Vanity thought #1257. Boars are not boring

Today is the appearance day of Śrī Varāhadeva. I’ve heard that He did it twice, though, during reigns of two different Manus, so it’s unclear whose birthday it is exactly.

In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, in the Third Canto, there’s only one incarnation but in Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Laghu-Bhāgavatāmṛta it is explained the Maitreya in his conversation with Vidura combined the two.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam still makes total sense, though. At the end of the 12th Chapter (SB 3.12) Maitreya described the appearance of Svāyambhuva Manu and his wife, Śatarūpā. At the beginning of the 13th chapter this Svāyambhuva Manu begs Lord Brahmā to rescue the Earth fallen to the bottom of the ocean and it appears it was his very first task so there shouldn’t have been any demons around to kill. That’s the reason given for two Varāha incarnations. The 12th chapter, however, specifically mentions that Svāyambhuva Manu gave away his daughter Prasūti to Dakṣa, who, in turn, was the father of Diti who gave birth to Hiraṇyākṣa, and killing this same Hiraṇyāksa (addressed as daitya, son of Diti) is mentioned as the first thing Lord Varāha did (SB 3.13.31).

In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda refers to Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī (not Rūpa Gosvāmī) as the one who suggested there were two Varāha incarnations, and to Śrīla Viśvaṇatha Cakravartī as the one who suggested that Maitreya combined the two incarnations into one narrative.

One thing is clear – there’s a lack of clarity here. Rūpa Gosvāmī used several sources for his Laghu Bhāgavatāmṛta so his explanation should be accepted as authoritative. There’s no scope for even the slightest doubt that he somehow found a fault in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and hurried to correct it. Personally, I take shelter in the possibility that all quoted scriptures and ācāryas are correct at the same time.

It looks like Dakṣa appears in every Manvantara and demons appear in every Manvantara, too, and so should Lord Varāha, which is a līlā incarnation who comes to fight with them again and again. It is also possible that sometimes He just wants to rescue the Earth. At the end of each Manu there’s universal devastation and the Earth gets inundated so the next Manu needs to lift it back up. Sometimes the waters of inundation might recede on their own but sometimes it might not work.

In SB 3.13.17 Lord Brahmā keeps wondering why the Earth was submerged in water and that’s when Lord Varāha appeared from his nostril. In this chapter of the Bhāgavatam it’s all about saving the Earth while slaying of Hiraṇyākṣa mentioned only once. It gets full coverage only five chapters later, as if it was a separate story.

We can also note that Hiraṇyākṣa could have been killed by the Lord in His human form while boar form was particularly suitable for digging up the Earth.

The reason for saving the Earth while battling the demon is also different – it wasn’t a post-inundation problem, it was the result of Hiraṇyākṣa extracting too much gold from the planet which made it lose its balance and dunk into the ocean.

Perhaps both pastimes, rescuing the Earth and killing Hiraṇyākṣa, are equally important. Perhaps sometimes the Lord does only one of them while on other occasions He does both. With fourteen Manvantaras in a day of Brahmā the Lord has a lot of time to try every combination.

What’s important is that He does not get bored and performs His pastimes again and again with great pleasure. We, otoh, tend to lose interest in hearing the same story over and over, and it’s not a very exciting one either.

Boar digging up the Earth is not a life changing, earth-shattering experience. You can be surprised at the suitability of using boar form for this task only once, after that it gets repetitive, but not for the Lord. He likes coming out small and then growing bigger than the sky, completely blowing away all the spectators. He likes diving into the ocean and searching for the Earth.

Boars search for their food by their sense of smell so it’s only appropriate that Lord Varāha sniffed around to find the Earth. Smell, as it happens, is the property of the earth element just as taste is the property of water. If you want to find earth, you need to smell for it.

Of course one could say that perfume smells, too, but we should not confuse Vedic elements like earth and water with soil and liquid we see in our everyday life. We should try to understand it from the other end. Fire is the element that gives form, not something very hot that turns things into ashes. We perceive fire with our eyes, it’s what makes things visible, so we should seek relation to mundane fire starting from this definition and not try to trace it from dictionaries back to Vedas.

Anyway, the Lord liked it. He also liked slapping the demon around. This is where our perception is also deceptive. We haven’t seen this fight, we don’t usually try to even imagine it, only take it on faith that it was awesome. Everyone who saw it said so. Our position, however, is unfortunate. We know all the story, we know background of every character, we know the end, we know the philosophy behind it, we know who was who in their previous incarnation – we know everything but the tiny little detail – the fight itself, which Lord Varāha enjoyed the most. He didn’t come here to read genealogy, He didn’t come here to start discussion on whether Jaya and Vijaya fell from Vaikuṇṭha or it wasn’t a falldown. He came to enjoy the battle, the only thing we can’t really perceive.

Another difficulty we face is how to properly depict the boar incarnation. Boars are not beautiful. Pigs can be pink and cute but not boars. When devotees working on our paintings got to the Lord Varāha they asked for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s advice. He said to draw Him as beautiful as possible, and even draw Him with hands instead of hooves. I don’t think they succeeded, by material standards, of course.

In Indian art there are two solutions there. One is to draw boar’s head onto Viṣṇu’s body, and the other is to try and draw a boar as beautiful on its own. Neither works, really. Why? Because no one has ever seen Lord Varāha, it’s all our own imagination, and sadly, not a very good one.

One could look for boar drawings as computer game characters. I suppose there should be quite a few games featuring boars. Those won’t be drawn as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, of course, but they would convey raw power of this animal. Boars are ferocious and very very strong. In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam it’s mentioned that Lord Varāha’s tusks were fearful, too. If the artist could convey these features in their absolute he would be successful in depicting Lord Varāha even if he didn’t know he was drawing Him. It’s the same principle as with water and fire I mentioned above – Lord Varāha is defined by having fearsome tusks, all other aspects really being only secondary.

Just had a look, btw, and found not video games but mythological boars, one is “Beast of Dean” and another is Greek “Erymanthian Boar”. Google for pictures to see what I mean. It is possible to draw a very respectable looking boar.

Of course drawing by the devotees would always be better because they convey devotion. If we want to know what the Lord looks like in real life we shouldn’t rely on pictures anyway but hope for actual realization.

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Vanity thought #1256. A few missing words

So, while talking about Kholāvecā Śrīdhara a few important points got left out. Let’s see if I can express them today. Third time’s a charm, as they say.

First, the history – I can’t seem to find the originals for most of our Śrīdhara folklore. Caitanya Caritāmṛta mentions him only once, as part of Lord Caitanya’s tree, and that’s all. Śrīla Prabhupāda gives a brief outline of his personality there and uses words like “Most probably he had a banana-tree garden and…”

If even that is under question, what can we know for sure about him at all? Śrīla Prabhupāda mentions several episodes from after Lord Caitanya conversion but those are rarely spoken about in our classes, they are less fertile than his pre-conversion pastimes. He gave a squash to Mother Sacī to cook or danced in jubilation during Lord Caitanya’s visit to Kazi, or regularly went to Jagannātha Purī. The story about Lord Caitanya drinking from his water pot is more instructive but we don’t talk about it as much as about his poverty and his spending fifty percent of income on worshiping the Ganges and about his conversations with the Lord regarding regularly supplying Him with banana products.

Besides Caitanya Caritāmṛta we have very few authoritative sources. There’s Caitanya Bhāgavata, of course, and then Caitanya Maṇgala and that’s all. As far as I can search, Kholāveca Śrīdhara is not mentioned there at all, so it’s only Caitanya Bhāgavata left. That’s where I got the story about him submitting himself to the demands of an arrogant and possibly dangerous brāhmaṇa, as Lord Caitanya looked the part then.

