Vanity thought #1552. News barrage

Ever since the deadly attacks in Paris a couple of weeks ago newspapers have been filled with stories and opinion pieces about terrorism. Is any of it worth reading, though? This kind of topics used to titillate me but now I think I’m transitioning onto a stage where I gradually withdraw from news consumption. For one thing, I think it’s a more mature position to take because as devotees we shouldn’t be spending time on politics and wars but the horrible quality of today’s news helps the withdrawal, too.

Śrīla Prabhupāda wasn’t a news junkie but he was familiar with major developments of the day, especially from his household years. He had views on Hitler, for example, which are now considered controversial but reflect the general knowledge of Indian society of those days. He also had his own theory about the role of Gandhi’s non-violence in winning Indian independence, he insisted it’s the threat from Bose’s army that convinced the British, not Gandhi. Vaṁśidāsa Bābājī, on the other hand, was blissfully unaware of any of those things. Once, during his pilgrimage to Vṛndāvana, he was repeatedly asked about possible outcome of the WWII and Vaṁśīdāsa simply didn’t know there was a war, nor he cared to know about it.

Both approaches are acceptable in our movement. As preachers we need to know stuff so that we can connect with people but as devotees we also have to remain aloof and as detached as possible. Quality of our preaching does not depend on knowledge of worldly affairs and, as I have seen myself, best saṅkīrtana devotees used absolutely trivial ways to unlock people’s hearts, they certainly didn’t need to read newspapers to preach.

For some people news are hard to resist, however. Men are traditionally prone to discussing politics and having strong opinions even if they have absolutely no effect on real life. These days women are catching up fast, too. Politics was also one of the subjects taught to Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, and the Pāṇḍavas were familiar with politics, too. Uddhava, Kṛṣṇa dearmost devotee in Dvārakā, was especially adept at diplomacy. Swimming and wrestling are called vaiṣṇava sports and politics shouldn’t be too far behind, it’s important part of society’s life and if we want to change society for the better it’s unavoidable.

Having said that, the interest in politics has nothing to do with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it’s spiritually unhealthy but since it’s already there it needs to be engaged and purified. In most cases, for people with no direct political responsibilities, it should probably be abandoned. I’m one of such people, can’t wait to shake it off.

As I said, the quality of today’s news is atrocious. My local paper keeps printing opinion pieces and editorials on the fate of journalism as a profession but then they mindlessly fill their pages with syndicated drivel. The contrarian views found on the internet are even worse, however, and if one wants to find what has actually happened he needs to trawl too many resources to count. It is still humanly possible but I bet for the vast majority of the population it’s not worth the effort anymore. Thinking for oneself is not as easy as it sounds and takes too much time and energy which otherwise could be spend to flicking through instagram images and facebook videos.

Speaking of Facebook – they’ve lately surpassed Youtube for the number of watched videos. It’s not that people watch more videos there, though, it’s just that Facebook puts more of them into people’s timeline and it puts them on autoplay. If people pause for three seconds before they scroll down to the next newsfeed item Facebook counts the video as watched. It’s just tricky accounting.

Speaking of accounting – the whole financial world awaits next month interest hike in the US. It is actually a pretty big thing because interest rates have been near zero since the 2008 crisis. In normal days this fact would undermine the notion of “economic recovery” but these are not normal days, people have been brainwashed to accept outrageous policies and react in the ways opposite to normal. Traditionally, printing money would lead to devaluation of the currency but the way “quantitative easing” was presented to the public, even to the financial world, the opposite has happened – dollar became only stronger. More dollars makes them more valuable, go figure.

They also changed the ways to count unemployed so that it appears that the US economy is in full employment. They don’t talk that labor participation rate, how many people are part of the labor force, is on the level of the seventies when stay at home housewives were still common. Now women are proud of the ability to have careers but the overall employment is still the same.

So they managed to put together some rosy numbers but the public is still not buying it when they look at their own life prospects. Somehow people’s confidence dropped like a brick in the latest surveys, and the government can’t figure out why because everything looks so good on paper, ready for the December interest rate “lift off”, as they say.

I don’t know what will happen but they can’t postpone it any longer because not lifting rates would undermine confidence of financial markets in the US ability to manage their economy. If financial markets suddenly realize that US authorities are completely out of touch with the reality and have no idea what’s going in the real world then we’ll have another meltdown similar to the discovery of toxic loans back in 2008. Some pundits are already hedging themselves just in case there’s another crisis so they’d get their names in the news as the ones who predicted it.

My biggest disappointment, however, has been the coverage of the “war on ISIS”. It makes an absolute mockery of the affair. French have been cheering their homegrown jihadis when they went to fight for democracy in Syria for years, long before ISIS was a thing. Then it backfired on them spectacularly but all the media wants us to believe is that it’s all ISIS’ fault, as if there is no terrorism outside of that organization.

Russia is not fighting ISIS, media tells us, they are not pulling their weight, they should join the coalition. Obama chimed in with similarly dismissive attitude, too. What nobody explains, however, is why after only one month of non-bombing ISIS the terrorists responded by blowing up a Russian airplane. Somehow after over a year of being bombed by sixty countries it’s Russia they decided to retaliate against. Or maybe that plane was blown up by “moderate” Syrian rebels who, by all media accounts, bore the brunt of Russian onslaught.

Then, of course, there is the story of a Russian SU-24 bomber shot down by a Turkish F16. Russians intruded into Turkish airspace, Turkey claims. Maybe so, but Turkey itself intrudes into Greek airspace THOUSANDS times a year. Russians were also playing up Turkey’s response to downing of their own plane in Syria just a couple of years ago – it wasn’t justified, Turkey cried then. Western media, however, didn’t cover this aspect at all, as far as I can tell.

Perhaps the ugliest part of this story is shooting the pilot as he was parachuting down from a burning airplane. This is specifically prohibited by Geneva convention as a war crime and it was Russians who replayed US State Department comment that rebels killed this pilot in “self-defense”. Turkey said that Russians were attacking moderate rebels in the area but there’s nothing moderate about shooting a defenseless pilot, even ISIS doesn’t do that. To be fair, the rebels who captured the wounded pilot did want to try him and then burn him in a cage, just as ISIS did to a captured Jordanian pilot earlier, but then they decided to simply kill him. In some aspects ISIS looks even more civilized than these “moderates”. Oh, and the leader of this group turned out to be not only a Turkish citizen but a son of a Turkish politician. You won’t find this in syndicated news either.

Somehow things are changing, however slowly. Our Tulsi Gabbard have been campaigning against this travesty of justice that Washington presents as American policy on Syria. Turkish support for ISIS is going to be curtailed, too. Last I heard the US demands that Turkey closed the part of the border which is used to travel to ISIS held territories, and that would include the oil trade and delivery of aid supplies, too. Turkey last week imprisoned two journalists who found weapons being transported under the guise of humanitarian aid. Haven’t seen it in my newspaper either but this news is quite popular elsewhere, pretty much a common knowledge now.

And then there are American elections. What was reported in my local paper is puzzlement expressed by various fact checkers that politicians do not seem to care about lying at all, and when caught they, instead of apologizing, keep insisting on the same lie without any shame. They completely separate themselves from reality, facts don’t matter, it’s the impressions made on people that make all the difference.

