Vanity thought #1314. Pure devotees – to the end

There are five qualities left out of twenty-eight and I hope to finish them today (SB 11.11.29-32). I think it’s a very good, solid list and there are interesting ways to apply it in our society.

The first two are the same as in Śikṣāṣṭaka – amānī and māna-da. A devotee has no desire for prestige and if fame comes he doesn’t take it seriously, he is far more interested in showing respect to others. The last one looks very common among a certain type of materialists, the ones with “service attitude”, but for them it is nothing but cheap flattery. They only want you to feel good about yourself so that you kindly grant them their wishes, which reminds me of compassion again – they want you to feel superior and compassionate so that you foolishly give them your money or whatever favors they might want from you.

Respect shown by devotees is nothing like that at all, there’s not a hint of selfish motives behind it. It exists in the material world, too, but is much much rarer. Used to be common but not for the upcoming Gen X,Y, millennials, of whatever they are called. We can appreciate this kind of respect only because we know about it and recognize it in devotees, and same is true for all the other qualities on the list, but I’ll get to that later.

Then there’s this curious kalya – a devotee is expert in making people understand the truth of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I don’t know where this translation comes from, the only other version I could find says it means “invigorates” while Sanskrit dictionary has one of the meanings for this adjective as “instructive”. Perhaps we can combine these two meanings together and then see how imparting Kṛṣṇa consciousness invigorates people. Then there are meanings like “healthy” and “good wishes”, but also “death and dumb”. My favorite one, however, has got to be “spirituous liquor” – you drink it and you become intoxicated with spiritual knowledge. Maybe we should understand it as devotees are spiritually nourishing to others. It goes nicely with “giving respect” and the next one, too.

Maitra. A devotee does not cheat anyone by encouraging them in the bodily concept of life; rather, by his missionary work a devotee is the true friend of everyone.” That’s straight from the purport. The word itself is a common one and it means “friend” or “friendly” but the translators felt the need to add “no cheating” even to word-for-word. It makes sense, though, because that’s what true friendship means. We should understand that Kṛṣṇa is not talking about general friendship here and so distinction must be made.

Ordinary friends will always have you back and what they want is for you to be happy, but that means material happiness and a devotee would never be interested in offering that. He would not encourage sense gratification and that’s what the purport called cheating. Our definition is not what being friendly means in common language at all. Friends get invited to parties, watching sports games etc and no one would invite a devotee to any of that. He is not a friend material in that sense. He is needed only when people get serious about their lives, he will be the one they turn to because his association is spiritually nourishing, kalya, as described above.

Next is kāruṇika, a devotee is merciful, he is compassionate, and he does that by relieving people of the cause of their suffering. He keeps people sane, as they say in the purport, which is a very apt observation. People are generally crazy, pramatta, this was covered yesterday, and that causes all their problems. Restoring their sanity, which means making them see themselves as Kṛṣṇa’s servants, is the ultimate act of compassion. Lighting their pot pipe is not it. Giving them money is not it, even giving them food is not it, only prasādam helps. Poor sods generally think that their material needs need to be addressed first and expect devotees to shower them with material benefits but that’s also a sign of their insanity. A devotee is able to relieve them from it. We might want to and try to, too, but without genuine devotion we will not succeed.

Final quality is kavi, which means “learned” or even “poet”. The purport explains that a devotee is expert in reconciling various contradictory qualities in Kṛṣṇa, he is never confused by apparent contradictions and therefore he is called learned. Fair enough, but then Lord Caitanya warned us about attachment to sundarīṁ kavitāṁ, sometimes translated together and sometimes separately. In either case, it’s about beautiful poetry. We should not become literature lovers and while we might appreciate a clever turn of phrase we shouldn’t not give it any value unless it makes Kṛṣṇa look better.

I mentioned this about story telling a while ago – if there’s no deep, underlying lesson behind it then all the drama is just a waste of time. Beauty must come from within, so to speak, from ultimate and intimate connection with Kṛṣṇa. The speakers voice should tremble because he describes Kṛṣṇa’s qualities, not storms or ghosts or whatever. It should not be done artificially. If we don’t feel Kṛṣṇa in our stories we should not pretend we do and we should not substitute our lack of appreciation with decorative elements either.

The last śloka in the series gives a general advice regarding ordinary religious duties but the best part of it is that a devotee should be considered the best among all living entities.

Here’s the main point I got into this devotee features business at all – we can find people like that all around ISKCON and they MUST be considered saintly and, therefore, above all criticism. We can still find faults in their behavior but in general they are undoubtedly pure. We can go through the list one by one again and easily find practical examples from the lives of devotees around us, it’s not that difficult, what is described in these verses is the norm in our society, not just some unattainable standard from days long gone. The beauty of these qualities is that we can see them in ordinary people around us and see how they develop in devotees to the full extent, there’s no magic to it.

Our critics demand way more, however, they demand people being able to personally go into Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and report directly from Goloka, otherwise they are not fit to be gurus. That’s just nonsense, sheer nonsense. Everybody who sticks with Kṛṣṇa consciousness long enough becomes automatically qualified, in as far as Kṛṣṇa’s grace is automatic and the above qualities develop naturally. Not only that, these people must be considered as liberated even though their external bodies seem to still act under the laws of material nature. It comes straight from Kṛṣṇa’s mouth and I don’t care what critics say.

Anyone who has surrendered himself to the Lord becomes liberated on the spot. His body continues to live out his karma but it is done under Kṛṣṇa’s direct supervision, he is not in māyā’s clutches anymore. From this point on even māyā works for Kṛṣṇa, making us into tools for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. Her job is tough and she has to ease us into the new role but we can forget about things like hell and cold impersonalism of “karma is a b*tch”. No, for us it isn’t, not anymore. Karma is our best friend and best medicine, which explains why it sometimes tastes bitter.

Yeah, we don’t get to see Kṛṣṇa personally and we don’t even get to swim in the ocean of Brahman realization but these things will come in due time, it hardly ever happens before we leave our bodies. Liberated jñāna yogis are supposed to wander about like retards (SB 11.11.17) but devotees should be always engaged in service instead, and as far as I can see everyone in ISKCON does that, so they are perfect.

Vanity thought #1313. Pure devotees, more features

My progress through verses (SB 11.11.29-32) describing qualities of pure devotees might be slow but I see absolutely no harm in dwelling on the issue. It’s not like I am meditating on people’s attachments, among all topics to consider at length devotees are the best. Kṛṣṇa likes it even more than talking about Him. So far I got through nine out of twenty eight. What’s next?

Mṛdu – a devotee is soft and gentle and without “harsh mentality”. The purport explains it nicely – devotees always feel protected by the Supreme Lord, they are not afraid of anyone, and therefore they do not see enemies. When you see no enemies you have no reason to be harsh towards anyone. Materialistic people, otoh, always feel threatened and therefore are always ready to repel the expected aggression and subdue their enemies, very often preventively, just to show they should not be messed with.

Other two qualities in the same line are śuci and akiñcana. Śuci means clean and pure – that’s what constant association with Kṛṣṇa brings about naturally. Devotees are sticklers for cleanliness. Usually it is thought that women are naturally clean but even the best of them have nothing on devotees. I always admire how devotees cook, they always leave the kitchen cleaner when they first walked in. Internally, devotees stay clear of impure thoughts and that shows, too.

Akiñcana means without material motives or possessions. This also comes naturally – Kṛṣṇa personally takes those away. What’s more, when other people lament their losses devotees treasure losing their attachments instead. Renunciation is their only wealth and it’s greatly appreciated by the Lord. Artificial renunciation is a no go, of course, because it is done out of impure motives, in pursuit of fame, for example, and having these impure motives is the opposite of akiñcana.

