Vanity thought #1432. Swing vote 5

Any talk about the importance of human form of life should actually start with Prahlāda Mahārāja’s famous instruction to his fellow demons, the very first in the chapter (SB 7.6.1):

    One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life — in other words, from the tender age of childhood — to practice the activities of devotional service, giving up all other engagements. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection.

Prahlāda Mahārāja didn’t talk about specifics of human conditioning and he was talking to sons of demons, persons who were not supposed to be inclined to devotional service at all. Otoh, they were just children, their minds susceptible to any kind of preaching. We don’t know if Prahlāda said the same things to their parents, though why not? It’s not like he was risking anything extra after his father tried to kill him in a million different ways.

Our position is different, we won’t normally dare to provoke such strong reactions to our preaching so we might hold our tongues. I’m not saying it’s right but unless you are Prahlāda Mahārāja don’t stir a hornet’s nest. He was protected from being bitten but we are too selfish and shouldn’t pretend to be more devoted than we really are. Meaning we’d talk to demons to increase our own prestige and to show how great and fearless we are rather than as an expression of genuine concern for their spiritual well-being, which we don’t possess yet.

Anyway, we must utilize our human form of life, no questions about that, but there are questions about how, what obstacles we might face, and how to avoid hitting them and breaking our noses.

We can’t change our karma and whatever Kṛṣṇa sends our way but we can control our reaction to it, to a degree. Mostly it means avoiding certain kind of desires because as spirit souls it’s the only thing we can possibly control. This control is never full, we are bound to react to our surroundings, but if there’s any free will for us in the material world it’s in trying to control these reactions. Sometimes we foolishly accept likable things and thoughtlessly reject unpleasant things, and that’s when analytical knowledge might come handy.

We should avoid the company of sense enjoyers, for example. Men who are too attracted to women and just won’t shut up about it, which means practically everyone we know outside our community. We should avoid celebrities and politicians like a plague, too. Their energy is just too strong to resist for ordinary people, they are charismatic and their blind dedication to fame and glory is contagious. Just a faint possibility that we might run into them when taking a certain course of action should be enough for us to change our minds and stay out of their orbit and gravitational field.

The criteria for these decisions is pretty simple – is it easy to remember the Lord with devotional attitude in their presence or not? Is it easy to utilize our human form of life in their company or not? If we know the answer and understand the reasoning behind it we might be able to control our minds and so won’t develop unnecessary attachments that would define what our “human form of life” actually is, for it is always changing, both from one life to another and from one life situation to the next.

Another powerful influence on our “human form of life” could be poverty. I’ve wrote quite a few posts about it two years ago but today I want to approach this topic from a slightly different angle.

Śrīla Prabhupāda sometimes mentioned a Sanskrit saying that I can’t trace to any śāstric sources: Dāridrya-doṣo guṇa-rāśi-nāśi. It means that poverty destroys all good qualities. Sometimes he used it to describe India of his time, how Indian poverty destroyed all vestiges of the Vedic civilization. He also often described India as a lame man who needs help of the abilities of the blind man (westerners), so that together they can make their lives perfect.

One aspect of this thought is this – poverty is detrimental to preaching. Prabhupāda could do it in America in the beginning but after that the power of his American disciples was indispensable to spreading the cult of Lord Caitanya.

The dāridrya-doṣo saying talks about ordinary people, though, not devotees. Is it applicable to us? Most of the time poverty in our books is described as a boon that brings all good fortune, spiritually speaking, and we must voluntarily accept it if we want to become pure devotees, there’s no other way. Example of Puṇḍarīka Vidyanīdhi doesn’t count, he was not a conditioned soul, he didn’t need to give up any attachments because he never had any. We need to accept poverty to cleanse our hearts from unnecessary appreciation for wealth and creature comforts.

It doesn’t mean that we should welcome poverty as a society, however. We should fight it. We can’t build a varṇāśrama unless we learn how to produce wealth and provide all necessities for every member of our community. We are shooting for spiritual communism here, with all the needs met and provided in exchange for serving the Lord. If our leaders fail to beat poverty in our own ranks we, as a society, will quickly lose all good qualities just like that saying warns.

Varṇāśrama is supposed to indulge our material desires in a Kṛṣṇa conscious way but if we remain poverty stricken then instead of purifying them we’ll just fan them stronger. Our envy of others will increase if we sense even slight disadvantage on our part. We’ll become bitter, we’ll start scheming, and we’ll use every opportunity for sense enjoyment that comes our way. Our minds would be impossible to control and we’d accept all kinds of degrading conditions in exchange for a few dollars. We’ll have no problems with lying and cheating if it finally puts bread on our tables, our women would prostitute themselves to get clothes and ornaments, even if mentally, their chastity will be lost, our children will grow resenting us and Kṛṣṇa consciousness in general, and everything will eventually be ruined.

I hope our leaders understand this and, from available evidence, we are doing okay in this regard, poverty is not the main problem for our society. The days when we were forced to sell all kinds of crap at baseball games just to feed ourselves are gone, hopefully for good.

This creates a dichotomy, however, because goals of varṇāśrama and our personal goals are very very different. At some point varṇāśrama is useful, of course, but eventually we must give it up and disassociate ourselves from its pursuits. If we had a perfect daivi varṇāśrama then we could see everything we do as directly connected to the Lord but until that happens varṇāśrama means people trying to have sex, people trying to make money, people trying to become famous, people trying to make a living off their knowledge – not the kind of company we are supposed to keep. One day we should make enough spiritual progress to realize that we should stay away from them nearly as far as we should stay away from non-devotee materialists.

Varṇāśrama is like soap in this sense – it helps to remove dirt but it has to be washed off, too. Then we can utilize our human form of life to its full potential, as Prahlāda Mahārāja instructed. That’s when we can cast a true swing vote and make our lives perfect.

Let me end with a phrase from the quote above once again:

    .. practice the activities of devotional service, giving up all other engagements.

There goes varṇāśrama.

Vanity thought #1431. Swing vote 4

Yesterday I talked about obstacles to our surrender caused by excessive material desires. Sometimes, despite having this blessed human form of life, we are just too full of them, like the demigods, and so even when we receive Lord’s mercy we still continue on the same trajectory. It’s a kind of demigod syndrome making human form of life more of a curse than a blessing. It’s not the only problem, of course, so let’s talk more about these unwelcome obstacles.

This demigod syndrome is not related to the demigod level of life per se, ie it’s not only for the rich, but I don’t think it applies to those used to poverty. Poverty is in a class of its own, more on it later. In order to be cursed like a demigod one needs to have a certain level of commitment to good life which can come only through experience, simply dreaming about it is not enough.

Our desires go through several stages as they eventually fructify. First it’s just a thought (that’s what poor people think about money), then we make efforts, then we get first results, then we get the taste, then we can’t have enough of that thing, and that’s when demigod syndrome manifests itself in full. We need to have invested too much to let go and even Kṛṣṇa doesn’t do anything about it but lets our karma run its course out first. Poor people don’t get to that state, they don’t have anything to invest to begin with, but more on it later, as I said.

Another class of unfortunate people are those who learn too much nonsense, or māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, as Kṛṣṇa defined them in Bhagavad Gīta. It might seem that I’m trying to provide a different list from that of Kṛṣṇa (grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons – BG 7.15) but my list is on a different topic. Kṛṣṇa spoke of those who do not surrender, I’m speaking of those who try to but are too limited by their conditioning. People I’m talking about are an addition to Kṛṣṇa’s list. Btw, the very existence of Kṛṣṇa’s list means that not all people are created equal, for some even a human form of life is not a guarantee of the possibility to surrender.

I saw somewhere a claim that 93% of scientists are atheists. If one grows up in such a family or makes a career in science then he would naturally have a great obstacle in exercising his free will. Everything he learns, everyone around him would scream that God does not exists, Kṛṣṇa is only a heart-warming myth, and there could be no such thing as spiritual reality. Trying to surrender under these conditions will go against literally everything one knows.

