Vanity thought #1141. And let’s not forget food

All this talk about groundhog day for a brāhmaṇa from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes should not overshadow straightforward messages from that pastime. Śrīla Prabhupāda never missed them but I have a tendency to concentrate on speculative stuff everywhere I go. Perhaps it’s my way of avoiding the important lessons. This story is actually about food and offering it to the Lord.

Yesterday I talked about possible imperfections in that brāhmaṇa’s behavior, which is a very dangerous topic – we should not see imperfections in devotees, especially in those who the Lord personally revealed Himself to. I only did it as a guide to what not to do with our material bodies, I didn’t mean to denigrate that brāhmaṇa’s devotion.

He might remain nameless and less celebrated that other associates of Lord Caitanya but he also was the first one to see Lord’s true nature, years before the Lord showed it to anyone else. That ought to count for something. Even if he didn’t stick around long enough to see the Lord start saṅkīrtana mission in earnest we should probably look at it as a testament to the weakness of the material nature rather than as a lack of bhakti.

Material mind has its own things to do according to the nature of the senses, karma, influences of the stars etc. Even pure devotees must give it some space to express itself and satisfy its senses. For them this satisfaction usually comes from the contact with the Lord but that is mercry, not a rule. As a rule, material senses seek contact with material sense objects, spiritual component does not register with them at all.

I’ve just read a newsletter from my local ISKCON temple and I couldn’t help but notice how our devotees engage their minds and energy in.. Well, they just want to do things, luckily for them they get to do things for Kṛṣṇa, which is fine, but they also do them as a tribute to their minds.

Or, to put it another way, they can’t stop doing them and relish pure spiritual life instead. That’s why Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted us to be active – we are not ready to simply chant and probably never will be, not in this life not in this age.

We naturally want to do things, control things, achieve results, enjoy our power, appreciate our intellect, have our egos stroked by others. In that we are no different from any one else, what makes us special is that we do these things in connection with Kṛṣṇa and that means we gradually purify ourselves from our propensity to enjoy and control.

A big part of our lives is connected to food. Or rather should be connected to food because in pursuit of wealth and careers we have our priorities screwed. Maintaining a family is a legitimate dharma, too, but its only purpose is to engage our sexual organs, otherwise there’s nothing particularly spiritual about it.

I mean if one gives up sex, what is then left for him to worry about? Only food.

Of course we also need shelter and clothes but those things tend to last. You arrange it once and they’ll last for years. We can’t do that with food, we can’t eat like camels or pythons once in every blue moon, we need to eat everyday. We also need to breath and go to the toilet but those things do not demand much effort. Food is where everything is at.

If we have a job or a big service as a part of a society food tends to be taken care of itself but once we give up sex we give up the society and its support, too. We just quietly fall out. Society means massive sense gratification, people form themselves into groups to make sense gratification easier, plus there’s pride of belonging to the group, too.

Society members feel entitled to certain things, like relaxation, wealth, love, food, of course, etc etc. In some groups everyone must have a house and a car, in some groups also a business, in some groups access to easy credit is a given, in some groups everyone should be married, in some groups everyone should have sex free from commitment and so on.

I have a friend who spent a few months in Singapore and all he talks about now is early retirement and plans to rent a house in Italy for a two week vacation. These things never come up in our usual circle but for Singaporeans those are trade mark dreams.

A devotee should naturally lose interest in those kind of desires and that means slipping off the social radar. What is left then? Not much, only food.

We do our jobs or our service, we get some payment in return, but we have no interest in spending it on ourselves. If we are set with shelter and have clothes to wear we have absolutely nothing to live for. The only problem, as I said, is food.

In the company of devotees we get prasādam, there’s always something to eat there, but in the company of karmīs situation is different. At best we can count on finding vegetarian food but cooking and offering is out of the question. If we have a family then we can have someone else to cook for us so we can take lunch from home but if you give up sex life (and family, too), you are on your own.

Cooking for yourself is tough. I’ve never mastered it. I was taught to cook for about half a dozen people, I don’t know how to cook for more and I don’t know how to cook for less. It’s half a cup of rice, half potato, half tomato, a pinch of spices – I just don’t feel comfortable with this. Too much work for little outcome, and then you have to do it twice a day? Forget it. And messing with chapatis? Who needs this aggravation?

I’d rather cook a lot, put food in a fridge, and microwave it as necessary, which is against the rules but I have no power to change this habit. At least I know it’s a problem so maybe in the future I’ll work on solving it.

That brāhmaṇa, however, cooked every day and only ate what was offered to Kṛṣṇa. If he couldn’t offer food he wouldn’t eat it. That was a very easy way for him to find out what was allotted to him by the Lord. If it’s not prasādam then it’s not meant to be eaten, it’s not “food”. Try to do it when you have a fridge full of stuff including leftover prasādam from three days ago.

If you have to eat unoffered food outside then it’s even more difficult to determine what is your allotted share. Nothing at all? That seems too radical. Every living being has its allotted share regardless of whether he offers it to the Lord or not. Taking that share is our duty, taking more is sin, refusing it is false renunciation. Offering it to the Lord is best but it’s not always possible.

Eventually, as this pastime with the brāhmaṇa shows, a devotee must reduce his food intake only to what he cooks and offers to the Lord, plus occasional prasādam prepared by others. If we do that, however, it would take most of our time. That brāhmaṇa was a mendicant, he probably begged for food most of his days, as did the Six Gosvāmīs, then cooked and offered it. Sometimes he was invited in people’s houses and cooked there. If one depends on others in this way without being part of the society is must be really tough.

People do not feel obliged to give charity to outsiders, that’s just a fact of life. I don’t have any personal experience but I believe beggars always appeal to some common ground (war veteran, lost house to a bank, lost job in recession etc), and I’ve never seen foreign beggars anywhere.

I don’t know how relying solely on Kṛṣṇa in that sense can even work – I think one must expect Kṛṣṇa to act through his own social group members, either by getting a job or by begging. Hmm, interesting point – does it prove once again that we cannot be Kṛṣṇa’s devotees but must serve His representatives? In the material world it makes total sense but I think I need to consider it closely, hopefully tomorrow.

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Vanity thought #1140. Groundhog day, loose ends

The example of that brāhmaṇa who unknowingly cooked for Lord Caitanya leaves quite a few questions hanging (details and sources here). How relevant it is to us exactly? Was he a nitya-siddha associate of the Lord? Can we follow his footsteps or should we separate some aspects of his behavior that do not look as fully devotional? Can we even talk like that about a person who attained the mercy of the Lord?

Well, there were associates of Lord Caitanya who were not accepted by the body of His devotees, like Vallabha Bhaṭṭācārya who dared to criticize saṅkīrtana. Even Gadādhara Paṇḍita was ostracized for associating with him. It all worked out in the end but we certainly shouldn’t follow Vallabhācārya’s teachings blindly, only when they are explicitly approved by our sampradāya.

If there’s something not quite right about behavior of that brāhmaṇa we should be cautious about him, too. Even if he is nittya siddha devotee we cannot imitate all aspects of his behavior, what is acceptable for liberated associates of the Lord should not be automatically accepted for us.

I think this allows me to analyze his behavior in terms of suitability for us, not as criticism of him.

To start with – his traveling to holy places. Lord Balarāma traveled to holy places, too, as did Lord Nityānanda, but it’s not prescribed for us. Devotees must reside in dhāmas associated with Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya, seeking blessings elsewhere shows a lack of faith and is offensive. Our surrender must be to our Lord alone, we can’t be seen wandering elsewhere begging for mercy from anyone else.

