Vanity thought #1492. Entropy

Yesterday I mentioned thermodynamics and how saṅkīrtana might fit with that. Afaik, it doesn’t, but there are two diametrically opposite views on this subject and in their struggle they revolve around the concept of entropy.

Mathematically, entropy is very simple, there are clear formulas, one can memorize them and continue using them for the rest of his scientific or engineering life without ever giving it a second thought. The problem lies in understanding what entropy actually means. I don’t think I have an easy answer to that but that won’t stop me from proceeding. It never stops anyone from talking about entropy and I’m not an exception.

“If you would please turn to the page 5 of your textbook,” one can imagine the reassuring voice of his professor. These days, however, one turns to the page on Wikipedia instead and there everything seems to be known, understood, and comforting, just as it was in school. Right from the top, for example, one would read that entropy is a measure of disorder. But then others campaign for purging this definition and they have managed to erase it from college textbooks by 2005, probably from high school books by now, too. They deem it misleading and unscientific. Craps, just as I was getting the hang of it.

This is an example of how a concept so common and basic in science gets redefined over and over again, each time with the air of sacrosanct permanency. How often do you think of the meaning of entropy? Chances are, next time you decide to ponder this concept they’d have it redefined already. If you buy their “we know we had problems but now it’s all fixed” assurances it’s up to you.

It’s not actually a problem with entropy itself but with trying to explain what it means to others. Even discarded definitions are still correct to a large degree but they’ve decided that students might get the wrong ideas and it would be better to approach entropy from a different angle.

The problem is that entropy as it was “discovered” in science is counter-intuitive and we are forced to deal with double negatives right from the start. “Entropy of an isolated system can never decrease.” Try to wrap your mind around “can never decrease”. It’s “can”, but then “never”, and also “decrease” instead of “increase”. As soon as you start manipulating systems it becomes impossible to keep all your negatives in order and once I’ve noticed two obvious errors in internet articles claiming to clarify the issue I gave up.

What happens if you start heating up a pot of water? Temperature increases but entropy moves in the opposite direction and so now you are talking about decrease in disorder. Should it mean increase in order then? If you look at the water in the pot with bubbles forming at the bottom you wouldn’t call it “increase in order”. That’s how it becomes very confusing very fast.

At some point one will be forced to give and just hope that real scientists have figured tit all our and definition changes are only cosmetic so that it would look prettier and easier to understand. It hasn’t become easier for me but maybe others are luckier.

Alternatively, one can give up and hope that creationists have figured it out, too, because they continue to argue this particular point about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, and they aren’t fools either.

In a nutshell their challenge is very simple – according to thermodynamics a system should descend into chaos, not evolve into humans hell bent on organizing the nature. Evolution is the opposite of creating chaos, that’s obvious. Scientists reply that the Earth is not an isolated system, we have Sun rays warming it up all the time, and so thermodynamics shouldn’t be applied the way creationists do here. This doesn’t stop creationists, of course, and then the ugly side of entropy raises its head and everyone gets lost in the formulas and their meanings.

Scientists say that influx of energy into the system can produce order and give an example of electricity turning water into ice crystals in the fridge. Creationists reply that you can’t just put electrodes in the water and expect it would work. Ice crystals in one part of the machine are possible only because there’s heat generated in another and so their orderliness is offset by disorderly hot air elsewhere, and so this whole apparatus requires input of more than just electricity but clever engineering, too. They say that you can’t exclude engineers from your “isolated” system.

Scientists then reply that localized increases of entropy (or is its decreases? I can never tell) are observable in nature and there’s been even a Nobel prize awarded for research in this subject. The gist of that discovery is that when a system faces a large energy influx some “dissipative structures” can be formed to help disperse this energy. Structure means order, and so creationist argument is defeated.

Not so fast, creationists say, there’s a huge gap between turbulent gases flowing in a pattern and creation of life. Dissipative structures as an explanation for evolution is a rather new idea and most evolutionists haven’t heard of it yet, much less explain how it could actually work. The latest is that if you shine light on some atoms they will eventually orderly turn in such a way as to facilitate dispersal of incoming energy. This driver behind the evolution also disperses with Darwin’s natural selection but I’m sure they’ll be able to somehow reconcile the two just as I’m sure it won’t convince the creationists.

In a bigger picture, it’s obvious that Sun can heat up glaciers, ice would melt and flow down as a river, and a river would gradually arrange sand and rocks so that they would not obstruct its flow, but if you start from this obvious observation and declare that this is how the life has emerged you won’t impress anybody, so they talk about “dissipative structures” instead. The way I see it, at the very best this theory can explain creation of the “primordial soup”, existence of which creationists do not deny. It says nothing about emergence of life, however, and they’ve been zapping electricity through their soup in the lab for half a century now with no success.

There’s also something about creation of amino-acids that contradicts the second law but I have no brains left and I’d rather bring the subject back to saṅkīrtana, but let’s see how it goes, brains are unpredictable.

Vanity thought #1491. Ever increasing

In Śikṣāṣṭaka prayers Lord Caitanya called saṅkīrtana ānandāmbudhi vardhanaṁ, it expands the ocean of transcendental bliss. I don’t know about that, not the bliss part, but I suppose it will come in due time. What we can observe already, however, is the ever expanding part, so let’s look at saṅkīrtana’s total expansion. Same thing as I’ve been discussing for the last few days but from a different angle.

Expansion implies space, in particular space not yet occupied, but that is in our mundane perception. When scientists say that the universe is expanding they don’t mean it the way we understand expansion. There’s no extra space for the universe to expand into, it’s not like a balloon being blown up. All the space is inside the universe already, not outside. Universe does not exist in some emptiness, all the emptiness in the world is already inside the universe.

Perhaps we could look at the expansion of the universe in a different, philosophical way. What if it’s not the universe that is expanding but our perception of its size? I remember once walking into my old school gym and being very surprised at how small it actually was. Gym’s size didn’t change, of course, only my perception of it did, and, perhaps, we can apply the same logic to the universe, albeit it’s getting bigger, not smaller.

There’s a difference, though, I estimated the size of the gym by comparing it to all the other stuff I saw in my life, like the size of my body, the size of people around me, the size of my desk, how far I would normally walk or run, that kind of thing. As these things were gradually replaced with bigger versions or outright grew in size and so the gym stopped looking big by comparison. With the universe, however, we have absolute, not relative measurements.

If we compare the universe to how far we can travel, for example in space, then it should be seen as gradually shrinking but we rather observe the opposite. Never mind that, though, the theory of relativity can help us overcome this dilemma. We do not actually have absolute measurements of anything. We can calculate distances in miles and kilometer but those are useless for the size of the universe. Instead we have “light years”, meaning the distance light can cover by travelling for a year. We know the speed of light in kilometers per second so we can still use our traditional units but they would be too big to handle comfortably, like Zimbabwe’s trillion dollar notes which are worth a quarter (not sure about exact exchange rate).

