Vanity thought #1401. “Supreme” Justice 2

SCOTUS decision is quite long and at the speed at which I went about it yesterday I’ll never finish. This is natural, however – as long as I can’t comprehend the ruling in its totality and how all parts relate to each other it’s okay for me to take it bit by bit.

The point of the whole exercise is to demonstrate how best minds work, how they argue their points, and, perhaps, see how they get confused by the illusion and make mistakes common to all humans. The result should be indifference to the value of intelligence, debates, and arguments. I wish I had it now but it’s not the case yet. Sometimes I think I’ve made some progress in this area but my interest in complexities of this particular case is a testament that more work needs to be done. Kṛṣṇa consciousness needs to be divorced from rationality, we must leart to see how there’s really nothing to argue about in the world and a truly intelligent course of action is to take up chanting.

This is a practical point and I remember it when I’m doing my rounds and various thoughts pop into my head. They all call for my attention and my mind and intelligence respond on the assumption that ideas have values. They don’t, only chanting the Holy Name does, but I can’t see it yet. Ideally, a proper, natural response to any suggestion of the mind should be “I see that and therefore I should chant very attentively and seek full shelter of the Holy Name”. This does not happen yet, I still explore other options, like “something must be done about it, but what? Let me think.”

So, let’s move on with the Supreme Court decision and hope it will free my mind from any doubts that chanting is the only appropriate response. Yesterday I got to the point where the court cited four main reasons why same-sex marriage should be recognized. First was that it’s an expression of individual’s autonomy, second was that right to marry is fundamental, third was “it’s for the children”, and the fourth was that “it’s for the good of the society”. All these reasons are problematic and I’ll get to it in time.

Next part of the decision deals with precedents of court interfering with the right to marriage or with people’s relationships, arguing that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality. This will be dealt with in detail in one of the dissenting opinions. For now I’ll just repeat that allowing interracial marriage did not change the fundamental definition of what marriage is while allowing SSM does.

Then the court ruled that gays have the same fundamental right to marry as straights and so it must be recognized by the states. Good argument, but it implies that gay relationships ARE marriage while according to traditional definition and understanding they are not. Men can be in gay relationships and marry women, the right to marry in a traditional sense is still there.

Who gets to decide what marriage is, however? Not the Supreme Court. Court’s job is to interpret the constitution and constitution says nothing about marriage, relegating all relationships between husband and wife to States. Of course if a definition of marriage were included in the constitution from the beginning it would have been so much easier. If people decided they didn’t like the definition and needed a new one they would go through legislature, not the courts. One of the dissenters said that this ruling robbed the people of the power to govern themselves and legislate through their representatives. Go democracy! Who needs representation when five wise men can make popular decisions?

Let’s pause here for a moment – is it right from Kṛṣṇa conscious POV to complain about people losing their democratic rights? Not at all, as long as judges, or whoever makes the final decision, does so according to God’s laws. So, in principle, it doesn’t matter who has the final word as long as the final word is kosher. In this case there are arguments in favor of regulating same sex couples and strengthening their responsibility. In case they adopt kids, children should be spared bullying and abuse dished out just because they happen to have two fathers or two mothers. There are negative effects, too, so our final position should depend on the substance, not the procedure. Though the argument can be made that respect for proper procedures is also necessary. Following procedures is dharma, and the decisions are results we shouldn’t be attached to.

Seen in this perspective, Americans failed to follow their proclaimed dharma of democracy and they will have to pay for that, and at the same time they will get the benefits from the decision along with the negatives and side effects. This is what makes life multi-faceted and complicated.

The court then addresses the issue of stripping people of the right to the further debate, litigation, referenda etc. It says that we don’t need to wait for the outcomes because people are being harmed already. Okay, but are they, really? People still live in their same sex relationships, no one has denied them that right. This is will come up in dissenting opinions, for now I’ll just say that interracial marriages were punishable by law, and same sex was once criminalized, too. None of that applies to SSM now, people are being harmed only in the sense they don’t get benefits, which is a subject for first world problems meme, like “house is too big, wifi doesn’t reach every room”.

Okay, that’s done with the ruling itself. Then we have five opinions of individual judges. One written on behalf of the majority and four written by dissenting judges.

The majority opinion states it very plainly right in the first paragraph – Constitution promises liberty to all and petitioners want the liberty to be recognized as married, so it must be granted. As simple as that. In fact, this captures the essence of the case – “they wants it, we gives it”, no arguments necessary.

There’s more there, of course, but I’d rather conclude today’s post with a warning that appeared on Sun. It actually comes from some Christian organization but was adapted for ISKCON – we must make sure that all marriage related activities on our premises are strictly religious, otherwise the government would demand us to follow secular rules and that means accommodating gays. I’m not familiar with specifics of how our halls used when rented out to karmī weddings but if the court ruling ends potential abuse of this practice it might actually be good for the spiritual health of our society.

Vanity thought #1400. “Supreme” Justice

Another major news this week was US Supreme Court decision on constitutionality of same sex marriage. It’s done, there’s no more talking about it, though there could be serious repercussions of this decision in the future, but more on that later.

So far the reaction to the ruling is overwhelmingly supportive. Gays are obviously celebrating and people from as far away as South Africa saying things like “It’s about time, took the Americans long enough”. Others are saying that with this new finality maybe we can all stop arguing about this. Even the conservatives resigned to same sex marriage being recognized and irreversible, though many are obviously not happy about how things turned out.

The court ruled with a majority of 5:4 and published a hundred page document with majority opinion and four dissenting views questioning it. It’s interesting to note that, save for one vote, judges appointed by Democrats voted for and judges appointed by Republicans voted against, and so it took only one out of line Republican to decide the issue.

What made me interested in this case is not the outcome, which was predictable the way things are going in the world, but the dissenting opinions that are discussed in the media as much as the ruling itself. Some language there is certainly colorful, some arguments are persuasive, so I decided to take a close look at it.

The court paper (pdf) starts with the majority opinion so I read that first and found it very thought provoking. Thankfully, the language isn’t tense legalese and, all in all, it was a pleasure to read well constructed thoughts, we don’t get this very often in vernacular press. The whole thing is big and I’d rather start at the beginning instead of trying to summarize it or organize various arguments presented there.

The paper starts with outlining the case itself and giving a brief background of the same sex marriage issue. What happened was that several gay couples brought up cases in State courts, these cases went through several stages and were finally combined together before the Supreme Court. The issue itself became two fold. Petitioners demanded that their States (which reject SSM) issued them with marriage licences, and that States recognized their married status even if they were married out-of-State in places where SSM is legal.

First of all, the court noted that contrary to defendants (the States), the petitioners were not aiming to devalue the institution of marriage, as is usually argued against allowing SSM, but rather sought it for themselves because of their respect for its privileges and responsibilities, as was evidenced from their experiences. This is a somewhat strange point because it seeks to tie up petitioners’ alleged intentions with the legality of the matter, it will come up again in dissenting opinions.

Secondly, the court argued that history of marriage is that of both continuity and change, and listed several aspects in which modern marriage is not quite the same as it was practiced earlier, when the US constitution was written, for example. The arranged marriages are a thing of the past, and so is “coverture” – status of a married woman as that of under authority and the protection of a man instead of having rights of her own. The court here says that these new insights have strengthened, not weakened the institution, and I find it hard to agree or even understand what this supposed “strength” of the modern marriage is.