It must be said that most of that story has been known to us from the time immemorial – from before we had Caitanya Bhāgavata translated and widely read. So what’s our source?

Śrīla Prabhupāda, of course, but when he himself starts with “most probably” we need to pay attention to various interpolations we produce from there as if they are a real thing. Sure, we need to extract useful lessons, and those lessons are true regardless of whether they are based on facts or common folklore, but we should also be aware that we might be using Kholāvecā Śrīdhara’s name as a label for our own imagination.

Fifty percent spent on worshiping the Ganges is not mentioned there, for example. It’s in Prabhupādaś purpot in Caitanya Caritāmṛta so that’s good enough for us but it’s probably something we shouldn’t really insist on in case there are arguments about the exact number. The business plans offered to Śrīdhara are not mentioned there at all. Where do they come from? I don’t know. Caitanya Bhagavāta spends two dozen verses describing his banana conversation with Lord Caitanya but that’s all. It happened in his house, once, and there’s nothing about Lord Caitanya regularly hassling him at the market for a better price. The idea that worshiping Caṇḍī makes people rich is there but not as any kind of actual business proposition. No taking a year off, no hiring other people, nothing. Where did that come from? I don’t know.

Anyway, the episode with Lord Caitanya making impossible demands and Kholāvecā agreeing to them is there, so it’s legit, and that’s something that needs a little clarification.

As I said day before yesterday, Śrīdhara considered that giving away his products to impudent brāhmaṇa was in his best long term interest even if it happened by trickery or threat of force. He just wasn’t that attached to his income, whoever laid claim on it, it seems, had a very good chance of getting it.

We can say that it was Lord Caitanya’s time, things were different then, but that is not a good excuse. This attitude is described in the purport by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī in more detail than in the text itself. What it means is that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta considered it important and quite relevant less than a hundred years ago when brāhmaṇas were not in very high regard already.

I mean Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta spend decades fighting over the position of brāhmaṇas in the society, they nearly killed him for that, and here he is suggesting that people should give brāhmaṇas everything they ask for even if they cheat you out of it. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta considered even vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas and guru bogus, he had no problems with reinitiating their disciples and he certainly had no problems with his own disciples not giving them any money, he had his Gauḍīyā Maṭhas for that.

The way I see it, it wasn’t a commentary on social customs of half a millennium ago and even a hundred years ago these customs were unacceptable, but still Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta thought it’s important enough to mention – in relation to describing a character of a devotee. What he rejected himself for general public was considered extremely pure and attractive when displayed by devotees like Kholāvecā Śrīdhara.

Perhaps that’s how we should apply it to our lives, too. Submission to our authorities should become unconditional as we progress in our devotion. Nothing would be able to touch us then. In our current, state, however, we should naturally consider whether our authorities behave appropriately and whether their demands are reasonable.

I’m not about to start a revolution for total submission to GBC and I’m not about to argue for one. Yes, it would be better for everyone involved but if it’s a behavior displayed by pure souls of Śrīdhara’s caliber then we can’t demand it from everyone. I mean if becoming a pure devotee is a prerequisite then, if we got that, why would we worry about little things like dealing with GBC resolutions? I mean if we got a society full of pure devotees these matters would disappear from our minds completely anyway, it’s something we preoccupy ourselves only due to our impurities.

Another point about this episode is a lesson on blasphemy. After securing His banana supplies Lord Caitanya jokingly asked Śrīdhara what he thought about Him. “Tumi vipra, viṣṇu aṃśa,” Śrīdhara replied. “You are a brāhmaṇa and a portion of Lord Viṣṇu.” Lord Caitanya, however, told him that actually He wasn’t a son of a brāhmaṇa but a son of a gopā, a cowherd man. Śrīdhara just smiled, not being able to understand how true these words were.

Then Lord Caitanya said that actually He is the source of the glories of the Ganges, the object of Śrīdhara’a daily worship, according to our folklore. I think it would have been considered fairly blasphemous if said somewhere outside. I think quite a few Muslims would be rightfully upset if someone says he is the source of the sanctity of Mecca. It’s not a direct comparison, though, and Lord Caitanya didn’t make these claims in public, but still.

What did Śrīdhara answer? “Aren’t you afraid of insulting Ganga this way?” He then added that people supposed to grow up and mature but Lord Caitanya’s restlessness only doubled, and that was it. In short, he considered it a childish talk not worthy of actually replying to.

Imagine, though, for a moment, someone making similar claims publicly in the present day. We’d dismiss that person as another lunatic impostor, another self-declared incarnation. I’m not sure we would take offense at such nonsense and I’m not sure Muslims would react angrily, too. Some things are just too outrageous and too improbable to affect one’s faith so they will not cause anger.

This is another point – people get angry about things they are afraid might be true, things they do not want to admit the possibility of to themselves, and when it’s forced on them they become defensive. When westerners tell Muslims to take Muhammad cartoons easy they imply that their faith shouldn’t be affected by such silly things. There’s a grain of truth in this advice but also a heap of arrogance. Only atheists would consider pushing religious buttons until they find people’s weak spots and then capitalize on weaknesses. It’s just not cool. Our creeper of devotion needs to be protected, not trampled upon in jubilation.

But blasphemy aside – it only increases renunciation of Kholāvecā Śrīdhara who decided to give a major part of his income away to someone insulting his dear object of worship, just because he asked and because brāhmaṇas constitutionally are a “part of Viṣṇu”. Pure devotion does wonderful things to people, and probably looks like total madness to outsiders.

Or we could consider the whole episode as a pastime forced by Lord illusory energy and so it would have been impossible between Kholāvecā Śrīdhara and anybody else. If we take that as an explanation, though, the value of whatever lessons we can learn from it would greatly decreases, so, personally, I’m not in favor of it.

Vanity thought #1255. Thought process explained

Somehow my mind lost its focus and keeps forgetting things when I write these articles. It’s a curious situation, actually. I know what I’m going to type but no matter what I do, I always forget half of it. Sometimes the reason is that I just don’t fully prepare myself mentally, don’t visualize every turn of the argument before hand, so when time comes to sit down and type I follow a different path from what was intended before.

You’d think that the solution would be to think the post through and memorize the key points but that doesn’t work either because when time comes to sit down the mind does not follow previously covered tracks, it tends to think new thoughts instead. As much as I want to stick to the program it follows “inspiration” and things get forgotten.

Inspiration is an important consideration in itself. “Writers block” is a real thing and I don’t want it to happen to me. Real writers have the luxury to wait for their inspiration to come but I took a vow to post something everyday and I don’t feel satisfied until the article reaches a thousand words. I can’t wait for the inspiration, I can’t depend on it, I have to produce it myself. How?

I used to think about it while chanting but I stopped a while ago. I used to pray for it but then I decided that it’s not worth diverting my attention to during chanting. That took almost two hours of preparation from my day and so sometimes I just don’t have the time to think these articles through. I just pray that when I sit down Kṛṣṇa would not forget me and accept my efforts as a service.

With an attitude like that I have to respect the flow of my mind. Well, it’s actually mind under the direction of intelligence under the direction of the modes of nature under the direction of the Lord. And, despite of what my mind tells me, I’m not the one writing these things. I’m here just to observe. Mind sees something interesting, takes a note of it, contemplates the topic, gets suggestions, remembers things, looks for confirmation, and finally presents it as an idea for an article.

Personally, I try to learn to distance myself from it. It would happen with or without my participation, the material world is not going to stop just because I decided to lose interest in it. Well, it will eventually stop for me but not for everybody else.

Usually, when a devotee writes something about Kṛṣṇa we treat it as devotional service coming from his heart, authorized and supervised by Kṛṣṇa. A devotee has to make an effort to please the Lord and we can judge the result by the purity of this effort, and also by the quality of the presentation. No one likes to read half-arsed messages that do not elicit any interest or inspiration.

