Vanity thought #1341. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 9

In his parting comments to Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura the Muslim king said: “You are equal to everyone – both friend and enemy – but there is no one in the three worlds who can understand you.” That was a telling testimony – we think we know and understand Haridāsa’s status as a pure devotee but without having seen it with our own eyes our knowledge must be shallow.

Vast majority of our ISKCON members have never seen a certified pure devotee and since the 90s we’ve been taught that the current crop of our gurus are not there yet. Maybe it’s true, in general, and it means that we imagine pure devotees through the lens of our material experiences. If we actually seen someone truly equal to all living entities we’d probably reject such a person outright.

We expect devotees to behave in a certain way and value certain things over others and we can’t imagine it being any other way. When these values are challenged we protest, very loudly, and quickly identify our enemies. It’s not a bad thing to do, it’s how we are supposed to behave on our level, but it’s also not the stage of perfection yet. We have no mercy for meat-eaters and for some even milk-drinkers. We hate māyāvādīs and impersonalists of all persuasions. Some can’t stand the idea of female gurus, and others can’t stand patriarchal traditionalists in return. Strong opinions are everywhere and we all refer to the same authority – Prabhupāda.

If someone is non-committal to any of those issues we brand them as ignorant offenders and accuse them of not having “real humility”, which nowadays means going after your enemies with everything you got. Indifference is offensive, of course, but it’s not equal to equanimity, and that’s why I think a real well-wisher of everyone would have a hard time in our society if he decided to propagate his views.

Having observed Haridāsa Ṭhākura rise from the dead one would expect the king to praise a miracle but that was not what impressed Nawab the most – he was impressed by Haridāsa’s attitude throughout the whole ordeal. Having no such experience we can’t understand how impressive equanimity really is. We can’t imagine how anything could be more impressive than a dead person rising up and continuing chanting. I can’t explain it to myself, even when I heard about people’s impressions of Śrīla Prabhupāda I didn’t understand what the big deal was, and many didn’t see him that way either because externally Śrīla Prabhupāda appeared as very opinionated and always ready for a fight.

Well, I can’t talk about something I have no experience of, so let’s move on.

The king gave Haridāsa Ṭhākura a free pass anywhere in his kingdom and Haridāsa immediately went to Phuliyā and entered into an assembly of the brāhmaṇas. It was unusual in that Haridāsa was still a Muslim by birth and thus association with brāhmaṇas was forbidden but after his miraculous resurrection even proud seminal brāhmaṇas had to admit that Haridāsa was special. Everybody started chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and Haridāsa swam in the ocean of bliss, or, practically speaking, fell on the ground unconscious. Caitanya Bhāgavata says that at this point, seeing Haridāsa’s transformations, it was the brāhmaṇas who felt transcendental bliss. I suppose ordinarily a short kīrtana wouldn’t produce such an effect in those who were raised in pride but seeing Haridāsa Ṭhākura with their own eyes brāhmaṇas’ hardened hearts melt.

After a while Haridāsa came back to his senses and addressed brāhmaṇas concern. “Please do not feel sorry for me,” he asked, “I’ve committed a great offense by hearing blasphemy of the Lord and for it I got only a token punishment. I was supposed to go to hell, to Kumbhīpāka, but by Lord’s grace I was spared so that I may not commit such a sin again”.

Of all the explanations of what had happened to him this is the last one that would come to our minds. We consider Haridāsa sinless, he wasn’t supposed to go to any hell, and he didn’t receive a “token” punishment, he was beaten like no other devotee in our memory. Yet that’s how Haridāsa saw what happened himself and we can learn quite a bit from this.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī offered lengthy comments on each verse in Haridāsa’s explanations. Mostly they were directed against prākṛta-sahajiyā sampradāya. We don’t know it even still exists, though it does and one of the first ISKCON detractors from Prabhupāda’s time eventually joined it, no need to mention names. Does it mean that it is the only target group and everyone else is spared? I think not.

I think Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī singled them out because they were prominent in those days and were the visible carriers of the offensive attitude described by Śrīla Haridāsa. These days they are nowhere to be seen but it doesn’t mean the offensive attitude disappeared with them. Being product of the illusion it affects every conditioned living entity equally. We all have to go through it from time to time.

The main charge by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was that we discount hearing blasphemy of the Lord on account of ‘Vaiṣṇava etiquette’ and this happens because we try to imitate tolerance and vision of a mahā-bhāgavata devotee like Haridāsa Ṭhākura. Imitation is sahajiyā’s trademark, of course.

    Those who even after hearing the blasphemy of Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas display their ‘cleverness’ by posing as advanced and liberal on the pretext of artificial gentleness or tolerance without understanding the real purport of taror api sahiṣṇu – “more tolerant than a tree” are understood to be enjoying the results of their grave offenses.

We’ve seen it many times when devotees engage atheists and pretend to be unaffected by all the cruel words atheists say about God. We need to be ‘open-minded’ and, yes, ‘liberal’, if we want to reach to those people. Like hell we don’t.

Furthermore, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī paraphrases Śrīla Haridāsa as follows:

    As a Vaiṣṇava, I will never again hear blasphemy against Viṣṇu and the Vaiṣṇavas under the shelter of tṛṇād api sunīcatā or on the pretext of taror api sahiṣṇutā. I have had a sufficient lesson this time. The Lord is most merciful; He taught me by awarding a token punishment for a grave offense.

Can we finally take a lesson from this? I know it’s hard for me to avoid making this mistake again and again, on the excuse of ‘preaching’. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t pain me very much and I think I should tolerate these offenses anyway because my ‘liberalism’ would somehow attract and convince atheists just like Haridāsa won over Muslims. In the meantime I also know that I’m not prepared to take any personal pain like Haridāsa did. I know it would affect me very much and I won’t consider it a “token punishment”.

Isn’t it duplicity? I want to have the cake and eat it, too, or I want to stand in the kitchen but I’m not prepared to take the heat.

Do we really have learn this lesson through our own misfortune? I bet Kṛṣṇa Himself is at a loss what to do about us. How to teach us not to do it again without subjecting us to necessary pain? Why can’t we help Him by simply taking it on faith from the mouth of our ācāryas?

Oh, sometimes we are such slow learners.

Vanity thought #1340. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 8

So, severely beating Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura wasn’t enough. He wouldn’t stop chanting and wouldn’t particularly care. The only thing that distracted Haridāsa’s concentration on the Holy Names was the fate of his executioners. He prayed to the Lord to spare them from reactions for their sins.

Did he really care about their karma? No, I think not. What he cared about was that their sins could prevent them from engaging in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They heard they Holy Name, they saw a devotee, it would be a real shame if this association, however unpleasant, didn’t lead them to turning to Kṛṣṇa. Some could say Haridāsa cared for their future pain but I think ascribing such materialistic vision to a pure devotee is short-sighted.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t descend on this planet, in the association of Lord Caitanya, to relieve the alleged material suffering of the people of Bengal. It was a really wealthy province, perfectly situated in a good climate and on rich agricultural land. Life there was far far better than in any of European countries of the time, even if they didn’t have big show off buildings. There was no material suffering to speak of and people were averse to devotional service precisely because life seemed perfect without it.

Advaita Ācārya and devotees in his circle couldn’t find a way to distract people from their material enjoyment and ignite their interest in Kṛṣṇa’s service, how can we assume that Haridāsa Ṭhākura cared about alleged material suffering of Muslim rulers? They were the ones who had it really really good then, collecting good taxes and having a good life.

Those who tortured Haridāsa would have suffered bad karma, no doubt about that, but they were also only executing their duties, they were doing their job. They also had religious justification for it – Haridāsa needed to be punished to prevent fellow Muslims from abandoning their faith. Of course Haridāsa knew all that and it wasn’t their karma that concerned him but effect of their sins on their availability for Lord’s service. To me, it’s the only explanation that makes sense, as we’ll see just a bit later.