If the court means that changes are for good and so SSM need not be feared, it should have presented some sort of evidence for such a claim instead of a blank assessment. This point wasn’t picked up in the dissent but the nature of the changes was mentioned – marriage had never been defined as a union between man and wife as arranged by their parents, for example, so, unlike SSM, these changes did not affect the fundamental meaning of what marriage is. Even if they indeed strengthened the institution it doesn’t mean that recognition of SSM would have the same effect.

Then the court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment requires States issue marriage licenses to the same sex couples and explained why. They say the due process clause of the amendment extends “to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs”, and same sex marriage somehow falls into those.

The relevant part of the Amendment is this: “..nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” One of the dissenting opinions tore up court’s argument here to shreds because States are not depriving anyone of life, liberty, or property here, but rather the petitioners want the State to provide certain services to them.

The court talked about protecting the right to marry and cited several precedents how this right has been upheld through centuries. These precedents have been discussed in dissenting opinion, too, but the most obvious question to me here is why same sex relationships should be called “marriage” in the first place? No one is stopping these people from entering traditional marriage, that right is still there. The cases where courts interfered before were about interracial marriage and marriage for prison inmates. I never thought that prisoners should have the right to marry, that’s why they are in prisons, but it’s not really a big deal.

And then the court got to the juice of the matter – four principles why SSM is deserved to be treated as a traditional marriage. These four will be repeated and expanded on later in the ruling again.

The first premise is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy, that it’s the most intimate decision an individual can make regardless of his sexual orientation. The second principle is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals and that same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association. The third basis is the safety of the children, in that kids growing up in same sex partnerships must not be made to feel their home situation is any lesser that that of traditional couples. Final principle is that marriage is the foundation of Nation’s social order, and here comes the meat: “There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage..” – they want the States to provide them with benefits.

Obviously, it’s not going to bankrupt the country and material benefits are not the sole driver behind SSM advocates but it will become an important issue in one of the dissenting opinions, too. For me, however, the vague language in support of SSM means that people can make exactly the same claims to practically any other relationship. They just have to say it’s special and it’s part of there individual autonomy and self-expression, and therefore it should be protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The court steps on a real slippery slope here because it argues for the value on SSM solely on the basis of how people feel about it. Well, it’s always worth to mention that the court is supposed to interpret existing laws, not people’s feelings, but let’s wait until we get to the dissent.

For me, I can’t help but illustrate the possible next step – this hunk of a gorilla in a zoo that also made news this week with headlines such as “Japanese women go ape over surprisingly handsome gorilla”. I’ll leave you with some of the photos:

Just say that you are in love with him and that being with him is the most intimate decision you made in your life, cite the precedent set by this court, and demand the same level of recognition as traditional marriage. They are about to grant apes a personhood anyway.

Vanity thought #1399. Popal Warning

After talking about imminent decline of science I thought it was a good time to mention latest Vatican message on global warming. It’s been over a week and the news cycle has moved on but the message might only be starting to propagate in Catholic communities.

This paper was called encyclical and I admit it’s the first time I heard the term. Apparently, it means that this time the Pope was serious, as opposed to his usual blabber. It was issued in the form of 200 page book so it will take time to get translated, read, digested, discussed, and watered down to the actual priests. The US, however, has already released a guide on how Pope’s message is to be presented, and it isn’t short either. Whether people will accept the message is another matter.

For the American public the Pope has been a hit and miss. One day he says things pleasing to the liberals, another day he pleases conservatives. One day he goes along with Democrat party agenda, next he seemingly supports the Republicans. Catholic Church is firmly against abortions, for example, which is a Republican stance, but it now also supports the evolution, which gives ammunition to fire against the conservatives.

The global warming paper supports the Democrats but there are plenty of Republican Catholics in the run for the next year presidential elections and so far they told the Pope to get lost. The highest polling candidate, yet another Bush, said he was not going to take advice on how to run the economy from his priest, but then he has no problem in deferring to religion on issues like marriage etc.

All this mess just shows how divided, confused, and bewildered Christians are, and that’s just among the Catholics. Protestants don’t accept the authority of the Pope but they’ll probably accept his global warming message while Catholics themselves will try to downplay it.

Why is it so divisive? Global warming itself is actually not, it’s the need to do something about it that goes against people’s attachments to material enjoyment. Even Catholics are not going to let Pope stand in the way between them and their sense gratification. Heavily invested Protestants are not going to accept the message either, so it’s actually a false dichotomy. The world is divided here not by religious flavors but by effects on people’s aspirations.

As for global warming itself, the Pope said all the right things. He framed it as not an issue of economics but as an issue of morality and responsibility. It’s God’s Earth to begin with so it’s not ours to destroy, and it’s not prudent to destroy the environment even if we decide to play God ourselves.

Posited this way, it’s not so much about global warming or environment but about fundamental relationships between us, God, and our planet. As aspiring devotees there’s nothing to disagree for us here. Go Pope!

And yet we can pick on him for not being a vegetarian, but if we do so we’ll run into the same problem that has been dogging Christianity since its inception – they are free to interpret their scriptures to suit their tastes and so nothing is ever definitive there .

The current Pope is named after Saint Francis of Assisi who, among other things, was very kind to the animals. It is not clear if Francis was a vegetarian himself but, generally, he ate very little and abstaining from meat was not unusual in monastic communities at the time. Vegetarians, therefore, will pick his quotes on protecting the animals while meat eaters will cite lack of proof that Francis practiced what vegetarians claim he preached.

Pope Francis is not a big eater, he never goes to restaurants, but there are reports of chicken and wine being on his menu. Wine? Seriously? Doesn’t he notice the effect it has on one’s consciousness? Or are all Christians live in a perpetual state of total confusion that they can’t tell the difference between being intoxicated and sober?

We have our regs and I’ve never heard drinking to be a problem for any devotee. I would even say that devotees abstain from drinking because they can’t stand their minds being clouded and unable to concentrate on Kṛṣṇa. The reported feeling or warmth and comfort for us is a feeling of betrayal of our service attitude. What does it say about spiritual advancement of the Pope?

This is the biggest problem we have with Christianity – utter lack of spiritual realizations. Leading a clean and austere life is a prerequisite for any spiritual undertaking and Christians can’t manage even that. For Muslims it’s Ramadan right now, they believe they are “fasting”, but even in their wildest dreams they can’t imagine stopping killing animals for their own pleasure.

It’s no wonder the Pope is confused on so many issues. He’s got brains, we should obviously give him that, but trying to understand science of God with one’s mental prowess along is futile. Arguments can be made for everything and even if in Vedic times jñāna yoga led to legitimate realization of the Absolute Truth on the basis of intelligence along, nowadays people’s intellect is extremely weak and they’ll swallow anything that is only made to look convincing. It was one of favorite Lord Caitanya’s pastimes – challenge people to a debate, defeat them, and then defeat His own arguments in their favor, and so on and on.

Without direct spiritual knowledge intelligence is simply inadequate. We are not smarter than the Pope but we have proper authorities to rely on. Authorities spoke the truth, our job is only to understand how it was so, we don’t get to determine what the truth actually is, it has already been done.

