Vanity thought #1452. Pseudochoice

We think that we are torn by choices and that we can make rational, guru and śāstra based decisions about our spiritual life. We can decide which service to take, whether to become preachers or pūjārīs, whether to marry or stay celibate, whether to stay loyal to ISKCON or seek spiritual advice elsewhere. One can open any book about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life and find countless examples of such freedom where he as a guru gave this freedom to decide to his disciples, and he even occasionally allowed them to override his advice on these matters. Even atheists observe that making choices is the foundation of our lives, that our choices define us.

We also know that we are simply tossed around by waves raised by the modes of nature and possess only an illusion of free will. To that we say that only devotional service brings freedom and so devotees can make free choices while everybody else can’t.

Earlier this week I’ve argued that even the heads of our society, the sannyāsīs, are not as free to choose how to lead their devotional lives, that they are forced to accept roles of kings and renounce renunciation by the demands of our preaching mission. I won’t go as far as to cynically claim that they took the roles of leaders because that’s what they actually wanted, to rule and control, renunciation rhetoric notwithstanding. There could be some truth in this claim but we’d rather not think of our best devotees in such an unflattering way.

If freedom of our heads is doubtful, what is the freedom of our tails, the “hoi polloi” torn between urges to eat and steal glances at our female population? None whatsoever, rhetorically speaking. It’s all just karma and illusion.

Our managers are trained to engage us according to our nature, to put right people in the right places. Where is our freedom in that? We can only voice reactions to their decision, which are actually reactions of our minds. They don’t even need to be verbal as pleasure or disagreement can be expressed perfectly by bleating, grunting, or mooing. “Oh, he doesn’t like that,” the manager can see right away and give us some other engagement.

Of course we can also take initiative and offer suggestions about what we really want and what engagements agree with our nature, but is there freedom in that? We don’t get to decide what our nature is and what feels good to our minds. Sometimes we might not be very clear about what we want but that’s not freedom, it’s just confusion caused by contradictory urges, which we still can’t control.

Even when talking to our authorities we aren’t free in our expression, we must follow the protocol and there are limits to what we can admit in public, including things we don’t admit even to ourselves. Sometimes we are truly sincere but quite often both sides know that there are certain things better left unsaid no matter the sincerity, and most of the time it’s a negotiation, meaning one hopes to get a better value out of the agreement than the other side suspects, that both sides come with hidden motives they don’t disclose on purpose so as not to be taken advantage of.

Skillful negotiators know it very well – how to find a weak spot and gain leverage, whether it’s a secret one would make big concessions to keep or whether it’s an irresistible attachment he’d give an arm and a leg to maintain. Our ISKCON managers can be master manipulators this way, too.

The easiest way to control your men is by exposing them to women. Once they are sold on the prospect of interacting with females they’d take whatever position that would keep them closer to that alien species. When they come to complain about this or that later on you can always bring “but you wanted to be here” card and remind them that their women are still attainable. They’d do anything for that hope of association and would go away with “I suppose you are right, this service is what I really want” admission of defeat.

Who thinks these poor sods have any freedom? Let THEM think that, but the bosses know better.

Devotees who are already in relationships are a lost cause in terms of seeking freedom. They must work to maintain their families and children, money is an external object to them, they must get it from someone else and that someone will always dictate what needs to be done in exchange. Our “freedom” here is only to seek a more benevolent dictator but even then our choices and abilities to approach them are limited. Regardless, family is practically a life long commitment and commitment means loss of freedom even in the conventional sense. We must work, there’s no choice.

And then there’s this self-fulfillment cause. We must find ourselves and live to our full potential. Who told us we need that? Why do we accept this mantra unchallenged? People can offer an easy explanation why self-fulfillment is necessary – “you must find yourself because..” Wait a minute, as soon as “because” gets involved you have forfeited your freedom, your actions become conditional on whatever comes after that “because”.

At the end all this self-fulfillment business comes to seeking pleasure, it just feels better to live this way, and we are pleasure seeking entities by our constitution, it’s just what we do and there’s no freedom in that. We can’t deny our nature, we’ll always seek pleasure no matter what.

And so we will act to find that pleasure in all circumstances, as men we would seek women, as women we would seek men, and there’s a much greater gradation to how we want to control the world, whether we want to build stuff, control what other people think, or destroy stuff built by someone else that yet another else decides to be illegal. Some of this is available in ISKCON, some cravings can be successfully substituted, but if one has a calling to be a butcher or a fisherman then there’s nothing we can do about that.

Spiritually speaking, that’s not who we are, those are just false identities that have taken over our lives and dictate our wants and needs. We might fulfill them, we might not, spiritually speaking it makes no difference. Self-fulfillment is a long term project, what we haven’t finished in one life will be continued in the next, and we have such a variety of desires that some of them will remain unsatisfied.

In fact, we are caught in this endless, externally imposed dissatisfaction loop as there’s a big delay between forming the desire and it bringing karmic results. Quite often we don’t even want the fulfillment anymore when our karma finally fructifies. Well, that’s because we’ve already been overwhelmed by new desires that contradict our earlier ones and this brings us pain. “That’s not what I wanted” and “I never wanted that” are our go to excuses, which are simply our short memory and pathological lying to ourselves.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven and the message from our ācāryas, from Prahlāda Mahārāja to Bhagavad Gīta to Śrīla Prabhupāda, is simple – endeavoring for happiness in the material world is unnecessary, it will come on its own just as distress comes uninvited in due time. We don’t have to make any efforts to find it, it will find us. Intelligent people take to chanting of the holy name instead because this endeavor is the most profitable in every respect. It might not always feel this way in the beginning, but neither do decades of training to achieve success in any other field. It’s always a sacrifice, for everybody, we just have to pray to the Lord that He keeps us interested, keeps us going. In my experience He always delivers.


Vanity thought #1451. Tails

If sannyāsīs are the heads of our movement then the rest of us are tails, the other side of the coin. Sannyāsīs, the “real” ones, are right-hand path people – those who truly renounce as much of the world as possible and see playing yukta-vairāgya as dangerous to their spiritual health. Those who go against traditional roles and accept all kinds of dangers for the sake of the service are left-hand people and there are no rules yet that have been written for them. Ordinarily, they should be a tiny minority, but not in ISKCON.

This is not unusual, it’s actually by design, as we are followers of the vāmācāra associates of the Lord starting from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī herself. Our previous ācāryas, particularly Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, were revolutionaries and completely upended what was understood by Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism back then. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was gentle, Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī thought it was hopeless and didn’t want to have anything to do with it, but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī boldly grabbed the “righteous” Gauḍīyas by the scruff of their necks and threw them in the garbage bin of history. We’ve never heard of them again, accept when they come out to prey on fallen devotees.

That is not to say that there were no real devotees outside of Gauḍīya Maṭhas but somehow they either didn’t survive or excused themselves from the preaching mission and decided to keep an extremely low profile. And that was a four hundred year old institution starting from Lords Caitanya and Nityānanda themselves, as well as Advaita Ācārya and other eternally liberated souls. They also started as left-hand path, changed the face of Bengal, well established themselves, but then gradually faded away.