Lastly, Ukraine got in the news, too. On Sunday they had elections in Mariupol, a place where pro-Russian separatists advance halted a year ago but sporadic fighting and mutual shelling there never stopped since. Embarrassingly for Ukraine, 66% of the population voted for the candidates from the former president’s party (which was legally dissolved iirc) – pretty much against Maidan revolution and for separatism. In today’s Washington Post there’s also an article about substandard equipment supplied by the US to Ukrainian army as military aid – they’ve got Humvees from the 80s and bulletproof vests that Americans themselves dropped a decade ago. As one official explained it – we’ve got no use for this stuff ourselves so we sent it to Ukraine. Such support, so commitment.

Perhaps I’m missing something important but I believe these examples are enough to demonstrate my point that following the news is a giant waste of time, unless you are prepared to invest this time to find what’s really going on in the world. Why would we need to know this, however? The mere fact that the media shamelessly manipulates the public opinion should be enough to turn away from the whole thing in disgust, and I’m not talking about conspiracy nuts who knew this fact all along but about general population who, I sense, is about to give up, too. Traditionally this means that preaching should receive a boost. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.


Vanity thought #1551. How it’s done

For two days I’ve been speculating about interpretations of Queen Kuntī’s famous prayer asking for more calamities. I don’t think it has been in waste but there’s another approach taken by Śrīla Prabhupāda as quoted in Teachings of the Queen Kuntī that should show us a different way to understand that verse.

To recap: traditionally, and it is also presented in TKQ, calamities made Queen Kuntī remember Kṛṣṇa so she welcomed them, and if we follow in her footsteps so should we. Then there’s a reminder that Queen Kuntī didn’t simply remember Kṛṣṇa but actually had the experience of “seeing” Him so she wasn’t asking for pain and troubles, she was asking for more spiritual connections with the Lord. We can’t imitate this, and if can’t properly follow then we shouldn’t ask for calamities in our own prayers.

The third way is to interpret this verse through the eyes of śāstra. I don’t know of any similar sentiments but the śāstra has quite a lot to say about dealing with calamities. The way TQK was compiled this approach immediately follows Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purport to this verse in Bhāgavatam but this follow up is actually the beginning of a lecture on this verse delivered in Los-Angeles in 1973, and in this lecture asking for troubles didn’t come up at all.

The source of Queen Kuntī’s devotion to Kṛṣṇa is actually a mystery to me. She appears in the first Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as an accomplished devotee already and already in the late stage of her life. A couple of chapters later Śrīla Prabhupāda gives an outline of her life (SB 1.13.3-4) but doesn’t explain how she became a devotee either. I haven’t read the relevant chapters in Mahābhārata but heard retelling of the same biography elsewhere, still no mention of the development of her devotion.

She was a sister of Kṛṣṇa’s father, Vasudeva, but then she was given to a childless uncle, Mahārāja Kuntibhoja, hence the name Kuntī. Her original name, and it appears in several places in Bhāgavatam, was Pṛthā. She grew up as a nice girl and always served guests of her adoptive father. Durvāsā Muni was very impressed by her service and gave her a mantra to summon any demigod she desired. She had no idea what it was for, being young and innocent, and so she was very surprised when she gave it a try – Sun god himself showed up in her room to have sex with her. She objected that she wasn’t married but Sun god assured her that he’d repair her virginity and no one would know. Thus Karṇa was born but she had to give him up because she still wasn’t married and couldn’t raise a son and claim virginity at the same time (insert a Christian joke here).

She later married Mahārāja Pāṇḍu but Pāṇḍu got cursed to die if he ever had sex. While hunting he killed a copulating deer in the forest who happened to be a powerful ṛṣi too shy to have sex in his original body. This could lead to an interesting discussion on sex life in the human form of life but let’s leave it out for today. He got cursed by the dying sage for not expressing remorse and insisting it was his right to hunt as a kṣatriya, which could lead to a discussion on stubbornness.

So, Kuntī got married but couldn’t have children with her husband. That’s when she remembered the mantra once again and Mahārāja Pāṇḍu agreed that it could be a solution. That’s how Kuntī got Yudhiṣṭhira, Arjuna, and Bhīma who were born by summoning respective demigods. This could lead to a discussion on sex in the higher species of life and freedom of will of the demigods but let’s leave that discussion for another day, too.

Pāṇḍū had another wife, Mādrī, and once he got too agitated by lust and approached her for sex, curse or no curse, and he died. This could lead back to the discussion on sex desire in humans but let’s talk about Queen Kuntī. After Pāṇḍu’s death one of his wives should have stepped into funeral pyre and, with the help of sages so it was all legit, it was decided that Mādrī would accept the satī ritual and Kuntī would raise the children – three of her own and two of Mādrī’s (who Kuntī sometimes shared benefits of her mantra with).

To translate it into the modern terms – she was a single mother with five children and no job, having already abandoned her first born, and we are only approaching the beginning of her troubles. Describing all that followed would be impossible here but we can be rest assured she had more that her fair share – surviving assassination attempts, exile, life in the forest, all the while raising five boys all by herself.

Still, I have no idea how she came to know that Kṛṣṇa was the Supreme Personality of Godhead and developed full faith and devotion.

Now, her request for more troubles shouldn’t be taken out of the context, and not only the context of her life but spiritual context, too. She clearly followed Kṛṣṇa’s instructions in Bhagavad Gīta even before they were delivered to Arjuna (BG 2.14):

    mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
    āgamāpāyino ’nityās
    tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata

I decided to quote Sanskrit here because Kṛṣṇa specifically addressed Arjuna as a son of Kuntī – she showed the way how it should be done.

“O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

She was an expert on patiently tolerating distress, she proved that by her entire life. This is another reason why we shouldn’t rush to imitate her prayers – let us leave through the life of similar pain first. Another verse that Prabhupāda quoted in this regard, and he actually started with it (SB 10.14.8):

    tat te ’nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo
    bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
    hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
    jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk

“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.”

This verse has everything we ever need to know about pain – patiently suffer, earnestly wait for mercy, and keep going with your service. What do we get in return? Eligibility for liberation, but not the liberation itself.

I don’t think I need to say anything more, just contemplate the meaning and let it sink in – patiently suffer, earnestly wait, and keep going with your service.

Oh, and everybody else, including fellow devotees, would think you are a total failure, not just in life but in your devotion, too – because you’d have nothing to show for it but troubles.

Is there any other way to develop total dependence on the Lord? I don’t think so. Even guru would seem to have become useless, materially speaking, because he will not be able to help when it’s the Lord Himself who arranges for your suffering.

If we manage to survive through all that then we can think about revisiting Queen Kuntī’s prayer once again but until then imitating her would be foolish.

Vanity thought #1550. Seeing Krishna means..

Yesterday I brought forward a somewhat different interpretation of Queen Kuntī’s famous prayer asking for troubles (SB 1.8.25 and TQK 8). It wasn’t my idea but I thought it was interesting enough to explore. I also offered a possible explanation why we never thought of this before – because we were complacent and way over our heads.

Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote the purport to this verse before coming to the West so he might have made some assumptions about his readers that were later proven to be false. When he revisited this topic again in 1973 in a series of lectures given in our main temples (New York and Los-Angeles) we were again in over our heads, thinking ourselves more advanced than we really were.

What was that assumption that turned out to be false? That by remembering Kṛṣṇa we would actually see Him, that Kuntī meant it literally. Well, not exactly literally because Kuntī didn’t see Kṛṣṇa with her own eyes when she was living in the forest, but remembering and praying to the Lord for a devotee of her status is the same as seeing Him. It’s not so for us.

