Vanity thought #1111 – another unique number

Numerologist in me gets all uncomfortable if unique post numbers such as this one do not get immediate attention. So there, my tribute to numerology – this number, 1111, is truly unique, it will never come up again, just as 1110 before it and 1112 that will come tomorrow.

This was another reference to silly obsession with “round” dates such as 11.11 AM on 11.11.11 (November 11 of 2011). Now, with that out of the way, back to demographics as a strangling force of Kali yuga, topic I started yesterday.

Western world is literally dying. People live longer, of course, but they don’t procreate and so at first western societies age, then they will die. It doesn’t mean that we are going to see North America and Europe becoming desert wastelands overnight, and probably never, but their societies as we know them will cease to exist.

They will keep the ball rolling for a while by consuming immigrants and leaching off their high birth rates but, as the world becomes increasingly global and there’s less and less interest in emigrating from growing Asia and Africa, immigration will only delay the inevitable.

I have no idea how immigrants, mostly from Muslim and African countries, will react to westernization. The US is a melting pot in this sense, people lose their foreign identities pretty fast, but in Europe immigrants form their own societies and refuse to integrate, which scares the natives a lot and leads to the rise of right wing nationalism across the continent.

Predictions aside, the main problem is the current model of civilization based on liberal democracy. People are given rights to do whatever they want and this leads to gross materialism, selfishness, and outright hedonism. Evolutionists might argue that cooperating for the benefit of the whole society will eventually prove its worth and so societies will naturally adjust themselves but I have serious doubts evolution works that way.

“Liberal” in liberal democracy means freedom to pursue one’s own goals, freedom from social obligations. People are not going to sacrifice their own comforts for the sake of anyone else, they just don’t live long enough to see the returns, and, as they have fewer and fewer children they have less and less connection or interest in society’s future.

Even if this social evolution through natural selection is a real thing it doesn’t mean that liberal democracy must survive. Morel likely it’s one of the species destined for extinction. If one were to pick an evolutionary winner he should go with something else.

Yesterday I said that there’s one country that realized this danger on the most fundamental level and decided to tackle the problem at its root. It’s Russia.

Will they succeed? Maybe, maybe not, but they have a clear shot because liberal democracy has never been a part of their culture, we shouldn’t be calling it a “western country” in this sense. They have been trying it for a quarter of the century and overall they are not impressed, which makes it easier for them to pursue other development models.

Their demographic situation was really really dire. In Soviet Union days it was the third most populous country in the world, ahead of the US, now it barely makes top ten. Of course they lost all these people to politics, they didn’t all just die, but it cut Russian playground in half, making it a lot more difficult to survive on their own with whatever new policies they come up.

In the nineties the remaining population started dying for reals, mostly from drinking and mostly males. Mortality rate was twice as high as in the US and overall Russian population was shrinking like crazy. The UN predicted that by the mid-century it would go down by a third. They were doomed.

Then things changed. Putin decided to make demographics a priority and he spoke to the nation about it. Since then the population decline stopped and it actually started growing, in a space of only five years. Magic, right?

There are other countries who try to deal with their aging societies and low birth rates but without any success. Japan has a list of comprehensive policies designed to make child bearing a convenient life choice, they call it creating a work-life balance, but it isn’t working. Singaporean government is practically ordering people to be romantic, just short of showing panda porn, and it all has been in vain.

Russians, otoh, simply discarded the whole cultural model that comes with “progress”, they rejected western cultural values altogether, something Japan and Singapore haven’t dared to even contemplate.

While the rest of the world is celebrating legalization of gay marriage, for example, Russians look at it as complete nuts. Not just because they are culturally homophobic but because purposefully excluding up to a fifth of the population from procreational duties is nothing short of a demographic suicide.

While the rest of the world continues with feminism and emancipation, teaching their children to use gender neutral pronouns to refer to people and rewriting fairy tales to exclude gender stereotypes, Russians make child bearing and motherhood a role model for all women to follow.

Of course it’s a tough sell but so far it worked. With population only slightly bigger than Japan, Russian women give birth to twice as many children already. Maybe it’s not sustainable but so far it’s better than any other alternatives. What’s interesting is that Russia doesn’t have any big demographic policies. They figured that policy making as it’s practiced in democracies is not a suitable tool, one needs to change nation’s mindset, it’s much more than tweaking taxes and extending maternity benefits.

Policy making assumes that people would make rational choices based on their perceived benefits but Russians thought, rightfully, imo, that demographic problem should be tackled on emotional, not rational level. It’s faster and it’s more powerful, and even if emotional commitments look irrational they still keep people in place.

I don’t know the details and I might be totally wrong but to me it looks as if it should all be credited to Putin. He is the kind of leader who can reach people’s hearts and make them follow. He doesn’t need to argue his point with numbers and profits, he appeals to much deeper motives, like national identity, a sense of shared responsibility and common commitment. The west hasn’t seen such leaders since Kennedy, Obama was presented as one initially but he doesn’t inspire anyone anymore.

Putin, otoh, has got everything going for him – quick success, united population, common goals, and common enemies. Russians might be under the siege now and western media makes it sound like Russian collapse is imminent but this situation is actually good for their fight, good for their re-orientation from liberal democracy to their own model. They can’t have both as the same time and current western criticism makes them see their objectives more clearly – whatever west promotes is bad and whatever they criticize is good.

Okay, but what has any of it got to do with Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Good question but not the one I can answer in full today. In short, their revival and their new model is based on religion, which should immediately draw our attention. What kind of model? What kind of religion? Can it possibly work? How does it fit with varṇāśrama? How does it fit with saṇkīrtana? Do we, as ISKCON, have a place in it? Do we have any proposals? What should they be?

Russia is one of the unfriendliest countries for devotees and ISKCON wouldn’t even be there if not for the push from the west, as a legal organization it owes liberal democratic values everything. Can we support current Russian push or should we distance ourselves from it if not firmly oppose it? There is a lot to discuss here and nothing seems obvious. What is obvious, however, is that it should be done on another occasion.

Vanity thought #1110. Python’s grip

I’ve been thinking about different ways the world is going to screw itself and among several big ones I thought it would be nice to discuss demographics.

If you are happened to be from a “white” country then you are truly screwed. Same fate awaits Asians. Africans will be screwed in a slightly different way, if that makes any real difference.

Whites are most likely a minority in California already, this “milestone” was expected to be passed earlier this year. In the rest of the US they will be a minority in some twenty five years, in the UK it would take a little longer.

It isn’t so much a race issue, though, it’s an issue of extinction and it affects not only whites but the entire western civilization. Asians who buy into western values experience the same results – they don’t procreate. Hispanics, who have the highest fertility rates in the US, also show biggest drops as soon as they earn a bit of money and integrate into the society.

In the modern world, any kind of success for any particular group means dropping birth rates below the level necessary for survival. It’s like a law of nature – as soon as a country joins the global village it starts dying.

Interestingly, for any single individual dying starts with birth, we know that from our books. We can procreate, of course, but our children are separate spirit souls, they are not us. When we talk about societies, however, they have the potential of living forever because they can always rejuvenate and replenish themselves, there’s no biological reason for them to die.

Basically, a group of people becomes a carrier of a common identity and when we talk about countries or societies dying we mean death of that identity, not necessarily people themselves. Communist Russia is dead, for example, but Russians live on. One identity was dropped and replaced by another. Millions of people lived through the change and survived just fine. Well, that’s just peculiarities of dealing with groups of people rather than individuals.

In case of western civilization, unlike communism, the idea and the identity itself might linger for a while but its carriers will be all dead first. Practically, however, it wouldn’t be the civilization as we know it, it would probably transform into something hardly recognizable.

There are many ways to describe and define western model but the one that is relevant here is assumption of perpetual growth. It started with industrial revolution and never stopped and constant growth is practically all we know. When we talk about countries wellbeing we immediately talk about GDP growth.