The problem with light years, however, is that light can’t possibly travel for a year. From the light’s perspective every place in the universe, no matter how far out, is accessible in an instant. Light does not travel, it’s just there. It’s very hard to wrap our minds around it, but what actually happens is that the time stops. It doesn’t stop for us so we can talk about years or seconds taking for the light to reach some place, get reflected, and return, but time does not move for the light itself. By definition.

The point is that our perception of the size of the universe depends on our perception of time, and since it’s subjective there’s an opening for us to see universe as bigger or smaller, as expanding or shrinking, while, in fact, the universe might not change at all.

Expansion, therefore, must also mean something different, not just physical expansion into an adjacent space, it should take a different dimension, so to speak, and we can see it happening with saṅkīrtana, too.

At first, expanding saṅkīrtana could mean simply taking more people in. There’s a limited number of embodied souls capable of engaging in saṅkīrtana and so we can talk about saṅkīrtana movement as if it was a virus. It would affect an ever increasing percentage of the population until it either dies out or consumes all the available resources. It’s a battle, no doubt about it. Some new people get infected, some old ones get “cured” and return to their good old materialistic ways. It is also Kali Yuga so total saṅkīrtana domination is impossible.

Here we should remember that saṅkīrtana yajñā in this context is only a tool. Those souls who seek self-realization in this age can take advantage of it but otherwise Kali yuga is for people to finally express their demoniac nature, which was impossible in previous eras. This means we shouldn’t hope to convert everyone but only the relatively small percentage of the population that is interested in genuine spiritual progress. How many are there? We don’t know, and this means we don’t know if we have already saturated the market or still very far from it.

We can make a reasonable estimate by the number of new people being drawn in as well as by the number of existing devotees. Once we reach stability in the number of devotees and very few new recruits come in then it’s probably the time to talk about saturation, at least with our current preaching methods.

This is where saṅkīrtana should start expanding in another dimension, not outwardly, where it can be measured by sociologists, but inward, making a progressively deeper impacts on those who continue practicing. As Prabhupāda used to say – it’s time to boil the milk. Milk is good in itself but once boiled for a long time it becomes condensed and therefore even better. That’s how we make sweet rice and other mouth watering desserts.

In reality both of these processes go at the same time – external expansion and internal growth, and they are also interconnected. Internal growth brings external success and external success means the Lord is pleased, He becomes extra generous with His blessings, and this leads to intensifying our internal realizations.

At some point we run into big obstacles, it could be country’s laws that make preaching illegal, or it could be our anarthas that make further spiritual progress impossible. External obstacles might not affect our internal progress very much at first but not being able to engage our bodies will eventually slow down cleansing of our hearts, too. Kṛṣṇa will always provide what is necessary, of course, but for that we need to be constantly engaged in His service first. If we lack the opportunities for such engagement we might get ourselves in trouble.

That’s one of the reasons I said the other day that when going gets tough, a devotee find where it goes easy. If material nature doesn’t cooperate with some particular kind of service we need to find the kind where it does. Guru and Kṛṣṇa’s desires always get fulfilled and this means that if we have run into a wall we are probably not doing what they want, even if the orders are still visibly there. Understanding the mind of guru and Kṛṣṇa is not easy, sometimes they appear to be contradictory, and that’s why we should always check with śāstra and fellow devotees.

Proper saṅkīrtana should always be expanding, by definition, and that’s what we should always be on the lookout for – are we making progress? Are devotees around us making progress? Is our society making progress?

This reminds me of the second law of thermodynamics, but enough science for today.

Vanity thought #1490. Ultimate level

There’s just one more level left in the progression of saṅkīrtana, as far as hardware in the material world is capable of supporting, just as material bodies are not meant to support Kṛṣṇa premā. Beyond that material bodies simply go into meltdown, literally. We know that both Kṛṣṇa premā and saṅkīrtana continue uninterrupted in the spiritual world, and this adds another dimension to Śikṣāṣṭaka’s first verse, but let’s start with last level on Earth first.

When the tree of devotion begins to fructify one immediately notices that tasting these fruits absorbs all his consciousness and all his resources so that there’s nothing left to dedicate to the material world. First I wanted to say “material pursuits” but at this point there aren’t any already, yet material world still exists, service to the Lord still exists, preaching still exists, orders of the guru still exist, and they all have to go.

It’s not that one gives up his service completely but he sees all tiniest impurities and rejects them as offensive to the Lord. It’s like with offering food – in the beginning practically everything will do, even milk with traces of eggs in the milk powder used to produce it, as we heard from Prabhupāda, but as one progresses along he rejects more and more unsuitable bhoga and becomes more and more selective about the whole process, from raw ingredients to kitchen conditions to who does the cooking to who does the offering.

Similarly, at some point pushing books under false pretexts doesn’t do it for him anymore, it’s not saṅkīrtana, it’s not pure enough and even the motives are questionable. A lot of otherwise good, solid service gets rejected. Not rejected in the sense that being in the management position such devotee tells others to get lost, but he rejects it as an input to his own, internal offerings to the Lord. Externally he stays away from it and stops supporting it, or only offers half-hearted words of encouragement. It does not produce the required level of taste anymore.

This purified sādhana puts him in a sort of a pupa stage where no one knows what he is really doing and he hardly ever interacts with anybody. Meanwhile, purity being the force, his internal transformations gather speed and reach the level of avalanche – because this force is being applied without any hindrance. Up until that point everybody progresses at roughly the same speed, which is largely determined by how spiritually pure the environment for everyone involved is, say a temple, but when one creates a materially sterile environment just for himself he immediately starts to pull away.

All caterpillars visibly grow but when they become pupae this growth changes dimension and produces completely unpredictable results (if you haven’t seen butterflies before). Same happens with devotees when they come out of the nirjana bhajana stage.

They become paramahaṁsas and attain fully spiritual vision, the one where they literally see the form of Śyāmasundara everywhere they look, they don’t see anything else even if they try, not that they even think of trying. The also stop seeing the impurities and imperfections that drove them into retirement stage and therefore see no reason to reject anything anymore.

This is when they come out and preach like no one has seen before, completely fearless and unstoppable, and can transform lives of thousands in one fell swoop. They become those uttama mahā-bhāgavatas who we need to accept as our gurus, as we are constantly being told. Their mere presence immediately purifies everyone around them and a lava-mātra moment of their association is enough to infuse one with insatiable craving for the love of God.

That is not to say they become God themselves, this is impossible. I’ve started this post with talking about limitations and it’s time to remind that bodily limitations exist for everyone, even mahā-bhāgavatas.

Śrīla Prabhupāda used to compare bodies of devotees with iron rods placed in the fire. Eventually they become just as hot and can be used just as fire, but iron will always remain iron. Even the red hot iron has a shape of the same rod as it was when it was still cold. If all you see is shape and size then there’s no difference.

Similarly, devotees will never appear here in fully spiritual bodies, they will always be iron cast, so to speak. I’m not talking about those who descent here together with the Lord but those who achieve perfection through practice. Externally, their bodies will be indistinguishable from those of ordinary people most of the time. They will have normal blood pressure, sugar levels, body fat etc. They will be affected by environment just as everybody else, and they will get sick, just as everybody else.