I suspect Śrīla Prabhupāda hoped that his readers would be more or less on the same level and when he was speaking on this topic in 1973 he also thought that ISKCON devotees were already there, but we weren’t. Some would argue that Śrīla Prabhupāda had a full spiritual vision and therefore he couldn’t be wrong and couldn’t misjudge our level of advancement but I don’t accept this type of arguments. Guru is not God, he is not omniscient, and Kṛṣṇa does not manifest all His potencies through guru in full. He can, theoretically, but He displays only what is necessary for our spiritual advancement.

In the case of Śrīla Prabhupāda I would point to his serious miscalculation of our ability to stay in marriage, for example. Originally he thought that he’d simply match boys and girls and the problem of sex in our society would be solved. Instead we unleashed a hell of complaints and demands for divorce under the guise of renunciation, and many didn’t even bother to ask. After a few years of very bad experiences Śrīla Prabhupāda washed his hands of the whole affair and lost faith in us in this particular aspect. Just recently I heard a quote where he stated our ineligibility for married life as a matter of fact – it’s just how we are, incapable of staying married, contrary to his earlier expectations.

So, when talking about Queen Kuntī’s prayers Prabhupāda assumed that simply by remembering the Lord we would gain enough of His presence to forget all out problems but it doesn’t happen. Similarly, his early message to us was “chant and be happy”, simple and śāstrically correct, but it doesn’t work on us. It did work for some very well, for those who embraced simplicity and had full faith in Prabhupāda’s words, but vast majority of present day devotees tend to overthink things, I would say, and find plenty of caveats in this simple slogan.

“Happiness is determined by one’s karma,” that’s what I would argue here. Troubles will come regardless of whether we chant or not, and then I would link back to this very prayer by Queen Kuntī or to Kṛṣṇa’s words in Bhagavad Gītā – “one should learn to tolerate happiness and distress”, not that “distress will never come”. How can one be in pain and happy at the same time?

In lectures on Teachings of Queen Kuntī Śrīla Prabhupāda acknowledged this problem and reminded us of Arjuna’s objection that knowing one’s spiritual position is not enough to be freed from pain of watching his relatives to be killed. “You must overcome it,” said Kṛṣṇa in response, eventually one will achieve the level of brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā where these things will stop bothering him. On this level remembrance of Kṛṣṇa does bring happiness regardless of the material situation, Śrīla Prabhupāda was absolutely correct here, the problem was our actual position.

Our devotees sincerely thought that they were already there, fully engaged in service to guru and Kṛṣṇa, and therefore above material pleasure and pain. Maybe they were at the time but later it was proven that for many of us it was unsustainable. These days remembering Kṛṣṇa is expected to relieve us from suffering, not “seeing” him, at least for me. I can also point to plenty of devotees in relatively comfortable positions who attribute their happiness to Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, that it’s proof that Kṛṣṇa consciousness works. Maybe it is proof, but it’s not “seeing” Kṛṣṇa either. We are still not on brahma-bhūtaḥ platform yet, and I think everyone in our society acknowledges that. It wasn’t so in the beginning when people were speaking about it as given in their Bhāgavatam classes.

Hmm, I can think of one devotee, Navīna Nīrada, who still goes around spreading the mood of saṇkīrtana as if nothing has changed since the days it was so successful in his home country and Europe in general. He still talks about it as a matter of fact – take books, find people, preach, and brahma-bhūtaḥ is yours. We don’t do it, though, we become smarter, and we approach book distribution methodically instead. In India, home of our current champions, saṅkīrtana means finding rich donors, pandering to their egos, making them pay for thousands of books, and then giving these books away for free.

It’s just not the same, for millions of reasons, and so brahma-bhūtaḥ does not manifest. Elsewhere we talk about healthy lifestyle, yoga, and maybe try to please the vegans, which is not the same thing either. Many have figured that it’s better to hide our Hare Kṛṣṇa identity and pretend we are anybody else but followers of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement of the seventies and eighties. This obviously does not elevate us to brahma bhūtaḥ, too.

If we are not on the brahma-bhūtaḥ level then we won’t experience prasannātmā, we won’t become “fully joyful”, and so we might have calamities coming our way and they might make us think of Kṛṣṇa but it won’t be the same experience as that of Queen Kuntī, it won’t make us “see” the Lord.

Actually, in the verse itself, Queen Kuntī explains exactly what she meant: “seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” This could be interpreted differently from what I meant in the beginning of this post but it’s the same brahma-bhūtaḥ – freedom from birth and death, liberation. She speaks from the platform of liberation and she can’t have enough of various calamities because they add remembering Kṛṣṇa and thus complete her happiness and fulfillment.

Once again – on the platform of liberation, or on the platform of devotional service, calamities do not bring pain, but it’s not the same for us. If I asked for troubles I’d be harping about my bodily condition and demanding Kṛṣṇa to do something about it. That is not what Queen Kuntī teaches at all.

Vanity thought #1549. Queen Kuntī for beginners

Teachings of Queen Kuntī is already a beginners’ book, one could say, but I beg to disagree. I don’t know the exact history of its publishing but what is obvious is already telling enough – it’s a book for devotees and can be appreciated only by devotees. Moreover, many of us might not be advanced enough to understand it correctly.

The book is made of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purports written still in India, when he had no idea what his actual audience might be. He hoped he’d attract crème de la crème of English speaking society, he aimed for Western intellectuals. Instead he got hippies. This alone opens the possibility that it might go straight over our heads, Bhāgavatam is not the introductory course in Kṛṣṇa consciousness even if some chapters are more accessible than others.

The purports were further augmented by excerpts from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lectures delivered in 1973 in New York and Los-Angeles. 1973 was a curious time in ISKCON so if Prabhupāda tailored the content to the level of his listeners it might be another indication that we should take this book more seriously.

In 1973 we thought we were invincible. ISKCON was on the up and up, we just got a temple in Māyāpura, in the birthplace of Lord Caitanya, which was a big victory, and the rest of the world was also in full Hare Kṛṣṇa fever. The side effect of it was that our leaders were amply rewarded with titles and positions and thought they themselves became invincible, too. Now we know that a lot of these “diplomas” in spiritual progress were premature but back then our devotees really thought they were already “pure”.

Prabhupāda didn’t seem to mind, everyone was following very nicely and there were no indications that his sannyāsīs would start blooping left and right. If there were problems they were thought to be isolated cases, not a general trend. He thought he could entrust running ISKCON to the GBC and concentrate on writing books instead, and it worked, it was probably the most productive period for him.

Temples in Los Angeles and New York were also main pillars of our community and as such devotees there expected to hear really advanced Kṛṣṇa consciousness philosophy, not the ABCs. Of course their definition of advanced then was probably on the level of bhakta training programs required for any new devotee these days but my point is that those weren’t lectures for beginners but for those who considered themselves fully renounced from the material world and fully engaged in spiritual service.

Then it all blew up in our faces, which why it shouldn’t be surprising that we might have misunderstood some of what we thought was basic stuff. We didn’t understand it then, or we wouldn’t run into the problems in the 80s, and we might not understand it now because we never paid attention to it since.

I’m not trying to reinvent teachings of Queen Kuntī, I just heard something in a class that needs serious examination.

The subject is Kuntī’s pivotal request (SB 1.8.25 and TQK 8):

    I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.