Can these three qualities be seen in impersonalists? Maybe, but for impersonalists they are means to an end while for devotees they are fruits of their devotion. A fully liberated soul would not care if his body, with which he no longer associates with anyway, is harsh towards anyone, clean, or has no possessions. All these virtues are helpful but in the end need to be abandoned. A devotee, however, displays these qualities in full AFTER the liberation as he continues to engage with the material world in the spirit of service to the Lord.

The next three are common for both impersonalists and devotees: anīho mita-bhuk śāntaḥ, which means freedom from material desires, eating very little, and of peaceful mind. These are just signs of liberation. Śānti, peacefulness, being the result of having no material desires. Even Buddhists know that – desires bring troubles regardless of whether they are fulfilled or not. No desires, no trouble. Oṃ śāntī śāntī śānti is one of the best known mantras both in Hinduism and Buddhism. When I hear it I wonder why can’t these people simply surrender to Kṛṣṇa if they want peace and protection from troubles or from their own minds? It’s a cry of desperation that should naturally lead to devotion.

Then we have sthira, mat-śarana, and muni. Sthira means steadiness, which again comes naturally by Kṛṣṇa’s grace because He protects us from anything that can lead as away. It’s tempting to think that it’s our own quality but Kṛṣṇa’s energies are infinitely strong and can bewilder us and make us do all kinds of crazy things (remember the story of Tulasī?). We don’t do them because Kṛṣṇa would rather see us steady in our service, that’s all that keeps us together so He carefully calibrates the amount of māyā around us.

Mat-śaranam is exclusive only to devotees. They always take shelter of the Lord, pretty obvious, I don’t even know why Kṛṣṇa mentioned that because that’s like saying that water is watery.

Muni is translated as thoughtful but there are plenty of munis in our literature that tend to overthink things. It’s not really a compliment but it’s still a valid observation – devotees are thoughtful, their minds are always somewhere else, thinking of Kṛṣṇa and devising new ways to praise Him and His service.

In the next line we have a similar quality – gabhīrātmā – a devotee is deep. In this verse it’s translated as “not superficial, and thus unchanging” but it’s easy to see how it relates to depth – waves are found only on the surface of the ocean but deep inside everything is unchanging. Devotees are deep in their thoughts of Kṛṣṇa and they are undisturbed by trivialities of the material world. Everything here is in constant motion, devotees don’t have neither time nor inclination to react to those happenings. From devotees’ perspective the more things change the more they stay the same – waves are only waves even though each wave is distinctly different. Paying attention to these things can make one crazy, and there’s a special quality just to describe that.

Apramatta – not mad. Pramattaḥ means mad after material attachments. In this sense everyone in the material world is insane, we chase impossible dreams and hurt ourselves at every step, nor do we have any sense of reality, all we see is the illusion. Lots of people would agree that in this world everyone is insane even though for different reasons. Just look around the Internet to see tons of constantly updated, fresh examples of insanity, or look how psychiatry makes everyone appear mentally ill in one way or another. It’s only for practical reasons that they don’t call everyone sick, instead they single out those who significantly deviate from the general norm of crazy.

Next quality is interesting, dhṛtimān, which literally means of stable mind but is translated as “not weak or miserable even in distressing circumstances”. I don’t know how translators justified introduction of misery and distressing circumstances but it’s just another way to explain what “steady mind” is. It’s relatively easy to be steady when nothing goes on but the real test comes when the world turns against you. Can you maintain your composure then? Devotees can. As I explained earlier, Kṛṣṇa can make anyone to lose His mind so it’s not an absolute quality but it’s still incomparable to the fickle-mindedness of the ordinary people. They lose their marbles for the tiniest of reasons whereas devotees can be bewildered only by Kṛṣṇa personally.

This particular translation brings another dimension, too – devotees are not miserable when in distress. Even if they still possess material bodies and bodies react materially, devotees are not affected. They might react instinctively and their minds might register instinctive thoughts but their consciousness is undisturbed. Misery does not affect them because their consciousness is always with Kṛṣṇa and there’s no misery in Him, not of the material kind anyway.

Let’s stop on jita-ṣaḍ-guṇa, which literally means “conquering six material qualities, namely hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death”. There’s not much to be said here, that’s what liberation means – freedom from material influences. I don’t really understand how it happens, though – freedom from thirst and hunger, for example. Devotees, even the best ones, get hungry and thirsty, they also need to breath. That part of life never stops so what is meant by freedom here? Only yogis and those in deep meditation that looks like coma can be said to be free from hunger and thirst. Perhaps devotees are free in a sense they can always wait for the Lord to satisfy their bodily cravings. They know that the Lord will always provide so even if they are hungry they do not worry about maintaining their bodies. And if the Lord withholds nourishment, as when one is about to die, devotees accept it as the final relief. In this sense they are free not because they don’t need it but because they know they will always be provided.

I don’t know what “freedom from old age” means, though. Can’t even speculate on that. If I have some new thoughts about it I will surely type them down.

Vanity thought #1312. Pure devotees cont’d

Yesterday I was talking about qualities of a devotee as they were described by Kṛṣṇa in His reply to Uddhava. They are spread over four ślokas (SB 11.11.29-32) and I finished only one, seven features out of twenty-eight in total. When I looked at the same list today, however, nothing stood out of the ordinary and so I am kind of disappointed. Let’s see if I can still find something inspirational there.

Next quality, after endeavoring for the welfare of others, is freedom from desires, kāmair ahata-dhī. Exact translation is intelligence undisturbed by kāma. It’s a great one but not specifically devotional, all transcendentalists must have it to be called transcendentalists. In the purport explanation of this quality is the longest of all, and probably for a good reason because this point is deeper than it looks at first.

I think it’s been years since I discovered that problem with controlling our minds is actually a problem with our intelligence. It’s not that our minds are exceptionally strong, it’s that our intelligence is weak and inadequate. Of course Kali Yuga acts both ways – we have more desires and we have less intelligence, but the mind doesn’t have a mind of its own, it just registers attraction between senses and sense organs. It’s very simple in that way and it is said that it is originally born out of mode of goodness, hence the simplicity.

We should give it to our minds – they are not duplicitous, they aver very upfront about what they want, our only misfortune is that they want all the wrong things. Why? It has been explained in this purport – “the Supreme Lord supplies the desired fuel that causes the fire of lust to burn painfully in one’s heart,..” We come here to enjoy and the Lord dutifully provides.

We take being born for granted but if we consider how many millions and billions of living entities surround us every second, mostly as bacteria, and they don’t get a chance to enjoy a human form of life. When Bhāgavatam describes how living entities fall from the sky with the drops of rain, get born as grains of rice, get eaten by a man, transferred to semen, and only then get to become human. Most of the grain nowadays is fed to pigs and chickens, being eaten by a man is a rare privilege, and lets not forget anti-carbohydrates diets.

I have another question in this regard, though – does every spermatozoon in men’s semen carry a soul within it? Or is it one soul taking shelter in the impregnated ovum regardless of which spermatozoon did the job? I think the former makes more sense – every spermatozoon appears to have a life of its own, each has got it’s own flagellating tail that propels it forward. If that is true, then one discharge carries some fifty million spermatozoa, give or take ten-twenty million. Only one of them gets to be born. What are the chances?

Otoh, it might be that all these millions of souls are destined to live only a short life and die, again and again, while those destined to become human get their bodies on the first try.

Anyway, my point was that getting this human form of life is very very rare and should be considered as great mercy even before we talk about spiritual potential. We can also consider the amount of patience needed to attain a human body and get an idea how long we might have to wait to see results of our chanting. We probably need incomparably more patience than we have now.