We can, and actually must, humbly say that we don’t know anything and do not have any spiritual realizations but our ācāryas are spotless and we can simply repeat their words. Christians don’t have that luxury.

What did our ācāryas say about global warming, one might ask – the concept didn’t even exist then. And this is another very important point – Pope and his fellow Christians are trying to make a world a better place, more suitable for their perpetual enjoyment, if not for themselves then for their children. They talk about global warming as a threat to their comfort and security. Our ācāryas didn’t think in such selfish and materialistic terms. When they pointed at people’s faults in Kali Yuga they didn’t mention global warming because it’s not the cause but only a symptom of the problem.

When Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī described qualities of the Kali Yuga (SB 12.2) he started with money being the sole criteria for respect and with laws being applied only on the basis of power. This is what led the world to the situation we found ourselves in right now – global warming is the result of our greed and manipulating the laws to feed it. Well, Pope was right about that.

One more thing, in the spirit of yesterday’s post – science should share some of the blame, too. When they invented all those cars and airplanes and factories and power stations they had no idea of the consequences, of the strain it would put on world’s resources. For all the superior knowledge they claimed, they actually had no clue and didn’t even think about that, and now we have to pay for their ignorance, too.

Vanity thought #1398. Dog days are over

It’s a song from a last decade with unclear meaning, at least to me. When I tried to investigate it I got that the phrase was written as a graffiti on a wall and that was enough for the singer to make a song out of it. That’s not what I mean today, of course, my meaning is rather literal.

When Śrīla Prabhupāda came to the West it was the height of the dog civilization – people have decided that worshiping God was unprofitable and relied on their own efforts instead – instead of God they served dog. It’s an old joke that stopped being funny long time ago but it was pertinent in those days. Prabhupāda liked talking about “dog civilization”. Dogs run on four legs, humans run on four wheels, but the goal is the same, he used to say.

Well, good news – dog days are over. It doesn’t mean that people have turned to God, obviously, but their godless model of development has become bankrupt, and today I want to discuss the role of science in all that.

Although we know that it was greed and the mode of passion that created modern civilization, for the ordinary people the credit goes to science. It was the scientists who came up with inventions that transformed peoples lives and set us on the path of progress. For all practical purposes, our progress simply mirrors that of the science. Scientists push the boundaries and soon enough we get to reap the benefits – radio, TV, cars, internet and so on.

By now we all probably realize that our model of development is unsustainable as we simply don’t have enough resources to feed our growth. Our planet is only so big, at some point we’ll just run out of room. There’s also the global warming problem. There’s also the rise of illiberal societies like China and Russia. There’s decline of the West. There’s also the ticking demographic bomb. Good times will not last however you look at it. Will the science come to the rescue?

Everybody hopes that it will, that it will invent new technologies to wean us off fossil fuels, new methods of growing food, increase our productivity so that fewer workers can support the graying population and so on. I feel, however, that it’s all just wishful thinking with no basis in reality, or rather it misunderstands the role of science in the modern society.

Originally, science was a triumph of human spirit and curiosity. People were after the truth, they wanted to discover the world and the universe, they wanted to know how it all works. In KC speak we can probably say that they saw Absolute Truth in the form of the universe and it’s flawless organization, and they served this understanding of the Absolute Truth with all their hearts, honestly, sincerely, and without any personal hidden motives.

Well, not anymore.

Just like the rest of the civilization science has become too big to sustain its perpetual growth. The days when everybody could practice cutting edge research in his own house are long gone. Today’s science needs money and it needs lots of it. It also needs a lot of highly specialized equipment and lots of manpower. We have computers to help process the data, of course, but in many cases science needs massive supercomputers, not just a laptop.

We are in the situation when it’s clear we won’t get another Large Hadron Collider or another Hubble – the world simply can’t afford it anymore. We obviously have the money and we can always print as much as we want but we are not going to spend it on scientific research, we have other priorities, like two hundred trillion dollars of debt (three times world’s GDP), for example. We have wars and terrorism and huge unemployment, we simply can’t afford science.

We can’t build another LHC or Hubble for technological reasons, too – there obviously are limits on how bug these things can be. Particle collider needed to prove string theory should be the size of the galaxy, we are obviously not building that. Our space exploration program is developing backwards – from regularly flying to the Moon to no American rockets to carry people to orbit whatsoever, so forget Hubble.

To be fair the string theory can be worked on by anyone with a laptop as it’s mostly theoretical at this stage but we should also keep in mind that scientists have been going at it for half a century and still have very little to show for it when we compare it to what string theory is purported to produce. I can’t think of any other scientific theory that would require so much math for so little gain. AFAIK, nothing is stopping string theory development, there aren’t any principal obstacles like the elusive solution to uniting quantum mechanics with Einstein’s relativity. String theory got it all, it just needs more math to explain it in detail. It’s not really up to visionary thinkers at this stage to move it forward, it’s up to nerds to do the calculations, and nerds are swamped.

I’m afraid their hit their physical limits already but string theory is only getting started, and, as we know from history, there will be the next theory up shortly that would need even more math and even bigger experiments. The civilization just can’t keep up with the required pace.

There’s another force at work against science, too – greed. With so much money involved greed becomes inevitable, and with funds gradually drying up it takes the center stage. Profits have replaced principles. While on the surface investments in scientific research might keep growing, they are not advancing science, they are monetizing it, and funds are drying up for those who want to pursue science as a calling, a vocation rather than occupation.

When money matters so much science develops in a direction decided not by scientists but by sponsors, by corporations, and corporations want to get their money’s worth. They are not in the business of discovering the Absolute Truth, which should never be a business at all, and so no one is left to actually advance science, no one is able to withstand the allure of money. Greed corrupts everything and everyone who comes in touch with it.

I think anyone hoping that science will discover solutions to world’s problems is extremely naive. Corporations are having the best time of their lives, the talk about “green energy” and such is only a PR effort, vastly overblowing whatever little progress they have actually made. They do not see global warming as a problem, they see stopping it as a direct threat to themselves instead and so they will fight tooth and nail to keep their profits, so that they can afford to pay lip service to “sustainable development” and whatever, and science will comply, it has no choice.

The example with treatment of irreducible complexity I talked about for the past two days is another reason why science has become morally bankrupt and reactionary. Being so attached to its current position it will not move forward and will not embrace new ideas that might breath new life into it.

Two hundred years ago it was easy to deal with the critics – you could just carry on with your work and prove that you are right by a practical example. Now science has become institutionalized, you must comply and there’s no work outside the institution to carry on, and no one will accept your proof even if you find it. Institutionalized science abhors challenging ideas and so it will not move forward.

In short – science has lost its soul and subverted the very ideals that made is so successful in the first place. It has no future but a gradual decline even if will probably keep churning useless technological innovations at an ever increasing rate. In that sense dog days are only beginning – what is truly over is the search for the Absolute Truth, even if in the form of the universal laws.

Vanity thought #1397. Bad karma for science

Continuing yesterday’s topic about irreducible complexity, let me try and organize it into a narrative.

In 1996 Michael Behe writes a book advocating intelligent design but what he really argues is irreducible complexity. If irreducible complexity exists then intelligent design is the most obvious answer but there could be others, no one has thought it through yet. Intelligent design brings into picture theological questions which modern science is not prepared to discuss as it would go against everything they’ve believed in so far.