Being under direct control of Kṛṣṇa, however, their bodies are also capable of transcending all material laws when necessary, good luck to science trying to catch those moments, though.

Material limitations also apply to their minds and intelligence, and, therefore, speech and interactions with others. Perfection doesn’t mean they would suddenly start speaking in tongues, but it would mean their mercy can overcome language barriers and flow freely to the soul itself. Still, they would need common language and translators to speak to others, just as everybody else.

One might wonder at this point if perfection makes a big difference at all. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, why should we assume that it’s not a duck anymore? Fair question, but is it asked from the right platform? Regardless of whether a devotee has or has not achieved perfection, if all one can see and recognize is ducks then it’s ducks he will see forever. It’s the same argument with seeing God, except God was always there while a devotee was supposed to undergo this transformation before our eyes. In both cases an ordinary person is incapable of seeing spiritual forms. If you can’t see God you can’t see true nature of God’s devotees either, it’s a question of one’s own vision, not of reality.

What we can observe, however, is the impact a devotee leaves on the world, the sheer number of conditioned souls whose lives he changes. No ordinary duck can do that, even if it doesn’t look like anything magical – just write, print, and sell books.

Our detractors often complain that ISKCON is obsessed with numbers, temples, big festivals etc. They might have a point about obsession but not about value of preaching. Numbers, temples, and festivals should be seen as symptoms of underlying pure devotion, people obsessed with material achievements won’t be able to accomplish that. They can build a sizable following, like Donald Trump, they can build big buildings, like Donald Trump, and they can have popular shows watched by millions, like Donald Trump, but they won’t be able to produce devotees. Only mahā-bhāgavata paramahaṁsas can do that.

Somehow or other we, in ISKCON, managed to preserve Śrīla Prabhupāda’s spiritual energy and carry on. I’m confident that when we need help Lord Caitanya will send us another mahā-bhāgavata to sustain our mission. We don’t have to worry about lack of care and support, just go on with out service and everything will turn out perfectly.

Vanity thought #1489. Guhya stage

Yesterday I talked about the second wave of a preaching bug which affects the best of the best. They become saṅkīrtana leaders and are most effective when preaching to fellow devotees, which multiplies their outreach exponentially. Preaching to devotees is also specifically mentioned by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gītā so they get a shot of extra bliss on that authority, in addition to doing saṅkīrtana in the company of appreciative bhaktas.

This might not last forever, though, and at some point many such devotees withdraw and apparently retire. One part of it is age – active preaching requires a lot of energy which older people simply don’t have. Another part is Prabhupāda’s promise of work now, samādhi later – there’s no “later” for old people and if they deserved a break they are entitled to have it.

Yet another reason is maturity of their devotion. I’m going to speculate here and speak of a platform I have no personal experience with, so forgive me if it doesn’t look exactly like this in real life.

Bhakti, pure bhakti, begins only after liberation, whatever we do before that stage is necessarily mixed with karma and jñāna and all kinds of selfishness. Liberation doesn’t happen at once, though, it’s a process of gradually cleansing our hearts and the further along we get, the more sensitive to impurities we become, and the more appreciative of pure chanting.

At some point even being the company of devotees starts to feel like a waste of time. It is helped by the sad fact that our internal communications mostly consist of grāmya kathā, otherwise known as prajalpa – idle talk that has little connection with glorifying the Lord. At some point devotees simply lose interest in listening to it any longer. We somehow assume that discussing Kṛṣṇa related topics is for preaching and for Bhāgavatam classes but in our everyday interactions it’s perfectly okay to talk about health, jobs, families, cars, or iPhones.

If one makes progress in his devotion he must realize that this has to be avoided, which makes devotees to shut themselves out and restrict their interactions with the community to the bare minimum. It is often accompanied by immersion in listening to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s recorded lectures and reading his books over and over again.

In case of our leaders, their privacy is usually respected and they are provided proper facilities to cultivate their devotion. Old age, declining health, and lack of physical energy help to justify this kind of “indulgence”, which is never afforded to young bhaktas. They deserve it, everyone thinks, and, come to think of it, probably treasure rare moments of their association even more, which is essential for developing quality over quantity. There isn’t anything new these mature devotees have to say, everyone already knows what to do, the main concern is taking these simple messages seriously, and the more respect we afford to the source the bigger the effect.

Anyway, we don’t officially call this stage nirjana-bhajana but this is what it essentially is – when devotees derive more nectar from the holy name itself then from interacting with others. We don’t want to officially label it “pure chanting”, which is a requirement for nirjana bhajana, because this label would require a lot of baggage to be brought in, too, we don’t want to deal with that. Fact is, people DO find pleasure in solitude with the name, they wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

Does it mean they are not engaging in saṅkīrtana anymore? Does it mean they lost the taste for preaching? There are plenty of people who consider this taste and this type of chanting as superior to in-your-face preaching by ISKCON “zealots”. On the face of it, the charge seems to be justified, but we shouldn’t judge the situation by its face anymore. If we really assign superior value to solitary chanting then we should also realize that we lose our qualification to judge. What happens between the Lord and His devotee at this stage is outside of our ability to understand.

I would offer a simple explanation – the beauty of the holy name is so mind blowing that it takes a long time to process and get used to it. It completely throws the devotee off balance and completely redraws his perception of reality. The world fades away, nothing seems to matter or even register, and there’s no question of preaching because the holy name consumes one’s entire consciousness, no one else seems to even exist.

Earlier I said that this transformation is gradual so the devotee oscillates between his ordinary perception and the revelations of the holy name. Preaching, as he has been doing it before, is defined by the rules of ordinary behavior and he is naturally not going to a attention to it anymore, it becomes a distraction from his newly acquired vision of the holy name.

This is a stage of guhya, secrecy, because no one else can get inside the mind and heart of such a devotee. We can only guess how things look to him at this point but we are bound to guess wrong, or only partially right. The full picture is impossible for us to see.

As an aside – anartha nivṛtti never actually ends and needs to be practiced all the way until we are in spiritual Goloka in full spiritual bodies, even presence in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in the earthly Vṛndāvana requires cleansing of the heart from the last vestiges of contamination. One source of these anarthas is devotional service itself, we are naturally bound to misinterpret bhakti and abuse it for our own ends.

When we see a devotee visibly losing taste for preaching we assume that preaching is no longer important and need not be practiced, and it reflects on how much value we place on it in our own lives – it becomes less valuable, something we think we’ll need to abandon once we reach the stage of perfection. We accept that we have to do it for now but not eternally, and many use this as an excuse to justify their laziness. This is actually a digression and we should protect our minds from such thoughts and attitudes.

Finally, a devotee withdrawing from others is like a butterfly in a pupa stage. Before that he was a caterpillar, and caterpillars can be amazingly beautiful. This beauty is not present in the pupa stage but once its over and the butterfly emerges we realize that their new beauty infinitely exceeds the beauty of the caterpillars in every respect. When these devotees emerge from their adjustment to presence of the real holy name in their lives they will return to preaching like no one has done it before, like Śrīla Prabhupāda. Their potency will be indisputable and their powers will be self-evident. Then we can understand how one Moon can overshadow millions of tiny stars.