This is just the dynamics – old powers corrupt, new powers come in, break all the rules, establish the new ones, and then they also eventually corrupt and get replaced. Ordinary people learn to get their spiritual benefits at each stage, both during the renewal of the tradition and during practice of working methods and strategies. We just learn to cope with it all. Ready for a change but also valuing the status quo when the status quo is the only spirituality we know. We’ll make do, thank you for your care.

ISKCON was a major revolution for the westerners, we challenged the world on everything, we accepted a strikingly odd culture, we rejected all their axiomatic truths, and we simply refused to live by their old rules. That was then, now it’s somewhat different. New rules have been put in place, new codes of behavior, some of us are milking them for our spiritual sustenance while there are those who rebel against them, too, even if silently.

Take the morning program, for example. Officially, every ISKCON devotee must attend it without exception, many gurus make regular attendance as part of the qualification for discipleship. GBC is watching out for complaints about our leaders slacking off in their sādhana, everyone knows that. And yet all this commotion has come about only because plenty of our devotees thought that morning programs are for neophytes while seasoned devotees, fully engaged in their preaching service, don’t really have to go as they are above such silly regulations.

People would quote how Śrīla Prabhupāda put preaching and book distribution above rules about fasting, for example. I don’t think he ever said devotees could skip morning program but it’s a logical next step for those who come from book distribution very very late and don’t get enough sleep. They never say that morning programs are not important, they say that attending them affects their preaching and preaching can’t be sacrificed.

Those who moved out of the temples got a natural excuse and even if they are expected to conduct morning programs at home they can say they are not ready for deity worship yet and without deities there’s no real reason to wake up in such an ungodly hour, they just say they are not morning persons and it screws up their lives.

I’m not judging them here, my intention is to point out how our left hand affinity to breaking rules edges us to rebel against ISKCON itself. There are probably better examples than morning programs but you get the drift.

We do not see sense gratification as dangerous, sannyāsīs can think whatever they want, we aren’t them, they are special. After a while we might start to think that they are not special at all as we accept our new normal as true spirituality and forget that it might look very different to those who really gave up on self-indulgence. We think they are doing it for the status, we don’t see sannyāsa as particularly necessary for preaching anymore. When one of our fellow devotees applies for sannyāsa we accept that if he gets it we’ll have to take whatever he says more seriously and we are fine with it. We don’t think that sannyāsīs discover new spiritual truths, that’s just not possible. We all read the same books, study the same philosophy, come to the same programs, visit the same dhamas, so their experience must be the same as ours.

Of course we don’t say this out loud and we probably try to purge such thoughts from our minds, if we are sober enough, but that should be our natural reaction whether we approve of it or not (of course we shouldn’t).

And so we let our senses rip, they are not meant to be stopped, we argue, but merely directed towards Kṛṣṇa. This connection to Kṛṣṇa far outweighs all other possible concerns about rules and regulations, we think. It purifies us no matter what it looks like to outsiders, and there’s no other way to deal with them – it’s the only way. Personally, I don’t see any other way either, our ācāryas didn’t recommend any other alternatives and were rather strict against immature renunciation, so that’s it?

Of course not, this left-hand path might work great in the beginning but dynamics always change, people settle in their routines and soon enough problems start to appear. First they hit our sannyāsīs, who weren’t even practicing sannyāsa in the traditional sense of the word, but what their failures told us is that renunciation is bad and must be rejected in our age.

Well, they fell down because they weren’t renounced enough and gave in to the amount of sense-indulgence they couldn’t handle, all those perks that came with their jobs finally got them. We, however, took a completely wrong lesson out of it and blamed the wrong party – renunciation. Their fall strengthened our resolve to go along with our senses as much as possible and we started pushing boundaries anywhere we can, demanding spiritual recognition of our material urges. That doesn’t work, of course, and it bred a new wave of failures, but that’s something I will probably talk about tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1450. General mislabel

Yesterday I got to the point where we award devotees with sannyāsa but then appoint them to lead our saṅkīrtana army as if they were generals. There are implications to this so let’s talk about it.

In a fight against atheism we certainly need leaders and we can’t expect our leaders to engage in frontline battles, standing out there on street corners and converting people one by one. That wouldn’t be an effective use of their abilities because one such leader can inspire thousands of other devotees who will contact thousand time more people and with a greater degree of success.

That last point is important – normal logic would dictate that since our leaders are the best than they should be better at preaching than their followers, so if a leader converts five people per day than one thousand followers would convert less 5×1,000=5,000. Maybe 4,000 if on average they are only 80% as good.

Kṛṣṇa conscious math doesn’t follow normal logic, however. Individually, the followers might not be as effective but when acting on the orders of the spiritual master they project the power of the entire parampāra. There are no limitations on what one devotee can achieve, no matter how mediocre they might appear to outsiders. Technically, a leader, backed up by the parampāra, can convert the entire world single-handedly, but so can any number of his followers, because we don’t know how many of them can turn into a moon and eclipse everyone around them. We have more chances trying with a thousand people than if we put all our expectations on just one.

That’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda did when he appointed eighteen GBCs and demanded them to work collectively. Far from finding the moon, but they have managed to keep ISKCON together despite huge losses, and we can’t attribute this success, however modest, to any one devotee in particular. Saṅkīrtana, after all, means congregation, it always works better in numbers.

Where was I? Ah, yes, we need generals to lead and organize our saṅkīrtana efforts but somehow we mislabel them as sannyāsīs. A general, a leader, must project image of power, fame, and opulence. Ordinary people won’t follow him otherwise, that is a defect of human nature that has become a lot more prominent in Kali yuga. People won’t pay attention to someone who has not “made it”, as simple as that.

I remember one Australian politician seriously proposing that unless a man can’t afford to drive a BMW he shouldn’t even try to run for office. Right now Donald Trump leads Republican pack of presidential candidates and his only claim to expertise of any sorts is that he has ten billion dollars. If he managed to do that he must be able to lead the country. Now, that might not impress everyone but that’s because all other alternatives aren’t poor either and can raise billions of dollars themselves. Bernie Sanders and his ideas don’t stand a chance, as I mentioned yesterday.

You can read Prabhupāda’s interviews with reporters in the US and lots of them don’t hide the fact that ISKCON’s financial success played a major part in stocking their interest. When we had a twelve story building in Manhattan as our temple they couldn’t dismiss us as weird ex-hippies pestering people at the airports, our wealth had made us count.

It was the same story in India. White dancing elephants or not, but we needed to build big ass temples to be taken seriously. Sometimes Śrīla Prabhupāda was frank about it – what’s the use of all my American disciples if they can’t build something awesome. He didn’t want us to be seen as penniless white trash begging even from poor Indians for sustenance.

Raising money was important and we gave this job to our leaders, but then we called then sannyāsīs, renunciates. The more money you could produce, the greater the chances were of you getting sannyāsa. Of course you couldn’t just buy it but raising funds meant the ability to command and control devotees, and if you have proven yourself at that, you were good for sannyāsa.

Well, we just didn’t have any other titles for our leadership, and we saw this drive to command and control as an example of yukta-vairāgya.

We argue that people can’t stop from feeling and willing and so real renunciation is to engage themselves in Kṛṣṇa’s service. There’s nothing wrong with this logic but sannyāsa traditionally means reducing one’s feeling and willing to a bare minimum. Śrīla Prabhupāda practiced that for a decade before being put in charge of a worldwide movement. And he took sannyāsa after he was thoroughly done with his household life. Our devotees, OTOH, had less than a decade starting from scratch, from a position far far lower than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s birth in a vaiṣṇava family, never ever having engaged in sinful activities that our ex-hippies were accustomed to.