This request for more suffering was probably the main reason for publishing the entire book, for it is truly mind boggling for the general audience. Of course we have Christians with their penchant for crucifixions but “beginners” in this context meant misguided atheists, not Christian wannabe martyrs. No one entices people into their religion with promises of more pain, everyone talks about eternal life full of bliss instead, but here we have Hare Kṛṣṇas begging for troubles right in the beginning of the main book on their philosophy. Isn’t it something wonderful and pretty unique?

Well, the other day I heard that when Queen Kuntī said “seeing You” she really meant it. She didn’t ask for calamities per se, she wanted to see Kṛṣṇa and it worked for her. We, in our neophyte stage, completely miss that part and remember only calamities.

For us calamities mean inescapable pain and disturbance of the mind. It doesn’t meant that we’d actually see Kṛṣṇa. We don’t know what seeing Kṛṣṇa means at all. We think that “seeing Kṛṣṇa” and chanting more rounds is one and the same, the name being non-different from the Lord. “If something bad happens it will make me think of Kṛṣṇa so it’s a good thing, so I get what Queen Kuntī meant there, it’s not that difficult.” We think that if problems make us pray more than the mission is accomplished and we’ve become just as advanced as Queen Kuntī in our understanding.

Nope, that’s not how advanced devotees see calamities and how they see Kṛṣṇa. Seeing Kṛṣṇa means actually experiencing bliss of His presence, be it in person, in the name, or in memories, it’s a full on samādhī and it’s not what happens to us. Likewise, “calamity” means a totally different thing for a conditioned soul and for a devotee lost in his service to the Lord. We look at it from the bodily perspective and react according to our bodily interests, it doesn’t affect the status of our relationship with Kṛṣṇa. We will not “see” Him just because we are in pain.

I would argue that adding pain to our attempts at service adds more distractions, not less. At first we didn’t think of Kṛṣṇa much and now we think more about pain, how’s that progress? The excuse that problems make people pray more doesn’t hold – they might be praying more but they’d be praying for the wrong thing – liberation from suffering, and it won’t impress Kṛṣṇa in the least. If Kṛṣṇa is not pleased then there’s no progress, no benefit in pursuing this course of actions. What we do is demand Kṛṣṇa’s service instead – to come and relieve us from our calamities. That’s why Christians are not getting anywhere – they look at God as their order supplier, it’s a waste of everybody’s time.

There’s another mischief going on here – like when a girl pretends to be in trouble to get boy’s attention. It works on boys but it won’t work on Kṛṣṇa, He can’t be fooled. We should give up this mentality that Kṛṣṇa’s mercy can be manipulated by our actions, that we can somehow deserve or elicit it. Nope, it’s causeless, it doesn’t depend on us whatsoever.

What Queen Kuntī was saying there is that her experiences of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy were always triggered by calamities, that’s how their relationships worked. We misunderstand it to mean the Kṛṣṇa’s mercy is CAUSED by calamities, and it’s a big, fundamental mistake. In our case Kṛṣṇa’s mercy manifests in our particular way, for some it’s deity worship, for some it’s kīrtana, for others it could be direct service to their guru. It’s Kṛṣṇa’s choice and He can change it any time at will, but we cannot. We cannot decide that from now on I’ll get my share of His mercy triggered by suffering.

I’m not in the position to fully grasp all the implications of this understanding of Queen Kuntī’s prayers. Perhaps it will come to me later on. Perhaps I will find reasons for an objection, too, but it’s certainly something to think about.

Vanity thought #1548. Reaching out

Perhaps the most memorable lesson I learned from my dental problem was that Kṛṣṇa remains totally aloof from the happenings in the material world. Whatever help that occasionally comes is part of the universal plan. What concerns me today is the question how to bridge this gap and get Kṛṣṇa’s attention.

Well, “occasionally” above is probably not the right word. On some level the Lord always offers help – it’s a universal law. We offer sacrifices, chant the holy name, and the universe responds. The holy name is fully invested with all Kṛṣṇa’s energies, when it appears in a sound form these energies are always present, even if imperceptible to us, so the universe has to accommodate them. More like the holy name IS part of the universe just as deities and temples are, and so there is always some purifying influence around.

Sometimes temples get desecrated and deities destroyed, though. Does it mean that Lord’s power get overwritten? Visibly – yes, spiritually – no. If one dies while protecting the deity from aggressors the spiritual reward is worth all the material loss – the person doing the service is always spiritually protected even when his material body is not. Aggressors need to have their wishes fulfilled, too, and this way both parties are satisfied – devotees get reunited with their Lord and atheists get to rule the matter as if God is not there.

Anyway, as long as we chant, the influence of Kali Yuga will remain minimal. If we keep ourselves clean by following four regs we become practically impervious. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to us but the law of karma will greatly reduce them because of the presence of the holy name. This doesn’t mean that we get upgraded in our own relationships with Kṛṣṇa.

The holy name is there, it protects us and it will save us from greatest dangers, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be granted pure devotion, maybe we’ll lose a few anarthas at best.

Our current relationship with the Lord is that we chant His name, hear it, and keep doing our own thing. We don’t see the name’s full glory and we ignore the words of our ācāryas imploring us to chant the holy name with full seriousness. In this state we obviously can’t expect any breakthroughs. The name will reciprocate with our negligence by staying hidden.

So, how to bridge this gap and earn Kṛṣṇa’s attention?

Not by whining about toothache for sure. Bhakti must be unalloyed, as Prabhupāda learned from a billboard put up by Boston steel company, I learned the other day. He saw it and thought that concept of “unalloyed steel” could be very useful in describing devotion. Nice story, but the word unalloyed appears plenty of times in his purports to the First Canto of Bhāgavatam which were written and published before he came to the US.

In case of pain, unalloyed devotion means not even acknowledging that the pain is there. It’s not even tolerating it, because tolerance means awareness and conscious reaction. When we consciously react to our karma we make our bhakti “karma-miśra” -infused with material desires, and the Lord will never reciprocate with that. If He feels that He can’t ignore His devotees even when they exhibit material desires He would relieve them of karmic tendencies first, and only then proceed in developing a relationship. It happened to Dhruva, it happened to Kubjā, it happens all the time. Material desires have no place in relationships with Kṛṣṇa.

We aren’t anywhere near Dhruva’s level of intensity in our service and Kubjā was born to live in Mathurā during Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, so we won’t get Lord’s personal darśana unless we completely purify ourselves. We need a level of purity necessary for mahā-bhava platform, nothing less.

During these couple of days when I felt the pain I also was given a chance to see that chanting and remembering Kṛṣṇa is “transcendental”, that it can go on regardless and feels just the same. I could pray for easing of the pain, and that’s one way to make us remember the Lord, but I could also simply sit and hear the name, the effect on pain perception was the same.

If I directed my consciousness away from my tooth, the pain disappeared. I could direct my attention to talking to other people, I could direct it to something on the internet, I could direct it to reading our books – it doesn’t matter. If I directed it to hearing the name, however, it would be a spiritually benefiting decision while all the others would be creating more karma. It doesn’t matter whether it would be a good karma or bad, neither for the purpose of pain management nor for the purpose of developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness – it is something that would steal my attention away from Kṛṣṇa in the future.

I was given a chance to see how by concentrating on chanting, or rather remembering the name, as chanting itself takes only a small portion of the day, we can divert our consciousness away from matter while karma still goes on. I use the word “consciousness” here because the mind seems unstoppable and acts on its own. If I paid attention to the mind he’d immediately remind me of pain. If I used intelligence to force the mind to think of something else, I would still be on a mental platform, just in a slightly different place – less painful for the moment but who knows how it’d turn out in the future? Consciousness, however, is spiritual, and its existence and experiences are different from those of subtle material elements like mind and intelligence.