Doctors are part of the same club, too. They spend too much time studying how human body works to leave any space for the soul. In case someone thinks that if we learn as much about the human body as doctors our faith would also be shaken, the answer would be that they create a self-affirming bubble and filter out any alternative explanations. It’s like if we ask a sociologist to describe our movement he would present a compelling picture explaining every aspect of our lives but he would totally miss the spiritual part of it. We do not perform any miracles and every our action conforms to material laws of nature and so externally it would look like spirituality does not exist but as spirit souls, not sociologists, we have a very different experience of actually living with it. The deities, for example, in sociologist’s view would only be dolls for adults, never the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Similarly, a doctor would see only the material part of our bodies and it would work according to material laws, and that would convince him that there’s no such thing as a soul. If he tried living as a soul and experiencing the world as a soul he would see bodies very differently, but then he wouldn’t be practicing medicine and wouldn’t be a doctor anymore. Part of being a doctor is denying spirituality and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Being forced in such a situation where one must see himself and the world around him as only matter is going to have an effect on our ability to reject this view and surrender to the Lord instead. As I said, it would go against everything one knows and his mind and intelligence won’t be very receptive to the idea.

On the other side of the spectrum would be an archetypal Vedic brāhmaṇa who might never see an atheist face in his life and never hear materialistic view of the world explained to him at all. His mind and intelligence would have no idea that alternatives to serving the Lord are even possible.

We are somewhere in between these two extremes and so we should try, if the opportunity arises, to structure our lives in such a way as to make the idea of surrendering to the Lord look very natural to our minds. A vaiṣṇava, after all, is a person who rejects everything unfavorable to the service of the Lord, and that means rejecting lifestyle that confuses our minds.

But let me get back to the “swing vote” for a moment. The idea is that our progress through material time does not have a very significant effect on our progress on the spiritual scale. Generally, even if one appears to possess a solid knowledge of spiritual basics, the Bhagavad Gīta, for example, or Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as any Indian knows them, it doesn’t mean he won’t go through periods of total ignorance. He might be struck by Alzheimer’s, he might become a vegetable and slip into a coma, he will be born again and spend first years of his life in total ignorance, and yet the level of his spiritual realization would remain more or less the same.

It’s not like reading Gīta makes us see Kṛṣṇa any better than a toddler, and if we don’t see Him now we are not going to see Him when we lose all our mental faculties either. Hopefully, our spiritual trajectory is gradually ascending, life after life, but our ability to remember ślokas is only temporary and does not have a big effect on its own so we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

The “swing vote” in this context refers to the few years of our lives when we can really make a difference the way toddlers and senile people can’t. It refers to the peak of our abilities to influence our spiritual position for the better, the time when we can really exercise our free will despite limitations imposed on us by our materially contaminated mind and intelligence. We better not waste it on less productive pursuits, like memorizing ślokas instead of living them in our lives. Memories will be lost, attempts to serve our guru won’t, they will be counted and added to our spiritual balance while parroting Sanskrit verses will be erased.

I’m not saying that learning ślokas is totally useless but it’s not the cramming part of this process that is beneficial, it’s taking them to the heart and trying to act on them that is. One śloka learned this way is better than remembering the entire Gīta. That’s the kind of swing vote opportunity that we shouldn’t miss in our lives – act on our knowledge, not just acquire it for keeps. Our opportunities to act are far fewer than opportunities to learn, we shouldn’t waste them.

Here’s an example to clarify what I mean – Śrīla Prabhupāda had only a few minutes of association of his guru and received only one short instruction from him while he spent decades reading and learning, and yet dedicating his entire life to following that one order, a suggestion even, was far more important then everything else. Many of our devotees have similar experiences with their gurus, too, but even if they haven’t, we all can find one single thing that we can build our lives around, be it preaching or book distribution or Food For Life or chanting or kīrtana or serving the deities, we should hang onto that thing and never forget it, never ever let it go. We should then use it to swing our lives around, hopefully all the way back to Goloka.

Vanity thought #1430. Swing vote 3

How do we exercise our free will here? I start with the understanding that as material bodies we don’t have any, whatever flashes in our minds and commanded by our intelligence is a result of interactions of material elements moved by the modes of nature and time. We have free only as spirit souls but since we don’t see ourselves as jīvas then how can we exercise it?

We’ve all heard that human form of life is special and as humans we have an enormous responsibility to inquire about the Absolute, athāto brahma jijñāsā and all that. What’s so special about us, though, and how do we take advantage of this uniqueness?

We can compare ourselves with animals and notice that their consciousness is very undeveloped comparing to ours. Christians are not even sure if animals have souls, for examples. Those who follow science, broadly speaking, aren’t even sure if plants and trees have consciousness or minds. I said broadly speaking because there’s no scientific consensus on this but no one would claim that trees have mind and intelligence in the sense these words are used outside of Vedic framework.

Consciousness and mind are as much philosophical terms as they are scientific ones, no one can say with any certainty where mind starts, for example, there aren’t any solid definitions there at all. Some say that having mind and consciousness means being self-aware, whatever THAT means. Human babies aren’t self-aware at birth, in their estimates, and they develop self-awareness at the age of five or six months, according to some studies.

According to other studies chimpanzees’ intelligence is as developed as that of five year old human babies. Does it mean chimps are conscious beings in the modern sense? Some would argue so, others would scoff at the proposal to grant them personhood. Legally this has already been tried, in some places with success, in others it’s still under consideration, and it’s not only about monkeys but also dolphins and whales.

The point is that usual definition of intelligence is very fuzzy one and so there’s no as much difference between humans and at least higher animals as we think, we aren’t that special. And we know from Rāmāyaṇa that monkeys can be as devoted to the Lord as any humans.

On the other side of the spectrum we have various kinds of demigods who possess far higher intelligence than we can even imagine, and yet it doesn’t work for them and human birth on Earth is still preferable for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Why? Clearly intelligence and ability to acquire knowledge about the Lord is not enough. Their Bhāgavatam is many times longer than ours, meaning they have far more Lord’s pastimes to discuss, and still being born on Earth is preferable, meaning even the ability to know more not just about the world but about the Lord Himself is still not enough. What’s our specialty then?

We don’t have any sixth sense for religion, we can’t see auras, can’t see demigods, can’t see Viṣṇu like they do on regular basis, can’t see ghosts, can’t see yamadūtas, can’t see the universe as it is, can’t see anything. In what sense can we possibly be special? Personally, I think none whatsoever, we are just happen to be in the sweet, Goldilocks spot of having everything just right.

That’s the typical explanation, isn’t it? Not too much suffering like in hell where people can’t concentrate on praying. Not too much sense enjoyment like in heaven where they can’t concentrate on praying with all the partying that is going on. I don’t know why we are in any better position than sages on Tapoloka or Maharloka, though. They must have some obstacles there, too, that we don’t have down here. Or maybe it’s because Lord Caitanya doesn’t appear there but here, so they don’t get His mercy but we do. If that is true then prior to Mahāprabhu’s appearance they didn’t think much of the Earth and its “opportunities”.

The question then becomes of what exactly this “just right” is. Are we all in equal “just right” position or there’s variation here, too? Obviously, yes. It’s a big question for Christians with their belief that everyone in the entire human history who didn’t get JC’s mercy had gone to hell, including newborn babies somewhere in Asia where they worship Buddha. They might be human babies but they are not equal to Christian babies, they don’t get the Christian “just right”.

We are not Christians but we shouldn’t go down that way, too. Meaning we need to be aware of our material constraints, our DNA, our background, the culture we grew up in, the culture we live in now etc etc. All these things affect our ability to exercise that elusive free will as spirit souls.

The “just right” position means that we have a relatively better opportunity than animals and demigods but it’s still not perfect, we have to admit that, too. We’ve got the brains and training to know that we must surrender to the Lord. Animals haven’t got that, plenty of humans, a vast majority of seven billion on the planet also haven’t a slightest idea. Demigods might know that theoretically but can’t actually do that.