Maybe that jump to intelligent design and, therefore, the creator, is not fully justified and maybe it’s even unscientific in one way or another – the accepted rules of science might very well exclude this possibility, but this really isn’t the question, the question is whether irreducible complexity is a real thing or not. Irreducible complexity doesn’t require any theological and non-scientific explanations, just a straightforward answer – can these apparently irreducible systems evolve through random mutations or not?

This challenge is obvious to everyone and nearly everyone tried to answer it but human nature took over the scientists and screwed it up very badly. Reviewers of the book spent inordinate amount of time and space arguing against theological implications of intelligent design using highly emotive language like “ignorant” and “silly” while delegating the answer to the only question they really needed to answer to one weak paragraph somewhere at the end.

No one in the scientific community had guts to admit that the answers weren’t there, they just pretended that they were, obscuring their failure to find them with misleading demagoguery. Irreducible complexity immediately became a hot topic but no one was able to publish a proper scientific paper in peer reviewed journals refuting it, they just resolved to arguing about mousetraps on personal blogs.

Some of the criticism was on topic, sure, but it was weak and Behe dealt with it swiftly and decisively, AND submitted his rebuttals to scientific journals. I’m not a scientist, of course, but Behe’s arguments were very very simple. The most prominent scientist on blog clotting, for example, simply misread the abstract of the paper he quoted in his support because the wording was not very clear. Another wrote a ten page article but dedicated only one paragraph to the problem itself and simply painted it over by saying “gene duplication” several times as if inability of gene duplication to produce irreducibly complex systems wasn’t Behe’s main objection but a solution. A third produced a working theory but it required three neutral evolutionary steps to occur and spread before mice would get an advantage at the fourth, and it doesn’t compute mathematically, as each such step would occur only once in ten billion generations, never mind all three in a row, none of them favoring the mutated mice in any way.

The editors were enthusiastic at first and proposed formats and acceptable topics for the submission only to sheepishly retreat several months later on directives by unnamed senior advisors. In their explanations they cited incompatibility of intelligent design, which naturally follows from irreducible complexity, with their unequivocal Darwinian stance, actual science be damned.

Then came the Dover trial which was about teaching intelligent design in schools. Behe was asked to testify and prove that his was a proper scientific theory. In the end the judge, who had no scientific background and was promoted from a liquor board, read the judgment that repeated paper written by evolution lawyers practically word for word. The judge was then given all kinds of honors and lionized by all the right people. Why would anyone trust lawyers to decide on what is and what isn’t science is incomprehensible and the whole thing smacks of medieval inquisition protecting church’s turf from uncomfortable questions by people like Galileo.

Then came a TV documentary about the trial and I think it sealed the image of intelligent design in public consciousness for good. Documentary used a reenactment of the Dover trial with actors reading transcripts and there were interviews with relevant people explaining various aspects of the narrative. Was that documentary faithful to the truth?

It gave Behe a chance to explain what irreducible complexity in the design of bacterial flagellum is, it then showed one of the scientists quoted by Behe in the original book denying he had any support for intelligent design and explaining how poison injecting flagellum could be the missing evolutionary step. In the paper quoted by Behe there was not a word about evolution, though, but rather an observation that “the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human”. Ten years later he sang a different tune. Then the documentary showed testimony by another scientist about intelligent design and the flagellum but they omitted his impression from reading all the latest papers on the topic that poison pump flagellum is not the pre-cursor of rotor motor flagellum, which would have completely undermined documentary’s narrative.

Then there came a moment during the trial when the plaintiff lawyer dumped a huge stack books on Behe’s desk and asked why Behe wasn’t satisfied with their evidence for evolution. Behe’s inability to answer somehow excites the atheists but the documentary itself immediately cuts to the explanation that it was a purely a lawyers trick, as if Behe would have really started explaining what he thinks of each and every book when he didn’t even get a chance to read their titles. There was no indication that these books even addressed the issue as claimed by the lawyer.

I understand the list was compiled by Behe’s nemesis, the same person who wrote a ten page essay on nothing of relevance, and during the trial they both argued against each other. This time the scientist exploited the differences between Behe’s original work and a textbook on intelligent design in question. By refuting broad arguments in the textbook he apparently refuted Behe’s too, but actually he did not as Behe explicitly excluded cases brought up by his critic, and this was explained in the courtroom but no one listened or no one understood the nuances of extrinsic and intrinsic pathways in land and sea based vertebrae, it was a case of smoke and mirrors on the part of science. Given this history one can seriously doubt that the alleged list of “evidence” was even on topic.

With courtroom win the fate of intelligent design was sealed, and with it all questions about irreducible complexity, which to this day remain unanswered. There’s no shortage of outspoken critics, however, but they all repeat the same bullet points and refer to the same old arguments that have no basis in reality.

Ironically, it looks almost exactly like atheists frustrations with arguing against Christians – a lot of words, a lot of books, but no empirical evidence for God’s existence, and all atheists can do is to catch Christians committing one logical fallacy after another. We have it all here, too. Personal attacks, misdirection, empty promises, rhetoric and demagoguery, anything but actual scientific research, plus the outdated peer review system that acts as Catholic inquisition but for the other side.

Personally, I’m not even sure intelligent design and irreducible complexity are “real” from out POV. We don’t know how Lord Brahmā went about creation and whether he was really sitting down and putting all those proteins together by hand. It could be argued that he wasn’t an independent actor/creator and the material nature could have assembled all those wonderful things with or without Lord Brahmā’s participation. Perhaps it was all encoded in the sound of Oṁ that started the universe and it wasn’t Lord Brahmā who imparted “intelligence” into the creation. As a founder of our sampradāya we appreciate the spiritual knowledge he passed down to us better than his material work anyway.

Regardless of our position on the intelligent design, science here collected plenty of bad karma by going against its proclaimed and prescribed duties and sooner or later there will be a payback, it will lose the authority, and the whole thing would crumble down.

Vanity thought #1396. Oh, science, go home, you’re drunk

Here’s a topic I have apparently never addressed before, which is surprising because I thought I did – Irreducible Complexity. The term was introduced by a biochemist Michael Behe in his book on Intelligent Design in 1996. The concept was known before, of course, but it didn’t stir much of a debate until Behe’s book.

Behe is a Christian but evolutionist nevertheless and what he found was some systems that in his opinion couldn’t be produced by random chance. The best example of this concept is a bacterial flagellum which has an amazing rotary motor capable of spinning at 100,000 rpm, which is the upper limit of existing electric motors. Here’s a picture with an insert of a photograph of the actual thing at best available zoom for electronic microscopes:

It has about forty moving parts, which are actually various proteins, or somewhat large molecules, in everyday speak. They tightly fit together and form a system, and this means that even one missing or misconstrued part would render the motor dysfunctional.

That is the general idea of irreducible complexity – it’s a working motor or nothing, it can’t be a half motor, and so it’s irreducible. To Behe it means that the motor was designed, hence “intelligent design” theory.

It’s been almost two decades and no one in the scientific world takes it seriously anymore. Why? That’s a good question, and the answer to it makes science look bad, very bad.

When the book came out no one knew what to make of it and it generated a lot of interest in all quarters. Evolutionists were not going to concede, of course, and Behe’s book was widely criticized. Then, ten years later, came the Dover trial where Behe was called to testify on the side of the creationists and the ruling was that his theory was not science. Then came the TV documentary re-enacting the trial from transcripts and debunking his arguments. Wikipedia calls Intelligent Design “pseudoscience” and that’s the end of it.