So, when they couldn’t kill Haridāsa they begged him to die because failure at their job was punishable. They were afraid that the angry Kazi would kill them instead. Haridāsa understood their predicament and said that if him being alive creates problems for others he’d gladly give up his body. Of course he didn’t actually do that, he just went into a deep samādhi.

That was his trick with death. Normally, devotees don’t use their siddhis but this was a special occasion. Even Lord Caitanya didn’t seem to have control over His powers, His samādhis would catch Him and His servants completely unaware. He’d break out of a locked room and drown in the sea and wouldn’t remember anything, for example. Here, however, Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura displayed his transcendental powers at will.

We know that pure devotees swim in the ocean of transcendental bliss and their bodies exhibit various symptoms of that. From our own experience we also know that glimpses of such bliss are completely uncontrollable. They might overwhelm us for a split second only to disappear for a really really long time, leaving us with nothing but vague memories.

Even Nārada Muni didn’t have control over it in his previous life as a boy blessed by traveling vaiṣṇavas. He was completely detached from the world, roaming the planet without any particular purpose, and Kṛṣṇa appeared to Him only once. One thing the Lord said was that Nārada wouldn’t be able to contact Him again for the rest of His life (SB 1.6.21):

    O Nārada, I regret that during this lifetime you will not be able to see Me anymore. Those who are incomplete in service and who are not completely free from all material taints can hardly see Me.

First, Nārada Muni saw the Lord in meditation, then the Lord disappeared, Nārada tried and tried to find Him again but in vain. That’s when the Lord spoke to Him, while still remaining unseen.

So, even Nārada Muni couldn’t get Lord’s audience at will. How glorious does that make Haridāsa Ṭhākura? He just said “sure” and was gone, his consciousness completely withdrawn from this world.

His breathing stopped and there were no signs of life in his body. His torturers were relieved, the king accepted that job was well done, and that was the end of it. Luckily, Kazi then intervened and demanded that Haridāsa’s body was thrown into the river because cremating him would take him to a higher destination, according to Muslim faith. The king didn’t mind Haridāsa’s body being honored by cremating him according to the tradition but went with Kazi’s advice again, and it was a good decision because otherwise Haridāsa Ṭhākura wouldn’t have had the body to return to from his samādhi.

Even throwing his body into the Ganges was a problem because he suddenly became very very heavy – one of the standard siddhis, garima, becoming heavier than the heaviest. Caitanya Bhāgavata speaks of Lord Viśvambhara entering his body. Lord Viśvambhara carries the weight of the whole universe, who can lift him? It was a struggle but somehow the guards managed.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura, meanwhile, was completely absorbed in meditation on the lotus feet of the Lord and was unaware of the surroundings. I just described how Nārada Muni in his previous life couldn’t do that but Caitanya Bhāgavata gives an example of Prahlāda Mahārāja, of whom Śrīmad Bhāgavatam says the following (SB 7.4.38):

    ..being always embraced by the Lord, he did not know how his bodily necessities, such as sitting, walking, eating, lying down, drinking and talking, were being automatically performed.

I think it would be extremely cool to achieve that kind of perfection. Sitting, walking, eating, drinking, talking being automatically performed without needing any attention from our consciousness? Is it even possible? I always thought that things like talking needed our attention but apparently it does not. Apparently a pure devotee can do all those things and more without actually doing them – they are carried out by the material nature and they don’t need our input. We think it’s impossible, from our experience we are convinced that this is impossible, but apparently it is.

That’s one more reason not to even try to judge activities of the devotees. Even when they are somewhat materialistic their actions are still carried out by the material nature, which in turn acts under the direction of the Lord. Blaming devotees then is not only an offense against vaiṣṇavas but also against Lord’s own supervision of their lives, which is, of course, perfect regardless of how it looks to our eyes. We need to learn freedom from such envy, it doesn’t do anyone any good.

Anyway, after floating in the river for a while Haridāsa Ṭhākura returned to his external consciousness and came ashore. Everybody was astonished to see that. I’m sure everybody thought he was gone for good, killed by Muslims despite taking shelter of the Holy Name, but there he was, as alive as ever, and he still continued chanting.

The king had no choice but to accept making a mistake and begged Haridāsa for forgiveness. Other Muslims forgot their envy, too, and offered him obeisances. Happy ending, right? Not so fast.

Two dozen ślokas later Caitanya Bhāgavata informs us that Muslims who had beaten Haridasa, as well as their families, were all destroyed within a few days. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī comments that they were destroyed by severe diseases like cholera or smallpox, which was the go to punishment for offending devotees in those days.

Did it really happen? We have no reason to doubt that it did, but we need to reconcile this with Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s concern for their well-being, too. That’s why I earlier said that his blessings must have been strictly spiritual so that they could have contracted smallpox and at the same time still could take shelter of the Holy Name just like Haridāsa Himself. Otherwise what would have been the use of them coming in close contact with a devotee? It always works out of the best, spiritual best, that is, and given how concerned Haridāsa was for them they surely must have escaped the real sin of never being able to surrender to Kṛṣṇa.

Next up – Haridāsa’s own perspective on what had happened to him.

Vanity thought #1339. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 7

So, the beatings, the most juicy part of Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s story. If it wasn’t for the beatings we wouldn’t be so much impressed by his achievements. It’s an unfortunate fact but it is true.

We are rascals, we don’t just believe things, we expect them to produce results that we can relate to and appreciate. When one first approaches his potential guru questioning is a must but after taking shelter of his lotus feet there should be no doubt at all, ideally. We are still not impressed, though, we need more miracles. We want Kṛṣṇa shine through our material senses, we can’t rely only on “unsubstantiated rumors”. As much as we trust our authorities, we also need to see or imagine something for ourselves.

To our credit, we accept the divinity of Lord Caitanya on faith. I don’t think cutting out one of the manifestations of His powers would affect our opinion. I bet many of us can’t even remember all the cases where the Lord displayed His divine nature. He was God, we accept that.

With Haridāsa Ṭhākura it’s somewhat different. He was one of us and he achieved spiritual perfection through chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Lord Caitanya was God and He could do everything. Haridāsa Ṭhākura is one of our own, we can’t do anything, but he could, and we need proof of that.

He was chanting three hundred thousand names every day. We can’t do that but we know it’s possible. What we also know that if we chanted as much it wouldn’t have the same effect on our lives, at least not immediately. So, how could we believe that Haridāsa Ṭhākura achieved perfection when replicating his activities generally doesn’t bring the same result? That’s where miracles come handy. Off the top of my head there were three – driving the snake out of the cave, withstanding māyā’s temptation in the form of a prostitute, and beatings.

Snake is the least impressive of those, could have happened for all sorts of reasons, normally, we wouldn’t even consider it as a genuine problem. Prostitute was cool, we can’t do that, but many saintly people in history have learned to withstand sex desires so it’s not really that big of a deal. We are all expected to pass this test sooner or later and we all know how close or how far we are from passing it. When we are fully engaged in service it appears to be super easy, won’t even enter our minds, now we have to learn how to do it when we are alone with a horny woman sitting in our room for hours. Not easy but doable.

Beatings, however, no one can do that. If you are meant to be beaten to death you will die. To survive this ordeal one must be personally protected by the Lord, there’s no other way. If it ever happens to us we hope the Lord would interfere, too, but it is not guaranteed, sadly. Initially we all expect full protection from Kṛṣṇa but at some point we all have to realize that Kṛṣṇa consciousness means consciousness, not bodily comfort. Kṛṣṇa will protect us spiritually and He guarantees our return back to Godhead but not freedom from pain and certainly not freedom from death.

One could say that being killed for one’s faith reflects badly on the Lord, too. After all, even the Bengali king wanted Haridāsa’s survival as proof, but throughout history many torturers converted by seeing faith of their victims even if victims did not survive. These converts then were killed themselves.