If we analyze our situation very carefully we’ll notice that we experience waves of such conditioning, too. Sometimes we just forget about our duty, sometimes we don’t have enough willpower to perform it. Lack of willpower means commitment to something else, btw. We want that other thing instead, not that we don’t have any desires at all and this desire to surrender is just like a lone candle in the darkness. Nope, we have a blazing fire of material existence around us and we are too busy enjoying it so we don’t have enough SPARE willpower for Kṛṣṇa.

Once we have these other desires overtaking our heart there’s nothing Kṛṣṇa can do for us. Have you ever heard of a demigod being taken back to Godhead? Even when they get born on Earth and then get liberated by Kṛṣṇa Himself they don’t go to Goloka but back to whatever planet they came from. Isn’t it the greatest misfortune in the entire universe? Being so close to Kṛṣṇa, being personally favored by Him, and still being unable to engage in His service. This is what happened to Dhruva Mahārāja, too. He was forced to live out thousands and thousands of years despite explicitly rejecting his previous desires. Once we get our willpower directed elsewhere it can be guaranteed that we won’t get Kṛṣṇa’s service even if He shows up personally. We should be very careful about that, devotion mixed with karma can separate us from the Lord for a long long time.

Unfortunately, the way we were brought up makes it impossible not to worry about money, sex, health and lots of other things we consider our birthright. If we want them and we want Kṛṣṇa we’d better hope that the Lord is much more merciful to us then we deserve and He strips us of these selfish motives. The bliss of selfless service beats those material comforts by an incomparable margin, we should always remember that no matter what our minds tell us. Of course sometimes we have to admit that we aren’t in the “just right” position yet and living out those silly dreams is what we have to do in order to approach Kṛṣṇa truly selflessly.

What can be done then? Our only hope is the mercy of Lord Caitanya, who doesn’t have any limits and never sends anyone to soulless places like heaven or even Vaikuṇṭha. Dealing with Kṛṣṇa is far more dangerous in this sense – He can easily dispatch us to the planet of iPhones and keep us there until they run out of numbers for upgrades or can’t increase their size any further. Lord Caitanya would never do that, and that’s the only thing we can count on.

Vanity thought #1429. Swing vote 2

Yesterday I got to the point where we can exercise our free will and either improve or diminish our chances of reacquiring our eternal devotional service. Let’s talk more about that.

Being servants of the Lord is our constitutional position, we don’t have any other spiritual identity, we can only cover it with our false ego, and so we assume that pure devotional service is our birthright. We just need to shake off our illusions and take it.

I bet it’s not that simple. Service means interaction and so we can’t serve without Kṛṣṇa. In fact, service starts only after Kṛṣṇa reveals Himself and mercifully decides to accept it. He is Supreme Independent, however, and we can’t demand or even expect His mercy, we can only hope in anticipation. Since He is not under the material conception of time even a little delay on His part might easily translate into several lifetimes in our calculations.

The answer to this is patience. We measure patience by how long one could maintain his attitude or his practice under unfavorable conditions. Then one inevitably loses it. Spiritual patience is different in that it, like all spiritual things, is immeasurable. Once we attain it it will never go away and we’ll never lose it. Kṛṣṇa might delay His mercy indefinitely but so would last our hope of receiving it – it would be indefinite, too, and without any discomfort, for there’s no such thing as discomfort on the spiritual platform.

Patiently waiting for the mercy would become a kind of relationship with the Lord – He is hiding and we are waiting, and even more, according to Lord Caitanya, this love in separation feels indefinitely stronger than pleasure of being in personal presence of the Lord.

In our situation where we don’t have any prior experience of meeting Kṛṣṇa we can only have a glimpse of this transcendental emotion, the kind devotees of Vṛndāvana feel when they know Kṛṣṇa is coming and can’t wait, but it is nevertheless spiritual – if we get it. As such it could last for eternity and we wouldn’t even notice passage of material time. The fact that we feel under pressure and afraid to lose it is a sign that we aren’t on the liberated platform yet. If we were we wouldn’t be constantly checking our progress or progress of other devotees, these things would become meaningless and unwelcome distractions to us in comparison with sweetness of eternally waiting for Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.

Another aspect of it is that Kṛṣṇa does not and probably will not appear to us while we are still in this world. It doesn’t mean that we have to wait for the next life, hopefully in His presence, to achieve perfection. We should never forget out guru instead because guru IS manifestation of the Lord specifically for us. Lacking the ability to see Kṛṣṇa we can express our love and devotion to our guru just the same, and it WILL be reciprocated.

If we do not see Kṛṣṇa in our guru and lament His absence we are absolute fools only pretending to be spiritually realized. If we can’t establish ourselves in service to our guru but wait for service to Kṛṣṇa Himself we are simply mad. We kill all our chances of spiritual progress there and then, for we commit a gravest offense by considering our guru to be an ordinary man.

We might not say so out loud and we might not even think so to ourselves but if we do not see guru as a direct manifestation of God infused with all necessary energies and powers we see him as an ordinary man, there are no other options.

Why does it happen? Because of vestiges of materialistic thinking and our immaturity, of course, and as such we are all bound to make this mistake. The question then becomes how to spot it and correct it so we can move forward in our spiritual progress.

Living in the materialistic society we naturally absorb their values and one of them is the idea that we can learn things through ascending process, that by reading books on spirituality we can become spiritual, for example. Essential aspect of ascending process is collaboration with others, we need to constantly check that everyone is on the same page, do a peer review of sorts, and form a community of like minded persons. This is not unique to materialists, of course, but when we end up in association with similarly deluded people we ask if they see our guru as manifestation of God, they tell that they don’t, we accept their answer, and that’s how we commit a spiritual suicide.

They tell us to look at a bigger picture, to place our guru in certain age and time, to see how his behavior is/was conditioned by his surroundings and the culture he grew up in, and imply that if our guru was placed in our circumstances he would surely behave differently, issue different orders, adopt different values. We might even conclude that he would have read less books then us and so be less spiritually educated. With the internet at our fingertips we can easily conclude that our guru was an ignorant rube and his knowledge is lacking in comparison to ourselves. Whatever he says, we are ready to second guess, double check, and correct him, or maybe mercifully think “I know why he would say things like that, he probably read only this and this but never seen that and that and so couldn’t place his quote in proper context, but I know better. Yes, I agree, he is probably right here, but, god, he speaks with so much ignorance I can’t take it anymore”.

This is how people start questioning their seniors, this is how they question their guru, this is how they question Śrīla Prabhupāda, this is how they question Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, this is how they question Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, if necessary. If they still consider themselves followers of Gauḍīya Vaiṣnavism it becomes a question of which particular deviation they decided to take shelter in. These days it’s still possible to find deviant vaiṣṇavas of pre-Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lineage so denigration of previous ācāryas stops with him. If they had someone who disagreed with Six Gosvāmīs they would diss Rūpa and Sanātana, too, no doubt.

Obviously, we shouldn’t fall into this trap and avoid discussing our guru with non-disciples and don’t ask for their opinions, and the same goes for our more immediate authorities, too. Spiritual progress is a personal thing, we can share it only with those who will appreciate it equally, we should be able to see who they are and separate them from less mature and so still envious devotees. In other words, we should pick our association very carefully. If we don’t, they might be right in calling us kaniṣṇthas, though they do it for a different reason. We stop being kaniṣṭhas when we stop listening to them.

Whew, that was a lot or words but none of them on the topic. I don’t know what happened, I guess I got sidetracked. Well, it doesn’t look like it was a total waste, so I’ll continue next time.

Vanity thought #1428. Swing vote

A few days ago I argued that whatever little things happen to us between our birth and death are caused by guṇas and by time and as such cannot affect our relationship with the Lord, which is timeless. Maybe this is not a right way to frame this argument because it contradicts other aspects of our philosophy.