The purport continues: “..but the Lord does not give self-realization to such a misguided person.” If we just follow our mind and engage our senses we won’t get self-realization from the Lord, therefore we need strong intelligence to keep our mind under control. We need to know how this world works, how illusion works, how modes of nature compel us to act and so on. Armed with such knowledge we will consider urges of the mind as insignificant when compared to our real benefits. As I said, this part is more or less the same for us, impersonalists, or Buddhists, but the purport then takes it further and discusses the situation of a devotee, which is indeed unique.

Devotees do not rely so much on their intelligence but on being engaged and protected by the Lord. Impersonalists learn to tolerate their minds through austerities but devotees control them not because they “know better” but because the Lord gives them a higher taste. Their senses are sharp and active but they are not engaged in personal enjoyment, only in service to the Lord.

It’s ABC for us but we shouldn’t take the opportunity to serve for granted either. It can happen only by Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement, we can’t do it on our own. Consider how many variables need to come together for us to perform a simple arāti, for example. There need to be Deities first. There need to be a temple. There need to be a program of temple worship, the schedule, the funds, the paraphernalia etc. Then we need to have a second initiation and proper training. We also need permission from our authorities, we can’t just get up on the altar and conduct an arāti. We also need to take turns with other devotees because on person can’t physically carry all the ISKCON deity service by himself.

For many of us, actual, authorized service to the Lord takes only a small part of our day while we are forced to spend the rest of our time chasing our minds. Perhaps this is when having strong and clear intelligence is helpful.

Speaking of duplicity – it mostly manifests in our intelligence. Our minds are too simple to scheme, our hearts are mostly in the right place, but it’s our intelligence that works very hard to find ways to justify our sense indulgence and not feel guilty about it. It’s our intelligence that scans our memory for quotes and examples where enjoying matter looks innocent and even welcome. We never forget those, I know I don’t.

Devotee’s intelligence is strong and independent of the modes of nature. It’s impossible to sway, it doesn’t give in to passion and it doesn’t devise elaborate plans to enjoy in the future, nor does it give in to the mode of ignorance which leads one to self-destructive activities.

Well, it’s time to wind up this post and I covered only one word. At least the next one is very close – dāntaḥ, controlling one’s senses, which is a natural next step, that’s what intelligence undisturbed by material desires is for. A devotee achieves this by engaging sense in Lord’s service, as I already said, but, perhaps, we should give the credit to the Lord for engaging His devotees’ senses. On our own we can’t do anything, we are totally dependent on the Lord to provide the opportunities for us to serve.

I’ll end this up by saying that this dāntaḥ shouldn’t be confused with dantaḥ, a word that relates to guess what? Dentistry. Dantaḥ with short “a” means teeth.

Vanity thought #1311. Pure devotees

After talking about liberated souls who realize the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth I should say something about devotees, too, otherwise what’s the point? It might also appear that impersonalism or Buddhism are okay because they seem to satisfy our desire for liberation so it is necessary to describe superior situation of a pure devotee next.

When Uddhava asked Kṛṣṇa about the symptoms of conditioned and liberated souls he got what he wanted but Kṛṣṇa also spent most of the chapter talking about His devotees. The pursuit of liberation is incomplete until one directs all his energy to devotional service, and not just incomplete but useless (SB 11.11.18):

    If through meticulous study one becomes expert in reading Vedic literature but makes no endeavor to fix one’s mind on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then one’s endeavor is certainly like that of a man who works very hard to take care of a cow that gives no milk. In other words, the fruit of one’s laborious study of Vedic knowledge will simply be the labor itself. There will be no other tangible result.

Note that it’s a śloka #18 in a 49 verse chapter. All talking about conditioning and liberation is done, from here on it’s all about devotion. If liberation does not lead to devotion than it’s like a caring for a cow that does not give milk. It would be labor for the sake of labor without any other tangible benefits.

From the memory, liberated person is always equipoised and his consciousness is not affected neither by suffering nor pleasure, he has no material desires, doesn’t strive for anything, and spends his life simply observing the rest of his karma working itself out. He also doesn’t care what everybody else thinks or does one way or another. He is free from duality of seeing things as good or bad and always detached. Okay, that about covers it.

Kṛṣṇa says a lot more about devotees and offers a list of twenty eight qualities (SB 11.11.29-32):

    ..a saintly person is merciful and never injures others. Even if others are aggressive he is tolerant and forgiving toward all living entities. His strength and meaning in life come from the truth itself, he is free from all envy and jealousy, and his mind is equal in material happiness and distress. Thus, he dedicates his time to work for the welfare of all others. His intelligence is never bewildered by material desires, and he has controlled his senses. His behavior is always pleasing, never harsh and always exemplary, and he is free from possessiveness. He never endeavors in ordinary, worldly activities, and he strictly controls his eating. He therefore always remains peaceful and steady. A saintly person is thoughtful and accepts Me as his only shelter. Such a person is very cautious in the execution of his duties and is never subject to superficial transformations, because he is steady and noble, even in a distressing situation. He has conquered over the six material qualities — namely hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death. He is free from all desire for prestige and offers honor to others. He is expert in reviving the Kṛṣṇa consciousness of others and therefore never cheats anyone. Rather, he is a well-wishing friend to all, being most merciful. Such a saintly person must be considered the most learned of men. He perfectly understands that the ordinary religious duties prescribed by Me in various Vedic scriptures possess favorable qualities that purify the performer, and he knows that neglect of such duties constitutes a discrepancy in one’s life. Having taken complete shelter at My lotus feet, however, a saintly person ultimately renounces such ordinary religious duties and worships Me alone. He is thus considered to be the best among all living entities.

The purport goes over the list in some detail, too. Note that Kṛṣṇa here doesn’t say anything about devotional service itself, all these qualities are “objective” and visible even to those without a clue about transcendental relationship between the devotee and the Lord. Later on Kṛṣṇa describes various aṅgas but doesn’t say anything about rasas or the bliss that executing them brings both to the Lord and to the devotee. He doesn’t say anything about things like taste at all.

Anyway, the list is long and there are many interesting things there to discuss. Let’s see what comes to mind first.

A saintly person never injures others. Hmm, and yet there was Arjuna. How can we reconcile this? One way would be to talk about what “injure” means. We immediately assume that it relates to inflicting damage to someone’s body but what if a devotee sees only damage to one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa and ignores everything else? That’s the only thing that ultimately matters. Or we could say that Kṛṣṇa was speaking about the kind of renunciates that Arjuna wanted to become in the beginning of the Gīta but acting on personal orders of the Lord is better than that.

Then there are some qualities common with non-devotional liberation – freedom from envy and jealousy, which is on the list of Buddhist perfections, too, btw, seeing equally happiness and distress, but then Kṛṣṇa says, according to translation, it leads to work for the welfare of others.

Can we read it as “devotee doesn’t care about personal experience of duality but strives to promote only good things in the lives of others”? I don’t think so, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would he promote appreciation for good things if he doesn’t have it himself, strives to purge remaining traces of it from his own life, and sees it as a cause of suffering? There goes the material concept of compassion – a devotee doesn’t have it. Welfare of others is not material but spiritual welfare – devotees preach, not primp. I wish Kṛṣṇa elucidated the difference but he didn’t. The purport, however, makes it clear:

    Foolish persons under the influence of false egotism, considering themselves to be the ultimate well-wishers of others, execute superficial materialistic activities rather than attending to the eternal happiness of others.

Perhaps Kṛṣṇa didn’t see the need to explain this because of the particular word He used – sarvopakāraka, which is parāpakara, supreme benefit of others, preceded by sarva, everyone. In our tradition parāpakara means bringing people to Kṛṣṇa and engaging them in service, there’s nothing better than that. Para means ultimate, it can’t be just giving people food or fixing their medical problems.