I see no reasons why any of us would have to survive beatings and torture, except some special circumstances. Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s mission had hardly even begun and he had a big role to play in pastimes of Lord Caitanya. Do we have a similar important task ahead? Can’t somebody else do it if we die? We are not THAT important.

It’s not the death or the pain or what happens to our body that should concern us, it’s our ability to focus on Kṛṣṇa and whether Kṛṣṇa would help us in that or not. He promised He would protect His devotees but to get this protection we first have to surrender, unconditionally, which isn’t that easy. Half surrender might not work. Secondly, we have to expect protection in areas that matter – in our consciousness, not in our bodies, and this isn’t easy either.

Once such protection is given, however, we will be free from pain, death, bodily harm, or any other kind of miseries. It’s not that our bodies would be free from harm, it’s our consciousness that won’t be affected. If we are still attached to our bodies we might be greatly disappointed in such protection but that is due to our foolishness.

When beaten in the market places Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t feel any pain. Not because his body was unaffected, it was, but he did not feel it as related to him at all. We don’t feel for the punching bags in boxing gyms and similarly Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t feel for what we think was “his own body”.

There’s also an explanation that Lord Caitanya extended His own transcendental body to cover Haridāsa’s so that lashes didn’t touch Haridāsa’s skin at all and wounds were left on the back of Lord Caitanya. I don’t know where this version comes from, however. Does it mean that kazi’s executioners hit Haridāsa with canes and didn’t see their blows leaving any marks? Caitanya Bhāgavata says nothing about this, though Lord Caitanya’s explanation might be recorded in some other place.

And it wasn’t only the torturers – beatings were done in market places and everybody felt Haridāsa’s pain. They couldn’t watch it and there were murmurs in the crowd that torturing a vaiṣṇava like that would bring misfortune on the whole kingdom, some cursed the king, trouble was brewing.

Or, perhaps, they could see the wounds but those wounds were actually on the otherwise invisible body of Lord Caitanya while people thought it was on Haridāsa’s. When we invoke transcendental miracles like that everything can be explained away. Personally, I’d rather stick to the version from Caitanya Bhāgavata and if Lord Caitanya ever showed Haridāsa marks on His own body they could have been inflicted by Lord’s own agony of seeing His devotee suffer that way. None of them actually felt the pain but marks were registered on their bodies anyway. It’s just mind tricks one might see at various shows.

The movie about Haridāsa also shows a “normal” beating and no magic. Haridāsa just chanted his way through the ordeal, that’s all.

I wish I could find the origin of the “wounds on Mahāprabhu’s back” story but it would take time I don’t have right now.

Next up is Haridāsa’s “death”, pretty amazing trick, too.

Vanity thought #1338. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 6

So they’ve decided to beat Haridāsa Ṭhākura into submission and either force him to recite Koran instead of Hare Kṛṣṇa or die. There was a condition, however – if Haridāsa survived the beatings the Muslim king would accept Haridāsa as a saint.

In one of the purports to Caitanya Bhāgavata Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati doesn’t spare words of condemnation for this king but we can see that in some ways he was more advanced than many of our present rulers. He agreed to listen to Haridāsa’s explanation first. These days people make up their minds according to their ideology and do not listen, maybe only to immediately discredit their opponents. Space that is supposed to be used for exchange of opinion, the media, has been taken over by governments to blast their propaganda.

One could say that in the west governments do not own the media but it’s only partially correct. Corporations that own media also own politicians. Media control largely follows political divide and so the current mantra is to pump out as much propaganda as possible and let the viewer decide, meaning there won’t be an exchange and careful consideration of opinions in public. The “truth” needs to be established in the mind of each viewer personally and it’s actually much easier because general public does not have neither time nor necessary knowledge to carefully consider issues, they just go with whatever attracts their attention, not with arguments.

So the media has been dumbed down, overloaded with emotionally strong news, like violence, and it catches people by anything else BUT honest debates. This leads to an interesting question – does the ability to produce “professional” new programs indicates God’s blessings behind it?

A while ago I argued that because ISIS got control over their territory they consider it as recognition by Allah himself. Muslims who oppose ISIS got nothing to show for it, they are just servants of the atheists who’d say anything for the merciful glance from their masters.

Can this argument be applied to something like MSNBC and Fox News? If they manage to attract large numbers of viewers, wouldn’t it mean there’s some real power backing them up? All power in this world originates in Kṛṣṇa, even demons draw their strength from Him. Would it mean that because Fox is bigger it is closer to the “truth”?

Of course not, but the reason for this answer isn’t so clear. I think it’s because neither media nor demons are actually after the truth, not ISIS is after Allah’s recognition. They all have much more mundane, materialistic goals. Getting hands on land means they want to control the land. Getting big audience means they want big audience. Once we see that the desire is strong enough we can be sure that the material nature is about to arrange for its fulfillment. “Truth” has nothing to do with it.

These people foolishly think that truth or Allah’s mercy can be obtained by material means, that if they get the land they’d surely get the mercy, but that’s not how it works. The Lord does not manifest Himself to those who approach Him with ulterior motives, He is conquered only by pure, unadulterated bhakti. Allah’s mercy is not some material quality and neither is the truth.

Real knowledge is part of the Absolute, too. Whatever MSNBC thinks is only an illusion. They might very well believe that their knowledge is real truth but it isn’t. They can’t possibly see the world for what it is and see people’s motivations as driven by the modes of nature according to the direction of their karma and, ultimately, the Supreme Lord.

The Lord lies down the rules for us to follow, ie varṇāśrama, but we can do so only when we know our actual situation. These days no one does and everyone acts out of ignorance. Ignorance can be bought with money, no problem, so when MSNBC and Fox News slug it out the prize is delusion and the result is leading their viewers to ruin. Good luck to them.

The Muslim king from Caitanya Bhāgavata, otoh, was ready to learn the truth, the actual truth. He didn’t exclude the possibility that Haridāsa Ṭhākura was a real saint and really carried with him the mercy of the Supreme Lord, who certainly must be the same for both Hindus and Muslims.

When it was all over and Haridāsa survived the ordeal the king changed his mind and bowed down to Haridāsa’s lotus feet. Originally, I planned to talk about the beatings themselves but I got caught up in the perspective of the king, sorry.

What the king also said was: “All the so-called yogis and jñānīs simply speak big words, but you have actually attained perfection”. This is significant and the same reasoning applies to modern day, too. Everybody speaks a lot and everybody makes or at least implies big claims, ISKCON not excluded. What people, honest people, want to see, however, is actual perfection.

We can look at ISKCON critics and easily conclude that all they have is big mouths. They go to great lengths to discredit BBT edits in Prabhupāda’s books but finding faults in others is easy. When they try to distribute their “original” Gītas they can’t. Simply can’t. ISKCON devotees with our allegedly “inferior” Gītas distribute hundreds or thousands books per day and attract hundreds of thousands devotees. “Purists” can only show a few hundred clicks on their next installment of “How BBT got it all wrong” articles.

Ṛtviks got something to show – big temples, awesome full-length animated films about Kṛṣṇa, now they are planning to build a huge skyscraping tower in Vṛndāvana. Does it mean they have Lord’s mercy behind them? In as much as collecting donations and completing big projects go – yes. In terms of making devotees and changing people’s lives – not so much. Outside of Bangalore ṛtvikism is nearly dead, and that Bangalore leader behaves in a highly inimical matter towards devotees, which means he got only some temporary powers but his heart still has a long way to go towards attaining devotion.

Within ISKCON we can also easily find examples of unsubstantiated claims. We talk about pure love of God, relationships with Kṛṣṇa, “real” structure of the universe etc. but the fact is none of us knows anything about any of these things first hand. Or those who do do not speak of them in public and do not rally the troops. We go on strictly on the faith in our ācāryas. We have Haridāsa Ṭhākura, for example, as proof of the potency of the Holy Name.

