We don’t get to see this term very often nowadays but there are some holdouts who still think Hare Kṛṣṇa is a cult and its members been brainwashed into it. Personally, I think we need to brainwash our new devotees a bit more so that we stay faithful to our mission but, OTOH, I sometimes admire our new bhaktas and the level of their general knowledge. Lots of things that took me years to realize are being taught and officially propagated through various seminars and bhakta programs to every newcomer right from the start. Of course, I’ve always been a bit slow on the uptake so my experience is not a tool to measure others.
There was a time when we were actually proud of being brainwashed – brainwashed by Kṛṣṇa. I don’t know the history of the term but if we were to construct its literal meaning than washing and brains are two good things, and cleansing the brains of all negative and degrading thoughts and concepts should actually be an achievement, not a tragedy.
It takes just a little experience of simple, pure living and a little exposure to Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy to realize how inadequate our brains are, how many disgusting habits we carry, and how small minded most of our motivations are. Cleansing ourselves from all this contamination is a huge undertaking and very few of us can claim to have completed it to the level where spiritual reality can finally become visible. It takes decades of dedicated practice to wash our brains and cleanse our hearts, all the while being chased by the barking dogs of the general atheistic public.
And then they say we imagine things. No we don’t imagine things, our vision and values come as a result of years of hard work and keeping ourselves clean, they are welcome to try it themselves, otherwise their judgments have no value and go straight past, ideally we shouldn’t be even in their company to hear their accusations.
Still, that’s not the kind of brainwashing I want to discuss today. I want to reflect on the brainwashing I’ve willfully undergone when I discovered the internet all those years ago, but let’s start even earlier, with Hitler.
A while ago, when talking about Greek crisis, I half-jokingly attributed it to Hitler (here) and today I will continue in the same vein – blaming Germany’s loss in WWII for lots of subsequent troubles.
Disclaimer: the world wouldn’t have been a better place had the Germans won but I can see very different scenarios had the WWII been avoided altogether.
Europe is a cradle of western civilization, we all know that, but Europe we know now is very different from Europe of the age when it still mattered. Back then, from 15-16th centuries onward and all the way up to disasters of the 20th, it was a shining light and a birth place of enlightenment, it was bubbling with all sorts of fascinating ideas. Napoleon once called Britain a nation of shopkeepers, referring to the small-mindedness of their population. France was the nation of philosophers, artists, and thinkers by comparison, in Napoleon’s view, and Germans weren’t very far behind.
I guess France was to Britain what Apple was to Microsoft during height of Steve Jobs’ creativity. It was just better in every respect, more cultured, more civilized etc etc. Brits, however, pulled away in the 19th century by taking full advantage of industrialization. They build a bigger empire and got incredibly rich and powerful for the country of its size but were still far from convincing continentals of their superiority. French clearly would never agree to such a proposition, and Germans were too busy building their own engineering and industrial base to worry about English.
German philosophy might have been lacking sophistication of the French but it went deeper and wider and didn’t pause to admire its own beauty. When Brits were busy denigrating Vedic literature to validate their own religion, Germans hit the Upaniṣads with all their vigor. I’m not going to argue about impact of these studies on general German way of thinking and attitudes to life, but they have produced some fine minds, very close to realizing nondual nature of the Absolute Truth. Brits gave us Adam Smith and economics instead.
I’m exaggerating things here, btw, I just want to make a point about relatively higher aspirations of Germans and French. I’m not going to argue if someone insists that it’s not how things actually went down in history of philosophical thought, but these are visible milestones, Kant and Schopenhauer for Germans and Adam Smith for Brits.
Anyway, Adam Smith’s theory proved to be more economically advantageous than fascination with Nietzsche and eventually it showed, Germans lost two world wars, and if they lost them to Brits and Russians it would only have been half bad, but they lost the entire Europe to Americans, and those were the people absolutely stripped of any higher philosophical aspirations. Their only philosophy was money. They also talked about democracy and freedom, but it was freedom to make money, and that’s what they forced Europe to adopt after the war.
To be fair, it didn’t require a lot of forcing, they were the victors, they were open and friendly, they were rich, and they always had lots of new and exciting stuff to sell, which everybody liked. In their quest for profits they learned how to sell ideas, like Coca-Cola for example. It’s just a fuzzy sugary drink but consuming it gave people a sense of being better, a sense of belonging to a superior culture, it was something to be bragged about, and Europe fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.
Another thing they gave to the world is computers. These are rather useless devices because, unlike Coke, we don’t have suitable sense organs to consume and enjoy them, but they established the value of efficiency for its own sake. They helped to produce all the other stuff better, cheaper, and faster, and that has become a mantra on its own.
Now, in the name of efficiency, lunch has become time to refuel oneself rather than a meal to savor. For the sake of efficiency people are meant to work, not to enjoy life. Things like siestas and naps have lost their values, sitting around and contemplating the world has become laziness, and high philosophy simply has lost its place and appreciation. Philosophers and thinkers do not make money, and writers have to shamelessly monetize their skill rather than endlessly search for a sparkle of artistic truth.
Art itself has become a profession, not a calling, and so did education. They have standardized everything so that it has become easy to replicate and mass produce at the cheapest price possible, uniformity has become a norm and personal expression has become a luxury. These days it’s all about personalisation, of course, but what it actually means is that the provider of a service must program for a huge variety of choices and let them all be processed smoothly, without the user even noticing that his “personality” has been reduced to mundane entry in the database.
Amazon and eBay are great at it, they make you feel like you are dealing with a very nice human, but actually you are not. Their computers can, however, predict how you would react to certain things and they’d build their presentation and communication around these predictions, and as long as you go with the flow the experience will be flawless and seen as highly engaged and personal.
All of this is pretty obvious, but it has a big impact on us as devotees as well, and discussing it is something I will have to postpone for another day, sorry.