It was implausible for us to wait out until they prove themselves sannyāsa-wise, they had to take leadership positions now and then. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself sometimes explained it as war-time rules. During the war soldiers get promoted to lieutenants right on the spot, to fill positions left by their killed commanders, there’s no time to wait for them to finish the academy. There’s no alternative, you simply have to pick the best available and go with your choice.

We aren’t at war anymore, though, are we? With fifty years of history we can afford to wait until our next generation of leaders mature and get necessary training, and we can finally award sannyāsa to mature renunciates, too. We can wait for people to prove their abilities in controlling their senses and we aren’t so fixated on GBCs being sannyāsīs anymore.

This doesn’t completely solve our problem with awarding spiritual titles to material leaders. We need to have people expert at manipulating our material resources but we also need to motivate them spiritually. Traditionally, it was the job of the kings, we haven’t got those yet. We haven’t got devotees who are so inspiring that people can ignore that they also require a degree of opulence and sense gratification. We ourselves aren’t used to the idea that our leaders can legitimately indulge their senses, we see it as a spiritual disqualification. We want sannyāsīs to raise millions of dollars in funds and build big temples like TOVP, or even organize massive preaching efforts, which we expect to be strictly Kṛṣṇa conscious. If we see our leaders monetizing preaching we find it unappealing, and if we see not so pure wannabe devotees allowed on the stage we think it’s a sacrilege and Śrīla Prabhupāda would never let them anywhere near the microphone.

This might be true, I’m actually pretty sure it is, but this is what moving forward with kings at our helm would eventually mean – all kinds of people being brought in and given a place and awarded respect.

The next step would be us realizing that we shouldn’t mix with kings, no matter how devoted they are, and stay away from them as far as possible, like Lord Caitanya did with King Pratāparudra. Our next generation of renunciates will be renouncing ISKCON!

I see nothing wrong with “diluting” our society for the sake of growth. As we embrace more and more people we will have to put up with their imperfections, Kṛṣṇa does that with not so exemplary residents of Vṛndāvana, Lord Caitanya treats Muslims living in Navadvīpa as His own, too. We need to treat everyone who takes shelter in our society as a family, we can’t reject them for the sake of purity, though the urge is sometimes difficult to resist.

We should better concentrate on our core, strengthen the spiritual position of our most dedicated members, and we should allow them to sometimes distance themselves from ISKCON’s “hoi polloi”. They are not after titles anymore and they don’t apply for sannyāsa, they are perfectly happy to chant without getting any recognition for their efforts but we should never forget that they are always there and they should be the source of spiritual strength for everyone else, including our nominal leaders.

I think we, as a society, are doing okay in this regard. It’s not a utopia but a reality, if one knows where to look.

Vanity thought #1449. Sannyasa FTW

When I wanted to talk about us being led by Kali Yuga I didn’t mean our personal struggle with renunciation but us as a society, I simply got sidetracked. My original intention was to discuss our implementation of sannyāsa.

What do we know about sannyāsa? It’s a last stage of life in varṇāśrama system, ideally meant for people over seventy-five years old. In Kali Yuga lifespans get shortened so we instead talk about last quarter of one’s life, sometimes after fifty. Śrīla Prabhupāda took sannyāsa at the age of fifty eight, for the reference.

There are several stages to sannyāsa itself – first one moves out of his house but settles nearby, within the reach of his family, but gradually his renunciation matures and he leaves human society as a whole. Then, at the most perfected stage, one becomes parivrājakācārya, a wondering teacher of the entire human race. Prior to that sannyāsa means personal renunciation, whatever preaching that might be involved is secondary to the main goal – achieving complete control over one’s own senses.

In order to preach one also has to be a devotee, which is always rare even in the Vedic society. Of course one can preach some other philosophy, too, but that would require special training – one does not become a ṛṣi or a yogī simply by not eating and not mating. Bhakti, however, is open to all and, as said in Upadeśāmṛta, simply conquering one’s senses is enough for a devotee to start making disciples all over the world. In our tradition sannyāsa means guruship, renunciation for the sake of personal advancement is seen as a waste.

There’s also the injunction against taking sannyāsa in Kali Yuga and that should have put an end to the practice but not for devotees who do not take it as a personal project but as a means to preaching. Control of the senses does not come through straight on renunciation for devotees and, paying tribute to Kali Yuga limitations, they are not trying to achieve it through sannyāsa but rather through taking prasādam.

This has put the entire aśram upside down. Ordinarily, sannyāsīs capitalize on weakening senses and natural lack of drive and motivation that comes with old age but this weakness is seen as an impediment in preaching. Preachers need to be strong and powerful, eager to learn and be attuned to the interests of the population, and generally full of vigor. They should have a drive and display significant degree of success or otherwise no one will take them seriously.

As Kṛsṇa said in Bhagavad Gītā, people follow leaders, and to become a leader one should display leadership qualities, ie act like a kṣatriya, not like a traditional sannyāsi. It should be an exception for a brāhmaṇa to accept such a role and I can’t think of Vedic sannyāsīs playing it at all, yet this is what is required for successful preaching.

In Gauḍīya vaiṣṇavism we have examples of Lord Caitanya and His associates, and then Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Ṭhākura re-establishing the institution of sannyāsa for preaching purposes, and then our own mixed bag ISKCON experience.

Lord Caitanya was a perfect sannyāsī, but a very exceptional one. He took sannyāsa from an impersonalist order and that was already unusual. Śaṅkarācārya had many followers but they were still only a small minority of the overall population, his brand of sannyāsa wasn’t for everybody, but they were very respectable, which was a plus for Lord Caitanya.

The Lord totally renounced His household life at a very young age and immediately went to preach all over India. For Him there was no question about control of His senses, He is the Lord, after all. That’s one example for us – if senses are not bothering devotees very much they can follow Lord Caitanya’s footsteps and immediately go out and preach, while they are still young and capable.

This is what we did in the seventies – requesting sannyāsa from Śrīla Prabhupāda was often contingent on taking up some audacious preaching mission immediately afterwards. For many, however, sannyāsa was given as a recognition of their previous service and as a means to cement their authority among the devotees. A cynic would say that even when people asked for sannyāsa and promised to preach they did it so that they got status, too, but I don’t want to see it that way even though status was always very important.

Lord Caitanya went on His preaching tour alone, accompanied only by one servant who we don’t even count this devotee among Lord’s eternal associates anymore, thanks of jīva falldown debate. Our sannyāsīs aren’t in the same position at all. Even though our preaching is directed at the outside population we must do it as an institution, as a collective rather than individual effort. People should see the strength of organization behind individuals presenting it. Whenever we preach, we refer to our success elsewhere, be it five thousand year long tradition in India, hundreds of temples all around the world, Beatles and George Harrison when they were relevant and so on.

This means that main job of our sannyāsīs is to organize the devotees – print books, build temples, get cars and buses for traveling parties, organize programs, reach out to supporters and do fundraising – basically act like politicians on campaign trail. The end product, a few words about policies or preaching speeches in our case, must always be delivered in manufactured and controlled settings. That’s why Bernie Sanders will never become a president even if he might have the right ideas. Without institutional support neither he nor our sannyāsī will be effective.