It doesn’t mean we don’t have any realizations whatsoever but ours are much more modest in size compared to what is disclosed in our literature, and I’m not sure how confidently we can speak of what we think we know personally. Haridāsa Ṭhākura could state with absolute certainty that he was acting on the inspiration of the Supreme Lord because that’s how he saw his life. We can only repeat these lines like parrots and, at our best times, realize that we are acting under the influence of the modes of nature and then try to extract ourselves from their influence, as we very well should.

The difference with Haridāsa Ṭhākura, however, is that he didn’t see activities of Lord’s external energy as needing any improvement. He neither fell of the illusion nor rejected it. He just saw it for what it was – Lord’s faithful servant acting on Lord’s orders. We still see it as separate and even as our enemy.

Do we need a living example of spiritual perfection like Haridāsa Ṭhākura was, or like Śrīla Prabhupāda? It would be nice for preaching, of course, but there’s also an argument that we have enough information to develop strong faith as it is, our problems are not in the lack of proof but in our inability to accept it. We don’t really need the “special” mercy if we can’t deal with the regular one, which is already pretty great and more than enough for our immediate goals.

Vanity thought #1338. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 5

“The Supreme Lord accepts the devotion of everyone, but if anyone is envious of His children, then He retaliates”, said Haridāsa Ṭhākura, and I’ve covered the first part of this statement as best as I could. Second part, about retaliation, is no less interesting because it shows Lord’s involvement in our lives. He doesn’t only accept our service, He also punishes us when we do something wrong.

Usually, punishment is reserved for the law of karma but here Haridāsa Ṭhākura ascribed it to the Lord Himself. How’s that possible? Why would the Lord abandon His impartiality? If He is personally involved, why would we need a law of karma at all? The Lord doesn’t follow our laws and when He decides to punish or favor any one of us He is not going to do so according to karma but according to His own judgment.

Perhaps the confusion is due to translation. The other version floating around the internet goes completely differently: “Anyone who attacks others attacks God Himself.” Nothing about retaliation, nothing about Lord’s personal involvement. In this version karma still rules and punishes us according to our actions, not according to Lord’s desires. It makes more sense to me.

There’s yet one more translation: “However, if one living entity feels hatred or envy toward another, he ultimately reflects those emotions in his relationship with the Lord.” Once again, nothing about Lord’s retaliation, only that our envy reflects in our relationships. Nothing controversial.

I think I’d better leave it at that – unclear translation, possibly confusing.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s next statement is no less puzzling:

  • Therefore I am only acting under the inspiration of the Supreme Lord.
  • I follow whatever orders God has given in my heart.
  • Whatever you see of me and my activities are direct manifestations of the Lord Who guides me from within.

Take your pick. In all cases Haridāsa makes a claim that none of us would dare to. None of us would say “I’m acting on Lord’s orders”. We can say this about other people but we would never claim it for ourselves. If we did, it would go against the principle of humility. We are servants of the servants of the servants, the Lord doesn’t talk to us, we get our orders from guru and appointed authorities, and most of the time we actually follow our restless minds.

Why did Haridāsa said such a thing? Was he not humble?

I don’t know what actually happened there but there are at least two good explanations for this. The first one comes from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatīs’ purport to the verse: “For this reason I am engaged in the service of the Lord according to the inspiration that He has given me.”

Nothing personal, no claims of grandeur, just a statement of a fact which is true for absolutely every living entity. As such it’s one of the best displays of humility possible – Haridāsa was only concerned with the Lord and His laws, not anything related to himself.

Second explanation is speculative but entirely possible, too – Haridāsa Ṭhākura was really getting orders directly from the Lord. It’s impossible for us but it could have been natural for him. It’s not the first indication of his exalted position, nor it is the last.

If he got the orders from the Lord and stated it there’s no transgression of humility principle either. Whatever we might think of ourselves, Lord’s involvement overrides everything. We should not minimize Lord’s glory for the sake of appearing humble. If the Lord manifests Himself and does something wonderful we cannot deny it happened just because we think that it should have been impossible according to our “humble” perception of the world. Denying Lord His glory would be a false humility here.

That was basically the end of Haridāsa’s presentation to the court. He only added that according to the same principle a Hindu might become encouraged to act as a Muslim and there’s nothing we could do about it because no one can go against his karma and the Lord.

All present Muslims, including the king, were satisfied, only the kazi, due to his sins, couldn’t let his envy go and advised the king to punish Haridāsa. His explanation was actually reasonable – if they didn’t stop Haridāsa more and more Muslims could have converted to Hinduism and allowing that was inconceivable. The king had a long standing commitment to propagating Islam and he couldn’t abandon it just because of Haridāsa’s eloquence.

The solution was reasonable, too – Haridāsa was to stop chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and recite verses from Koran instead. If there’s only one God shouldn’t matter, right?

Haridāsa was unmoved. He said that he couldn’t go against Lord’s inspiration within his heart and that he had to follow it even if his body was cut to pieces.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta offered another explanation, too – the Holy Name is fully spiritual and therefore serving it transcends whatever happens to the material body. Chanting the Holy Name is a function of the soul and therefore it cannot be stopped by material means. Also Haridāsa wasn’t going to accept some temporary code of conduct instead of the eternal obligation of the soul.

In other words, “no can do”.

The king said that if that was Haridāsa’s decision then it was out of his hands and he left it to Kazi. Kazi, not being spiritually advanced, thought that physical torture could overwrite Haridāsa’s conviction and by beating him publicly in marketplaces it would send a message loud and clear to any Muslim contemplating taking up hari-nāma. If everybody saw Haridāsa abandoning his faith they would certainly stop following him, Kazi thought. Somehow he didn’t think what message would be sent if he was unable to break Haridāsa despite all the beatings. He thought that in that case killing him would be enough. He miscalculated, of course.

What if he COULD break Haridāsa, though? We know it didn’t happen and we know it couldn’t have happened to a devotee of Haridāsa’s stature but similar challenges are presented to many of us with exactly the same goal – to show others that our faith is weak. Quite often we fail and people react to it differently.

Some conclude that we are only human and there’s nothing special about Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Actually, the majority thinks like that everywhere we did something wrong. We can overcome this perception if we persevere, though. If we do not give up our practice despite our falldowns people will take us seriously once again, they always do, it’s part of the public consciousness now – person’s worth is determined not by his failures but by his ability to come back.

From this perspective, our failures are immaterial and will be forgotten as long as we stay with our mission and what really hurts our image is not cases of abuse but devotees who give up and turn away. I’m sure they have their own valid reasons and they are guided by the Lord, too, but it still hurts us as a society. I’m sure for them it looks as if ISKCON fully deserves all the bad rap it gets, and on some level it is true, but, unfortunately for these people, they become not instruments for Kṛṣṇa’s service but instruments to obstruct Lord’s mission.

As a society we need obstacles to overcome just as Kṛṣṇa needs someone to play the role of the demons and fight Him, but for people put in this position it’s a loss of the opportunity to practice bhakti, which must be a favorable service. They simply won’t get the same rasa but something inferior.

That’s enough for today, tomorrow we’ll see how Haridāsa’s punishment played out.

Vanity thought #1337. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 4

Yesterday I stopped on, perhaps, the most important lesson taught by Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura – everyone IS a servant of the Supreme Lord and therefore no one has the right to interrupt other people’s service. Everyone’s service, not just service of those who we see as ISKCON devotees.

The tricky part, of course, is to recognize what is service and what is not. It is possible that everything a living entity does IS a service to the Lord but I do not see it like that yet so I seek differentiation. I can sort of accept it theoretically but then I could also refute it or propose other explanations. For example, paramahaṁsas see the Lord everywhere but they might see the Lord providing everything for the living entities, not being worshiped by them with their every selfish breath. Perhaps they see living entities’ selfishness as a legitimate relationship with the Lord, even if in perverted rasas, but it’s not service as we mean it here. It’s not bhakti.