How’s Europe doing these days? German GDP contracted in the second quarter – talking about “negative growth”. US economy, otoh, grew by half percent or something, so things are looking good. How’s Japan? They kickstarted their growth under the new Prime Minister, so far his measures worked but the jury is still out on whether it would sustain itself, like a hearth that was shocked into action by a defibrillator. Will it grow or will it not? That is the question.

What about this entire century? Where will growth come from? Will it really be an Asian century or is China is just a giant bubble that it is about to burst and kill the whole idea? How about BRICs? Will they grow? Or have they stopped growing?

You see – we can’t talk about anything without tying the discussion to growth first.

Well – western countries have stopped growing a while ago, they are just floundering about, manipulating numbers to please themselves. Typically, 4% a year is considered a normal rate of growth but neither the US nor Europe are not going to see it ever again, and that is with all the immigrants who come in and raise themselves up dramatically in a space of just a few years. Even their growth cannot lift the western average.

So, at some point people, analysts, and policy makers will adjust their expectations of what “normal” is and it’s very likely it would look like a battle for survival rather than growth. For the outsiders, the immigrants, it might still look attractive but for the natives it would turn brutal and hopeless.

We have an entire generation that is coming “online” and they have already have no hopes of making it in the world. They just don’t see a place for themselves in it anymore, nor a space to express themselves. As population ages, competition for jobs increases and, no matter what capitalists say, competition leads to stress and severe hit to one’s quality of life.

One could think that winners are immune but that is not true in this case. Life long careers are a thing of the past, you have to compete for jobs every cople of years, for some people even every few months. You can’t win them all, sooner or later you will lose and the fact is, western model does not have a place for losers. Mortgage, car payments, college loans or paying for your kids – those things do not wait, you need to be a winner simply to keep up.

By the mid century the number of old, retired people who, outside the US, rely on state support, will triple. Who will pay for their upkeep? That would be an extra strain, extra taxation on those who do manage to find jobs. Neither taxes nor old folks generate growth.

Once again, the world as we know it, the one that has been growing at astonishing rates for several hundred years, will cease to exist. In the evolutionary survival of the fittest it won’t be fit to live.

Will it be replaced by something better? Hmm, possibly, but the truth is that there’s nothing better than “liberal democracy” yet and its proponents are not going down without a fight. Western world will try to sustain itself by all means necessary, like printing tons and tons of money out of thin air and creating untold trillions of debt.

Debt, btw, it’s essentially a hope that in the future things will turn out okay. When the world realizes that it’s never going to be okay anymore all that debt will suddenly become worthless. That is a whole other topic, not for today.

The future of western demographics is not only bleak, it’s irreversible. There’s nothing anyone can do about it and even if you decide to do something, demographics are probably the slowest moving and hardest to manipulate part of the society.

These days we live by quarterly reports and think we have a big picture when we compile statistics for the whole year. By comparison, a generation needs twenty years to mature. We do not have tools to see that far into the future let alone manage it. Our current society model does not yield to long term planning.

So, we are in a python’s grip. It doesn’t kill us right away, it just waits until we exhaust ourselves, ever so slightly tightening its coils. We might even get comfortable for a while – “I still can text, life goes on!” but there’s no escape, gradually, bit by bit, the python would squeeze life force out of our bodies.

In twenty years it’s going to be pretty tough already, and everyone who reads this blog can expect to live for twenty years. If we are not Kṛṣṇa conscious by then, who will save us? There’s no hope even if at the moment life doesn’t look SO bad yet.

One could say that Japanese are already experiencing this kind of future and it looks okay but don’t forget that their current crop of retirees are the ones who lived through unprecedented growth and held steady jobs for their entire lives. Their current workforce cannot expect a similar future, it won’t happen to them, they just don’t generate enough karma.

There’s a solution, however, and I don’t mean Kṛṣṇa consciousness (it would work for us individually but we can’t expect the whole society to take it up yet). There’s one country that decided to tackle the issue at its roots but I don’t have time or space to discuss it today. Originally, I planned to but now it’s too late. I’ll continue tomorrow, I promise.

In case it’s not obvious, my larger point today is that we need to develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness before the world around us collapse and all the comfort and safety we take for granted will go out of the window.

Tough times are coming and the only way we can prepare is by chanting.

Vanity thought #1109. What if I told you..?

A couple of months ago Louis CK had an episode on his show dedicated to God. A large part of his monologue was straight about God and the rest was even more about God than his direct words.

In his speech he didn’t say anything profoundly meaningful, just general banter about God and heaven and people’s expectations. I don’t know why people keep talking about this, the concept is so hopelessly outdated that Christians should issue a new vision of the future, the current legacy version with Saint Peter sitting at the gates checking credentials can’t be taken seriously anymore. There are so many jokes about it no one knows how to perceive it as a real thing.

Louie has made a few pertinent observations, though, like when he asked the audience who there hopes to go to heaven and picked on a young man:

    – You’re 28 and already you’re a lock for heaven. You’ve done enough good in your ten adult years
    that you couldn’t possibly make a mistake..

Aren’t we the same? Don’t we take reaching Kṛṣṇa for granted in our first years, no, days in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? It takes a while to realize that we actually never been in Kṛṣṇa consciousness yet, that real devotional service is still ahead of us, so far we have no idea when it’s going to start. Probably not in this lifetime.

I mean pure devotional service that starts only after liberation. Until then it’s just serving our false ego albeit by enlisting Kṛṣṇa’s help. If we look at ourselves honestly, it’s not even us trying to help Kṛṣṇa, we want Him to help us in whatever it is we decide to do.

And as time goes by we inevitably make embarrassing mistakes, too, which we forgive ourselves by citing api cet su durācāro verse (BG 9.30).

The possibility of Kṛṣṇa forgiving us shouldn’t even arise – our errors are not made in relationships with Him, it’s just us serving our material bodies. He doesn’t care enough about that to be offended. We do not have personal relationships with Him yet so there’s no possibility of offense and so no questions of forgiveness.

Of course we have relationships with the Holy Name and the Deities and our spiritual master and we can offend them easily but there’s a question of how big percentage of these relationships is actually with Kṛṣṇa rather than some other aspect of Absolute Truth. I’d say it’s zero, our realization is not advanced enough to be connected to Him directly. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Next Louie questions the existence of Heaven itself. He says that we expect too much of God – He created this whole amazing universe for us and then we want yet another, even more awesome place for the whole eternity? Is there an end to our greed?

Then Louie addressed people who claim that there’s no God – how can they be so sure? How can they argue with others’ beliefs? “I believe in God – No, you don’t – Yes, I do” What is the meaning of this argument? It’s senseless. Even when atheists claim that they don’t believe in God – how do they know? Their eyes can see only for a hundred yards while God might be standing right behind them all the time.

That argument is straight from our books – our senses are too limited to declare anything with any certainty, and God IS the closest person to us, standing right within our hearts, and we can’t see Him.

Louie also said he envied people who have faith. They wake up every morning and feel God in their lives while he feels nothing and it makes his life empty. Good point, too.

And then he went off a tangent – if God is our father and we are His children? Where is our mother? What has He done to her? There’s no good answer to that, forget Louie’s attempts at being funny about it. We ourselves would have to think twice before answering that question.

Kṛṣṇa is the seed giving father and we are His children but who is our mother? Material nature? That’s not a satisfying answer – we do not seek maternal relationships with material world, those who worship Durgā do. Are we, as devotees, supposed to be motherless?

Funny how “maternal” and “material” are so close as if talking about the same thing.

I think this whole “Kṛṣṇa is our father” analogy is made for the western audience, it doesn’t exist in our literature, afaik, Kṛṣṇa’s actual children in Dvārakā notwithstanding. We relate to Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu as our master and we see ourselves as His servants. Our actual father and mother are different devotees who have their own relationships with Him.