We operate with two concepts of time, one material and one spiritual, even though we don’t acknowledge it. Material time is easy – Kṛṣṇa enters into the universe in this form of kāla and makes everything move. This time doesn’t affect the soul itself as it pertains to what we consider as illusion. Even scientists figured out that it’s a part of the universe and is mathematically related to the concepts of space and speed. They also got a problem of “before Big Bang” when time didn’t flow and space wasn’t there. In our speak it was before kāla made his appearance.

This is where we come to the yet undetermined spiritual time. It manifests itself in sequencing events outside the material creation. If there’s before and after and things happen in a particular order there must be some sort of time involved. Also, our material time cannot be a thing unique only to the material world, it must have a spiritual equivalent, too.

Some examples are obvious – Mahā Viṣṇu goes to sleep, He inhales and exhales, during the exhale universes comes out of the pores in His skin, during the inhale they are drawn back in. All these processes must happen in time, one after another, with some duration assigned to them. We can even measure them relative to our material time – one exhale is a bit longer than the life of Lord Brahmā who gets born, creates everything inside the universe, and eventually dies when comes the time for Mahā Viṣṇu’s inhale. Lord Brahmā lives a hundred years, each year consists of a twelve months, each month consists of thirty days, each day and each night lasts for a thousand mahā-yugas, each mahā-yuga lasts over four billion solar years, which makes Brahmā’s life last over 300 trillion years in total, which means that Mahā-Viṣṇu’s exhale is a bit longer than that. Exact calculations can be found on wiki.

The time as is appears within the universe does not exist outside and does not affect Mahā-Viṣṇu yet here anyone can dovetail Mahā-Viṣṇu’s apparent time scale to ours.

Our own journey through the universe can be used as an indication of the existence of the spiritual time, too. We say we’ve been trapped here since time immemorial, we can’t calculate how long ago we fell down in our material units of time. Quite possibly we’ve been around for a few of Mahā-Viṣṇu’s inhales-exhales already. It’s understandable why in our material time frame we appear as nitya-baddha, eternally conditioned. It started before Big Bang so there’s no sense to talk about it in our units of time, and yet we still follow a sequence of spiritual events – we were with Kṛṣṇa first, then we broke up with Him, then we got thrown down here, given a time to cool off, or maybe literally sleep off our anger. Then we meet Kṛṣṇa’s devotees, they awaken us from our illusion, gradually, life after life, we correct our rebellious attitude and find taste in devotional service and then we return back to Godhead.

If we skip the happenings inside the universe we get angry, go to sleep, wake up, and come back – clearly a sequence of events that must follow one another and so be governed by time, and clearly not by material time. Btw, while Mahā-Viṣṇu lies down in His yoga nidra, our time in illusion here is also called nidra, sleep, by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. We are both sleeping here, so to speak.

The appearance and disappearance of the universes is a mechanical process and Kṛṣṇa knows at what time Lord Caitanya would appear there and how many souls would come in touch with Him and His mission, how quickly they’ll get liberated and so on. He knows how much time it would take between the start and the end of our journey through devotional service in the material world. He knows how quickly or how slowly our anarthas would disappear, He knows when they will force us to fail and how many times it would happen before we finally give them up. He knows how many rounds we’d have to chant, where and when, and whether they’ll be spread over multiple lifetimes. This is all rather mechanical, as I said. Even though the effect of a devotee on people who come in contact with him is spiritual, it’s still predictable and unavoidable – they’ll get infected with bhakti, so mechanical.

What about our free will then? In this model there would be no place for it whatsoever. Well, this isn’t true. Devotional service imply relationship, and each such relationship is unique, and each such relationship is spiritual, so freedom is still there, but we also can speak of relationships in general terms. It’s like saying that one woman in America gives birth to 1.88 children. It’s physically impossible to give birth to 1.88 babies and no woman ever does that but it’s the average, we can talk about it even if it doesn’t describe any particular woman there. Similarly, we can talk about Kṛṣṇa knowing the duration of our spiritual journey even if in reality our free will might affect it and change His calculations. He can say that a soul born five hundred years after Lord Caitanya in a particular place on Earth and in contact with ISKCON, on average returns to Him in 1.6 lifetime, 1.1 if they came in contact with Prabhupāda himself. This replays every day of Brahmā for a hundred years and then during the next universal creation again, so there’s enough data to calculate averages here, and Kṛṣṇa still has personal space to accelerate or slow down our return depending on how we ourselves feel about it.

This means that our input is important. Theoretically, we might get liberated right this second, or we might commit an unforgivable offense and get stuck until next kalpa. These versions would be outliers but are possible. In general, however, we’d probably be somewhere very close to the average. We can’t change the fate of our material bodies but spiritually we are free to surrender to the Lord, in as much as we can be free while under the illusion. Kṛṣṇa then can take us back as soon as possible and He can even refill our remaining body with some other soul if necessary, in as much as He is free to do anything in this world.

So we do have a swing vote that can decide our fate, but I have no time to talk about how to use it under what the conditions. Perhaps tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1427. Clear and present danger

It’s a name of an old movie starring Harrison Ford, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it and, according to the Internet, its plot has nothing to do with my story today, yet the name fits. It’s about danger, this danger was clear and inescapable, it was present, but the strongest clue that reminded me of this phrase was that words “present” and “president” are phonetically close, with just one differing syllable, and the president played a central role there.

It was a dream, replayed twice and with reference to an earlier incident in exactly the same place, and the idea was that this time we’d get it right and it would end differently. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the first version, only the last, but vividly, and the original was always something from the history and not the dream.

So, I was on the presidential team, we were traveling to Nepal, arriving at Kathmandu by what looked like either a boat or a train. There are no trains in Kathmandu, of course, it’s too high up in the mountains, and certainly there are no boats, and the place didn’t look much like real Kathmandu, but that was the operative word for the place throughout the dream.

We arrived at the low lying entrance to the city, which was sprawling up the hillside with old temples competing with modern industrial structures for the domination of the hilltop. “Hill” is probably not the right word to use here because it was very high and long, stretching to the left as far as the eye could see, and probably had a plateau starting at the top. The industrial buildings there created the impression that this was where another, powerful and potentially threatening civilization beyond the visual range while the city leading to it was a typical Indian/Nepali conglomeration of low rise houses crowding narrow streets with open sewers where westerners have pavements.

Our base of operations and command and control center was near the entrance to the city, it felt safe and impenetrable, teaming with marines and all kinds of high tech weaponry and surveillance tools, but we’ve never actually seen it, we just constantly kept in touch with them trying to rescue us when things went terribly wrong.

For that matter, the Secret Service detail wasn’t visible in my dream either but I put it down to clever terrorists’ tactics, there was just presidential entourage which included one highly decorated officer, others were plain useless. I suppose we were preparing for some sort of a reception parade because even the president wore some sort of a uniform, white suit with some medals or something, but not military. Ladies were all primed for the occasion, too.

In the beginning we were in a train carriage because it felt like we had no freedom to change our course, or maybe it was a bus following a predetermined route, we were staring out of the windows, taking the sight of the abject poverty of the general population, crowded streets, and general lack of civilization. Then we were diverted and separated from our security detail and our driver had to follow his own instincts and advice we got through the comlink with the base. Everyone panicked, we were trying to escape the streets and get into an open space but it was useless. I think at this point we were in a motorcade and were losing cars one after another, stuck not in traffic but simply overrun by ever present crowds, they just couldn’t move fast enough through it to keep pace.

We got deep into the city, far away from the base and from where physical help was, we didn’t see the enemy, there was no shooting and no one to shoot at, but if we stopped the curious onlookers would just swarm our vehicle and try to get inside just to see what’s there, like human ants. Perhaps a couple of secret service agents was still there but their presence was inconsequential.

We realized that we were only drawing attention to ourselves and a vehicle like ours stood like a sore thumb in that slum of a city, we needed to hide. In an open space we could have been picked up by a helicopter but in the streets the enemy was always dangerously close, only a few feet away, separated by glass windows. Were those people our enemy? Probably not intentionally, but whoever planned this operation counted on them being there and causing us to panic.