Well, if I put it this way it becomes kinda obvious that paramahaṁsa vision or not, souls in the material world do not possess bhakti. Except we can also say that bhakti is in every soul’s nature and so inseparable from it, just covered or displayed in minute qualities. This apparent controversy was my point – unless we see it for ourselves we can only speculate. Each version makes sense and yesterday’s explanation I got from reading Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s purport was as good as any other, probably better because it was direct words of our ācārya.

“Lord Janārdana … is served by everyone according to their respective moods.” Seems clear enough – we all serve Him. “Janārdana” is translated in various ways by Śrīla Prabhupāda, from “killer of the enemies” to “maintainer of all living entities”. It’s probably this last meaning that is more applicable here – he accepts service and reciprocates with everyone. Not potentially everyone but literally everyone. Also, when we say that the Lord is the only enjoyer it might literally mean that He is the ONLY enjoyer. Whatever we do, He enjoys it, and He is also the only one who does so.

We think we enjoy this world but it’s an illusion, not a real thing. What we actually do is serve Lord’s eternal energy. Who enjoys this service? The Lord, not us. Somehow or other, He arranges for every interaction we have with the world and takes pleasure from it.

This is controversial – does he enjoy rape or clubbing baby seals? I can understand that there’s pleasure, however, sick, in perpetrating these actions, otherwise people would never even thought about it, but in these cases there are also victims – does the Lord enjoy suffering of others?

Umm, the obvious answer is no, of course, but how can He be an enjoyer in these cases? What if it’s tsunami, an act of nature – there are no agents who’d enjoy it, no perpetrators, only suffering. How could the Lord derive pleasure from it?

More importantly, in general, if there is suffering in the world – who feels it? If we can understand this question it might give us a clue how the Lord could be an enjoyer in absolutely all circumstances, all interactions in the material world.

First of all, what we see as suffering is an illusion. There’s no real connection between us and our suffering bodies. Bodies are dead, the can’t feel anything. There is a medical condition that make people insensitive to pain and children afflicted by it can easily burn off their fingers and not feel anything at all. Pain exists only in our minds, medically speaking. There’s only PERCEPTION of suffering and it afflicts only us. The Lord does NOT feel it because suffering does not objectively exists and He is not under the same illusion as we are.

From His pov there is only us and the material nature that fulfills our desires. She doesn’t do anything else. The Lord creates it for His own reasons and He enjoys her because He is the puruṣa and she is the prakṛti, there’s no other relationship between them, no other feelings. Well, there’s probably a whole range of feelings but they are all spiritual and pleasing to the Lord.

What about us, then? We are also there, we should also be a part to the equation. We are, we are part of the Lord’s reason to create the world – He interacts with us through it. We want it and the Lord provides, it’s integral part of our relationship and He is happy that we have it.

Why are we not equally happy with our experiences? That’s the tricky part, or rather a trick question. We ARE happy with our experiences with material nature, we just don’t realize what they are. We think it’s the feelings of pain or pleasure but what the māyā actually provides is illusion, misidentification with our material bodies. This service never fails, never disappoints, we just take it for granted, don’t notice it and don’t appreciate it.

We want to be in illusion and by Lord’s mercy we always are – how’s that unfair on the part of the Lord? So, when we feel pain we ask – how could the Lord allow it and how He could possibly enjoy it but what the Lord actually likes about the situation is that we still think that we are material bodies. “Wow”, He might think to Himself, “this illusion works so well, it’s perfect”. He knows that as spirit souls we are never in any actual danger, there’s no possibility of us ever being hurt at all, so that does not concern Him. He is only impressed with the ability to keep us thinking that we are little gods ourselves. It’s the service He provides, we appreciate it and treasure it at all times, and that’s what brings Him perpetual enjoyment, too.

When time comes and we feel that this “I’m the enjoyer” thing is not worth the trouble and seek freedom from the illusion the Lord immediately provides necessary knowledge, too. He is not keeping us here against our will, never. If we turn to serving Him with love and devotion He arranges that, too.

These are three kinds of our relationships with the Lord in this world – we want to be in illusion, we don’t want to be in illusion and become liberated, and we want to serve Him. He provides for all three, He reciprocates with all three, and He enjoys all three.

Our preoccupation with pain and pleasure is part of the first one, part of the illusion that we so desperately want. And, once again, pain and pleasure exist only in the mind, the soul is not affected by them. The soul is affected only by illusion.

The Lord has zero interest in what happens within the illusion. He reacts only to “I don’t wanna see you” tantrum of the spirit soul. THAT he provides, personally, and feels good about having the job done.

Anyway, I just wanted to understand how the Lord could be the only enjoyer even when we feel nothing but pain. I think I get it even if can’t express it in a perfect manner.

Another part of it is that we are always, always in service to the illusion. She sets the rules and we try to follow them, and I don’t mean the rules from scriptures, I mean the laws of nature we use for our own enjoyment. We never give up our quest for eating, sleeping, mating and defending – this is service and we offer it voluntarily. This is how we interact with the Lord – via medium of māyā, and this is how He accepts our service and appreciates our mood. He sets out rules (via māyā) and we try to follow them. We don’t even need a human form of life for this level of service, even a one-cell organism can provide it to the Lord. Even if the only thing it does is swim towards the light it’s already service.

As humans we can perform infinitely more and that’s why Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura said “The Supreme Lord accepts devotion of everyone”, as they were speaking about religious duties at that point. If we object to other’s devotion, however imperfect by our standards, we interrupt relationship between the Lord and the spirit soul and we shouldn’t do that.

Hmm, that’s exactly where I left yesterday, so no progress today. Except, perhaps, a deeper understanding of the same point.

Vanity thought #1336. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura 3

Before I move from Haridāsa Ṭhākura preaching to inmates let’s say a few words about a movie (youtube). I don’t know who made it, it’s great to have it, but, cinematically wise, it’s not an Oscar contender.

Haridāsa there is used to promote whatever was on the mind of the producers – issues of caste, female rights etc. He was like a local Jesus, walking around, gathering crowds, and doling out justice for the sake of the downtrodden. He was like kṣatriya with a beanbag in that sense. The part about beating him in twenty two market places was like that Mel Gibson’s movie about JC, but with less blood and amateur acting.

Anyway, in their telling of the story Haridāsa did not come to the king on his own accord, he was dragged like a dog, with ropes tied to a collar they put on him. There was no preaching to inmates at all.

There’s one line in Haridāsa’s talks with prisoners that makes me puzzled: “I glance mercifully on all living entities”, he said. And then he said “I guarantee that in two-three days you all will be released”. Normally, devotees do not praise their own mercy and do not make promises on their own. I don’t have an explanation for this. Perhaps Haridāsa could see the future and so it wasn’t a promise but a statement of fact, but saying “I’m merciful to all [equally]” is still inappropriate, yet it couldn’t be because there are no faults in Haridāsa’s character.

How to explain this? Perhaps we should forget looking at him as an ordinary devotee, just more advanced. Ordinary devotees struggling with their anarthas, hoping to get a taste of service one day, cannot allow pride enter their heart. Haridāsa Ṭhākura, otoh, has absolutely no fear pride could have touched him. He was simply describing his personality which has been purified by chanting without any attachment to his bodily achievements. He really saw himself as superior but without superiority affecting him in the least. He was just stating the fact that a devotee sees everyone equally, without even a glimpse of “Oh, I’m so much better than them” in his head.

I don’t know how else to explain it, I’m not in the position to judge activities of the pure devotees. Sometimes we think that with all our practice and experience we should be able to understand them but here is an example that this is not the case. In my limited experience, the further up the ladder you look, the less traditional sense it makes.

