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.

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