I”m trying to distance myself from such thinking. I’m not this body and I’m not a doer of anything. By the arrangement of the material nature this body sometimes does something related to the Lord and that’s what I should be grateful for. Sometimes these efforts look relatively more accomplished, sometimes they look sloppy, sometimes they look pure, sometimes they look contaminated with envy, ego, or desire for sense gratification. I really have no control over it, my body lives in certain conditions and it reacts to them.

We will not obtain devotion by building up our temporary intelligence and “understanding” things. We cannot go on on chanting only either, we need our heads in the game, too, at least for the time being. We need classes, we need books, we need devotees exchanging opinions, we need to argue in favor of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and against atheism, we need tips on overcoming our anarthas. All those things are necessary but only from the bodily consciousness point of view. As long as we are here the body will be doing something but that alone will not lead to devotion.

Bhakti is not the result of activities on the material platform so our interest in what happens here must be limited. We also need to learn to focus only on Kṛṣṇa related things and look past everything else. I can’t stress this enough – look past everything else that bodies do and focus only on their engagements in Kṛṣṇa related activities.

Sometimes there’s not a lot to get focused on, our appetites for sensory inputs might be bigger than what little Kṛṣṇa consciousness is available, and so we might get involved with something else, less directly related to the Lord. That’s natural, too, but then we should build patience and realize that simple remembrance of the Lord is more important than having mind and intelligence fully engaged in any other topic. Mind and intelligence are moved by the modes of nature, sometimes these winds don’t blow in the desired direction, but should’t it be an opportunity to disengage ourselves from the material world altogether? Let it do whatever it does and let not become judges of that. There’s still Kṛṣṇa to be remembered.

Judging things is what keeps us here. We need to have a look and form an opinion. We need to feel the satisfaction of figuring out something. We need to feel comfort of being properly adjusted in our position. We need safety of knowing our situation in time and place. We need to have a grasp on things. We need presence of our minds, and not only that, we need clarity. All that is on top of lower sensory engagements.

Well, we don’t need any of that. That’s what false ego wants – to be a fully integrated and fully adjusted part of the material nature. It’s not in our real interest at all.

To step back a bit – all these arguments started with two episodes I experienced while chanting. First was when I was doing japa in total darkness and very comfortably seated on a sofa. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t hear anything, the whole world just disappeared and there was only the sound of the Holy Name. After a while I stopped trying to produce this sound and just listened to it. I couldn’t really locate its source then – I didn’t hear it coming out of my mouth, I didn’t hear it entering my ears, the sound vibrations turned into the Kṛṣṇa’s names somewhere in my brain, which is impossible to locate. That’s when I started hearing “myself” as an outsider. The effect was similar to listening to recordings of one’s voice for the first time – our voice always sounds different from what we imagine when we speak.

So that was the point when I started to realize that my body does its chanting on its own, I’m here just to listen. It chants by the mercy of guru, Kṛṣṇa, and devotees, and it’s the material nature that makes my lips move accordingly. I can only express interest in the process, that’s all.

Second episode was when I just woke up and immediately took my japa bag. I wasn’t fully awake yet, had no real concept of what time it was, how much time I had, what was my schedule for the rest of the day, and where everyone else was. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings and during this time I realized that I don’t need to know any of those things, chanting is perfect without this kind of knowledge.

So there… Word of caution, though – these articles shouldn’t be seen as inspired by Kṛṣṇa from within or anything like that. They are written by a conditioned soul under the modes of nature and according to its limited experiences in this particular incarnation. It so happens that during this time we see a rise of the movement of Lord Caitanya and so some of these experiences are influenced by the Lord and, accordingly, some of this stuff becomes related to the Lord, and that’s what should be appreciated, the rest is best forgotten. It will be forgotten at the time of death anyway, and whatever is taken by the soul into the next incarnation is not worthy of remembering either. Only the Holy Name matters, and it’s there with us at all times and it never changes, as fresh and youthful as ever.

Now I have to go and change the title of this post because that’s not what I had in mind when I sat down to type it at all.

Vanity thought #1254. Vaishnava way

For a while now I’ve been stressing the need to accept our authorities for the sake of our own spiritual progress and I might have become repetitive in that. I notice it myself when my mind goes off on that quest again and so I sometimes restrain myself. I don’t want this message to become worn and dry, you can listen to exactly same words only so many times, after all. Having said that, today’s story deserves full consideration and it shows us something we don’t normally see in our conversation on the role of authorities.

It’s about Kholāvecā Śrīdhara, the famous banana trader who conquered the heart of Lord Caitanya with his unassuming devotion. His story is quite long and multifaceted one and can illustrate many devotional points so I don’t know where to start.

Well, he was very poor, that’s probably the main context to everything else that happened with him. He was a banana trader, that is he used to collect bananas, banana tree leaves, make cups from them, collect banana flowers, cut up banana tree trunks and, as usual in India, utilize every part of the tree. He also ate a lot of bananas, some say jokingly. Bananas are not a rare commodity in India and so Kholāvecā’s business didn’t have any particular selling points, he was just one dude out of many sitting at the local market.

He made no profit from his business whatsoever. His clothes were torn and the roof of his house had holes in it. “So what, the roof still keeps most of the water out”, he would reply. Lord Caitanya would tease him about his poverty but Śrīdhara would answer philosophically that time passes equally for everyone, kings in palaces and birds in trees. He had his food and some clothes to cover his body and so all his needs were looked after.

Half of his income he would spend on worshiping the Ganges. Some devotees tell a story how people would give him great financial advice to suspend his pūjā and invest profits in growing his business, hire a couple of guys to process more bananas and sell them for him. That way, after a year, he would have sufficient income to resume his Ganga offerings and would actually offer a lot more that he was offering now. He would reply that no one knows the future and so there’s no guarantee that he would resume his pūjā or that he would become sufficiently wealthy. I don’t want to talk about how we should donate money to the temples, not my point today.

Lord Caitanya offered another advice – stop worshiping Viṣṇu and start offering prayers to Caṇḍī, which is another name for Durgā. She was guaranteed to supply him with all wealth he desired while Viṣṇu was indifferent to his prayers.

There a great point here – the fact was that Lord Caitanya, just an impudent young scholar then, didn’t go to Śrīdhara to make jokes and hassle over bananas, He went there, almost everyday, because Kholāvecā Śrīdhara possessed devotion to the Lord which was far greater than all the material wealth in the world. In the face of all opulence of Navadvīpa Kholāvecā Śrīdhara had something no one else had and he wouldn’t exchange it for any amount of money. He had the unique comfort of not having any material desires and relishing only in the chanting of the Holy Name.

While people around him were agitated that he didn’t share in the same values as them and didn’t even try to lead “normal” life Śrīdhara was fully satisfied with just chanting and worshiping the Ganges. When he was offered various business plans he didn’t know he needed them or their results. He was probably simply inconvenienced by all these well-wishers and waited until he could get rid of them and resume his worship.

This is something we all need to learn, eventually, but it’s still not the point I have in mind today.

Lord Caitanya never gave him any respite and harassed him over his bananas at every opportunity, probably just to test the depth of his devotion. At what point would Śrīdhara start talking money instead of philosophy? Lord Caitanya never found out. He would come to Śrīdhara and demand whatever he wanted at half price, accusing Śrīdhara of running a racket there.

One time Lord Caitanya when to Śrīdhara’s house instead of the market and demanded a donation. He said that because Śrīdhara always appeared calm and satisfied he must have some hidden treasure somewhere, which was devotion, but at that time Lord Caitanya pretended not to value it. Anyway, when Śrīdhara said that all he has is some banana leaf cups there wasn’t anything worthy of giving Lord Caitanya. That didn’t go down very well with the Lord.