Anyway, Haridāsa was brought to the king and charges were laid out – he was born a Muslim but rejected his good fortune and took up a religion of inferior Hindus. The king treated him like a brother and was really trying to understand what happened. This is interesting. He appears to be more advanced than expected, without feeling of animosity or superiority. He felt it was his problem, too, when one of their own left the righteous path. He wasn’t seeking punishment and eternal damnation, he wanted his brother to be back with the family.

Turns out it was only the local kazi who had beef with Haridāsa and king’s own attitude set up a great stage for preaching – the king was ready to listen and was trying to understand. Haridāsa was not going to miss the opportunity and delivered an excellent sermon.

First, he didn’t just address the king but was amused at the work of the illusory energy that bewildered king’s mind. I think this is important – we don’t actually argue with people, they are not the cause of their actions, māyā is. When we see them acting separately and independently we fall into the illusion ourselves. When Haridās addressed the king he was talking to the pure spirit soul inside and not answering questions put forward by māyā.

Generally, his presentation followed a simple pattern – explain that God is one but is called by different names, explain that everyone is a spirit soul, explain that the Lord resides in everyone’s heart regardless of one’s body, faith, or caste, and so on.

Now, to materialistic mind like mine it doesn’t seem all that convincing. First we say that the Lord is one and the same and then proceed to describe Him according to OUR understanding. There’s no Supersoul in neither Islam nor Christianity, afaik, it’s not an aspect of the Absolute they should be familiar with. This could be a problem if we talk to materially conditioned entity we see as acting independently, if we see a Muslim or Christian in front of us. Haridāsa, otoh, saw only a spirit soul and for the spirit soul the information about Paramātmā is always very comforting and assuring. Their material minds might demand an explanation and that’s why it’s better not to talk to the minds at all.

Nevertheless, to answer possible questions Haridāsa went on to describe spiritual practices in non-sectarian terms. He didn’t demand the king to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa or become a vaiṣṇava, he said:

    The names and qualities of that Lord are chanted by everyone according to their respective scriptural injunctions. The Supreme Lord accepts the devotion of everyone..

Sometimes we forget that Christians and Muslims offer service in their own way, too, and the Lord accepts it, and Haridāsa immediately continued:

    ..but if anyone is envious of His children, then He retaliates.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī Ṭhākura offered a great commentary here:

    Lord Janardana, who is bhāva-grāhī, or appreciative of one’s sentiments, is served by everyone according to their respective moods. If a person rejects or envies the mood of another, then such feelings are actually targeted towards the Supreme Lord. Therefore a living entity should never envy other living entities. If one tries to uproot and convert the internal mood of another person into that of his own narrow-mindedness, then the result will be not only criticism of another’s religion but enviousness of the Supreme Lord, who is the goal of all religion.

Sanskrit dictionary for grāhī gives various meanings but the one I like most is “anything that holds or supports”. The Lord supports our mood, our bhāva, even if it’s a material one. We might not see it yet but everyone serves the Lord in his own capacity already. The Lord appears to people in different forms, sometimes in the form of their duties, sometimes in the form of their wives or children, sometimes in the form of pure logic. Everything we consider as more important than ourselves and offer service to is manifestation of the Lord. He IS the only enjoyer, not one else takes our service, no matter what it might look like on the outside. He just accepts it through different media, like the government or our superiors.

Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī explains here that no one has the right to object to others’ service because doing so would go against the emotions of the Lord. We should not interrupt others service offered in the mood the Lord sees fit to accept from them. We cannot deprive the Lord of enjoying others’ offering.

Being envious of other people’s service is the same as being envious of the Lord Himself.

It’s such an important lesson that I would leave the story here. Just think how often it could be applied in our life and in the lives of people around us. Or think how rarely we appreciate whatever other people are doing if it’s not offered to Kṛṣṇa directly.

In our defense we could say that appreciation for non-devotional things would contaminate us and that is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Lord accepts even weirdest forms of service and therefore we have no right to speak against it. Of course it has to be service, though. Watching porn in not a service, for example, but quickly switching off one’s monitor when children walk in IS the service to one’s family. Likewise, drinking is not a service but sobering up for work is.

With a little bit of practice I think it’s fairly easy to recognize when people are doing the right thing and how it could be pleasing to the Lord. These actions should always be encouraged and appreciated even as we implore people to try out chanting. We don’t even have to insist on chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa if people go to their prayer group and discuss Bible or Koran together.

More importantly, however, we should never ever criticize devotees who are doing their best and persevere against all odds even if their efforts might look inadequate by our standards. We are not the ones taking their service, the Lord is, and we should not interrupt His enjoyment.

Vanity thought #1335. Teaching of Haridasa Thakura 2

Continuing from yesterday – Haridāsa Ṭhākura advised fellow inmates that they would be better off in jail than on the outside. They didn’t like the idea at first but then he explained that by staying inside they would be spared material sense gratification and that would be beneficial to their chanting of the Holy Name. Yesterday I said that this advise is a bit controversial, let me explain why.

On the surface it makes perfect transcendental sense but we shouldn’t eagerly apply it to our own life and we should remember that when the conditions are not right things can easily go wrong.

At first, one would think that depriving oneself from sense enjoyment would be good for his Kṛṣṇa consciousness just as it was good for the inmates but it doesn’t work like that. We can’t imitate the prisoners because they have been put in that condition by the Lord and the material nature. They have deserved it, we do not. Their karma and the Supersoul were ripe and ready for renunciation, ours is not.

It’s an objective condition imposed on the soul regardless of his desires. If it’s not imposed or even simply offered to us then we can’t take it up on our own. We have to act according to our nature, however imperfectly – it was Kṛṣṇa’s injunction in the Gīta (BG 18.47):

    śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ
    para-dharmāt sv-anuṣṭhitāt

    It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly.

Śreyān here means better, vigunaḥ – imperfectly. Para-dharmāt means duties of others and sv-anuṣṭhitāt means done perfectly. Cannot be any more clearer.

So, unless it’s obvious that our immediate duty is renunciation and cessation of sense-enjoyment we should not try to accept that position. We should also remember that there should be no sannyāsa in Kali Yuga precisely because no one is capable of proper renunciation, we will inevitably fail.

However, it doesn’t mean that severe restrictions can’t be imposed on us by external forces, just as they are on prisoners. If, and only if, we are placed in a situation where sense enjoyment is no longer possible we should accept it as our next lesson and try to learn it. The inmates from the story didn’t see it that way at first, they didn’t want to give up their freedom and hopes of going back to their wives and families, but by the mercy of Haridāsa Ṭhākura they were put on the right path. Did they succeed? We do not know, but considering Haridāsa’s spiritual potency they had very very good chances.

What about all other prisoners? What is their lesson? Is it spiritual? Unfortunately not, not without our help. For them it’s simply māyā’s training in following laws and gradually elevating themselves.

Another objection that can be raised to Haridāsa’s advice is the same as was raised by Prajāpati Dakṣa after Nārada Muni converted all his sons into renunciate devotees (SB 6.5). Generally, we should take the side of Nārada Muni in that dispute but it doesn’t mean Dakṣa didn’t make good points, too. As far as his sons were concerned in general, he was absolutely right – premature renunciation wouldn’t have done them any good. They still had debts to pay (to ṛṣis, demigods, and ancestors) and Dakṣa also made a strong argument in this verse (SB 6.5.41):

    Material enjoyment is indeed the cause of all unhappiness, but one cannot give it up unless one has personally experienced how much suffering it is. Therefore one should be allowed to remain in so-called material enjoyment while simultaneously advancing in knowledge to experience the misery of this false material happiness. Then, without help from others, one will find material enjoyment detestful. Those whose minds are changed by others do not become as renounced as those who have personal experience.

The only clue why he was wrong was in the previous verse: “I must say that unless full knowledge is awakened.” His only mistake was not recognizing Nārada Muni’s spiritual power. Nārada had really changed his sons around, he really infused them with full transcendental knowledge, and he really put on them on the path of service to the Lord, which immediately canceled their debts. Dakṣa didn’t see any of that, he missed it completely.