In my personal experience, our sannyāsī hardly ever talk to non-devotees at all, what to speak of preaching to non-believers. When they do they immediately go on their blogs and write about it, how they have sat next to someone on an airplane, for example. It’s such an unusual experience for them that it needs to be documented.

I’m not criticizing them for the lack of preaching but that’s what they are forced to do by circumstances. They preach to devotees non-stop, every minute of their waking lives. They are generals, not frontline troops in our saṅkīranta army, and we can’t fight without generals, there’s nothing wrong with that.

General, however, is a kṣatriya, not a sannyāsī – it’s a mismatch of varṇāśrama duties. Just think about implications of that.

I will continue tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1448. Contemporary asceticism

Thinking how the decision to drop atomic bombs was forced on US military command by the accumulated effects of the Kali Yuga I tried to find a connection to our ISKCON. We haven’t dropped any bombs anywhere ourselves (there was one episode in NZ, though) but it doesn’t mean we are immune to the influence of Kali. The problem is not only in overcoming unusually strong attachments but in that it forces us to act in decidedly non-Vedic ways even for a good cause.

Take our yukta-vairāgya, for example. The idea is for mahā-bhāgavata devotees to use everything they see for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. For us, however, it slowly turns into an excuse to indulge ourselves in sense-gratification under the pretext of service. If it was a real yukta-vairāgya then we would be able to stop it at will and simply sit still, absorbed in chanting and meditation on the Lord. We can’t however, we “need” to act, and so there’s no vairāgya in our actions of any kind, there’s plenty of hypocrisy, though.

Maybe it’s only karma-yoga – dedicating results of our work to Kṛṣṇa while we reserve the right to thoroughly enjoy the process. Maybe it’s only “always remember Kṛṣṇa and never forget” rule where we allow ourselves to do practically anything and consider it okay as long as we keep Kṛṣṇa somewhere in the back of our minds.

I don’t mean “okay” from the rules perspective, I mean okay from the perspective of renunciation. Hitting a snooze button on alarm clocks is not against any rules, for example, it’s “okay”, but enjoying even a few extra minutes of sleep is not okay for renunciates, who we claim to be with our yukta-vaiṛāgya excuse. Well, what we cleverly say is that these extra minutes enable us to get up feeling fresh and so contribute to the quality of our morning service, which is very important, more important than getting up on time for the sake of the rules.

This explanation might be acceptable but what happens to us embracing these extra minutes of sleep with eager anticipation, longing for the comfort of our pillows? What kind of vairāgya is in that? if we gave in to this pleasure then everything we say afterwards to deny our self-indulgence is hypocrisy. If someone sprung up from bed on time but then dozed off during his japa we would call it monkey renunciation, but what do we call ours?

The only solution that I can think of is to accept our imperfection, stop calling it yukta-vairāgya, identify problem areas and start working on them. In the snooze button case it’s disassociating ourselves from the pleasure brought to us by the warm embraces of our pillows. We can’t avoid it, we also need to get up fresh so sleep is necessary, but we can’t see this enjoyment as ours, it’s an interaction between material elements extraneous to our real existence.

Beating the snooze button pleasure would be a great achievement, btw, because at this point our mind and intelligence are still turned off and so we don’t have the same sense of [false] self-awareness we are forced to live with during the day. The illusion is at its weakest during deep sleep, as śāstras say, and so finding “ourselves” in this situation should be a lot closer to the truth than our self-perception in fully awakened state. It should enable us to see daytime imposition of the mind as external to our real selves, finally beating “I think therefore I am” illusion.

Seeing failures in our renunciation, yukta or otherwise, should also enable us to see our real enemies. What is it that drives us to act? Is it our own desire on an external imposition? Is it a combination of both? How much of it is truly ours and what can we do about it?

A mahā-bhāgavata devotee would, presumably, see everything in this world as an external imposition but an imposition by Kṛṣṇa’s energies for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. His own participation would be determined by the degree of his realization of his actual spiritual form. I don’t think he would act on it, though.

We have an example of Lord Caitanya playing out His pastimes with Kṛṣṇa in “real” life but to outsiders it looked like total madness. No one else among His followers did anything close. What we’ve been told is that as we slowly uncover our preferred rasa we devevs vairagya
lop affinity for listening to that particular type of Kṛṣṇa līlā, and that is what I think the degree of our true spiritual involvement should ever be while still in this world.

Everything we do before we reach that level would be acting in illusion – illusion that we are the doers in this world and we can control and manipulate material energy according to our will. The only difference from the rest of the eternally conditioned population is that we assume our will as superior to theirs, so Kṛṣṇa Himself is helping us to do anything we want while they are left at the mercy of karma. I’m not sure this difference should count as positive for our spiritual progress, however.

Is this the kind of freedom we hope to achieve in Kṛṣṇa consciousness? The fulfillment of the same desire to control the world but now with Kṛṣṇa’s help?

Well, I guess it is progress but it should not be seen as the ultimate goal of our process. There should come a time when we realize that controlling the world is not as much fun as letting Kṛṣṇa do it and becoming His puppets instead. That’s what the liberated soul cries for when chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa – please engage me in Your service. Not “please empower me in whatever I want to do”.

But then there’s preaching – mahā-bhāgavatas don’t preach, the world is absolutely perfect as it is and doesn’t need any improvements. Every living entity is already engaged in service the Lord in whatever capacity that suits best his consciousness so there’s nothing for mahā-bhāgavatas to do here. Wait, maybe this isn’t right – it’s paramahaṁsas that don’t do anything, mahā-bhāgavatas could be different in that they see superiority of the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth so everyone who is not engaged in service to Bhagavan needs to be elevated to that stage. They see full potential of every living being and they see how it can be achieved, and they can convince the Lord to upgrade relationship level with these jīvas, too, so preaching is there as their service. It’s paramahaṁsas that don’t preach.

It makes sense but I’m just speculating here. I hope there’s a verse or two that clarify the difference, if there’s any, between mahā-bhāgavatas and paramahaṁsas.

In any case, the role of those liberated souls that take up preaching adds a level of complexity to the whole renunciation paradigm. That’s when yukta-vairāgya actually comes in, but that’s a topic for another day.

Vanity thought #1447. Nuclear option

This week we had another anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings and I think they deserve a second look, not particularly from a Kṛṣṇa conscious POV but as an observation of the Kali Yuga and its workings. It might come helpful one day, I believe.

I don’t remember myself ever approving of dropping atomic bombs on Japan, not at school, not ever. I always viewed them as a crime against humanity and even argued that it was a perfect example of terrorism – targeting innocent civilian population to force government to change its policies. I’ve never seen this argument being considered seriously by mainstream society and it was kind of tongue in cheek but it didn’t matter to me, I was convinced that there was no justification for it whatsoever. So, what has changed?

This year even my local newspaper carried a reprint from Washington Post dispelling five common myths about atomic bombings, I don’t know how much impact that article has made but the moral arch of the universe finally looks like bending towards justice, what more do I want? Surely I am not going to change my mind just to be contrarian again? Well, sort of, and here’s the argument about morality of those bombings.