“Foolish persons under the influence of false egotism, considering themselves to be the ultimate well-wishers of others” is a pretty damning verdict. People who fall for this are not only foolish but they also imitate Kṛṣṇa, specifically His position as a well-wisher of every living being.

This quality also nicely complements the first one on the list – kṛpālu, which is literally compassion. Here’s an example how this kṛpālu/compassion is used elsewhere in Bhāgavatam (SB 4.25.3):

    the great saint Nārada, master and teacher of all spiritual life, became very compassionate upon the King and decided to instruct him about spiritual life.

There are other uses, too, however. Take one from the story of King Citraketu – Aṅgira Ṛṣi, out of compassion, granted him a son. Material compassion, right? Yet the son was pretty soon poisoned by envious wives, King Citraketu was inconsolable, and that’s when Aṅgira Ṛṣi and Nārada Muni gave him spiritual instructions he wasn’t very interested in when he asked for the mercy initially. Four Kumāras, who cursed Jaya and Vijaya to be born in the material world, are also described as compassionate – because they assured Jaya and Vijaya that they would return to Vaikuṇṭha after only three birhts.

Most often, however, kṛpālu is used to describe Lord Caitanya and there was not even a tinge of material compassion in His person, we all know that. His compassion means granting bhakti and nothing less.

I think it’s enough for today, will continue next time.

Vanity thought #1310. Proof of concept cont’d

Continuing from yesterday – is it possible to prove that non-empiric reality exists? It might not be possible to prove it empirically but I only need a proof of concept for now. Let the atheists agree to the strong possibility that it exists and that there are methods of attaining it. It all has to be done on the examples of impersonalists because we can’t bring God into the picture, so vaiṣṇavism is out.

So far I enlisted help of Buddhists here in favor of advaitins for a number of practical reasons. The downside of using them is that I don’t know much about Buddhist doctrine and so can only loosely translate it into ours or into language accessible to the atheists. I don’t think it’s a big problem, though – we need to find a cross-cultural language anyway if we want to talk to people outside of our tradition.

The next step is this. Let’s say Buddhists achieve their nirvana, is it possible to prove that it is real? The main problem is that it is still a transcendental state that cannot be registered empirically so atheists would never be fully satisfied no matter what. Next best thing is to show connection between transcendental and empirical reality, the one that has always been there in our tradition but got lost as influence of Kali Yuga got stronger. There are external symptoms of a person who has achieved liberation and they must be uniform across all religious traditions.

At this point I must admit I can’t just recite a verse enumerating them one by one. There are several ślokas in Bhagavad Gīta that would fit, and there’s a whole chapter in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.11), so let’s start from there, these verses repeat what had been said in Bhagavad Gīta anyway.

It’s part of a conversation between Kṛṣṇa and Uddhava appropriately called Uddhava Gīta. Kṛṣṇa answers Uddhava’s questions and this chapter answers the one that I’m looking for (SB 11.10.37):

    Please explain to me the symptoms by which one can tell the difference between a living entity who is eternally liberated and one who is eternally conditioned. In what various ways would they remain situated, enjoy life, eat, evacuate, lie down, sit or move about?

Note how the last sentence repeats Arjuna’s question (BG 2.54) almost word for word. In fact, Kṛṣṇa’s answers are also very similar. Come to think of it, Bhagavad Gīta’s version is even better and more to the point. Uddhava Gīta, otoh, has a bit more verses and a few more details. We, as devotees, need to remember, though, that liberation is only a preliminary stage and Kṛṣṇa spends half of the chapter describing what one should do AFTER he has become liberated, how one absolutely must engage in devotional service.

In both cases, first symptom is that liberated soul gives up all material desires. He simply observes interactions between his senses and their objects but takes no interest in them.

Afaik, that’s very similar to Buddhism – those who have attained nirvana still need to live out their karma first. That’s the stage we can use as practical examples. I believe there plenty of Buddhist monks who have visibly extinguished their material desires. The problem with them is that they also withdraw themselves from the world and those desires would come back as strong as ever if they were placed in our situation, in the midst of the civilization.

Atheists can certainly pick up on that and answering them is not going to be easy. A liberated person performs all kinds of ordinary activities but he does not see himself as a doer and he does not engage in actions because he wants something. I don’t know how we can demonstrate that, it’s just something one must experience himself. Even seeing a liberated person with one’s own eyes might not be enough because people ascribe all kinds of motivations to others and get them wrong all the time. “He does this but he doesn’t really want to” is not a kind of explanation that will go down easily.

Another symptom of a liberated soul is that he is exceptionally tolerant and undisturbed by hunger or pain, nor does he react to pleasure or worship (SB 11.11.15):

    Sometimes for no apparent reason one’s body is attacked by cruel people or violent animals. At other times and in other places, one will suddenly be offered great respect or worship. One who becomes neither angry when attacked nor satisfied when worshiped is actually intelligent.

I think even fully liberated persons would visibly react when attacked by vicious animals, these are bodily reactions done on a subconscious level, no one can stop them, but a liberated person’s consciousness won’t be affected. He won’t become angry or protective, he won’t desire revenge, he won’t ask for help either.

Problem is, it’s hard to find examples of such behavior and it can be explained differently, too. Drugs make people feel impervious to pain, or extreme fear, or excitement. The key here is mental equilibrium which is not present in all these other cases, and to notice that one must observe the person very closely.

One more important symptom of a liberated soul is that he doesn’t judge things as good or bad and sees everyone equally. We always pass judgments on things that happen to us and we always pass judgments on people. Sages don’t. They are not outraged by injustice and they do not celebrate correcting it either. They have no morals, practically speaking. They refuse to condemn and they do not offer praise.

It makes sense to us but I’m not sure if atheists would be as agreeable. Morals are important to them, justice is important to them, I don’t think they expect a spiritual person to be indifferent.

Perhaps that could be played to our advantage, though – if we show this as evolution of consciousness rather than people being sociopaths from birth. For an ordinary man outrage over rape of a little girl is unavoidable, for a liberated person it’s nothing to be worried about, it’s just karma, same thing for everyone, the differences are relative.

I don’t see atheists accepting this attitude, though, it’s just cold blooded and heartless and won’t attract anyone. I wouldn’t personally mention it unless I’m absolutely sure the person on the other end is capable of understanding it.

Taken one by one, none of the above arguments would appear to be conclusive, but taken as a sum and coupled with unmistakable absence of personal desires and aspirations we might just establish a foothold.

The next step is crucial, everything depends on it – a liberated person must inspire trust in his words. If he says that the world is an illusion and there’s a higher reality then we must believe him even if we can’t share the vision ourselves. It’s at this point that possible misinterpretations of the earlier symptoms should not get in the way of establishing credibility.

Imagine a dude living in the mountains, eating and sleeping very little, undisturbed by the weather and lack of comfort, equipoised in all circumstances and without any personal desires and aspirations. Why would he lie? Why would he lie to you and why would he lie to himself?

It should be clear that he is not performing austerities in order to achieve something and then he’ll stop. It should be clear that it’s how he prefers to live his life, day in and day out, year after year, decade after decade, and he would never initiate any changes himself.

If we can demonstrate that then we might have a shot. It all depends on establishing credibility, and that’s a major point going for Buddhists because Indian gurus have very little.

Maybe I should give it a try on some public forum, see how it goes.

PS. Forgot to insert sense control somewhere there but it’s such an obvious point we should not need a special reminder.

Vanity thought #1309. Proof of concept

I was wondering if it’s possible to prove that impersonal aspect of Kṛṣṇa exists. Actually, it should be no-brainer but it isn’t, I haven’t seen anyone done it successfully, or rather any atheists accepting the result. Maybe it’s because it has hardly been tried on a large scale.