That’s why we take Nārada’s side and see Dakṣa as wrong. But that doesn’t mean we can imitate Nārada Muni ourselves. Unless we “awaken full knowledge” either in ourselves or in people we give advice to we should not recommend renunciation, nor should we try it ourselves. God knows we tried and our whole society learned lessons from that, which doesn’t mean it was wrong, btw – it’s the same “personal experience” mentioned by Dakṣa, it’s invaluable and unavoidable for beginners like us.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura could pull it off, we can’t.

Still, nothing stops us from praying for and welcoming external restrictions on our sense enjoyment when they come. Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t put us in these situations if it wasn’t for our benefit and therefore we should see them as mercy, not adversity. Right now we are not ready for it, not ready for the next step, but it shouldn’t stop us from praying, hoping, and waiting.

When we think about patience and tolerance described in Śikṣāṣṭaka we presume the Lord was talking only about tolerating pain. He explained it on the example of a tree and Śrīla Prabhupāda meant it the same way, too, but here it seems that tolerating pleasure could be just as valuable. Indeed, it’s simply the other side of the coin and for detached person both should feel the same.

A person in pain learns not to give in to it, not to break into crying and begging for relief. A person in pleasure should learn not to give in, too, and not to break into enjoying and begging for continuation. It’s the same thing, just inversed between love and hate.

Thing is, both pain and pleasure are hard to tolerate and if they are administered in excess fighting them would consume all our energy, leaving nothing for Kṛṣṇa. We should see injunction “taror iva sahiṣnunā” in this light, as enabler of chanting, not as an obstacle to it. If it doesn’t lead to kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ we are not doing it right and it’s useless.

It means we should not seek more trouble than Kṛṣṇa allots us Himself. His dosage is perfect, ours will inevitably be off the mark. Let Him manage the external circumstances, volunteering out of immaturity would only cause Him inconvenience. When we are ready to take on more tapasyā for preaching we will know it, the Supersoul within our hearts will make it look natural and encourage us to take it, we don’t have to worry about missing His signs.

It’s probably better to pray for the day when the Lord engages us in His service than pray for the day He takes away our sex drive or our desire to fill our bellies with delicious food.

Going back to Haridāsa’s advice – he was a messenger from the Lord and he engaged his fellow inmates in chanting, that was the main thing he did, the invitation to stay in jail longer was only secondary.

I hope this clarifies a few things, and tomorrow I can reflect on Haridāsa’s preaching during the trial.

Vanity thought #1334. Teachings of Haridasa Thakura

For some reason Śrīla Prabhupāda never got to write a book on teachings of Haridāsa Ṭhākura. We have four “Teachings” books – Queen Kuntī, Lord Kapila, Lord Caitanya, and Prahlāda Mahārāja, but Haridāsa Ṭhākura is missing. His instructions were very unique and I think it’s our loss that we don’t have them in a concise, easy to refer to form. I’m not going to write one, just reflect on some of his great points.

Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s life is covered extensively in our books, probably better than any other associate of Lord Caitanya. He was always present with the Lord from Madhya Lila onwards and he was always mentioned for a good reason. His early life, however, is best covered in Caitanya Bhāgavata where there’s a whole chapter just about him, so let’s start from there.

As is well known, he was born into a Muslim family but somehow got converted to vaiṣṇavism, apparently before he met Advaia Ācārya. He appeared in what is now Bangladesh thirty five years before Lord Caitanya so he must have been in his fifties when the Lord finally revealed His identity and mission to everyone. Before that he was practically on his own, his friendship with Advaita Ācārya the only bright spot in his life in terms of the association, and it wasn’t he best of times for devotees either.

It is said that he prayed along with Advaita Ācarya for the appearance of the Lord, which means he was a fully fledged devotee in his thirties. The chapter from Caitanya Bhāgavata must talk about events before then. This is a little puzzling because the story about being caned in twenty two marketplaces is connected to Lord Caitanya but the Lord hadn’t descended yet. I’ll get to this in due time.

Our records start when Haridāsa came to Phuliyā, near Śāntipura, which was Advaita Ācaraya’s place. He was already constantly chanting the Holy Name and everyone in Phuliyā knew and loved him, even Muslims. He was already exhibiting all symptoms of transcendental ecstasy, too. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī quotes the following from Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu:

    When the seed of ecstatic emotion for Krishna fructifies, the following nine symptoms manifest in one’s behavior: forgiveness, concern that time should not be wasted, detachment, absence of false prestige, hope, eagerness, a taste for chanting the holy name of the Lord, attachment to descriptions of the transcendental qualities of the Lord, and affection for those places where the Lord resides-that is, a temple or a holy place like Vrindavana. These are all called anubhavas, subordinate signs of ecstatic emotion. They are visible in a person in whose heart the seed of love of God has begun to fructify.

Caitanya Bhāgavata confirms many of those. Remember, it was before advent of Lord Caitanya and around the time of Haridāsa’s first meeting with Advaita Ācārya. For any wannabe haridasas this should be the starting point, too. If they are not there yet they shouldn’t imitate him.

Just to check what is it that is expected from Haridāsa’s followers:

  1. Haridasa was most renounced in the matter of material enjoyment, and his mouth was always beautified with the chanting of Lord Krishna’s names.
  2. He did not give up chanting the names of Govinda for even a moment, and as a result he was constantly manifesting various ecstatic symptoms.
  3. Sometimes he danced alone, and sometimes he roared like a mad lion.
  4. Sometimes he cried loudly, and sometimes he laughed loudly.
  5. Sometimes he roared loudly, and sometimes he fell to the ground unconscious.
  6. Sometimes he would utter some unnatural sounds, for which he would later give some profound meaning.
  7. He manifested all the different ecstatic symptoms like crying, hairs standing on end, laughing, losing consciousness, and perspiring.
  8. As soon as Haridasa began to dance, these symptoms would all manifest in his body.

There’s more but it’s a pretty good list already.

His popularity attracted unwanted attention from local Muslim rulers. I don’t know what exactly the relationships between Hindus and Muslims were in those days. In our books they are most often referred as yavanas rather than as derogatory mlecchas. “Yavana” implies a geographic and ethnic designation but “mleccha” elicits images of disgusting personal habits. It probably wasn’t very bad and Hindus and Muslims got along just fine. Nevertheless, Haridāsa became a target because he converted to “Hindu religion”, as local Kazi thought.

Kazi complained to the King of Bengal and the King called for Haridāsa. The exact circumstances are unclear. It appears that Haridāsa went to see the King on his own but in the commentary Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī says that he was arrested and people understood that he was taken to be tortured. What is clear from the text is that when Haridāsa arrived he was put in jail. In another translation the King asked for Haridāsa to be brought in. Yet the next verse says that Haridāsa was not afraid of the King and went happily chanting to himself. It could have been either way, possibly he was accompanied by King’s soldiers or messengers, perhaps he was shackled, perhaps he went on his own accord, perhaps he was dragged. Who knows. It’s better for our narrative if Haridāsa went to the see the king himself but only marginally so.

Anyway, he was put in jail with other criminals who were all very happy to see him. This is where teachings of Haridāsa really start, from his message to fellow inmates.

One could imagine they thought that Haridāsa’s saintliness would bring them untold benefits and, as a sadhu, he would bless them with early release and all kinds of good fortune. It all started very well. Haridāsa’s arms reached his knees, his eyes were like lotus flowers, and his face was enchanting. By prison standard he probably looked like a demigod. Everyone immediately offered him obeisances and simply by doing so ecstatic emotions manifested in their bodies, too. Haridāsa looked at them mercifully and smiled. “He would save us right now”, everyone anticipated. On the contrary, Haridāsa said: “Stay here, don’t leave, stay here forever.”