This is bound to happen in due course of time, certainly not to everybody in this life, but what our tradition has never had a lack of is existence of such self-effulgent ācāryas, we simply need to be patient, sometimes it might take hundreds of years.

Vanity thought #1488. Second wave

I like how Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu is divided into four oceans and each ocean is further subdivided into waves, you don’t see it with any other book, somehow we are unique here even if materialists seem to have tried all possible combinations in story telling. Let me borrow a bit from BRS and talk about second wave of an ocean of saṅkīrtana, a second stage in being infected by a preaching bug.

Technically, the first wave is when a person who just turned to Kṛṣṇa can’t contain himself and tells everyone around him about it, challenging people to accept that there’s God because it’s the most natural thing there to see. Somehow logic and reason that atheists use to prove that God doesn’t exist but for new bhaktas same facilities point to God’s existence from any angle they look. They can’t usually convince anybody yet but seriously wonder how God’s presence is not obvious to non-believers.

There are reasons behind this inability to convert others but let’s not go there today, it’s not really preaching yet. This bug, however, is the first sign of love of God even though a person might be lifetimes away from developing it into something real. Then comes association with devotees and one gets instructions on how to preach properly, which often reduces to “don’t even try, let books do their magic.”

It doesn’t require a genius to figure out that on our own we are terrible at preaching and we have personally nothing to offer. Whatever works happens by the grace of guru and Kṛṣṇa, and specifically, but the grace of Śrīla Prabhupāda who gave people such wonderful books. We might not be able to convince anybody but reading even a single sentence from our books can turn people’s lives upside down, there’s no doubt about their potency, so all we have to do is to bring people and books together.

The downside to this realization is that we can now excuse ourselves and accept all kinds of dubious methods to put books into people’s hands. If they hold them, open them, look at the pictures, they are halfway there already, and to get that initial interest devotees invent all kinds of outrageous stories. They say these books are about yoga, āyurveda, history, travelling to other planets, secret knowledge withheld by the government, music, cooking, family planning, basically, whatever people want to hear.

When we deploy this strategy we, unfortunately, completely abandon the saṅkīrtana, we just hope people will somehow or other get the benefits at a later date, maybe years after buying the books. Maybe their family members, friends, or guests would incidentally notice them on the shelves and open them. This could happen, there are plenty of stories confirming it, but it’s not saṅkīrtana per se, it’s not discussing Lord’s glories with like minded people. In fact, we’d rather avoid talking about God at all and hide this topic from people we “preach” to.

Maybe this eventually gets to us, maybe there other reasons, but what normally happens is that devotees slowly lose interest in seeking association of random people in the streets in hope that they might have a nice chat about God. As I said yesterday, there’s usually a stage where devotees can’t stay in the temple and seek rush of saṅkīrtana outside, but then it almost inevitably passes.

If there have been no serious offenses then what happens is devotees start seeking the nectar elsewhere. Since we are still terrible at preaching we don’t quite feel the ecstasy and don’t feel we accomplished much. What “gets” us from that point on is telling others stories about saṅkīrtana and sharing our experiences. Quite often we get a lot more nectar from fellow devotees who appreciate what we are going through then actually being out there. Why wouldn’t it be so?

As we gradually progress in our devotion we finally start to appreciate the value of other devotees and start seeking their association over not-so-pleasant exchanges we get with strangers outside, even meeting the innocent people and turning them towards God feels less exciting than a few good moments in company of real devotees. We also develop the taste for hearing about Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, or, more generally, the taste for hearing Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, not only Kṛṣṇa specifically.

Then we get to visit India and see Māyāpura and Vṛndāvana. Some get swept away, others only strenuously try to fall in love with dhāmas, but no one remains indifferent, even those who don’t like India very much wonder if there’s something wrong with them. Comparing to all those experiences, and they can be very, very powerful, going out and listening to abuse on the streets becomes abhorrent. Before that we thought abuse was directed at us and so we learned to tolerate it for the sake of cutting down our own ego but now we see it as offenses against the holy name and they become unacceptable.

I guess we get to that pippali khanda moment displayed by Lord Caitainya – we go to preach to save people but if they commit offenses they only condemn themselves. Pippali khanda is a medicine for curing cold but Lord Caitanya made an observation that administering it unexpectedly produced more mucus, which isn’t right. No one understood what he was talking about at the time but now we know that He decided to take sannyāsa so that ordinary folk were forced to hear whatever He had to say without any objections. He decided that his preaching should not generate offenses.

Same thing happens to us, I believe, though it might not be very pronounced. When we see how atheists treat devotees and hear abuse hurled at us, Kṛṣṇa, and Śrīla Prabhupāda, we think it’s not worth it and we should go about it in a different way. I don’t think we do it consciously but one way or another we decide to concentrate on preaching to devotees and to selected outsiders, men of power, culture, and caliber.

Of course not all of us get to this stage, most devotees get stuck doing something else, but I’m talking about the ideal course of progress, and we can see it in the lives of our leaders. They become senā-pati bhaktas, commanders-in-chief. They inspire thousands of devotees who, in turn, go and preach to ordinary people, exponentially increasing our outreach. They also get to meet dignitaries whose favorable impressions make the rest of the society well disposed towards our mission, too. This kind of preaching can create an incalculable value for time spent on it and I hope it all works out for the betterment of our mission at the end.

It makes sense to me, both tactically and strategically, and that’s why I decided to call it a “second wave of saṅkīrtana” today. It’s natural, it’s to be expected, and it shouldn’t be held against our leaders.

Vanity thought #1488. Jewel of sankirtana

Yesterday I was talking about how preaching comes twice in our lives, in the beginning and at the end, if we are lucky. I don’t know if there’s any śāstric support for this but we can easily see it in the lives of the devotees. Maybe it’s not the right way or the best way but this is what happens.

A person comes in contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, gets excited and wants to share his discovery, then he listens to the temple lectures encouraging everyone to go and preach, faithfully complies, becomes older and loses his enthusiasm, tries to catch up on his material enjoyment, drowns in the dark well of married life, and you never hear from him again. Those blessed by guru and Kṛṣṇa keep struggling, most with little success, but there are rare few who stick it out to the end and get Lord Caitanya’s special mercy.

They are the ones who get to experience the bliss of preaching for the second time in their lives. Cleansed of all the anarthas, free from all obligations, steady in their service, they become perfect tools in Mahāprabhu’s hands and their preaching is very powerful, and sometimes very successful, too, even if they don’t strive for the recognition. Not everyone gets to be Hanumān, most of us just plain monkeys. In any case, they can deliver any conditioned soul who takes shelter at their lotus feet, the Lord makes sure of that. How many get saved? That depends.

Let’s look at this process from saṅkīrtana perspective. Holy name is very powerful, whoever hears it for the first time with enough sincerity gets simply blown away, it’s impossible to contain. Perhaps this first stage is simply infatuation, if we compare it to the mundane love, but it is a clear sign of the beginning of something great. I suppose, just as with human relationships, not every one falls in love at first sight, some people need time for their gift of love to grow, but everyone eventually gets to the point when he can’t control what is happening to him and love takes over.