I don’t think they were perpetrated by some sort of monsters, they were not “real” crimes against humanity, certainly not when put against Hitler and Stalin, and there was nothing remarkable about those bombings even in the context of allegedly superior Western liberal civilization. How so? Let’s talk about their origins.

Chinese invented gunpowder about a thousand years ago, centuries later it tricked to Europe and Europeans liked its destructive power. In the ancient times people fought with swords and spears and the best warriors were masters of bow and arrow. Then crossbow was invented, also in China, and it changed how wars were fought forever.

Mastering the bow was a very rare skill and it required years of training while practically anybody could learn to use a crossbow in a couple of hours. Instead of fielding a few warriors of Arjuna’s level of proficiency the kings could bring a thousand of quickly trained peasants and achieve the same effect. The wars had become the games of numbers – who gets to recruit more peasants wins. Before that they left general population largely unaffected but now everybody had to be involved and everybody’s life was at risk.

Then came the gunpowder and muzzleloading muskets. The firepower became overwhelming but it was kind of slow so shooting was carried in turns – while first line was shooting next line was getting ready just behind them and the third line was reloading. Armies, therefore, grew in size even further.

Another major problem with firearms was very low accuracy and that was compensated by quantity, again. Even when they finally invented machine guns the problem of inaccuracy only compounded – soldiers just shot more bullets. It is said that in WWI they spend 10,000 bullets per each kill and that number increased to 50,000 bullets in Vietnam.

This has changed army’s center of gravity. Killing one soldier was taking out one rifle out of millions while destroying one factory could take out entire divisions out of play. A soldier without his gun and tons of ammunition is not a threat to anybody, and if he gets killed it’s not a big loss. Factories have become indispensable instead, they have become the heart of the war machine and, therefore, legitimate targets. It was pointless to talk about their staff as civilians, that’s not how military planners saw it – in the long run these civilians were bigger threat than frontline soldiers.

In WWI factories were out of reach of attacking armies but, as scientific progress rolled on and airplanes were invented, the solution had been found – they had to be bombed out of existence. It was a superior strategy than trying to kill millions of well armed and well trained soldiers, especially of German quality.

The problem was inaccuracy again. When British started doing it they were so far off target that Germans sometimes couldn’t figure out what they were trying to bomb in the first place. The solution, just like in the previous cycle of escalating violence, was the same – increase quantity and carpet bomb large areas. British did it at night – they were so inaccurate that it didn’t really matter but it was much safer for the pilots. Americans invented the bombsight and did their runs in daytime for greater precision but the effect was very limited, only something like 20% of bombs dropped in the “target zones”, and so the principle stood – the war had to be fought by destroying large patches of industrial infrastructure regardless of civilian casualties. It was all a fair game and a major part of military strategy. Brits also thought killing this civilians would affect enemy’s morale – they were the original terrorists in that sense.

I am not going to argue that carpet bombing had won the WWII because other factors were at play, too, and German industrial base was rather large, but both Brits and Americans tried their best. More or less the same story was on the other side of the world in Japan.

I am not going to argue that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japanese surrender. Some say it did, and it’s called a myth now. Some say it was the threat of looming Russian invasion. Some say that Japanese didn’t know themselves what they were going to do, and that’s with the benefit of hindsight, which wasn’t available to the American president at the time. He and his military planners simply pushed with the winning strategy – bomb the hell out of Japan and hope it will be easier to fight against the army depleted of guns and ammunition (also ships, tanks, and what have you).

Atomic bomb was a major scientific and technological breakthrough but in terms of the strategy it didn’t offer anything new. It’s just that instead of sending a hundred planes they had to send one, but armed with a two billion dollar bomb.

So this is my point here – it wasn’t a moral choice, to bomb or not to bomb. That choice was made long long time ago and it was forced on Americans by scientific and industrial progress, that’s how wars had to be fought in those days. A few months earlier they had a bombing run on Tokyo with regular incendiary bombs that killed a hundred thousand people – the same casualty range as nuclear. Dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was no bigger crime against humanity than the war itself.

In the post-war years everybody was freaked out about nuclear weapons and so the world came to see Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing as special cases but back then, in 1945, they weren’t. Technologically – yes, morally and strategically – no.

The moral case was lost a thousand years ago when kings decided to involve civilians to boost their army, and it came on the back of scientific advancements of the day that made warfare “democratic” and available to all.

Like with everything else, they thought they were making improvements but long term effects were quite the opposite. They thought that electricity and internal combustion engine were great discoveries, too, and made lives very convenient but now we are stuck with global warming. The inventors didn’t foresee that just as they didn’t foresee crossbows eventually leading to nuclear bombs killing tens of thousands of women and children in a second.

So, instead of blaming individuals for their horrific choices we should see how it is the modes of passion and ignorance working slowly but steadily over hundreds and thousands of years that force people into the situations where nuclear isn’t really an option anymore.

PS. I ripped the idea of this post off Stratfor, sorry, it’s not mine.

Vanity thought #1446. Entrance fee

This has been puzzling me for a while and I’m still not quite clear what it is exactly that is bothering me. Yesterday I mentioned a case where Kṛṣṇa seems to be appreciative of devotees aspirations and supports them every step of the way. I, otoh, can’t bring myself to follow in their footsteps. Is there something wrong with me or with them?

Many view being in Kṛṣṇa consciousness as ultimate liberation, freedom to do whatever they want, freedom to express themselves. Society usually puts restraints on young people but Kṛṣṇa doesn’t, He accepts everything. Whatever you want to do, do it for Kṛṣṇa and He’ll support you in your endeavors. Śrīla Prabhupāda has built a house for the whole world to live in, we all can fit here perfectly.

Perhaps it’s my filtered vision but everywhere I look I see devotees who have well adjusted themselves to Kṛṣṇa conscious lives and while they aren’t rich they do not have a shortage of anything and they put it down to Kṛṣṇa. He really provides and looks after well being of those who surrender to Him and they are living examples. Some quite openly “brag” about their material situation and generalize it to extend to the rest of our society. If they can do so, why can’t I? Kṛṣṇa consciousness does seem to work for those who have it.

This has led to a slow but profound shift in our culture and I think it’s irreversible.

I joined in the days when everyone remembered how people made devotees right in the shopping malls, sold them books on one floor, took them to barber shop to shave their heads on another, and bring these new bhaktas straight to the temples. All you needed to do was to show enthusiasm and desire to dedicate yourself, everything else was supposed to work out on itself, with Kṛṣṇa’s help.

There was a period where our temples were overcrowded, people slept in halls and passage ways, society grew by leaps and bounds, new centers were opening practically every day, the future was bright and no one really thought about it. “Kṛṣṇa will take care” was the mantra.

This doesn’t fly now. There are temples where there are no living devotees at all, someone just comes in the morning, opens them up, and then leaves for the night. Lots of temples have been abandoned and those that remained struggled for survival until they found a perfect balance between size and ambitions and their abilities.

The result is that you don’t just walk into the temple and expect to be accepted anymore. They don’t just pluck people off the streets or out of their families, I bet they have some sort of “job interviews” with long lists of boxes to be ticked off to ensure that you are perfect fit.

It’s understandable, if “temple” means three-four men and maybe their wives then personal compatibility must become a serious consideration. You can’t just blend in, there’s no crowd for that, you must become a member of a very small, tight-knit team, and no temple president will make this decision lightly. Who can blame them?