“Give me your cups and your leaves and your bananas and banana stalks – the whole lot!” Śrīdhara thought that young brāhmaṇa was very aggressive and unreasonable but here’s what he thought, according to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī:

“Prabu has a very arrogant nature and it looks like he can even beat me up if I don’t give him what he wants. I don’t have anything valuable and even what I have has to be spent on worshiping the Ganges so I can’t give him anything free of cost.” That was his dilemma, and he solved in exemplary vaiṣṇava way:

“A brāhmaṇa is a representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, if I can help him it might awaken my good fortune. Therefore, even if he takes my stuff by trickery or by force, if it gives him benefit in some way I should consider it a success. He can come and take whatever he wants everyday for the rest of my life.”

Just think of it – he considered the situation of being abused by his authority and still reasoned that if he can bring some benefit to his superior then it would be his good fortune.

And he wasn’t talking about his spiritual authority, just a random brāhmaṇa off the street. As a representative of the Supreme Lord, Lord Caitanya sucked, he never offended devotees but he never seriously considered becoming a devotee himself either. As a brāhmaṇa he was unbearable. Actually, at that time devotees used to avoid him due to his arrogance and incessant challenges for debates. Did it stop Kholāvecā Śrīdhara from making a life long commitment to supply Lord Caitanya with all banana products he needed? Not at all. I stopped capitalizing “he” when referring to Lord Caitanya on purpose – he made a point not to behave like a Lord then.

So, vaiṣṇava should have no material interests whatsoever and always, always put his duties towards others above his own comfort. I could say that vaiṣṇava always relies on the Supreme Lord for his daily sustenance but it isn’t totally correct – he just doesn’t care about his sustenance, it’s not something that visits his mind at all. He is too busy worshiping that Lord to think about his own life, and there’s no amount of obligations that would force him to become egotistic again. He considers all these obligations as his service to the Lord and therefore they are all welcome. He doesn’t think “if I take this much I’ll be swamped”, it just doesn’t concern him.

I don’t know how to follow Kholāvecā Śrīdhara’s footsteps, he cannot be imitated, but I hope that by reflecting on his attitude some of it might penetrate my own heart, too.

At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to chanting. We must develop sufficient taste for chanting to completely forget all other considerations like Śrīdhara did. All his exemplary qualities were simply side-effects of his love for Kṛṣṇa, the Holy Name, and the Ganges.

Vanity thought #1253. The big deal

For all this talk about blasphemy and offended sensibilities one important question that hasn’t been addressed so far is – what’s the big deal? People defending Muslim rights in this case haven’t answered it, devotees haven’t answered it, but atheists have been asking. Maybe not directly but they have been trying to find the reasons Muslims reacts so angrily and violently. So what’s the big deal?

There’s no shortage of “journalists” who jump on the opportunity to do some “investigative reporting”, read wikipedia, and then announce to the whole world the truth behind it. In this case wikipedia fails, in the sense that it doesn’t shed any real light on the matter, just gives some related facts. “Journalists” then pick up on those facts as if they provide the full explanation and leave it at that. To complete the circle of surrealism someone needs to feed those articles back into wikipedia as sources.

This is symptomatic of the modern age, the 21st centiry. Knowledge is always at your fingertips, one google/wikipedia search away. People expect it to be instant and comprehensive, but also easy to understand, and their attention span is measured in minutes – and that’s for researchers, not the readers. Even if someone decided to study the issue in depth and spend time with real Islamic scholars and historians, by the time their report is ready the news cycle would have moved on and no one would publish it anymore.

The main criteria for publishing these days is whether the topic becomes trending and generates a lot of links and clicks. If it doesn’t instantly resonate with public hive mind it gets binned in favor of something that does. “Buzzfeed” is the most appropriate name for this new kind of media – it feeds on buzz and it’s meant to generate buzz. It goes for quantity over quality every time. They have to write stuff that can compete with hive mind’s interests in selfies and pictures of their food.

I’m not a serious researcher either and I have very little interest in Islamic history but we have an advantage of looking at everything from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s perspective, perspective of Vedic knowledge. It does not always resonate with the public, most of the time it makes people quiet for a while because they are not wired to look at the world this way and internal logic and consistency leaves them short of counterarguments. In the end, those who want to argue would always find something, many would accept is “one way to look at it”, and only devotees can appreciate the beauty of Vedic wisdom.

So, why is blasphemy such a big deal for Muslims? Yesterday I talked about whether or not blasphemy would be a big deal for us. Some don’t see it that way but there are plenty of instructions in our books to treat it very seriously.

That’s what wikipedia editors implied, too – if it’s in the scriptures it should be taken seriously. Meaning the reaction depends on one’s faith, if someone cares less about his books he won’t react as strongly. Even in our own society, if it’s in the books it means we have to follow, if there are contradictory instructions it means there’s leeway and the rule is not absolute. We are proud to live by the book, and it’s great, but our books are not just words in space.

We know that Vedic sounds are intrinsically connected with reality, that properly pronounced “fire” would produce actual fire, and that is true for our philosophy, too. They don’t know that. They think that our lives are solely by the book and have no meaningful connection to reality. If there are some observable benefits to following the scriptures they can explain them differently. They would explain as hidden science what to the ancients looked like magic. They would explain it as simply practical considerations that were misappropriated by religious authorities and so on.

Kṣatriyas are obliged to kill the offenders after cutting their tongues out – explain that! They, the atheists, won’t even try but our reasoning it surprisingly simple – kṣatriyas are meant to uphold the religion, and not only in the sense of following the rules but also as maintaining the proper climate in the society so that religious worship is perceived as a “cool” thing to do.

People should be encouraged to perform their religious duties and big part of that encouragement is providing sufficient affirmation. Religious worship is not supposed to be easy and enjoyable from start to finish, everybody always has doubts, everybody has to fight off laziness, everybody has to make conscious choices between pursuing sense gratification and pursuing his dharma. What helps them greatly in their decision is strong faith in their authorities. In fact, most of our decisions are made on faith in our superiors and against our immediate desires. We do it because Prabhupāda said so, guru said so, GBC said so, temple president said so, and we have to serve them first.

Familiarity breeds contempt, as we should well know. If we see our authorities as mere human, just like us, we lose the conviction to follow their orders, it’s as simple as that.

No one in his right mind would draw a cartoon of Śrīla Prabhupāda, for example, depicting his image is naturally thought of as a sober and serious affair. Muslims go even further – they refuse to draw either God or His prophets because our efforts will never serve them well. Our depictions will always be contaminated and somewhat vulgar, we would always transfer our mundane perceptions of beauty, attraction, wisdom etc. on the Absolute. Personally, I’ve seen too many recent pictures of Kṛṣṇa that make Him “as handsome as that other guy on TV”. Even in our original ISKCON art authorized by Śrīla Prabhupāda Kṛṣṇa sometimes looks like a handsome American.

So, humanizing our authorities is not conducive to building our faith in them, and laughing at drawings of them multiplies this effect exponentially. Atheists know that very well, they often use laughter to free themselves from what they think as unwanted fear and respect. I think there was a lesson like that in Harry Potter’s books, too.

Atheists know that laughing at prophets is probably the most efficient way to destroy people’s faith. The more chuckles they elicit from Muslims looking at those cartoons the better. They might start biting at the fringes – second generation immigrants, teenagers, those not so strict about their “sādhana”, women etc. These people might not matter now but as time goes they would make their, now corrupted voices become heard in the larger community. They bring down the average, so to speak, and so the leaders will eventually have to lower their standards, too.

Religious leaders are aware of this danger perhaps even better than atheists because they are far more attuned to the spiritual health of their communities than the atheists, and I believe this spiritual health is their primary concern when speaking or legislating against blasphemy. Quotes from the books are used only to support their decisions, not guide them. I mean to say that whatever quotes from Quran or Haddith they give on wikipedia are only supporting evidence for decisions based on thorough understanding of the whole body of Islamic teachings.