By “proof” I mean empirical proof, the one that atheists put so much value on. Something they can do without building up faith, which is a whole different matter. In my experience, most people don’t see the difference and those who do don’t go around educating people. I mean the difference between bhakti, which doesn’t exist without faith, and other Hindu schools that can get by without faith just fine. For ordinary folks it’s all lumped under “religion”.

I assume that atheists don’t want to worship God in any shape or form, can’t stand the idea of God, won’t discuss the possibility unless there’s empiric proof. Empiric proof of Kṛṣṇa’s existence, however, is impossible. He can appear before our material senses, no problem, but it wouldn’t become proof because perceiving “God” is a matter of relationship, which does not exist in atheist hearts. They don’t have premāñjana, salve of love, which is necessary to see God. The way they cast their glance on objects of their perception is opposite to how we should look at God, so they won’t see Him, they would only see a material form and nothing else. Therefore any appeals to God or God’s authority should be excluded from the conversation.

First question – why bother? If we don’t talk about God then what’s the point of talking at all? Just to please ourselves with our own brilliance? Score some easy victories over atheists? Win some hard battles that we can remember forever? Life is short to waste it on such selfish pursuits, we need every minute, every second, and every breath to work on developing bhakti, the day will definitely come when we’ll regret all the wasted time.

The operative answer is that realizing impersonal aspect of the Absolute is a great achievement in itself and a necessary step towards being attracted to God. Or I could recall that dreaded compassion – impersonal realization equals liberation, if we bring people to it they’d be very very grateful. Perhaps the best effect, however, would be that all those atheists would shut up and realize they are talking nonsense.

Their propaganda is very widespread and very powerful. They are naturally smug about themselves and, like it or not, the aura of success attracts people like nothing else. Basically, they challenge religions not so much by arguments but by demonstrating how good atheism makes them feel. Arguments come and go, most don’t keep them in their heads, but everyone wants the taste of the same smug superiority and, as people’s intelligence is generally very weak in Kali Yuga, taste always wins.

If we accept that this is where real danger lies then winning the argument won’t probably matter. Despite their bold proclamations, atheists are not rational in their beliefs, at best the arguments can somewhat undermine their self-righteousness, but that would be a great achievement already – they surely won’t be talking as much as they do now, and if they actually take to the path of impersonalism they’ll keep quiet as part of their practice, we can’t lose here. Unless we lose the argument, of course.

So, how would one go about proving impersonal aspect of the Absolute? The easiest way, as far as I can see, is to refer them to Buddhists. Śankarācārya was supposed to beat them long long time ago but from what I see his teachings have been completely discredited while Buddhism still lives on, albeit it’s getting harder and harder to find serious practitioners. I blame this on that Ramakrishna dude and his followers.

If Śankarācārya’s mission was to bewilder the people of Kali Yuga, Ramakrsihna finally made it happen. Whatever good there was in advaita philosophy has been completely expunged by Ramakrishna who left only degraded demoniac mentality and nothing else. There was impersonalism before Śankara, of course, but his is the only school that survived through time and was flourishing even when Lord Caitanya was present, but not anymore, it has been overtaken by Ramakrishna inspired impostors.

I guess it’s possible to still find true followers of Śankarāchārya but they are extremely rare and by the nature of their practice would necessarily excuse themselves from being present on the Internet, so there’s nothing there to refer our atheists to. Any other kind of Hindu spirituality would be tainted by Ramakrishnaism of some kind and we’d be forced to explain why it has to be rejected.

Yoga is another path towards realization of the Absolute that could be useful to our argument but finding a real yogi is even harder than finding a real sanyāsī, claims about yogis sound too far fetched and require about as much faith as belief in God Himself.

Situation in Buddhism is somewhat better, not because there are more Buddhists around or that modern Buddhists are more presentable than modern impersonalists but because there are less windbags in that tradition, there are less obvious frauds and, I believe, there are more success stories there.

I’m not saying that Buddhism is better than advaita but it’s a fact that there are several Buddhist countries in the world and some of them take their religion very seriously while India is overrun by secularism and worship of all things western with their inherent hedonism, and therefore does not promote necessary level of austerity to achieve success on a noticeable scale.

In Thailand, for example, it’s not unusual to walk on a body of a monk that doesn’t decay after his death, lots of temples, often no-name ones, have relics like that and even more temples have stories like that to tell. I believe they call them “arahants”, the perfect ones, the ones who have attained nirvanna and will not take another birth after leaving this body. There are difference in interpretations between various schools but for our purposes we can assume they have achieved liberation.

In Bhutan the number of monks and their austerity is astonishing, simply out of this world, and while they and other Mahayana schools might set “bodhisattvas” as their ideal, plenty among them would look like Theravadan arahants to lay people like us. A while ago I wrote several posts on a Buryat monk who is claimed to be still alive after 170 years.

Stories like that won’t surprise anyone in India but casual researcher will most likely to run into a fraud there because everyone claims superpowers there and literally no one can be trusted. I mean their best examples are running around naked at Kumba Melas, who would take them seriously? Posers, the whole lot of them.

Okay, say we find some good examples among Buddhists or elsewhere, would that be enough to convince the atheists? I was just getting to that but that should probably be left for another day. As usual, the introduction seems to take more time and space than the argument itself.

I don’t think it’s a fault, btw, I believe that most questions arise because of a lack of foundation, once we understand where we are coming from most questions somehow answer themselves or simply disappear, and therefore I do not consider it as a waste of time.

Vanity thought #1308. Second look

The lecture I was talking about day before yesterday didn’t end with eulogizing compassion, there was more to it and it was a good stuff. I didn’t like it, personally, but that’s just my reaction to this particular style of dramatics.

I love a good story as much as anyone else and probably even more because I once had professional interest in story telling. I love dramatic effects, I love artistic license, it’s a true art. Art, however, is subjective. This particular style sounds way over the top for me and it grinds my ears. Why? I have a foggy image of an explanation that I think is more objective than simply blaming it on my personal tastes.

There are things we grow out of. We know how exciting they might still be to other people, especially children, but they just don’t touch our hearts anymore. I love cats but I avoid cat videos with their “aww” moments. Just the other day a neighborhood cat dragged a piece of a freshly slain bird across my porch and I watched it tearing into it like a little tiger. I’m sure that back home he is as lovely as he can be and everyone strokes him and cuddles him and everything, but what I saw was the reality of animal existence – it’s all about killing and enjoying power.

I, for some reason, don’t like baby videos either just as everyone else around me is an avid fan of some two year old internet sensation. “Grow out of it, will you!” I want to scream but no one would listen. The new season of a popular TV singing contest The Voice is in full swing but I don’t understand what is so fascinating about it. I’ve watched a couple of presentations, they all feel so staged with “artists” deliberately playing underdogs to the audience and begging to pity them for their sob stories. They are not “artists”, they are people who sing and that’s all, they can’t write any songs themselves. Similarly, no one calls nameless Chinese dudes who churned out thousands of copies of famous paintings sold by devotees as “artists”, that’s not what “art” means, but I digress.

My point was that dramatic effects look like very cheap tricks when they don’t work and leave a very bad aftertaste that can spoil the entire presentation, which would be a shame if it was a story about the Lord or His devotees. In this case it was.

Stories from Śrīmad Bhagavatam are full of transcendental nectar that doesn’t need any embellishments. We want to “improve” them only because we can’t taste the real thing, can’t transmit the nectar to the listeners, and so decide to decorate them with unnecessary details that we think would better suit particular conditioning of our audience instead.

This brings me to todays’ subject – the story that was told in that class had more layers underneath it that left me wondering. It was about Devānanda Paṇḍita (short version here – CC Adi 10.77) and it was brought in to illustrate the devastating power of offenses against devotees, iirc. Devānanda Paṇḍita once offended Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura and therefore didn’t get Kṛṣṇa premā when Lord Caitanya was freely distributing it to everyone. Eventually he got to serve Vakreśvara Paṇḍita and Lord Caitanya has forgiven him. The speaker, however, spend ten minutes on a prelude that had nothing to do with Devānanda and created so much drama out of it I could hardly listen, but back to my second thoughts on the story itself.