It’s not like if you need friends you can always find someone among a hundred of devotees who would listen to you. At your level of advancement and experience there would none. There’s also no society to conform to, if you don’t wake up for maṅgala-ārati that’s half the attendance down and you have only your alarm clock to keep you in line. All your personal life becomes focused on relationships with the other two-three temple residents and this might throw them off balance because that would double their load of personal stuff. It just won’t work.

Recently I listened to an eye-opening talk on management and I was surprised how things have changed since I last time heard this person talking on this same subject. I remember twenty years ago he was preaching taking care of devotees, he used the infamous example of temple presidents telling sick devotees to go and collect donations for their medicine. I don’t know if that has ever actually happened but in the 80s and 90s it wouldn’t have been completely out of line. The manager, we’ve been told, must take full responsibility for the devotees in every respect and make them feel safe and accepted in their surrender.

This time the tone was very different. No one should expect to be provided for by our authorities, it’s not ISKCON’s job. The main consideration should be what we can bring to the table, what we can surrender. ISKCON is not a place for bums and hobos who don’t know what to do with their lives, our members have to have a purpose themselves and they have to surrender this purpose to Kṛṣṇa. If they don’t have anything to surrender then ISKCON doesn’t really need them. They can read books and come to the programs but otherwise they have to figure out their lives for themselves. ISKCON will provide spiritual guidance but won’t take material responsibility.

What about “house for the whole world”? It’s still there, but it’s not that you will move into it, rather the house will extend its own boundaries to include your life. It’s not that you can come to the temple, say that you are going to surrender to Kṛṣṇa, and they will take you. Not anymore. Rather you invite ISKCON into your life and surrender whatever you have to offer and they’ll take it.

This might sound like ISKCON is after people’s money but no, far from it. This is what they genuinely think is in your best interests – stay wherever you are but make your life Kṛṣṇa conscious, not abandon it and bring your otherwise useless body to the temple for further maintenance.

Another example – there were times when if you wanted to go to college devotees would think you are nuts. This days they would think you are nuts if you drop out of college to pursue Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In the recent newsletter sent out by a local temple they interviewed one of the devotees, she recently graduated and got a job at Siemens. When asked about her goal in life she answered that she wants both material and spiritual progress, and it seems she is making it. These are the role models for the new bhaktas now.

I have to say that it makes perfect sense and I do not blame ISKCON for anything here, I do not question the motives of our leaders, nor do I question their rationality.

The only problem is that now I’m staring at this verse and it says something completely different (SB 1.8.26):

    My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.

This is the verse with the famous akiñcana-gocaram qualification — “one who is approached easily by the materially exhausted man”, as word for word translation says. These materially exhausted men, however, are not welcome in our society anymore, we are not running a retirement home, everyone must bring something to the table – parentage, opulence, education, fame etc. and then use it for Kṛṣṇa.

To me it just doesn’t add up. Give your material aspirations up and you automatically give up the company of devotees. If you want to be one of them you must make something of yourself in the material sense, too. But then you won’t be able to approach Kṛṣṇa sincerely.

Perhaps we need to redefine what ISKCON is and what it should be as we move forward. Perhaps these days renunciation and sannyāsa should mean giving up not only our connections to the outside world but our connections to ISKCON, too – our reliance on temple funds, devotees’ help, temple cooked food etc. Somehow historically it’s been our sannyāsīs that got the safest, most assured and most comfortable lives in our society. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it or that they have been abusing these privileges but as we move forward and more and more devotees, now second generation ones, approach the age of renunciation perhaps it’s time to rethink the concept.

Maybe the old “leave the world, join ISKCON” thinking should be replaced “leave ISKCON, seek Kṛṣṇa’s shelter” instead. And I don’t mean leave ISKCON philosophically, of course, I mean leave your dependence on ISKCON in your everyday life and become truly akiñcana-gocara. I mean ISKCON is helpless if you want it to provide your with shelter in your old age, only Kṛṣṇa can, and that’s who we should surrender our lives to. Sometimes Kṛṣṇa might act through ISKCON and for that we should be grateful but sometimes He won’t and we should not resent ISKCON for that, too.

Or maybe it’s just me acting out some old, Freudian episodes from my life. I think this idea deserves consideration, though.

Vanity thought #1445. In defense

I don’t think statements like “I hope we are not stuck with SP’s interpretation for eternity..” are defensible and I, personally, reject any attempts at explanations. We should never ever speak like this about our ācāryas, period.

However, experience shows that someone would always come out of leftfield and offer “no big deal, you thinking about it wrong” shoulder shrug that would leave me speechless for the moment. Am I? Or is this judgement itself is made on premises that are equally unacceptable? Or am I really that retarded and out of touch with time?

There was an episode long long time ago when I was doing some accounting for the temple and there was this young bhakta who hogged the computer playing games and fiddling with settings, like experimenting with BIOS password. I complained to a tech support guy who, instead of supporting me, fully stood behind him – because computers are meant to experiment and I, with my ancient accounting boredom, was stifling freedom and innovation.

I honestly thought that service must come first and personal growth later but not to these people. They were out to challenge the paradigms, start revolutions, overthrow oppression, and make the world a better place while they were at it. They couldn’t see it any other way and silently pitied me and my outdated outlook on life.

In my defense I understood where they were coming from as I had discovered wonders of Windows myself only a year earlier and similarly learned how to use computers by trial and error. I however, put a lid on it and learned discipline, too, the sheer excitement of finding BIOS password settings wasn’t enough for me to start playing pranks, so I thought I was on the right path and everyone who followed it should made the same choices, too, but I was wrong.

To this day I don’t know the answer. Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t have liked accounting, too, and would have laughed at pranks, so, perhaps, He was acting out through this young bhakta, using him to make jokes He Himself couldn’t because, well, He couldn’t leave the altar just like that.

This leads to another, much bigger dilemma – how much freedom can we really have? One school of thought is that Kṛṣṇa consciousness liberates people so that they can do practically everything, Kṛṣṇa will accept and there’s no question of punishment. I, however, am still stuck on restricting myself as much as possible because doing whatever I want to do is boring and of no interest to guru and Kṛṣṇa. I don’t think I’m ready to discuss it any further today, though.

In this case of looking for more than just Śrīla Prabhupāda’s interpretations the potential problem is that this devotee might have simply put into words what we all have been doing anyway. We think it’s acceptable for us but when someone calls it by what it is we take offense.

If that is indeed what happened then I have to either modify my behavior or defend it, it becomes a question of self-examination, a case where I might point a finger at someone but have three other fingers pointing back at me.

Is it okay for us in ISKCON to seek interpretations other than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s? Right in the beginning of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, in the purport to the very first verse, Śrīla Prabhupāda says the following (SB 1.1.1):

    Within the past five hundred years, many erudite scholars and ācāryas like Jīva Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, Viśvanātha Cakravartī, Vallabhācārya, and many other distinguished scholars even after the time of Lord Caitanya made elaborate commentaries on the Bhāgavatam. And the serious student would do well to attempt to go through them to better relish the transcendental messages.

At least we should attempt reading interpretations of other ācāryas, that’s practically a direct order and it goes against the school of thought that we should never read anything else but Prabhupāda’s own books. There are some devotees who do just that but there are many more who don’t.