Anyway, what I found remarkable about that episode is not what Louie said about God but what he said about women.

When I was doing reviews of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson I came to think of him as a worshiper of the Absolute Truth in the form of the universe. For him there’s no higher reality, no higher object, no higher substance, and no higher truth than the universe. Universe is his equivalent of God.

For Louie, God is women. He doesn’t know any higher aspect of the Absolute than women, the opposite sex. It might be not as exalted as seeing universe as God but it’s legitimate in its own right – Kṛṣṇa is the pure sex life. “According to regulative principles”, we always add, but I don’t think we actually add anything by saying this, only rob the concept of its beauty by diverting the discussion into arguments about rules.

Pure sex is Kṛṣṇa – it’s all attractive, after all, the most potent attractive force in the whole world. It’s definitely Kṛṣṇa, as far as we know. Its attraction is stronger than our interest in a blue boy we see in the pictures, we can’t give it up no matter what we try. That’s a different topic, though, let’s leave it for now.

Anyway, for Louie, pure, selfless, spontaneous attraction to women is the highest truth in this world. When he falls in love his entire life, entire being changes. He suddenly has purpose and energy and hopes. Love brings every best quality there is in his entire being – how can we say it’s not Kṛṣṇa?

In this episode he just got off a relationship and was heartbroken. Nothing went wrong, it’s just that his woman had to leave the country. Louie went to talk to a very strange shrink who happens to live in this building and they had the most interesting conversation ever.

    – So you took a chance on being happy, even though you knew that later on you would be sad.

    – Yeah.

    – And now… you’re sad.

    – Yeah.

    – So..? What, what, what’s the problem?

    – I’m too sad. Look, I liked the feeling of being in love with her, I liked it. But now she’s gone and I miss her and it sucks. And I didn’t think it was gonna be this bad, and I feel like, why even be happy, if it’s just gonna lead to this? It wasn’t worth it.

    – You know, I’m not entirely sure what your name is, but you are a classic idiot. You think spending time with her, kissing her, having fun with her, you think that’s what it was all about That was love?

    – Yeah.

    This is love, missing her. Because she’s gone, wanting to die, you’re… so lucky.

    – Don’t you see, this is the good part. This is what you’ve been digging for all this time. Now you finally have it in your hand, this sweet nugget of love, sweet, sad love and you wanna throw it away. You’ve got it all wrong.

    – I thought this was the bad part.

    – No! The bad part is when you forget her. When you don’t care about her. When you don’t
    care about anything. The bad part is coming so enjoy the heartbreak while you can, for God sakes.

I mean there’s so much in there that we can relate to. If we replace “her” with “Kṛṣṇa” it would appear as coming straight from our books, and not the introductory stuff but discussions on the highest rasa.

I’ve done this once already, two years ago – substituted women in Louie’s monologue with Kṛṣṇa and it came out embarrassingly private (here).

I’m not in the mood today to translate this dialogue into devotees’ feelings for Kṛṣṇa, you do it on your own, my words are not grave enough to discuss this subject.

What I want to say instead is that this highest rasa of love in separation can exist even with a lesser aspect of the Absolute than Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Now, think of our own lives – are we always as emotionally charged about our service as Louie was about that woman? No way, maybe it happens every now and then but it’s certainly not our normal state of mind.

The other possibility that opens here is even more mind-blowing – what if I told you that our understanding of the Absolute is similarly incomplete and so where Louie has relationships with women, devotees have relationships with Kṛṣna, Neil deGrasse Tyson has relationships with the universe, we have relationships with something else?

What is *our* highest realization of the Supreme? Obviously it’s not Kṛṣṇa Himself – that’s an ideal level, our goal, but not our current stage. Is it our guru? For some – probably, for many not.

I’m afraid I’m not ready to discuss the answers today, my mind needs settling into this idea and thinking it through. The complications and possibilities are are innumerable, and then it needs to be “realized” in one way or another. Certainly a job for another day.

Vanity thought #1108. Su-medhasah part 5

It’s soon going to be over, I promise, though something tells me this is not the last time I’m visiting this topic – why chanting is the best, most logical answer to everything. Everyday I start these posts on a optimistic note but fail to cover all the planned angles, and so now we have part 5, and I’m still not satisfied with my “macro” argument yet, which is where I started from.

First, I argued that chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa is the best plan for our retirement because current world order is not going to last much longer and we won’t have happy old days ahead of us no matter what we do, we have to get out of our material entanglement before that. It takes time and so we better start now.

Theoretically, one can surrender to Kṛṣṇa and obtain His mercy in one eleventh of a second, if one meets a pure devotee, but practically we need decades of strict sādhana to make any substantial progress.

It won’t solve the problems with the world but it would at least prepare us to navigate through dark times with spiritual maturity. That’s the whole point, really – we can’t fix the world, we can’t improve our karma, the only thing we can do is to become fully absorbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and forget material world exists. It’s not an easy achievement, actually it’s a very tall order, and that’s why we need to invest into our future now.

Zooming in onto our every day problems, the best answer to them is also to chant, as I tried to prove yesterday. Kṛṣṇa should be our sole master and our only shelter, whatever it is that is bothering us:

    akāmaḥ sarva-kāmo vā
    mokṣa-kāma udāra-dhīḥ
    tīvreṇa bhakti-yogena
    yajeta puruṣaḿ param

Even if we are full of material desires we should worship our Lord with great determination, and that would be the sign of intelligence – udāra-dhīh (SB 2.3.10).

Now it’s time to talk about micro-management of our mind and why chanting would be the best way to deal with it, too. At first I wanted to type “micro-managing our affairs” but that would imply dealing with some important stuff. That would fall under the previous category – whatever we want, we should pray to Kṛṣṇa. Today I want to talk about pesky little problems that we don’t even remember an hour later, things that just pop up into our minds and compel us to act on them or at least steal our attention.

Generally, if it itches, it scratches. We don’t have to think twice about it, unless we have doctor’s orders we just scratch an itch and that’s it, it goes away. With chanting, however, we can’t afford that. We shouldn’t allow our attention to be diverted to anything else even if for a short time.

Dealing with this kind of distractions is, perhaps, the hardest thing to do because it goes completely against our nature, it requires a really strong intelligence, lots of experience, realized knowledge, and a firm faith that chanting is still the best response here.

I don’t have any of that and therefore I fail every time but at least I know what I need to achieve and what my weaknesses are. From here it’s only a matter of practice, I hope, gradually I’ll develop necessary patience and maturity.

This is all it comes down to – patience, just as in śikṣāṣṭaka, we need an enormous amount of patience to succeed in chanting. The way I see it, it should manifest in two ways – patience required to complete our rounds and patience required to chant attentively.

Doing sixteen rounds seems easy but if we want to succeed we need to learn to chant more. Maybe not now when we have so many other senses to engage in service but when we get old and useless chanting should become the primary activity in our lives. I guess we’d have to increase the number of our rounds to chant sixteen-eighteen hours every day, that would require real patience.

Second kind of patience is something we have to work on now and the lack of this patience is our main obstruction to spiritual progress. Inattentiveness in chanting, pramāda, leads to committing all kinds of offenses, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura even made a separate item on ten offenses list, the one that is not there but which is the root cause of all others.

The cause of all causes, however, is our weak intelligence. Somehow we do not understand that answering to mind distractions is ruinous to both our material and spiritual lives. It’s easy to accept the spiritual danger but material consequences could be no less harrowing – Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is a powerful stuff, it grants all desires, and if we think of something else while chanting we’ll get something we never thought of having instead of what we’ve been praying for.

What we really need to understand here is that everything can wait. Everything. Obviously, if it’s a fire we’d better respond but otherwise the world can and should be ignored.