This is where two versions in the dream started to diverge. In both we got off and continued running on foot but in the first the president was captured or lost, I didn’t see it but that was the impression, while in the second we lasted much longer and possibly survived, it ended with a slim hope.

We started noticing members of the team working on our capture, they had walkie talkies and they handed us from one agent to the next, pretty soon we could spot them in the crowd just as they could spot us. There weren’t very many of them and we thought we could try our luck on foot, hiding with the crowd that was supposed to expose and intimidate us.

Initially it worked and there was a short chase through the streets in the first version. The president changed into a Hawaiian shirt that looked close enough to what tourists would wear but we weren’t very lucky. A group of westerners still stood out and we had to split. We tried to maintain a visual contact still and move in the same general direction but the agents were quickly onto us and forced to change our route simply to avoid running into them. We lost the president and that was the end of it and a start of a dream replay.

This time I was aware of what happened and how the enemy operated, the dream spent much less time on the preamble and dived almost straight into the chase. At some point there were three of us – the president, the officer, both in uniform, and me in a Hawaiian shirt.

First, the president and the officer swapped their jackets, while still in the vehicle, we were trying to give our enemies a false target and thus give time to the actual president to escape. The officer knew what he was doing and was ready to sacrifice himself and it was a very noble gesture. When we split we kept touch with him for a while via coms but then lost him. He could have survived, he was like one of those super agents with ninja powers in the movies who can escape from anywhere.

The team chasing the president got smaller but they were still on our tail. Another problem was that the president was significantly shorter than the officer and still had a military uniform on. This president, however, was clever and resourceful, like Harrison Ford himself, and he soon ditched his jacket and got himself a shirt from one of the vendors lining the streets. I followed him closely but not close enough to suggest that we were together to onlookers. We could spot the agents with coms in the area but who knows how many others were there and we didn’t want to attract attention of anyone.

We dove into side alleys hoping to come out in totally unexpected places and merge with the crowd there but turned out it wasn’t such a good idea. The alleys were the place where street merchants prepared their wares, they were passable but not meant to walk through for the general public. Technically, they were “streets” with houses on both sides but they have been covered above to save merchants from the rain and the elements and therefore they were dark, dump, and extremely dirty. People were cooking everywhere, everywhere there were push carts, some alleys were for butchers only and running into those was horrible, and, of course, people could still see us because we just didn’t belong.

Streets parallel to the main one were okay but with significantly less foot traffic so hiding there was not a good option either. Agents were closing in one us even if they didn’t make the move yet, didn’t break into an actual chase. I saw one who was always on our tail, though, clearly being guided by his informants. The president changed the shirt one more time but I didn’t think it was helping. He just couldn’t hide.

And that’s the point of the dream – I don’t know why I was on the president’s team but out on the streets I became invisible. I saw it several times when agents simply looked over me and didn’t think I was one of the men they’ve been looking for. I assumed everyone else in our party got captured, if not for their value then at least as leverage but I, however, looked useless. They just couldn’t imagine that this particular westerner in a colorful shirt and with an absent look on his face could be connected to the president.

The president himself, however, was very different. Everything about him had a sense of purpose and urgency. He exuded energy and confidence, and he looked important. There was nothing he could do about it because that’s how he projected himself into the world. If behaved any differently he wouldn’t be a president.

If one suggests that the president could have pretended to be a chill out westerner taking in Nepal’s ambiance the answer would be that after all that he has done to become the president this image was simply unfeasible. His karma affected his demeanor in such a way that it was impossible to hide. Mine didn’t, as I’ve seen myself as I am in this dream, not as someone else. Contrary to the president, it is impossible for me to pretend I care much about anything in this life and so the pursuers didn’t see me of any value not only to themselves but to the world in general.

This is how the illusion gets us – because we want something from this world, strive for something, try to become something. This attracts everyone’s attention and creates both enemies and so-called friends. It immediately creates a dual vision of good and bad according to how it affects our progress.

Illusion doesn’t affect those who have no interest in anything it has to offer and, luckily for me, in that dream I was one of them. Somehow being on president’s team and helping him escape didn’t affect my basic outlook on life, which was dictated to me by Kṛṣṇa conscious devotees. I wasn’t personally afraid of capture either, I just had a feeling that it would be very unpleasant, probably something like what devotees in Vraja feel where there are no actual demons. I knew that I would be always protected even if I didn’t think of Kṛṣṇa much, or didn’t pray or chant.

As time goes by I unavoidably try to rationalize this dream and fill fading details but I don’t think it’s such a bad idea. I don’t think the dream had any mystical messages in there to miss and so understanding those feelings and thoughts and preparing to deal with them in real life could be useful.

Take the plan itself – our attackers didn’t go for a frontal assault but rather used the urban terrain in a way that our security hadn’t anticipated. Crowds in the streets were as much of an obstacle for them as they were for us. We were trying to escape in the open where we would have a firepower advantage while they were driving us into dead end places where we could have been overwhelmed and eventually overpowered naturally. It worked, the last sight of the president I had was when he ran into a crowd of locals who didn’t look very sympathetic to tourists. It was off the main streets and if they turned on him there would have been no help coming, that community looked completely cut off. I, on the other hand, decided to turn into a different direction down an empty street but at lest I looked inconspicuous there, like a tourist who lost his way, not a target of a terrorist manhunt. The president running into that crowd was a goner, I thought, but it was too late to stop him.

Later on, when trying to find him, I saw these no-go butcher areas again and I was horrified to see something like remains of a human carcass, skinned and discarded along a pile of animal innards. It could have been the president but it could have been my imagination playing tricks. Unfortunately, I didn’t see how the story actually ends in the dream, as it usually happens.

Bottom line lesson I’m trying to learn here is this – we are slaves to our desires and it is much safer for us to give them up and rely on Kṛṣṇa for protection. He might not come as a knight in shining armor, He’d just make māyā lose interest in threatening us. When we want nothing from her she has no power over us. When we give up bodily identification we stop seeing other beings as our enemies but rather see our feelings and perceptions as results of our karma carefully presented to us by Kṛṣṇa Himself, and He wouldn’t do anything to actually hurt us. When “dangers” come we would then ask Kṛṣṇa what He wants us to do about them rather than fighting them off ourselves.

It’s a concept which is fairly easy to understand but much more difficult to practice, but even then understanding must come first, so there, this dream is a good start.

Vanity thought #1426. Frogland

There’s a devotee with better than average knowledge of poetry and every now and then he quotes some pertinent observations from classics. Somehow or other these people have been blessed with a unique insight into human condition and it’s uncanny how Kṛṣṇa conscious they appear when quoted in the right context. Maybe Shakespeare was right that there’s nothing new under the sun, or was it actually from the Bible?

What is interesting, though, is that all these quotes come from dead people. Our contemporaries fall seriously short when compared to them. Take this insight on saving souls from David Beckham, for example:

    I definitely want Brooklyn to be christened, but I don’t know into what religion yet.

Brooklyn here is his son, btw.

Sometimes Louis C.K. says something insightful, like when he talked about money as if he was a true renunciate:

    I never viewed money as being “my money” I always saw it as “The money”. It’s a resource. If it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system.

Of course he is no renunciate, he is hopelessly caught in the snare of sex. Maybe he realizes that he is enslaved by the sex desire, maybe not, but he, like everyone else, can’t even imagine life in celibacy.

There are two other clowns who supposed to be observant and witty but, looking through the entire video below, actually anything but, at least in my no so humble opinion. One of the last sketches here, however, hits home.

It’s a prayer circle that suddenly draws attention of God Himself who then gives them one single instruction on how to please Him – sell everything they own and spend money on helping poor. When they first hear His voice they drop on their knees but as the import of the message downs on them they start having second thoughts, and then openly rebel, declare the house to be hunted, and run away.