Truth be told, we can’t run a society off Prabhupāda’s books only. Take the recent female guru issue – GBC had to form a committee which was tasked with looking through all available literature to shed more light on the topic. And they did the same thing with jiva origin and rittviks, too. Contentious issues WILL arise and they WILL require referring to authorities other than Prabhupāda, it’s just the fact of life.

Devotees who read those other books do not feel they are doing anything wrong, and they don’t have to be “liberal” to do that, too. One of our “Taliban like” traditionalists has no qualms reading and lecturing from commentaries by Viśvanātha Cakravartī, for example. Quoting Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura doesn’t raise any eyebrows anywhere, and referring to Jīva Gosvāmī’s sandarbhas to settle disputes is the most authoritative argument ever.

So, what exactly is wrong with seeking interpretations other than Prabhupāda’s? If we look for them we hope to find them, and if we hope to find them it means we hope we won’t get stuck with Prabhupāda’s – exactly what that devotee had said.

I admit that I feel all excited when I find new books that promise to cover new topics or provide new insights, and I do secretly hope that I’ll find something interesting there that I can’t find in Prabhupāda’s books. Why is it acceptable for me to feel this way but unacceptable for that devotee to put it in words? How am I going to defend myself?

Well, the problem isn’t with reading books and seeking new interpretations, the problem lies in the attitude to one’s guru. I know I read other books and I know I want to find something new in them, but what I really hope for is that by reading them I’ll understand Prabhupāda better and spiritual import of his words will be finally revealed to me. I hope these other works will illuminate not me personally but they will illuminate the words of my guru, who will always be the sole source of my deliverance.

I’m not seeking other gurus, I’m looking for help to understand mine.

Next argument could be that one can have many gurus, and, in fact, whenever one learns anything, like how to peel potatoes for the deity kitchen, he is accepting a new guru, too. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, but guru is one, he just manifests as many and acts through all kinds of personalities, each adding their flavor and each adding a permanent relationship that can’t be severed no matter what.

They all deliver the same message and there’s no divergence between them at all. They repeat Kṛṣṇa’s words and nothing else. Sometimes they might feel like attending to their own needs and excuse themselves from guru duty and as long as Kṛṣṇa is okay with it we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it either. Vartma-pradarśaka guru, the guru who shows the way, acts as a guru for one second of his life, for example, but he should be respected and worshiped forever for his role in helping Kṛṣṇa to bring us back home. Dīkṣā guru gives initiation and that’s it, there’s no use for him afterwards, technically speaking. For most of us he becomes a śikṣā guru so the relationship continues but it doesn’t have to and someone else might act as our instructing spiritual master. Most of the time someone else will, at some point in our lives. It’s not like we are going to be left without guidance when our initiating guru leaves this world.

Having many gurus is not as confusing as it sounds and we should look forward to new lessons all the time but not with “I hope I don’t get stuck with this one” attitude. It should be “I hope I understand and appreciate this guru better”.

I think I have exonerated myself here so my job for today is done.

Vanity thought #1444. Trivializing insanity

Continuing on yesterday’s topic with a rant. Perhaps it’s not the offense itself (the one towards Prabhupāda) that I find most unacceptable but the ease with which it was made and then dismissed by the community. To me it reflects prevailing attitudes there. Good thing is that now I can detach them from personalities and discuss without fear of causing offenses myself.

Maybe this “community” doesn’t exist and is only a product of my imagination, maybe if I got to know them better I would see them differently. OTOH, if the offensive attitude is so pervasive there then knowing them better would only poison my own consciousness beyond salvation. Once you get to know someone better everything he does starts to look rational and natural as you absorb their views, but that’s the whole point – we need to get to know Kṛṣṇa’s devotees so that “natural” for us becomes unalloyed devotion. We don’t want to see all kinds of perversions that exist in the material world as natural, and therefore we must choose our association very carefully and avoid “getting to know better” various offenders of the Lord and the vaiṣṇavas.

I’ll just be blunt – treating Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism as science and hoping then one doesn’t get stuck with teachings of one ācārya for eternity is nothing but māyāvāda.

How so? Actually, very easy.

Normally, we understand māyāvāda as a particular form of impersonalism where Kṛṣṇa’s personality, form, appearance, pastimes etc are considered illusory. Well, not really illusory as they accept Him as Brahman but illusory in the sense they are not eternal but only helpful in reaching a higher state of consciousness.

This higher state of consciousness is impersonal liberation, realizing one’s unity with the Brahman, and, subsequently, realizing you and God are one and the same, ie His forms and pastimes are your forms and pastimes as well.

I heard an account how one visitor to our temple felt very grateful at the end of the program and was saying to the devotees “Thank you for worshiping me so nicely”. That’s the height of the māyāvāda even if this dude hasn’t detached himself from his senses and hasn’t overcome pleasure and pain yet. That might take him another hundred of lives, if everything goes well, but, intellectually, he got the conclusion right already. “Your Kṛṣṇa is Brahman, I am Brahman, too, so I am qualified to accept your worship even if you still think in your ignorance that you are serving this Kṛṣṇa fellow.”

That’s what we think māyāvāda is but that is only the final twist of insanity which might not even come if māyāvādīs in question become proper impersonalists and merge themselves into Brahman and never come out again to accept our worship. Mostly, they’d just die somewhere along the way and so we’ll never get to see it, but that doesn’t make māyāvāda any less dangerous or any more acceptable to our spiritual practice.

And it starts with thinking Lord’s forms as illusory in one way or another. That’s it, that’s enough, that’s the point of no return to the shelter of the lotus feet of Lord Caitanya. Sinful behavior He can correct but māyāvāda has zero tolerance policy, we better not play with it even in our dreams.

Okay, but what makes me ascribe māyāvāda to this particular community? They do not think Kṛṣṇa’s form is not Absolute, they to not think His pastimes are not eternal, they do not think any less of the deities than our devotees.

Right, but they reject Lord’s appearance as a guru. They think that it’s illusory, temporary, prone to mistakes, and just one of the tools in their arsenal on the path to higher truth.

Like māyāvādīs do with Kṛṣṇa, they think that serving guru is just a step towards something better. It’s not a goal but only means to higher realization.

Whether this “higher realization” would lead them to declaring themselves to be God or not is not very interesting. It might happen, it might not, but the dice has already been cast and, I’m afraid, there’s no return.

Guru is not a tool, you are a tool yourself for thinking like that. If someone treats his guru any differently from how he treats the Lord he is in grasp of severe ignorance. It’s not even kaniṣṭha level of realization, it’s lower than that.

Conversely, we can judge one’s relationship with the Lord by looking at one’s relationship with the guru. Of course external manifestation is different but the attitude is the same. Unlike the Lord, guru also does not accept rasa but that is for liberated persons anyway, not a problem for us at our level.

We can see how one is ready to treat the Lord by how one is treating his guru now. If one seeks personal benefits from his guru you can bet he asks the Lord for them, too. If one is duplicitous with his guru, relying on diplomacy to extract concessions, you can bet he wants to negotiate terms with the Lord in his heart, too.

If one does not see his guru as manifestation of the Lord he has no idea of Lord’s spiritual form either, not a single clue. Whatever shapes that come into his mind when he thinks of Kṛṣṇa are only imaginary but he believes they can become real. That won’t happen unless one starts seeing his guru as non-different from the Lord.