My favorite go to excuse while doing my japa is checking how things are doing on the computer – is the wallpaper still on? Any new mail? What about tweet feed… and I’m gone. I also tend to check the floor for dirt and sweep if necessary, then I have to go and wash my left hand before I move beads on my round counter. It’s like a ritual, takes me a minute every time I find something. Then I go for a drink of water, end up having to wash the glass, my mouth, and my left hand, too. Postman is another distraction, I just need to see the mail the moment he brings it. You get the idea.

Truth is – all those things can and should wait, as well as all the grand ideas that come into my mind and I feel the need to think them over so that they get properly stored in my memory. I’ve forgotten many good ideas by not contemplating them properly and that has become my excuse even when I chant. It doesn’t take too much time, I tell myself, I just need to make sure I don’t forget this when I finish.

It’s a good argument, I really do forget things if I don’t think about them, but it also should wait until I finish my rounds.

Lately, I’ve been trying a new strategy – chanting is the key to the rest of my day. If I do it right, Kṛṣṇa will bring me those ideas later on again. I think it makes a lot of sense – everything will be arranged on its own if I do my chanting properly, nothing really needs fixing until I’m finished.

It’s not always obvious and so I often don’t believe myself but with a bit of practice I learn to let things go and trust Kṛṣṇa instead. It’s like Prabhupāda’s argument about watering the roots of the tree. Temporary distractions is like spotting some dry leaves and rushing to pour water on them first but we should really keep watering the root – Kṛṣṇa, leaves then will take care of themselves. It really does work but I need to gain more experience with this.

Praying to Kṛṣṇa to keep me busy after I finish my rounds also helps. It’s like dividing my day into two parts – when I chant and when I don’t. When I don’t chant I’m in danger of forgetting Kṛṣṇa so I pray that He doesn’t forget me and keeps me engaged one way or another. Then I take whatever is given to Him as my allotted share – whatever becomes forgotten was probably not important in the first place.

It’s a work in progress but I feel I’m on the right path here. I think I can actually observe my chanting becoming more attentive and my mind resigning to not accepting any calls while I’m doing my japa. Lucky for us, minds can be trained this way.

Maybe there are better arguments but it’s all I have for now. I think it’s actually enough because this method opens the opportunity to observe Lord’s mercy in action – when we let go off things, let go off control, and just trust Kṛṣṇa to guide us through the day. Lots of things get to be interpreted as His loving care this way. Maybe there are, maybe they aren’t, but it sure feels good.

Vanity thought #1107. Su-medhasah part 4

In the previous posts in this series I tried to argue that chanting of the Holy Name is the only intelligent solution to our long term perspectives, years and decades ahead, as well as short term problems and obsessions.

That last part wasn’t very clear, I’m afraid, so I’ll look at it again and then zoom in onto even smaller time scale.

Yesterday I talked about avoiding temptations with women. Unlike planning for our future the time scale here is mere days. You meet someone, feel the attraction, do something about it, and it’s all over in less than a week. It will be all over regardless of what you decide to do. If you bite the bait and seek further association your mind will be hopelessly hooked, and if you ignore the bait and manage your mind properly you’ll forget about it in less than a week, too.

Just don’t allow yourself to be smitten, “unsmiting” is a tough job and would probably require a total crash of your hopes and expectations, which might take years and longer if you get seriously involved.

It shouldn’t be confused with having flings that are over in a month or so, on the surface it would appear that you have developed a thicker skin and control your heart better but actually you don’t. You’ll just become insensitive like people who watch porn. There’s a principal difference between controlling your mind and senses and your senses not making a commitment to one particular object but rather seeking gratification from all available sources.

It’s a whole different topic, not what I wanted to discuss today.

So, if you find yourself agitated by something, be it a woman or a new gadget that you absolutely must have, like the upcoming iPhone 6, or maybe a new car or a new house, it is not immediately clear why chanting would be the best response. There are two ways to react here – fanning the fire of your new attachment or trying to forget it. Chanting helps both ways.

If you want something and chant at the same time it’s very likely that Kṛṣṇa will help you to fulfill your desire. Personally, it’s not something He’d like you to achieve but rules are rules – chanting needs to be rewarded and so you must enjoy the fruits of your labor. Of course it’s not like you want a million dollars, chant a few rounds, and voila, you are rich beyond expectations.

It will start slowly, the seed of material desire needs to grow, it needs to be watered, more thinking should go into it, then planning, then actions, some serious work needs to be done, sacrifices need to be made, the whole thing will take a very long time, depending on your ambitions. You might need huge detours on your way – if you want a house your probably should start with getting a girl as a catalyst to your desire, desires can’t grow without strī-force being involved, and strī is best represented by women.

With smaller things time frames will be smaller, too. Saving for a new phone might take only a month or two, depending on your resources. Either way, chanting helps. If you really want things, chant about them. It’s not true that Kṛṣṇa always wants to see His devotees poor and renounced. He’d do whatever you want Him to do for you, except in cases where you specifically ask Him to save you from your material desires.

You just have to be honest with yourself. If, in your heart of hearts, you want nothing of this world, He’d take this commitment seriously and He will strip you of all your possessions no matter what might pop up into your mind on the way. Don’t cry for those things then, let them go with a sigh of relief and hope for spiritual returns instead.

If, however, you know that your heart is week and you still haven’t gotten over the taste for sense enjoyment, be honest about it and let Kṛṣṇa manage it for you. There’s no shame in building a relationship with Him where you ask for things and He delivers. Everybody has to go through this phase on their path to pure devotion. It builds one’s faith and naturally leads to a proper anartha-nivṛtti. We should not act against our nature and pretend to be holier than we really are. Also, it builds humility in the face of proper devotees who we might otherwise not appreciate very much.

So, when you feel desires in your heart – chant. Chant like crazy. Either you get them fulfilled and out of your system or they will go away. There’s no loss either way, only gains.

What would be really dangerous is seeking sense gratification outside of Kṛṣṇa, putting our trust into our job, family, or society, hoping that they will provide us better than the Lord. Māyā will probably confirm our choice and make us comfortable for a while but it will be a spiritual suicide. We’ll be doomed to life without Kṛṣṇa for god knows how long, until He reminds us about Himself again.

Don’t do that. If you want something, do not seek it outside of Kṛṣṇa. Chant, chant, and chant. Do not try to leverage your achievements in devotional service with māyā, she’ll give you some substantial advance on your future service to your senses but with it comes permanent captivity, too. It’s not worth it.

I admit, it seems like a nice offer but that’s why chanting requires intelligence – su-medhasah, exceptional intelligence. Not so smart people will take the deal that looks better on the surface but we should be smarter than that and look at the bigger picture instead.

I had a vegetarian friend who eventually turned to eating meat. He said he immediately felt an increase in energy and stamina, he won’t go back to veggies because he remembers how dull they made him feel. What could I say? He was vegetarian for many years, he knows all about it, including proper diet and everything.

With meat eating came tradeoffs, however. Increased energy levels have led to permanent insomnia, for example. I’m not a doctor to make a direct connection here but, several months into meat eating, he just couldn’t sleep anymore. To me the chain looks simple – he started eating meat, had more energy, with more energy he started a new business and took bigger risks, with bigger risks came bigger stress. With stress came insomnia. His face also lost its luster.

So, from this example I saw that initial māyā’s offer might be very sweet and hard to refuse but this advance payment we get from her is just that – an advance, it needs to be paid in full later on, and no one will help us anymore.

Same thing happens to people who decide to marry outside of ISKCON or take jobs outside of ISKCON or build relationships outside ISKCON – anything outside of Kṛṣṇa, really. Sometimes it’s a necessary lesson but once you’ve learned it, don’t do it again. Be a little more intelligent and do not seek sense gratification from anyone else but the Lord.