Devanānda is described as a learned and austere brāhmaṇa without any interests in material life. He spent his days reciting Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but his interpretations were impersonal, Lord Caitanya didn’t like it at all and once wanted to grab Devanānda’s Bhāgavatam and tear it apart. One time He ran into Devanānda and recollected the offense against Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura.

What happened was that Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura visited Devanānda’s lecture and listening to Bhāgavatam made him cry and faint. Devanānda’s disciples couldn’t understand the emotions of a pure devotee and unceremoniously carried him out of the house and into the street. I’ll get back to this a bit later.

My first “second thought” here was “Wait, how could Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura relish impersonal presentation of the Bhāgavatam?” In these situations we are told to close our ears and run away precisely for the reason we might like māyāvādī explanations. Here, however, Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura completely ignored Devanānda’s interpretation and heard only praises to the Lord and to pure devotional service that weren’t even in the lecture itself.

From this episode it appears that it is possible to hear nectar coming from māyāvādīs lips even if the danger is still there. A real devotee listening to Bhāgavatam won’t even notice misrepresentations of it, he’d be too focused on its real content to pay attention to anything else. That is a sign of a true paramahaṁsa who can’t see anything but the Lord everywhere around him and distills pure nectar from unlikeliest of places.

When Lord Caitanya harshly rebuked Devanānda, however, he took it very seriously, like a real brāhmaṇa, and he worked very hard to rectify his behavior. Eventually he got a chance to serve Vakreśvara Paṇḍita and he took it. Vakreśvara once led a very sweet and ecstatic kīrtana that attracted a lot of people and he was so absorbed in it that he didn’t see the danger of the crowd pushing and closing in on him. That’s when Devanānda got a stick and drove the crowd back, to keep the safe space around Vakreśvara.

Later, when Lord Caitanya stopped in Kuliyā, he saw Devanānda again and praised him for his service to Vakreśvara. This service canceled his previous offense against Śrīvāsa and Devanānda finally received the mercy of Mahāprabhu.

Here’s my second “second thought” – “How come Devanānda offended one devotee but was forgiven for serving somebody else?” This is not how we are told to deal with our offenses. It’s not like Devanānda couldn’t find Śrīvāsa and beg forgiveness from him directly. Just think about it – somebody offends you then sucks up to another devotee and doesn’t feel he owes you anything. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, at least in our understanding of what offense and forgiveness means. It worked with Devanānda, however. Why?

Maybe because his offense wasn’t against Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura personally. It wasn’t him who threw Śrīvāsa out of the assembly, his fault was that he didn’t stopped it. Perhaps he didn’t even know it was Śrīvāsa and so his offense was against manifestation of devotion in general. When he saw bhakti manifest in Vakreśvara he understood its value and served it, thus rectifying his offense.

Maybe there’s another explanation, but in any case, when delivering Devanānda Lord Caitanya gave important instructions on how one can rectify his aparādhas:

    If a person who unwittingly commits blasphemy stops blaspheming others and instead praises Lord Vishnu and the Vaishnavas, then that person will destroy all his sins. That is the right way to destroy them.

This translation is awful but I can’t find any better, sorry. It doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have to seek forgiveness of a particular devotee but it provides a way out for numerous offenses we commit unknowingly. If we don’t know what we did wrong we are not condemned forever, we just have to increase our service to the Lord and His devotees and hope that our greater appreciation will destroy our sins. I don’t think we can take it as a substitute for an apology we KNOW we should be offering.

Finally, with all these troubles falling on Devanānda Paṇḍita’s head and especially his impersonal interpretation of the Bhāgavatam I was surprised to learn that he is actually an eternally liberated soul and eternal Kṛṣṇa’s associate, even His senior. In Kṛṣṇa līlā he was one of the brāhmaṇas who recited Vedic literatures in Nanda Mahārāja’s house. Go figure – impersonalists in Goloka, who would have thought?

I guess the lesson we can extract from this is that in Kṛṣṇa’s kingdom there’s a place for everyone. We, however, as followers of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, should stick to the norms set by our ācāryas. We are not servants of everybody there, we are servants of our particular group of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees and if our predecessors found impersonalism unacceptable then so should we, come hell of high water. A drop of mercy from our guru cannot be substituted by an ocean of blessings from everyone else.

Vanity thought #1308. Nam-e

Some insist on making the difference between the name and the person it refers to, between nāma and nāme. It’s a subject I feel utterly confused by. We are always told how Kṛṣṇa and His name are no different but the arguments for the difference are compelling, too.

If there was no difference then gopīs, for example, wouldn’t be able to talk about Kṛṣṇa without making Him immediately appear. Forget the years when Kṛṣṇa left Vṛndāvana, it would have been very inconvenient for making their usual secret plans. I mean they talk about Kṛṣṇa all the time but still have to go and meet Him in person, how could it be possible if there was absolutely no difference between Him and His name?

Or how about this. Gopīs meet Kṛṣṇa, somehow one of them utters His name, does it mean that the second Kṛṣṇa immediately pops up out of nowhere? Of course not. From all we know about life in Vṛndāvana, Kṛṣṇa Himself and the sound of His name are not one and the same, they act pretty much like in the material world, nāma and nāme are clearly different.

So what about the basic tenet of our philosophy then? Perhaps the difference is there but it makes no practical difference for us. In our conditioned state the name has enough power to accomplish whatever is necessary and nuances start to matter only in the spiritual world. I haven’t seen any of our ācāryas explain this matter so there might be another explanation, it’s a bit confusing, as I said.

I remembered this subject, however, when reading the currently most commented article on Dandavats. One devotee wrote about corruption of Rāma into Rāmo during kīrtanas. As far as I can see, everybody does that. There’s also the point that Śrīla Prabhupāda once interrupted such kīrtana and asked “Who is this Ramo?” There’s also the argument that while Rāmo might be a popular pronunciation in Bengal the mahāmantra is not Bengali but Sanskrit one. If it says Rāma in Sanskrit then that’s what we should sing.

Still, everybody does that, I can’t imagine we all got it wrong, including devotees who are quite strict about unauthorized mantras.

As far as I can remember, there are two counterarguments. One time Śrīla Prabhupāda said that pronunciation doesn’t really matter because Kṛṣṇa knows who we are calling.

Right, yes, He knows we are calling Rāmo, question is – does He know who that is?

This counterargument is totally unacceptable to me. It implies that we sing from the heart and our hearts are pure and so there’s no one but Kṛṣṇa there. No matter what we say, our sincerity will always evoke only Kṛṣṇa Himself.

That’s not how vaidhī bhakti works at all.

For any sincere practitioner on the stage of vaidhī bhakti it should be clear that our hearts are full of anarthas and cannot be trusted. We accept external instructions as superior, not the other way around.

“Kṛṣṇa knows” argument basically says that our hearts are pure and absolute and we can do no wrong while the instructions of guru-sādhu-śāstra are relative and subject to interpretation according to time, place, and circumstances. Quite a hellish attitude to possess.

Yesterday I mentioned that Śrīla Prabhupāda once stopped an extravagant kīrtana and said that it was simply singing for sex life, the infamous “Hari Bowl” competition in Māyāpura. I remember Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī making a similar comment, too.

Perhaps Kṛṣṇa knows who that “Rāmo” is – the god of subtle sex enjoyment! Maybe there’s no such god at all but it works – whoever sings his name gets fame and adoration as an expert kīrtanīyā and tons of female admirers.