Well, you can’t just declare guru and God as non-different and be done with it. You can’t pretend to see God if you only see an ordinary person, just with a bit more knowledge and experience than yourself. I mean you’d be right – guru and God ARE non-different to you, but you see them as material.

I mean if you see your guru as an illusory, temporary tool to achieve higher truth then that’s how you see God, too, and that’s māyāvāda. It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s the level of your realization and you can’t paper it with words.

If words can’t help, what can be done about it? One can’t change his level of advancement at will. That’s true, but what we can do is to seek shelter in pure devotees and reject association with māyāvādīs. It can be argued that we aren’t in control of even this simple choice but if we feel we can make it then we should.

Practically, it’s very easy – wherever we see non-devotional attitudes to one’s gurus and ācāryas we should avoid those places like a plague. Pretty soon our noses will be well trained and finely tuned to this kind of deviation, we won’t even have to think about it to smell treachery. We won’t need to explain it to rush to safety.

We should always try to maintain our purity, and spiritual purity is even more important than external one because Holy Name does not depend on externalities but is highly sensitive to our internal moods and thoughts, and disrespect of one’s guru is suicidal.

Vanity thought #1443. Reading curse

While “researching” that new twist to jiva origin topic I had to read a lot of stuff posted by adherents of no-fall-vāda, and this made me think – what is the actual value of reading in devotional service. Coming off this binge I declare “None whatsoever!”

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic and I’m prepared to modify that statement a little bit, but not its essence. Our ācāryas might have spat on thoughts of sex, I’m far from that realization, but I’m getting close to spitting on thoughts of reading.

What about reading devotional literature? Aren’t we supposed to read one or two hours a day? Important question but my answer to this is simple – it’s not really reading, it’s taking association of Śrīla Prabhupāda through books. It’s not the knowledge and the ideas that we should be seeking when we do our daily “reading” routine, we seek Prabhupāda’s attitude to them, it doesn’t even matter which ideas in particular, any would do.

When reading Prabhupāda’s books we should be perfectly content with going over the same old passages over and over again and it shouldn’t matter if we might come across the same facts and solutions. Intellectually, we might not add anything to our bank of knowledge anymore but spiritually we hope that Prabhupāda’s pure devotional approach might rub off on us, too.

We shouldn’t read to improve our memories, we shouldn’t read to memorize ślokas, we shouldn’t read to improve our self-image of learned scholars, we shouldn’t be proud if we can manage two hours daily, not any more than we should be proud of completing sixteen rounds of japa.

All these things are unavoidable but they are anarthas, we should eventually let them go, they have no value.

What about dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ promise given by Kṛṣṇa (BG 10.10)? Well, what about it? Prabhupāda’s translation and purport make it unambiguous – the knowledge will be given so that one can come back to Him, not for any other purpose, and it will be given, not developed through analyzing reading material.

Whatever we need to know for our devotional progress will be illuminated from within without any efforts to obtain this knowledge on our part. The conditions Kṛṣṇa places are also unambiguous – constantly devoted to serving Me with love. Satisfying our egotistic thirst for knowledge is not “serving with love and devotion”, it will be responded to as any other karmic activity – by further entrapping us in this world and by strengthening our taste for enjoyment, which in this case would come in the form of academic pride, for example.

We’d better hope Kṛṣṇa does not take these attempts seriously and carefully guides us to eventual realization that they are materialistic in nature, just as we hope He does with all our other anarthas.

We can approach this subject from another angle, too – desire to know things is a contamination by jñāna and as such it won’t lead to devotion but to impersonalism, which in our age would probably manifest as dreaded māyāvāda rather then innocence of the Kumāras.

To me it seems like a straighforward argument not opened to interpretations because it goes to the heart of devotional process – it should be jñāna karmādy-anāvṛtam, free from karma and jñāna, can’t get any more basic than that, there are no shortcuts and no ways go around this injunction.

There’s a way to question classifying reading devotional literature or devotional discourse as jñāna, however. Śrīla Prabhupāda translated jñāna in this verse as it appears in Caitanya Caritāmṛita (CC Madhya 19.67) as “knowledge of the philosophy of the monist Māyāvādīs” – I hope none of us ever reads māyāvādī books, so it doesn’t apply. Elsewhere, however, Prabhupāda rendered jñāna in this verse as mental speculations, empirical speculations, speculative knowledge, and even philosophical speculations, which I’m still very found of, I must admit. Checking if our reading material is speculative in nature is very easy.

On the surface the discourse might revolve solely around Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy and all of the participants would strongly disagree if accused of expounding māyāvāda inducing impersonalism, what would I answer to that?

Well, māyāvādīs are also very fond of Kṛṣṇa, we’ve been told, they are not averse to describing His glories and activities, but their attitudes are fundamentally wrong and their glorification only causes pain to the Lord and to pure devotees who happen to hear it. This is an often repeated theme that I don’t need to find supporting quotes for, I hope. What I want to say is that our “devotional” discourses can be exactly the same – overtly about Kṛṣṇa but completely devoid of devotional substance.

Take this passage I had a misfortune to recently read, for example:

    It seems that you believe that Srila Sridhar Maharaj, BVT etc should not be challenged. But if that is so, then you will have to relinquish the claim that Gaudiya Vedanta tradition is scientific. Rather it is dogmatic. Dogmas cannot be challenged, science can be challenged. I acknowledge the great contribution of BVT and Shridhar Maharaj and they are truly heroes. But that dosen’t mean that whatever they said should be cast in stone. If ideas no longer make sense, they should be revised. And the idea proposed by BVT has logical flaws as is being pointed out by many people here, hence it needs to be revised.

The worst part is that this outrageous view wasn’t challenged, unlike all other “misconceptions” pounced on in that community, the person who commented on it actually supported the general thrust of the rest of that posting.

This cavalier attitude to our ācāryas (Śrīla Prabhupāda and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura) is evident from another quote from that community:

    I hope we are not stuck with SP’s interpretation for eternity and reject BVT’s interpretation. Is SP the end of thought? Who knows what SP would have done in today’s time?

When accused of disrespecting Śrīla Prabhupāda the poster defended himself and even his guru didn’t see anything problematic with it:

    My disciples may have any number of opinions, as long as they can support them reasonably with sastra or the writings of previous and present acaryas. None of them disrespect SP.

That’s what māyāvādī do, too – they do not count their attitude towards Kṛṣṇa as offensive, they just don’t see it that way.

Here devotees talk about our ācāryas as mere contributors to our pool of knowledge and put themselves in the pole position to decide what to accept and what to reject. They don’t need no illuminations from within and they reject illuminations from outside, too – guru does not provide spiritual illuminations but only suggestions they are free to reject at will.

With this attitude ANY spiritual illumination becomes closed to them and so all their discourse turns into worst kind of speculations that poisons everything. It will never ever lead to bhakti growing in their hearts, no more than it grows in the hearts of māyāvādīs, and it can externally grow pretty big there, so we shouldn’t be fooled. I mean they might become like mini-Ramakrishnas and impress everyone around them but in the eyes of our ācāryas this kind of “devotion” has no value whatsoever. Why our ācāryas say things like that against apparent evidence of advancement is a whole different topic, however.