At the end of the story with offering food to Bāla Gopāla but seeing it eaten by Śrī Gaurasundara the brāhmaṇa realized who His worshipable Lord is and he stayed in Navadvīpa for a while and came to see the Lord Gaurāṅga daily but eventually he left. Where? No one knows. No one even knows his name and I don’t think he was mentioned in Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā either.

Leaving Navadvīpa for any other place at that point was just unfortunate. It was still many years until inauguration of saṅkīrtana movement and so it’s understandable but missing it while being so favored by the Lord is just sad.

When the Lord revealed His form to that brāhmaṇa He specifically asked him to hang around as there would be many saṅkīrtana pastimes in the future but the wait was apparently too long. We can easily imagine how it went – the brāhmaṇa couldn’t of course forget what happened to him that night but coming to see the Lord day after day didn’t reveal any additional miracles. Eventually he got bored of waiting and his mind took him someplace else.

It was said that he traveled in search of Kṛṣṇa, then he found Him, and then left?

Should we follow this kind of behavior? Absolutely not.

In the beginning that brāhmaṇa was introduced as always chanting his Bāla Gopāla mantra and always relishing love for Govinda. That deserves attention, too.

There are many devotees who constantly chant the Holy Name but that alone is not enough for us – such chanting must be pure and offenseless, and the devotee must follow the orders of a bona fide guru who is fully dedicated to saṅkīrtana mission. Chanting for the sake of chanting is not enough, it must be done as a service to the paramparā not for one’s own enjoyment, either material or spiritual.

One could say that only pure devotees could chant the Holy Name constantly but that is not entirely true. There are many reasons people do things, not all of them acceptable. Chanting is the yuga dharma for this age, no one is excluded and so it means that people are allowed to chant regardless of their level of purity. Even demons can chant the Holy Name for their own selfish ends – that’s probably why we still keep doing it, too.

I guess the only reason to be unable to chant is extreme envy towards Kṛṣṇa Himself. Demons might not care enough about Him personally and so could be allowed to chant as much as they want.

Then it would depend on one’s determination and one’s faith in the power of the Holy Name. People who grew up in the west have lots of alternatives but for Indians five hundred years ago worshiping the Lord was probably the best and only way to get what they wanted. Chanting, therefore, could have been not a symptom of love of God but a symptom of one’s dedication to his other goals. As long as they were met or expected to be met, chanting continued.

In case of this brāhmaṇa, we don’t know what he ultimately wanted but he left Lord Gaurāṅga’s company, meaning he wanted something else. So what if he continued chanting his mantra? What good it is if it drives one away from participating in saṅkīrtana līlā?

Therefore I am a but skeptical about the claim that just because someone chants a lot and looks like he relishes internal love for Govinda then it’s exactly what’s going on there. That is not a behavior that should be imitated either.

Chanting is not absolute in this sense, I’m afraid to say. It only works if it pleases guru and Kṛṣṇa, if we chant for any other purpose it’s a waste of time, and if we chant to weasel our way out of following guru’s orders we are most unfortunate indeed.

Of course the only way to cure us of our stupidity is to chant and hope that the Holy Name eventually purifies us enough to see the error of our ways and the value of following guru’s orders, so ultimately chanting IS absolute, but we could save so much time if we just did it properly from the start.

Offensive chanting can go on for hundreds of lifetimes, it’s not a trivial.

There is another argument against purity of that brāhmaṇa’s chanting – he observed the Lord every day and he must have seen how Jagannātha Miśra and Mother Śacī loved their boy and he must have heard them chanting the names of Hari to pacify Śrī Gaurasundara but he didn’t appreciate neither their devotion nor their chanting. What was good enough for Gaurāṅga was not good enough for this brāhmaṇa. Not a good example to follow either.

My point is that there was a lot of room for improvement in that brāhmaṇa’s service, he was born again and again to participate in Lord’s pastimes but he didn’t seem to appreciate them in full. Maybe that’s why he was born again and again in the material world – to perfect himself.

So groundhog day is real.

Yet we can also see his life in a different way – his perfection came the moment he saw the Lord reveal Himself in front of him. Everything else I described as imperfect is non-essential. We all must be born here, we all must have karma to drive us through our lives. We all must eat, sleep, and defend ourselves. We all have restless minds to take us here and there. A lot of it will look imperfect no matter what and therefore there’s little point in trying to improve it.

Bhakti does not depend on such external perfection and such “imperfect” behavior is necessary for Lord’s pastimes, too, if only to provide contrast. I mean Six Gosvāmīs were perfect but only if we compare them with the rest of the devotees. Someone must have slept more than two hours a day and chanted less than three lākhs of rounds to make Six Gosvāmīs appear so good, so even imperfection has its place in Lord’s līlā. We shouldn’t judge devotees by it.

What we should definitely take away from that particular pastime is the value of a single moment of association with the Lord even if it looked as not fully appreciated. We should also understand the value of patience in waiting for the Lord to manifest His līlā even if that particular devotee couldn’t wait for saṅkīrtana to start in earnest. We should also not take apparent ecstasy very seriously, success in chanting takes time and a lot of patience, we shouldn’t judge it by material side effects and we should discount material motivations to chant as irrelevant and distracting.

Might sound hard but it will be worth it.

Vanity thought #1139. Groundhog day – fooled by the Lord

Let’s finally talk about a story that could be taken as evidence of devotees living through the same kind of life again and again rather than traveling all throughout the universe like ordinary souls.

Śrila Prabhupāda describes it in the purport to one of the verses in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (CC Adi 14.37). There are more details in Caitanya Bhāgavata (Adi 5), there’s a pdf version floating around with Bengali and purports by Śrīla Bhakitisiddhānta Sarasvatī, or without Bengali (here), or another, unattributed translation found, for example, here. The gist of all versions is the same and if there are differences they are insignificant and not particularly important for the purpose of philosophical speculation.

There was once a mendicant brāhmaṇa who was a worshiper of Kṛṣṇa in the form of Bāla Gopāla. That form, Bāla Gopāla, historically is the most ancient known form of Kṛṣṇa, which means nothing compared to evidence of the śāstra but I thought it would be appropriate to mention. Tht brāhmaṇa was properly initiated into this cult as he had a special dedicated mantra that Śrīla Bhrakisiddhānta Sarasvatī couldn’t even write down for the public despite describing its content in full. We can’t repeat it without proper authorization.

This brāhmaṇa was constantly chanting his mantra but somehow that wasn’t enough as he was always traveling to the places of pilgrimage, as if it’s a good thing. I mean if we think about it – there’s only one place in the whole universe that is connected to Bāla Gopāla pastimes – Vṛṇdavāna, why would anyone go seek blessings anywhere else? Indians are generally big on pilgrimages but devotees see no benefit to ever leaving Vṛṇdavāna dhama, and if one has a mantra to worship Kṛṣṇa then there’s no reason for him to go or stay anywhere in particular as Vṛṇdavāna is always with him already.

Of course while in the material world one needs to eat, sleep, and do something all the time so evidence of such bodily activities cannot in itself be taken as imperfection in one’s service but, for speculative purposes, I’d argue that desire to travel and seek benefit from various places of worship is the sign of incomplete surrender, having the mantra not-withstanding.

This argument cannot be conclusive for other reasons, too – what if brāhmaṇa’s traveling was only for the benefit of ordinary people? What if he did it as preaching? Or what about Gopa Kumāra who had his mantra but traveled through the universe up to Brahmaloka in search of His worshipable Lord?