Not it looks conclusive and toxic and no mainstream scientist would touch it with a flagpole. Is any of it justified, though?

Not in any scientific sense, it’s all just politics and science has no place in that debate anymore.

Take wikipedia article, for example. The very first two references for “pseudoscience” use words like “incoherent”, “equivocations”, “rhetorical”, and “nonsense”. These are emotive words that convey no information and no substance but create an impression that actual scientific work supports these conclusions. Clicking around that page takes one here and there but no matter where one lands, it’s the same rhetoric implying actual counterarguments exist.

I don’t even see the reason in trying to unravel their train of thought. They might be onto something when they apply scientific criteria to some ideas from the book but I don’t think even Behe himself cares that much anymore. At one time he simply pointed out that while some critics claim his theory is unscientific because it’s unfalsifiable, others declare victory in falsifying it and proving it wrong. It’s just word jugglery that is meant to look impressive but is actually meaningless.

What about scientific arguments against irreducible complexity itself. The concept is straightforward and it doesn’t carry any deep philosophical meanings about it. One could simply demonstrate how flagellum motor could have come out in a series of steps, or similarly disprove irreducible complexity for any other Behe’s examples. Interestingly enough, that was scientists’ first reaction, before wikipedia folks got their hands on the issue.

The initial response wasn’t kind to Behe and in one article where he responds to his critics I counted four times the word “ignorant” was used to describe him but, besides abuse, there was also a genuine attempt to prove him wrong. At that time there was no empirical proof of any kind, no detailed studies, just first things that popped into people’s minds.

One “reviewer” defeated several arguments for intelligent design but none of them was made by Behe, like seriously, not a single example from the book, only his own invented strawmen.

Another got fixated on a mousetrap, arguing how it could have come out by random chances and how each element added to a wooden base, for example, would serve some useful purpose. Mousetraps are dead matter, of course, and they are designed, not evolved by themselves, and so the whole argument is silly. Behe used it as an everyday example of irreducibly complex system, he could have picked up a car or a computer instead, would his critics argued how building up a car by adding one part after another would produce anything evolutionary useful at each step?

A decade later the mousetrap example was used in the documentary I mentioned earlier. There it was used as a tie clip. In other cases “evolutionary” mousetrap is used as a paperweight. Everything that has a mass can be used a paperweight, it does nothing to demonstrate how it could have evolved into something particularly useful with addition of each element of a particular size.

As far as flagellum is concerned, right away scientists picked up a case of a flagellum that is used for pumping poison by a bacteria carrying Bubonic plague, for example. What does it prove, though? They meant to say that it’s an intermediate evolutionary step between no flagellum and flagellum with motor but there’s no proof of that whatsoever. These poison pumps could be repurposed motors, for all we know. Even if they are somewhere in between, as they claim, it’s just ONE step out of millions required to produce a working motor, and it turns out these flagella need their own irreducible complexity systems acting as pumps, too – the fact that evolutionists didn’t know before and so surprised even Behe himself.

Each evolutionary step must be useful, natural selection won’t wait until bacteria tries a million permutations and kills itself in the process until it gets something working. A designer could invest time and energy and wait for results, but not evolution. Whatever change it produces, it must have an evolutionary purpose and help the organism survive until the next mutation comes along. Half finished projects do not survive and become a drag, sapping materials and energy.

Behe responded to these objections right away and they failed to convince him that irreducibly complex systems can be created through natural selection. Have they come up with anything better in two decades that passed since? Nope, nothing. It’s still the same poison ejecting pump all the way. The only thing that has been added is unbelievable amount of rhetoric.

Other examples from Behe’s book suffer from the same fate – half arsed knee jerk reactions repeated over and over again, each time with greater conviction but with the same lack of actual substance. In one case, something about blood clotting in mice, they’ve been able to demonstrate how the mechanism could have been produced in 20,000 steps while Behe points out that laboratory results show that these intermediate mice are evolutionary cripples who don’t survive. (Edit: 20,000 steps refers to evolution of E. coli bacteria, it has nothing to do with mice, my bad. Mice still die, though). Yes, they have necessary steps which could lead to eventual blood clotting, but the mice die because because they are defenseless against even minor cuts.

I was too lazy to read up on these mice in detail so this summary might be wrong in some way, but the main point stands – there’s no
evolutionary evidence for irreducibly complex system appearing through random mutations, there’s only wishful thinking.

So now it has become a case of “everybody knows” but without any actual evidence to back it up. Anti-IR arguments is the naked emperor where no one is allowed to point out that he has no clothes, and I think I’ll write more on it tomorrow. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to explain how science is like a drunk today but being intoxicated by its own boasting has already been demonstrated, I hope.

Vanity thought #1395. Forest

For the past two days I’ve been talking about ISKCON as a branch of the Gaḍīya tree, how it is the only alive one while all others seem to be drying out because they are not properly performing yuga dharma. What is the reason for that?

It’s two fold. For original Gauḍīya vaiṣṇavas it’s the influence of the material energy that corrupted them into seeking comfort of this world. They want their cake and they want to eat it, too, hoping that saṅkīrtana would allow them to progress spiritually while maintaining a decent standard of sense enjoyment. They want what works here, not what takes them to Kṛṣṇa.

In their defense, they are children of the Vedic civilization where following dharma guaranteed material success, too. In Kali Yuga, however, this is not the case. It is impossible to establish a functioning varṇāśrama anymore and without varṇāśrama one can forget about material comforts. Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana is the only way to escape the blazing fire of material existence in this age. Note that it’s saṅkīrtana, not varṇāśrama. The fruit of performing saṅkīrtana is love of God, not reversing the effects of Kali.

In a way it does reverse effects of Kali Yuga but only in a sense that it stops corruption of our consciousness. It doesn’t change the gruesome reality of this world. Kali needs his epoch, too, no one is going to take this opportunity away from him, not even Lord Caitanya. Whatever deal he has made with Mahārāja Parīkṣit has expired long time ago. It’s his kingdom now and in his kingdom living entities are meant to suffer. Saṅkīrtana movement takes us out of this world, it doesn’t fix it.

I understand how this solution is difficult to accept by the followers of the Vedic culture, they intrinsically believe that even the age of Kali can be fixed by following dharma, and so they naturally seek compromise between living a comfortable life and chanting. It doesn’t work, however, and so they fall victim to various temptations and turn Lord Caitanya’s movement into all kinds of apa-sampradāyas.

In reality, Lord Caitanya demands an ultimate sacrifice – pure chanting uncontaminated by offenses against the Holy Name, and maintaining material attachments is one of them, and that’s the reason those apa-sampradāyas don’t work.

Offenses against Śrīla Prabhupāda is the main reason why it doesn’t work for ex-ISKCON devotees. Even those who stayed faithful to Prabhupāda but refuse to recognize authority of the GBC and cooperate with ISKCON commit an offense of disobeying guru’s orders, plus they are usually highly critical of ISKCON devotees which is an offense, too.

Okay, that’s about our tree, but what about the rest of the forest of Vedic culture? There are six darśanas there and they are all considered legitimate, even impersonalism is a legitimate realization of the Absolute Truth, however incomplete. What is their fate in this age? I would say hopeless.