I bet it was a little wtf moment there as nobody understood how that could possibly be a blessing, yet it was, and Haridāsa explained it to them.

    Your present state of mind is auspicious for you, because you have received the opportunity to cultivate Krishna consciousness by giving up endeavors for material enjoyment. Therefore always remain engaged in chanting Krishna’s names and in remembering Krishna. If you get freedom from prison life and again indulge in sense gratification, then as a result of associating with wicked persons who are averse to the Lord you will forget the Supreme Lord. As long as the endeavor for material enjoyment is prominent in the living entity, there is no possibility for him to worship Krishna. The goal of the material enjoyers is diametrically opposite to Krishna. The conditioned souls who are devoid of devotional service to Krishna are always merged in topics related to their wives and children, which are the center of their enjoyment. If by the mercy of the Lord a person in this dangerous situation meets a saintly person, his taste for material enjoyment will be turned into taste for the service of the Supreme Lord. When one gives up the cultivation of Krishna consciousness, then his natural material propensities will submerse him in a mire of offenses. I do not mean that you should remain suffering within this prison, but in your present condition you have the opportunity to constantly chant the holy names of the Lord. Therefore do not be distressed. The Vaiśṇavas always bless all living entities with the words: ‘May your devotion to the Supreme Lord be fixed.’ I consider this the greatest mercy towards the living entities. Your prison life will soon be finished. Never give up your determination for serving the Supreme Lord in any condition.

That’s how Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta summarized it. Being in prison is a blessing because it takes away the opportunity for material enjoyment and allows one to concentrate solely on Kṛṣṇa.

This is a bit controversial because it hardly ever works, but more on that some other time.

Vanity thought #1333. Buddhist death

I just read an account of the death of an advanced Buddhist monk and it was fascinating. I just don’t want it to go into recesses of my memory without making some sense of it. Writing helps to internalize things and understand them better, as they say.

This is not the first time I was interested in Buddhist experiences and it somewhat worries me. They are not devotees, never will be, perhaps in some distant lifetimes in the future, if they are lucky. Their hearts know no devotion and they are indifferent towards the Lord, we shouldn’t mix with those people, and yet they are fellow transcendentalists and very often of the no-nonsense type. It just so happens that they can be trusted more than māyāvādīs from a Hindu tradition.

Buddhists can be excused from not worshiping Kṛṣṇa or Nārāyaṇa, they know nothing about Him. Māyāvādīs, otoh, are not just indifferent, they are inimical and envious. When they hear of the Lord’s pastimes they want to experience them themselves and thus accept worship from other people. Therefore their attitude are far more dangerous for us.

It would also be nice if we had similar accounts about vaiṣṇava departure but nothing comes to mind. I’ll get back to that point in a moment, first let’s deal with this Buddhist lama.

I don’t know much about Buddhist hierarchy but he appears to have been a head of one of the major Buddhist sects, exiled from Tibet and headquartered in Sikkim, quite far away from the more [in]famous Dalai Lama. There’s a wikipedia entry on him and though it doesn’t reference this particular story it still corroborates it nicely. I don’t particularly care about the rest of his life, somehow or other he achieved what could be called liberation in our terminology and that is remarkable, how he did it is not, not for devotees anyway.

The story is written by the doctor who treated him for cancer. The doctor met him three times, during the initial diagnosis, then a few months later in Hong Kong, and then he was attending during lama’s last days in one of the American hospitals.

During initial cancer diagnosis they spent a considerable amount of time, I would imagine. They ran all the tests and prepared a course of treatment. Lama wasn’t very cooperative, however. Instead of telling medical personnel where he felt pain he’d just smile and ignore them. It wasn’t annoying or anything like that but very unusual and impressed everybody there.

He just didn’t treat his disease as ordinary people would do. He didn’t display any anxiety, no fear of death, no concern for his own well-being at all. It just didn’t register with him, his mind was elsewhere.

This attitude was even more prominent during their second meeting in Hong Kong. Lama lost a a lot of weight but his attitude didn’t change a bit. It was still just another experience for him, business as usual, something you do between brushing your teeth and taking a shower. He wasn’t concerned about being on the precipice of death at all and medical stuff in Hong Kong was just as impressed as the Americans.

The third time the doctor and the lama met was during his final days in Chicago and that’s the most detailed part of the story. The attitude was the same, but this time the body was really giving up, medically speaking. They had him monitored for blood pressure and heart rate and everything they could do in those days – it was 1981. Several times it appeared that the lama was a goner but it wasn’t his body that got to decide but his spirit and on those occasions the lama would just return to consciousness and behave as if nothing had happened. He was certainly not impressed by his body’s behavior and wasn’t taking cues from it. If necessary, he would jack up his blood pressure or speed up his heart, everybody would be amazed, lama would look around say a few words, and go back to his meditation.

He refused to sign a will and appoint a successor, something that caused a split in the community afterwards which is present to this day. I wonder if there was any significance to this. Was it a conscious decision? Was it an oversight? Did he not think of it as something important? Or did he simply saw the future and went along with it?

Sometimes we assume that things are ought to be clear but the universe might have other plans. GM didn’t stay united and didn’t succeed in post-Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura time and that enabled us, the ISKCON, to develop and preserve our own identity. With all respect to senior vaiṣṇavas from GM, nothing good came out of our cooperation ever and so their relative decline helped us to stay away and spare us more trouble. Well, maybe it’s not a good argument in favor of uncertainty but in any case GM failed not against Kṛṣṇa’s wishes but according to them. Maybe that school of Buddhism is going through a similar experience, too.

Then there was the day of death. Lama’s heart stopped, he was revived again, the heart stopped again. The doctor went with chest pumps to help the blood flow anyway for almost an hour, way longer than necessary, and everyone thought it was over. Yet a few minutes later the lama came back to life.

The doctor described this moment as a final check in. The lama returned to consciousness to see if his body was any good. It wasn’t. He hang around for a few minutes, accepted that the body was useless, and died.

Except he didn’t.

Against hospital regulations they kept the body in the same ICU room for three days because Buddhist monks accompanying their master insisted that he was still in deep samādhi. The doctor spoke about a change in the atmosphere around the body but the most amazing thing was that lama’s heart was still worm even if it wasn’t beating for days. Somehow they didn’t take temperature readings but the doctor tested it manually – the heart region was warm while the rest of the body wasn’t. The skin also didn’t feel like the skin of a dead person – it was still elastic and resumed form after being squeezed. This is a similar observation to the one about the body of a Buryat lama that is presumed to be still alive and in deep samādhi at the ripe age of 170+ years I wrote about last year.

After three days the samādhi was over and the lama finally left. Rigor mortis set in and the heart went cold, there was also a change in the atmosphere in the room.

Wikipedia article linked earlier describes a few more “magical” occurrences afterwards. Between death and cremation the body shrank to the size of a child. I don’t know if it’s normal, however, and whether it means anything. On the day of the cremation there were also rainbows and unicorns and two of lama’s healthy dogs left their bodies, too. Perhaps it shows that lama’s soul was still around and only the cremation broke the last bond. What was his next destination we do not know. I’d imagine it was some place where he could continue his spiritual practices.

Was he fully liberated? Maybe not, in a sense he was still connected to the body, but it could also be understood that he kept that connection on his own will, not forced by karma and the modes of nature. His consciousness was free from regular illusion affecting all of us, that’s probably the most important aspect.

Now, could this experience be relevant to the devotees? Most of the time nothing special like that happens to us. We just leave without displaying any siddhis. If we meet Kṛṣṇa upon death, it doesn’t usually register externally. Some devotees go out with a smile but that’s about it. I think Buddhists are still people of this world and their progress is charted in relation to this reality while devotees leave this place altogether without any trace and without any residues of attachment and connection to their physical bodies. I hope that’s what happens anyway.

We’ll all find out sooner or later.