To sum it up – whatever desires come, chant, chant, and chant. They either get fulfilled or extinguished but in any case it will be done by Kṛṣṇa Himself and the whole experience will become part of your relationship with Him, which will come very handy when we seriously decide to become pure devotees.

Vanity thought #1106. Su-medhasah part 3

So let’s say I proved that our medium to long term planning in the current conditions require us to surrender to Kṛṣṇa before the world catches us in its downward spiral. Let’s say it has become fairly clear that for our own safety we need to invest in Kṛṣṇa consciousness now, to get ourselves ready before it’s too late to pick up the beads.

That would be great but it’s only solving a part of our problem. We can compare it to choosing a university for our pre-school children and starting a fund to pay for it when the time comes in the next fifteen years, or to starting a saving plan for our retirement. It’s great, it’s a responsible thing to do, it puts us into the right mood vis-à-vis our spending urges, but it still can’t hold against daily distractions.

Splashing on less than necessary items like new phones or computers won’t kill our long term plans but it will make us regret our decisions every time the credit card bill comes. Translating back into chanting – daily temptations of the mind won’t probably affect our end of life destination but they would ruin our today’s experience.

First, we need to approach our chanting as an investment project. We need to be in the right frame of mind when we start – from now for the next two hours I will be taking care of my future. I will not be simply moving my mouth, I will be preparing my spiritual “retirement”. It’s an important thing to do, it’s like a job, it requires voluntary effort and concentration.

Yet even if we manage to prepare ourselves for chanting this way it doesn’t stop our minds from dwelling on short term distractions. We still need to learn how to deal with those, too, just as we need to learn to postpone personal stuff when we are busy at work. We’d still get paid but it just won’t feel right.

Let’s take another example.

A few days ago I met a woman that caught my attention. I could say that we “clicked” and there was a certain chemistry between us. The attraction is there but I can’t afford to do anything about it. It would ruin my own life and my family, too. Now, every time she comes into my mind I have to look at a bigger picture to mitigate the agitation, so far it works.

I think not only how I would feel in her presence but also how I would have to sneak away to meet her, how I would have to hide her texts and calls on my phone, how I would have to invent lies to my family, and how it would all ruin my experience.

When I add all those fears and inconveniences to the initial attraction it doesn’t sound very attractive anymore. Just not worth the trouble. I think this could be called a victory of intelligence over the senses, a smart thing to do. Then I can continue chanting in peace.

There’s another aspect to it, too – if the attraction is too strong than all the sacrifices to keep illicit association going will feel justified even to a strong intelligence. We need to learn to avoid that trap because there will be no way out of it, once we are caught we are done for.

The key here is to anticipate the attraction and avoid fanning it as early as possible. More time spent in the presence of the subject strengthens the argument presented by the senses. From hope of enjoyment it would gradually become a taste and then a habit. At that point it would become irreversible and too painful to fix.

We need to see the future before senses experience it for real. We need to learn how senses work before they get a trial run and get hooked. This is how brahmacarya works – by avoiding women altogether and keeping one’s nose clean.

Some devotees think that brahmacarya means staying strong in the face of attraction but they are wrong – it means avoiding attractions altogether.

I think there’s a point in criticism of our ISKCON leaders when they are accused of freely mingling with women. Sannyāsīs and brahmacārīs are, reportedly, often seen sitting next to women like people do at ordinary conferences and meetings. The argument goes that men must control their senses and if materialists don’t feel agitated in the presence of females than our devotees shouldn’t either.

I disagree. Ordinary men not getting horny every time they see a female is not a sign of control of their senses, it only shows that currently their sex drive is relatively low, most likely due to overindulgence.

If we want to draw parallel with devotees here then we should compare them to gṛhasthas who have their fill of female company at home, and even then their wives should monitor their behavior in presence of other females rather closely. Trust but verify, as they say. One thing is sure – it’s not a business of either sannyāsīs or brahmacārīs.

Brahmacārī is not someone who doesn’t feel agitated in presence of women, it’s someone who avoids women altogether to avoid unnecessary agitation.

Back to the topic – once you feel that your senses smell potential gratification, stay away from the source of the “fragrance” before they lock in onto their target. Senses are mechanical objects, they don’t have a mind of their own (they use ours instead), so they can be easily manipulated. They are like magnets this way – keep them away from iron and they won’t bother you. Bring them close to iron made objects and they will be impossible to resist. For that kind of engagement they should have a docking station at home, pardon the pun.

Anyway, talking about that woman – when she comes back into my mind I overwhelm my memories with images of all the troubles I will get, and I don’t allow my mind to dwell on good memories either, nipping the attraction in the bud. I’m not planning on meeting her again and it happens I will try to avoid talking to her.

So far this works. I decided to write about it now because I feel pretty confident I got this under control. Three four days ago it was still work in progress but by now I don’t even remember what her company felt like. It works.

It isn’t my first time with this either and, by God’s grace, I always had a presence of mind to extricate myself from potentially troubling relationships before inflicting any actual damage. I’ve met women a lot more attractive than this latest one and it worked on them, too. After a while I only remember the facts, not the feelings, and I don’t dig around my memories to remind myself how warm it felt at the time.

To sum it up – this was an example of dealing with a short term disturbance, complementing a long term commitment to chanting. The only thing I forget to mention is that the other, prescribed method of dealing with it is to chant the Holy Names very loudly, it helps to drown the memories that float up to the surface of our minds. This really works, too, confirming that chanting is the best answer to everything.

It’s not an alternative method, btw, it’s just a way to achieve all I discussed above, how to actually withdraw our minds from thinking about women. I described what we need to achieve and loud chanting, as prescribed in the śāstra, is how to do it in practice.

Vanity thought #1105. Su-medhasah part 2

Yesterday I set out to prove that in this day and age chanting of the Holy Names is the only rational activity for human beings. I don’t think I was successful, I spent too much time discussing Ukraine to say anything about chanting at all, so today the story continues.

First, the outline of the argument – the world is going to dogs and there’s no cure for it therefore intelligent people should try to find another way out – spiritual development, which in this age is achieved via chanting.

It seems easy and we hear this in our Bhāgavatam and Gīta classes everyday but I’m talking about a whole different level of understanding. I hope to achieve the stage where, after careful consideration, one starts spontaneously chanting the mahāmantra because it seems like the only reasonable thing to do.

I mean that even if we chant our sixteen rounds everyday we do it for various other reasons – we made a promise, we feel bad if we don’t complete our quota, it has become a habit, or we might even like the chanting itself. I know I do, but not in the way it was intended – chanting lets my mind go free and explore things I never think about otherwise.

This is exactly the opposite of what is supposed to happen – we are supposed to spontaneously think of Kṛṣṇa while doing something else but I spontaneously think of everything else when ostensibly being engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service.

I know it’s wrong but I would be lying to myself if I said my mind doesn’t find any pleasure in running away from listening to the Holy Names.

Why does this happen? Because I don’t think that chanting is really that important, that my interests can be better served by doing something else. Sometimes I assume that I need to think about cooking the next meal, sometimes about sex, sometimes about next work project, sometimes about cars, sometimes about news, sometimes about stuff that goes on in my family and so on.

My mind decides that at this particular moment I should be addressing all those concerns even though my mouth is engaged in chanting. I also know I can do both – chant the mantra and think of something else, so I see it as multitasking and even saving time.

That’s why I’m talking about the level of intelligence, level of understanding where one can clearly see that only chanting is important, at all times. Like Prabhupāda is quoted as saying “Chanting IS thinking”. I’m talking about the state of mind where thinking about anything else is seen as a clear waste of time and chanting itself is seen as the solution to all problems.

I’m talking about the stage where one looks at any particular problem appearing in his mind and decides that the best and natural solution to it is to chant. By natural I mean one shouldn’t even think twice about it or weigh any other methods – one should KNOW that chanting is the only answer.