That case actually supports my point – it’s a sign of imperfection and Gopa Kumāra was very much like the brāhmaṇa from this story. He had the mantra but not full realization of it. He didn’t even understand it philosophically, he had no idea why it has such power over him. He didn’t even know Kṛṣṇa exist.

We also chant Hare Kṛṣṇa without realizing its actual value, we chant on faith. The value that we afford to our mantra is determined by our philosophical understanding and attitudes absorbed from others, we don’t yet get to realize its true spiritual reality.

Same was probably true about this brāhmaṇa – his eyes were always half closed and internally he relished ecstatic love for Govinda but he didn’t actually see the spiritual form of the Lord in his heart. Just like Gopa Kumāra, just like many of our devotees, just like many devotees found in India. It’s certainly better than not to chant and not to “relish ecstatic love” but I want to establish that there was a room for perfecting his chanting, not to argue that he was a neophyte of some kind.

So, he came to the house of Jagannātha Miṣra and, describing his traveling, he said that he just follows his restless mind. Hmm, so much for constantly chanting. There was definitely some room for improvement.

Then there’s the story itself, how this brāhmaṇa cooked food using ingredients provided by Jagannātha Miśra and how, just as he was offering it to Kṛṣṇa, young Lord Gaurāṅga appeared there and grabbed a bite for himself. This repeated three times in a row. They even locked Śrī Gaurasundara in a separate house but He still managed to sneak away. First time He appeared naked and all covered in dust after playing around, just like Bāla Gopāla would, but the brāhmaṇa didn’t recognize Him.

Lord’s excuse was very simple – he called me, I came and ate his offering, I didn’t do anything wrong. Of course no one believed Him as no one knew His true nature but that’s what makes this mischievous pastime so cute. There was a scene of Jagannātha Miśra chasing the Lord with a stick in his hand, there was Lord’s elder brother Viśvarūpa impressing the brāhmaṇa with his unparalleled beauty and intelligence, it’s quite a long story, going for about hundred and fifty verses in the book.

Finally, the Lord revealed His spiritual form but by that time everyone else was sleeping already, only the brāhmaṇa saw it, and the Lord threatened to kill him if he’d said a word about his vision, so the secret stayed with him. How Vṛṇdavāna Dāsa Ṭhākura learned about it is not known.

The Lord appeared in eight-armed form, probably reflecting that brāhmaṇa’s mood of worship. There were four arms with items carried by Lord Viṣṇu and four arms characteristic of Kṛṣna – with pot of butter, and another pair playing a flute. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī explained that actually it was four hands at a time, replacing one set of items with another, as such eight arm combination does not exist in the spiritual world – Lord Nārāyaṇa does not carry a flute and does not exist in Vṛṇdavāna while Kṛṣṇa does not carry conch, club etc or possess four arms there.

Anyway, that’s when the brāhmaṇa fell down and lost consciousness in real spiritual ecstasy. I bet it was nothing like his chanting before. He was so overwhelmed that for a moment he couldn’t even follow Lord’s order to keep quiet.

That’s also when Lord Gaurasundara told him that this has happened before, that this same brāhmaṇa came to His house during His previous pastimes as Kṛṣṇa, cooked rice, and had it eaten by the Lord in exactly the same manner, and that this has been going on birth after birth.

That’s, right there, is out groundhog day. Life after life this spirit soul replays exactly the same pastime without apparently reaching perfection. Of if he does, he forgets about it. Of course, even if one is perfect he can still be easily fooled by the Lord in not recognizing Him but, as I said earlier, there are other areas for gradual advancement there.

Was his life successful simply because he saw the Lord? Well, not enough to be permanently transferred into the spiritual sky. What would he be doing there anyway? There are no places of pilgrimage on Kṛṣṇaloka, his service there must be different. It’s a pastime that makes sense only in the material world.

And so does our service in the saṅkīrtana movement of Lord Caitanya. There’s certainly chanting in the spiritual Navadvīpa but no non-believers to spread the message to. We are not as fortunate as that brāhmaṇa to meet the Lord face to face but our service is no less important and no less spiritual, and we also have a lot of room for improvement life after life.

It’s all speculative, of course, but, based on this case, I would argue that we are not going to get anything fundamentally different in our next incarnation, just work on perfecting our current service. We have no future to live for except service opportunities left in our current lifetime. This reorientation should have profound effect on how we treat our past and present – it’s not something that will be gone forever in pursuit of future happiness but our eternal reality meant to be relived life after life after life until we get it right. I think this change of attitude is extremely important but I have no time to explain it today.

Vanity thought #1138. Groundhog day – how it works

There’s a story from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes that illustrates how devotees live through their groundhog day life after life after life. Well, not exactly, of course – there was certainly no groundhogs there, but close enough to give me reasons to speculate.

To remind – as devotees of Lord Caitanya we need to obtain His mercy before we can approach Kṛṣṇa which means we have to achieve perfection in our service to Him, in His saṇkīrtana mission, which means under the guidance of our guru and as followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda. That might not happen within one lifetime and so we could be made to try again and again until our service is deemed satisfactory.

It’s not how our future is usually presented to us by the devotees but it’s a fairly reasonable assumption. First – we ARE servants of Lord Caitanya, nothing will even change that. When the Lord descended He came across devotees who had eternal relationships with other forms of Kṛṣṇa, notably Murāri Gupta, sometimes He infused them with love of Kṛṣṇa instead but with Murāri Gupta He left him to worship his beloved Lord Rāmacandra.

We aren’t anything like that. We do not have any relationship with Kṛṣṇa outside of Lord Caitanya, we have nothing else to cherish but Lord Caitanya’s mercy. We can’t become devotees of Lord Rāma or Lord Nṛsiṃha, our souls are eternally spoken for even though we might worship other forms of the Lord on our altars.

I mean to say that we got to go with Lord Caitanya life after life until we receive His mercy, for us there’s no other way. Nor can we expect to reach Kṛṣṇa without going through Lord Caitanya, that would be even more foolish.

Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gīta that if we remember Him at the time of death we will reach His abode but we shouldn’t understand it as a shortcut bypassing Lord Caitanya or our guru. For one thing, without their mercy we won’t be able to remember Kṛṣṇa, and the whole thing about going to Kṛṣṇaloka without satisfying our guru first is just stupid.

Some devotees think they don’t need gurus anymore (they mean our second and third rate ISKCON gurus, of course), that simply reading books and praying to Śrīla Prabhupāda is enough. That’s like learning the price of a thing and instead of paying for it and settling it with the store owner we try to obtain it through a back door, maybe getting a knock off for a fraction of the price on a street corner, maybe trying to steal it when no one is looking, maybe trying to pay off an employee to steal it for us. It might work with fancy purses but not with Kṛṣṇa consciousness and bhakti.

Anyway, where was I?

So, if we fail to achieve perfection in this lifetime we get to try again and pick up from where we left off, which is also said in Bhagavad Gīta. For us it means continuing our service in Lord Caitanya’s saṇkīrtana and nothing else. Right now we might try some other methods – reading up on philosophy, living in Holy dhāma, absorbing ourselves in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, chanting our own mantras etc etc, but the only way for us to please Lord Caitanya is through saṇkīrtana, through preaching and congregational chanting. Nothing else will work.

The only way to succeed in saṇkīrtana is to serve under directions of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his followers, there’s no other way,too – Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t give us any other methods. We got to do what he told us – preach, distribute books, organize programs, prasādam distribution and so on.