Kali Yuga affects us all. Yogis can’t sit still and meditate long enough to achieve any significant progress, jñānīs can’t dedicate themselves to studying vedānta and their brains are not powerful enough anymore, karmīs don’t have enough purity to perform sacrifices, nothing works, as we already know form Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purports to Bhagavad Gīta.

In previous ages they could get away with ignoring prevailing yuga dharma but not anymore. No practice is immune to the effects of Kali, everything is spoiled. Followers of those paths might have a hard time accepting this reality and desperately cling to the faith that somehow it could work, but most of the time they simply claim success where there isn’t any, not by the standards of old.

In this sense they are in a worse predicament than, say Christians or Muslims. Those religions are very new and the instructions given there have been adjusted for Kali Yuga already. In Christianity, for example, they realize that following the rules like Jews still do is useless and rely solely on the grace of their guru, which cannot be earned by one’s own efforts, too.

More importantly, however, is that their main method of worship is holding masses and preaching the gospel – they’ve been doing saṅkīrtana long before Lord Caitanya! Muslims are into communal prayers and converting everyone into their faith, too, and they also started long before us. Why? Maybe because Kali manifested himself in the West long before he took over India, and he keeps spoiling their efforts by forcing them to live sinful lives, which hinders their spiritual progress.

There are two parts to Lord Caitanya’s instructions, and to Prabhupāda’s instructions, too, for that matter – first is to chant/preach and the second is to refrain from sinful activities. It’s not our fault that outside of ISKCON no one else is able to implement both. Some preach but also sin, others don’t sin but also don’t preach. Not to mention that no other tradition, Vedic or otherwise, can raise one up to the level of serving Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana.

What about other vaiṣṇava sampradāyas? Their legitimacy in Kali Yuga is stated in Padma Puraṇa where they are listed along with their respective sampradāya ācāryas, what are their chances of success? Greater than anyone else’s, I suppose, but far short of what is available to the followers of Lord Caitanya.

This is understandable – if they fail to recognize Caitanya Mahāprabhu there’s something wrong with their devotion and they certainly won’t get benefits offered by Him. Being vaiṣṇavas devoted to their respective traditions they are relatively safe from the effects of Kali Yuga but they do not preach, and so they always hit the ceiling even if they are not outright deviants like Gauḍīya apa-sampradāyas. They try to keep their noses clean and the fact that even in best of times they are not offered material prosperity by their ācāryas helps them to stay pure in their devotion. They are not of this world, we should always remember that. However, one of the sampradāyas (Rudra) has already practically disappeared, save for a few Puṣṭimārga followers of Vallabhācārya, who didn’t get much love in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (CC Antya 7).

The main problem of them is not Kali Yuga as such but their inability to accept Lord Caitanya. Without His mercy they will be stuck forever at their present level of progress. The reason for this failure is most likely mundane envy – Lord Caitanya wasn’t the part of their sampradāya so they rather foolishly reject whatever He has offered, even Madhvas fall for that. They often call us sectarian and yet fail to accept the message that came from outside their tradition. There’s a price to pay for this foolishness and they might face the consequences rather sooner than later.

I don’t mean I wish any spiritual harm to come to them but they leave themselves unprotected entirely on their own. I still hope that even if they reject Lord Caitanya, somehow or other they will get the idea that they need to preach simply to stay alive. Everyone else gets it, I’m sure the Lord won’t leave them without guidance, too.

Vanity thought #1394. The juice feeding our branch

Yesterday I talked about our position on the tree of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and came to the conclusion that as of now we are practically the whole tree by ourselves. I was saying that based on simple observations, whatever life is present in non-ISKCON branches they are simply dwarfed by comparison AND are represented by ex-ISKCON devotees, too. We have surely shed many devotees in our short history and that’s a phenomenon that needs to be addressed on its own but not today. Yesterday I said that all the non-ISKCON branches form only a safety net for those who can’t stay the course with us. A noble service but incomparable to the direct service to the mission of Lord Caitanya. Today I’m going to talk about why this has happened and argue the same point from a different perspective.

It has everything to do with yuga dharma. I said “mission of Lord Caitanya” but it is much more than that. When we say “mission” we sort of separate it from everything else Lord Caitanya has done. Spreading the glory of the Holy Name was only an external reason for His appearance anyway and He spent much more time relishing His internal service in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi. A devotee then might think that cultivation of this sublime mood is more important than preaching, that preaching is for neophytes, and also that preaching was the mission of Lord Caitanya, not ours per se. We can help when He needs us but there are times when He wants us to become pure devotees fully engrossed in Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. That’s what the Six Gosvāmīs left all their literature for, right?

Here’s another observation – all our detractors, as well as all “original” non-ISKCON Gauḍīya who still survived to this day, do not put much value on preaching, considering it as secondary to developing taste for Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in Goloka. That’s probably the single tell-all sign – we preach, they don’t, and are proud of it.

I’ll repeat it again – it happens because people consider preaching only one of the missions of Mahāprabhu, something temporary and relatively less important.

Well, no. Preaching is the yuga dharma and so only fully liberated souls are not obliged to follow it.

What these devotees think instead is that yuga dharma is served by chanting on our beads, singing kīrtanas and discussing or simply reading about Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.

This is all very well, but Lord Caitanya prescribed saṅkīrtana, and this term has two meanings. One is congregational chanting, of course, and the second is “complete” chanting in the same sense as Sanskrit is a complete, perfect, and fully accomplished language. What is this perfection then?

Whatever it is, perfection means absolute degree, and absolute means unattainable, like infinity. We know the concept, we can strive for it, but we will always come short, even for a simple reason that every attempt in the material world must be accompanied by imperfections.

When we accept that absolute perfection demanded by saṅkīrtana is unattainable we’ll realize that we can never settle on “acceptable” level either. Whatever we do will never be good enough, and so Lord Caitanya’s prescription becomes to be constantly on the move, in a perpetual expansion mode. Our service to saṅkīrtana is in constantly pushing the limits in all possible directions.

Trying to improve only one particular aspect where we think we are going reasonably well is not saṅkīrtana, we cannot limit ourselves in this way and claim our service is being done. We must try our hand at everything as much as physically possible and nothing, absolutely nothing can be neglected.

Even if one reads saṅkīrtana as congregational chanting it must be understood as ever expanding congregation. It doesn’t mean imitating Lord Caitanya and His three and a half persons intimate circle. Therefore, in any way you look at it, saṅkīrtana means preaching, preaching means saṅkīrtana, and one can never ever be separated from another, for it will become incomplete.

One could say that there must be more to saṅkīrtana than preaching [to outsiders] and that is true but it doesn’t mean that preaching can be taken out. If you expand saṅkīrtana you ADD to it, not subtract.

We can never afford to slacken in our resolve to spread the message of Lord Caitanya, whatever inner realizations might come next should be an addition, not a subtraction or a substitution. One would also be a fool to assume that he has achieved a level where he doesn’t have to follow yuga dharma anymore.