It’s the consciousness that needs to be diverted, rendering convulsions of the mind irrelevant and uninteresting to the soul. We can see it in older, wiser people. They seem to be unperturbed by whatever is happening to them, and not just because their senses have become dull, but because they don’t value sensory perception and activities very much. The world goes on but fails to impress them. That’s what we should be going for, too, even if it doesn’t mean recognition by Kṛṣṇa.

I can’t make Kṛṣṇa shower me with mercy, I don’t even deserve this mercy – compared to the efforts made by other devotees, but I can divert my consciousness to hearing or remembering the name. I can’t force my mind and intelligence – those are working under the modes of nature, but my consciousness is transcendental. It can’t upgrade my relationship with the Lord but it can concentrate on what is already there – whatever it is that I can chant and remember, there are no material words to adequately describe remembrance of the Lord anyway.

So, at the end of the day, it’s not reaching out to the Lord but learning to appreciate whatever is already given, and not even appreciate but simply observe. Appreciation would imply receiving mercy, it won’t happen out of the blue. Observation, however, is available to all who has ever heard the words Hare Kṛṣṇa.

Finally, this silent observation doesn’t seem to do anything practical at the moment but it shows that there’s more to life than obsessing with happenings in the material world.

Vanity thought #1547. Out of touch

How does Kṛṣṇa help with managing pain and bad karma in general? As I said yesterday, the usual solution that I was somehow scheduled for tooth extraction by Russian “bratva” but instead was sent to a dentist, like normal people, isn’t very satisfying, for several reasons.

The main one is probably the amount of interference the Lord would have done on my behalf. Even if I had to undergo even a slightly different procedure in the same clinic it would have required changing karma of lots of people. The doctor would have spent more time, nurses would have done different things, the clinic would receive a larger payment, someone else had to wait for his turn a bit longer, meaning he or she could have posted more comments on twitter and possibly started a flame war. There’d be also different consumption of resources – pliers instead of drills, dental cement instead of gauze, meaning the next order would either be different or come at a different time. It’s not a big deal in any of these cases but practically the entire universe would be affected, in as much as faster consumption of Earth’s materials affects the solar system and the galaxy.

Why would Kṛṣṇa go to all this trouble? Just because of my whining? And how much trouble exactly? Does He have to prepare for every contingency? If I whine a little more He prepares this level of change, if I whine a little less, another change is at the ready. And what about affects on all the other people who’d put forwards their own demands when their lives change unfairly? This would quickly snowball out of hand, with infinite number of scenarios appearing instantly, all guided by my reactions? I don’t think it’s how the universe is supposed to work. I don’t think Kṛṣṇa interferes as easily.

Of course one could say that I’m applying my material restrictions to the Absolute, as if saying that Kṛṣṇa can deal with two-three adjustments easily but a thousand would be a strain, and fixing the entire universe would overload Him. Still, I don’t think it’s how the Lord takes care of the things.

He is known to be partial to His devotees and ready to protect them, but I would argue that these cases are always planned well in advance. Lord Nṛsiṁha’s appearance, for example, was clearly scheduled even though to us it appeared spontaneous. Both the demon, Hiraṇyakaśipu, and the devotee, Prahlāda, had to be placed within the universe in advance, in the case of Hiraṇyakaśipu the back story started in the spiritual world. Or, from the example of the life of Lord Brahmā, we know that it’s the position, not a person, and it’s filled by a suitable soul who then goes on to relive the entire history of the universe, including all the interactions with the Lord in multitude of incarnations.

We normally think that karma is impersonal but it isn’t so, it, and the entire universe, are always connected to the Lord, who then appears at appropriate times to remind us of this connection. It is all planned, it’s the same pastimes being replayed again and again, in each day of Brahmā. So, the Lord doesn’t turn up out of order to fix my toothache, partly because my reaction to the toothache is NOT out of order itself. The Lord knows exactly how I would react and how much pain I would feel, there are no surprises for Him here. This time there was no need for His personal involvement, it wasn’t scheduled and it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that the Lord wasn’t involved, though.

So, apart from medication, I tried to deal with pain mentally. First thing I noticed is that I don’t feel it when I sleep. The pain is still there, in as much as pain is the objective reality, but probably it isn’t – it’s my perception of the objective reality. The infection is still there but my perception of it is turned off during sleep. Hmm, “so this is manageable,” I thought to myself.

Next thing I noticed is that I forget pain when I think of something else. Of course it’s easier to forget little pain than throbbing toothache but it’s still possible, it’s a question of how far the mind is taken away from the body. Wifey droning on in the background is probably not going to distract me much, I’d rather concentrate on pain than listen to her nagging, but a bomb falling in the backyard would probably make me forget about toothache in an instant. In this case, reading an engaging news story was enough most of the time. As long as I was there, the pain was absent, as soon as I returned to reality, the pain was throbbing again.

Great, so all I need is distractions? Not really, because pain is karma, it will always come around, and engaging in distractions is a karmic activity as well, it will come back to bite me, probably by distracting me from chanting, digging up the memories and reminding me how engaging it felt. There is an easily solution, though – get distracted by Kṛṣṇa! Read Bhāgavatam instead of news. Simple. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

I don’t think we are supposed to abuse Bhāgavatam this way. It’s not a story book to read ourselves to sleep or to use to manage pain. As a story book it’s not very exciting either, considering how little happens during reading word for word translation, for example. Philosophy can be distracting, too – when you discover something you haven’t thought of before and go on exploring all the options, but how often does it happen when we read the Bhāgavatam? Hardly ever, most of it we have heard before. Our problem is not with learning but with realizing it.

Realization means Kṛṣṇa’s grace, though, and if He had offered it I would have certainly been distracted from pain but I can’t order it around, it doesn’t come from simply reading the book. Bhāgavatam is an incarnation of Kṛṣṇa and it takes us directly into the spiritual world but it doesn’t happen all the time, practically never.

I tried to misuse our books as tools for mitigating pain and it didn’t work very well for the purpose, nor should it have. What I got instead is that Kṛṣṇa is totally aloof from this world and approaching Him must be done on His terms, in HIS consciousness, not ours. If I worry about pain I’m still captured by illusion, meaning I can’t approach the Lord. Whatever actions I do to avoid the pain are still born out of illusion and pursue selfish purposes, I shouldn’t even think of coming to Kṛṣṇa with these complaints. He is not there to improve the conditions of the material world, He won’t be interested. And He ignored me, I now have my personal proof.

So, whatever I did to reduce the pain was all on me, my karma, probably sowing seeds of future reactions. Kṛṣṇa is completely out of touch with it, it stinks, and I shouldn’t bring it to Him. Sometimes cats find dead mice and drag them into the house. Nope, the mice are not staying, and the Lord, being omnipotent, will not even allow us to bring our dirty, selfish desires into His presence.

Actually, He is protected by our fellow devotees and it’s them who’d stand in our path. If we offend them in return we’d condemn ourselves to even more suffering. The cycle needs to be broken, we can’t invest all our consciousness in battling illusory pleasure and pain, Kṛṣṇa is never to be found there, so just leave it alone, it will somehow all work itself out and we would eventually die, which will probably be much more painful than a toothache. It’s not what we should worry about at all. It’s not the real us and it’s not our real lives.

How to come in touch with this out of touch Kṛṣṇa is a different matter. So far I only know what doesn’t work.