You probably see where it’s all going – whatever we fail at in this life needs to be perfected in the next. If it’s book distribution that is bothering us we’ll have to learn to appreciate it. If we were given Deity service and we dropped it because we though learning Sanskrit would be better we’ll have to learn to serve the Deities again.

In the material world we can always change our occupation, especially in the western part of the world. Traditionally, if you were born a son of a cobbler that’s what you are expected to do when you grow up, too. With progress of civilization, however, we are free to pursue any career we fancy and we are free to change our careers, too.

That won’t work with bhakti. It won’t work with our material dharmas, too – as Kṛṣṇa said it’s better to fail in doing your own duty than become perfect in doing someone else’s. It all boils down to doing things we are told regardless of whether we like them or not, regardless of whether we can rationalize them or not, regardless of what everybody says about it, regardless of how we feel about it – service is precious, if we were given it we ought to carry it, we can’t be choosers.

“But but but – that order is so stupid, it surely came from a conditioned mind. Śrīla Prabhupāda would have never given it. He told us to exercise our intelligence, he told us …” – those are just excuses. If a person in authority tells us to do something we must remember that his authority comes from Kṛṣṇa. We can’t refuse it without simultaneously offending the Lord and His representative.

But what if we were told to do something really unacceptable, like serving seafood to the deities (which has happened)? Well, in these cases, and pretty much in all other cases, we got to know what it is that Kṛṣṇa really wants from us. Sometimes He might want us to follow the order unquestionably, sometimes He might want us to exercise discretion, sometime He might want us to offer advice to our superiors, too.

This leaves a lot of room for abuse, there’s no denying it, but if we do whatever it is we do with full trust in Kṛṣṇa we will be spared and protected from all bad reactions – that’s a fact, too. And if we act with full faith in the Lord and are about to do something stupid He will also find a way to stop us before we do irreparable damage.

This also means that even if we abuse our discretion we get to replay same situations again and again until we get them right. So what if we made a mistake? It will either be forgiven or we will be given a chance to correct it ourselves. As long as we sincerely want to act in Kṛṣṇa’s interests we will be taken care of one way or another.

So, groundhog day must be a reality for us. Life after life we get to perfect our service, correcting ourselves on each go, putting more and more trust in Kṛṣṇa, seeing things from increasingly Kṛṣṇa conscious perspective instead of materially motivated one, understanding His wishes and desires better and better and so on.

I’m afraid there’s no other way.

As for that devotee I wanted to write about today – it’s too late now, maybe next time.

Vanity thought #1137. Groundhog day

All this thinking about how we should perceive time and where we should direct our minds prompted me to speculate about our “future”. I think quotes around “future” are necessary here because what I mean is the next birth which is next for us but “future” is tied to the timeline of the universe, which is not the same thing.

Ordinary souls transmigrate from one form to another to satisfy their material desires. This migration can happen in all directions, some might go to heavenly planets, others to hell, some might remain in their current form, some might get a slight promotion while others might slide to something a little lower.

From Śrīmad Bhāgavatam we learn that souls coming back from heavenly planets first get born as grains of rice and only then get their promotion to human species, their actual destination. The progress doesn’t appear to be linear in that sense. Where it appears to be linear is movement through time.

No one can ever go against time. Next birth will always be in the future as the story of the universe gradually unfolds. This raises a question, though – what if somebody wants to and deserves a life in Satya yuga but it’s many hundred thousand years away? Or, more generally, what if someone deserves a better, more comfortable life but in this Kali yuga golden toilets are just not an option. How can this be accommodated?

The simplest answer, entirely speculative, of course, is that people don’t get to chose their next lives, they don’t deserve anything not prepared to be served by the universe. There’s no freewill to move up and down universe levels, it’s all determined by the same modes of nature that enforce Kali yuga.

It’s not possible to live in the modern day and age and earn enough karma for a birth in significantly better times or on higher planets. It just won’t happen, Kali will force us to commit mistakes and offenses and contaminate our karma enough to keep us in his grip forever.

We will not get proper training, we will not have enough purity, we will not have enough control over our mind and senses, we will not have proper gurus to follow, most of us won’t even know that heavenly planets of Satya yuga exist. These things do not happen randomly, we earn our next destination by the efforts of an entire lifetime.

Of course there could always be exceptions but those could exist only to prove the rule. This phrase, btw, is quite ambiguous if you think about it. I’ll stick to a common meaning where exception is called an exception precisely because it’s rare and goes against the norm.

Anyway, the point is that all the living entities go through universal cycle in one direction as forced by time, from past to the future, in more or less incremental steps.

Hmm, the examples of people remembering their previous lives put those quite close to their present incarnation but that doesn’t mean it is true for everyone else. Maybe we don’t remember our previous lives precisely because they were a very long time ago. Generally, however, it stands to reason to assume that we live in the present, we develop attachments to things we observe here, so to fulfill those desires we should be born somewhat close, too.

Devotees, however, are totally different creatures. They are not driven by their material desires and are not government by the law of karma. They are Kṛṣṇa’s family, He alone decides where they take their next birth, not the material nature.

Even if we maintain our desires we are put into the next life form not to fulfill or strengthen them but to relinquish them. Kṛṣṇa personally winds them down for us, there’s nothing we can do about it – the attraction of the Holy Name is just too great to be overwhelmed by sense gratification. Slowly but steadily it takes over our lives, we are just pawns in Kṛṣṇa’s hands here. Bhakti is stronger than our egos, we can’t fight it, it’s only a matter of time.

From evolutionary POV we are done here, too, there’s nowhere else for us to go but to Kṛṣṇa. Regardless of our previous experiences we have been blessed with introduction to the Holy Name and devotional service. Our cycle of births and deaths is over, the universe has fulfilled her obligations to the Lord – she delivered us to the lotus feet of our guru.

It doesn’t mean that we will be automatically transferred to the spiritual world, however. Common wisdom has it that we first get to participate in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in the material world, in an earthy Vṛṇdavāna. We have examples of gopīs who came from the material world – sages of Daṇḍakāraṇya who couldn’t express their feelings for Lord Rāmacandra in their then current form. Some gopīs also couldn’t take part in the rasa dance because they weren’t pure enough yet.

We can view these incidents as isolated cases but generally we accept them as a rule. We also realize that we might not be pure enough to achieve even that and need a few more lives of chanting first.

Then there’s Rūpa Gosvāmī and dāsadāsānudāsa concept where we don’t even strive for Kṛṣṇa’s association because service to His devotees is actually a lot sweeter. Where do we go with attitudes like that? Straight into Kṛṣṇa’s company? That would be counter to our desires, wouldn’t it?

Then there’s the eternal bond between guru and his disciples. He comes back again and again until he purifies his disciples enough to introduce them into the spiritual world.

Then there’s a case of first class devotees coming down to the material world to preach – where would we go if we follow their footsteps?

It would make a lot of sense if our destination would be exactly where we are, with exactly the same degree of separation from the Lord – how many gurus in the paramparā between us and Him. We can’t jump over anyone’s head here, not our own guru, not his predecessors. On the spiritual ladder we must remain where we are. The only difference is that we should get better and better in our service, which, btw, shouldn’t mean that these improvement will be visible externally.

Next, Lord’s pastimes here, in this universe, are over. If we are meant to join Him or follow His servants five hundred years behind there’s no place for us in this universe anymore. If the Lord is displaying His pastimes in some other universe that’s where we should go. It makes total sense.