The same works for us, too. We make decisions based on the whole body of our knowledge, not just books but also history and examples from the lives of devotees. Random quotes that apparently go against this body of knowledge are then made to comply. Some, however, use them to rewrite our entire understanding, like in cases with female dīkṣā gurus or falling from Vaikuntha.

Anyway, my point is that blasphemy is not an isolated event influencing only the hearts of those who listened to it. Blasphemy eventually affects the whole religious society and so religious leaders need to protect their flock from it one way or another. Punishment is just one form of protection – post-factum, prevention is far better. One way to prevent blasphemy from happening again is for post-factum punishment to be seen as a strong reminder but if they can make atheist leaders legislate against blasphemy themselves there would be no need for actual punishment at all.

In a way, blasphemy is just an extreme expression of atheistic ideology. Religous leaders have the responsibility to defeat opposing ideologies and so expecting them to accept blasphemy as a fact of life is like expecting them to accept that God doesn’t exist – it’s a non-starter.

There’s a widespread call for moderate Muslims to oppose terrorists in their ranks but it misses the point that Muslims’ first obligation is to nurturing their community, not to policing it on behalf of infidels. They can probably try and accommodate these requests but I don’t think it will bring lasting success. This request is also hypocritical – atheists refuse to even try and stop their own from provoking Muslim anger but expect Muslims to control those who give in to the provocations.

I once mentioned a school kid response to Charlie Hebdo massacre – they had it coming. They have a lot more coming still.

Vanity thought #1252. Blasphemy Part 2

Continuing from yesterday – what should devotees do if they happen to be offended by blasphemers? I’ve seen two articles on the subject, both offered unsatisfactory answers to this question, imo. On the plus side, one of them offered a rare insight into how devotees should deal with personal offenses and historical anecdotes from the early days of our society were priceless.

In general, however, both went along with the prevailing western view that blasphemy should be accepted and tolerated. One devotee argued that when different religions co-exist in the same space some sort of the blasphemous comments are unavoidable and killing people over it is impractical. In modern age it’s called multiculturalism which is incompatible with intolerance.

It’s all fine, but nowhere in the world multiculturalism means freedom to offend participating cultures! Multiculturalism means exactly the opposite and legally outlaws any kind of offensive treatment, it is meant to be build on mutual respect, not freedom to mock other people’s beliefs.

Does it need to be explained?

It’s one thing for the atheists to get carried away with their rhetoric and become totally hypocritical in their pursuit of freedom of speech, but what’s wrong with our devotees? We should be able to see it through but some of us don’t. This is disappointing.

Another article gave an example of devotees successfully challenging blasphemers in court, when one rock band superimposed cat’s head on Kṛṣṇa’s body on one of their album covers.

Great, because we won. In case of anti-Muhammad cartoons, however, the courts didn’t help and Charlie Hebdo editor was acquitted. The cartoons, in their entirety, were also far more offensive than anything done to Kṛṣṇa so far.

I don’t think any Muslim who felt strongly offended was pacified by that court decision. There’s also the question of Sharia law which Muslims put above secular legislation, especially in religious matters. Practically, there was nothing they could legally do in France but resentment meant that someone decided to take matter in their own hands.

We shouldn’t even mention our little victory as an example for Muslims to follow. Granted, humility and patience is a good advice but it’s also out of place. Yes, ISKCON devotees learned their acceptance in some of the westerns countries the hard way but our experience is incomparable to Muslims’. In France, Muslims have grown to 10% of the population and they started about the same time as Hare Kṛṣṇa movement, who are we to teach them lessons on how to behave in the society?

The point that it wasn’t just God that was the subject of blasphemy but Muhammad also went missing. I have no idea what devotees would do if Śrīla Prabhupāda was mocked in the media in the same way, it’s unthinkable. Some of those Muhammad cartoons were really gross, with 18+ rating.

Both articles discussed examples from history, Kṛṣṇa’s patience with Śiśupāla, for example, or Lord Nityānanda’a patience with Jagāi and Mādhāi. The fact that Lord Caitanya wanted to cut off their heads, however, wasn’t mentioned. Was Lord Caitanya wrong in His anger?

There were also examples of Dhruva Mahārāja and some more from Kṛṣṇa’s time, and they all ended with lessons in tolerance and forgiveness.

I just don’t understand why the immolation of Satī wasn’t mentioned at all. If there’s one prime example on devotees dealing with blasphemy it’s Satī, it has five chapters dedicated to it in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. How could devotees talk about blasphemy and avoid it altogether? I don’t believe any research on the subject would turn only examples of forgiveness. Was contradictory evidence summarily dismissed to fit with “west is the best” agenda? I don’t know what to think, I should probably swear off reading certain sources ever again.

Blasphemy also has its own category page on Vaniquotes in case one wants to find out everything Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote or said on the matter. One could immediately see that forgiveness and humility there are prescribed only in case of personal offenses but they have no place in defending honor of other devotees and our ācāryas.

There’s this very telling entry, for example:

    Humility and meekness are not appropriate when the acaryas are blasphemed

It’s from the purport to Caitanya Caritāmṛta, so a pramāṇa par excellence. The exact sentence is a bit longer but the point is the same (CC Adi.10.85):

    ..humility and meekness are appropriate when one’s own honor is insulted but not when Lord Viṣṇu or the ācāryas are blasphemed. In such cases one should not be humble and meek but must act.

How to act? Well, in Satī’s words (SB 4.4.17):

    If one hears an irresponsible person blaspheme the master and controller of religion, one should block his ears and go away if unable to punish him. But if one is able to kill, then one should by force cut out the blasphemer’s tongue and kill the offender, and after that one should give up his own life.

Muslim terrorist brothers did exactly that, btw. They killed the offenders and then gave up their own lives, committing “suicide by the police”, as they call it now. We should think twice before blindly condemning them.

Purport to that verse gives a few more details, like that a brāhmaṇa should block his ears and leave and not kill himself because that would be the sin of killing the brāhmaṇa. Kṣatriyas have the inherent responsibility to punish the offenders, while vaiśyas and śūdras should immediately give up their bodies.

Okay, we might not be obliged to follow this advice these days but the main point is that blasphemy should not be tolerated and should be opposed still stands. For us, there’s one particular advice from Śrīla Prabhupāda (letter):

    I have heard that in some of the airports they are making announcements telling the people not to purchase our literature. This is impeding our religion and is therefore blasphemy. This cannot be allowed. You should take this to the courts; let people know what they are doing. They cannot impede our right.

Announcements telling people not to purchase our books was considered blasphemy and Śrīla Prabhupāda demanded immediate action, through courts.

Or how about this purport (SB 4.14.32):

    One should not at any time tolerate blasphemy and insults against Lord Viṣṇu or His devotees. A devotee is generally very humble and meek, and he is reluctant to pick a quarrel with anyone. Nor does he envy anyone. However, a pure devotee immediately becomes fiery with anger when he sees that Lord Viṣṇu or His devotee is insulted. This is the duty of a devotee. Although a devotee maintains an attitude of meekness and gentleness, it is a great fault on his part if he remains silent when the Lord or His devotee is blasphemed.

There’s more to be found on the righteousness of such anger and how it constitutes legitimate devotional service, it’s how anger should be engaged for Kṛṣṇa. Is there any point in repeating it though? These things should be the first on one’s mind when contemplating devotees’ attitude to blasphemy and, as I said, I don’t think they were omitted due to ignorance, but I do not wish to criticize authors of those articles, so I better shut up. I’ve said enough, I think.