It’s at this point one looks like he can’t shut up about this “Kṛṣṇa” thing and tries to convert everyone around him. I guess it was at this stage that Lord Caitanya instructed Kūrma brāhmaṇa to yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa. We should use this opportunity, too, and we should treat it with great respect, our nascent feelings for Kṛṣṇa consciousness need a lot of nurturing just as building a family requires a lot more than initial romantic infatuation.

That’s why our ISKCON devotees need to be pushed to preach. Their initial urge needs to be magnified and maintained for as long as possible with all the help we can provide. Preaching is important not just because Lord Caitanya said so to one random brāhmaṇa in a place we can’t remember but because preaching is saṅkīrtana.

Saṅ in saṅkīrtana stands for “complete” and “perfect” and at the beginning stage perfection means “congregational”. Eventually it might come to also mean “on the pure spiritual level, free from material contamination” but we are not there yet, and even then it’s not the end of the road. Important thing to remember – saṅkīrtana for us means chanting in the company of devotees.

What has it got to do with preaching, one must legitimately ask. Shouldn’t saṅkīrtana be performed in temples, in the company of devotees? Lord Caitanya locked the doors of Śrīvāsa’s house on purpose – to keep undesirable element out, so, perhaps, that’s how saṅkīrtana should be done.

This is fine, temple programs are there to give us spiritual strength, they are never to be skipped let alone abandoned, but saṅkīrtana is an ever increasing phenomenon, it needs to grow, it needs to be perfected every day of our lives.

Truth is, devotees sitting in the temples and eating prasādam eventually lose the edge. Close proximity leads to familiarity, familiarity breeds contempt, contempt leads to aparādhas, and aparādhas lead to the loss of taste, which makes saṅkīrtana less effective, if possible at all. One can find plenty of examples of temple devotees losing enthusiasm for kīrtanas and walking around with “been there, done that” look on their faces. They can’t admit they are slipping back into māyā so they treat their loss of enthusiasm as a sign of maturity instead.

One of the ways to overcome this limitation is to stick to the company of people who are still full of enthusiasm, guests, for example. Preaching to the congregation is very fulfilling, they come thirsty for spiritual knowledge and they appreciate every bit of devotion that comes their way, they haven’t developed cynicism of the older bhaktas yet. Problem is, they don’t come very often and not everyone gets to deliver classes to them all the time. Outside the temple room they aren’t that focused and can easily misdirect the conversation to mundane aspects of our lives. It’s important to them to get to know other devotees better but discussing our lives is not saṅkīrtana.

That’s why we always can go out and talk to ordinary people instead, ie preach and “proselytize”. There are obvious drawbacks to that but at least we will be spared disinterest of temple vāsīs and boredom of temple conversations – that is if people haven’t met Hare Kṛṣṇas one time too many and cross the road as soon as they see us.

We can also get abused, ridiculed, denigrated, and being totally ignored probably hurts even more – hate at least shows some form of relationship, people listen, think, and respond, so at the end we can still say “we talked about Kṛṣṇa.” Being totally ignored shows us that we don’t have power to connect to people on any level whatsoever, though we can hang onto that initial moment when they realize what is going to happen and turned their eyes away from us. It’s their own shame that is talking to their minds so we have a theoretical opening there, though it’s probably not worth the trouble exploring.

All these bad experiences is not what saṅkīrtana devotees live for, however. There are moments when we do find sincere souls who appreciate our message and are thankful for the encounter. It’s in these moments, however rare, when our hearts melt with gratitude to Lords Caitanya and Nityānanda and we can’t wait to tell devotees back home about it.

This is the saṅkīrtana we should be performing and it works great for our own purification. It’s not about the number of books or the amount collected, or even about praise and mercy we get back at the temple, it’s about sharing this lava-mātra with people we have never met before but who suddenly display appreciation for talking about Kṛṣṇa. This is when it becomes “congregational”, even if for a split second.

Saṅkīrtana is not about tapasyā and taking abuse, it’s not about earning the mercy the hard way, it’s about those rare moments when congregational praising of the Lord actually happens, that’s what constitutes preaching, everything else is just inconveniences we are ready to tolerate for saṅkīrtana’s sake.

That’s why we are not advised to insist on preaching to atheists, saṅkīrtana will never happen in their association, that’s why we are not advised to disclose the glory of the holy name to non-devotees, for that would be offensive. We need to find devotees and disclose the glory to them, then it would work. In some places the land is simply barren and I don’t see the problem with devotees seeking better pastures elsewhere.

There are other, inferior motives that can force us to “stick to the plan”, it could be stubbornness, it could be desire to “win” at any cost, it could be desire to prove ourselves, it could be protection of our bruised egos, it could be the assumption that we are on the great preaching mission authorized and directed by the Lord Himself rather than simple beginner bhaktas who half the time have no clue what they are doing. We might think that our “saṅkīrtana” is a great boon to the humanity and not just a suitable method to purify ourselves.

Truth is, we need nectar to survive, we are not in the position to sacrifice bliss for the sake of service yet. When going gets tough, a devotee seeks where it gets easy. There are limits to our spiritual powers and the amount of abuse we can take before we succumb to our minds and decide to give up the whole thing. If we stick to non-believers company in vain hope that one day they’ll come around we start to take their association and it will never end well. Leave them alone and move on, there are people seeking spiritual knowledge elsewhere, we need to find them, there are limited opportunities for that and we shouldn’t miss them and waste our time on something unproductive.

We should never forget that saṅkīrtana is nectar, it’s meant to nourish and purify the soul, and that is why we go out and preach – we should seek association of people who appreciate Lord’s message and we should enjoy this association together. Everything else gives preaching its negative connotations, sometimes very well deserved.

Vanity thought #1487. Stages of preaching

Educating people in spiritual matters for their own benefit is a duty of a sādhu. Sometimes people will not like to hear what he has to say but a sādhu must tolerate it because that’s his life, tolerance is a big part of it even though being abused seems like being against Kṛṣṇa’s promise of protection. Śrīla Prabhupāda often mentioned two qualities in this regard – titikṣavaḥ and kāruṇikāḥ in this regard, sādhus are tolerant and merciful, also friends with all living beings and inimical to no one, but the point is – they come and tell people about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, as Prabhupāda stresses in the purport to the verse (SB 3.25.21).

Okay, that’s a general basis for “preaching”, whatever it means. It’s not every day that sādhu appears at your doorstep and delivers a sermon, it’s a rare and beneficial occasion, he is not a stalker. And neither are we, for that matter. We, however, have saṅkīrtana as our main sādhana and this somewhat modifies the process. Let’s have a look at how exactly.

We have this instruction from Caitanya Mahāprabhu, for example – yāre dekha, tāre kaha ‘kṛṣṇa’-upadeśa – whoever you meet, tell them about Kṛṣṇa. (CC Madhya 7.128). The other line is about becoming a guru but I’m interested in the first one. We take it as an order to go and preach. Seems straightforward but we must not forget the context, too. This line was spoken to one Kūrma brāhmaṇa who the Lord met on his South Indian tour. The brāhmaṇa specifically begged Mahāprabhu to take him as a companion on what was a preaching tour but the Lord refused.