This means that we are meant to be stuck in time, jumping from one universe to another to keep our relative position unchanged. We have our own groundhog day to live through.

Will it really be the same? Not necessarily. In our next universe Lord Brahmā might have not four but four thousand heads and then lament that other Brahmā’s come with millions. Technically speaking, our life might not be carbon based as it is now, and there surely should be minor variations that make the world so diverse but also following the same cycle of four yugas.

Forget the externalities, we will always have “airports” to distribute books even if the planes might look completely different and airports might actually be train stations – as long as there are relatively affluent and open minded people passing through in great numbers it would feel exactly the same.

That’s another important point to keep in mind – devotional service is based on feelings, not forms. Preaching always feels the same regardless of how and where exactly it’s taking place.

So, in the next life we can expect more or less the same service we get now but with incremental improvements. Try after try we will surely reach a universe where we finally get to do it perfectly and purify our hearts completely.

Until then we get to fight with our existing demons, battling with the same attachments, anarthas, and upādhas – all the more reasons to be stuck in our present condition rather than moving on in pursuit of more sophisticated sense gratification.

The fact that we might not like this prospect should also tell us that we still got work to do here, that we are not ready to move beyond this level yet. Perfection would mean total detachment accompanied with great appreciation for whatever service opportunities we have.

Hmm, death will not change anything then, we better get to work on making our life perfect instead.

Vanity thought #1136. Spiritually backwards

Yesterday I discussed weird and isolated tribes that have completely different perceptions of time from ours. We always put past behind us and we are always looking forward to the future while they place past and future in all possible directions – left, right, front, east, west, towards the door etc.

The most interesting one, for me, was Aymara people of South America who put the past in front of them, in front of their eyes. If makes sense, if you think of it – past is known, it’s in your view, it has been in your view, it played out in front of your eyes, so why shouldn’t it be visualized there, too?

Our Western “looking forward” is also easy to understand – when we are going somewhere we are moving towards our future and spatially it means moving forward. Future is uncertain, sometimes it looks dangerous, and when confronting danger we turn our face to it. Then we might flee, but first we have to have a good look at what is facing us.

Putting past behind also makes a lot of sense – we have no control over it any more, it’s done, cannot be changed, cannot be reversed. So we do not cry over spilled milk and forget whatever happened in the past, we do not let it drag us down in our future endeavors. We put it where we can’t see it and where it’s unlikely to bother us anymore – behind our backs.

I didn’t mention those reasons yesterday, I just went for the one favorable to my point – as westerners we live under the mode of passion and so our happiness is always in the future, we live for the sake of our future, not the past. We constantly make plans, dream, imagine things, imagine our future sense enjoyment. These thoughts about future occupy our minds “front and center” and that naturally leads to visualizing our future in front of us, not behind.

That is all our material conditioning, though – it entirely depends on where we were born and how we were raised. Where do Indians place past and future? I have no idea, I’ve never heard it was any different so I assume it’s the same as westerners. Does it make it spiritually legitimate, though? Yes and no.

Yes, because if Śrīla Prabhupāda saw the past behind him and future ahead of us then it’s legitimate. No, because it doesn’t really matter. Our spiritual practice and our spiritual progress do not depend on where we imagine our past and future are located in relation to our material bodies.

Having said that, our practice does depend on these things – we are supposed to strip it from all material contamination and that means purging all cultural and societal norms from our hearts. We are not walking into Vaikuṇṭha speaking English. We are not eating off banana leaves there with fork and spoon, and we won’t endear ourselves to anyone there by constantly saying “achcha!” That might impress earthly vrajavāsīs but needs to be abandoned as yet another upādha.

With that goal in mind we should isolate unfavorable influences of our cultural conditioning and that includes dreaming about our future.

I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago already, I just want to expand on this topic a little bit more.

There’s no dreaming about the future among the nine methods of devotional service, but smaraṇam, remembrance, is there. It’s so important that it’s even made into two other foremost rules – always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget.

All our mental work in devotional service is related to the past, that’s why it’s called remembrance, after all. Every time something happens to us we must remember the words of our guru and apply them to the present situation. Alternatively we can remember how other devotees acted in the similar situation and follow their footsteps.

That’s another big one – we always follow somebody’s footsteps, always follow what somebody has done in the past. Our guru, our ācāryas, other devotees, even Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya Themselves.

Our real spiritual life might lie ahead of us but all our present perceptions of spirituality come from the past, ours as well as historical. We read books about events of five thousand years ago and earlier. We read books about Lord Caitanya, too. We read biographies of our ācāryas and they also describe the past. All spiritual events for us happened in the past – the Lord descended, had some pastimes, His devotees wrote them down, preached them to other people, saw spiritual visions in meditation, converted entire countries and continents and so on.

These events of the past are solid and indisputable while whatever happens to us in the present is doubtful and should be accepted with a great deal of skepticism. We won’t accept claims that Kṛṣṇa had appeared in front of people’s eyes. We might accept reports of Deities talking or appearing in dreams but those are exceptions. We tend to talk about spiritual ecstasy but we don’t take it as real thing yet, certainly not on the level of ecstasy experienced by Lord Caitanya or Six Gosvāmīs.

So, when we talk about engaging our minds in Kṛṣṇa’s service we mean directing our minds towards the past, not future. That is not an absolute rule, though – we have to plan things in our service, too – from cooking food for Kṛṣṇa to preaching engagements. This is probably why it would be crazy to ask devotees think like people of Aymara tribe. We don’t need to visually place past in front of our faces.

Rejecting mundane dreams and plans, however, is legitimate. Our mind always seeks material enjoyment and for the mind it’s always in the future. Our intelligence devises various ways to achieve that enjoyment and that’s why we are always busy making plans. What if this, what if that, what if I do that other thing first, wouldn’t it be better in the long run? That has to be rejected.

It’s the kind of thing that we better put behind us, as materialists say about their past. As soon as these plans occupy our consciousness “front and center” we need to stop and push them away. Our minds should always look backwards – towards our past, not the future.

It’s not an easy thing to do but that’s besides the point – we have to do it anyway, there’s no choice here.

So, a spiritually minded person should dwell in the past and always look towards the past, and if somebody asks about his plans he would stare at that person with a blank expression: “I really haven’t thought about that.”

In this way we should all become “spiritually backwards”.

Vanity thought #1135. Back to the future

Looking back, looking forward, we see the world around us not only as it is now but as it was before and as it will be in the future. We live not just in space but in a space-time and that time component affects our lives probably more than anything else.

Buddhists would discuss the differences between past, present, and future and conclude that nothing really exists and if we could only catch the present we would achieve enlightenment.

I can’t speak for them but my understanding is that past does not exists because it’s, well, past. Even if existed at some point it doesn’t exist now. Future also doesn’t exist because it’s always in the “not yet” territory, and present is impossible to catch because as soon as you start contemplating it you start dealing with snapshots of the moments that just entered into the past.

So people are caught between reminiscing about something that doesn’t exist anymore and fantasizing about something that has not yet happened, and that causes stress and eventually makes them unhappy. Once you detach yourself from these illusions and “live in the moment” you become free and peaceful.

Can it work? I’m not sure. Generally, we can’t free our minds from the influence of time, if we could we would probably achieve the stage of liberation but it requires an enormous amount of work and sliding back into “reality” can happen at any moment. Bhutanese monks apparently have enough discipline but I’m not sure how successful they really are in their endeavors.