Vanity thought #1251. Blasphemy

I just checked devotees’ response to Charlie Hebdo killings and was left slightly disappointed. The Pope did it better – he said that if one insults his mother he should expect a punch.

Those who considered his response inappropriate relied on the basic premise that Pope should not punch people and violence should never be an answer. That was disappointing, too, because the Pope wasn’t talking in general, his exact words were referring to a man standing right by his side: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.” How friends interact with each other should not be taken as a rule for treating strangers.

Most, though, got the gist and understood the premise – you cannot insult feelings of others and expect nothing in return. Whether people agreed or disagreed with this statement it is a different matter.

I wanted to say a few more words on the freedom of speech. First, let me repeat myself and say that freedom of speech is never under any threat, it’s provided by demigods just as air and water. Unless they block one’s ability to speak freedom of speech will be there. What the advocates really mean is two things – freedom to publicize their speech and freedom from negative reactions.

Freedom to publicize usually means freedom to use other people’s means, ie media. This freedom does not exist because the owners of publicizing platform will always, always have a say in the content of their medium. They might agree or disagree, promote or block, but they will always have some degree of control. What freedom of speech advocates really want is that this inherent censorship should not be exercised towards them but applied towards others.

There probably are some die hard libertarians who would insist on no boundaries whatsoever but these people are extremely rare, usually have no decision making powers, and they are being contrarian just for the sake of it. We are not going to see their ideas implemented in general societies in our lifetimes so we can discount them altogether.

So, for freedom of speech advocates it’s a judgment call – what should be allowed to say in public and what shouldn’t. They consider their judgment to be correct and they do not think much about judgment of others. They are right and everybody else is wrong and at no time the possibility of being mistaken enters their minds.

Second aspect of freedom of speech is freedom from negative reactions. Reactions will always be there, every word has consequences, even if spoken in private, even if it’s simply a thought in one’s head. We say that in Kali Yuga, unlike previous ages, thoughts are not considered sins but that is not the whole picture. Yes, a thought might not be punished by the law of karma but it doesn’t mean it has no effect whatsoever. One thought always leads to another or is deposited into one’s memory and then recalled – it always influences our future thinking. Thoughts also always lead to actions, especially when take in aggregation and over a long enough period of time. Thoughts give us our next bodies, after all.

So, absolute freedom from reactions is impossible, but that’s only half the issue because what the FOS promoters want is freedom from *negative* reactions.

Every time they publish something they expect some results. Sense of satisfaction, pride in their work, recognition by the public, monetary compensation etc. Those are perfectly acceptable and very welcome, they want to legalize against negatives only. If you ask them what they thought should be done about negative outcomes they would probably say that the offended party should just cease and desist, crawl in a hole and never bother them back.

Some would say that they do not mind the blowback in the form of similar mockery, they don’t mind cartoons of themselves, they don’t mind equal insults. Sounds right but the key here is “they don’t mind”. Any response is deemed acceptable as long as it doesn’t really bother them. Why do they mind being killed, for example? Would they mind being tortured? Would they mind being jailed? Would they mind being fired? Would they mind being ostracized by people they were expecting praise from? Would they mind a huge financial penalty? Would they mind a small fine?

There always is a line that they would not allow to cross and any kind of response beyond it would be unacceptable.

I think it should be obvious by now that this “free speech” idea is a childish nonsense, it has no absolute rules and depends on promoters’ personal interests. Foolishly, they want to protect themselves from the law of karma, like that is ever going to work.

One phrase that was in my local paper illustrates it well. When a teacher in one French school tried to organize the minute of silence in memory of Charlie Hebdo victims some kids said “they had it coming.” It’s obvious even to the children but the FOS advocates are so intoxicated by their delusion that they don’t see it. Well, karma tends to work itself around such infantilism, French laws are not going to stop her.

Back to Pope – some objected to his reaction by saying it was a very unChristian thing to do, that Christians should turn the other cheek. This is totally missing the point. It’s an instruction on how to react when *your* cheek has been slapped, not somebody else’s. If you see someone hit a child you do not turn the kid over and beg the abuser to continue.

The Pope wasn’t saying he’d punch anyone who insults him, he said he’d protect his mother. Protecting those who can’t protect themselves is as Christian as it going to get. I think this point should be very obvious but it isn’t. People who understand it regarding Pope’s mother do not show the same understanding regarding Muslims’ prophet.

I’ve yet to see public recognition that Muslims reacted with such anger not due to personal offenses but due to offenses against others. If Muhammad was around they would have probably followed his cue but he isn’t. Not only he cannot personally protect himself from blasphemy, he can’t also forgive, which is an important point for Muslims because without forgiveness there’s no way of avoiding prescribed death penalty. This sounds medieval but only because the word “death” is involved, the principle itself is widely understood in Christianity and in our tradition as well.

If you offend a vaiṣṇava and have no opportunity to beg for his forgiveness you are finished. Truly. You’d have to wait until the material nature brings you together again, possibly in the next lifetime. It’s a bit easier because in Kṛṣṇa consciousness we are not so much dependent on external bodily forms but Islam has no such leeway, if Muhammad is dead it’s over, there could be no forgiveness and punishment is the only answer.

I’m not sure if you could pray to Muhammad but I’m positive that Charlie Hebdo cartoonists never considered such an option and the possibility was not entertained by their killers either.

Devotees’ response to blasphemy should be more nuanced, not because we are “better” but because we know our tradition better than we know Christianity or Islam, but I’ll probably speak about it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1250. Christian problems

Frankie the Pope has been a lot in the news recently, I think he deserves being mentioned. Partly because he is the leader of 1.2 billion religious people, partly because he spoke on things that look trivial to us.

First, he had the biggest mass ever in Manila, with six million people in attendance. That’s impressive by any standard. Six million is a huge number, it’s like one in ten able Filipinos was there. It’s more than come to Olympic Games or World Cup. However imperfect, these people came out to celebrate God and His message, and the attendance shows that people still know what their priorities are. It would have been better if they were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa there but it’s probably as good as it gets in this day and age.

So, during this mass, one little girl came up to the Pope and asked a question about drugs and prostitution. Why does God allow these things happen to children? The Pope was visibly moved by her sincerity and went for a hug. Overwhelmed by emotion he couldn’t talk about anything but crying, he even ditched his prepared English speech and reverted to his native Spanish. He asked everyone to learn to weep for abused children.

That was obviously a non-answer but it had its own advantages, too.

On the plus side, it showed people not to burden themselves with questions about God but display humility and compassion. God’s divinity is not in question, he implied, and so we should worry about what we should do rather than worry about how God might not be doing His part. It’s a good advice, generally, but the execution was clearly below the par.

Lots of media outlets omitted Pope’s real answer:

    She is the only one who has put forward a question for which there is no answer and she was not even able to express it in words but rather in tears.

Understandably, it doesn’t look for the Pope to admit that he has no idea why God makes children suffer. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation why God allows such ignorance to be spread in the name of religion, but it all settles in one word – karma. Well, plus reincarnation, but it’s mostly karma. No one suffers undeservedly, that’s not how God’s creation works

How does it really work, though? Factually, no one suffers AT ALL – it’s all just interactions of material elements, spirit souls are made of different substance and cannot be touched by matter. All the suffering and all the pleasure is only an illusion. Having said that, why do WE have to be subjected to the law of karma? It’s one thing for material elements to move according to the laws of material nature, it’s quite another thing to force our polluted consciousness to do so.

OTOH, it gives us the opportunity to leave this world without worrying about who will occupy our next bodies, the ones we were supposed to acquire according to our mentality. I mean if the law of karma works then whatever we think or want must eventually manifest itself one way or another. We might occasionally think of Kṛṣṇa but we still have enough thoughts to earn us a new body, right? Devotees, however, will not live through that karma, which is great, but what happens to it? The law isn’t supposed to be broken, every action must have consequences.