The brāhmaṇa wanted to escape clutches of his materialistic family life. He enjoyed serving the Lord while He stayed at his home so even if Lord Caitanya was going to South India to preach about Kṛṣṇa, the brāhmaṇa simply liked Lord’s association. Somehow the Lord thought this approach to preaching shouldn’t be encouraged. First of all, the brāhmaṇa was motivated by bhoga-tyāga duality. He wanted liberation from misery, not service per se. If liberation meant preaching along with the Lord he’d probably do it but he hasn’t thought this through and, in any case, it’s not the proper motive. He’d probably turn back as soon as going got tough and his old family life didn’t look so bad anymore. Preaching deserves more than that, it should become one’s life and soul, not a trade off in exchange for Lord’s company.

So, Mahāprabhu offered a better solution – stay where you are and preach to everyone you meet. This way you’ll gradually understand how important it is and transcend your dual vision of happiness and distress. You complain about your household life now, but if you take to preaching, stay the course and keep your nose clean your life will become successful.

Actually, the first instruction to this brāhmaṇa was to always chant the holy name, preaching order came after that. And the assurance was this: “If you follow this instruction, your materialistic life at home will not obstruct your spiritual advancement. Indeed, if you follow these regulative principles, we will again meet here, or, rather, you will never lose My company.”

Here we have an example of how to perform saṅkīrtana yajña properly – start with chanting, then engage others, then success will come. This is not the end of it, however, because this kind of success was offered in response to brāhmaṇa’s request to be with the Lord, not everyone will stop at this, there are plenty of other devotees who took it much further and accepted fulfilling Lord’s orders as more important than keeping his association.

The entire process, then, goes as follows – start with chanting, follow regulative principles and refrain from committing sinful activities (which are offenses to the holy name), then start preaching about Kṛṣṇa to whoever you meet, then you’ll attain Lord’s association, and then you’ll realize that serving Lord’s mission is even better, then the Lord will utilize you as His tool and put you to real work, preaching the holy name all around the world.

It wasn’t just this brāhmaṇa who was given this path. Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmīs did the same thing – they met the Lord, took to chanting, attained Lord’s association and received His mercy, and then He ordered them to go and preach on His behalf in Vṛndāvana. The same thing happened to Śrīla Prabhupāda – he met his guru, gradually developed his preaching skills, trying to print books and magazines for decades, got himself a sweet spot at one of Vṛndāvana’s most important temples, but then, at the age of seventy, He was finally picked by the Lord to abandon it all and go to preach in America. Same thing happened to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī – he approached his guru, then he took a vow to chant a billion names, and only then he was ready to start his preaching mission. Same thing happened to Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, too – he gradually became a devotee, was preaching here and there, writing simple books etc, became an established vaiṣṇava, and then retired and dedicated the rest of his life to spreading saṅkīrtana all around Bengal and writing his most important books which we use as reference to this day.

The point is – there are two stages when devotees preach – the beginning and the end. At the first stage preaching is a tool to achieve perfection, and at the second stage preaching becomes the goal and perfection in itself.

Not all our ISKCON leaders have reached that second stage yet, it is extremely rare, plus there’s the reality that one man can reach only so many people so it’s more efficient to train the army to fight on his behalf. That’s what Śrīla Prabhupāda did, too – he started his mission on his own but it was his disciples who went out and opened centers all around the world so that Prabhupāda could concentrate on our main projects in Māyāpura, Vṛndāvana, and Bombay.

I don’t think Prabhupāda paying more interest to these three temples was India-centric, btw, it’s just that his western disciples were not equipped to build temples in India, there’s no way they could have done it without Prabhupāda like they did it in Los-Angeles, New York, or London. Well, they didn’t technically “built” temples there but the point is that India was not their home turf and Prabhupāda had to do it himself.

Still, if we listen to Prabhupāda’s lectures, most of the time he didn’t speak to devotees but to potential newcomers. Most of his lectures revolved around simple concepts, spiritual ABCs. Some took it to mean that he didn’t teach us anything advanced, some took it to mean that we need to understand the ABC first, but it also means that Prabhupāda was more concerned about saving those who still don’t know about Kṛṣṇa while his disciples would do just fine.

Even if Prabhupāda had thousands of disciples to help him in the preaching mission, especially in distributing books, still he was very concerned about personally bringing people to Kṛṣṇa whenever he had a chance. Wherever he went, especially in India, he participated in some kind of public programs for outsiders, not many our leaders can replicate that, we are just not ready yet, and we can’t expect everyone to achieve this level either, but someone will eventually reach there, it’s only a matter of time, the process works.

Vanity thought #1486. Paracara

A while ago I spent many days talking about vāmācāra and dakṣiṇācara, the left and right-handed paths. I don’t want to go back to it, it’s hard to even summarize it in one sentence. Maybe one paragraph would set the context.

If one faces east then dakṣiṇa, south, is on one’s right side. Vāmā, however, is not “left” per se, but is usually translated as a woman. The difference then becomes between “male” and “female” paths, with all that it entails. Brahma Yāmala tantra, which declares saṅkīrtana as the yuga dharma and predicts appearance of Lord Caitanya, and also is the source of our popular “Devotional service of the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures…” quote, divides ācāra, paths or methods, into dakṣiṇa, vāma, and madhyama and puts them under goodness, ignorance, and passion respectively. The difference between vāmā and dakṣiṇa, however, exists even in Goloka where these modes do not reach so this classification shouldn’t be read as ultimate.

What I want to point out today that one possible word for preaching, paracāra, has prefix para which would suggest that it transcends all the other paths and their dualistic differences. Wouldn’t that be nice? There could be some other Sanskrit rule that excludes this reading but on the surface this looks pretty straightforward.

What needs to be noted right away, however, is that the word parācāra might not even exist. In our books it appears only in one apparently Bengali verse in Caitanya Caritāmṛta where it refers to Śukadeva Gosvāmī propagating sweetness of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes through Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, not preaching as in going out and converting people to a different religion.

There are words pracāra and pracāraka and they mean “publishing”, “publisher”, and “preacher”. This is a different prefix, however – pra. Pracāra is a very common word in Caitanya Caritāmṛta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda translated it as preaching. Perhaps paracāra is only a Bengali corruption, and, in any case, it should have been parācāra – with the long ā in the second syllable, so it’s probably all nonsense, but it was nice while it lasted.

English word “preach” is traced to Latin roots but I can’t ignore similarity between pracāra and preacher, it can’t be a coincidence. Of course English didn’t get this word from medieval Bengal and so there must be a common root somewhere in Sanskrit, which opens up the possibility that my invented parācāra might still be a real thing.

All this [unnecessary] confusion only proves that preaching is a mysterious activity. We don’t have a nice, straightforward explanation we could easily refer to. We don’t even have a clear definition, for that matter, not even in English. Typical meaning is “to deliver a sermon”, but also to do it in an obtrusive and unwelcome way, which is not what happens inside churches, I hope.