Apart from that, people’s ordinary orientation in space-time can vary greatly, too. There are tribes all over the world that see time differently from us. There’s a tribe in Papua New Guinea that sees past downhill and future uphill, at the source of their river. When making references to past they would gesture towards the river’s mouth regardless of the way they are facing themselves, and when talking about future they would gesture towards the mountains where their river starts. The river isn’t straight, too, so past is not directly opposite the future. This quirk is believed to be related to how they view their tribe’s history – as gradual ascend from the seashore up into the mountains.

Interestingly, when inside the house, their past is towards the door and their future is away from it.

There’s a tribe in Australia that sees time as traveling east to west, I don’t know why. There are tribes that see time flowing left to right, too, and one South American tribe, Aymara, that see past as being in front of them and future behind – directly opposite to our common perception. This is what interests me most here.

Scientists are fascinated by geographical orientation of time more than by relation to one’s own body but I think that we should pay attention to ego-related issues because it’s not the geography that is holding us here, it’s our attachment to our bodies, to our false ego, to our past, present, and future as embodied beings. If we can beat that then we can look at the time “objectively”, whichever way it really flows.

For Aymara people, past is in front of them because they have seen it. It’s where it appeared before their eyes. If they didn’t see something but only heard of it they do not place it in front of them, or so I gather. I don’t like this explanation very much. I’d much prefer to consider past in front of me because it is known, it is something already experienced, something I can study and dissect and explain away.

Future, OTOH, is unknown, so it shouldn’t be where I can see it, it shouldn’t be in my field of vision and activities, and so behind me is a better place. Not that it is how I actually relate to past and present personally but I think there’s some merit in this angle of vision, too.

In English there are time related quirks, too, but nothing as radical as Aymara’s. If one says that Wednesday meeting was moved forward two days half the people would think new meeting is on Monday and half would think it’s on Friday. Some see “forward” as relative to Wednesday and some see “forward” as and extension of their view, which is from present to past, and so extended by two days it moves from Wednesday to Monday. Personally, I would think new meeting is on Friday but science says there are folks who think it’s Monday and who am I to argue against science.

Anyway, the Aymara vision is truly radical – they would simply refuse to talk about future because of all the uncertainty about it. It hasn’t happened yet, it’s not in front of our eyes, it can turn this way or that, it’s a waste of time guessing it.

When Spanish conquistadors first came across this tribe they couldn’t explain to them the concept of “moving forward” and “thinking ahead”, Aymara people would not engage themselves in such speculations, not to mention it was impossible to translate. They just did not have the concept of progress which is essential to western attitude towards the world and our lives.

Driven by the mode of passion, we must move forward all the time, we must make progress, we must think about the future and all the wonderful things it should bring us. We all live for tomorrow or next year, things are always better in the future and we should always have hope.

Aymara people were probably more under the spell of ignorance and goodness and so they couldn’t understand what was all the fuss about.

We are not Aymara and we are supposed to be slightly more advanced than them but falling into passion driven attitude towards our lives is not much of a progress either. It would serve us well not to speculate about the future and not anticipate marvelous sense gratification that awaits us there. It leads only to further bondage.

How can we think about it in any other way? Every time we contemplate our future our mind reacts to our fantasies with either like or dislike, we can’t stop it from doing that. Every time our mind likes or dislikes something it sends us a signal and depending on the mind’s intensity it could be impossible to ignore.

This mind’s perception will naturally affect our every move towards that imaginary future. We will be either drawn to it or repelled, and then we’d have to exert a lot of energy to either stop us or force us. If it’s a sexual attraction we would have to try and stop ourselves, if it’s a cold shower at 3 in the morning we’d have to force ourselves out of warm beds.

The more we think about the future the more problems we create for ourselves, the more attached we become. Who needs that?

Dealing with our past and learning from it sounds so much better. Sure, we can develop attachments to past sense gratification.too, but memories do not last forever, the further away they are from the present the less powerful they are.

Maybe it’s just me but my memories do not move me anymore. I can’t feel them like I used to, I need a conscious effort and even then it doesn’t always work. That’s why I think it’s easier to be dispassionate about our past than about our future. We also have the benefit of hindsight and so our judgment is a lot better. What’s not to like about it?

I would recommend it to everyone else, too.

Vanity thought #1134. Hand of God – really?

I’m in two minds about God creeping into entertainment. On one hand it’s better to have shows about God than about anything else, on the other hand misrepresenting God is probably as dangerous as preaching atheism.

This summer there was a show about people who were left out after “rapture”, it had a very impressive start, imo, and I covered the first few episodes here but then it disintegrated into pursuing its mundane plot and I don’t even remember how it ended.

Its characters were focused on God all throughout but Christianity puts a limitation on how far they can actually go. After the first push they ran into a wall of selfishness. God as an order supplier can reveal Himself only so much, after that it’s dealing with your own life problems which aren’t interesting anymore.

How people feel about this, how they feel about that, what they are going to do about it all – I bet it’s not only me, God stopped watching it, too.

We aren’t any closer to God and we don’t have any higher realizations but we have an unbreakable connection to Him via our guru. Our critics can say whatever they want about quality of our guidance but the fact remains that paramparā is our link to Kṛṣṇa regardless of how it looks on the outside.

It would be wrong of us to expect progress in terms of acquiring some mystical powers and visions, I think everyone eventually realizes that, and with this hope gone all we have left is following the orders of our gurus. It might not look like much but it signals a change of direction – from pursuing razzledazzle of never ending bliss to quiet appreciation of every little crumb of devotion and mercy that comes out way.

Instead of prolonging the euphoria we cultivate patience and determination, and spiritual self-sufficiency – words of our critics don’t touch us anymore, we realize that one single word of our guru, one single moment of proper association is worth thousands and thousands of lifetimes, what to speak of critical articles on the internet.

We also get to realize that mercy is all around us if we are humble enough to admit it into our hearts and cherish it properly. We might not have anything to show for it but we also realize that devotional life is not for show, it’s for cleansing out own hearts and as long as it works we don’t care how it looks on the outside.

Christians and God seekers from The Leftovers had not internal goals to pursue, even the most dedicated ones. For them it was all about the rules and mechanics but we know that bhakti cannot be achieved by manipulating material energy – our bodies and world around us. That’s why they always end up in frustration – they tie up their spiritual progress to their external behavior, and Kali yuga always messes it up for everyone.

Austerities, temple worship, meditation – those things worked for us once, too, but in this age they are unreliable and time wasting. The only path to God lies through chanting and talking about Him, not through following external rules and obligations.

“What about four regs?” one might ask. What about them? If we chant sincerely following our regs comes naturally without extraneous effort, and if we don’t chant sincerely then forcing ourselves to behave won’t add anything to our spiritual advancement.

Having material attachments is not a sin, it’s holding onto them and hoping they would bring us happiness is what is offensive. We shouldn’t focus our attention on our external behavior, we have Holy Names to chant, that’s our only duty and our only service, everything else will fall in place automatically. That’s what faith is, from śraddhā to niṣṭhā.

Moving on.

Last month Amazon had a pilot of a show called “Hand of God”, the idea was… Wait, let’s start from the beginning. Amazon is a huge company with diverse interests, one of those is “in-house” entertainment. They are no longer content with selling content produced by others, which was originally limited to books, now they want vertical integration – their own entertainment sold through their own channel to people using their own devices.

They looked at success of Netflix original shows and thought they could do the same. This summer had seen the third round of such pilots, success is still eluding them but they are trying, throwing every idea at a wall and waiting for the one that sticks.