Even if preaching to outsiders might be considered as relatively inferior to preaching to devotees, as implied by Kṛṣṇa Himself (BG 18.68) it doesn’t mean that there’s a point in performing our yuga dharma where it must be stopped, and there’s another way to look at it, too – we never preach to real outsiders, only to those who are receptive to our message, and the moment they accept it, they become devotees. Or I could say that everyone is a devotee of the Lord by the nature of his soul and so if we see someone as an outsider it’s true only in our faulty vision, and therefore we should not treat people as atheists, we just have to measure our message accordingly to suit their level of relationships with the Absolute Truth, which sometimes could mean walking away but never ignoring them altogether. We can’t ignore somebody’s service, however insignificant, that would be so un-Vṛndāvana thing to do – for those who value Vṛndāvana mood above all.

Okay, let’s say this reasoning it correct and it doesn’t contradict anything else said about preaching or saṅkīrtana, is it okay to claim exclusivity and denigrate other, non-ISKCON devotees’ service the way I’ve done here and the way ISKCON has been perceived for a long time?

It so happened that I just read Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s explanation of the meaning of sarva-vaiṣṇava. When he wrote it there was no “ISKCON and non-ISKCON” distinction, of course, but there was plenty of opposition to Gauḍīya Maṭha, which was more or less in the same position we find ourselves now. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta went to great lengths to explain that sarva-vaiṣṇava, meaning “all vaiṣṇavas” includes only pure vaiṣṇavas and excludes those who reject the pure path of Lord Caitanya. At that time it meant thirteen apa-sampradāyas and that’s what he focused on, not giving them any credit as any kind of devotees.

It must be noted that these apa-sampradāyas comprised practically all non-Gauḍīya Maṭha vaiṣṇavism in Bengal at that time and there’s no reason to believe this non-GM contingent has gotten any better now. Boosting their numbers with ex-ISKCON devotees doesn’t add them any more credibility.

Lord Caitanya’s mission is non-sectarian, if devotees outside ISKCON take it up very seriously they must be considered as pure vaiṣṇavas and they must be awarded all respect, and that’s what we should do when it happens, but those who have rejected shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda and refused to follow his orders have willingly excluded themselves not only from the mercy of Lord Caitanya, but also stopped performing yuga dharma when they stopped preaching. The fact that they are willingly obstruct our preaching efforts and disparage ISKCON publicly doesn’t help their standing either.

It’s not my fault that devotees strictly following the mission of Lord Caitanya happen to exist only in ISKCON. I don’t see how ex-ISKCON devotees can ever move forward without coming back to Śrīla Prabhupāda and cooperating with ISKCON, and there simply aren’t any original non-ISKCON devotees to speak of left out there to start anything new.

Strictly following yuga dharma cannot be avoided, and cherry picking only some aspects of it is why no one else outside ISKCON succeeds. Why does THAT happen? It’s a question for another time.

Vanity thought #1393. Gaudiya tree

Officially, our ISKCON is a branch on the Lord Caitanya’s tree of Gauḍīya vaṣṇavism and we are generally happy with this description. “Tree” is a nice analogy but what about the reality? What this “tree” really is at the present moment? What is its position in the universe?

I don’t know the real answers to these questions, they can only be seen by someone with the perfect vision, someone who can see the universe as described in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, for example. The rest of us can only speculate by looking at thin slices of reality through our illusion covered glasses. Since we all see the world subjectively we will never agree on any controversial subject. It’s just not how different people see it and nothing can be done about that, short of changing people’s subjective experiences.

That’s what we do when we preach, btw. We don’t tell people what they already know, we add to their knowledge or we force them to assign different priorities so that they come to new and unexpected for them conclusions. Debating, much less preaching, is not about reconciling divergent views, it’s about attaining a new, superior vision where divergence doesn’t exist in the first place.

There are no such contradictions for Kṛṣṇa Himself, we just have learn to see the world through His eyes and teach others, too. If they refuse this proposal there’s nothing more to talk about. The only thing that matters is how willing they are to accept Kṛṣṇa consciousness, everything else is not only secondary but will follow automatically.

Imagine they have heard a particular argument or a śloka that seemingly goes against our conclusions. This argument can obviously be answered by Kṛṣṇa if they are willing to hear it. If they are, Kṛṣṇa’s material energy will arrange for it. The answer could be manifested in our brains as we struggle to find it or the answer could be manifested in their own hearts and they’ll drop the matter as insignificant. If, however, they insist on rejecting Kṛṣṇa’s message and remain attached to their illusionary view of the world, the illusion will be all they see and no answer will ever register even if it hit them on the head.

It doesn’t mean our preaching efforts are useless and we can safely give them up as soon as going gets tough because everything is pre-determined already. Our preaching is our service and our duty, it should not be contingent on results and we should keep going whether people listen or not. It doesn’t mean we should keep arguing, however. Our service is performed within our hearts, what we do externally is directed by the Supersoul, if He tells us to shut up and move on that’s what we should do, perhaps our services are needed elsewhere or we need some preparation to do.

Where was I, however? It’s not what I was going to write about today.

Ah, yes, the Gauḍīya tree and it’s true position in the world. We don’t know what it is and so I’m prepared to adjust my views in light of any new information. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now and can’t shake off the thought that outside of ISKCON the tree is dead. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī spent several chapters in Caitanya Caritāmṛta describing this tree and it looked huge, how come I think only ISKCON is still alive?

My argument is two-fold. First, the reality – we don’t know where all these other branches are anymore. Surely Bengal must still have members of the original parivāras but they have utterly discredited themselves more than a hundred years ago. They might pass down initiations but as far as spiritual potency and carrying out the mission of Lord Caitanya is concerned they are invisible and, therefore, non-existent in my view.

I’ve also heard the prophesy that Advaita Ācārya’s branch will remain potent only for the first thirteen generations. That limit has been reached and currently they are in the fourteenth.

What about Gauḍīya Maṭhas? They are still around, why discount them? I’ve even heard them saying that GM now has more temples than under Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī.

Yeah, that may be so, but they are all filled with ex-ISKCON devotees who rejected their gurus and the shelter of the person who saved them all – Śrīla Prabhupāda. That’s where GM’s new numbers and new temples come from, not from peaching by bona fide GM followers.

Somehow they all, both original GM and ex-ISKCON members think that rejecting your guru and going against his orders is a trivial thing to do, and at the same time they pretend to know Gauḍīya siddhānta better than us. Fools, all of them who think this way. I already mentioned it the other day, but a soul who rejects a guru sent by Kṛṣṇa will be cast into guruless wilderness for seven hundred lives. Maybe this number is exaggerated and it’s only ten lives – still about seven hundred years, welcome to hell.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s position is cemented in history, anyone who rejects him or openly disobeys his orders cancels out any opportunity for further spiritual progress (Kṛṣṇa doesn’t take away what has already been achieved). Those who accept association of these people contaminate their own consciousness as well, there’s no getting around this inconvenient fact. This means that whatever spiritual potency that was there in GM stemming from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī is destroyed.

At the end of the day – look at their preaching efforts, whatever momentum they carried over from their ISKCON days is all gone. I just checked activities of the biggest of GM branches and all their news and announcements are about their weekend temple programs and hardly any temple has a website. The place is dead, they can’t and they won’t preach, they’ve become spiritually impotent.