It appears that pushing your views on others when they are minding their own business gives a negative connotation to preaching, while if these same people come for instructions themselves then it’s okay. I don’t see why the same reasoning couldn’t be applied to Vedic context, too. Transcendental knowledge is the same, sense gratification is the same, people’s reaction to being disturbed is the same. No one likes to be told that what they are doing is leading them to hell. If these words, even if unpleasant, come from a sādhu, however, they do carry an authority, and it’s the same both in India and in the West.

In India sādhus’ words should carry even more weight and people take such sudden interventions as a sign from above, but YMMV, of course. Sādhus are not what they used to be and attachment to sense gratification has grown even stronger, and so people are becoming more and more defensive of their ways. First they’d refuse to accept a “preacher” as a sādhu, then they might refuse to listen, then they might refuse to accept the challenge to their worldviews. Sense gratification is a lot harder to come by, if you got your nice little situation going you’d hold onto it as if it was your dear life itself, so whoever implies you are living your life wrong needs to be erased from your consciousness.

Nevertheless, preaching is sādhu’s duty. Things might have become corrupted with progress of Kali and sādhus are accepted and fed only to get their blessings, not their heart splitting knowledge, but this has been the traditional way, as far as we know from our literature. If sādhu’s words do not cut the knot of material attachments in one’s heart they have not been effective, and it’s hardly ever a pleasant affair – it’s a sacrifice of one’s ego.

Of course it’s so much easier to simply avoid all that and feed the sādhu so that he’d go away without speaking, and ask him to leave some blessings while at it. People want religion to pander to their desires and be sensitive to their feelings, but this comes from the platform of total ignorance and resulting attachments.

Their argument is that they ARE religious already, and so it should be enough. When they are ready to take the next step they’ll do it themselves, no need to push them. It’s a reasonable argument but it puts oneself at the front and center of his spiritual progress, and not even oneself but his own mind. It ignores the reality of illusion, which gradually sucks one in. Left on their own with their families and their comfortable lives people turn to religion less and less, especially in this day and age.

Occasionally their minds are illuminated by sattva and they might feel like going to the temple but once it’s over they go back to their [sinful] ways and visits from sattva guṇa become rarer and rarer. It just happens, anyone with even a little intelligence can notice that. The problem, however, is not in intelligence but in unwillingness to harm one’s own ego and whatever little comfort it provides.

Besides, this entire concept of “I can do it myself, don’t need any help, thank you very much” is adharmic and foolish. No one is saved by himself, no one acquires transcendental knowledge on his own, one must always have an external guide, a guru, and sādhus are gurus for everyone. At the very least one must hear his message and then decide how it fits with what is taught by his other gurus.

We, as Hare Kṛṣṇas, are not going to take advice from any random sādhu or much less from Christian preachers, but we should always listen to what the sādhu has to say and see if it’s Kṛṣṇa reaching to us to strengthen our faith and devotion. We’ll check if it fits with guru and śāstra and, perhaps, extract something useful even from brimstone and fire, “you are all going to hell” type of attacks. We should be liberal enough to acknowledge possible validity in any preaching message delivered to us – it’s all controlled by Kṛṣṇa and He must have some purpose behind it.

We can’t expect similar broad mindedness from others, however, and sādhu persecution is a historical phenomenon, too, and, historically, sādhus were always tolerant of abuse, abuse is a par for the course and goes with the lifestyle.

Okay, that should cover the basics, next is how preaching fits with the current yuga-dharma.

Vanity thought #1485. Paradoxes of preaching

I don’t quite remember how I got from discussing the need to rest to the need to preach, maybe it’s that Christian sermon that reminded me of preaching, even though that woman didn’t say a word about it, as far as I remember. Hmm, perhaps these Christians are not totally worthless, after all, and can help keep us on track, too.

Speaking of Christians, their preaching is also New Testament based, the Old one doesn’t have any such prescriptions, so, I suppose, they would also have difficulty fitting it into overall theology. Why is it that preaching starts with Christ but he himself didn’t teach anything new but came to fulfill? Same question as I ask myself when looking at our tradition. They say that Jesus was God’s unique gift to mankind, a Savior, and because preaching naturally is an act of saving, it makes total sense. Why hadn’t God been worried about saving people earlier, though? Weren’t they fallen and corrupted by the original sin from the beginning of creation? What changed?

Never mind, we attribute our preaching to Lord Caitanya who inaugurated the saṅkīrtana movement as the yuga dharma for this age. In previous yugas other processes were more suitable but, as they slowly started to lose their potency, the Lord appeared to dharma saṁsthāpanārthāya, to reestablish principles of religion.

I guess at this point Christians can claim that “Jesus did it first” but maybe it was because Kali yuga consumed Palestine faster. Never mind.

Yesterday I tried to attribute preaching to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, and since trying Her mood of devotion was Lord Caitanya’s primary reason for appearance it makes sense. The only missing part now is whether preaching can be connected to regular saṅkīrtana or whether it’s something truly special.

Christians see the differences between proselytism and evangelism, for example, and there are differences between evangelists and missionaries, and between pastors and preachers. It’s obviously a complicated matter, a concept that doesn’t easily fit into the existing classification. Same happens to us.

We do have a Bhagavad Gītā verse (BG 18.68), however:

ya idaṁ paramaṁ guhyaṁ
mad-bhakteṣv abhidhāsyati
bhaktiṁ mayi parāṁ kṛtvā
mām evaiṣyaty asaṁśayaḥ

For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.

Here it’s not only the learning that is important but explaining it to others. Teaching others is even better, and this means preaching. That’s how we see it in our tradition but still something is not right, something is missing.

First of all, it’s not explaining to others but explaining to mad-bhakteṣu. my devotees. Secondly, it differentiates between preaching as a tool to achieve pure devotional service from preaching as a goal in itself, if it, indeed, originates with Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. She doesn’t do it to get something else, introducing others to Kṛṣṇa is a perfect service in itself, though I do not know what rasa is that exactly.

We understand preaching to mean going out and converting non-devotees, and it’s not what Kṛṣṇa talks about in this verse. Or maybe we understand preaching wrong.

Here’s another thing – our leaders, the best of the best, hardly ever talk to non-devotees. They preach by giving Bhāgavatam classes in our temples. They also preach by their life example but only devotees get to see and appreciate that. I mean every preaching story by our sannyāsīs starts with “I was sitting on the plane next to…”, and I remember only one variation: “We were travelling by train and there were these guys…”

Travelling is the only time their lives intersect with those who most need to be preached to. And not travelling as in backpacking through Asia or the way medieval merchants traveled to India and China. Modern transportation is a different beast altogether. It’s not a valuable experience anymore, it must be short, comfortable, and isolated from others as best as possible. It’s not like walking together whole day and then finally relaxing by the campfire, which naturally leads to a lot of sharing. People do not buy economy tickets so that they can talk to each other and many try to avoid it at all costs. These people are not travelers, they are passengers.