Vanity thought #1546. Pain management

I’ve got an appointment with the dentist but in the meantime I have to manage the pain by myself. So far I’ve tried aspirin and ibuprofen, it’s not bad, I think I’ll survive. What I want to talk about, however, is pain management from a spiritual perspective. Mayo clinic’s online advice isn’t of much help here. Neither are our books, for that matter, that’s why I think I have to do it on my own.

First is the question of karma – we can’t avoid it with pills. It doesn’t matter whether I take the ibuprofen or not, I have to live through the allotted amount of pain regardless. It’s rather that when the pain taps out ibuprofen becomes available. Another issue is that we don’t know how much pain we should be in, it’s quite possible that our condition normally produces this much pain but by our karma we get to suffer only half of it, so ibuprofen is supplied to restore justice in the universe.

Typically, it’s not how people think of drugs. They see themselves as a cause and believe they can manipulate effects. They think they are free to either take ibuprofen or continue suffering and thus exercise their free will. I don’t think it’s how it works. We live under the illusion that we are doers in this world, we accept movements of material elements as ours, as controlled by us. We insert ourselves into this “pain to medicine to relief” chain and take the credit but in reality it all goes on according to universal plan, we are just here to observe and enjoy.

Just think how many people take credit for pain relief in this case – I take the credit because I take the pill, the person who brought the pill to me takes some credit, too. The person who typed up advice on webmd takes the credit, the person who maintains that site takes the credit, google takes the credit for finding it for me, people who invent ibuprofen take the credit, people who taught them take the credit, people who invested in its development and managed trials take credit, people who make ibuprofen now take the credit, government that might control the prices (not sure in this case) take the credit, insurance companies take the credit – it’s a large collective effort and it comes as a part of overall practice of medicine by the society over hundreds and thousands of years and by now covering the entire planet.

As for me – I don’t really have a choice here. I might think about tolerating the pain instead but this is not what is prescribed by our authorities so I must take the medicine as soon as it becomes available. If I hold out it would be out of stubbornness or false pride – qualities that I have been nurturing and then fought against my entire life. Whether I succeed this time or not depends on the entire history of this struggle, it’s not really a choice. The idea of taking ibuprofen wasn’t my choice too, I learned about it from others in response to the growing pain, which I didn’t choose either.

The reality is that I’m pretty helpless here, tossed around by forces I don’t control, if I examine their sources closely. It all comes down to one stupid decision to seek pleasure in this world, and I can’t even remember how that happened. No one does, even Vedas themselves are quiet on the subject. In all His appearances here the Lord chose not to disclose the exact process by which we turn our backs on Him, it was probably ugly and uncomfortable for everyone involved. Past is past, the Lord is ready to forget it, there’s no benefit in us digging it up – what if the Lord remembers what happened and, on the second thought, decides that He is not in the mood to take us back yet?

Speaking of Kṛṣṇa – what’s His role in administering our pain? Theoretically, He can wave it away with even half a wish. Practically, His involvement deserves special consideration.

We are taught that we should see our pain as already greatly reduced. Instead of a minor, almost unnoticeable pain after taking ibuprofen, I should have suffered my tooth being pulled out by a burly gangster with Russian accent, but by Kṛṣṇa’s grace I was relieved of that heavy karma. It’s a nice attitude to develop but it’s not easy to do so without evidence. Sometimes in the end we get some knowledge of what could have happened and realize that we were saved from much greater danger by Kṛṣṇa but it’s hardly ever the case in the beginning, when misfortunes only start piling up. I can’t see any other source but faith in the words of our ācāryas here, that somehow they are correct even against the available evidence.

What happens instead is that I find it hard not to blame Kṛṣṇa for inflicting pain on me. Who else am I going to blame? My karma is in His hands now even if it was originally created by me. The only solution is not to blame anyone but embrace pain as mercy, as a test, as an opportunity to serve. It’s not as hard as it sounds – we get tests and difficulties all the time, this one is just a little bigger than the others, which is also a sign that we are ready to take it on, otherwise Kṛṣṇa wouldn’t put us in this situation.

So, this toothache is the next challenge posed by the Lord and I should approach it as such. What am I supposed to do? Control myself, keep steady, do the needful. Relief will be provided whenever I can’t go on without it, like that first time I couldn’t fall asleep and suddenly realized that I still have a couple of aspirins that could help, and they did. It was on day two or three of trying to ignore the pain and the thought simply didn’t occur to me before then. And now I have ibuprofen – it’s not all bad, Kṛṣṇa still keeps watching over me, so I’ll probably survive.

On that note, there’s a lot more to be said about mentally controlling the pain and the role of the Holy Name in the process, but I would rather leave it for another day, I hope my memories do not fade by then.

Vanity thought #1545. Dental teachings

We have “Teachings of Lord Caitanya” and we have “Teachings of the Queen Kuntī” and they are great but in my conditioned state nothing seems to be enough. We also know that we can, potentially, learn good lessons from unlikeliest of places. Today I turned to my teeth for some spiritual guidance.

I practically forgot what toothache feels like. Last time I went to the dentist because of it was almost twenty years ago. I know because I remember I got a root canal treatment but I don’t remember the pain itself. There must have been some pain because it wasn’t a scheduled visit but I just don’t remember how it felt. Since then I only got some cosmetic treatment and not even a filling. This state of my teeth was a source of my pride, they aren’t white (and bleaching is hogwash, tried it) but they don’t cause problems. Eventually all pride leads to a fall, though, and now it’s my turn.

I just spent an entire weekend without the internet access so a visit to the dentist needs to wait, I need to find a way to deal with toothache all by myself. It’s a third or fourth day since I noticed that one of my teeth became first sensitive to hot and cold, then to pressure, and now I can’t use it for chewing at all, it’s just too painful.

Śrīla Prabhupāda never went to a dentist, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta never went to any doctor ever. Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī definitely never went to any doctors, too. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura probably knew the word “dentist” but I doubt they were any around in 19th century Bengal and Orissa, he never mentioned it in his autobiography. He did mention dealing with headaches and he used a remedy offered by Jīva Gosvāmī – put a ghee soaked cloth over your head to relieve migraines. Or maybe it wasn’t migraines, I don’t remember, need to check with the book. Basically, dentists are māyā.

It doesn’t mean we should avoid them, it’s just stupid, we need to keep our body in working order for the service to our guru, this obligation must come first and false bravado of relying only on Kṛṣṇa to cure all our diseases should be rejected. I’m still curious how our ācāryas pulled it off, however.

There’s famous Prabhupāda toothpaste that was used by some devotees but it’s not a substitute for dental treatment. Nowadays it’s been sold commercially by devotees but it’s still not a treatment. The devotee who reinvented this business turned to it when it was too late and his teeth couldn’t be saved anymore. It somehow helped to preserve them but his teeth were already ruined and got preserved in such a condition that if they used them for advertisement people would think it’s a bad joke.

Plus, it’s not a Vedic recipe, it’s something Śrīla Prabhupāda picked up in his days as a pharmacist. Following this prescription should have great spiritual value but might not be perfect for one’s teeth. Besides, it still doesn’t answer the question about our ācāryas. How did they do it? Can I do the same thing?

