nothing spiritual in our lives no matter what service we do externally.

Two things to remember from this story – we can’t expect the Lord to conform to our standards of beauty – we need to develop real devotion to appreciate Lord’s appearance, and we should never try to serve the Lord without medium of our spiritual master, it won’t work

Vanity thought #1071. Poker face

Gambling has never been my thing. Among all the temptations in the world it’s probably the least likely to affect me. I’ve played cards as a kid, up to the age of twelve, but stayed clear off them since then. My university friends played a lot but I never joined and never listened to their post-game analysis.

My experience with lotteries is similar – when we were ten we wanted to form a band and thought that we could buy guitars with lottery winnings. There were probably ten kids in our group and each bought five or six tickets, we thought that a big win was guaranteed. It didn’t happen and we never brought this topic again.

Every now and then friends ask me for lucky numbers or even let me pick tickets for them and sometimes I oblige. Never won anything. Whatever I choose, it’s bound to lose. It’s just karma, a certain combination of planets which influences my eleventh house in the wrong way, iirc.

It’s a bit different with sports games but trying to guess the winner there isn’t as random as lottery or dice. Brokers there deal with probabilities rather than with outright guesses so predicting a winner doesn’t really count when brought up in casual conversation, some games are just too obvious.

I do have my share of cheering for various teams, however, in a way it’s a lot like gambling because you don’t know what will happen and the result will affect your emotional state, either rewarding or punishing you for your choices, but rooting for a team is obviously a question of your karma rather than random chance.

Some people are just meant to suffer, for years and decades, maybe for their whole lives. If they are meant to celebrate, however, they’ll find reasons even when their teams are losing. They adjust expectations, I guess.

As for me, I generally have a good idea about my impending emotional state and try not to let happenings on the field affect my consciousness. It doesn’t mean I can predict win or loss, it means I can predict severe emotional distress and shield myself from it. It doesn’t matter what happens, win or lose, I withdraw from the “competition” the moment I feel it affects me too much.

It’s just a defensive mechanism that my mind developed based on the previous experiences, so I don’t gamble, it’s not in my nature. Whenever I’m drawn into high risk situations I try to extricate myself from them without committing one way or another.

Watching other people gamble, however, can be very educational. Most do it for pleasure, with very small stakes. Wins make them feel happy and losses make them feel excited. They don’t see them as lost money, they see losses as price of the experience. There are more expensive ways to get an adrenaline rush than a weekly poker night.

BTW, when we say “no gambling” it probably doesn’t mean community games like this. Bingo too isn’t really gambling, it’s a form of socializing, and a short session at the slot machine or a blackjack table isn’t about gambling per se, it’s about “experience”.

I’m not saying that we, as devotees, can indulge in such activities or that we shouldn’t treat them as breaking regulative principles, I’m saying that there’s gambling and there’s gambling. The more serious one is an addiction, like alcoholism, and it can easily destroy one’s life. There’s no question of remaining a devotee if one is addicted to gambling.

Well, that’s not entirely correct either – everyone can be a devotee, just not an exemplary one. All one has to do is to remember Kṛṣṇa favorably and gamblers can offer probably the best prayers in the world. It doesn’t mean we can associate with them closely, only offer respects from afar, but it doesn’t make them into non-devotees.

So, when we see people gambling we can learn a lot about their psyche. They always display two or maybe three personality layers to study. The external one is an image of a man having a good time, or trying to have a good time. Second one is their inner self control – they want to show that they are above the addiction, that they are in control of their mental and emotional state. Addicts also show their “losing” side – you can see that they are totally at the mercy of their addiction even when they try to keep a straight face.

And then there are “winners”, professional gamblers who do not play games of chance but screw others out of their money. Those are the most fascinating type. They seem to be above the hoi polloi, totally in control of their emotions, and they are addicted not so much to gambling but to reading their opponents.

As they say – don’t play the game, play the player. They know odds very well and they have enough patience to disregard minor fluctuations, knowing that the right tactic would pay off in a long run.

They also have “poker faces” – meaning nothing really affects them, they are always well adjusted in any situation, they have absolute faith and confidence in their understanding of the world around them and they cannot be thrown off by anything.

That’s exactly what we need in our devotional service, too. Can we learn it from them? Why not? We just have to do it right, like the Avantī Brāhmaṇa from the Eleventh Canto who had all kinds of unconventional gurus, including prostitutes.

Can we achieve the same level of faith using their methods? That, I’m afraid, is not possible.

Their faith is based on control, remember. They *know* everything around their table, they understand everything, they have experienced everything and they have found and practiced perfect responses to each situation. They earned their confidence.

That’s not how we attain devotional service at all. We can learn everything there’s to know about it, we can offer best courses of action in any situation, we can have a lot of experiences dealing with all kinds of problems and still it wouldn’t make us into successful devotees. We will never *earn* devotion.

I would say that if we attain steadfast dedication and strong faith it won’t be because we know how everything works but because we don’t care. No matter what happens, we keep chanting. We win, we lose, we do something wrong, we do something right – it does not matter. All that matters is that we remember Kṛṣṇa and try our best not to forget Him.

No one wins in the game of life, not even devotees – everyone dies, often in pain and agony, and our goal is not to make our lives or deaths more comfortable than that of non-devotees but not to care about it at all.

We have to develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness and that means forgetting about our own lives altogether. They might look good to others, they might look bad. People might say we are wise and clever, people might say we are stupid old fools – it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we remember Kṛṣṇa.

Our poker faces should not be faces of people hiding their emotions, they should be faces of people unaware that things around them have any significance whatsoever