One way to look at it is to say that our body itself does not produce the next one, only our mind does, therefore when this body dies it doesn’t mean another one must be born somewhere else, meaning there’s no physical, empirical connection between this life and next. If we go back to Godhead the material world isn’t losing anything.

This can be counteracted by reminding that mind is also a material element and therefore thoughts have consequences just like actions do. Our thoughts never go in complete vain, we remember them, they affect us, they influence our future decisions. If thoughts are spoken they affect other people, too, and even if they are not, our behavior might display what’s on our minds even better. There’s no disconnect between gross physical and subtle mental reality. What happens to that mental reality after we go back to Godhead? Who inherits our thoughts?

I don’t know the answer when the question is put this way and, perhaps, it’s time to use Pope’s trick and say that I shouldn’t confuse myself and resort to chanting.

The Pope recommended crying, as I said, but crying for what? For things that are not worth lamenting, as Kṛṣṇa said in Bhagavad Gītā. These unfortunate children are sort of unwanted progeny Arjuna was worrying about in the first chapter and Kṛṣṇa immediately cut him short, the first words He spoke were about “impurities” and “degrading impotence” not befitting his status (BG 2).

This compassion is totally misguided and is born of ignorance, not of knowledge and not of love, more like of unhealthy obsession with acquiring material happiness and satisfying material desires.

How can this leader of the biggest church in the world be so spiritually blind?

It’s one thing for a new bhakta to complain that Kṛṣṇa consciousness doesn’t make him happy, that he doesn’t get enough money or enough sex, but this is supposed to be a temporary stage that passes as one matures in his service and his understanding of his position. Pope should know better but he doesn’t.

He somehow recommends cultivating the very same thing that brought us into material hell in the first place. I know it’s not how they explain his words in Catholic church but the effect is the same – more attachment to material happiness. In Christianity they all suffer for the original sin, the poisoned apple, but what do they do now? Ask for more poison?

They are totally delusional.

Another thing the Pope said on the way back was something about contraception. Catholics are against it but the Pope asked them not to breed like rabbits anyway. He was talking about a woman who had seven children, multiple cesarean sections, and was pregnant again. Pope was seen as judgmental and some people pointed that this woman was simply following the doctrine – breed and multiply.

In a bigger picture, the Pope was talking about causes of poverty and he rightly said that it’s not the number of children that causes it but our crazy economic system. I wish he expounded more on it, and maybe he has, but the media picked up only “breed like rabbits” line.

Officially, Catholics recommend following natural ways to avoid getting pregnant – something about monitoring women’s menstrual cycles, regularly taking their basal temperature and so on. The idea is to avoid sex when women are very likely to conceive. How’s that different from contraception, though? They are still interfering with “God’s plan”, in their speak, just in a slightly different way.

Our answer to “do not breed like rabbits” is overall reduction of sexual activity as the goal of family life, or any human life, for that matter. I had an impression that Christians were aware that overindulgence in sex is harmful to one’s spiritual progress and I wouldn’t have thought of them as “breeding like rabbits” but that is my personal experience, I’ve never met a Catholic mother of seven, the Pope has.

The Pope also commented on freedom of speech issue but I think I’d better cover it separately because it’s a big topic in itself.

Vanity thought #1249. Illustrations

I’ve had a couple of episodes demonstrating the truths spoken in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s article in the eighty year old issue of the Harmonist. Nothing special, I just want to look at them from the perspective offered there.

First, an unrelated case – about a week ago I dreamt about Vṛndāvana. Seriously. I didn’t see much, all I remember is going down the slide which felt like one of those old playground slides made of metal, except this one was decorated with lots of flowers. Lots. It was more like sliding through a tunnel of flowers, that’s how many were there. I have no idea what they were called but they are big and bright. I don’t remember any smells, though.

As far as I remember, I was testing this slide for Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, just checking how it works. They were not present themselves, in fact no one else was present there at all, I was all alone and that worried me – what’s the point of being in Vṛndāvana without association with devotees there? It didn’t feel special in any way at all, save for those astonishing flowers.

I don’t believe I had a glimpse of actual Vṛndāvana in any sense, just a mental concoction, and I didn’t even like it very much. I remember I was upset that I was doing the testing myself and it was like I was actually enjoying the dhāma, not serving it.

The reason I mention it at all is that I was fairly pleased with my attitude – no enjoying the facilities, and lack of association as a big bummer. It was all in the dream, I wasn’t consciously directing it, maybe my mind finally learning something useful.

The dream I woke up from this morning, however, was directly related to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s article. I had some altercation with a couple of Muslim guys, there were those big, curved Muslim sabers waved and a lot of stabbing that somehow wasn’t fatal. The Muslims had finally had it with me and tried a new tactic – they converted me to Islam right on the spot and then called on their friends to kill me for rejecting the conversion.

I don’t remember what the ritual was, but, apparently, my consent wasn’t necessary, they just recited some hymns and I was a Muslim. When I protested they called for help in enforcing no denouncing rule. Now I had a whole mob on me and I had no time to explain anything, not that anyone was going to listen. Death was all that was on their mind. I didn’t feel any kind of animosity towards them but I ran for my life as fast as I could.

That’s what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called “latent partiality for untruth”. Being protective of one’s life is an all-pervading instinct that is bound to manifest in all kinds of dangerous situations. I was really scared in this dream. Petrified. And I hadn’t had a single thought about Kṛṣṇa or not being this body or about anything, just primal fear. I ran and ran and was about to get away when alarm rang.

I have it on sneeze, however, so I postponed it and went back into the same dream. Situation changed somewhat. I was watching a football match with players and spectators from the same Muslim mob. It wasn’t played in a stadium, just a field among the trees, and it was televised. Then I saw myself as a sneaky figure dressed in all black, from head to toe, hiding in a hollow of a large tree.

I was caught on camera, everyone watching TV saw me, and I wondered how long before the mob was informed of my whereabouts. Somehow I was watching it on TV, too, while absolutely sure that I was also inside that hollow. I really felt for myself while watching from outside. Then the alarm rang again and I had to get up.

The point is that unless we relinquish this animalistic attachment and false self-identification we won’t be able to perceive spiritual reality of any kind. This horrifying dream reminded me how much work is still ahead.

The last episode was more positive. I think I got some kind of food poisoning, probably bad oil or something. My stomach has been battling with it whole day and there’s no end in sight yet. My body temperature shot up to 100 Fahrenheit or 37.7 degree Celsius. It stabilized now but when it was going up I was out of commission, cuddled under a blanket and wanting to fall asleep.

Chanting in this condition is never good, mind was absolutely out of bounds, and I had no willpower to control it.

On one hand it showed again how difficult it is to overcome my “latent partiality for untruth” but I realized something else, too – sickness affects only my body and my mind but not the Holy Name.

My every thought was somehow colored by discomfort but the Name stayed pure. Nothing can touch it. Even if the sound coming from my mouth might be affected by pain, the Holy Name stays transcendental.

One way or another, I had moments when I was above the pain and there was nothing between me and the Holy Name. Nothing as in no love and no devotion, but that it still better than appealing to Kṛṣṇa from the bodily platform.

There were moments when I stopped being myself and just listened to the Name, and in these moments I realized that nothing can possibly affect our relationship, if I manage to eventually build any.

Material nature cannot come between the soul and Kṛṣṇa. She will always be on the outside, unable to touch the Lord. The Lord never gets covered by her illusion and we can see Him with all clarity if we stop looking at the material world.