Śrīla Prabhupāda tolerated his toothaches stoically. He lost several teeth “on our watch” but he never showed any pain. Only closest servants noticed that something was wrong and he had swollen gums or cheeks but even they didn’t know the extent of the damage until teeth came out. Hari Śauri once got one such tooth as a souvenir. It had a huge cavity in it, taking about half of the space, and it was filled with food remnants, spices and the like. Normally we’d say it’s disgusting but with sufficient training devotees learn to see their gurus as fully transcendental, a tooth is not the worst thing that comes out of the body and when it’s laid out on the table, all dry, it’s not that gross anymore. Buddhists worship this kind of relics, believing that they have actual Buddha’s teeth. Wikipedia lists seven of such places but I’m sure there are many more, tucked away in rural Myanmar or Laos where wiki editors haven’t reached yet.

So, Śrīla Prabhupāda simply tolerated the pain. Sometimes he chewed on a clove and clove oil is a well known pain reliever for toothaches used by modern dentists but relieving pain is still not a treatment, just a remedy when pain gets too bad. Sometimes he probably didn’t bother with it at all, depending on circumstances. I’m actually curious what happens to untreated teeth. Do they get better by themselves? Do they have a natural mechanism to fight off infection causing bacteria? Can they rebuild damaged tissue?

Internet is of no big help here because all the google results on the first few pages are by dentists and they are obviously biased people in this case. There are some reports of fatal outcomes of untreated toothache but I think those are extreme and were caused by complications. So far the worst that can happen is that the tooth completely dies and falls out. All dental services are meant to prevent that outcome first and foremost, relieving pain is just the first step on the way. So, if not for pain there’s nothing to be very afraid of. I grew up when lots of old people had almost no teeth left, it didn’t make them happy but it wasn’t something they complained about either. No big deal, in the big scheme of things.

I’m not ready to lose my teeth yet but eventually it will happen, just as the rest of my body would eventually weaken and rot. Dental help then becomes simply postponing the inevitable. Old age, death and disease can’t be cured by doctors, only somewhat alleviated, our solution is radically different – wait until you die and go back to Kṛṣṇa. When you are facing several decades of pain, however, it doesn’t look very attractive.

If I knew that I had to tolerate this pain just for a few more ours and then Kṛṣṇa would come to fetch me I’d feel so much better but what I know instead is that it’s very very unlikely to happen and my tooth would force me to cave in and seek a dentist first. So much for spiritual answers to material problems. I obviously need another solution, but what?

I feel like I’m on my own here. Not that I will solve my dental problems myself, not that I’d pay the dentist and get material science to sort me out, which would naturally make me and everyone else involved think slightly less of Kṛṣṇa, but that the next move in the spiritual game of chess is mine, not the Lord’s. I need to find spiritual strength here, I need to display determination, I need to control my mind, I need to apply my consciousness in a way that pleases the Lord. How? I don’t know yet, but I have some ideas. I’ll share what works and what doesn’t when I try them, for now let me just suffer in peace.

Vanity thought #1544. Objectivity

The other side of the argument about subjectivity is a critique of “objective reality”. Pointing out inevitability of one’s personal faults is a start and undermining the existence of reality itself should do it.

We aren’t the first ones to bring out this argument, though. Problem with objectivity first came up in ancient Greece as “Plato’s cave” and has been rehashed over and over again, it doesn’t stop atheists and if we use it in the same way they’ll probably overwhelm us simply because of the amount of work modern philosophy put into refuting it. More importantly, it’s PLATO’s cave, not ours, not the Vedic description of reality. We could possibly translate it into our language, it would be fun, but probably not very productive.

To the modern audience that cave argument is basically the same as the matrix from the movies – we are all locked up and prevented from seeing the world as it is, and there’s no way for us to discover our condition without external help. Put this way it does sound Vedic but relativism has been around long enough, since Greek times, too, and we stand no chance of solving this battle once and for all. They have ready made answers for everything.

Relativists say that humans are the ones who set values for everything and there’s no such thing as true objectivity. It’s this position that moved Plato to invent his cave, and the main problem with it is that it’s still an invention, we can only speculate about being in the matrix. Unless you have the blue pill (or was it red in the movie?) you can’t show the reality. In our case – if we can’t show God we can’t prove that He exists, they’ll just call it faith and vivid imagination.

Instead of arguing about the possibility of “real” objective reality we can show that what atheists assume as objective now is not so either. Instead of offering our solution to the Matrix and Plato’s cave, the existence of God and spiritual world. which they reject, we can attack objectivity of modern science on their own terms. What atheists essentially say, is that cave or no cave, science is objective, which isn’t true, and we can try to prove it.

To them objectivity in science means that the same thing measured over and over again by different people will be of the same size, and therefore it’s objectively one meter long.

Okay. How long is one meter? Originally they decided to measure it as a result of division of Earth’s meridian running through Paris by ten million. How do we know Earth’s size is constant? It most likely isn’t and fluctuates daily. Then they replaced that definition, for other reasons, by the one based on a wavelength of Kryptonite, but with Superman being a cartoon character it didn’t make much practical sense, so they went with Krypton gas instead (/s). Currently they define a meter as distance traveled by light in vacuum in 1/299 792 458 of second.

They’ve never actually measured this, of course, they fixed the speed of light in meters first, then reversed the equation to solve meter for this speed and time, so this definition is circular.

What we can point out, however, is that all these definitions are not objective but depend on time and place and the current state of science.

Take the Krypton based definition. Krypton is not a basic unit in the universe, it’s made of protons and electrons, protons are made of quarks, and quarks are made of something else, we don’t know exactly what. So, technically, instead of measuring meter in the wavelengths of Krypton we should be talking of the wavelength of a particular combination of elementary particles, some of which are still only theoretical, we don’t know how many have not been theorized of yet, and they might all turn out to be vibrating strings. Or not, depending on how the string theory progresses.

How’s that objective?

I bet we can ask string theorists to come up with their own definition of a meter, it would probably vary depending on the flavor of a particular variant of string theory, and we can call it a provisional definition, until confirmed experimentally. It might also happen that string theory will never be proven experimentally because of constraints imposedby the size of the Earth itself – we need a much bigger planet to run these experiments.

Forget the meter, without a fundamental theory of everything we can’t define anything, not the time, not the space, not colors. Right now atheists say that red color is the light with wavelength of about 700 nanometers. “About” here is because our eyes can’t tell the difference between 699 nm and 701 nm, but wavelength itself is objectively real. Is it, though?

Wavelength definition depends on the current state of scientific consensus, hundred years from now it could be considered as objective as Newton mechanics – close enough approximation for everyday purposes but fundamentally wrong representation of reality. In quantum theory wavelength depends on photons and photons are at the heart of quantum mysteries – they are both waves and particles and they can’t be measured, because measuring them affects their state. Quantum theory, however, is not the unifying theory of everything, it’s fundamentally incomplete, and therefore we can’t take it as a conclusive description of objective reality.

The Theory of Everything does not yet exists, one of the problem is that General Relativity is incompatible with Quantum Physics and vise versa, so something’s got to give, either photons, or gravity, or both. So how can they call anything defined by modern science as objective?

The very nature of science is that it will never be complete, it will always have unanswered questions, so absolute truth is like infinity in this sense – we can approach it but it is unreachable and, moreover, even if we move from square one to square two we are still infinitely far from the end. This means that current scientific understanding of light is as close to objective reality as “fire atoms” of ancient Greeks. It might even turn out that Greeks were closer to it and all development of science since then is one giant dead end, necessary to traverse but devoid of answers. It could be like astronomy when they thought the Earth was at the center of the universe – great for getting better at math but not much else.

