A week ago I wrote about a new TV show that deals with life on Earth after the rapture, after all the good Christians have been taken to heaven. I thought it was an interesting idea and was worth to explore.
This week there was the second episode and I had a look at it. It wasn’t quite what was I expected and the story now centers on two seemingly unrelated cults that grew up as a response to that rapture thing. One cult is just nuts and the other is lead by a guy who relieves suffering by hugging people, for some reason he also has a fetish for young Asian girls.
It’s the first “nuts” cult that is interesting, though. Apparently they believe that they have been abandoned for good. They don’t share in enthusiasm of the mainstream society that God has taken their friends and relatives to heaven, and they live their lives as if God doesn’t matter anymore.
They call themselves “Guilty Remnants” and I don’t know what it means but they spend all their time smoking because they view it as defiance of God’s given duty to maintain your body in good health, or something like that. They also don’t talk, the take vow of silence, they live in communities and they wear all white.
Their mauna-vrata is farcical, as usual. They don’t talk but they communicate through writing, and not only with outsiders but between themselves, too. I guess if you spend whole night chatting and arguing on the internet you’d qualify for their mauna-vrata, too. As long as you don’t swear aloud at your computer you are okay.
I don’t know the purpose of their silence, there appears to be nothing spiritual behind it, they are not out to discover some inner self, they are just angry at the world and silence represents their rejection of the society, I guess.
They usually carefully pick up their “victims” and start stalking them, silently standing outside people’s doors or windows, always reminding them of their presence and of the idea of the futility of ordinary life, I think. When it works the victims start questioning their situation and their life prospects, then they crack under pressure, run away form homes, and seek shelter with the cult.
This is where we can start relating their experiences to ours. We are not a cult but we go through a similar process of re-orienting ourselves in the world. We give up our old values and absorb new ones. We learn to live by new rules, we learn new habits, new prohibitions, we start wearing new clothes – we are not that different after all.
Anyway, first, the victims are placed in “pledge” houses where they undergo basic training. They are allowed to talk and wear ordinary clothes and they are given a series of tests and exercises. If they pass they are accepted as full converts, if not, well, I don’t really know, but they can run away.
Each “pledge” has a tutor, a spiritual guide and mentor, and these “gurus” monitor pledges’ progress and report it up the chain of command. If the progress is unsatisfactory the “guru” is informed and asked to tighten up the screws. Relationships are outwardly personal but there are impersonal rules to follow, too. Pledges don’t really know who judges them and what is being said about them. There are rules and you must obey but you don’t see who is behind these rules, it’s an institution, a machine.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like ISKCON? I guess all cults are alike, after all.
To get to my point today – there was a scene in the show where local policeman came to the pledge house to look for missing persons. He had photographs of people declared missing and he walked up to each pledge to check if they are on the list. Since many of the pledges ran away from home their relatives often don’t know what happened to them and where they are so this kind of police work is necessary.
So he finds this one woman and asks her name. She is a new pledge, still struggling with her commitment, and when she says her old name you can see a transformation in her heart. Saying her old name out loud made her remember who she was and made her feel separate from this new “pledge” identity.
With the old name came old memories, old desires, aspirations, dreams – all her life suddenly came back into her consciousness. She became another person right in front of our eyes. Externally she restrained herself, of course, but the change was clearly there.
This made me think about the importance of our names. Śrīla Prabhupāda often said that Kṛṣṇa plays different roles according to how He is called and gave examples of people who are known by one name at work and another name at home.
Everyone of us is called differently by different people. Family, co-workers, bosses, children, devotees – everyone addresses us in his particular way and we respond accordingly. There grows a tight correlation between how we are called and how we behave. It doesn’t mean that if our bosses start calling us “dada” our position at work would suddenly change but if our kids call us and say “dada” on the phone we’d surely forget where we are for a second or two.
That’s why it’s important for us to get a new, devotional name, or at least add “bhakta” in front of our usual one. This new identity should grow on us, too.
One day we might forget our service and disappear but the name and the associated identity would stay, waiting for us to fill that role once again. Then, maybe many years later, someone would address us as “So and so” Dāsa and suddenly our heart will melt, overwhelmed by memories, and our knees would give in. There’s no feeling like meeting Kṛṣṇa’s service and Kṛṣṇa’s devotees once again.
Sometimes I think it’s worth disappearing again and again just to experience the overwhelming bliss of reunion.
Well, we don’t have to disappear, most of the time we spend in a wretched state of mind so all we have to do is to remember the best moments of our previous service, would be as ecstatic as anything else.
Conversely, if we meet our old friends or partners and they address us by our old names, we might forget about Kṛṣṇa and start reminiscing about our past. It works both ways. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, we always have some unfulfilled desires and we always have idealized visions of our past so these trips down the memory lane are often sweet, too. We should be aware of this danger when we see the lists of the best bands from the 90s or best movies from the 80s or invitations to high school reunions.
There’s another aspect to this name recollection – how does Kṛṣṇa feel when He hears us calling?
It’s possible that sometimes we both remember our best moments but shouldn’t it also mean that our ordinary chanting doesn’t inspire Him at all? Is it possible that He thinks “Oh, it’s such a drag, do I have to listen to this for another two hours?”
What if we He hears our prayers and thinks “This idiot is asking for that thing again! How many times do I have to deal with this. It’s no good for him.” What if he thinks “Oh, God, this dude is on his trip again, pretending to care about me but in his heart thinking only about his own pleasure. He doesn’t even realize that he’d sell me for thirty pieces of silver if someone offers him a simple relief of suffering.”
Who knows how He reacts when He hears us chanting HIS name. Who knows what memories and identities He associates with that? Considering that we chant so much but nothing seems to be happening He might be actually avoiding us most of the time.
So the question becomes – how to say His name so that His heart melts, too? How to chant it so that it pleases Him? How to chant so that no matter where He is and what He is doing, He’d always find a spare time to listen to us talking?
Honestly, I don’t know. We have the facilities given to us by our gurus and ISKCON but no particular instructions how to achieve that, no magic clues. All we can do is chant and hope that we’ll figure it out with Kṛṣṇa’s help. Eventually He’ll arrange someone to impart us with proper love and understanding, we just have to have faith.