Last week there was a bit of a sad news – Jñānagamya Prabhu has left his body in Māyāpura. I’ve never met him but I somehow knew the name, so I checked with the recordings I listened to and there it was – he a regular Bhāgavatam speaker in Māyāpura itself. The class I have downloaded is from October last year and there was no indication he suffered any debilitating illness.
There are no reports of what was actually wrong with him, except the usual ISKCON haters who declare him a pseudo-devotee guilty of child abuse and several attempted murders, but, I mean I don’t know what was wrong with his body. It was a quick turn for the worst, just in a few months he was gone. I liked his own attitude towards it – don’t take me to hospitals, leave me in a dhama, chant and wait until I become cold and smell worse than usual, the cremate and toss me into the Ganges. I have no doubt he absolutely meant it.
I don’t know his history but as far as his classes are concerned – they were perfect. Not in a sense of Prabhupāda level perfect but in the sense of brutal honesty about him. When his material conditioning showed through (he was unashamedly American) it was also easy to dismiss because it looked so simple and innocent. He couldn’t help it but he also clearly knew his conditioning and Kṛṣṇa consciousness were a separate matter. Well, I should probably listen to more of his lectures but that was the impression I got, the memory I have.
This last class I have is remarkable in another way – he spoke about his utter inability to manage his own spiritual life. He said he had trouble with getting up for maṇgala-ārati and he prayed to the Lord to force his body to be engaged in Lord’s service. He spoke quite a lot about it, describing his condition, his prayers, how he went about it, and about their results. His attitude was very different from self-help gurus who urge us to take charge of own progress. Maybe he was wrong, or not quite right, but now he is with Kṛṣṇa already while I, if I followed self-help advice, would still be forcing my body to comply with my superior will-power.
Actually, I still do, and still without much success. A while ago I wrote about this little trick I’ve been using – to forcefully direct my mind to listening to every syllable of the mahā-mantra on my last round. Later I expanded it to the last two of my daily rounds. It worked in the beginning and I can’t say the efforts were in vain, but lately I started noticing that this exercise of mental power destroys whatever attitude of devotion and humility I might have, too. It turns me from a beggar into a conqueror. I master my chanting, I force the Holy Name to be heard, I control my mind, I have power of control, all the doors must open to me now. It doesn’t feel right but, sometimes, if the proper attitude is not there to begin with, it’s a step in the right direction – the Name must be attentively listened to, after all, can’t go wrong with that, but I digress.
There are compelling arguments, backed with compelling quotes, that we should take charge and responsibility for our spiritual health. We must take vows and follow them, beginning with initiation. Some things we just have to put our foot down and not budge, no matter what happens. Otoh, there’s no argument against a devotee feeling utterly helpless in the face of the Lord’s external energy and her dangers, and Jñānagamya Prabhu expressed this point very nicely in that class.
He might not have cited śāstric support, didn’t give quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda, but he spoke from a platform of utmost humility and his heart appeared clear of all traces of duplicity. These are the qualities that surely attract the Lord, and the Lord took him already. Isn’t that nice? Even if he was still alive, his simplicity was disarming, I can’t argue against that.
His example illustrated our approach to the Absolute. We don’t know how big Kṛṣṇa is, we have no idea how big the universe is and He is much bigger than that. Kṛṣṇa is infinite in every respect. The moment He decides to manifest Himself in whatever form, the sense of His greatness would be the first thing to notice, it should be the first step in realization of the Supreme – it’s called Supreme for a reason, after all.
So, unless Kṛṣṇa shows up, we have no idea how great He is, but what we can realize now is how small we are ourselves. Whatever we know about Kṛṣṇa, the smaller we become, the greater He would look to us. I suppose that would be the actual first step in self-realization – realizing our own size, that we are infinitesimal comparing to the Lord.
Unlike comparing ourselves to Kṛṣṇa Himself, who we don’t know, we can always compare ourselves to the world around us, which we can see. If we are deluded by the illusion of our power the world would appear small and manageable. Our abilities might extend quite far and if we look at other people we might aspire to lay stake to even larger slices of the cosmic pie. The movie director Jame Cameroon has been to Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. Google founders are avid sky-divers. The world is always your oyster if you play your cards right.
Devotees, however, do not see it that way. It’s not there to be conquered, it’s not there to be submitted to our will, it’s not there to be manipulated or even understood. Our bodies are not ours and we are not their controllers. As conditioned souls we definitely see them as our fields and ourselves as knowers of these fields but what do we really know about them? I think this point was raised in Jñānagamya’s lecture, too. We don’t know what’s going on inside us, we don’t know our blood pressure or the heart rate or the load on our liver or the acidity in our stomachs. We can surely feel it when something goes wrong but until it does it’s like Apple – “it just works”.
Devotees do not have the illusion of control over their fields and they are not in the least excited by their ability to control them. They know that trying to do so only strengthens the illusion. “I can raise my hand, I can move my fingers and count the beads, I can move my tongue and lips and chant japa – I can do so many things, I must be the controller.” Well, we aren’t. Kṛṣṇa makes it all possible through His external energy.
When devotees see the world around them in this light they immediately feel helpless and they immediately seek Kṛṣṇa’s shelter, and they get it. Kṛṣṇa is not going to take in someone who thinks he can stand for himself, who does not think of himself as infinitesimal as he really is. Kṛṣṇa does not take those who want to exercise control over matter, He’d just keep us down here to fulfill this wish until we finally give up.
That’s what I heard, anyway. The sad fact is, we can’t imitate this realization, we can’t simply talk ourselves down, we must learn to really see the world this way, and this knowledge comes from actual progress in our service, it’s our “reward”, so to speak. We cannot replace this genuine Kṛṣṇa’s gift with mere mental constructions.
Either way – whether Kṛṣṇa shows up and we see ourselves as infinitesimal comparing to His greatness, or Kṛṣṇa grants us actual knowledge and we see ourselves infinitesimal comparing to the usual world around us, the realization must come by the Lord’s mercy, we can’t claim it ourselves. So, whatever we do, we must keep doing it, an patiently wait our turn, It will come, and in that sense Jñānagamya Prabhu was a great inspiration.