We can forget the Lord ONLY if we identify ourselves with matter, for it will be out of our hands – whatever is on TV would occupy our minds instead. Free from this false identification, however, the Lord is always there, pure and transcendental and completely unaffected by whatever seems to be troubling us in our material existence.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that the Lord will automatically reveal Himself, for that we need genuine devotion and all the help we can get form our ācāryas. Without it all we have is the sound of the Holy Name, which isn’t very different from what we hear in everyday life, we just have learn to treat it with a bit more respect and have full faith that eventually it will reveal more of its transcendental nature.

Source (p34)

Vanity thought #1248. Rationality explained

Yesterday I got to yet another uncompromising assertion by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī – spiritual realm is ready to be revealed to anyone who actually listens. We’ve heard this from Śrīla Prabhupāda, too, but I don’t remember it ever being presented without some sort of a disclaimer.

A typical example is that of a tree. We embrace a tree trunk and beg for māyā to let us go but the tree is not holding us and neither does māyā, we hold onto it ourselves. Despite our loud proclamations we still want to live in the illusion. The implication being that slipping out of māyā’s control is easy.

Well, it is not, and I don’t remember anyone practically demonstrating how it could be done. Some devotees would give inspirational speeches on the subject but when the push comes to shove, no one is really liberated, meaning everyone is still holding onto the illusion and not letting it go, no matter how many times they declare that it’s an extremely easy thing to do.

Some devotees are honest in this regard and so they present disclaimers. We can’t let it go because of this or because of that. We have history, we have habits, we have material bodies, we commit offenses, we need to purify our consciousness through engagement, devotees are not renunciates so instead of seeking liberation we can happily engage in service from the position of our false ego, real devotees do not care for the liberation, they spit on it. Tons of excuses why we are still attached to the illusions and tons of reasons why we should continue in this vein.

I don’t think Śrīla Prabhupāda meant it this way. He asked people to serve the Lord, chant the Holy Names, and that was already above liberation. Later he saw that ISKCON devotees weren’t as transcendental as he hoped and asked us to deal with problems at hand first. That’s why we need the varṇāśrama, for example – according to the famous conversation where he says that chanting is not possible for an ordinary man and asks “Who will chant? Who’ll chant?” He then continues lamenting how people cannot take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness without undergoing varṇāśrama training first.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī left no room for compromises, though, and presented the subject as a matter of fact – what one needs to do to attain the spiritual realm and how one must go about it. I believe if we analyze his proposed method we’ll find no room for compromise, too, except that we’ll have to discount our own prospects of success, which aren’t very bright, just as Śrīla Prabhupāda observed in that conversation.

So, the failure to attain spiritual realm is only due deliberate withholding of our attention, as was quoted yesterday. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta continues:

    It is in ones power to correct this error of method when it is pointed out by the sadhu. In proportion as the receptive attentive hearing is perfected, the true import of the words of the sadhu manifests itself to the soul of the hearer. It is necessary to offer this form of service by way of the preliminary on the threshold of the realm of the divinity by all those who really want to enter there.

Actually, there’s room for compromise here – he talks about degrees of receptive hearing corresponding to degrees of realization. He discounts this stage as only preliminary, though. That’s what we should do to get to the threshold – try to develop receptive hearing, and not just develop, we need to perfect it. How?

    The pilgrim is required to give up his preference for pseudo-knowledge if he is to be benefited by his pilgrimage of the divine realm under the guidance of the sadhu who has a natural and exclusive attachment for the real truth. The guidance of the sadhu is necessary for enabling him to lend his full attention to his words by discarding all explicit or latent partiality for untruth.

Highlighted words tell us what we need to do. We need to give up all pseudo-knowledge and all our interests in pursuing it, both explicit and latent. Explicit interests are easy to see in others but probably not very easy to notice in ourselves. There’s also the need to understand what this pseudo-knowledge is. It’s not just the materialistic philosophy, we can deny and defeat it with full conviction, pseudo-knowledge goes much deeper than that.

We don’t need philosophy or big brains to know that eating would satisfy our hunger or sex would satisfy our lust, but that is a pseudo-knowledge. Love, family, relationships, entertainment, jokes, work, kids – extracting hope and satisfaction from any of those things is pseudo-knowledge. We know it by heart and we act on it without thinking. Our instinct of self-preservation is pseudo-knowledge, too. We can talk big words but the real test is very simple – do we instinctively reach for food? Do we instinctively try to protect ourselves from danger? These are acts based on pseudo-knowledge and, unlike Kṛṣṇa consciousness, this pseudo-knowledge is actually realized. It’s what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta called “latent partiality for the untruth”. It needs to go.

    The function of the cognitive faculty is to be relieved from the consequences of its willful and perpetual attraction towards untruth.

We should use our intelligence to free ourselves from this latent attraction. It means we should identify our weaknesses and convince ourselves that they are not worth hanging on to. This is easy to understand – anartha-nivṛtti, right? Another point we should take away from this sentence is that this anartha-nivṛtti is declared the purpose of having the brain. This is the only thing it is useful for, as will be explained later, along with answering concerns about our freedom:

    Guidance for such an end is not any curtailment of ones freedom of rational choice. The rational faculty is only then true to itself when it submits to be guided by a competent person in the quest of the truth which is located beyond his reach.

Atheists, and most educated modern people, for that matter, would immediately object to the stated need to follow a guru. They cherish their freedom too much to become someone’s intellectual slave. They say it’s irrational, that people who act on faith, both in God and in their guru, are irrational. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta answers both of these questions.

No, following the sādhu does not deprive one of his freedom and it is not irrational. Rationality is true to itself only when it is used for discovering the Absolute Truth and so it is practiced only when one submits to the sādhu. Contrary to what atheists assume, search for the Absolute Truth is rational, everything else is not.

    Neither the end nor the method indicated above proposes any form of mechanical subordination to an external agency which is being always enforced without any protest on the part of the conditioned soul by his material environment.

Submitting oneself to the words of the guru is not the same as mechanical subordination to an “external agency”. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta is telling us here that people are always forced to do that, forced to follow dictates of the material nature but they don’t even notice it and therefore never protest.

What people call “rationality” is simply following the prevailing ways of thinking and applying them to externally imposed fund of knowledge. We aren’t free to think any differently from how we’ve been taught. Westerners are very proud of being “open minded” and “free thinking” but actually we are not, our mode of thinking is totally predictable. We cannot think like Chinese, we would always think like westerners. Or we can train ourselves to think like Chinese and see the world from their POV but that would still be mechanical subordination to the forces of nature because even the choice to train to think like a Chinese would be forced on us and then rationalized. When we rationalize our choices we, in effect, strip ourselves of the free will – we ought to choose this or that because…

There’s no freedom here, only following the laws of nature. Learn to think in a certain way, see the input, process it, and produce an output. It’s not freedom, it’s subordination to the material energy, and it’s an irrational choice for anyone aware of the existence of the Absolute Truth.

    Unless we are prepared to adopt the only rational course that is open to us, the attainment of the knowledge of the absolute truth in the form of willing submission for receiving Him from His agents we really abdicate our rational function by preferring to follow the irrational alternative.

Irrational alternative here is trying to find happiness in the material world while rational function is seeking the Absolute Truth. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta concludes the paragraph with the following:

    We are of course free to go astray. We are also free to maintain that such irrational course is rational. But such sophistry will not enable us to avoid the logical consequences of such a procedure in the shape of losing sight of the truth altogether.

Basically, he says that we are not free to invent our own truth. If we decide to pursue our own course of action and call it rational, the truth will never reveal itself to us. There are lots of people, many among devotees, too, who convince themselves that they are doing the right thing. However, convincing oneself and even creating a following will not have any actual, spiritual effect. It won’t take us closer to the truth and it might force us to lose sight of the truth altogether.

The only rational choice is to submit to the authority of the sādhu, all other paths are misleading and go against our real self-interest, they only feed our pride and ego.

Article Source – navigate to p 34.