On that level one should clearly know why chanting is the only solution to any particular problem. Why it’s better than any other alternatives, and one should have enough experience to confirm this view, too.

This level of knowledge should not require explanations either, like if you drop a coin on the floor you bend down and pick it up – it’s such an obvious reaction that you don’t need to explain it. You can, if asked, but you don’t even think about it anymore.

So, why Ukraine? How would that case help anyone to understand the necessity of chanting?

Because it’s a real intractable problem with no solution and because it seems to lead the rest of the world into a bottomless pit of war, too. The world as we know it will slowly but steadily deteriorate until it becomes unrecognizable and we all realize that we have no shelter in it. I suppose māyā will always offer us some temporary solutions but we should be intelligent enough to see through them.

At its heart it’s the same argument as with dying or solving our other fundamental problems like old age and disease but let’s be honest – we don’t see ourselves as dying, we don’t feel ourselves as old, and diseases can be fairly easily cured, at least enough of them to accept good health as normalcy.

War in Ukraine, otoh, is like getting news of cancer – it’s definite and very personal for each one of us. There are other doomsday scenarios as well – climate change or financial time bombs, I chose Ukraine because it unravels somewhat faster and it’s always in the news. It’s different from other insolvable hotspots like Palestine because it’s a vortex that drags everyone into its orbit while Palestine has been largely isolated and has no impact on the rest of the world.

There are ways to diffuse Ukrainian situation, too, and on Tuesday there will be a meeting between Russian and Ukrainian presidents so something might come out of it but preliminary news is that no deals will be made and some say that Ukrainian Poroshenko might even skip the talks.

To recapitulate – Ukraine suffers from the lack of national identity. Half the country cherish their Russian/Soviet roots, another half wants to live in Europe. They’ve managed to co-exist for a quarter of a century but events of the past year made any cohabitation of the same space impossible.

Germany, the self-appointed mediator, tries to seek a negotiated divorce but Ukrainian nationalists find it completely unacceptable so the war must go on. Poroshenko has no room to negotiate there, he’d be crucified back at home if he accepts anything less than total capitulation of the separatists. Separatists, however, are in no mood to surrender and see victory firmly within their grasp given how Ukraine has exhausted all their resources and left their military forces hanging dry, surrounded and cut off from their supplies in territories they enthusiastically reported as “liberated” only a week ago.

In a month or so autumn will settle in and with it come the rains, meaning that Ukrainians will lose the advantage of having lots of tanks and armored vehicles that they can drive anywhere in the countryside when it’s dry but become pita when the land turns mushy. Rebels can’t wait for the opening of that “hunting season”.

Then will come winter and Ukraine needs coal mined in the East and gas imported from Russia to heat the country. Coal is a no go and Russia can turn off the gas at any moment, Ukraine has not money to pay for it anyway.

The point is – Ukraine can’t afford to drag the war into the winter, it can’t finish it off, and it can’t negotiate. There’s no winning scenario there, it’s going to be a disaster no matter what.

Okay, but how does it affect the rest of the world? One word – sanctions, against Russia. Paraphrasing Henry Kissinger (WP): “the demonization of Russia is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.”

For some reasons, which don’t even matter anymore, the US managed to coax Europe into imposing painful sanctions on Russia, Russia retaliated in return, and everyone already feels the pain. They can’t back off sanctions either and, as sanctions go, they need to tightened up almost indefinitely to achieve any effect, so, without settlement in Ukraine, it will only get worse, and it will only be the beginning of the redrawing of the world order.

The US and its allies as well as IMF and World Bank will never be seen as trusted partners by Russians anymore, nor by Europeans bearing the grunt of sanctions, nor by Chinese and Asians. The US, in turn, will not give up its world leader status either and will inevitably force itself onto more and more “uncooperative” nations.

It can’t step back from their business of regime changes even after failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine. It can’t withdraw from the world because it needs to consume world’s resources five times above the average and no one is going to give away his own share voluntarily anymore.

Neither China nor Russia are ready to provide alternative leadership either. Without order there will be anarchy, free for all power grabs, ie Libya and Iraq on a much larger scale.

Maybe I’m being an alarmist here but I do not see any hope for prosperity for the rest of my life. It’s only a question of how long can we all hang on onto our carefully crafted comfortable lives but if, or rather when, unemployment hits 25% like in parts of Europe while billions of people retire from the workforce without any replacement, everyone will be affected. Everyone’s job security will be affected, everyone sense of security will be affected.

Carefree days of years past are not going to return anytime soon. When devotees came out of the temples and applied for credit cards in the 80s they discovered that there’s life outside ISKCON, too, and it can get pretty comfortable. This is going to change and it will be impossible to fix.

That’s why the only solution to this deteriorating situation is to chant like crazy and try to reach shelter of Lord’s lotus feet before proverbial shit hits the fan.

In ten years your job will be gone and your savings will be wiped out by the next financial crisis, don’t make any plans, don’t nurture any hopes. Instead, try to save your soul while you still have time, chant for your future, invest in Kṛṣṇa’s names instead.

That would be an intelligent thing to do.

Vanity thought #1104. Su-medhasah

Over and over again chanting of the Holy Name proves itself to be the supreme and only occupational duty of all human beings. There’s literally nothing else to say left for our tongues. Whichever way we can argue this, nothing comes even close to an alternative solution. No words are worth saying if they are not glorifying the Supreme Lord, and, if we examine it even further, nor glorification is worth uttering if it doesn’t consists of the Holy Names.

Let’s start at the beginning, though, and take some practical examples.

On Sunday, Ukraine celebrated its Independence day. For that country, it’s the day of life or death as its very existence comes under a serious threat from pro-Russian rebellion. After breakup of the Soviet Union it emerged as the second biggest and most prosperous republic (after Russia). It had huge nuclear arsenal, extremely fertile land, highly educated workforce and world class hi-tech manufacturing. They’ve made biggest transport airplanes, for example, designed from scratch there, among other top end weaponry and space components – the only truly high-tech things to come out of USSR.

And they blew it all.

Somehow or other they couldn’t make in on their own and, not counting alcoholics of Moldova, came out the poorest place out of all western parts of the former Soviet empire. That isn’t their biggest problem, however, they have enough resources to have it fixed, their real problem is that it has lost its national identity and broken apart pretty much like Yugoslavia in the the 90s.

It might not look so from their ever enthusiastic pronouncements but it’s the reality – Crimea is gone, it’s not coming back, Eastern rebellion has taken away it’s industrial heartland, and half the remaining population openly detests the ruling powers without any sign of reconciliation any time soon. Well, maybe less than half outside the East but enough to make any future co-existence unfeasible.

I’m not exaggerating – they have too many pro-Russians and the schism is too deep, and no one needs “independent” Ukrainians in Europe. They are twenty years late to that party, European project has run out of steam and faces uncertain future itself, it’s in no mood to fix Ukraine and integrate its economy into European industrial complex. They don’t need Ukrainian agriculture, they waste too much money supporting their own as it is, and they don’t need Ukrainian industry, the only viable market for which is Russia.

And the schism between its people? To “celebrate” Independence day rebels had drove their forces deep into Ukraine held territory and announced surrounding of thousands of troops, and they also held a parade of Ukrainian prisoners of war through the streets of Donetsk where they had to restrain the crowd chanting “Nazis, Nazis” from lynching them (Geneva conventions, anyone?). The reaction from Ukrainians was predictable – all those separatists needs to be killed, wiped out off the face of the Earth. These two parties are not going to live together ever again, the differences have become irreconcilable.

Originally, today was supposed to be the day rebellion was to be crushed and eastern lands liberated but when the day actually came it looked rather the opposite.