I’m not sure real Christians are ready to admit that there’s a lot of truth in this scenario but at least to these two it looks entirely plausible, minus the voice of God, of course. They then continue about a religion where you just do a short five second ritual once a month and be done with it. I hope actual Christians are not like that yet and actually look forward to their services, many of them would probably welcome them to be shorter, though. It’s just a sign of our times, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

Modern culture completely screws up people’s knowledge of the world around them and especially history. Like that infamous Dr Frog they look at everything through the prism of their very limited experience. Having seen nothing but his own well Dr Frog can’t even imagine there could be such a thing as an ocean. He can’t imagine it being limitless and he can’t imagine that water there is salty. None of his friends and family members, assuming he has them, can confirm the possibility of an ocean, and therefore in his view an ocean not only doesn’t exist but can’t exist, too. That’s what they say about God now.

Maybe it’s not a new phenomenon and people have always judged other cultures by their limited standards but this time it’s different, we refuse to learn from others but rather ascribe our own values to everything foreign or ancient. I noticed this during last year’s Cosmos TV series where Neil deGrasse Tyson described every historical episode as a struggle of science against religion, for example.

More often it’s about struggle for human rights and democracy, though. All Disney’s animated movies about Chinese or Indians or Arabs follow the same cliche – smart young people rising against unreasonable oppression of their elders. No matter what era or what country they place their story in, the attitudes are always the same. It’s same characters saying same things, just drawn differently. Last week there was a three part story about Ancient Egypt on TV and guess what – it was about challenging customs, giving women their rightful place, exposing priests as corrupted hacks profiting from selling lies, and, I guess, something about gay marriage, too, because this particular “universal right” is fashionable now. I caught a part where the pharaoh was taught to appreciate beer, the drink of the masses, instead of boring palace wine.

They just can’t imagine people having different values and living different lives. If two men were close to each other they must have been gays. Case in point – Michelangelo. Lots of people convinced of his homosexuality on the basis of having close friendship with a young and attractive man. Real historians dismiss it as a conjecture but in the modern mind closeness means sex, there’s no other way to express people’s deep feelings.

They even go as far as allege homosexuality in such ancient practices as blood/spritual brotherhood that existed in every culture from vikings to Chinese. They just can’t imagine that there was no sex involved and say that the practice was a covering for gay marriage.

When they look at Mahābharata they accuse Arjuna of being gay for year when he lived incognito in the court of Mahārāja Virata, even our devotees of GALVA persuasion cite this as an example. It all sounds convincing except I don’t think Arjuna ever expressed his sexual attraction to men during the time when he was “gay”.

That is all peanuts, however, compared to their attitude towards God. They just can’t imagine Him being real and being able to communicate with His devotees. While in India it’s a given in the West it could be nothing more than mythology and imagination, and not just God, gods in general and even practices of yoga can’t possibly be real, because they don’t have any comparable experiences in their beer guzzling, sex-obsessed culture.

When Indians had their first contacts with Greeks they sent a dozen “ambassadors” to demonstrate the advancement of their civilization. It’s no surprise that Indians choose sadhus and ascetics to represent them because they have always been considered as the highest order in Vedic culture. Greeks, however, just couldn’t understand it, like at all. Why would people wearing only loincloth be considered as crème de la crème? They thought Indians were animal like barbarians. They couldn’t fathom that these ascetics had real mystic powers, they were proper children of Kali Yuga and considered only wealth and sensual pleasures as a sign of progress.

I imagine sadhus were astonished at Greeks’ profound ignorance and one of them tried to demonstrate his abilities through self-immolation, a typical yoga procedure for leaving one’s body at will. It registered in Greek annals but they failed to appreciate the significance and implications. Modern descendants of Greek culture, science, and democracy can’t comprehend it either.

This kind of things doesn’t happen to them, doesn’t exist in their perverted society, therefore it couldn’t exist anywhere else.

Another example is family ties. In India they are famously strong but in the West children are expected to move out and live on their own from the age of eighteen, and even if they can’t afford to be financially independent they are expected to be independent in their views and decision making. Parent’s can’t wait until they ship their kids off to college. In some cases parents would also refuse any kind of service from their kids, not even helping to carry bags or luggage. Indians are shocked, westerners say it’s their “culture” and imply that therefore it’s okay. It isn’t, and it isn’t culture, it’s just habits and customs, and they can look as savage to civilized people as various tribal rituals somewhere in Papua New Guinea.

Bottom line, unless people renounce this nonsense they can’t have any hope of real spiritual progress. When Śrīla Prabhupāda brought Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the West fifty years ago it was a given, every new bhakta was ready to accept western culture as hopelessly corrupt. These days even some devotees are deeply attached to it and therefore very defensive. It won’t work. There could be no spiritual progress unless we cleanse ourselves from this western corruption and selfishness masked as “individualism” or “human rights”. Kṛṣṇa will never appear before us in any shape or form unless we abandon all these other kinds of “religion” – as modern people treat their “values” quite religiously.

Dr Frog mentality has to go.

Vanity thought #1425. Catching the wave

I don’t think I was clear yesterday about the connection between Lord Caitanya and my indecisiveness but it’s actually very simple – when Lord Caitanya SAW Kṛṣṇa’s hand in everything, everything had become clear and fell into its place. When we don’t see Kṛṣṇa anywhere but only theoretically speculate how it might be connected to Him we can have doubts. Which connection is better? Are they all real? Are multiple connections even possible? Did Lord Caitanya saw everything connected to Kṛṣṇa in different ways simultaneously or was the variety only instances of the same connection? Does this alleged variety even register when one sees Kṛṣṇa?

All these questions can come only from someone who doesn’t know the Lord, someone who can only speculate what it means to be in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and my yesterday’s answer stands – don’t worry about it, it will somehow work itself out, our job is to remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget.

There’s another way to approach the dilemma and rule it out as inconsequential. Our understanding of spirituality is temporary. For some time it manifests in our brains and then it goes away. Our true spiritual position, however, is not. We see our progress as a journey through time but time doesn’t exist neither for Kṛṣṇa nor for us as spirit souls.

Think of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life, for example. Was he dearer to Kṛṣṇa when he was five, twenty, fifty, or seventy years old? He himself said that he realized that Kṛṣṇa is God at the age of five, does it mean that when he was three Kṛṣṇa didn’t care much about him? From our conditioned POV it would appear that Kṛṣṇa was waiting for Prabhupāda to prove himself, pretty much like Prabhupāda’s godbrothers did.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was no one special for them, most probably didn’t even know he existed as he didn’t play a visible role in the Gauḍīya Maṭha as an institution. Then, after he went to America, he suddenly became the talk of the town. Did any of his godbrothers ever guessed his future success? I don’t think so, and I bet there were all very surprised when it happened. Then they probably started to rationalize and seek explanations. Some went to the West, too, but nothing big came out of it. For them it was a story of progress and if they were wise, they’d pick up some very important clues why it happened to Prabhupāda and not to any of the “ācāryas”.

We look at Prabhupāda’s life in the same way, except from the point in time where Prabhupāda’s success already happened, we don’t have memories of what he was before that. We can highlight faith in the words of a guru, dedication to carrying out his order, staying clean of institutional politics, preaching over comfort of renounced life and so on. If one does these things then other things would happen. It works.

Well, Kṛṣṇa doesn’t see it that way because He is not bound by time like we are. The sequence does not exist for Him, transformations of our bodies do not exist for Him. Prabhupāda is always Prabhupāda, His dearmost servant, no matter what shape or what place his body was at any given moment.

One could say that this might be true for our ācāryas who are Kṛṣṇa’s closest associates sent down to our material world but for the rest of us progress is clearly there, from one moment to another, from one lifetime to another, from lower species to humans, we are inching closer and closer, especially after we have met Kṛṣṇa’s devotees. Kṛṣṇa must appreciate our service more than He appreciated the time we were it total māyā.

I don’t know the answer to that yet but let’s look at our lives in zoomed out view.