In Vedic nomenclature light is the property of fire, fire emerges after air, which comes after ether, but it’s still a fundamental element in itself, probably best described as “energy”, ether being “space” and air being “movement” (or “force”, not sure). Gravity looks like property of water, which is probably why general relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics – it’s a separate element in its own right, it cannot be described in terms of other elements. Though, since the elements emerge in progression, one from another, there might be gravity in energy in some sort of a seed form, so unification should be possible, but on the basis of “everything comes from ether”.

Back to atheism – their main error here is that they confuse current state of scientific consensus with objective reality. String theory might be closer to being objective but if it’s not a part of scientific consensus it is not accepted. Same with post-Darwinism with its consciousness driven evolution – they are consensus changing developments, and once it happens atheists would have to reinvent their arguments, meaning whatever they say now is bound to change, it’s only a matter of time.

From our perspective they live in a bubble of illusion but we can’t prove that unless we show Kṛṣṇa. In the meantime we can demonstrate that they live in a bubble constrained by time, that their understanding of objective reality is bound to go “pop” sooner or later and therefore is unreliable. Considering the chance that God might exist it would be more prudent to prepare for that possibility instead of playing with bubbles.

It’s an old argument, of course, but my point today is that atheists usually allow for new theories explaining new phenomena, but not for the possibility of overriding everything they accept as objective.

Vanity thought #1543. Subjectivity

I think subjectivity is the main weak spot in atheist armor. Atheism works only with objective reality and as soon as personal biases come into play logic loses its power. Problem is, atheists never admit their own subjectivity and behave as if they are free from all imperfections. We can exploit this, I believe.

They might not admit their own weaknesses but they are very good at spotting them in others. All we have to do is extend this universal law of imperfections to the observer himself. We have to argue that they are not special and make them think of the implications of this.

It was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s trusty opener – human attempts at acquiring knowledge are always covered by four faults and therefore we must accept Kṛṣṇa, the Infallible, as the source of absolutely perfect wisdom. Our senses are imperfect, we tend to make mistakes in our logical chains, we tend to cheat, and what’s the forth one? I guess unreliable memory. This is obvious and there’s nothing to argue there so Śrīla Prabhupāda usually quickly moved forward but I don’t think this argument ever sinks with modern day atheists.

They are too arrogant to admit it refers to them and generally approach debates with atheists with the goal to prove it’s the religious people who are covered with faults. Freedom from faults leads to atheism, they’d argue, which is exactly opposite of what we intend to prove ourselves. We say people are flawed and therefore we need to accept God. They say people accept God precisely because they are flawed. God is not a solution, concept of God is proof of human weakness.

We need another approach here. We can either address the logical step towards accepting a perfect source of knowledge, who is Kṛṣṇa, or we can argue against the idea that flawless logic is ever possible. In their view it is but science needs more time to apply it. We can argue that “more time” is not the solution and for that we need to bring the picture of the universe and our place in it, even according to their understanding, not Bhāgavatam’s.

This big picture is the one I had in mind when I started on subjectivity. We are not objective observers, we are part and parcel of universe and we obey universal laws. We cannot claim freedom without awarding ourselves a transcendental status. We either obey natural laws or we transcend them, which should be impossible in an atheist universe.

In reality we are kind of both, because we are transcendental souls covered by material bodies, but science does not accept existence of the soul and with soul we lose our transcendence. They can’t award transcendence to the bodies or even to the brains. They can’t argue that consciousness is confined to brainwork and then speak of it as if it’s outside of physical laws – because that’s what they mean by objectivity – independence of thought from physical constraints.

What they do instead is to skirt around the issue altogether and speak of themselves, and of all humans, as beings far above material nature. Something happens with those chemical reactions between braincells and neurons that creates an object which is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Or have we?

In atheist speak consciousness is real and it’s a property of highly complex brains, monkeys need not apply. On the other hand science deconstructs consciousness and comes to the conclusion that key parts of it are present in the simplest life forms. We say consciousness is a symptom of life, science generally agrees, though they don’t put it like that, but atheists can’t have it, they need consciousness to be special, and at the same time they insist that humans are a species of animals.

They can’t even define what makes humans so special. What is it that we have but animals don’t, albeit in rudimentary forms. That’s why science assigns consciousness to all life, after all. Atheists themselves treat pets as family members and speak of dog intelligence, for example. They can also give examples of animals communicating through sounds and signals, just as humans, some animals even have enough discerning patterns to qualify as a kind of speech. Animals certainly feel pain and some of them show remarkable sense of responsibility, which they can’t dismiss as simply genes or training. Dogs and dolphins sometimes save total strangers, which is not just self-awareness but empathy with other living beings across totally different and even alien, in case of dolphins, species, too.

They can’t point the time when apes evolved into humans, and I don’t mean gaps in fossil records but evolution of consciousness. We can identify Homo Sapiens as a species but these identification doesn’t say anything about what matters here, it’s all about size of a scull, length of fingers, posture etc – these things don’t create consciousness, they are irrelevant to our discussion. Tools were used long before Homo Sapience, social life existed long before Homo Sapiens, consciousness, if we speak of it objectively, existed long before Homo Sapience, too.

This means that we are not special, that we can’t claim objectivity but have to accept our position in the universal hierarchy. So far we are the pinnacle but this still means that we must obey the laws. Darwinism rejects consciousness driven evolution, natural selection does not leave space for consciousness, all the traits are results or chemical mutations, and this means that the universe is always in control, not us.

Atheists do not see the universe as a conscious entity, of course, they see it as an impersonal collection of cold, impossible to break laws, but it doesn’t matter. We can still allow for cold impersonal universe controlling our actions and our destiny and it will still strip us of objectivity. At best universal laws grant us randomness, but not independence and freedom.

Without freedom and purpose our thoughts and theories are no different from an arrangement of rocks on mountain slopes, could be random, could be the only possible combination if we had all the data about their composition, initial location, and acting forces of gravity, wind, rain etc.

Our “objectivity” is similarly controlled by our biology, exposure to the environment, exposure to the society, food intake, blood pressure, dopamine levels etc etc. Some of these factors might be random, most have solid causes and do not allow for any variations. There’s no objectivity in that. Slightly less caffeine in their morning drinks could affect their thought processes all through the day. Tweets would go our differently, blogs would be typed up differently, newspaper articles would have different focus. All these things potentially affect millions and millions of people. Where is objectivity in that? It’s all imaginary.

Atheists could say that they know they can’t maintain their mental concentration indefinitely but they can always pick up the next day, and if not, others can continue advancing their arguments long after they are gone. But can they, really? What control do they have over thought processes of the future generations? How many brilliant thoughts people keep discovering in old books that could have changed the course of history had they been widely disseminated? What stops the societies from disseminating good ideas right now, like the ones about global warming or income inequality?

Politics, they’d answer, and politics is the enemy of objectivity, but then politics always wins, or at least wins often enough to take the sting out of otherwise solid science. Objectivity always loses, and it has nothing to do with religion, people have only short moments of it, and only because they do not acknowledge that conditions for being objective are provided by politicians in the first place.

The cause of their apparent objectivity is someone’s subjective decision to allow and pay for this limited freedom, and as a tool of attaining knowledge it’s laughable.

And what is knowledge anyway? What are these insights into the nature of the universe for? Is it a property of some complex chemicals, too? If that’s the case, what’s its value? That’s an interesting topic because pursuit of knowledge is supposed to transcend our base desires and bodily necessities, but I’ll leave it for some other time.