Ukraine was bankrupt even before the whole mess started a year ago and the program IMF put together has been stopped – without the East the country is simply insolvable, no one knows how much money it needs to be pumped in to make it work, and it probably won’t work anyway – it’s like trying to make a severed leg to walk on its own.

For the sense of scale – IMF pledged roughly the same rescue package that was offered to countries like Portugal, Ireland, or Greece, and all those, much smaller countries were not torn apart by war, just had ordinary economic hiccups, and they didn’t have to be reoriented to fit into completely foreign markets. This package (which is stopped anyway) wouldn’t let “Eastless” Ukraine last even through the winter, and then what?

Why have I wasted so much time talking about Ukraine? Because it’s unsolvable. There’s no magic formula to fix it, there’s no escape from the ever degrading civil war, and there are no parties one could take shelter of and hope to reach the bright future. Not independent Ukrainians, as I explained above, and certainly not Russian volunteers who lead the rebellion now but will leave the place the moment they achieve “victory”. You can’t hitch yourself to any wagon there.

It’s Kali Yuga at its worst, it’s undefeatable. There’s no dharma, no religion, no method, no theory that could save it. There’s no hope for anyone caught there.

That’s why intelligent people in this age chant the Holy Names – they don’t foolishly try to fix the unfixable. They don’t try to untangle their karma either – what’s done is done, let the results come, we can’t change them and we can’t hope to “do better” the second time around.

Even materialists notice that the sign of true intelligence is the realization of how little we actually know and control. Only ignorant fools think they know it all and can “improve” the world – as Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

One could say – but it’s just Ukraine, an unfortunate fluke of nature, our paradigms work just fine elsewhere. Except it’s not just Ukraine – demonizing Russia and Putin and increasing economic sanctions draw the rest of the world into this war, too. The US, for some reason, put its reputation at the stake here, and for Russia is has become a matter of survival. No one can back off without suffering serious consequences, not Russia and not America, and there are no forces in either camps that advocate peaceful solutions to this geopolitical conflict.

What’s worse, it all happened on Obama’s watch, Russians won’t blame it on crazy Bush like they did with Iraq. It’s American best side that waged economic war on them and there’s no one there left to trust. At the end of the Cold War they were willing to consider western democracy as an alternative but not anymore – for them, the US turned to be as evil empire as communists were saying all along.

This new cold war would take a long time to unravel but we can be sure nothing good will come out of it. Good old times will not return and anyone looking into the future with hope is fooling himself, even the Chinese who might want to swoop in when two other major powers have exhausted themselves.

The world is unfixable. It’s Kali Yuga, we can’t go against its tide, it would be foolish, and that’s why sane people in this age chant the Holy Names.

It’s time to bail out.

Vanity thought #1103. Good times

My local newspaper has carried a couple of opinion pieces on the direction India is taking under their new Prime Minister Narendra Modi and some readers responded. Some say that Hindu nationalism is benign and there’s nothing there to worry about. The reasons for this are to be found in its spiritual roots, particularly Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.

It starts with Ṛg Veda’s ekam sat vipra bahudhā vadanti – “one truth exists, sages call it by different names”. That axiom was later emphasized by Ramakrishna who was a student of many religions and found truth in them all. Vivekananda then took the torch and cited Bhagava Gīta’s ye yathā māḿ prapadyante verse (BG 4.11).

Hindu nationalism, therefore, must start with this universal truth and be accepting and accommodating of all religious paths, and any deviations must be declared deviations from Hinduism itself.

Well, it’s an optimistic view and I hope this time around there will be less violence than in the past, but this whole line of reasoning needs commenting.

First of all, to my knowledge, Śrīla Prabhupāda has never quoted that Ṛg Veda’s statement. It sounds like something he would say when criticizing others and we can easily imagine how it can be subverted by impersonalists to fit their own agenda.

Yes, Absolute Truth is one and sages do call it different names but we know that this diversity comes from different levels of their realization – brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti śabdyate (SB 1.2.11).

It doesn’t mean that all different names are the same though one could easily see how this misunderstanding might come about. Should learn from the authorities, then it will all be clear.

Ramakrishna was right when he said that God gives every society some form of the [same] religion and that all paths ultimately lead to the same truth but, again, one should learn these things from a proper authority. These paths are not equal, some are superior and some are inferior. We claim to belong to the superior tradition but have these distinctions internally, too – rāgānugā-bhakti is superior to sādhana.

Equating these paths lead one to justifying anything he does, losing all sense of perspective, and eventual stagnation on his spiritual path. For any serious student there’s always something higher, God is not just a ritually offered piece of meat, He is so much more than that.

Vivekananda’s Gīta’s quote is particularly faulty. He said, in his famous speech at the Congress of World Religions: “Whosoever comes to me, through whatever form, I reach him” but that is not even the accurate translation (let’s leave the second part out for now).

    ye yathā māḿ prapadyante
    tāḿs tathaiva bhajāmy aham

means “As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly.” The *accordingly* part is completely missing from Vivekananda’s rendering. You can see it stressed in commentaries of three out of four major sampradāya ācāryas here, and the fourth talks about reciprocation “as they are capable of”, which is the same thing, still missing from Vivekananda.

He should have learned from proper authorities, not from self-made “guru” Ramakrishna.

These differences from proper understanding are very important to us but probably are missing on the large public. It’s important for us to propose the highest worship of the Lord, learn of Him as Kṛṣṇa, and serve Him as shown by Lord Caitanya, but general public, swayed by frauds like Ramakrishna et al will think that it’s all the same, whatever you do, you’ll achieve the same results, so keep doing whatever you are doing and it will turn out alright.

It won’t. This is Kali yuga, you will turn up in hell. All paths eventually lead to Kṛṣṇa, correct, but the current course, good for the next four hundred thousand years, lies through demoniac atheism and the court of Yamarāja. Nothing good will come out of going with the flow in this age, it’s a real danger.

Coming back to Hindu nationalism – I would argue that it’s a social, not religious phenomenon. I mean that religious arguments about non-violence and co-existence will not stop Hindu mobs from good old-fashioned Muslim bashing.

Actually, it’s not a light-hearted matter. Just over ten years ago thousands of Muslims were brutally killed in Gujarat and there’s a general consensus that Modi’s state government was complicit in the violence. Subsequently, Modi was denied visa to the US, if it ever means anything.

Hopefully, there will be no repetition this time and a ten year cycle is broken for good (1983 Nellie massacre, 1992 – Babri Mosque, 2002 – Gujarat). I think this will be due to continuous exposure to the global culture and economy rather than any spiritual insights by Hindu nationalists. Trying to integrate into the global world must have taught Indians that mob rule has no place in solving religious disagreements.

I would also argue that influence of pacifist ideas of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda on modern Indian history is overstated, too. The reason for this is simple – Vivekananda was the first to bring Hinduism to the West and so he became the only medium for western thinkers to understand religious roots of Indian politics. They simply didn’t know any better. Western scholars of Sanskrit and Vedas didn’t have enough reach to put Vivekananda into a proper perspective and probably didn’t care for subtle (for them) differences in interpretations of Vedānta.

It’s easy to find quotes from prominent Indians leaders at that time praising Vivekananda, too, but if you know Indians, they praise people professionally, it doesn’t mean anything in particular.

Ramakrsishna never registered on Indian leaders radar anyway. He was a “people’s saint” but his beef eating ways of “Muslim period” locked him out of any respect by Hindu orthodoxy of any kind. Indian intellectual leaders, otoh, were raised on Western ideas and movements like Brahmo Samaj, Ramakrishna was an outsider in those circles.

Vivekananda started with Brahmo Samaj as well and later he extensively wrote and commented on Vedanta (unlike Ramakrishna who relied solely on his personal visions) so he was a reasonably respected figure but his success in the West didn’t matter much back at home.