Another argument for “Rāmo”, or at least against strict “Rāma”, is pronunciation. Śrīla Prabhupāda might not have sung Rāmo but he often pronounced only Rām, without the last “a”. As far as we, his followers are concerned, this should be accepted as legitimate. Can we explain it, however?

Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra is said to have 32 syllables, if we cut the last “a” in Rāma we would also cut four syllables from the mantra and it should greatly reduce its potency. For all we know about Sanskrit, we have no freedom to mess with mantras and mistakes can lead to very unexpected and unwelcome results.

The only thing that comes to mind is that last “a” might not count as absolutely necessary to form a syllable. Unlike in English, syllables are not counted strictly by vowels in Sanskrit and a consonant might count as a syllable even if not explicitly followed by a vowel, I don’t know enough to state this with any confidence, though. “M” at the end of Rām is also last in the group of labial consonants, meaning that it can be made with lips closed, meaning you can make the sound without letting air out and thus producing a vowel anyway – looks like a syllable on its own to me.

Some say that if you listen to Prabhupāda’s chanting very carefully you’ll notice that there’s always a short “a” at the end of what initially appears as “Rām”. I don’t know, I haven’t tried myself. With these tests people tend to hear what they want to hear anyway, their brains automatically adjusting raw information coming from the senses.

Another part of the “pronunciation” argument is that everybody does it, it’s only an accent, and, in one case, someone said that Indians say “Devki” instead of “Devaki” and therefore this is correct. I beg to differ, we are not obliged to follow Indians in these matters, we are not Hindus.

Lord Caitanya made fun of East Bengali pronunciation, for example, it’s not sacred. We don’t even know His own accent because it has likely been corrupted through time, and there’s no one Bengali accent anyway, among the variations it’s impossible to say which one is authoritative as far as mantras are concerned.

As for the rest of Indians – they don’t speak Sanskrit, they have corrupted it first into Prakrit and later into Hindi. It’s safer to assume that whatever their pronunciation is, it’s NOT how the words were supposed to be pronounced originally. Hindi might be infinitely closer to Sanskrit than English but it’s still a different language so we can’t insist on accepting Hindi pronunciation of Sanskrit words just as we don’t insist on English “name” instead of Sanskrit “nāma” – clearly the same word.

By corrupted I don’t mean changing only the pronunciation but all sorts of corruption that happens when one deviates from unalloyed devotional service, which was well hidden even from Sanskrit purists. It’s not just the language they corrupted, it’s the service to the Lord, and therefore it should be unacceptable to us.

Śrīla Prabhupāda said lots of good things about Indian culture but it’s still only somewhere half way between our total degradation and Śrīla Prabhupāda himself as a pure devotee. They are better than us but not as good as our ācāryas, any lessons we take from them must be taken with a grain of salt and run against the standards set by our sampradāya.

So, is it okay to chant “Rāmo”? I think not, but as long as we are not doing it to impress others it would not be the end of the world. Is it okay to chant “Rām”? I think it should be generally acceptable, following Prabhupāda’s example is the safest way for us and he, apparently, sometimes said “Rām”.

Vanity thought #1307. Failing strategy

A while ago I adopted a strategy to deal with controversial figures in our movement – listen to them speaking on Kṛṣṇa consciousness. I thought that when one hears about Kṛṣṇa from their mouths all disagreements would appear minor and insignificant, something one could easily forgive considering the real benefits of their association.

This strategy has failed again.

I heard so much stuff I couldn’t understand or agree with that I’m about to give up on that person. I do not doubt his devotion and effect it has on others but as far as I am concerned – it’s just not for me. In my particular state of conditioning it just rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe ten-twenty years from now it will become less grinding for my ears and I would regret missed opportunities, it has happened to me before, but for now listening to that person only leads to mental aggravation. So, whatever I say in the rest of this post is only my personal grievances, I won’t claim that it is objective, guru-sādhu-śāstra based assessment.

It all started off very well, except for the voice that sounded like the person could barely hold his tears. It might have been a genuine spiritual emotion but I was taught to be very skeptical about it. I think that people who can’t contain themselves right from the start of the class are probably frauds. In all my experience it takes a long build up and a tight bond with the audience for tears to come out and emotions overtake the speaker. One can’t just start expressing deep, confidential feelings out of the blue when the listeners aren’t ready and might still fidget in their seats, their minds not fully absorbed in the lecture. I know who would do such things and I was taught to stay away from those people.

Just recently someone mentioned Śrīla Prabhupāda interrupting what looked like an emotional kīrtana and saying that such singing is not for Kṛṣṇa but for one’s own subtle sex enjoyment, that was in a relation to a different topic I’m not going to cover today.

Otherwise, the content was solid for the first half an hour or so, emotions gradually subsided, and I thought that not only I was learning some valuable lessons but my strategy worked. Then the hell broke lose.

First, it was a little jibe about “extremism” in our movement. When something is not right we overreact and create more problems than the little thing that ticked us off. This might be factually true but what I saw is an excuse to get away with anything. The fact that the speaker could be correct and my objection was an overreaction made me uneasy. “I’ll get him next time, I thought”, and I didn’t have to wait long.

BTW, we have a clear injunction to reject all things unfavorable to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We should probably do it politely and without creating too much fuss but reject we must, there are no two ways about it and no space for compromises.

The next thing was “compassion”, which has become a trigger word for me. “..if we are Krishna Conscious, if we understand our own eternal soul and our relationship with Krishna, we will recognize that every living being is part of Krishna and everything that exists is Krishna’s property. That consciousness is the only state of mind that can bring true and complete…” – wait for it – “Compassion!”

Who cares about compassion if one understands his eternal soul and relationship with Kṛṣṇa? Who cares if people have enough land for agriculture, which was the context for introducing this “compassion” thing. Then there were a few examples how compassion should become natural to our lives and then came the story of Mahārāja Rantideva from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (SB 9.21).

Mahārāja Rantideva once undertook a forty-eight day fast and when he was about to take food people starting showing up and asking him to give them some. Rantideva had to give away everything, including the last cup of water, and that’s when he offered a nectarian prayer, in Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s own estimate (SB 9.21.12):

    I do not pray to the Supreme Personality of Godhead for the eight perfections of mystic yoga, nor for salvation from repeated birth and death. I want only to stay among all the living entities and suffer all distresses on their behalf, so that they may be freed from suffering.

In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda compares Mahārāja Rantideva to Vāsudeva Datta:

    Vāsudeva Datta made a similar statement to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, requesting the Lord to liberate all living entities in His presence. Vāsudeva Datta submitted that if they were unfit to be liberated, he himself would take all their sinful reactions and suffer personally so that the Lord might deliver them.

The highlighted part makes it clear the purpose behind this attitude – sinful reactions stand in the way of people developing devotional service and that’s the reason sins must be taken away by devotees. It’s not about food per se.

The speaker, however, slightly mistranslated the verse to end with “in every birth I take, let me give up my life in compassion for others.”

No, compassion is not the goal of life and no one prays to the Lord to be born again and again so that he could practice it. There could be only subtle difference here but it sounded unacceptable to me. Strictly speaking, Mahārāja Rantideva didn’t say that he wanted to relieve people’s suffering so that they could become devotees, that was implied in Prabhupāda’s purport. The big difference, however, is that he wanted to relieve people’s suffering, not attain his own compassion. His prayer wasn’t about developing his own consciousness but only about welfare of others.

Perhaps it was this annoying ambiguity that angered me even more. I would once again remind that my personal reactions to this should be taken only as such, as personal, and probably also as an example of how not to react.

The thing is, I’ve recently heard the greatest argument against compassion ever. It was in reply to a question about differences between an upper and middle classes. The answer was comprehensive and fascinating but it’s the compassion bit that is relevant here.