So, why is it that our preachers do not normally engage with non-devotees? Are they doing something wrong or is there something wrong with preaching this way? And if there’s something wrong with this understanding of preaching then why do they share these few precious moments with the rest of us as if it were most memorable experiences of their lives? Why don’t their stories start with “I was giving this Bhāgavatam class and there was this devotee who…”? Why don’t they remember our faces, life stories, and questions? Hmm, they do remember questions, though: “This has been asked many times before”, or “This question betrays some incorrect understanding on your behalf.” Maybe not in these exact words but the message is there.

I must admit, having to explain simple things all over again does kill the mood, as I said yesterday – we can’t discuss Lord’s intimate pastimes when people are still wondering how the mind gets to control the soul, for example, and ask questions about that.

This difference existed from the very beginning of Lord Caitanya’s mission, btw. They used to lock the doors of Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura’s house to exclude outsiders from their kīrtanas on purpose. And they closely guarded Lord’s later pastimes in Jagannātha Purī, too. There are stories of devotees feeling excluded and then rejoicing when being allowed to enter. There are stories of envious atheists spreading rumors and trying to pollute Śrīvāsa Ṭhākura’s reputation, too. This practice has been the talk of the town for quite a while.

To be fair, at that time preaching hadn’t been started yet, Mahāprabhu hadn’t taken chanting to the streets yet, but it does show that kīrtanas should be reserved for devotees only. And we can’t say that because they were held behind closed doors they were somehow incomplete, not saṅkīrtanas.

Hmm, this is going slower than expected, the secret nature of preaching is still escaping me, even though I do have an idea where to take this discussion next.

Vanity thought #1484. Seeking the source

Today the entire Gauḍiyā world celebrates the appearance day of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Unfortunately, I’m not in the mood to “wax lyrical” about it, which means I don’t feel cleansed enough to discuss Her personality directly. Or I could use Śukadeva’s excuse and say that I won’t talk about Her because it would bring forward too much ecstasy and it shouldn’t be done in public. It’s a great excuse to use (rhyme!) because not only it makes one feel spiritually advanced but also denigrates the audience as not being qualified to hear about Śrī Rādhika.

Of course the audience will always take affront at being called unworthy of discussion, especially on a day like this, but, tbh, none of us is qualified and it’s perfectly okay for us not to wade into Her world in our current condition. Spiritually, we are like plumbers who just finished a five hour fight with a massive sewage leak. Neither the smell, nor the sight, nor our vocabulary fit for the occasion.

Just the other day I listened to what was labeled “Rādhā kathā” but most of the talk, like 90% of it, was about material attachments and controlling the mind, the ABC stuff. I also remembered how Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī took his disciples on the very first Vṛndāvana Parikramā and they were all filled with anticipation of nectarian pastimes. Instead, sitting on the bank of Rādha-kuṇḍa, he lectured exclusively on upaniṣads and haven’t mentioned līlā even once. When local bābājīs passed an unfavorable judgement on his level of advancement he paid back by calling them “all kaniṣṭhas”.

In his explanation upaniṣads are all about glorifying Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa but we can’t hear it because of our stunted vision. We see only philosophy in them and not their pure spiritual form. Consequently, we are attracted by “pastimes” because of the mundane meanings and imagination provoked in our minds, and so if we can’t yet relish the upaniṣads we shouldn’t try to relish the pastimes either. Discourse on foundational philosophy therefore, was a test of his listeners readiness. Some passed, some didn’t.

Another reason he considered local bābājīs as kaniṣṭhas was because they didn’t understand preaching. This is really a simple litmus test in our tradition – preaching is our life and soul, if we don’t get it we are not advanced at all, we are kaniṣṭhas. Madhyamas should preach, it’s their dharma, but it gets a little more complicated with uttamas because they can legitimately engage in nirjana bhajana, a solitary worship, and are not obliged to preach. But even the uttamas, when ther devotion is fully ripened, renounce renunciation and become parivrājaka ācāryas, wandering preachers. This little period of legitimate nirjana, solitude, gives people an excuse to excuse themselves from preaching. Personally, I think they are abusing it, but that’s not something I want to discuss today.

What is the source of this preaching urge? What is the śāstric support for it? What is its philosophical basis?

On this occasion it must be said that we preach because Śrī Rādhika does so, we just follow Her footsteps. We say that preaching originates from Vṛndāvana because Śrī Rādhika wants Kṛṣṇa to experience bliss of relationships with all the suitable gopīs, She is not possessive and jealous in this sense. Whatever makes Kṛṣṇa happy is above Her personal considerations. Finding new people to bring to Kṛṣṇa’s service, therefore, is an essential service.

This is a perfectly good explanation, I’ve even heard how Prahlāda Mahārāja’s compassion towards all living beings and his preaching to his classmates were not really his but a reflection of Śrī Rādhā. That was an argument against looking at non-Vṛndāvana devotees as inferior. They are, in a traditional sense, but they also aren’t because all devotion stems from Śrī Rādhā and Śrī Vṛndāvana and, therefore, it can’t be imperfect or inferior. Śrīla Mādhavendra Purī, for example, is “only” a tree in the spiritual world, and yet he is the one who brought the nectarean rasa into our sampradāya.

So, okay, we can say that preaching originates from Śrī Rādhā, but then I have a question – why do Christians do it, too? Surely, procuring other girls for Kṛṣṇa’s enjoyment is not on the list of their reasons. They have no clue about spiritual relationships whatsoever, no rasa beyond servitorship. Perhaps a different philosophical basis is needed, but I’m not going to take it away from Śrī Rādhā today.

Whatever reasons they have, they still originate in Her service, She is the patron of all devotees everywhere, even outside of our tradition. Yes, we’d better not mention Her existence to Christians at all, but it doesn’t mean they don’t owe Her anything. Their world might start and end with JC but we know that JC was just a messenger. Not in a sense he heard something something in Kashmir and then rushed back to Palestine to share his new found enthusiasm, but as a genuine messenger from the spiritual world.

We don’t know the true source of his knowledge and his true spiritual form. Whatever it is, however, it could only be an expansion of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, no matter how many times removed from Her personally.

Oh, and I just remembered another test we can easily apply to ourselves – do we pray to Kṛṣṇa or to Rādhā? If we still aspire to be Kṛṣṇa’s devotees we are still neophytes. Real devotees in our sampradāya aspire to be devotees of Śrī Rādhā, and traditional Vrndāvana greeting of “Rādhe Rādhe” is not just a quaint custom but a reflection of spiritual reality, too.

Of course we can also cheat and train ourselves to pray to Śrī Rādhā but that won’t make us any more advanced, we shouldn’t cheapen the shelter of Her lotus feet by pretending it’s ready to accept us so we can start praying right away. When the time comes it will come to us naturally, too. In fact, if we catch ourselves on trying to appear more advanced than we really are, it’s another sign of being neophytes.

Why am I fixated on these tests, one might ask. The answer is that these are tests of readiness to discuss Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa līlā and whether listening to this kind of kathā would be beneficial to us or not.

Having said that, nothing should stop us from praying for the cooling shelter of Her soft, fragrant lotus feet. And here I’ve already said too much. Enough.