The group of future leaders who said they were influenced by Vivekananda formed Congress party which in the beginning was pro-Muslim and so followed Vivekananda’s teachings (though how of it is owed to Vivekananda is debatable). Later on they became secular and this is who modern Hindu nationalists are fighting against.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has roots in a movement also influenced by Vivekananda but that one, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has always been fiercely nationalist and extremist in its practices and outlooks and their “respect” for Vivekandna is a perfect example of typical Indian adoration for someone they never have a serious intention of following.

As I said, if BJP’s current rule passes peacefully it would not be due to their spiritual roots just as any violence would not be due to them reading too much of Bhagavad Gīta.

Should we welcome their reign? I think so, they might not be perfect but they do try to establish some sort of Vedic order in the society. It’s much better for the society than rule by the secular (read atheistic) Congress. Of course the society will judge the results by far less lofty ideas, like the state of the economy, but we, as Prabhupāda’s followers, should know better.

Still, one thing we should remember very well – even in Gandhi’s Gita thumping times Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī paid no attention to it. They don’t know the first thing about Bhagavad Gīta and their goals have nothing to do with spiritual progress. That’s basics. Practically, however, Śrīla Bhaktisiddānta engaged the rulers of the day in his preaching mission, too.

Perhaps our current “strategic GBC leaders” need to carefully study that period of Gauḍīyā history to avoid falling into a trap of ISKCON becoming a Hindu movement, but that is a whole other story.

Vanity thought #1102. Guru agency

Let’s talk about the role guru plays in our spiritual education. First of all, in a conditioned state we have no idea what God is whatsoever, Kṛṣṇa is unlikely to speak to us directly, and we can’t really hear the the Supersoul. All we have is the guru. Nothing else.

Whatever aspects of divinity we gradually discover, from the Holy Name to the Deity to presence of the Paramātma within our hearts, it all revealed to us through the agency of our guru. There’s no other way.

So, how does Kṛṣṇa do it? How does He talk to us through our spiritual master? How does a spiritual master do it? How does He talk on Kṛṣṇa’s behalf?

Kṛṣṇa is eternal, is guru similarly eternal? If guru is eternal, how does his temporary manifestation before our senses reconcile with this eternal nature?

I’ve been delaying speculating on this subject for a few days but now I think I’m ready.

First question, how Kṛṣṇa talks to us through our guru, is easy. Kṛṣṇa can do anything, He is the ultimate puppet master. Technically, it’s not actually Him, guru is the manifestation of Lord Balarāma or Lord Nityānanda, but from our position all these personalities of Godhead are too exalted to notice any practical difference.

Kṛṣṇa’s omnipotence is not the right answer here, however. He CAN do anything He wants but usually He has a system in place so that He doesn’t have to deal with each one of us personally as if we are in any way exceptional. Guru-disciple relationship is fundamental to the whole Vedic way of life, there’s no way Kṛṣṇa deals with each case on an ad-hoc basis.

So, what is the system that Kṛṣṇa employs to speak through the guru? Paramparā is one part of it, of course, but there’s more – it’s the same system that maintains Kṛṣṇa’s control over the entire world. “Guru” is a built in feature just like pain, pleasure, day, or night. Everything and everyone in this world draws some authority from the Lord, even our demoniac governments are Lord’s agents whether we like it or not.

Guru is different in that the powers that control his movements and speech do so in the service of Kṛṣṇa, not in the service of the ordinary living entities. The same demigods that enable everyone to breathe, digest food, produce intelligible sounds etc control our guru, too, except they do it for Kṛṣṇa.

Ultimately, it’s Māyādevī herself who makes guru appear and act through a material body. We should also remember that anyone who teaches us anything is a sort of a guru. Most of those do not provide spiritual instructions but it could be argued that ultimately all education leads to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

How does a guru talk on behalf of Kṛṣṇa? At first, I genuinely thought that our gurus literally hear Kṛṣṇa in their hearts and then they just convey His words to us. Gradually I came to accept that it’s not how it works in real life. Guru is not a magician, and he never sees himself as a master either, he simply tries to serve at his best and that means he simply tries to follow instructions of his guru without adding anything of his own.

Kṛṣṇa can do magic, guru can’t. Kṛṣṇa can control guru through Mahāmāyā or through demigods but guru has no such powers. For guru the only guidance is the paramparā. He serves our predecessor ācāryas and if to some people this service looks like guruship then so be it, he can’t guarantee effects on his followers, only Kṛṣṇa can. Unlike ordinary, puffed up bewildered souls here, guru never claims any credits.

Side question – how can we know if we meet such a guru? Quite a common query but the answer is very simple – when Kṛṣṇa speaks, through the guru, you will know. There’s no point in describing the experience, it can’t be described through material terms anyway.

It also depends on what kind of guru service one requires. Initiation is a relative formality, for example, anyone can do it for us. On the other side of the spectrum of guru services is induction into Kṛṣṇa’s personal association. I suppose at that point we’ll be dealing with spiritual reality so the question “which one can be my guru” will not arise.

Somewhere in between we must seek intermediate goals and that’s where all we can do is listen for truly spiritual inspiration and accept anyone who does inspire us as our guru. Some will teach us to distribute books and preach, some will teach us to lead our family lives, some will teach us philosophy, some will teach us proper appreciation for vaiṣṇavas, some will teach Bhāgavatam etc.

This brings up the question of guru eternity and guru’s personality. As a principle, guru is certainly eternal. Even after he disappears from our view his instructions still stay and we can still follow them and serve him and get all necessary benefits.

It would also appear that we should discern when a guru speaks for Kṛṣṇa and when he doesn’t. Our primary spiritual master always represents Kṛṣṇa, if we are lucky to find such a pure devotee, but our other teachers may have limited powers. Trees teach as patience but not much else, for example. Dogs can teach us loyalty but mostly they are just goofing around and licking their balls, we can’t treat them as gurus at all times. A python can be a guru, too, but it would be extremely rare for us to observe any useful behavior in a python. The ones I’ve seen, always in zoos, were useless. In short – we should use discretion.

Another aspect of guru principle is impersonality. If guru only speaks for Kṛṣṇa or if we only take lessons given through his agency by Kṛṣṇa, how can we treat guru as a separate entity with separate desires and separate relationships with us? This question is a part of a large one – are there personal relationships in the material world anyway?

We all seek personal touch, that much is true, but what do we get from the material nature? I’d say only poor substitutes just like we get with everything else.

Personal relationships are spiritual, between spirit souls, if we do not see our counterparts in their pure, original forms, we do not have personal relationships with them. It’s only our false egos talking.

Perhaps “see” above is a bit too strict. We can see others as Kṛṣṇa’s servants even without seeing their true spiritual identity, so, we can relate to them personally in as much as we realize their connection to Kṛṣṇa. Same applies to our guru.

When we say that guru doesn’t add anything else to the message of the paramparā we mean he doesn’t add anything as a material body but as a spirit soul he is part of the paramparā and as Kṛṣṇa’s servant he, and everyone else, can add as much to the pool of knowledge about the Lord as he wants. That’s why spiritual world is always expanding and no one can describe Kṛṣṇa and His pastimes with His devotees in full, even Ananta Śeṣa Himself.

As a pure devotee guru can certainly add his personal touch and thus enrich paramparā’s knowledge, there’s nothing wrong with that. What he can’t do is to add his material experiences as a human in a particular kind of body living in a particular kind of society and claim them as spiritual. Veganism, feminism, middle class mentality, that kind of thing.

Well, I think I’ve covered everything I set out to discuss today. The only hanging point left is the use of discretion in our dealings with the guru. I know it must be there but I’m not quite sure how to explain it. I certainly don’t mean the kind of discretion one might learn from the materialists around us. If this discretion must be learned from the guru then it becomes an indefinite loop. I don’t know, I’ll deal with it later.