According to Lord Kapila the living entity is conscious of the Lord when still in the womb and prays incessantly. When it comes out this consciousness somehow gets lost and, as a baby, he needs to learn all the basics again. I’m not sure if Lord Kapila was talking about ALL babies or just in general. Perhaps his description is not valid for the majority of Kali Yuga population at all but it doesn’t mean there’s no change in consciousness between fetus and newborn.

We don’t know how it happens and what facilities a fetus can use to pray to the Lord but consciousness does not depend on the body as much as science tells us. Being born forces the living entity to behave like a baby, so he needs to learn stuff like speaking and reading even if he did it in his previous life, no matter what he did or did not know while in the womb.

If he is lucky he’ll learn something about God, he might even become a devotee. With time he understands these things deeper and deeper, becomes wiser, gathers a lot of knowledge, learns ślokas, learns KC philosophy inside out, learns his occupational duties and so on. It’s a long way from the total ignorance of a child and so far it has been only up and up.

Then old age takes over and he becomes senile. Memory becomes weaker, intellect dwindles, ślokas get forgotten, his professional skills become outdated, and eventually he becomes a vegetable. Some people stay in good mental shape until the end but for most deterioration is inevitable. Then comes death and one loses all his acquired knowledge, if you ask him what 2+2 is and he probably won’t even understand the question, or that he is even being asked something. These last moments, minutes, days, sometimes weeks and years might be spent in total darkness. That’s when the oscillator of our “knowledge” swings down.

I hope for devotees it is replaced by spiritual realizations and they don’t need to command their brains in order to stay Kṛṣṇa conscious, but even if it happens, it’s a different kind of intelligence, it’s not the same intellect that we use to decide what to do next in our lives, as devotees or otherwise. It relies on different bank of memories and it juggles different kind of values. We might see spiritual beings or Viṣṇudūtas and have a conversation with them about our fate, our destination, perhaps about staying a while longer to complete some sort of a mission. We can be rest assured that whatever concerns us now will become completely irrelevant then.

So why worry? Just because, materially speaking, our intelligence now is at the crest of the oscillator’s wave it doesn’t mean it has any value in things that really matter, things that would make Kṛṣṇa decide whether to come and get us or to leave us here for another life.

Even Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī lost some of his mental capacities with age. Sometimes he couldn’t remember ślokas, for example, and he probably didn’t have mental energy to produce something like his earlier treatise on Surya Siddhānta. It doesn’t mean his preaching was any less effective, his conclusions became erroneous, or he forgot the import of the ślokas. It didn’t really matter.

What we really need to know is that Kṛṣṇa is God and we are His eternal servants. Everything else is extraneous, it comes and goes like ocean waves or ocean tides. And to “know” here means know with all capacities available at the moment. It must become a conclusion of all our arguments and reasoning regardless of how much ground they cover. What I mean is that we don’t need to explain a connection with Kṛṣṇa in situations we are not aware of or in situations we have long forgotten. Kṛṣṇa must become a center of our own mental universe, no matter how small.

Right now, as the universe of our knowledge is still expanding and we learn new stuff everyday, we might struggle with finding Kṛṣṇa in everything we learn, we might have doubts, like in the case with Moon landings – what if they go there again and conclusively prove according to all our empirical experiences that they really went there this time? What if they learn to stimulate certain areas of the brain and produce visions of the spiritual world? Will we be able to reconcile those developments with our śāstric knowledge? Who knows?

A dying person, however, is free from these troubles, he remembers very little and can process even less, and so in his shrinking universe there’s no space for doubts. If we live our lives right it could all be only about Kṛṣṇa in our last moments, and all the stuff that we worry about now would just fade away.

This means that our job is to separate really important things and concentrate on getting them right, expanding our horizons is not it and we can survive perfectly fine without getting confused by all this incoming “knowledge”. That’s why devotees are expected to be simple minded and are even asked not to read too many books.

The problem is that we are riding the wave and for the moment it feels good, it’s our perverted rasa we can’t deny. Hopefully it will go away on its own, we should not feed it just as we should no feed remaining vestiges of the sexual attraction. It won’t be a big loss and one day we’ll appreciate not polluting ourselves with all these doubts, arguments, and counterarguments. In the meantime we should make sure they are still connected to Kṛṣṇa one way or another.

Vanity thought #1424. Vectors

When Lord Caitanya went to Gaya and accepted Śrīla Īśvara Purī as His spiritual master He had not just an “epiphany” but He achieved a perfect clarity of vision. It’s not that He simply got captivated by chanting Kṛṣṇa’s name but He actually saw Kṛṣṇa everywhere He looked. This probably needs a little clarification.

When one falls in love he starts constantly thinking about the object of his infatuation, everything one sees reminds him of it/her, but I would say most of the time things just don’t register. A car passes by – “God, I love that girl”. There’s no real connection there and if there is, it’s all made up in one’s mind. When this first phase of being in love is over things quickly return back to normal. The love is still there, of course, but the world seems to find its own reasons for existence again and stops screaming your beloved’s name at every turn. That’s not what happened to Lord Caitanya.

He actually saw Kṛṣṇa everywhere. When we fall in love we fall in love with a distinct, localized person. We might remember her at every step but we realize that she is not an omnipresent being. Things that remind us of her are NOT her, and how could they be? She is just a single person out of billions on this planet. With Kṛṣṇa it’s not the same because He is literally everywhere, and that’s what Lord Caitanya saw. It was a matter of vision and realization, not a matter of attachment and infatuation.

Let me give another example. As kids grow up they find themselves some heroes. Could be movie stars, football players, singers, or even superheroes. They want to emulate them at every step of their lives and function on “what would [insert the name] do” principle. This is sustained only as long as the fascination is there, and then people grow out of it.

We can experience the same thing with Kṛṣṇa, got absorbed in His pastimes and personality, read about Him, sing about Him, worship Him in the temple, fill our lives with all sorts of things related to Him, and it all helps us to remember Him but this remembrance doesn’t substitute the actual vision of the Lord. Unlike us, however, Lord Caitanya literally saw Kṛṣṇa in everything.

I’m not going to speculate how it actually works but to me it looks as if He saw everything as Kṛṣṇa’s energy rather than perceiving ordinary objects as Kṛṣṇa’s personal form. Suddenly He realized that all the Vedas, all Sanskrit grammar rules, even each and every sound and syllable, is originally meant to glorify the Lord, for example. This has been expanded later on when devotees wrote grammar books explaining Sanskrit this way but we have to admit that these efforts didn’t become very popular and our scholars still learn Sanskrit the “normal” way.

I guess it’s because we don’t have the actual vision Lord Caitanya had and so the connections that were so obvious to Him look artificial to us and we need to tie up rules and meanings to something we personally understand, the mundane objects and our first language, I suppose. Come to think of it, it’s how we explain “Kṛṣṇa”, too – through our mundane perceptions and experiences. When we say He is the greatest we mean relative to what we know about the world. When we say He is omnipotent we mean relative to powers we know in this world and in our own lives, He can do everything we can imagine and a little more. We define the Lord in the terms of our personal conditioning.

Why am I talking about this? Because I realize I do not have necessary clarity, the kind Lord Caitanya had. Take my latest confusion about direction of our progress. We know we should not slide back into māyā, we know that eventually we must find shelter of Lord’s internal potency, but what’s not clear is whether we should try to reach it right now or settle on the terms of our present conditioning and patiently wait until death and hope it will all work out later.

Settling doesn’t mean the progress will be stopped, it just won’t go in the same direction, and that’s why I titled this post “vectors” – we need to make efforts regardless of the final decision of what is the best course of action. We can try and break out of our conditioning and restore our original relationships with Kṛṣṇa, or we can try and perform our God given duties to the best of our abilities, knowing that since they are arranged by guru and the Supersoul they must be the best and the shortest way to our ultimate goal. Whatever the decision, we must keep trying.