One of those ideas was a show about God. With their attitude in mind it was bound to be a cheap ride on a popular topic and that’s what they ended up with. It’s still not known if the pilot was received warmly enough to order a full season but that is not an important criterion of success for us anyway.

Was it really about God and His effect on our lives and our hearts? Or was it just a platform for miracles convenient for plot twists? They packed quite a lot in that pilot, trying to make it as shocking as possible. There was a judge who went off his rocker becoming born again Christian and we get to see and wonder if there’s any goodness and purity, and “hand of God” behind his madness.

Despite the name, God isn’t an attraction in this show, it’s what this super duper judge can do and how he can impress us, the mere hoi polloi, with his brilliant intelligence, high octane energy, wisdom etc. Once I realized that I lost all interest.

They again try to use God to make themselves look good. Humility is just not their strong suit. As soon as they get touched by this “hand of God” they use it to extend their powers and their control over material world. They never even think about becoming servants, only about masters of the universe, and they demand God’s blessings.

Is there any value in such utilization of God, as was my question in the beginning? I don’t know. God is absolute, everyone who remembers Him in any context purifies his existence but “God” isn’t the best name to remember so the effect is limited, and if one approaches God with the desire to take His powers and use them for his own pleasure then he kind of seals his own fate.

It’s what impersonalists do – they want to become God themselves, they don’t want to become servants. That’s what demons do, too – Viṣṇu is there to be equaled to and then possibly defeated. This attitude is decidedly undevotional.

Is it better than atheism, though? Not necessarily. First of all, they ARE atheists – they reject their relationships with God even if they accept His existence. They are even greedier than ordinary atheists who at least do not hanker after God’s powers to help them in their sense enjoyment.

We’ve also seen millions of atheists in former Soviet block countries becoming best of devotees. I think it was because their atheism wasn’t actually offensive towards God, they simply didn’t know anything about Him, and once they heard our message they immediately became receptive. It’s not the lack of knowledge, it’s the offensive attitudes in our hearts that make us into atheists.

I guess I should have clarified the meaning of “atheist” here first but it’s a big topic, even atheists themselves do not always agree on various aspects of this term.

And I still don’t know the answer if we should welcome using God for entertainment purposes. Certainly not for our own, of course, but for the rest of the population.

Vanity thought #1133. Self-in-sufficiency

After discussing self-sufficiency as it’s understood by the outside world it’s time to approach it from perspective of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Words mean different things when applied to matter and spirit and we should keep that in mind.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, for example, sometimes linked self-sufficiency to independence. Kṛṣṇa is self-sufficient, obviously, yet He also needs His devotees to do things for Him. The universe is self-sufficient yet it obviously needs Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Devotees are self-sufficient yet they obviously cannot exist without Kṛṣṇa. Materialists seek self-sufficiency but their independence is illusory, and so on.

Let’s start with Kṛṣṇa. By definition He is the only svarat (independent) entity in the all the spiritual and material worlds. Every other manifestations of Godhead is dependent on Him, there are no rogue Gods in the spiritual sky. The concept of God itself implies a single independent being and everyone else subordinate to Him.

Yet “Kṛṣṇa” does not exist, also by definition, without His devotees. He is never alone or He wouldn’t be Kṛṣṇa. There’s no meaning to attractiveness if there’s no one to appreciate it. Sometimes we forget it in our prayers but Kṛṣṇa is never ever alone and so we should always keep in mind that we can’t have a totally private conversation with Him, we should always think how our pleas would be perceived in the company of His devotees, too.

We can’t snitch on others, for example, it would be very rude and counterproductive considering how much Kṛṣṇa cares about objects of our criticism. Moreover, we have to finally realize that our existence makes sense only as servants of His servants, we are not meant to relate to Him directly and independently from our devotee-masters.

So, even Kṛṣṇa is not truly self-sufficient. Is His company on Goloka self-sufficient? It appears so but we’d better hope it’s not, otherwise we stand no chance of ever making it there. Our only hope in our devotional life is that Kṛṣṇa might need our association even if He has all the friends and servants He needs. He is obviously doing fine already and there’s no lack of bliss there so we can’t claim our place, just hope that He might find us useful.

It becomes even trickier when we consider that our usefulness is actually determined by other devotees, not by Kṛṣṇa Himself. We would expect that these devotees are eternally liberated souls but where is guarantee of that? What if our place is to be in service to not so pure ones that occasionally slip into material illusion? What if a devotee we can’t stand here turns out to be our master and our only shelter up there in the spiritual world? What if accepting our position as his servants is the ultimate goal of all our training by all the śāstra and all our gurus? We don’t know who we will be assigned to up there so we should be prepared for everything.

Moving on – is universe self-sufficient? Śrī Iśopaniṣad says so (Iso Invocation):

    The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains it in the purport, too: “..this phenomenal world is also complete in itself. The twenty-four elements of which this material universe is a temporary manifestation are arranged to produce everything necessary for the maintenance and subsistence of this universe. No other unit in the universe need make an extraneous effort to try to maintain the universe.”

If explained to scientists it would mean that the universe has origin – Kṛṣṇa (or one of His expansions) but it doesn’t need an external source of energy, or it doesn’t need Kṛṣṇa to function, it is meant to operate entirely on its own. I don’t think we should count various forms of Viṣṇu as external sources here. So, when they “prove” that there’s no God and think it gives them victory over religionists they are very much mistaken – they are defeating their own strawman argument. There are no material phenomena in this world that would require external, God’s support.

OTOH, the material universe obviously needs connection to Kṛṣṇa. It just isn’t a happy place without Him. We can get it to function perfectly and learn to tolerate temporary inconveniences but, as spirit souls, we will never be fully satisfied here. It’s just a game for us, and a game we decided to play on our own thinking that it would be as much fun as playing with Kṛṣṇa. It isn’t, we are sorry we played without Him and we hope He accepts us back.

Okay, what about devotees? Are they self-sufficient? Somehow from the very beginning I thought of spiritualists as being able to derive happiness from within, even before I knew about Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Independence from the surrounding world always seemed a prominent feature of any transcendentalist to me, I don’t remember what I called them at the time.

We have brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā verse (BG 18.54) where prasannātmā means being “fully joyful”, which implies self-sufficiency. We have ātmārāma verse (SB 1.7.10) where ātmārāma means those who take pleasure in their spiritual nature, implying self-sufficiency. So, is a devotee fully self-sufficient?

Yes and no. First we need to agree on what “self” means here. A material body as manifested in the material world or his spiritual form? If we are talking about spiritual form we aren’t talking about devotees down here. Brahma-bhūyāya means liberated (BG 14.26), on the platform of Brahman, and as such this devotee has no connection to the material world so there’s no question of sufficiency or insufficiency.

Yet there is also mama janmani janmani in Śikṣāṣṭaka (CC Antya 20.29) – a devotee wants birth after birth after birth, in the material world, as long as he is engaged in service. There’s no request for liberation, he is perfectly content with whatever material form is forced on him. So in this case “self” refers to a material conditioning. Material body will never be self-sufficient – it always needs food, air, water etc.

Being born here means becoming a slave to material nature, a slave to one’s sense organs, a slave to one’s ego, a slave to those who provide things for us, a slave to one’s karma – there’s no question of self-sufficiency at all, yet a devotee shouldn’t mind this as long as his material body is engaged in service. A devotee shouldn’t mind if his service is done via the medium of material nature, as long as it’s service it’s considered complete and absolute. In this sense he is self-sufficient because external circumstances do no affect his devotion.