Speaking of upper class females:

    ..philanthropy is their ideal career. A philanthropist cares about everyone else, and for one to care about everyone else, one must first elevate oneself above everyone else. It’s a very high-status career that involves little unpleasant, real work.

This nails it! To be compassionate one must feel himself higher than the objects of his compassion. Compassion flows from high to low, not the other way around. Pure spiritual compassion, like the one displayed by Vāsudeva Datta is a different thing, it’s about enabling the Lord to be compassionate to others. Not “let me show the mercy” but “let the Lord show the mercy”. It also doesn’t have anything to do with material situation.

The only thing people lack in this world is Kṛṣṇa consciousness, their material suffering should not be the cause for our concern, only to the degree that sinful activities prevents one from developing his Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

The compassion that I hear about from this speaker is always about seeing others as less materially fortunate. They have less food, they have more stressful lives, and therefore we must be compassionate to them. To become compassionate in this sense one must attain high status for himself first, and what kind of devotee would want that?

I’ve also heard the same argument about impersonalists – they are full of compassion because they think they are better than everyone else. The higher you think of yourself the more compassion you can potentially have.

Well, pure devotees do not see themselves as more fortunate in any way. They do not even see themselves as better devotees, they see everyone else doing a far better service to Kṛṣṇa than themselves. There’s absolutely nothing of their own that would allow them to feel superior to anyone in any respect.

Madhyama level devotees must differentiate and must value their position in relation to the Lord as higher than that of non-devotees but it’s still not the grounds for feeling materially superior and, therefore, “compassionate”.

In fact, it’s the people who live in comfort and have no inclination towards God that we need to be compassionate towards. Those in distress, otoh, are just one step away from a prayer, our work there is almost done. It’s our inability to convert those who are better off that should worry us most. Personally, I would prefer them to get in serious trouble rather than protect them from suffering. It’s not my job to take away their material happiness but I would gladly pray to the Lord to withdraw their illusion of comfort.

The lecture rolled on and I had even more objections but my mind was made up after this compassion episode and I’m not sure it can be undone. I will stick with my strategy anyway and try to find some redeeming qualities in those I don’t like but I won’t push it to the point of feeling offensive. It’s a fine line and I don’t want to risk crossing it.

Vanity thought #1306. Book distribution forever?

It’s practically blasphemous in our society to question the value of book distribution. It’s not supposed to depreciate, ever. Yet question we must because the world is changing.

Perhaps the easiest argument against book distribution is that no one read books anymore, but it’s only half right. People do read books when they want to learn something important, it’s just they’d rather waste their lives ogling someone else’s food instead. They need our books for those rare moments when they realize there’s life outside their mobile phone screens.

They need our books as a safety cushion, something they can always fall back on when their virtual lives don’t pan out. Accusing phone addicts of not having a life is easy but not helpful. They do value their off-screen lives and they do value relationships and “values”, it’s just that Kali Yuga is too strong and it locks them into their gadgets for longer time than we expect.

They are not stupid either and they get as much out of their lives and people in them in a few seconds they spare for their interactions as we do in hours. They are more efficient then us even if less attentive. I bet they catch a lot of stuff in our books that took us multiple readings to notice, too.

Not all are that smart, of course, the majority are certifiable retards, but it’s the smart ones that we should focus on anyway because they set the standards for everyone else. If they like out books and our ideas they can spread them to thousands and millions in a few keystrokes, a lot faster than if we did it ourselves.

So books still need to be distributed, just probably not to everybody and not at any cost. Yuga dharma for this age is harināma saṅkīrtana, loud chanting of the holy names, not studying books. We can’t say out job is done unless we get people to chant and simply handing them a book doesn’t insure that. Perhaps the best idea is to have book distributors accompany harināma parties so that books complement chanting. We don’t need to give everyone a full set of Bhāgavatam, too. Perhaps a small flyer would be a lot more effective to get people to chant the mahāmantra.

I don’t know if it ever happens but I think lots of people would rather reply with “I’ll wait for a movie” when we offer them an eight hundred pages Bhagavad Gīta and we can’t argue with that. It’s our duty to make our books presentable to them, we can’t blame them for our failure to catch their attention.

There’s another argument against eternity of book distribution – it isn’t eternal. It had a beginning and therefore it must have an end. I mean there was time when there were no such thing as books and there will be time when the half the universe will be flooded and books don’t do well in water.

We convinced ourselves that at least in out time frame book distribution is eternal but it isn’t. Importance of book distribution occurred to Śrīla Prabhupāda when he saw how successful it was, how he could reach millions and millions of people. Originally he concerned himself only with translating and writing purports and reaching professors and other VIPs. He had no idea that he would have thousands and thousands disciples who could put Bhagavad Gīta practically in every home. It had become evident only by the mid-seventies.

We think that importance of printing books is self-evident but the fact is that among thousands of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s disciples only Śrīla Prabhupāda took it very seriously. The rest of them, big big names, big big scholars, big big preachers, had no idea and exploited the old formula from GM’s heydays.

What makes us think that someone in ISKCON won’t suddenly stumble on an effective method of preaching suitable for the modern Internet age? It took decades for GM to recognize that printing books in English was a very good idea, I think it’s safe to assume that we might be just as conservative about someone’s innovations in ISKCON, too.

The person who does it successfully would have to become an ācārya, of course, but then how many GM devotees thought that Śrīla Prabhupāda was one? How long did it take them to recognize him? I think it’s safe to assume that we’d react in a similar fashion.

It’s also worth nothing that while even Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had a printing press and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī continued printing more than ever, they didn’t print that many books. Mostly it was magazines and newspapers in different languages. In modern day it would be an equivalent of a blog where one takes up the issues of the day and presents them from a certain perspective.

This kind of format will never get old even as blogs transformed into Facebook statuses, tweets, and Instagram photos. The idea is still the same – to spread one’s comments on the issues of the day.

We, ISKCON, do not have a vehicle for that. We have websites, we have twitter accounts, we have blogs, but we still have no idea how to reach the general population and we mostly communicate with our devotees. If someone figures out how to do that on whatever platform that reaches millions and millions of people would be qualified as the next ācārya.

I hope Lord Caitanya already has something in mind but He is waiting for the right moment or for the right platform or for the society to reach a certain level of maturity.

Our books are supposed to yank people out of their miserable lives. We offer something that people can immediately drop all their plans for. To appreciate that, however, people must be ready. Vietnam war era was perfect, post-USSR era was perfect, perhaps we need to wait for the time when mobile Internet stops being a novelty and people would want something more than moving pixels on their screens.

Sorry to say that, but dissatisfaction and disillusionment are the best ambiance for our preaching. At this point people are still to absorbed in technicalities of their mobile interactions. They are still fascinated by apps, text speak, ability to share photos and Vine videos etc. We need them to get bored of that stuff first.

I might be wrong about this but to me it looks like a good explanation why we haven’t had an Internet breakthrough in preaching yet. At first we thought that Internet was going online with your computer, now we found out that phones are just as good for that, and also tablets, maybe there will be another one or two mediums before people settle down and become ready to listen to our presentations about the Absolute Truth. Perhaps our Internet use is only in its infancy and preaching would resume once the society grows up to at least grade school level.

We just have to be patient, Lord Caitanya knows what He is doing. When the time is right He can enable any one of us in a split second.

We should also remember that it was forty years between departure of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta and ISKCON finally supplanting Gauḍīyā Maṭhas as prime preaching institution, we are not that far behind, considering the scope of change in people’s interactions with each other that we are waiting to settle down.

The most striking argument concerning eternity of book distribution for me, however, was from a totally different area – I am all for book distribution being eternal but I’d rather get born again and again to relive the best moments of it in each and every universe rather than to see it dragged out until the end of Kali Yuga.