There are arguments for and against either of the propositions and, knowing ourselves and Murphy’s law, we are likely to screw up whatever it is we decide to do. To me this means that we/I should just leave the subject alone, we are not in charge of what happens to us, there’s karma, there’s Kṛṣṇa, there’s fate, there are our desires we aren’t even aware of, and in any case – man proposes, God disposes. Somehow something will happen, the universe and our lives in it cannot be static.

What we do have responsibility to follow is one simple rule – always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget. Everything else would just work out itself. It doesn’t really matter how or why or when or what, thinking about these agonizing choices is a distraction from remembering Kṛṣṇa and so should be abandoned.

Well, we can’t stop thinking and so should let mind and intelligence do their jobs but we should treat it as rain – a naturally occurring phenomenon outside of our control. Sometimes it comes and it’s strong, sometimes it just drizzles, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

This might be controversial because of buddhi-yoga and all that but mind and intelligence are material elements acting under the influence of the modes of nature, time, Kṛṣṇa Himself, and what not. Our problems with controlling them rise from this desire for control itself.

I mean that our mind and intelligence become so active because that’s where we direct our consciousness, that’s how we express ourselves. “I think therefore I am”, as they say. We fall for this illusion first and face the need to control the consequences later. The more we think, the greater the need. It’s the same problem we have with gross bodies – the deeper our attachment to them, the more attention they require. The more we try to accomplish with our bodies the more maintenance they need – more food, more rest, more health problems, faster ageing and so on.

The idea is that if we stop caring about what our mind and intelligence think they won’t go berserk but would rather leave us alone. For those who surrender to Kṛṣṇa surviving in this world is an easy and simple thing, a no-brainer, we don’t have to think about it.

So, perhaps the vector of our efforts should be directed within and all the external manifestations should be seen as only projections on the three-dimensional world around us. That’s why they say you can’t understand a devotee, btw. Whatever he does is done for Kṛṣṇa and it’s done deep within his heart. How it manifests externally might therefore seem totally random, one moment this, another moment that.

This internal desire to serve the Lord with all one’s heart is what we should seek in other devotees, that’s what we want to emulate, that’s what we want to get infected with, too. Simply copying their external behavior is less beneficial. This is the vector we need to align ourselves with, forget the “progress”.

Vanity thought #1423. Settling

I don’t feel I made a strong enough care for pursuing a genuine spiritual awakening yesterday but it’s already time to argue for another side. Maybe it’s māyā talking, she has a way to make us feel comfortable in whatever situation we find ourselves in and she has a way to strip our memories of close encounters with Kṛṣṇa. There are times, however, when it’s clearly not māyā.

Just recently I listened to a class and the speaker there said a few final words, heartfelt and inspirational. Do your service, he said, work hard for guru and Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure, avoid falldowns at any cost, and if you have any problem come to the deities and beg for their help. Then at the end of your life lie down on the floor, leave your body, and go back to Kṛṣṇa.

Hard to argue with this prospect, especially the part about deities. If you have a temple and deities to worship you are bound to your service and your position. If Their Lordships came to stay here with us we can’t just leave Them here and go look for better places. They WILL provide all the help we need, all the protection, all the facilities. We make a pact with them, we form a spiritual relationship even if it manifests through material energy, we can’t abandon Them and say “meh, not blissful enough for me”.

Seeking the kind of awakening I was talking about yesterday then looks out of place and against the wishes of guru and Kṛṣṇa.

However… This lecture was delivered to devotees in one of ISKCON’s most advanced communities, financially secure, very well managed, providing some very sophisticated services not available elsewhere. I, personally, wasn’t born to be a part of something like this even in my best days, just wasn’t gifted enough, it’s like a place for demigods who got born in Kali Yuga to take advantage of Lord Caitanya’s movement but didn’t really want to get themselves dirtied by association with lowly souls like me. It was one of those cases where I listened to “house for the whole world to live in” preaching with a grain of salt.

For people like me, and I wasn’t alone there, they had a dog house somewhere in the back, it’s just karma. Of course there are plenty of less restricted communities in ISKCON but these days I have a feeling that almost everywhere devotees are protective and possessive, and provide THEIR facilities to use, not shelter at Kṛṣṇa’s feet where there should be place for every soul in the universe. Outside your own temple you are always a guest, they shower you with hospitality but still politely wait until you leave. But I digress.

In a community like that being a member is a privilege one should never give up, the outside world would just swallow you in and you’ll get lost forever. I perfectly understand why they preach the value of staying where you are instead of seeking shelter of Kṛṣṇa’s internal energy. We aren’t strong enough to survive on our own and depend solely on the Holy Name, we aren’t ready to become parmahaṁsas.

Okay, perhaps this particular episode can be explained away, it could have been different if the speaker was addressing a different audience, but then there’s a case with Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. There’s one interview he gave to journalists and what everyone remembers is how he talked about difference between men and women and how women’s brains are smaller, but after that he answered a completely different question about the age in which he personally realized Kṛṣṇa.

The relevant bit starts at about 7 min but listening to the first part is not a time waste either.

It started like this:

Reporter: Have you realized the highest truth yourself?
Prabhupāda: Certainly.
Reporter: You have?
Prabhupāda: Oh, yes.
Reporter: At what age did you realize God?

Prabhupāda, however, does not answer this but says “I can deliver you also”, and then talks about God in general. The reporter doesn’t give up and eventually brings Prabhupāda back on topic. I don’t know what happened, maybe it’s all the noise that confused him at first, maybe his mind was somewhere else, maybe he avoided the question on purpose, but when he understood what was asked of him he simply said – at the age of four or five.

Prabhupāda: Of course, we were born in a very nice family. My father educated me in this way. So practically from the very beginning of our life we were educated in this way.
Reporter: Oh, no, I understand that. I mean at what time did you have your own personal realization, Swāmījī? At what age?
Prabhupāda: Well, that I can say from the age, say, four or five years.
Reporter: At the age of four or five years?
Prabhupāda: Yes. That’s a fact.

See how the reporter here meant some mind blowing personal vision of God but Prabhupada speaks of simply learning that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For Prabhupāda that was the same thing but we are more like that reporter, we need magic, we need hair standing on end, tears and goosebumps, we need voice from the sky, we, in short, need the experience of Dhruva or Nārada, but also gradually progressing to the experiences of Six Gosvāmīs.

Maybe we should take position of Prabhupāda on this – simply understand that Kṛṣṇa is God and our lives will be successful. How many times he reiterates in our books that a perfection of life is to die in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and go back home back to Godhead? Why shouldn’t it be enough?

Or take Nārada and Dhruva themselves – they’ve met the Lord only once and then had to live out the natural duration of their lives as ordinary souls, without any visions. In Dhruva’s case he had to stay for 36,000 years, more of a curse than a blessing. Even if the Lord were to show us such an extraordinary mercy, why should we expect to be treated better than Dhruva and Nārada?

Why do we think that we know better than the Supersoul how to arrange our lives in the best possible way. We aren’t held back here for no reason, we need to go through a process of purification and we need to cleanse our material consciousness, we can’t just insert ourselves into Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes with our perverted minds. We can say that our minds are a product of material nature forced to work under the influence of the guṇas and that might be true but it doesn’t mean our own consciousness is already pure, we are given these minds because we want them. They suit our desires, not māyā’s, she would be happy if we didn’t need them but otherwise she simply serves what’s ordered.

Our continuing lives here are prescribed to us by the Supersoul as the quickest cure for our material disease, we’d be foolish to choose any other course or treatment.

I think I’ve convinced myself here already.

And yet nothing can purge soul’s desire for direct contact with internal potency of the Lord. It can’t be stopped, and the more we give in to it, the less we are interested in the external happenings, and this means Lord’s treatment is working. Our material mind and intelligence might be bound to this world until our death but our souls aren’t and so there’s nothing wrong with striving for awakening right now. Of course another sign of progress is increase in our patience so we shouldn’t mind to wait as long as it takes for the results, but there’s another aspect to it that I don’t want to start now. Maybe some other day.