Is devotion self-sufficient? Obviously it needs an object of devotion – Kṛṣṇa, but is bhakti self-sufficient in a sense that it sustains us even when Kṛṣṇa is not there, when He is conspicuous by His absence? I think the answer is a bold yes. We are not ready to accept it yet but if we have genuine devotion we will stop worrying whether we can see Kṛṣṇa or not, we would be perfectly content to serve His devotees down here where He appears only once in a millennium.

Even more – service to a devotee will never be uninterrupted in this world – we have to spend nine months in a womb, then some twenty years growing up, then in old age we might become useless again. Only a few years of serving Śrīla Prabhupāda was enough for His disciples to fully justify their births in this world. I’m pretty sure many of them would gladly take such a glorious birth again and again despite decades of separation from their guru.

Yet we cannot say that we should be totally indifferent to Kṛṣṇa’s presence. Theoretically, yes, practically, it’s not possible. His absence from our lives should be killing us. When Lord Caitanya disappeared from this world His devotees, all perfect nitya-siddhas, couldn’t stand the separation and left shortly thereafter. Some stayed though – the Six Gosvāmīs, but then they were always WITH Kṛṣṇa in their meditation, for them there was never any separation. We cannot expect to become more advanced than any of those devotees.

Nor can we talk about self-sufficiency when our entire purpose here is to serve other devotees. Our life has no meaning without them, there’s no question of our spiritual independence whatsoever.

Still, as soon as we see our “self” as it is, as a part and parcel of the Supreme meant for His eternal enjoyment, we should immediately become “self”-sufficient – there’s nothing else we would ever need in our existence, no further progress to be made.

In this sense, proper self-sufficiency should be our legitimate goal and varṇāśrama related understanding should become only secondary.

Vanity thought #1132. Self Sufficient communities

Yesterday I talked about self-sufficiency on the scale of countries. It doesn’t make much sense – to be classified as a country it needs to be closely integrated with the rest of the world, so it’s all about relative independence in certain key areas, not a total isolation, which is impractical anyway.

Real self-sufficiency should exist on the level of communities as there aren’t any demands on community living, they don’t need to have UN representation or their own currency. If a community is truly self-sufficient we should not even know about its existence.

Incidentally, that’s what I think is the reason for our ISKCON farms not being constantly in the news as they plow away in pursuit of self-sufficiency – they are just not that interested in promoting themselves.

This is also the model that Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted for us (Letter to Mahāṁsa from Bombay, 1974):

    Now, we should have self-sufficiency. This means to make our own food grains grow and to weave our own cloth—like in Mayapur. If we have food grains, milk, and cloth life becomes easy and we can save time for preaching and chanting.

This is how we should introduce varṇāśrama, too – amongst ourselves first, Śrīla Prabhupāda suggested it in the last part of that same letter.

Self-sufficient communities are fairly common in various regions of the world including the West. In the USA living off-the-grid is a very popular movement with as many as 180,000 households literally unplugged from electric power grid (source). They have wind turbines or small hydro-power plants or solar cells to produce their own electricity which, of course, defeats the purpose – they want the same level of sense enjoyment as the rest of the society.

Still, there are plenty of truly self sufficient households or villages ready to share their knowledge and experiences there. In Europe they are called eco-villages, to keep up with times, I guess, and there’s even a map here. There’s a two hour documentary here covering ten of such communities and our Kṛṣṇa Valley in Hungary is among them!

This is all modern stuff, though, it’s westerners trying to undo centuries of development and find their roots. Outside the West, however, self-sufficiency is still practiced in untouched, organic form, though YMMV as “development” has reached even remotest parts of the world.

Originally, self-sufficiency was everywhere as people had to address their daily needs without inconvenience of trading with far out places. All food was grown locally, all buildings where built from local materials using local techniques, and all clothes were sewn locally, too.

Once you have these basic necessities covered – food, shelter, and something to cover yourself, your life support responsibilities are done, as per this verse I mentioned a couple of days ago (SB 1.2.10):

    Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.

If we live our lives as parts of the broader society, part of modern civilization, our duties are expanded way beyond Bhāgavatam prescription and there’s little we can do about it. We must have cars, phones, internet, TV, we must have not only jobs but careers, we need to provide best education to our children, we need to prepare them for living in the modern world, too, and that means teaching them all the trappings of the modern life. There’s no way we can excuse ourselves from any of those duties, it would be seen as irresponsible.

If we think about it, it would be irresponsible even from Kṛṣṇa consciousness POV – we must perform duties imposed on us by the material nature according to our situation in life. It’s our karma, we cannot just resign from it like Arjuna suggested in the beginning of Bhagavad Gīta.

If we think about it a little more, we should see that duties of a self-sufficient farm recluse are not principally different from that of an urbanite, they are only relatively different.

The fact that self-sufficiency was spread all over the world doesn’t mean that life was simple and thinking was high. It was simplER, but even then everyone was obliged to renounce it in his old age and become even more self-sufficient than usual. It was probably easier for those who lived their whole life close to land but if should not think in such relative terms when we are talking about Absolute Truth – there’s always an infinite number of steps ahead of us regardless of our position.

Even in those days devotees were extremely rare, which means the program of approaching God by reducing one’s material obligations wasn’t working for everyone. I bet massive saṇkīrtana movement as started by Śrīla Prabhupāda and before that by his guru saved far more people than self-sufficiency did for thousands of years, we should never forget that.

Self-sufficiency is not a goal in itself, which is clear even from the letter I quoted earlier – it is means to save time for preaching and chanting. This is a delicate topic, however. More free time does not automatically mean more rounds, and even if it did – our job is not to sit and chant but to purify our senses through proper engagement, ie preaching.

Preaching, however, is not done on farms, it’s done in the cities where people live, and if we want to save time for it we need money, not our own weaving looms. With money we can supply all our life necessities very very fast, a lot faster than living on farms. That’s why book distribution is so perfect – we preach AND we get funds to support ourselves. Money in this case really unburdens us from trivial stuff like growing our own vegetables and cleaning cow pens.

Between preaching and self-sufficiency saṇkīrtana wins all the time hands down, it’s not even a contest.

How did Śrīla Prabhupāda plan to resolve this contradiction? I don’t know, I don’t think he did, leaving this responsibility to us. Maybe he thought our farms would be fairly close to the cities so that we could have vans taking book distributors out every day. Maybe he thought they’d serve as base camps for traveling saṇkīrtana groups that would come home once a week only. There’s this quote from that letter, too:

    Not that everyone should do these activities of farming, but if one is less intelligent, or not intelligent enough to preach nicely, he can do.

It seems he expected ISKCON to attract mostly preachers doing the best brāhmaṇas work but in general society proportion of brāhmaṇas is very low, about one in twenty people for Bengal, for example (source).

Perhaps this unresolved question is what drives ISKCON apart – some want “varṇāśrama”, which means stricter rules and more farms while others push for preaching at any cost, rules be damned. The polarization is not critical yet but it’s there. Both sides would probably reject being cast as opposing either self-sufficiency or preaching completely but their directions are nevertheless different.

Who should win? Perhaps no one. Perhaps there is no golden balance, no middle ground, no amicable solution. Perhaps we should just keep doing what we are doing and let others push their agenda if they want to. Lord Caitanya takes care of ISKCON as a whole, we all have places in His movement, perhaps one individual or one way of life cannot represent our society by definition, so it is pointless to rant about others doing something incorrectly and pulling ISKCON in a wrong direction. They probably aren’t, and in any case – let Lord Caitanya worry about them.

Perhaps “unity in diversity” is a real thing.