Not all ISKCON devotees leave for GM, for course, in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s days going to “traditional Gauḍīyas” was popular, too, particularly to the brother of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī who was still present then. Over the years these devotees built up significant following but the leaders there got mired in drug use and outright sahajiism, with sex orgies and all. About a decade ago a brilliant scholar rose among them with extensive knowledge of both Gauḍīya texts and Gauḍīya history but then he left for Buddhism, “knowing” siddhānta didn’t save him from losing any taste for devotional service he might acquired in his ISKCON days. In any case, these people can’t even organize and name themselves, to consider them a “branch” would be too generous, nevermind the offense of leaving Śrīla Prabhupāda.

And then there are Vṛindāvana bābājīs who take a considerable amount of ex-ISKCON devotees on a ongoing basis. I don’t know what their service to Lord Caitanya is to begin with. Of course there are several important temples to maintain there but bābājīs are not engaged in that, and beyond that there’s nothing. They are devotees of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi, they claim. Okay, but what is their service to Lord Caitanya? All I can think of is giving shelter to those who blooped in ISKCON. It’s important, of course, but not nearly as important as establishing yuga dharma for the benefit of the entire world, which is also the service to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi as well, and they are not doing it. As branches of Gauḍīya tree they are also dead.

And then there are couple of devotees who were never formally in ISKCON and grew influential by themselves. They belong to “traditional” lineage and their personal behavior is exemplary so we cannot say that they are corrupted. The problem with them is that we don’t know how much of their knowledge is taken from their gurus and how much they speculated up themselves by studying śāstras. “Traditional” gurus have not left any records of their teachings or of their understanding of the siddhānta, so we cannot check if their claimed followers are actually following or creating their own tune.

These devotees claim to learn siddhānta straight from the Six Gosvāmīs, or rather from their books. That’s not how paramparā works and so if we come to any disagreement with living representatives of the sampradāya their conclusions should be rejected as lacking guru and sādhu confirmation.

I haven’t even gotten to my second argument, maybe tomorrow, but the conclusion is already obvious – there’s no spiritual progress outside of ISKCON, I just didn’t explain why.

Vanity thought #1392. Balance problem

Last week I read a couple of articles about balance, the work-life balance, and what was unusual about them was that they were against this concept in principle. That made me pause and think, they weren’t written by some yahoos but by very intelligent people with very penetrating insights into human behavior. Obviously, they weren’t written by devotees but as far as observing this world is concerned some people are just better at it than others, and so their views must be at least acknowledged.

The objections to work-life balance were manifold and each provided food for thought from Kṛṣṇa conscious POV. Ordinarily, balance means maintenance, means mode of goodness, means it is conducive to spiritual realizations for non-devotees and conducive for spiritual practices for devotees. So, what’s wrong with it? How could it be bad?

It appears to me that we are talking about different things here. We, as devotees, see balance as equilibrium, a state of peace of mind which allows us to concentrate on Kṛṣṇa without any distractions. This equilibrium is born of knowledge, strong intelligence, and a mode of goodness. Work-life balance advocated on front pages of popular magazines, OTOH, is about managing strong impulses tearing us apart. It’s not about equilibrium and equipoise but about enthusiastic bobbing up and down but more or less in the same place.

We see balance as stillness, they want to be swept away by waves of emotions, they just don’t want to be swept too far. We, and also Buddhists, avoid any strong currents and any strong impulses, we avoid emotional upheavals, we want the mind to be under control at all times. They want the exact opposite, they want big careers, they want their lives being turned upside down by love, they want highs and thrills, they want mind blowing experiences, they want to live their lives in full. Balance for them is simply limiting their losses – you don’t lose your family over your work, you don’t lose your job over your love, you don’t spend all your money on traveling, you don’t waste you health on doing drugs and so on. In your life you’ve got to try everything, but in moderation, which in practice means don’t let your fleeting interests ruin the rest of your life.

Looking at it this way it’s easy to see why we shouldn’t buy into this work-life balance thing, too. It’s not the balance we want and it’s detrimental to one’s gradual spiritual progress. Does it mean we should agree with critics? Not so fast.

Critics reject this kind of balance as stifling, they don’t want any restrictions placed on their strive to enjoy life in full. We, obviously, can’t agree with them here.

Another way they, the critics, look at balance is if it was a mind numbing drudgery. They look at an ideally balanced life, not necessarily taken from Cosmo’s cover, and they see it as soul sucking life of boredom. This is certainly true for millions if not billions of people. Should we agree on that? Not so fast.

This kind of balance, leading a quiet life dedicated to preserving the routine might sound like a mode of goodness initially but if we look at how people actually live their lives it becomes clear that goodness there exists only in minute quantities. They still eat meat, watch porn, and drink themselves into stupor every time they get a chance. It’s not a path of gradual elevation as mode of goodness is supposed to be, it’s a gradual and irreversible slide to hell.

That’s what critics say, too – to hell with this life, humans are meant for bigger and greater things and no human advancement ever came from living in a cage. That’s how they see balance in this case – a cage to keep people in slavery. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are also meant to rattle these cages. “Wake up, wake up”, calls Lord Caitanya, human life is meant for something far greater, it’s meant for bhakti, it’s meant for love of God. That’s not what critics say, of course, but the impulse is in the right direction.

And yet another way to look at work-life balance is to see it as juggling different sides of our persona. They highlight three main ones – the public side, the one we present when we are at work, the private side – the one we live when we are without families and loved ones, and our own side – who we are on our own, as distinct from all other relationships.

The problem is that they are sides of the same person, it’s still us, every presentation of ourselves, every relationship projects our own nature but in different ways, and then there’s that elusive “real me”.

This puzzles the critics and we know that there’s no solution to it on the material platform, it’s our false ego, we won’t know “real me” unless we become from from the illusion, which we can safely say will never happen to any of the psychologists and philosophers working on this problem. How much should we pay attention to it as devotees, however?

As conditioned living beings we experience all the same problems with our multiple identities plus we add our desired identities as Kṛṣṇa’s servants, so it becomes double difficult. Usually, or at least these days, when devotees go to work and move in public they keep a low profile and look just like ordinary people. We learn how to compartmentalize and how to compromise our identities so that we can express all our material desires and aspirations and still see ourselves as devotees inside. I have no idea if Kṛṣṇa agrees with us and sees us in the same way. Maybe He thinks that we only call ourselves “devotees” to keep our consciousness happy but really we are anything but.

Then we have plenty of devotees who are “out of the closet”, so to speak, in all their identities they see themselves as devotees and everybody else sees them the same way, too. Does it mean they are free from work-life balance problem? Not necessarily. Wearing tilaka does not make one into a devotee, appending Das to your signature does not make one into a devotee, and we’ve seen plenty of examples of people abusing their position as devotees for their own selfish ends. So we still have to constantly examine our motives and check ourselves from wrongly labeling our material desires.

And then there are paramahaṁsas who see the world as it is and don’t suffer from the false ego imposition, they do not have any work-life balance problems whatsoever but we are not there yet so that’s just a hypothetical scenario.

Ultimately, we have to somehow learn to live with our karma and karma imposed identities and still keep our heart and mind in the right place. It’s not easy but I heard chanting the Holy Name helps. When we chant we can safely forget who we are and simply concentrate on Lord’s Name. It won’t stop the world from rolling and from problems coming our way but it should help us not to take any of it seriously.

In that sense we are not seeking balance, we are seeking freedom from both work and life, and then we would naturally let guru manage it for Kṛṣṇa’s satisfaction and our real, spiritual lives will become perfect.